Friday, September 5, 2008

RNC - Did you think they got carried away?

It’s been an eventful week for social change groups around the country. In the aftermath of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul many are licking wounds and hiring lawyers. If you’d known what it was going to be like, would you like to have gone?

Most clashes protesters had with St. Paul police never appeared on the news anywhere. Beginning on Monday at least six house raids occurred on groups as they met peacefully to plan nonviolent protests. Journalists and those documenting police behavior seemed to be targeted at several points during the convention. Reports of police brutality were common. There were several stories like the one where police wrestled a protester to the ground so they could yank away his protective goggles, and mace him directly in the eyes. Repeated tazerings, and beatings severe enough to cause internal bleeding are recorded. Charges for arrested protesters often included the words “terrorist,” though most charges were dropped.

The stories are grim and well-documented. Unfortunately, almost none of this was reported in the mainstream media. Even on NPR reporters glossed over the officially sanctioned violence to talk about questionable behavior by protesters, and sympathetic coverage of police press conferences.

On Friday the ACLU announced it would take on the case of Amy Goodman, Democracy Now producers, and other journalists who were arrested. It’s possible other arrested protesters could be included. And Amnesty International has expressed concern for disproportionate use of force by St. Paul officials. The concerns arise from independent media reports, and video and photographic images that show police officers excessively using non-lethal weapons on non-violent protesters.

There have also been reports of an agreement between St. Paul officials and the Republican Party, that the party would cover the first $10 million for legal bills coming from ways the sheriff and police dealt with protesters. Clearly the point of this whole exercise was to show they were the tough guys in charge, and to intimidate dissent.

After the past 8 years those who’ve taken exception to Bush policies can’t pretend to be too surprised at the degree to which the party they represent reacts with fear to those who disagree with them. And fear is clearly the core of decisions that were made about this convention. They’re afraid of dissent because they’re afraid of transparency because they’re afraid of being revealed for what they are. And their followers are like unto them. That’s not a comment on Republicans in general. That’s in reference to the particular strain within the party that’s in control nowadays. The violent rules they operate under are intended to keep people from questioning authority. We all know that. The task for us, who take exception to the rulers, is to find our own core of courage, and steel ourselves to the kind of nonviolent discipline that Gandhi carried with him throughout his struggles. The future may call for even more of that.

The other strength we must learn to rely on is the set of bonds we develop with those who share our values. There really are lots of us, and we need each other. To consciously learn how to reach across boundaries of language, creed, race and culture is a skill set that progressives need to study all across the globe. We can do that in Arkansas, and we must. The things we learn from the Republican National Convention are incredibly valuable for observing just how important that is.

Another interesting lesson from the last week is to look at it as a marker on a check-list. Remember the quote from Gandhi that says: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Well, we’re beyond the laughing stage, aren’t we? Think about what comes next.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Impractical Dreams from a Friend

Margaret says: "Several years ago a friend of mine was living and working in Lesotho on a Fulbright study. While she was there she rescued a little street kid from horrible poverty and abuse. She eventually adopted the little girl, Manko. Manko struggled through high school, graduated, and after a couple of years joined the army. Her Mom was pretty horrified, but all she could do was be there as a Mom. Manko graduated from boot camp a couple of weeks ago. My friend went to her graduation. In many ways boot camp was very good for Manko--she gained confidence and self esteem and for the first time in a long time, feels very proud of herself. She should. She has achieved a lot. Her Mom and I talked about how good the Army is at doing some things--if only they didn't go to war. She wrote this piece which I want to share with all of you. And as a side note 80% of the 1000 soldiers who graduated with Manko are 17 years old. "

And the story continues:

"Attending Manko's graduation from Army boot camp in South Carolina this past weekend was fraught for me. Manko was justifiably proud of her accomplishment, happy to have been a success at something difficult. I celebrated her and her fellow soldiers, and I was outraged that any of them should be considered expendable for oil men's wars. The expertly choreographed display of military propaganda, including the performance of four soldiers in Arab dress being "taken out" by soldiers in camoflage, while the band played the Army Song and the audience of 2000 people cheered, gave me chills. This morning I woke up and wrote down this half-waking dream. I sent it to a friend who asked if she could forward it to some list she belongs to, without my name on it, and I gladly agreed. I know it sounds corny and idealistic, but FDR's CCC was the same kind of idea; in fact just about everything FDR did sounded impractical and idealistic before he made it happen. Sargeant Shriver presided over dreams that became less crazy when they caught on and became other people's dreams. So maybe there is a possibility that this dream could become other people's dream, or could stimulate other dreams. Maybe it isn't as crazy as it seems. I send it, a little embarrassed by it, and is what I have to offer, my honest response to the performance staged at Ft. Jackson. I decided to share it with my friends. Make of it what you will. Feel no obligation to respond.

What if the job of the U.S. Army were building housing for homeless people, schools for street children; what if the Navy scoured the oceans for plastic, cleaned streams and rivers, disposed of waste; if Marines rescued refugees displaced by earthquakes, fires, and floods, or lanced the pustules of corruption by organizing communities to support themselves; if the Air Force bombed Afghanistan with rice and flew reconnaissance missions to secure the Polar Bears and track illegal whale killers? What if the purpose of boot camp were to strengthen a cadre of thousands of strong young Americans to feed Ethiopia, stop the poaching in Congo, restore fishing villages wiped out by tsunamis? What if the US Military aimed its massive force at reinforcing bridges all over its own country, at distributing clean needles and condoms, at rehabilitating crack babies in the hospitals of large cities? There is work for all these strong young people to do; this work would keep money in circulation, would not rob the captains of industry of their riches: the military would still need uniforms, tools, catering, helicopters, tanks, and trucks. It would require massive administrative structures (as we have now), officers to make decisions, legislators to appropriate funds. All the flag-waving could continue, but the stars and stripes would acquire a new aura of beneficence. What if the whole military structure were maintained and strengthened but its mission became the relief of suffering?"

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

resolution needed

Resolution for 2008: blog more often; write shorter posts.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

End of the world postposed for End of America

Great forum happened tonight. Better then 50 people came to a panel discussion of Naomi Wolfe's book "The End of America" about a fascist shift happening in American power structures. The group talked with zeal, and way overtime. They had good questions, and were well read on the subject of administration and corporate malfeasance. They came looking for confirmation of their worst fears.

And the fear was there again. Ricocheting back and forth during the Q&A session. If there were people there who weren't nervous, they weren't the ones talking.

I'm not saying there's not reason for concern. I think it's clear that things are going very wrong in a lot of ways. What I'd like to know is what to do right now to prepare for major change in such a way that most of us survive it as a connected and thriving community. And that human societies be prepared well enough that that happens all across the world -- not just in my home town... Well as much as possible anyhow. That sounds like a tall order.

Here's the thing: I don't think a lot of the men are up for the fixing of it. Yes, lots of women complained tonight, but the flavor of the complaint was different. A bunch of the men were glorying in the misery of it. That's the only way I can think to describe it. Glorying in the righteous indignation of it. It was not a day to explore options for change. Not the space to point out all the exciting work being done for peace, justice and sustainability. Not the place to seek reasons for hope. A very intelligent and well-read man told me the final solution to the problem was to hunker down and wait for the end, hoping to be among those nobody in power notices. Where the hell does that come from?

This doesn't mean this wasn't a great forum. The exciting part is hearing all that variety of thought, and getting the sense of where people are around the issue. You're only going to get that when the issue cuts close to the bone. Obviously this one does.

I guess nobody wants to live in a fascist state. That's a big relief. The question in my mind is still how people go from great anxiety about an issue that gets them in the gut like this, to action that has some real positive impact on their society. There are lots of 'real' things that need to be done. They aren't always big flashy things. They're 'little' things - done in the background - at the park with the children -- among the nonprofits - with the middle managers - over the watercooler - getting past the race-class-culture thing. Seeking out things that break down walls and grow relationships that transcend politics and economic troubles. That won't seem important in some quarters, but it's those networks of relationship that sustain people during tough times. They broaden the range of options, and increase security for everybody.

This relationship thing sounds more and more like women's work. Some of us know how to do this stuff. Not to leave the men out, but not to leave it undone because they don't do it well. Somehow we need to prepare for this soon. Where's the best place to begin?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Stuff Happinin' ... Bush-Visits-Rogers protest

Monday - The Protest: October 15 Bush came to Rogers, Arkansas, where he first visited the Stribbling Packing Co. Friends of the Stribbling family attended our protest, and report that they were extremely excited about it. Bush had his own lunch at a local restaurant named… it was something like “Hog Barbeque”. Hogs are big here in Razorback country. Finally, an hour later then expected, he appeared at the Hammons Convention Center, where many Suits were waiting patiently to see him.

So were 40-50 Omni members and friends. We carried placards about a variety of important issues -- preemptive war, erosion of liberties, impeachment. But the main core of the action was Bush’s veto of SCHIP – the children’s health care bill. A lot of people are finding that hard to swollow. A trillion dollars for a phoney war, but quibble about a few million for sick children.

It was different protesting in Rogers. Fewer thumbs up, and a few people yelled “shut up” at us as we vigorously greeted Bush from the sidewalk, calling "feed the poor, not the war." There was a little cluster of Bush supporters with signs hastily made from cardboard boxes, that said things like “Support Godly Prez”. Somebody on our side of the street said, “A Godly prez would be a good idea.” Both sides were friendly though. A bunch of people came out from the offices and shops behind us to watch for the cavalcade, and made us look like a bigger group. Some were carrying tiny little American flags, so we may have disagreed with them on some issues.

An interesting thing was that the Omni folk from "liberal" Fayetteville were just about balanced out by like-minded folks from "conservative" Rogers, Bentonville and Bella Vista. Several of them told us how grateful they were that we’d organized this. I think they felt that Omni was supporting them in something they wanted very much to do, but weren’t sure how to do it. Support for progressive people around Northwest Arkansas was a statement that I’m happy we could make, even if neither Mr. Boozman nor Mr. Bush pay heed to what we were trying to say.

Another interesting thing was that Bush’s long barbecue lunch forced the media to cover the protesters during the slow wait. Thank you Mr. Bush.

Tuesday - Follow-up visit to Cong. Boozman's office: The day after the protest, a few Omni friends traveled to Lowell to visit with Rep. Boozman’s staff, including his Director of Communications. SCHIP was again the focus. We were met in the parking lot by Arkansas Demo Gazette crew. They asked good questions and took lots of photos. We didn’t expect to change any minds among the staff, and we weren’t disappointed. Mr. James was pretty attentive to our position though, and gave us an interesting review of the shut-down of communication between the parties in DC since the veto was announced.

Omni member Sara Milford, who’s a natural childbirth facilitator, was able to make some important points about the prenatal care elements in SCHIP. From Mr. James discussion, it appears that for the Congressman, prenatal attention was mostly directed to anti-abortion studies. I saw lights go on in Mr. James eyes, when Sara talked about specific need to expand availability of services, and prenatal education for young moms. He needed to hear from her.

Citizen contact like this is never wasted. Slowly working to develop relationship with legislators – whether they agree with us or not – is an important part of being an engaged American.

Thanks to all of the intrepid people who braved the October chill on October 15, and the wonderful ones who met for the follow-up visit on the 16th. Changing hearts and minds may be slow work, but to do nothing is such a poor option. We’re the ones who choose to act on our convictions and, as often as possible, to be effective. Omni folk are really GREAT.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New hunk of infrastructure for peace

Getting ready for a little hunk of infrastructure. Omni people are preparing to join the media revolution. On October 12 we will (if all goes as planned) submit an application to the FCC for a high-power radio station license. It'll have the potential to reach a big hunk of Northwest Arkansas, and a bit of Oklahoma and Missouri.

We have big hopes for this station. I imagine it radiating out between the hills and through the hollers of the Ozark Mountains, bringing surprising new insights to hill people who pride themselves on their lack of larnin. Maybe inspiring people who think there's nobody else like them in the universe, because they think there must be some better way to get through life, then what's happening now.

Maybe we can find some hill folk who want to do programming. Some Cherokee Indians who want a voice for their tribe. They'd be a wonderful addition to the list I've got in my mind, of environmental programming, talks by UA professors on intriguing topics, stories by Omni travelers about what they learn in the world, students showcasing current bands, music from all over, reports on the City Council, children's stories teaching peace, justice and an earth restored... and lots of people making it all work.

A year ago we'd almost given up hope. After months of meeting, thinking and planning we just couldn't seem to pull all the strands together. Several of us attended the Great Media Conference in Memphis where FCC Commissioner Johnathan Edelstein played blues, and Bill Moyers said "we change big media or die trying." The real reason I went was to find something. I needed to find the information, or the inspiration, or the people, to pull the radio thing off, or die trying. Well, maybe not die... just give up the project. That just didn't seem like a good option though.

Well, there was Joe Newman. He came to the media conference looking for some way to do radio too. And he had some skills to give it a good shot. I'm glad you came along Joe. You've done a lot of hard work on preparing for this FCC application. If we don't get it, we'll have done our best, and you're the bulldog who's kept the ball rolling. He's not the only one though. We've only just begun, but lots of people have already put good work, and solid effort, and real money into this, and I'm proud of us. Very proud.

Media for peace, justice and ecology. This is a piece of peace infrastructure. Pretty exciting, very challenging, with incredible potential to help make the changes that need to happen. We're stepping into the media world with faith that our voices are incredibly valuable. With confidence that the world needs to hear us in a serious way. I am proud of us. Very proud.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Down the dirt road to Building A Culture of Peace

My mind keeps going back to last weekend, when my hubby and I went to the state peace groups’ conference, "Building a Culture of Peace." It's the second year we've done this in Arkansas. Last year, Omni Center started it out, and this year two Little Rock Groups - Arkansas Coalition for Peace & Justice, and Arkansas WAND - hosted it at Ferncliff Conference Center.

We're still a pretty small group. Maybe 40 or so folks. There's just something good about hanging out with people who share your passion though. It's interesting to see who comes back a second time. There was ACPJ, and WAND, and the determined Springfield Missouri bunch sent a rep, and the radiant Sisters from St. Scholastica Monastery, and some new women from Russellville and Fort Smith with new ideas and new contacts. New people were just really exhilarating, and seeing 'old' groups in a new light. Speakers from the WAND and ACPJ group kinda gave me an insight into where their groups are focusing energy. I love that.

Something I wasn't expecting at all was a comprehensive set of historic albums that Antje Harris has been constructing for several years. Attentively mounted photos, programs, flyers, speeches... memorabilia of years of peace work from the two groups she works with (ACPJ and WAND). It's a marvelous history. Wish our archivist could have seen them. They weren't elaborate or cutsey... just well made and attractive. She had an album from the first peace conference in September 2006. It was amazing to see the story of that, laid out in the material we'd collected.

They let me show my "Search for the Structure" powerpoint. I've been working on it for Omni leaders. Wasn't hard to change it around for other peace workers. Wonder if I can attach it to this blog? May try it. Nope. Won't do it. The blog likes photos or video. Maybe I'll try a slide from it instead.

I like this powerpoint. It's got some pretty pictures, and lots of good ideas from "Strategic Peacebuilding" . That's a little book from Mennonite Eastern University, by Dr. Lisa Schirch. Great ideas for peace makers. We need a long-term plan in a really big way. This is kind of ground work for that. We need a strategy. A strategy first, and then better infrastructure.

That's a question I dwell on. What infrastructure do we need to actually have a culture of peace? One thing I like about Dr. Schirch's book is the way it begins from the values and skills necessary to create peace. As you read this list of skills, it's clear why we have a violent society. We're hardwiring ourselves for it. Just look at this list:

Skills for Peacebuilding

  • self reflecti0n skills
  • active listening skills
  • diplomatic and assertive speaking skills
  • appreciative inquiry skills
  • creative problem-solving skills
  • dialogue skills
  • negotiation skills
  • mediation skills

When did they ever encourage anybody to think this stuff was acceptable in high school? Especially the 'self-reflection' part. Nah. When I was in high school, all problems would've been solved if we'd had a nicer car and name brand clothes. I don't think that part of school has changed much.

We've got a long way to go before the infrastructure for the culture of peace is strong enough to carry the kind of load we're laying on it. Whatever we do in groups like Omni Center seems so meager, but it's a start. There was a time when all highways were dirt, and everybody was fine with that. But the infrastructure grew as its value was understood. Having paved roads was only the beginning though. The people carving out the dirt roads couldn't have imagined 12-lane highways with on-off ramps, tunnel systems, built-in sensing systems, lighting systems... all this elaborate jazz we have to have in major cities.

If the human race survives long enough, the culture of peace will grow too. The infrastructure for it is at the dirt road stage, but it will change as its value becomes apparent. It's the perfect metaphor for a small but beautiful peace conference, in our small but beautiful state.