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by James M. Branum

Thoughts on the end of a decade

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This was originally posted on Facebook, but I’ve decided to re-post it here (with a some editing and quite a bit added at the end)…

Today is New Year’s Eve. A decade is about to end. Another decade is about to begin.

Reflecting on the prior decade, I’m curious how future generations will see it. It is a kinda lazy short hand, but we all tend to think of history (from at least the last century) in terms of decades, in which we think of each decade having certain major events, music styles, clothing styles and certainly political movements.

It also seems that each decade comes into its own in our collective memory about 20 years after the fact, in that our thoughts about those decades become based more on what we are told to think, and less about our own experiences (sorta the Time Life version). — The best example of this is the collective amnesia of our society about the Vietnam war. While many GI’s actively resisted the war and marched against it and fought against it in countess ways, alongside the civilian anti-war movement, somehow today most people think that “the hippies and anti-war people spat on the returning vets” (sorta the Rambo version of pseudohistory)

So before the history gets re-written and re-imagined, let me present my own thoughts about the last decade.

So what will stick out abut the decade that is passing tonight?

Well for one we still don’t know what to call it. The first decade of the 1900’s gets referred to normally as “around the turn of the century,” unlike later decades (the “teens”, the “twenties” etc.) Will it be the same with this passing decade? Who knows?

But on a more substantive nature, I think what will stick out in my mind is the tidal change of political consciousness that resulted from 9-11, both positively and negatively, but mostly the later.

Progressive activism pre-911 was broad in nature, but to me did have a bit of a more hopeful vibe than it does today. A good example was a documentary Go Further (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_Further). It tells the story of a veggie-oil powered bus tour (led by Woody Harrelson who is traveling on the tour via bicycle) on th west coast. It was shot in the summer of 2001, before the **** hit he fan with the 9-11 attacks. The film is worth seeing for many reasons but mostly for its optimistic and hopeful tone. The world seems so different now. (I should note that the bus tour took place in the summer of 2001, but the film was released in 2003, so certainly there could have been some post-911 consciousness in the editing process, but still the tone does seem markedly different than anything made today)

On the other hand, the post-911 era saw the awakening of the peace movement and the GI resistance movement. I understand why those movements contracted during the comparatively more peaceful post-Vietnam years, but it was a mistake that we let it happen.

Thankfully though after 9-11 and then Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq, all over the world, and especially here in Oklahoma, something big happened. People began to show up. There was of course a massive surge of protests at the start of the Iraq war (thousands marched in OKC for instance), but what lasted after things shook out was steady level of involvement by many. In OKC, it is disappointing there aren’t more, but there have remained maybe 100-200 or so people who pretty consistently participate in peace actions of various kinds a few times a year, and a few dozen of those who take it to a higher level of involvement and engagement.

Also worth noting is the actions and work on the national level of many – folks like Iraq Veterans Against the War, Code Pink, the Military Law Task Force, and many others. These groups either didn’t exist or were on hiatus pre-911.

There’s a lot more to note, but what has happened is significant.. and especially it is important to note, that despite the massive setbacks of some peace folks giving up now that our new war President is a black Democrat… who would have thought, that Obama would not only not fail to end the wars but actually expand them!? — that the peace movement is still here and fighting. Especially on the local level, folks are starting to wake up again.

Lastly, some more personal thoughts about what this last decade was like for me.

In the later part of the 1990’s, I moved from being a conservative with a muddied view on violence (being pro-war, pro-death penalty and anti-abortion) to being more of a consistent pacifist. This change was largely rooted in my changing religious views but over time also came to be reflected in my political beliefs and philosophy.

A little over 10 years ago I attended my first peace protest (it probably was this one, March 31, 1999 – http://www.iacenter.org/bosnia/yugdem3.htm) a march to the Texas State capitol in protest of the NATO bombing of Kosovo.

My beliefs continued to evolve and I started to see more connections between peace and ecology, and peace and economics, to the extent that I discarded by conservative/libertarian beliefs and got involved in the Green Party. I also encountered folks like Kathy Kelly (from Voices in the Wilderness) and the folks from Christian Peacemaker Teams who pushed me to an even more radical peace understanding, that began to include questioning our criminal justice system and provoked me to go to law school, and became a lawyer for the oppressed.

I later became very involved in protesting the invasion of Afghanistan when I was a grad student (for one semester) at Texas State University in San Marcos. And when I moved to Oklahoma for law school, I continued my peace activism. Through the Green Party, I met one of my closest friends, Rachel (my “sister from another mother”), who became my partner in activism for a good bit of time, especially with our shenanigans with CROP (Caravan of Rural Oklahomans for Peace)….

Not long after that I met Sadie Mast (at a street corner peace protest at the Gold Dome corner in OKC) and her husband Moses (at the biggest pre-war protest, one of the Spiritual Walks for Peace). They were the ministers at Joy Mennonite Church, which I soon joined. And in 2004, I started talking to them and others about starting what would later become the Oklahoma Center for Conscience.

From there, the last few years have been a blur. I got involved with GI rights counseling during law school and upon graduation and bar admission, I plunged in head first into doing GI rights law work.

Anyway, so I guess for me this last decade has been an immersion into activism. There’s lot of other sub-plots along the way (a tidal change in religious views for one) and certainly my personal life has been interesting and complicated, but the activism is the biggie.

I’m excited for the time to come. I have a mix of emotions — fear (because of the continued and seemingly perpetual state of war… who ever thought we would long for the good ol’ days of the Cold War?), hope (for the growing levels of GI resistance), and on a more personal note, a bit of a renaissance, a feeling that my heart is opening and that I can love and be loved, that my life is more than just being an activist lawyer.

Anyway that’s all I’ll say for now.

Nope, I have one more thing to say. The one thing that did go off kilter for me in the last decade was the issue of balance. In the late 90’s, when I lived in Austin for the last few years of my undergrad education, I was passionated about many things – the arts, music (especially all of the innovative music made in that brief heyday of truly creative Christian music… from around 1995 to 1999 or so), writing (especially have to thank my writing mentor of the time, Matthew Morehead… I wonder what happened to that guy, lost track of him, and also my dear, dear friend Kimberly who was my partner in crime with Exitzine)… those days were intense and beautiful. I was of course a mess at the time (financially destitute, religiously searching, and politically contradictory) but it was that glorious searching process that made such a difference in my life.

This decade (’00-’09) though was much more brutal. The artistic and creative sides of my life, while still present at moments, often took a back seat to the grind of activism, especially in the latter half of the decade. And the gleeful whimsy of my spiritual life at the time (I was part of an artsy semi-charismatic non-denominational church in the late 90’s through 2001, which celebrated spontaneity, dancing, music and the visual arts), became more centered on a more serious and intensive socially engaged faith experience (I should add, also a more theologically inclusive one, as I moved from evangelicalism to a more universalist understanding). While I do think that this was a good transition in most ways, there are parts of my artsy-charismatic days that I miss and long for.

Recently, at a a weekend away for time to celebrate a friend’s wedding, I had some intensive thing to think and reflect on my life of late, and what is missing from it. It was the longing for the arts, for creativity, for unstructured spontaneity, that stood out and screamed for attention. Since then many other things have been percolating. I’m not sure what the outcome of it all will be (too many uncertainties), but my early prediction will be that this next decade will be a time to integrate activism and the arts, and to find a deeper level of balance. I’m not sure what that will look like, but I think it is worth pursuing.

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Written by James M. Branum

December 31, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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