Guest Commentary

When we march, we should wear nametags

"They should have nametags. Maybe they're confused about what group they're in," said 6-year old Nathan Rix, as we watched two people across the street from the Peace March on Saturday, March 18.

The march was held to mark the three-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. After a rally at Catalina Park on Fourth Avenue, our group began walking toward the U.S. military recruiting offices on the south side of Speedway Boulevard.

I was a bit nervous as we neared the offices. Two days earlier, I'd heard a rumor that pro-war demonstrators planned to disrupt the march.

Prior to going to the rally, I met a friend at Prescott College, across from the recruiting offices.

I had organized a Jewish prayer service in conjunction with the march, and we met at Prescott to leave a vehicle. At 9:45 a.m., there were two people at Prescott who intended to hold the space for peace supporters. The recruiting offices across the street were draped with flags, and people lined the street.

Two hours later, as we walked along the south side of Speedway, peacekeepers organized by the march walked with us, while police peacekeepers on bicycles rode just outside of our group.

As we neared the recruiting offices, we were directed to walk across Speedway to the north side. We could chant, sing, drum and hold signs on our side of the street. The pro-war demonstrators could do the same on theirs.

But what were two non-military types doing on the recruiting-office side of the street? And what were they doing with the American flag? Some peace marchers carried U.S. flags. My friend Geoffrey Notkin carried one to affirm that we were marching "not to make trouble for America, but to do what we can to protect what's great about our country."

But the flag these two carried was upside-down. An upside-down flag can be a sign of distress or anarchy. Nathan's mother and I were concerned that this flag might provoke the military supporters. They might think that the United States, and the soldiers who had died in the name of guarding freedom, were being disrespected.

The people carrying the upside-down flag might call themselves anti-war, but they were on the side of confrontation. They were making their own war.

That's when Nathan mentioned the nametags. "It would help them know what group they're in," he said. The Peace March as a whole did not provide nametags. But I'd handed some out before beginning the Jewish prayer service. Learning names helps build community.

It took a small child to make me realize another important function--to announce what group we're with. When we wear a nametag associated with a group, it means we agree with the group's mission and general way of operating. If we find we are no longer congruent with the group, we leave, or are asked to leave. The people with the upside-down flag may have started out with the Peace March, but at some point, they struck out on their own.

The mission of our prayer service in motion was to honor the hopes of Americans and Iraqis for peace at home and peace in the world. We defined ourselves as pro-peace rather than anti-war. To be anti-anything can be problematic.

True peace has no opposition; the Hebrew word for peace, "shalom," is based on the idea of wholeness. Peace can only be achieved by bringing together the disparate aspects of ourselves and finding common ground with others.

Instead of holding another march, we might follow the example of the Muslim-Jewish PeaceWalk, and invite the people across the street to make a pilgrimage with us. We might walk to a cemetery where soldiers are buried, and tell their stories.

We might then speak of our hopes for peace, justice, freedom, democracy and security. Then, we just might be able to discuss strategies for achieving our goals.

I doubt we'd need police there to keep the peace. Instead, our nametags might read: peacemakers.

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