"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Friday, December 26, 2008

Howard Thurman and The Real Work of Christmas


Okay; Christmas is over. We've donated to the food bank and some other worthy causes. Now we can make a few resolutions for the new year, and get on with life. But wait! Isn't there something more? Of course there is, and the theologian Howard Thurman said it well in this poem:

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring Christ to all,
To make music in the heart

Howard Thurman - theologian, proponent of nonviolence, and early leader of the civil rights movement. Thurman reminds us that beyond the often sentimental, candle lit rituals of Advent and Christmas, there is the real work to which we are called by that very Christmas Child who grew into the most wise rabbi. It is not easy work, and not without risk, but then Jesus never said it would be otherwise. But the church often waters it down so that we are left with the comfortable mercy (charity) piece to the exclusion of the other more difficult half - JUSTICE, what one might call the missing piece.

And when Thurman wrote of "teaching the nations" and bringing "Christ to all", he wasn't speaking of many Christians ghastly need to convert others (those heathens) to Christ. No; Thurman was speaking of living like Jesus and bringing his model of nonviolence to the world, of seeking justice for those he referred to as "the disinherited".

If you are interested in Howard Thurman, you should read his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, a book that Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was mentored by Thurman) was said to have carried in his pocket. Thurman understood the historical corruption of Christianity, and while in India was challenged as to why he followed a religion that had been the source of oppression of African Americans for hundreds of years. Jesus and the Disinherited was a respectful response to that challenge, and does a wonderful job of tying the new testament together with non-violent resistance. Just as in the life of Jesus, it's about bringing justice to the oppressed.

My wish for the new year is that the global community of people seeking justice and peace will continue to grow and flourish, being nourished by the rich works of those who have gone before - like Thurman, Gandhi, King, Day, and countless others - building bridges of peace and understanding wherever we go, and bringing justice to the oppressed. May we help fill in the missing piece.



Photo source: http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/WeirdWildWeb/media/galleries/theology/theology_qz.htm

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Power of the Pen, Part 2


In Power of the Pen, Part 1 I promised to share some further thoughts on writing effective letters to the editor. My friend and fellow peace activist, Tom Shea, put together a guide to what he calls "link letters", the idea being that the best letter is one that you link to something already published in that paper - an article, editorial, picture or previous letter, and expand on it in a succinct and powerful way to make your point(s).

When you find something on an issue about which you are passionate, read it a couple of times. Then make some notes. Does the newspaper piece reinforce your position on the issue, or does it take the opposing position. Either way it is useful to you; use that as a lead in to what you have to say. Don't we all have something to say?

Here are a few things (from Tom) to consider:

  1. Why is your issue important?
  2. Consider your audience - small or large town (or national) paper or activist press?

  3. What do people already know about the issue? What do you need to tell them?

  4. Be sure to read some letters from the publication to which you will submit your letter. Which letters are you drawn to? Which are most persuasive? Why?

  5. Are you preaching to the choir or writing in a way that is open to someone who may oppose your position?

  6. Be sure to make your opinion vital and clear.

  7. Be concise; newspapers often limit letters to 200 words. It can be challenging, but a succinct argument is often the most powerful. You may have to rework it a few times.
I've included an example of a recent letter (at the end of this post) in which I linked to the subject of an investigative article, and also linked to this photo from the article to help drive home my point.

Remember, the letters to the editor page is open to everyone. It's a great way to express yourself and be involved in the democratic process. You would be amazed at how many people read the opinion pages, and your opinion matters. If you have never submitted a letter to the editor, give it a try. And then keep trying until they print one. You might even change someone's mind!




They deserve the best

"Earmarks help businesses, not troops" is the kind of investigative reporting that restores my faith in the press [Nation & World, Dec. 7]. Now I have more evidence with which to scream at the top of my lungs for congressional reform.

Although the story cites a veritable litany of facts surrounding this particular round of bribery, it is one of the photos that speaks volumes. With hands over their hearts, senators (including the future Secretary of State Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton) seem to pledge allegiance to the profiteers who throw them a few corporate crumbs, expecting a healthy return on their investment.

So much for the needs of our soldiers when there is profit involved. Sen. Thad Cochran was quoted as saying that without earmarks, "this lifesaving product [the powder] would not get to our troops as expediently as it should."

Expedient indeed. Just what would happen if we ditched the earmarks? Might the best product (such as the lotion that provides seven times more effective protection) come out on top? Ask your members of Congress about that.

-- Leonard Eiger, North Bend

Click here to read the article (in The Seattle Times) referenced in this letter to the editor. Letter published in The Times Online Editorials/Opinion Page, December 19, 2008.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Teach Your Children Well, Their Father's Hell


Our children are, in a very real sense, our greatest resource. If we nurture and care for them and help them grow into adults with critical thinking skills and a strong ethical and moral base, just think of how they might change the world. But it is no easy task in a violent world that presents many temptations to lure them off the path of peace.

I have found that the most powerful stories tend to come from people's own experience. Penny Coleman, the widow of a Vietnam veteran who took his own life after coming home from that war, has written stories touched by that tragedy (and the lessons she learned). Her journey has led her to a deeper understanding of the roots of violence and war AND how they affect young people. She has just written an article that shows the fantastic efforts the Pentagon resorts to in order to "desensitize, condition, train and even enlist" young people to join the Armed Forces.

Penny's article, Kids Learn that Killing Is Fun at the Army's Lethal New Theme Park, is a fantastic voyage into the U.S. Army's bizarre and highly sophisticated marketing efforts to convince young people (and I mean YOUNG) just how cool it is to blow things up and KILL. You can imagine where it goes from there [Where do I sign???]. You must read the article to fully understand the lengths to which the Army is going to meet its recruiting goals (as we continue the occupation of Iraq and increase the numbers in our occupation of Afghanistan).

It makes me ask the question, "What are we teaching our children?" What future are we creating when we teach them that violence is the way? Is it not bad enough that the vast majority of Americans have sat idly as we have invaded sovereign nations, occupying them, and terrorizing, imprisoning, displacing, torturing, injuring and killing vast numbers? And then to allow our children to be seduced by recruiters using what they refer to as "interactive simulations and online learning programs to educate visitors about the many careers, training and educational opportunities available in the Army"?

As the article reminded me, "A provision of No Child Left Behind, one of the first pieces of legislation proposed by the Bush administration, forced schools to open their doors to recruiters and provide contact information for students as young as 11."

What do we, as parents, want to teach our children? What values do we want to instill in their fragile, pliable minds? They are the future, and what they experience as their brains develop will follow them into adulthood where they will be making the decisions that we too have made. We can only hope they will do better than this generation.

We (as parents) do not have to sit idly by. Besides the values of nonviolence that we can demonstrate in our homes and in our daily interactions that our children observe, we can RESIST the provision in No Child Left Behind that provides information on our children to military recruiters.

You can notify your high school administration in writing of your desire to have your child's (or children's) records kept secret and out of the hands of those pesky recruiters. It IS your right!

If your school has not notified you and provided a way to opt out (and they ARE required to do both), click here to download an Opt-Out Form from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

You can learn more, including alternatives after high school at AFSC's extensive Youth and Militarism Web page.

Teach Peace,


Monday, December 15, 2008

The Power of the Pen, Part 1


There was an interesting opinion piece in the Seattle Times recently that stressed how U.S. automakers could take a lesson from Boeing. In my response (published on the Times Website - see below) I tried to pop their hot air balloon, while demonstrating that there is BIG money in weapons. It's all about profit (or sometimes profiteering).

In a subsequent post I will share some tips from a peace activist colleague on writing effective Letters to the Editor.



An alternative to the Big-Three Automaker bailout

Start making weapons

The opinion piece in the Times, Tuesday, Dec. 2, "Boeing shows the way for U.S. automakers" [guest columnists] makes an interesting point, but missed another key point. Forget the commercial aircraft; Boeing makes the big money from its guaranteed military contracts, which provide annual revenues in the billions of dollars.

Boeing is the prime contractor for missile defense, and along with other weapons makers, is working with the U.S. Space Command, building military space systems to fight wars from space. And don't forget those "smart" bombs used extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And there is much, much more.

But there is more than domestic opportunity here; Boeing and Lockheed Martin are the largest U.S. weapons exporters, making up an estimated 60 percent of the $34 billion in 2008 overseas arms sales.

The global war on terror is drumming up lots of business, particularly from nations that just might be better off funding education, health and infrastructure programs that would go much further in improving their long-term stability.

There is a veritable bottomless pit of money available through the Pentagon (and of course from a compliant Congress.) And with the revolving door that has people like President-elect Barack Obama's National Security Advisor choice, Gen. James Jones, on Boeing's board of directors (as well as Chevron's.) Boeing is set for the next four years.

So if the U.S. automakers want to get with the program, the choice is obvious: Forget the government loans. Start marketing to the Pentagon (as well as the foreign arms markets.) Then the CEOs won't have to give up the corporate jets, big salaries and definitely won't have to drive those wimpy hybrids.

And they shouldn't forget to hire some retired generals

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Listen to Your "Mother" (Jones)


If ever a journalistic organization lived up to its namesake and its standing as a true representative of the Fourth Estate, it's Mother Jones Magazine.

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones was a fearless and tireless defender of workers' rights long before the days of modern labor laws. After addressing the railway union convention in 1897, the union members started to refer to her as "Mother". After assisting the United Mine Workers in their nationwide strike, she became known as "Mother Jones" by working men and women all over America.

Mother Jones spent much of her adult life organizing, agitating and supporting working people all across the Nation; coal miners, steelworkers and textile workers. She advocated for an end to child labor. For her efforts she was harassed, arrested (numerous times) and even convicted by a military court for conspiring to commit murder (she was 83 years old at the time). But she never gave up the struggle.

Mother Jones Magazine is an independent, non-profit investigative magazine that honors its namesake's legacy. You would be hard pressed to find a better source for investigative journalism on just about any and every subject from the political realm to the cultural. Check out their Website if you don't believe me. This is really great, subversive stuff! Mother Jones should be in every peace activist's "toolbox".

Mother Jones was once called "the most dangerous woman in America" (by a U.S. District Attorney). Is that cool or what? Mother Jones Magazine may be just as dangerous to the politicians, profiteers and polluters it often exposes in its pages. And these people are obviously having fun doing what they love. In an era that has seen such extraordinary corporate media consolidation, we desperately need the true independents like Mother Jones. Journalism in the public interest.

Independent journalism - Read it! Use it! Support it!



: Facts about Mother Jones are from Mother Jones: The Miners' Angel, by Mara Lou Hawse, The Illinois Labor History Society (Note: The link to this online resource no longer works as of 8/23/2012)

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Pen IS Mightier Than the Sword


It's true; the written word is a powerful tool.

Amnesty International tells of Sami al Hajj, a sudanese cameraman, who was held at the infamous Guantanamo resort for SIX years without a single charge being filed against him. Worse - He was beaten and tortured, and in desparation he started a hunger strike, and nearly died as a result.

Thousands of people wrote letters on Sami's behalf during Amnesty International's Global Write-a-thon, and as a result, Sami was released and reunited with his family. As I write this post I am looking at a photo of Sami. As I look into his eyes I try to imagine what he must have felt as the days, weeks, months and years slipped away from him as he tried to remember his wife, Asma and his son, Mohammed. You can learn more about Sami's story here.

There are countless prisoners of conscience being held against their wills around the world, and yes, even in the United States. Amnesty International organizes regular letter writing campaigns throughout the year, but also sponsors a major annual Global Write-a-thon once a year. It was last year's write-a-thon that led to Sami's release from Guantanamo!

YES - Our letters DO make a difference. Click here to read about the many successful letter writing campaigns. But even though our letters do not always result in freedom, they always give people hope and remind them that they are not forgotten.

This year's Write-a-thon is going on right now, and is shaping up to be the biggest yet. Even our local high school's Amnesty International Club is participating. You can help make it a success, and bring hope (and maybe even freedom) to prisoners of conscience. Click here to sign up for this year's event, and then click here to find cases needing our letters. Then, start writing!

While you are at Amnesty's Website you can also check out the Freedom Writers Network , which focuses each month on three different cases of victims of human rights abuses. They also have an Urgent Action Network that focuses on cases involving immediate and life threatening human rights violations.



Sunday, November 30, 2008



I was just reading an article by Irene Kahn, Secretary General of Amnesty International, about violence against women. Irene wrote of how a thirteen year-old girl, Aisha Ibrahim Dubulow, was stoned to death in October by a group of men in Somalia; she was accused of adultery, although according to her father she had been raped and tried to report it. What brings men - and it is primarily men that are involved in such acts - to perpetrate such inhamane acts against women (for any reason)?

Amnesty International launched a global campaign in 2004 to Stop Violence Against Women. Despite the successes that can be attributed to the Amnesty campaign, violence against women is still a widespread problem worldwide, including in the USA. As Irene makes clear in her article, poverty and violence "combine to restrict women's choices and put women at risk from violence." And worse; "70% of the world's poor are women."

It seems evident that it will require not just changes in laws (plus accountability) to protect women, but real poverty reduction and achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. If you are interested in women's issues, particularly from a human rights standpoint, Amnesty International is an organization for you. Check out their Violence Against Women Webpage.

You can also email your Senator to advocate for passage of the International Violence Against Women Act (S. 2279).

I will close with a poem that I wrote in 2007 in response to a report of an honor killing, another horrific form of violence against women. This is the first time I have shared it publicly.




By Leonard Eiger
Written June 3, 2007

Where is the honor in killing
a young woman, only 17
whose only crime was to
fall in love with the wrong man?

She was Yazidi,
He was a Sunni,
They were in love.

Her name was Doa,
and Doa’s love was so strong,
she ran off with the young man
and converted to his faith.

But they kidnapped her
and dragged her back
and stoned her to death.

The rage that brought the men
of her family and neighborhood
out for revenge was blinding
even in the full light of day.

“Little more than an internal matter”,
“simply a tribal and moral incident”,
“nothing to do with religion”, they said.

She was Yazidi and he a Sunni,
and so her relatives decreed that
she must pay with her life for
“crimes against their religion.”

But what was the real crime,
and who were the criminals,
and when will the killing stop?

There is no honor in killing.

Author’s Note: Doa Khalil Aswad was a 17 year old who lived in Northern Iraq, and was a member of a religious minority called the Yazidi, an ancient Kurdish faith with strong links to Sufism and non-Islamic ancient Babylonian beliefs. On April 7th, 2007 she was taken from her house by some Yazidi men (including some relatives) and was taken to the public square where she was stoned to death for being in love with a young Sunni Muslim man. Quotes used in the poem are from a May 6, 2007 ABC News report, The Dishonorable Death of Doa, at http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=3142288.

Have A Subversive Holiday Season


It seems like the December holiday shopping frenzy (thanks in large part to the diabolical geniuses of Madison Avenue) begins earlier each year; eegads, only 24 shopping days left!!! And millions of Americans are already stressing out over what to give friends and family. Adding to this is the effect of the economic meltdown. To complicate all this shopping madness even more is the fact that for people of the Christian persuasion, this whole Christmas thing doesn't have anything to do with "shopping" at all. It's all about that little baby; you know - The Prince of Peace!

O.K., so you are still going to go out and buy presents for people, and that's fine. But if we think about the meaning of this season and how our purchases/gifts can make a difference in bringing some measure of peace to a violent world, we might start spending a little more time thinking about the impact of our holiday shopping. And beyond that, we might even consider some interesting and meaningful holiday gift options beyond the norm. Here are some thoughts that I hope will give your holiday gift giving more meaning and less stress.

First, if you are going to get in the car, consider where you shop. Is it truly a locally owned store, or does most of its revenue pour out of town into some shadowy corporate headquarters. Small locally owned businesses (like the shop in my small town where I buy locally handmade soaps for my wife) directly stimulate the local economy, providing income for people who live and work locally. Heck, the eggnog you buy can even do some good. Consider the difference between Organic Valley (a farmer-owned, democratically run cooperative) versus Horizon (owned by food giant Dean Foods Inc.). You can read the whole story in Jim Hightower's book, Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow. I'll share the story with you in a subsequent post.

Even though the cost of gasoline has magically dropped rather dramatically (for now), it's still a drain on the wallet, besides the challenge of finding a parking space. Beyond the usual catalog shopping there are some wonderful alternatives that focus on fair trade and sustainability.

One of those is
SERRV International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating poverty by representing artisans and farmers in developing countries, selling their goods, and paying them a fair wage. SERRV has an online catalog with a wide variety of crafts, jewelry and food (including some amazing chocolate). We're talking real fair trade here people!

You know how frustrated you get when you get one of those ties that you will never wear and end up standing in the returns line forever. Well, how about giving the gift that people won't (and can't) take back and even better, it keeps on giving (literally). Heifer International is a non-profit organization that helps struggling families all over the world lift themselves out of poverty. They provide a wide variety of (appropriate) livestock to impoverished, undernourished families around the globe, including the United States. Recipients trained in animal care and environmentally sound agricultural practices lift themselves out of poverty to become self-reliant, and agree to "Pass on the Gift" - to share offspring of their animals with others in need. As recipients share their livestock and their knowledge with others, an expanding network of hope and dignity is created that reaches around the world in an endless chain (and has often healed broken communities). You can choose a "gift" from their online catalog to honor someone special and let them know about their gift with a special Heifer gift card.

Or, perhaps you know someone who is passionate about a particular organization doing good works in the world. Give a contribution in that person's honor and send (or sometimes the organization will send) a card describing your gift. There are so many possibilities; I've only described a few to get you started.

Well, by now I'm sure you get the idea. Instead of succumbing to the mind numbing commercialization that this season brings, show your subversive side; choose a gift that makes a difference in people's lives and brings some measure of justice and peace to the world. It does make a difference, especially if you pass along the idea to everyone you know and meet. Just think - If enough people avoided products made by people who don't make enough to get by or work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions (just so someone in the corporate office can make a ton of money), it might just bring enough pressure to bear to change their working conditions and provide them with a livable wage.

May your holidays be subversive and bright!



Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You...


Buried in the November 23rd Seattle Times (page A14) was a brief story about the anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy. 45 years ago President Kennedy was assassinated in what many (except the government's Warren Commission Report) have called a conspiracy. I'm not sure what a properly conducted survey of Americans who were around at the time of the assassination would find, but my informal survey of people who were around at the time of the assassination found that an overwhelming majority of these people believe that the evidence points to some sort of conspiracy; that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the "lone gunman".

Our government still holds to the official findings of the Warren Commission report that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who shot the President as his motorcade made its way through Dallas, Texas on that November day in 1963. The problem is that there is a substantial body of evidence (that also existed at the time of the Warren Commission) that points to a complex conspiracy involving a mind boggling number of people both inside and outside of our government, which not only conspired to kill the President of the United States, but created a sacrificial lamb of sorts to remove any focus on anything other than a lone assassin.

Of course, you might immediately pass off the conspiracy theory as just a bunch of crackpots who wear aluminum foil under their hats, and there are a few of those hovering around the fringes. But there are also quite a few solid people who have done extensive (and objective) research on the subject. One of those people is James Douglass, who wrote JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died & Why It Matters.

Understanding any conspiracy requires much more than just facts pertaining to who did what and when. It requires a context, a broad understanding of the circumstances surrounding the incident, or the setting. Jim's book does just that; it not only presents objective evidence based on research and personal interviews, but it also presents a firmly constructed context, the beginnings of which can be traced back to the post World War II growth of the Military Industrial Complex, and which was cemented by the fateful signing (by President Truman) of National Security Council Directive NSC 10/2 on June 18, 1948 (creating the National Security State).

NSC 10/2 gave the Central Intelligence Agency (that had been created by Truman to correlate and evaluate intelligence) the doctrine of "plausible deniability" that has allowed the CIA the authority to not only conduct assassinations and overthrow governments, but more importantly, to cover up their actions and deny any involvement. Not exactly what you would call transparency in government. And, if you consider this concept in a total historical context, you can see it deeply embedded in much of our governments actions to this very day (in the Global War on Terror).

"The Unspeakable" in Jim's book is a term coined by the writer and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton; a term created to describe an evil so deep and insidious as to be beyond description - an evil that winds itself around and through the very fabric of our government and society. To quote Merton, "It is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void that gets into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss. It is the void out of which Eichmann drew the punctilious exactitude of his obedience" (Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable, p. 4).

In a Cold War context The Unspeakable was that "void" in the doctrine of "plausible deniability" that allowed any covert action (no matter how ghastly) in order to promote U.S. interests and maintain our dominance in the arms race with the Soviet Union. Is this all sounding familiar, even in the post Cold War era? Pre-emptive war (government overthrow), torture, massive government surveillance??? Yes Virginia, "The Unspeakable is alive and well. You can rest assured that it never died; it's only grown stronger.

If I could present you with just one reason that you should read Jim Douglass' book, it would be one word - TRUTH. Jim believes, "that truth is the most powerful force on earth" (Introduction, p. XIX). He proposes that through compassion - our response to suffering - we can hear with our hearts and minds, thereby seeing some part of the truth, and "In living out the truth, we are liberated from the Unspeakable." But it is so hard for us, living in a culture of denial of so many truths, to bring ourselves to even sneak a peak at it, let alone embrace it.

President-elect Obama faces a National Security State much like the one Kennedy faced over four decades before. Rather than a Cold War with the Soviet Union, he faces an endless War On Terror. Fortunately for the United States, the Soviet Union imploded first in the race to outspend each other in the nuclear arms race. However, in the current war we are on our own, spending astronomical sums to protect ourselves from the phantom menace. The question is, when will our nation implode?

President-elect Obama faces a grim but critical choice - go with the flow and continue the failed policies that have increased hatred of the United States and created a fertile breeding ground for terrorism, or buck the system (not a popular choice among the executives of major weapons makers like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing) and create a new direction in foreign policy that will demonstrate the compassion of our nation, and earn the respect of the rest of the world while reducing the risk of terrorism. The latter choice will require a phenonemal inner strength; it will require him to face difficult truths.

Presidents throughout history have made countless speeches, and if one measures them against their actions, there have been few of any substance at all.
In his inaugural address, John Fitzgerald Kennedy asked both his "fellow Americans" and "fellow citizens of the world" to "ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." He then asked both to "ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you." Kennedy lived up to his inaugural speech, facing many difficult truths and sacrificing greatly on many levels for his country and the world.

With so much on the line, should we ask any less of the next president?



Saturday, November 22, 2008

Live from Fort Benning - It's School Of The Americas !!!!!

Yes friends, the people that brought you - well, not really "you" unless you happen to live in a number of Latin American countries - torture, "disappearance" and murder are still going strong. And no, I'm not talking about Vice President Dick Cheney and his masters (and mistresses) of torture. I'm speaking of the infamous School of the Americas (SOA). Now, if that doesn't sound familiar, try Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) - same old tricks, just new packaging; isn't "WHINSEC" a great euphemism?

For decades, students (principally soldiers from "friendly" Latin American governments) who graduated from SOA have terrorized, kidnapped, tortured and murdered countless innocent civilians in a variety of countries in Latin America; students from 22 Latin American nations have attended SOA since its inception. There is significant documentation on human rights abuses by SOA graduates.

As I write this post, as many as 20,000 people have gathered in Columbus, Georgia (home of SOA) for rallies, teach-ins and a funeral procession. This annual event (started in 1990 on the first anniversary of the brutal killings of six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her teenage daughter in El Salvador) brings together individuals and groups dedicated to human rights, nonviolence and peace, and an end to militarism and unjust U.S. foreign policy. You can read about what is happening at this year's event at National Catholic Reporter's SOA Blog.

If you couldn't make it to Columbus, you CAN get involved without leaving town. School of the Americas (SOA) Watch is a nonviolent, grass roots movement standing in solidarity with the people of Latin American to not only close SOA/WHINSEC, but create a humane U.S. foreign policy. SOA Watch engages in "creative protest and resistance, legislative and media work" to reach these goals. Check out their website and while you are there, consider signing the petition to President-elect Obama to Close SOA/WHINSEC. You can also download a petition form for people to sign at your church or other group.

With a new administration moving in to The White House we have a huge opportunity to move towards a just foreign policy, and closing the School of the Americas is a key component. Change IS coming; be part of it!



Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A REAL Homeless Advocate

As promised (or threatened), here is the scoop on another organization (and it's fearless leader) that is doing something REAL about homelessness and poverty. Timothy Harris moved to Seattle, Washington in 1994, to start a street newspaper that he named REAL CHANGE. Of course, it was about much more than just writing a newspaper - it was (and still is) about organizing. Right out of the starting gate, Time organized (in 1994) against the clearing of a homeless encampment near the Kingdome.

Cut to late 2008, and REAL CHANGE is still creating "opportunity and a voice for low-income people while taking action to end homelessness and poverty" (Real Change mission statement). REAL CHANGE News is a weekly "activist" publication that is sold on the street by Seattle's homeless, helping them earn money to get ahead; vendors pay 35 cents a copy, and sell them for a dollar donation. But REAL CHANGE is not just about the poor and homeless; it also covers a broad swath of topics including labor issues, the environment, public health and civil liberties. This is NOT the corporate press!

Besides the newspaper there is advocacy galore, a Homeless Speakers Bureau and literary workshops for the under served. REAL CHANGE is an organization that has been built on a solid foundation of guiding principles, and Timothy Harris is NOT afraid to tell the truth. Just check out his blog if you think I'm exaggerating. While you are there, check out the posting about Why Protest Politics Matters . It features a slide show showing Rev. Rich Lang getting arrested for doing what Christians are supposed to do.

So next time you are on the street in Seattle or surrounding communities and someone is selling REAL CHANGE, buy a copy (and maybe strike up a conversation with the vendor). You can also subscribe (it's cheap at $35/year) at their Website. If you live somewhere else, reading Real Change will give you a model for social change that can work in your community. The whole idea (and a great one at that) is to "build bridges between homeless people and their allies to create social change."



Saturday, November 15, 2008

Helping the Homeless!

If you are reading this blog, chances are pretty good that you are not homeless. Homelessness takes away so many things that most of us take for granted (really basic things) like a shower and a place to wash your clothes; and that's just a start. What about an address, a phone, access to health care? In King County, Washington, the 2008 One Night Count of people who are homeless showed at least 8349 people sleeping in shelters and on the streets.

Just imagine - You are homeless, you have a family to care for, and you need to find work! What do you do? Some cities have resources where people can get a meal or even a place to sleep, but what about other essential needs? Well, if you are in Seattle, Washington, you would be fortunate to have a unique resource not found in most other (if any) cities in the United States - The Urban Rest Stop. The Urban Rest Stop - operated by the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) - is a hygiene center that provides restrooms, showers and laundry facilities (along with toiletries) to homeless people seven days a week (at no cost to patrons).

In 2007 the LIHI built a health exam room at the Rest Stop, and has been working with Harborview Medical Center to staff it with a public health nurse to provide basic medical care to patrons. In addition to all this, the Rest Stop provides information and referral information on a wide variety of issues. Is this a tremendous (and essential) service or what?

Urban Rest Stop - On an Average Day:
Serves 500 people (800 during summer)
150 loads of laundry
200 showers

At the LIHI Auction on November 14th, Congressman Jim McDermott reminded us that one of every four homeless people (and these are, indeed, PEOPLE) are veterans (something you probably didn't hear about on Veteran's Day). With the economy in a shambles, and endless U.S. military actions continuing overseas, we will be seeing an increase in homelessness, both from the civilian side and the military. If we can't stop all these people from becoming homeless, we will absolutely need to help them (do more than just) survive on the streets so that they can rebuild their lives.

And that is just what organizations like the Urban Rest Stop and LIHI are all about. At the LIHI Auction, Ronnie Gilboa, Urban Rest Stop Manager, spoke of the need to export the Urban Rest Stop model to every city in the nation; that everyone deserves access to take care of their basic needs, as well as basic health care, and that these are public health issues.

Do you have anything resembling the Urban Rest Stop in your city? If not, take a look at their Website and learn more about it. Contact LIHI for more information. Discuss the idea with others in your community. Generate interest among groups that might provide support. Maybe your city can have the next "Urban Rest Stop". If you live in the Seattle area, consider supporting LIHI's work

While at LIHI's Website, you can also learn about the affordable housing they provide to struggling families as well as supportive services needed to build stability and rebuild their lives. Until we make fundamental changes to the fundamental societal structures that create homelessness, we will need to support organizations like LIHI that not only advocate for an end to homelessness, but do something REAL about it right here and now. And speaking of "REAL", stay tuned for my next posting where I'll introduce you to REAL CHANGE, another organization that advocates for low income people while working to end homelessness and poverty (in some pretty original ways).



P.S. - Click here to read some Urban Rest Stop success stories (in patrons' own words).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Honor Veterans (in a non-traditional way)

How can we honor veterans? I mean really honor veterans, beyond attending parades and waving flags on Veterans Day? How do we honor people who have chosen to serve their country in the armed forces, and yet have been sold down the river by the very leadership sworn to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

I am sure that one of your expectations of President-elect Obama is that he will obey not only the law of the land, but also the laws of all the lands; that he will uphold the rule (and spirit) of law as it applies to our Constitution and Bill of Rights as well as all of the treaties and other agreements into which our nation has entered with other nations. I believe that is a major reason why so many voted for him.

And I'm pretty sure that we could agree that President George W. Bush (and his administration) has broken at least a few domestic laws, not to mention some international laws. In fact, some of them would seem to be pretty darn serious violations, both on the home and international fronts. From wiretapping to torture to invading foreign lands, the list is quite impressive.

So, it must have you scratching your heads - and it's a good thing I don't, or my head would be looking pretty raw after eight years of egregious presidential law breaking - as to how the Congress has not initiated impeachment proceedings against the President (and don't forget the Vice President). After all, Congress did go after President Bill Clinton for perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power related to the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the Paula Jones law suit. Hey, that was some serious stuff.

It seems clear that political reasons kept Congress (even when controlled by the Democrats) from pursuing impeachment [read "I want to get re-elected, and I certainly don't want to create any more animosity toward the Democrats before an election."]. Poor Dennis Kucinich has been a voice in the wilderness crying out for impeachment. So what's a nation to do? Well, it's never to late to pursue justice, and I believe it is clear that there has never even been a clear national dialogue about the various crimes, and particularly war crimes, committed by the current administration.

Many would argue that pursuing the issue of the crimes of President Bush would create more wounds and division in our already hurting nation. But are we not already hurting (to a large degree) because of these very crimes? The men and women currently in our armed forces who suffer physically and mentally (along with their families)? The people who are uprooted, injured and killed as we invade their countries or cross their sovereign borders to track down "terrorists". And what of the pain of the divisiveness (in our nation) created by the rhetoric of the endless (and illegally pursued) War on Terror?

Perhaps the words of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero are appropriate here; he once said that, "No one wants to have a sore spot touched, and likewise a society with many sores will twitch when someone has the courage to touch one and say: “You have to treat that. You have to get rid of that.”

Indeed, these are tremendous sore spots, and if we are ever to heal our nation, we will have to address the (festering) sores that will not go away if we continue to ignore them. But it will take more than dialogue. It will require action to show that we, as a people, recognize the seriousness of the crimes and are willing to take responsibility. Is not part of that responsibility bringing justice on behalf of those affected by these crimes?

I suspect that it will require the voice of the people to call for not only impeachment, but also for prosecution for war crimes. You can join the more than one million people who have voted in the referendum to impeach President Bush (and get involved) at VoteToImpeach. You can also click here to read the letter from the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance to the Justice Department calling for indictment of the President and Vice President. A delegation will be (once again) demanding a meeting with Attorney General Mukasey today asking him to bring forth an indictment of Bush and Cheney.

So, tell veterans that you are really honoring them by working to prevent senseless (and illegal) wars and holding the President accountable to his oath of office. Now that's patriotism!



Note: The photo used in this post is from the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance Website, and the caption reads "Simultaneous outside protest begins with honor guard by Iraq Veterans Against the War."

Friday, November 7, 2008

A "Just Foreign Policy"

Even as we bask in the afterglow of a truly monumental election, the current resident of the Oval Office has signed (with a big grin) the largest military budget in history (for fiscal year 2009). It weighs in at a paltry $512 billion (and that's just for starters); you can see what the extras will probably cost us in my October 22nd blog posting, Our Runaway "Defense" Budget. In the past eight years the Bush administration has taken decades of foreign policy already designed with the National Security State in mind and has raised it to unimaginable heights (or perhaps taken it to new lows).

Our current foreign policy is centered on a perpetual War On Terror that has sucked the life out of the remains of our nation's diplomatic service as it pumped vast amounts of money and human resources into military “solutions” and interventions around the world. It was once said that “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” And so, with over 700 U.S. military bases encircling the globe, the sun now never sets on the American Empire.

However, the signs are clear (just as they were with the British Empire) that the days of the American Empire are on the wane. It is all about power, and the balance (or imbalance) thereof. For decades the two Superpowers wielded immense power that affected every corner of the globe, and today America still attempts to wield (hard) power in an unbridled fashion without a thought of engaging in meaningful dialogue with other nations (except in token ways or after the fact).

We can either adjust to our waning of Empire in a sensible way or continue on the current track, exerting military might until we eventually collapse under the shear weight of it. We need to come to the realization that meaningful foreign policy is not wrought with guns and bombs. We can learn that we are just one nation among many, and that we do not have all the answers and that we must learn to live together under the rule of law (not the rule of might).

In a previous blog posting I wrote about Dr. Martin Luther King's concept of The World House, "in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.” Dr. King was right on the mark. We are, as he said, like a dysfunctional family that has been thrust into a situation where we all live under the same roof and must learn to live together. Diplomacy (first) and just foreign policy are at the top of my list for learning together in this World House of ours, and speaking of just foreign policy:

The people at Just Foreign Policy are dedicated to “achieving a just foreign policy based on cooperation, law, and diplomacy.” Aside from joining their Action Network, they are currently asking people to send a message to President-elect Obama asking him to reform U.S. foreign policy. You can send an email from their Website, and they have a number of common sense talking points that you can use in addition to any of your own.

If we took even a fraction of what we currently spend on the military - deep sixing one Cold War relic like the F22 Raptor jet would save a few billion - and increased spending on just foreign policy efforts, we could change our standing on the world stage, significantly reduce the threat of terrorism and soften the inevitable decline of the American Empire. And just think; without a bunch of wars to fight, maybe we could even give our troops a well deserved vacation.



Wednesday, November 5, 2008

OBAMA - Time for (Subversive) Change

I woke up this morning and had to pinch myself. Did that really happen? Did Obama really win, and by such a margin? Did such a positive vision (of hope) really overcome the politics of fear and division? In a nation feeling the worst hangover in its history after a nearly eight year-long out-of-control party (hosted by The White House) did we really wake up this morning to the hope of real change? You bet we did!

Well, this party is (nearly) over, and there will be a tremendous mAdd Imageess to clean up. It is a mess that was generated over many administrations, although the last eight years have done exponential damage. The problem is that we do not have the luxury of time to solve many of the most serious problems we face, among them global warming and an endless "war on terror" that is (itself) making the entire world a more dangerous place. We have to act NOW!

Barack Obama was my candidate of choice as I cast my ballot, although he was not a perfect choice. Of course, what politician is the perfect choice. Just like the rest of us, they are human; and worse, they have entered the realm of politics where people's values tend to get clouded by a wide variety of influences, not the least of which are the powerful forces (and ideologies) behind the National Security State.

But I believe that President Elect Obama will listen to reason, and the big question will be just how far will he go in challenging the status quo. It isn't easy going up against the insidious influences of the National Security State and its associated Military-Industrial Complex. I hold a measure of hope that he will be brave enough to question and challenge those deeply embedded structures of power that have helped bring us to the precipice on which we stand today.

Forty-eight years ago the man who may have been the greatest president in history (for reasons I will explain in a future posting) was elected, and took office on January 20, 1961. During his time in office, John F. Kennedy turned from a traditional Cold Warrior to someone dedicated to making peace and bringing the world back from the brink of nuclear war. He challenged the deeply embedded power structures of the National Security State, and prevented what would have been the end of the world as we know it.

Kennedy's name has been invoked any number of times during the presidential campaign in reference to Barack Obama. Obama will face an even more complex world than did Kennedy, but will absolutely require the kind of courage and self-sacrifice demonstrated by Kennedy during his presidency. He will also need (as will Congress) the American people's support, prodding and criticism to address all the issues before him.

We the people will need to engage the the political structures like never before. It is no longer acceptable to vote once every four years, and let the political gears turn until the next election. So decide upon which issue (or issues) you want to focus, and get involved with one or more organizations (many links in this blog) that work on them. Write letters, send emails and faxes, sign petitions, march and demonstrate if necessary. But, get involved. Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

We CAN change the world. Sounds kind of subversive, doesn't it?



Note: The poster used in this post is from a mural on the side of the Obama '08 campaign headquarters in Houston (Alabama and Milam). Based on a design by Shepard Fairey, creator of Obey Giant. Painted by Aerosol Warfare.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, Part 3 – The Missing Chapter

Welcome to the third commentary on A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, by George Baldwin. In Chapter 2, George takes us to Nicaragua where, in 1984 he went to live in voluntary poverty with the poor after giving up his credentials to the United Methodist Church and resigned from his position as a professor at the seminary. He speaks of el pueblo; the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and their coming to understand liberation theology:

For most of five centuries, el pueblo in Latin America have been indoctrinated with a theology based on the Biblical theme of salvation. They were taught to submit to both the authority of the Church and the State. If they wanted access to salvation they must accept Jesus as their personal Savior and receive the sacraments or “Means of Grace” exclusively through the Church. By accepting the injustices and oppression, which was their daily fare, they were promised the salvation of their souls and a better life in heaven after they died… (p. 18)

Baldwin explains how access to the Bible in the people’s own language opened their eyes to an understanding of the Biblical theme of liberation, and the emphasis on creating the Kingdom of God here and now with much less emphasis on the hereafter. The most liberating knowledge for these people is the knowledge that God is a loving God, and is a full participant in their efforts to seek freedom and promote justice.

Although Baldwin makes the point that the political and religious leaders who are embedded with the governing authorities in both Nicaragua and the United States continue to support the illusion that through the use of violence it is possible to realize peace and justice, this point could apply to so many other current situations, including those in Israel/Palestine and Iraq.

Baldwin continues to develop the “missing chapter” of liberation, and leaves us with the following thought at the end of chapter 2:

We need to recover the Jesus who challenged the Powers with non-violent agape. This understanding of how to express one’s faith in God is Biblical; it is radical; it is dangerous, and it is political.
And yes, if we choose to follow Jesus, it means we are invited, as were the original followers of Jesus, to engage in the Politics of Liberation and Freedom.
(p. 27)

Just how might we recover that Jesus in our own churches? How might we help our brothers and sisters in the pews move from Salvation Theology to Liberation Theology (and perhaps, from personal piety to personal and collective responsibility)?

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, Part 2 – The Politics of Jesus

"Jesus and politics just don't mix!" How many times have I heard something along that line (in church). I have been challenged on occasion (by indignant fellow Christians) for introducing ideas that (for some people) seem to challenge the status quo. And when the status quo has reigned for roughly 1700 years, that can be a tough sell. It keeps coming back to that charity vs. justice thing.

This second commentary on A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, by George W. Baldwin looks at Chapter 1, The Politics of Jesus in which Baldwin lays the foundation for the rest of the book. Baldwin draws a stark contrast between The Political Model of Jesus vs. The Political Model of the Powers. I'll let George lay it out for you. Here are excerpts on both models:

The Politics of Liberation and Freedom

Jesus was undeniably engaged in the political arena as he introduced the Politics of Liberation and Freedom… The Politics of Liberation and Freedom is about the pursuit of justice and not simply victory over the enemy. Beyond the need to avoid a violent insurrection that would inevitably lead to a major catastrophe for his homeland, Jesus was promoting the cause of universal human freedom… Jesus could see that to achieve freedom for his homeland he must confront the systemic evil which was deeply rooted in the religious systems and governance structures of his own nation as well as those imposed by the Roman Empire… Jesus understood that active political resistance to systemic injustice would result in disrupting the status quo of the Jewish establishment and ultimately lead to an encounter with Pontius Pilate. (pp. 4-5)

The Politics of Power and Domination

Jesus was challenging political and religious authorities who operated from the Politics of Power and Domination. Over the course of history this model has changed very little… Nation States, corporations, military organizations, educational institutions, legal systems, labor unions, self interest groups and even family structures may be identified as systems that utilize power over others as their mode of operation. The institutional church in its various forms and structures is no exception… The Powers promote the illusion that we are at peace when the systems of domination are not being challenged. Those who seek freedom from injustice inevitably disturb the status-quo and are accused of being the cause of any violence that comes from the conflict. Jesus understood the deception hidden in the promise that peace can be achieved through violence. (pp. 8-9)

There is, indeed, a stark contrast between Jesus’ politics engaged in creating the Kingdom of God (here on Earth) that involved the creation of new social structures based on the love of neighbor, and the politics of the political and religious authorities that was (and continues to be) based upon systems of power and domination. One has to wonder what would be the most likely outcome if Jesus came out today challenging those very systems? Here is Baldwin’s take on that question:

Tragically, in the political climate in which we now live Jesus would be labeled a terrorist for challenging the Powers. And even more tragic is that the authorities of the Church would be calling for Jesus to be crucified again. (p. 12)

It seems that little has changed since the bad old days of Pontius Pilate. The politics of power and domination are much the same; they have just taken on a new look (and vocabulary). And so we might ask ourselves (to paraphrase Baldwin) – Does our declaration that we are Christian represent any threat at all to the domination systems? If not, then what's the point???



P.S. - Watch for the third commentary (coming soon) about The Missing Chapter.
Note: The image used in this post is from the following Webpage: http://www.flickr.com/photos/american_in_paris/2851195218/

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, Part 1

I coordinate a social justice ministry at Snoqualmie United Methodist Church in Snoqualmie, Washington. It's not much of a "ministry"; aside from a handful of people dedicated to social justice, it's a struggle to convince people to get over the Christian predilection for charity to the near exclusion of justice. This is not exactly what Jesus had in mind over two thousand years ago, but that's ancient history, and many Christians seem to have selective memory when it comes to history (particularly of the Biblical kind).

Some time ago I read a book that really grabbed me (in terms of its honesty regarding the Church) and I decided to write a series of brief commentaries about it. For Christian peacemakers, this book (A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus) is a "must read". It makes a compelling case for recovering the church that challenges (as Jesus did) the Powers and Prinicipalities (rather than sleeping with them). And so, here is the first commentary for you reading pleasure.


“Enter through the narrow gate: for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it." – Jesus

So begins the introduction to A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, by George W. Baldwin called, (iUniverse, C2006). For those of us who have a spiritual calling to peace and justice work, it comes as no surprise that Jesus was political; that he pursued liberation and freedom by “confronting the systemic evil which was deeply rooted in the religious systems and governance structures” of his time, and which have continued to exist to this very day.

However, the notion of Jesus being one who promoted “The Politics of Liberation and Freedom, The Theology of Grace and The Methodology of Non-violent Love” (which Baldwin describes) is not one with which the church (as we know it) is at all comfortable or wishes to engage in dialogue about to any large degree. That is not to say the Church does not do good works; it does many good works, mostly acts of mercy. There is an inherent imbalance between its acts of mercy and its acts of justice. We must be realistic enough to see (and this is a very difficult vision) that the Church that we have today is not what Jesus envisioned. As Baldwin quoted one of his Church History professors, “Jesus preached the coming of the Kingdom of God, but what he got was the Church.”

This is a book with a radical (and desperately needed) vision that invites those with courage, conviction and faith to challenge the Church to truly follow Jesus, recognizing “that cooperation with the Powers and domination systems is the easy road that leads to destruction, and challenge the Politics of Power and Domination and the delusion that you can achieve peace and justice through violence.” The question is whether we will choose the wide gate or the narrow one. As Baldwin reminds us, “The Good News is that there are some who find The Narrow Gate.”

These commentaries on A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus are intended to give Christian peacemakers a fresh perspective that we can use in our work creating Peace Churches in our communities and “pursuing the Kingdom of God in this world” (rather than sitting on our hands and waiting for the next one). Of course it's not an easy task in a society where many of our churches have been co-opted by the Empire (except for a few such as the Quakers).

Watch for the second commentary (in a subsequent posting) when we will look at The Politics of Jesus.



Note: You can find A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus at Amazon.com or Cokesbury Bookstore.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Enemies of the State - Terrorist Nuns???

The United States Department of Homeland Security is concerned for your safety. The government's national threat level is currently "Elevated" or "Yellow". Of course, it's been at that level (or even higher) pretty consistently ever since they started using this system. But all that aside, they really are very concerned for the safety of all Americans. This particular level of threat ("Elevated") means is that there is a "significant risk of terrorist attacks"; translation - there are terrorists lurking everywhere, just waiting for the right moment to attack. In fact, they might look like one of the people in the photos below. Please study them carefully!

These women might present a risk to the safety of innocent, freedom loving Americans. That's right! The Washington Post reported that they were labelled as "suspected" terrorists by the Maryland State Police and placed on a secret Federal database of suspected terrorists. Why???

It seems that some of our Federal tax dollars (via the Department of Homeland Security) have gone to the Maryland State Police who have conducted an extensive surveillance effort targeting antiwar activists (isn't that like so 60's?). They worked with the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on all sorts of people, including Quakers and Dominican nuns. And that is precisely what these two women are - Dominican nuns. Eek! Terrorist nuns! Meet Sister Carol Gilbert and Sister Ardeth Platte.

You are probably asking what they did to get on the list. You are asking, right? The Sisters are affiliated with Jonah House, a community based on the values of nonviolence and resistance. They have engaged in all manner of peacemaking activities for decades, and the activities that landed them on this list appear to have been their involvement in gatherings opposing the Iraq war and capital punishment.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland brought this Constitutional injustice to light and is challenging it. Since 1920 the ACLU has worked to defend the rights of ALL our society's members, and believes that civil liberties must be protected at all times, even in times of national emergency.

If you believe that the rights enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights are worth defending, then I encourage you to get involved with the ACLU. You can sign up at their Website to stay informed and take action on issues in 21 different subject areas ranging from Criminal Justice to Women's Rights.



P.S. - It has been said that, "Good things come in threes." In this case, there is a third nun. And when you get these three peacemakers together, they are a powerful force for holy mischief. I like to think of holy mischief as a powerful and intentional action based upon deeply held spiritual beliefs, bearing witness to and resisting extreme injustice. Watch for a subsequent blog posting where I introduce you to Sister Jackie Hudson and Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II (some serious holy mischief).

Note: The Photos of Sister Carol Gilbert (on the left) and Sister Ardeth Platte (on the right) were taken by George Hagegeorge.