PEACE TALKS: GLOBAL ACTIVISM (KUNM Airdate: 3/26/04)
The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border? - Cellist Pablo Casals
What motivates an individual concerned about global issues to travel into the heart of the conflict? On this edition of Peace Talks, we talk with Albuquerque psychotherapist Dr. Kathleen O'Malley and lawyer Eric Sirotkin who have each made such trips. In 2003, O'Malley visited Iraq in the days just before the U.S. invasion and has more recently traveled to the occupied Palestinian Territories and returned to Iraq. Sirotkin traveled to North Korea not long after George Bush identified it as part of the "axis of evil." Both Kathleen and Eric described their trips as peace missions. We ask them how they decided to make such dangerous journeys, what they believe they accomplished, and how we can be more motivated to speak up for peace in our own lives.
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Eric there's a saying, "think globally, act locally." Instead of going to North Korea, you could have spent that time and money helping people in ABQ. But you chose to act globally. Describe your process in deciding, "What is the most useful thing for me to do?"
Eric Sirotkin: I have a good friend who often
challenges me on that and asks me "Where are you going now?"
and "What's the relevance of international work?" I have often
found that what I am doing locally is often fueled by what I am doing
internationally and that the world gets a lot smaller when you do reach
out in one way or another. I really feel that we can make a difference
in the world in not only the day-to-day operations but also in government
policy and that we can make a change. And one thing that we do to make
a change is to reach out sometimes across the street and sometimes across
the planet and in doing so I hope that we can make a more peaceful world.
I really believe that peace radiates down wherever you're engaging in
it and that it has an effect much broader than the one act that you're
Some listeners might say that trips like these, to North Korea or Iraq, are really meddling and you have no business intervening - because it complicates diplomatic efforts that the United States is trying to do. Your response?
Sirotkin: I think the real problem we face is a lack of interest and apathy about international issues. When these trips go forward, if anything, they are often exposing various cover-ups, various misperceptions, or other things that have been perpetrated either by the government or the news media at the time. So while I'm sympathetic with the notion that I could interfere with what the U.S. government is going to do on a particular case, I really don't think that I can through my one action. I think that the term "patriotism" is really about not only caring about our country but the world at large. To be a true patriot means to be involved, to listen, and to step out and help, where you feel you can help. Governments and corporations will continue to do what they do and the only way we can get them to listen sometime is to step up and do something. And that's the core of democracy.
Kathleen O'Malley: That is the core. It's foundational to this country's beliefs - dissent and having different opinions. If people aren't presented with the different opinions then how can you discover the truth? How can you develop a policy if you don't have all the different perspectives? I'm troubled by the need for the question even. I think it's so important that people travel and get as much information as possible.
What did your trips accomplish?
O'Malley: I do know that for the people I've talked to, it's given them a different perspective from what they're hearing in the media. I'm sure there are many different perspectives, but I know this one is not being reported very widely. What my goal is, is not only to stand in solidarity against the war and for the Iraqi people, but to bring back a perspective from there, so I talk about it as much as I can to as many people as I can. For me it's important to put a human face on the picture in Iraq or occupied Palestine. That these are human beings just like you and I and if I talk about the mother who's lost her son or the soldier that is terrified at a checkpoint, I really believe that the American public, when they are touched in their heart about another human being's pain, then they are moved to change things.
Sirotkin: And in this kind of situation with North Korea, I've found that even progressive people are very uninformed about what's going on in North Korea. And frankly what we discovered that was shocking was the misperceptions that exist about starvation, about intimidated populations and other things like that that we did not discover in traveling hundreds of kilometers around the countryside in North Korea. So I agree with Kathleen that when we come back from these trips the difference we can make is in a broader sense with the media, sometimes when you can get them to listen, but also the one-to-one contacts that you have. People have told me when we've come to give them this perspective that they feel so refreshed when they hear about a different approach...and they were so encouraged that someone was doing this work. And you know, some just can't - they don't have the time or the money or otherwise. But when people learned that we were going to North Korea, some people felt the pressure just drop - you could see it in their face. Just that someone was doing something for a situation that seems so impossible.
O'Malley: (I have some) discouragement right now because on February 19 (2003), how many millions hit the streets around the world against this (Iraq) war, and so far, it's not had a lot of impact.
Sirotkin: But I don't think that impact is something that we can measure quantitatively. And I believe that we never know what the impact that we're having is on that. I'm out on the streets, not always to get the objective that I have in mind at the time. I'm there because the person standing next to me, the other person out there, may go on to be a senator, a congressperson, own a business, treat someone fairly - just as a result of that one experience. And so peace seems to bubble up in places that are very unexpected. We can't focus on the end result always because some things are just not in our control - practically, politically or spiritually. But we know why we're doing what we're doing.
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