Activists challenge World Hindu Congress over links to global fascism

Waging Nonviolence - Fri, 09/21/2018 - 13:27

by Skanda Kadirgamar

Six protesters were attacked by conference goers at the World Hindu Congress on Sept. 8. (WNV/Skanda Kadirgamar)

On Sept. 8, a coalition of South Asian organizations mobilized outside and inside the Lombard Westin Hotel, just west of Chicago, to disrupt the the World Hindu Congress, an influential forum that brings together governments, heads of corporations and religious leaders, using religious language to normalize fascism. The Alliance for Justice and Accountability spearheaded this inter-caste and interfaith convergence of activists from groups across the country, including the South Asia Solidarity Initiative and Chicago South Asians for Social Justice.

The World Hindu Congress, or WHC, professes an agenda of religious acceptance and “Hindu unity,” but this rhetoric is a thinly-veiled attempt to normalize the politics of India’s far right within the American mainstream. Dalit, Muslim, Kashmiri and other organizations representing oppressed communities throughout South Asia have long been attuned to the Hindu right’s dog whistles and blatant calls for ethno-religious massacres, in addition to their defense of rigid social hierarchy. As the WHC came together for its second conference, organizers refused to let this agenda go unchallenged.

The protest against the WHC aimed to expose the Hindu right’s strategy in the United States. Early Saturday morning, two trucks bedecked with images denouncing the WHC’s ideological roots in Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, circled the parking lot of the Lombard Westin. This provoked a small outcry from conference goers, one of who approached a parked truck carrying a banner that read “Hindutva Kills” and cursed at the organizers inside, calling them “traitors” who would “kill [their] own people.”

The events on Sept. 8 came to a head during the closing plenary in the Westin’s main ballroom, where around a thousand people had assembled. Demonstrators slipped in with the intention of silencing Mohan Rao Bhagwat, the head of Rashstriya Swayansevak Sangh, or RSS — India’s most powerful Hindu right institution.

The audience had been engrossed in nationalist speeches about a new age in which the “sun would always rise over” India for the better part of an hour. When they heard chants of “RSS, turn around! We don’t want you in our town!” they transformed into a violent mob. Demonstrators said they were kicked and choked. Encircled by angry attendees, two women who were part of the protest had their banner ripped away before they could unfurl it. They were dragged out before being handed over to the police. One of the conference attendees received a battery charge for spitting on them.

According to a statement released by Chicago South Asians for Justice, conference goers called one of these women a “dirty Muslim” and made death threats. The Alliance for Justice and Accountability, or AJA, released footage of the WHC mob online — in addition to a compilation of clips detailing more Hindutva threats and violence.

After that uproar, WHC organizers tightened security and called upon Lombard’s police force to drive protesters away from the hotel. Protests continued regardless of these efforts. Demonstrators from Muslim organizations, Sikhs decrying the Indian government’s atrocities against their community, and Kashmiris demanding an end to India’s occupation of their home joined the demonstrations outside of the Westin, moving in a circuit around the building and parading through Lombard.

Protesters outside the World Hindu Congress. (Twitter/Ashok Swain)

The primary organizer of the WHC was the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or VHP. Originating in India, the VHP is an ardent proponent of Hindutva. Hindutvatis are culpable in the massacres of Muslim, Bahujan and Dalit communities. The VHP itself has been connected to armed religious vigilantes. Indeed, the organization’s late president, Ashok Singhal, was notorious for praising the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat. Hailing the riots — which killed more than 2,000 people — as a successful “experiment,” Singhal went on to advocate their replication. The weekend of conference, the WHC renamed the Westin’s main ballroom after Singhal and used the space to hold its largest plenaries.

Activists have struggled to expose this brutality, which has been concealed by the VHP and other supporters of Hindu nationalism efforts to represent themselves as moderate or even progressive voice. Their strategy revolves around juxtaposing fascist positions next to ostensibly progressive ones. The WHC included a panel on how Hindu women might break the glass ceiling, while also accommodating a booth and diorama asserting that Hindu-Muslim dating is part of a “Holocaust of Hindus.”

Political speakers from the U.S. establishment who were invited to speak at the WHC ran the gamut from left to right. Several progressive Democrats who had been invited to attend the conference eventually backed out after being targeted by an AJA letter-writing campaign.

“Do I think all attendees were Hindu Nationalists?” AJA organizer Ashwin Khobragade asked. “No, I think that many of the attendees are looking to use their faith as a platform to give back to their communities.” There were many community service organization that also attended the gathering.

At the same time, those in AJA believe it is imperative to push back against what it identifies as a move to co-opt well-meaning organizations into a fascist agenda. “We wouldn’t want people with social justice values sitting down with people who are like Richard Spencer,” Khobragade explained.

Among the politicians who declined an invitation was Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an icon of Bernie Sanders Democrats, who cited “ethical” concerns with “partisan Indian politicians” on the speakers list. Gabbard has been known to be an admirer of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been accused of being linked to the Gujarat genocide and Hindu nationalism more broadly. She has also come under scrutiny for other relationships with the far right and her support for the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, another progressive Democrat, also became the focus of AJA’s accountability letters. Unlike Chicago State Senator-elect Ram Villavam and Alderman Ameya Pawar, Krishnamoorthi has not disavowed the WHC. He has continued to insist that the gathering promotes “acceptance,” despite the links to the far right that protesters have elucidated.

Opponents of the Hindu right began organizing their resistance far in advance of the WHC. The AJA extensively researched the conference, its speakers list and its attendees. CEOs, government officials and even the Dalai Lama were among the VIPs. Identifying key attendees was crucial to the aforementioned letter-writing campaign. On Sept. 4, AJA announced that this effort had prompted the withdrawal of delegates from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — the political wing of the RSS.

The goal of AJA’s investigative approach has been to prevent progressives from being co-opted into the vast network of Hindutva organizations that have been working for decades to guarantee the supremacy of dominant-caste (also known as “upper-caste”) Hindus. The RSS, which was founded in 1925, boasts large volunteer and paramilitary sections, and was inspired by the Nazi party and had connections to Mussolini’s fascists. The RSS founded the BJP as its political wing in 1951 and the VHP as a cultural organization in 1964.

The protest outside the Lombard Westin. (Twitter)

In an effort to carefully cultivate a more benign profile, Hinduvatis and their sympathizers have obscured this history. For instance, the American branch of the VHP includes commitments to providing community service and bridging faith communities in its mission statement. Yet this pretense of moderation has helped spread far-right militancy among Hindu American diaspora leadership. Organizers from Chicago South Asians for Social Justice noted that WHC speakers used eugenic language. During the closing plenary, one speaker, framing racial science in religious language, exhorted Hindus to have bigger families due to a supposed decline in Hindu births relative to Muslims.

Historian Maia Ramnath, who is a member of an AJA ally group known as the South Asia Solidarity Initiative, argues that the right-wing militancy that drives these groups originates from a politics of “wounded egos” and “victim consciousness” among members of dominant-caste power structures. The closing plenary speeches overflowed with resentment and were obsessed with a mythic homeland that had been overrun by the British, Islam and Christianity. Ramnath says this forms a distinctive part of their ideology of racial supremacy, which extols caste and religious hierarchies that became more rigid as they adapted to colonial rule by Britain.

“Their logic is that they are supposed to have been supreme,” she said, “but the colonialists denied [them] this rightful supremacy. They will now exercise that supremacy over their so-called inferiors,” such as the Dalits, Adivasis (India’s indigenous people), Muslims and other minority communities.  

Ramnath despairs of a “stubborn myopia” among Western progressives and anti-fascists when it comes to confronting these groups. She argues that today’s anti-fascist movement does not see how Hindutva emerged from the racism of colonialism, which is an observation that has been made since the resistance to fascism in the 1920s and ‘30s.

South Asian diaspora progressives also suffer from blind spots that enable them to decry Donald Trump yet continue to support Narendra Modi. Trump, who has praised fascists, has repeatedly celebrated Modi. Prior to his election in 2016, Trump attended an event billed as a fundraiser for Kashmiri Pandits, a dominant-caste community used as a political football by the Hindu right. Ramnath says this illustrates a problem that coalitions like the one spearheaded by AJA are forced to contend with. The far right is having a much easier time, in her opinion, organizing transnationally than its progressive opponents.

What follows in the wake of the WHC protests remains unclear, especially after the attacks on organizers. What is abundantly apparent, however, is that AJA and its allies helped unveil political affiliations that the VHP would rather remain hidden from American political discourse. Whatever concrete steps AJA take next, they are sure to use that footage against attempts to normalize Hindu fascism in the United States.

Finding Hope In Hard Times

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 09/21/2018 - 06:44
In the past, as in the present, people who occupied positions of political leadership had their own press agents, who were paid handsomely to make their employer look splendid in the eyes of the people and in the historical record. But there were also court reporters who told an unvarnished version of events.
While the former spun straw into gold, the latter chronicled the heavy human price paid for such finery. Take the case of King Solomon, for instance. The question we must ask ourselves as we read the biblical text is not which version of events is true, how do we separate fake news from the truth, but rather, how do we distill hope for the present and the future from this history.

To this very day Solomon is renowned for this legendary wisdom, When he became king, he asked God for the gift of wisdom.Clearly his ambition was to make Israel great again.He assembled a core of press agents to "capture" stories that might detract from his goal and to promote news that would advance his agenda. The royal press agents were so successful in their effort to cast the king in a positive light that the phrase "the wisdom of Solomon" has slipped into common usage.

Reading the biblical text more closely I find that there are lesser known and less celebrated aspects of Solomon's reign that members of the press corps inserted into the historical record. For ease of reading I do not cite chapter and verse in the following. Rather, I invite readers to do their own investigation of biblical texts and draw their own conclusions. The following highlights of Solomon's time as king raise two questions for me. Why were these stories allowed to remain in the sacred text? What lessons might we take from this history.

When King David was approaching death there was more than one candidate to take his place as king. There were no televised presidential debates as we have now, but clearly Solomon was neither the natural choice, nor was he everyone's first choice. There was backstage maneuvering and palace intrigue. Solomon did not have the popular vote, but the Electoral College was on his side. This helps explain why Solomon conducted a palace purge soon after his coronation. Loyalty paved the pathway to the king's inner circle.

Marital fidelity was not one of Solomon's virtues. According to the legend he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. In the eyes of religious conservatives Solomon's lack of fidelity was his great sin. They did not forgive him.

Solomon had a great edifice complex. He not only built a great Temple for God, he also built a fine palace for himself, and he is credited by the biblical story with erecting many other impressive buildings. There is no record that he named any of the buildings after himself, but he had enough gold and sliver and precious gems that he could easily have done so if he had wanted. He was not lacking in hubris.

King Solomon was a skilled deal-maker. He used the power of his office to build international alliances, and to amass great personal wealth. There was no emoluments clause to fuss with. Legend has it that many rulers from many lands came to him to pay tribute, stay in his hotels, and shower him with favors and gifts of every sort. He was a very wealthy man.

Some would refer to the reign of Solomon as Israel's "Golden Age," but others might call it the "Gilded Age." Forced labor was a fact of life for many, while the few basked in the blessed light of previously unknown prosperity. The chasm between the rich and the rest was deep and wide. And, there was no social safety net for so-called "takers."

Near the end of his reign Solomon reflected on all that he had done, and he wrote the following:

"So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done, and the toil that I had spent in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun" (Eccl 2: 9 - 11, RSV).

      Upon Solomon's death the kingdom was split in two, never to be reunited again.
Yet, to this very day there are many who cherish the hope that perhaps, one day, a new Temple will be erected on the very spot where Solomon's Temple once stood, and there will be a new Golden Age for Israel.

This nationalist dream is not unique to any one nation. Indeed, we live in an age when nationalist ideology is re-asserting itself in many forms and in many places. In some instances this resurgent nationalism borders on idolatry.

Rather than thinking of the reign of Solomon as a Golden Age, I see it as the foreshadowing of a failed state. His policies, practices and priorities left a divided nation that did not have either the will or the resources to heal itself. While Judaism remains a vibrant and vital religious heritage and faith, Israel itself has perhaps never fully recovered from the hubris of Solomon. Other nations, including our own, labor under their own outworn mythologies of exceptionalism.

I ask myself if we are witnessing the making of a failed American state today. Our national debt has reached historic heights, yet the stock market continues to climb ever higher; the social safety net is being shredded in the name of fiscal austerity, yet the defense-homeland security-industrial complex continues to expand; federal oversight and regulatory agencies are stripped of power and personnel, yet the ecological crisis deepens; and, a growing chasm separates the rich from the rest. The list of concerns grows longer if not by the hour then by the day.

         Are golden dreams the only refuge we have for hope?  .

While wrestling with the above, I have been reading Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America (Monthly Review Press, 1997). First published in 1971, it remains a compelling book. In the concluding chapter, Galeano writes: "In this world of ours, a world of powerful centers and subjugated outposts, there is no wealth that must not be held in some suspicion" (p. 267).

I am inclined to believe that there were reporters in the age of Solomon who were suspicious of wealth and so they seeded the official record with stories of dissent, knowing that in doing so they were sowing seeds of hope for a more open society.

The questions for us, then, are these: Where do we see seeds of hope being planted today? What stories are we telling and celebrating? Perhaps these questions are the true legacy of a wise king who at the end of his days wanted to tell a cautionary tale.

David P. Hansen,
Author and Contributor

How grassroots activists made peace with North Korea possible

Waging Nonviolence - Thu, 09/20/2018 - 12:48

by Sarah Freeman-Woolpert

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In April, it was a handshake. On Tuesday, it was a hug — one that might end a 70-year-long war.

The leaders of North and South Korea are meeting in Pyongyang this week to discuss the possibility of a peace treaty to end the decades-long conflict dividing the Korean Peninsula. This marks the third meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in since April, when the leaders famously shook hands across the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, separating the two countries.

After a swell of global optimism at warming relations between Kim and Moon, attention shifted to Donald Trump’s June meeting with Kim in Singapore. Despite the peace community’s hope for increased diplomacy following the summit’s vague yet optimistic outcome, many voices on both sides of the aisle in Congress, as well as within Trump’s own administration, have since disparaged the possibility for peace.

Contrary to the frequent inflammatory rhetoric from leaders in Washington and the media, North Korea has made modest concessions since June, such as the dismantling of certain missile launch sites. In this week’s meeting, Kim has agreed to allow international experts to observe a permanent dismantling of a missile test site and nuclear facility.

Despite these steps toward diplomacy, many government leaders are still demanding the immediate and complete denuclearization of North Korea — and they are doing so without offering any assurance that the United States won’t invade. At the same time, they are also refusing to announce the end of the Korean War, mostly due to fears that it could lead to a withdrawal of the 28,500 American troops stationed on the peninsula — even though Moon has dispelled such concerns.

Amid the clamor and saber-rattling, however, a steady, persistent grassroots peace movement is working hard to counter the negativity. By influencing stakeholders behind the scenes, building new coalitions and reframing the narrative to promote negotiation as a difficult but worthwhile process, this movement has risen above “fire and fury” to chart the way toward lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Building coalitions

Among the most important developments for the peace movement in the last year is the formation of broad coalitions. According to international scholar-activist Simone Chun, 2018 marked “the first time we saw a formidable, sustaining coalition with major American peace activists and the Korean activist communities.”

These coalitions have allowed actors to coordinate strategically in pushing for clear goals, like a formal declaration ending the Korean War and sustained diplomacy on a path to peace. These coalitions have also been key in elevating a range of voices, particularly those of Koreans, women and people of color, who have often been marginalized from the mainstream policy debates in Washington D.C.

Korea Peace Network, or KPN, is one of the key U.S.-based coalitions promoting peace on the Korean Peninsula. Spearheaded by the American Friends Service Committee, Peace Action and Korean-American peace activist Christine Ahn, KPN works to educate and organize Korean peace activists around the country, from birddogging congressional candidates to hosting webinars and strategizing sessions. In June, the network organized an action called KPN Advocacy Days, which saw a group of advocates from KPN visit Capitol Hill to meet with key legislators, like members of the Armed Services Committee, to promote negotiations with North Korea.

Members of Korea Peace Network outside the White House in June. (Facebook/KPN)

“I think it’s important that Koreans decide the fate for the peninsula,” said Korean-American activist Kwan Nam. With only 50 miles separating Seoul from the DMZ, and 25 million people living within 100 miles from the DMZ itself, Kwan described the possibility of war as “devastating for Koreans.”

“We cannot afford any kind of war,” he added. “My aunt lives near the DMZ. My older brother lives in Seoul. So when I see the possibility of war growing, I get really scared.”

Kwan mobilized around 20 Korean organizations throughout the United States into a network called One Korea Now, so that they could better support each other’s efforts to advocate for peace. This mobilization became even more effective once they partnered with larger, more established organizations like Peace Action, which formed during the anti-nuclear movement of the 1950s and has a wider national network of its own.

“It’s important to try to lift up those people who have much more expertise and more at stake for their families [if there were a war on the Korean Peninsula],” said Peace Action president Kevin Martin.

At the same time, however, Kwan has found it uniquely challenging to incorporate some parts of the Korean-American community into this peace work.

“Korean-speaking Korean Americans are somewhat isolated people in the Korean-American community,” he said. “We are working with some of the largest peace organizations in the United States, but a lot of Korean-Americans have never heard the names of these groups. My role is to get the Korean-speaking Korean-Americans more engaged with the general peace movement in the United States, and to think of Korean peace in terms of the global peace movement.”

Women Cross DMZ at the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula in May. (Facebook/Women Cross DMZ/Jeehyun Kwon)

Recent organizing for peace on the Korean Peninsula has also underscored the importance of women-led organizations in mobilizing public support for peace.

Women Cross DMZ is one of the leading groups in this movement, along with partners like the women-led activist group Code Pink. Headed by Korean-American peace activist Christine Ahn, Women Cross DMZ launched its efforts in 2015 by leading an international delegation of 30 women in a walk across the DMZ, followed by international peace symposiums in Pyongyang and Seoul. In May 2018, the group sent another women’s delegation to Korea, in partnership with the Nobel Women’s Initiative and Women’s Peace Walk. While there, the organizers convened an all-women’s symposium, met with key stakeholders and called for a peace treaty in an historic crossing of the Reunification Bridge.

Not only have these coalition-building efforts raised attention and public awareness – they’ve also raised much-needed funding. Women Cross DMZ, Nobel Women’s Initiative and PeaceWomen were the recipients of a $2 million grant supporting women-led campaigns pushing for a viable peace process by 2020. Part of this funding will be allocated to a network of South Korean women working for peace, elevating their voices in the ongoing public debate about the Korean peace process.

“In a moment when we all felt stuck, the fact that women’s groups began the process to break through this deadlock really shows the power of what peace movements can do, especially what women’s peace groups can do,” Ahn said. She also emphasized the important role women’s organizations have played in challenging those demanding total and immediate disarmament by stating clearly that there should be as much attention on diplomacy and steps toward signing a formal peace treaty, as there is on denuclearization.

Still, despite the breadth of this coalition-building work, Women Cross DMZ has faced challenges, particularly when it comes to gaining proper attention within the broader peace community, which has focused much of its attention on the Middle East — even after President Barack Obama’s so-called “Asia Pivot.”

“In some ways, I feel the peace movement has really failed to look at the shift in U.S. military war policy,” Ahn explained, pointing to the often overlooked South Korean protests of U.S. military bases. “The Korean peninsula has provided a way to shift our attention, but we’re so far behind where we need to be as a global anti-war and peace movement.”

Peace Action president Kevin Martin echoed this concern, but suggested that the problem is even more widespread. “We’re in denial about the militarism of our society,” he said. “There are conferences bringing together all progressive movements, but they leave out peace.”

Influencing key stakeholders

For 40 years, popular movements have demanded peace, democracy and human rights on the Korean Peninsula, including the 1979 student-worker demonstrations in Pusan, the Gwangju Uprising in 1980, and the campaign for direct presidential elections in 1987.

In many ways, these uprisings culminated in 2016 with the South Korean Candlelight Revolution. This movement, which drew over 16 million people, denounced the corruption of then-President Park Geun-hye and paved the way to elect Moon Jae-in, a president determined to prioritize peace on the Korean Peninsula.

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Moon has made a marked departure from previous South Korean leaders’ provocative rhetoric over North Korea’s nuclear and missile-testing programs, returning to the “Sunshine Policy” of South Korea’s last two progressive presidents. In doing so, he has emphasized economic projects and cultural exchanges between the two countries, like building railways to connect the peninsula, arranging family reunions, and hosting joint sports matches with North and South Koreans. There have been numerous public events promoting reconciliation, like the Pyeongchang Olympic games in February, when both teams marched under a single flag and played a unified women’s hockey team.

Since his election, Moon’s efforts to promote peace with North Korea have extended far beyond the two countries’ bilateral relationship. Trump has asked Moon to serve as “chief negotiator” for the third inter-Korea summit in September. This role is not only a testament to Moon’s diplomatic skills, but highlights the credibility he has built as a key actor in the negotiating process.

As with Moon’s election, the peace movement has an important role to play in influencing key stakeholders within the Korean peace process, including members of Congress.

“North Korea is a long-term marathon issue,” said Charissa Zehr of the Mennonite Central Committee, a Christian organization which advocates for peace and humanitarian relief around the world, including in North Korea. “There was very little we could advocate for within [the Obama administration’s policy of] strategic patience. Now there is more space and more possibility, but it’s still so volatile.”

The involvement of faith-based organizations like the Mennonite Central Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation, or FCNL, has been influential in pressuring stakeholders by finding common ground with legislators in Washington. FCNL has mobilized a network of over 1,500 people across the country in grassroots advocacy teams to lobby their congressional representatives. [Full disclosure: The author of this piece works for FCNL’s Advocacy Teams program]. These teams are promoting legislation that would require congressional authorization for any war with North Korea, as opposed to a unilateral decision by the president. According to FCNL North Korea specialist Anthony Wier, a congressional vote for war would make war less likely, as it would be a huge gamble for anyone running for reelection.

Pursuing this goal of grassroots legislative pressure, advocacy teams have incorporated creative tactics, like giving out homemade bubble bath, or “bath bombs,” at their local farmer’s market. An accompanying sign reads “Bath Bombs Not Atomic Bombs,” seeking signatures on a petition for their members of Congress to support the legislation.

Efforts to influence stakeholders in Washington has faced the predictable challenges of political partisanship — the force driving many leaders in the Democratic Party to decry negotiations and the drawdown of U.S. troops in South Korea. Despite misgivings about the Trump administration’s commitment to follow through on peace negotiations, leaders advocating a peace treaty with North Korea say it makes more strategic sense to acknowledge when the administration is ostensibly taking steps in the direction of peace.

“The partisan bitterness, particularly of Democrats who you’d think would support diplomacy, is a real and ongoing challenge,” Martin said. “Save your energy to fight Trump on any other issue. It’s right to be skeptical. The [Singapore] Summit didn’t produce a lot of specifics, but compared to last fall when we were threatening nuclear war, we’re in a much better place.”

Nam echoed these sentiments, adding, “We have to take the peace whenever we can. We always talk about ‘Give peace a chance.’ Now the liberals and progressives, who have been promoting peace for the last 100 years, should give peace a chance — for real this time — even if it comes from Trump.”

Ahn shared the same frustration, recounting how two leading members of Congress — both advocates of “the resistance” — introduced legislation intended to hamper the president’s ability to reduce U.S. troops in South Korea. “How is that resistance, when it just maintains militarization of South Korea and a foreign occupation of another country?”

Comparing the situation to Richard Nixon’s talks with China, Ahn described refusals to engage the Trump administration on matters of peace as “huge” missed opportunities. “He’s wrong on everything else, but this is a sweet spot,” she said. “Give them the credit to do what no other president has done: to hopefully end the Korean War.”

While many dismiss this view as wishful thinking or simply naive, the peace community believes incremental, tangible concessions from North Korea in exchange for economic and diplomatic incentives is a far more realistic pathway to peace than demanding a full dismantling of their nuclear program before they see any benefits.

According to Martin, this is where the voices of Korean-Americans can be quite impactful. “It’s very important for Korean-Americans to say, ‘Hey Dems, we understand that you hate Trump and are opposed to everything [he does], but this is about what Koreans want.’”

Ultimately, Martin’s point underscores the necessity of building a peace movement – and a peace process – that centers Koreans, the most direct stakeholders on this issue.

“I’ve never seen so much unity among Korean-Americans around this peace process,” Chun said. “When I meet young people, I realize this is a very different generation. Their participation is very important, because they’re the ones who will lead the future.”

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The re-centering of Koreans’ role and voices in the peace process could create friction between South Korea and the United States, as exemplified by Moon’s Liberation Day speech. Delivered last month, the speech laid out a plan for greater economic integration between North and South Korea, declaring, “We are the protagonists in Korean Peninsula-related issues.”

Ahn celebrated this statement, saying, “For me, that feels like we are in a moment. This is a process that is moving irrespective of the United States. Now we have to put in the time and the sweat to really make it happen.”

Reframing the narrative

As evidenced by Moon’s Liberation Day speech, language is helping to shape public opinion in favor of the peace process — with 90 percent of South Koreans supporting dialogue. Leaders of the peace movement are trying to do the same in United States, where a smaller majority — around 70 percent — support talks with North Korea. Such support is hampered by Trump’s low approval ratings and a distrust of Kim Jong Un.

“We need to shift who talks about foreign policy away from a Cold War, white man framework,” Ahn said.

One way of doing this is by giving a human face to the issue. Already, family reunifications and joint North-South soccer matches are taking place on the Korean Peninsula — something most Americans don’t even know about.

“The peace movement should be helping to amplify these messages,” Ahn said.

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Ultimately, according to Chun, it’s about forging a narrative that is less about denuclearization and more about Koreans determining their own path towards peace.

“Everything is centered around whether North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons,” Chun said. “For Koreans, this is about the ability to shape the future of [their] country.”

Many Korean-Americans are seizing the opportunity to make this known, while — at the same time — also providing a model for the rest of America on how to shift the narrative.

“Before the North and South Korean leaders met on April 27, reunification was a taboo issue,” Kwan said. “It took a lot of courage to discuss North and South Korean reunification in the Korean-American community. If you talked about it, you would be labeled a communist and pro-North Korean sympathizer. Now it’s something everybody talks about!”

This widening of citizen engagement and action can only be a good thing for advocates of the peace process. The more people come together in support of peace on the Korean Peninsula, the harder it becomes for world leaders to deny it to them.

Summer Youth Facilitation Institute Reflection: Mohamed Koko

M.K Gandhi Institute for Non Violence - Tue, 09/18/2018 - 10:34

This was my first year as part of SYFI (Summer Youth Facilitation Institute). And it was also my first year learning a whole lot in such a short period of time. I had one of the most amazing and thoughtful summers I’ve ever had.

I was able to learn a lot about:

  • Nonviolent communication
  • Plants and plant life by working in the garden at the Gandhi House
  • How to understand people when they are facing and going through conflicts
  • How to facilitate and lead different activities

An example of that would be practicing leading the morning circle then leading it again for the students from Columbia and Iraq. These were all great values and lessons that affected my understanding of what nonviolence is.

I was also able to understand that nonviolence could mean:

  • Being nonviolent and peaceful to plants and animals and not just humans
  • Trying to understand / respect people’s opinions even when i don’t agree with them

One of my highlights of this Summer here at the Gandhi Institute was going to the canoeing trip with SYFI and some of the Gandhi staff. It was very challenging for me but I thought it was fun to try something new and turn a challenge into a fun experience.

I am looking forward to trying to use what I learned in different fields and situations such as at home with my family or at my school. An example of that would be solving problems or disagreements between me and my brother in a more productive way.

I had a great summer here at the Gandhi institute and I’m looking forward to what’s next.

Guatemalans protest president’s decision to end a popular anti-corruption body

Waging Nonviolence - Sat, 09/15/2018 - 13:40

by Jeff Abbott

Police hold back protesters as a member of the Guatemalan congress leaves the congressional building on Sept. 11. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

Almost three years to the date after the largest protests against the corruption of Otto Pérez Molina’s administration, Guatemala City’s central plaza is once again the site of protests against corruption. Yet these protests have become all the more important as President Jimmy Morales announced on Aug. 31 the end of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, which uncovered the graft in the administration of Pérez Molina in 2015.

Morales made the declaration flanked by Vice President Jafeth Cabrera and Minister of Foreign Relations Sandra Jovel, as well as the ministers of the interior, defense and the secretary of intelligence. Behind them stood nearly 60 officials from the Guatemalan military and national police force.

The president gave the anti-corruption body until September 3, 2019 to close their offices and transfer their investigations. The outcry from Guatemalan citizens was almost immediate.

As Morales finished his declaration, protesters quickly returned to the central plaza to reject the president’s decision. Over a thousand protesters braved heavy rains the day after Morales’ announcement, continuing to express their disdain for the expulsion of CICIG. Some protesters brought with them piñatas bearing the likeness of Morales, which were set on fire in effigy.

Yet this was not the end of Morales’ actions against CICIG.

On Sept. 4, Morales announced that he was banning Velásquez from re-entering the country following his trip to the United States to meet with United Nations representatives who were looking to resolve the crisis. In the letter to the National Institute of Migration, Morales accused Velásquez of intending to destabilize “public order and security.”

Activists have worked to raise their voices against the administration to continue to denounce Morales’ decisions. Activists called for a series of actions and protests across the country.

“We have been working and organizing with other organizations,” said Gabriel Wer, one of the founders of Justicia Ya, which emerged during the protests against Pérez Molina in 2015. “We are trying to carry out some type of action that shows that we are not a few people, and that we are against what is occurring in our country. These actions come as a result of the work being done to organize between different organizations in both rural and urban parts of the country.”

The week of actions began on Sept. 10 when tens of thousands of residents of the department of Sololá blocked the Pan American Highway in several places for nearly eight hours to protest Morales’ decision. Members of the Indigenous Municipality expressed concern that corruption would surge and would further impact their communities.

The following day, on Sept. 11, the indigenous government of Totonicapán mobilized another day of roadblocks along the same highway. As the indigenous communities shut down the road, students from the University of San Carlos joined campesino organizations and other activists outside of Congress to protest a series of proposed reforms that would undo anti-corruption efforts within the government.

“We are here to condemn and reject the nefarious congressional members who look to reform the law of impeachment of officials, and to allow officials to annul the decisions of the Constitutional Court,” said Daniel Pascual, the leader of the United Campesino Committee. “We are uniting with the protests that were held in Sololá and Totonicapán to reject the decision of Jimmy Morales to cut the contract with the CICIG and to ban Ivan Velásquez from the country.”

A small farmer from Sololá holds a sign demanding that President Jimmy Morales resigns and that CICIG commissioner Ivan Velasquez returns. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

The next day, thousands of campesinos associated with the Campesino Development Committee, the Campesino Committee of the Highlands, and the Union of Campesino Organizations of Verapaz, traveled from across the country to the historic center of Guatemala City to join with urban collectives, religious organizations and residents to show their discontent with the decision by Morales to expel the CICIG.

Tensions were high in the city as the organizations demonstrated in front of the National Palace. The situation was worsened by the presence of hundreds of police and military special forces, known as Kaibiles, which stood guard at the gates that they had established as part of a three-block perimeter to keep protesters from reaching Congress.

Undermining the 2019 election and democracy

Morales’ decision to end the CICIG comes at a critical time in Guatemala, as the preparations for the 2019 presidential election have begun. The undermining of CICIG and the anti-corruption efforts are poised to guarantee the continuation of the cooptation of the state by organized crime.

“They are preparing conditions with these reforms for next year,” Pascual said. “They are trying to reform the law over elections so that politicians can change parties during their terms, which the law prohibits. They are also trying to reform the finance laws. They are trying to protect the president and keep the country subjugated.”

Weeks prior to the announcement ending the CICIG, the commissioner and representatives from the Supreme Electoral Council signed an agreement to work together. The signing ceremony was interrupted by far-right activists, which forced the event to end early.

Former Attorney General Thelma Aldana, who gained recognition for her work to root out corruption in the Guatemalan government, is widely considered to be a potential candidate for the presidency for the newly formed, center-right Semilla Party. Yet Aldana’s critics have taken steps to derail her campaign.

On Sept. 7, Felipe Alejos, a far-right member of congress who faces corruption accusations, established a commission to investigate the purchase of a building for the Guatemalan public prosecutor’s office in Zona 5 of Guatemala City while Aldana was heading the office. Previously, Alejos had traveled to the United States to complain of an ideological bias in the investigations of CICIG and the public prosecutor, something echoed by Morales and other members of the far right.

Yet analysts argue that there is no ideological bias involved in CICIG’s investigations.

“This could not be further from the truth,” said Iduvina Hernández, the director of Security in Democracy, a Guatemala City-based human rights organization. “I see this as being proportional because the right has had power and it has governed for centuries. It is their acts of corruption as a result of being in power that are being investigated. It is not because of their ideology.”

A member of the Campesino Development Committee stands in Guatemala City’s central plaza during the protests on Sept. 12. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

The CICIG is widely viewed by the public as a critical organization in the Guatemala government. Polls have regularly found that the CICIG is one of the most trusted institutions in Guatemala.

The anti-corruption body was established in December 2006 following a request from the Guatemalan government to the United Nations in order to combat impunity. Since its establishment, the CICIG has carried out over 80 investigations into corruption, organized crime and assassinations.

CICIG gained international notoriety in 2015 after an investigation into the criminal network known as La Linea, or The Line, led to the resignations of President Otto Pérez Molina, his Vice President Roxana Baldetti, and the majority of the administration. Pérez Molina and Baldetti both are facing prosecution for orchestrating the criminal network that stole millions of dollars.

The 2015 political crisis was marked by some of the largest protests Guatemala has seen in decades. These protests laid the foundations for the current movement against corruption in the country.

Morales has maintained a hostile relationship with the CICIG since taking office in 2016. The president, who had promised voters he was “neither corrupt nor a thief” has faced three investigations into his 2015 campaign for illicit financing.

In August 2017, Morales attempted to expel Velásquez from Guatemala by declaring him a “persona non grata.” Yet this was overturned by the country’s constitutional court.

In June 2018, the CICIG and public prosecutor’s office requested that Morales lose his immunity so that he could face charges for receiving illicit financing. The country’s Supreme Court deferred to Congress to decide the fate of the president’s immunity.

Declaring Morales “non grata”

The outrage over Morales’ decision quickly spread on social media across the country. This has quickly led to spontaneous organizing to declare Jimmy Morales a “persona non grata” across the country.

“In this moment, there is an spontaneous organized reaction emerging in Quetzaltenango,” said Brenda Hernandez, an activist who was among the first to launch the movement against corruption in 2015.

Morales had traveled to Quetzaltenango on Sept. 7 to inaugurate the Independence Day fair, but he was forced to leave following outcry from residents. During the parade, students carried banners rejecting the president and declaring him unwelcome in Quetzaltenango.

The repercussions for the actions by schools and students came swiftly. The departmental director of the Ministry of Education sanctioned the teachers and students, who in turn argued that their right to freedom of speech was violated.

Yet the example was set, and Morales was quickly declared unwelcome in departments and towns across the country. On Sept. 12, Morales and Vice President Cabrera were declared unwelcome at the University of San Carlos, with the portrait of Cabrera being covered by a black plastic bag. The decision at the university came after pressure from the University Student Association, which made the demand to the Superior University Council.

Students from the school of agronomy at the University of San Carlos demonstrate outside the Guatemalan congress on Sept. 11. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

The current protests come after years of organizing by groups like Justicia Ya and the Campesino Development Committee, as well as the Indigenous Ancestral Authorities, which have managed to bring together the rural and urban social movements.

The internet and social media have been important tools for organizers across Guatemala in the movement against Morales and his administration. But the alliances with rural organizations have also played a key part.

“Since 2015 we have been learning to organize ourselves, largely through social media,” Wer said. “But we have also organized with other organizations, such as students, campesinos and other citizens like us. This allows us to have much larger and diverse actions.”

Building alliances with the rural communities is key for the continuation of the movement.

“One of the things we learned is that from the urban centers we will not achieve anything when the country is primarily rural,” Wer explained. “One of the key means to transform the politics and economy of this country is to build alliances with rural communities.”

Crossing the Bridge to Freedom

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 09:48

I remember well that day, February 11, 1986. I was sitting with a group of colleagues that had formed a religious court, a Beit Din, at the mikveh in Vancouver, British Columbia. We had just served as midwives, if you will, having welcomed several new Jews into our people. Far away, and worlds away, a Jew had been returned to his people. It was the day that Natan (then as Anatoly) Sharansky had crossed from East Germany to West as part of a prisoner exchange, ending the long saga of his imprisonment in the Soviet Union. Along with his wife, Avital, who had campaigned tirelessly for his release, his was the face of Soviet Jewry.
On that day in the winter of 1986, three rabbis sat spellbound, responsibilities completed, listening to the news and sharing what we had read. Beyond the euphoria of one person’s liberation, of a long trek to freedom completed, we kept coming back to one moment, the very final moment of the trek, continuing to imagine it, to replay it, exploring its significance as we might mine a text for meaning. The text in this case was one person’s courageous final act in the face of oppression, one final step toward freedom in which that step became its own affirmation of what it means to be free.
          Sharansky crossed from East Germany to West at the Glienicke Bridge, where at its Berlin terminus of Wannsee, Nazi chiefs affirmed the “Final Solution” in 1942. As he began to walk alone across that bridge to freedom, when we might have expected him to virtually run, to at least walk as directly and quickly as possible to the other side, he did something very different which bewildered all of those who watched, those waiting for him at the other side and all of those watching on televisions around the world. The newly freed prisoner took a long, slow, zigzag course across the bridge. Beyond the deep, existential questions of survival, of faith, of hope that would become the primary questions over time, answers to inspire and challenge, the immediate question was obvious. Asked by newscasters and loved ones, by common folks and famous, by three rabbis in Vancouver, British Columbia, the question was the same, asked with incredulity, the answer awaited with baited breath. Why had he walked that zigzag course across the bridge? The answer was as startling as it was simple. The KGB agents who had brought him to the bridge had told him to walk quickly across in a straight line. And so, of course, as his one last act of defiance in the face of his oppressors, turning to the right and turning to the left, he walked in a slow zigzag course across the bridge to freedom.
I haven’t thought of that story for some time and am intrigued that it came to me while reading one verse in the weekly Torah portion called Shoftim (Deut. 16:18-21:9). Such is the joy of making our way through each year’s Torah cycle, a journey repeated year after year, new insights and associations emerging in the context of a given year’s realities, whether from within ourselves or in the worlds around us. I have never thought of that story before while reading Shoftim, but for some reason it came to me this year. Perhaps it is because the specter of tyranny is afoot in the land, the call to resistance and courage needing models to inspire, joined together in holy disobedience. Perhaps it is because the tensions within the Torah are the tensions with which we live, the tensions we seek to resolve, or not, in seeking our way across the bridge.
The Torah portion opens with a call to appoint judges and officers to insure that justice be done in the land. A call to justice as the way of the nation, there is an underlying recognition that the collective flowering of justice depends on each one’s adherence to doing what is right. The challenge of justice is addressed to each one of us and then to the nation that is the collective formed by all of us, tzedek tzedek tirdof/justice, justice shall you pursue (Deut. 17:20). The entire passage at the outset of the portion is in the singular, understood in Chassidic commentary to mean that each of us is to appoint an inner judge to mediate our engagement with the world. Placed within our hearts, or at each portal of the senses, we are to discern from within the way of good or evil. It is from within ourselves that we are to learn the way of self-control, whether with our eyes, our ears, our noses, our tongues, our hands, that we channel our desires in the way of doing good and not harm.
Of the external judges, the priests, the Levites, the judge that will be in those days/ba’yamim ha’hem, meaning in each age, that will be in our own time, we are told that we shall do according to the utterance of the word that they will tell you…; you must do with care all that they will teach you….There is to be a process of collective discernment, a process of learning that leads to teaching that leads to doing. Then comes the verse that brought to mind that zigzag journey across the Glienicke Bridge, Upon the utterance of the teaching that they will teach you, and upon the judgment that they will say to you, must you base your [own] action; you must not turn aside from the word that they will tell you, [neither] to the right [n]or to the left/lo tasur min ha’davar asher yagido l’cha yamin u’s’mol(Deut. 17:11). Our commentators wrestle to understand what these words mean, the latter ones in particular. There are conflicting views. One suggests that even if it appears to us that left is right and right is left, we should do as instructed. Another view says precisely the opposite; that we should do as told only when left is left and right is right, when our actions do not violate the truth that is before us, the very truth that the Torah itself has planted within us. The commandments are holy and are meant to guide us in the way of truth and justice, of compassion and peace, helping us to see the image of God in each person. Rejecting a ruling concerning the ways of Torah may at times be the greater affirmation of Torah. The rabbis taught that at times we should even violate a negative commandment of the Torah when another person’s honor would be compromised in our heeding of Torah (B’rachot 19b). 
         Ideally to walk hand in hand, in accord with good and righteous teaching, learning and inquiry as the way of discernment, the way of the nation, accepted and affirmed, inner judge and outer judge then to be in harmony.   There are times when the truest way of walking the straight and upright path, at one with Torah, God, and people, is to walk a zigzag course that says no to tyranny. With discernment, courage, and hope, the vision affirmed in the way of our walking, we cross the bridge to freedom.
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

How Afghanistan’s peace movement is winning hearts and minds

Waging Nonviolence - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 15:56

by Roshni Kapur

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In May 2018, a group of seven Afghans in the mostly Taliban controlled province of Helmand set off on a more than 370-mile peace journey to the capital city, Kabul, sparking a nationwide movement.

Residents of Helmand have been paying a high price ever since the province turned into a battleground between Afghan forces and the Taliban. The catalyst for the peace march was a car bomb attack during a wrestling match in March that killed 14 people.

The protesters began with a hunger strike and a sit-in protest in the province’s capital, Lashkar Gah, within 24 hours of the suicide attack to demand an end to the violence. The activists held meetings with both the government and the Taliban, but when no results were produced they decided to walk to Kabul to further advocate for their peace message.

The war-weary Afghans traveled across the country, passing through difficult terrain in the scorching hot sun. The final leg of their march happened during the holy month of Ramadan, which they continued while observing their fast. They were welcomed in the villages which they passed through and were offered food, water and places to rest.

In total, they marched across six provinces, passing by Taliban-controlled areas. In the city of Ghazni, they were even warned by the Taliban not to enter an area because it would be dangerous. “We met Taliban fighters and, after an introduction, they told us we shouldn’t have come here because the area is planted with bombs, and they had planned an attack,” one of the protesters told The Telegraph. “After minutes of discussion with them, they seemed tired of it all, and the war. They directed us back to the safest area.”

Their tenacity and courage attracted around a hundred Afghans from places like Kandahar and Herat to join their peace movement, including women. The female protesters were asked to return home after protesting during the day, due to traditional sensitivities around spending nights on the roads. They reached Kabul when the ceasefire on Eid al-Fitr was just coming to an end in June. The protesters had covered over 370 miles by foot in a span of 40 days. They were given a warm greeting by Kabul residents who offered them food and water as well.

Despite being exhausted, the protesters were ready for their next phase of activism. They met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and gave him a list of demands for sustainable peace. Some of the demands included hosting a place for peace talks, brokering a one-year ceasefire and launching a new mechanism that will look into the interests and needs of all Afghans. The protesters also formed a committee to reach out to the Taliban with a similar set of demands.

The activists then held sit-in protests outside the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan office and sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, urging him to take a proactive approach towards the ongoing conflict in the country.

The group also strategically targeted key stakeholders and institutions, such as the American, British, Russian, Iranian and Pakistani embassies, which are perceived to have an external hand in the war. They held sit-ins for three days outside each of the embassies and plan to launch solidarity demonstrations in their home countries. “By holding our demonstrations, we want to create a relationship between our people and the citizens of those countries,” Bismillah Watandost, one of the protesters, told TOLO News. “And we hope the citizens of the foreign countries ask their governments why Afghans are protesting outside their embassies.”

After Kabul, the Helmand protesters carried on with their mission by walking barefoot another 340 miles to reach Mazar-e-Sharif from Aug. 10 to Sept. 11. Their purpose was to bring their message of peace to residents in northern Afghanistan. They also conducted dialogues with religious leaders, tribal elders and the general public in places where they stopped. The protesters had developed various strategies of persuasion and deterrence tailored to the different institutions they were engaging.

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Their activism was the result of a well-planned strategy to reach out to their fellow citizens from the southern and northern provinces. The movement was led by Iqbal Khaibar, who is a demonstrator from Helmand and was a key member of the Lashkar Gah sit-in. Khaibar said that they were fearful of reprisals along the way, which is why they developed a strategy of establishing support groups that would continue the march if some of the participants were attacked or killed.

Moreover, the peace march emerged at the right time, just when the Afghan government reached out to the Taliban with an unconditional ceasefire offer. The Afghan High Peace Council — a body established by former President Hamid Karzai to negotiate with the Taliban — has also echoed its support for the Helmand peace movement. The council has played a substantial role in the country’s reconciliation and peacebuilding process.

Nationwide protests

The Helmand peace march has set a precedent for other nonviolent protests across the country. In June, Afghan women and girls personally welcomed the Taliban with flowers in Helmand province and urged them to extend the Eid al-Fitr ceasefire. Although the Taliban did not respond to the ceasefire extension request, the protest was bold. Their action would have been unthinkable in recent decades, when there were strict restrictions on women’s freedom of movement. Most Afghan women do not leave their houses to attend protests. By pouring out into the streets for an all-female protest, they displayed their audacity and strength.

The peace movement has been one of the key factors pressuring both the government and the Taliban to reach a peace agreement and end the civil war. The three-day ceasefire during Eid al-Fitr was a product of this nonviolent resistance, which added pressure on the Taliban to accept the offer. Although the Taliban ruled out the government’s offer for another ceasefire during Eid al-Adha, it has not stopped the peace movement’s momentum. More peace marches, protests and acts of civil disobedience are regularly springing up in Afghanistan.

The impetus for the peace movement is the growing insecurity and increase in violence since 2001. Most Afghans are simply frustrated with their living conditions and want the war to end. The Uppsala Conflict Data Program has shown a surge in the number of casualties in recent years. In 2001, there were 5,553 deaths in the country. By 2017, the number soared to 19,694.

A 2017 Asia Foundation survey revealed that as the number of fatalities has increased, so too has the fear for personal safety or insecurity — from 40 percent in 2001 to 71 percent in 2017. The survey also demonstrated that the movement is reflective of public opinion in Afghanistan. It found that over 60 percent of Afghans think that a peace process would usher in long-term stability in the country, and more than half of Afghans think that reconciliation with the Taliban is likely to happen. This growing mandate for a peace process has added weight to the country’s peace movement.

Although the Helmand protesters have not said anything about their next phase of activism, the peace movement has become a nationwide phenomenon. It has won the hearts and minds of ordinary Afghans. Moreover, it was also heartening to see the Taliban show compassion to the peace activists. Currently, the Helmand protesters are interacting with residents in the north to gain more support for their movement.

“We [continue to] go to villages and meet the people to support our efforts,” said Mirwais Kanai, one of the organizers. “In the beginning, some people had doubts and were blaming the protesters for being a project of foreigners or the government. That’s why only a small number of protesters marched to Kabul. We have been working on people’s mindsets and now the people have understood that [we] are really working for peace.”

Modi’s McCarthyist attack on left-leaning intellectuals threatens India’s democracy

Waging Nonviolence - Fri, 09/07/2018 - 14:56

by Tekendra Parmar

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In a nationwide operation on Aug. 28 by the government of right-wing Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, security officials raided the homes of eight activists, lawyers and journalists, eventually arresting Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao. They were booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, a draconian anti-terrorism law that has been used by the government to curb freedom of expression and association in the name of national security.

They are not terrorists. Neither are Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson or Mahesh Raut, who were arrested in June. They are activists, writers, poets, journalists and lawyers. They are citizens of India who believe in the plurality of our country and fight for its most marginalized. For that, they are being punished by a regime that, since its ascendance, has worked to polarize Indian democracy along fault lines of religion, caste and creed.

The crackdown reinforces what some Indian intellectuals have referred to as a silent “emergency” — alluding to the India of the 1970s, when the authoritarian regime of Indira Gandhi consolidated power to gut all political opposition. She gave Indian security forces undue power against journalists and effectively turned the world’s largest democracy into a police state.

Protests have since sprung up across India to rally for these activists. Last week, nearly a thousand people marched near the country’s parliament, sparking satellite actions across the country and online. The movement is using the hashtag #MeTooUrbanNaxal, which is an allusion to the derogatory phrase used by the government to discredit left-leaning activists and thinkers as members of the Naxalites, a Maoist rebel group that has been at war with the Indian government since the 1960s.

I met some of these activists while reporting for The Nation on the detention of GN Saibaba, a paralyzed Delhi University professor who was sentenced to life in prison in March 2017. Saibaba has been held in solitary confinement at the colonial-era penitentiary Nagpur Central Prison since last year. Like those arrested last week and in June, Saibaba was a vocal activist for India’s indigenous community, whose land has been claimed by dozens of multinational mining corporations. Surendra Gadling was his defense attorney. Arun Ferreira — himself a political dissident, who spent five years in prison — was also working for the professor’s defense.

The latest crackdown resembles the one that led to Saibaba’s arrest. According to news reports, police seized pen drives, laptops and cellphones from the homes of those who were raided. A police spokesperson told local press that “all evidence was scientifically analyzed,” a laughable claim from a regime that has promoted Hindu astrology, attacked the theory of evolution and promoted the use of cow urine as a catch-all cure for disease. Perhaps more tellingly, a government prosecutor told the media, the reason for the arrests were that the accused were part of an “anti-fascist front,” indicative of the drastic shift in India’s idea of tolerated discourse.

Even the letters allegedly seized from the home of activist Rona Wilson in June are reminiscent of Saibaba’s case: Police presented letters from an unidentified “R” to an equally mysterious “Comrade Prakash” proposing to overthrow the Modi regime in a “Rajiv Gandhi-like attack,” referencing the Indian prime minister killed by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber in 1991. In Saibaba’s case, the prosecution made tenuous claims that “Comrade Prakash” was one of Saibaba’s aliases, which is made even less credible by the fact that the electronic evidence collected against Saibaba, who was made to give up his passwords, was mishandled and improperly stored.

Sept. 5 marked the one-year anniversary of the murder of writer Gauri Lankesh, a prominent critic of the prime minister and his Hindu nationalist ideology. Since then the Modi regime has been eliminating dissent with sniper-like efficiency. India ranks 138 out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Ranking — behind war-torn Afghanistan, Duterte’s Philippines and even Myanmar, a quasi-democracy that is accused of genocide by an independent U.N. investigation. This is largely thanks to the murders of atheist bloggers and writers by goons linked to the government’s Hindu nationalist parent organization; it’s also attributable to the influence of Fox-like news on Indian media, where a new crop of nationalist broadcast networks routinely label government critics as desh drohi, or “anti-national,” and to the muzzling of civil society activists and protests at universities.

The Supreme Court has stepped in, first declaring that the dissidents should be kept under house arrest until September 6, before extending their house arrest by another six days. This was not a privilege afforded to those arrested alongside Saibaba, whose health is in peril, and whose case is disappearing into the bureaucratic gridlock of the Indian judiciary.

The Modi regime is honing its aim ahead of the country’s upcoming election, and the human cost is grave. Today I am thinking of advocate Gadling, who welcomed me into his home last winter, feeding me copious amounts of chai and poha as he gushed about the possibility of his pre-teen son pursuing a career in law.

I am thinking of Arun Ferreira, whose last words to me as I left his small Bombay office have stuck with me. I asked him about his five years in prison, about the torture and dehumanization, about not being able to see his infant son for the first few years of his life.

“How did you continue on?” I asked. “We continue on because we have to, because there is nothing else you can do,” he replied. Hours after my meeting with Ferreira, my father passed away. Those words helped me through my grief.

Most of all I am thinking of Professor GN Saibaba, for whom the possibility of dying in prison is even more real, now that his defenders are suffering the same fate.

Camus said it was the job of the thinking man not to be on the side of the executioner. Today, Modi holds the hangman’s rope.

Believe In Something

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 09/07/2018 - 09:20

I did not intend to watch the funeral service for Senator John McCain, televised by every major media outlet in the country, but the television was on and once I looked at this remarkable event I found it difficult to turn away. So many aspects of the service were so disturbing that I simply have to share my reflections--and give thanks to other journalists and writers who likewise found the spectacle mystifying. Let me count some of the ways.It seemed to me that Senator McCain planned the caravan across the country from his home in Arizona to Washington, D.C. with Abraham Lincoln in mind. The Lincoln funeral train traveled from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois.  Lincoln's funeral train traveled through 180 cities and seven states. One procession was for the President of the United States, the other for a Senator. One person was assassinated, the other died of cancer. The differences between the two men are immense, but I can imagine that in his own mind as he planned his own funeral procession, McCain was thinking of Lincoln. He, McCain, wanted to be remembered and celebrated as a hero who died in service to his country in the tradition of Lincoln, or so I think.
            McCain’s funeral was not held in a federal office building, but in the National Cathedral. I wonder if he attended worship services there on a regular basis. I don’t know. What I do know is that the church-state-military-security alliance was on full public display for all the world to see. At the very least the scene should give Christians pause when they read the story of Jesus’ birth found in the second chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew, or the story of his death, found in Matthew, Chapters 26 and 27. Every empire needs religious legitimation, but are there any limits?       During the funeral service a great deal was made of McCain’s experience as a POW in Viet Nam. I take nothing away from his bravery, courage and solidarity with other Prisoners of War. But simple honesty demands that we acknowledge that he broke his arm and leg after he ejected from his fighter jet and landed in a lake with something like fifty pounds of equipment on his back. The Vietnamese did not break his arm or his leg. He likely would have died in that lake had the Vietnamese not rescued him and taken him to a hospital where he received the attention and care of skilled doctors and a well-trained medical staff. The simple truth is, the Vietnamese saved his life even though he was flying missions that killed countless numbers of their own people.Figures vary widely but perhaps as many as 2,000.000 Vietnamese died in what they call the “American War.” The “Viet Nam War,” the U.S. name for the conflict, claimed the lives of over 282,000 U.S soldiers and allies. It is not a chapter in U.S. history to be celebrated.           As citizens of United States we want, I want, to believe that our nation is defending democracy around the world, protecting the down-trodden and championing the causes of freedom and human dignity. This desire to believe makes the contrast between Senator John McCain and the Nike advertisement featuring Colin Kaepernick, which was released the day after the McCain funeral I think, all the more remarkable.
              Both men embody in their own way the Nike slogan, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” Two visions, two nations. Can a house so divided stand? Deeply troubled by the display of unity between church and state that I saw in the National Cathedral, I remain a “prisoner of hope,” to borrow from the Apostle Paul, for I believe that fundamentally Christians must witness to a gospel of nonviolence. Such a witness changed the world once, and it may do so again.
David P. HansenContributor and Author

Inmigrantes indocumentados planean un paro estatal para aumentar presión para las licencias de conducir en Nueva Jersey

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 09/05/2018 - 17:29

by Catalina Adorno

Silvia Huerta se dirige a la multitud en una acción en marzo. (Facebook/Cosecha New Jersey)

This article is also available in English.

Después de 15 años de llamar y presionar a legisladores estatales en vano, inmigrantes indocumentados en Nueva Jersey se han unido para lanzar una nueva campaña de licencias de conducir, esta vez con una perspectiva e estrategia única. El 17 de septiembre, cientos de personas participarán en un acto al que llaman “paro estatal”; un día de no-cooperación en el que trabajadores inmigrantes se quedarán en casa, padres no mandarán a sus hijos a la escuela y las tiendas locales cerraran, todo para apoyar la campaña de licencias de conducir.

He estado organizando durante casi dos años con Movimiento Cosecha, un movimiento popular no violento que lucha por la protección permanente, dignidad y respeto para los 11 millones de inmigrantes indocumentados en los Estados Unidos. Cosecha es el grupo principal que usa una estrategia de no-cooperación económica en la lucha para los derechos de inmigrantes. Además de participar en la huelga de un día, miembros de Cosecha marcharán hacia la capital del estado en Trenton cantando “Licencias Si, Promesas No”

La comunidad indocumentada necesita urgentemente las licencias de conducir, cuya falta se siente todos los días mientras conducen al trabajo, dejan a sus hijos en la escuela o hacen mandados simples como conducir al supermercado. Si los inmigrantes indocumentados son detenidos por conducir sin licencia, las consecuencias pueden ser graves, incluyendo la detención indefinida y la deportación. Dichas amenazas solo continuarán a medida que se renuevan y amplían los contratos de Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) por todo el estado.

En el condado de Hudson, que tiene las ciudades inmigrantes más diversas y densamente pobladas del estado, ICE acaba de renovar su contrato por otros 10 años. Contratos como estos le permiten al estado a recibir dinero de ICE para “alojar” inmigrantes. Con el estado beneficiándose de la detención de inmigrantes, es fácil ver por qué otorgar licencias de conducir va en contra de los intereses de los funcionarios del gobierno: más personas con licencias minimizaran las detenciones (al menos por violaciones de tráfico), lo cual significa menos personas detenidas.

Nueva Jersey es un estado con una de las mayores poblaciones de inmigrantes indocumentados, casi medio millón. El estado se inclina hacia el partido Demócrata durante la mayoría de las elecciones presidenciales, pero ha sido gobernado por los dos partidos principales en los últimos años. Durante los últimos ocho años, el gobernador Republicano Chris Christie dirigió el estado hasta que Phil Murphy, un Demócrata, ganó las elecciones del noviembre 2017. El Gobernador Murphy se postuló con una plataforma que incluía la promesa de licencias de conducir para inmigrantes indocumentados en los primeros 100 días de su administración. Ahora, a los siete meses de su gobierno, la comunidad inmigrante todavía no tiene licencias de conducir.

Una marcha dirigida por el círculo de Cosecha en Atlantic City. (Facebook/Cosecha New Jersey)

“Cosecha activó a trabajadores inmigrantes indocumentados en el estado que ya no quieren esperar a los políticos. Sabemos que nadie peleará esta pelea más que nosotros”, dijo Carlos Castañeda, un organizador de Cosecha que está coordinando el plan para el 17 de septiembre.

La campaña de Cosecha para las licencias de conducir está compuesta por tres fases. El objetivo de la primera fase fue organizar a los trabajadores inmigrantes indocumentados en equipos o círculos de Cosecha. Estos equipos se convirtieron en la base fundamental de la campaña. Esta fase incluyó reuniones comunitarias y talleres donde las personas aprendieron sobre dicha campaña, y discutían ideas para crecer el movimiento en sus comunidades locales.

La segunda fase fue activar a todas las personas que habían asistido a las reuniones comunitarias y talleres. Durante esta fase, Cosecha recorrió el estado planificado y participando en marchas y reuniones locales con el propósito de crear conciencia sobre el problema con aquellos que aún no conocían la campaña. Los círculos de todos los estados también participaron en una caminata de 11 días por Nueva Jersey, visitando 25 ciudades y sosteniendo reuniones comunitarias a medida que pasaban por ellas. Esto resultó en la creación de más círculos en ciudades como Passaic, Paterson y Red Bank. Ahora, después de mucha deliberación, estos círculos se están preparando para lanzar la tercera fase el 17 de septiembre: la fase de escalación.

“Desde que llegamos a este país, hemos vivido con miedo a la deportación por el solo hecho de que no tenemos licencias de conducir”, dijo Álvaro Márquez, miembro de uno de los círculos de Cosecha. “Algunas cosas ya no podemos cambiarlas, pero tenemos la oportunidad de luchar por un poco de tranquilidad para nosotros y nuestra familia. Integrándonos a la lucha para obtener licencias de conducir. Cuando la historia cambie, podemos mirar a los ojos de nuestros hijos,  de nuestros padres, y contarles que fuimos parte de este cambio. Uniéndonos, participando podremos lograr cosas que no imaginamos”.

Sin embargo, ninguna campaña está libre de desafíos. Dado que Cosecha está siguiendo una estrategia externa y exponiendo a políticos, están teniendo problemas para obtener información sobre cómo la ley actual de licencias de conducir se está moviendo a través de la legislatura estatal. Un segundo desafío es que otros grupos en el estado promoviendo los derechos de los inmigrantes continúan reciclando las mismas tácticas que se han utilizado en los últimos 15 años, y por lo tanto ven la introducción de nuevas tácticas y estrategias por parte de Cosecha como una amenaza a su trabajo anterior. El obstáculo más grande y prevalente, sin embargo, viene con la organización de la comunidad inmigrante.

“A la comunidad inmigrante se le ha hecho a creer que son dependientes”, dijo Castañeda. “Se les hizo creer que tienen que depender de las organizaciones para luchar por ellos, a que los ciudadanos estadounidenses voten por ellos, o a que los políticos representen realmente sus intereses. Les han hecho creer que como trabajadores no tienen poder”.

Un niño llamado Diego sostiene un letrero en una marcha en Trenton el 21 de abril.(Facebook/Cosecha New Jersey)

El 17 de septiembre será el principio de muchos días en que la comunidad inmigrante ejercerá su poder. La interrupción del estado marcará una nueva etapa en la campaña de licencias de conducir, y esto es solo el comienzo de una lucha más larga por los derechos de los inmigrantes.

Este punto se manifiesta durante las reuniones comunitarias, cuando la comunidad habla sobre el rol de la campaña de licencias de conducir en relación con el movimiento en general. “Cuando hablamos de la campaña, las personas dicen ‘licencias hoy, papeles mañana’ para hablar sobre cómo la lucha va más allá de las licencias”, explicó Dara Márquez, una organizadora de Cosecha basada en New Brunswick. “También estamos claros que la lucha es por la protección permanente, y más importante, por la dignidad y el respeto, porque sabemos que la ciudadanía no resolverá todas las injusticias”.

Ella también cree que el momento es propicio para esta campaña. “Nuestra comunidad está siendo perseguida. ¿Cuál es la alternativa?”, Preguntó ella. “Podemos auto-deportarnos hacia dónde venimos y comenzar de nuevo, o podemos unirnos a nuestras comunidades aquí, donde ahora tenemos raíces y luchar. Ya no tenemos nada que perder”.

Cuando se habla de las muchas huelgas laborales de inmigrantes en California, el líder laboral y activista de derechos civiles César Chávez dijo una vez: “La lucha nunca es sobre uvas o lechuga. Siempre se trata de personas”. En una frase similar, la campaña de licencias no se trata solo de licencias, sino de personas que desarrollan una conciencia política y se dan cuenta de su poder.

Independientemente de su estatus legal, los inmigrantes no tienen que depender de los políticos para salvarlos. Cuando se organizan y actúan, se convierten en agentes de su propio destino y pueden cambiar la historia. Los trabajadores indocumentados continuarán luchando y liderando el movimiento ellos mismos, como dice Castañeda, “sin miedo y con ganas de luchar hasta ganar”.

Undocumented immigrants plan statewide halt, escalating campaign for driver’s licenses in New Jersey

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 09/05/2018 - 14:32

by Catalina Adorno

Silvia Huerta addresses the crowd at an action in March. (Facebook/Cosecha New Jersey)

Este artículo también está disponible en Español.

After 15 years of calling and lobbying state legislators to no avail, undocumented immigrants in New Jersey are coming together to launch a new campaign for driver’s licenses — this time with a unique twist. On Sept. 17, hundreds will participate in an act they are calling “paro estatal,” or a statewide-halt — a day of noncooperation in which workers will stay home, parents will keep  their children from going to school, and local shops will stay closed, all in support of the demand for driver’s licenses.

The main group pushing this new strategy of economic non-cooperation is Movimiento Cosecha — a nonviolent movement fighting for the permanent protection and dignity of all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. (Full disclosure, I have been organizing with Cosecha for the past two years.) In addition to participating in the one day strike, Cosecha will march to the state capital in Trenton chanting “Licensias Si, Promesas No” or “Yes to Licenses, No to Promises.”

The undocumented community is in critical need of driver’s licenses — the lack of which is felt every day with needs like driving to work, taking children at school and running simple errands. If undocumented immigrants are stopped for driving without a license the consequences can be severe, including detention and deportation. Such threats will only continue as Immigration Customs and Enforcement, or ICE, has its contracts renewed and expanded across the state.

Hudson County, which has the most diverse and densely-populated immigrant cities in the state, just renewed its contract with ICE for another 10 years. Contracts like these allow the state to receive money from ICE to “house” immigrants. With the state profiting off the detention of immigrants, it is easy to see why granting driver’s licenses goes against the interests of government officials: More people with licenses will minimize arrests (at least for traffic violations), which means fewer people in detention.  

New Jersey is a state with one of the largest undocumented immigrant populations, almost half a million. The state leans Democratic during most presidential elections, but has been governed by both major parties in recent years. For the last eight years, Republican Gov. Chris Christie ran the state until Phil Murphy, a Democrat, won last November’s election. Gov. Murphy ran on a platform that included driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in the first 100 days of his administration. Now seven months into his governorship, the immigrant community still does not have driver’s licenses.

A march by the Cosecha circle in Atlantic City. (Facebook/Cosecha New Jersey)

“Cosecha activated undocumented immigrant workers in the state who no longer want to wait for politicians. We know that no one else will fight this fight but us,” said Carlos Castaneda, an organizer with Cosecha who is coordinating the plan for Sept. 17.

Cosecha’s campaign for driver’s licenses is comprised of three phases. In the first phase, the objective was to organize undocumented immigrant workers into teams, or Cosecha circles. These teams are the now base, anchoring the whole campaign. Getting to this point involved holding community meetings and workshops where people learned and discussed the issue, as well as brainstormed ways to take action in their local communities.

In the second phase, the objective was to activate all the people who had come to the community meetings and workshops. During this phase, Cosecha circles across the state planned and participated in local marches and rallies with the purpose of raising awareness on the issue with those who weren’t yet familiar with the campaign. Circles across the states also participated in an 11-day walk across New Jersey, visiting 25 cities and holding community meetings as they passed through them. This resulted in the creation of more circles in towns like Passaic, Paterson and Red Bank. Now, after much deliberation, these circles are gearing up to launch the third phase on Sept. 17: escalation.  

“Since we arrived in this country we have lived in fear of deportation for the mere fact that we don’t have driver’s licenses,” said Alvaro Marquez, a member of one of Cosecha’s circles. “Some things we can’t change, but we have the opportunity to fight for a little peace for ourselves and our family by joining the fight to obtain driver’s licenses. Once we change history, we can look into the eyes of our children, our parents, and tell them that we were part of this change. By joining, participating, we can achieve things we cannot even begin to imagine.”

Yet, no campaign is free of challenges. Since Cosecha is pursuing an outside strategy and calling out politicians, they are having trouble getting information about how the current driver’s license bill is moving through the state’s legislature. A second challenge is that other immigrant rights groups continue to recycle the same actions that have been used over the last 15 years, seeing Cosecha’s introduction of new tactics and strategy as a threat to their past work. The largest and most prevalent hurdle, however, is organizing the immigrant community.

“The immigrant community has been led to believe they are dependent,” Castaneda said. “They were made to believe that they have to rely on organizations to fight for them, for U.S. citizens to vote for them or for politicians to truly represent their interests. They’ve been led to believe that as workers they have no power.”  

A child named Diego holds a sign at a march in Trenton on April 21. (Facebook/Cosecha New Jersey)

Sept. 17 will be the one of the many days to come when the immigrant community will exercise its power. The state-wide halt will mark a new phase in the driver’s license campaign, which is just the beginning of a longer fight for immigrant rights.

This point is made clear during organizing meetings, when the community talks about the role of the driver’s license campaign in relation to the wider movement. “When we discuss the campaign, people use the slogan ‘licenses today, papers tomorrow’ to talk about how the fight goes beyond the licenses,” explained Dara Marquez, a Cosecha organizer from New Brunswick. “We also ground ourselves in the fight for permanent protection — and more importantly in dignity and respect — because we know that citizenship will not solve all the injustices.”

She also believes the time is ripe for this campaign. “Our community is getting persecuted. What’s the alternative?” she asked. “We can self-deport to where we came from and start all over again, or we can join our communities here, where we now have roots, and fight. We have nothing left to lose.”

When talking about the many strikes by immigrant workers in California, the labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez once said, “The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.” In a similar vein, the campaign for licenses is not just about licenses, but about people developing a political consciousness and realizing their power.

Regardless of their legal status, immigrants don’t have to depend on politicians to save them. When they organize and take action they become agents of their own destiny and can change history. Undocumented workers will continue to fight, leading the movement themselves, as Castaneda said, “without fear and until they win.”

David McReynolds modeled a life of building peace and living without apology

Waging Nonviolence - Mon, 09/03/2018 - 12:14

by Frida Berrigan

David McReynolds getting arrested outside the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in 2015. (WNV / Felton Davis)

I met David McReynolds when I was still a searching young adult, unsure of how to square my radical upbringing and inherited principles with being a grown up who had bills to pay and stars to catch in New York City. I started coming to War Resisters League meetings and listening as decades-old debates raged between socialists and anarchists, strategic and moral pacifists, young and old radicals, and those who believed in confronting war with a pointed, learned essay and those who believed it required a mass mobilization or a general strike.

David — who passed away last month at the age of 88 — was already an elder within the organization when I joined nearly 20 years ago. He wasn’t always on one side or the other, but he was always trying to impart hard-won wisdom from a life of pacifist strategizing, struggling and experimentation.

By now, David’s accomplishments and contributions have been enumerated and lauded in countless publications from the New York Times to Tikkun, so I won’t reprise them all here. If you didn’t know David, the best way to understand who he was and what his life meant to so many is to listen to Democracy Now’s extended interview with his friend and colleague Ed Hedemann and Jeremy Scahill, activist and journalist. I have found myself hungry for his voice in the weeks since his death. Luckily, YouTube has loads of interviews with David, including a whip-sharp appearance on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher in August 2000, where he held his own — refusing to be caricatured as a political quack. Invited to sit alongside Shari Belafonte and two other actors, David stayed focused on the issues, got in his talking points and is not cowed by celebrity. He won the crowd’s respect and affection.

David was self-critical. He called himself a peace movement bureaucrat and would honor the courage of others, like his friend Carmen Trotta, who participated in the Kings Bay Trident Plowshares in April. Yet, as I reflect on his life, all I see is courage. He came out as gay when that identity was a jail sentence, a tightly shut closet and a career killer even within progressive circles. He came out as a pacifist when that identity was mocked as naive, bourgeois and traitorous. He came out as a socialist when that identity was misunderstood, feared and hated. David was out; he learned to live without apology, without shame, without caveat.

And while he bemoaned that he wasn’t going to jail all the time for his beliefs, he took a bust more than most and was consistent over more than half a century in his opposition to war and militarism. As his friend and longtime colleague Ed Hedemann told me, “I believe one of his first arrests (if not the first) was April 17, 1959, in City Hall Park for refusing to take shelter during the annual nuclear war air raid drill; and his last arrest — 56 years later — on April 28, 2015, was in front of the U.S. Mission, demanding the elimination of all nuclear weapons.” Ed wrote back a few hours later to revise the record, “Actually, his first arrest appears to be in 1954 when he refused induction.” That is 61 years of pacifist, creative, brave witness.

I watched and listened and learned. The work of building peace with justice is a lifelong undertaking. It can’t all happen today. How do you sustain a sense of urgency without going crazy? How do you care for yourself and care for the world? How do you — as his friend and mentor A.J. Muste posited — remain steadfast in your principles, remain unchanged in a changing world?

Here are some lessons I am trying to learn from David McReynolds:

You need beauty

David loved scents. He had hundreds of vials of perfume and essential oils and always smelled good. He took and shared beautiful photographs. He learned about E.E. Cummings and William Carlos Williams from the great dancer Alvin Ailey when they were both young, and Ailey imparted a lifelong love of poetry to David. He was a member of the New York Bromeliad Society and traveled all over to continue to learn about these incredible plants. I had to look up what that meant (it’s a plant that thrives without soil). He paused over and appreciated beauty.

You need friends

David mailed birthday cards to his friends. Mostly up-close photos of flowers with a penned or typed line of appreciation. He cultivated friendship and maintained them even amid bitter political and philosophical disagreements. He had an open door policy at his tiny and incredibly cluttered apartment, which served as a late night salon for a wide circle of of friends. Every year, he called together his community to “the Night of the Candles.” In the dark, he and his friends named and remembered those who had died in the past year, lighting candles and speaking their names. It is a tradition he kept for many years. In addition to his many human friends, David also cared for and loved cat companions. David was a good friend.

You need to eat

My husband, Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer, knew David through the War Resisters League as a kid. The two of them would sneak out for forbidden hamburgers at McDonald’s, eschewing the veggie movement fare. David made a hummus redolent with garlic. It was almost more garlic than beans. His recipe, captured for a War Resisters League desk calendar, calls for a healthy dose of MSG. He brought it to every gathering. And now we will too, in celebration of his distinct palate.

You need to believe

David was an atheist. He did not subscribe to any religion. But he carried a deep respect for many and was curious about faith traditions. He believed in ritual and created meaning, making gatherings like his Night of Candles. He believed in socialism, saying he didn’t just want to be anti-imperialist or anti-racist, but pro-solution. He believed in people, in beauty, in tomorrow.

David McReynolds hosting one of his Night of the Candles events. (WNV / Matthew Daloisio)

In his last Night of Candles invitation, in 2017, David wrote: “I am very aware that at 88 I am pushing the odds of whether I will be here next year. The event is meant to pay homage to our personal pasts, to the people (or cats, dogs, birds) that, for good or bad, shaped us. We rush to the future, but the past is still alive in us.”

This year, there will be a new candle flickering in the darkness. David McReynolds, thank you for all you are teaching me.

First to Cry Out in Horror, then to Raise up Sparks -- Torah’s Challenge from within its Own “Harsh Passages”

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 08/31/2018 - 12:52

The pain was palpable around the learning table. How to enter the harshness of the passage, even as it seems the Torah itself wishes to soften what it knows to be wrong in its essence? How do we read through the lens of our own sensibilities words that hurt and discomfort, words that describe a situation that never should have come to be? Yet it does come to be, then and now, over and over and over again. It is one more instance of the brutality that people bring upon each other, reflected not in the news of the day, but in our holiest text. Regardless of how the details vary, of time and context, in the varied guise of people and place, degrees of sophistication in the ways of our hurting others, so we have done and so we continue to do.
This weekly Torah portionKi Tetze (Deut. 21:10-25:19), opens in the midst of what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes so helpfully as one of the “harsh passages” of the Torah. Whether of life or of Torah, we struggle to know if this is what defines the essence. Is this the Torah? Is this life? Is this what it is all about, what we are left with when all else is scraped away? The portion opens, ki tetze la’milchamah al oy’vecha/when you go forth to war against your enemies, and, God, your God, delivers one of them into your hand, and you will take his captives, and you see among the captives a woman of beautiful form, you desire her and you take her as your wife.... It is the pain of women that sears the pages. Perhaps that is why it is there, to help us appreciate the pain of others by seeing the pain of those most vulnerable, those most in need of empathy and help, as in the constant reminder of our duty to the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. And here it is the woman, torn from her family, her people, her land to become another’s wife, to be forcibly married to a soldier who has been drawn to her body.  First we cry out with horror for such debasement of women, not to see in the controlled license given to the solder an act of sensitivity, but a glimmering of sensitivity that bids us to complete it. Before we can act on that glimmering, though, first we need to address the situation for what it is—rape—in the context of a forced and unequal marriage.
           It is painful to read these verses, painful to share them, to draw attention to them. And yet I do, because if we avoid what is painful, fearing to engage with the harsh passages of Torah and life, then we shall never transcend them. For all of the pain in life, we see and feel the warmth of a summer’s sun; we delight in the gleeful and oblivious laughter of children, in the spark of love when people are truly drawn to each other as equals. We witness within ourselves and in the world around us the power of kindness to transform and transcend. We stay engaged because we are alive, we are human, we have no choice if we would feel and affirm goodness and hope, a future for those very children whose laughter keeps us engaged.
In the face of the very harshness that he identifies, Rabbi Heschel responds out of the pain of his own soul.        Having witnessed enough of human brutality, fleeing the fires of Europe, much of his family having remained and been consumed, he describes the “harsh passages” as seeming “to be incompatible with our certainty of the compassion of God.” Wrestling for his sake and ours, he writes (God in Search of Man, p. 268), “the standards by which those passages are criticized are impressed upon us by the Bible…, which is the main factor in ennobling our conscience and in endowing us with the sensitivity that rebels against all cruelty….” He reminds us that the “harsh passages” do not represent abiding values, that they are not prescribed as a way of behavior, “that they stand in sharp contrast with the compassion, justice, and wisdom of the laws that were legislated for all times.
We scream, we cry out, and we ask where do go from here and how do we get there? The Torah is a context for struggle. It is called Torat Chayyim/Living Torah, Torah of Life. It is real and often as seamy and sordid as it is sublime, a reflection of life in all realms of life. We are meant to wrestle and to struggle with life as it is reflected in Torah in order to learn how to struggle with life as it happens around us. The challenge is to learn the ways of redirecting the violence, of transcending and transforming the seamy and the sordid, of text and of life. That is why we engage with texts, to learn about life and how to live. The Torah is holy because it challenges us to be holy, not only through exhortation, but through engagement with the profane as well as the sacred, all part of life. Moved by the beauty of creation as it is in the world around us and by the words of B’reishit/Genesis that describe the world’s coming to be, moved by the laughter of the children and of the flowers that sway in a summer’s breeze, we know that it is “the compassion, justice, and wisdom” that are meant to abide for all time, the vision and the way until we get there, when the harsh passages shall be but a memory of a long and arduous journey.
          We take a breath around the table. There is a glimmering that rises through the pain. The law that the soldier is to marry a woman that he is drawn to hurts in its incompleteness, and yet it is a glimmering, a channeling on some most basic level, an effort to redirect initial passion, perhaps to prevent rape on the battlefield, so incomplete, but a glimmering. Perhaps? The challenge then is where do we go from here…; from there in the Torah to here amidst the churning of our own gentler sensibilities, from here to there…, to a time when the harsh passages shall have been smoothed away by the very gentleness that allows us, that demands of us to feel such pain.
The rabbis spoke of this law, in all of its incompleteness, as a context of struggle with the yetzer ho’rah/evil inclination: lo dibra torah eleh k’neged yetzer ho’rah/the Torah speaks only as counter to the evil inclination (Kiddushin 21b). Some say the statement is only about this context of struggle, the soldier on the battlefield. And yet, from the most extreme context of violence in which this teaching is set, the context of war and its brutality, a way is set to help us find the way out. For the Chassidic teachers, the context of war in the Torah becomes a context in which to face our own inner struggles with the evil inclination and our own demons, to wrestle toward the transformation and redirection of the less than admirable forces within our selves. These are the very forces, anger, greed, lust, self-loathing, which on a mass scale if left unchecked can precipitate the ways of war, violence, and rape that the Chassidic teachers seek to transform. The surface meaning and context, the p’shatof the text, is immediately transformed, deftly turned with gentle hand as though to say this is not the way, the transformation of words pointing the way to the transformation of reality.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apta, the Apta Rov, called the Ohev Yisrael/Lover of Israel,ancestor of our Rabbi Heschel, a thread unfolding through the generations, transforms the very verse that is the source of our pain. Of the captive referred to in the opening verse of the parsha, this refers to the holy sparks that were scattered, and engulfed, and locked away, and confused in all the external realities of the world….         Our task is not to abuse and betray one another, but to raise up those scattered sparks of holiness and return them to their source, thereby creating a world of wholeness.    Referring to us, and so to encourage, the Apta teaches of the vision and the way, of how to get from then to now, from here to there, b’ma’asehem ha’tovim, u’v’machshavtam ha’t’horah hayu podim otam me’ha’sh’vi/through their good deeds, and through their pure thoughts, shall they redeem them (the holy sparks) from captivity.
What may be the most startling transformation of the text, and so of war and violence, is in the commentary to this passage of Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov in his work Igra d’Kallah, fittingly, The Letter of the Bride.         The Dinover teaches that the captive woman is none other than the Sh’china, God’s female presence in the world: l’derech ha’m’kubalim/in the way of the kabbalists/mystics, kol ha’parasha m’daber al golus ha’sh’china/the entire portion is speaking about the exile of the sh’china/she’hi b’shiv’ya/for she is in captivity. The harsh passage is softened, touched by sparks of light, in the way of our reading and making our way through it, in the challenge leveled from within at the violence of its own context.
Reading through the lens of my own experience of text and life as a male, I acknowledge with humility that the possibility of so re-creating the p’shat/surface meaningis, of course, rooted in the painful real-life experience of women as reflected in the words of Torah themselves. The challenge and the glimmerings of response also begin in the Torah itself, awaiting completion through us. Raising the nascent sparks to fullness, it is for us to liberate the captive by insuring, first and foremost, that such brutality doesn’t occur in the first place. Our task is to free the captive woman of Ki Tetze, as everywoman and as Sh’china, allowing her gentleness to flow out into the world, softening its harshness with her motherly love, and ours.
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

#MeToo campaign for Sudanese teen highlights the need to end Western saviorism

Waging Nonviolence - Thu, 08/30/2018 - 12:22

by Erin Mazursky

Noura Hussein (Amnesty International)

On June 27, Sudanese activists and the global human rights community declared victory when a 19-year old Sudanese woman, Noura Hussein, was spared the death penalty. She was instead sentenced to a five-year prison sentence for murdering her husband in self-defense, as he tried to rape her when she was 16 years old.

After news of the court’s initial decision for the death penalty broke in early May, Sudanese activists quickly took to Twitter and Facebook with the hashtags #SaveNoura and #JusticeforNoura. Within a week, the story caught the attention of major international organizations like UN Women, Amnesty International and the European Union, who all issued statements against the ruling. A Sudanese diaspora blogger inspired a petition that received close to 1.7 million signatures worldwide. Celebrities like Rose McGowan, Emma Watson, Naomi Campbell and former Australian Prime Minister Julia Guillard also used their platforms to speak out.

Within a few weeks, a higher Sudanese court repealed the death sentence to a still-shocking five-year prison sentence. Sudan’s prisons are known for their brutality and instances of unbridled torture.

The subsequent headlines from international media outlets described the win as a triumph of the international human rights community and the #MeToo movement over a waning Sudanese regime that has repressed its people for almost 30 years, eager to appease Western governments. Assuming the case was closed, international attention turned to other horrors.

Unfortunately, the case isn’t closed. It reemerged last week — registering only a blip on the international radar — when a government prosecutor filed an appeal to have Noura’s death penalty sentence reinstated. What’s more, Noura isn’t an isolated case. Wini Omer, a high profile women’s rights activist in Sudan who campaigned on behalf of Noura, was jailed for over a week around the time of Noura’s sentencing. A police officer arrested her because he simply “didn’t like the way she walked,” which led to charges of prostitution and crimes against the state. She now potentially faces capital punishment.

While the attention #MeToo brought to Noura’s case led to a positive outcome, the notion of “saving a life” without giving light to the structural causes that enabled her oppression in the first place must be called into question. “All of the assumptions [of Westerners] about women in the East and Africa accidentally played a positive role in Noura’s case,” said Amgad Fareid Eltayeb, an activist with Sudan Change Now, the group that raised the profile of the initial sentencing. “Noura had a genuine cause, and the campaign had a victory. But what the campaign achieved is a small thing in the scales of [the abuses] that are actually happening,” he continued.

The Western human rights legal approach generally takes the horrors and injustices of the Nouras of the world case by case, with some harmful assumptions that create an “us” and “them” dynamic. Yet, there is far more interplay and collusion between Western governments and oppressive regimes like the Sudanese government than face value might suggest. For example, the European Union has funneled millions of dollars into Sudan for “border security” in order to stop the flow of African migrants into Europe. These funds have gone directly to the Rapid Support Forces, formerly known as the Janjaweed, which are the same militias that carried out ethnic cleansing campaigns in Darfur (in western Sudan) and who systematically use rape as a weapon of war.

The flash-in-the-pan activism of Noura’s case also begs some questions around the #MeToo movement’s ability to support long-term change and to truly challenge entrenched systems of racism, colonialism and patriarchy, especially when it comes to women in the Global South. While activism has become increasingly in vogue in the West, there is a danger that this mode of change simply replicates the same white (or Western) savior complex as the charity-driven humanitarianism that preceded it.

Western countries have flourished because of the violence and destruction they carried out to build their societies, and they continue to be complicit by failing to take responsibility for this past. “The white man’s burden should not be the motivation to act,” Eltayeb said. “It should be the culpability of 400 years of colonization that stopped the progress of the civilizations in the Global South that led to the situation in our countries now.” Action driven by guilt can be fleeting, but action driven by a sense of conviction and obligation can put societies on much more equal footing.

“Sudanese activists, themselves raising the profile of this case, is what [got the attention of] international circles … Without them, Noura would not be here today,” Eltayeb continued. “Public opinion has begun to shift and recognize that, at least for cases like Noura, it was a clear act of self-defense. This creates openings for more debate, but no laws or policies changed as a result of Noura’s case.”

Noura’s victory indicates that Sudanese activists are having some success changing the understanding of women’s rights domestically in a way that could enable more systemic change to take hold. The fact that Noura’s story spread so quickly on social and independent media outlets in Sudan is a testament to the effective, decentralized organizing of Sudanese activists, especially women.

Noura’s case became known because an audacious female journalist, Tahani Abbas, quietly followed her legal proceedings from the onset through the death penalty sentencing — interviewing her, visiting her in prison and risking her own safety to do so. The “No Oppression for Women” movement in Sudan stood ready to push out news of Noura’s case once the court made its ruling. The day of her death penalty sentencing, this women’s group also staged a sit-in in front of the court.

Other activist groups like Sudan Change Now helped amplify and spread the #SaveNoura and #JusticeforNoura messages. Opinion editorials, media articles and petitions followed, ultimately reaching an international audience. This in turn helped expose new strategic openings for the domestic movement. “One of the lessons learned from this campaign is the regime’s growing concern of their image in the West. We can use this leverage in the future,” explained Fatima, who was active in Noura’s campaign (and whose name has been changed for security).

But rather than coincidentally playing off each other, Sudanese and outside activists alike could coordinate more intentionally in the future. One place to start is recognizing that it is not simply an act of good will but an obligation to support and work in partnership with Noura, Tahani, Wini, Fatima and the other Sudanese women on the frontlines. Their names should be known outside of Sudan so they can continue to be uplifted and recognized as heroes in the global #MeToo movement. They continue to risk their lives far after international attention deflects to other atrocities.

At the same time, Westerners are responsible for holding their governments accountable for perpetuating a system that allows these atrocities to happen. Otherwise, there will continue to be more Nouras of the world than social media can work to “save.” This will enable us to root our work, connect our struggles and pave a path towards more authentic solidarity.

Ugandan farmers emerge victorious after monthlong occupation of UN office

Waging Nonviolence - Tue, 08/28/2018 - 12:29

by Phil Wilmot

After 37 days of occupying a United Nations office in Gulu, Uganda, 234 farmers, youth, mothers with young babies and elderly men packed their gear into trucks and returned to their homes in Apaa — an area of rich farmland and forest in the north of the country. Far from being a quiet and somber event, their departure was marked by an explosion of song and ululation. It was part collective exhale — following a month of cramped conditions, an overflowing pit latrine and daily hostilities from their reluctant “hosts” — and part cry of triumph and hope.

The occupiers from Apaa had uprooted themselves and thrust their community upon the only global stage accessible to them. They strategically chose the only office in the entire country that could be occupied without immediate forceful eviction. By the sustained, pure inconvenience of their presence, they forced the United Nations and other actors to address their struggle for land and security in a country that has inflicted great violence on them.

The long struggle for land and rights in Apaa

The occupiers began their trek from Apaa to Gulu on July 10, a journey that took over 20 hours on foot and by truck, due to bad roads and mechanical breakdowns. They arrived, silently, at 7 a.m. outside the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, with a petition on behalf of over 26,000 Apaa residents. The petition requested that the high commissioner in Geneva call on Uganda’s government to halt the arsons, killings, arrests and other abuses perpetrated against their community.

Such violence has been inflicted on the people of Apaa for almost a decade, as political elites have used state armed forces to attempt to drive residents from their land and clear the way for foreign investment. While one plan — to develop the area into a high-end trophy hunting park — was abandoned in 2015, locals believe that elites continue to pursue other deals.

The decision to occupy the OHCHR was not made lightly. It came after residents in Apaa tried many other methods to protect their homes. Following a new wave of attacks in March, they lobbied their representatives to raise the issue in parliament, guided researchers from local human rights groups to meticulously document recent abuses, requested meetings with foreign embassies, attended court hearings, and intercepted soldiers who perpetrated attacks with an envoy of local religious and political leaders.

Despite momentary victories, none of these efforts yielded long lasting results. Foreign embassies expressed sympathy, but didn’t respond to requests to meet. In a June parliament session, the deputy speaker called for an immediate halt on eviction operations. But attacks resumed just 15 days later. That’s when a core group of local leaders from affected areas decided on a new strategy: occupy the U.N. OHCHR, a body mandated to “promote and protect human rights for all,” as well as “speak out objectively in the face of human rights violations worldwide.”

According to a community leader of women in Apaa, who asked not to be named for security reasons, “We decided to occupy the United Nations to ensure that our struggle in Apaa would come to light, and become known internationally.”

The petition they drafted called on High Commissioner Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to demand that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni put an immediate halt to all attacks on homes and people in Apaa. In the event that the government failed to engage with these requests, the petitioners asked that the high commissioner call on foreign embassies to withhold funding to state security forces and the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. Making it clear that they wouldn’t leave without results, the petitioners emphasized, “We will seek refuge and assistance here till our pleas are met.”

Protecting the United Nations instead of human rights

In the first hours after the occupiers entered the U.N. gates, U.N. office assistants hovered anxiously on their phones, consulting their superiors in the capital Kampala. Security personnel stood rigid and agitated. The 234 occupiers from Apaa sat silently on the grass, heads bowed in prayer, waiting to see if police would be summoned to forcibly evict them. The word finally came from Kampala: They would not be expelled. The fact of the occupation was reluctantly accepted. The occupiers then began erecting tarpaulins to establish the camp and set up an outdoor kitchen with huge cooking pots propped up on rocks. The surprised U.N. staff rushed back to Gulu from meetings in the capital to the unprecedented scene awaiting them in their usually sleepy office.

Occupiers placed photos of 844 homes burned by government soldiers in the middle of the U.N. compound, as evidence of the abuses perpetrated against them. (WNV)

It quickly became clear to the occupiers why the OHCHR refused to engage with their petition, or to publicly condemn attacks in Apaa. Operating on a “terminal mandate” from the Ugandan government that is due to expire in early January, the OHCHR feared it could be forced to leave the country if it caused too much agitation. In endless meetings, the United Nations tried in vain to explain to community leaders, local members of parliament and local human rights organizations that making public statements about abuses in Apaa could comprise its very existence in the country. Unsurprisingly, the occupiers saw this as weak, self-interested logic. Numerous local civil society groups began to question the very purpose and validity of the OHCHR’s work in Uganda.

According to several occupiers, the OHCHR then began to make life difficult for them in the compound. Free press and freedom of expression were suppressed. All media were blocked from entering the compound to speak with the occupiers, and when they organized their own press conference outside the U.N. walls, they were not permitted to leave to attend it. A member of the occupation who took photos with his cell phone reported that he was threatened with arrest if he continued to “leak” photos to media outside the U.N. walls. His phone was confiscated until he agreed not to take photos. Occupiers explained that meetings within the camp were monitored, and movements in and out of the compound were heavily restricted.

According to another Apaa community leader, who also asked not to be named, “the United Nations tried to block us from talking to the media because they were so concerned with their own image. They also wanted to keep their relationship with the government comfortable.”

Apaa community members gathered with signs that were later confiscated. (WNV)

To make matters worse, when the U.N. compound’s single pit latrine became full, staff refused to let concerned local NGOs have it drained. For four days, Apaa residents squatted over a pit close to over-flowing, swarming with maggots. It eventually took the intervention of a member of parliament to convince the OHCHR to allow a sanitation truck to enter and empty the contents of the latrine.

Almost every day, the OHCHR staff in Gulu, Kampala and, eventually, even Geneva were forced into a dilemma: Without the option of neutrality, would they stand with and support those suffering human rights abuses on their doorstep, or would they act to protect their comfortable jobs?

Local solidarity boosts occupiers’ morale

Some of the most beautiful moments of the occupation were displays of solidarity from surprising and far-flung locations. Since the United Nations wouldn’t provide any practical support for the occupiers, they had to turn to others for help when their supplies began to run low. In the first week, hundreds of local market vendors arrived in a giant truck, packed with huge sacks of cassava, millet flour, beans, huge cans of cooking oil, sacks of clothes and blankets, and pots and basins. While a range of local groups in Gulu contributed practical support to the occupation, community and activist groups in other parts of Uganda delivered bags of peanuts, chickens, firewood, soap and food staples. Members of parliament organized for trucks to deliver water when the national water supply dried up, and local NGOs were at the ready to top off food supplies.

Local NGOs and market vendors delivered relief items to the occupiers after their initial supply ran low. (WNV)

Beyond practical support, many groups spoke out, tipping the balance of public opinion in favor of the occupiers and their brave action to defend their community’s rights. The National Land Defense League held a press conference in Kampala in solidarity, giving the prime spot to representatives from Apaa. An alliance of prominent human rights groups and activists in Gulu came out in support of the occupation, pledging to help them for “as long as they decided to stay” and to escort them home when they decided to leave.

Traditional advocacy gains new power

Doors that had previously been closed to the community, when they were out of sight in Apaa, suddenly opened after the occupiers seized center stage in Gulu. In the fourth week of the occupation, four community representatives and a baby sneaked out of the U.N. compound and took a bus to Kampala to attend a series of meetings. After presenting their testimonies to the deputy speaker of parliament, along with eight Acholi district chairmen, the group opened a case in the Ugandan Land Inquiry Commission. They met with the U.S. ambassador, the E.U. ambassador, representatives from the embassies of Norway and Denmark, and — finally — Nicole Bjerler, the head of the OHCHR Uganda office, who was accompanied by Alan Sibenaler, the acting head of all U.N. programs in Uganda.

With the leverage generated by the occupation, the Apaa community’s traditional advocacy meetings gained real power. The occupation forced embassies to grasp human rights abuses in Apaa as concrete and urgent, rather than remote and abstract. Both the U.S. ambassador and the E.U. ambassador engaged deeply in the details of the Apaa case, saying they would discuss Apaa in their upcoming meetings with President Museveni. Meanwhile, the deputy speaker had already met with the president and reported back to the district chairpersons that he had issued a directive against eviction operations in Apaa.

Despite constant pressure from U.N. staff to pack up and leave, the occupiers had — by this point — sustained their presence for almost a month. In a three-hour, translated meeting in Kampala, Bjerler emphasized that their diplomacy efforts had yielded fruit: the Ugandan Army assured them they would follow the directive against evictions in Apaa.

Meanwhile, Sibenaler offered a more unexpected, startling concession, that even surprised other U.N. staff: health and education programs in Apaa. When the Apaa representatives reported back to their community waiting in Gulu, this news was met with triumph. In the words of one Apaa community leader, “If they are serious about education support, they will build a school, as ours have been burned down. And building a school would show the world they are defending Apaa as our land, not a game reserve. Animals don’t need schools.”

The decision to pack up and return home

After their envoy returned from Kampala, community leaders of the occupation held a strategy meeting in their camp. While the team decided that the assurances they received were strong enough to end their protest, the occupiers are far from naïve about their decision to return home. As one of the occupiers reflected, “Our fight is not complete. But we have achieved a lot, and we now have powerful allies. We hope our struggle will give others across Uganda the courage to organize for their rights.”

By surprising the United Nations, the Ugandan government and even their own local politicians, the community of Apaa has shown the world they are not passive victims, but powerful agents of change. Ground has been won, and power has been built. The ongoing struggle of the Apaa community and their right to live in peace on their own land is not over, but it will never be the same again.

That We MIght Walk Humbly With God and People

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 08/24/2018 - 09:47

After the rains fell so suddenly and then the sun appeared, I quickly got up from my desk and went downstairs, opening the door and stepping outside. As I always do in such times of rain and sun in quick succession, I had come to search for a rainbow. A rainbow is a symbol of peace, of wholeness and harmony. The rabbis long ago taught that the rainbow is the symbol of God’s universal covenant with all of humanity, a promise not to again destroy the earth. In ancient times, an inverted bow was a sign of peace, a hope for reconciliation. As between heaven and earth, so the rainbow becomes our challenge to respond in kind to God’s promise. The rainbow as our witness, we too are then to solemnly swear not to destroy this precious planet, that we too turn all weapons upside down and promise not to use them again.
Searching diligently, I did not see a rainbow on that morning. Walking back up the front stairs, I could see the quizzical look on the housepainter’s face. I explained that I had come to look for a rainbow, sharing my disappointment in not seeing one. The housepainter smiled and offered a beautiful teaching. He quietly said to me, as though to reassure, “somewhere there is a rainbow.” It is such a deep and encouraging teaching, expanding the arc and embrace of the rainbow. Somewhere else, other people are looking up and seeing a rainbow and delighting in its magic and promise.

God needs all of us to see a rainbow and be reminded of its promise and its challenge. Simply to see a rainbow softens the heart and opens our souls to greater embrace. The very presence of a rainbow is the beginning of its own promise fulfilled. Touched by wonder, how can we countenance the ways of damage and destruction?
With heart softened and soul opened, we are more able to ask of ourselves and of God, what do you seek of me, what shall I do, how shall I be in this world? It is a question in the weekly Torah portion called Ekev. Moses says to the people, and now, O Israel, what does God your God require of you/mah ha’shem elokecha sho’el may’imach? Only to revere God, your God; to walk in all God’s ways and to love God, and to serve God, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul… (Deut. 10:12). Soon after, the Torah explains what it is to love God, to be as God, for God is one who secures the rights of the orphan and the widow and loves the stranger, to give the stranger bread and clothing. You too shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt… (Deut. 10:18-19). Love of God requires that we love people. That is what God seeks of us.
            There is an immediate parallel between these words in our Torah portion and the words of the prophet Micah in the Haftorah, the prophetic reading for the Torah portion Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9). Micah also asks of what God wants and then tells us, higid l’cha adam/it has been told to you, O mortal, mah tov u’mah ha’shem doresh mim’cha/what is good and what God seeks of you/ki im asot mishpat v’ahavat chesed v’hatzne’ah lechet im elokecha/only to do justly, to love lovingkindness, and to walk humbly with your God… (Micah 6:8).
I feel a particular connection between the verses of God’s seeking in in the portion Ekev and in Micah. Ekev is my birth portion, though my Bar Mitzvah was a few weeks earlier on the Shabbos of Balak. Ever since chanting the words of Micah at my Bar Mitzvah, they have remained as a compass in my life, as a rainbow reminder of what God seeks in all the ways of my going. As I always like to share, when I spoke of Micah’s words at my Bar Mitzvah, my mother, her memory be a blessing, asked me to add a few words to Micah’s. Urged to walk humbly with God, so my mother asked me to say, “and with people.” In the portion Ekev, the portion of my birth, my mother’s concern is given voice. If we would revere God and walk in God’s ways, so we are to love the most vulnerable among us, to walk humbly with them as our way of walking humbly with God.
These two portions become as one to me, joined beneath a rainbow’s arc, the Torah portion of my birth and the Torah portion of my Bar Mitzvah, Ekev and Balak. As the housepainter taught, “somewhere there is a rainbow.” With that awareness, feeling the wonder as beheld through another’s eyes, may our hearts be softened and our souls be opened, that we might walk humbly with God and with people.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

How Mister Rogers modeled Gandhi’s vision in the age of mass media

Waging Nonviolence - Thu, 08/23/2018 - 14:16

by Stephanie Van Hook

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This article was first published by Yes! Magazine.

Kids have it really hard right now. Many adults have forgotten that a world where children are safe and cared for with dignity is not a utopian vision, but a necessity.

Take Ben, for example, who happened to be sitting in my office recently. I told him about a paid internship opportunity for high school youth at a local nonviolence organization, wondering if he would be interested in pursuing it. But he liked violence, he asserted, with a certain confidence, a wry smile on his face and a mesh of hair falling across his serious brown eyes.

“I’m not very peaceful.”

“That could make you the ideal candidate,” I replied. “You might actually have the courage it takes to practice nonviolence.”

Ben is 17 and had been expelled from school a few days before because he’d threatened, not for the first time, to fight another student. “Just go,” responded the school administrator. It was the end of the school year and they were kicking him out for the rest of the year. That evening the other kid sent him threats on Snapchat, ready to pick up the fight now that they were off campus.

“But I swallowed my pride and talked him out of it. I told him I didn’t want to fight him,” said Ben. He went back to his school administrators to tell them that he and the other guy were “cool now” and there wouldn’t be any more trouble, but to no avail. They wouldn’t revoke the expulsion. He was not worth their while—he was not worthwhile. “I have one friend who really understands this, too,” he told me quietly later in our conversation. “Nothing matters. Life really doesn’t matter.”

Something in what he’d said caught my attention. And it wasn’t his violence.

“Wait, you mean, you figured out how to reconcile with this other kid even though a few hours before the two of you were ready to take each other on? You sound like someone who’s done this before.”

And sure enough, he told me about another time when he’d not only broken up a fight between two friends, but helped them forgive each other and even reconcile.

“Ben, I’m gonna make a wild guess that you might have a real gift for peacemaking.” He became attentive now: Maybe no one had ever seen him in this light — or said so. He’d been typed as a “bad” kid, aggressive, violent; he picks a fight and is punished, but he reconciles a conflict and no one cares.

Ben was not failing school, or society. They — or rather, we — were failing him. One administrator actually told him, “You’re going to end up dead or in prison.”

“It makes me want to prove him right,” Ben said, almost imploringly.

His story made me wonder: What are we telling ourselves, and our children, about what it means to be a human being? Are we problems or are we problem-solvers? It depends on what qualities we are trained to look for.

The day before my conversation with Ben, I saw the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” Morgan Neville’s appropriately complex exploration of the unconventional children’s television pioneer Fred McFeely Rogers. The messages we send to the very young were of primary concern to Rogers, who chose a career in television — in the early days of the medium — expressly to care for children. As the originator and host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Rogers celebrated dignity and kindness in a slow-paced, low-budget children’s show that was a beloved cultural institution for just over three decades.

Giving his full attention to everyone and everything that came into his neighborhood, especially the challenges, Mister Rogers took up serious conversations normally censored from children, going right to the heart of the toughest problems the world faces: war, racism, assassination, even terrorism. He reminded us of our responsibility to look at how to understand and repair these conflicts, because  —and this is the important part — all of us have the capacity to do that work.

In an interview included in the film, Rogers says that in times of “scary news,” of tragedy and disaster, his mother taught him not to focus just on destruction or violence, but to “look for the helpers,” who are everywhere. Rogers often said that he admired Mahatma Gandhi, another unassuming person with an extraordinary capacity for separating negative behaviors from the fundamental dignity of the person doing them, and then using that relationship as a basis for constructive action. Gandhi coined a special term for nonviolence that takes it out of the conceptual realm of passivity, satyagraha. Satya means what is good, what is real, what is true, and agraha means to grasp, to hold tightly.

With his inner strength hidden behind his homemade sweaters and signature blue tennis shoes, Mister Rogers modeled satyagraha in the age of mass media. Look at his boldness, how he taught children to resist mindless indignity: giving lessons on how to turn off a television set — his very own medium — when what is shown is degrading.

Giving back agency to the dehumanized mass viewer? That’s subversive. Firmly taking his industry colleagues to task for producing media that was harmful to the development of children? Courage with a capital C.

Rogers’ influence was such that he was often invited to give commencement speeches to college graduates who grew up with his show. “As human beings,” he exhorted in one of these, “our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has — or ever will have — something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” This is not an easy task when we’re exposed to anywhere between 500 and 10,000 brand messages a day telling us the exact opposite.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” offers a scene from the television show: The year is 1969. Officer Clemmons and Mister Rogers sit next to a wading pool, dipping their feet together for a friendly respite from the day’s heat. Officer Clemmons is Black and Mister Rogers is White. The film now flashes to news footage of a White man pouring chemicals into a swimming pool where Black and White youth are swimming as an act of nonviolent civil disobedience to segregation and the violent “Whites Only” sign on the wall. Cut back to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” where Rogers takes a towel and carefully dries Officer Clemmons’ feet. What do we see? Two people, profoundly caring about each other, as well as the other people in their neighborhood and world around them. “Pay attention to our message,” they quietly urge through their actions.

In early childhood education, as in nonviolence for that matter, there are two key principles: to dignify the child/person and model the behavior you want others to emulate. Like a master teacher, Rogers invites us into this struggle with him, imperfect as we may be now. “It’s You I Like” is the famous song he would sing to children (though we know that some grown-ups were listening, too). If we don’t love people the way they are, he would say, they can never grow. And if we don’t turn off and resist the degrading images of ourselves from commercial media, how can we love? How can we grow?

This is timeless wisdom that Rogers lived, and the challenge of a lifetime: to refuse the degradation that turns us into consumers, offer people dignity even while resisting their behavior, and, above all, love them as they are right now.

‘The price on everything is love’ — How a Detroit community overcomes a lack of city services

Waging Nonviolence - Sun, 08/19/2018 - 15:40

by Kevon Paynter

Jessica Ramirez in front of the storefront that houses Detroiters Helping Each Other. (Yes! Magazine/Kevon Paynter)

This article was first published by Yes! Magazine.

A multitude of voicemails and text messages from desperate neighbors flooded Jessica Ramirez’s cell phone on a brisk morning in October 2013. Winter was coming.

Using social media to reach potential donors as well as those seeking help, Ramirez created a makeshift donation center on the sidewalk outside her Southwest Detroit home. There, the community organizer and her neighbors handed out warm clothing to children and recycled beds, dressers and microwaves to new mothers who needed furniture.

When school began the next year, she was at it again, donating reams of school supplies she had collected from businesses and individuals. “Everything was being done out of my home when I started,” Ramirez says.

Recognizing her efforts, the property manager of an abandoned local storefront gave her use of the facility. That’s when her charitable acts became a community shop — Detroiters Helping Each Other, or DHEO — where kindness and generosity, not money, is the currency of exchange. Their motto: Teamwork makes the dream work.

“I would love to see us not need this anymore,” she says.

“In the meantime it’s showing people the community still cares.”

Decades of economic and population decline, a depleted tax base, and critically underfunded city services have forced Southwest Detroiters to self-organize, establishing a local network of goods and services to fill in for missing city services. The result is a range of neighbor-to-neighbor efforts, like DHEO, that seek to address broader needs that are going unmet by local government agencies.

The Congress of Communities, for example, is a charitable programming organization that, among other things, offers anti-domestic violence trainings to Southwest Detroit residents in 2010. The trainings aimed to improve public safety at a time when it took police nearly an hour to arrive at a crime scene.

A coordinated effort called Detroit Mowers Gang organized volunteers with gloves and protective eye gear to mow overgrown grass in the city’s abandoned lots and public playgrounds. The so-called weed vigilantes get together every other Wednesday to do what the city doesn’t, calling itself a “crafty crew” that refuses to let budgets and bureaucracy stand in the way of unruly grass on a playground getting cut.

And the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, organized educational programs for youth and adults, and operated a food co-op to ensure Detroiters had access to affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food. Its ongoing work includes a food council that promotes a sustainable food system and advocates for food justice and food sovereignty in the city.

“The price on everything is love, man,” said Rico Razo, a native Southwest Detroiter and a former mayor-appointed district manager tasked with ensuring city services respond to residents’ needs.

“It’s spreading love through giving with the hopes that the people they’re helping out — if they catch someone else who’s on hard times — that they pay it forward. That’s the model that [DHEO] rolls with. I think it’s been successful.”

Three years ago, the city of Detroit named DHEO “Organization of the Year” for its role helping families recover from a fire that burned seven homes to the ground, just blocks from Ramirez’s home. Her generosity has extended beyond helping people in need. She collected a U-Haul truck of dog food to feed 369 of her neighbors’ dogs and donated straw to keep their kennels warm during Detroit’s cold months.

She shares stories about DHEO’s work on social media, so that donors can see who they’re helping.

She vets people who say they are in need to make sure no one is taking undue advantage of the community’s generosity. “We do our homework,” she says.

She has asked for a police report in the case of a family replacing items they say were taken in a home burglary or documentation when a family asked for a donated bed to keep their children out of Child Protective Services.

But Ramirez says a family’s inability to produce any of those things won’t be a hindrance to receiving help. And ultimately, the organization relies on trust between neighbors in the community and the social networks that underlie it.

“Yeah, they get stuff for free,” Ramirez says. “But we can call recipients up and say ‘come volunteer.’ If they’re able-bodied, we tell them ‘hey go cut the elderlies’ grass’ or ‘show up to a community feeding event.’ And they show up,” she says.

Razo said that for the longest time when the city cut back on services, including trash pickup, streetlights, and lawn maintenance, he saw self-organized community initiatives and nonprofits offer food and healthcare to people in need. After-school programs and summer jobs for high school students emerged as well as job training and job readiness efforts.

City and state government services are rebounding but the hope is they won’t threaten what neighbors have already built to save their communities.

Rather, Razo said he believes the city should look to them and partner with them to remove some of the burden and empower them to continue. He’s said he running for state representative to the Michigan Legislature on a platform that seeks to bolster Detroit’s community-based sharing economies, especially by integrating them into city services.

“They don’t do it for us,” Ramirez says of business and city government. “The community takes care of itself without the suit and ties.”

This article was funded in part by a grant from the Surdna Foundation. 


Seeking Simplicity

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 08/17/2018 - 13:28

              Quite a few years ago, I gathered with a number of other folks from our community for a 6 week series on “Voluntary Simplicity”.  The workshop sessions were designed to raise our consciousness about the methods by which we can simplify our lives in all kinds of ways, from de-cluttering to down-sizing to re-cycling and on and on.  The idea being that, in many cases, small and less are better - that there is liberation in simplification.   Even though I have not necessarily made lifelong friendships with the people in the group, they are still “there” as a virtual support group for my own personal efforts to simplify my life.
Fast forward to today, the work is ongoing.  My “support group” currently resides between the covers of three books: EVERYDAY HOLINESS by Alan Morinis,  FREEDOM OF SIMPLICITY by Richard Foster, and THE BUDDHIST PATH TO SIMPLICITY by Christina Feldman.
As my husband and I age, we are acutely aware of a desire not to leave a huge mess for our kids when we “shuffle off this mortal coil.”  So simplifying has a very concrete reality attached to it.    We need to downsize our pile of “stuff.”  I am the first to admit that this process is physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting, as well as very time consuming. Every book, every tchotchke, every old photo, every piece of furniture evokes emotions, memories, and the inevitable choice of whether to retain or let go. 
To maintain a bit of momentum with this process, I have engaged Morinis, Foster and Feldman as my spiritual “clean-up” support people.  Much to my delight I have found that the spiritual practice of simplicity is well developed in Buddhist, Jewish and Christian tradition.   My first eye-opening reminder came from Foster: “The first insight into simplicity that we receive from [the Hebrew Scriptures] is radical dependence, the second is radical obedience.  Perhaps nowhere is this more graphically seen than when Abraham was called upon to surrender his most priceless treasure- his son Isaac...through a long and painful process Abraham’s life had been honed down to one truth - obedience to the voice of YHWH.  This “holy obedience” forms the grid through which the life of obedience flows.”
As I reflect on the notion of “radical obedience” I am aware that this is a challenge to the various idolatries of  “more”, “bigger”, “shinier”, “newer.”  “Radical dependence” implies letting go of a lot of contingency plans - the illusion that I can create a  secure, worry free future if I can acquire just the right “stuff.”    And that inevitably leads to more complexity - - how to insure it all?  where to store the excess?  how to protect from the corruption of moths and dust?   As Foster notes: The idolatry of affluence is rampant.  Our greed for more dictates so many of our decisions.”   

 On a personal level, greed might determine where I choose to live, how I spend  my resources, what I demand in the way of services and resources to keep me comfortable in the manner to which I have become accustomed.  In the larger world greed for more determines whose land will be violated for more oil.  Greed determines which oceans will be polluted with untold square miles of plastic waste.   The need to protect what we “have” dictates who may enter this country and who must leave.  Greed dehumanizes life from the highest levels of government on down.   Radical dependence and radical obedience are somewhat alien concepts - - easily rejected challenges to our unexamined way of being..
      Alan Morinis  offers a brief bit of wisdom: “An American visitor was passing through the Polish town of Radin  and stopped to visit the Chafetz Chaim.  Entering the great sage’s simple apartment he was struck by how sparsely it was furnished.  ‘Where is your furniture?’ the man asked.  ‘Where is yours?’ replied the Chafetz Chaim.  “Oh, I am only passing through,” answered the man. ‘I too am only passing through,’ was the Chafetz Chaim’s reply.”
The principle behind this wisdom is “being content with what we have,”  perhaps identifying what we really need and separating it from all that we want.   Again from Morinis: “A need is different from a desire.  A need really is essential.  A desire on the other hand, is backed by an emotional force that turns it into a virtual demand: I have to have it.  And it is our desires that create trouble for us.  Desires can commandeer our lives on behalf of their fulfillment. And when they go unrealized, they deliver up anxiety, anger, frustration, and unethical behavior that we want to avoid.”
Thankfully, when confronted with our everyday desires, most of us have a built in mechanism that keeps us from veering into unethical behavior in order to achieve what we want.  But I would venture to say that few of us are free of the anxiety and frustration that accompany our desires.   Therein lies the challenge to simplify, I think - - to do the spiritual work of downsizing in the “desire department” in order to experience a simpler sense of inner peace.
         My morning reading today led me to Christina Feldman’s notion of compassion as a key element in a life of simplicity.  She describes Kuan Yan, the bodhisattva of compassion, as “one who  listens to the sounds of the universe.”  Feldman writes of compassion: “Compassion is a true vastness of the heart and a depth of wisdom that listens to, embraces and receives suffering.  It is an antidote to hostility, resistance, and division.  Learning to listen to the sounds of the universe is learning to soften and melt our armory of fear, mistrust, and imprisonment of self.”
Whew!!  Exploring the path to simplicity is anything but simple.  The very micro-environment of my home becomes a constant external reminder of the internal work I need to be doing.   So - just for today - my inner focus will be on “learning to listen to the sounds of the universe” in order to discern more clearly where I need to dismantle my own personal “armory of fear, mistrust, and imprisonment of self.” 
It seems to be a fundamental truth that a path to liberation, whether in the inward realms of spirit or in the external world of wealth, power and politics, may be found in the discipline of simplicity.
Vicky Hanjian

As the far-right descends on Portland, police target counter-protesters

Waging Nonviolence - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 10:11

by Shane Burley and Alexander Reid Ross

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For an event forecasted by media as the “next Charlottesville,” indicating a possible tragedy resulting from clashes between Patriot Prayer and anti-fascist protesters, the scene on Aug. 4 was remarkably familiar. Over the past couple of years, as protest movements in response to Trump and the alt-right have ramped up in intensity in Portland, Oregon, so has the aggressive use of dispersal tactics on leftist demonstrators by police.

There was yet another event from the far-right organization, Patriot Prayer, and its leader, Washington State Senate candidate Joey Gibson on Aug. 4. (Gibson lost the primary election on Aug. 7, receiving only 24,029 votes, or 2.3 percent of the votes counted.) Over the past two years, Patriot Prayer has led frequent demonstrations with the apparent support of white nationalist organizations and the Proud Boys, a radical-right fraternity. Often mixing in far-right talking points and alt-right agitation, the organization has become a thorn in Portland’s side, prompting mass-organized counter-protests that the Patriot Prayer attendees use as an invitation to attack demonstrators.

At another event on June 30, the Patriot Prayer crowd, led largely by the Proud Boys, initiated a series of attacks in clashes with anti-fascist protesters leading to a level of brutality unprecedented in Portland’s recent history. The violence had been escalating as the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer continued to stoke resentment against the relatively progressive city, and what they felt was unfair treatment at their rallies by both police and community members.

As the dust settled from the June 30 attack, which left several people arrested and in the hospital, Gibson announced the follow up for Aug. 4 while denouncing the police’s response. This surprised many counter-protesters, who insist that the Portland Police Bureau focused their crowd-dispersal methods — including chemical weapons and exploding “flash grenades” — almost exclusively on the left while actively protecting Patriot Prayer from advancing crowds.

In response to Gibson’s Aug. 4 announcement, a mass coalition organized by Pop Mob, short for popular mobilization, and anti-fascist groups like Rose City Antifa and the Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective, planned a rally and march to meet Patriot Prayer at the popular Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Pop Mob, the coalition that brought almost 40 organizations together in a mass anti-fascist protest, started the day at City Hall at 10:30 a.m. with speakers discussing the issues that intersected with the growth of the far-right.

“Today, we offer our complete and unwavering solidarity with workers, immigrants, migrant justice organizers, and human rights activists to say loudly and clearly no to fascist organizing taking place in Portland, Oregon,” said Angelica Lim, an organizer with Gabriela Portland, in a speech at the rally.

Well over a thousand counter-demonstrated then marched through the city to meet Patriot Prayer’s group, which numbered between 300 and 400 people. When protesters made their way through downtown Portland and to the waterfront, police separated them across a large parkway from Patriot Prayer’s fenced-off position. The police, noting the threat level, had declared that the waterfront was to be weapons free, but since Patriot Prayer had agreed to stay in the confined area the police did not actually employ any methods for checking attendees for weapons. As eye witness accounts and photos revealed, there were people in the Patriot Prayer side that ignored this order, yet there were no police orders of dispersal. While both Patriot Prayer and counter-demonstrators were supposed to have access to the park, no pathway was provided for the anti-fascist march, and they were instead ordered to leave.

About two hours into the demonstration, during which protesters did not visibly antagonize the police line or try to get into the park — where Patriot Prayer yelled slurs and taunts — police used gas, flash grenades, plastic bullets and “pepper balls,” white pellets that serve as both an irritant and less-lethal ammunition. One protester was struck in the head with a large munition, which punctured their helmet, melting the area around the hole. Their head showed significant damage and they were rushed to the hospital with serious injuries.

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Within minutes, police used dozens of flash grenades as they rushed protesters, spraying them with military-grade pepper spray and other weapons. While there were previous dispersal orders, there seemed to be no instigation when police made the charge. The Patriot Prayer crowd cheered while protesters desperately ran for safety.

A second protester, documentary filmmaker Michelle Fawcett, was hit with a flash grenade, which sent her to the emergency room with third-degree chemical burns on her arm and chest. A total of three people had to go the hospital from injuries from police activity.

James Peach was a protester who was present when police began escalating their crowd dispersal techniques. “I assumed something must have happened at the front of the protest line,” said Peach, who was sitting on the curb towards of the back of the crowd when the flash grenades were heard.

When the police came closer they fired two projectiles at him, and the second one tore open his arm. A street medic, who was a medical doctor, had to provide emergency stitches with a triage kit in the backseat of a car.

“Clearly the police used unnecessary force,” Peach said about his injury. “[The police] have been warned about these munitions and what they can do to people. You turn the streets into the war zone and people are going to die.”

Organizers across the crowd have had an almost uniform story of police aggression, saying that a common protest was treated as though it was a violent street mob.

“The police’s response was completely unprovoked,” said Effie Baum, organizer and spokesperson for Pop Mob. “This is a tactic I’ve seen them employ in other actions in the recent past. They will start announcing things over the loudspeaker that no one has witnessed, such as [the presence of] weapons, and then use those claims to justify an attack.”

Later, Patriot Prayer was allowed to leave their assigned protest area, despite the limitations that were previously set, and chaperoned through city blocks of downtown Portland by police. After returning to their original location, Patriot Prayer attendees allegedly assaulted protesters without police intervention.

This scene, where far-right protesters appear to receive delicate treatment while counter-demonstrators are placed in a critically dangerous situation, is common. During the “May Day” demonstration in 2017, flash bangs and tear gas were deployed with almost no warning on the largely family-friendly crowd after some protesters threw sodas in the air.

Just weeks later, at the June 4, 2017 counter-demonstration to Patriot Prayer that brought out over 4,000 protesters, police again turned their sights on the anti-fascist crowd with almost no visible provocation and “kettled” the crowd in a tactical move that was roundly denounced. They later said that there had been bricks thrown, yet this could not be verified. Since then this has been a pattern, and the police’s statements about the seeming “mainstream” nature of Patriot Prayer versus their left-wing counter-protesters seems to verify this imbalance in treatment.

“The police were completely duplicitous in their dealings with the counter-protest,” said David Rose, a spokesperson with Rose City Antifa. “The Portland Police has a long history of lying about their reasons for attacking protests, justifying their brutality and violence with poorly constructed and unproven statements. Both on June 4, 2017, and on Aug. 4, 2018, their pitiful excuses for blindly firing into a crowd with chemical and explosive weapons can’t disguise their true motivations — to allow fascist and white supremacist groups free rein of Portland streets.”

Multiple videos seem to corroborate protesters’ accounts, showing the police conferring before firing tear gas and advancing on protesters without provocation. In a video released by Daniel V. Media, the police appear to discuss things quietly and then, without warning, a flash grenade is fired directly into the crowd and police begin an aggressive charge on the protest line, including using military-grade pepper spray on the journalist filming.

“I saw no projectiles thrown from the protesters and had actually observed them doing their best to avoid confrontations with the police,” said the producer from Daniel V. Media who shot the video. “I saw the police shoot explosives aimed above and, several times, directly at protesters, along with blast balls and tear gas thrown by hand towards protesters, and pepper ball rounds fired from paintball guns.”

Shortly after the protest, the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which contributed a sizable presence at the Saturday event, issued a joint statement denouncing police behavior and calling on “government officials to investigate and enact reforms in the wake of the Portland Police Bureau’s violent actions that targeted Portland’s residents peacefully counter-protesting against racist far-right groups.”

They were followed by multiple groups, including the ACLU of Oregon, which declared the use of these crowd control weapons an infringement of individual rights. “The Portland Police Bureau’s response to protest is completely unacceptable in a free society. The repeated use of excessive force, and the targeting of demonstrators based on political beliefs are a danger to the First Amendment rights of all people,” the ACLU of Oregon said in a statement posted on social media.

Police ended up making four arrests from the counter-demonstration, pressing charges like disorderly conduct and harassment. While there were a range of weapons confiscated from the Patriot Prayer side, including baseball bats, they were never forcefully dispersed and police allowed some of them to stay into the evening.

The question that many in Portland are left with is how the police’s priorities are being determined — especially given the nature of hate groups, like the Proud Boys, which have a history of extremely violent street conflict. In a public statement put out shortly after the incidents, Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said that the reports of the injured protester hit by a flash grenade are serious and will be investigated.

“This morning I learned of allegations of injury as a result of law enforcement action,” Outlaw wrote. “I take all force applications by members seriously and have directed the Professional Standards Division to begin the intake process regarding these allegations to determine if force was used and if so, [whether it] was within our policy and training guidelines.” Outlaw later announced the suspension of the use of flash grenades pending an investigation into their use.

While Pop Mob organizers were angered by the Portland Police’s treatment, they highlighted the sheer number of participants as a victory. “The action itself was incredibly successful,” Baum said. “The amount of people we were able to bring out, the diversity of the people we were able to bring out, and our ability to function, throughout the day, as one united left, was really inspiring.”

On Aug. 8 protesters showed up at the City Council meeting to raise the issue of police violence. Several of the people who were there were injured by the police, including both Michelle Fawcett and James Peach. They wanted to have city officials hear about their experience with police tactics. This protest became heated after many protesters, including those exhibiting injuries, were not allowed into the proceedings. A conflict with guards and police ensued, resulting in several arrests and at least one security guard receiving a minor head injury.

As anger around the continuing far-right street action and police overreach grows, it is likely that this groundswell in Portland — and across the country, in what has been given the hashtag #AllOutAugust — will only escalate.


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