Peace Activists or Concerned Citizens?

by Jayne Seminare Docherty, September 20, 2001

“Peace Groups are Urging Restraint: Students, Activists Set to Hold Rallies Across the Country”
The Washington Post, September 20, 2001

It is gratifying to discover that someone in the media acknowledges that not everyone is giving unequivocal support to President Bush’s call for a war against terrorism.

It is also disconcerting to see how those urging caution are being rhetorically marginalized even as their activities are being described.

Why did the headline not read “Concerned Citizens are Urging Restraint”?

To understand the minimization of the voices of those citizens who are questioning the rush to war, we need to look at the rest of the article.

Who are the people engaged in what the Post deems a “budding peace offensive”?

According to the Washington Post, they include:

  • Religious leaders
  • Social activists
  • Entertainers
  • The widow of a victim of the September 11 attack
  • Student organizations
  • Business figures
  • People who were mobilizing for the IMF protests in Washington

The author identifies by name only individuals who are members of marginalized social groups or individuals whose judgement might be questioned in this case.

  • Both entertainers mentioned by name (Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover) are African-American
  • The only social activist mentioned (Rosa Parks) is African-American
  • Student organizers (marginalized by virtue of their age and presumed naivete) are given particular attention as a group
  • Activists working on globalization protests (marginalized by prior press coverage depicting them as violent) are also given attention as a group
  • The business leader mentioned is Ted Turner (potentially marginalized in the minds of many Americans by his prior marriage to Jane Fonda)

Only Judy Keane, whose husband Richard was killed in the World Trade Center on September 11, is described as bringing a “special moral force to [her] argument.”

The only organizations selected for special attention are The National Council of Churches and The Washington Peace Center — “a pacifist and human rights group.”

Of course, pacifists will oppose a war effort and the National Council of Churches has regularly angered many conservative Americans, so these groups are both easily dismissed by many readers.

In the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, we know from our e-mail correspondence, that those who are concerned about the country’s current course of action include:

  • Veterans — including retired officers with 20 or more years of service
  • Civilian federal employees
  • Secretaries
  • Business managers
  • Grandmothers and grandfathers
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Realtors
  • Attorneys
  • Stay-at-home moms
  • Teachers
  • Medical professionals
  • Republicans and Democrats

In short, the persons questioning the rush to war are citizens representing a broad spectrum of life experiences and viewpoints.

We would like to see the Washington Post do an article on these people. Then, perhaps, average citizens would recognize that those calling for caution are no different from themselves.

Jayne Seminare Docherty, PhD, is the professor of Conflict Studies at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.