As the wheels of the airplane met the Californian ground, memories of the last time I was in San Francisco came to mind. The last time, Conor and I had reached the coastal city by the power of our own two feet on the walking/biking trip we completed in Novemeber.
It seemed like more than seven months since we had travelled all over the country to share our experiences of war and our hope for a better alternative to foreign policy and human interaction. The return to San Francisco marked the continuation of the original journey. The first trip was called The Contagious Love Experiment, and indeed, the love had spread.
While travelling last year, we received an email from a man working in Afghanistan with a group called Our Journey to Smile. This group of Afghan youths use writing and youtube videos to try to put a human face on a country that gets talked about a lot, but whose people are rarely heard from (www.ourjourneytosmile.com). They also hold peace conferences and have built a peace park to provide hope for the young people of Afghanistan who have lived with war all their lives.
With help from The Fellowship of Reconciliation and Christian Peace Witness, we’ve been trying to bring several students in OJTS to the U.S. to share their perspectives. Their visas were denied by the U.S. because they were a “threat to not return to their country.” We continue to work towards getting their visas approved, but in the meantime knew that we could not wait for our government’s approval. Inspired by Our Journey to Smile’s desire for the voices of common people around the world to be heard, we partnered with Salam Hassan, a refugee from Iraq, and Pam Bailey, an activist who has lived in Gaza and is bringing two Palestinean students for part of the current tour, dubbed by OJTS as “The People’s Journey”
Salam had hosted Conor and I last Novemeber and after preparing his van for the journey, reunited with some other friendly faces at a potluck in Berkeley. The gathering was graciously put together by Susan Quinlan of BAY-Peace who had brought us to speak to several classes she teaches when we were here last. In the time since we had seen her and the young people she works with, they had won a campaign against recruiting practices in area schools. http://www.baypeace.org/
In addition to others we knew from Veterans for Peace and the American Friends Service Commitee, we were joined by Sarah and Clare of The Civilain Soldier Alliance. Civ-Sol had given me much support of the past several months since the release of the wikileaks tape of an military helicopter gunning down Iraqis, including Reuters Journalists and children. The unit shown in the video was the one I deployed with and I felt the need to speak out about it, of saying that the video didn’t show an exception, but pointed to problems with the military system.
The convergence of so many dedicated people at the first official event of the tour set The People’s Journey off on the right foot–Conor and I described the journey, talked about what we’d been doing, then we connected with Hakim and Abdulai in Afghanistan over skype–It is a step for the common people, the misguided soldier, the civilians, those motivated by common humanity and not profit or politics. It is a step to say that we have more in common with the people we are told to hate than the ones who are telling us who our enemies are. A man quoted a bumper sticker at the talk we gave, “what if they gave a war and nobody came?” With much support all around the world, this journey is hoping to increase the numbers on the “Not Attending” list for the next war that’s thrown… life is too short to live in fear and hatred.