Last night at around five o’clock I had the wonderful delight of meeting Barbara Ellis once again. We regulars of the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition were at our posts for the Friday Afternoon Anti-war Witness at Pioneer Courthouse Square, talking about Medea Benjamin’s protest at President Obama’s major address regarding the War on Terror. It was an inspiration: we were thrilled at national attention being drawn to the brutal killings of hundreds, if not thousands, of innocents by remote-control drones launched at Obama’s orders, and it was even moving for us at a personal level because she — Medea Benjamin — had come to our Pioneer Courthouse Square demonstrations within the last year and addressed us, over the same bullhorn that we were using now.
“Hello, Michael, how are you?”
“Barbara!” I’d been told she had passed, and here she was joining the demonstration. What a joy!
In fact, Barbara told me, she has had cancer and has undergone radiation therapy; at the present, she doesn’t feel very well, but well enough to join us and cheered by the assessment that the cancer is in remission.
I offered Barbara, one of the architects of the Stop Coal Exports campaign, the leadership of my own campaign for Congress, but she clearly had to await better times. But all of that mattered very little: this cheerful cherub, this vital link in the progressive movement, was standing right beside me once again. An unmerited grace.
The Friday Afternoon Anti-war Witness (if you’ve not yet joined us I urge you to come on down one of these Fridays) has a pretty standard repertoire: an introductory speech of a few minutes by Herschel Soles, who then invites members who want to say something to share the horn, and then a march, for some 10 or 15 blocks, around downtown Portland, on sidewalks and observing traffic signals, chanting anti-war slogans. We really need something catchy right now urging the country not to intervene in Syria: please let us know if you think of one.
We went through our paces, shook hands all around (at this point, at the end of the march, a gentleman approached me and identified himself as having been born in Iran; he thanked me and the group for speaking publicly about the awful possibility of an aggressive war against his homeland), and departed the Square. But Herschel, Melvin Bell, and I walked around the corner to the Flying Elephants Deli at Director Park, where we talked some more about the present political situation and what we believed the future held. I think we must have been there three-quarters of an hour or more. Melvin and I disagree about fluoridation, but agree that today’s arrest of a well-known spokesperson for marijuana’s medical usefulness will only make a martyr of her.
But I had a fundamental theme I wanted to sell: we are a community, with a spiritual life. The Green Movement has been right to emphasize that feature above the less-important details of strategy or tactics. It made all three of us glow with pride, to hear and see what Medea Benjamin had done; it filled me personally with joy to see Barbara Ellis alive and well.
I did not convert Melvin, the self-identified Marxist; still, I articulated something important. Lincoln lost the 1858 election in Illinois; but in debating Stephen Douglas he articulated the case against allowing slavery to expand into the western territories. We today demand an end to United States invasions, to its torture of prisoners, to callous disregard of poor people, because we are all one community, all one people. The message of the Green Movement will continue to make converts on that fundamental bedrock.