"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.