Beginning with an acknowledgment of the history of this feast day, and of how far away such wars seemed to us, we read the story from Matthew together. We then spent some time naming modern day situations where innocents continue to be killed by power-hungry elites.
East Timor. Afghanistan. Sudan. West Papua. Phillippines. Iraq. Australia’s refugee policy. Each with thousands of innocent victims of power politics and military domination. Each considered acceptable collateral damage. We rang a bell for each of them.
Finally, we remembered the plight of the Palestinian people, recognising that even as we sat together, thousands of people were gathering on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza, preparing to nonviolently break the blockade, bringing food, aid and medical supplies to the people of Gaza. This was particularly poignant given the Matthew passage, which speaks of “a voice heard in Ramah” (the modern day West Bank), “wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.” The contrast of fear exhibited by Herod and modern day Israel, and the resulting victims of their fear, with the angels appearing to Mary, Zechariah, the shepherds, each time greeting them with the phrase, “Do not be afraid!” These stories continue to play themselves out before our eyes, on the evening news.
With that, we rose together and began to make our way north to the centre of the city, led by our four metre banner reading “End the Afghanistan War”. In peak shopping season, the city was packed. Reaction was mixed – from mouthed “thankyous”, clapping and nods, to rolled eyes, to outright hostility. Mostly it just registered on people’s faces as an interruption to business as usual (literally).
Turning through Bourke Street Mall we made our way west to Defence Plaza, a fairly nondescript city building housing the Defence Department in Melbourne. Here we paused to reflect on the experience, on connections we had made, and on where to from here.
We finished with prayer, and dispersed from there.
My own reflections are on how we do this action/reflection stuff deeply and honestly and yet involve our children. War and its effects on innocents are confronting issues. We brought our kids (3 under 6), and did our best to explain to them the significance of the day. I think it’s important that we continue to do that. But we shied away from anything graphic or affecting, talking only in general terms. This is something we will continue to wrestle with as parents and as activists.