by Gene Stoltzfus, director emeritus of CPT
In the early 1990s, I joined a group of six people who went to Miami, Florida where U.S. officials were holding Haitian boat people – refugees fleeing Haiti’s military regime – in federal detention facilities. The authorities denied our group entrance to speak with the refugees.
After two days of quiet vigils and building rapport with officials, we purchased several bottles of bubbles usually designed for children’s play. The next day at our vigil, we alerted supporters and the press that we would be blowing bubbles into the prison facilities with sacred messages of freedom for Haitian boat people.
When we arrived to carry out our action, the guards took up their normal positions. We prayed, sang one song, and then began blowing bubbles towards the prison.
We explained to the guards that since we were prohibited from entering the facility, we were blowing bubbles carrying special messages for the release of Haitians held inside. We warned the guards that since these were blessed bubbles, they should not to try to touch or destroy them. The guards cooperated and their behavior suggested that we had found a thoughtful way to carry our message. Others who passed by were curious and we explained the meaning of the bubbles through leaflets and conversations.
Word of the bubbles spread. Unknown to us, another delegation was also at the prison attempting to interview Haitian detainees for a national organization of lawyers. The group contacted us immediately when they saw the bubbles and joined in the action.
They had received permission to visit the prison but none of them spoke Creole, the Haitian language. One of our group was fluent and the authorities certified that person to join the lawyers on the following day for interviews.
Creating space in peacemaking involves fashioning a place in time where sights, sounds, feelings, words, or art are presented within the context of a nonviolent perspective. When this happens in a non-judgmental spirit, hardened minds become freer to reach for new possibilities. Something new can be born.
In the absence of this safe zone, a new reality is not possible, and positions harden. So for example, the judgments of Chiefs of State like Saddam Hussein and George Bush prevented each of them from considering other options than intransigence and war.
When Jesus entered a village, he often became part of an event where new thinking about God and human beings became possible. He used a healing, a marriage celebration, and his entry into Jerusalem on a peasant’s donkey as agents of change.
Some responded enthusiastically and others were outraged by these well-timed events. The space he opened inherently shook up or rearranged long held convictions, even to the point of challenging whole systems. Some were inclined to resist these challenges to the status quo. But for many, it was a space pointing to a sacred knowing – and that sort of knowing leads to peace.