Guest Commentary 

Many Tucsonans are not thinking enough about the war

I have gone to the All Souls Procession dressed as George W. Bush, a political figure or a mock war supporter since 2003. I was joined in the past by others in political theater to protest the war. No one had ever complained or thought we were out of bounds, as far as I knew.

That changed in the 2007 procession.

I suppose it was my sign that read, "War Is Healthy for Bush, Wall Street and Other Imperialists" that started the discord. If you don't recognize it, my sign is a takeoff of the anti-Vietnam war sign, "War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things." I was not shouting anti-war chants or interrupting others. I was holding my sign and walking in the crowd.

I was wandering with my sign--with my Cheney mask, suit, jester pants and cowboy hat with crusader dolls taped to the front--when a man in what looked like an Icarus bird mask came up to me and said, and I paraphrase: "I'm offended by your sign; this procession is about mourning and not protesting." I don't know how wearing a bird mask honors the dead, but it looked cool.

I told him that protesting a war in which people are dying is one way to honor the dead. He, being superior to me, told me that I was dead wrong. He was apparently more offended by my sign than the fact that more than 3,800 U.S. soldiers and more than 800,000 Iraqis have died in the war.

On their Web site, the Many Mouths, One Stomach group that organizes the procession states that the procession is "An opportunity to experience grieving, reverence, release, opening, joy and closure with thousands of other participants in a safe environment, at the level you wish to participate." I thought I was experiencing cathartic release through my protest. Some in the procession would have preferred that I had gone quietly into the night and not mourned people in Iraq, or at least did it in their "approved" manner.

There were other people who didn't like political protests at their procession, but few let me know directly. Many costumes at the procession didn't address mourning, and some protested the war. Were they inappropriate, too? If there was a list of approved outfits and signs on the Web site, I couldn't find it.

As long as people are dying overseas at the hands of the United States, it is a time for mourning. The Tao says, "Treat your victory like a funeral." If people had not jumped to judge me, they might have understood my protest. Some people had a different, traditionalist view of the procession, and I respect that. But why did they feel the need to control my form of participation, like evangelicals or many conservatives want to control them?

A public procession is by nature open to all interpretations and not as sacred as private ones. The All Souls Web site states: "The All Souls Procession is perhaps one of the most important, inclusive and authentic public ceremonies in North America today." However, many people in the procession, including some of its leaders, didn't embody that message of inclusiveness and wanted to shut up the war statements.

There was also a woman who insisted on following me and giving me the finger for being against the war. Like many pro-war people, she assumed that I don't know any veterans. I do, but why is it necessary to know veterans to be against the war? It is the president and Congress who should fight in this war before sending others to die in it.

The All Souls Procession was five to 10 times the size of the war protest on Oct. 27. People often prefer to mourn the dead and ignore the living people dying in Iraq every day. To honor the dead, we must honor the victims of war. We insult the dead by allowing this war to continue.

Most people I encountered at the procession loved my outfit and sign. Many people stopped to take my photo and said things like, "awesome," "nice sign" and "that's funny." Two journalism students stopped to interview me. Nonetheless, I worry that our country is being ruined by war, and so many people who know better would rather just not think about it.

More by Joe Callahan


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