Tuesday, December 23, 2008
What this does is invalidate the auction! It will delay what hopefully isn't inevitable, but the court case will be heard January 19, a day before the inauguration. Rachel Maddow (who incorrectly calls this civil disobedience - it's active nonviolent intervention) has a nice video on the subject. Enjoy.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
It's Time Magazine's #viral video, and when you watch it, you can't help but feel joy. Sponsored by Stride Gum, its genesis has an interesting story . . .
Matt Harding is a 32-year-old videogame designer who quit his job in 2003 to travel around Asia. Along the way, he recorded and posted a short video of himself doing an elbow-intensive jig in Hanoi. That clip got passed from one person to the next and eventually got the attention of Stride Gum, which decided to sponsor two more of his trips. In his latest video, Harding visits
42 countries over 14 months and invites the locals to join in the fun. That includes everyone from some Huli Wigmen in Papua New Guinea to a group of school kids in the Solomon Islands. The sheer silliness and joy of Harding's adventures will keep you smiling long after you've watched them — and give you a serious case of wanderlust.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
Introduction: When I first contacted Art Spitzer for an interview, he was more than willing to help, but he was decidedly confused. How could I possibly consider him, an aggressive litigator, to be a peacemaker? As I explained to Mr. Spitzer, I chose him for two reasons: 1) the type of work he does, fighting to make the world a more just place by defending the civil liberties of the oppressed, and 2) the way in which he does his work, taking what could otherwise result in a violent or dangerous struggle and moving it into the non-violent (if not altogether peaceful) arena of law. After I explained a little about myself, my interests, and my definition of a peacemaker, Mr. Spitzer was kind enough to share some information about his life and his work with me.
What brought you to the ACLU?
Individual freedoms and liberty are very important to me in my own life. I’m an independent and nonconformist kind of person, and I think part of the appeal is defending the rights of people like me to live our lives the way we please.
I learned about and got involved with freedom of speech issues in high school and college (while I was in college the Vietnam War was going on, and I was involved in protests). I found it personally meaningful and interesting. I joined the ACLU while I was in college, but I’d always been interested in politics and that kind of thing since I was a teenager (I used to knock on doors for candidates I supported).
I gravitated to law school because I don’t have much talent for anything else – I can’t sing or catch a ball. I found that I thought like the law professors and to some extent the political science professors. We could understand each other. I wasn’t active in the ACLU while I was actually in law school taking classes, but after law school I came to DC and the ACLU. I did some pro bono work as volunteer for the ACLU at first, I think a total of 3 cases, and I liked that kind of work. I found it more personally interesting than litigating over the correct price of barrel of oil. I was lucky with the timing too, it was the right time to leave my job, and the ACLU happened to have an opening (the ACLU was a lot smaller in 1980 than it is today). I’ve never had second thoughts about it.
Have there been any individuals who particularly influenced your work?
I’ve learned from other lawyers I’ve worked with. When I came here in 1980, I was immediately the senior person on the staff as the legal director, and we didn’t have an executive director at the time. And the ACLU was in bad situation financially in 1980. No one was here to tell me what to do or to show me what had been done. I wouldn’t say I had any one mentor. But before the ACLU, I spent three and a half years working at a law firm, and that’s where I learned how to be a good lawyer. I worked with 20 others on different cases, and I learned different things from different ones.
What’s the most rewarding part of the work you do?
I’m spending my time doing stuff I believe in. It’s a plus that most days, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Of course, some days I know I have a brief due tomorrow and I’d better damn well close the door and get to work. But almost every day something unexpected happens. That’s part of the appeal of working within the general framework of civil liberties.
What’s the most challenging part of your work?
The hardest part of my job is trying to do everything. I still haven’t learned how to say “no” enough, and I’m always racing to get everything done. I don’t get to sleep.
Are there any particular civil liberties issues that you are passionate about?
Being in a very small office, I work on pretty much everything. But I think the stuff I care about most tends to be free speech and freedom of expression stuff. I tend to spend more time and feel more strongly about the liberty stuff (the ACLU focuses on liberty and equality) as opposed to others who focus more on equality issues.
How do you deal with losing a case that you care about?
I don’t really find that to be a big problem. In general, as a person, I don’t have very high highs or very low lows. My emotional life is fairly even-keeled, which is true of my personal life too. I’m disappointed if we lose, and I’m happy if we win, but I’m not going to jump off a building or start celebrating in a court room.
Is there any one case or one achievement that you feel most proud of?
That’s hard to say. The case I did that maybe had the most effect on people’s lives was a case I did way back in the 80’s where the question was, does the government have the same obligation to provide an indigent with the other help (besides a lawyer) that he might need in a case (a psychiatrist to testify for an insanity defense, for example). Most states by then had figured out to do that, but there were about a dozen states that didn’t. I represented a person in a death penalty case in Oklahoma where the state refused to provide a psychiatrist. The Supreme Court agreed with us, so he got a new trial. He was eventually sentenced to life in prison instead of death. All states then had to begin providing experts when necessary, and I don’t know how many times that has mattered over the years, but it presumably has affected a number of individuals.
What advice do you wish you’d had when you started working for the ACLU?
I’d say learn good study habits. That’s something I should have learned in junior high. And be careful how much work you take – learn how to say no.
Are there any mistakes you’ve made that you wish you could change?
I think the biggest criticism I’d make of myself is that I and the whole office take too many relatively unimportant cases and projects rather than focusing our efforts on a smaller number of more significant cases. Everyone agrees with the idea in the abstract, to go for impact cases, but then the question is, how do you decide which cases are the most important? Our answer has been to try to do everything.
Have you faced any particular challenges working for the ACLU as an organization?
The financial challenges of the organization in 1980 luckily weren’t my responsibility. Fundraising is a relatively small part of my job, and the ACLU has been stable more or less since the time I got here. There have been years where I’ve gone without a salary increase, but I’ve never had my salary cut and I haven’t been laid off.
There are internal fights about policies and personalities like you’ll find anywhere, and I don’t think I’m a particular expert at how to deal with that. For me, people have thought I was pretty good at being a lawyer and have concluded that outweighs any problems they might have with me (I can be a prickly individual).
Back in the 80’s, there were really no good ways for people in the different offices to talk (no-email then). There weren’t any frequent, regular staff meetings for staff around the country. Now, we have active listserves within the ACLU, with one for litigators. There’s a constant flow of communication, asking for opinions, advice etc. This has been a big change for the better in making the ACLU an effective organization, and for making it have a better sense of community. We have conferences once a year now. It feels to me more like a coherent organization than it was 25 years ago when it was much more local offices working in relative isolation.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m 58, and I’ll be 59 next month. I’m not planning to retire at any particular time. I might want to cut back on my hours - that would be healthy, maybe I’d actually get to sleep - but I plan to stay here until I don’t want to work anymore. Something else I might enjoy would be teaching – and maybe in the future I could if anyone still wanted me.
Conclusion: I came away from the interview with Mr. Spitzer, as expected, impressed by his work for the ACLU. I certainly admire what he has accomplished and appreciated the insight into a career path I might pursue. What stuck with me most, though, were personal aspects that Mr. Spitzer shared with me. I found myself shocked by my very lack of surprise at his recounting of short nights and long, work-filled days, along with his longing for balance in his life. I realized that I have almost come to expect that peacemakers and activists lead shockingly busy lives that significantly infringe on their personal and family lives. And while I admire Mr. Spitzer’s commitment (how do you turn down that deserving case when your workload is already overflowing?), I also find myself promising to remember the importance of just saying no. What good is a burned out peacemaker really going to do, after all? I think that as much as we all want to help take care of the world, we need to remember to take care of ourselves too.
*picture from http://www.aclu-nca.org for a dinner honoring Spitzer's 25 years with the ACLU
- There are real and accessible ways to contribute to NV change, and there is a history of success to support you in making the world a better place
- Power of combining and managing the power of pragmatism and principle in creating a NV campaign
- I need to remember to be contemplative AND active
- It's important to be idealistic, but also use strategic thinking
- Civilization has achieved so much by 2008 hat was thought impossible - it's exciting to think about what can be achieved in the future
- I now truly believe that there may be technology, but the age of violence and war has passed and it's time for us to take responsibility to be nonviolent
- Peace and NV have a legitimate place in the world, and are only as limited as we choose htem to be
- Live according to what you believe in, match your ideals with your deeds and you will be at peace
- NV campaign - and all the organization and thoughyt that hads to go into it to be successful
- I can now see my own potential to contribute to NV
Thoughts for Each Other
- perspectives and creativity are enlightening and encouraging - sometimes its lonely - it's comforting to think that there are people who care as much as you do
- Enjoyed diverse perspectives, and I hope everyone continues their interests in peace studies
- I enjoyed hearing everything - the one thing - eacjh one was passiomnate about
- I can't wait to see hoew everyone changes the world
- Thank you for sharing unique ideas and perspectives each week
- Thank you for your originality and belief in peace
- Excited to see what our future will hold
- When faced with agony, be NV towards yourself. You will overcome your fear. Be creative with the problems you are faced
- I enjoyed intellectual conversaytion and debates and hope we can continue outside of class
- Eye opening to be in the sa,me room with people devoted to NV
To make a captured terrorist become a traitor to his cause and his friends, and make him help you fight his association efficiently, show him that you can be his best ally. Act nonviolently towards him.
Nonviolence is not sitting in front of the detainee and wait until he speaks without doing anything. It is persuading and convincing him that he can make a very profitable deal with you. It is building trust instead of increasing hatred. Violence cannot achieve that: it is completely counterproductive. It creates a spiral of violence, and more and more terrorism.
How to make a terrorist cry, and talk.
Future interrogator facing an AlQaeda operative, look at what Jack Cloonan has to tell you…
Let your high-value detainee show his weakness. In this case, he has a loving sister. Protect her, and you will become his confessor.
You must convert the enemy: be humble, respectful, and offer your help. One must show to the detainee there are good reasons for him to cooperate with you.
1. Show you are not the monster the terrorist thinks you are.
Prove that you are not as awful as he imagines, since contrarily to what he expects you respect his human dignity. This mere strategy of proving your humanity as an interrogator has shown its potential with prisoners in Afghanistan who accepted to rally the Americans after realizing they were not as horrible as people depicted them (Mackey 2004; 426).
2. Find where his real weakness is, and exploit it in order to gain gratitude.
Terrorists are trained to resist torture, both physically and psychologically. They are not ready to exchange information against lesser suffering. The interrogator has to find what really matters to the detainees. You can guess that terrorists do not give their lives much value, otherwise they would not be terrorists. Once you have found what their Achilles’ heel is, exploit it positively, so that, instead of being hating, the detainee will be grateful to you.
Also, as a future interrogator, always remember that these people have an incredible ego. Most of them simply love talking about themselves because of their pride! Nurturing such a feeling can only be beneficial…
But what if the terrorist has crucial information about a nuclear attack on New York????
‘24’ lovers, here is a revelation for you: in a ticking-bomb situation (which by the way in real life does not exist) torture is the best way not to make a terrorist speak. And in any normal situation, which means 100% of the time, one could not find a better way than torture to make a torture say bullshit. So, who thinks that very pragmatically, pulling out an AlQaeda terrorist’s nails while frightening him to kill his wife and son under his eyes is the only way to have him reveal important information about his organization, his leaders, and even future attacks, is wrong.
TORTURE CREATE TERRORISTS: AS AN INTERROGATOR, YOU BECOME ONE, AND AS AN AMERICAN YOU ENRAGE PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD AND CONVINCE THEM YOU ARE EVIL.
NONVIOLENCE IS THE KEY TO DEAL EVEN WITH THE MOST VIOLENT PEOPLE.
NONVIOLENCE CAN TURN THE WOLF INTO LAMB.
SPREAD THE MESSAGE.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
When we were assigned an interview with someone who practices non violence in their daily life, I thought it would be interesting to seek out someone from a Mennonite organization. I’ve always thought that the Mennonite notion of a ‘peace church’ was quite beautiful, and have a lot of respect for the way that Mennonites commit their lives to nonviolence, nonviolent resistance and reconciliation, and pacifism. In this interview, I sought to better understand what Theo Sitther’s job entailed on a day to day basis, and ask him his personal views from a Mennonite perspective on the world’s present situation and the future that lies ahead.
Q. What are some of your major projects?
A. One of the main things I work on is Columbia. We specifically work with Mennonite churches there working with conflict transformation and peace building efforts. My role is looking at US policy towards Columbia and the amount of military aid the US gives Columbia and the kind of effect it’s having on the country. But I also work on other issues such as Haiti, primarily looking at food security issues there, but also issues related to Afghanistan, North Korea and Burma as well.
Q. What is a typical day for you?
A. My job is twofold. My work in DC involves policy work, meeting with members of congress, being a part of working groups here and responding to legislation. The other half involves corresponding with our constituency and letting them know what’s happening in Washington related to the work we’re doing.
A typical day would be responding to questions. Actually, right before I came to meet with you here I was in an interfaith working group meeting discussing what the new congress might be doing and how we might respond to different issues that may come up, how we can work with the new president, and how we can best respond to a lame duck Congress.
Q.What does being a Mennonite mean to you?
A. Being a Mennonite for me means fully living out my Christian faith in my daily life, which includes being a peacemaker, working for peace- building directly in a conflict area, working for changes in a policy or working for economic justice and holistic justice for communities to bring about a more peaceful and just world. Essentially it just means doing all that I can to be a positive force for good in the world.
Q. What is the personal motivation for the work that you do?
A. One major motivation is the sense of doing good and thus being able to make a difference in the world. Especially in the face of this financial crisis, US foreign policy is affecting everyone all over the world. We see the negative effects of what the US is doing everyday worldwide. But also, I’m a Christian, and my faith very much motivates me. Being able to respond to God’s calling as a person of faith and doing this work is what a being a Christian is all about for me.
Q. What do you think are the main problems that America faces today?
A. One of the major problems I think we’re facing is America’s excessive militarism- this country spends billions of dollars on its military spending and the amount is monumental compared to other countries. There’s a big gap between this and how much America spends on social programs. One of our biggest critiques is that we spend a lot of money on military defense. Yet you walk out of Union Station and homeless people surround the nation’s capital. We have real problems at home that need to be addressed, because a lot of our own citizens are struggling to get by every day. I do think that the US has the ability to respond to different needs around the world, but I think we need to do it in a more human kind of way. We need to start promoting life rather than death in our policy abroad.
Q. How do you think the concept of non violence fits into American foreign policy?
A. As a person of faith it would be easy for me to argue that there should be no wars, and that we shouldn’t fund our military the way we do now. But violence is currently an inevitable part of our world, and so American foreign policy needs to account for that. But I think I would say that we need to balance that amount of effort that we put into war making with the amount we put into peacemaking. Right now there’s a significant imbalance and this needs to change if America is actually going to promote non violence in any major way abroad. I think that the balance definitely needs to be heavier on the side of peacemaking rather than war mongering.
Q. Do you think there is a relationship between American popular culture and violence?
A. Absolutely. The amount of violence we see in the media definitely de sensitizes our collective conscience. Our brains our numbed by things like video games, for example, and we’re simply no longer affected by images and notions of real violence.
Q. What do you think the average person can do every day to contribute to a more peaceful and non violent world?
A. The first step is to educate yourself about what’s happening in the world. I came into this work because I would read up on different world issues, from war to starvation, economic instability and natural disasters and wanted to do something proactively in my daily life to bring about positive change. People don't know what’s happening beyond the confines of the United States and that’s one major cause of the apathy we see in this country when it comes to world affairs. So educating yourself is probably the first major step.
Q. Once you’ve accumulated information, you have to do something with it. Different people can contribute to the world and the cause of peace in different ways. One way, as US citizens living in a democracy where you can engage with your elected officials, is to actually go out and speak to your members of congress and/or government to make your voices heard. Citizens should do this not just in election year but throughout the year. It’s our duty.
I am sometimes wary of organized religion and their peace making and charitable efforts, and thus while I have always respected the Mennonite doctrine of being a positive force for good in the world, I was unsure of how this aim would manifest itself. After talking to Theo Sitther, I have gained a better understanding of what the Committee does, and was extremely impressed by their global efforts to rectify the injustices of the world in all of their forms- poverty, hunger, violence and warfare to name a few.
With religion as the cause of so much violence today, God’s message to us all is often misconstrued and lost. For me, Theo Sitther’s understanding, and indeed the Mennonite understanding overall, of what God wants from all of us resonates strongly with my own personal beliefs- that it is our most fundamental duty of our time on this earth to work in whatever way we can to bring about ‘a more peaceful and just world’ as Sitther remarks. For the Mennonite Central Committee and my interviewee, this is primarily through advocating for policy changes to create lasting change in under developed communities throughout the world. Despite the fact that I never thought I’d want to be involved with a religious organization such as this, I actually could see myself wanting to be a part of the MCC and the incredible work they do.
I just saw this video and I wanted to share it - it's a really funny way (complete with lots of famous faces) to look at a serious issue. I really enjoyed it and it made a few good points, even if they were being sung at the time. No matter your take on gay marriage, it's worth a look!
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
I had the pleasure of interviewing Colonel Smith to learn about his journey from a member of the armed forces to a proponent for peace. According to Colonel Smith, it is not so much what he did in the service as what did not happen after the Cold War that impacted his current work as a proponent for peace. Colonel Smith explained, “I had expected that the large military establishment that we had throughout World War II would be cut back because there was no enemy—no particular country whose foreign policy was specifically directed at destroying the U.S. as we know it.” However, there was no decrease in the size of the military after the Cold War. At this point, Colonel Smith was “converted” to a proponent for peace. He simply could not support such a large military in United States society. In this way, Colonel Smith considers himself a “back-door converter.”
When questioned on his current views of the military and his thoughts on what the role of the U.S. Armed Services should be, Colonel Smith based his argument in military history. He recalled that right after the American Revolution, the Navy was cut back drastically. The Army was given the mission of protecting the remaining stores of power. This led to the establishment of West Point. At this point in our history, however, the entire federal army consisted of 70 officers and men. This was in accordance with the Founding Fathers’ feeling of distrust in a standing army, and their favor of a free navigation of the seas. The United States soon encountered a problem with pirate ships due to their lack of naval protection. Under Washington’s New Federal Constitution, the United States began to build up its navy.
Colonel Smith continued that our outstanding army is currently composed of ten divisions, including one combat brigade that is under North Command. North Command’s chief mission is to support other departments of the federal government in case of another terrorist attack or natural disaster. Colonel Smith remarked that we have never had a North Command before, and that since Reconstruction after the Civil War, there has not been an active duty combat unit specifically designated to be able to maintain long order (12 months or more). This responsibility has always been left to governors, who were responsible for managing their state’s national guard. Colonel Smith is weary of the North Command situation.
Colonel Smith could see eliminating three army divisions (each division is made up of 3 brigades). Colonel Smith believes that the U.S. should expand the Navy, because it is capable not only of fighting if necessary, but also of delivering supplies and humanitarian aid and evacuating people from war zones. He also believes that we should retain a strong Air Force. Overall, however, he believes that there are currently too many people in the services. Colonel Smith concluded, “We need to look after national interests; not only our interests, but how we, with our allies and friends, can look after everyone’s interests.”
When asked about the foreign policy platforms of presidential candidates Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama, Colonel Smith candidly stated, “I don’t see much difference. I don’t see either candidate putting forth a foreign policy or national security program as opposed to military security program.” According to Colonel Smith, we are going to be in Iraq, Afghanistan, and maybe Pakistan, and we are already in Iran, just not in formations. With respect to qualities he looks for in a presidential candidate, Colonel Smith stated, “I’m always looking for someone who can cut back and see beyond the American horizon.” He observed that this is, for some reason, very hard to do when it comes to politics. He noted that since World War II, the United States has been in the habit of thinking that it is the only country that should be allowed to run a military and use the military for its national advantage, rather than multilaterally or internationally.
Colonel Smith, though he considers himself a proponent of peace, when asked what influences shaped his identity as a nonviolent activist responded, “Nonviolence is not the right term. I don’t believe in violence per se, but I do believe that you need a military.” He recognizes the many connotations of the word violence, and notes that he is not against using nonviolent forceful means, a form of benign violence, to bring about a necessary change. He noted that this is a very hard balance, and seems to be impossible for many senators in Washington, DC. When asked what experiences or persons influenced his current outlook on war and peace, Colonel Smith highlighted an experience he had at a Jesuit university he attended before attending West Point. A political science professor at this Jesuit university always emphasized the need to accept personal responsibility and think for yourself. He often looks back on this experience and wonders if that message took in his case, causing him to question the military of which he was once a part.
Interviewing Colonel Smith gave me insight not only into nonviolent work internationally and in Washington, D.C., but also into the history and current state of our military. It is not often that such a decorated military officer retires and begins work to minimize military violence; therefore the opportunity to talk with Colonel Smith was very unique. My conversation with Colonel Smith impacted how I think about nonviolence in practice. I now realize that nonviolence is not entirely black and white, but rather shades of gray. One can support the existence of a military (for national security, humanitarian assistance, etc.) and yet, in most cases, oppose the exercise of armed forces. With this new understanding of nonviolence, I can continue in my own journey as a proponent for peace, armed with a better conception of war and peace in our world.
For the past two semesters I have tutored with Georgetown’s Prison Outreach program, an organization within the Center For Social Justice. If selected from the relatively competitive application process, Georgetown students tutor inmates weekly at both Arlington Prison and the Alexandria Detention Facility. The goal is to work with inmates one on one to help them achieve either their GED or pass their ESL examination. With these qualifications, after being released from prison, individuals will be better equipped to successfully reintegrate into society and support themselves and their families.
While some classes are conducted in the detention facility, with only one teacher and a vast range of abilities and learning levels, few inmates get individual attention and it is difficult to cater to everyone’s educational needs. Therefore I feel that the one on one work that we do is invaluable in that it is the only time that inmates get individual attention. Many of the inmates are extremely gifted, but often have simply not had the opportunity to fulfill their potential in a poor school system and/or an impoverished upbringing. Many are immigrants, and have never learnt English properly, which is a major hindrance to their ability to succeed in America. Without a basic grasp of the English language or a high school diploma, I can understand why many of these individuals have made choices that may not have been the most beneficial for them at the time. Working with the program has given me a greater insight into what I see as a fundamentally vicious cycle of crime for many of America's under privileged youth and immigrants in particular.
Ultimately, my hope is that prison does not have to be the end of the incarcerated’s opportunities in life to better themselves and develop their life goals. Shouldn't prison give the condemned the opportunity to change their behaviors, enhance their skill sets and thus their lives? Working with the incarcerated has been endlessly rewarding, and I hope to continue to be involved with different types of outreach to prisons in the coming years.