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How Do You Stop a War

by Kevin Mullaney

Yesterday I drove five hours to Washington DC and participated in a march against the war on Iraq. For two hours I stood in the cold listening to speakers. I marched to the Navy Yard, chanting along the way and making noise with the rest of the marchers. I felt it was important to be there. The raw numbers of a rally like that are important. Why else would the media seem so insistent in keeping the crowd estimates so low? Maybe seeing half a million people in Washington will embolden a few lawmakers to speak out more than they have. And for each person who went down there, maybe there are a handful of people back in their hometowns who might pause and think a little harder about what we are about to do in Iraq.

But ultimately, it feels rather ineffectual. I doubt that the march made any real difference to Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. It doesn’t compare with the actions that Dr. King and his followers took to end segregation or the actions that Gandhi and his followers took to end the British occupation of India. It was a simple rally and a march to a Navy Yard where we all met up with our buses for the ride home. Perhaps if one by one we had each demanded to inspect the Navy Yard for weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps if each of us had committed a true act of civil disobedience, one that required that each one of us be arrested, and we had filled every jail cell in DC, perhaps something more concrete might have been accomplished.

Dr. King and his followers hit power where it hurt. Through boycotts of buses and white-owned shops, southern whites were made to realize that they had to make concessions to live profitably alongside blacks. Gandhi and his followers marched to the sea and made salt, a simple non-violent act which defied the authority of the Empire and filled the jails with thousands of ordinary Indians. They provoked a brutal reaction from the British authorities and won supporters to their cause across the world.

Perhaps the necessary passion isn’t there in this peace movement yet. I’m not even sure that I’m willing to be arrested or beaten for this cause. I doubt that a large portion of that crowd on Saturday is. But perhaps there is something else that can be done, something that would require a reaction by the Bush regime or the defense contractors and other corporate interests that stand to benefit from a war on Iraq. Perhaps there are simple steps that I can take and if tens of thousands (or millions) of others did too, would grind the government war machine to a halt. But what?

On the march we brainstormed ideas. Perhaps if we each filed a thousand bogus tax returns under false names this April, it would bring the IRS to its knees. Perhaps if we found out some 800 numbers run by defense contractors and we flooded their lines with phone calls, it would begin to hurt their profitability. Perhaps if we found out where some of these people worked and found some way to get pictures of bodies maimed by bombs to their wives and children every day, perhaps then their conscience might start bothering them.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m not sure what the perfect symbolic act of civil disobedience might be ... the one that truly catches on and within weeks tens of thousands of people are participating. Perhaps that idea is already out there and within a few weeks or months suddenly everyone will be talking about it and doing it.

The key would be to find an action that required a brutal or heavy-handed response or cost the powers that be money. The action must also inspire others to do the same, and catch on like Napster. The idea would have to be seductive enough that people would spread word of it the way they spread word of the candlelight vigil after September 11th. It would have to work like a virus and infect the peace movement.

Maybe if the idea is good enough, it might not just stop the war, but bring about a regime change in Iraq through peaceful means. Perhaps that idea just doesn’t exist. But maybe through the power of “yes and,” we can come up with that one beautiful idea and begin spreading the word.

If you have an idea, I would love to hear it.

Kevin Mullaney is the Artistic Director of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre where he teaches improvisation. He is also the webmaster of the Improv Resource Center at

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