Give Peace a Chance
The holiday decorations brightening my street last month included a few illuminated peace signs — though most of our neighbors are way too young to remember the peace symbol as the potent ’60s icon it once was.
Still, I couldn’t help but smile and feel a bit nostalgic.“Maybe peace is making a comeback,” I thought to myself.
Of course, after our ugly (and still unfinished) withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan this year, our country is, for the first time in a generation, not at war with anyone. Officially, at least. And ignore the brewing war between the states of mind that seems to be playing out on cable news and sometimes right on our city streets.
If there is a peace movement today, it must be well hidden. It seems like most of the “movements” taking place are increasingly militant and angry and locked into their bunkers.
Peace is a worthy goal, sure, but it just seems so, well, passive. We tend to like our peaces to come after our wars so we can use them to regroup and pick another battle.
In our great religious traditions, peace is a supremely powerful state that need not move or attack, but simply absorb and transform the corrupted energy of violence or malice. Consider the example of Jesus who changed the world by his total and fatal surrender to cruelty, duplicity and hate. Try suggesting that strategy to the next street warrior you see at a protest rally.
On display in my home office is a large white postcard printed with the words, “WAR IS OVER: IF YOU WANT IT. Happy Christmas from John & Yoko.” It’s not a rare item. Thousands of fliers, leaflets, newspaper ads and billboards with those words were distributed in December 1969 as part of a massive campaign assembled by the two artists. Earlier that year they had staged two “Bed-ins for Peace” — one in a suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. By inviting reporters, as well as a cast of counterculture characters, to join them in bed (figuratively), John Lennon imagined that the international press would be compelled to take their message of peace “and spread it like butter.”
Among those who accepted the invitation to visit the Montreal bedside of John and Yoko was a man with a home in Seabrook. He was a cartoonist, famous at the time, named Al Capp, the creator of the syndicated “Li’l Abner” comic strip. Youngsters today (by which I mean anyone under 50) probably don’t remember Capp or his creations, but they were enormously influential at the time. (John Steinbeck once called the cartoonist “possibly the best writer in the world today.”) Capp liked to tell people that the barefoot hillbillies of the comic strip’s setting in Dogpatch, Kentucky, were based on his Seabrook neighbors.
Capp wasn’t there to praise the couple for their idealism. He was there to mock them, and mock them he did, making insulting (and probably racist) comments about Yoko and accusing them of staging the whole thing for money.
Capp the cynic versus two idealists in pajamas: Capp went on to the archives of history while Lennon went on to secular sainthood.
While I hate to admit it, I’m more of an Al Capp than a John Lennon or Yoko Ono. My inclination is to doubt and discriminate, but deep inside I really want to believe and include. So what should I do?
In a way, the cover story of this issue is my answer to myself. Randy Armstrong and his band of friends from around the world truly believe that by simply promoting peace through harmonious collaborations, using art and rhythm and music and goodwill, we are able to change, and finally save, the whole bloody, mixed-up, at-each-other’s-throats planet. If you are like me (and Capp), your first reaction is to chuckle and say, “Yeah. Good luck with that.”
But, really, what else have we got? The political and scientific elite seem so embedded with the corporate/media structures of our day that it’s become an act of faith to trust anyone.
Maybe simply applying our thoughts (powerful things that they are) to concepts of peace and oneness is the most potent spell we can cast upon the world. Maybe if we just give peace a chance in our own hearts and minds, we can tip the balance to a hopeful and expansive future. Maybe the peace-sign-displaying “youngsters” on my street are onto something. That’s a lot of maybe, but insert one tiny word and the dubious “maybe” becomes the affirmation “May it be.” So here’s a naive but sincere New Year’s prayer (and song) for us all: “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.”