This is the ninth year that committed individuals have banded together to march in witness against the worldly authorities that make war against God’s poor ones. In 2003, when the first Pasadena Palm Sunday Peace Parade was organized, 23 hardy souls made the commitment to walk the mile from the fringes of the city of Pasadena to its economic heart in the Paseo Colorado shopping center. This year, with the announcement that peace activist and former hostage in Iraq, James Loney, will keynote the event, 300 people are expected to march.
Organizer Bert Newton, a Mennonite pastor, talked about the birth of this powerful idea. As he remembers, it was at a morning Bible study in 1999 in the Los Angeles home of Ched Myers. The group was studying the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus began his journey in Galilee, a region referred to by the prophet Isaiah as a land of foreigners, a place of poverty and marginalization. It ended in the political, social and economic center of that society, Jerusalem, where he would have his final showdown with the Roman powers that be. Duly noted during the study session was Jesus’ decision to enter the great city on the back of an ass, weaponless, his way blanketed with palm branches. Was this an act of political theater? Was it meant to draw a comparison to the Romans dignitaries entering Jerusalem through another gate mounted on war horses with chariots in a grand display of imperial power?
Two members of the study group started a game of “what if.” What if we recreated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem -- in Pasadena, where we live? What would it look like? What route would we take? What could we teach and what could we learn from our own Palm Sunday march?
The seed had been planted. Newton couldn’t let go of the idea. His vision was for a march for economic justice, a people’s march. And then on September 11, 2001, everybody’s world view changed. In less than a month, on October 7, 2001, United States armed forces launched Operation Enduring Freedom to root out Al Qaeda from Afghanistan. Once again, the US was at war. Newton recalled that few protested the war in Afghanistan, but in 2003 when the US authorities began to speak of invading Iraq to destroy its supposed stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, the news at home was met with anger. Huge marches were held around the country and around the world protesting this second war. Some called it the largest peace movement the world had ever seen. Clearly it was time. On March 20, the US invaded Iraq. On April 13, 2003 the first Palm Sunday Peace Parade took place.
Now, the Parade is a tradition. Newton was surprised at the response the march has generated in people. After the second year, he was ready to let it go and move on to something else. But participants insisted that it continue.
The organizers hope that this tradition will spread across North America. It has already spread to one place clear on the other side of the country. Last year churches in Harrisonburg, VA held their first Palm Sunday Peace Parade. A website page has been set up (http://peace.mennolink.org/resources/palmsunday/
) to offer guidance to congregations and communities wishing to start their own Parade. Additionally, a FaceBook page (search for Palm Sunday Peace Parade) has been set up where organizers and participants of Parades far and wide can post messages, pictures, video and other relevant links. The Parade is on the web at www.thepeaceacademy.org/peaceparade .
In spite of the fact that the Parade began because of the wars that never seem to end, the event itself is a joyful one, celebrating the in-breaking Reign of God. Participants make signs, bring instruments, march, sing and pray. Once everyone reaches the Paseo, there are short speeches and a blessing. Newton says that if people learn one thing from the experience, he hopes that it is this: “As people get out on the street, marching as a group, one foot in front of the other, they start to feel their own power. Together we can do things that one person cannot. Together we can change the world.”
As an example of the power of the people, Newton offers the amazing recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain and a host of other countries. “If they can find the courage to come together and demand change, then the least we, here in America, can do, is march for peace. It’s far less risky. It is my hope that once people learn of their power, there will be further action. People will be ready whenever there’s a call.”
Please join us at 3:00 at Messiah Lutheran Church, 570 E. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena, CA, on April 17, for an afternoon of witnessing for peace.