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The first recollection I have of the word "pacifist" is in connection with Martin Luther King, Jr, and protests for both Civil Rights and an end to the war in Vietnam. Residing in a community dominated by both military and government employees, the questions asked of my parents and teachers were often met with cautious responses.
"What is a pacifist?," was one of the first. The initial response, "Why are you asking?" then led to a series of even more provocative inquiries on my part that culminated in the simplistic reply, "A pacifist is someone who does not believe in violence."
When I pointed out that killing people only resulted in more people getting killed and asked why both sides could not just stop and talk with each other, my exasperated mother conceded the point that talking was indeed a better solution than shooting or dropping bombs.
Her frustration reached new heights when I observed that it was wrong to put Mr. King in jail just for standing up for people who could not stand up for themselves, then wondering aloud why everyone did not have the same rights, despite differences in their houses, the color of their skin or where they were from. She knew I was right, but offered no satisfactory answers as to why the rest of the world did not see things my way.
I knew by age nine that discrimination, cruelty and ignorance existed, for I had experienced them in my school and neighborhood, and so had my mother. I was growing up female in a world full of sexism, disabled in a school in which well-meaning teachers and neighbors, and even some doctors, were often ignorant.
Despite having the things many of my neighbors and their children had, I was also growing up in a Third World Nation, in which many neighborhoods overflowed with poverty. I also grew up around people from throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America as well as the United States and Mexico, and grew to love many of the wonderful foods, customs and cultural experiences that sprang from this exposure.
That this environment, coupled with personal experiences, also gave me a first-hand look at the differences in the way people are perceived and treated is no surprise. Indeed, the desire for fairness, equity and dignity for everyone , which I also later learned from Judaism, and first glimpsed through the eyes of a Baptist civil rights activist and minister on an old black and white television screen, remain at my core as a woman today.
As a citizen, I often find myself at odds with the activities and views of elected officials and wonder what we are coming to as a nation and as a member of a much larger and diverse planet. I am sure that years ago, Reverend King hoped fervently that through his and the actions of others, rampant prejudice would end, and that rights and human dignity would be respected.
Many people, including Reverend King, were forced to give their lives in pursuit of a better world for all. While much has changed, as evidenced by the historical election of Barack Obama, we dare not forget the past nor can we assume that the battle against racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism and other forms of prejudice is over. There is still much we can do personally and politically, and I hope, non-violently.