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

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Selma to Montgomery: Praying With Their Feet


On Sunday, March 7, 1965, approximately 600 people began a fifty-four mile march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama (the state capital). They marched to demonstrate for voting rights for African Americans. They were also marching in honor of Jimmie Lee Jackson, who had died three weeks earlier after being shot by a state trooper while trying to protect his mother during a civil rights demonstration. After crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the outskirts of Selma, the marchers were brutally assaulted by heavily armed state troopers and sheriff's deputies.

Footage of the violence in Selma was broadcast by ABC News, which (rather ironically) interrupted its broadcast of the Nazi war crimes documentary, Judgement in Nuremburg. In just two days demonstrations in support of the Selma to Montgomery marchers were held in eight cities, and thousands of religious and lay leaders, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. travelled to Selma where, on March 9 they once again travelled to the Edmund Pettus Bridge where they knelt and prayed. That night one of the ministers, who had travelled to Selma for the march, was killed by white vigilantes.

The uproar and response by the citizenry to events in Alabama was so great that President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation before a joint session of Congress, saying,"There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights…We have already waited a hundred years and more, and the time for waiting is gone…" Just two days later Johnson sent the Voting Rights bill to Congress.

On March 17 a Federal judge ruled that the demonstrators must be permitted to march, and ordered that the National Guard protect them. On March 21, the voting rights demonstrators once again left Selma under Federal protection, and arrived in Montgomery on March 25 with some 25,000 demonstrators flooding the state capital. The Voting Rights Act was signed into law on August 6, 1965. Among other things, the Act banned discriminatory literacy tests and expanded voting rights for non-English speaking citizens.

Today, 45 years later, people still commemorate the historic Selma to Montgomery march, and the struggle for the right to vote continues. One of the participants raised the issue of voting rights for felons. Monks from the Bainbridge Island Nipponzan Miyohoji Buddhist Temple were among those who made the trek this year. One of the monks, Gilberto Perez, sent me a few photos (see slide show below). For the monks, this is just one leg of a long journey, praying with their feet as they walk for peace, justice and the abolition of nuclear weapons. For them, every step is a prayer for peace, and they take countless steps on their long journey.

Los Angeles firefighter Tony Wright bandages the foot of Buddhist monk Gilberto Perez as Erica Fox watches at Fire Station No. 14 in Montgomery on Friday. (Alvin Benn)

After the Selma to Montgomery march, they will begin the next leg of their journey that will take them to New York City, where they will join with thousands of other peacemakers to call on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference to make good on the promises made in the NPT. In the continuing struggle for human rights, they will remind the nuclear-armed nations that the world's citizens have the right to be free of the fear of nuclear omnicide that still hangs over the world like a nuclear Sword of Damocles.

And so the monks and those who walk with them continue their journey, beating their drums and chanting with a nonviolent spirit like those who walked from Selma to Montgomery 45 years ago. May their nonviolent spirit touch everyone they meet along the way, disarming hearts and building a path to a world at peace with justice.

Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo.



Photographic Credits: Panorama of marchers at top of post by James Karales (American, 1930–2002). Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965. Photographic print. Located in the James Karales Collection, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University. Photograph © Estate of James Karales. Thanks to Gilberto Perez for photos used in the slide show.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Waihopai ANZAC Ploughshares - INNOCENT!!!


Wonderful news for all plowshares activists and supporters! The Waihopai Ploughshares activists have been acquitted on all counts by trial jury on March 17th!

In April, 2008 the three Waihopai Ploughshares activists cut through three security fences at the Waihopai satellite monitoring facility in New Zealand, deflated one of the dome's covers using sickles, then knelt down beside it to pray "to remember the people killed by United States military activity." The Waihopai facility is part of the ECHELON spy network, and the Waihopai activists claimed that it "is an important part of the U.S. government's global spy network and we have come in the name of the Prince of Peace to close it down."

Tholus Deflationis (apologies to Latin scholars)
Plowshares Performance Art

Here is the statement posted on the Ploughshares Aotearoa blog on March 17 following their acquittal on all charges:

Adrian Leason, Father Peter Murnane and Sam Land – the three men who were
charged with intentional damage and unlawful entry at Waihopai spy base – have
today expressed their thanks to the jury, the judge, and the prosecution and
defence lawyers.

At the conclusion of the trial, Father Peter, Sam and Adrian said they feel privileged to have helped uncover the true nature of the spy base. “Our actions in disabling the spy base and stopping the flow of information helped save lives in Iraq”, added Adrian.

“What has been humbling for us to realise is how our witness has impacted on so many people around the world and at home”, said Sam.

“We did not try to avoid the consequences of our actions, because we respect the rule of law although we do believe we are ultimately accountable to a higher authority. We damaged property at the spy base in order to save victims of war and torture. It’s all about Jesus’ command for us to treat all people as our brothers and sisters”, said
Father Peter.

The jury heard that the Waihopai Echelon spy base is New Zealand’s largest contribution to the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. The ongoing war has resulted in horrific war crimes, including more than one million dead Iraqi civilians, torture, and permanent poisoning of parts of Iraq by the use of depleted uranium munitions.

The jury also heard evidence from a former British Echelon intelligence analyst, Katherine Gunn. She blew the whistle on secret Echelon spying operations when she was instructed by the US National Security Agency to spy on United Nations Security Council members leading up to the US invasion in 2003.

“Evidence presented in the court confirmed that the ongoing war in Iraq is illegal, and causing massive human suffering”, said Adrian. “As an outcome of this trial, we hope that New Zealanders will insist on an enquiry into the activities of the spy base and its links to US-led illegal wars”.

Father Peter, Sam and Adrian expressed gratitude for all the support they have received from family, friends and the New Zealand public.

Commenting at the conclusion of the trial, Graham Bidois Cameron, Waihopai Ploughshares media spokesperson, said this Ploughshares action is part of an ongoing tradition: “The practice of non-violent resistance and direct action in the cause of peace has a long history in this country – the peaceful resistance to the invasion of Parihaka, and non-violent direct action against nuclear armed warships entering our harbours being just two examples”, he said.

“The actions of Waihopai Ploughshares also need to be understood in relation to an international movement for disarmament and peace”, said lawyer Moana Cole, herself a Ploughshares activist. “Adrian, Sam and Father Peter are part of rich history of activism in support of those without a voice and the movement is certainly growing”.

Deflating the Waihopi dome was a powerful symbol of resistance to New Zealand's support of the U.S. in its endless War On Terror. Let us hope that this legal decision will be heard around the world by all who resist war (as well as those who make war). May it also strengthen our resolve to continue the good work of turning swords into plowshares.



Learn more about the Waihopai Ploughshares at http://ploughshares.org.nz/ as well as http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/plshares.htm.

Click here to read about the trial, including daily trial updates.

Click here to learn more about Peace Movement Aotearoa, the national networking organisation in Aotearoa New Zealand for people interested in peace, social justice and human rights.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lead us from War to Peace


Last week a number of peace activists gathered in front of the U.S. District Courthouse in Tacoma, Washington before the trial of fellow activist Lynne Greenwald, to vigil, leaflet and encircle Lynne with our collective nonviolent spirit.  Although Lynne's trial was a serious occasion, and one which none of us took lightly, we gathered with a sense of joy - a sense of joy that comes from the knowledge that our deep commitment to peace through the practice of nonviolence helps us move beyond the bondage of fear, hatred and violence that leads to despair.
As we gathered in the ecumenical spirit to center ourselves before the trial, we read the International Prayer for Peace.  As I reflected on it I found myself thinking how prayer is often a static process in which we ask for something and then wait for some miraculous intervention. Yet here I was, surrounded by people for whom the miracle of prayer is its self-transformative power.  Here were people for whom prayer helps move them through the very transformations uttered in this peace prayer, and to transformative action in the world.

These are people who embody that Biblical admonition to put faith into action.  So, I share with you here the prayer spoken by peacemakers on March 3rd.  I hope you find it useful in your travels.
Lead me from death to life, 

from falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope, 

from fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love, 

from war to peace. 

Let peace fill our heart, 

our world, 

our universe.


Friday, March 5, 2010

A Model of Speaking Truth to Power

Greetings Friends,

My friend Mary Brown, a retired United Methodist Minister, recently received a political questionnaire from Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee. Mary is NOT a Republican. However, she decided to respond to Mr. Steele, and I thought her letter worthy of sharing as a model for how to reach out to those on "the other side of the aisle", and reach beyond "agendas". Mary IS a person of hope, and she translates her hope (and faith) into action towards a positive future. You can read Mary's letter at the end of this post.

Mary is as active in her retirement (working to build a better world) as she was as a minister. If her experience is any indicator of what retirement can be like, I can't wait! Here's to working for a just and peaceful world every day of our lives.



March 1, 2010

Dear Chairman Steele:

I don’t know why I received this questionnaire because I am not a Republican; however, my parents were. Unfortunately, I think they would be “turning over in their graves” if they were aware of the mean spirited rhetoric expressed by so many of the Republican leaders in Washington today. Many Republicans seem more intent on seeing the present administration fail rather than they do in truly trying to work towards what is in the best interests of the American people in these difficult days. I know that there are philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats; however, I believe that the present rancor and stalemate in Congress is destructive of our democracy.

I recently heard you, Chairman Steele, interviewed on the Tavis Smiley show. Although I didn’t agree with all your comments, I felt like you seemed to be a reasonable person. For example, you expressed a desire to “speak truth to power,” wherever such expression was needed, even if that meant speaking “truth” to the members of your own party. I like that quality!

So I would like to speak “truth” to you, Mr. Steele, from my perspective. In this country, we sometimes speak of “failed states,” usually referring to such nations, as Somalia, or the Congo or possibly Yemen. However, I believe that this nation is on the verge of becoming “a failed democracy.” This nation has been on an “unsustainable course” for many years now, whether in terms of its use of resources, consumer spending, or predatory financial practices, etc. World-wide climate change, global warming, massive poverty with billions living on less than $1 or $2 a day, the coming of Peak Oil, the melting of glaciers potentially affecting the fresh water supply for billions, these are the real “national security” issues which affect people all over the world. The solution to these issues will determine whether or not my grandchildren grow up to live in a nurturing world or a world is no longer able to sustain its inhabitants.

Therefore, I am dismayed at the lack of visionary leadership in Washington. I am dismayed that 41 individuals out of this nation of over 300,000,000 people can obstruct legislation from even coming up for a vote! I believe most politicians do not offer visionary leadership because of their need to raise money for the next election cycle and because of the pressure of lobbyists. Doris “Granny D” Haddock walked from Pasadena to Washington, D.C. in 1999 at the age of 89 to raise public awareness about the need for finance reform for elections! It is ironic that just days before her 100th birthday on January 24th, the Supreme Court voted to allow unions and corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in support of political candidates. Again, money is power!

I believe, Mr. Steele, that millions of Americans, including Independents, Republicans and
Democrats, believe that democracy as practiced these days in Washington, D.C. is failing us. That’s why millions of folks are devoting their efforts to restoring democracy through organizations and movements completely outside of The Beltway, organizations that have a worldwide scope.

For example, in my retirement, I have become a facilitator for a symposium entitled “Awakening the Dreamer: Changing the Dream.” This symposium, developed in 2005 by the Pachamama Alliance has been given in 70 cities in this country and 27 nations worldwide. Its purpose is to help people bring forth “an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on our planet.” Another worldwide movement is “Give Peace a Deadline,” or the P5Y (Peace in Five Years) movement. Its goal is to end war (not conflict) in five years. People in the Snoqualmie Valley, where I live here in Washington state, are exploring the TransitionMovement started by Rob Hopkins in England. The goal of this movement is to help local communities live more sustainably during this era of Peak Oil.

Perhaps, Mr. Steele, you have never heard of such movements or organizations. Well, that’s because they are completely off the “radar” of the mainstream media, which is controlled by large corporations. However, environmentalist and author, Paul Hawkens writes in his book Blessed Unrest that there are anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 just organizations working worldwide. These organizations are primarily interested in issues of environmental sustainability, social justice and indigenous wisdom. According to Paul Hawkens, it is the efforts of such organizations and movements that will eventually save our planet.

As for this questionnaire, Mr. Steele, I find the same fault with it that I find with similar questionnaires I have received from the Democratic Party. The questions lack complexity and are slanted towards the agenda of the particular party, so it’s very difficult to answer them with a simple “Yes” or “No.”

I thank you, Mr. Steele, for allowing me to speak “my truth” to you, and I hope this gives you a different perspective on what’s happening outside of The Beltway. If my knowledge were only dependent on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and what I might hear or see through most media, I would be completely despondent about the future. However, because my knowledge is not so limited, I am still hopeful. As playwright and former Czech Republic President, Vaclav Havel has written, “Either we have hope within us, or we don’t. It is a dimension of the soul…Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Hopefully yours,

Rev. Mary Karen Brown
Retired United Methodist minister