This weekend I went to Syracuse with a few friends to attend an anti-drone rally, and as we were waiting on the bus that would take us back home one of my fellow protesters turned to me and asked, “So, Emily, how did you become a peace person?” I had to think for a minute, and I realized that although the seeds have probably been there all along it was my experiences as a YAV that propelled me into non-violent activism.  

While in Guatemala I began to learn about the civil war there and my own country’s role in the genocide that took place, as well as the continuing oppression of and violence against poor (and especially indigenous) Guatemalans. At the same time that this awakening to my country’s role in Guatemala was happening, my faith also began to deepen and take new form, and a Christian ethic of non-violence and non-violent resistance became an important part of my faith. Every day I saw the physical, social, and psychological effects of systematic violence in a way I had not been able to see in my own country (not because it doesn’t exist, but because of my own ignorance and desensitization and complicity in the system from which I benefit as a person of privilege), and I began to see that violence only begets more violence. I became convinced that the only way to honor the image of God in others and in ourselves is through non-violent resistance to violence, because, to use an image from Audre Lorde, we cannot use the master’s tools (of violence) to dismantle the master’s house.

Since returning from Guatemala three years ago, political activism against US militarism has become an important part of my life and faith that keeps me connected to the values and experiences I gained as a YAV. As a second-year national YAV one of my housemates and I even traveled to Georgia for a protest against the School of the Americas and found it to be a spiritual experience that grounded us and energized us for our work in Nashville as well as strengthened our bond as YAVs.

I realize that not everyone and not every YAVA shares my views on peace and the US military, but I am sure that every YAVA has a story of at least one way that his or her life, awareness, or values have changed as a result of serving as a YAV. I give thanks today for the ways in which we have changed and for the changes that we seek to make in our world.

(Picture: Two of the 2009-2010 Nashville YAVs at the School of the Americas Demonstration. We met up with members of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and marched with them in the procession at the Gates of Ft. Benning).