Monday, March 16, 2009

Connecting Past With Present: Judith LeBlanc and Moving Beyond War

As the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches and the majority of the media coverage is focused on domestic economic woes, it may be tempting for many to let March 19th come and go without much thought. This was not the case this past Saturday on the campus of Xavier University.

The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center along with Xavier University's Peace and Justice Programs co-sponsored a program entitled Beyond War: A New Economy is Possible that was open to the public and discussed various issues surrounding the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond. In addition to various workshops that were available to the community, Judith LeBlanc, internationally renowned speaker and co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, spoke to those who gathered in the Hailstone's 2 building on Xavier's campus.

LeBlanc spoke following a replaying of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Beyond Vietnam speech from 1967 and discussed familiar themes between his speech and today's movements for peace and justice. She spoke of the need for the three core principles of education, public witness, and collaborative effort to move society forward at this moment of opportunity.

The election of 2008, LeBlanc believes, has opened up the political space for a dialogue on issues that surround war and social justice. She believes that peace and justice activists have a valuable opportunity to move from practicing "no" activism to practicing "yes" activism. In other words, moving away from an activism that focused on opposing and resisting the backward policies of the Bush Administration and seizing upon this opportunity to engage in a dialogue while believing that a new way forward is possible. LeBlanc called for a new kind of social movement that resurrects Dr. King's legacy and accentuates just how connected the problems of racism, poverty, and militarism continue to be today.

While this election has allowed for a new opportunity of dialogue it is still important for peace and justice movements to move forward with a healthy skepticism. As I have written previously, it is absolutely necessary for these movements to not only stay organized, but to join with other movements that share areas of common ground in order to combat the big money influences that put pressure on the Obama Administration. Change is not going to come from within Washington, people must create change and force the existing institutions to adapt to the demands of the people. This is not a new idea, but rather a foundation to which these movements must return in order to achieve lasting progress.

Judith LeBlanc was right to connect the continued struggles of today with the words and lessons of our past. Dr. King's speeches on the connection of racism, poverty, and militarism are just as relevant today as they were when he first gave them voice. As we approach the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and we prepare for an escalation in the occupation of Afghanistan, take a moment and listen to King's words that hold continued relevance.

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