Thursday, December 6, 2007

Listening is an Act of Love

While recently visiting the Library of Congress, I stumbled upon the StoryCorps project, one that hopes to honor the lives of Americans through recording their stories. It began in October of 2003 with one recording booth placed in the Grand Central Terminal. Here, anyone could bring someone they knew to ask them questions and have their conversations recorded. Through these intimate interviews, a new form of American history has been written, and it has grown into a nationwide program. After the success of their first booth, Story Corps added two mobile recording studies in 2005 that travel across the country. To date, these trailers have visited 46 states and over 70 cities. Now, there are recording booths in Milwaukee, Nashville, and another one in New York City.
Because of the program's success, special recording initiatives have begun to tell the stories of those affected by September 11th, those affected by memory loss, and African-Americans . The stories collected about September 11th will be archived at the memorial being currently constructed in NYC.
The organization has grown leaps and bounds, and if you are unable to visit one of their trailers or sites, there are other ways to be involved. You can hear the stories on NPR's "Morning Edition" every Friday. If you miss the airing, you can subscribe to the iTunes podcast. Or, if you'd rather read the stories than listen to them, you can purchase the new novel Listening is an Act of Love, a compilation of the recordings. While here in DC, you can visit the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress like I did to see their display. Stories and videos are also available on YouTube. If none of these alternatives satisfy you, you can gather up some of your friends and family members and request a booth be delivered to you. (Keep in mind that there is a charge for this service.)
As a Peabody Award winner, StoryCorps is nationally recognized for its excellent services and is offering Americans everywhere to share their stories. If there is someone you love and you would like to know more about them, this may be the perfect way to do so. And, being part of the new making of history isn't bad either. :)

Cities for Life and The Death Penalty in the News

On Friday, November 30th, the Community of Sant'Egidio, a worldwide Catholic movement (I lead the prayer group here at Georgetown) organized the fifth annual World Day of Cities for Life--Cities Against the Death Penalty. 700 cities across the world participate as a sign of their moral alliance against capital punishment. In many of these cities, symbolic monuments are illuminated as a sign of the city's commitment to bringing and end to the death penalty across the world. The Washington Community of Sant'Egidio gathered Friday night at St. Stephen Martyr Church in Foggy Bottom to participate in solidarity with the rest of the world in a "prayer for life in death row."

In other important news about the death penalty, the state of New Jersey is growing closer to becoming the first state to legislatively abolish capital punishment since it was reinstated by the Supreme Court thirty years ago. After a legislative committee heard testimony yesterday, eight Democrats in the state Senate Budget Committee gave majority approval to a measure to end the death penalty. The repeal will go before the entire Senate soon. Both Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts back this repeal, so it is expected that it will become law. Although it was before a budget panel, the debate focused heavily on questions of morality and deterrence. Many religious leaders and civil-rights activists spoke out in favor of the repeal.

What with the current staying of executions until the Supreme Court rules in the Baze v. Rees case, it is definitely a time of optimistic hope for opponents of capital punishment.

How do you think opponents of the death penalty can best act to bring an end to capital punishment? Do you identify more with principled nonviolent actions (à la the Community of Sant'Egidio) or do you think more pragmatic, legalistic methods are better? Or perhaps they work hand in hand.

Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in Pretoria

On December 5th in Pretoria, South Africa, hundreds of citizens marched with shirts with the slogan across the chest "50/50 No Compromise / No Going Back" in order to promote equal gender representation in government. The activists marched from Sammy Marks Square to the Union Buildings in an attempt for the government to sign a memorandum promising a stronger effort for gender equality in the government. The march went over quite positively with government officials, as the memorandum was received by Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad and signed by local government deputy minister Nomatyala Hangana. These government officials, among several others, even joined in on the march along with several organizations including Gender Links and the Women's League of the African National Congress.

As to the campaign's goal of creating a completely equal gender ratio in government positions, Minister Pahad remarked, "There is no reason why there shouldn’t be a 50/50 balance in government." Not only women participated in the march, as many men and youth also took part, supporting the cause and enjoying the entertainment provided by singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka at the Union Buildings. The march was not, however, only directed at gender equality in government but also at violence against women and children in Africa, about which minister Hangana stressed education as a solution: "To curb the levels of violence against women and children we’d like to see children be taught against women abuse."

Overall, the march seemed to be a success as a part of the 16-day campaign.

The event is covered by an article in The Times.