Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Saffron Revolution -- Burma

Hello All~
This entry by no measure is meant to count as "my" blog entry. However I wanted to alert all of you to the actions developing on campus in the next couple of days relating to events in Burma. The following messages are from my friend, Emma. She left Burma with her family several years ago again is now mobilizing the Georgetown community to respond to recent events in the region.

"Please show your support for the monks and people of the military-run country of Burma this Friday in a very simple way:



"Reaching a degree of fervor and boldness that hasn't been seen for nearly 20 years, the people of Burma are SERIOUS in their desire be freed from military rule. They are holding PEACEFUL protests, forming protective chains around tens of thousands of Buddhist monks marching through Rangoon and Mandalay chanting for democracy and dialogue.

HOWEVER, a military crackdown may unfortunately be imminent, they have imposed a CURFEW, forbidden the RIGHT TO ASSEMBLE, and are reportedly ordering monks' robes in order to incite violence within the protesters (so they'll have an excuse to use violence).

Help us keep the world's attention on Burma and the actions of the military!!! The more people who know about the events of the country, the better. Please take the time to PUT ON A RED
TOP THIS FRIDAY, and tell anybody you know about it. PLEASE INVITE PEOPLE TO THIS EVENT, we need your help!!!"

A summary of events is here, and a petition requesting the UN to take action is here. Further news can be found at The Irrawaddy.

Friday, September 21, 2007

So MUCH nonviolence in the News!

As my students do a great job developing their blogging skills, I'm falling behind in all the items in the news!

The huge anti-war marchs of the weekend may have been compromised by the online advocacy. Read Marc Fisher's wonderful piece and our changing ways of political action. As the week started, it wasn't all about arrests. In this piece by Paul Duggan, we see how protesters communicate with authorities and choose their strategies.

There was a magnificent concert, headlined by Miss Aretha herself, demanding R*E*S*P*E*C*T and raising money on September 18th to establish the MLK Memorial on the National Mall. The Washington Post had a piece on the nonviolent message of David Cronenberg's very violent Eastern Promises.

Yesterday, both the Senate and President Bush condemned's full page ad blasting General Petraeus as "General Betray us." Was the ad strategic? It seems to have backfired and now the organization is using it's scarce time and resources scrambling to defend its actions.

Yesterday was an especially busy day. The civil rights movement may have experienced a rebirth with a huge outpouring of support demanding fair treatment for the Jena 6, a movement largely built under the inspiration of a drive time radio personality. Over 100 students at the University of Wisconsin protested against Haliburton at their school's career fair. Around 1500 monks in Myanmar continued their month-long protests against the government. A religious symbols, their marches have brought fewer reprisals than other actions. To escalate their actions when the government missed a deadline to apologize, they will refuse to take alms from soldiers and other government officials: a very public act of shaming.

Today and every third Friday, United for Peace and Justice is sponsoring a Moratorium Campaign to end the Iraq war.

All these actions. Any proposals? Any solutions?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Scripts aren't just for Hollywood

Last class we discussed different actions people take to reach out to their respected representative in which we focused the different responses congressional offices take toward these actions.

Witness for Peace is a faith-based non-profit that utilizes grassroots advocacy and recently sent me a "script" to use when contacting my representative about a resolution that addresses the discrimination of Afro-Colombians. I wanted to bring this up to highlight the different methods grassroots organizations appeal to the masses and organize their membership base to work for their cause, specifically with respect to reaching out to congress and representatives.

The opinion of the class seemed to disfavor the mass-calling approach, but I was am still curious as to what people think about it. Has anyone participated in such an approach or been the recepient? What about the benefit of empowering members to learn about an issue and try to be persuasive?

Here is the script for an example:

Script for Calls for HR 618, Resolution on Afro-Colombians

"Hello, this is ______________ from _______ (town). Can I please speak with your foreign policy legislative assistant, ________________?"

"I'm calling to encourage Rep. ________________ to co-sponsor H. Res. 618 on the plight of Afro-Colombians, a bipartisan resolution introduced by Rep. Donald Payne. Afro-Colombians are an extremely marginalized and vulnerable sector of Colombian society, and are one of the groups hit hardest by the ongoing violence, internal displacement, racial discrimination, and social and economic exclusion in Colombia. Co-sponsoring H. Res. 618 will help to honor Afro-Colombians for their contributions to society, and encourage the Colombian government to do more to end the discrimination, marginalization, and violence against them.

(If live person) This is especially important to me because _______________________. Do you think we can count on your boss to support this resolution?

(If message) To sign on as a co-sponsor, please contact Stephanie Gidigbi in Rep. Payne's office at 5-3436.

If they would like to see the full text of the resolution, please offer to email it to them.
Click here for the resolution.

Any particular strengths or weaknesses of this one in particular?

Wear Black Today, 9/20

As a show of solidarity, organizers of todays actions in protest of the treatment of the Jena 6, ask that we wear black.

Today's Washington Post has an excellent piece covering the history and development of national support for the 6 black students who originally faced attempted murder charges, as opposed to white students who have had no charges against them.

Dress accordingly!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Protest of the Tree Dwellers

There are people living in the old oak trees on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.According to the New York Times, protesters took to the trees in December 2006, hoping to forestall the construction of a $125 million athletic center, which would require that the university demolish the venerable oak grove. The university has not remained unresponsive to the protest, installing a chain link fence on 29 August 2007, and seeking a court order to eject the protesters, on grounds of health and safety threats. Unfortunately for the university, the fence has aroused widespread support for the protesters throughout the community, with supporters gathering to throw food and other supplies over to the beleaguered advocates.(Save the Oak Grove Mini Documentary courtesy of YouTube)

Activists say the university cannot knock down trees older than the community of Berkeley. University officials say their new athletic center must be near their football stadium. The City Council says the site slated for building is unsafe, due to its proximity to a seismic fault. Conservative bloggers say the "hippies" just don't like football, and the change will be good for the university. ("Instead of smelly hippies and fulminating Marxists, images of celebrating frat boys, cute and sexy cheerleaders, and heroic athletes dominate media mentions of Berkeley," writes Thomas Lifson of the American Thinker blog.)

Despite criticism, the community of Berkeley has largely rallied around the activists. “This is remarkably unified,” said protester Zachary Running Wolf. “You’ve got the affluent people living in the hills, who normally wouldn’t mix with the food-not-bombs people or the anarchists or the Native Americans or the environmentalists. It’s pretty wild.”

Meanwhile, the conflict continues. The university's case against the protesters will be heard in Alameda County Superior Court on 1 October 2007, after the City Council has brought its suit on 19 and 20 September. Are the "hippies" being unreasonable? Is the university being unsensitive to the environmental and historical value of the trees? Or are the protesters fighting a losing battle in the changing social atmosphere of Berkeley? The courts will decide, but in the meantime, the activists remain in their trees.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dignity, Equality and Inalienable Rights

A Review of Archbishop Tutu's Memoir:
God Has A Dream

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was born in South Africa on October 7, 1931. He grew up in a segregated country where he was considered a second-class citizen. He was educated in the Bantu system, which was the inferior schooling designated for black communities. Though he had hoped to go to medical school, his family was unable to afford it, so he followed in his father’s steps by teaching after his graduation from the University of South Africa in 1954. He later began his theological studies and in 1960 he was ordained as a priest, after which he furthered his education in England. From the late sixties through the mid seventies he held a series of positions in South Africa and England, finally settling with his family in South Africa in 1976, first as the Bishop of Lesotho and then in 1978 as the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches.

Archbishop Tutu’s political activism began in ’76 when he returned to South Africa to witness the Soweto riots, which were a series of protests against the apartheid education laws. His focus was peaceful social change based on reconciliation, which he explains in depth in his book God Has A Dream. In 1984 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role as a unifying force in the active, peaceable fight against the apartheid government. In 1986 he was elected the first black-African Archbishop of South Africa. To date Archbishop Tutu has held a series of positions in international peace and reconciliation movements and has been awarded a series of honorary doctorates and prizes for his work in social activism.

Tutu’s wife, Leah, of fifty-two years and his four children have been an inspiration to his continued work for the betterment of the human community. Early in his career he was deeply inspired by the examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and the Dalai Lama. As he worked toward toppling the oppressive South African government, he also drew on the example of Nelson Mandela, who had been angry and violent upon his incarceration and was transformed by his experience into one of the greatest moral leaders in history. The greatest inspiration for Tutu has been his relationship with God, as developed through his academic and spiritual training, his reading of the Bible, his experience living in God’s world and practicing His principles in his daily living.

God Has A Dream is a book written by the Archbishop (with Douglass Abrams) as a collection of his observations and experience regarding affecting non-violent change for a more peaceful, equal, loving future for the human family. The book is divided into chapters, each dedicated to a particular aspect of Tutu’s experience with and reflection on the non-violent transformation of his country’s socio-political system.

Tutu’s book focuses very clearly on several themes, using a series of descriptions, ideas, experiences and stories to illustrate these points. Primarily, he seeks to impart his vision of God’s dream for us. The entire book revolves around the relationship between God and humanity, our various responsibilities and the various possibilities in light of the state of the planet, as well as our willingness to partake in God’s ideal. His foundation is clearly in his religious training, though it is certainly not limited to his interpretation of the Bible. He uses Scripture to support his ideas, more by weaving the myth into his reality than by depending upon direct scriptural guidance.

That the foundation of the book is rooted in religious ideals is both a strength and a weakness. Because of Tutu’s emphasis on ecumenical understanding, this book will speak to anyone who has a fundamental belief in God, whether they be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or otherwise. He periodically addresses the question of theology in his discussions and makes clear that his ideas will work for anyone who chooses to live by them. His philosophy is not one that depends on a certain kind of religious commitment or denominational devotion. He is more concerned with the unity of humanity than with the propagation of Christian ideals. At the same time, the book is replete with references to God and Christianity. While that is his experience, and must necessarily be a part of his memoirs, it could turn away those who outright reject religion an ineffective or even harmful in conflict resolution. Tutu’s solution is simply to ask that everyone who can do so have an open mind.

His major strength lies in the method of his approach. Throughout the book Tutu offers not only his opinion on past experiences, but also provides a solution for current and future conflicts. He address is not a pie-in-the-sky look at the world. He concretely recognizes the faults and difficulties we face as a human community and proceeds to explain a method of transformation and reconciliation that has worked in similar, seemingly-hopeless situations of oppression. A very clear example of this practical attitude is the postscripts, which he dedicates to a list of international organizations and their contact information as well as a series of questions and reflections for the reader to address oppression and non-violence in his/her own life. Both of these are simple and direct ways in which the reader can bring his words to life, hopefully further affecting non-violent change throughout the world.

The most obvious weakness of his work is that his argument for reconciliation is a radical step away from the common retributive justice upon which most world-wide judicial systems are based. In order to put into affect his ideas about compassionate reconciliation (which is notably different from turning a blind eye to injustice), the entire social structure of every country would have to change beginning with the individuals calling for a new judicial paradigm. This would create a shift in the government that would allow a new form of justice to reign. The difficulty is that our systems are so deeply-rooted in our socio-political structure that we would have to restructure society in order to create this kind of change. People who enjoy the benefits of outright and structural violence would have to be willing to give up their positions of power, probably due to a massive revolution (ideally a peaceful one), forcing a shift in power. This great social transformation wounds like a beautiful ideal of peace and equality, but when applied to the grand scheme of social corruption, it appears to be an awfully overwhelming task.

Upon reading Archbishop Tutu’s God Has A Dream I certainly felt inspired. His speech flows beautifully and gracefully, leaving the reader with a sense of floating through another world in the hands of a trusted guide. His journey through racism, theology, violence, apartheid, peaceful revolution, reconciliation, and beyond is a powerful story that encourage hope and motivation towards transformation. I deeply admire Tutu’s willingness to speak his mind, though his opinions may not always be popular, though his solutions may not seem simple or easy, though his ideals may seem lofty. I have often heard people question his certainty, labeling it as arrogance. (This has particularly been the case regarding his speeches on Rwanda and Israel.) I wonder if his experience and promises are truly universal or if the people who do not yet believe simply lack the understanding that is required to live such a life of transfigured suffering.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Better "Arms Race"

There's not much new to say on 9/11, so let's revisit the arms race!
Whether nukes or small arms, here's an arms race that's much preferred. This photo, taken by "thefirstnoname" is from the competition at Harrison Hotsprings in British Columbia.
May ALL arms races be this nonviolent!

March on Washington

Put on your Marching Shoes!!
This Saturday beginning at noon, organizations including the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and Racism), Veterans for Peace (VFP), and Grassroots America will be sponsoring a March on Washington to protest the Iraq War. Earlier this week, General Petraeus testified to Congress that 30,000 troops would be coming home by next summer; however, he did not say when all of the troops would return. In response, Rep. Tom Lantos,(D.-Calif.) said, "This clearly is nowhere near enough...It is time to go - and to go now."
Thousands of Americans from across the country agree with Lantos and will be expressing their frustrations this weekend in DC.

"We are obligated to take the next step as a peace movement. We cannot become the path of least resistance. This next step is action. It is time we throw our bodies on the gears of the war machine and shut it down, " says Tina Richards (Founder of Grassroots America).
After marching from the White House to the Capitol Building, protesters can either attend a legal rally near the Capitol or participate in a "Die-In" at the Peace Monument symbolizing the loss of American and Iraqi lives as a result of this war. Since the "Die-In" is an act of civil disobedience, those who partake might be arrested. This massive protest is part of a week of action including Truth in Recruiting and March Inside Congress.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Jena 6 Rally of 9/5 at Howard University

USA Today reported that 1500 people, including representative Maxine Waters, came out in support of the Jena 6 at a rally on September 5th. According to a news release by Howard University officials, speakers "implored students to remain committed to a larger cause of preserving human dignity and equality. 'We have to hold ourselves to a higher moral and ethical standard than the legal system,' [Keynote speaker Dr. Greg] Carr said. 'The efforts at Howard and around the country demonstrate that there is hope.'" The rally attracted hundreds and was covered by local news network WUSA9. The following video was posted on YouTube.

One organization, ColorofChange, is hosting an online drive for others to contribute to the defense fund and express their concern for the Jena 6 to Govenor Kathleen Blanco, another form of non-violent mobilization!!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Trip to Georgia?

I received an email today from an organization I worked for this summer reminding me about the opportunity to protest WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation, formerly the School of Americas). I thought I would post about it in case anyone was interested and wanted to plan ahead for the weekend in November!

The School of Americas is located in Fort Benning Georgia and teaches military techniques to Latin Americans. SOA Watch explains in more detail:

"Over its 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins."

Every year thousands of people show up at Fort Benning to protest the operation and many participate in civil disobedience. Witness for Peace, where I worked, organizes events all weekend.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Save the Pool!

When you teach a class on active nonviolence, it's hard to stand by when an opportunity presents itself to your own kid.

My son's school has a pool that the YMCA had been running until this week. It was too costly, and the pool that had also been used to the elementary school's PE program, was closed indefinitely. The PTA and other school elements asked folks to show up at a City Council meeting with signs reading "SAVE OUR POOL," hoping that the City of Takoma Park would act.

He wanted to go! He made a sign, trying to decide whether to say "Our pool" or "The pool" (he's very literal) and just before rushing out of the house, I was trying to think about what could add a little umph to this action. What was symbolic? What would be attention getting?

SWIMSUITS! Let's go in our swimsuits! I asked my son if he'd do it, and this child, normally very concerned about what his peers think, immediately said, "Sure." Then I felt guilty and thought that if he was willing to do it, I should be. So we both donned suits, goggles, and towels. Not a lot of places to put a camera, so the picture was taken at home.

At the meeting, we were the envy of all the other activists. "Great idea!!" "We should have worn bathing suits!" "We're lamenting the fact that we didn't think of that!" We got a lot of approving smiles,even had our pictures taken. If there's been press, I'm sure we'd have been in the paper, but alas, I think no media was called. The City Council praised the twenty or so "young activists" who turned out (there's a "Young Activists Club at the school run by one of the city council members) and explained how they'd need cooperation from the Montgomery County Council and school board. This wasn't just a city decision. A couple dozen people, many kids, spoke on the matter, including my son!

The debrief on the way home emphasized WHY we'd worn the swim suits, how a visual communicates as much if not more than words, and how an action has to be visually appealing to attract media. And how most Americans haven't spoken in front of their city councils, let alone a 10 year old! I hope this helped him get over his fear, to see how easy action can be. And it would be nice to save the pool, too.