Get on the Bus

For one fellow traveler, the road to an anti-war protest in Washington is paved with good intentions and bad politics

Jim Hopkins, an SMU professor of history, left the first rally in disgust. "It was an environment I did not want to be in," he says. "I just loathed that a very rational position against the war would be bushwhacked by those who clearly have a heinous message to convey."

Similar complaints were made to the Dallas Peace Center, which considered the matter and decided to continue its association with the Nation of Islam. "We have a common purpose of ending the war in Iraq," Julie Ryan says. "They share our beliefs, and they have agreed there will be no further speeches that attack religion or sexual orientation."

Muhammad stands by his comments and says he won't be "muzzled by any group for speaking the truth."

 
Mark Graham
 
Hadi Jawad is one of the coordinators of the Dallas 
Coalition Against War in Iraq, which has engaged in 
some questionable local coalition building with the 
Nation of Islam.
Mark Graham
Hadi Jawad is one of the coordinators of the Dallas Coalition Against War in Iraq, which has engaged in some questionable local coalition building with the Nation of Islam.

Certainly for the anti-war movement to be successful, it needs as expansive a base as possible, but it's doubtful it would let other hate-groups like the Ku Klux Klan join its coalition. The leaders of the Nation of Islam espouse a black-segregationist theology that is anti-Semitic, anti-gay and anti-white. Even the local Green Party voted to withdraw from the coalition in protest.

I also find it troubling marching in solidarity with people who hate me.


Few on the bus seem to be bothered that the rally in Washington has been organized by the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) coalition, many of whose leaders were also members of the Workers World Party, which is decidedly Marxist in its political ideology and sees Israel as a colonial patsy for imperialist America. Past ANSWER rallies, according to the Anti-Defamation League, have "served as a forum for supporting violence and terror organizations, and a proliferation of anti-Semitic expression." (At least one of ANSWER's pro-Palestinian partners denies it is anti-Semitic.)

Although some bus riders (including me) are openly critical of the current Israeli government and believe the Bush administration should be making the Palestinian question the real focus of its Middle Eastern policy, their animus is directed at our government's involvement in Iraq. That they may be joining forces with the pro-Palestinian movement under false pretenses makes no difference.

Talk on the bus includes much speculation about Bush's motives. There is the SUV view: It's all about oil and satisfying the insatiable American demand for gas-guzzlers. The psychoanalytic view: The son has an obsessive desire to complete the unfinished business of the father. The buying-his-own-bullshit view: Bush genuinely believes that by democratizing Iraq, the seeds of freedom will flower throughout the autocratic Middle East.

As we make our way into Tennessee, 10-year-old Brandon begs me to interview him. Instead, I speak with Michael Millican, a thoughtful Dallas attorney who is reading a Gandhi anthology and says he is committed to non-violence.

It must be difficult, I say, practicing non-violence and law at the same time.

He smiles warmly, and begins telling his story. Growing up in Houston, he was a member of Teens Against Communism, an Eagle Scout and supporter of Barry Goldwater for president. Though deeply patriotic, he grew "confused" after he was drafted into the Marines his first year of law school. His best friend had served in the Navy and encouraged him to enlist, but that was right before he died in Vietnam.

Millican began his tour of duty in June 1968 and was assigned to a South Vietnamese village. "We killed a lot of the enemy. A lot of us were killed, too...I have seen our failed attempts at empire building firsthand," he says.

After a year "in country," he returned to law school, growing his hair long and dressing in military fatigues. "I kept reflecting on all the people who had gotten killed in my unit--friends of mine. War seemed so wasteful."

In the late '70s, a business venture resulted in some easy wealth, and he grew protective of his good fortune. He even voted for Ronald Reagan twice. He bought a ranch in Oklahoma, became an avid hunter and fisherman and had few qualms about eating beef. "Until one day I just stopped." He sold his ranch and stopped hunting. "I am not even sure why," he says. "I just didn't want to do things that caused harm anymore."

A piece of the puzzle came to him after he saw the movie Gandhi. "Here was a man who was living the principles of non-violence," he says. "His life had a profound effect on me and is the main reason I am on this bus."

But how can these principles of non-violence stop a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein?

"I think everyone agrees he is a heinous person who is not doing anything good for his people. But I think to commit violence, all it does is promote more violence. It may breed the very thing we are trying to prevent--a whole new crop of terrorists."

Our bus is making terrible time, too many rest stops and too many activists who believe in self-determination and insist on keeping their own schedules. Bill Maxwell, our rally organizer, is a benevolent man but worries openly the revolution may start without us. After dinner for 56 at the Cracker Barrel outside Jackson, Tennessee, attempts are made to bed down for the night, but sleep comes hard for those of us who came of age in the '60s.

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