“Mercifully, a proposal that Bellingham City Council should weigh in on the violence unfolding in Israel and the Gaza Strip dies without support in committee.” (The added emphasis of the text is courtesy of the Weekly editor.)
Now I would normally let this backhanded compliment of our City Council go. By now peace activists expect denigrations in print, even subtle attempts at marginalization like Johnson’s. But I think it would be irresponsible if I did not weigh in on behalf of our City Council, providing this legislative body with actual props and setting the record straight.
To clarify, the draft of the resolution our membership read during the public comment period of the regular City Council meeting on July 21th was part of an action to sound the alarm for the non-stop, disproportionate slaughter of Gazan civilians that had begun on July 8th. Realistically, our membership thought our impassioned plea would simply die a quick death once the comment period concluded. But remaining silent rather than speaking out for war victims, especially when a public forum was available, would have made us complicit. We had no expectations, but our consciences remained intact as we filed out.
Later on we were notified that our City Council had taken the unprecedented step of moving the VFP Gaza resolution forward to agenda prominence at the next regular council meeting. A long-overdue, critical - and yes, highly sensitive - dialogue had begun. And like the conflict in Palestine, now navigating a fragile cease fire, this conversation is continuing still. Few Bellingham citizens could comfortably turn a blind eye to the violence being inflicted upon the children of Gaza, with our government’s tacit approval and weapons stamped “Made in the USA.”
As expected our local daily newspaper remained mute. Not a single mention that strayed from the main stream template was published. And the only radio interviews aired were carefully edited for Seattle and Bellingham conservative talk-show audiences, designed to ratchet up the loyal opposition to any peace initiative, listeners that have yet to find a war they couldn’t support.
Meanwhile, our City Councilmembers endured denigrations of their own for two weeks prior to the final afternoon meeting when our controversial measure was “mercifully killed,” according to the Weekly, for lack of support. While some Councilpersons appeared visibly shaken by the onslaught of emailed threats and “advice,” with the motion dying for lack of a second, the council president concluded that our city is still “one place where citizens can speak their minds, and they have, and that’s a win.” And we agree. Certainly moving our initiative forward in the first place, not to take sides but to do “anything to help save the life of one child,” in the words of the Gaza resolution sponsor Terry Bornemann, was the clear motive.
Our beautiful city has always had a reputation for compassionate activism, as well as a legacy of peace and justice measures passed by the city council; the Resolution to Defend Civil Liberties (March 2003), the Troops Home Now Resolution (October 2006), the Resolution Opposing Military Intervention in Iran (July 2008), and the Resolution Expressing Support for Washington State Efforts aimed at Increasing Housing Affordability (February 2011) head a long list. Most of us, as well as our city council representatives, realize that we are all global citizens and are committed to creating a better world.
Could the Bellingham Veterans for Peace resolution Opposing the Violence in Gaza and the Targeting of Civilians have been wordsmithed to make it more palatable? Obviously, but the submitters were experiencing the fierce urgency of now. The Washington Post has already released the names of 90 dead Gazan children, guilty only of proximity to fields of fire. Our councilpersons signed on that night for what was to be a rough road ahead, in spite of the slings and arrows of our detractors. They should be commended above the fold, not relegated to page eleven obscurity.
A bright spot, contrary to the tired meme that resolutions, senses of the consciences of city governments, are wastes of time, came from Councilman Jack Weiss’ summation. In Weiss’ words, “Resolutions from this body, even in a global war, a national setting, are important. We don’t start movements, especially peace movements like this if it doesn’t come from small bodies, one person speaking up, or one small city or medium-sized city…it’s as important as a person going to the polls and voting…and I think it’s the same thing with resolutions. They might look like they’re minor, but they really do mean a lot.”
Clearly a win/win, for all sides, for the next time.
The author of the letter is Gene Marx, past Secretary of the VFP National Board of Directors, a Vietnam Veteran, former Naval Aviator, and currently a member of the Veterans For Peace Membership Committee. He lives in Bellingham, Washington and is the chapter coordinator of the local Veterans for Peace chapter (VFP-111 - www.vfpbellingham.org).