Oklahomans turn ‘Oilfield Prayer Day’ into a protest against Big Oil

Waging Nonviolence - Sun, 10/15/2017 - 12:00

by Brandon Jordan

Demonstrators gather in front of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s building in Oklahoma City on October 13. (KOCO)

“Pipelines are genocide!” and “Keep the frack out of my water” were just a few of the signs held by protesters at a rally in Oklahoma City on Friday. Standing outside the building that houses the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, protesters rallied for nearly two hours to demand that the public utilities commission ban fracking and limit the damage of the fossil fuel industry.

The rally was set up to coincide with the one year anniversary of “Oilfield Prayer Day,” a state-sanctioned event proclaimed by Gov. Mary Fallin in an effort to recognize, as she explained it, “the incredible economic, community and faith-based impact demonstrated across the state by oil and natural gas companies.” Last year’s celebration involved a prayer breakfast in Oklahoma City with more than 400 people in attendance, including Gov. Fallin, to support an industry suffering from low prices and mass layoffs.

Indigenous people and other local residents at Friday’s gathering said they weren’t protesting prayer itself, but rather the harmful impacts of the fossil fuel industry. One such impact has been measured regularly by the state government itself. In 2010, the Oklahoma Geological Survey reported 41 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3 or greater in center and north-central Oklahoma. Five years later, the same region experienced 903 such earthquakes in a single year. According to the survey, they were “very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in [wastewater] disposal wells” used by oil and gas firms.

In addition to earthquakes, Oklahomans are regularly faced with oil and gas leaks. A few years ago, Oklahoma was second in the country for most spills. The state’s drinking water is at risk of contamination from fracking, and polluted ecosystems can lead to dead wildlife. The latter issue led the Ponca tribe, an indigenous group near Ponca City, Oklahoma, to pass a moratorium on any future fossil fuel work near their lands.

“Tribal sovereignty is also being ignored for the sake of Big Oil,” said Ashley Nicole McCray, a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. “The Pawnee nation is one example of a tribe that has banned this sort of resource extraction from taking place on their lands, but this has been ignored by the state of Oklahoma. Last year, the Pawnee nation was hit hard by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that destroyed much of the community.”

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, or OCC, is a three-person board that regulates industries such as oil and gas. The commission, as McCray noted, possesses “scientific information that shows the direct correlation between fracking and earthquakes,” yet are not opposed to the presence of fracking companies.

“We want to not only draw attention to the purpose of the OCC for Oklahomans who were unaware of their purpose prior to this day, but also demand that they ban fracking statewide,” she said.

Meanwhile, Casey Holcomb, a community organizer from Norman, Oklahoma, noted the importance of pressuring officials who can change the state’s oil and gas policy.

“We’re really tired of the earthquakes. We’re tired of the negligence of the industry. We’re tired of [oil and gas companies] bankrupting our state,” Holcomb said.

He then pointed out the connection between the state’s budget crisis and gross production taxes paid by the industry. The state’s gross production tax used to be 7 percent — until, in 2015, lawmakers temporarily lowered it to 2 percent, essentially as a tax cut for companies. Yet, some smaller producers actually favor a return to the old rate amid the state’s monetary shortfall.

“We wouldn’t be in this situation if the horizontal drillers paid their fair share,” Holcomb said. “But they’re not, and they’re being subsidized by the taxpayers of Oklahoma. As a result, we have schools that are only open four days a week because they can’t afford to pay the salaries of the teachers and overhead costs of the schools.”

Oklahoma residents face additional barriers in curtailing the power of the oil and gas industry. For example, in 2015, some lawmakers drafted a bill barring local governments from banning fracking, while also establishing the OCC as the only entity allowed to regulate oil and gas firms. After lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, Gov. Fallin signed it into law.

“The single biggest issue that we are trying to convey to Oklahomans is that this is not an anti-fossil fuel movement,” said Jonathan Bridgwater, the director of Sierra Club’s Oklahoma chapter. “This is a pro-Oklahoma movement.”

Activists in the state are emphasizing the failure of Oklahoma’s politicians to advocate an economic system that does not rely on fossil fuels and instead focuses on other industries such as renewable energy.

“To sum it up, we completely see the state government of Oklahoma heading down a track that’s going to turn Oklahoma into the next West Virginia, rather than turn it into, say, Texas or California,” Bridgwater said.

Organizers are determined to pressure officials into changing their relationship with fossil fuel companies despite the crackdown they continue to face. Earlier this year, their efforts against the Diamond pipeline — a nearly $900 million interstate venture — were deemed “domestic terrorist threats” by the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, officials implemented a law on May 3 that penalizes citizens who protest “critical infrastructure,” which are mainly oil and gas facilities.

“The situation in Oklahoma is tense to say the least,” McCray explained. “Fighting against Big Oil — which has had a huge hold over Oklahoma since the illegal inception of this so-called state — is difficult for everyone, especially indigenous people.”

Nicole wants the state to acknowledge and respect the federally-recognized tribes in Oklahoma. She recalled how former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, “repeatedly ignored tribal sovereignty to the benefit of Big Oil and the detriment of the people of the state of Oklahoma.”

With Pruitt now heading the Environmental Protection Agency, McCray said, “It is vital that the rest of the nation look back to Oklahoma and see how our path has unfolded. What we have endured and what we continue to experience is a mere sample of what the rest of the nation is in for if something drastic doesn’t happen now.”

For now, Oklahoma activists are preparing and training for future actions. Right after the rally, some organizers headed nearly 20 miles east of Oklahoma City to attend the grand opening of the Good Hearted Peoples Camp, where residents are sharing strategies and experiences, while also getting some rest before continuing their actions against fossil fuels.

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Living Nonviolence - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 07:39

Closing our Eyes to See More Clearly

        What do we see when we really look deeply, perhaps when we squint and try to see beyond the present place and time in which we stand? Reflecting on the way we close our eyes as a natural human response to pain, Rebbe Nachman offers a beautiful insight on what it means to see the world from within: 
So it is when we want to look at the ultimate goal of Creation, which is all good, all unity. One has to close one's eyes and focus on one's vision -- i.e. the inner vision of the soul -- on the goal. For the light of this ultimate goal is very far away. The only way to see it is by closing one's eyes. One has to close them completely and keep them firmly shut. One may even have to press on them with one's finger to keep them shut tight. Then one can gaze on this ultimate goal... (Likkutei Moharan 65:3).
During the past week and weeks, as in hard times always, it can be very tempting to close our eyes, as though to block out the images and the hate. There are times, indeed, when we need to do that, when we know we can’t take in any more. It is the nature of Shabbos, to step back and renew, to look beyond. On this Shabbos, whether one is praying on the streets or in the synagogue, may we all take note of a different sense of time and being, pausing in some way in order to renew. If on the streets, pause if even for a moment along the way and offer a prayer, saying to another, singing out, Shabbat shalom, not simply a greeting, but a prayer for peace expressed in the essence of a day. And if in synagogue, hold the same kavannah in saying these two simple words, and be aware in the same way of the depth of our prayerful words and song, closing eyes and imaging walking feet, legs that are praying as well as words, all moved by an inner vision of wholeness, joined together as one. When we have had enough, though, and we close our eyes in pain, may it not be to block out, but to bring in, to see ever more deeply, to envision from within.
        What do we see when we look into ourselves and into the eyes of others? Do we see the love as well as the fear, the strength and nobility as well as the weakness and vulnerability? Do we see the fear even in the eyes of the haters, wondering how the love that surrounds and joins us in resistance might surround them as well, until there is no place for their hate to go but to dissipate? It is the way of nonviolence to allow for that possibility, not to allow their hate to infect us, but in fierce opposition that in its core is nevertheless gentle, yet to love. It is the lesson and the way of making Shabbos each week, to create the change we wish to see all along the way, to live the future now.
It was the way in Charlottesville, so much fear and so much terror, the flags and chants that sickened, love and hate in fateful dance. In the coming together of so many people across so many lines, joined in love and horror, seeking good and goodness, daring to hope. Speaking truth to power, people unimagined, governors and mayors, we are challenged to imagine new coalitions and partners, young and old leading the march together, weeping and praying in synagogues, and churches and mosques, a great call and cry throughout the land. The fear is real, even as we try to look beyond. I felt panic, nausea, in seeing the images of Nazi flags, and the Confederate too, realizing the same sickness felt by African Americans, trying to see what they see, to imagine the psychic memories called forth for them. The hate makes us all as one, and so too shall love.       I pause and pick up a small piece of glass   sitting on my desk, turning it in my fingers, feeling tears rise. I picked it up out of the grass alongside the New England Holocaust Memorial, a small fragment of shattered glass, glass that remembered shattered lives, glass etched with the numbers that were etched in the skin of so many dead. It was the second time the Memorial had been desecrated this summer, a glass panel smashed with a rock. People gathered in beautiful diversity across all lines, there to support, to stand with the Jewish community. I cried when Izzy Arbeiter spoke, telling of the horrors, a ninety-two year old survivor, instrumental in bringing the Memorial to be. I felt fear, imagining Jews in Germany, in that time and place. I closed my eyes and then opened them. I looked out across the crowd and saw the difference from then to now. We were not alone.There among the gathered people, I saw Ralf Horlemann, the German Consul General who led our group of twelve Boston area rabbis to Germany last summer on a Journey of Remembrance and Hope. His face reflected pain, pain that he shared later after the ceremony, the pain of his own psychic memories. How can it be to see that flag? I remembered something he said to me when we visited a refugee center near Berlin. I asked him of the meaning of a postcard with the words, “Wir sind viele. Berlin gegen Nazis/We are many. Berlin against Nazis.” I wanted to know if it meant “neo-Nazis.” He looked at me and quietly asked, “does it matter?” I have since preferred not to speak of neo-Nazis, but simply of Nazis.
I had closed my eyes tightly to see beyond. Opening them again, I saw the crowd that had come to embrace our Jewish pain, Christians and Muslims and so many others, a rainbow gathering of diversity, all there together. We are challenged to see, to really see, to see ourselves in all our differences gathered as one. It is the quiet challenge of the weekly Torah portion called Re’eh (Deut. 11:26-16:17); Re’eh/See! anochi noten lifnei’chem ha’yom b’racha u’kla’lah/I am setting before you today blessing and curse. If hate is the curse, then love is the blessing. It is so easy in these days to be sucked down by the hate, to feel the pain and cry. The blessing is not only the love that flows from so many hearts. The blessing is the seeing itself. It is to close our eyes in pain and see the vision within of what might be, to open then and project the vision outward and onto the world.
There has been so much pain and sorrow so much cause for anger and lament. If we really try to see, to close our eyes and open them again, there is an equal measure of good, of hope and love in the way of our response. With eyes both open and closed, may we see the reality of both, as we make our way toward Shabbos, as it comes now and as it shall be in the future when the world is filled with Shabbat shalom. In whatever way you make Shabbos this week, may all be safe and well, joined together with each other and so many others, love surrounding, enveloped by Sabbath peace.

Victor Reinstein

Anti-Columbus Day Tour redefines the American Museum of Natural History for a day

Waging Nonviolence - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 12:09

by Skanda Kadirgamar

Banners block the statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on Oct. 9, as part of the Anti-Columbus Day Tour. (Twitter/Andres Rodriguez)

On October 9, the collective of political artists and organizers known as Decolonize This Place took over the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This was in part a bid to pressure the city to rename Columbus Day as “Indigenous People Day,” but the action also zeroed in on how the museum’s exhibits preserve racist depictions of non-European peoples. Over the years several groups have demanded the museum confront and overcome this violent lineage, which is rooted in Western colonialism.

Over the course of weeks, these activists planned an action that would allow them to control the museum by hijacking its daily routine. Decolonize This Place joined with New York City Stands with Standing Rock, Black Youth Project 100, Eagle and Condor Community Center, South Asia Solidarity Initiative, the Chinatown Arts Brigade and many others organizations to offer a guided tour of the museum’s racism and colonial character. The ultimate goal was to showcase the retrograde side of the museum in hopes that it would inspire participants to imagine how the institution might be decolonized and redesigned.

The day of action began at 11 a.m. as activists prepared three, huge red banners emblazoned with images of indigenous peoples’ ongoing struggle against American settler colonialism. One of these depicted an eagle and condor, symbols of solidarity across the Americas, ripping apart a colonizing black serpent under the words “We Heal.” These were used to block the Theodore Roosevelt statue, regarded as a symbol of white supremacy, at the museum entrance.

After activists distributed free tickets to participants, the tour wound its way from the Roosevelt Rotunda through the culture halls of the Americas, Asia and Africa. Activists stationed at exhibits provided brief overviews of the stereotypes, inaccuracies and omissions upon which the museum relies for its descriptions of non-European peoples. The tour ended with a speak out in the rotunda that challenged Roosevelt’s writings on youth, manhood, nature and the state, which adorn the walls. Organizers charged the famed president as being implicated in seizing indigenous land, promoting a white heteronormative definition of youth, advocating genocidal statecraft, and being the “forefather of today’s fascists.”

Roosevelt’s ideological framework, defined by his belief in eugenics — or scientific racism — and racialized militarism, has been a sticking point for those demanding the museum remove his statue. Comparing non-Europeans to livestock, he once remarked that “society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind.” This sort of thinking is intimately tied in with the museum’s history, given that it hosted the International Eugenics Congress in 1921 and 1932. The calls for the statue’s removal and indictment of the museum are particularly poignant given the alt-right’s recent defense of Confederate monuments. Alt-right ideology often mirrors Roosevelt’s thinking on nature and race, especially considering the movement’s penchant for rebranding eugenics.

The museum’s adulation of a prominent white supremacist has drawn the ire of people of color for years. On February 21, 2015, the death anniversary of Malcolm X, the Black Youth Project 100 strung a banner across the base of Roosevelt’s statue that read “White Supremacy Kills.” Decolonize This Place began focusing on the monument last year while developing ties with the Eagle Condor Community Center and American Indian Community House. These New York based organizations advocate for and support indigenous communities. The statue, which is on land owned by the state, the museum and Manhattan island all fall within the territory of the Lenape people, who still struggle against settler colonialism and its impact today.

Maintaining the Roosevelt statue is only one example of how the museum commits itself to racist ideologies. In their letter to the public, Decolonize This Place observe that though Greek and Roman art is stored at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History lays claim to the works and culture of indigenous people.

Tlingit organizer and artist Jackson Polys notes a disturbing juxtaposition between non-European people and the museum’s primate exhibits. The exhibits dedicated to African peoples are similarly arranged in the museum just off of the Ackley Hall of African Mammals. The India section of the Stout Hall of Asian People boasts a plaque that is entitled “Indian Cycle of Life,” as if it were acceptable to frame the daily lives of 1.3 billion people as an expert might a study on fleas or protozoa.

What could the museum do to pursue a drastically different trajectory? Amrit Trewn of BYP 100, which is interested in building political relationships at the intersection of black and indigenous struggle, says that institutions like the American Museum of Natural History must strive to incorporate a “decolonial genealogy” into their exhibits that acknowledges their historic complicity in communal harm. Unlike institutions like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the San Diego Museum of Man, the American Museum of Natural History is far from implementing such measures.

The museum has announced an overhaul of its Northwest Coast Hall, which is slated for completion in 2020. The project’s website says that the “Museum’s curatorial and conservation staff will be consulting with several Pacific Northwest Coast communities.”

However, NYU Professor Jane Anderson argued that consultations will not provide a meaningful basis for collaboration. The museum “has no permanently employed curators from any of the indigenous communities represented in their exhibit culture halls,” she said. “Indigenous peoples who are represented in these halls, must be represented through their own terms and frameworks of meaning.”

Returning control of items taken from indigenous communities could represent the beginning of a dialogue acknowledging that territory has been seized. As Polys pointed out, “actual decolonization entails repatriation of land and territory.”

Lessons from the front lines of anti-colonial pipeline resistance

Waging Nonviolence - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 09:17

by James Rowe and Mike Simpson

A bridge leads to the entrance of the Unist’ot’en territory in British Columbia, Canada. (WNV/Jeff Nicholls)

The Standing Rock standoff over the Dakota Access Pipeline was a reminder that colonization, and resistance to it, both exist in the present tense. Fossil fuel pipelines that despoil indigenous lands and waters have become key flashpoints in long-standing anti-colonial resistance.

An important precursor and inspiration for the Standing Rock camp is an indigenous occupation in northern British Columbia, Canada. For the past eight years, the Unist’ot’en clan have reoccupied their traditional territory. When the camp began in 2009, seven pipelines had been proposed to cross their territory, as well as their water source, the salmon-bearing Morice River. But thanks to Unist’ot’en resistance, oil and gas companies have been blocked from building new fossil fuel infrastructure. The lesser known but wildly successful Unist’ot’en encampment holds crucial lessons for anti-pipeline and anti-colonial organizers across North America, or Turtle Island, as many indigenous nations call it.

We visited the occupation this summer. Upon arriving, visitors must undergo a border-crossing protocol. There is only one way in and out of Unist’ot’en territory – a bridge that crosses the Morice River. Before being allowed to cross, we were asked where we came from, whether we worked for the government or the fossil fuel industry, and how our visit could benefit the Unist’ot’en.

We explained that we are both settlers, people living on and benefiting from indigenous lands. We also expressed our willingness to help in whatever ways were needed during our stay, such as kitchen duty, gardening and construction. Finally, we shared our commitment to decolonization and climate justice, and our appreciation for how Unist’ot’en land defense accomplishes both; it returns indigenous lands to indigenous peoples while blocking fossil fuel infrastructure that threatens the entire human estate. After a short consultation, clan members welcomed us to leave Canada and cross into Unist’ot’en territory.

Five pipelines already defeated

The Unist’ot’en occupation has already contributed to the cancellation of five pipelines, including Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project – a multibillion-dollar development that would have pumped bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to Canada’s Pacific coast. The two proposed incursions onto Unist’ot’en territory that remain are both fracked gas pipelines: Chevron’s Pacific Trails and TransCanada’s Coast Gaslink.

Unist’ot’en spokesperson Freda Huson explained to us that the tireless work of supporters, including indigenous people from other nations along with settler allies, is a central reason why the camp has endured and grown, knocking pipeline proposals over one by one.

Despite these successes, Huson has been struck by the exhaustion of frontline occupiers — not just on the Unist’ot’en front line, but elsewhere, including Standing Rock. Since starting their occupation, the Unist’ot’en have hosted an annual action camp for supporters wanting to learn about the struggle. Huson dedicated this year’s action camp to the theme of healing. As she explained to us, “the health of the people is vital to keep the resistance moving forward. We believe that if we heal the people they will be healthy to make decisions to heal the land.”

The action camp as a place of healing

This year’s action camp featured workshops on burnout, healing from trauma, indigenous approaches to conflict resolution, and, on the first day, an exercise in awareness.

This first activity was facilitated by Huson and her partner Smogelgem (a hereditary chief of the neighboring Likhts’amisyu Clan). During this exercise, we were blindfolded, spun around and then guided by a partner to a tree of their choosing. “Be with the tree, make a connection” were the simple instructions. After our partners returned us to our starting points, we removed our blindfolds and went searching for our newfound evergreen friend. Every single participant found their tree. Smogelgem then explained that the land is living and breathing. We are always in relationship to it, but our relations to the land can be intentionally deepened, so that we come to experience trees, water and animals as friends, even kin.

The pithouse on Unist’ot’en territory. (WNV/Jeff Nicholls)

After completing the workshop, we walked to a traditional pithouse that was recently built on the precise GPS coordinates of Chevron’s proposed pipeline. Huson and Smogelgem plan to live in the pithouse once it is complete (and outfitted with comfortable furnishings and energy-efficient lighting and appliances). Their vision is for more Wet’suwet’en people to join them back on the land, living and renewing their culture. The Wet’suwet’en Nation is comprised of five clans, including the Unist’ot’en people.

Once the two remaining pipeline threats are defeated, Huson and Smogelgem will transition the camp into a full-time healing and cultural center for indigenous people recovering from the ongoing trauma of colonization. Indeed, the largest structure at the camp, a three-story building that includes a dining hall, industrial kitchen, and counseling spaces, is called “The Healing Centre.”

The Unist’ot’en Camp has always had a dual purpose: resisting pipelines while nurturing Wet’suwet’en culture. Like the water protectors at Standing Rock, the Unist’ot’en Clan has been careful to clarify that their settlement is not a protest. Rather, it is an occupation and assertion of their traditional territory — a site from which to resist further colonial extraction, while also practicing a culture and economy that is inseparable from the land.

According to Huson, “our people’s belief is that we are part of the land. The land is not separate from us. The land sustains us. And if we don’t take care of her, she won’t be able to sustain us.”

Huson explained to us that she lived away from her people’s territory for 20 years due to colonization. “I lived on reservation, got educated and worked as an economic development officer for 14 years,” she said. “Once I decolonized and reconnected to my territory, I felt my spirit come alive. When family visit, they don’t want to leave.” She wants to share with others the healing that she has experienced by being back out on her people’s land.

Indigenous resurgence and embodied social change

The Unist’ot’en Camp is exemplary of what indigenous scholars such as Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Jeff Corntassel (Nishnaabeg and Cherokee ancestry, respectively) call “indigenous resurgence.” According to Corntassel: “Being indigenous today means struggling to reclaim and regenerate one’s relational place-based existence by challenging the ongoing destructive forces of colonization.” He notes that ceremony is a key way to “reconnect to the natural world.”

There are deep resonances between indigenous resurgence and the focus on ceremony, mindfulness and healing practices that are emerging in radical social movements across Turtle Island. Settler activists are finding that different healing practices, such as meditation and yoga, can help reduce burnout, heal the traumas caused by oppression and increase organizational effectiveness. Daily meditations, for example, played an important role at Occupy Wall Street. These resonances between indigenous resurgence and the growing social movement interest in non-Western healing practices have the potential to facilitate new solidarities between indigenous activists and settler allies.

For example, Hajime Harold is a teacher, activist and longtime supporter of Unist’ot’en land defense. During this year’s action camp, he led daily exercises in qigong, a traditional Chinese healing system that integrates breathing, meditation and physical postures. As a Japanese Canadian, Harold experienced racism growing up in Kelowna, British Columbia. These painful experiences sensitized him to injustices, including those related to colonialism. His heart has been opened, too, he said, by learning qigong, which has increased his capacity to act in solidarity with those whose challenges are different from his. For Harold, qigong helps practitioners better connect with themselves, other people and the earth. He experiences qigong as resonant with the indigenous traditional teachings that he is familiar with.

Similarly, scholar Michael Yellow Bird (from the Sahnish and Hidatsa Nations) sees indigenous ceremonial practices as aligned with mindfulness meditation, and crucial to what he terms “neurodecolonization,” or transforming the embodied traumas that colonialism leaves in its wake.

Building settler solidarity on stolen native land

Despite the similarities between indigenous resurgence and mind-body practices of settler social movements, there is still a vital element of decolonization that is regularly missed by settler activists: land. To whom does the land rightfully belong? Who has decision-making power over it?

Over lunch at the Unist’ot’en Camp, indigenous scholar Edward Valandra (from the Oceti Sakowin Oyate) asked us a simple question: “What is the first thing you do when you get out of bed each morning?” We immediately thought of our various morning rituals (meditation, yoga, a cup of coffee). Valandra patiently watched as we pondered his question; then he leaned in. “I can tell you exactly what you do each morning. You step out of bed onto stolen native land.”

The regular failure of settler activists to grapple with the land question means that even radical social movements are constantly at risk of reinforcing colonial structures and social relations. Consider Occupy Wall Street. The different occupations that sprang up across the continent in 2011 to protest profound disparities in wealth rarely acknowledged that they were happening on already occupied land. Moreover, as scholars Eve Tuck (member of the Aleut indigenous community) and K. Wayne Yang have argued, “the ideal of ‘redistribution of wealth’ camouflages how much of that wealth is land, Native land.” Without a focus on the repatriation of land to indigenous peoples, a seemingly radical call for redistribution can quickly become a continuation of colonial dispossession.

Decolonization may feel unsettling to some, as it means the return of land and governing authority and the renunciation of settler privileges. Nevertheless, indigenous-led front lines from Standing Rock to Unist’ot’en are drawing a growing number of settlers who grieve colonial injustices, feel anxious about climate destabilization and crave a deeper connection to the land upon which they live.

Julia Michaelis is the camp’s chef. If food critics visited front lines, the kitchen at Unist’ot’en would be brimming with five-star reviews. Julia explained to us that she loved being at camp because every step she takes while there — from chopping onions to facilitating nonviolent direct action trainings — is in the service of decolonization. For settlers, relating to the magnitude of colonial injustice can be overwhelming. But at a front line like the Unist’ot’en camp, a simple chore like washing dishes is transformed into an everyday act of decolonization.

A bunkhouse at the Unist’ot’en camp. (WNV/Jeff Nicholls)

In a blog post about his experiences of healing at the camp, settler activist Will Falk recently reflected on how “every chore, every conversation, every action at the camp comes with a fullness of meaning I have never found anywhere else.” For Falk, this meaning is rooted in the traditional teachings that inform the camp.

According to Unist’ot’en Clan member Karla Tait, many supporters (both indigenous and settler) have “come out to Unist’ot’en land and found it to be a healing experience, to live on the land and have a connection with the natural world and our teachings.”

Supporters at the camp are making a connection with Unist’ot’en people, whose ancestors have been in deep relationship with the land since time immemorial. Being in good relations with people whose living traditions emerge from thousands of years of reciprocal relationship with the land allows for a depth of environmental connection, a groundedness on the Earth, that many supporters have never before experienced.

As environmental educators, we have learned a variety of contemplative exercises designed to deepen human connection to the land and facilitate a desire for stewardship. But we learned at the Unist’ot’en Camp that there is no substitute for the groundedness that comes from being in good relationship with the specific peoples upon whose lands you are living. Developing that relationship means fighting for the restitution of indigenous lands and authority.


The Unist’ot’en Camp offers a glimpse into what post-colonial relations between indigenous peoples and settlers could look like on Turtle Island. The land is Wet’suwet’en territory and governed by Wet’suwet’en law and systems of governance, but the camp welcomes visitors of all backgrounds who are keen to respect, abide by and learn from the laws of the land.

Members and supporters of the Unist’ot’en camp showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter. (Unist’ot’en Camp)

As stated on the Unist’ot’en website: “People of all races, religions, nationalities, classes, genders, orientations and gender identifications are welcome to support the grassroots Wet’suwet’en people in defending their land.” This connection across difference is practiced actively, a key part of the healing ethos of the camp. Indeed, one of our favorite activities at camp was “Femme Friday,” when everyone was encouraged to wear makeup and nail polish to make the environment more welcoming and celebratory for two-spirit people and genderqueer allies. Indigenous resurgence can look like a hereditary chief in red nail polish.

After eight years of anti-colonial resistance and the defeat of multiple pipeline projects, the Unist’ot’en Camp is still building momentum. Their winning formula is this: indigenous land governed by indigenous people, with consistent support from settler allies. This approach, deployed at Standing Rock and other indigenous-led front lines, is helping to ensure a livable future by stopping the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure, while also sowing seeds for a different world — one in which the deep wounds to land and people inflicted by colonialism can finally heal.

How the Vietnam War prepared Puerto Ricans to confront crisis

Waging Nonviolence - Fri, 10/06/2017 - 12:06

by Michael Stewart Foley

Members of Movimiento Pro-Independencia de Puerto Rico picket the White House in March of 1965. (Claridad / Biblioteca Digital UPR Río Piedras)

This week, as Puerto Ricans feel once again like a White House afterthought, it is hard not to conclude that Puerto Rico matters to Washington only when mainland political and business leaders need to conscript the island itself for some larger financial or military purpose.

Consider the impact of Vietnam War policy on Puerto Rico. Thanks to a new Ken Burns documentary and Hurricane Maria, the headlines have us talking simultaneously about Vietnam and Puerto Rico for the first time in 50 years. Today, few Americans remember the impact of the Vietnam War on Puerto Rico. Yet the war struck the island with the force of a political hurricane, tearing at Puerto Rico’s social fabric, raising the same questions of colonialism that are again in the news in the wake of Maria, and fueling its independence movement.

Not unlike Puerto Rico’s recent fiscal crisis, the Vietnam War brought into sharp relief the island’s unequal status as a territory of the United States, particularly after President Lyndon Johnson escalated the war in 1965. Draft-age men in Puerto Rico were subject to the Selective Service Act and called for induction into the U.S. military — even though they had no representative in the Congress that passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and even though many did not speak English.

A political cartoon published by Claridad in August of 1968.

As a result, Puerto Rico’s independence movement quickly condemned the war and called for widespread draft resistance. In July 1965, Claridad, the newspaper of the Movimiento Pro-Independencia de Puerto Rico, or MPI, published its first antiwar and anti-draft column, stating: “Because Puerto Rico is an American colony, Puerto Ricans are obligated to serve in that country’s army, are used like cannon fodder in imperialist wars carried out against defenseless peoples, wars in which Puerto Rico has no interest.”

One week later the MPI called on Puerto Ricans to resist the draft and condemned American aggression in Vietnam as a guerra sucia — a “dirty war” — against “the heroic people of Vietnam.” In response, students for the first time protested outside the Selective Service’s offices in San Juan.

Soon, the MPI likened its own quest for independence with that of the United States’ enemy in Vietnam. As reported in Claridad, the MPI “expressed its full solidarity with the National Liberation Front in its just fight for independence from North American imperialist dominance” and called on the United States to honor the 1954 Geneva Accords, to withdraw from Vietnam, and “guarantee the independence and neutrality of all of Indochina.”

For the MPI, the draft represented a “blood tax,” a “taxation without representation” that Americans aware of their own revolutionary heritage should have understood. Independentistas pointed to the composition of local draft boards (which were called “juntas” in Spanish) as proof. According to Selective Service Director Lewis Hershey, draft boards were “little groups of neighbors,” best suited to look out for America’s sons. But the MPI complained that the local boards were made up of “members of the richest families, statehood proponents … members of the Lions Club, Rotary, Exchange, Citizens for State 51 and other fiends” who “funneled” the poor into the military. These draft board members were Puerto Rican mandarins, agents of the colonizers.

An image published in the Fall of 1970 by the U.S. Committee for Justice to Latin American Political Prisoners.

In 1965 and 1966, long before a coordinated draft resistance movement took shape stateside, 33 members of MPI and two others refused to be inducted. Prosecutors indicted them promptly. When they went to trial in federal court, the proceedings were conducted in English — which often meant that some of the best Puerto Rican lawyers were unavailable — and if one wanted to appeal a conviction, the appeal was heard 2,700 miles away, in Boston, also in English.

In August 1966, the first Puerto Rican draft resistance case, that of Sixto Alvelo Rodriguez, came to trial. Alvelo won support not only from the MPI — which enlisted the radical New York law firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, and Standard for his defense — but also from mainstream supporters who formed Comite de Defense Sixto Alvelo. More than 200 students signed a statement in support of Alvelo, pledging that they, too, would refuse induction. In September, the court asked Alvelo’s draft board to re-induct him (it never did) and dismissed his case and all other MPI draft resistance cases.

The independence movement interpreted the court’s ruling as a major political victory. The MPI speculated that Alvelo’s case revealed “one of the most tyrannical manifestations of our colonial subjugation” and that Washington had backed down in the face of the threat of thousands of induction refusals in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Ricans attending the Fifth Annual Youth Conference of the Pro Independence Movement in Santurce on January 21, 1967. (Claridad / El Mundo, Biblioteca Digital UPR Río Piedras)

At the same time, however, the Selective Service continued to call Puerto Rican men for induction, and support for the draft resistance movement continued to go mainstream. On Mother’s Day in 1967, Puerto Rican mothers organized a protest against the draft in San Juan. The Puerto Rican Bar Association passed a resolution in 1968 calling for the exemption of Puerto Ricans from compulsory U.S. military service, and one year later, the Puerto Rican Episcopal Church passed a resolution at its Diocesan Convention condemning both the war and the conscription of Puerto Ricans.

Federal prosecutors ultimately indicted more than 100 Puerto Rican men, most of whom were convicted. On the day that Edwin Feliciano Grafals — a 26-year-old MPI member who described himself as a “nonreligious conscientious objector” — became the first Puerto Rican draft resister convicted since World War II, students at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras burned down the campus ROTC building. Six weeks later, 10,000 Puerto Ricans marched through San Juan protesting against the draft. “This is the time to decide; you’re either a Yanqui or you’re a Puerto Rican,” MPI leader Juan Mari Bras told the crowd. “Not one more Puerto Rican should convert himself into a criminal by fighting against the Vietnamese people.”

In the end, Puerto Rico’s draft resistance did not end the Vietnam War nor did it win independence. But it did help to prevent further escalation of the war in 1968, and it brought many Puerto Ricans both to the antiwar movement and to the cause of independence. Moreover, draft resistance in Puerto Rico combined with draft resistance throughout the United States to compel the Nixon administration to introduce a draft lottery and, ultimately, end conscription altogether.

Protest against the draft in Puerto Rico and throughout the United States worked because it targeted an institution that few could defend as fair. Today, with the federal government seemingly unable to deliver post-hurricane relief to Puerto Rico in a manner equal to its assistance in Texas and Florida, we have yet one more example of discrimination against a people who right now need only compassion, sympathy and generous aid.

The devastation of Puerto Rico’s recent fiscal crisis (a crisis rooted in mainland lending policies) has now been compounded by natural disaster. It is in moments like these when, as during the Vietnam War, the second-class treatment of Puerto Rico by Washington is most obvious. The island itself has been treated as a conscript by successive U.S. governments for more than a century, for far too long.

The question is how islanders will respond to Washington this time. Will they protest? If so, what form will the protest take? Now may be a good time, in fact, for Puerto Ricans (and for the rest of us) to look to the island’s resistance to the Vietnam War as a model worth following. Fifty years later, it is worth remembering the place of Puerto Rican draft resisters in the American tradition of dissent. And it is worth remembering its place in a tradition of resistance to American colonialism. By escalating protest against the war and by risking their own freedom, Puerto Rican draft resisters kept alive the notion that resistance is a valid mode of citizenship.

Climate Change

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 10/06/2017 - 09:08

I wrote to my friend in India yesterday asking about the welfare of relatives and friends he has in Houston. He replied that they were scattered but safe. Then I realized he probably also had friends if not relatives threatened by the flooding in South Asia, where thousands have died and millions have been made homeless. The latest reports say 1,000 have died in India alone. India's Prime Minister has been quoted as saying, "climate change and new weather patterns are having 'a big negative effect.'"
I remembered walking in Mumbai during monsoon on one visit there. I was walking in the street in knee deep water. Fortunately, I was with a friend who kept me away from the holes in the road where the rushing water was draining into the catchment systems below. Many, especially children, lost their lives that way. The undertow was strong and sometimes undetected till it was too late.
The reality is that climate change is upon us and affecting the lives and well being of people all over the globe. As we watch the unfolding events in Houston, we might be able to envision what is meant by environmental refugees. We might be able to begin to understand why the U.S. Defense Department has declared climate change a national security concern.
It's interesting to look at climate change through the eyes of the Defense Department. Everyone, at least in politics, seems to find this agency the most credible, given the enormous slice of the pie they are awarded year after year. Public perceptions of their interest in climate change are limited. But military planners have been concerned about the impacts of climate change at least since the George W. Bush administration. Some institutions, like the Naval War College, have been issuing warnings since 1990. And members of the intelligence community have had an ongoing relationship with climate scientists to assess the security implications since 2008.
In 2015, the Senate Appropriations Committee requested a report from the Defense Department about the most serious climate related security risks and what they were doing to minimize those risks in their planning processes. The subsequent report mentioned impacts of climate change were already being observed in the U.S., the Arctic, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America. The observable impacts included aggravation of problems like poverty; homelessness and large refugee populations; environmental degradation leading to water shortages and famine; and ineffective, weakened and unstable governments.
The largest naval base in the world is at Norfolk, Virginia. It floods about ten times a year. When this happens, the entry road to the base is underwater. Other roads on base are impassable. The concrete piers for the ships are flooded, shorting out power hookups. This all happens today simply because of a full moon that raises higher tides. Sea level at the base has risen 14.5 inches since WW1 when the station was built. The Union of Concerned Scientists predicts the naval station will flood 280 times a year by 2100.
             After his confirmation hearing, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, stated how important it was for the military to consider environmental changes like open water routes in a thawing Arctic and drought in trouble spots around the world. For him, these were present day concerns and needed to be included in defense planning and implementation.
But as recently as last year, Republicans in the House of Representatives tried to block any new emphasis in the Defense Department on planning for responding to climate change. The same voices blocking new efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change are often the same voices refusing to help restore the livelihoods of those most affected by it. We saw the lame response of some politicians to Katrina and Sandy, and the non response to many of the most vulnerable, often the poor and people of color. We should insist they open their eyes to the reasons for, and ramifications of, Harvey.

Claiming climate change is "fake news" or "in the hands of God" or somehow irrelevant to our future is now not only immoral but bordering on the criminal. Decision makers who continue to hold hands with the fossil fuel and other corporate interests that keep us on a path to climate catastrophe need to be held accountable. And we need to celebrate those good neighbors who always seem to wade through the waters with a helping hand; who spend 24/7 in the kitchen turning out hot meals; who treat an emergency like an emergency and leave their own lives and well being to turn up with healing and comfort and compassion for the afflicted.

Carl Kline

New Yorkers picket Trump Tower in support of Puerto Rico

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 10/04/2017 - 14:00

by Ashoka Jegroo

Protesters chanted and played bomba drums outside of Trump Tower on Tuesday. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

A crowd of about a hundred protesters picketed outside of Trump Tower in New York City on Tuesday in support of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, while also protesting colonialism and the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria. The protest occurred on the same day as President Trump’s first trip to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island two weeks ago.

“We’re here denouncing not only Trump’s visit to the island. We’re denouncing what’s going on right now and how politicians from both parties are using Puerto Rico as a ping pong ball. They are not helping my country,” said Norma Perez of Call to Action On Puerto Rico. “Also we want to denounce the payment of [Puerto Rico’s] debt. This is not the time to pay any debt. Just take the debt with you, allow us to be free, and we can move on and be an independent country without the colonialism, without everything they are imposing on us in Puerto Rico.”

The protesters, many of whom were Puerto Ricans from the island or the diaspora, demanded an end to the Jones Act, a law imposed by the United States in 1920 that only allows U.S. ships to deliver goods to the island. Protesters were also calling for an end to PROMESA, a 2016 U.S.-imposed law that put a 7-member fiscal control board (colloquially known as “la Junta”) in charge of resolving the island’s more than $70 billion government debt crisis. They started picketing at around 5 p.m. and — with the sound of bomba drums ringing in the New York air — chanted anti-fascist, anti-colonial and pro-Puerto Rican independence slogans.

“We need to denounce colonialism and the imperialism of the United States,” Perez said. “We have PROMESA. We have all this devastation from this huge hurricane. It’s been more than 100 years of being a colony of the United States, and they are not treating us as citizens. So it’s not only about Maria.”

A protester displays a sign depicting the economic exploitation of Puerto Rico. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

Since invading Puerto Rico in 1898, the U.S. government has facilitated the exploitation of the island for both its own interests and the interests of U.S. corporations, essentially pushing Puerto Rico into its current dire economic situation. Yet, U.S. politicians and businesses are blaming Puerto Rico for the crisis and have installed a colonial control board to oversee its finances.

President Trump’s comments and actions during his visit to the island on Tuesday only further illustrated this colonial relationship. With 95 percent of Puerto Rico lacking electricity and Oxfam harshly criticizing the administration’s response to the hurricane, Trump still managed to praise himself and blame Puerto Rico. “I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico [as the government did in response to Katrina], and it’s actually a much tougher situation,” he told reporters outside the White House before his trip. “But now the roads are clear, communications starting to come back.”

But even though the roads were clear, Trump claimed that Puerto Rico’s truck drivers were not doing their part. “We need their truck drivers to start driving trucks,” he told the New York Times. “On a local level, they have to give us more help.” He also contrasted Hurricane Maria’s devastation with “a real catastrophe like Katrina,” claiming that, because only 16 people had died, “everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.” These comments echoed Trump’s tweets on Sept. 30 claiming that Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them” while federal workers were “now on Island doing a fantastic job.” In a series of tweets on Sept. 25, Trump also made sure to remind Puerto Rico of the “billions of dollars … owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”

For the protesters outside Trump Tower on Tuesday, Trump’s comments continued a long tradition of colonizers disrespecting the colonized.

“What we did here today is send a very clear message to the Trump administration and to the politicians in New York City that the people in New York — who want to see an end to colonization and support independence — will not be disrespected and will not sit by while our people are being disrespected by this president,” said Frank Velgara of the Pro-Libertad Freedom Campaign. “His statements and his behavior are reminiscent, historically, of the prime ministers in India — when Britain colonized India — or the French in Algiers.”

A protester holds a sign in support of Puerto Rican independence. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

After speakers denounced both major political parties, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a well-known Puerto Rican Democrat, showed up at the protest but was not well received. Her support for the rezoning and gentrification of Spanish Harlem and the Bronx, as well as her support in 2015 for adding 1,297 new cops to the NYPD, made her persona non grata at the demo. At one point, protesters surrounded her chanting “No rezoning!” and “El Barrio no se vende!” Although protesters called for her to leave, she stayed at the protest with her bodyguard until it ended at around 8 p.m.

“I don’t know who advised her to come here because it’s not that kind of rally,” Velgara said. “But you see Melissa is used to coming to rallies of progressive groups and non-profits and the minute she shows up, she wants the mic. And we were not going to give her the mic. She played a key role in freeing [Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera] along with [Congressman Luis] Gutiérrez. That’s fine, but they’re kowtowing to Trump, and we can’t support that.”

Radio Dispatch interviews Jeff Abbott on Guatemala’s uprising

Waging Nonviolence - Tue, 10/03/2017 - 16:10

by The Editors

On the podcast Radio Dispatch, Molly Knefel interviews Jeff Abbott about the ongoing uprising against corruption in Guatemala, which he reported on for Waging Nonviolence last week.

Combating online abuse with the principles of nonviolent resistance

Waging Nonviolence - Mon, 10/02/2017 - 13:22

by Brian Martin

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Online harassment is on the rise, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. While that may not seem surprising — since even the president of the United States regularly engages in it — researchers are, nevertheless, perplexed, given the many widespread efforts to combat the phenomenon.

An examination of these efforts, which have been the subject of several books in recent years, may yield a better understanding of not only what’s working and not working, but also what’s missing — namely an approach that relies more on individual and collective empowerment, as opposed to legal and police action.

Online harassment as a crime

Danielle Keats Citron’s 2014 book “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” is a comprehensive account of online harassment directed at women. Citron uses three case studies to illustrate the seriousness and seeming intractability of the problem. In one case, a woman was targeted by various anonymous individuals, perhaps including her university classmates, who spread horrendous lies about her, sending them to family, friends, her teachers and later her employers. The harassment continued for years.

A key theme in “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” involves comparisons with sexual harassment and domestic violence. Decades ago, these were not seen as issues of importance. Sexual harassment was seen as something women at work just had to accept, and likewise domestic violence was invisible as a social issue. Then along came the feminist movement. Sexual harassment and domestic violence were given names, stigmatized as wrong and even contemptible, and criminalized by the passing of laws.

Citron says cyber harassment should be treated the same way. In all three forms of abuse, women and men can be victims, but women are much more likely to be targeted.

Citron is a lawyer with extensive experience with abuse online. She devotes considerable attention to legal remedies, but the overall message is that they are inadequate even when they can be brought to bear. Another avenue for redress is via complaint mechanisms provided by service providers. However, in many cases, harassers are anonymous and change their online identities. For example, on Twitter it’s possible to set up a new account within minutes, so shutting down the account of an abuser may provide only temporary relief.

Some targets of abuse go to the police, but this is usually disappointing, as many police do not understand the online world. For example, they fail to appreciate the importance of Twitter for some women’s work and how harassers can abuse the service. Police may suggest going offline to avoid the abuse, but this is unrealistic in an online world. It is like suggesting never going outside because of the risk of assault.

The misogyny of online abuse

Emma Jane is an academic at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, where she researches online harassment of women. Before this, for two decades she was a well-known media commentator under the name Emma Tom. Before the internet, she and other female figures in the media were used to receiving hostile written letters. But something changed in the 1990s after she started adding her email address at the bottom of her newspaper columns. The abuse she received in response to her columns became more insistent, graphic and voluminous. She started saving all this abuse, not knowing what to make of it.

In her research, inspired by her own experience and based on interviews and other evidence, she is quite clear that online harassment targeted at women is intended to tear them down and drive them off the internet. She has written several academic articles about the phenomenon and a 2017 book titled “Misogyny Online: A Short (and Brutish) History.”

Jane addresses the frequency of online abuse, its gendered features, the weakness of the rationales for doing it, the terrible consequences for targets and the failure of institutional channels to address it. She terms the inadequacy of police and service providers to address abuse as an “epic fail” — Jane has a delightful turn of phrase and manner of plain-speaking.

Unlike most other commentators, Jane gives many examples of some of the worst abuse received by women. That is why the subtitle of her book refers to a “brutish” history: to read examples of abuse can be disturbing even when you are not the target. By presenting graphic examples, Jane challenges the usual dismissals of this form of harassment as just a normal part of the internet. To get a feeling for the sort of abusive messages women receive, visit Random Rape Threat Generator (note: this is explicit and confronting).

Jane also gives special attention to academic work in the area, castigating scholars for not addressing an important topic or, when they do, not taking the abuse seriously. For example, incorporating rape and death threats in the category of “trolling” reduces their seriousness.

The problem with rationalizing abuse

Bailey Poland is a writer and editor who became interested in cybersexism and wrote the book “Haters: Harassment, Abuse and Violence Online” published in 2016. It is a comprehensive, scholarly treatment. Poland learned about the problem in part through her own experiences of coming under attack. She recounts the stories of many other women harassed online.

Some cases have become notorious, most prominently what is known as Gamergate. Zoe Quinn, a game developer, was abused online and openly complained about it. This led to a huge increase in abuse and threats, in turn triggering a countermovement. Gaming is highly male dominated, and women working in the field are regular targets.

Poland takes aim at the many justifications for cyber harassment and at the advice regularly given to women. One often-repeated mantra is “Don’t feed the trolls.” This assumes that trolling is the problem, but trolling is not an accurate description of rape and death threats. Not feeding the trolls means not replying to abusers, on the assumption that they get their kicks by seeing their target squirm: without replies, they should tire of the game and give up. The problem with this advice is that it doesn’t work. The attackers continue as long as their target is online, and may escalate by sending abuse, threats, and derogatory comments to family members and employers.

(For insights about trolling, see Whitney Phillips’ book “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” Phillips argues that trolling can’t be addressed on its own because it draws its energy from damaging behaviors in mainstream culture.)

One of the rationalizations for abuse is that “everyone gets harassed.” In other words, women shouldn’t complain because men are harassed too and, anyway, it’s just part of the way the internet works. Poland reports on studies showing that although many people are harassed, women are harassed far more, and furthermore much of the abuse aimed at them is specifically about gender.

Another regular piece of advice is to block the harassers. This is all very well, but is not protection from the harmful effects of abuse. When damaging claims are posted online, they can hinder a woman’s job prospects, because employers often do a Google search on the names of prospective employees. Blocking harassers also takes time; some of them create several new identities every day.

Harassers cloak their actions in the righteous mantle of free speech. In their eyes, it seems, sending unsolicited derogatory comments is an exercise of free speech, and to protest against such messages is an intolerable restraint. Setting aside the fact that rape and death threats are not legally protected speech, one of the consequences of online abuse is the silencing of targets. Indeed, silencing women seems to be the purpose of much of the abuse. This is a serious restraint on their own free speech. If the goal is a public forum where people can express their views, then moderation and respect for others are crucial.

To get a handle on how to respond to cyber harassment, Poland turns to a perspective developed by feminists in the early days of the internet, called cyber feminism. Some women use privacy settings for protection. Groups of women have set up closed online networks for sharing information, including about harassers. A few, for example Lindsay Bottos, use art to challenge online harassment.

But the burden of responding to online abuse should not rest only on women. Poland cites work by Leigh Alexander on what men can do. The first step is to not engage in cyber harassment themselves. Men can also provide one-on-one support for targeted women, focusing on a woman’s work (not just the harassment) and intervening online to draw attention away from the target.

Poland usefully refers to the activism of several U.S. groups, including Working to Halt Online Abuse, End to Cyber Bullying, Crash Override Network and HeartMob.

The psychology of abusers

Citron, Jane and Poland cite studies about typical perpetrators, but it seems to me that more could be done to understand what drives them. It is not sufficient to look at the effects of their harassment (namely, women driven off online spaces) and assume that is why perpetrators do it. Roy Baumeister, in his book “Evil: Understanding Human Violence and Cruelty,” looked at what is known about the psychology of Nazi camp guards, serial killers, and other perpetrators and concluded that usually they feel justified in their actions, feel they are the real victims, and do not think the consequences of their actions are very significant. If the same analysis applied to perpetrators of online harassment, it implies they do not think sending rape and death threats to women is a big deal and that their targets deserve what they get. This is not far from the usual rationales provided.

But why are women targets? One explanation is based on the psychological process of projection, in which a person unconsciously rejects a part of their self or behavior and attributes it to others. For example, a man might reject his own attraction to other men, fearing it, project it on to gay men and sometimes attack them.

All people have, as part of their personalities, both masculine and feminine aspects. Some men may not want to recognize their feminine side. Instead, they project it onto others, onto women, naturally enough, and then try to destroy it. In this picture, powerful and prominent women would be the most likely targets. This perspective seems compatible with a perpetrator pattern called DARVO — deny, attack, reverse victim and offender — in which perpetrators deny their own abuse, blame it on the target and say, when they are criticized, that they are actually the ones being abused.

The point of gaining a deeper understanding of the psychology of abusers is to come up with more effective responses.

Insights from nonviolent action

In acting against online abuse, what can be learned from the theory and practice of nonviolent action? This is not straightforward, because nonviolent action most commonly involves collective action in public spaces against identifiable opponents. Cyberabuse typically targets individuals, often in private spaces, and many attackers are anonymous. Nevertheless, several of the key features of effective nonviolent action — non-standard, limited harm, participation, voluntary participation, fairness, prefiguration and skillful use — are relevant to countering cyberharassment.

The most commonly recommended response to online abuse is to report it to authorities, something each of the three authors find is usually unhelpful. A nonviolence-inspired response needs to be something else, something non-standard.

In effective nonviolent action, actionists try to limit the harm to their opponent. In cyberspace, this means not using abuse to counter abuse. It seems that few targets do this anyway. When they do, it is often counterproductive, as would be expected from nonviolence theory.

In nonviolent action, a high level of participation greatly increases effectiveness. Methods such as strikes, boycotts and rallies enable many people to participate regardless of age, sex and ability. In the online environment, the implication is to choose methods of resistance that enable greater participation. A first step is for targeted women (and men) to join together with allies to formulate a collective response. This might be making supportive comments, challenging ISPs that allow abuse and developing campaigns that allow safe participation.

One of the benefits of greater participation in nonviolent action, especially when people with varied backgrounds and experiences are involved, is more ideas about responding and more innovation in techniques. This suggests that campaigners against online misogyny should attempt to involve diverse sectors of the population, for example men as well as women, old and young, different social classes, social media newbies, as well as digital natives, and people from different cultural backgrounds. Especially important is building support among people who would not normally be interested in the social media platforms where abuse often occurs.

Taking the issue to broader sectors of the population has the prospect of getting to friends (online and off), neighbors, parents and children of abusers. This is the same broadening of concern that has been effective in stigmatizing sexual harassment offline.

Another important facet of effective nonviolent action is skillful use of methods. Responding to abusers needs to be done well, based on assessments of the psychology of the attacker, audiences, the likelihood of others joining in the abuse or opposing it and other factors. Developing skills requires guidance and practice. The implication is that targets of abuse need to reach out to others, gain support and, in particular, get help in improving responses. By improving skills in judging the motivations, intent, and psychological weaknesses of harassers, targets should be better able to judge whether to make a polite response, to not respond, to ask for personal assistance or to seek help in mounting a campaign. Similarly, skills can make a big difference when making a response to abusers, finding supporters and campaigning.

All too often, targets feel isolated and humiliated and attempt to deal with the situation on their own. Reaching out to others, and others being willing and able to help, are crucial for mobilizing support and for making better choices and responses.

The implications of ideas from nonviolent action for challenging online abuse seem, at one level, all too obvious: Get more people involved, including from different backgrounds; learn and practice skills; and work cooperatively to develop responses and campaigns. Yet, at another level, these implications are not obvious at all, given the continual attention to addressing the problem through laws and actions by police, ISPs and other officials. Rather than looking for authorities to provide protection, it may be more effective to aim at individual and collective empowerment.

Minnesotans rally to ‘Hold the Line’ against Enbridge pipeline project

Waging Nonviolence - Fri, 09/29/2017 - 14:39

by Brandon Jordan

Activists march toward the only public hearing on Enbridge’s Line 3 proposal in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Oil Change International/Matt Maiorana)

Hundreds of residents gathered in front of the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul on Thursday for a rally to “Hold the Line” against a pipeline project called Line 3. Backed by the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Energy, the inter-state project was the subject of the city’s only public meeting held later that day, and residents were firmly determined to make their voices heard.

With an hour to go until the public hearing, they marched over a mile to the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront hotel. Once inside, they argued against the project’s approval to the judge who will decide Line 3’s fate next year.

“It’s just nice to be in a sea of people who feel the same way that you do,” said Mysti Babineau of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe in northwestern Minnesota. “It gives me hope because a lot of these people I’m seeing nowadays are so young.”

Enbridge is proposing a replacement of its old Line 3, which was installed in the 1960s and is now considered to be inefficient and too costly to remove. Once decommissioned, the old Line 3 would be cleaned and left in the ground and a new $7.5 billion pipeline would be constructed. While taking a slightly different path through northern Minnesota, it would end at the same oil facility in Superior, Wisconsin.

Enbridge claims the project is the “best [way] to maintain system integrity while minimizing disruption to landowners and communities.” But many Minnesotans disagree and think the plans for both pipelines raise serious concerns — one of which is the violation of treaty rights. These rights, guaranteed by treaties signed over 150 years ago, include the right to hunt, gather and fish. If a leak were to occur with the new pipeline — which is not farfetched, considering the company’s history of over 1,000 spills — it would jeopardize these rights.

“They want to go through permeable soil that would be hard to clean up if and when there is a spill,” Babineau said. “Our wild rice that we gather every year, which is really important to the Ojibwe people, will be impacted by this line. It will go through the heart of Ojibwe country.”

Indigenous people aren’t the only ones opposed to the plan. David Johnson, a 70-year-old landowner in eastern Minnesota, first came to know Enbridge about two years ago, when the firm requested use of his land for their failed Sandpiper pipeline, which would have carried Bakken crude oil to the same Wisconsin terminal. The company flooded him with letters and phone calls, but he refused. They even offered him $1,000 at one point.

“I said, ‘When you get the thing approved, you can come talk to me here,'” Johnson recalled. “They said, ‘Well, we’ll take your land with eminent domain.'”

David Johnson, a landowner in Minnesota, tells the audience about the dangers of the Line 3 on the state’s environment. (Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light)

The Sandpiper project was withdrawn last year due to the falling price of oil, but Johnson — still angered by Enbridge and the damaging effects of its projects — is now opposing the company’s Line 3 replacement. He was one of the many speakers at Thursday’s rally in Saint Paul.

“I didn’t want to [be a speaker], but I love this land,” he said. “It’s a pretty isolated part of the county right on the edge of the vast wetlands. There’s lots of wildlife and very few people. I don’t want it threatened by the pipeline and their access roads and the potential leaks.”

Johnson was unable to join protesters in their march because of health issues, but felt “grateful for the groups that have done so much to fight these pipelines.”

One of those groups, the Northern Water Alliance of Minnesota, has been focused on the ways in which Line 3 will impact the state’s water resources. Retired architect Jim Reents, who volunteers with the alliance, has testified in front of numerous committees, collaborated with various environmental organizations and assisted in reviewing the effects of the project. What concerns him are the numerous problems associated with the old Line 3. In fact, he said Enbridge admits to over 900 “structural anomalies” with the pipeline.

To make matters worse, Enbridge has done little to stop such leaks. For instance, the firm didn’t reduce the pipeline’s capacity — following severe leaks in 2010 — until federal regulators ordered them to do so. Nevertheless, Enbridge called it a voluntary measure. Such carelessness, according to Reents, makes it difficult to trust that Enbridge’s new Line 3 will be any better.

“You’re talking about an alignment that essentially crosses the drinking water for the entire state and beyond in many cases,” Reents said.

Meanwhile, the crude oil that doesn’t leak from Line 3 will ultimately be burned, producing carbon emissions that threaten today’s youth and future generations. That’s why the Youth Climate Interveners — a group of 13 young activists under the age of 25 — filed for the right to intervene as an official party in a court case against Enbridge in November.

The group argued, without legal counsel, that the pipeline would have a drastic impact on their future. The social cost of the pipeline’s carbon emissions alone is anywhere from $52 to $287 billion, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

“The judge ruled that we did have standing,” said Akilah Sanders-Reed, a 23-year-old Minneapolis resident. “We were going to be impacted, and we have a right to have a voice in this process. That was really groundbreaking.”

While the next phase of the case is set for early November, Sanders-Reed urged the importance of the public hearings — nine are currently scheduled — across the state in highlighting Minnesota residents’ opposition to Line 3.

“If there were ever a pipeline that could turn Minnesota into a leader in clean energy, climate action and the way we treat indigenous rights — this is it,” she said.

She then pointed to the examples of resistance to the project happening across the state — from the indigenous resistance camps in the north to landowners like Johnson opposing the use of eminent domain to the formation of a coalition of activists that includes faith leaders and youths.

While the public hearing in Saint Paul lasted only a day, resistance to the line will continue. Activists plan to mobilize citizens to attend other hearings in the state, knock on the doors of residents to warn of the plan’s dangers, and take part in the November court case against Enbridge.

“There is no way we’re going to let it cross Minnesota,” Sanders-Reed said.

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Living Nonviolence - Fri, 09/29/2017 - 12:44

“By three things is the world sustained...”
          This morning while anticipating commitments in the month of October, I turned the page of my beautiful Jewish art calendar to peruse the coming month and fill in the necessary appointments.  On the art page facing October, beautifully and mystically wrapped by a 12 pointed star (created by superimposing 3 Stars of David) are these words: By three things is the world sustained: by justice, by truth and by peace.The words come from the Pirkei Avot, a work that is  often translated  as “Ethics of Our Fathers”.         I don’t have a lot of familiarity with Pirkei Avot, but I have heard these familiar lines from the same body of wisdom:
“If I am only for myself, who am I?”
“Say little and do much”
“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”                      The daily headlines in The Boston Globe are disheartening and frightening, filled with immature name calling, treacherous threats, post  hurricane anguish, NFL protests, more name calling and on and on.             As I it sit with the ancient words in front of me - meditating on them, if you will, I find them by turns, challenging, condemning, and filled with hope.            If indeed, the world is sustained by justice, by truth and by peace, then we are on very shaky ground in this, what used to be considered a shining, democracy.   In too many spheres, justice seems owned by the white and the wealthy.   Truth suddenly has many “alternatives.”  Peace seems more fragile than a spider web in a storm.            From a highly placed UN podium, the word is declared: every nation for itself!  And  I feel  a profound loss - a shrinking of the expansive boundaries of generosity, of international commitment to one another’s  wellbeing, of dependable friendships that help to keep this planet viable for human existence.   If I am only for myself, who am I ?”              So many words - - too many words - -  swords rattling and rampant rumors of war as destructive wordiness fills the headlines.   Ineffective wordiness in the houses of Congress; hyperbolic wordiness and juvenile insults on Twitter and in public rallies - but no positive and creative action on health care or tax reform; no humane development of a sane immigration policy; no life embracing action toward preserving the life of the earth.  I wonder what “the Fathers” encountered as they concluded it was wise to ”Say little and do much.”              Still, I am encouraged by the faithful energy of this small island community.  Together we  meet for interfaith study about how to instill in our young people an ethic of concern for “the other” as we read “ACTS OF FAITH” by Eboo Patel.  The book plainly lets us know that even as young people can be taught to hate and fear, they can also be taught to embrace and care for the stranger - - faith communities and  and schools need to be more proactive.  I am encouraged by the annual “Living Local” festival at the Agricultural Hall, with booths and displays drawn from every corner of island life in an attempt to educate us all about our role in sustaining the holy life of this planet.              A premier island grocer is figuring out how to sustain his profits while providing steep discounts for islanders to be sure that our elders and our immigrant population can afford to shop in his markets.  These modest efforts are thousands of miles from the centers of power. We are in a place where we might be tempted to throw up our hands in helpless despair at things over which we have little control.  But the ancient wisdom dictates otherwise. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.            If, indeed, the world is sustained by justice, by truth, and by peace, then even a small island in the Atlantic is both judged and challenged...and blessed by the “Ethics of Our Fathers.”   We dare not lose sight of the power of simple actions that keep faith with the care and concern for others and for the earth in focus.  And even though we may have cause to wonder if the grass roots actions we take have any effect on the whole in the end, we are never free to simply slack off and hope that someone else will do the job. 
Vicky Hanjian

Guatemala rises up against institutionalized corruption

Waging Nonviolence - Tue, 09/26/2017 - 12:51

by Jeff Abbott

A man stands in the crowd with a sign that reads “Out with the corrupt deputies and government. Forward with the people.” (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

On Sept. 20, hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans demonstrated across the country against President Jimmy Morales and Congress. The protesters demanded the resignation of the president and congressional members, following new accusations of corruption and the repeal of anti-corruption laws passed in 2015.

“We are demanding that the president and the majority of Congress resign, and that they pass laws that modify the laws that govern political parties,” said Tomás Solaj, the indigenous mayor of Sololá. “We have the advantage right now.”

In Guatemala City, student groups and organizations that began during the 2015 corruption crisis marched from different points of the city to the Central Plaza in protest of the president and Congress.

“To President Morales and his friends in Congress, we the Guatemalan people have something to tell you: We are here, we see you, and we won’t rest until our government is freed from the powerful criminal groups that have hijacked it,” wrote members of the movement Justicia Ya in a press release on the protest. “We, Guatemalans, will no longer stand in fear. We are ready to build a peaceful, prosperous and transparent Guatemala.”

Eighty-five miles northwest of Guatemala City, in the largely indigenous department of Sololá, the indigenous authorities of the municipalities of Sololá, San Pedro la Laguna, San Juan la Laguna, Nahualá, Santa Catarina Ixhuatan, San Lucas Tolimán, Panajachel, and Santiago Atitlán organized a department-wide protest, blocking the Panamerican highway in Los Encuentros for eight hours.

A woman sits on the Panamerican highway with a sign that reads “I demand a change to the system that rewards corrupt and murderous people. No more impunity.” (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

And the protests have already led to major impacts in the government. Key governmental ministers have resigned, including those running the Ministries of Labor, Finances, the Interior and Health.

“We are here to tell the political class that we will not allow any more of their corruption and impunity, and that Guatemala deserves a better future,” said Julio Héctor Rodríguez Andrade from the Popular and Social Assembly, which formed during the 2015 political crisis. “Their corruption only leaves us with more poverty, the lack of education and healthcare, and poor highways. They rob everything, and the majority continue to live in poor conditions.”

The impacts of corruption are especially felt within the indigenous communities across Guatemala. Sololá is among the departments with the highest populations of indigenous peoples, and it is also among the poorest departments in Guatemala, with 85.4 percent of the population living in poverty, according to a 2016 report from the United Nations Development Program. According to the same report, the department also has low access to education and healthcare.

“Here, the congressional deputies do not bring anything to our communities, they only offer us things when they are campaigning,” said Checha, a resident of Los Encuentros, Sololá. “The only projects they carry out are to launder more money. But we receive nothing. This is the same corruption that we saw with Otto Pérez Molina. This is why we are rising up against them. We want a new state.”

These direct impacts of corruption have mobilized the communities to protest.

“We are indignant that all our taxes are stolen by these members of congress, all the while we must struggle each day to earn the money for our daily bread,” Solaj said. “The people know this is the case. How is it that we are still governed by thieves here in the 21st century? We can no longer tolerate this.”

Guatemala’s latest crisis

The actions add to the growing outrage following Guatemala’s latest political crisis, which began weeks earlier.

On Aug. 25, Morales traveled to New York to meet with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres. During the meeting, Morales and his associates complained about the actions of Ivan Velásquez, the Colombian-born lead investigator of the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG. They argued that the actions of Velásquez were impeding Morales’ mandate as president.

Days later, on Aug. 27, upon returning to Guatemala, Morales issued a video on social media declaring Velásquez a “persona non-grata,” and ordered his immediate expulsion from the country. He argued that Velásquez had meddled “in domestic affairs, which are the sole responsibility of the Guatemalan state.” The same day the presidential decree went before the country’s Constitutional Court, which overturned Morales’ decision to expel Velásquez.

“We have gone out to the streets to demonstrate because we do not want to see Velásquez go, and a new commissioner come in and drop the cases against those officials that face legal charges,” Solaj said.

The attack on Velásquez was viewed as an assault against indigenous communities and the struggle against corruption, since the lead investigator of CICIG is widely viewed as being a “friend” of the people.

“Velásquez is a person that has uncovered many cases of corruption in Guatemala,” Solaj said. “Because of this we have a former president, a vice president and former officials facing charges for corruption. In comparison, other commissioners from the CICIG have not done the same as Velásquez.”

Analysts suggested that the actions of Morales were an attempt to derail the case that CICIG and Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor office were building against the president. But despite the attack, the case moved forward, and as Morales met with the secretary general of the United Nations, Velásquez and Attorney General Thelma Aldana, issued their findings against the president.

In a press conference on Aug. 25, the investigators showed that the president’s National Convergence Front political party had received $325,000 in anonymous donations, and failed to declare $600,000 in campaign expenses. They recommended stripping Morales of his presidential immunity, and filing official charges against him for violating campaign financing laws.

The decision to strip the president of his immunity went before the Constitutional Court on Sept. 4. The court decided that Congress should be the body to decide to strip the immunity. The vote went before Congress on Sept. 11, with 104 of the 158 members voting to maintain the immunity. Two days later, using the argument of a national emergency, Congress passed decrees 14-2017 and 15-2017, undoing previous anti-corruption legislation and eliminating prison time if convicts could pay a fine. These actions only added to the popular outrage and led to the national strike.

A man holds a sign that says “We are not in agreement with the law approved by Congress.” (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

“These decrees said they could free those [officials] that are imprisoned,” Solaj said. “And Morales would not face charges for the accusations against him. Congress walked back the laws against corruption [by declaring a] national emergency.”

The reforms to the laws were repealed on Sept. 15, Guatemala’s independence day, amidst intense protests. Angry residents of Guatemala City blocked congressional members as they tried to leave, leading to a violent eviction of protesters by riot police.

Organizing the movement

The mobilizations and organizing have taken on different forms within the country. Initially, the urban sectors were slower to join the protest against the president and members of congress. But following the passing of the decrees on Sept. 11, urban residents quickly joined the protests.

Within indigenous communities, the Ancestral Authorities have played a critical role in mobilizing the residents that they serve. The indigenous authorities form an alternative government within the communities across the country that has existed for centuries. Their structure is based on the social organization of the Pre-Spanish Mayan communities.

“We are in constant communication with the 72 community mayors that serve the 83 communities within the municipality of Sololá,” Solaj said. “We hold assemblies in the indigenous municipalities to share information. When we need to [organize an action] immediately, we hold the meeting, and then the community mayors go back and share with the communities.”

This structure has led to an organization that stretches beyond just the town of Sololá, and now includes nearly every municipality in the department of Sololá. These efforts have led to a department that is becoming increasingly organized behind the indigenous authorities.

Members of the indigenous municipality of Sololá address the crowd in Los Encuentros, Guatemala. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

“The primary objective is to form new alliances with the other indigenous authorities in the department. We have managed to organize with seven or eight other municipalities,” Solaj said. “The people have confidence in us as authorities, they have more confidence in us than in Congress.”

Reforms and racism

The political crisis in 2015 that led to widespread protests, and the eventual resignation and arrest of President Otto Pérez Molina, his Vice President Roxana Baldetti, and many high-ranking officials contributed to the all too apparent need to reform the Guatemalan government. While some groups have called for a popular constitutional assembly to found a new state, legislators have debated a reform package for the country’s judicial sector within Congress since mid-2016. But these efforts have been plagued by further corruption, foot-dragging and racism.

In November 2016, a reform package went before the Guatemalan Congress for debate. Among the reforms were changes to the law that governs political parties, as well as the the legal recognition of the judicial authority of the indigenous Ancestral Authorities across Guatemala. The reform of Article 203 would have opened the door to the formation of a plural national state, where the indigenous authorities would have the autonomy to administer justice within their communities.

One of the key aspects to the reform was that no judicial bodies in Guatemala — except the Constitutional Court — could contradict or revise the decisions of the indigenous authorities. And the indigenous authorities in turn could revise the decision of the Constitutional Court.

But there was bitter debate over the reform within Congress and the national media. Specifically, commentators raised concern over the recognition of the indigenous authorities. This led to extensive accusations of racism during these debates. Indigenous authorities were repeatedly blocked from entering Congress by congressional security.

Among the most vocal critics of the reform were the members of the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations, or CACIF, Guatemala’s notorious business association made up of the most powerful families in Guatemala. In February 2017, CACIF asked Congress not to approve the reforms, stating that the approval of the law would lead to further division between indigenous and non-indigenous communities.

On March 6, the indigenous authorities held a press conference in Guatemala City to announce their decision to withdraw the reform to Article 203. Their reasoning was that by doing so, they could save the reforms as a whole. But, in spite of ending their push to change Article 203, the entire reform package has stalled.

In response, the indigenous Ancestral Authorities of Guatemala announced their repudiation of Congress on March 23.

“We disavow Congress, since we have always pointed out its lack of legitimacy and because today we see its submission to the factual powers of this country,” wrote representatives from the indigenous communities. “That is why we call on the social and democratic forces of Guatemala to demand a process of purifying of the state bodies co-opted by corrupt and mafia-style business and military mafias.”

Saloj points out that the main issue is that members of Congress do not even follow the laws that they themselves speak of.

“Those in the state do not respect their own laws, but we in our community respect our laws,” he said. “We realized that we were sitting at the sides of the thieves, so we asked for the purification of Congress.”

Bronx residents lead anti-gentrification march to oppose rezoning plans

Waging Nonviolence - Sat, 09/23/2017 - 14:52

by Ashoka Jegroo

Bronx residents concerned with plans to rezone Southern Boulevard marches in Hunts Point on Friday. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

A coalition of grassroots groups marched in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx on Friday, alerting their neighbors to the gentrification plans of developers and local politicians. They were also sending a message to those local politicians, telling them not to not sell out the Bronx, while also calling for community control over land and housing.

The groups and residents involved in the march —  which included Take Back The Bronx, Mothers on the Move, People Power Movement and The Point — are particularly concerned with plans to rezone Southern Boulevard. Their march was intended as a rallying cry to get local residents to unite and fight against these plans.

“Today we had exhibitions of resistance,” said Shellyne Rodriguez of Take Back The Bronx. “We made a coalition to organize this march to try to get ahead of the Southern Boulevard rezoning that’s coming down the pipeline.”

According to a report released in March from the Regional Plan Association, Bronxites are at the highest risk of being displaced in New York City — with 71 percent of Bronx households in danger of displacement. Plans to rezone parts of the Bronx, which would allow wealthier developments to be built in poor and working-class areas, are supported by local politicians like City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca, Jr. and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio. With the rezoning of Jerome Avenue in the west already in the works and politicians openly eyeing Southern Boulevard in the east for rezoning, the groups at the march wanted to begin organizing against the Southern Boulevard rezoning plan while the plan is still in its infancy.

“We’re next on the hit list in the Bronx, basically after Jerome Avenue,” said Chino May of Take Back The Bronx. “We want to build up resistance to that even before it gets off the ground and just make sure that it does not happen. We had to get people together to help raise awareness in the neighborhood and also flex a little bit on Rafael Salamanca to let him know ‘Don’t let this happen! If you sell us out, there’s going to be hell to pay.’”

Councilmember Salamanca has stated that he sees the Southern Boulevard rezoning plan as an opportunity to attract investment in the area that would benefit the community.

A protest sign depicting City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca, Jr., who is in favor of the rezoning. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

“That means investment in quality housing for a mix of working- and middle-class families, with a priority given to families who have called the Bronx home for many years, if not decades,” he said in a December 2016 e-mail to City Limits. “It also means investments into our schools, into our roads and bridges, into our parks and into programming geared towards addressing the needs of our community.”

Meanwhile, according to a recent analysis by City Limits, Salamanca accepted $6,175 in donations from people affiliated with the real estate industry. Many of the activist groups at Friday’s march have also accused Salamanca of having secret meetings on the rezoning where the public was not invited.

The march started at Hunts Point Plaza before it made its way to Salamanca’s office. A banner with the words “Take Back The Hood” led the march as participants chanted “Salamanca! Salamanca! We won’t let you sell us out! If you try to gentrify, we’ll give you something to cry about!” From the start of the march up to the point they approached Salamanca’s offices, police made things difficult for the march, following and pestered protesters over use of a speaker and a megaphone, as well as trying to keep protesters away from the front door of the offices.

“Every time we’ve gone to do anything outside Salamanca’s office, even as simple as flyering or going to talk to people, he calls the cops on us,” May said. “In the meantime, he’ll have backdoor meetings with the Department of City Planning and hand-picked nonprofits that he’s trying to flip to be on the side of the rezoning.”

Along with Councilmember Salamanca, Bronx President Diaz and Mayor de Blasio, the protesters also called out Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as corrupt politicians who enable gentrification. The march then made its way to the “I Heart The Bronx” mural — made by graffiti legends Tats Cru — where Rodriguez spoke about the commodification of Bronx culture and history for the purpose of attracting tourists and gentrifiers, while displacing the very people who created that culture. The march then arrived at some new developments being built on nearby Simpson Street, before heading back to Hunts Point Plaza, where the march ended and participants took the streets — all while being trailed by police.

Shellyne Rodriguez of Take Back The Bronx speaking in front of the “I Heart The Bronx” mural. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

A study released in June by the Association of Housing and Development showed that affordable housing is under threat in the Bronx with the Jerome Avenue and Southern Boulevard areas topping the list. For Take Back The Bronx, the solution to the problem is community control.

“It’s not enough to just defeat the rezoning and de Blasio’s housing plan,” May said. “Of course we have to do that, but we also have to put forward an alternative. That could look like repairing these NYCHA buildings and actually building more public housing. That could look like tenants taking over the buildings from the landlords, when the landlords are screwing them over and turning them into community land trusts or cooperatives. It could look like a whole bunch of things. But it’s going to take people literally seizing control of their neighborhoods and the buildings they live in.”

The storm after the Stockley verdict

Waging Nonviolence - Fri, 09/22/2017 - 18:29

by David Ragland

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Our hemisphere is enveloped by an unending series of storms of our nation’s making. The same destructive mentality that has created a climate primed for super hurricanes in the Gulf is also responsible for the climate of police violence in places like St. Louis, where protests have erupted in the last week.

In December 2011, Anthony Lamar Smith was murdered by then-St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley. With his partner joining him in a car chase, Stockley pursued Smith three miles through St. Louis, rammed Smith’s vehicle, approached with an unauthorized automatic weapon, and fired five deadly shots. Despite audio evidence establishing premeditation, in which Stockley boldly declared “I’m going to kill this motherfucker,” he was found not guilty in a verdict announced on Sept. 15, 2017.

Since the acquittal, protesters have taken to the streets throughout the city to disrupt business as usual. This region fostered the nonviolent resistance of Ferguson protesters who provided the pedagogy of resistance for the current wave of social movements in the United States.

Following the not-guilty verdict, the police presence swelled, and heavy-handed tactics were used to intimidate protesters. While the intention was to draw support to the police agenda, these tactics have angered many St. Louis residents and attracted new supporters to the protesters’ cause.

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As a St. Louis native, I was compelled to return home once again, as I have on dozens of trips over the past three years. I landed at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on Sunday afternoon, and walked out of the terminal to the warm embrace of Mama Cat, a.k.a. Cathy Daniels. Mama Cat, a professional chef, joined the protests in Ferguson in the immediate aftermath of Michael Brown, Jr.’s murder, providing constant food and sustenance for the activists in the streets.

Mama Cat and I then went to pick up donated supplies at Bishop Derek Robinson’s church, which is part of the Kingdom International denomination. As we entered the sanctuary, Bishop Derek was in mid-sermon and was distributing small pieces of paper to the worshipers. We were instructed to write three of our deepest hopes and prayers. One thing I wrote down was justice for black people. We were then asked to tear apart the papers and drop them into a wastebasket. We all did.

Bishop Derek announced that he had been moved to tell us that the things on our heart would be answered. While I’ve never been one to believe in miracles, this led me back to one of the protest chants, where the call-and-response proclaims “I know that we will win!”

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We picked up food for the protesters and headed out to an action downtown at the St. Louis Police Department headquarters. There were over 500 people, with lines of white allies blocking the intersections at both ends of the block. On the street, immediately in front of the police station, Pastor Cori Bush — a frontline protester in Ferguson who is one of the co-directors of the Truth Telling Project — spoke to the massive crowd. She called for a moment of silence and spoke to the serious nature of our gathering. After other activists and clergy spoke, we began a peaceful march toward St. Louis University.

Later that night, the police — using a method called “kettling” — moved in, trapping not only activists, but also residents and those passing through the Washington restaurant district in downtown St. Louis. With an increased police force, including the Missouri state police and the National Guard, over 100 people were blocked in on all four sides. The police closed in, pepper-spraying and dousing protesters with chemicals, before making numerous arrests.

During this police action, law enforcement provokingly chanted “Whose streets? Our Streets!” This chant has been used regularly by Ferguson protesters during the past three years, noting that the police and government work for us, the people. Among those arrested were journalists and legal observers, and we have now learned that a number of those arrested were ordinary residents not involved in the protests. As people emerged from the jail after being charged and locked up, many (who did not want to be identified) said their property was not returned and conveniently “lost.” A common refrain among residents, who initially supported police, was that they were now protesters. These actions have led to diminishing support for the police and provoked widespread calls for a change in police tactics.

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With acting police chief Lawrence O’Toole, a Republican-controlled legislature, governor and a mayor supported by the police union, there has been a concerted push throughout the mainstream media in St. Louis to support police. Gov. Greitens told reporters that citizens should be supporting the police because they have families and children at home. He mentioned nothing of the families who lost their sons and daughters to police violence or the protesters brutalized for speaking out. Police groups have also tried to intimidate businesses that support protesters in any way.

Law enforcement has also moved to silence dissent with their heavy presence throughout the St. Louis region and by intimidation — through arrests of both non-protesters and members of the media — as well as interference with protesters’ electronics.

Yet another important story that lies beneath the headlines is the militarism fueling gentrification, which stokes anger and poverty throughout the country. In St. Louis, many black residents are facing an existential crisis as their communities are displaced to make way for the creation of the new 100-acre National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency headquarters immediately north of downtown. Clearing these neighborhoods has wreaked devastation on the city, and the damage has disproportionately affected black residents and the homeless.

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After the daily protests in Ferguson slowed, many protesters shifted their focus to poverty. On a weekly basis, Mama Cat and Pastor Cori Bush would go downtown to feed and provide clothing for the homeless. Rev. Larry Rice’s New Life Evangelistic Center was recently forced to stop its direct services in the wake of ramped-up plans for gentrification, which followed the clearing of land for the federal agency.

With over 6,000 people expected over the Sept. 22-24 weekend in St. Louis for a national conference of police chiefs, it seems clear to me that the response to protesters is rooted in securing millions of dollars in tax revenue, jobs and new residents. All of this depends on eliminating the undesirables (poor people and black folks) who are not included in this development. The underlying sense that corporate profit and the police who protect it are more important than people is a glaring example of the intersection of Martin Luther King’s “triplets of evil” — materialism, militarism and racism. This moral deficit reinforces the problematic path of the current administration in Washington, which continues to wage war against people domestically and abroad to bolster the economy and put “America first.”

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Protesters are calling for as many as possible to join us in St. Louis this weekend and for the foreseeable future. If local and national administrations friendly to police can subvert the rights of protesters and the media without mass resistance and broader coverage by the national media, the police state that Washington is trying to usher in will have a more complete hold.

At a time where we are experiencing the most devastating effects of climate change to date, the possibility of mass deportation of DACA dreamers, and systematic violence against peoples of color and queer folk, our society is being called to effectively respond. We must choose between a police state — one that represents our addiction to war, the extreme materialism of capitalism and white supremacy — and nonviolent protestors in St. Louis who declare, “If there is no justice, there will be no profits.” While the storms we currently face might push some to bury their heads in the sand, many are resisting to support possibilities for transformation and provide hope for justice.

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Living Nonviolence - Fri, 09/22/2017 - 14:07

The Prayer of a Small Folding Challah KnifeSeptember 22, 2017
One of my treasured ritual items is a small folding challah knife that came to me a few years ago when my wife and I were in Israel. It feels that indeed it did come to me. I had searched for one through many decades since first seeing such a knife for cutting the Sabbath bread when I was a young student in Jerusalem just starting out on my journey. At some point I found a contemporary one, made with a plastic handle and a blade of stainless steel. It did not have a story and never moved me, eventually disappearing during one move or another. During that more recent visit to Israel I made it a point to go into every little store where I might find antique Judaica. I asked many store keepers if they had one, if they had ever seen one. Here and there, one would nod, “no,” they did not have one but had seen one once. Sometimes a friendly storekeeper would direct me to another store, and perhaps from there I would be directed to another. Whether offered a friendly and sympathetic smile or a brusque and dismissive wave of the hand, as though such a thing did not exist, the end result was the same, no folding challahknife.
On our last Friday in Jerusalem during that visit, as we made our way home late in the day to get ready for Shabbos, we went into one more store. It was the week of the Torah portion called Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1). The store was next to the car rental office from which we would leave for the north on Sunday. As I asked my question, the storekeeper pointed to a display case in which there were two folding challah knives. One had a pearl handle and the word “Marienbad” engraved on a section of metal between two sections of pearl. This begins to explain one of the reasons for a folding challah knife. Jewish tourists would take one with them when traveling, easier to carry than a larger challah knife. Marienbad was a tourist destination that was popular with Jews. The other knife is the one that eventually became mine. We held our breath as we asked the cost, releasing our breath with sorrow, knowing it was too expensive. When we came to pick up the rental car on Sunday morning, my wife said she was going to go back into the antique store. Time passed as I waited in the car. When I saw her in the rear view mirror, I realized that she had a small paper bag in her hand. It was the knife, an agreement having been made. I wanted to believe that the meaning I attached to the knife had touched the storekeeper, as I hoped it would now touch others through my sharing.
         The handle of my small folding challah knife is of old ivory, somewhat yellowed with age. Not quite six inches in length when folded, the knife was probably made in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. There is no place name engraved in the center of the handle. Rather, on both sides of the center plate, there is a word. Beautifully etched in black ink, as though by a fine scribal hand, are the words, Shabbos Kodesh/the Holy Sabbath. The blade, which opens in the way of a jackknife, is dark and stained. I imagine the many hands that have opened it over the years of its life, imagining what it would say if it could speak and tell its story. The fact that it does not have a place name engraved on it, suggests the other reason for such a challah knife, the reason that inspired my search over so many years.
There is a custom that I follow with care, to remove knives from the table before singing Birkat Ha’Mazon, the series of blessings that are said following a meal in which bread has been eaten. A folding knife does not need to be removed, the blade remaining hidden throughout the meal, opened only as needed for cutting bread. The removal of knives is based on the commandment in the Torah portion called Yitro, Exodus 20:22, concerning the building of an altar. There we are told that an altar must be built only of un-hewn stones, so that no steel tool shall come upon them. Later in the Torah (Deut. 27:6), such uncut stones are called avanim sh’laymot/whole stones or, quite literally, peaceful stones. The word for steel tool is charb’cha/your sword; ki charb’cha haynafta aleyha va’t’cha’l’leha/for if you have wielded your sword over one (of the stones), you will have desecrated it. In a beautiful midrash, the rabbis teach that the altar is made to prolong the years of a person and iron is made to shorten the years of a person. It is not right for that which shortens life to be lifted up against that which prolongs life…. How much the more then should one who establishes peace between one person and another, between spouse and spouse, between city and city, between nation and nation, between family and family, between government and government, be protected so that no harm should come upon them.” The human being is the ultimate altar, every person a potential peacemaker against whom the sword should not be raised.
Crying for peace in the midst of war, far more than swords unsheathed now, I found the small folding challahknife in the week of Torah portionPinchas, the week in which the Gaza war of 2014 had begun. As we drove north, we passed many columns of armored vehicles making their way south. My small knife, carefully carried now in my pack, became a prayerful symbol for me. As it came to me in a context of violence, so its connection to Pinchas, a portion whose name tells of a violent zealot who took the law into his own hands in the face of Israel’s seduction into Midianite idolatry. From out of that context, as is often the case, the rabbis weave a teaching of nonviolence, drawing from within the text itself a challenge to the violence on the surface. At the end of the previous Torah reading, called Balak, we are told that Pinchas rose up/va’yakamand took/va’yikach a spear, the spear with which he then killed two people, Zimri, an Israelite prince, and Cozbi, a Midianite princess.
Beyond the context of the killing and the moral challenges with which the rabbis wrestle and which torment us, the rabbis offer a remarkable teaching that becomes codified into Jewish law. It is assumed that as part of a meeting of elders Pinchas was in the Beit Midrash/House of Study. Because he had to get up and go to get his spear it is deduced that he did not have it with him. From that, a commandment evolves that one is forbidden to bring a weapon into a synagogue or house of study. In a beautifully sensitive commentary that draws on the ancient teaching concerning steel upon the altar, the Mishna B’rurah, an early twentieth century legal work by the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, teaches, the synagogue, which is uniquely intended for prayer, increases the days of a person, while a knife shortens the days of a person/l’fi she’beyt ha’k’nesset she’hu m’yuchad la’t’fillah ma’arechet yamav shel adam v’ha’sakin m’katzer y’mei adam. In an earthy legal discussion of practical import, the question is asked about students who spend all of their time in the Beit Midrash, what should they do if they need a knife to cut their food? The answer is that they may use a knife so that they do not have to leave their studies for too long, but they should cover the blade when it is not in use and when they say the blessings after the meal.
In approaching Shabbos each week, I think of this teaching and of how a small folding challah knife represents the ultimate removal of the sword. On this Shabbos of Parashat Pinchas, named for a man of violence whose blade cut down human altars, I draw hope from the rabbis’ way of teaching nonviolence in the midst of violence. It is a way of transformation that calls for us to do the same, challenging and transforming violence in text and in life. As the altar of un-hewn stones was meant to bring people together for the sharing of a sacred meal, so for us the Shabbos table, the sword not to be raised upon it, even blades for cutting bread to be covered in order to remind. Toward the day that is all Shabbos, of lessons learned in simple ways, swords turned to plowshares and spears to pruning hooks, that is my prayer and the prayer of a small folding challah knife.
 Victor Reinstein

United opposition threatens half-century father-son rule in Togo

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 09/20/2017 - 12:01

by Patience Nitumwesiga

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Thousands of Togolese protesters dressed in red opposition colors have been flooding the streets of the capital city of Lomé over the past month, shouting slogans that have gone unheard for 50 years. Hashtags denouncing dictator Faure Gnassingbé continue to circulate across West African social media. Activists young and old, male and female, are still fighting online and offline. Everyone is waiting to see what will happen next, including the regime, which wants Togo to remain the only West African country to have never experienced a democratic transition.

The beginnings of a 50-year dynasty

Shortly after Togo’s 1960 independence, Étienne Eyadéma staged a coup and ousted the country’s first elected president, Nicolas Grunitzky. He immediately suspended all constitutional processes and banned all political parties. Five years later, a referendum was held and Eyadéma ran unopposed, thereby confirming his rule as president and extending his military reign another seven years — until partial civilian governance was allowed in 1979.

Following his self-declaration of power, Eyadéma successfully thwarted several coup attempts. In one instance, in 1986, a group of more than 70 armed Togolese dissidents crossed into Lomé from Ghana with the intent to overthrow his regime, but state forces thwarted the insurgence. In 1990, riots were sparked by students distributing anti-regime literature. This led to a few months of violent clashes between anti-government activists and security forces, resulting in very little gain for the activists. Three years later, an attempt to assassinate Eyadéma was also squelched by Togo’s military.

Eyadéma’s ultimate downfall was a heart attack, dying in February 2005 en route to France for medical treatment. Given the more than 15,000 people he killed during his dictatorship, Eyadéma’s death was hardly a sad event in the history of Togo. What’s more, it led to the ascendance of his son — Faure Gnassingbé — as president.

Since 2005, Gnassingbé’s government has been characterized by incompetency and the severe repression of dissidents. The health sector has been particularly neglected, with Togo’s best hospital still lacking running water. Electoral processes have been fraudulent, at best. Protesters are frequently arrested and tortured. Already, during these September protests, at least two people have been killed by the state and no less than 15 have been jailed. One sign at a recent demonstration read: “Faure, how many more deaths to your credit?”

Opposition unites

Dictators often consolidate their reign with divide-and-rule tactics. Fractured oppositions present little threat to authoritarians. That’s why Panafrican National Party head Tikpi Atchadam built an alliance with the more popular National Alliance for Change. Together, both parties organized united inter-partisan protests against the Eyadéma dynasty.

Constituents supporting these two parties, as well as nonpartisan allies, flooded the streets with chants like, “Fifty years is too long.” Other slogans and hashtags surfaced, including “#FaureMustGo” and “Liberate Togo.”

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In response to the turnout on the first day of the general strike and demonstrations, Atchadam said, “You’ve always demanded a united opposition. It’s here from the youngest to the oldest; it’s here.”

While Togolese were rising up and making their demands clear, Gnassingbé was plotting to stop them. But rather than merely employ the typical brutal crackdown on his opponents, Gnassingbé had Prime Minister Selorm Klassou organize a pro-government rally. Few showed up, and Togolese activists mocked the state’s turnout at their own protests, which brought out over one million of the country’s seven million people. The state has continually attempted to censor Togo’s ongoing revolution. Internet slow-downs and blackouts have prohibited organizers from publicizing their successes and calling for the support of the Togolese diaspora, as well as the international community at large.

While the government disseminates its own propaganda to create the illusion that all is at peace in Lomé, groups like Faure Must Go! are claiming credit for the hacking and closing of government websites.

Togo’s opposition is not without regional support. Gambian allies who recently ousted their own dictator have been advising their Togolese comrades on how to force Gnassingbé to step down. Meanwhile, Ghanaian supporters at Togo’s borders are smuggling photos and videos from Togolose activists to the international media.

Women at the forefront

While the opposition party leadership is dominated by men, the inter-partisan revolution has been largely spearheaded by women.

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After spending the past year traveling through The Gambia and Burkina Faso – both home to recent successful national liberation movements – activist and blogger Farida Nabourema returned home to help plan and build the Togolese resistance.

“What people outside Togo haven’t understood is that this isn’t just a street festival, it is a revolution,” Nabourema told the Washington Post. “Sometimes we’re on the offensive, sometimes we need to fall back. The police are going door-to-door and beating people and tear gassing their homes. We are going about this carefully.”

Older women are also saying enough is enough. Some have engaged in naked protests, thrusting their private parts at state agents. The resulting images received explosive coverage by West African media, particularly since such obscenities — in much of Africa — are considered bad omens for those on the receiving end.

For those living outside the country — and perhaps under other authoritarian contexts around the world — Togo’s revolution is not only worth following, but may provide inspiration, as well as lessons on resisting amidst persistent internet blackouts. In the words of Nabourema, “[Gnassingbé] has the power to decide how we communicate, but in Africa, we have an oral tradition. We don’t need the internet to organize.”

A Fragile Democracy <br /><br /

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 09/15/2017 - 13:18
A Fragile Democracy

Democracy is a fragile arrangement. Basing a system of governing on one person one vote can be challenging, especially in a country as large as the U.S. and with all of our diversity.

Some are always tempted to define "one person" according to their preferences. In our history, the vote has been denied to: Native Americans, those without property, slaves, women, certain religious groups, the poor, young people and prisoners. (It might be noted that white men with wealth have always had the vote.)

Some states where there is one party in power work tirelessly to remove voters from the registration lists, limit certain groups from accessing the polls and discourage voter registration. For instance, the Supreme Court will rule next term on whether to allow Ohio to proceed with removing tens of thousands of voters from their rolls, Many believe Ohio has targeted minority populations.

One might question whether this limiting isn't at work right here in my home town of Brookings. The issue is either lost or on a back burner, but the South Dakota State University Student Association (SA) asked the county for a polling place on campus. Problems were raised about too many polling places and not an adequate, available space on that huge campus. The question faded with turnover at the SA. One would think we would want to make it as easy as possible for our young people to vote, helping them develop a life long habit. But maybe there is some fear they might vote and disturb the status quo?

And it has to be said, what the President is doing to undercut our diverse democracy and encourage race baiting is despicable. There are Mexicans picking the fruits and vegetables I eat. Mexican workers put a new roof on our home last summer, working from sun-up to sun-down in the heat of the day. They did an amazingly professional job. It is Mexican laborers I've seen on highway construction jobs in this state. If we're honest, our country is still being built on the labor of people of color, the way it was during the days of slavery.

So now we have a President who intends to build a wall to keep "them" out (except for the ones working at his estates), even if it means shutting down the government. So now we have a President who blames our economic malaise on Mexico, when the opposite is true; where when we cough, Mexico gets pneumonia. So now we have a President who says Mexicans are rapists, criminals, killers, drug lords; while he represents the epitome of materialism that is killing the souls of our young and turning them toward buying those drugs. So now we have a President intent on campaigning to stroke his ego, stirring up racial division, and then unable to govern.

Democracy is a fragile thing.

Democracy is especially fragile when it is threatened by those who divide rather than unite; those who prefer violence to dialogue; those who exclude rather than include; those who elevate hate over love.

Some of my Christian brothers and sisters also bear some responsibility for undercutting the inclusiveness and diversity of our democracy. For instance, I tire of the constant refrain one hears from the Gospel of John, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." Many Christian church people take this passage totally out of context to preach a gospel of exclusion. Jesus said this to his disciples, who after all the time they have spent with him, still don't know who he is. It wasn't meant as a proclamation for all people for all time.

I'm sorry to say, that kind of exclusionary thinking is not gospel ("good news") and it's not the gospel of Jesus. Jesus was inclusive. He would want Muslim-Americans to vote. He didn't discriminate against people on the basis of their race (Sunday morning is STILL the most segregated time of the week). And Jesus certainly wouldn't agree with the Presidents' Inauguration pastor who recently proclaimed, "God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un" (who also happens to be a person of color).

We need to wake up! KELO TV recently informed us we have the Creativity Alliance in our midst. They are dedicated to elevating the white race to the supreme place where they believe whites belong. In short, they are white supremacists. That means getting rid of lots of others. Check out their web site. It's hateful.

And in the meantime, we need to raise our voices in defense of democracy; in defense of, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men (sic) are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Carl Kline

Broad coalition escalates campaign against London arms fair

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 09/13/2017 - 13:08

by Andrew Metheven

A die-in during the preparations for the DSEI arms fair in London. (CAAT/Diana More)

In London, thousands of protesters have been taking direct action to shut down one of the world’s biggest arms fairs. The Defence and Security Equipment International, or DSEI, opened on Sept. 12, but the exhibition center where it is held was repeatedly blockaded during the week before it began, as activists took action to disrupt the preparations for the fair. Over a hundred people have been arrested, amid rumors that the setup of the fair was days behind schedule. This marks a major escalation on actions in previous years.

It appears that the sheer scale of the resistance over the last week overwhelmed the police and organizers of the event, as did the creativity and determination of the myriad of groups who were involved in the protests. Each day was organized by different groups that make up the Stop the Arms Fair coalition to allow them to plan their own actions alongside like-minded people with similar concerns. The various themes included Palestine solidarity, No Faith in War, No to Nuclear and Arms to Renewables, and solidarity beyond borders. There was also an academic conference at the gates, with a Festival of Resistance and War Stops Here seminar over the weekend.

Dancers block a vehicle as part of the “Festival of Resistance to Stop DSEI” on Sept. 9. (CAAT/Paige Ofosu)

This approach allowed groups and campaigns that have not typically worked together to find common cause in resisting the fair. Those who wanted to focus on their specific action were able to do so, confident that just as much energy was going into the other days of resistance. It also allowed people new to the movement to find a group of people they feel comfortable taking action alongside. As new faces become involved in the campaign, a sense of “positive feedback” has grown, as the energy put into one action reflects back in the work of many others.

Having such a diverse array of participants led to a wide range of creative and humorous actions, including the “super-villains picket the arms fair” action — the exhibition center where DSEI is held also holds regular sci-fi conventions — with a Dalek from “Doctor Who” reminding people of their legal rights before being arrested. There were also numerous cases of affinity groups working together effectively to put disruptive blockades in place. For instance, as a lock-on was finally removed from the road by a police cutting team during the blockade organized by faith groups, others rappelled from a nearby bridge to block another road.

Super villains take action against DSEI. (Twitter/@dagri68)

DSEI takes place in London’s docklands every two years. Over 1,500 companies take part, exhibiting weapons of war to over 30,000 people, including military delegations from countries with appalling human rights records and countries at war. Illegal equipment and weapons have regularly been found to be marketed at DSEI, including torture equipment and cluster munitions. It’s important to note, however, that those organizing against DSEI do not simply want a clean, legal or sanitized arms fair, they want to stop the arms fair altogether. DSEI is organized by a private company called Clarion Events, with the full support of the British government, which extends official invites to military delegations around the world.

Resisting arms fairs like DSEI is important, because they are one of the clearest, starkest manifestations of the arms trade; actual arms sellers marketing the equipment of war they build to militaries looking for the latest technology. Already this year, arms fairs in Spain, Canada, Israel and the Czech Republic have faced direct action from local campaigners, with Seoul’s ADEX and Bogota’s ExpoDefensa due to take place in the coming months.

Activists rappel from a bridge to block a road as part of the No Faith in War actions on Sept. 5. (Flickr/CAAT)

The arms industry — like all industries — relies on a social license to operate, which means that as well as receiving formal legal backing it also needs the support of wider society. This social license allows the arms industry to wrap itself in a cloak of legitimacy, and resisting the arms trade wherever it manifests is one clear way to challenge this social license.

At the moment, the arms industry assumes its activities are almost de facto legitimate, but that is in part because most people rarely, if ever, think about its existence or how it operates. Taking direct action against events like DSEI allow us to “point the finger” and draw attention to the wider arms trade, questioning it’s legitimacy, while also directly impeding its ability to function. A few weeks before the fair was due to begin the newly elected mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he wanted to see DSEI banned, but didn’t have the power himself to stop it.

Clowns protesting DSEI on Sept. 9. (CAAT/Paige Ofosu)

Mega-events like DSEI can be relatively difficult to disrupt in a substantial way. That is one reason why the preparations for the arms fair were targeted, which is a relatively new strategy. The coalition also focused its energy on that stage in 2015, the last time the arms fair was held, and organizers saw the potential. The event’s weakest link is the logistical complexity of setting it up in the first place, and the potential this offers to a campaign of direct action and civil disobedience is clear. The apparent impenetrability of such a complex and well-resourced industry suddenly looks a bit more shaky as activists put their bodies in the way, rappel from bridges, and use lock-ons to coordinate blockades of trucks carrying equipment.

As arms dealers and representatives from militaries window shop for weapons over the next three days at DSEI, vigils and actions will likely continue, and throughout the week a radical art exhibit called Art the Arms Fair will take place close to the center. There is a real sense among organizers that a strong, active movement is being built that will be able to continue to show effective resistance to DSEI in the years to come.

Anti-pipeline activists across the country unite to #StopETP

Waging Nonviolence - Mon, 09/11/2017 - 11:23

by Brandon Jordan

Activists gathered outside ETP headquarters in Dallas, Texas on Friday. (Twitter/Ethan Buckner)

The company behind the Dakota Access pipeline and many other damaging fossil fuel projects — Energy Transfer Partners — was the focus of nearly 20 actions spanning 10 U.S. states last week. The #StopETP protests, which took place on Friday and Saturday, included a flotilla on a Louisiana bayou, a blockade of pipeline construction equipment in Pennsylvania and a demonstration outside the Texas home of CEO Kelcy Warren.

“It’s been impressive to see how many people have come together,” said Frankie Orona, executive director of the Society of Native Nations, a Texas-based grassroots group of indigenous people. “It’s inspiring to see how people want to keep this movement alive and keep ETP accountable.”

Orona explained that he and other activists in Texas spent weeks working with organizations and organizers throughout the country to create a weekend action against ETP. Even after the protest’s initial announcement more people joined in, holding their own events in solidarity.

“We’ve been planning it for quite some time,” Orona said. “We put out a message [to ETP] saying, ‘We haven’t forgotten, we won’t forget.’ We’re going to … hold ETP accountable for what they’ve done.”

Orona pointed to a recent lawsuit filed by ETP against Greenpeace International and several other environmental groups — accusing them of “eco-terrorism” — as a reason why activists are uniting against the company’s “scare tactics.” At the same time, however, it was also an opportunity for them to highlight their local pipeline battles.

Anne Rolfes, national director of Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a non-profit environmental group, participated in an event where people prayed near the site of the Bayou Bridge pipeline — a project that would connect the Dakota Access pipeline to oil refineries in Louisiana. She said organizers took “this step in solidarity,” in part, after seeing nuns in Pennsylvania organize against the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.

A sign constructed promoting a September 9 demonstration in Louisiana to protest the Bayou Bridge pipeline. (WNV/Ethan Buckner)

Moreover, construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline risks serious environmental problems, such as potential leaks or explosions that would affect wildlife and people near the wetland ecosystems. Such environmental hazards aren’t new to Louisianans. Communities near the Mississippi River are part of what’s known as “Cancer Alley,” a toxic stretch of oil refineries and chemical plants between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Rolfes pointed to the recent climate-change-strengthened hurricanes in the Atlantic, as well as the catastrophic flooding in Louisiana and Texas, as further reason to act against the fossil fuel industry.

“The places we call home are becoming unlivable,” she said. “If it’s a question between an oil company or the rest of humanity’s ability to survive, we have to go with the rest of humanity.”

Meanwhile, in Ohio, the group Keep Wayne Wild — which works to protect Wayne National Forest — participated in a series of actions across the state. They not only targeted ETP’s Rover pipeline, which would go through the state’s only national forest, but also the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to auction off parcels for natural gas drilling. The fracked gas from this drilling would likely flow through the Rover pipeline and pose a threat to communities in its path.

Keep Wayne Wild organizer Becca Pollard said she hoped the #StopETP protests alerted potential affected communities to the dangers of ETP pipelines, while — at the same time — put pressure on government officials to oppose fossil fuel-friendly policies and projects.

“There’s a lot of decision makers in power who are not doing enough to protect the people they’re supposed to represent,” she said.

Residents demonstrating outside an IRS building in Columbus, Ohio, on September 8. (WNV/Becca Pollard)

On Friday, activists in Iowa made this point clear by delivering a petition to Gov. Kim Reynolds, demanding the removal of Richard W. Lozier, Jr. from the board of the state’s public utilities commission. In June, Lozier recused himself from any decisions involving the Dakota Access pipeline due to his past work with companies favoring the project. Weeks later, the board rejected an appeal to revoke the permit to build the pipeline.

“This is why we’re delivering the petition,” said Iowa activist Heather Pearson. “How can you have an appointed representative on a board who has to recuse himself from making decisions?”

Pearson said that residents are ready to rejoin the struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline and pointed to a pledge of resistance that has gained over 2,000 signatures. She also noted that the Iowa Supreme Court will hear a case brought by the Sierra Club and local landowners appealing the commission’s approval of the Dakota Access pipeline.

Despite the uphill battle against state officials, Pearson said “it is very heartening to know that there are people across the country who are willing to stand up, speak truth to power and stand up against the big money interests.”

Orona echoed these sentiments as he watched the #StopETP protests unfold. For him, the movement is “more than just Standing Rock — it is about the world.”

In that sense, the protests underscore the need to shift the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels toward alternative, renewable energy sources. Doing so would require corporations such as ETP to stop profiting off the future of people’s livelihoods.

“If we wait for our next generation to fight this battle, it might be too late,” Orona said. “Things need to change now.”

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Living Nonviolence - Fri, 09/08/2017 - 09:21

In the Fullness of NonviolenceTranscending the Language of Violence on the Path to Peace and Justice

I tend to eschew martial language, even to a fault, and often, I admit, it is to a fault. In almost every context of striving, whether personal or social, or for the sake of analogy and metaphor, I prefer to find alternatives to what might be construed as military terminology. I prefer to work for peace and justice, to strive and to struggle, rather than to fight for it. I find dissonance in the very thought of fighting for peace, easier then to lose sight of the critical tension between means and ends. The language we use influences behavior, and subtly gives shape to consciousness and form to conscience. When called “to pray with our legs,” as in the holy words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, I prefer to walk, to journey, to trek, rather than to march for whatever good cause summons us to the streets.
From long before I could give it a name, I have been drawn to the way of pacifism. I generally tend not to call myself a pacifist, but to see and describe myself as one who seeks to follow its path, to rise to its challenge. Failing too often to meet its challenge, I continue to seek and to wrestle, striving to come ever closer to the way of the pacifist. Often misunderstood, pacifism is not passive. To be true to its own calling, it is meant always to be active, whether in the larger spheres of life or in the most intimate, whether in word or deed, witnessed by others or not. It is a way of love and respect for the human creature and condition that becomes the seedbed and catalyst for active and creative nonviolence.
A seemingly simple word that has no single, positive way of expression in English, nonviolence, which I prefer not to write with a hyphen in order to better convey its own reality, is often as misunderstood as pacifism. Even though a more common term and referent to action, nonviolence is rarely recognized for its uncommon depth and breadth. When nonviolence is expressed or adopted only as a tactic, however preferable to its opposite, we fail to access its spiritual depth and larger strategic possibility. One can refrain from picking up a weapon or a stone, but still do nothing to bridge the chasm that stands not only between people in opposition to each other, but between the present and a better future.
In the way of Ghandi and King, the spiritual depth and power of nonviolence lies in its recognition of a common spark of humanity in every person, the image of God in each one. The challenge is to draw on that common spark, that common humanity, in seeking ways to bridge the divide that separates people from each other, helping each side in a struggle to see at least glimmers of common human ground and of a common stake in the struggle. We shall overcome does not mean overcoming or defeating the other, but overcoming the injustice and suffering which the other may in fact represent, ultimately overcoming that which divides us and bringing our opponent along with us to a better place for all.
It is so hard to do or even to imagine such bridging in times of struggle, and yet this is when we are especially called to the challenge, the process itself illuminating new paths. Even if unable to move an opponent in the present moment, nonviolence as active witness models for others a living alternative to violence, hate, and injustice. In the wrestling, we come to new insight and possibilities. Reflecting a way of striving, shalom as peace emerging form wholeness/sh’laymut can only grow when the tree of peace is not separated from its root meaning, shalem/whole, complete. More than terminology, the challenge is to find a way of striving that will ultimately bring wholeness. It is the way of the Sh’ma (Deut. 6:4), “Hear, O, Israel, God, our God, God is One.” If God is one, than so too, created in God’s image of oneness, all people are one.
As does any sensitive reader of Torah, I struggle with so many of the Torah portions as we make our way through the latter part of the fourth book, Bamidbar, and into the fifth book, D’varim, in which we encounter the violence of the Canaanite wars. These portions are among those that contain what Heschel so helpfully refers to as the harsh passages. In reading and learning Torah, we are meant to learn how to navigate the harsh passages of both Torah and life, always remembering that the Torah is not about them and then, but about us and now. So too, engaging with sacred text, encountering and conversing with commentators and teachers of other times and places, we realize that our struggles were also their struggles, all part of a great human struggle toward shalom u’sh’laymut/peace and wholeness.
As for many of our ancestors, I struggle with the language of these portions, as well as with what that language represents in various ways of understanding and in the particular bias of a translator. This week’s portion, Parashat Ki Tetze (Deut. 21:10-25:19), begins with words that appear several times in the surrounding portions, Ki Tetze la’mil’chamah/if you go forth to war. It need not be an absolute, an assumption of inevitable human struggle as reflected in the frequent way of translation, “when you go forth to war.” If, neither inevitable nor eternal, the vision is held before us of a world without war, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:4).
Particularly in Chassidic tradition, the surface meaning, the p’shat, is transformed almost immediately to reflect a different reality. In this way of reading, the Torah is not speaking about warring peoples, of external battles, but of internal struggle to change and bring out the best that resides deep within our selves and others. It is the essence of nonviolence and is not dissimilar to the Islamic concept of itjihad, jihad or struggle with oneself. For the Chassidic teachers, the battle that we are called to engage with is the battle with our own yetzer ho’rah/the evil inclination. It is that very inclination that the rabbis see as a positive force when channeled into the building of homes and the loving creation of families. The possibility of transformation is set in the deepest of human urges.
Turning the metaphor into reality, the Karliner Rebbe, among others, looks to the singular formation in the Hebrew, ki tetze la’mil’chamah al oy’vecha/when you go forth to battle against your enemies and says very simply, zeh yetzer ho’rah/this is the evil inclination. With the suffix for your in the singular, it is addressed to each one of us. Of your enemy in the singular, the Slonimer Rebbe teaches that this refers to ha’oyev ha’m’yuchad shelcha/your specific enemy. We each have our own personal struggles, our own demons. As the Slonimer teaches, we also each have a unique task and purpose in the world that is only for us to complete. In order to accomplish that unique purpose for which we are in the world, we must first overcome our own personal demons, our own unique “enemies.”
The Chassidic way of reading Torah through a lens of metaphor finds resonance in a statement from deep within Jewish tradition that is brought into conversation with the beginning of Parashat Ki Tetze. Once having gone forth to battle, warning is given that if a soldier desires a captive woman, he is to take her home and make her his wife (Deut. 21:11-14). For all that is problematic, acknowledged, wrestled, and cried with as we make our way through a harsh passage, in seeking to control the evil inclination of the soldier, the commandment helps to control the possibility of rape in war, which is no small matter in itself. From the Talmud (Kiddushin 21b), Rashi draws on a fascinating statement: lo debra Torah elah k’neged yetzer ho’rah/the Torah does not speak, except to challenge the evil inclination.
In the overall expression of this teaching and of Torah itself, the Torah seeks to replace evil with good, offering ways to navigate its own harsh passages and those of life; guiding us toward creation in the human sphere of a world of wholeness and peace that does justice to the physical beauty of creation, the world as it was envisioned at the very beginning. In speaking in relation to the yetzer ho'rah/evil inclination, there are times when the Torah offers opening and invitation to metaphor, when that is to be our way of reading, and other times when the way is clear, when we are meant to heed the commandments and respond to beauty of word and deed, learning to affirm life and creation in all that we do. So does the Torah speak not but in relation to the yetzer ho'rah/evil inclination.
As we make our way through the Hebrew month of Elul toward the new year that begins with Rosh Hashannah, looking within ourselves and seeking to effect wholeness and make amends with others, the Slonimer suggests that we need new “weapons” in the “fight” with our yetzer. Language that I eschew, he writes, the old weapons from years past are not sufficient/lo maspik ha’neshek ha’yashan…; one needs, therefore, to search for ways and wisdom with which to find the renewed weapon/aych lim’tzo et ha’neshek ha’m’chudash.
Grateful for the way of transformation in text and life that our teachers have given us, at times I struggle with their language, even as I often do with the language of our activism today. In the holy work of seeking peace and justice, inspired by a way of reading Torah that transcends war, so it is for us to transcend the language of war and then war itself. Seeking the way of nonviolence in all of its fullness, in speech as well as in deed, praying with our legs, means and ends as one, may we journey together to the day that is all Shabbat shalom, a world of peace and wholeness, shalom u’sh’laymut.
Shabbat shalom,Rabbi Victor Reinstein


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