Remembering Dorothy Cotton, movement educator for democracy and freedom

Waging Nonviolence - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 16:41

by Lucas Johnson

Dorothy Cotton was the director of education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the King years. (Twitter / @natcivilrightsmuseum)

On June 11, the world lost another veteran of the 20th century struggles for freedom and democracy. Dorothy Cotton, director of education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, when it was led by Martin Luther King Jr., passed away at the age of 88.

As an invaluable member of a legendary team of preachers and organizers, she was one of the few women at SCLC to have served in a senior leadership position. Amid the efforts to register black voters in the segregated South, SCLC came to realize that registration was not enough for a population that had been disenfranchised for centuries. Cotton wanted people to understand the mechanisms of a government that had never really represented them or their interests and, ultimately, make that government their own — a process that would involve much more than voting.

She devoted herself to this work in the 1960s, ensuring that black people were taught black history and lessons important to economic empowerment, alongside classes on the constitution and ways to pass literacy tests. After the movement years, she went on to become the director of student activities at Cornell University and, among other things, supported students who were organizing in solidarity with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

I didn’t meet Dorothy until long after she retired from Cornell. In 2012, Vincent Harding had asked me to join a historic delegation to Palestine that was being organized by the Dorothy Cotton Institute. I was uneasy about joining the delegation — which was mainly veterans of the black freedom struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s — but eventually agreed. It was a tremendous honor to be among such a remarkable group. Led by Cotton and Harding, the delegation was, in part, a testament to her commitment to education. Even before leaving, we read, discussed and shared insights. Since the delegation was composed mostly of African Americans and Jews, we delved into the complicated history of relationships between the two groups in the United States. But that was just one part of the journey we undertook together.

The Dorothy Cotton Institute’s delegation to Palestine in 2012. Dorothy is at the center, holding hands with Vincent Harding. (WNV / Lucas Johnson)

I learned an incredible amount on that delegation, and I owe Dorothy a great deal for it. Perhaps one of the most significant lessons was one I didn’t notice I was even learning. Dorothy would use movement to push us forward during the more difficult moments of the delegation. She was modeling for me, and the rest of us, the role of music in the movement. She would sing because we needed it and call us to song because she needed it.

I had learned about the important role of music in the movement before — that it gave strength and courage to weary and sometimes frightened marchers. I knew of the power of song, but the demonstrations of my generation had more chants than songs. To experience Dorothy Cotton leading us all in song, in an effort to renew our souls on a hot and exhausting day, is among the greatest blessings of my life.

We sang often during the trip. I don’t recall exactly when we began, but there was a notable moment for me in the West Bank, after our group of travelers had been listening all day to the painful stories of the occupation. We had heard of the destruction of homes, the stories of beatings, brutality and unequal treatment under the law. The truth of the occupation of Palestine is difficult for anyone to hear and see, much less a group of people who witnessed and survived similar treatment in the segregated United States.

Our bus had stopped in front of the “separation barrier,” which interrupts the ancient route of the Jericho Road. We had gotten off to see the tear gas canisters marked “Made in the U.S.A.” The canisters added the burden of our complicity to the weight of all that we had seen and heard. In my memory, we were quite silent when we returned to the bus, and it was Dorothy Cotton’s singing that broke the silence. “Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumblin down.” It seemed at once an expression of lament and a defiant call to hope. The song represented a strange juxtaposition of time: the story of the ancient Israelites, carried in a song composed by our ancestors while they were enslaved, being sung in a location closer to the original story, but at a time far removed.

Palestine in 2012 was also quite far from the movement years of the 1960’s. But the lessons Dorothy Cotton, Septima Clark and others involved in SCLC’s Citizen Education Program could be felt in that moment. They understood the importance of vigilance in the struggle ahead. Then, as much as now, in order to transform the world, we have to see ourselves and each other differently. We will need to believe ourselves capable of something more than the dehumanizing roles our society has given us. We have to look beyond the caricatures of ourselves, caricatures that we are so often tempted to become.

In 1960, that meant that African Americans needed to free ourselves of the beliefs we internalized about our own inferiority, our own criminality. This was the importance of black history in the citizenship education workshops. The lies told about us for centuries were so pervasive and so penetrating that even if they had stopped 50 years ago, the struggle to free ourselves from them would still be necessary.

For all of us in this country, and most especially for white Americans, our task was and still is to free ourselves of the corrosive myth of white supremacy — a myth that has touched every fabric of American life from local economic structures to foreign policy. It is a myth that so distorts one’s sense of self that it has the power to suppress empathy, perhaps the key component of our humanity.

We know today, as clear as ever, that this myth is not easily defeated. This was the vigilance for which Dorothy and others prepared us. They knew democracy, equality and freedom would not be secured by the right to vote. To have considered this and prepared for it at a time when people were being killed for such efforts is a testament to the remarkable foresight and tenacity within the movement.

Dorothy Cotton speaking at the National Civil Rights Museum. (Twitter / @natcivilrightsmuseum)

Dorothy’s vigilance and commitment to freedom is what inspired her to travel to Palestine while in her 80s. She was unsatisfied with the official narrative of events. Through the pain of what we saw, the difficult conversations we had upon our return and the relationships we risked to tell the truth, she wrestled alongside us. Dorothy demonstrated a consistency of courage, even at a time when she could have rested on her well-deserved laurels. She modeled a life dedicated to the destruction of walls that divide us, and she was anchored by the belief of who we could become.

I will remember her and celebrate her life not only because of who she was in the 1960’s — and the sacrifices of her generation that made my life possible — but also because of all she continued to be. She taught us how to be a citizen and how to be more fully human, even until the end.

We Will Do and We Will Understand

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 07:46

I began to weep as I stood in the kitchen that day, and heard the news of yet another school shooting. This one in Texas, ten dead, eight students and two teachers. Such had been that painful week for all of us, for this poor, sorrowing world, for this nation, sick in the grip of its plague. So too had the week began, with far away gunfire ever so close, sixty Palestinians dead on the Gaza border, the grip of plague in Israel too. Oblivion seemed to reign in the face of such loss of life, while people from another planet partied in Jerusalem on the opening of the American Embassy, blood on their hands, on our hands.
It was the prelude to Shavuous, the feast of weeks, second of the year’s three harvest festivals that mark the seasons in the Jewish calendar. It was the Torah portion of Bamidbar/In the Desert, the turning of Torah calling us to turn, to seek a new way. We come to Sinai and are reminded of the greatest unity that ever joined the Jewish people as one, in that moment when the Torah was given and we spoke with one voice and said, na’aseh v’nishma/we will do and we will understand. We are still trying to learn what to do, what it means to live the values of Torah, to live human values, humane values, still waiting to understand, waiting for the way to open. Through acts of love and compassion, we are touched by intimations of what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves, not to oppress or mistreat the stranger, to provide for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the most vulnerable among us, and so to be holy as God, our God, is holy.
       By doing, we come to understand. It is in the way of means and ends, the nature of means determining the nature of the ends.
I had an intimation during that week of what it might mean to act and only then to understand, receiving an unexpected gift, a moment of pause in the midst of all the sorrow. It was from the beginning a bittersweet evening, invited to a gathering of friends of the German Consul General to New England, Mr. Ralf Horlemann, a gathering of those whom he had touched in his time in Boston. My own life was touched deeply as part of the journey of twelve rabbis to Germany two summers ago, Ralf our guide on a Journey of Remembrance and Hope. Whenever I need a moment of catharsis I close my eyes and feel the hot torrent of tears that poured down my face at Dachau, Ralf crying with us. It was a transformative journey, one through which I will always be joined to Ralf, son of a German soldier from then, and a Jew who had vowed never to go to Germany.
Of people joined across divides, the gathering was held in an art gallery, a Holocaust survivor’s tormented art upon the walls. After words were spoken, words were then transcended as a string quartet of young musicians lifted their instruments and began to play. Members of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, they were led by Maestro Benjamin Zander. It was not a concert, but in effect a master class, the Maestro dancing among them, singing the notes from memory, so loving and as enthralled as we were. Suddenly he would stop the violinist, asking of her feelings in such a moment of loss of which her instrument sang. And then the deeper feeling came through as bow returned to strings, bringing tears to all of us. And to the cellist he said to raise his eyebrows, show the surprise and magic of the music and the moment. He emphasized the importance of the second violin, the message clear, that each one has their own task and purpose, each one so needed for the gift of their presence.
So the lessons continued to come, the bittersweet teachings of the bittersweet gathering, sweetness somehow touching the bitterness of that week. The Maestro spoke of these young musicians, from Russia, from Asia, from North Carolina, joined across whatever might divide. “They all speak Beethoven,” he said. He modeled the finest way of the teacher, how to correct without hurting, doing so with such love, with such joy. Suddenly stopping the music, he said how perfect it was, and then said, “that is what Motzart wrote, but it’s not what he meant….” It was a lesson in Torah, the written Torah of notes on paper, and the oral Torah of soul and spirit interpreting.
In sharing words of friendship with Ralf, the Maestro told of his own father as a young man, a Jewish soldier in the German army of World War I. He told of how his grandmother would send her son music scores that he would bring to life in a place of death, giving wing to notes on paper, song rising from the trenches.           And now Maestro Zander has those scores, precious reminders of hope, of a universal language, that one day the song of the human heart might transcend inhumanity and violence. Then the whole world shall stand as we did at Sinai, saying with one voice “we will do and we will understand….”

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

South Asian community mobilizes to support Kashmir after brutal sexual violence

Waging Nonviolence - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 10:25

by Skanda Kadirgamar

A rally calling for justice for Asifa Bano at Union Square in New York on April 18. (WNV/Sainatee Ninkhong)

Earlier this month, the War Resisters League launched a discussion series focused on zones of conflict that are neglected in American anti-war circles. The first event centered on Kashmir, the site of the world’s longest running military occupation, dating back to the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Both countries make territorial claims in the region that clash with Kashmiri demands for self-determination and drive settler colonial violence. The South Asia Solidarity Initiative, or SASI, used this opportunity to draw attention to violence in the region, such as the brutal rape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa Bano, a Kashmiri Muslim girl.

Asifa was a member of the Bakarwal Muslim community, which relies on herding livestock in the Kathua district of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Her alleged perpetrators were Hindu nationalists. She was kidnapped in January and held in a local Hindu temple, where she was drugged, gang raped and beaten to death.

The identities of the alleged perpetrators were confirmed in March by a Special Investigation Team. Reports say they meant to terrorize her community in order to drive them from the area. Sanji Ram, a former bureaucrat who has been named as the mastermind behind this attack, has a history of violence aimed at Bakarwals in Kathua. Ram’s record as a bigot and agitator includes sexual violence and inciting Hindus in Kathua to deny Bakarwals access to land. Attempts to displace Kashmiris based on religious and ethnic identity date back to 1947. More recently, the Bakarwals have been subjected to a boycott pushed by Hindu nationalists aiming to undermine their livelihoods.

As details of the case came to light, local Hindu nationalists tied to India’s ruling party, the chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, scrambled to defend a posse of eight men who were arrested over connections to the rape and homicide. They mobilized a campaign called the Hindu Ekta Manch aimed at obstructing justice in this case. Lal Singh Chaudry, a former BJP politician who threatened Kashmiri Muslims with ethnic cleansing in 2016, joined a rally defending the alleged perpetrators.

Over the past few months, SASI has aimed to mobilize South Asian communities against both the Hindu right’s salvos and the ideology justifying Kashmir’s occupation. On April 18, the organization partnered with Equality Labs, a tech startup led by South Asian activists from marginalized communities, to rally people to New York’s Union Square. Around a hundred people showed up to decry the atrocities perpetrated against Asifa Bano and her community.

A Kashmiri activist who was invited to speak at the mobilization called on attendees to see Asifa’s death as part of an occupation that “continues to use sexual violence as a weapon of war, continues to brutalize Kashmiri bodies and erase Kashmiri identity.” This activist, who asked to remain anonymous, said that India’s vision of Kashmir as part of its territory is a crucial factor in that brutality and erasure.

Self-identified Hindu progressives and adherents of a more secular nationalism tended to view the atrocity perpetrated against Asifa as a “social-sexual” crime linked solely to religious hatred. On April 16, Sadhana, a group describing itself as a “coalition of progressive Hindus,” held its own “Against the Rapes in India” rally in Union Square. Asifa’s story was shared alongside those of Indian rape victims in Unnao and Surat. Board member Sunita Vishwanath responded to the BJP, specifically addressing the Hindu Ekta Manch. “Ekta is [a] word that’s very important to the Hindus,” she told India Abroad. “[I]t means oneness, it means unity, and we will not let such words that are sacred to us be co-opted by hate mongers and rapists.”

Responses like this, however, have been criticized for characterizing Asifa as an Indian victim. Including her in a list of Indian victims erases the fact that she was a Kashmiri victim of India’s occupation. One of SASI’s goals in the coming months, explained organizer Robindra Deb, is to challenge and unpack the ways in which Indians treat Kashmir — as if it were part of India irrespective of how Kashmiris feel. One Kashmiri organizer contended that the effect of calling Asifa an Indian victim was to “selectively erase the decades of violence that Kashmiri women have suffered and the persistent use of sexual violence against Kashmiri individuals across the gender spectrum.”

Furthermore, historian Hafsa Kanjwal has noted that “when Kashmiri women get raped … and when young Kashmiri girls are … killed” by the Indian army “there is no liberal outrage in India.” Kashmir is one of the world’s most militarized areas, with a ratio of one soldier for every 20 civilians. Over 700,000 Indian soldiers have been deployed to the region in response to mass movements for Kashmiri self-determination and as part of an exercise of power directed at Pakistan. This military presence is known for responding to protests and demands for autonomy with extreme violence.

As in other conflict zones, sexual violence towards Kashmiris is a constant feature of the Indian occupation and is used to “punish, intimidate and degrade Kashmiris at large,” Kanjwal explained. The 1991 siege of the villages of Kunan and Poshpura — during which the Indian army allegedly raped up to 100 women — along with the alleged rape and murder in 2009 of two women by police in the town of Shopian illustrate this dynamic. “Kashmiri civil society groups have documented 7,000 cases of sexual violence that also include violence against men in custody, including sodomy,” Kanjwal said.

Both Kanjwal and Mohamad Junaid, a Kashmiri scholar and activist, note how the suffering of Kashmiris in Jammu and Kashmir is obscured because India claims them as citizens. “In Kashmir, the Indian government claims the people it shoots down, blinds and treats with cruelty are Indian citizens,” Junaid said. “This confuses people who are not so familiar with what is going on in Kashmir because they think Kashmiris are Indians when they are facing the same kind of cruelty and atrocity as Palestinians.”

SASI hopes to illuminate these dynamics for a broad audience. This objective underpinned the teach-in that SASI co-hosted with the War Resister League on June 3, which covered both the history of occupation and movements for self-determination in Kashmir. Hafsa Kanjwal and Mohamad Junaid discussed these issues and were joined by a third speaker, Palestinian activist and member of the Decolonize This Place collective Amin Hussain. Hussain explained how the dearth of attention paid to Kashmiri resistance undermines the positions of those purporting to oppose other occupations, such as the Israeli presence in Palestine.

The teach-in drew upon groundwork that has been laid for transnational opposition to the occupation of Kashmir. “When you are from Palestine, or are a Tamil from Sri Lanka, or a Kurd — when you are any other nationality who has had a war imposed upon you or are living under an occupation — [Kashmir] instinctively resonates,” Juniad said prior to the event.

Amin Hussein attested to this during the teach-in when he talked about a longstanding affinity between self-determination movements that link Palestine and Kashmir. Recalling how he has been active in the Palestinian resistance since the age of 12, Hussein said he was “raised knowing about Kashmir.” He situated the struggles against settler colonialism in Kashmir alongside the Ferguson uprising and Standing Rock, calling each of these struggles for self-determination part of a “spirit that has been coming back.”

Ambazonians struggle for independence from Cameroon amid military takeover

Waging Nonviolence - Tue, 06/12/2018 - 12:08

by Phil Wilmot

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Northwestern and southwestern Cameroon have seen relentless bloodshed over the past few weeks. Something akin to civil war has broken out since factions of a separatist movement in English-speaking areas adopted violent tactics — including abductions and guerilla-style attacks — following years of nonviolent struggle against the Francophone government headed by despot Paul Biya.

Anglophone Cameroon — which is affectionately known to its inhabitants as Ambazonia — declared independence from Cameroon on October 1, following industrial strikes against government marginalization of Anglophone citizens. Biya’s government, as in the past, cracked down swiftly. Since declaring independence, Ambazonia has seen periodic waves of arsons, killings and pillaging of villages. The displaced likely amount to more than 100,000.

After a May 25 attack by Biya’s forces in the small town of Menka in the Anglophone Northwest Region — during which about 30 civilians were killed — politicians, leaders and local residents gathered to express disgust at the killings carried out by the military. During this open dialogue, 76-year-old Ni John Fru Ndi — a celebrated politician among Anglophones and the founder of the Social Democratic Front opposition party — told representatives of Biya’s government, “If I were 50 years old, I would be fighting in the bush.”

While the Anglophone minority is enraged by Biya’s refusal to grant Ambazonia autonomy, the Francophone majority isn’t particularly enthralled with him either, particularly after 35 years in power. “Bad governance is the common grievance Anglophones and Francophones share,” said Bergeline Domou, a French-speaking activist and politician with the Cameroon People’s Party. “Cameroonians face over 30 years of governance without goals. Our health system is a catastrophe. Our education system only produces more unemployed. To that you add harassment, embezzlement, violence and control of people’s freedoms.”

Ambazonians form a nation

Although interim president Sisiku Ayuk Tabe formed his cabinet in exile, Ambazonia is not without its own symbols. Passports, currency, a flag and a national anthem have all been created.

Meanwhile, the Southern Cameroons Broadcasting Corporation, or Ambazonia TV, has been popularizing the secession struggle since early 2017. The station launched in defiance of a ban by the Ministry of Communications. This helped bring tens of thousands to the streets in support of independence a week prior to the declaration.

“[Ambazonia TV] has been a major source of information to the population about the calling of ghost towns, boycotts and tax resistance,” said Dzebam Godlove Ayaba, an organizer with the youth movement Draufsicht in the Bamenda area of Ambazonia. “The channel also shows images of military violence, sensitizing the Anglophone people.”

While such high-level tech resistance is not common among African political movements, Ambazonia has a special asset working to its advantage. The southwestern area of Ambazonia called Buea is home to a number of universities and functions as a convergence point for developers, hackers, coders, entrepreneurs and creatives. At least 30 high-tech startups are headquartered in the area — which is also known as Silicon Mountain — and an annual conference attracts hundreds from Ambazonia and other parts of Africa.

As a likely result of its success, Biya’s regime has shut down internet access in Buea for months at a time on several occasions since early 2017. Members of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium — a coalition with many members pushing for succession — fought one of the earlier internet blackouts (as well as the arrests and crackdowns by the state that took place during it) by mobilizing “ghost town” actions. People stayed at home and businesses remained closed. Some blocked trucks exporting timber and petroleum to Francophone Cameroon.

The government then banned the consortium and arrested President Felix Agbor Nkongho and Secretary General Fontem Neba. As the consortium was squelched, a communiqué was hastily issued, designating members of the diaspora with sufficient internet access to preside over the campaign. These new leaders in the United States and Belgium were briefed on the nonviolent nature of the Anglophone struggle.

“The diaspora funds the struggle and provides enormous coordination and social media presence,” said Emmanuel Abeng, a diaspora activist originally from Bamenda. “More impactful decisions can’t be made [by diaspora leaders] because their boots are not feeling the actual heat on the ground.”

Ambazonia’s citizens aren’t waiting for outside leadership, even if it has played a crucial role. On September 22, just before Biya was about to address the United Nations, tens of thousands flocked to Bamenda’s streets with plants symbolizing peace. They converged at the palaces of traditional leaders, recognizing them as authoritative rulers, instead of Biya’s government.

Repression intensified after violent tactics

The patience of some Ambazonians has worn thin over the past several months, as government repression continues to escalate. While the majority have stuck with nonviolent resistance, a violent flank of separatists have armed themselves, using guerrilla tactics to abduct and kill agents of Biya’s government. This has enabled Biya to brand the military occupation of Ambazonia as a struggle against terrorism. And scorched-earth tactics have increased since late 2017 as a result.

Reliance on violent tactics has also enabled prosecution of nonviolent leaders as terrorists. In one instance just after the massacre in Menka, radio journalist Mancho Bibixy was sentenced to 15 years in prison for terrorism, hostility, secession, revolution and insurrection.

“Supporters of the accused have attended every session at the military court in Yaounde,” said activist Edna Njilin. Meanwhile, Francophone allies are stepping up their game at this time of crisis, offering pro bono legal support to those sentenced, spearheading hashtag campaigns like #FreeAllArrested and #BringBackOurInternet.

Shortly after the May 25 massacre, French-speaking activist and politician Bergeline Domou joined 30 Francophone women in a visit to the northwest to stand in solidarity with victims. “We were there to let them know that we too are facing difficulties under this government,” he said. “Acting together is a necessity. We used to have many moderates, but today more and more are giving their support to the secessionists.”

What immigrants can learn from the teachers strikes

Waging Nonviolence - Sat, 06/09/2018 - 11:21

by Catalina Adorno

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The wave of teacher strikes across the United States this year is a reminder of what workers can accomplish if they use their labor as leverage when making demands. Following strikes that ranged from six days to over two weeks, teachers won wage increases in four states. Some also won more funding for their schools — a clear benefit not just to teachers, but students and parents as well.

Such victories should serve as inspiration to all workers. But for immigrants — the backbone of this country’s economy — it should be a rallying force. Without immigrant labor, the economy would collapse. Yet most people do not recognize the role immigrants play as workers.

As an immigrant myself, I see this all the time. We are not even acknowledged as members of this society. This becomes even more clear when people talk about undocumented immigrants, a sector of workers that gets pushed into the shadows. The media vilify undocumented immigrants, referring to them as “aliens,” “illegals” and “thugs and drug lords.” Undocumented immigrants are also targeted by law enforcement and by abusive employers.

The criminal justice system is set up to target undocumented immigrants. At the local level, many states have collaboration agreements between police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Local policies like that result in the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants. ICE also targets communities by coming into our neighborhoods and picking up people in the streets, outside the courthouses, inside schools and hospitals, and even at our workplaces. How much longer are we willing to suffer these injustices?

Many immigrants assume that if we simply trust the political process and the politicians who claim to be our friends, we will find a solution. The truth is that we have trusted the system for decades. We’ve trusted politicians when they have promised immigration reform and pledged to pass some sort of legislation in their first 100 days in office. But they have failed us every single time.

They don’t seem to care that our friends, families and neighbors are getting picked up by immigration officials right in our streets or that many of us end up in detention for simply driving without a license. And what have they done about the children being separated from their parents simply because they don’t have a social security number?

We have seen how both Republicans and Democrats have made deals with for-profit detention centers to keep us locked up. Neither of these parties have ever intervened when ICE steps into our communities and raids our workplaces. We have heard countless empty promises from different political parties, which — at the end of the day — only care about their political seats.

If anything, we have been constantly told to wait. For decades, we have been told that we cannot win. Time and time again people have tried to tell us how we should behave, how we should fight and what we should be fighting for. Every time we raise our voice, we are told that we have to wait.

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The economy of this country functions because of us. We work in multiple sectors, from service to transportation to farming. And while that work doesn’t define us, we are a powerful labor force that needs to be reckoned with. We will use this power to fight back because we are tired of waiting. We know that if we decide to not go to work, entire services and companies will shut down.

At the same time, going on strike is scary prospect for many of us. In those moments of fear we must remember that we are capable of taking risks. We’ve mobilized in big numbers before, and we’ve gone on strike before. In 2006, millions of us flooded the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and other major cities across the country because an anti-immigrant bill was about to become law. Known as the Sensenbrenner bill, this legislation would have criminalized all of the undocumented people in this country, as well as any person who provided aid or services to them.

People didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t rely on the same political process that was just about to criminalize us all. After all, we couldn’t vote. What we could do, however, was mobilize. And we did! We made our banners and posters that said “Ningún Ser Humano es Ilegal” and “Inmigrantes Unidos,” and we went on strike on May 1, 2006 — a day that became known as A Day Without Immigrants. Millions of us took the streets and won, forcing the failure of the Sensenbrenner bill.

Members of the South Central Farm attending the immigrant rights march in downtown Los Angeles California on May Day, 2006. (Wikimedia/Jonathan McIntosh)

We did it again last year. Following the organizing efforts of Movimiento Cosecha, a nonviolent movement fighting for the permanent protection and dignity of all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, immigrant workers once again went on strike on May 1. This time it was to highlight the immigrant labor that sustains this country and the value we bring — an important message to raise amidst an anti-immigrant climate. We knew that our community was under attack. We also knew that we could no longer remain in the shadows or live in fear.

We showed our presence that May 1. Businesses like bakeries, markets, clothing stores and restaurants closed down in solidarity, and people who have never been part of a march or rally organized themselves and took to the streets. However, one day is not enough. In order to win permanent protection dignity and respect we must not only go on strike, but we need to be able to sustain the strike. As the teachers demonstrated, to win they had to hold their ground and refuse to go to work until their demands were met. That is what the immigrant community needs to do when we go on strike, and we have to do it in large numbers across the country — just like the teachers.

Movimiento Cosecha is working towards organizing such a strike. It will be holding a National Assembly this September and will be inviting the immigrant community to make this vision a reality. We can create change through direct action and economic non-cooperation, as the teachers have shown. Now it is time for us to follow their lead.

Uprooting Racism and Colonialism: An exercise in historical theology

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 06/08/2018 - 10:26

Politico and other news media reported recently that the president has advanced the idea that Native Americans are a race, and not sovereign nations. I argue in this article that this is a racist idea rooted in the history of white domination, subjugation, and exploitation of Indians and the history of Indian genocide, which Native scholar Elizabeth Cook-Lynn calls, “The Disavowed Crime Lurking at the Heart of America” (Cook-Lynn 2007: 185–95). We must expose this criminal history and oppose the president’s plan.          For centuries Native Americans have been targeted as the “objects” of Christian missionary zeal. White missionaries were intent on “civilizing and Christianizing” Indians, whom they branded as “savages,” “heathens,” “pagans,” and worse. Steven T. Newcomb argues in Pagans in the Promised Land that this enthusiasm was and is rooted in “Christian Nations Theory.” He explains as follows: “The United States has the right to exercise ultimate control over American Indian nations simply because Christians ‘discovered’ non-Christian lands and simply because Christians supposedly succeeded in conquering the ‘heathen’ nations of North America” (Newcomb 2008: 117). According to Christian Nations Theory, indigenous peoples appeared to be human beings, but because they were not baptized into the Christian faith they lacked both morality and basic human rights (Newcomb 2008: 108). Euro-American Christians thought of themselves as guardians and purveyors of Christian morality and culture, defending the same against Indians, whom they called “wild beasts,” “savages,” “pagans,” and “heathens.” Such stereotyping dehumanized Indians, and at the same time it created a shared identity among white people. The residue of this painful history is displayed in the contemporary use of disparaging images of Indians in sports logos, and in the president’s proposal. According to Robert A. Williams, Jr. the word “stereotype” gained currency in the US in the nineteenth century when Walter Lippmann featured the term prominently in his book, Public Opinion (1922). Lippmann called stereotypes “pictures in our heads” (Williams 2012: 2). These pictures function even now as “identity badges” for Native Americans who are still required by law to identify themselves as tribal persons in order to sustain treaty rights, which otherwise would be denied, and to get permission to hunt or gather domestic or religious material from the countryside (Cook-Lynn 2001: 190).          It is an ironic twist of history that “reservations” for American Indians have become a new flash point of conflict between the dominant culture and Native peoples. Observes Cook-Lynn: “Some suggest that ‘reservations’ for American Indians in the West were and are extermination centers, and it may have been the intent of the predatory democracy called the United States of America to kindle in this way an end either by death and starvation or economic destruction for the native peoples with whom they had fought wars of annihilation for many decades for possession of the land.” But, she notes, “The citizens of Indian nations now believe ‘reservations’ to be their homelands, and they defend them legally and economically on a daily basis.                 . . . [Reservations are] treaty-protected enclaves, now called domestic ‘nations-within-a-nation,’” (2001: 191, 192). The president’s proposal to identify Indians as race would deny them their political status. Many people view the proposed shift as advancing an agenda of cultural and economic genocide because it would put the lives of many Natives at even greater risk than they are now, and it would deny them the necessary resources for self-determination. Tribal leaders argue in response that their status as sovereign governments was recognized by President George Washington and more recently affirmed by presidents Clinton, George Walker Bush, and Obama. Though largely unreported by the mainstream media unless there are major confrontations such as happened in 2017 at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation when Indian nations and water protectors sought to protect treaty rights that were being violated by the Energy Transfer Partnership and local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, issues related to tribal rights and the sovereignty of Indian nations are test cases for uprooting racism and colonialism. Steven Newcomb’s definition of colonization is worth quoting at length here to remind us that this is still the reality: “Colonization can be thought of in terms of steps involved in a process of cultivation: taking control of the indigenous soil, uprooting the existing indigenous plants (peoples), overturning the soil (the indigenous way of life), planting new colonial seeds (people) or transplanting colonial plants (people) from another environment, and harvesting the resulting crops (resources) or else picking the fruits (wealth) that result from the labor of cultivation (colonization). . . . From a Christian European colonizing perspective, the indigenous peoples are considered as being among those solids (objects) that must be filtered out of (or expunged and washed from) the land in order to acquire that which is most valuable . . . that can be transmuted into wealth to fuel the economy and enrich the elite of the imperium” (Newcomb 2008: 14–15). Fortunately there is a growing international consensus that offers an alternative future—a future that recognizes the humanity and rights of indigenous peoples. This emerging consensus is embodied in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international agreements. These documents and agreements chart a path into a future beyond racism and colonialism.There are also significant theological traditions upon which Christians can build, beginning with the foundational claim that all people are created in the image of God and, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Additionally, we can refer to the “innovation of Christ,” a phrase coined by Will Herzog as a way of moving away from the classic idea of the “imitation of Christ.” Joerg Rieger adopted this phrase in his book Remembering the Poor, and identified the following elements (Rieger 1998: 174). One is mapping out plans and paths into the future that will reduce pain and suffering. These maps must be drawn with an awareness of the terrain of past and present experiences of oppression and repression. Second, as cartographers of the future, we must make strong connections between the present, as understood by the experiences of those who are marginalized and oppressed, and shared hopes for a future that has not yet attained its full form. Third, we must pay attention to the distribution and use of wealth, power, and authority in our society. Rieger notes: “The most pressing problem of modern theology is not that it has become relegated to the private sphere of the modern self, an often repeated criticism, but that theology has become politicized without being aware of it” (1998: 185–86). Lastly, he calls Christians to reclaim the power of the Eucharist. Citing first the work of Gustavo Gutiérrez who proclaimed: “Here, on the terrain of real life, among the poorest, is where the eucharistic celebration takes on its full meaning of sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ,” Rieger goes on to write: “The power of the Eucharist is experienced in new ways where the conflicts and brokenness of poor people are included. In this context, the Eucharist becomes one of the nodal points where new thought about the redistribution of power and authority begins to germinate” (1998: 214).              Traditional tribal communities and people of other faith traditions have their own nodal points. What is important at this time in our history is that together we find ways that honor our diversity, build on our commonalities, and construct new ways to distribute wealth, power, and authority. Simply put, indigenous peoples and all people, regardless of race and creed, are not the objects of Christian mission, but partners in a common task of creating a sustainable and just future. David Phillips HansenReferencesCook-Lynn, Elizabeth, 2007. “Anti-Indianism and Genocide: The Disavowed Crime Lurking at the Heart of America,” Anti-Indianism in Modern America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Diamond, Dan, Rachana Pradhan contributing. May 4, 2018. “Trump challenges Native Americans’ historical standing,” Politico. Accessed June 5, 2018.Newcomb, Steven T., 2008. Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing.Rieger, Joerg, 1998. Remember the Poor: The Challenge to Theology in the Twenty-First Century. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Williams, Robert A., Jr., 2012. Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

When you have an AR-15 but want a garden hoe

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 06/06/2018 - 14:17

by Julia Travers

Mike Martin with local participant Cherie Ryans in Philadelphia forging tools from guns. (Yes! Magazine/Dan Brearley)

This article was first published by Yes! Magazine.

Blacksmiths in Colorado use their anvils to turn guns into gardening tools, reshaping America’s gun culture one strike of the hammer at a time.

This is the work of the “Swords to Plows” initiative of the nonprofit RAWTools. Gun owners from around the country send RAWTools their disassembled weapons for transformation. Most guns can be made into several tools, such as hoes and pickaxes. Shotguns often become hand spades, and a weapon like the AR-15 that was used in recent mass shootings has a thicker barrel that suits an afterlife as a mattock.

RAWTools’ first donated gun was an AK-47 from a retired public defender. Since then, it has reshaped more than 200 weapons so far, with more in progress. The tools they create are typically returned to the donor, given to community gardens, or sold to raise money for programming.

RAWTools founder and executive director Mike Martin was inspired to learn blacksmithing and start the nonprofit after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. By late May 2018, 23 school shootings in the United States have involved injury or death this year.

This summer, RAWTools and the Newtown Foundation, an organization formed after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting to focus on post-gun violence healing, will carry out an extensive version of weapons transformation. In cooperation with the New Haven Police Department in Connecticut, weapons from a gun buyback program will be taken apart by a local metal sculptor. Volunteer inmates from the New Haven Correctional Center will do the blacksmithing to create the tools, which will be used by students at local high schools to plant gardens. The harvests will be donated to soup kitchen and shelters.

“The entire process will essentially transform weapons of death into implements of life,” Newtown Foundation communications director Steve Yanovsky said.

Martin is a former Mennonite pastor. “Swords to Plows” is a reference to the biblical quote, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks … nor will they train for war anymore.”

He works with his dad and three other blacksmiths locally in Colorado Springs, as well as in traveling programs. RAWTools also promotes community dialogue around gun violence and leads peacemaking workshops. It partners with churches, community groups and organizations like the Newtown Foundation and the Children’s Defense Fund.

During the group’s community demos and workshops, participants can try their hand at forging the metal. Cherie Ryans is one of numerous mothers who lost a child to gun violence and has taken a turn at the RAWTools forge. Martin said that between each swing of the hammer to the iron she said: “This bang is bang for bang my bang son.”

“I was holding the hot metal as she did it. Everyone was in tears, and it was all I could do to hold the metal safely,” Martin said.

More than 300 million guns are loose in America — the equivalent of about one gun per person. About 96 people are killed by guns in America every day.

The type of gun surrender program that RAWTools is reimagining has been going on in the United States since the 90s in the form of police-run buybacks. Weapons can be turned in anonymously to police, no questions asked. To encourage participation, police often give out gift cards in return.

A 1994 study evaluating a Seattle buyback, which the National Rifle Association references, concluded that while buybacks are broadly supported by communities, their effect on decreasing violent crime and reducing firearm mortality is unknown. The nonprofit GUNXGUN, which mobilizes community-funded buybacks, states the infrequent and isolated nature of U.S. buyback programs makes it hard to analyze their effectiveness. But, it points out that after a 1996 mass shooting in Australia, an extensive buyback program coupled with stricter gun regulations led to a significant reduction in firearm deaths.

Getting firearms out of circulation is only one of many potential ways to reduce gun violence. Along with changing guns into peaceful instruments, RAWTools runs workshops on intentional conflict resolution. Martin says these range from “serious to silly” and integrate dramatic arts, role-playing and direct instruction.

RAWTools artist-in-residence Mary Sprunger-Froese leads many of these multi-age programs, which might include rapping, personal storytelling, skits, and other ways to train in de-escalation and peacemaking. So far she has taught an adult bystander intervention class and led a theater and nonviolent tools workshop for middle schoolers.

Martin envisions a nationwide RAWTools network, and said it’s happening already.

Volunteers across the country have helped gun donors disable guns for the forge, and churches have opened their parking lots for tents and anvils. Blacksmiths throughout the United States have signed on, and Martin says he needs “more people to help make tools, especially if they come from guns in their region.”

RAWTools is piloting a regional chapter in Toledo, Ohio. This summer, it will host youth workshops involving making tools from guns, creative expression and conflict mediation.

“There’s something beautiful and good about participants forging something that destroyed our community in some way into something that will bring beauty and life to our community,” said pastor Joel Shenk, who is leading the project.

New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence in Santa Fe, which previously collaborated with RAWTools, has now started their own creative gun transformation program. They invite community members to use the metal and the plastic from relinquished guns to make tools, sculptures and jewelry.

Elsewhere in the United States, a group called Lead to Life changes guns into shovels for tree plantings at sites affected by violence in Atlanta and Oakland, also citing the “swords to plowshares” tradition as an inspiration. So does Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, who also turned guns into shovels.

For Martin, transforming weapons at the forge and teaching nonviolence are important because guns in America are “elevated to such a level that they are viewed as an ultimate problem-solver.” He said, “Guns drain so much of our imagination to explore other ways to engage with conflict or confrontation. They are a tool to use power over others for the sake of the individual and not the community. This is what motivates me to do the work of RAWTools.”

A military veteran named James gave his guns to RAWTools after studying Christian scripture supporting pacifism. He wrote that he could no longer justify owning the guns because there was “no way to guarantee they would never be used to take a life.”

Another participant, who chose to remain anonymous, wrote: “I’m a teacher. After Parkland, I can’t own a gun anymore. How do I get it to you?”

Bridges out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities

M.K Gandhi Institute for Non Violence - Tue, 06/05/2018 - 15:22

Before moving to Rochester last August, I was working and studying in Amman, Jordan.

One of my favorite parts about life in Jordan is the culture of hospitality. Within my first few weeks in Amman I met a family and was invited to eat lunch at their house. At the end of the meal, the mother of the family asked me how the food was. My mouth was full, but I still wanted to tell her that the food was delicious. So, I enthusiastically formed a circle with my index finger and thumb while keeping my other three fingers straight.

I was a little confused because instead of being happy, the mother seemed somewhat alarmed and immediately took two steps backward. Several weeks later I learned that the same gesture I was using to say “excellent” is used in Arab culture to threaten someone. Despite my good intentions, my message of “delicious” had been perceived as “I will mess you up!”

In this situation, the mother and I were operating under two different sets of cultural expectations, or hidden rules. As a result, our efforts to interact ran into a roadblock. In order to avoid running into roadblocks like this one while traveling in other countries, many people will use a guidebook. There is usually a section in each guidebook that explains where to sit in a taxi, how much to tip in restaurants, and what type of clothing is most appropriate in different settings. By learning about these unspoken expectations, we are able to have smoother conversations, show respect for others, and navigate around potential roadblocks.

In Bridges Out of Poverty, Ruby Payne points out that these types of hidden rules are not limited only to our interactions with people from countries outside of the United States. In fact, there are very clear cultural differences that separate people within the United States. Payne writes about the differences and hidden rules that exist between people who grew up in a middle class culture, a culture of poverty, and a culture of wealth. She writes about how people in each of these three cultures often think differently about topics like money, food, personality, time, and education.

In the United States, the distinctions between these cultures become particularly important when people who grew up in one culture interact with or work with organizations that are operating under a different set of hidden rules. For example, most workplaces in the US operate using the hidden rules of the middle class. In middle class culture, people are expected to arrive on time for work and appointments regardless of other events that are occurring in their lives. Additionally, someone’s achievements or credentials are often prioritized over interpersonal relationships. By contrast, Payne writes that in a culture of poverty, a person’s likability, sense of humor, and ability to entertain are usually emphasized over their education or qualifications.

Payne points out that being aware of these rules is important for people no matter their culture. When staff at schools, non-profits, and government organizations interact with and serve individuals who grew up and live in a culture of poverty, they frequently run into roadblocks. This can be because staff are operating under a different set of expectations than the people they are trying to serve. On the other hand, individuals who grew up in a culture of poverty can also benefit from understanding the hidden rules of the middle and wealthy classes. Payne does not encourage people living in a culture of poverty to leave behind their culture and assimilate to the norms of the wealthy or middle class. Rather, she states that people should be aware of the norms in different cultures so that they can switch between different rules when necessary.

By directly talking about the differences and assumptions that we all bring to our interactions with others, Ruby Payne has provided a valuable tool for anyone who would like to more effectively improve their own ability or their organization’s ability to build relationships with people from different backgrounds.

To get your own copy of Ruby Payne’s book, check at your local library or order it here.


Living Nonviolence - Fri, 06/01/2018 - 08:41
It was a required course for my specialization in Seminary. My clinical pastoral education component was at Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, in one of the New York City boroughs. It was a long subway ride from where we lived on Riverside Drive. The ride gave me plenty of time to worry about what I might encounter when I arrived and plenty of time to consider the events of the day on the way back home.
         For the first few days at the hospital I simply followed the Chaplain on his rounds. There were always people coming and going. Greeting new people and saying good bye to others was common. Sometimes on a slow day, I sat in the office and read or we talked about different situations a person might encounter and what resources were available to help in those situations.
Not many days into the experience, the Chaplain had a meeting in Manhattan. He had to leave early and asked me to cover for him. With some trepidation I agreed. No sooner had he stepped out the door than a woman appeared in the office. She asked if I could go up and have prayer with her mother. It was at her mother's request.
Once more I agreed. As I went to the elevator and rode up to her floor, I was mentally working on the outline of a prayer. I didn't know this woman. I'd never met her. I knew nothing of her situation or condition. Should I have checked that out ahead of time? Obviously, the Chaplain and I hadn't spent enough time on this kind of event.  How did I offer a generic prayer? Or should I spend some time visiting with her first in order to make the prayer relevant?
As I entered her room, I was still confused and not certain what to do. It didn't matter. After I had introduced myself  she thanked me for coming. Then she started to pray. She prayed for at least five minutes. It was probably the longest prayer I have ever experienced. It was a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer of gratitude. She held up all those people and experiences in her life for which she was grateful. It was a long list. 
        When she was finished, she thanked me again for coming. I knew my role had been fulfilled and I was dismissed. My role was listening! She taught me how listening can be prayer. More than anything, she made me appreciate the richness of a life lived fully with gratitude. As I left, she looked almost radiant, a picture of health. The next day when I checked, she was dead.
I'm thinking about gratitude. There was an article in one of my journals recently about this subject. It reported that psychologists and medical professionals often recommend keeping a gratitude journal to heart patients. Recording things you are thankful for each and every day has proven to help reduce the burden of those stressful things encountered and improves one's mood. There's even a term for it now, "gratitude intervention."
One seems to think more about such things as we age. Perhaps it's because our lives have slowed down to the point where we can actually be present in the moment to watch the birds (or the squirrel) at the feeder. Maybe it's because the problems and failures of the past have receded to the point where they no longer seem that significant. Maybe it's because the future seems just around the corner and we need to be prepared for it.  
I've had enough experience with dying to know that my first encounter at Brooklyn Methodist happens repeatedly. Not a five minute prayer of thanksgiving! But a life lived fully and gratefully slips into that other dimension we call death, quietly and easily.
Especially in a time of division and violence, I want to cultivate gratitude. Journal-ling about gratefulness is on my mind and my agenda. Years ago, a good friend suggested I paint a smiling face on the ceiling above the bed. That way when I woke up in the morning, I would be reminded to smile at the new day. It would move the muscles in my face into the proper form for the rest of my day. What a combination that could be, smiles and a gratitude journal. 

      The journal article I mentioned quotes Maya Angelou. She offers some real wisdom for a well lived life. "If you must look back, do so forgiving-ly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present in the present … gratefully."

Carl Kline

The rise of resistance and resilience to tear gas

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 05/30/2018 - 15:55

by Anna Feigenbaum

This text is adapted from “Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today

All around the world people invent, adapt and share techniques for resilience and resistance to tear gas. In doing so, they care for each other. They transform this weapon into a collectivizing tool. There is a growing transnational solidarity of tear gas resilience, aided by social media and mobile technologies that help protesters circulate relief remedies, gas mask designs and grenade throwback techniques. Displaying what social movement researcher Gavin Grindon has called “grassroots cultural diplomacy,” these tips are tweeted from Greece to New York, from Palestine to Ferguson, from Egypt to Hong Kong.

In places like Bahrain and Palestine, widespread and even daily use of tear gas has made this chemical weapon a part of life. As a way of exhibiting and collectively processing this trauma, people sometimes transform tear gas canisters into other objects. Acts of anger, grief and memorializing emerge as artistic practices. For example, in Bahrain, people designed a throne made out of tear gas canisters to signify their royal family’s role in the suppression of democracy protests. In Palestine, tear gas canisters have been used as Christmas tree ornaments to send a holiday message to the United States about the role of its tear gas and arms manufacturers in the violence of the Occupied Territories. In 2013, images of a Palestinian garden made out of plants potted in empty tear gas shells went viral, picked up by mainstream media outlets as an image of hope and quiet resistance. Yet, as Elias Nawawieh pointed out in +972 Magazine, absent from the news stories, Twitter photos and Facebook posts was the grave built as the garden’s centerpiece. It bears a translucent photo of Bassem Abu Rahmah, who was killed by the IDF in 2009 after being shot in the chest at close range by a tear gas grenade.

In 2013, Occupy Gezi in Turkey became a site of innovation, a place where people designed, adopted and adapted novel modes of resistance and resilience to tear gas. There was Ceyda Sungur, the woman in the red dress, pepper-sprayed at close range and turned into a movement icon. There were dancing ballerinas in whirling, brightly colored skirts that contrasted against the harshness of the full-cover gas masks they wore as they spun around. Penguins wore gas masks to symbolize the media’s failure to cover police violence, after television news stations attempted to block out news of the uprisings by screening a documentary about penguins instead of footage from the protests. Christian Gubar writes that “as both political commodities and stage props, goggles and gas masks were embraced for their eerie theatricality, speaking volumes to the grotesque banality of living under billows of noxious gas.”

A whirling sufi wearing gas mask during the 2013 protests in Turkey in Gezi Park. (Wikimedia/ Azirlazarus)

Rampant tear gas use on protesters and point-blank pepper-spray blasts are as common today as they were in the 1990s and early 2000s, with their use rapidly increasing across the Middle East and Eastern Africa. Like mobile video recording the decade before, the emergence of digital social media has meant that images of police violence against public demonstrators can circulate around the world in seconds. People directly hit with aerosol CS, pepper spray, and other tear gases take photos and videos that travel around Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, spreading stories often before the release of any official news reports. Such images can become movement icons.

The 2011 Occupy movement in the United States was marked by a number of these tear-gassed iconic images. First there were the young women penned in plastic while unarmed and peacefully protesting. Images of this action went viral, picked up by social and mainstream media. Then there was retiree Dorli Rainey, who was sprayed directly in the face at Occupy Portland.

These objects were as much about material reality as symbolism. Protesters in Gezi borrowed, translated, and reproduced instructions for making a gas mask out of a plastic bottle, and for using Maalox and other household ingredients as remedies for the painful effects of tear gas. Talcid Man appeared after a rumor spread that Talcid (a liquid medicine to relieve stomach inflammation) could help ease the effects of pepper spray. He emerged onsite, distributing the medicine as an embodied mobile care unit, and became a symbol of the movement’s resilience and generosity — depicted in stencils and sketches that circulated far beyond the occupied park.

Street medics

In the gas-flooded streets, a variety of shops, sidewalk stands, ground-level flats and even a hotel became makeshift medical field stations, providing remedies and treatments to protesters. At these sites, health workers and those with basic first-aid skills converged. These medical volunteers often have a clearer and more accurate understanding of the real-world impact of “less lethals” than scientists running tests in sterile laboratories. It is here, under the tarpaulins of protest architecture and in the pop-up clinics, amid the chaos these weapons intentionally provoke, that the bruises and bleeding, the choking and vomiting, the inability to breathe, the concussions, and the paralysis are immediately felt.

At the site of protest, pain is not a toxicity count or a threshold percentage. “Less lethal” is no longer a technical term but a vision of how much torment a body can take, of how close someone can come to death without dying. Measured in human experience, the medical field stations of protests can make visible the reality of riot control. Their ways of seeing and knowing medical injury can move us beyond the flames and smoke of media screens. They can provide far more accurate and detailed on-the-ground accounts than hospital records can. Their testimony can be mobilized to challenge the clinical trials produced by military-paid scientists.

Stopping shipments

The export chains that enable the sales of less lethal weapons are also often targeted by campaigns seeking to intervene in what Amnesty International calls the “trade in torture.” In an act of defiance that ignited the unions in Egypt, customs worker Asma Mohammed, a member of her union’s women’s committee, refused to process a shipment of seven tons of tear gas from Combined Systems Inc. According to the War Resisters League, which honored her with its 2012 Peace Award, Mohammed recalled, “I said ‘No, I refuse — because I don’t want to be the cause of someone’s pain or death.’ So in solidarity with me, or with the cause, my co-workers said, ‘No, we’re not going to work on it either.’”

South Korean activists protest a shipment of tear gas to Turkey. (War Resisters International)

In 2014, Bahrain Watch launched a #stoptheshipment campaign targeting Korean manufacturer Dae Kwang Chemical, which had contracted to supply more than a million canisters of tear gas to Bahrain — a country where more than 40 people have died and thousands more have been injured as a result of tear gas. Campaigners worked with Amnesty South Korea, Korean unions and local campaigns, as well as journalists at agenda-setting publications such as the Financial Times and New York Times. These longstanding tactics were combined with sophisticated, contemporary uses of social media, including a catchy, action-based hashtag, timed retweets and a campaign-specific website. They succeeded in pressuring the South Korean government into placing an embargo on tear gas to Bahrain, stopping the Dae Kwang shipment.

Engaging in direct action

Another way to resist excessive uses of riot control and protest profiteering is engaging in direct actions that intervene at sites where the transnational training of police forces takes place.

In October 2013, the Facing Tear Gas campaign brought together organizations to protest against Urban Shield, an annual SWAT team training session and security sales expo that promotes the use of military tactics for protest policing. The campaign built a coalition of more than 30 local groups in Oakland, including the Oscar Grant Foundation and the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. The next year they came back more organized, more informed and determined to make a difference. They created online petitions, held dedicated coalition-building meetings with council members, adopted a preemptive press strategy, and staged a demonstration outside the expo site that drew hundreds to the streets. Their efforts paid off: The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office announced that Urban Shield would no longer be held at the Marriott, and Mayor Jean Quan said that the City of Oakland would not renew its contract with Urban Shield. This was a small victory in a much larger struggle to change policing policies and practices.

Asians for Black Lives block the entrance Urban Shield at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in 2016. (Brooke Anderson Photography)

A key part of the success of the Stop Urban Shield campaign is sometimes called “going for the low-hanging fruit.” Trying to counter police use of force at the level of government policy or even at the sites of corporate headquarters will likely be slow and require legal action. Expos and SWAT training events held in public, or in spaces that have some public access (like hotel lobbies), are often easier to reach. They offer a convergence site for demonstrations, architecturally and territorially. Likewise, as sites where policing products are sold and displayed, expos offer activists an opportunity to make the secretive world of the arms trade visible. As the wide circulation of Shane Bauer’s 2014 video exposé of Urban Shield for Mother Jones evidenced, in today’s journalistic world of fake news, seeing verified information is believing.

In addition, social media has changed PR, making image management a two-way process where customers’ influence is bigger than ever before. This transition is expanding the field of image-based activism, as people find key image locations — moments and partnerships — that are ripe for intervention. While this can appear to be auxiliary, targeting theaters or museums sponsored by arms dealers hits PR teams where it hurts. In this case, by linking Urban Shield to ongoing events in Ferguson and to Oakland’s past cases of police brutality, particularly against young black men, the Stop Urban Shield coalition’s multi-ethnic, queer membership made it impossible for the city council to support the expo without further damaging the city’s image.

Importantly, it was not just the act of showing up and demonstrating at an arms fair that had this effect: It was making a global struggle local through grassroots mobilization and antiracist critique. Similarly, in explicitly targeting the Marriott, a large international hotel chain popular with families, Stop Urban Shield forced the company to weigh the profits of running this policing event against the risks of tarnishing its image. Getting the Marriott to pull out of Oakland’s Urban Shield is no guarantee that it will stop hosting similar expos elsewhere. However, Stop Urban Shield’s success in Oakland reveals a key pressure point that could become the grounds for a sustained campaign to get for-profit policing out of the Marriott.

Resisting from within

In 2013, after I began writing in the media about tear gas, I received an email from a police trainer working in Eastern Europe. “I hope you will continue to read my message after I confess [my job] … I worked in this field for 20 years, and I realized that the high-profile policing (using force against demonstrators) is a dead-end, and I campaign for the communication-based or low profile approach. Now I lead a police training center and hope I can use my influence to spread this idea.” The officer went on to ask for training materials that he might be able to translate for his trainees. Letters like this one serve as a much-needed reminder that other worlds are possible. They remind us that we often have more in common than we think.

It is not an easy thing to question the principles and protocols that shape your job and the way it is done. While my focus has been on advocacy from the outside, there are also a number of ways you can help transform how police are trained from the inside. In doing so you are likely to upset others around you, and you will certainly upset all those private consultants and experts who make money off the Saturdays you spend in their classrooms. Yet, by speaking out from within, you will be joining the ranks of many officers who have fought against the way excessive force is taught, enacted, and then covered up and protected within police departments. You will be speaking out against the cycles of trauma that can produce and perpetuate unnecessary uses of force. Change cannot just be about better public relations; it must also come from the bravery of speaking out from your heart and mind against systems you know are broken or corrupt.

What now? What next?

The increasing deployment of tear gas around the world has led to more canister strikes to the head, more asphyxiation from grenades launched in enclosed spaces, more tear gas offensives coupled with rubber bullets and live ammunition. These violent deployments of chemical weapons continue to leave people dead, disfigured, and with chronic physical and mental health conditions. If the century-long medical history of modern tear gas shows us anything, it is the problem with for-profit science. When science is leveraged for the profit of the few instead of the protection and health of the many, all of society suffers. At the most basic level, people deserve to know more about the chemicals that can be used against them. This is an issue of public health that must be researched independently and disclosed in ways that allows people to clearly understand the effects.

Tear gas must also be considered in its material form — as an object designed to torment people, to break their spirits, to cause physical and psychological damage. No amount of corporate public relations or safety guidelines can hide that foundational truth of chemical design. Tear gas is a weapon that polices the atmosphere and pollutes the very air we breathe. It turns the square, the march, the public assembly into a toxic space, taking away what is so often the last communication channel people have left to use. If the right to gather, to speak out, is to mean anything, then we must also have the right to do so in air we can breathe.

Everyday Nonviolence

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:03

I think every day we go through some type of confrontation with someone or some group of people but it takes strength and courage for a personto walk away and not fight back. I think going through school since kindergarten and being bullied has taught me the best thing you can do in almost any situation is walk away and not fight back, rather thanfeed them with more reasons to fight or get violent. I was constantly picked on for having glasses.      
             As far as I know that was not in my control. They were very rude with their comments about it but I never tried to fight back and I just kept going on with life. I have been through a lot with the bullying violence,both verbal and physical, but it is something that has taught me to resist beingviolent and that I should be kind and caring to everyone, trying to help them in any way I could. All throughout school I was a nerd. I was kicked, I got my hair pulled, I would get rude comments about how I dressed, and how I acted. I was always told my personality was not okay or normal and that I was weird. A few times I shouldn’t be alive. But I never listened to them and I kept to myself and never changed and I see nothing wrong with me for who I am!
Working where I have worked in the past there havebeen huge fights and stuff brought into the work place and they try and drag every coworker into the fight but I learned the best thing to dowas walk away and tell them work isn’t where this should take place. Second, we shouldn’t be fighting anyway. There isn’t any reason to be fighting. We work together and need to get along.
My very first day at a new job I had a coworker talk to me like I was a bug on the ground. She didn’t greet me, she didn’t help me. She was rude and nasty to me all during the shift and the best thing I did was not get involved with her drama. I walked away every time and the next shift I had with her she was nice and considerate with me. Another way I think people should deal with violence in everyday life is to stick up for what you believe in and take the rest as a grain of salt. If they know you will not join in they may not even try to get you to fight with them, or at them for that matter.
With everything I have gone through in life I have learned you cannot control others actions but you can try and show them how they should be acting. 
          I have always told myself I will be a role model for my younger family members and always have a backbone for them because I do not want them having to deal with what I dealt with. Life can be tough enough already and then throw in violence and hurtful actions from other people and it makes it even tougher.So I will do everything in my own actionsto model formy younger family members so they don'thaveto deal with any of that!
Holly Lukonen
Guest Blogger

Guatemalan farmers occupy plantation formerly owned by drug traffickers

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 05/23/2018 - 15:58

by Jeff Abbott

Two children ride a bike through the plantation known as Las Palmeras in Guatemala. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

Guatemala’s southern coast is in a constant conflict caused by the expansion of agro-industry. Across the region, small farmers struggle to feed their families as companies buy up more and more land for export crops.

Since the arrival of the Spanish to Guatemala in 1524, the country’s fertile southern coast has been the site of some of the most intense social conflicts over land. These conflicts have continued into the 21st century with the massive expansion of sugar cane and palm oil production.

Many of these land holdings have come to include illicit interests, including drug trafficking. But local small farmers, known as campesinos, have pushed back.

Since September 2016, 135 families associated with the Committee for Campesino Unity, also known by its Spanish acronym CUC, have maintained an occupation of a finca, or a large plantation, named Las Palmeras near the municipality of Cuyotenango. They are calling for the state to expropriate the land, which was once owned by a known drug trafficker, to the campesinos.

“We see the necessity [in our communities],” said Marcos (a pseudonym), a resident of the community of Progreso, who is supporting the occupation. “We have no place to work the land due to the amount of monoculture that surround us. They have made themselves the owners of the land. We have taken this finca because we need the land to sow the basic crops.”

The campesinos come from the surrounding departments of Quetzaltenango, Suchitepequez, and Retalhuleu.

The farmers have set up a small settlement on the finca, building small structures, as well as using the houses that are on the finca. They have established a collective store in the center of the finca, where they sell sodas, cooking oil and other common household items.

Since taking the finca, the campesinos have also begun to divide the land among the families. Many families have spent nearly two years sowing and harvesting several seasons of crops, including maize, beans, peanuts and fruits.

“They accuse us of land invasion,” said Francisco (a pseudonym), a campesino from a neighboring town who is supporting the occupation. “This is not an invasion, but rather a recuperation the lands of our ancestors.”

Organizing the occupations

Occupations have long been used in Guatemala by campesinos to gain titles to land. That practice grew dramatically in the 1950s following the passage of land reform under President Jacobo Arbenz. His administration expropriated unused land from large land holders, including the U.S.-based United Fruit Company, to be distributed among landless farmers across the country. After the U.S.-backed coup d’état in 1954, however, the tactic fell out of practice due to the threat of violence.

According to research by Charles D. Brockett, occupations would return to prominence in the late 1970s with the formation of the CUC. The organization was founded during the Guatemalan internal armed conflict and worked for the interests of the small farmers across Guatemala, as well as against structural inequalities and racism.

A woman wears a CUC flag while holding the hand of her daughter who wears a CUC hat during the 2016 water march. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the region has seen the massive expansion of monocrops, such as sugar cane and bananas, for export by large landholders. This expansion of export crops further exacerbated the land crisis on the coast, driving many campesinos on the coast to organize to occupy the land due to the inequalities in land availability.

“The problem is that there is a lot of African palm oil, sugar cane, rubber and bananas being planted on the coast,” Marcos said. “These monocrops are leaving us without land to support our families. It was the necessity that drove us to take the finca. [The large land owners] have left us without any land.”

But the support from the CUC has been the key for the occupation on the Guatemalan coast, with the organization providing moral and legal support for the campesinos in Suchitepequez.

“After we launched the occupation, the CUC arrived to provide support,” Francisco said. “The CUC has worked for years to serve and support campesinos across Guatemala.”

The campesinos have also received support from other farmers who have participated in other occupations in the country. They sent others to support the occupation when it began.

“We had a meeting a few days [before the occupation] with other campesinos [that had participated in occupations],” Francisco said. “They saw the necessity of launching the occupation of the land. They decided on the date, where everyone came at 4 p.m. to occupy the land.”

Guatemala has a land problem that has dictated social relations from the Spanish invasion until today. A small percentage of the population controls the majority of arable lands that they utilize for the production of export crops for foreign markets such as sugar cane, African palm oil and bananas. This problem is being exacerbated by the rise of the influence of drug traffickers and criminal networks in the two decades since the end of the internal armed conflict in 1996.

Following the signing of the peace accords, the Guatemalan government established the Land Fund, which was meant to resolve the historic land problem. Yet the high price of the land often keeps it out of reach of landless farmers.

Narcos and land

Drug traffickers have increasingly taken to purchasing land as a means of laundering money, and as a means of transporting narcotics through Central America. As the country continues to work to fight drug trafficking in the country, campesinos have increasingly taken to occupying lands owned by convicted and accused drug traffickers, as well as lands owned by their associates.

The case of Finca Palmeras is a good example of this.

The finca was founded when the Ralda family purchased extensive land holdings in the department of Suchitepequez. Prior to the establishment of the finca, the land was largely used for rice production and cattle ranching.

When Manuel Ralda died, he divided the farm among his children, but his children chose to sell the land, including Finca Palmeras. In 1995, the lands of Finca Palmeras were transferred into the national land registry. Campesinos and others lined up to purchase the lands, but the price was outside the range made available by the Land Fund. The owners of the nine caballerias of land (or a little more than 850 acres) were set at 1.5 million quetzales per caballeria, or a little over 205,000 dollars.

“A group of campesinos entered that wanted to purchase the finca,” Francisco said. “But at the time, the Land Fund only provided credit for 1 million quetzales per caballeria. The fund would not provide the money to buy the land.”

Then entered Juan Alberto Ortiz Lopez — commonly known as Juan Chamale — who was one of the principal drug traffickers in Guatemala, and the main connection to the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. He offered to buy the finca for 3 million quetzales per caballeria, and purchased the property. His goal was to create a front company to hide the transit of drugs from Colombia through the coastal region.

He quickly put in place security to block the local residents from passing through the finca to access the nearby Icán river, which was a popular fishing spot.

“Before we could fish in the rivers without any problem,” Francisco said. “But when Jaun Charmale bought the finca he put in place security guards, and it was prohibited to pass through the finca.”

According to the neighbors and campesinos occupying the finca, Charmale built new routes through the finca in order to move drugs. These routes connected to other fincas, eventually arriving at the Mexican border.

During the time that Ortiz Lopez owned the finca he would rent the lands to the neighboring fincas. This has caused problems for the campesinos occupying the land.

Furthermore, the campesino communities face an uphill battle to gain access to the land. The campesinos have faced intimidation and repression from the nearby fincas, including legal action over their occupation.

“We found ourselves with a problem,” Francisco said. “The neighboring fincas had sugar cane on part of the finca, and they filed a lawsuit against us in order to harvest that years’ crop.”

These lawsuits have included orders for the arrest of the organizers. The farmers also faced an eviction order that the police to date have not carried out.

Ortiz Lopez was finally arrested in 2011 on drug trafficking charges, and eventually extradited to the United States in 2014. At the time of his arrest, he was in possession of eight or nine fincas across Guatemala, which he would rent out to sugarcane producers, especially the nearby finca Palo Gordo. He had used the fincas as a means to launder his money from trafficking.

“The end of [Alvaro] Colom’s administration was when he finally fell,” Francisco said. “The government began to take the cattle that he had on the land.”

The campesinos are emboldened through the Law of Extinction of Domain, which was established in 2010. The law permits the expropriation of any assets of anyone convicted of a crime related to narco-trafficking, or any illicit crime.

Yet the campesinos’ claim is complicated. By the time he was arrested, Ortiz Lopez had put the titles for his land in his youngest son’s name. But campesinos from the region have laid claim to the lands, arguing that the Guatemalan government must apply the law, and expropriate the farm and distribute it among the small farmers.

Violence against occupying farmers

Despite the constant threat of eviction, the community has yet to see any violence. Meanwhile, other communities that have utilized the same law to argue for expropriating land have not been so lucky.

On October 30, 2017, the residents of the Q’eqchi’ Maya community of Chaab’il Ch’och were violently evicted from the homes they had occupied for a year. Police and military burned houses and crops, as well as the belongings of residents.

The community of Chaab’il Ch’och sits on a finca called Santa Isabel located in the municipality of Livingston, Ixabal. The finca was acquired by a shell company owned by former President Otto Pérez Molina.

The finca is currently being administered by Rodrigo Lainfiesta, a businessman and ally of Pérez Molina, who is also facing corruption charges. Pérez Molina is currently being prosecuted for corruption, as well as charges related to his association with drug traffickers.

In an interview for Upside Down World, one member of the occupation stated that they believed the land was used or going to be used for drug trafficking.

Yet, in spite of the violence against other communities, the campesinos in Suchitipequez are confident that they will emerge victorious.

“We are asking God that we will win, and believe we will,” Francisco said. “For our children, we do not want to see any more malnutrition in our communities.”

Two Experiments in Communal Grieving

M.K Gandhi Institute for Non Violence - Sat, 05/19/2018 - 09:00

This past September, more than thirty years after finishing my undergraduate degree, I entered a graduate program on Social Innovation and Sustainability at Goddard College in Vermont. The focus of my studies arose from the work I have the privilege of doing at the MK Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, particularly in relation to addressing issues of alienation and sorrow that so many people of all ages report.

Specifically I am interested in:

  1. how to support people (myself included) to acquire a new set of lens on the world that includes an understanding of systems thinking, which feels critical for responding to and resolving many human challenges;
  2. understanding grief, and creating avenues for sharing unexpressed sorrow and loss that appears to be pervasive in people of all ages, blocking us from loving our lives and from recognizing our power to make the world a better place.

What follows is a description of two efforts to support communal grief work. The first was with a class studying the apocalypse as a theme in US culture at the University of Rochester and the second was a public event called a grief cafe. These two projects represented approximately forty hours of effort.

Learning from the Haudenosaunee

Dr. Leila Nadir is a professor at the University of Rochester in the Environmental Humanities Program.  We met in August in the garden at the Gandhi Institute, to speak about her fall 2017 class on the theme of apocalypse in US culture and media.  Remembering the emotional hardships of my undergraduate days, when issues of nuclear weapons and annihilation were discussed without any acknowledgement for the emotional impact, I asked Leila if she planned to help her students process any of the emotions that this content would stimulate.  She had not and this led to our collaboration. She applied for and received a small grant to bring her class to Syracuse NY to the Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center. Our plan was two fold: for students to learn about the Haudenosaunee people and their two brushes with near-apocalypse, and for them to experience a communal grief ritual.

The Haudenosaunee, commonly called the name Iroquois given by French explorers, have occupied  the lands of what is now New York State for centuries. According to Haudenosaunee written histories, the first near apocalypse of the people over one thousand years ago was the result of an epidemic of warfare, violence, and even cannibalism.  The coming of the person now known as the Peacemaker who helped to establish the Five Nations of the Iroquois, was in response to this crisis.  The second near-apocalypse was a result of the policies of the English, French and then American governments, particularly the Sullivan campaign in 1779 when American troops destroyed forty Iroquois villages just after the fall harvests.  In addition to killing men, women and children, all food was destroyed in hopes of starving those left alive.

The values that emerged from and sustained the Iroquois people through these events, these twin potential apocalypses, are highlighted at the Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center primarily through art and through more than a dozen brief videos featuring interviews with living Haudanosaunee elders who reflect on the values and traditions.

On Sunday, November 12 I spent the day at Skä•noñh with Dr. Nadir and thirteen students, led by Jack Manno and Cindy Squillace.  Both Jack and Cindy were deeply involved with the founding of the center as allies of the Onondaga people and have served as guides for white people to Haudanosaunee culture on many occasions.  Cindy, who is a grief counselor, led the grief ritual. Afterward, we were joined by one of the elders featured in the exhibits, Freida Jacques, clan mother of the Onondaga Nation. The day was designed to educate the students about some of the events named above and to highlight values and practices that sustain Haudenosaunee people to this day. Below are three student reflections from the experience:

“Learning more about Haudanosaunee culture and storytelling made me think about some of the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of what is happening to us and the world around us. The story of the Peacemaker establishing peace without a war particularly struck me; all the previous narratives I had heard, of establishing order, had been preceded by defeating (usually killing) evil. And I guess that was still true in a sense; in a way, the power that evil had over Tadodaho was taken away, but was replaced with a sense of peace and belonging in a way that included him in the peacemaking. It showed that people can change if we have enough emotional reserves in ourselves to let them, and that the capitalist idea of people having their ‘preordained positions’ …is complete nonsense.”

“I was surprised at how moving I found this trip to be.  As someone coming in with little knowledge of Haudenosaunee culture, I did expect the trip to be informative, but I didn’t see it acting as a point of such deep reflection….I think I am not alone in getting alot out of the grief circle we took part in.  I am really grateful that we were able to do that together, and I found it really therapeutic.”

“The workshop on grieving had a very strong impact on me. Over the past few years, I have been spending an increasing amount of time trying to identify and change some of the behavioral characteristics that I had internalized because of the way in which I was raised, and I often felt isolated from my peers. I felt some of that loneliness disappear as people stepped forward to share their own losses and express their own grief at what they had been through. In listening to others share their memories of heartbreak, I felt empowered and more able to express my own pain without worrying about being invalidated or shut down. I also left feeling angry at the idea that we must live our lives in a practical way; so many people go through life without having an outlet for talking about their feelings or allowing themselves to heal from some of the pain that they experienced, simply because of this one assumption. It was an incredible experience for me, and I felt lucky to have been a part of it.”

The Grief Cafe

Last summer, I ran across the phrase ‘grief cafe’.  I liked the phrase as I have heard people express fear of grief rituals and ceremonies, and I wondered if calling it a ‘cafe’ would support interest and curiosity instead. I invited members from my women and race group, Shades of Sisterhood, and my colleagues at the Gandhi Institute to co-facilitate.  At the end, two women from my group and one woman from staff met with me to plan the first two hour event, which took place December 2.

Drawing on wisdom from Francis Weller’s book The Wild Edge of Sorrow as well as our collective past experience, we designed the event to include a welcome, gentle physical movement and meditation, creative exercises, a talking circle and a closing ritual.  The four facilitators decided which pieces they chose to lead and each spoke briefly about their own journey and experience with grief. Six participants attended the event, which was marketed by and hosted at the Gandhi Institute where I work.  With the four facilitators, there were 10 of us in total. All of us participated

After the welcoming circle, we invited silence for the twenty minutes of physical movement and meditation.  Silence continued as people spent thirty minutes in a creative exploration of self-connection, through using provided journals for writing or through drawing and art materials, which were also provided.  One participant elected to simply meditate in lieu of the creative exercise in the meditation space at the Institute. Hot tea was available in the nearby kitchen. Food was not provided, given the challenges many have with food as an emotional crutch.

During the 45 minute talking circle, participants were asked to share what felt true in the moment about their choice to attend and what arose during the quiet of the movement, meditation or creative periods.  One man said he didn’t experience grief and hadn’t cried in years. The only emotion he routinely notices is anger. Other participants shared stories of loss, grief and resilience. Two cried. Another person shared his self-portrait, noticing that in the midst of unacknowledged sorry he drew himself without hands or feet.  He commented, “I have no feet to leave and no hands to help”. After the talking circle, we concluded a closing ritual drawn directly from Weller’s book (p. 163), called the stone ritual.

Acknowledging that this event was an experiment, we asked participants to complete a written evaluation at the conclusion.  On a scale of 1-10, the average of the forms received back was 9.

Closing Reflection

Gandhi and King both spoke about suffering as a redemptive opportunity.  Father Richard Rohr speaks of love and suffering as the two great paths to transformation.  I would like to learn how to support people to turn the straw in their lives into gold, to take the loneliness and fear that we carry in our separate selves and bring them into the potential for fellowship and systemic change that can occur when we share our deep pain in community.

Interested in attending or helping to create a grief café in your school, neighborhood or community?  Email and we’ll make it happen.

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Living Nonviolence - Sat, 05/19/2018 - 07:19

“You are You! That is TRUER Than TRUE!Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein
A sacred text of a different sort came to me as a gift recently. The place of its giving became as Sinai in that moment, a place of revelation and delight in the transmission of Torah from generation to generation. In this case, it was the handing of Torah from younger to older, a child unassuming and unaware of the gift transmitted. On a recent trip to Los Angeles to meet our newest grandchild, we went to pick up our eldest grandchild from school, not so little Leo, now six years old. Leo proudly took us on a tour of his school, showing us the playground first, and then the synagogue around which the school is configured, and then the music room, and the science room, so much opportunity, all part of his life and in some six-year old way seemingly appreciated and not taken for granted.
Finally we came to Leo’s classroom. He opened the door and led us in with a great smile, showing us where he sat to read, where he did math, where he washed his hands. He stopped with us in front of a large, brightly colored poster, seeming to know that it would mean as much to his zayde as to him. Of course I realized immediately from its color and illustration that it was a teaching of “Reb Seuss.” His oma Mieke and I held his hands as we read the words together with all the appropriate drama of something important, of a moment to be marked and remembered.
The words jumped from the poster with the timeless cadence of Dr. Seuss, and with the excited voices of grandparents and grandchild reading together, students all:

Of common threads upon the loom of life, the words sing of universal truths in different tones and hues that each one might recognize in their own way the melody that is truer than true. It is the essence of the Slonimer Rebbe’s signature theme: No human is just the same from the day of the human’s creation and onward; and one person cannot repair that which devolves upon another person to repair. Therefore, there is to each person their own task and purpose through which it is upon them to bring repair in their lifetime (Portion Lech L’cha, Gen. 12:1-17:27).
We are each unique in who we are and in the gifts that we bring to this world and its repair. In the essence of who each one is we become part of something greater than ourselves and are yet integral to that greater whole. It is the nature and lesson of the minyan, the Jewish prayer quorum, a symbolic representation of the community and yet counted by ones. Of that which joins us one to another as a community, each of us in our uniqueness, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch offers a beautiful insight, so simple and so profound from the weekly Torah portion B’har-B’chukkotai (Lev. 25:1-27:34). It is a portion that emphasizes human equality and the responsibility of one for another, to be learned through the profound reorganization of society that is experienced every seventh year through the laws of Sh’mita/the Sabbatical year. Fields are to lie fallow and all are to gather food from what grows of itself. Reminded that the land belongs to its Creator, landowner and tenant, stranger and home-born are all equal, gathering together shoulder to shoulder, a reminder of how it is meant to be, none with the upper hand, wealth redistributed and shared by all.
Drawing together all the preceding verses that bring home God’s vision of human society, become again as the Garden that was in the beginning, the Torah says, v’chey achicha imach/your brother’s/sister’s life shall be bound up with you. Rabbi Hirsch takes the word im/with and explains that it is this simple word that makes individuals into an am/a people. The two words, imand am, are formed of the same two letters, ayin and mem, but one small difference of a vowel allowing for the collective blossoming of individuals into a people. We can only be a people when we are with each other. As the people is reflected in the ways of our being in community with each other, so we are joined in all of our uniqueness, each one’s task and purpose needed to bring repair and make us whole.
In the delighted sharing of a child with his grandparents, we learn from a sacred text so brightly colored what each of us needs to know if within ourselves we would be whole and yet be part of a greater whole. It is, of course, that “you are you, and that is truer than TRUE!

International resistance builds to save Sudanese teen from death penalty

Waging Nonviolence - Fri, 05/18/2018 - 12:27

by Phil Wilmot

Trigger warning: The entire article talks about sexual assaults and abuse.

Last Thursday, Sudanese teenager Noura Hussein Hammad — a rape survivor in a forced marriage — was sentenced to death for killing her husband in self-defense.

It was two years ago when Noura was raped by her husband, while his male relatives forcefully restrained her. When her husband attempted to rape her again the following day, she defended herself by stabbing him to death.

Noura then sought refuge at her family’s home. But this was the same family that — three years earlier, when she was just 15 — had arranged for her to marry her cousin. Upon hearing Noura’s account of what had transpired, her family turned her over to the police, never again visiting or supporting her.

Noura was held in Omdurman prison for a year. During that time, her husband’s family could have urged the court toward monetary restitution and forgiveness, but instead they pushed for the death penalty. The date of Noura’s execution has not yet been set.

In the Sharia law of Sudan, marital rape is not a crime. To the contrary, its family law dictates that a woman cannot refuse sex with her husband, and a girl can be wedded once she hits puberty.

Noura was simply trying to defend her own life in a nation with extremely repressive and patriarchal laws and traditions. But over 700,000 petitioners — organized across the world under the hashtag #JusticeForNoura — are trying to save her life, as well as eliminate laws and practices that punish survivors who resist marital rape with the death penalty.

“I had to do something and not let this happen like it did for Asifa, and Zainab, two little girls that have been recently raped and killed in Pakistan,” wrote petition creator Zaynub Afinnih, who is based in Rouen, France. “I am, too, a teenager, and I could have faced the same thing as Noura if I was born in Sudan.”

Arfinih’s petition is being aided by a complementary strategy. Since direct appeals to Sudan’s government, which is headed by war criminal Omar al-Bashir, might fall upon deaf ears, activists with the Pan-African network Afrika Youth Movement, or AYM, have begun targeting the leaders of other African countries.

“We acknowledge that the Sudanese president is not that interested in the reaction of — or calls from — the West,” AYM North Africa coordinator Sodfa Daaji said. “But we do know that he has an interest in maintaining good relations with African countries. This is why we are asking the African Union to directly follow up Noura’s sensitive case and urge [al-Bashir’s] intervention.”

Despite AYM’s strong desire to save Noura’s life, the group hadn’t heard her story until a few days prior to Thursday’s court hearing. What’s more, Daaji had never worked on an anti-death penalty campaign and had to spend the first three days learning about Sudan’s judicial system, religions and cultures to ensure their advocacy would be impactful.

Using the relationships they have built while lobbying for various causes over the years, movement organizers with AYM’s Pan-African network have managed to draw attention to Noura’s story within the United Nations and the African Union.

According to Sudanese activist Zahra Hayder, outside pressure on Sudan “has often worked.” She cited the case of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, a pregnant Christian teenager who was imprisoned for refusing to convert to Islam and forced to give birth while shackled to the floor in 2014. International outcry drew attention to the plight of non-Muslim Sudanese, and eventually Ibrahim obtained asylum.

If an equally effective international campaign for Noura succeeds, much remains to be done at the grassroots level to protect her and countless other young women facing similar charges. Among the most pressing short-term concerns is Noura’s care while she remains in prison. Nahid Jabralla, director of the Center for Training and Protection of Women and Child’s Rights, or SEEMA, has been in direct contact with Noura.

“She is strong because she knows that a lot of people are supporting her,” Daaji said. “The support is making her feel that she is not alone and that she has a family.”

Even if Noura is released, she faces the possibility of revenge from her husband’s family, or even her own family. So Jabralla and her colleagues are doing everything in their power to ensure adequate protection. Such work, however, carries great risk in Sudan. While attempting to protect females and children within and beyond the capital city of Khartoum, where SEEMA is based, Jabralla has been imprisoned on multiple occasions and subjected to torture. In July 2012, she disappeared for some time, together with more than 2,000 other activists, journalists and members of the opposition during a wave of protests that were ultimately squelched by al-Bashir.

A local campaign called “No To Women Oppression Initiative” organized by a coalition of activists and progressive organizations has built solidarity support groups, a legal support group and awareness-raising actions (mostly on social media) that critique bad laws and practices.

On the legal end, Noura’s lawyers are developing an appeal based on the fact that she never gave consent to her marriage. At the same time, they are also doing all they can to raise awareness of Noura’s story. However, a recent planned press conference was banned by Sudan’s repressive national security forces. According to human rights activists in Khartoum, the crackdown is a direct result of the civil society campaign and the international media attention it’s drawing.

“She’s strong,” Daaji said, in explaining Noura’s current spirits. “Of course, a little depressed, but strong.” Daaji hopes that this campaign positively impacts the lives of more girls than Noura, even in countries beyond Sudan. “We cannot excuse [early marriage] anymore in the name of culture and tradition. Muslims do know that rape is haram, not halal [or forbidden, not permissible.]”

50 years later, the spirit of the Catonsville Nine lives on

Waging Nonviolence - Wed, 05/16/2018 - 12:34

by Frida Berrigan

Frida Berrigan stands in front of the newly unveiled Catonsville Nine historical marker in Catonsville, Maryland with her children. (WNV)

It was a big moment. More than a hundred people watched as a college professor held one end of a heavy vinyl cover, helping an 88-year-old woman, pull it from the top of a tall metal sign. Together, they unveiled a familiar looking historic marker — the kind that draws attention to battlefields drenched in centuries-old blood and the birth places of famous men all over the country.

This one, however, was different.

It read: “On May 17, 1968, nine Catholic activists raided the selective service office in Catonsville and burned hundreds of draft files to protest the Vietnam war.” It now stands on Frederick Road in Catonsville, Maryland — about a block from the building that housed the young men’s draft files.

The 88-year-old woman was Marjorie Melville — one of those nine Catholic activists and, along with George Mische, one of only two still living.

After the unveiling, which took place on May 5, she shared recollections of the action at a nearby church, including a funny story about her husband, Thomas Melville, who responded with a rousing and immediate “I’m in,” when invited to join the action. The two had recently married after leaving the Maryknoll order, where they served as a priest and a nun. “I was mad,” she recalled. “He didn’t consult me, but then I thought about it and decided, ‘I’m in too.’”

In its few sentences of block letters, the historic marker only mentions “priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan” by name. It doesn’t capture Melville’s motivation to join the Catonsville action and draw attention to U.S. military involvement in Guatemala as another Vietnam. She and Thomas shared their experiences in that Central American country in searing testimony captured in my uncle Daniel Berrigan’s play, “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.” The Melvilles brought John Hogan — a former Maryknoll brother who they had served with in Guatemala — into the action. Mary Moylan, another one of the nine, had been a nurse in Uganda, while George Mische had worked in the Dominican Republic. They all said that part of their radicalization, part of the journey that led them to Catonsville, was a result of seeing the far-flung damage wrought by U.S. foreign policy. David Darst, a Christian brother, and Tom Lewis, an artist and recidivist, had both lived in the inner cities and saw a less exotic version of the same brutal dynamic.

The hallmark of so much of our political expression is reactive outrage. It was then too. “Hell no, we won’t go,” was a slogan to be chanted by the young men who were drafted. There is so much to be outraged about, and our outrage matters. But the members of the Catonsville Nine were not outraged. And their action was not a response to the massacre du jour, but to the whole of U.S. foreign policy. As John Hogan said at the trial, “I just want people to live. That is all.” And it was not carried out by those most affected by the draft. In fact, every member of the action was personally exempt from military service by their age, gender or profession, as priests and brothers. It was nine people stepping out of comfort and into commission and conscience.

My father knew he was but one of nine; he was moved by Mary Moylan and Marjorie Melville and her husband. He learned from David Darst, John Hogan and Tom Lewis — his dear friend and co-conspirator in many actions. He was challenged and inspired by George Mische and his brother Daniel Berrigan. He would be quick to point out that the Catonsville Nine was not just the “Berrigan Brothers.”

I don’t have any recollections of the action, since I wasn’t born until six years later. My father also wasn’t one to sit around and tell the peace movement’s “war stories.” But I learned the lasting impact of this one action by listening. Strangers would come up to my father — men of a certain age — while he was pumping gas, buying a newspaper or attending a demonstration to confirm his identity and then share some version of this: “I’m alive today because you destroyed my file. My card was at Catonsville. I was about to be sent to Vietnam. Thank you.” My father would accept their thanks with discomfort and pride. Now, from a greater distance, I can understand the discomfort as part of a veteran’s process of atonement, a life saved from war after so many lives lost in war, and an affirmation of the path — narrow, rocky, grueling and lonely — that he had chosen for himself.

And then there were the friends, fellow community members — people as close as family. One was a young mother on Long Island, raising five boys. On May 17, 1968, she was sitting in her kitchen, listening to the radio, busy with some household task. The news announcer reported that nine Catholic antiwar activists were arrested after destroying draft records. She was a devoted Catholic, and this was an action involving two priests, a brother, a former priest, a former nun and four lay people. “I was sitting down, and I stood up. I haven’t sat down since,” she said. She went on to be a Catholic Worker, peace activist and a dear friend. I have heard that story countless times, from her and many others who were similarly catalyzed into activism by the Catonsville Nine.

Learning about this one day in May through the prism of the transformations of both strangers and friends has helped me see the draft board raid as living and continuing. It may have been 50 years ago that my father was one of nine who broke the law to prevent a greater crime, but it was only a month and a half ago that my mother, Liz McAlister, was one of seven, acting in that same spirit. As a member of the Kings Bay Plowshares, she gained access to the Kings Bay Trident Base in Georgia and symbolically disarmed the warheads, marking them as criminal.

From the Camden County Detention Facility in Woodbine, Georgia, she sent me a statement to share with those who gathered in Catonsville for the unveiling: “May the disarmament continue.” This was in keeping with the message the Kings Bay Plowshares carried onto the naval base, which read, in part: “We come in peace on this sorrowful anniversary of the martyrdom of a great prophet Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years ago today on April 4, 1968 Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as a reaction to his efforts to address the ‘giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.’ We come to Kings Bay to answer the call of the prophet Isaiah to ‘beat swords into plowshares’ by disarming the world’s deadliest nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine.” For this action, they face more than 20 years in prison.

It seems like a very long time.

The Catonsville activists were sentenced to two and three year prison terms, which is also a long time. How do we use our time? My uncle, Dan Berrigan wrote in “Portraits of Those I Love” that “on the one hand, I do not want to live in a world without anger; on the other hand, I am not interested in dying just yet. But I don’t want anger to burn uselessly as a waste flame from an oil stack. Living on, nursing my flame I write. It is a way of surviving. It tells me my soul is my own.”

Action, community, collective courage — that’s the spirit of the Catonsville action. It is a way of survival. It tells us our souls are our own. So, thank you, Brother David Darst, John Hogan, Thomas Melville, Marjorie Melville, George Mische, Tom Lewis, Mary Moylan. Thank you Uncle Dan. Thank you Dad.

And thank you, Kings Bay activists, friends, family: Martha Hennessy, Clare Grady, Father Steve Kelly, Patrick O’Neil, Mark Colville, Carmen Trotta. Thank you, Mom.

Lebanese press for accountability after claims of election fraud

Waging Nonviolence - Tue, 05/15/2018 - 11:33

by Rayyan Dabbous

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Following Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on May 6, more than a thousand Lebanese gathered in front of the Ministry of Interior to challenge its official electoral results. According to the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, an election monitoring group, there were approximately 7,300 legal complaints, including the removal of its monitors from electoral polls during the counting of votes.

Few media outlets, national or global, have focused on these electoral violations, covering instead the unexpected victories of Hezbollah in several districts and the severe losses for the pro-West Future Movement party. Nevertheless, Lebanese civil society groups are continuing to push for accountability. “We would have accepted the results if the electoral process was fair,” said Gilbert Hobeich, a member of the new political party Sabaa. “But there have been all kinds of violations even before election day, from buying votes to threats.”

Civil society groups like Sabaa, LiBaladi, and You Stink have been organizing in recent years and are beginning to catch the country’s attention. The latter only recently got involved in elections, having initially formed during Lebanon’s 2015 trash crisis — a political stalemate that resulted in the piling up of trash all over the country’s streets. The group first gained attention for organizing a protest on August 29, 2015, which attracted 250,000 Lebanese from all sides of the political spectrum. More peaceful protests followed, but they were met with violence from police forces when, according to You Stink, infiltrators sent by the regime vandalized several commercial properties.

Since then, You Stink has been unable to protest in public spaces, forcing its members to build a strong online presence, with a Facebook page that has amassed more than 250,000 followers. The group posts cartoons mocking party leaders as well as memes that add ironic captions next to politicians’ tweets, which regularly go viral in Lebanon. Other actions have reached more of a global audience, including one that involved the use of drones to spoof a film made by the Ministry of Tourism. You Stink juxtaposed the picturesque beaches and mountains of the country in the official video with shots of “rivers of trash,” some of which were real footage from locations the original film had intentionally left out of the frame.

Sabaa is another political party born shortly after the trash crisis. Described on their website as “modern” and “cross-sectarian,” Sabaa is considered to be one of the more organized and better funded new parties. As a result, the traditional parties have accused it of being a “foreign export.” Sabaa’s candidate, Paula Yacoubian, a famous television host, won the party’s only parliamentary seat, although Hobeich insists they should have won “at least two or three more seats.”

Despite having a smaller online presence than Sabaa, LiBaladi is another new political party gaining momentum. It has reached a wide audience in its campaigning by partnering with celebrities — like award-winning director Nadine Labaki and actor Fouad Yammine — who often have more followers on social media than the average Lebanese TV channel. Even TV host Dima Sadek dedicated the last show of her popular program to LiBaladi’s Naila Geagea and Ziyad Baroud, a former Minister of Interior who doesn’t affiliate himself with any of the traditional parties.

Despite the three groups’ intense campaigning in the last few months, Lebanon’s traditional parties have created a united front against them to limit their rise through methods used by totalitarian regimes. Sabaa, LiBaladi and You Stink have all received limited coverage from the country’s main TV channels, which are affiliated with the mainstream parties. They have also faced difficulty hosting their campaigning activities in private spaces. For example, Sabaa had to cancel an event at a restaurant last year because its host received pressure from local officials to close. Meanwhile, around the same time, more than 10 members from You Stink were arrested for hanging posters in Beirut that depicted the faces of the country’s leaders with a caption, saying, “Report them to 112 [911 in Lebanon], those who raped the power of the state.”

Despite the renewed shunning of these groups following claims of election fraud, the nonviolent fight is far from over. While Sabaa and LiBaladi intend to appeal several electoral results, You Stink asked its followers via a Facebook poll if it should “move to the streets.” The results showed resounding support.

New data offers insights into the dynamics of nonviolent resistance

Waging Nonviolence - Sat, 05/12/2018 - 12:02

by Jonathan Pinckney and Erica Chenoweth

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In a recent article for The Guardian, L.A. Kaufman argues that we are living in a “golden age” of protest. But, she cautions, protests are often not enough for movements to realize their desired outcomes. Applying more disruptive methods, like sit-ins or blockades, is a necessary next step for organizers who wish to effect transformative change.

Indeed, tactical innovation and the adoption of a broad range of nonviolent methods is a hallmark of successful resistance campaigns in the past. That said, little systematic research exists to help organizers understand when and how to use different methods of resistance. How can shifting between acts of omission and commission, concentration and dispersion, or protest, noncooperation and intervention advantage or disadvantage nonviolent movements? And how do their trajectories change depending on the national context, the political regime, or the actions of third parties?

Despite a growing literature on nonviolent resistance, many of these questions remain unresolved. In the absence of systematic study, the lessons of prominent nonviolent resistance movements can often be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

For example, in early 2011, the world watched as Cairo’s Tahrir Square filled with protesters refusing to leave until President Hosni Mubarak left power. The occupation of the square was a highly visible tactic that caught the attention of global media and easily spread across front pages and cable news broadcasts. When Mubarak fell in mid-February it was easy for spectators to conclude that mass protests and occupations in key symbolic spaces led directly to his demise.

Yet the occupation of Tahrir Square was not the only action of the 2011 Egyptian Uprising that influenced this outcome. In the days immediately preceding Mubarak stepping down, a wave of strikes also broke out across the country. Organized labor and professional groups walked out of their jobs. In many smaller cities out of sight of major media outlets, protesters also stormed police stations in revenge attacks for police repression.

Moreover, the uprising that swept across Egypt was only the latest iteration in years of popular contention there. Since the early 2000s, beginning with protests against Israel during the Second Intifada and the American invasion of Iraq, Egyptians had been using various techniques of nonviolent action to advocate for major political changes. The 2011 uprising built on the tactical successes and failures of a series of protests in 2008 for greater protection of human rights, which built on an earlier campaign, Kefaya (“Enough!”) that called for the expansion of electoral rights.

In other words, the 17 historic days in Tahrir Square were part of a broader series of contentious acts that followed many years of less visible organizing. To understand the outcome in Egypt and elsewhere, we must understand this complexity — both the intricate repertoire and sequence of tactics that make up nonviolent uprisings as well as the enduring, small-scale mobilization that often precedes them.

To contribute to greater scholarly and practical understandings of the ways in which the timing and sequencing of different tactics lead to different outcomes, and with generous support from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (as well as from the co-investigators’ universities), we introduce the latest version of the long-running Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes data project, NAVCO 3.0. The NAVCO 1.0 dataset contained aggregated information on violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns as a whole and played a crucial role in statistically demonstrating that higher effectiveness of nonviolent resistance relative to violent resistance. NAVCO 2.0 split up these campaigns into yearly observations, allowing for more detailed analysis of change in campaigns over time.

NAVCO 3.0 provides data at a much more granular level, with observations of individual violent and nonviolent tactics on specific days. This allows us to examine the whole complex set of actions and reactions by activists, governments and third parties during violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns. Unlike the previous versions of NAVCO, we also include actions from before and after resistance campaigns, allowing us to examine the dynamics of smaller-scale resistance that do and do not lead to major resistance campaigns, and the cumulative effects of different contentious actions over the long term.

Because of the labor-intensive nature of the data collection (these data are over six years in the making), 3.0 is limited to 21 countries from 1991 through 2012. Even limiting to these countries, the complete dataset contains information on over 120,000 events. We picked the countries in NAVCO 3.0 based on the existence of campaigns in these countries that would give us new insight into the dynamics of nonviolent action. Thus, the dataset includes every country that experienced a major Arab Spring uprising, as well as several additional countries that experienced major nonviolent resistance movements during the time period we were examining (such as Mexico and Kenya) and a few that didn’t have a major nonviolent resistance movement that can be useful to compare as a baseline.

Scholars of peace and conflict have created many amazing resources on events related to nonviolent resistance. In addition to NAVCO, those interested in broader movements around the world can find a wealth of information at the Swarthmore Global Nonviolent Action Database. And for those interested in data about protest events specifically, the ACLED and SCAD datasets contain information on contentious politics in Africa and some additional countries outside the continent. Where NAVCO 3.0 improves these existing resources is in building the theoretical insights of the nonviolent resistance literature directly into the data structure. So, for instance, NAVCO 3.0 includes information on whether events were acts of commission or omission, and what category of Gene Sharp’s division of nonviolent tactics an event falls into (protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention). NAVCO 3.0 also includes measures for whether an individual action sparked backlash, and if so what kind.

Finally, NAVCO 3.0 contains extensive resources for considering the rhetorical picture surrounding nonviolent resistance movements. We have detailed information not just on physical actions by activists like protests and strikes, or government actions like arrests or killings, but also what domestic and international actions said about a particular event — or how nonviolent action helped to change the narrative about a particular issue at home or abroad.

The amount of detail in the data means scholars, activists and other practitioners can use it to gain insight into many questions about nonviolent resistance. Early research has already used the data to look at the factors that lead to breakdowns in nonviolent discipline and gain new insight on how crowd size affects the likelihood that both nonviolent and violent resistance actions have faced repression.

The NAVCO data is freely available for download here. For more information on the structure and sourcing of the data, you can read our article in the Journal of Peace Research, currently available here.

The Korean Peace Movement

Living Nonviolence - Fri, 05/11/2018 - 11:07

            Thanks to the reporting of independent journalists like Sarah Lazare, we are learning the real story behind the historic Korean Peace Declaration. Lazare’s conversation with Korean peace activist Christine Ahn was featured in the web only edition of In These Times, April 30, 2018.  (In These Times).  Her report and the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula are the basis of the following story.            South Korean-born Ahn founded and coordinates Women Cross DMZ ... a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War, reunite families, and ensure women’s roles in peace building. Lazare identifies Ahn and Women Cross DMZ (Christine Ahn - Women Cross DMZ | Ending The Korean War ..).  as one of the key groups that helped oust former South Korean President Park Geun-hye and give President Moon Jae-in a mandate for peace.           According to Ahn, international activists and peace movements forced the North and South Korean leaders to release a statement that declares the “new era of peace,” which includes taking steps toward family reunification, denuclearization, and cessation of all hostile acts. She reminds us all that Korea and the Korean people are at the center of the process leading up to the peace statement.            In her interview with Lazare, Ahn explains that the Candlelight Revolution led to the overthrow of President Park Geun-hye and the election of President Moon Jae-in, who comes from the movement for democracy and human rights. His popularity rating among South Koreans is between 70 and 80 percent.
            Also according to Ahn, in 2016 a white American lawyer, whom she does not identify, showed up at a press conference to accuse the peace movement of being the work of the North Korean government. Now, Ahn says, we have to continue to build an international movement and increase mobilization. More than 20 countries participated in the Korean War. According to one military historian cited by Lazare, during the Korean War at least 18 of North Korea’s 22 major cities were “at least half obliterated.”  When we hear endless stories about the poverty in North Korea this history is seldom told, but is certainly worth remembering as we think about the opportunity of the present and our shared responsibility for the future.            The Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula  (Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the ...) was signed by President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea and Chairman Kim Jong-un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at an Inter-Korean Summit Meeting at the “Peace House” at Panmunjom on April 27, 2018. The two leaders declared that there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula, and promised “to boldly approach a new era of national reconciliation, peace and prosperity, and to improve and cultivate inter-Korean relations in a more active manner.                      The Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Koran Peninsula has three main sections.            The first section begins with a commitment to “reconnect the blood relations of the people and bring forward the future co-prosperity and unification led by Koreans.” It also contains an agreement to hold dialogue “at a very high level” to implement the agreement, and established a joint liaison office. The two sides agree to demonstrate their unity by jointly participating in international sporting events, swiftly resolving humanitarian issues, and proceeding with family reunification programs. The first family reunion will be held on August 15, 2018, National Liberation Day (the anniversary of Korean liberation from Japanese occupation).            The second section commits both South Korea and North Korea to make joint efforts “to alleviate the acute military tension and practically eliminate the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula.” The two sides agree to transform the DMZ into a peace zone, and agree to hold meetings between military authorities. The first meetings will be held at the rank of general in May.            The third section reaffirms “the Non-Aggression Agreement that precludes the use of force in any form,” and contains an agreement “to carry out disarmament in a phased manner.” Both North Korea and South Korea agree to enter into trilateral meetings with the United States and quadrilateral meetings involving the two Koreas, the United States, and China, “with a view to declaring an end to the War and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime.” It also includes a commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
            Getting the United States and China to sign a peace agreement may be the most difficult part of the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula. Informed advocates in the United States can and will make a difference.
Rev. David Hansen

Nicaragua’s protests transcend old political divides

Waging Nonviolence - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 12:27

by Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

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For Nicaraguan university student Rosa, it was the sheer brutality of the police crackdown that left her terrified in her own country.

“I never thought it would be like that,” she said, reflecting on the first time she joined a peaceful protest against proposed social security reforms. Like tens of thousands of other Nicaraguan students, she participated in a wave of demonstrations in mid-April against the Ortega administration’s plans to slash pensions and increase employee contributions to the financially troubled Nicaraguan Institute for Social Security, or INSS.

Despite the tropical heat, Rosa — whose real name has been omitted due to concerns for her safety — and other students hit the streets, joining a human tide that flowed through the capital city of Managua. She had never even thought about protesting before, but on that day hopes were high and the atmosphere exhilarating — that is, until the tear gas canisters started flying.

“At first, I thought I had something in my eyes,” she said, “but then someone told me it was tear gas.”

As she approached the frontlines between protesters and police, the stench of the tear gas seared her eyes and nostrils. Volunteers rushed from person to person distributing cheap surgical masks, vinegar and baking soda. As the day wore on, the city was jolted into a state of fear by the sounds of gunfire.

Since then, human rights groups say more than 60 people were killed amid a violent police crackdown on protests. Over 160 people have been injured by gunfire, with protesters accusing police of spraying crowds of demonstrators with live ammunition.

“What took place is a massacre,” said Marcos Carmona, the director of Nicaragua’s Permanent Commission on Human Rights.

“It’s crazy,” Rosa said, shaking her head. “People were just peacefully protesting.”

The Nicaraguan government has responded by condemning protesters who burned tires and erected barricades, while also vowing to investigate allegations of police misconduct.

“We will start a formal and responsible investigation into the loss of life of students, national police and civilians,” Public Prosecutor Ines Miranda stated.

The government has also announced a truth and reconciliation commission, along with agreeing to participate in national dialogue with opposition groups. The INSS reforms have likewise been suspended — at least for now. Rosa cautiously welcomed these developments, but with little optimism.

“After all these deaths, I think it’s all we have,” she said, referring to the negotiations. Indeed, in recent days Managua has seen a lull in clashes, and a return to normality in much of the city.

However, another protester, feminist activist Maria, whose name has also been changed to protect her identity, said it would be “very optimistic” to believe the crisis is over.

“How can we trust them?” she asked, lamenting that she had little faith in the government’s promises to investigate police brutality.

“It’s like if you killed someone, and were allowed to investigate yourself,” she said. For her, the protests were a sign that now is the time to “rethink the country we want to build. This is the chaos we needed.”

Where did the protests come from?

Until a few weeks ago, such unrest in Nicaragua would have seemed unthinkable. With neighbors like the crime-ridden Honduras and El Salvador, for over a decade Nicaragua has quietly been garnering a reputation as an oasis of peace and security in an oft-troubled region. It’s the kind of place travel aficionados drool over for its idyllic slow pace of life, stunning tropical landscape and welcoming culture. So much so, that in 2010 Nicaragua proudly announced it had hit a milestone of bringing in over a million tourists annually — a major achievement for a country of barely six million inhabitants.

Even the World Bank has praised Nicaragua for its “pioneering strategies to fight poverty.” According to figures cited by the World Bank, between 2014 and 2016 the overall poverty rate in Nicaragua fell from 29.6 to 24.9 percent, while extreme poverty fell from 8.3 to 6.9 percent

Even politically, to the casual observer, Nicaragua appeared to be moving past the scars of the 20th century. However, as the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving.

The legacy of the Banana Wars

At the dawn of the last century, Nicaragua was a key battlefield in the so-called Banana Wars, when the United States sought to assert dominance over its neighbors through a series of military interventions in countries like Panama, Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Nicaragua itself effectively became a U.S. protectorate in 1916, and remained subject to a U.S. military occupation until 1933.

The American grip on the country was largely motivated by fears that Nicaragua might one day build its own canal — one that might rival the canal the United States had just finished building in Panama. The U.S. withdrew, leaving the country’s security in the hands of their close collaborator, National Guard head Anastasio Somoza. Over the next three years, Somoza used terror, political assassinations and election rigging to establish himself as the country’s undisputed dictator.

The Somoza dynasty ruled the country like a family fiefdom until 1979, when the Marxist-inspired Sandinista revolutionaries seized power. The victory, however, was short lived, and throughout the 1980s the U.S.-backed Contra terrorists waged an insurgency against the Sandinistas that left over 30,000 dead. In 1990, the war-weary Nicaraguan electorate delivered a surprise blow to the Sandinistas, voting out incumbent president Daniel Ortega.

However, that wasn’t the last of Ortega, who won the 2006 presidential elections with 38 percent of the vote. Despite the middling victory, Ortega would go on to remain in office until today.

The new Sandinismo

Ortega built his administration on two pillars of support. On one hand, welfare programs funded by regional ally Venezuela maintained Ortega’s revolutionary credentials. At the height of the Chavez-era, Venezuelan aid made up roughly a third of the Nicaraguan government’s annual budget.

On the other hand, the new Sandinismo was more than willing to compromise with their old enemies: Nicaragua’s business elite. Ortega even formed an alliance with COSEP, an influential council of business leaders. The deal was simple: COSEP would provide political support for the Ortega administration, so long as the president consulted them on economic matters.

This uneasy alliance worked – at least on paper. Poverty rates were nudged downwards, and Ortega even dusted off those old plans to build a Nicaraguan canal. To the outside world it looked as though Nicaragua was finally at peace.

“But it was a fake peace,” said Maria.

Critics of Ortega have accused him of presiding over a purge of public sector employees and a campaign of persecution against opposition parties. Nonetheless, even until earlier this year polls indicated Ortega remained one of the most popular heads of state in the region. Then came the International Monetary Fund.

The INSS reforms

For years, COSEP and the Ortega government have been negotiating over long overdue reforms to Nicaragua’s social security system, the INSS. In 2017, the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, warned the INSS’s financial situation was becoming untenable, and urged Ortega to slash welfare benefits by 20-30 percent. The IMF also called for increasing the retirement age to anywhere from 63 to 65. COSEP has agreed reforms are needed, but in April withdrew from talks with the government after Ortega refused to agree to deeper economic reforms. The government reacted by publishing its own proposed INSS reforms, which included cuts far below what the IMF demanded, while also balancing the increased costs between both employers and employees.

According to economist Jake Johnston, who is a research associate at the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, the government proposed increasing employer and employee contributions to the INSS by 3.5 and 0.75 percent respectively, along with a 5 percent cut to pensions.

COSEP responded by accusing Ortega of failing to consult them and called for protests. The call was immediately met by university students, who took to the streets by the thousands.

Johnston said the original IMF proposals would have likewise probably been rejected by the Nicaraguan public. “There is little question that a 20 percent reduction in benefits and/or an increase in the retirement age would have been met with resistance by workers and pensioners alike,” he said.

Nonetheless, he argued the IMF itself wasn’t to blame for the current unrest — at least not directly.

“I don’t think you can put blame on the IMF directly, since there is no current IMF program in Nicaragua and therefore no direct implications for the government not to follow its recommendations. Of course, the IMF research can be used by those advocating for more draconian reforms,” he said.

Reflecting on the political maneuvering that preceded the protests, Maria said the IMF deserves part of the blame, adding, “But what makes it ironic is that Ortega … is accepting [these reforms] from a capitalist, imperialist organization. [Ortega] is supposed to be from the left, fighting imperialism. All his speeches are about fighting the Yankees and defending the country from imperialists. But it’s all just bullshit.”

Sandinismo betrayed?

Frustrated and exasperated, Maria said she felt Ortega had betrayed the original, revolutionary Sandinista ideals.

“Yes, the Sandinistas made mistakes [in the 1980s] … but what we have today is not what people died for. What we have is exactly what they were willing to give their lives against,” she said.

Of course, not everyone agrees. The Nicaraguan left-wing media collective Tortilla con Sal has argued Ortega is the victim of a misinformation campaign from the right-wing. “In Nicaragua, the trigger for the initial protests was extreme misrepresentation of proposed social security reforms,” they noted in a recent article for the Venezuela-based teleSUR network.

“Right-wing news outlets and social media networks demonized and distorted the government’s proposal for modest, fairly distributed increases in social security contributions, plus better health care coverage for pensioners. But they systematically omitted the business sector’s savage, IMF-inspired neoliberal proposals to cut benefits,” they argued.

“We have two narratives, I think both have a little bit of truth,” Maria conceded, noting that “we have CNN, Telemundo and Univision” all promoting an inaccurate narrative that “people are uprising because Ortega is socialist.”

However, she also lambasted news outlets sympathetic to Ortega, like teleSUR and RT, for dismissing protesters as paid agitators.

“We don’t receive any money, and we’re risking our lives going to the streets,” she said firmly, noting that many of the protesters themselves were once ardent, revolutionary Sandinistas.

“My neighborhood in general is Sandinista,” she said, reflecting on one of the initial protests in her neighborhood in late April.

“Some of my neighbors who I considered very, very strong Sandinistas were there,” she said. The words of one disgruntled Sandinista in particular stuck in her mind. It was a woman who had lived through the violence of the 1980s and remained committed to the original revolutionary cause. “She said, ‘We’re [still] the same Sandinistas, but we don’t agree with this prick.”

What comes next?

At this point, the discussion on the streets of Managua has moved beyond the INSS reforms, COSEP, the role of the IMF and even the students. Instead, the crisis has given birth to a much broader discussion about the future of Nicaragua — a discussion that supersedes old political identities.

“This is not coming from the right parties. It’s not like Venezuela. We don’t have a Leopoldo Lopez; We don’t even have a leader,” Maria insisted. Instead, ordinary Nicaraguans are uniting in response to the crisis in ways that would have been unimaginable even just a few months ago. “My feminist, head-shaved, free-the-nipple-types are now [marching] alongside Catholics. We don’t have right-wing parties or the CIA paying us.”

Rosa agreed, saying, “It’s not even about the politicians anymore.” She argued the discussion is now about giving everyday Nicaraguans the opportunity to once again dream of a better country — of speaking openly about the nation’s problems. Since no political party represents their interests, Rosa said she hoped to see the protests tackle the culture of “bad politics” across the spectrum. In the end though, it’ll be up to the people to decide what happens next.

“We’re going to keep fighting. We just want a better country, and all of the youth, the people, who believe in a better future for us,” she said, though she admitted the road ahead for Nicaragua seems unclear right now.

“I know we’re going to get through this,” she affirmed. “[Nicaragua] has so much to offer the world … I don’t know when or how, but we’re gonna make it work.”


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