How will we heal?

Silence is not necessarily complicity. An important part of demonstrating my commitment to an equitable society includes resisting the temptation to control the narrative, to fill up space with my ideas when there are so many voices to be heard. Silence also creates space for reflection to ground our actions.

Yet, silence that is based on avoidance or lack of conviction speaks volumes. During challenging times, we have an opportunity to demonstrate care for others and our communities by offering hope, direction, comfort, and inspiration. We can use our voice and whatever formal or informal influence we have to contribute to positive change.

But whatever we say, it needs to be linked to meaningful, sustained action.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve asked myself questions like how could so many people not be aware or not care enough to get involved – in whatever way is meaningful to them – before now? How can companies conscionably use their platform to pander with trite sentiment when we all know their motives are questionable? Maybe you have had similar thoughts. These questions reveal my rage linked to systemic injustice and serve as a distraction from the most pressing questions. Which are:

How is it possible for four people to commit such abominable violence in front of a crowd of people and walk away perhaps thinking that they did nothing wrong, or that they did the right thing or what was expected of them; and why is it possible for police to remain accountable only to certain people?

And, secondly, how do we make sure this never, ever happens again?

I have a lot of possible answers to both of these questions, and I’m sure you do too. I believe there are many right answers. My head has been swimming with thoughts as you can probably tell from the scattered nature of this message, which I’m sharing with great vulnerability.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can heal. By healing, I do not mean complacency or retreating into the safety of what seems familiar. I mean putting in hard emotional and intellectual work and committing to consistent awareness and action to create a world that is ruled by love and compassion. I’m thinking about how we, all of us, can:

  • Lay down our arms and lift up our ideals
  • Value our connections more than our investment in the way things are
  • Ensure that all mothers can sleep soundly at night, each and every night
  • Enjoy our (non-consumer, non-militant) freedoms without becoming complacent or complicit
  • Allow or create space for others to flourish
  • Resist retreating into authoritarianism and remain curious about nuance and complexity
  • Create a world where it is no longer necessary to accommodate hate
  • Have hearts heavy with hope rather than despair
  • Gently challenge each other to keep learning and unlearning
  • Acknowledge anger and despair as openings to transformation
  • Safely and freely move in a world where connection to place is not based on a political or monetary system
  • Show up for each other when our people are hurting without competition or judgment
  • Be consistently engaged and committed to the creation of a more just, equitable, and loving world

I would love to hear from you. We need to be there for each other. What have you been thinking about? What actions are you involved in? What helpful resources have you come across? Is there anything I can do to support your involvement in this and other movements for human rights and dignity?

My Week: Letting Go

I have been working and going to school full time for about 11 years, the majority of my adult life. In the beginning it wasn’t really a choice; if I wanted to go to college, I was going to have to work for it. But then it became a habit. If I wasn’t in school while also working I didn’t feel happy—I felt empty and unfulfilled.

For the past three years, I have been working toward a doctorate in organizational leadership. The plan was to begin my dissertation this summer. For a variety of converging reasons, I have decided to withdraw from the program with the intent to re-enroll next fall.

This program has become so much a part of my life. I have worked harder than ever, and have pushed open many intellectual and emotional boundaries along the way. It was a labor of love, and every successful moment was well worth the many difficult periods of time that preceded.

Next week, others in my cohort will be enrolling in their final semester of classes. Their dissertation committees are formed, their concept papers are written, and they will walk through a congratulatory procession among our colleagues. I won’t be there in body, by my heart will sing for each of my classmates as they advance to candidacy.

This weekend, I completed work for my research assistantship and turned in my final timesheet. Tomorrow I will submit my official withdrawal form. It’s official.

Yesterday, I felt a deep sense of inner peace that I haven’t felt in a long time. I didn’t feel hurried or full or obsessive thoughts about everything I need to do. I felt like everything was flowing beautifully.

I hope to sustain these feelings into perpetuity and to cultivate increased awareness and lovingkindness as I go about my day – every day. That clarity and peace will lead to a dissertation topic that I can fully embrace by choice, rather than submit to one that I develop under the pressure of limited time. But most of all, these feelings will contribute to a better, more beautiful, and more complete life that is not dependent on the rush of academic pursuits.

Peaceful Communication

I find the use of the word nonviolent troubling. The word nonviolence assumes that violence is the norm and as long as we use words such as nonviolent the material conditions that create such a norm cannot be shifted. Using double negative language reinforces the very things we want to change; at best, it cancels out negative things. Our language should reflect the world we are trying to create. It should be superfluously affirmative and constructive. For example, we can engage in peaceful communication instead of nonviolent communication. The more we express what we desire, the more easily it will become the norm.

Changemaker Chat – B. Lee Coyne

B. Lee Coyne is a “catalyst”–journalist, counselor, educator.  He enjoys exposure to multiculturism and has had the fortune of visiting 30 countries. His hobbies run from travel to cooking, poetry to philately, and I enjoy listening to instrumental music for relaxation–that’s one man’s form of nirvana.

How did you first become interested in social change?

Social Change entered my mind even before I knew the term. I was raised by tolerant grandparents and a mom who encouraged inquiry. When my dad returned from wartime, he was just the opposite, rejecting questions and explanations on any subjects. I soon felt that this was unfair…and thus verbally rebelled. I was seeking the right to be heard.

How do you define social justice?

“Social Justice” extends beyond personal justice to imply an equal playing field. We want nobody to be disenfranchised from the rights and privileges others receive. In that context, we challenge status based on happenstance and having a “lucky break”.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist?

Early on, I’d say it was developing Sunshine Line, which used the teleconferencing technique to reach out to the homebound elderly. This was launched in Jamaica, NY, back in 1982. Nearly as satisfying were Operation Green Thumb (converting a trash dump into an intergenerational garden) and publishing a special journal of immigrant memories called The Ellis Island Digest. As far as mobilizing an entire community, creating an outdoor mural would top the list; see salempeacemosaic.org.

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

Our Cherry City Institute is attempting to develop an Asiatowne Culture Center to accentuate Far East food, fashions and the arts. We also have been working with Greyhound Lines to upgrade its terminal, perhaps with a Native American motif.

What is your vision for a better world?

This visionary’s ultimate vision is to train the future generation to learn and practice alternatives to violence, not only war but starting with schoolyard bully behavior.

What are your plans for the future?

I will continue with my weekly radio show on aging-related topics, be an advocate for greater intergenerational cohesion, and seek out kindred souls to collaborate with in fruitful projects that reflect my affinity for humanity. Also in the wings could well be one or several social issue magazines articles and self-help books that help people get unstuck and move their lives in more positive directions.

Whisper

In the mid -1970s there was a perfume commercial in which a woman said, “if you want to get someone’s attention…whisper.” It always woke me up out of a sound sleep. The fragrant mist of mystery surrounding stillness is alluring. And it is unusual today, where in your face tactics seem to overwhelm the media landscape. Gentle whispers are all around us, but are too often drowned out by noise. Yet, it is from within this clutter that silent space is most needed, most comforting, and most welcome. Sometimes my absurd fear of being irrelevant makes me think it is best to scream when my true nature is to whisper. I will continue to whisper, and I hope it will someday lead to someone waking up or to something shaking up in the most peaceful way possible.

Changemaker Chat: Dr. Dietrich Fischer

Dr. Dietrich Fischer is the academic director of the World Peace Academy in Switzerland. When we asked him to participate in a changemaker chat, he very humbly replied that he would prefer to share information about the work of others who have brought about remarkable change. What follows is his remarks to students in the Master of Advanced Studies in Peace and Conflict Transformation at the beginning of this trimester.

Dear students and colleagues,

Welcome to our third trimester!

The former German Chancellor Willy Brandt once said, “Peace is not everything, but without peace, everything is nothing.” Therefore, peace is probably the most important subject we can study. Thank you for studying peace!

I am sure you will make important contributions to help build a better, more peaceful world. Here are some examples of what individuals have been able to contribute to peace.

CLEAN WATER

A six year old Canadian boy, Ryan Hreljac, saw on television that there are people in the world who die from thirst, or because their water is contaminated. He was so concerned that he asked his parents to give him extra chores and pay for it, so that he could raise money to send to the organization “WaterCan”, a pun where the meaning of “Can” may be like in “beer can”, or in “Canada”, or in “you can do it.” By sending out emails to everyone he knew, asking for contributions, and asking people to forward the request to those they know, he raised 800,000 Canadian dollars. He made those funds available for drilling water wells in areas without safe drinking water, saving many lives. If a young boy can do this, what can we accomplish?

A SNOWFLAKE

Randy Kehler, who later became national coordinator of the Nuclear Freeze movement in the United States, was drafted into the Army in the early 1970s to go fight in Vietnam. Like many others, he refused to serve and was sentenced to jail. But unlike many others, he did more than that. Before beginning his jail sentence, he toured the United States, speaking out against the war on university campuses, in churches and to peace organizations. He had no idea whether this would make any difference, but his conscience demanded that he try to do whatever he could.

In one of his audiences was Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon analyst and co‑author of the “Pentagon Papers,” the secret history of the Vietnam war. He had become increasingly disillusioned with the way the United States fought the war, and had begun to doubt its justification. But he said that what finally persuaded him to do something was hearing Randy Kehler speak. Here was a young man willing to go to jail for his conviction that the war was immoral. So Ellsberg secretly made four sets of photocopies of the 7,000 page report, and left them anonymously in boxes in front of the offices of the New York Times, the Washington Post and two other major national newspapers. When editors read the reports, they realized that they contain so many accurate facts that they could not have been forgeries by someone outside of the government, and they began to publish them. President Nixon ordered them to halt publication, but the US Supreme Court ruled that prior restraint violated the first amendment of the US constitution guaranteeing free speech. When people read that they had been deceived all these years by their own government, and that the United States was not winning the war, they began to oppose it in large numbers. That forced President Nixon to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam in 1973, and led to an end of the war in 1975.

At the right moment, one more snowflake can break the branch of a tree. Even if our efforts don’t show any immediate result, whatever we do makes it easier for others who follow to complete our work.

HOW HAITI ABOLISHED ITS MILITARY

A soft‑spoken, retired Quaker couple from Troy, New York, took a crucial step that led to the complete abolition of Haiti’s army, which in 1991 had violently overthrown the democratically elected government of President Aristide and arbitrarily arrested, tortured and murdered many Haitian citizens.

In 1994, Sue and Marvin Clark from Troy, New York, founded a small NGO, “Global Demilitarization.” In February 1995 they were able to meet in New York with Oscar Arias Sanchez, the former President of Costa Rica, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the war in Nicaragua. They asked him what country he thought might be the next to follow Costa Rica’s example, which had abolished its military in 1949.

Arias suggested Haiti, since most Haitians saw their army as threatening their personal security rather than protecting them from foreign aggression. From informal conversations with many ordinary Haitians, he estimated that about 80 percent wished the army were abolished. He was disappointed that nobody seemed to pay attention to his observations, but was convinced that if an internationally recognized polling firm could confirm his impressions, the world would notice. But that would cost about $20,000, and he did not have that money.

When Sue and Marvin Clark heard this, they wrote to all their friends and friends of friends, sending out about thousand letters, explaining this opportunity and asking for donations. Within a few weeks, they raised $27,000 and sent it to the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, and soon the poll was conducted.

At a news conference in Port‑au‑Prince on April 28, 1995, Oscar Arias could announce that 62 percent of the Haitian people wished to abolish the army, and only 12 percent wished to keep it, with the rest expressing no opinion. When President Aristide heard this, he stepped to the microphone and spontaneously announced, in front of the assembled military leadership, that given the clear wish of the majority of his people, he herewith declared the army abolished!

The international media almost totally ignored this important event. But when President Aristide was asked on a nationally televised interview in the United States after the election of his successor what he considered his greatest achievement during his term in office, he said abolishing the Haitian military.

It is impressive how much difference the efforts of individuals can make. Not even the U.S. Navy was able to abolish Haiti’s army. When President Clinton sent the navy in 1994 to land in Port-au-Prince and help restore the democratically elected government, it turned around in the face of a violent demonstration on the landing peer by a small group of backers of the military dictatorship. Who would have thought that two individuals, without power or wealth, would succeed in helping abolish the Haitian military, simply by talking to the right people and taking the right action at the right time. We can all take courage and hope from this. If we have a dream and pursue it step by step, never giving up, we can ultimately reach it.

After their initial success, Sue and Marvin have launched a campaign to dismantle all nuclear weapons, enlisting a support group of several hundred peace activists who send monthly appeals to the heads of nuclear states to give our children the gift of life instead of the threat of a nuclear holocaust.

THE BLACK HOLE

When Johan Galtung, widely recognized as the founder of the academic discipline of peace research, founded the first International Peace Research Institute in Oslo in 1959, he and his colleagues sent copies of their working papers regularly to about 400 social science institutes around the world, including the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) in Moscow. They received acknowledgements from many places, but never heard anything from IMEMO. It was as if the papers disappeared in a black hole, leaving no trace. Despite of this lack of feedback, the members of the Oslo team persistently kept sending their papers on alternative approaches to peace, security, development to IMEMO throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1982, Johan Galtung attended a conference at IMEMO. During a break, the librarian took him to the back of the library, opened a locked room, opened a locked cabinet inside the room, and showed him a pile of papers. Here was the entire collection of papers that he and his friends had been sending over the years. The “black hole” had been identified. Surprisingly, the papers were worn out from having passed through many hands, edges bent and torn, with portions underlined and numerous notes in the margins.

In 1991, Vladimir Petrovsky, then Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister, came to see Johan Galtung in Oslo and said, “I really wanted to tell you once how grateful we were for all your papers that you kept sending us, even though we could never respond. During the Brezhnev era, I was part of a group of young scholars at IMEMO who met frequently to discuss new ideas, and we studied your books and papers intensively, among others. We knew that our system needed reform, and that the time for change was coming, but we had no clear ideas what form those reforms should take. You provided us with valuable new concepts and concrete ideas how to proceed. And you were neither Marxist nor anti-Marxist.”

The end of the Cold War has many sources, but new ideas developed by Western peace movements‑‑on human rights, economic and political participation, nonviolent conflict resolution, security based on mutual cooperation instead of threats and confrontation, conversion of military industries to civilian use, and nonoffensive defense‑‑which seeped into the former Soviet Union through various discrete channels and apparently found receptive ears, have played an important role.

Can individuals make a difference for the course of history, or are their efforts insignificant compared to major trends, like the movement of a single molecule in the wind? It is clear that if a situation is not ripe for change, if nobody wants to hear new proposals, one individual can make little difference. But if people are unhappy with their present conditions and search for new ways, a good idea, persuasively argued, can go a long way. Yet even when an opportunity for major change arises, someone must seize it or it may be missed. Similarly, if one plants a fruit tree in the desert, it will die. But even in the most fertile soil, under the best climatic conditions, only weeds may grow unless we plant something better. And we never know for sure whether an apparent desert may not hide fertile ground just below the surface, in which one seed can over time give rise to a whole forest. Even if we do not see the results of our efforts for peace immediately, we should not give up, because they may bear fruit some day in unexpected ways.

THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY

In 1835, Lloyd Garrison, the publisher of the anti‑slavery gazette “The Liberator”, spoke on the Boston Commons against slavery. He was arrested by the police‑‑to protect his life‑‑ because an angry mob was ready to lynch him. He was secretly moved out of the city at night in an enclosed horse coach. But he continued to fight against slavery, and 30 years later, it was indeed abolished in the United States by President Lincoln.

The Quakers played a leading role in the movement to abolish slavery. Groups of Quakers traveled from town to town in the United States to preach against slavery, and they did not leave a town until at least one person had converted to their cause. In the end, their patience paid off.

When we see the billions spent for weapons today and the pittance available to work for peace, it is easy to despair. But the people who fought for the abolition of slavery in the 19th century did not even have any foundations to apply to. They made personal sacrifices and took risks, while the slave traders and slave owners accumulated huge fortunes. Yet the anti‑slavery movement prevailed in the end, because it had a just cause. For the same reason, the global peace movement will one day prevail over those who profit from war.

RUFUS JONES

Rufus Jones (1863-1948), an American Quaker, who helped found the American Friends Service Committee in 1917, went to England after World War I to help with the reconstruction. He noticed that there were large areas of public land around many cities, which remained uncultivated. He persuaded city governments to divide this land into small parcels and lend them to unemployed people so that they could grow vegetables to feed their own families and earn a modest income from selling what they could spare. One unemployed man was daunted by the task, but worked hard all summer, clearing the land from shrubs and thorns, fertilizing the soil, planting various vegetables, watering them regularly and removing weeds. He earned a rich crop in the fall. Rufus Jones said to him, “Is it not marvelous what God and you have done here together?” The man said, “Well, yes, but you should have seen it when God had it all to himself.”

Unless we do good work, it is not going to happen by itself!

As the anthropologist Margaret Mead has said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Class, Cherries, and Cooperation

While I strongly prefer to eat in season and support local farmers, more often that I care to admit I purchase off season from the supermarket to indulge in what de Tocqueville might have referred to as the American need for bodily comfort. At the end of last summer, I purchased some cherries at my local grocery store a few weeks after the local season had passed.

I almost placed a cherry into my mouth when I noticed that there was a long, black hair wrapped around its stem.  After a short moment of disgust, I felt a strong sense of connection to the people who work so hard to plant and harvest the food we (middle class Americans) eat. Too often, we take for granted the accessibility of a variety of relatively inexpensive food without considering where it comes from. America is still dependent on slavery and miserable working conditions, even though much (but certainly not all) of it takes place outside of our borders. The economic system, and its commercial branch with which we interact on a daily basis, is designed to pit those who have a genuine need to minimize expenses against those who are truly destitute by limiting our options and manipulating the truth.

And why? It should be unnecessary in a world where global cooperation is possible. Cooperation that leads to sharing, rather than commoditizing, hoarding, and overconsumption. Cooperation that leads to harmony, rather than discord. Cooperation that leads to environmental reverence, rather than degradation. Cooperation that leads to love and peace, rather than hatred and war.

Changemaker Chat: Matt Meyer

Matt Meyer is a New York-based educator-activist-author, co-editor of the two volume Africa World Press series Seeds of New Hope and co-author of Guns and Gandhi in Africa, and editor of PM Press’ Let Freedom Ring. He is the War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator, and UN ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his introduction to Guns and Gandhi in Africa, wrote: “Sutherland and Meyer have looked beyond the short-term strategies and tactics which too often divide progressive people . . . They have begun to develop a language which looks at the roots of our humanness.”

How did you first become interested in social change?

Growing up, my dad was a teacher and teacher’s union chapter leader, and my mom was active in community-based social service projects. But neither were very activist oriented beyond that; they gasped as the television images of the war in Vietnam were blasted across the screen, but attended no demonstrations. For me, when I was a senior in high school, and co-editor of my school newspaper, I began to look at some of the political issues facing my age group. Foremost amongst these was President Carter’s re-institution of registration, the first stage in the process of drafting people into the military. We ran a poll of students (who were, of course, overwhelmingly opposed), and an editorial, and then – when my high school sweetheart broke up with me the day before graduation – I plunged into the only thing I found consoling: political work! That summer, the Democratic National Convention was held in my own home town of New York City, and I volunteered to help get a four-star mother (someone who husband and son had been killed in Vietnam) nominated for vice president, just so she could give an anti-registration speech. We got enough delegates to sign, then on the final night the organizers somehow got some press passes so that those of us who had worked the hardest could view the convention from the inside. On that fateful night, it did not matter that I was sitting in the far-away seats at the top of Madison Square Garden. The sitting President of the United States was right there before me, giving his acceptance speech to run for a second term. When he mentioned his policy of registration, a grouping of us booed him, an act heard by millions on national television. The idea that after only a few weeks of social change activism I could boo the President on national TV seemed too good to be true. I wondering what I could do if I remained active for a bit longer!!

How do you define social justice?

For me, social justice is defined by people’s empowerment–a constructive space filled with equal opportunities and equity, with a communalism that suggests not simply that people should “live and let live” but rather “live and help to live.” I was taught that by an old leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement, so I guess it is important to say that social justice includes an end to all colonialism and neocolonialism, and end to imperialism, an end to racism, sexism, heterosexism and patriarchy. But for me, it also means an end to militarism and the violent ways in which we treat one another–both personally and structurally through poverty created by capitalism and the drive for unchecked profits.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist?

This is a tough one; I have had so many. Could it be when, weeks after the above-mentioned experience, I decided to become a public draft resister, refusing to register when I turned 18. At the press conference, I was greeted by a sweet little lady who was feeding me apple strudel and asking how I was. Turned out this woman, who emceed the press conference, was none other than celebrated author Grace Paley! I met Abbie Hoffman within the year, and ended up doing some secretarial work for him. It became clear that the “left” was much smaller than I could have imagined, and I would end up meeting many very inspiring people over the years: from Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, to Assata Shakur, in exile in Cuba; from my mentors Pan African pacifist Bill Sutherland, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party leader Mawina Koyate, and Puerto Rican human rights elder Luis Nieves Falcon; from my partner and companero Meg Starr to all my comrades in Resistance in Brooklyn; from so many icons of the War Resisters League and peace studies communities…I am always excited about meeting the wonderful people also working so hard to re-shape the world for the better. Perhaps the experiences I’d have to rate as most exciting are the countless creative demonstrations, from when the huge puppets of Bread and Puppet Theater led one million of us into Central Park for an end to nuclear power and arms in 1982, to when hundreds of us blockaded the Liberty Bell to demand that the jailers Let Freedom Ring for death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, to just a year ago, when I went with my 11-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to a street action in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street. They are all my most exciting, along with all the ones still to come.

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

I spent three weeks in South Africa this past July and August helping put together a new network, now calling itself the African Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Network. Along with the War Resisters International and other groups, we will be putting together a major Pan African gathering in 2014. Building up for that, across the African continent and throughout the Diaspora, is the most exciting thing I am currently involved in.

ALSO, I am proud to be part of growing efforts to shine special attention on two prisoners who deserve and demand immediate release. One is Russell Maroon Shoatz, serving close to forty years behind bars, with over thirty of them in torturous solitary confinement. If the US is to even come close to living up to its image of “justice for all,” it must unconditionally release old men who are in prison largely due to the fact that they joined the Black Liberation movement (Panthers, etc) in the late 1960s. Though he is convicted of various “criminal acts,” no common criminal spends this long in solitary or behind bars. The fear is that, once prisoners like Maroon are released, they are going to do what Mandela did when he was released: lead revolutionary movements for massive and radical change. We know, of course, that movements are made by more than just leaders, and our social justice movements must be at least string enough to help these warriors of past struggles get out of jail before they die.

Similarly, the case of Oscar Lopez Rivera, in jail for the thought crime of “seditious conspiracy” to overthrow the US government’s control of his Puerto Rican homeland, must be given full immediate attention.

What are your plans for the future?

A book I have been working on for six years, as co-editor and contributor, is about to be released. We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America contains a foreword by Cornell West, after-poems by Alice Walker and Sonia Sanchez, and a host of amazing essays by scores of activists. So I will be doing some work to promote that book, which Maya Angelou has graciously said “is so needed” at this time. More information about the book, including how to order it, is here: https://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=433

I am a full-time teacher, and also a full time (or as much as is left) father, and I take those two responsibilities very seriously, as a central part of my commitment of working for a better world.