Monthly Archives: November 2007

strugglin’ with Thanksgiving

I always struggle with Thanksgiving.  How does one “celebrate” a holiday with such genocidal origins? Columbus get’s lost, bumps into what is now North America, is stupid and egocentric enough  to think he’s “discovered a new world” and the massacre of the indigenous population begins.

Back in elementary school I remember learning about how the “grateful  Indians” came to sit with the “good, god fearing and oh so thankful pilgrims” to feast and give thanks. Missing from this sanitized version of history is the reality that Columbus and later the colonists were the invaders. What we never heard about were the massacres, the enslavement, the lies and broken treaties, and so forth and so on.

And we certainly never learned about the constitution of the Iroquois confederation, the “great law of peace”, or that our traditions like congressional debate, and “caucuses” were adapted from the governing bodies of first nations.

And yet, in spite of its rather genocidal origins, and the deceptive and sanitized way in which most of us in the US were taught about the holiday, there is something wonderful about a day that is about being thankful.  No matter if your own spiritual traditions call you to thank a god, goddess or higher power; to give thanks to mother earth, or simply to those people and events in your life that you appreciate – giving thanks is important.

Now, being thankful should not be a one day a year thing. We shouldn’t need a special day to remind us to be grateful.  Yet, in the busy pace of our lives it is easy to forget – and a gentle reminder on the calendar can help.

And so, tomorrow I take time away from the day to day to stop, to reflect, and to be thankful. And while I celebrate those many many things for which I am thankful, I will also remember our history. I will be thankful for those who speak the truth about this history, and for my opportunities to learn more about that truth.

I will take time to remember those on whose graves, whose backs, and whose lives that Thanksgiving Day was built on, and rededicate myself to solidarity with these communities – to standing as an ally when asked. 

 

 

Veterans’ Day reflections from a (struggling to be) pacifist

I was running errands today and a middle-age looking woman approached me to give me a “complimentary yellow ribbon to show my support of our troops on Veterans’ Day.” She was upset and confused when I turned her down and noticing the car I climbed into was covered in bumper stickers – many speaking out against war and violence – she  yelled out (not unkindly) that even if I “don’t support the war, I can still support  the troops.”
 
The thing is I don’t want a yellow ribbon.
 
First, there is the reality that I do not really know the origin, but by at least one account I am aware of it is pretty awful. I can’t recall where I heard it, maybe Democracy Now (?), or maybe at an Indigenous people’s day event somewhere along the line (?)… Anyhow, by this account the tradition of those yellow ribbons comes from the yellow tie that was part of a soldier’s uniform.  The cavalry that would go out to kill Indians, before they left, they would take that yellow tie off, tie it in their wife or their girlfriend’s hair, and say, “You wear this until I come back safely from killing Indians.”  Like I said, don’t know if it’s true… but it’s hardly unbelievable. So, ‘till I know it’s for 100% it is not true I will not wear/display a yellow ribbon.
 
Then there is the whole slogan itself. How do you “support the troops” without supporting the war? Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not against the individual soldier.  I agree that individuals need our support. But is supporting individual soldiers the same as “supporting the troops”? As Noam Chomsky points out:
                    “[…] the point of public relations slogans like “Support Our Troops” is that they don’t mean anything […] that’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody is gonna be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. But its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something, do you support our policy? And that’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about.”
 
And how do we as a nation show our support? I don’t think a yellow ribbon or empty slogans are going to do it. I would argue that as a nation – we don’t “support our troops” – and we certainly don’t support individuals (or their families) when they return.
 
Think about the following:
·         Veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population. 
·         1.8 million Vets are without health insurance…
·         Combat stress, exhaustion, and bearing witness to the horrors of war contribute to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a serious set of symptoms that can lead to depression, illness, violent behavior, and even suicide. . PTSD sometimes doesn’t become apparent for months or even years after a war, but by then the military will often tell soldiers they have missed the deadlines to get the mental health help they need.
·         Soldiers health is adversely effected by depleted uranium, Lariam, insufficient body armor and infectious diseases etc. and often are at the mercy of a Veterans Administration is far too under-funded to fully deal of need
 
And who are “the troops” anyway? With this country’s economic draft lower income people are pushed into the military in order to earn a living, try to learn a trade or get money for their education. Not surprisingly, the “economic draft” primarily targets youth of color from low-income areas, both urban and rural. Military recruiters heavily target working classes in Black, Latino, Native American, Asian, Arab, and Pacific Islander communities.
 
An economic draft, combined with the racism and classism, in this county ensure poor people and people of color die in war disproportionately.  During Operation Desert Storm over 50% of the front-line troops were people of color, largely Latino.  As Arundhati Roy said so well “America’s “volunteer” army in fact depends on a poverty draft of poor whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians looking for a way to earn a living and get an education.”
 
So, if you really want to “support the troops” – if you want to support the individual men and women who make up the armed forces- skip the yellow ribbon. 
 
Instead, work to end the current wars and stop future wars before they start. Work for universal health care – including good mental health care.  Dismantle racism.  Fight poverty. Support unarmed civilian protection and third party nonviolent intervention as a realistic alternative to armed military intervention. And support those soldiers who are on the front lines – resisting this war.

Check out these groups who are doing just that:

Courage To Resist, www.couragetoresist.org
Iraq Veterans Against the War, www.ivaw.org
Veterans For Peace, www.vfp.org
Vietnam Veterans Against the War, www.vvaw.org 

GI Rights Hotline, www.girightshotline.org

Africa Journal

The following are taken from email messages I sent home to family and friends while I was in Kenya. They don’t do justice to the wonderful conference, or meeting. And the don’t even touch on the incredible, amazing, audacious work of Nonviolent Peaceforce, but for those who have asked me to put something up about the trip…. here is something.

9/20/07

Hello Friends,I am emailing you from the airport.  Well… I got a bit of a late start on the trip. Or, more accurately an on time start.  Since I had picked up extra facilitation jobs, and wanted to be “fresh” for an early AM regional meeting I tried to change my flight to fly out 2 days earlier. Sayrah is arriving a day early and I also thought it would give us time to catch up as well as talk about best ways to represent MPT. Ha. It was a good theory. Apparently I am on “airport control” and while no one is able or willing to tell me exactly what that means it does mean I am not allowed to change any my ticket. And it seems to mean I get to dump my bags at every possible security check. Oh well… I’m on my way to AFRICA – I can hardly complain too much about anything.

9/?26//07

Hello friends,I am sorry not to be in touch sooner. I’m not sure what day it is, as is often the case at such an intense event they have all sort of blurred together. Anyhow, internet access is almost impossible from the conference. Not only are there only 2 computers for all 100+ conference participants, but they rarely work and when they do, they are sooooo slow. This is actually the first time I’ve been able to access yahoo. Last few times I tried it shut everything down.  And needless to say that did not go over well. 

Anyhow, it was another wonderful, exhausting, tearful and joyful day. I am here with some of the most amazing people I have ever hoped to meet. It has been wonderful to see NP friends from the IGC and even from the convening event in India 5ish years ago.   Sayrah and I have had the chance to hang out with Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead MacGuire – she is not only an amazing speaker and great activist but an incredibly warm and personable woman. And (how cool is this?) she remembered MPT folks from Bi’lin.  We are also here with citizens of Burma. They are currently living in exile outside of Burma. I cannot begin to describe what it has been like to be here w/ them as we watch the events in Burma unfold:  The joy and hope and sadness and tragedy.  There is also a man here who is the only one I his family to survive the Rwandan genocide, and while his stories break my heart, his courage and tenacity, and unbelievable openness give me hope.  

A man from Uganda tells the story about a woman who gets up very very early and takes the only pot they have for many miles to collect water. She leaves her children alone and by the time she returns the sun is high in the sky… she has walked miles and she is hot and tired and thirsty. Her children have been waiting thirsty and they rush around her begging for her attention, and the water – scared and demanding. She lifts the heavy pot from her head, but there is no one there to help and at this most critical moment when she needs the help she drops the pot. The water spills on the ground and every drop is lost into the dry earth. And the pot – the only one and that which has allowed her family to get the water they need to survive is broken. He says – Uganda is that woman. We are at the most critical point. We need help to take the heavy pot from our heads. We are and weary and there is too much chance for it to drop. 

And, of course, there are the stories of resistance and hope both from NP’s “field team” and from so many around the world!  And these are just the conversations that happen during meal breaks and before bed! The speakers at the conference have been wonderful and have given lots to think about.  I cannot wait to share these stories when I return.  

I am also here w/ an extended family of baboons who help to ease the sadness and seriousness by climbing the on the roofs, sliding down the gutters, raiding the dumpster and yelling at me if my eagerness for a photo brings me too close; a couple of dogs who have clearly figured I am an easy mark for belly rubs and ear scratches, a cat or 2, and several wart-hogs – all who peacefully and easily share the grounds of the conference center w/ the staff and visitors. Well, mostly easily — I did hear a story from the kitchen staff about how the baboons will sometimes get into the kitchen. I am especially fascinated by the warthogs, or “wart-pigs” as the KCCT refer to them.  They almost pose for their photo to be taken. They get down on their knees to eat, and after chomping down on their fill they just flop over on the spot for a post-meal nap. And who knew they are so cute!

    

Conference and meeting sessions have been a mix of academic like papers on theory and best practice, stories from the field, and our business as member organizations and IGC reps — strategic planning, budgets, by-laws etc. The days are long and full, and for those of us with additional responsibilities as ICG they often start even earlier and go even later.  I love it. I will miss the work at that level as I step down. Step down from that role and jumping into another. I’ve cleverly already volunteered for several things and picked up lots of work.

 9/28/07

Hi again. I’m finding it is hard to convey in these reports the importance or the excitement of it all. I end up telling you about baboons and “wartpigs” because meetings are meetings. Much like the meetings we have at MPT or in any group:  endless negotiating of language, budgets that make my eyes and head hurt as I push myself to understand them, long term plans, by-laws and blah blah blah… it sound so dull on paper.  But the work it allows us to do is so incredible.

And if I was at all uncertain about that -just talking to the team members confirms the incredibleness of it all. It’s just so – audacious.  And being around people who not only have the audacity to dream this up, but the talent and commitment to make it real is such a gift.  

I am also just fascinated by all the group dynamics and all the issues of power, privilege and such that come in to play — and how we as people committed to justice attempt to be sensitive to all this as we come from such a variety of cultures and traditions. We keep learning.  

 I have another 2 days of meetings and then a final day where the Member Organization delegates leave and the old IGC and new IGC meet. After that I am very very excited to spend some time PLAYING in Kenya.  I will try to email again, but remember no news is good news… It just means can’t I get to internet.  And for those who are interested I will type up a more official report when I get back. Peace, Love, and warthog hugs, Sheri

10/1/07

Hello everyone, Well – the conference and meeting are over. It was a wonderful experience and I am beyond grateful for it. Sayrah and I are now at the Mennonite Guest House in the west lands part of Nairobi. She heads out tonight and I will have several more days to play.  The guest house is very nice, the staff are so kind and helpful – plus yummy meals are included. (I can get used to this “tea time” twice a day!)  There is a beautiful garden to relax in between frantic sightseeing, internet access that is reasonably priced, and a set up w/ a cooperative taxi service so that we know we are getting safe, reliable, and honest transportation. I know I will especially appreciate that when Sayrah leaves and I am traveling alone. 

There are folks here from several parts of the world, many of whom seem to stay on and off here as they work in and around Kenya. Most are doing some type of “mission work” – building a clinic, distributing food, AIDS orphanage. The conversation can get a bit Jesus focused for a buddhisty, quakery pagan like me – but in spite of that they all seem to be really good people doing good and interesting work. And it seems a good place to have as “home base” when I’m here on my own. 

Today Sayrah and I went to a market with fair trade products. All are locally/regionally made by cooperatives working for self empowerment. (A group for individuals w/ autism, a women’s collective etc.) There were some beautiful things…. don’t I wish I could afford a big ol’ shopping trip. :-D. The shop owners and artists were all so kind and happy to tell you the story behind any product and about the artist and cooperative that made it. 

After several days of meetings and workshops – days starting at 6 AM and going long past dark- we are having a relaxed “slow paced” day. The gardens here are beautiful, and the weather perfect so we worked on our financial report. (That was important for me, so that I am clear about not using MPT money for my stuff!!) We also started our MPT report.  I’ll see Sayrah off tonight and then do some touristy stuff in the next few days. I’m not sure what yet, I’ll just have to see where the spirit leads me. Well, I think I’ll end here and see where folks are heading off to for the evening.  Hugs, Sher

10/3/07

Hello again friends, Yesterday was an amazing day! Now that my work is over (at least ’till I get home and Sayrah and I fill out and complete our report) I’m getting a chance to talk more w/ the other guests here at the Mennonite Guest House and hearing some great stories about amazing work.

I’ve also made more of a chance to talk with the staff who have been so welcoming and kind and happy to give help with just about anything. It’s been nice to have some time to really talk to them about their own lives. There are the two caretakers from PA, who I have spoke a bit more with, but mostly I have been talking with the Kenyan staff Ruth – who works at the front desk, Sarah who is one of the cooks (and makes the best chocolate cookies!) and the many folks who care for the amazing gardens, and keep the place so nice. 

Anyhow… back to yesterday’s adventures. I had planned to go to the National Museum. I was told it was still closed for renovations, and then told it was open so I decided to chance it. I went early right after bkfst—it was a rather expensive cab ride since traveling alone I was not sharing the fare with anyone. But the driver was honest, kind, and told me to pay him when he came to get me, which we arranged for him to do just before dinner (7:30 PMish).  

Off the cab drives and I walk up to the museum only to find…yep, it was closed.  

So, being stranded in an area w/ not much else around for tourists I walked over to the University. (I didn’t want to leave because I wanted to be sure to be there for the cab at the end of the day since I owed him money.) It was great!!! I spent time just talking to people and learning about their lives here in Kenya.  Then I met this guy who is a student and doing work at the museum. When I told him why I was here he decided I should get to see the museum so he snuck me in and gave me a private tour! 

It was amazing! I couldn’t take any photos or anything because anything I would do that “looked touristy” would get him in trouble. But, it was soooo amazing and so nice of him.    The gardens are beautiful and full of cool sculptures, I saw this huge (life size) fiberglass model  of Ahmed – the elephant that was a symbol of Kenya during the big Ivory poaching crisis in the 1980’s Ahmed was place under 24 hour guard by Jomo Kenyatta. There are lots of cool portraits showing the different tribes of Kenya. My private tour guide told me that people here are very proud of their tribal heritage and of Kenya’s cultural diversity. There were tons of stuffed (what is that taxidermy) birds and other animals, rock art, etc. Plus, (of course!)  I saw the amazing hominid fossils etc etc.  

And what does it say about me that I enjoyed the tour that much more since I wasn’t really s’posed to be there.  

O. (the guy giving me the tour), his friends and I also spent lots of time talking about third party nonviolent intervention, civilian protection etc. and what it means to them in the context of Africa. He is from Sierre Leone and was sent to Kenya during the war there. His brother was abducted as a soldier and his parents feared for his safety. He had class and was worried that I had not had lunch so he called his friend) and she took me to her home for lunch. It was great to just spend the afternoon with her family.   

Then last night I went with O and several other students to a club, Gypsy’s Bar. At least they called it Gypsy’s bar… it actually seemed to be several bars and I saw several names – none of them Gypsy’s. It was great fun and we danced like crazy to a mix of African and Western music w/ a few Latin American beats tossed in at random. 

Today I am thinking animals: the Nairobi national park, the animal orphanage and maybe the Giraffe center if I can cram it all in. In all I am well: tired and happy…. and gonna come home very broke… but it is all so worth it. Hugs, Sheri

10-4-07

Hello, Wow – it has been an expensive but amazing and well worth it day! This AM I got up and right after breakfast went to the Nairobi National Park for a “mini safari”. Nairobi National Park is about 115 square kilometers of national park w/in the city limits. (It’s from here that the monkeys and warthogs would come to visit us at KCCT during the conference and meeting.) It’s wacky you see all these wild animals against a backdrop of savanna with sky scrapers in the background and an occasional plane flying overhead.  For me one of the highlights of this was seeing the spot where in 1989 the then president of Kenya publicly burned several million dollars of poached Ivory to start off an incredibly successful anit-poaching campaign. And although I didn’t see any “Lions, and tigers and bears – oh my” I did see zebras, and ostriches and buffaloes – oh my” Plus more monkeys, baboons, and warthogs, and more variety of birds than I could have imagined. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that my camera battery was dead and so I got no pictures. Leave it to me to not have the camera on this of all outings! UG! 

From there I headed to the   Sheldrick animal orphanage/wildlife trust. This was worth the days taxi fare in and of itself!  Here they raise orphan elephants.  It is only open for one hour each day where the public can come and watch them feed the baby elephants and watch them play. And they had a gift store so I got batteries!  This means I have like 8 zillion pictures of baby elephants!  “Look here is one from the left side, and here she is from the right. Now she is looking up… oh and here is that elephant with a friend and…. on and on…”    

Each elephant has a caretaker w/ them 24-7. They even follow them throughout the park w/ umbrellas to keep them from getting sunburn. They rotate the caretakers often so that the elephants don’t become attached. I won’t make you all crazy with the multitude of things I learned about elephants, but will just note they are incredibly social and playful. They are dependent on the milk for 2 years and after that they can begin to be reintegrated back to the wild, but the elephants choose when and sometimes it is closer to 5 years or more. It is remarkable work. It also strikes me as also being incredibly spiritual work. 

Then it was on to the Giraffe Center where I hand fed – and even kissed a Giraffe!  It is run by a center for endangered African wildlife and was started when one particular type of Giraffe (Rothschild Giraffe) was put on the endangered species list. In some ways it’s marketed to kids and they have a special program to go into the slum areas and schools for less well to do children. Not only do they come to the center to learn about conservation for Giraffe’s and other wildlife they have several environmental programs – from recycling to supporting the Green Belt initiative to a weeklong “environmental master/mistress” camp for kids. 

  Now I am back at Mennonite guest house for tea time and a bit of a rest. This afternoon I am feeling a bit under the weather (probably just tired, but maybe also the lingering result of my lunch w/ a local family yesterday or my late night dancing and not drinking enough water) so I am taking a break for a bit. Internet here at the Mennonite guest house is paid for by the day – so since I paid for it today I might as well spend a little time catching up w/ email and relaxing.  

After tea time I am going to the Shalom Center – an orphanage and school for children with HIV/AIDS – many of them former street children. I will also be visiting a small women’s center for rape victims. Then tonight maybe to another club – or group of clubs – I’m a bit confused – called Dagoretti corner. I’ve been told it’s the place locals go rather than just tourists.  Well, that about sums it up for now… Hugs, sher 

6 Oct. 2007

Hello again, This is likely to be my final email from Nairobi. I cannot believe I leave tomorrow. Internet being fairly expensive – and me being at the end of my budgeted funds – I will likely not bother tomorrow. Today was another full and wonderful day.  But first, yesterday I did go to the Shalom Center – an orphanage and school for children with HIV/AIDS – many of them former street children. I was unable to spend a great deal of time there, but did get a chance to visit with the children and teach some cooperative games.  They loved the idea of cooperative football (soccer) and it was great to see the young girls getting involved as well. They also got a big kick out of “cross the river”. 

I thought I would be visiting a small women’s center for rape victims. But I was confused. Actually what I did was even better. I was able to meet and talk w/ several women who have formed their own support group for rape survivors. . They wished to remain anonymous, but w/ assurances of keeping ideates confidential they honored me by sharing their stories.  They spoke of the stigma of rape in Kenya – that even if people don’t think of it as “your fault” you are seen as “damaged goods” (their words) and you will have a hard time finding a husband or respect.  These 2 things seemed to go hand in hand. For all but one of the women there the only people who knew of the rape outside of themselves and the perpetrator were the women in the room. 

They inquired about my own story – it was interesting how they just seemed to sense we had that in common – and were surprised and excited about the idea that rape could be talked about as something awful that happened, but not as a taboo that you must hide.

 Last night I did spend some time at a group of clubs called something like Dagoretti corner. Amazing drumming and dancing a just great fun.  

Then this afternoon I went to a screening of a film – Kibera Kid. It is about a 12 year old boy living in the Kibera slum who must choose between gang life and redemption. It was shown at Alliance Francais, and I met up w/ some NP friends.  The move was good, and the kids from it were there to answer questions and all.  They were great! It was wonderful to see how they all supported each other and all. The film is done by this group Hot Sun Foundation. They seem pretty cool. Afterwards I was waiting for a cab and met some folks who I may be able to hook up with tomorrow and go to Kibera love,sher  

7 Oct. 2007 

Today I went to Kibera. Kibera is Kenya’s largest slum. By some accounts it is the largest slum in Africa, but other accounts it is the 2nd largest. There are about a million people who live there. Some say a million and a half. Someone told me, half of the people who live there are under the age of 15.

The ground in many areas is literally made of trash. Houses and other buildings are literally built right on this. Obviously, this is not very stable and I was told a constant danger is from things collapsing. Another danger is the train that runs through the center of Kibera. The pollution is severe including soot, garbage and raw sewage running through areas.  Houses are one story, one room, tin roofs made mostly from mud and scraps.

We were asked not to take photos. Apparently there is anger and frustration over “people selling photos to those who just want to look at our misery.”  Yet, in spite of that anger and frustration I was welcomed warmly and with love. And I met so many people doing such great work: from educating their community about HIV and AIDS to women’s empowerment, to craft collectives, to youth organizations.

People are amazing. 

There is crime and violence, but we learned that there is less so than in the other slum areas of the country. When I asked why the children and adults gave a variety of answers, but a common thread among them seemed to be “because our stories are being told.”  

It was an emotional day and so last night I stayed around the guest house and visited with the other guests here. (A number of new folks had arrived, especially parents here to visits their children who are on midterm break.) Then made an attempt to get some packing done. 

This AM I went to the Maasai Market. This market rotates from place to place around the city. It is a huge — and I do mean huge — open air street market where you can buy handcrafts and souvenirs.  The Maasai are one of the tribes of Kenya, (often when you see pictures of Kenya you see pictures of the Maasai people — bright red colored cloth and lots of beads.) The Maasai and were traditionally nomadic herders of cattle and goats, and they have tried to stay out of the mainstream development of Kenya. As more and more of the land has been taken over for business and commercial ventures this way of life has become more and more threatened and many of the Maasai people make their livelihood selling crafts and such in these markets. 

All I can say is thank goodness I waited ’till the last day to go…. If I’d gone earlier I wouldn’t have been able to leave the guest house since I wouldn’t have had any money left. Ya’ll know I am not so good at bargaining under the best of circumstances. And when everyone is coming up to you at once “buy from me so my children can eat.” “I give you good deal; you bring me luck if you buy from me – first of the day.” “How much will you spend for it – it is good work – I make it myself.”  Very, very hard sell! It was a good thing to do – but a bit of sensory overload!  I spoke a bit with one of the Maasai elders and asked him what he thought of the tourists and the markets. He had mixed feelings basically saying it is good that people can feed their families when their other means of survival are taken away but that it is doing a lot of damage to the Maasai culture because now they are making “fake” things to suit the needs of the tourists. He also spoke of the traditional taboo against “capturing someone’s image for nothing” (photos) and was troubled that many take photos even without asking. So, now here I am again back at the guest house, I will have lunch here and then check out. Then I am in limbo for a few hours before I head to the airport. The folks here are kind enough to let me leave my things here, or even just hang out and relax in the garden since I cannot afford to catch a taxi anywhere else if I still want to pay to get one to the airport. So, I will probably just take a walk around the neighborhood and talk with some of the locals before heading out this evening. Thanks for listening to my ramblings and for your support of this trip Hugs, Sher   

 

Re-entry, reports, and an elephant

Recently I had this amazing opportunity to travel to Kenya. I went to take part in the events of the Nonviolent Peaceforce; the International Governing Council meeting, the conference on Unarmed Civilian Protection, and the International Assembly. It was amazing. Nonviolent Peaceforce is amazing.  (Check out the website: http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org )

Then, having spent the money on the airline ticket and the countless hours on a plane, I took advantage of the opportunity and had some play time, me time, vacation. That was also amazing.

And yet, I have not been able to write in any articulate way about the experience. In fact, I am sitting in front of the computer now because I am supposed to be working on a report on the events for Michigan Peace Team.  You can see how well that is going….

Why? What is it that is blocking me from getting something down about it all? 

Goddess knows, my poor friends have listened to endless rambling on and on about it. The meeting, the, the people there, my thoughts on each of the speakers, my thoughts on my thoughts on the speakers, my travels and adventures after the meeting, etc., the subjects all creep into our conversations about anything and everything.

I guess that is just it, when I’m talkin’ to my friends about it endless rambling is fine. It doesn’t matter that the conversation is disjointed, and that I interrupt myself jumping from subject to subject and then back again. It’s easy to see how the work relates to so much else in my life.

But that disjointed rambling doesn’t work so well in a report.

Yet, I think there is more to it than that.  I think it’s the same thing – or at least related to – what has made “reentry” in to my “real life” so difficult.  Which is what exactly? Not sure really. Something about the trip seems to have turned on the tape, you know the one… “What am I doing with my life? How am I doing it? Is it what I want?”  The thing is -I am. Well, I think I am? But then why does the tape keep playing? I guess I just need to let it all percolate for a bit and see what answers the universe brings. 

In the meantime, back to that report…

This baby elephant is one of the many at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. I fell in love with them all….

At the elephant orphanage in Kenya

Musings on Peace,Palestine, and the People’s Food Coop

NOTE:  I originally sent this piece as an email to friends and members of the community when our local food cooperative (The PFC) was considering a boycott of Israeli goods. Sadly, the vote to boycott Israeli goods did not pass – but on the positive side, there was some good conversation as a result of the attempt.  A number of friends have asked me to repost it here, as they are struggling with this issue as well.——————————————
 

Why boycott Israeli goods? When I was a college student at Kent State one of the first “long term” campaigns I got involved with was around the issue of South African apartheid. I recall building “shanty towns” in the student center to educate the campus community to the realities of life in South Africa, pressuring the university to divest and all businesses where we thought we might have some voice to boycott any products of the apartheid regime.

Even as I put what felt like “a lot” of time into this, I wondered in my heart how much of a difference it would make. Would anyone in South Africa really care if little old Kent State University divested? Would the people we tried to stand in solidarity with even know what we were doing – in the hardships that defined so much of their lives would they care?

Years later I had the privilege of traveling to the Hague Appeal for Peace conference. One of the conference presenters was Bishop Desmond Tutu….someone whose work I truly admire. I was so surprised and heartened to hear what he had to say. In one of the workshops he spoke his thanks to those who worked to put pressure on the South African government to end apartheid. He gave thanks to the university students, labor folks, and religious leaders who worked against apartheid. He mentioned educating people about the realities of life under apartheid, and pressure for boycotts and divestment. He said that in doing these things we gave people hope.

Recently a dear friend had the opportunity to travel in South Africa.  While there she toured Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela spent much of his 27 years in prison, along w/ other anti-apartheid leaders). The man who gave the tour was a former political prisoner himself, who spent years imprisoned on the island, and like Bishop Tutu he thanked those in the audience who had worked against apartheid, and he gave special thanks to those Americans in the group (not something we usually get to hear!) letting them know the work we did gave the prisoners hope.

It seems to me, supporting a boycott is a little thing – with so little effort on our end – for such an important result – for giving hope.  It may not seem like much – giving hope. But we know that hope is power. And those that feel hopeless are more likely to turn to violence, to engage in actions that seem “not understandable”, and to lose their creative visions for the future.

So if support for a boycott has a chance to make a difference, to my mind the question that remains is: is the comparison to South Africa an honest one? Is the system in Palestine/Israel an apartheid system?

My own eyewitness and that of my colleagues’ who have traveled there tell me it is.  Palestinian towns are cut off from each other by settlements, Israeli only roadways, and the separation wall.  Road Blocks and check-points further restrict movement and work to humiliate Palestinians. One can also add to the list of similarities home demolitions, collective punishment, identity papers, and the racism that allows this.

But, it is not my words alone that I ask you to consider: those with far more knowledge of apartheid have seen the similarities… and have pointed them out for some time now.  On December 4, 1997 Nelson Mandela speaking in Pretoria, South Africa noted: ” The UN took a strong stand against apartheid and over the years and international consensus was built, which helped bring and end to this iniquitous system in South Africa. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Fellow anti-apartheid leader and Nobel peace prize winner  Desmond Tutu also commented “I’ve been deeply distressed in my visit to the holy land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.” (BBC News April 29, 2002).

Former South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, often called  “Architect of Apartheid” for his role in shaping the apartheid regime’s racial ideology and policies  before his assassination in  1966, acknowledged Israel, like South Africa is an apartheid State.”  (Rand Daily Mail, November 23, 1961)

And finally, many of you are aware of former President Jimmy Carter‘s book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid in which he makes note of the conditions Palestinians live under. On CNN  Nov. 28, 2006 Carter pointed out “In the West Bank, in the occupied territories, a horrible example of apartheid is being perpetrated against the Palestinians who live there. Israel has penetrated and occupied, confiscated and colonized major portions of the territory belonging to the Palestinians.”  And, as I noted – it is not just the words of these others (many of whom I admire greatly) but my own observations and concern for justice for all people in the region that leads me to the acknowledgment that it is an apartheid system.

So, why boycott Israeli products? Because Israel is (I honestly believe) an apartheid state. Because apartheid is unjust and immoral. Because the system of apartheid and the racism inherent in it, hurts Palestinians, Israelis, and all who support it. Because a boycott  just might let those working against this unjust system know they are not alone. Because, it might give someone hope.

Everything I need to know about nonviolent resistance I learned from my dog

I am sore this morning. It’s the result of sleeping in an “S” shape – trying to fit myself around 2 dogs in the bed. Yes, pathetic, but true. How is it that this not -so -huge dog can make her 55ish pounds turn into 1055ish pounds when I’m trying to move her?

The most experienced activist could learn a thing or two about going limp from this 4 legged resister.

Yes, everything I ever needed to know about being a nonviolent resister I learned from my dogs.

I know from being arrested that no matter how much you know you are going to resist- no matter how much you have told yourself you will leave every muscle in your body limp and not cooperate at all in your arrest, when someone puts their hands under your arms and goes to lift you up it is the most natural thing in the world to just stand up and move.  As a nonviolence trainer I suggest people practice this tool with friends.  It’s just natural to “help” someone “help you up.”

Not for Roxy.

If I want my spot on the bed back I’m going to have to do all the work.  No growling, no fighting it… just no cooperation, no help… and no chance in hell she’s going very far… this flopping, limp sack of dog.  This, in spite of the fact I outweigh her, and I like to believe I am smarter than her.

But sometimes outright noncooperation is not the way to go. Maybe you don’t want to get arrested, maybe you’re trying to buy some time… whatever the reason you have decided the appearance of cooperation will act in your favor. You know the drill. The cops say, “You all have to back up behind this line.”  So, you smile back up a step or two – then dance a step, two, or three forward. The appearance of movement and yet you’ve gone no where. This too is a tactic Roxy is familiar with. 

“Move”, I tell her – putting my feet underneath her and wiggling them as if to say “see this is not a comfortable place to sleep.” And she gets up! She moves! She flops back down – and somehow she is in the exact same space. Yes, her head may have moved an inch or so, but for the most part she is just as she was. 

Then too there is the art of ignoring. We’re at the park and she’s happily sniffing around. A little too happy I start to think… anything that smells that good to her is probably trouble … so I call her. She doesn’t come. She doesn’t even look up. She doesn’t run away either – if I didn’t know better I might think she didn’t even hear me.  Clearly she is not going to acknowledge my authority.  And when she is ready she comes happily running on over to me “hi, were you talking to me? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…” 

I am reminded of a friend walking through the check point in Palestine – in a hurry to join other internationals to provide international witness and accompaniment of Palestinians during an Israeli incursion into the occupied West Bank.  “Stop” the soldier calls – and on she walks… as if thinking “he can’t be talking to me.”  When ignoring becomes impossible or too dangerous she holds her passport up and walks past “we are in a hurry, we need to get to our friends.”

It was during my own work in Palestine that another lesson from Roxy paid off. Persistence is sometimes everything. On this occasion, some Israeli soldiers had stopped Palestinian cab drivers and taken their papers, effectively stopping them from going anywhere. While MPT does not usually negotiate for the Palestinians– knowing people are their own best resource and can negotiate for themselves – on this particular occasion the cab drivers had asked us to attempt to talk to the soldiers and have their papers returned.  So, I started trying to talk to the man in the jeep. He closed the window and ignored me. I was not ready to be ignored. I continued my non-stop rambling; at times appealing to his humanity and his own sense of dignity – calling on him to act from his better self. At times pointing out the international laws being broken by the occupation… but never ceasing in my talking… eventually the door opened a crack. I stuck my knee in so he couldn’t close it and continued talking.  Mostly I was repeating the same things over and over. This went on for what felt like forever, until eventually he returned the papers. I wish I could say it was because I touched his heart, that something him changed – but really I think he just wanted me to shut up.

I babysat a friend’s dog once. Marco’s is bigger than Roxy and had – on occasion – asserted his authority with her.  She still had a bit of that spastic puppy energy and he would let her he didn’t approve. He found a rawhide bone type thing in our house and was happily chewing away on it.  I feared there would be trouble but Roxy knew better than to try to take it from him. Instead she planted herself near-by and started barking at him…nonstop. “Hey, that’s mine. That’s not fair. Aren’t you even going to share? Give me some please. I know you want to. After all, it’s mine.” On and on and on she went, nonstop barking- you will not ignore me. Persistence pays off and eventually Marcos just got up and walked away – leaving her the bone.

So, you see, it’s all there persistence, negotiation tactics, passive resistance techniques… I can learn a lot from my dog.