Will ‘The Last Jedi’ betray Luke Skywalker’s turn toward nonviolence?

Waging Nonviolence - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:32

by David Goodner

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in ‘The Last Jedi.’ (Walt Disney Studios)

With new Star Wars movie “The Last Jedi” approaching release next week, fan theories abound about the possibility of Luke Skywalker becoming a so-called “Grey Jedi,” a knight who rejects dogmatic views about good and evil and strives to balance the Light and Dark sides of the Force. In other words, many fans want Skywalker to become an even deadlier warrior, while still claiming to be one of the good guys.

Why so much excitement for such a morally dubious hero? Perhaps we need only look to our present cultural and political moment for the answer. With the Democratic establishment offering only a weak resistance to the far right’s open embrace of fascism, many on the left are anxious to fight fire with fire and uncritically accept the antifa movement’s “punch a Nazi” black bloc tactics. Meanwhile, the average apolitical moviegoer just wants to see the good guys, whoever they might be, kick some ass — which is to be expected after years of escalating violence in Hollywood films that increasingly portray protagonists as loner anti-heroes.

If the Grey Jedi fan theory is correct, many critics will praise the film as a sophisticated commentary on today’s complex, dark, pluralistic society. Yet, what Disney is most likely to promote is a worldview that says violence is the answer to all our problems — albeit violence approved by “the very serious people” of the establishment.

In the real world, however, there is no middle road when it comes to violence, or justice. Killing has devastating consequences for the human spirit, regardless of which side is doing it. Only sociopaths are able to kill without remorse and psychic trauma.

In fact, modern psychological research suggests that the heroic young Skywalker himself exhibited the traits of a sociopath through much of the original Star Wars trilogy. But his refusal to kill his father, Darth Vader, in “Return of the Jedi” concludes his story with a clear cut rejection of violence and any moral shade of grey.

It would therefore betray his character arc, if Luke Skywalker became anything other than a staunch pacifist in “The Last Jedi.”

Our innate resistance to killing

One helpful tool to analyze “Star Wars” is the groundbreaking five-year research study, “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.” It’s author, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, finds that the vast majority of soldiers throughout human history have refused to kill at the moment of truth. Grossman argues that human beings have a profound, innate resistance to killing other humans, a resistance so strong that most people on the battlefield — even when confronted with imminent danger from an enemy soldier — will posture, flee, submit or temporarily become conscientious objectors, either by refusing to fire or by firing into the air or ground, rather than shooting to kill.

During the Civil War for example, evidence suggests that half of all soldiers never fired their weapons in battle, and only a small percentage of those who did aimed to kill. The same was true during both world wars in the 20th century. “Only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during World War II fired at the enemy,” he writes.

Firing rates for U.S. soldiers increased to 55 percent in the Korean War and 90-95 percent in the Vietnam War due to new conditioning techniques developed by the military to force enlistees to overcome their natural aversion to killing. But even when this is overcome, soldiers who are forced to kill are almost always scarred for life with immense guilt, shame and trauma. Grossman’s interview subjects from World War II, Korea and Vietnam were all haunted for life by the ghosts of the men they had killed.

Only two percent of men do not possess this innate resistance to killing, he finds. This small subset of people — in addition to being essentially murderous sociopaths — are responsible for the vast majority of killing in war.

Is Luke Skywalker a sociopath?

If we apply the findings of Grossman’s study to Star Wars, we can see that many of Luke Skywalker’s actions during the original trilogy are highly problematic, and may even fit the profile of a sociopath.

In “A New Hope,” for instance, Luke Skywalker shoots and kills multiple stormtroopers without hesitation while rescuing Princess Leia. Perhaps this ease at killing can be explained by the distance between himself and his enemies, or his use of laser blasters, which make the killings fairly sterile.

As Grossman finds, the innate human resistance to killing lessens the further away a soldier is from his or her target. A pilot or artillery operator may drop bombs on a city from long range without a corresponding psychological cost to themselves. Because they do not see the result of their actions firsthand, they can plausibly deny the truth to themselves about what they have done. This is why drone operators have much higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, than traditional fighter pilots. A drone hovers above its target after firing, taking pictures of the gruesome aftermath, rather than flying away during the detonation and subsequent explosion.

This may explain away Luke’s proton torpedo shot that blows up tens of thousands of people on the Death Star during the movie’s epic climax. The same dynamic might also justify a scene on the ice planet Hoth in “The Empire Strikes Back,” when Luke takes down two imperial AT-AT walkers, without having to actually see first-hand evidence of his kills.

The fact that the masks of the stormtroopers prevent Luke from seeing their faces may also have made it easier for him to pull the trigger of his blaster. As Grossman explains, the emotional distance between a soldier and his or her enemy also makes killing easier.

The U.S. military exploits this through classic dehumanizing techniques meant to turn enemy soldiers into inhuman “others,” thus making it easier to kill them. The new recruit, whether serving in World War II, Vietnam or Iraq, is taught that their enemy is not human. They are Japs, gooks, towelheads, hajis, dogs, terrorists, and a host of other epithets, but never humans with families, hopes and dreams. “Kill, Kill, Kill!” is repeated hundreds of times a day in basic training.

But how then do we explain Luke Skywalker’s killing spree in “Return of the Jedi”? After returning to Tatooine to rescue Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, Luke Force-chokes two Gammorean guards (a definitively Dark Side power) and, after recovering his lightsaber, goes on a one-man crusade, chopping down foe after foe with impunity, before blowing up a sail barge full of dozens of people, many of whom are slaves. This scene raises serious questions about whether or not Skywalker is, in fact, a sociopath.

As Grossman explains, the innate human resistance to killing increases the closer one gets to the victim. “This process culminates at the close end of the spectrum, when the resistance to bayoneting or stabbing becomes tremendously intense, almost unthinkable,” he writes. “The horror associated with pinning a man down, feeling him struggle, and watching him bleed to death is something that can give a man nightmares for years afterwards.”

Another path

Contrast Luke Skywalker’s actions in “Return of the Jedi” with his mentor, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the first Star Wars, Kenobi uses cunning, guile and self sacrifice to complete his objectives, not violence. When he saves Luke from the sand people, Obi-Wan imitates the sound of a Komodo dragon to scare them away, rather than killing them all. To get past the stormtrooper blockade in Mos Eisley, Kenobi uses a simple Jedi mind trick to talk his way out of a bad situation, rather than igniting his lightsaber.

On the Death Star, Obi-Wan stealthily avoids all confrontation to shut down the tractor beam preventing the Millennium Falcon from escaping. When he is finally face-to-face with Darth Vader, Kenobi allows violence and death to be brought upon himself rather than inflicting harm on another person, even someone as evil as Vader. In “A New Hope,” Obi-Wan Kenobi is a Jesus-like character, whose selfless and nonviolent act of self-sacrifice results in his resurrection as a Force ghost.

Although Obi-Wan cuts off the arm of a criminal earlier in the movie to protect the young and naive Luke Skywalker, Kenobi does not kill him. And the scene was probably necessary to foreshadow his lightsaber skills before his eventual duel with Lord Vader.

In “The Empire Strikes Back,” the Jedi Master Yoda tries to teach Luke Skywalker again and again that violence is not the way of the Jedi. When Luke refuses to heed Yoda’s teachings and runs off to Bespin in a futile effort to rescue Princess Leia and Han Solo from capture by Darth Vader, his use of violence to achieve his objectives is met with grave consequences. Just as the anarchist Black Bloc can never match the violence of the state, neither can a half-trained Luke Skywalker match the violence of Lord Vader, and Luke is severely injured and almost dies because of his folly.

Without some kind of alternative explanation, “Return of the Jedi,” at least at first, seems to imply that strength in the Light Side of the Force makes the Jedi even more efficient killers, only killers for good instead of for evil. The heroic Jedi music plays during Luke’s one-man berserker rage on Tatooine.

But it could be argued that Luke Skywalker was actually using the Dark Side of the Force during the opening scenes of “Return of the Jedi,” as the movie hinges on if Luke will fall to the Dark Side or not. Later in the movie, nonviolence is clearly Luke’s preferred strategy when he surrenders to Darth Vader and attempts to morally persuade him to “turn back to the good side,” rather than fight alongside the rest of the Rebel Alliance on Endor.

Later, thanks to the emperor’s manipulations, Luke Skywalker succumbs to his anger and hatred when he duels again with Darth Vader, eventually defeating him in a fit of rage. But at the last minute, Luke hesitates, refuses to deal his father a killing blow, and throws away his weapon rather than fight anymore.

It is only then, after Luke Skywalker renounces violence and refuses to kill his father, that he finally becomes a Jedi. This scene is a call back to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s self-sacrifice in “A New Hope,” as Luke becomes the victim of violence himself after the emperor attacks him with Force Lightning. And it is Luke’s turn away from violence, and his subsequent torture at the hands of the emperor, that finally convinces his father to return to the Light Side of the Force, and once again become Anakin Skywalker.

Grossman can also be used to analyze “The Force Awakens.” In one of the opening scenes, the new hero Finn, at this point still a stormtrooper, is ordered to participate in a massacre of innocent civilians. However, Finn refuses to fire, becoming exactly like one of the conscientious objectors Grossman details in his book. But Finn is still deeply traumatized by the massacre he witnessed, which becomes his main motivation for leaving the First Order and joining the Resistance.

Later on in the movie, Kylo Ren impales his own father, Han Solo, with his lightsaber, the most intimate and psychologically devastating method of killing. In the novelization of “The Force Awakens,” it is clear that Kylo Ren is horrified by what he has done. Rather than feeling empowered by killing his father, as Supreme Leader Snoke promised, Kylo Ren is weakened.

Alternatives to fighting

Grossman’s biggest contribution to the literature on warfare isn’t just his theory about human beings’ innate resistance to killing; it is also his corresponding thesis that the mainstream media, and violent video games, have replicated military conditioning to such a degree that most of our society is completely desensitized to violence.

“The media in our modern information society have done much to perpetuate the myth of easy killing and have thereby become part of society’s unspoken conspiracy of deception that glorifies killing and war,” Grossman writes. “A culture raised on Rambo, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker and James Bond wants to believe that combat and killing can be done with impunity — that we can declare someone to be the enemy and that for cause and country the soldiers will cleanly and remorselessly wipe him from the face of the earth.”

Perhaps it is this corrupting influence of violence in the media that has so many bloodthirsty Star Wars fans pining for the new movie to depict Luke Skywalker as a Grey Jedi willing to use violence to accomplish the greater good. A critical viewing of the original Star Wars trilogy suggests something different. There can be no balance of the Light and the Dark, no middle ground between good and bad, no compromise between violence and nonviolence. Anger, fear and aggression will always lead to the Dark Side, no matter how much we try to walk the line. Evil must be fought, yes, but not with violence. With compassion. Not with moral ambivalence, but with moral purity.

That’s why Luke Skywalker should be portrayed in “The Last Jedi” as a pacifist, an ideology consistent with his character arc in the original Star Wars, when both he and the Jedi Order stood for something meaningful, a morality that neither the violent left, right, or center will ever have.

Of course, all signs point to “The Last Jedi” making a very different kind of argument. What little is known of the plot suggests a centrist view of the world, where the violence of the ideological left feeds the violence of the ideological right, and where the violence of the center is the answer to both.

If true, then “The Last Jedi” will ultimately be just another forgettable Hollywood blockbuster, a movie about redemptive violence that claims to be smart and politically relevant, but one which fails to live up to the moral high ground that made the original Star Wars trilogy such a poignant cultural milestone.

Among the Trees and Grasses, Finding Solace and Strength

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 10:36

From words of Torah, prayers form, words become vessels to fill with our soul, Torah filling us, each of us filling Torah. It is the way of sacred scripture in every tradition, encountering God and ourselves in the seeking, in the shimmering union of text and context. As we make our way along the path of Torah from week to week, wooded glens open before us, places to pause and rest, oases from the strife and struggle along the way of life. There is succor for the weariness and worry held in the details of our own lives, and for the collective worry from all that assaults us in the political climate of these times. Given the gentle beauty of our sensibilities, we can’t in conscience put aside our awareness of those who suffer, or not consider the ways we might help to meet their needs. Yet even here, there are times when we need to pause, to sigh, to breath deeply, to remember the beauty of the world all around us and within us. There are times when we may recall places of beauty we have been, that gave of their gifts to us and helped us to relax.
             Perhaps a pond deep in the woods, a beautiful flower we saw along the path to get there. Perhaps it was a mountaintop and all the beauty along the way of hiking higher and higher. Perhaps we didn’t have to go very far to come to such a place, delighting with the flowers and bushes that grow along the sidewalk, roots of trees breaking through the cement that invades their space. And in the changing of seasons, now to stop in the midst of all that swirls and see our breath that comes from within and reminds of a place even deeper where our very soul abides. Seasons continue to turn in their way, snowflakes then to melt upon our skin. We hold the memories of what has been, sensing the beauty, seeing it with eyes closed with all the freshness and clarity of when we were there, of when it was new and now, time and place shimmering, gifts of forest and field continuing to touch, to inspire and infuse.
It is the essence of an exquisite teaching of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) that is rooted in the Torah portion Chayei Sarah/the Life of Sarah (Gen. 23:1-25:18). Following the trauma of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, of father’s intended sacrifice of son, Yitzchak goes out into the field to meditate, va’yetze Yitzchak lasu’ach ba’sadeh lifnot arev/and Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field at the turning of evening (Gen. 24:63).  It is the same root, whether of language or spirit, la’su’ach/to meditate, to pray, to converse, and so too the root of si’ach/a bush, a shrub, green and verdant growing things. So from his own traumas, so much pain and sorrow in his life, Rebbe Nachman would go out each day to be alone in nature, among the trees and grasses, finding solace and strength in field and forest. From words of Torah he formed words of prayer, May I merit to make it my custom to go out each day to the field and be among the trees and grasses and every shrub of the field. And there may I merit to be alone and to increase in conversation between me and the one to whom I belong (Likutei T’filot 2:11).
It is all in the way of Yitzchak going out into the field that Rebbe Nachman teaches, words of Torah become prayers, become vessels, become places of respite, of sanctuary. I share his teaching as I translated it long ago while sitting in the woods of a Jewish summer camp, children’s voices all around, laughter and joy to inspire, Shabbos coming near.
             Know, that when a person prays in a field, then all of the grasses come within the prayer, and aid the one praying, and give to the one praying strength in their prayer. In this way, prayer is called “sicha” (in all of its layers of meaning, prayer, meditation, and shrub). This is in the aspect, derived from B’reishit 2:5 which says “si’ach ha’sadeh/shrub of the field.” Every shrub of the field gives strength and aids one in their prayer. This is the aspect of B’reishit 24:63, “And Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field,” that his prayer would be with the aid and strength of the field, that all of the grasses of the field would give strength and aid to his prayer. For this reason, prayer is called “sicha,” as explained above. Therefore, in the curse in D’varim/Deuteronomy 11:17 (which is in the second paragraph of the Sh’ma) it is said, “and the ground will not give its produce/v’ha’adamah lo titen et y’vulah,” for all of the produce/herbage of the earth needs to give strength and aid within prayer. And when there is a defect or barrier concerning the earth’s giving aid to prayer, of this it says, “and the ground will not give its strength. And even when one is not praying in a field the produce of the earth still gives aid to their prayer. That is to say, all that supports a person, for example, eating and drinking, goes forth to provide such support (as eating and drinking support the body, so the produce of the earth also supports the soul and aids one’s prayer). When one is in the field, however, then nature’s support for their prayer is greater, then all of the grasses and all of the produce of the ground give strength to their prayer, as explained above. And this word “produce/yivol” can be derived from the first letters of the verse (Gen. 24:63), “and Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field/Va’yetze Yitzchak La’su’ach Ba’sadeh…, for all of the produce of the field prayed with him, as explained above… (Likutei Moharan Tinyana 11).
        As we go out each week to meditate in the Sabbath field, L’cha Dodi/Come Beloved, so may we find beauty and rest among all the delights of Shabbos.     Aid and support given to our prayer, continuing then to inspire and nurture as we re-enter the world of time, may we merit to remember what we have seen and known, strength given to body and soul, renewed and refreshed.
Rabbi Victor Reinstein

The necessity of imagining an unimaginable war

Waging Nonviolence - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 11:08

by Lisa Fuller

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:'mlOyrHd3TM5C9iRq--apsg',sig:'J-T6hrI6MU5SxSGpEEjaltrdnsKiIPtVvesYAewFaUo=',w:'594px',h:'360px',items:'875728570',caption: true ,tld:'com',is360: false })});

The prospect of nuclear war with North Korea has repeatedly been described as “unimaginable” – and in fact, most of us have literally failed to imagine it. As the New York TimesNicholas Kristof points out, “We’re complacent — neither the public nor the financial markets appreciate how high the risk is of a war, and how devastating one could be.”

Admittedly, with biological, conventional and nuclear weapons expected to kill millions, the scenario is genuinely difficult to comprehend. We struggle to translate such high numbers into pictures of individual men, women and children suffering.

Nevertheless, we can no longer afford to be in denial. Top military and political experts warn that the risk of war is at an all-time high, the threat is imminent and the impact would be catastrophic. Even before North Korea’s latest missile test, former U.S. Army General Barry McCraffrey, Council of Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and the International Institute for Strategic Studies Executive Director Mark Fitzpatrick all estimated that the risk of war was 50 percent. General McCaffrey expects that war will breakout by summer 2018.

There is a significant risk that a war would escalate beyond a regional conflict. China has warned that it would intervene on behalf of North Korea in the case of a U.S. preemptive strike, and international security experts Nora Bensahel and David Barno argue that China may launch attacks on “U.S. bases in the region or possibly even the U.S. homeland, especially since radiation would inevitably blanket some of its territory.” China has been carrying out military drills near the Korean peninsula since July, and tested an ICBM capable of hitting the continental United States on November 6. Russia also recently publicly warned that it is preparing for war as well.

Even if the war was confined to the Korean peninsula, however, it has the “potential to cause mass starvation worldwide,” as a result of nuclear winter, according to nuclear experts Alan Robock and Owen Toon.

In other words, World War III is no longer just the stuff of sci-fi movies — it may be right around the corner.

With such high stakes, it is critical that we voluntarily imagine the “unimaginable,” as uncomfortable as it may be. Those who do imagine war are much more likely to take action to prevent it. Journalist and author Jonathan Schell advocated for this position in his 1982 book “The Fate of the Earth,” writing that “Only by descending into this hell in imagination now can we hope to escape descending into it in reality … the knowledge we thus gain cannot in itself protect us from nuclear annihilation, but without it we cannot begin to take measures that can actually protect us.”

It is no coincidence that members of Congress who are war veterans have been some of the most outspoken and active in raising the alarm over the crisis in North Korea.

Although President Reagan never personally experienced war, a movie depicting a nuclear attack on the United States was enough to activate his imagination and change his entire orientation to nuclear war. After seeing the “The Day After,” he wrote in his diary that the film “left me greatly depressed … We have to do all we can to have a deterrent and see there is never a nuclear war.” A few months later, he announced that “reducing the risk of war, and especially nuclear war, is priority number one.” His shift in perspective is often credited with being one of the most important factors in de-escalating the Cold War.

As our brains are hard-wired to protect us from thinking about large-scale suffering, we too may need to take proactive efforts to imagine a potential war. For example, we can look at pictures of Hiroshima and read the stories of atomic bomb survivors, transposing such scenarios to our own cities. We can use nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein’s Nukemap to understand what would happen if a bomb was dropped on our own cities. We can ensure that we stay updated on the crisis and that we obtain information from reliable sources with expertise.

However, while imagining the prospect of war may be necessary, it is not sufficient: Americans must mobilize quickly and effectively to address the threat. If they are able to do so, there is good reason to believe they can prevent war.

First, there are viable options to resolve the Korean crisis — the Trump administration just hasn’t tried any of them yet. In 1994, the Clinton administration successfully negotiated a framework agreement that centered on the idea of a freeze-for-freeze: North Korea suspended its nuclear program in exchange for the U.S. suspending some of its military exercises. The agreement held up until 2003 when the Bush administration — not North Korea — ended the agreement.

A new freeze-for-freeze (which North Korea has repeatedly indicated it would be open to), in combination with legislation preventing Trump from launching a pre-emptive strike, would be the best possible option to solve the current crisis. Essentially, if North Korea doesn’t feel threatened, it will probably stop threatening others.

Second, there is already an existing grassroots structure with the capabilities to organize an effective large-scale movement. Since Trump became president, “an astounding number of new grassroots groups, at least six times the number the Tea Party could boast at its height,” have formed according to grassroots leader L.A. Kauffman. Activists have already done the hard part — they have formed movements, mobilized large segments of the American population, and proven their efficacy, successfully organizing to prevent the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, for example.

Third, unlike with Obamacare, there is already bipartisan support for efforts to prevent war with North Korea. There are already over 60 co-sponsors, including two Republicans, to the “No Unconstitutional Strike against North Korea Act” in the House. Although there are only three Democrats co-sponsoring the Senate bill, several Republican senators — including Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Dan Sullivan, and John Thune — have all publicly expressed concern about Trump’s approach to North Korea.

However, there hasn’t been any movement on the bill since it was introduced in October, nor on various other bills that would restrict Trump’s power to start a pre-emptive war. Public pressure is needed to ensure that Congress prioritizes such legislation.

Although no bills have been introduced as of yet to support a freeze-for-freeze, 61 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in August highlighting the success of the aforementioned 1994 Agreed Framework, stating that there is an “urgent need to replicate these successes.” While the Trump administration is responsible for making international treaties, Congress could still force a freeze-for-freeze by passing legislation that prevents funds from being used for the most provocative military drills.

Fourth, there is a historical precedent for a large-scale nuclear freeze movement. During the Cold War, as activist and writer Duncan Meisel explained, over a third of Americans participated in “a series of city and state referendum campaigns calling for a Nuclear Freeze.” What’s more, “Reagan’s militaristic temperament” — according to Andrew Lanham of the Boston Review — actually aided the movement’s efforts to garner support across the political spectrum.

However, all of these advantages are meaningless if activists fail to focus sufficient attention on the North Korea crisis. With so many important issues at stake, activism can feel like triage these days: Efforts tend to be focused on whatever legislative calamity is most imminent. The problem with that approach is that activists’ focus becomes determined by Congress’ agenda rather than grassroots priorities.

If activists take a breath from firefighting long enough to imagine a potential war with North Korea, they may realize that they need to proactively organize to insist that Congress urgently focuses its attention on the North Korea crisis, and implements an effective legislative strategy to prevent war.

As the Bulletin of Scientists President Rachel Bronson says, “we have reversed the hands of the Doomsday Clock before. We can do it again.”

March demands justice for teen who was allegedly raped by NYPD officers

Waging Nonviolence - Fri, 12/01/2017 - 17:45

by Ashoka Jegroo

Protesters gathered for march in support of Anna Chambers. (Twitter/Robert Gerhardt)

Dozens of activists marched in lower Manhattan and unfurled a banner off the High Line park on November 30 to support and demand justice for a young woman who claims she was raped while in handcuffs by two NYPD officers in Brooklyn earlier this year.

Despite the recent media attention on various influential and powerful men being called out for sexual assault and harassment, this recent case of NYPD officers allegedly raping a teenager in custody has largely remained a local story.

The woman, who calls herself Anna Chambers on social media, hasn’t attended any of the protests, but has expressed support and gratitude on social media. Her lawyer, Michael David, is confident that the cops will be found guilty, but in a city where police have literally killed people on camera and gotten away with it, it’s hard to know what will happen with this case.

“I can’t conceivably see any jury not convicting these cops,” David said. “Under these circumstances, they have to be convicted. There’s overwhelming evidence [against them].”

According to Chambers’ lawyer, it was around 8 p.m. on September 15 when Edward Martins and Richard Hall, two plain clothes cops with the Brooklyn South Narcotics unit, pulled over a car in Brooklyn’s Calvert Vaux Park containing then-18-year-old Anna Chambers and two male friends. The officers began searching them for drugs, at one point even demanding Chambers lift up her shirt. The cops claim they found a small amount of weed and a few Klonopin pills on her. According to David, the police then ordered Chambers out of the car, handcuffed her, and put her into the backseat of their black, unmarked Dodge van.

Then, according to prosecutor Frank DeGaetano, as the cops drove off with Chambers, Martins used his cellphone, while blocking his number, to call her two male friends and told them not to follow the van. After being told she was being taken to the nearby 60th precinct, David said the cops instead drove Chambers to a nearby Chipotle parking lot and raped her. She was handcuffed the entire time.

About 45 minutes after being handcuffed, the cops shoved her out of the van near the 60th precinct, according to David. Chambers then contacted her mother, who took her to Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park, Brooklyn. While she was in the hospital for a sexual assault forensic exam, commonly known as a rape kit, a group of more than nine NYPD officers came to intimidate and gaslight Chambers and her mother. David said that one officer even spoke to Chambers’ mother in her native Russian, insisting that she often filed complaints against police and that the men who raped her weren’t actual cops.

Despite this intimidation, Chambers proceeded with the rape kit, and the genetic material recovered from Chambers during the medical exam matched Martins and Hall’s DNA. After their names and faces were withheld for some time, the two cops were eventually exposed, pleaded not guilty to a 50-count indictment, were released on bail, and resigned from their jobs in early November. They admit to having sex with Chambers while on the job, but insist that it was consensual.

“This whole ‘consensual’ thing is just ridiculous,” David said. “When you’re under arrest and you’re handcuffed, you’re put into a police minivan and you’re with two officers over 6-feet tall and over 200 pounds, there can’t be consent. Based on that power dynamic, you cannot have consent under those circumstances.”

In an attempt to undermine Chambers’s credibility, the lawyers for the two cops also wrote a letter to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, in which they pointed to “provocative ‘selfies’” on her social media accounts and the fact that she has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city.

Chambers’ supporters at the march expressed disgust at the cops’ almost-cliche rapist apologetics and attempts to “slut-shame” her.

“We are not going to let the continuing press coverage on this be about the photos on Anna’s Instagram, and it’s not about what she may or may not have been wearing at the time,” said Jun, an activist with Hoods4Justice, who helped organize the march. “It’s about never letting this happen again and about being out in the street and being present to show support and solidarity for someone who went through a horrible trauma.”

The first march in support of Chambers happened on October 17 in Coney Island, Brooklyn. The protesters rallied in Calvert Vaux Park, marched around the neighborhood, and were apparently later denied entry into a local community meeting regarding the incident. During the second and most recent march on November 30, protesters gathered in Washington Square Park in Manhattan and started with facts on police sexual violence and speeches, including one by Victoria Davis, the sister of Delrawn Small who was killed by an off-duty NYPD officer last year.

A banner dropped off the High Line park during a protest demanding justice for Anna Chambers in New York City on Nov. 30. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

The NYPD soon arrived in large numbers to try to break up the protest, threatening to arrest the activists and pushing them onto the sidewalk. The march continued with the protesters chanting, blocking traffic, and, at one point, taking over the High Line and unfurling a banner from it reading “NYPD cops E. Martin & R. Hall Are Rapists.” Despite police repression, the march ended with no arrests, and Chambers expressed her gratitude for the support.

Statistics on sexual violence by police are hard to come by, but a 2011 Cato Institute study found that more than 9 percent of reported police misconduct involved sexual abuse, making it the second-most reported form of police misconduct after the use of excessive force. The Associated Press, in their year-long 2015 investigation of sexual misconduct by cops, found over 1,000 officers who lost their jobs over a six-year period for rape, sodomy and sexual assault.

This number was also acknowledged as an undercount since states like California and New York have no statewide system to decertify officers for sexual misconduct. Indeed, it isn’t even illegal in New York City for cops to have sex with people in their custody, a problem that a local Brooklyn politician is now trying to solve precisely because of this case.

Chambers’s supporters ultimately want the two cops to be held accountable, for her to get the full amount she’s requested in her civil suit against the city, and for an end to police violence against women and gender nonconforming people.

“Her life is ruined, and we don’t know how many others there are.” David said. “We want as much public awareness as we can about police sexual misconduct so people can be aware of it and people can report it. And we want it to stop. We don’t want any more victims like Anna Chambers again.”

An American Thanksgiving

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 12/01/2017 - 14:30
     This Thanksgiving, some things I saw on the internet made me think more seriously about the first inhabitants of this land. One writer told the traditional Thanksgiving story of friendship and a shared meal with the usual characters like Squanto, helping the early settlers plant and harvest their escape from starvation.     Another told the story about how the first Thanksgiving was proclaimed by then Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Bay Colony, as a celebration for massacring the Pequot people. The Governor wanted prayers of gratitude in the churches for this great victory. One commentator of the day remarked, "Let the whole Earth be filled with his glory! Thus the Lord was pleased to smite our Enemies in the hinder Parts, and to give us their Land for an Inheritance." Another said God had destroyed the enemies of his people; "Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling (Mystic) with dead bodies." 
       A third video shows some young Native American women telling the story of theft, pillage, rape and terror and then turning over a laden Thanksgiving table.      Different people see history through different eyes. But European Americans should all be able to recognize three things: we stand on stolen land that belonged to someone else; the original Americans are still with us; the first inhabitants continue to petition for recognition of their rights, like clean water and sustainable economies     And although there are still Christians who stereotype all tribal peoples as pagan or heathen, the informed are aware of the deep spirituality and sacred traditions that have been carried on, even in the face of government prohibition and attempted genocide.      For fifteen years I coordinated a program in reservation communities where people came from many different countries and across the U.S. to immerse themselves in traditional and contemporary Native American life. We carried our home, a couple of tipis, on the top of our vans and without watches or rigid plans camped on the property of hosts and welcomed visitors as resource persons. As often happens in Indian country, people heard of our interest in learning and wonderful elders and teachers found their way to us.     During and after these programs I was sometimes invited to ceremonies, including the sweat lodge ceremony. It's not my place to say too much about sacred ceremonies of Indian people. But as a Christian pastor, I must say that the sweat lodge experience for me was like a whole body experience of baptism, of being born again.
       One is cleansed not only of the bodily toxins but through prayer, of the emotional and spiritual toxins as well. If the arrogant and self righteous in the Christian community could give up their sense of superiority for just a moment, to truly learn of this sacred ceremony, they  might recognize that other traditions have similar and just as meaningful ways of approaching the Creator.      Some Indian people have confessed that when they first heard about Jesus from the early missionaries, they understood. Their culture encouraged them to be willing to suffer for others. They were schooled in the value of generosity. There was an emphasis on the common good. So when they heard about this person who went to his death for others, it fit with their traditional understandings. Their sun dance ceremony represented something similar. It was about purification and sacrifice.      What those same Indian people didn't understand was all the baggage that came with Jesus. Baggage that eventually resulted in the destruction of indigenous people and the outlawing of their most meaningful ceremonies. Those of us of European descent would do well to confess it. It was the self righteousness and manifest destiny of those early pilgrims that resulted in the elimination of the Pequot people. It was the papal declaration of the Doctrine of Discovery that set the stage for stealing land and exterminating resisters. The Christian religion brought colonial baggage to this continent, conquering for Christ.       And in many ways, that nativist spirit is still too prevalent in the land. The cartoon of Indian people cutting off new immigrants from Europe is altogether appropriate in a Trumpian climate. One cartoon has the picture of an Indian man with the words,  "So you're against immigration? Splendid! When do you leave?"     We need to work harder in this culture to incorporate some traditional indigenous values. We're in relationship, with all that is. When you enter the sweat lodge ceremony, you remind yourself of this reality. You are also reminded of the elements of all life: water, fire, air and earth. You are reminded we can't treat the earth like a thing and expect it to give fruit in its season. We can't treat the waters like our toilet and expect to be healthy. We can't use and misuse the others around us and expect mutual aid.     Religious leaders from all across the country disowned the Doctrine of Discovery at Standing Rock last year. They confessed God did not give anyone a right to take lands occupied by others. Now it's time to give flesh to that confession. A good first step would be respecting Native sovereignty and Native values when it comes to pipelines.

Carl Kline

How internet co-ops can protect us from net neutrality rollbacks

Waging Nonviolence - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 15:13

by Sammi-Jo Lee

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:'Pxcp3jt-TFN0L8h0lOOzzQ',sig:'OYdPUg4GmgGMnm6qe787bs782_wmvb2bNoHUFiSfQRQ=',w:'594px',h:'396px',items:'837857430',caption: true ,tld:'com',is360: false })});

This article was first published by Yes! Magazine

In 2011, brand new fiber optic cables lit up for the first time across the forested terrain of the Ozarks and up and down the farmlands of central Missouri.

Here among the hickories and red oaks, you might expect to be in the land that the internet forgot. That’s what it could have been, had residents not decided to stop waiting on large for-profit telecommunications companies. They built their own internet instead.

They turned to their electric utility for a solution, and Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, established in 1939 to bring power to the region’s farms, answered the call.

“What got the project off the ground was the membership demand,” said Randy Klindt, who at the time was the general manager of Co-Mo Connect, the co-op’s internet branch. “The members all drove it from the grassroots. They went door to door. They paid their neighbors’ $100 deposit.”

Later at a community meeting, a local bank surprised the room by paying the deposit of everyone present. They quickly crowdfunded enough money to begin construction, and in 2011, just before Christmas, its first members came online.

Co-Mo’s members aren’t the only people who can say they own their own internet utility. In cities and rural swaths across the country, there are hundreds of small internet service providers owned by member cooperatives, local municipalities, or tribal governments. Over the past two decades, these small ISPs have been spreading and gaining notice. As success stories travel and inspire other communities to ask how they can do the same thing, they’re multiplying faster than ever.

These locally owned networks are poised to do what federal and state governments and the marketplace couldn’t. One, they can bring affordable access to fast internet to anyone, narrowing the digital divide that deepens individual and regional socioeconomic disparities.

Two, these small operators can protect open internet access from the handful of large ISPs that stand to pocket the profits from net neutrality rollbacks that the Trump administration announced Nov. 21. That’s according to Christopher Mitchell, who is the director of Community Broadband Projects, a project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Mitchell, who has been tracking and advocating community-owned broadband networks for a decade, hopes that this will be the moment when people rebel against the administration’s attack on net neutrality and expand rural cooperative and municipal ISPs.

“The FCC is basically taking the regulations off of big companies, but local companies can still offer high-quality internet access at good prices,” Mitchell said.

Without net neutrality, broadband providers will be able to charge more for better access and faster speeds, or be able to restrict traffic to preferred business partners over competitors. More independent ISPs can offer consumers a wider variety of choices.

“No one will have to offer prioritized content in the ways that we fear AT&T and Comcast will. So local investments can preserve access to the open internet,” Mitchell said.

But, for many, before the question of open internet and net neutrality comes the question of whether people can have access to and afford the internet at all.

Remote, sparsely populated areas like the rural Ozarks are often synonymous with the digital divide. Large carriers don’t have a financial incentive to enter those markets where getting high returns on their investment are unlikely if not impossible. According to the FCC, 39 percent of rural Americans — 23 million people — don’t have access to broadband speeds.

Before Co-Mo Connect got off the ground, Klindt says, only 1 out of 5 members had access to broadband. Many still crawled along on obsolete dial-up connections. By 2014, however, nearby Tipton (population 3,351) enjoyed connection speeds in the top 20 percent of the United States, and the fastest in Missouri. By 2016, Co-Mo’s entire service area was on the digital grid.

ILSR estimates that there are more than 300 telephone and electric co-ops that provide rural fiber-optic internet service. Since the late 1990s, these co-ops have been installing more cable and leveraging existing infrastructure to provide faster service to their communities. A few have even built networks from scratch, such as RS Fiber in Minnesota and Allband in Michigan.

Matthew Rantanen, the director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, tells another story of access and adoption from reservation lands, where the FCC estimates that 68 percent of residents — 1.3 million people — lack access. Rantanen directed the Tribal Digital Village initiative, which introduced wireless internet to 17 tribal reservation communities in San Diego County.

The initiative, Rantanen says, inspired Valerie Fast Horse, the IT director of the Coeur d’Alene tribe in Idaho, to build a fully fiber tribal network. “Networking is in its very early stages, and I can’t wait to see some of this blossom,” Rantanen says. He estimates that just 30 of more than 300 tribal reservations in the United States have broadband access.

Internet connectivity is a crucial economic leveler, he says, without which people fall behind in schools, health, and the job market. “Without that resource,” Rantanen said, “you’re a different class. You’re [on] a different level of participation in the U.S. and the world.”

Though unequal access is primarily thought of as a rural problem, it affects urban centers, as well. ILSR estimates 90 cities are connected with high-quality municipal networks, while more than 200 are connected with more basic networks.

“Customers want reliable, fast, and inexpensive service. The market is not solving this problem,” said Deb Socia, the executive director of Next Century Cities, which works with 183 mayors across the country in hatching plans to fund locally based solutions.

“The biggest dilemma for cities is that there has been an erosion of the capacity for communities to solve their own problems, and that has happened primarily at the state and federal level,” Socia said. Some networks, like the one in Ammon, Idaho, lease their networks to other providers. Others, like the one in Chattanooga, Tennessee, sell services like a conventional ISP.

“There are a lot of workable models,” said Mitchell, “and whatever is right for the local culture and the local government capacity is probably the best way forward.”

Cobbling together local solutions is the common challenge across all of these community projects, said Mitchell, whether it’s cracking the funding code, slashing through governmental red tape, or cultivating enthusiastic leadership to convince communities that, in order to have their own internet service provider, it’s worth it to try something new.

Looking down the road, Mitchell believes that a strong network of small, competitive community-owned ISPs is possible. By siphoning revenue away from the monopoly ISPs, they could disrupt their ability to dominate their markets. And also, if net neutrality does indeed get rolled back, competition could make it less appealing for large ISPs to restrict content.

“I would say that if we had a flourishing of these local networks, it would still significantly hurt the ability of Comcast and AT&T to create tollbooths” to prioritize content, Mitchell says. “It’s going to be fascinating to see what’s going to happen in coming years.”

Dialogue

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 11/24/2017 - 12:28
         Recently I was reminded of a book I read years ago, The Miracle of Dialogue by Reuel Howe. One time Director of the Institute for Advanced Pastoral Studies at Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, he was an author of several books and died in 1985. His insights into dialogue and his understanding of its importance to the human community remain.
      In the opening paragraph of his book he writes, "Every man (sic) is a potential adversary, even those whom we love. Only through dialogue are we saved from this enmity toward one another. Dialogue is to love, what blood is to the body. When the flow of blood stops, the body dies. When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born. But dialogue can restore a dead relationship. Indeed, this is the miracle of dialogue."      On some of my early visits to India, the only available option for communicating with my family was Western Union. The offices were few and far between and telegrams were not a very accessible option. Of course, I sent postcards. But they didn't arrive till after I returned home. There simply weren't any options for actual dialogue in those years. Eventually the telephone connections were made and one could call with some degree of proficiency. Now, with the internet and cell phones, one can cover those distances in an instant and relationships can be maintained with a constant flow of dialogue.         That's not to say computers and cell phones are always used for dialogue. It's amazing how quickly we have moved from using the Post Office to electronic mail; from computer email to cell phones; from cell phones to texting. It is less and less common to hear an actual human voice on a cell phone. Now most scroll through words on a screen, with no actual human contact, ignoring or responding as the mood moves us. There's no dialogue, no human touch, in word or flesh.         Howe writes about some of the barriers to dialogue. One obvious barrier is language. Wanting to learn Spanish, I audited a course at SDSU. To my chagrin, I discovered homework and study was required. Traveling later in Latin America, I learned that non verbal language is universal. Although an English Spanish dictionary certainly helps.        Another barrier to dialogue is the defenses we put up, perhaps fueled by our anxieties. It might be "the dog ate my homework" response of the child to the teacher. Or perhaps blaming the sibling for the broken vase with "she made me do it." Neither of these responses further communication about the problem. Nor do they move one closer to a goal of dialogue, establishing "the truth."        This past week I saw a critic of some of my columns, especially those I've written about global warming. I suggested we should have coffee together so I could visit with him about climate change, since he seems to be denying its existence. His response was that he had his books and reading to tell him about climate change. For him, no dialogue was necessary. Perhaps he prefers an adversarial relationship.     He certainly has models for adversarial relationships in the federal government and partisan politics these days. Now we have a tax bill before us that was once again crafted behind closed doors. There were no hearings, no inter-party debate or compromises. The legislation that results will boil down to a matter of purely partisan political power.
         When we lived in Massachusetts we were participants in a house church. Every Sunday morning a different person would host our gathering and we would have different "celebrants." It might be a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister or a layperson. We would share bread and wine together and always have a dialogue sermon. There was mutuality, a chance for questions and comments; a time of listening and exchange. That dialogue broke down the barriers of background, age, gender, tradition, etc. We were all in relationship and the blood of our church body was flowing.There was a gathering of a small group of young people at our home recently. Each person spoke at some length about what is giving meaning to their lives. It was an exceptional experience and the time passed quickly. Afterwards, one of the participants said, "we need to do this again. We never have conversations like this anymore."

            It's true. Dialogue that brings relationship into being is in danger of disappearing in a culture distracted by materialism and consumerism. Dialogue that can bring back a relationship that was near death is in danger from rugged individualism and an increasing fear of the "other and being "right." But for those of us who believe in the life giving qualities of dialogue, we must press on. As Howe says, "There is only one qualification to these claims for dialogue; it must be mutual and proceed from both sides, and the parties to it must persist relentlessly."
Carl Kline

Labor fights back against end to ‘temporary protected status’ for 59,000 Haitians

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 16:03

by Max Zahn

SEIU 1199 Vice President Gerard Cadet speaks at a press conference in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday. (WNV/Max Zahn)

Wilna Destin, a UNITE HERE organizer, fled political unrest in Haiti 17 years ago for asylum in the United States. After arriving on her own in Miami, Florida, she worked restaurant and hospitality jobs in Orlando, eventually gaining accreditation as a nursing assistant. She married and had two children. She built a life.

When the Trump administration announced on Monday night that it would end temporary protected status, or TPS, for approximately 59,000 Haitians in 2019, Destin learned that she will have to leave in a matter of months.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I’m not ready to go back.”

Labor advocates across the country aren’t ready to see her and her fellow Hatians go either. In the latest surge of labor opposition to the Trump administration’s immigration agenda, union leaders and rank-and-file members rallied on short notice Tuesday, vowing to fight the TPS decision and seek a path to citizenship for the Haitians affected by it.

TPS is an immigration status granted to foreign-born residents unable to return home due to dangerous or challenging circumstances in their native countries. In 2010, the Obama administration granted TPS to Haitian-born residents after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti that year.

“This is a very, very terrible moment for us in the labor movement,” said Gerard Cadet, vice president of Service Employees International Union 1199, at a press conference in lower Manhattan on Tuesday morning. According to Cadet, who was born in Haiti, over 12 percent of SEIU 1199 members are Haitian immigrants.

“Haitians tend to gravitate toward healthcare when they come into this country,” he said. “Immigrants built up our union, just like immigrants built up our country.”

Cadet spoke alongside immigrant rights leaders and SEIU 32BJ President Hector Figueroa, who echoed the sentiment.

“The Haitian TPS recipients are our brothers and sisters,” he said. “They are members of 32BJ. They are members of many of our unions. Their absence would result in a quarter of a billion dollars lost from the economy.”

Later on Tuesday, approximately 400 demonstrators marched to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, Florida. They included members of UNITE HERE, SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, along with advocates from faith and immigration groups, said Wendi Walsh, the secretary-treasurer at UNITE HERE local 355 in Miami.

“It was good to see a lot of people from all kinds of organizations,” Destin said, noting that the solidarity on display at the rally gave her hope. “At the end of the day, it’s one fight.”

According to Walsh, South Florida has the largest population of Haitians outside of Haiti, many of whom have stayed in the country under TPS.

“They have good union jobs,” she said. “They pay their taxes. We have people on TPS who have bought homes and who have American-born children. [We have people] who have contributed to communities and established lives here. To now be told your status in this country is ending for no good reason and you’re facing deportation to a country that’s not prepared to accept you when you return — it’s devastating.”

South Florida businesses and trade organizations — such as the Walt Disney Company, Four Seasons Hotel Miami, the Beaches and Greater Miami Hotel Association, and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association — oppose an end to TPS designation for Haitians.

“I’d like Trump to answer a question of what these employers are expected to do,” Walsh said. “These employers will scramble to find new employees.”

In total, over 300,000 people from 10 different countries live in America with the designation, according to the immigrant advocacy group National Immigration Forum. A study conducted in April by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center found that if companies laid off all of the TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti, it would result in $967 million in turnover costs.

Walsh said she supports a path to permanent residency for all people in the United States under TPS. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka went a step further. He called on Congress to “pass immediate legislation to give working people with TPS a well-earned path to citizenship.”

At the press conference in Manhattan, Rep. Nydia Velazquez touted the American Promise Act, a bill she introduced on Nov. 3 that offers a path to citizenship for people who have been in the United States under TPS for at least three years. When introduced, the bill had 17 co-sponsors.

“It seems that the American promise — the promise of a nation that cares for the vulnerable and benefits from diversity and inclusiveness — is too strong for Donald Trump,” Velazquez said.

Cadet said he “absolutely” supports the bill, but that SEIU 1199 has not vetted the legislation sufficiently to give its endorsement as a union. According to Figueroa, SEIU 32BJ backs the bill.

“We’re going to reach out deeply into Congress,” he said. “We are going to knock at the doors of every person in Congress to stop this abuse — to stop this assault on our TPS communities.”

On Tuesday night, Trump arrived at Mar-a-Lago to spend Thanksgiving with his family. Hours earlier, Destin and other TPS holders had protested outside the resort to ensure that they could spend future Thanksgivings in the United States with their families.

“Thanksgiving for us will be a struggle,” Destin said. “For him, it’s a good thing to have Thanksgiving in a mansion. We want to show him we’re struggling.”

First Nations occupy fish farms in British Columbia to force government action

Waging Nonviolence - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 11:51

by Brandon Jordan

Indigenous people camping in a section of the Midsummer Island fish farm in British Columbia, Canada. (WNV/Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw Cleansing Our Waters)

The sign outside the protest encampment on Midsummer Island in British Columbia, Canada, is a blunt summation of what its inhabitants — indigenous people from various First Nations tribes — have been trying to accomplish for the past two months: “Get Fish Farms Out.” Yet, due to a Supreme Court ruling issued last week, it is not the fish farms that must leave the island, but rather the demonstrators and their camp, which consists of two small houses with beds, solar panels and a replenishing supply of food.

The court made its decision after receiving an injunction, or demand for removal request, by Marine Harvest, the Norwegian seafood company that operates the facility. Demonstrators were given three days to dismantle the camp and 30 days to leave the island — or risk arrest. As the decision was being handed down, more demonstrators gathered outside the court in Vancouver to tell reporters and supporters that they are still committed to their demand of removing fish farms on indigenous territory.

“That doesn’t mean the occupation is over,” said Ernest Alfred, hereditary chief of a few First Nations tribes in British Columbia. “We just have to strategize and come up with a plan of relocation.”

The plan that unfolded saw a handful of First Nations people remove and transport all their Midsummer Island supplies, including the homes, to another encampment at nearby Swanson Island, which is also the site of another Marine Harvest facility. Fish farm facilities are actually housed in the ocean, where species such as smelts and salmon are raised in open pens surrounded by nets. Operation permits can only be obtained through federal and provincial governments, not First Nations tribes — even if firms are working in their territory.

First Nations people have been frustrated with these facilities for years, seeing them as threats to native livelihoods. According to the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture, the region has experienced a near 80 percent decline in wild salmon since 1990. Fish farm opponents blame sea lice, which are a common problem at the facilities. These parasites feed off skin, blood, or mucus and can spread infectious disease — not only among the farmed fish, but also to wild ones on the other side of the netting.

The science does support fish farm opponents’ worries to an extent. In 2015, University of Toronto researchers found an abundance of sea lice among salmon that was at least partially caused by the fish farms. Other factors, such as warmer ocean temperatures, were important factors as well. A commission set up by the Canadian government in 2009, following the decline of salmon in British Columbia’s Fraser River, more-or-less came to the same conclusion: It could not thoroughly name fish farms as the source of the problem, but suggested the government stop promoting salmon farming.

Regardless of the factors, the declining wild salmon population has many First Nations people worried about losing a way of life. Sherry Moon, a tour guide from the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw First Nations territory, grew up learning how to cut, smoke and dry salmon — spending every year fishing for them until the population shrank. The last time she fished was four years ago.

“I can’t even teach my two little ones because we don’t have fish,” she said. “It’s devastating because there’s so much that comes with that salmon. Everything depends on that salmon — the trees, the bears, the orcas, us.”

A handful of people began occupying the Midsummer Island facility, starting September 4. (WNV/Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw Cleansing Our Waters)

It was this understanding, coupled with years of government inaction, that led Alfred and his niece to launch a protest that would be hard to ignore. So, in August, they built a floating structure at the Swanson Island farm and started camping out on it. This led to a rapid response across British Columbia. Six indigenous communities started an encampment at Marine Harvest’s Port Elizabeth and Wicklow Point farms. The latter was eventually moved to the Midsummer Island facility when demonstrators got word that the company had restocked fish there. Meanwhile, a group of female indigenous leaders set up what they call a Matriarch Camp outside of government offices in Victoria.

Moon was among those who immediately joined in, arranging boat trips to the islands and organizing rallies as well as fundraisers.

“I put a lot of myself into this,” she said, explaining that demonstrators prefer not to use the word occupation and instead opt for observation. “We call our occupiers ‘observers.’ We’re not protesters, we’re protectors.”

As a result of their efforts, provincial officials have begun to show interest in working with indigenous groups to solve their problems with the fish farms.

“I got a call from a member of parliament in Ottawa,” Alfred said. “That minister told me we have a very strong presence in Ottawa and that we have the eyes and ears of the federal government.”

This comes more than a year after First Nations communities tried to gain the attention of government officials by issuing an eviction notice to Marine Harvest, as it operates in waters that were never delegated to province. The letter detailed the dwindling wild salmon numbers and accused the industry of “infringing on our way of life, by breaking the natural circle of life that has sustained First Nation people for time immemorial.”

According to Anushka Azadi, a legal advocate for many indigenous groups, the letter went unanswered. “The fish farm companies didn’t do anything about it, the province didn’t do anything about it, and the federal government didn’t do anything about it,” she said. “For one year, everything continued as normal.”

Then the occupations forced everyone to pay attention. Yet, despite their recent promises, Azadi is skeptical that government officials will do anything about the fish farms — if for no other reason than that the provincial economy depends on the industry for tax revenues. Her doubts have merit, particularly since the New Democratic Party has yet to actually follow through on its campaign pledges last spring to “make sure that these territories … are clear of fish farms.”

Inhabitants at the Swanson Island camp left these signs on one of the facility’s walkways. (WNV/Swanson Occupation)

Still, there are signs that the government may make good on its word. Agricultural Minister Lana Popham has already issued Marine Harvest a letter saying that the government is considering asking the firm to relinquish control of its sites in “an effort to develop and maintain healthy relationships with First Nations in whose territories companies are doing business.”

According to Marine Harvest director of public affairs Ian Roberts, the letter “sent a shock and chill to the business community,” which has upwards of 70,000 leases in the province. He described the fish farm occupations as unprecedented and said they have caused the company significant delays.

While Marine Harvest has tried to establish a dialogue with the demonstrators, Alfred says there is nothing to discuss since the company is operating on indigenous land and waters without their consent. As a result, Marine Harvest has turned to the courts to remove all protesters from their fish farms. In addition to the injunction filed against the demonstrators at Midsummer Island, Marine Harvest has also filed injunctions against demonstrators at the Swanson Island and Port Elizabeth facilities.

“We’re disappointed some First Nations in the province have taken it upon themselves to bypass a diplomatic and peaceful opportunity to raise concerns about our business operations,” Roberts said, while also stressing the lack of concrete evidence linking fish farms to the decline in wild salmon populations.

According to Alfred, however, the protest is about more than that. Ultimately, it is about their human rights as indigenous people.

“It’s not that we happen to like salmon,” he said, summarizing the words of another chief. “Our entire culture is based on our ability to be connected with the planet and our ecosystems. Our world view is that we are just a tiny section of a huge web of life.”

Fighting fake news starts with challenging the narrative of Trumpism

Waging Nonviolence - Fri, 11/17/2017 - 12:41

by Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough

As we hit the one year anniversary of the 2016 elections, many of us are still recovering from residual feelings of shock, despair and terror — while ramping up the resistance with increasing momentum. Politics in the United States has always been a rigged game — legalized bribery, voter suppression, racist fear-mongering, sexist norms. But Trump has taken it to a whole new level, at least in our lifetimes.

Like it or not, we are in a dangerous political moment of “alternative facts” and alternate realities. As is typical, the progressive response to the right’s deceitful antics has been to focus on fact-checking, while continuing to allow the right to define the framing of the dominant narrative. Obviously, the facts matter. But we will never fact check our way to power.

If we want to defeat Trump and build momentum to address the systemic crises of our time, progressives need to confront one of Trump’s most effective strategies: harnessing the power of narrative. But what does that mean, and how do we do it?

For the past 15 years we have been helping organizers, communities and grassroots movements contest dominant narratives and “change the story” in order to build power and advance progressive campaigns. We are co-founders of the Center for Story-based Strategy, which supports movements and trains organizers to develop creative, narrative strategies. The recently released second edition of our book — “Re:Imagining Change: How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements and Change the World” — provides theoretical frameworks and hands-on guidance to challenge oppressive narratives and amplify progressive campaigns. The updated version features inspiring examples from a wide range of issues, campaigns and movements, including Black Lives Matter, environmental justice, immigrant rights, anti-war, climate justice and the Trump resistance.

As a right-wing reviewer of our book so succinctly explained in Forbes: “The narratives by which we live are the fulcrum on which our political, economic and cultural levers rest. Shrewdly adjusting the character of the fulcrum provides activists with far more power than does toying with the levers. ‘Re:Imagining Change’ shows how to do that with astonishing lucidity and power.”

Despite the dire circumstances of 2017, these times are abundant with possibility. The flood of resistance, the outpouring of solidarity and the increasing popularity of anti-capitalist alternatives points to a rising left in the United States. The Trump resistance can evolve into the progressive renaissance we so desperately need, if we can have the courage and clarity to articulate and organize around a different narrative. A first step is to embrace the power of narrative to build power and create change.

The following excerpt comes from the chapter on “Narrative Power” and offers frameworks to understand how narrative operates as a critical component of all power relationships.

Truth vs. meaning

We live in a world shaped by stories. They come in all shapes and sizes: mundane anecdotes, Hollywood blockbusters, prepackaged “news” stories, cherished childhood memories, religious stories conveying ancient lessons. A story can unite or divide people, obscure issues or spotlight new perspectives. A story can inform or deceive, enlighten or entertain, even do all of the above. Stories are the threads of our lives and the fabric of human cultures. But how does narrative power actually work?

We absorb stories from many sources: family, personal experience, the media, and religious, cultural and educational institutions. Some stories we learn consciously while others are just part of the cultural background. These stories teach us how society functions, and create a sense of shared culture and identity. The most powerful of these stories operate as contemporary mythologies.

Lesson one in narrative power: Myth is meaning. Don’t be limited by the common pejorative use of “myth” to mean “lie,” and miss the deeper relevance of mythology as a framework for shared meaning. Myths are often mistakenly dismissed as folktales from long ago describing fantastical realities, but even today a sea of stories tell us who we are, what to believe and towards what we should aspire. These stories play the same role that myths always have: answering fundamental questions of identity, origin and worldview. Today we may be less likely to believe that the Sun is pulled across the sky by a God in a chariot, but many people are perfectly willing to believe a specific personal care product will make us more beautiful, or accept the claims that their country is “exceptional,” superior or even specially favored by God.

As the narrative animal, we use story to structure the patterns we observe around us. Take the example of the night sky. In the illustration above you see an image that you probably recognize. Were you taught a name for this grouping of stars? Different cultures have given it different names: the Plough, the Wagon, the Great Bear, the Saucepan and frequently, different versions of the Big Dipper.

But is there really a giant saucepan in the sky?

Of course not (at least we don’t think so), but that’s not the point. The stories used to map constellations helped our ancestors make sense of the night sky and pass down practical skills like finding the North Star to navigate at night. Different cultures connect the dots to see the shapes associated with their own stories, but across the world, people looked to the sky and created myths that gave them meaning.

The Big Dipper is a simple example, but it shows us a critical aspect of narrative power: the difference between truth and meaning. Meaning doesn’t just exist in the world waiting to be discovered, rather meaning is produced by human interpretation as we translate it into language (what cultural theorists like Stuart Hall call “representation”). The power of the story does not derive from its factual truth but rather from the story’s ability to provide meaning. Narrative is one of the primary ways we humans create meaning in the world.

Understanding the complicated relationship between truth and meaning is the foundation of story-based strategy.

Too often progressives think that just because a story is factually true, it will be meaningful to our audiences, and therefore, build our power. But the reality is just the opposite: If a story is meaningful to people, they will believe that it is true. The currency of narrative is not truth but rather meaning. In other words, there is no inherent connection between the power of a story and whether or not the content is objectively true. After all, if having the facts on your side was enough to win, we would live in a very different world.

Narrative power manifests as a fight over how to make meaning. We often believe in a story not because it is factually true but because it connects with our values, or is relevant to our experiences in a way that is compelling. Having the facts on your side is only the first step towards winning, because the facts alone are not enough to transform understanding and reshape meaning in people’s hearts and minds.

Thus people fighting for a better world need to take our truths — about injustice, racism, environmental destruction or whatever issue we are working on — and make them meaningful to the people we are trying to reach. Story-based strategy is not an invitation to ignore or distort the facts but rather a recognition that to be persuasive you need to use the power of story to make the most important facts matter.

Since humans understand the world and our role in it through stories, all power relationships have a narrative dimension. Stories are imbued with power. This could be the power to legitimize an unjust status quo or justify acts of coercion and brutality. Likewise, story has the power to make change imaginable and urgent, to convince people to see a better future and believe in their own collective agency.

Many of our current social and ecological problems have their roots in the silent consensus of assumptions underlying current political discourse, for example: Humans can dominate and outsmart nature; women are worth less than men; racism and war are part of human nature; white people are better than people of color; and U.S. foreign policy benevolently spreads democracy and liberation around the world.

To make real and lasting social change these latent narratives must be surfaced and challenged.

A narrative analysis of power encourages us to look at how meaning is operating and ask: Which stories define cultural norms? Where did these stories come from? Whose stories were ignored or erased? What new stories can we tell to more accurately describe the world we see? And, perhaps most urgently, what are the stories that can help move us towards the world we desire?

The role of narrative in rendering meaning in our minds is what makes story a powerful force. These power dynamics operate both in terms of our individual identities — whether or not you get to determine your own story — and on the larger cultural level: Which stories are used to make meaning and shape our world? What individuals, groups or nations are portrayed as heroic? And whose story is presented as villainous, weak or just irrelevant?

These questions are the narrative dimensions of the physical relationships of power and privilege, the unequal access to resources and denials of self-determination that shape contemporary society. Asking these questions can help bring a narrative power analysis into social change campaigns.

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 11/17/2017 - 12:18

Perhaps it was a Hint of HopeRabbi Victor H. Reinstein

          There was something different to me in the tone of a recent Black Lives Matter vigil. Something seemed different in the surrounding atmosphere, in the collective air that we all breathe, even as we gather to remember such as the choking cry of Eric Garner, pleading while held in a police chokehold, “I can’t breathe.” As we approach the two-year anniversary since the vigil first gathered, I try to be there on the first Thursday of each month whenever I can, making it on most months. The difference I felt was not in the warm connection among those who stand with each other. It was not a difference in direction or sense of purpose. The crowd seemed somewhat smaller than at other times, though not small, equally vibrant and committed regardless of numbers. I closed my eyes, often quietly praying the mincha prayer while standing in line, conveniently facing east. Offering the prayers of afternoon, I join my own way of prayer with the prayerful spirit surrounding all who are there. So too, connection is made with all the passersby, smiles, waves, and simple words, God’s image carried before us in so many different ways, a reminder of why we are there, of the common humanity that joins us all.
The difference this time seemed to be in the connection and interaction with passersby. There is always the supportive honking of a horn as cars pass, a wave and a smile from drivers, from cyclists, from pedestrians, people stepping from the bus, hurrying on home from school and work. Last night there was an uncharacteristic shout from the driver of a pick up truck, fist punching the air beyond his open window, yelling, “go Trump.” A collective sigh went up from the otherwise silent vigil, an expression of dignity. That seemed to be part of the difference I felt in tone, a dignified weariness. We are in it for the long haul now, and it is hard. The hate, the brutality, the coarseness even come to Jamaica Plain.
               In standing together, we find strength, singing and sighing together, reminding our selves and passersby that we are all on this journey together.
And so too, passersby reminded us last night of our purpose in being there, reminding of the larger picture and of the human connection that joins us all. Yes, the driver of the truck who shouted at us offers one type of reminder, and a challenge. Perhaps some day he will appreciate our perseverance and even stop by to talk, even to stand. That happened to me once as part of another vigil, one seeking peace and an end to militarism, of US testing of submarines in Canadian waters. Every week a heckler came by, sometimes drawn to my kippah, often stopping right in front of me, shouting, too close for comfort. It was a weekly vigil, and every week I spoke calmly to the man as he leaned in, crossing boundaries of comfort and respect. I came to know well the markings on his face and the East European accent in his voice. Over time, I asked him of his story, of his family, from where he had come, gradually sensing a softening as he offered short answers to my questions. One week I was not able to make it to the vigil. During that week of my absence, I was told that the man had come by as usual, but he was quiet, asking the others, “where is my rabbi?” From then on, it was different, a connection made. The man never joined the vigil, but he no longer came by to harangue, only to talk and affirm the human connection that inheres among us all, affirming that we were indeed a peace vigil.
There was something more at the recent Black Lives Matter vigil that I continue to reflect on, to feel tearful and hopeful about.  There seemed to be a different way of interaction with African American passersby. Perhaps I have missed such interactions in the past, but I was struck last night by the number of African Americans of all ages who stopped at various points along the line to say “thank you.” There was something deeply moving in these simple words, but something that also made me feel awkward, even embarrassed. Standing up for justice, standing up in the face of our neighbor’s oppression and our own is what we are called to do because it is right, not as an act worthy of gratitude. It is an act of tz’dakahin its most basic meaning of acting for the sake of justice, for the sake of making things right, as called to action by the Torah (Deut. 16:20), tzedek, tzedek tirdof/justice, justice shall you pursue. In the whiteness of most of the vigil standers, it is an obligation to stand for those without white privilege, precisely the reason and the need to cry out that “Black Lives Matter,” that those facing injustice most directly not be left to cry out alone. In my discomfort with expressions of appreciation, perhaps I am also being too critical, failing to see an expression of the very connection we seek among us. The simple words of thank you can be heard as an expression of solidarity, that we walk hand in hand even as we stand. It is not that there are more white people standing in the vigil on behalf of black people. We are standing, black and white together, whether some are standing in the silent line, some passing by, some smiling, some praying, some knowing the scourge of racism all to close to home, together seeking justice, offering love and hope along a busy street as life goes by.
              Most of all, I was moved to tears by a mother and son. She stopped right by the end of the vigil line, right by where I most often stand. The woman smiled and offered those two beautiful words, “thank you.” I simply smiled, wanting to hug her, but refraining. I have thought since that I might have said, “We are all in this together.” Perhaps that was conveyed in my smile.
            She then stood nearby, bending down to speak earnestly to her son of about seven or eight years old. She spoke into his ear, turning to point to the signs that said she mattered, that her son mattered. The two came closer again to the line of vigil and still with the same warm smile nodded her head, holding her son so close, and then to both him and to us sang out in prayerful cadence, “yes, Black Lives Matter!” Of love and justice joined, mother and child affirmed, so were we. As the two turned then to leave, I said to her the same two words, heartfelt and true, “thank you.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayera (Gen. 18:1-22:24), God weighs whether to tell Avraham of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities so filled with violence, with hate for the stranger, for the poor, for the wayfarer that soon all shall crumble and be no more, unable to be sustained. The world is founded on love and kindness, not on hate, olam chesed yibaneh/the world is built on loving kindness (Psalm 89), and only in our so building each day as God’s partners shall the world be sustained.
 In telling Avraham, it is with the hope that we shall keep the way of God--to do righteousness and justice/v’shamru derech ha’shem—la’asot tz’dakah u’mishpat (Gen. 18:19) Mishpat refers simply to justice. Tzedakah, as we are commanded to pursue it, is justice infused with love, with a quest to do good, to right what is wrong. Often joined together as a phrase, mishpat usually precedes tzedakah in the language of the Torah. Not here, in the face of such violence and social breakdown, love needs to infuse justice if we would rebuild the world and our society as it is meant to be.
Each of us is touched by the love and kindness that brings us to stand in a vigil, to bear witness that Black Lives Matter, our weariness transformed into faith and perseverance. Of passersby who shout from fear and hate, and of those who smile and say thank you, we are all joined as one. Pursuing justice with love in the way of ancient command, tzedek, tzedek tirdof/justice, justice shall you pursue, reminding that every child matters, every life, so we shall build this world with love.
We cry louder, greater witness needed, when one person’s mattering is forgotten, a mother passing by and explaining to her son, grateful for the opportunity, a moment of gratitude that joins us all. There was something different in the tone, in the fall air filled with our silence and our song. With gratitude for the breath of life and for each one’s presence, touched by simple words of thank you, hand in hand we stand that no one should ever have to plead for the next breath that doesn’t come. Something different in the air, perhaps it was a hint of hope.



Uganda rises up in unprecedented opposition to 31-year dictator

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 12:23

by Patience Nitumwesiga

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:'VuO-dNKySl1caGn2iQVLMQ',sig:'eCygJrQkOgO3E_fFLq4Qz4TlrGo0hJOiYEf-JotluEc=',w:'594px',h:'392px',items:'850557954',caption: true ,tld:'com',is360: false })});

During the early morning hours of September 21, nine young activists — all in their twenties — hauled a coffin toward a police station in the northern city of Lira. The coffin was draped with posters of Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni and a number of his other allies in government. Written across the coffin on one side were the words “Change the constitution and bury Uganda” — a reference to a proposed constitutional amendment that would do away with the presidential age limit.

At 6.30 a.m., when they arrived at a major intersection, they set the coffin down and lit it on fire. By the time the police station came alive to start the day, the protesters had already left. Not knowing who they were looking for, the officers nevertheless set out on a hunt to find them.

Over the next 12 hours, the young people invaded street after street in Lira, chanting anti-constitutional change slogans, lifting up placards and even setting some tires on fire. The small group soon grew into large crowds in all corners of Lira. The protesters had allies everywhere, and as soon as the police set out to stop a protest on a given street, someone would call the protesters and inform them. They would quickly disperse and reorganize at a different place, and the police would arrive too late, finding no one to arrest.

Eventually, when the police got fed up with the constant evasion, they decided to storm the offices of the nonviolent training organization Solidarity Uganda, claiming that they were hiding the protesters. Police checked behind all doors and in ceiling boards, finding no one. But they didn’t leave empty-handed. Solidarity Uganda staff member Dickens Otim was arrested and charged with inciting violence. Due to a lack of evidence, however, the charge was downgraded, and he was released on bail.

Actions like these have been happening all over the country, as those against the age limit amendment bill voice their concerns in the corridors of power and in the streets of most cities — oftentimes accompanied by the Luganda hashtag and slogan #Togikwatako, which means “Don’t you dare touch” (the constitution).

Uganda’s history with dictatorship

Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power. Since independence in October 1962, one dictator after another has taken the reigns of the country by force.

Museveni and his National Resistance Army led a military coup in 1985 that toppled then-President Milton Obote. After a few months, the whole country was in the hands of one-time rebels.

Over 30 years later, Museveni still wants to govern the country, even though, legally, he will soon no longer be eligible. Article 102b in the Ugandan Constitution sets the presidential age limit at 75. Museveni is 73.

Ruling party MP Raphael Magyezi proposed an amendment bill on October 21 that would scrap the presidential age limit from the constitution. Opposition MPs protested the bill by singing the national anthem as he attempted to read it. They kept singing for more than five minutes, refusing him the chance to continue his proposal. Meanwhile, pro-Museveni MPs rose up to defend Magyezi, turning chairs into weapons as parliament descended into open fighting for several minutes. Parliament was ultimately adjourned for the day due to the chaos, but a video of the incident became a national sensation. Following its fame, the Uganda Communications Commission banned the live broadcasting of all protest events by television and radio stations, claiming they incited the public to violence.

Members of Parliament were each offered 29 million Ugandan shillings (or about $8,000) to carry out age limit consultations in their constituencies. Some have returned the money, describing it as an attempt to “sanitize bribery of Members of Parliament.” Jonathan Odur, an MP for Erute South (in nothern Uganda) wrote a message to his WhatsApp contacts, as well as on other social media, saying: “In Solidarity with our struggle against abuse of the constitution through DON’T TOUCH campaign, I have also decided NOT TO TOUCH the 29m ‘consultation fee.’”

Police crackdown on civil society and activists

After the first week of protests, police repression increased dramatically. Troops were deployed to Parliament, as well as many roads, towns and residential neighborhoods. Police raided the offices of political parties and civil society organizations, including ActionAid Uganda, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, Corruption Brakes Crusade and the Uhuru Institute. Solidarity Uganda was also raided again, resulting in the re-arrest of Dickens Otim, along with Solidarity Uganda Director Suzan Abong Wilmot. Many more from other organizations were arrested, such as Norman Tumuhimbise, of the Jobless Brotherhood, who was taken to an unknown location for about a week.

As part of its efforts to squash the opposition from organizing, the government then froze the bank accounts for ActionAid and Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as the personal bank accounts of their staff. Authorities sent a letter to 25 other non-governmental organizations demanding their bank account details. While some refused to divulge that information, a number of civil society organizations also resolved to boycott the banks complying with government orders to freeze their accounts, deciding to instead start their own cooperative bank.

Many activists were detained for longer than the legal 48 hours without any charge. Hashtags like #FreeNorman, #FreeSuzan and #Free Dickens circulated until police released them. Since their release, court dates have been postponed without any explanation.

Meanwhile, crowds that have marched in protest have been tear-gassed and arrested, including university students and masses in major and small towns around the country. But the crackdowns have not deterred resistance efforts.

New heights of nonviolent resistance in Uganda

Opposition MP and musician Robert Kyagulanyi — also known as Bobi Wine — wrote to Museveni, saying, “There comes a time when people are TIRED. UGANDANS ARE TIRED! They have been patient with you. They have been respectful and generous to you knowing that in 2021 a new dispensation will come.” The letter has been circulating all over social media and in mainstream newspapers.

In Ugandan history, there hasn’t been anything close to the level of resistance seen these past couple months — particularly not this kind of decentralized, dispersed type of nonviolent resistance. Typically, when there is the occasional march in Kampala, the rest of the country remains silent. This time, many towns have organized nonviolent actions around the country, and some have been cooperating across geography and tribe.

On October 18, in Rukungiri (located in southwestern Uganda) those participating in a march chased away police forces who at first shot live bullets into the crowd when it refused to disperse. The crowd, who were also singing religious songs and chanting anti-age limit amendment slogans, moved against the officers relentlessly. Some members shouted at police, telling them they were ready to die and that “Rukungiri is not Kampala,” where protesters flee from the police. Ingrid Turinawe, a leader in the opposition party who was slated to speak at the event, described the situation as “police firing bullets like popcorn,” and said the sky was “raining stones” in response.

The people kept coming at the police in their large groups, wearing red ribbons — a symbol against the lifting of the age limit — and singing “Don’t dare touch [the constitution].” All the while, despite being unarmed, the masses braved tear gas and live bullets.

Meanwhile, in Bushenyi District, in western Uganda, things got quite violent. In late September, social media platforms were filled with concerns that residents had allegedly slashed the banana plantation of MP Magyezi, the Museveni loyalist who introduced the amendment of article 102b in parliament.

Culturally, in this area, the slashing of plantains is a way of symbolically cutting off the food supply and showing the wrath of a village toward someone. It is usually done to criminals who escape justice, especially hardcore criminals like murderers and rapists. It is an expression of helplessness in the face of severe transgression. Magyezi has since denied these allegations, claiming that his people are happy with the amendment. But widespread reports of protests in this area tell a different story.

Even in Mbarara, which is a ruling party stronghold and Museveni’s home region, a crowd of peaceful protesters was dispersed by live bullets and tear gas. There was another demonstration by youths who carried a coffin which they marked with placards, mocking Museveni, Constitutional Affairs’ Minister Kahinda Otafiire and ruling party parliamentarians, as corpses. Three of the protesters were arrested.

This kind of collaboration between different activists from different backgrounds proves that mobilization is happening, people are talking more to each other and coming together to unite for a common cause. A Solidarity Uganda street watch map highlights the major resistances in towns around the country and police crackdowns on people’s rights in relation to the resistance.

See full screen

In one of his letters to Museveni and to the people, Kyagulanyi has asked opposition supporters to “Call your Member of Parliament, or better still, pay them a visit and demand accountability. Stand up NOW before it is too late.”

People in many parts of the country have made big plans for their members of parliament. In nothern Uganda, Lango residents have decided to boycott all MPs who support the age limit amendment. They want to put them in what’s often termed a double-bind, where whatever step they take, they lose. For example, on October 9, during independence celebrations in northern Uganda, an MP from Amolatar district was taken off a platform and had the microphone removed from her hand when she attempted to address people in her constituency about the so-called age limit consultations. The same happened in Mbale, Eastern Uganda when an MP attempted to compare Museveni to the pope. Three elderly women pulled the Mbale MP off the platform.

As with any movement, there are stages in the #Togikwatako struggle. National movements to oust dictators often endure a phase of severe repression. That repression is mounting, but Ugandans are using it to energize themselves. They are not playing with a defensive strategy, but one of counter-attack. If they can keep the momentum rising across the nation, Museveni will have more to worry about than the pending age limit.

Indigenous and community groups pressure for strong climate solutions at COP 23

Waging Nonviolence - Mon, 11/13/2017 - 12:36

by Brandon Jordan

Protesters disrupted Jerry Brown’s speech at COP 23 on Saturday. (Twitter/@IENearth)

As California Gov. Jerry Brown detailed his plans to curb climate change at the 23rd session of the United Nations Climate Conference in Bonn, Germany on Saturday, protesters interrupted his speech to demand tougher climate policies and an end to policies that favor the fossil fuel industry.

The action was organized by It Takes Roots, a coalition of people of color from groups such as the Indigenous Environmental Network and Cooperation Jackson. They went to COP 23 to pressure officials and government representatives like Jerry Brown — who are there to work on specific goals to reduce carbon emissions — as well as to highlight the damage caused to frontline groups, such as indigenous people.

Daniel Ilario, an activist with Idle No More San Francisco and part of the It Takes Roots delegation, attended Brown’s speech because of the history of fracking and refinery expansions in California that affect marginalized communities.

“We [are] demanding more aggressive emissions reductions and a just transition from an extractive to a regenerative economy that respects all life for generations to come,” Ilario said.

The delegation also wants countries in attendance to accept other solutions, such as renewable energy commitments across the globe and preventing new fossil fuel projects from happening. There is a sense of urgency for action as “many of our people, especially indigenous people and people of color, have already experienced the point of no return,” Illario said. “They have lost their lands and their lives. Humans need to remember that there is nothing more sacred than Mother Earth and her natural resources of clean air, water and soil.”

The coalition organized and joined a series of actions before and during COP 23. On November 5, they protested at a coal mine with 4,500 other activists. On November 7, they held a press conference under the banner of the U.S. People’s Delegation, which involved a larger group of organizations, including 350.org, Global Grassroots Justice Alliance, Our Children’s Trust and Sunrise Movement. Speakers from various Pacific islands shared their experiences at a speak out in Bonn. Members of the delegation also spoke at the conference, listing their demands for climate justice to government representatives, reporters and other activists.

Members of the It Takes Roots coalition in Bonn, Germany. (Twitter/IENearth)

Katia Avilés-Vázquez, a resident from Puerto Rico and member of the coalition, highlighted the impacts of climate change in Puerto Rico. In September, Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm, struck the island and destroyed much of its infrastructure. Puerto Ricans are still dependent on imported supplies as they await restoration of services. By the end of October, around 70 percent of the island still had no electrical power.

Avilés-Vázquez, who was personally affected by the hurricane, put forward one demand that the U.S. government could fulfill: reparations. “We have taken it upon ourselves to rebuild our country and rebuild our soil,” she said. “Not only that, we are offering all of you the solutions to get out of this place as we recover together. One of the things we propose is a just transition and just reparations because we all know fossil fuel emissions are the cause of this.”

The delegation is focused on the 2015 Paris climate agreement as well. The current framework guides countries to reduce carbon emissions and, ideally, prevent global temperatures from increasing over 2 degrees Celsius.

Kandi Mossett, a North Dakotan activist with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said that while many countries applauded the agreement, it still suffered from flaws. One is the lack of recognition for the rights of indigenous people. In fact, representatives removed such language from the final agreement in Paris.

“We want to make sure that we’re still at the table having a voice for the indigenous peoples and pushing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was finalized 10 years ago, but is not necessarily being implemented on the ground in our communities,” she said.

Notably, the accord lacks the signature of just one country: the United States. In June, Donald Trump announced that the United States would leave the agreement, citing its “draconian financial and economic burdens” as a major reason. While Trump is currently on a 12-day trip throughout Asia, his administration is present at the conference to promote fossil fuels as an answer to climate change.

His absence is a major reason why Mossett and others attended the conference. “It’s frustrating to know we have a president who doesn’t even realize what he’s doing or the impacts that he has on the country, let alone the rest of the world,” Mossett said. “He doesn’t seem to care about [that] at all.”

Trump’s carelessness is evident in how he has repeatedly changed his mind on the topic. Months after he announced the United States was leaving the accord, his administration sent mixed messages, at first expressing interest in staying and, later, insisting on leaving without hesitation.

As It Takes Roots ends their series of actions today, the activists in Bonn are urging representatives to take action before it is too late for everyone. Mossett highlighted that activists are in Germany to show solidarity with others affected by climate change and to emphasize that unity is needed to win real climate solutions.

“[Trump] may not be there forever, but the people have to live in these places impacted by the fossil fuel industry forever. That’s what we have to look at — the long term,” she said.

‘Violent flank effects’ and the strategic naiveté of Antifa

Waging Nonviolence - Sat, 11/11/2017 - 11:17

by Molly Wallace

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:'iq7CJf8CTZJk_E3XQJlNtQ',sig:'EUYPT8GRS1cvUFtQCL83AG28qRV_OkufRfvLPR6X5IY=',w:'594px',h:'396px',items:'839981910',caption: true ,tld:'com',is360: false })});

Published in collaboration with the Peace Science Digest, which summarizes and reflects on current academic research in the field of peace and conflict studies.

We’ve all heard the argument before: However “nice” the use of nonviolence may be, in the real world violence is necessary — and ultimately more effective, so the thinking goes — for challenging a brutal regime, fighting injustice or defending against an armed opponent. But what are the actual effects of adding violence to a movement’s repertoire of resistance strategies?

Previous scholarship has been inconclusive on this question of so-called “radical flank effects,” as studies tend to focus on individual cases and also reflect collective confusion over what is meant by “radical.” Does it, for instance, refer to the means used or the ends sought?

Focusing, therefore, on violent — as opposed to “radical” — flanks, researchers Erica Chenoweth and Kurt Schock sought to bring clarity and systematic analysis to bear on this question of positive versus negative violent flank effects. In a 2015 article for the journal Mobilization, they examined all nonviolent campaigns from  1900-2006 with radical (i.e. “maximalist”) goals — such as the “removal of an incumbent national government, self-determination, secession, or the expulsion of foreign occupation” — to see how the presence or absence of armed resistance affected the success of these nonviolent campaigns. Their findings offer compelling evidence that violence is not generally a helpful addition to nonviolent resistance movements.

How did they arrive at this conclusion? Using both quantitative and qualitative research methods, the authors begin by generating three hypotheses. First, nonviolent campaigns with violent flanks are more likely to succeed than nonviolent campaigns without violent flanks. Second, nonviolent campaigns without violent flanks are more likely to succeed than nonviolent campaigns with violent flanks. And third, violent flanks have no impact on the success rates of nonviolent campaigns.

To test these hypotheses, they search for any significant statistical relationships that might exist between the presence of violent flanks and the success or failure of nonviolent campaigns. They find none, thus providing no support for either the first or second hypothesis. As the authors note, this could mean either that the presence of violent flanks has no discernible effect on outcomes or that it has mixed positive and negative effects that cancel each other out when taken together. When they compare the effects of violent flanks that emerge from inside a nonviolent movement to those of violent flanks that develop parallel to a nonviolent movement, they find that the former are associated with failure, suggesting that negative violent flank effects are more pronounced when a nonviolent campaign cannot distance itself from its armed counterpart. Moreover, they find that mass participation is the strongest determinant of nonviolent campaign success and that the presence of violent flanks has a negative effect on participation levels, suggesting that violent flanks may indirectly decrease the likelihood of success.

To flesh out how violent flanks operate within individual cases, Chenoweth and Schock examine four cases where violent flanks were present: Burma in 1988, the Philippines from 1983-1986, South Africa from 1952-1961 and South Africa from 1983-1994. Two campaigns were successful (the Philippines and South Africa from 1983-1994) and two were not (Burma and South Africa from 1952-1961). Meanwhile, two had violent flanks outside of the nonviolent movement (Burma and the Philippines) and two had violent flanks associated with the nonviolent movement (the two South Africa cases).

After examining the histories of these nonviolent campaigns — and the ways they interacted with armed resistance — the authors find mixed results. Violent flanks had negative effects in the two unsuccessful cases, no net impact in one of the successful cases (the Philippines) and a weak positive effect in the other (the later South African case). Overall there was greater evidence for negative violent flank effect mechanisms than for positive ones.

In the one case where a violent flank had a weak positive effect (South Africa from 1983-1994), Chenoweth and Schock argue that that effect was mostly symbolic — energizing activists around the revolutionary mystique of violent resistance — rather than instrumental to gaining power over the apartheid regime (something that was accomplished, instead, by the nonviolent resistance movement).

However, in the two cases where violent flanks had negative effects, these effects were seriously detrimental. The presence of an armed movement, according to the authors, diminished “chances of success for otherwise nonviolent campaigns by legitimating repression, demobilizing participants, shifting to violent strategies where the state [wa]s superior, and discrediting regime opponents.”

Notably, the armed movements were consistently shown not to protect nonviolent activists but rather to put them at greater risk, as authorities used the presence of armed actors to justify widespread repression against all resistance movements, violent and nonviolent alike.

Chenoweth and Schock find evidence in the case studies, then, that violent flanks do actually influence the outcomes of nonviolent campaigns, despite the earlier quantitative findings suggesting otherwise. Negative and positive effects simply appear to cancel each other out when taken together over a large number of cases, with negative violent flank effects being somewhat more prominent than positive ones. The authors argue, therefore, that “on average, maximalist nonviolent campaigns often succeed despite violent flanks — rarely because of them.”

Contemporary relevance

Despite recent scholarship demonstrating the greater effectiveness of nonviolent resistance (see Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan’s 2011 book, “How Civil Resistance Works”), assumptions about the effectiveness of violence — along with its supposedly radical and/or revolutionary nature — stubbornly persist. When faced with a brutal or blatantly unjust opponent, many people are inclined to believe that only violence will bring about needed change or be able to protect and defend one’s community or fellow activists. We have seen this recent thinking everywhere from Syria to Venezuela, but for those of us in the United States struggling against the Trump administration and the white supremacist and neo-Nazi forces it has unleashed, we need look no further than the presence of Antifa (anti-fascist groups who do not rule out engaging in violent confrontations) in our own protests to see this same logic at work — as well as its counterproductive effects. Such groups see themselves as a necessary counterpart to white supremacist or neo-Nazi groups who come armed to demonstrations, ready to engage in street battles with left-wing activists.

Although this logic of needing to use violence to defend against violence is so widespread and deeply ingrained as to be almost intuitive, the problem is that such moves feed into and reinforce narratives on the right that inspire — and provide cover for — their own claims to self-defense. Just as the presence of a violent flank in an anti-regime nonviolent movement can provide necessary or further justification for government security forces to fire on protesters, so too can it create a similar dynamic among non-state groups, including neo-Nazis and white supremacists, mobilizing more recruits and ultimately increasing the vulnerability of anti-racist and anti-fascist activists and the marginalized and targeted communities whom they wish to defend.

Practical implications

In the wake of recent events in Charlottesville, outrage has rightly focused on the neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups who came armed and even killed one of the counter-protesters. Their goals of racial supremacy and purity, fueled by hate and fear and devoid of empathy, have no place in a country that values equality, pluralism and human dignity, and their ascendancy at the moment is nothing short of terrifying.

For the sake of effectively challenging these groups and their repulsive vision, however, those of us who consider ourselves part of the resistance must also engage in critical inward reflection, especially with regards to the strategic implications of the presence of Antifa affiliates who also came armed to Charlottesville, among otherwise nonviolent counter-protesters.

Although their work to expose and tirelessly organize against fascism is admirable and necessary, those who identify with Antifa and its full range of tactics appear to endorse at least two flawed assumptions. First, they assume that truly radical action to effectively challenge fascism must include violence — what is often termed “physical confrontation” — and that nonviolence equals “dialogue” or “normal politics,” which  implies acquiescence, submission or cooptation. Second, they assume that violence is also necessary to protect activists and targeted communities.

But, in fact, here is what we know from recent social scientific research: Nonviolent resistance is twice as likely to be effective as violent resistance when used for radical goals such as the removal of an authoritarian regime or national liberation, cases with no shortage of brutal, unreasonable opponents. Furthermore, nonviolent resistance strategy is all about analyzing and dismantling an opponent’s sources of power, including through direct action. Finally, as noted in Chenoweth and Schock’s research above, instead of protecting nonviolent activists, the presence of a violent flank frequently creates justification for further repression against them, making them more vulnerable to violence.

It is time, therefore, that we untether violence from its “radical” and “protective/defensive” associations. Not doing so — and hanging on, as Antifa does, to these tired old assertions that violence is a necessary response — is, quite simply, poor strategy. It gives white supremacists and neo-Nazis exactly what they want, reinforcing their “we’re embattled” narratives, thereby strengthening their movement. It muddies the waters by giving commentators on the right something to point to when they try to create ludicrous moral equivalencies between white supremacists/neo-Nazis and anti-fascist activists. And, in doing so, it does nothing to actually diminish the strength of white supremacism.

Furthermore, the continued presence of armed elements like Antifa has negative effects within the resistance. Speaking from personal experience, as the mother of a three-year-old, it makes me, for one, feel more vulnerable to violence and therefore less likely to show up to demonstrations with my daughter. I can only assume that many others — not just parents — feel and act similarly, resulting in diminished mass participation in the movement and thereby a decrease in its power and effectiveness.

For all these reasons, if Antifa activists care — as they no doubt do — about effectively challenging resurgent fascist, white supremacist forces, they must think more strategically, considering the short- and long-term effects of their actions. Although “punching a Nazi” may feel like effective action due to the immediate, physical consequences of violence — someone’s bloody nose, someone’s body on the ground — what actually matters for the strategic value of an action is how others respond to it afterwards.

Does it strengthen the opponent group — reinforcing its narratives, drawing more recruits and unifying them against a more easily vilified adversary — or weaken it? Does it strengthen one’s own side — drawing a broader array of activists of all ages and from all walks of life to the resistance movement, unified around a common vision — or weaken it? Does it bring uncommitted third parties to one’s side or alienate them? These — not the number of individuals punched or bludgeoned on the other side — should be the metrics of a strategic response to fascism.

The dangers of white supremacism and fascism are real, and the stakes for American democracy and values are high. It is precisely for these reasons that activists need to engage in discussions about the strategic merits and radical credentials of disciplined nonviolent resistance (both for movement effectiveness and for protection), together strategizing about those actions that will best diminish the power of the opponent to realize its white supremacist, fascist agenda. A few points, in particular, are worth raising.

First, despite common-sense associations of violent action with defense and protection, nonviolent discipline has a better chance of keeping activists safe than armed resistance does, even — counter-intuitively — in the face of a violent adversary. There is no guarantee of complete safety with either type of resistance, but armed resistance is much more likely to elicit further — not less — violence from the other side. Nonetheless, assumptions about arms and their role in defense or protection are so engrained that this is a tough point to get across. If presented with a scenario where a few unarmed activists in a completely nonviolent movement are killed by armed opponents versus one where a greater number of unarmed activists are killed by these opponents while joined by fellow armed activists fighting back, most of us are likely to characterize the unarmed activists in the first instance as “defenseless” and those in the second instance as being “defended,” despite the fact that they were, in fact, better protected in the first instance. These deeply engrained — and flawed — assumptions about the defensive or protective value of weapons must be brought to the surface and critically examined.

Second, there is a strategic logic to nonviolent resistance that most Antifa adherents seem to not know (as demonstrated through the claim on one Antifa website that “only popular self-defense, not simply debate, has succeeded in stopping fascism” or statements made by various Antifa activists in the New York Times suggesting that our choice in response to fascism takes binary form: use violence or “do nothing.”) Far from being synonymous with “debate” or inaction, nonviolent resistance involves the dismantling of an opponent’s sources of power through a range of methods, including various forms of disruption and direct action, and is twice as likely as violent resistance to succeed in achieving radical goals. In other words, the success of nonviolent resistance does not depend on the presence — and persuasion — of a “nice” adversary.

Contrary to mainstream belief, there is a historical record of successful nonviolent resistance against fascism in countries under Nazi control, including the Rosenstrasse demonstrations in Berlin where wives saved their Jewish husbands, Denmark’s rescue of most of its Jewish community, resistance to the Nazi policies of the Quisling government in Norway, and so on. Jacques Semelin’s 1993 book “Unarmed Against Hitler” is one resource that examines these and other cases throughout Europe.

Third, only by maintaining nonviolent discipline can the resistance dramatize and capitalize on the clear contrast between its activists and the white supremacists or neo-Nazis they confront. Stooping to the level of armed hooligans on the other side, engaging them on their own terms, weakens the anti-fascist cause by surrendering the high ground in media representations of demonstrations, providing cover for commentators who wish to draw a specious moral equivalency between the two sides, and alienating people who would otherwise ally themselves with an anti-fascist movement.

Finally, violence is less — not more — “radical” than nonviolence is, especially insofar as it is less effective in achieving radical goals and less likely to dismantle white supremacism and fascism than nonviolent resistance. Far from embodying a radical challenge to fascism, Antifa affiliates are doing exactly what neo-Nazis and white supremacists are hoping they will do — this is precisely the reaction that will energize the very fascists they are hoping to shut down, reinforcing their embattled narratives and strengthening their ranks. Only by disassociating one’s radical credentials from participation in violence will we ultimately move away from these knee-jerk responses to racist violence that do nothing to minimize the draw and strength of white supremacy — and instead move towards more strategic, effective action that actually has a chance of advancing the cause of a diverse, inclusive, just society.

To subscribe or download the full special issue on “nonviolent resistance,” which includes additional resources for each article, visit their website.

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Living Nonviolence - Thu, 11/09/2017 - 16:28

Stilling The Sound of the Ruthless       
        It is mid- November.  The weather has turned seasonably cooler after a prolonged departure of summer.  At least two human beings refuse to acknowledge that “the season” has ended - - still taking a leisurely swim in the waters of the Sound - even though there is a brisk breeze and the thermometer reads 43 degrees!  Rusty oak and sage-y green-brown blueberry leaves carpet our lane and the night sky is more visible at an even earlier hour.  The vacationing crowds of summer are gone. Fall has finally made an appearance.  Winter is not far off.            An even more gritty sign of the demise of summer is the increased level of activity as the island prepares to serve and care for the segment of the year-round population that is hardest hit by the onset of autumn and winter - women and men who depend on seasonal employment,  our elders, and our homeless population.  During the summer when the summer resort wealth seems to abound and there are jobs that go begging,  it is easy to forget that the summer bounty does not last, nor does it benefit everyone.            And so the organizational meetings  gear up again.  The call goes out to the community for  hygiene packs - soap, toothpaste, tooth brushes, deodorant, packages of warm tube socks, winter clothing - for distribution to the souls who will utilize the Houses of Grace - winter shelter organized by the island churches. Volunteers gather for training  - - people willing to  spend the night sleeping on an air mattress on the floor to help staff the shelters.        Back packs with  necessary school supplies are organized and distributed. Soups are  made and frozen for later distribution. Nightly community meals are planned. The Island Food Pantry hours  expand.    Volunteers make the food pick-ups at the local supermarkets and libraries and churches to keep the Pantry shelves well stocked. “Clothes To Go”  welcomes folks to come and “shop” for needed items while they await their turn in line at the Food Pantry.  No money changes hands.   Thanksgiving Dinners will “pop up” at various churches, at the VFW, and the American Legion Hall.  The Committee On Hunger will distribute baskets with turkey and all the trimmings to families in need.  All this in the service of being sure that no one goes hungry or without shelter for lack of attention on the part of the community.              Even with all this activity on the part of this island  in the service of people in need, no one believes or is fooled into thinking this is how the need SHOULD be answered.  The work and concern and loving service is indispensable - -  but in a “land of plenty” it should not be so.  In a true “land of plenty” there would be adequate affordable housing for all.   There would be functioning systems in place to assure affordable fuel.  Families would not be making the choice between feeding  themselves and keeping the house warm.              Our community is one of hundreds around the country who keep expanding our “band-aid” capabilities to care for the most vulnerable among us as the highest law making body in the land tries to figure out how to limit the funds and resources available to address these same issues nationally.  We do a pretty good job. Fortunately, we know we can carry on this way for awhile, seeking to gain some balance here between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”   There is enough consciousness and enough conscience to keep the community motivated.             But what about Puerto Rico?  What about Gulf Coast communities still struggling to regain “normal”?  Where is the “balm in Gilead” in communities where the lines between “haves” and “have-nots”  are obliterated by natural disaster that destroys without discrimination, leaving an entire population without adequate resources for recovery?   Where is a generous sense of accountability on the part of our national government?  Why is the well being of so much of the population of this land not the top priority of our national leaders?              I take hope and direction from the words of the prophet Isaiah’s  psalm of thanksgiving (Isaiah 25:1,4-5), verses that follow on the almost apocalyptic judgments of God against those have ignored and transgressed against the Holy Vision for humanity:
O Lord, you are my God’I will exalt you, I will praise your name;for you have done wonderful things,plans formed of old, faithful and sure.For you have been a refuge to the poor;a refuge to the needy in their distress,a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.When the blast of the ruthless waslike a winter rainstorm,the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;the song of the ruthless was stilled.
            In no time at all, the airwaves will be filled with the sounds of Christmas.  What we hear, depending on the day and the choice of music, will either re-enforce our national predilection for ignoring the most basic needs of the human community in favor of rank consumerism, militarism, and partisanship or it will inspire us to embrace the vision of wholeness expounded in Isaiah’s words - - a wholeness where the “song of the ruthless is stilled”.  May there be a profound silence........
                       
 .......and after an appropriate pause, may we fill the silence with the music of the sounds of  “plans formed of old, faithful and sure...”, plans that embody justice and compassion, kindness and generosity, well being and hospitality.  May it be so.
Vicky Hanjian              

How prisoners organized to elect a just DA in Philly

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 12:18

by Kerry "Shakaboona" Marshall and John Bergen

Larry Krasner and his supporters celebrating on the night of his primary victory in May. (Photo: Michael Candelori / @ccwirephoto)

Tuesday’s general election in Philadelphia saw a former civil rights attorney running on an anti-incarceration platform elected district attorney to the country’s fifth largest city. Larry Krasner, who defended Black Lives Matter activists and indicted police officers while in private practice, promised sweeping reforms and Philadelphia voters responded.

In a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one, the fact that Krasner won might seem unsurprising. However, back in May, when the Democratic primary was in full swing, Krasner wasn’t the party favorite. Most other candidates, like Tariq El-Shabazz, were considered favorites because they towed a more moderate line and touted their experience as prosecutors. Then, during the general election, he was faced with pressure to moderate his proposals, and the battle continued to make sure that a message of systematic reform was front and center in the race.

In order to shift the race to the left and hold Krasner accountable as he prepares to take office, a broad coalition of progressive groups put aside their differences to focus on winning. The leaders of this alliance are the people most impacted by the city’s justice system, including prisoners in Pennsylvania state prisons. Their efforts, which helped create the conditions for Krasner’s victory, are part of a long history of Pennsylvania’s incarcerated citizens changing public discourse.

Setting the stage with prisoner organizing

Twenty years ago, radical black prisoners in the State Correctional Institution Greene, a super-max prison in rural southwest Pennsylvania, started the Human Rights Coalition, or HRC — a radical new model of advocacy for human rights in criminal justice reform. Distinguishing itself from the old paternal/liberal model — which put professional “advocates” in charge of decision-making — prisoners voted on all major decisions. This model built on the legacy of the National Prisoners’ Rights Movement established by George Jackson in California, and represented a historically significant shift in ideals, organization and actions during the age of Bill Clinton’s “three strikes” law and reign of Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, also known as “America’s Deadliest DA.”

Over the past two decades, the HRC has sown the seeds of criminal justice reform in the city of Philadelphia and throughout the state of Pennsylvania. The HRC has also inspired the formation of several other prisoners’ human rights organizations in Philadelphia.

Prisoners who were leaders in HRC joined the advisory boards of local and national organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee, Decarcerate PA, Families and Communities United and Reconstruction, Inc. They then encouraged their family members and loved ones to join community organizations as rank-and-file members to ensure their voices were heard. Prisoners at State Correctional Institution Graterford, in particular, organized a political action campaign in Philadelphia that saw their families and communities influence the 2015 Pennsylvania Supreme Court judicial elections, resulting in a clean-sweep of Democratic justices being elected to the state’s Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, the community organizations’ spokespersons were able to contact the candidates and explain that SCI-Graterford prisoners are 5,000 in number and have an average of five family members who will vote for the candidate of their choice. That means a potential 25,000-strong voting bloc.

That number of potential voters compelled El-Shabazz to campaign at SCI-Graterford on four occasions. Krasner also scheduled a campaign event at SCI-Graterford, but prison officials cancelled the event, claiming they had not been given enough notice. After the primary, Graterford prisoners were able to reschedule Krasner’s visit. Speaking to several hundred prisoners, he unequivocally adopted their proposed criminal justice reform agenda.

As a result, according to leaders of organizations in the prison, Krasner earned the overwhelming support of the incarcerated men at SCI-Graterford. His impeccable record and reputation of being a civil rights attorney for the people of Philadelphia also made him the candidate of choice for multiple prisoners’ organizations, such as Right to Redemption (an organizing group focusing on ending life-without-parole sentencing, or what they call Death By Incarceration), the Latin American Cultural Exchange Organization (representing Latino lifers) and the Grey Panthers (representing elderly prisoners).

That being said, support for Krasner wasn’t universal. El-Shabazz received the endorsement of Graterford’s NAACP group. That wasn’t enough, however, to overcome his ambiguous stance on the prisoners’ criminal justice reform agenda or his tainted reputation as a former criminal defense attorney and deputy district attorney.

After discussing which candidate would best represent the collective interests of prisoners and their communities in society, Graterford prisoners reached a general consensus that Krasner would be their candidate of choice. Prisoners supported Krasner’s candidacy with a robust political action campaign of voter education, voter registration, political forums, and get-out-the-vote drives directed towards their families, loved ones, friends and returned citizens.

Building a coalition for a just district attorney

A year ago, high up in a 16th floor law office in downtown Philadelphia, a collection of community leaders gathered to discuss the upcoming district attorney race. Convened by Media Mobilizing Project, a local media justice organization, ACLU Pennsylvania, and Color of Change, the first meeting was a raucous affair. Donald Trump had just won the election. The current district attorney was under investigation. Organizers crowded on windowsills and along the walls argued over who would run, whose issues would take center stage, and what needed to happen. Like so many efforts, it could have died right there.

But it didn’t. Held together by those convening organizations and a deep belief that they could all benefit by working together, the group — calling itself the Coalition for a Just DA — kept pushing, bringing in more groups and widening the table. Organizations flooded the city, coordinated door-knocking efforts, mobilized people who wouldn’t have otherwise voted, and hosted a large forum where candidates were grilled by people directly impacted by policing, incarceration and “crimmigration” (the intersection of immigration policy and the criminal legal system).

Larry Krasner and supporters holding a banner that reads “Build schools not jails.” (Krasner for DA / Richard Garella)

The Coalition for a Just DA didn’t stop after the primary. When centrist Democrats tried to regain control of the race and quell the insurgency, coalition members pushed back. The city’s Democratic machine showed they were more interested in maintaining the status quo — essentially Republican candidate Beth Grossman’s platform — than in reform by quietly stepping back from the race.

In meetings with insiders, the coalition learned that moderate Democrats from around the country were interested in helping Krasner if he won. So, they responded by becoming more bold. Groups directly impacted by youth incarceration, the bail system, crimmigration, policing, Death By Incarceration sentences, and other issues got together and drafted in-depth policy proposals. Prisoners contributed directly to a number of these proposals. The coalition then articulated a set of demands for the first 100 days in office for the new district attorney and presented both candidates with a list of what could be done on day one.

At the same time, moderates became more critical of the radical positions of some Krasner supporters. Instead of throwing other progressives under the bus for being “too radical” or “dangerous,” the coalition kept the focus on winning meaningful reforms. When the Philadelphia Inquirer backed Grossman, worried about looking too progressive, coalition members stepped up canvassing and organizing efforts, bringing in more community organizations.

Lessons for radicals

Politicians and political commentators generally operate within the range of ideas that have broad public support. Anything outside that range is generally considered politically impractical, or even impossible.

The Tea Party and the so-called alt-right are textbook cases of movements widening the range of ideas. While many liberals continue to be shocked by racist statements made by President Trump or other members of the far right, neo-Nazis rally and advocate for genocide in public spaces. When it comes to policies around mass incarceration and policing, movements for justice and equality cannot be afraid to use our capacity to shift the conversation.

A year ago, political leaders in Philadelphia would have told you that only very moderate criminal justice reform was possible. A report from the Philadelphia City Council from fall 2016 recommends a slight reduction in bail for a few nonviolent offenders. Today, the incoming district attorney advocates for the complete end of bail for nonviolent offenders. Earlier this year, and just weeks before he went to jail for corruption, former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said he would seek life sentences for a number of people sentenced to die in prison as juveniles. Throughout the campaign, Krasner publicly stated his support for HB 135, a bill in the Philadelphia House of Representatives that would end life without parole and make over 5,000 prisoners in Pennsylvania currently sentenced to die in prison eligible for parole after 15 years.

Larry Krasner with canvassing volunteers (Facebook / Lawrence Krasner for DA)

This sea change in the district attorney’s office is just one part of the struggle to radically rethink policing, prisons and punishment. This shift in the range of what’s politically possible could not have happened without the many campaigns that came together to form the Coalition for a Just DA or the vision and organizing of Philadelphia’s politically-active prisoners.

Prisoners mobilized a base — their family and friends — that is often disconnected and disenfranchised from politics, showing that winning isn’t necessarily predicated on co-opting centrists. It can also be done by organizing people who aren’t normally involved in the election process to vote as a bloc. That’s why last night 147,666 people voted for Krasner, as compared to just 89,238 votes for the Democratic candidate in 2013.

This campaign can be a blueprint for other prisoners, their families and community groups to wage a grassroots radical criminal justice reform campaign. By organizing alongside prisoners, recognizing the possibilities of mobilizing new constituencies, and keeping the focus on building inclusive coalitions and winning real change, radicals can get practical and win.

Where Catalonia’s secession movement goes now

Waging Nonviolence - Mon, 11/06/2017 - 15:37

by Oscar Berglund

Thousands chanted slogans outside of Spain’s police headquarters to protest the violence that marred the referendum vote on October 3, 2017 in Barcelona. (Flickr/Sasha Popovic)

This article was first published by The Conversation.

As tension increases in Catalonia, there have been calls for widespread civil disobedience against the Spanish government. Even the recent referendum itself, along with its 2014 precursor, have been described as acts of civil disobedience.

This popularity of gathering en masse in disobedience to the central government has been inspired in large part by the anti-austerity efforts of one group: the Platform for the Mortgage-Affected, or PAH. The outgoing disobedient Catalan government is a peculiar mix of anti-austerity parties, which have supported the PAH’s fight for people’s housing rights, and the Catalan establishment party that has generally opposed it.

The PAH was founded in Barcelona in 2009 in the aftermath of the financial crisis, which burst the Spanish housing bubble. It now has around 200 groups across Spain. Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau was the movement’s spokesperson before moving into institutional politics. The PAH is famous for its innovative protests, which it calls acts of civil disobedience. This includes physically stopping evictions, organizing sit-ins in banks and squats in empty buildings that belong to banks.

The movement arose as a response to hundreds of thousands of Spanish households facing mortgage defaults, evictions, homelessness and lifelong debt. Unlike many other countries, Spain lacks personal bankruptcy legislation. This leaves people in negative equity with large debts even after having their homes repossessed and becoming homeless. In contrast to all the evictions and homelessness, Spain has more than 3 million empty homes, mainly in the hands of banks, vulture funds and other financial institutions.

Through the PAH, people collectively put pressure on both the banks and the state to cancel people’s debts and provide social housing. The movement campaigns for legal changes to eradicate mortgage debt for repossessed families and increase social housing by using the empty housing stock. Alongside this, the PAH practices civil disobedience, both to support the campaign and to solve the homelessness and indebtedness of individual households.

In action

The PAH stops evictions everyday across Spain by gathering dozens of people at short notice to block the doorway of families due to be evicted. In most cases, bailiffs and police refrain from forcing their way in and the eviction is suspended or postponed. Through sit-ins, the PAH puts pressure on the bank to negotiate and to pardon mortgage debt and provide social housing. In many cases, usually after years of struggle, families achieve these aims in full or in part.

The PAH also runs a social housing project called Obra Social by taking control of empty properties that are owned by banks. Here, the PAH occupies entire empty apartment blocks and carries out a needs-based assessment of which families should be allowed to move in.

The aim is to turn the buildings into official social housing where the households pay an affordable rent based on their income. Most households in Obra Social buildings remain, some have been granted permission to stay, and only in very few cases have people been evicted from them.

These seemingly radical methods of political activism have gained widespread legitimacy. Most Spanish people now think that housing and mortgage legislation illegitimately favors the banks and that adequate housing should be a right, as article 47 of the Spanish constitution states.

Legitimacy versus the law

Civil disobedience is a liberal concept, which (unlike anarchism) does not mean a general disregard for the law. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. claimed to have “the very highest respect for the law,” while disobeying illegitimate discriminatory segregation laws. For the practitioners of civil disobedience, legitimacy comes from a higher sense of morality or justice than the law that they protest.

This separation between the legal and the legitimate lies at the heart of civil disobedience. And over the last eight years, the PAH has made civil disobedience acceptable to a large part of the Catalan population.

Nobody disputes that the Spanish law and constitution leave no room for secession. For the Spanish government, the buck stops with the constitution (though not when it comes to housing apparently).

For the majority of Catalans, who want a proper referendum, this position lacks legitimacy because they see their right to decide their future as a higher form of morality and justice than the constitution. For many observers outside of Spain, a legal and orderly referendum also seems like a reasonable solution.

So the situation is ripe for widespread civil disobedience against the Spanish government in Catalonia. Unilateral declarations of independence, without a proper referendum, are unlikely to gain legitimacy for the Catalan government internationally. But, equally, more repression from the central government will likely reduce its legitimacy.

Catalan institutions may now become laboratories for how to disobey state policies. For many Catalans, it will mean a form of resisting occupation. And if this disobedience remains civil and non-violent, it could well win the battle for international legitimacy, too.

<style><!-- /* Font Definitions */

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 11/03/2017 - 12:17

Of Tracks in TimeFor Leo and Ruby
The sweet sounds of my grandchildren surround me as they play on the floor of my study. Though they have come into my space, I feel as though I am in theirs, feeling as a voyeur listening, peering over my desk or even bending to look under it as they engage with each other. Drawing on a recent trip to Belgium, I had planned to write a very different piece, a deeper, reflective one on journeys and delays along the way of getting to where we are going, and of what we learn in between. I had taken notes and had even begun to write, stealing away to my study as the little ones slept in, thinking I had a few hours to work as they woke into the day and had breakfast. Truth to tell, I was feeling untrue to myself and to them in not spending every possible moment together, especially such simple, unscripted moments as of a day’s beginning. Seeming to sense my longing, they soon found their way to my study and have now made it quite their own.
Together, we are weaving the thread of generations into a tapestry of memories, journeys unfolding. Yesterday, we visited with my father, Noa’s grandfather, Leo and Ruby’s great grandfather. When I exclaimed to my dad, “they are your great grandchildren,” he responded with one of his ever sincere stock phrases, “all of my children and grandchildren are great.” Each time my father says that, whether he realizes it or not, he helps us all to feel important. As Mister Rogers used to say, “you are a very important person,” something that we all need to feel and know in our hearts at every stage of our lives. 
Leo is standing up now on the arm of the sofa in my study and playing with the train cars from so long ago that sit on a few remaining pieces of track on top of the old wooden file cabinet. I tell him of the electric train set given to me when I was not much older than him, describing the ever-circling journeys that played out on the table my dad built, lights shining along the track, a distant whistle sounding through time, days of glory.
Ruby calls to Leo, “Yea’o,” as she pronounces his name, “don’t you want to play with me?” As big brother comes down to the floor, the two begin to put together the old wooden train tracks of another train set, one that their mother and her brother and sister once played with. Of journeys and generations, tracks joining from one generation to another, the two reach into the firm, blue and white cardboard box that waits for them between visits. They take out the wooden tracks, setting them on the floor, and with a sense of wonder they hold up the still brightly colored wooden train cars, as though musing on the distance traveled, a moment of time and conveyance suspended.
There are moments of tension along the tracks, the way of journeys, part of life. The challenge is in how we resolve them. Older says to younger, “I’m going to set up all the tracks.” “No, I want to,” says the younger.” “Well, I’m not going to be done for a long time,” says the older. In the back and forth dance between my desk and the floor, I suggest that they can work together, that if they both help to assemble the tracks they will both feel happy and have more fun. Seeking a way of resolution, younger says to older, “can I use it after you?” And older responds, “Okay, thank you.” It is all part of the journey toward wholeness.
The weekly Torah portion that framed this wonderful visit is about journeys and their uncertainties, the comings and goings of life, struggle and strife, tragedy and triumph, ever seeking home as we make our way in time and space. The Torah portion Mattot-Massei(Numbers 30:2-36:13) is a double portion, separated from each other in a Jewish leap year to insure enough portions to go around in accommodating the extra month, its own teaching on life and sharing. The two together offer framing for the way, telling in their very names of times we are settled in spirit and place, and of times in motion when we set out along the way. Mattot means tribes, the gathering of families into a greater whole, a prayer that the human family should become as one. In the singular, mateh is a staff, a walking stick to give support along the way, and a branch, as each one of a family and tribe are part of a greater whole, each one a branch on the tree of life.
 A reminder that we all need a place to call home, however transient, sanctuary and shelter along the way, from the same root, natah ohel means to pitch a tent, to put down stakes. And at the turning of night to day, when taking up the journey again, the root nasah/linso’a/to journey means literally to pull out or up, as in the pulling up of tent pegs to begin the journey again, eleh massei b’nei Yisra’el/these are the journeys of the children of Israel.
Telling of journeys and generations, the Slonimer Rebbe reaches all the way back along the track to the holy Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, who taught, all the journeys of Israel were forty-two and they correspond to (the journeys) of each person from the day of their birth until they return to their world, so from the day of one’s birth and going forth from their mother’s womb, it is in the aspect of the Exodus from Egypt, as is known, and afterwards journeying from journey to journey until one returns to the land of the living above…. The journeys in the Torah are to teach the upright way/l’horot ha’derech ha’yashar…, to know the way in which one should go all the days of one’s life, to journey from journey to journey//lesah me’masah l’masah. The Slonimer then adds words of his own, telling of time and timelessness, this parasha is speaking to each and every generation and to each and every individual/l’chol dor va’dor u’l’chol yachid v’yachid, that as one passes through all the days of one’s life it is in the aspect of the forty-two journeys (of Israel)….
            Leo had gone back up to stand on the arm of the sofa and play with my old trains. With a voice that was his, but which might have been mine as an echo in time, he said so quietly but emphatically, “Zayde, say something nice about me and look at me….” His words took my breath away, “you are so wonderful, Leo, so gentle and strong and beautiful, and I love you.” And I see you, Ruby, sitting on the floor playing with the wooden trains, your joyful sense of self emerging, easily delighted and so delightful, and I love you. Yes, we all need to feel important and to know that we are seen for who we are. In the way of Chassidic teaching, it is in the aspect of “all of my children and grandchildren are great.”
It is time to go and to give undivided attention now, in the way of Shabbos, of journeys and generations, of tracks in time, of homecoming.

Victor Reinstein

NYC activists protest Chinatown gallery exhibit for being ‘racism disguised as art’

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 10:41

by Skanda Kadirgamar

Activists drop a banner reading “Racism disguised as art,” in front of the James Cohan Gallery in Chinatown. (WNV/Louis Chan)

Artist Omer Fast’s crass, stereotypical mock up of a business in pre-gentrified Chinatown has finally left New York City. His transformation of the James Cohan gallery into a dingy, fake storefront with a waiting area that proudly displayed a broken ATM sign, drew fire from the community. Its emphasis on depicting faux squalor was received as poverty porn. Both artist and venue were charged with mocking immigrants being driven from the neighborhood.

On October 28, protesters from the Chinatown Art Brigade, Decolonize This Place, Bushwick’s Mi Casa No Es Su Casa, and the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement hoisted a banner, which read “Racism disguised as art,” across the faded awning Fast had installed. Faced with protesters banging drums and chanting “Chinatown, not for sale,” the Israeli-American artist received quite the send off.

This symbolic intervention featured a conference with local Chinese language press and a bilingual speak-out about the pivotal role galleries and the art world play in gentrification. This was key, as residents and neighborhood advocates needed space to loudly decry the ongoing displacement and demand a municipal model that would protect the neighborhood. Activists say these issues are simultaneously connected to and bigger than the individual prejudices of Omer Fast and individuals like him.

In fact, the link between the art world and gentrifying developers deserves intense scrutiny. According to the Chinatown Art Brigade — a collective of activists, artists and media makers committed to defending tenants rights and fighting evictions — galleries are often involved in displacing the most vulnerable long-term residents in neighborhoods they enter. Viewed in that light, Fast and James Cohan’s conduct was simply a particularly bold iteration of entrenched structural racism that abets creeping gentrification.

The Chinatown Art Brigade has worked alongside the Coalition Against Anti-Asian Violence and the Chinatown Tenant Union. They helped launch the “Here to Stay” project, which used massive outdoor projections to illuminate art “based on oral histories, photography and video created in community-led workshops.” They have also confronted galleries for being implicated in the expulsion of 30 percent of the Chinese population and elimination of 50 percent of affordable housing throughout Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

This has catalyzed a drastic transformation of these neighborhoods. The galleries are a vanguard for pricey condos and megatowers that push out grocery stores and other services on which the community has relied. The gentrification of Chinatown is a brutal business. Ambitious landlords heap abuse on poorer tenants and reserve needed repairs for units intended for newer tenants with higher disposable incomes. At the same time, outlets like Paper and i-D ponder whether Chinatown is the “new Chelsea.”

Residents and advocates protest gentrification of Chinatown outside the James Cohan Gallery. (WNV/Louis Chan)

In reality, an incoming population that is whiter and more affluent is receiving benefits largely withheld from the existing community. This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, though. This kind of discrimination has been integral to the historically racist treatment of Chinatown, which has taken many forms including unreliable trash collection and residential segregation. Today, these each factor into the exodus of Chinese and other residents of color from Lower Manhattan.

Moreover, gallery owners are directly involved in the real estate transformation that is making life in Chinatown prohibitively expensive. Marc Straus, for example, owns several properties near James Cohan that have been slated for demolition and replacement by a seven-story luxury building. On his website, it says his gallery at 299 Grand Street is located in what “began as a tenement and in the last century has housed various retail stores consistent with a changing population.”

James Fuentes, who fastidiously emphasizes his Lower East Side and South Bronx roots, is a creative-class nomad, like many in the gallery scene. Fuentes has relocated several times, beginning on Broome Street and then settling at 55 Delancey Street two years ago. Gallery owners, it turns out, aren’t immune to the rent cycle either. The difference is that they can pay more than Chinatown’s working class residents. When there’s a large gap between the disposable incomes of newer and established tenants, landlords see the opportunity to raise rents. Fuentes has noted this, saying that he “knew he was implicated from the minute” he signed a 10-year renewal on his latest space.

Fuentes waxes nostalgic about the Lower East Side — and by extension Chinatown — being a hub for the immigrant community. He is a fatalist about gentrification, though, convinced that the immigrant presence is bound to be supplanted and that galleries are the future of development. During an interview with the Art Dealers Association of America, he referenced Darwin when describing the “nature” of New York, explaining that “the species that survives is able to best adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

The Chinatown Art Brigade and its allies would dispute that sort of received wisdom. Presenting the transformation of Chinatown and the Lower East Side as an evolutionary process, where those who cannot adapt are naturally selected out, is in and of itself a historically racist position. It obscures how powerful entrepreneurs aggressively leverage their advantages, which were largely conferred by historic discrimination and segregation, over tenants.

The protest continues inside Omer Fast’s racist exhibit at the James Cohan Gallery. (WNV/Louis Chan)

Individuals like Fuentes and Straus like to brand their ventures as small businesses. Fuentes has gone so far as to anoint his space a “Mom-and-Pop” fighting the good fight before the culture of Lower Manhattan gets erased. That framing, however, is relative. As Liz Moy, one of the brigade’s activists, pointed out, a bakery in Chinatown would have to do significantly more business than a gallery to make rent, since the latter need only sell a few pieces. Moreover, the capital concentrated in galleries won’t be reinvested in the neighborhood long term, at least not in ways that are immediately beneficial to the community. Straus’ work demonstrates how investment in galleries eventually leads to building high-end condos.

This is why the Chinatown Art Brigade has been putting these owners on notice and fighting for an alternative development model in the neighborhood. Before the latest protest, a small contingent of organizers live-streamed a gallery tour in which they presented each owner with a pledge to support Chinatown’s middle and lower-class residents’ right to public and residential space, as well as initiatives to curb the impact of gentrification.

Last year, Margaret Lee of the 47 Canal gallery responded positively to a similar pledge. Straus, on the other hand, refused to look at the current version. Regardless, the gallery owners should know by now that those who won’t respect Chinatown’s existence can expect continued resistance.

Children

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 10/27/2017 - 12:13


Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, has an article I'd like to spread far and wide called "Standing Up for Children." She reminds us that when God wants something done on earth, it doesn't happen through "battles and elections and earthquakes and thunderbolts" but God "simply has a tiny baby born, perhaps of a very humble home, perhaps of a very humble mother."
I still recall going to Cuernavaca, Mexico in the early days of Liberation Theology. I met several mothers living in dire poverty. They could intimately identify with the infancy story of Jesus. They were some of the most humble people I have ever met. Their children were born in humble surroundings, not exactly a stable; more like a cardboard shack. 
          Marian makes clear that the problems we visit on our children are adult problems: war; poverty and unequal economic opportunity; physical and sexual abuse; childhood neglect; racial, ethnic, religious and class division. If we really endeavored to solve these adult problems, one way of starting would be with loving, respecting and protecting children. If we were to do that, we would have a great beginning to solving all of our adult problems.
Wright-Edelman believes the litmus test of our humanity in today's world, is whether we will protect the world's children, all of them, from our adult problems.
Some people are trying. David Deutchman is a "baby buddy." He visits the hospital on a regular basis to hold and cuddle premature infants. Some of them have parents who live far away. Other parents are trying desperately to keep working and earning so they can pay the hospital bills and can only be present occasionally. But Deutchman doesn't just do it for the parents. He does it for the babies. You can watch this Georgia grandfather on You Tube as he sings "You Are My Sunshine" to an infant. He says some of his buddies don't understand why he does this, especially as he sometimes gets puked and peed on. "They just don't get it."
There's the rub! Too many men don't know what it's like to hold an infant in their arms. Some men, who make decisions about war and peace, who have a lack of confidence in their own masculinity, should have to hold an infant at least twice a day (under supervision, of course). This might help us avoid so much fire and fury in our world, as we realize children are the ultimate victims of all of our violence.
Then there's the Witchita public school teacher who greets her students each day with an individual handshake. Although it's not just a handshake. Each student has a unique set of fist pumps, foot movements, etc. All of them end with a hug. The last student in line and the teacher actually do a quick dance. How the teacher remembers all those movements with each student is beyond me, as it often takes me several class sessions to just remember names. This video has gone viral on face book with over 32 million views. It's a wonderful sample of how one might recognize and respect each child in a school setting.
Maybe you've heard of the children and young people suing the U.S. government for a stable climate. They include nine year old Levi Draheim. He expects his barrier island on Florida's Atlantic coast to be submerged by rising seas. He started an environmental club as a fourth grader and gives talks about climate change for adults.
Then there's the lead lawyer in the case, Julia Olson. She first became involved in issues of climate change when she was eight months pregnant with her youngest child. "There is something about carrying life inside your body that is transformative and gives you a different kind of perspective on the world," she says. That's when she founded Our Children's Trust. The organization is dedicated to protecting children from the effects of climate change. The Trust helped the 21 young plaintiffs bring their case against the federal government. 
        Marian Wright-Edelman closes her "Standing Up for Children" with a prayer. It's called "A Prayer to the God of All Children." All is the defining word here. It includes the children of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Chicago and Sandy Hook, It includes the children of every color and language. It includes children who are healthy and in pain; children who are wealthy and in poverty; children of war and children of peace.
I shared the prayer at the end of my sermon last Sunday. But reading it out loud I stumbled and stammered because it was hard to read the printed page through my tears. The last line of the first stanza touched me deeply. "Help me to love and respect and act now to protect them all." The tears came because I realized I had just mentioned the children of Sandy Hook, and they were gone. We did not protect them and so many others. And one has to wonder whether we will act to protect children now; from the next school shooting, from fire and fury, from the violence of an adult world.

Carl Kline


Pages

Feed aggregator

Subscribe to Upriver Collaborative aggregator