Thursday, November 27, 2008

Developmental Studies at Mount Vernon Place UMC

Inspired by Katie, I would also like to briefly share my experience with Georgetown’s Community Based Learning Program. I am participating in the program through Professor Sam Marullo’s sociology class, “The Contemporary City.” This semester, I have spent a large amount of time working with Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church (MVPUMC). The Church is located at 900 Massachusetts Avenue NW. Its Greco-Roman architecture is very recognizable, especially to those entering Washington via New York Avenue. Recently, MVPUMC has undergone extremely extensive renovations. This renovation would not have been possible if the Church had not sold valuable property adjacent to its current location. A private developer is using the land which the congregation sold to build “trophy office space.” Although this may seem contradictory to the Church’s mission, MVPUMC has already bought back approximately two floors in the new building.

Working with a classmate, I have created a report analyzing the congregation’s faith-based development initiatives. My professor is involved with an organization called Faithworks, Inc. Composed of numerous community leaders, Faithworks assists churches in developing their assets with a mind toward the values of their congregation and community. This may include creating affordable housing, educational opportunities, or other resources strongly benefitting the needs of the immediate community. In the past several months, I have met with numerous leaders at MVPUMC. I have spoken extensively with the MVP’s current pastor, Donna Claycomb Sokol. She has been extremely helpful in revealing to me the reasons for her congregation’s development. We have also spoken with several other members of the congregation involved in the decision-making process and future planning.

This CBL project has been invaluable because it has given me an inside perspective on the grounded reality in which non-profit organizations must operate. These organizations are often very value-oriented, but it is ridiculous for them to function strictly on these principles. As I have seen, there must be a strong degree of pragmatism. For broader sociological reasons, the congregation of MVPUMC dwindled incredibly throughout the second half of the twentieth century. However, they recently been riding a strong wave of resurgence. Development in the region (such as Gallery Place and U Street Revival), pushed up property values allowing them to sell their adjacent property for a large amount of money. As a result, the Church has been able to continue its mission of uniting people in Faith and building a stronger community.

It has been quite rewarding seeing the ways in which social concepts can be applied directly to the surrounding community. I would strongly encourage others to participate in similar programs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

There is still hope!

Michelle Rhee in the Media

There have been several interesting articles published about Michelle Rhee in the past few days. Last Sunday, the Washington Post published an article by Bill Turque detailing Rhee and Mayor Adrien Fenty’s plan for creating an alternative school system. Rhee and Fenty hope to restore, “the District's power to create nonunionized charter schools.” Rhee has dubbed the creation of this alternative charter system, “Plan B”. The Washington Teacher’s Union strongly opposes this measure. However, Rhee hopes that by using this system she can more easily fire and replace teachers who are not performing to her standards. In answering questions about this Rhee and Fenty deflected all questions to Mafara Hobson. Press access was so limited that the Washington Post was forced to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a statement drafted by Rhee regarding this plan.

This bizarre relationship between Rhee and The Washington Post is in itself newsworthy and documented by the Washington City Paper in its latest issue, dated November 19, 2008. Mike DeBonis analyzes the ways in which national reporters have been granted exceptional access to Rhee. Yet, local sources, especially the Post’s Bill Turque, have struggled tremendously to gain access to Rhee.

Regardless, Rhee unveiled a very promising, “Action Plan” this past week. Her 79-page plan included a number of promising, progressive ideas. Reading The Washington Post’s article and studying the plan, it is hard not to be inspired by Rhee’s ideas. Her strategies are detailed, yet broad in scope, from reducing school violence to improving community involvement. I was also struck by the ways in which Rhee’s plan seems to conform to Christopher Kruegler and Peter Ackerman’s “12 Principles to a Nonviolent Campaign.” Most aspects of her report seem to represent a plan destined for solid success.

I am astounded by the contradiction reflected in these articles. Rhee’s plans for reform are extremely impressive! She indicates in the City Paper article that she receives a large amount of fan mail from outside Washington. But, amongst local resident and media, she does not enjoy such a polished image. This amazes me. If she has such incredibly good ideas and intentions, why is she not more transparent? In the minds of her critics, Rhee’s secrecy easily transforms her office into a bastion of social engineering. I sincerely hope that she places more faith in the metropolitan community so as to build cohesive support for her powerful ideas, ensuring that they do not die in the hands of petty arguments.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No on Prop 2

This is a belated post, but the issue is of no less importance. If you search on YouTube for "No on Prop 2," you won't find much about California's recent ballot measure. The opposite is true of "Yes on Prop 2." Although 60% of the vote is not phenomenal, it seems as though the passage of Prop 2 was inevitable. Nevertheless, many vegans oppose this kind of measure, which calls for the ban of caged animal farming. This may seem perplexing, but the reason is a strategic one.

Popular understanding of veganism is based around its practical application in the form of a diet and abstinence from using animal products, leaving the principles behind the practice open to inference. However, Leslie Cross, one of the founders of the vegan movement, wrote in 1951 that veganism is first and foremost a principle from which the practice logically flows. The principle, what some are now calling abolitionism, is "that man should live without exploiting animals." In other words, veganism is not about protecting animals from suffering, which is the stated goal of PETA; rather, it is about liberating animals from the system of exploitation that is the root of much unnecessary suffering.

Hence, the Election Day post by Dani of "The Vegan Ideal" blog discussing the significance of "alternative means of exploitation." Dani eloquently writes:
As Mohandas Gandhi said, we must be the change we want to see in the world, not the darkness we wish to leave behind. Exploitation, even "reformed," is the darkness we want to leave behind. Whether or not its advocates are conscious of it, supporting alternative methods of exploitation obstructs, marginalizes, and negates veganism (the change we want) here and now.
In sum, Prop 2 is, according to Dani, a reform of exploitation. From a more plainly strategic perspective, Leslie Cross writes that veganism is
not so much an effort to make the present relationship bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is in the main one of master and slave, it has to be abolished before something better and finer can be built.
In other words, we are not capable of building something truly better or finer until the enslaving system is abolished. Indeed, Prop 2 is not truly better or finer. Many vegans who would otherwise support reform oppose or don't care about the proposition due to a lack of any evident improvement in conditions between caged animals and free-range animals in the U.S. Although I do not agree with reformism myself and do not encourage a reactionary approach, I leave you a shocking video from Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary which will have to suffice for the lack of vegan media on 'No on Prop 2':

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pre-Thanksgiving Reflections

  • Groups need to clearly define their role and obtain their objectives
  • We tend to give peace and justice organizations a pass without thinking critically about them
  • Religious organizations can be very useful in nonviolent campaigns
  • I can't believe we have only more more class
  • In today's world, you have to have a legit-looking website for credibility
  • I'm amazed by FreeRice and hope it gets more publicity
  • Importance of using violent events to mobilize a larger nonviolent campaign
  • It is always possible to find examples of nonviolence in today's news
  • Many organizations are well-intended but lack structures and firm grasp of new technology
  • Do justice and peace always triumph in the end?

Community Based Learning with Oxfam

When I started my community learning experience about three months ago, I expected it to be educational. I thought that I would learn about a prominent non-profit group and the important international issues they work on and profile. From this experience, I predicted I would become more socially aware. I also believed that I would learn what it is like to work in the nonprofit field, focusing on social justice. I hoped this would give me more of an indication of what my ideal vocation is. I fully expected to learn these things, however I have learned so much more. In my community learning experience, I am learning about Oxfam America, international concerns, and nonprofit work quickly and in a dynamic way with other important lessons.
The community in which I work is the Georgetown campus community. Carrying out an Oxfam awareness campaign on campus has given me a new and unique look at the student body and the campus system. I have seen that many students are very involved, committed, and dedicated to activities or issues of their own. There are so many organizations on Georgetown’s campus and it seems as if the typical Georgetown student is involved in several of them. This sometimes make it difficult to obtain interest in my campaign on global hunger and poverty. As a result, I feel I need to learn more about the intersection of different issues and groups on campus, especially in regards to international issues. Also, to further my campaign and obtain allies, varied perspectives, and wider interest, I need to become familiar with those students outside of my own academic programs and extracurricular activities who are interested or disposed to be interested in international development issues.
In addition to learning about community interaction, I am seeing that there are significant links between my practical community action and my academic work. My Justice and Peace Studies class, Nonviolence in Theory and Practice, and my work as a Change Leader for Oxfam America are sustaining and supporting each other. In class, I learn the theory behind strategic nonviolence. I learn the importance of setting a good foundation for all the initiatives I undertake, and of being able to evaluate every action I do. Also, through studying the biographies of pacifists and case studies of nonviolent campaigns, I learn from the wisdom, mistakes, and successes of others. From the Salt March to the experience of Cindy Sheehan, I can apply the experiences of prominent pacifists to my own campaign. The class also gives me a sense of the history and rich tradition that accompanies nonviolent work, which facilitates my own passion and purpose. Additionally, I believe my training with Oxfam and my limited “field experience” has allowed me to contribute better to my class during brainstorming sessions and discussions. I can give examples of obstacles and challenges that typically accompany nonviolent campaigns, because I have recently experienced them. Further, I can pass along the tactics and strategies Oxfam taught me to supplement the wealth of information covered in the coarse.
Further, my previous perception of barriers between class work and community work changed because I am being educated by so many different sources at the same moment. In class, Professor Blume and my fellow students help me understand the academic theories behind nonviolence and many high profile examples. In my work for Oxfam at Georgetown, I am learning from the professional advice of Oxfam representatives and the practical experience Georgetown is providing me. The collaboration of my class and the community is allowing me to see how academics can readily be applied to my daily pursuits and ultimate aspirations.
I have a significant responsibility as a learner in both the classroom and the community. In the classroom, I must conscientiously study nonviolent discipline and strategic execution. I have to look at case studies and biographies and understand different societies and circumstances. Simultaneously, in the community I must always be aware of the campus climate and different opportunities that present themselves that could be relevant to my campaign. Also, I must keep myself constantly informed about the actions and issues of Oxfam so that I may be well educated in representing them in my campaign. Finally and most importantly, I must take the theory that I learn in Nonviolence in Theory and Practice and constantly use it to evaluate my own actions for Oxfam. In this way, I will ensure my community learning experience will continue to be successful and educational.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

GU Pride Counter-Protests the Westboro Baptist Church

I just found the article online that The Hoya posted on the Counter Protest I partook in last week that I was telling you guys about. See the link below.

Forty of us stood for two hours in the freezing cold to counter protest the hatred spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church. Some of our signs read 'God loves America', 'God Bless Our Troops' and 'Hate is not a Christian value', and my favourite- 'I love you- God'. It was great being a part of such positivity amongst such open hatred. They were noticed for their shock value, but we were much better received by motorists and passers by. I think our prescense detracted from their message, which was our main aim. It reminded me that even a small group of college kids can make a difference, however small, in the greater cause of promoting peace and tolerance, and thus non violence.

I'm second from the right making a peace sign :)

Eddie Ellis Jr- People Can Change

Last week Georgetown's Prison Outreach program hosted Eddie Ellis Jr in White Gravenor, an ex manslaughter convict from Washington DC. Sam, Max and I were among the forty or so people who turned out to hear him talk. When Eddie was 16, he shot a person in self defense at a party. The other man involved in the incident died, and Eddie was sentenced to 22 years in prison. He ended up serving 15 years, and was released a little over two years ago.

Eddie's initial story is not a unique one- he is an example of a youth in the Washington DC area who turned to violence at a young age, as a way of expressing himself. Eddie's father died when he was two, and he grew up in a single parent home with a mother who was trying to support her family. Wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, Eddie found himself extremely angry and frustrated with 'the system' that he felt was against him, part of a larger government that didn't care about people like him who were struggling in the nation's capital. He then started to become involved in compromising situations, and when a guy at a party pulled a gun on him, Eddie shot him, because as he saw it, it was either him or Eddie. While I make no excuses for Eddie and the crime he committed (he certainly makes none for himself) I would argue that unfavourable economic and social circumstances in his life make what he did easier to understand. Whether or not you agree, and whatever you think of his case, one thing is for sure- Eddie is a changed man.

After 15 years on lock down, Eddie is trying to be a force for good in the world by helping other incarcerated men and women. He speaks in high schools and colleges, and prisons throughout the area, and is currently working on creating a nonprofit that will help ex-offenders ease back into society. Eddie's message is an inspirational one to many of the incarcerated; they too can turn their lives around. In this way Eddie is devoting his life to contributing to the non violent cause by leading by example and contributing to the cause of non violence by helping others. He has recently published a book entitled 'Window of Opportunity', which serves as a resource guidebook to educate prisoners on the opportunities that await them in the outside world. Eddie hopes to do his part to help keep the incarcerated out of prison once they are released, showing them the 'right path' so that they can successfully contribute to society.

Colman McCarthy, who Sam did his biography on, actually wrote an article on Eddie for the National Catholic Reporter. Colman not only discusses Eddie's personal story, but also delves into issues of rehabilitation for prisoners in 'prison happy' America, an issue I'm particulary interested in.

You can find the article online here.

In addition, you guys should definitely check out Eddie's personal website.

Eddie's talk and Colman McCarthy's article raised a couple questions for me that I find myself thinking about a lot, especially after I visit prison every week with the Prison Outreach program.
Once the government imprisons people for violent crimes, how do we ensure that they don't continue down the same violent path? What mechanisms can be implemented to help offenders correct their ways and change their lives?

These are just a couple thoughts. I'd love to hear what you guys think about this issue.

- Katherine

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Anti-Abortion Activists: Shifting from Bans to Reductions

Any successful nonviolent campaign needs to be able to adjust to its successes, set-backs, and changes in the environment. Here's a Washington Post story on how collaborative efforts could actually advance their cause further than being in opposition. By advocating for improved pre-natal and new mother services, women may be encouraged to bring their pregnancies to term, rather than choosing abortion.

Photos by internets_dairy.

EFFECTIVE ACTIVISM: New Course of Interest at AU

Time for spring registration and our JUPS has some great courses listed. Something that you might also want to consider would be a course at American University on STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION FOR ACTIVISTS, taught by Joseph Eldridge and Robert Tomasko. You could take it as a Consortium course.

Joseph Eldridge's Strategic Communication for Activists course explores the pivotal role strategic communication plays in effective activism. The class focuses on the connecting grassroots action, community organizing, and communication theory, to real-world examples. Insights from behavioral science research are coupled with case studies and in-class discussions with a wide range of notable guest activists to analyze what works, what doesn't, and why.
This evening course is scheduled for Thursdays from 8:10 to 10:40 PM for the Spring semester.

Photo by Grant Neufeld

Monday, November 17, 2008

July 4, 2009: A Possible Future?

Such a lovely vision! Check it out here!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nov 14

  • The power of humor can convey a poignant message of nonviolence
  • Although some projects may not be effective, they still provide a release and form of expression
  • It is important to consider consistency of message in a nonviolent campaign
  • Organization and the delegation of tasks is key to a campaign's success
  • You don't have to convert people, but open their minds
  • I was glad to see the college students call out the WTO faux-rep for being offensive
  • I appreciate people like the YES MEN for mixing things up a little bit
  • Be diplomatic with the people you're consulting with so your opinion will be heard

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reliable Sources

In order to better analyze nonviolent campaigns or to simply learn about nonviolence in the world, we rely heavily, and in most cases only, on the media. However, the media is not as reliable as we would like to hope. With 24 hour news stations always competing for the line "You heard it here first", they do not always check their sources. Consequently, rumors are spread internationally.
This article, in the New York Times, reports on the anonymous McCain policy advisor who leaked information to the press concerning the Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. A man named Martin Eisenstadt came out and claimed he was the leaker, backed by his numerous blogs throughout the year claiming insider information. He had been quoted in the news and linked to several blogs prior to this concession. The kicker: this Martin Eisenstadt does not exist.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Post-Election Reflections

  • Verbal communication can be very effective in disarming your opponent
  • A clear concise objective, although initially difficult, makes everything easier
  • Importance of clearly identifying an objective for a nonviolent campaign
  • Focus on details while remembering the big picture
  • Think outside the box to promote awareness
  • We don't know what hunger is

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reactions to the Election

This is a little late since the election was yesterday, but I thought it was a pretty powerful video and definitely worth sharing. Maybe something to keep in mind if (heaven forbid) Sarah Palin appears on the 2012 GOP ticket.

Looking ahead, President-Elect Barack Obama faces significant challenges once he assumes the presidency. In addition to two wars and a downward spiraling economy, Obama must address the human rights violations that have occurred under the Bush administration in the name of combating terrorism and protecting national security. Amnesty International has called for the new president to create "a plan and date to close Guantánamo; issue an executive to ban torture and other ill-treatment, as defined under international law; and ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the US government in its "war on terror" is set up," all within the first 100 days of his presidency. Amnesty International has also released a checklist detailing the "human rights challenge" they are posing to Obama during his first 100 days in office. 

Every Vote Counts!

As a part of 'Get Out the Vote'(for Obama) campaign, the following video is available to customize and send to friends. I know it's a day late, but it's still worth a gander..

P.S. Obama Won! WOOP WOOP!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008