Today I participated in a protest against the war in Iraq. It was not unlike many other rallies I have attended in Salt Lake City’s downtown. In the past, I have been skeptical of the purpose and effectiveness of anti-war demonstration, but today my mind turned to an experience I had during the summer of 2006 and the special circumstances of the Salt Lake City rally.
While I was traveling though Chiapas, Mexico during the summer of 2006, we happened upon a flyer that announced a Zapatista march and rally for later that day. We decided to attend, despite cautious feelings about being outsiders and avoiding trouble. The meeting place for the march was in a church yard and the march route was proposed and then agreed upon by all in attendance. Before we formed rank, an organizer offered a solemn and simple prayer. I felt real and sincere energy emanating from the protesters as we were welcomed and marched and sang protest songs in unison through the dusk-shadowed streets of San Cristobal. There were processions of indigenous women and mothers with children lashed to their backs and clusters of men in cowboy hats, brightly colored woven cloth and worn shoes; some were even barefooted. They marched in solidarity with another community that was being threatened with the expansion of an airport near Mexico City. The air was filled with feelings of urgency, solidarity, and hope. In Chiapas, rallies and protests have become a part of the social fabric, part of an ongoing struggle over life and death issues such as access to arable land, political representation, and social equality.
The Salt Lake protest happened to be during the LDS General Conference. As we marched down 400 south, our signs and slogans met the eyes of conference goers as their cars moped through congested streets. A few waved, cheered, or honked. The rest jeered, looked away, or laughed. I had listened to the first session of conference before coming to the protest and felt no spiritual contradiction in worshiping God with my fellow saints around the world in conference and raising my fist to oppose an unjust, ruinous, and costly war. I felt a longing for those feelings I had felt in Chiapas: urgency, solidarity, and hope. There was no urgency because the bombs are falling over someone else’s homeland. But they are our bombs. Our tax dollars paid for them. There is no solidarity because the Mormons scoff at the liberals and the liberals roll their eyes at the Mormons. Unfortunately, protesting the war is seen as a cultural activity. Only liberal peace-mongers protest because, in many people’s minds, there are certain kinds of people that protest, as if it were a pastime or a hobby. And those that do attend rallies are so steeped in post modern irony, that they can hardly take seriously the cliché of marching or chanting. But as I recalled that cobble stone church yard in Chiapas filled with bowed heads as we prepared to march down the streets of San Cristobal, my heart longed for a Mormonism that was more deeply engaged with the world from which it seeks acceptance. In Chiapas, politics and the spirit are connected.