A Yoko piece of mind

Peace is only got by peaceful methods, and to fight the establishment with their own weapons is no good, because they always win, and they have been winning for thousands of years.” – John Lennon

Three student activists in Iran have been in jail for more than four months for protesting at a December speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and at least 100 pro-democracy students scuffled again with riot police at another Ahmadinejad speech Monday. Also Monday, four activists among hundreds protesting the Iraq war were arrested in New Zealand for assaulting police officers. In Egypt, thousands were said to have taken part in a Sunday protest calling for better policing in the northern Sinai town of el-Arish. The scene was one of burning buildings, stone-throwing, tear gas and brutality.

Examining just a few acts of protest over the last two days is indicative of how our world asserts its grievances. For every peaceful 5K run, petition signing or candlelight vigil, there is a swelling of violent mobilization. And whether peaceful or not, our activism is weakening itself through lack of originality.

Protest doesn’t always have to come in the form of picket signs or marches, and it would do us some good to mobilize in ways that provoke thought, not threat.

For John Lennon and Yoko Ono 35 years ago, this meant spending an entire week in bed dressed in pajamas. It was the couple’s honeymoon and, using their fame to exploit the media’s obsession with their presence, they invited the press to hover over them in room 702 of the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel while they expressed their desire for peace. No yelling, no signs, no riot police – just sitting in bed all day. Protest can come in any form, as long as it comes with a cause and reaches others. The timeless photos of John and Yoko, clad in white pajamas and holding flowers, are proof enough that their tactic was worthwhile.

Seeking imaginative and effective forms of activism is a device of each person’s uniqueness in character or background. If you are enthusiastic or angry about an issue, be a spokesperson for it. This doesn’t have to involve a podium and microphone; it can mean nothing more than talking to, and having an impact on one person. If you are rich, donate to a burning cause or hire a lawyer to sue someone who deserves it. If you can write, send a letter or file a complaint. If you are old enough, vote. If you are a musician, notes on a page may be your vehicle, just as Lennon’s anthems for peace moved millions during the Vietnam War era. Protest possibilities are endless.

Since the “Give Peace a Chance” days, Ono’s vehicle for protest has been her passion for art. Yesterday was her late husband’s 67th birthday, and she’s unveiling a light tower in Iceland as a symbol of reviving the couple’s world peace campaign. The tower is a beam of light emanating from a huge wishing well bearing the words “imagine peace” in 24 languages. Ono has traveled to more than 400 cities, collecting half a million handwritten wishes for peace, which will be buried in capsules around the well (you can send your wish to: Imagine Peace Tower, P.O. Box 1009, 121 Reykjavik, Iceland).

Ono is also reaching millions by putting up billboards around the nation that read “imagine peace.”

Ono’s protest in the form of conceptual art is an inspiring innovation compared to the numerous rallies and marches to which our world has become so accustomed. Her tactic, of course, is monetarily unfeasible for most, but it can serve as inspiration to find new ways to demonstrate and expand on the definition of “protest.” In celebrating the birthday of a music legend who stood strong in anti-war leadership despite heated opposition (and even deportation) by the U.S. government, seek out a new way to protest. And no laying around in bed all day unless you’re famous.

The above column, by Claire Harlin, appeared in the Daily Texan (U. Texas) yesterday.