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Out of the marathon bombings: A conversation of Boston-area peace activists

People gather for a vigil on Boston Common

By Joseph Gerson, AFSC

A group of Boston-area peace activists met on Tuesday, the day after the Boston Marathon bombings, to share what we know about the bombings and to discern how best to respond to the deadly attack against our community and against people from across the nation and around the world who came to Boston to participate and enjoy the marathon. Several of us had loved ones or close friends who would have been among the attack’s victims, had they not left the finish line area shortly before the bombings or who had yet to arrive there. First and foremost our thoughts and sympathy go out to family and friends of those killed Monday, to those who injured and maimed, and to their families and friends.

With much still to be learned about who was responsible for this crime, we were clear that it is premature to be issuing statements and initiating actions. In a spirit of compassion and solidarity, those of us who can will be joining the official interfaith ceremony to be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 18, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End, and other events that bring the community together in grief and the process of healing. We celebrated the courage and model of our friend Carlos Arredondo, the Gold Star father who has long been active in the peace movement, who was present at the bombing site and moved immediately and instinctively to save the lives of others.   

Regardless of who was responsible, there is the need to address what has become the culture of violence.

We understand the attack as one against our common civic life; given past national and Boston history, we are encouraged by the ways racial profiling in response to the attack has been minimized and respect for the rule of law has been maintained.

With the immediacy of suffering and the open emotional wounds, as well as uncertainty about who was responsible for the attacks, it feels premature to be speaking publicly about the painful ways our community—our lives—have joined the increasingly long list of communities, within the U.S. and internationally, that have suffered and been marked by domestic and international terrorist attacks, and which have been objectified as the “collateral damage” of wars or live in fear of drones. With the outcome of the investigation and the narrative that follows, we will be in a better position determine if, when, and how to bring forward these dimensions of our experience.

For now the priority has to be human solidarity.

Concerns were also raised about the possibility and some initial reports of racial profiling. We shared concerns that, regardless of who planted the bombs, uncertain and anxious people will accede to increased violation of civil and human rights by police, Homeland Security, and other such institutions.

We learned that the ACLU has created a hotline to report human rights violations, including possible mass police round ups.

Things that we can do

All of us have received inspiring messages and received helpful advice along the way. Among them articles about Carlos Arredondo, quotations from Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. William Sloan Coffin, and AFSC staff in Gaza. We thought that these might be shared via Facebook and other means.

This seems to be a period to begin thinking about how to address the media deluge that will begin once an official determination is made about who the perpetrator(s) is should those responsible prove to be Jihadists rather than domestic terrorists.

We resolved to be in touch with AFSC associates who are now in Washington, D.C., for the “If I Had a Trillion Dollars” video contest awards and to meet with members of Congress to learn if and how the bombings are impacting the Congressional debate over national budget priorities. We should begin thinking about how to push back, should calls for “law and order” lead to greater pressure to increase military spending at the cost of meeting real human and community needs.

We need to think about how we can be most present a month from now when media and public attention turns away from those still suffering the consequences of the attack.

We agreed to remain in contact on a daily basis and—as possible—to bring the perspectives of others who could not be with us into the conversation.

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