Future Hope column, March 13, 2011
By Ted Glick
“When you risk everything for love, people are affected, as is God.”
Harry (Anthony Mackie), in The Adjustment Bureau, a paraphrase
I learned yesterday that it was 30 years ago, in March of 1981, that the Irish “blanket protest” hunger strike at Long Kesh prison in northern Ireland began. 10 people died as a result of this action. They were, in the order of when they died: Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hare, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, and Michael Devine.
The hunger strike was a classic nonviolent action, but those who died, and 13 others who participated but did not die, were not in prison, by and large, for nonviolent protests. Many were members of the wing of the Irish Republican Army that was engaged in armed actions against British domination of northern Ireland.
The hunger strike had a tremendous political impact, in northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and worldwide. According to a Wikipedia article, “one hunger striker, Bobby Sands, was elected as a Member of Parliament during the strike, prompting media interest from around the world. The strike was called off after ten prisoners had starved themselves to death—including Sands, whose funeral was attended by 100,000 people. The strike radicalized nationalist politics, and was the driving force that enabled Sinn Fein to become a mainstream political party.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1981_Irish_hunger_strike,)
Just a few days ago I watched the new movie, The Adjustment Bureau, in which the leading character played by Matt Damon is faced with the choice of whether he is willing to risk his life for something very important to him. As I often do after watching movies I like, I read 15-20 reviews of it afterwards, and in none of them did I find a direct reference to this aspect of the film. For me, it brought tears to my eyes.
It is my personal experience that if we as individuals, or the movements we are a part of, want to reach the most number of people in the shortest period of time with a message we consider important, sooner or later risks must be taken. If the issue is especially serious, then serious risks must be taken, including the risk of long prison time or death.
Fr. Dan Berrigan, with whom I spent time in prison during the Vietnam war, wrote about this issue during the time of that war:
“We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total–but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial. . .” (From No Bars to Manhood).
This same critique could be applied to many of today’s movements. It is definitely true for significant sectors of the movement of people which understands how urgent it is that the world’s governments—and businesses, schools, other institutions–get serious about the climate crisis.
It is a good thing that, within that movement, there are a growing number of people willing to engage in acts of nonviolent direct action. But so far, despite the escalation and deepening of the crisis, there has been nothing close to the kind of massive campaign in the streets that the civil rights movement unfolded in the 60s, beginning with the 1960 student sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. Or, in the case of the anti-Vietnam war movement, the tens of thousands who nonviolently disrupted Washington, D.C. for days in the spring of 1971 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1971_May_Day_Protests).
Since December of last year we have been watching as people in North Africa and the Middle East have risen up against repressive regimes, and they continue to do so. For us in the United States, the events taking place in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and the widespread media coverage of them, were riveting and inspiring. Hundreds of people died as a result of this so-far successful revolution. There is no doubt that if people in their thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands had not been willing to risk arrest, injury or worse at the hands of the Egyptian police and military, they would never have succeeded.
Isn’t it long past time for those of us who get it on the urgency of the climate crisis to do the same, and for those who are leaders of that movement to act accordingly?
Ted Glick has been active in the climate movement since 2004 and the progressive social change movement since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at http://www.tedglick.com.