What Am I/you/…what are WE…/ Waiting for, America?

Blue Mountain Center executive director Harriet Barlow reflects upon the mounting costs of 10 years of war, and where we stand today:

In the midst of the consequence and sorrow of this 10th anniversary of the period between 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, I ask myself….”What am I waiting for?”

It is not an innocent question.  I am not innocent.  Knowing what I know of the myriad costs of the wars, calculable and incalculable, how is it that I am continuing to live as if those costs were bearable?

Nassum Nicholas Taleb is the author of “The Black Swan”.  Taleb’s book brilliantly explains the disproportionate role of high-impact, hard to predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history. Recently, he was asked if the popular uprisings in Egypt, Greece and Tunisia represent a “black swan” event.  He responded that the actual black swan event is the failure of Americans to fill the streets in protest.

A decade ago, we did protest, along with millions across the world, but to no avail.  The planes bombed, the soldiers invaded, the wars began.  I knew that they would fail to right the wrong of 9/11, nor the wrongs that created the context for that tragedy. We easily name the attendant disasters of global impoverishment, ecological breakdown and the failure of democracy.   I live inside what I name; the awareness lives inside of me.  But my daily life, like yours, America, goes on as if the disasters were a backdrop rather than essence of our lives.  What am I, what are you, what are we waiting for?

The poet June Jordan wrote “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Alice Walker said in a book titled from Jordan’s cry,

“Sweet Honey in the Rock turned those words into a song. Hearing this song, I have witnessed thousands of people rise to their feet in joyful recognition and affirmation. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for because we are able to see what is happening with a much greater awareness than our parents or grandparents, our ancestors, could see. This does not mean we believe, having seen the greater truth of how all oppression is connected, how pervasive and unrelenting, that we can “fix” things. But some of us are not content to have a gap in opportunity and income that drives a wedge between rich and poor, causing the rich to become ever more callous and complacent and the poor to become ever more wretched and humiliated. Not willing to ignore starving and brutalized children. Not willing to let women be stoned or mutilated without protest. Not willing to stand quietly by as farmers are destroyed by people who have never farmed, and plants are engineered to self-destruct. Not willing to disappear into our flower gardens, Mercedes Benzes or sylvan lawns. We have wanted all our lives to know that Earth, who has somehow obtained human beings as her custodians, was also capable of creating humans who could minister to her needs, and the needs of her creation. We are the ones.”

In these weeks of memory and reflection, let us recover our commitment to action.  Let us make art, voice and witness: that throughout these terrible ten years, we have been counting the cost of war. We know these costs have intolerable and mounting consequence.  That promise of “change” upon which our President rode to victory must actually come. Not ‘some day’, but now.

Let’s face our frozen and complacent ways, accepting with compassion for ourselves that we simply have not known what to do.  Let us address that shared failing by imagining peace together, with artists and activists, with children and grandparents, with neighbors and with the mailman, whose very livelihood is endangered because of the costs of war and corporate greed.

We are the ones, because we MUST be.

Talk.  Plan.  Act.

We owe it to ourselves and one another.

Thank you.

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