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24 Questions for Advent: Fourteen

Oh, when will we ever learn?

Oh, when will we ever learn?

- Pete Seeger, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

I am not a pacifist. I believe there are times, though they should be rare, when military action is necessary to protect our home or allies. I also have respect for those who serve in our armed forces. It is an act of sacrifice that is admirable.

But the track record of our country in military engagement, over the past half-century at least, has cost millions of lives and trillions of dollars with questionable motives and outcomes. There are those who would defend military action to combat the spread of Communism and Terrorism as absolutely necessary, but the results have been difficult to justify. They have called into question whether we have been using our vast resources and power to truly protect, or to further our control in regions of the world for our own benefit.

Many have died in the service of our country, and many choose to risk their lives daily. Their sacrifice is noble; are the policies and decisions that their country has made, which resulted in their sacrifice, also noble? Or has national self-interest, or more pointedly, the self-interest of those who have the most to gain, the reason so many have been lost?

Those are the questions, and the outrage, expressed by Pete Seeger and so many others who have raised their voice in protest over the years.

Whether you agree or disagree on the policies of our military forces, one of the great contributions to the history of our nation, and to the world, are the people who exercise our right to protest. In essence, such freedom of expression is, like it or not, one of the key aspects of a democratic republic that we must continue to protect. And it seems to be under attack right now. Not by an outside threat, but by an inside belief that to question U.S. policies, especially military policies, is “un-American.”

In truth, nothing could be more American than the right to protest. Most would agree. The question comes in how should we protest. We have laws to protect others from violent protest; some would say those laws have been abused in order to subvert protest. We also have laws that have protected the violent acts of others; at what point are violent acts of protest justified to stop violence? This has been the debate from the beginning.

The Poor People’s Campaign was initially started by Martin Luther King at a staff retreat for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967. Seeking a “middle ground between riots on the one hand and timid supplications for justice on the other,” King planned for an initial group of 2,000 poor people to descend on Washington, D.C., southern states and northern cities to meet with government officials to demand jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage, and education for poor adults and children designed to improve their self-image and self-esteem.

Today, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has picked up this unfinished work. From Alaska to Arkansas, the Bronx to the border, people are coming together to confront the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism. We understand that as a nation we are at a critical juncture — that we need a movement that will shift the moral narrative, impact policies and elections at every level of government, and build lasting power for poor and impacted people. (

In whatever way you choose to exercise your American right to protest, may it be fruitful, just and effective for the lives of others. Will we ever learn?

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