Memorial Day: Musings and Rantings

It is hot today. I think my brain has melted and I can’t seem to keep much in the way of “coherent” thoughts….still, I’ve been wanting to write something about Memorial Day since I talked about cakes with my friend Abby. This is one of those friends with a sense of humor “sick and twisty” enough to match my own. She was commenting on the plethora of cakes, cookies, and other goodies at the local stores all decorated in stars and stripes; red, white, and blue frosting, or little toothpick flags. “Wouldn’t it be more honest”, she commented, to have a big green sheet cake with little white crosses or small white slabs across the top. I mean isn’t it supposed to be about remembering those who have died.”

Okay, a bit morbid. I did say she has a humor sick and twisty enough to match my own. But she has a point. As Howard Zinn said “Memorial Day will be celebrated … by the usual betrayal of the dead, by the hypocritical patriotism of the politicians and contractors preparing for more wars, more graves to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days. The memory of the dead deserves a different dedication. To peace, to defiance of governments.”http://www.commondreams.org/views01/0528-07.htm

Yes, we “celebrate” memorial day with picnics and BBQ, with sales and with consumerism run amuck, and if we remember at all the meaning of the day it is too often lost in the never ending waving of flags; blind patriotism and the glorification of those very wars that killed far far too many.

Is there not a way we can honor the dead without this glorification of war and patriotism? It seems to me that truly honoring those who have been killed means taking a hard look at ourselves. It means asking the question: have we allowed these humans to be sacrificed because we are unwilling to change our life-style? Are we willing to consume less, and to share more. Are we willing to challenge our governments policies of domination and waste? Are we willing to examine and to give up some of our unearned privilege? Are we willing to put our resources into building the real and viable alternatives to war and militarism that have been proven possible?   ( http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/ and http://michiganpeaceteam.org/) Are we willing to take the time to look at our own attitudes about power and justice… and forgiveness and reconciliation? It seems to me that however each of us answer questions such as this taking the time to ask them, and for self-reflection and honesty — even when it is uncomfortable – is the only real way to honor those whose lives were taken.

And let’s pause for a moment here. It seems this may be the moment to clarify. Yes, I mourn the deaths of those US soldiers, but also those soldiers from “the other side”. All. From all sides in all wars. A US life is not worth more to me than the life of another. And what about the civilian deaths?  These men, women and children who are victims of wars are no less worthy and no less deserving of a moment to honor their humanity. No matter what their nationality. And the numbers are astounding.

At the same time, I understand the need to honor the soldiers. To honor the warriors. We pause to honor soldiers each Memorial Day because, regardless of our belief in the immorality of war we honor those women and men because they died for a cause they saw as larger than themselves. No matter whether they became soldiers to take care of their families or lost their lives defending buddies and comrades. No matter if they joined because they were drafted (legally or economically ) or if they believed in the mission, it seems right to reflect on those who lost their lives in this way.

But let us remember also that not all wars are military missions and not all warriors wear a uniform. And not all are willing to use violence. There are many ways to be a warrior. If memorial day is to honor those that died in the service of their country then those civil rights leaders, and labor leaders and those who have struggled for social change also qualify. Were not those that joined the freedom rides warriors? Were those that fought for an 8 hour work day and the right to form a union any less “in the service of our nation”?

There are so many people who have fought for our rights – fought for “liberty and justice for all” who did not carry guns and weapons into the battlefield but the tools of nonviolence and a willingness to give their safety, their comfort and at times their lives for these causes larger than themselves.

And so this memorial day I take a moment to honor Ferdinando Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Diane Nash, Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, John Lewis, Howard Zinn, Shirley Chisholm, Rosa Parks and so many many more. Many nameless and unknown to our history books, but none the less courageous and inspiring.

And I know, as well, that those killed “on the battlefield” (wherever that battle field may be and however you may define it) are not the only casualties of war. And as labor and community organizer, Mary Harris “mother” Jones taught us we must “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living. “ According to Veterans for Peace “….. recovery from the trauma of military training and service is not automatic. There are estimates that 20% of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Child abuse has been three times higher in homes from which a parent is deployed, for example, and police and courts are dealing with skyrocketing partner abuse rates, which are up 177 percent in Army families since 2003.The Veterans Administration estimates that 300,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Unemployment rates have been two percentage points higher among war veterans than civilians. The VA estimates that a veteran takes his or her own life every 80 minutes — 6,500 suicides per year. Approximately 30% of all homeless are veterans.” Want to honor veterans? Work for real health care reform, work to end homelessness, volunteer on a suicide prevention or GI Rights hot line. And fight like hell to put an end to the military industrial complex, stop wars, and support the real and viable alternatives we have!

It doesn’t always work out as you plan

Often when we tell a story of intervention in a training people will ask “weren’t you afraid you would get hurt?“ or “What if they turn the violence on you?“ or some variation. I always assure people no one is asking them to do anything they don’t feel okay about doing and that yes, we always assess the risk level. We do. But I think that lesson hit home for me on an emotional level only today.

I left the house this AM and it was still dark. Pulling to the end of the driveway I realized I forgot my glasses and left the car at the end of the drive to run up and get them. As I was about to get back in the car I heard  yelling from the apartments across the street. It sounded like a woman calling for help.

My house is one of 4 surrounded by a sea of apartments. A crowed mass of student housing and low to very low income apartments. Sometimes it seems like just too damn many people crowded into to little of a space, and as such we always see more crime and violence in economically challenging times. I have occasionally intervened in neighborhood fights or threats of violence so this turn of events didn’t surprise me.

Anyway, someone was calling for help so I raced over to see what I could do. Somewhat hidden behind the dumpster was a guy and it looked like he was grabbing the woman who was yelling for help. As I approached them I called out. “hey, can I help?“, or something to that effect (I honestly don’t remember what I said ). I stepped closer and as I got about an arms length from them he let go of her.

It turned out to be a trap and he pulled a knife on me. He moved to the side so that the dumpster was on my right, she was in-front of me and he was on my left. I could turn my back to them or walk backwards over the uneven curb in the dark.  He demanded I give them my money.

I didn’t have any money with me ( I had left my purse on my car across the street) so they didn’t actually take anything. Clearly this was both poor planning and poor execution of a plan on their part and I told them as much. “I didn‘t grab my purse. I heard someone in trouble so I quick came to help.”

It only took a minute to realize they weren’t really going to hurt me. More than anything the knife (a kitchen knife like you’d use to cut bread. ) seemed a prop. They wanted money – not to hurt me.

Still, it freaked me out. It also fucking pissed me off, so I yelled at her. (“you stupid shit , this is why people don’t go help when they hear someone yelling. How many women have been hurt because people were too scared to get involved. Way to reinforce that! What the fuck kind of solidarity is that.” )

Now, I know that the fact that I was way more pissed at her than him is totally sexist. But, in that moment I felt totally betrayed that a woman would do that. Really, how many women have been in dangerous situations yelling for help and no one has come forward. It seemed appalling to me that she would use that set up. What about sisterhood and solidarity and all that?

Also, I get  that yelling at someone is usually not the  very best de-escalation strategy. It is not a tool that usually comes to mind. It was all kind of on instinct. But, it seemed to work.

I think they were both so stunned that I was 1) yelling at her and 2) completely ignoring the man w/ the knife, that they didn’t know what to do. So she just grabbed his arm said, “let’s go” and they walked away.

I was going to leave it at that, I am always hesitant to put anyone into the criminal injustice system. But, after much much thinking and weighing the pluses and minuses I did go file a police report. Which, I think (I’m still not 100% sure) was the right thing.

Clearly the 2 had a plan (a bad one, but a plan) and someone could get hurt.

The cops were mostly very nice, but seemed stunned that I could describe the woman in so much detail, but not the man w/ the knife. I was looking at her (eye contact and all that) when I was yelling at her, but he was a bit off to the side and really was at some point kind of irrelevant. Like I said, it didn’t take long to realize they weren’t really likely going to hurt me. The police were also totally confused by this idea that he could have been irrelevant.. They also kind of snarked at me for putting myself in danger , that I “should call 9-1-1 and all that.

When it was all over I really just needed to say “AGGG” so I called my friend Laurel. I knew she would listen and not freak out. She was great and knowing that humor is healing had me laughing in no time! Especially my “man with a knife was irrelevant” comment. She kept saying “Hey, I have a knife. AND a penis. Why am I not the center of attention? ”  “I have my symbolic penis and a real penis, I am not irrelevant “

So, things don’t always work out as you planned. And yes, sometimes you end up in potentially dangerous situations, and yes… I would do it again. As I tried to explain to the police officers taking my report  (and as I have to friends recently ) that if I stop myself from getting involved, if I don’t try to help someone that may need it because I am scared – then I am a victim even if nothing ever happens to me because I have gone against my values.

It doesn’t’ always work out as you plan. But it often works out okay.

Reflections on October 2011 and the occupations across the U.S.

A few friends have asked me to write about my trip to DC, and I know I need to pull together a report for MPT and for the wonderful folks whose support made it possible for me to go (those who contributed $ for transportation, my beautiful co-workers who immediately made it clear they were willing to pick up my shifts at the clinic, my friends who offered support in case of arrest…. So many that I carried with me on my short trip.)

And yet, as I go to write, it seems difficult to find the story, challenging to express what I feel with the inadequacy of words.  So I guess I will start with some background and some general observations – see what becomes of it.

Some background: Last summer Michigan Peace Team members met Elliott Adams at the US Social Forum. He joined us on our team there and later attended our training for trainers.  On his recommendation Veterans for Peace invited us to join them in DC for the October 11: Stop the Machine Events http://october2011.org/  The idea was we would facilitate  at least one general nonviolence training and then facilitate a “peace team” training (or to use the term they use, a “peace keeper training”  for Veterans for Peace and friends who would be providing an alternative to typical “security” at the October 2011 occupation.  We readily agreed and a team of 5 of us headed to DC early Monday AM in a rental van filled with training supplies, apples, granola bars and other “protest food”.

Observations and such:
Our first training was Tuesday afternoon. A smallish group (20ish people to start w/ others trickling in as the day went on.) There are people from so many places: DC, California, Alaska, Ohio, NY. So exciting. A good chunk of them have tons of experience, but for many this is the first training they have ever attended for the first “protest” they have ever been a part of. A few folks have come directly from Occupy Wall Street and we are all eager to hear and learn from their experiences.

Tuesday night, unable to sleep I find myself in the middle of an intense discussion with some others who had been in NY at occupy Wall Street, and some who are new to all of this. We are discussing consensus. Its challenges and why it is so important. I appreciate their willingness to be self critical as part of the movement and think about how we can keep learning and doing this better.  I end up facilitating some quick decision exercises and a somewhat longer consensus role play.

Our training Wednesday is much larger. We start with a crowd of around 50 and more and more just keep arriving and squeezing in as the afternoon goes on.  We end up with around 75-80 participants. Again, the experience in the group ranges from those with no formal nonviolence training who have never been in a protest or a rally to those who are professional facilitators and trainers. Folks from Portland, OR to Portland, ME from Alaska to Hawaii and lots of places in between.  The training is challenging, but all in all goes well and we get tons of good feedback. I am stuck by the deep dedication to nonviolence in the group, and the commitment to see our opponents as human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Thursday, and the first day of the occupation at Freedom Plaza arrive. The MPT team heads there early. We are not there to act “as a peace team” but rather to be support and a resource to those that are… empowering and widening the circle.  A few folks approach me about joining the peace team and I end up doing an impromptu “street training” in a corner of Freedom Plaza.  Around a dozen people gather for discussions, hassle lines, and other role plays. It’s energized and fun and people seem to get something out of it.

Later that day those in Freedom Plaza march to the Chamber of Commerce. Seeing the crowd approach the chamber closes before the action even begins — we had heard of a similar experience from “occupy DC” who shut down Bank of America. Elliott mentions Alinsky’s lesson that it is often the reaction to the action that is the action.

The evening brings the first general assembly for this group. A quick explanation of the consensus process is given and folks begin.  The agenda is short w/ just 2 main items. Still, we run out of time and have to table one until the following day. Facilitation is good, but it is clear many in the group have not used this process before. That is both challenging and exciting. The group is discussing the possibilities for sleeping/camping through the night; legal and other risks as well as goals and strategic targets. A man stands up to speak. He notes that until very recently he was homeless and living on the streets in DC he tells us “here is what you need to know about sleeping on streets and sidewalks in DC.” — he shares with us both information and his opinions about our options.  I find myself feeling hopeful because the crowd gathered recognizes his expertise and sees that a voice that would often be marginalized has much to offer the group.

Returning to the church for our last night I am both pumped and sad. I know things are just getting started and I don’t want to leave. For me this will all be more interesting and more important as the “formal” or “planned” events come to close and the community gathered /the action itself takes on a life of it’s own. But, I know we all need to get back, and I can’t help but think much of our work is really at home.

Unable to sleep again, I join a group gathered in the auditorium of the church. A few folks there have come right from Occupy Wall Street and are sharing their thoughts — willing to be critical of the movement they feel a part of in order that we all learn and grow. The talk centers on provocateurs and after some discussion I facilitate some role plays before heading to bed for a few hours of sleep before the drive home.

Some thoughts upon the return home:
Being a part of this was inspiring and did feel in some ways historic. Although, as originally planned the “Stop the Machine; Create a new world “ or “October 2011” movement was not planned in conjunction with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, it is hard not to see them as all part of a piece. And, in fact, I believe it has become just that.  With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how things look in DC in a few days – or a few weeks. The October 2011 was a planned and organized event with definable leadership, a stage and a program. But, of course, the community gathered and the actions themselves took on a life of their own – a life that will be influenced by the Occupation of Wall Street and the Solidarity occupations occurring all over the country. Once the permit runs out on the evening of Oct. 9th what will happen?  It seems to me that in many ways how the community evolves and what tools are used become the action. A model of direct democracy and inclusion, a radical example of what can be.

There is opportunity here. And hope. I firmly believe that the more people standing up to demand justice and freedom for ALL the better. The greater the numbers demanding economic equality, corporate and bank accountability, an end to the wars that waste financial resources &  even more important precious lives, and that every voice is heard  the better off we are.  In DC, on Wall Street and in the hundreds of other cities and towns where people have come together to occupy there is opportunity. And our message is beyond important.

Yet the means is also the message and if we are unwilling to be self critical we risk a message that is hypocritical and marginalizing.

And let’s face it — we are not inclusive. While the crowd in DC was diverse in age and experience and in where we come from –  we were still the folks who could come. Yes, everyone’s voice can be heard at the General Assemblies — if you are present.

But, it is hard to be present, in DC, In NY or even in your own community if you are working multiple jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over your head.  It is far riskier to be present if you are undocumented.  I notice, the crowd in DC (and from what friends at occupy Wall Street have told me) is largely white. No, not exclusively – but still not truly representative of the 99% we strive to represent.

A friend of mine — who I have sat through many long and tedious meetings with – has joked that consensus sometimes seems like tyranny of those with the strongest bladders.  I believe in the consensus process, but know we need to work to be sure it does not become “tyranny of those who could take time off from work/ those who could travel/ those who have papers”

I am glad that the 99% are starting to realize we have far more common ground than not. That, as one poster said  “The patchouli wearing hippie liberals and the ATV riding, gun owning conservatives are starting to realize they are not one another’s enemy but share a common opponent “. That is something. It is powerful and important. But let’s not gloss over the fact is that among the 99%  inequalities do exist,  there are differences of wealth and privilege.  Denying that reality only adds to the marginalization.

I’m not suggesting we give up, or allow guilt about the privilege some do have to paralyze us or lead us to inaction. I am saying we need to talk to one another about our different experiences and we need to LISTEN. I am suggesting that we acknowledge both our privilege and our hurt histories and we strive to dismantle those systems of oppression, which means being willing to hear how we perpetuate these systems. We need to take care with our language, our symbols, our “targets” and our messages.

For example, one of the women who spoke noted that  we may not have media ready sound-bites and a list of demands because we are not there yet, “ we are the beginning of a movement”. Her overall message was beautiful — that the movement itself can be a message, that process is important and that this is not a stand alone moment.

But let’s be real…. we are not the beginning. The economic crisis did not begin with the bank bailout or even with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers. Poor and working class people know the “crisis” is not new but a direct result of how the system works — that capitalism has always only served the needs of a very small group. And that the group it serves is primarily white and often men.

Let’s not fail to recognize that countless actions have come before, that so many people have been engaged in this struggle for so long.

Solidarity means demanding accountability for the police brutality we saw visited on those protesting on Wall Street. But it also means recognizing that for far too many people of color police brutality is an every day fact of life.  Solidarity means demanding accountability there as well.

It seems we also need to acknowledge that where ever we choose to occupy — we are doing so on stolen land.  Our indigenous brothers and sisters deserve as much — and more.

And so, as I return from DC I am excited. I am thrilled and honored to be a part of something that could be real change. I love our commitment to nonviolence and the modeling of consensus as a part of an attempt to be truly democratic.  I am thrilled with the possibilities before us. We want to build a new world. I believe we can do it. But if we build the new without examining the materials we are using we risk using contaminated and broken materials. This will only leave that which we are building broken and contaminated.

We can do better. We must.

Mourning lives lost & Opportunites missed: why I can’t ignore 9/11

I wanted to ignore that today is 9/11.

That may sound cold and uncaring. I don’t mean it to be. I never wanted to ignore the pain of those who lost loved ones that day. Or of those first responders and eye witnesses whose lives were forever altered by trauma. I wanted to avoid the blind patriotism and cries for vengeance that far too often come with the remembering.

As Chris Hedges so astutely notes “the ceremonies of remembrance were skillfully hijacked by the purveyors of war and hatred. They became vehicles to justify doing to others what had been done to us. And as innocents died here, soon other innocents began to die in the Muslim world. A life for a life. Murder for murder. Death for death. Terror for terror.”  

It is that justification for war and hatred I wanted to avoid by ignoring the day.

Regardless, I couldn’t ignore it. Lives lost to hatred, violence and intolerance deserve recognition.

Driving to a local coffee shop I pass so many American flags.  I settle in to a back table, coffee and lap top at hand I hop on  FB wanting to send a quick “thank you“, a “happy birthday” and a few “hellos” before getting down to the task at hand. More flags, and pictures of the twin towers replace the smiling faces of family and those I grew up with in profile thumbnails.

It seems that at the same time my heart will not let me ignore the day, neither will the world around me. So many posts of “we will never forget” mixed in with posts from friends in the peace and justice community noting the many innocent lives lost in the US response to the Sept 11th attacks. So many noting where they were and what they were doing when the planes struck the towers 10 years ago today.  Many asking if I remember where I was and what I was doing.

Of course I do.

I was working for the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice at the time, getting ready for folks to arrive for our steering committee meeting. The pastor of the church that housed our office came down to tell me what was going on. We turned on the TV and watched in horror as others from the steering committee arrived and joined us huddled around the TV — many of us trying to reach family, friends and loved ones to assure they were safe.

I remember my heart kept calling my brain to think of a young woman I had met in a racial justice dialogue group a few months before. An Arab American she spoke during our group about being a student when another terrorist attack occurred, the terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. She said that within  hours of the Oklahoma City bombing she was hearing racial slurs and threats. She wondered at the fact that when it ended up being 2 white guys home grown here in Michigan who were responsible no one at blamed “the rest of the white guys” in her school.

She was now a college student. Pulling myself away from the group gathered together I called her. She thanked me for calling, her voice quiet. She said it  had already started.  The name calling, the comments of  “go home” and assumptions about her religion and her feelings about America. She said she didn’t want to leave her dorm room.

I remember thinking “we all needed time to morn” — and feeling angry that there wouldn’t be time. If the racism, profiling and Islamaphobia we were already seeing and  if the fear that this woman was feeling within minutes was any indication of things to come there was work to be done. And it needed to be done quickly. It was work that couldn’t’ wait while we mourned.

And I remember feeling afraid. Not afraid of another terrorist attack, but honestly and deeply fearful of how our government would respond. Sick by the horror I was witnessing I was also sick at the thought of the horror that would follow if we (as I feared we would ) used this as an excuse for  more violence. More lives lost. More trauma. More victims. I was grateful to be in a room with others who felt the same way and although it felt like no where near enough I was glad when we drafted a statement calling for justice and peace rather than blind retaliation and vengeance

Sadly, my fear was not unfounded. In the past decade the US has embraced vengeance and multiple wars. We’ve seen attacks on our civil liberties, racism and hate crimes increase, surveillance of citizens considered part of the norm, and I‘ve learned a whole new vocabulary of things that as an American I am ashamed and angry about … the Patriot Act, debates about when (as if ever) torture is “justified”, waterboarding, drones, Abu Ghraib… We’ve seen the deaths of not only thousands of Iraqi and Afghani soldiers and  civilians but also senseless death of American military men and women in both in unnecessary  wars and by suicide.  It is heartbreaking. It is frightening. It is simply wrong.

Just think of the message that we could have sent . What would it say to the world if we would have said this nation will no longer target civilians, or accept any policy by any nation which targets civilians. This would mean an end to the sanctions that were then being used against the people of  Iraq, It would have meant holding accountable Henry Kissenger and graduates of the School of Americas responsible for another 9/11 attack. – the Sept 11, 1973 Chilean Coup in which President Salvador Allende was overthrown and hundreds of thousands of chileans were tortured and murdered – 3200 during the coup, countless others in the following decades . It would mean not only condemning terrorist attacks by Palestinians but also the terrorism of occupation, of assassination of Palestinian leadership, the settler attacks against Palestinians while Israel soldiers stand by and watch, the ruthless bombing and brutal blockade of Gaza.

What message could we have sent to the world if we “the most powerful nation” abandoned retaliation and violence and instead started down a difficult path to real justice and peace born of reconciliation and transformation. What lessons could we learn and teach if we, as a nation, had put our resources not toward more violence and horror but toward building real alternatives to militarism and war.

And so today, I remember. And I mourn. I mourn for those lives lost on 9-11, and for all those lives taken because of hatred, fear, greed, war, intolerance and oppression. And I mourn a missed  opportunity to change things.

Independence Day reflections: celebrating the hidden history of nonviolence

Ask about the American Revolution, or American Independence and you will hear about “the stamp act” and “no taxation without representation”.  You will likely also hear about the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the French, Spanish and Dutch all secretly providing supplies, ammunition and weapons. US citizens will speak with pride about the spirit of the militiamen who triumphed against the better armed and better trained British Military.

General Washington’s Christmas crossing of the Delaware River, sneak attacks, and fierce battles are a part of our collective narrative. The “Revolutionary war” gets all the credit for wining independence for the colonists and has been used as one more justification for military operations ever since.

Missing from this narrative, however, is a big piece of the story. Missing from this narrative is the effective use of nonviolence in moving toward freedom. Sure, many of us learned of the “Boston Tea Party” – where revolutionaries, dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded ships in the Boston Harbor dumping tea into the water. But, this usually gets noted as a random act and not as part of a well planned and wall coordinated campaign of nonviolence that included a boycott of tea.

A boycott of tea that turned Americans into coffee-drinkers, and with the Boston Tea Party an act of civil disobedience that included over 60 individuals boarding 3 ships in a busy harbor and dumping 342 chest of tea. An act of property destruction as civil disobedience that took place with no incidents of looting, and no vandalism.

But tea was not the only target of the economic boycott, cloth was also widely boycotted. We often hear about Gandhi’s spinning wheel and the movement in India to wear “home-spun” rather than support the British fabric industry, but this tactic was also employed in the colonies where Homespun was the fashion and spinning bees were patriotic gatherings.

I am not trying to repaint the history of the US as one of nonviolence. It is true – for better or worse — we were a nation founded on violence. Sadly that violence has stayed with us into today. Could we have done it without violence? Would our military policy look different today if we had? I don’t pretend to know.

But, I do believe, when we completely leave out the important role of nonviolent tactics in the struggle we loose an important part of out history. And worse still, we loose the lessons that show us nonviolence works.

As John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, “The revolution was in the minds of the people, and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before the hostilities commenced.”

Could we have won our independence without a violent war? I guess no one can know for certain, but as I read John Adams words I can’t help but wonder where we would be if “the hostilities has not commenced.”

Memorial Day ramblings

Memorial Day. Sitting here in a favorite café watching as folks stroll in to get a drink and a snack before the parade. Feeling disconnected. I won’t go to the parade. I don’t want the tiny flag to pin to my decidedly not red, white and blue T-shirt. Yes, I want to reflect and honor those that have given life and health in service. But I can’t stomach the celebration of militarism that passes for “remembrance”.

I guess practically every city, and small town has such a parade and has at least one memorial to fallen soldiers. And I guess, it’s good to have statues and parades to remind us that people die in war. But there is more than that. As writer Jose Narosky once said, “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” With that in mind perhaps Memorial day should be a time to demand we also remember those who did not die. Perhaps the best way to honor those that gave their lives (or had them taken ) is to fight for those that live.

For example; Veterans comprise one-fourth to one-fifth of the homeless population. 131,000 veterans were homeless in 2008. Really want to honor veterans ? Work to end homelessness. Or work for universal health care — including mental health care. An under funded VA, and a reluctance of military leaders to acknowledge PTSD and other war deployment health issues has contributed to an ever increasing amount of substance abuse, suicides and former military men and women in prison.

And we know, that those who sacrifice and lose the most have the least to gain from war. Those who call the shots, are those that benefit the most — and almost always sacrifice and lose the least. It seems we need to also remember that on this memorial day.

As we pause to remember those military men and women who have died let us also remember the civilian deaths. These men, women and children who are victims of wars are no less worthy and no less deserving of a moment to honor their humanity. No matter what their nationality. And the numbers are astounding.

According to a commemorative 2010 Memorial Day Bookmark Veterans For Peace issued

War 

U.S. Military Deaths

 

Civilian Deaths

 

Revolutionary 

25,174

(unavailable)

1812 

20,000

(unavailable)

Civil War 

620,000

50,000

WWI 

116,516

6,458,886

WWII 

405,399

36,372,900*

Korean 

54,246

1,847,240

Vietnam 

58,177

2,000,000**

Iraq 

4,254

1,366,350

Afghanistan 

1,036

32,969

TOTAL 

1,304,802

 

48,128,345

 

     

It seems to me we must never forget these civilian deaths. Each of their lives is precious and sacred.

At the same time, I understand the need to honor the soldiers. To honor the warriors. We pause to honor soldiers each Memorial Day because, regardless of our belief in the immorality of war we honor those women and men because they died for a cause they saw as larger than themselves. No matter whether they became soldiers to take care of their families or lost their lives defending buddies and comrades. No matter if they joined because they were drafted (legally or economically ) or if they believed in the mission, it seems right to reflect on those who lost their lives in this way.

But let us remember also that not all wars are military missions and not all warriors wear a uniform. If memorial day is to honor those that died in the service of their country then those civil rights leaders, and labor leaders and those who have struggled for social change also qualify. Were not those that joined the freedom rides warriors? Were those that fought for an 8 hour work day and the right to form a union any less “in the service of our nation”?

There are so many people who have fought for our rights – fought for “liberty and justice for all” who did not carry guns and weapons into the battlefield but the tools of nonviolence and a willingness to give their safety, their comfort and at times their lives for these causes larger than themselves.

And so this memorial day I take a moment to honor Ferdinando Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Diane Nash, Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, John Lewis, Howard Zinn, Shirley Chisholm, Rosa Parks and so many many more. Many nameless and unknown to our history books, but none the less courageous and inspiring.

With all this in mind, perhaps Memorial Day should really be a day to demand peace and justice, a day to demand an end to a military-industrial complex that eats away nearly half of the nation’s general funds, and along with those dollars so much more. Perhaps Memorial day should be a day to work for an end to the injustices that breed war and to commit to real alternatives to militarism and violence as “a solution”. A day to honor those that came before us and to (as Martin Luther King said so wisely) “rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world.”

Mothers’ Day Reflections

 

Mothers’ Day has become a great day for florists, card shops, and those who sell lotions, perfumes, and other gifts to “pamper mom”. And don’t get me wrong who doesn’t love flowers, and I’m all about chocolate. Yet the origins of the day run far deeper.

Anna Reeves Jarvis and the women who originally celebrated Mother’s Day saw it as an opportunity to use their status as mothers to protest violence and injustice. In 1858, Anna Reeves Jarvis organized Mother’s Work Days in West Appalachian communities to protest the lack of sanitation and advocate for workers rights. During the Civil War, Jarvis urged women to care for the wounded – no matter which both side they fought for, and afterward she spoke out encouraging all men to stop the violence.

The movement took up momentum when in 1870 Julia Ward Howe a suffragist, abolitionist, pacifist and writer in Boston called for a special day for mothers to oppose war. Motivated by her witness of the bloody civil war she dreamed of the establishment of an international Mothers’ Day Festival dedicated to the cause of nonviolent resolution of conflict and international solidarity among all women.

Her “Mothers’ Day Proclamation” a testament to her witness to war and commitment to ending it.

Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask  –  That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Mothers’ Day Proclamation: Julia Ward Howe, Boston, 1870


For approximately 30 years Mothers’ day was celebrated on June 2nd as an day of activism. It was honored as a day to commit to nonviolence and an end to wars. In 1914 – four years after Julia Ward Howe’s death – president Woodrow Wilson capitalized on the success of the movement she, Reeves Jarvis and others had started when he declared the “first national mother’s day:”

Now, Therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the said Joint Resolution, do hereby direct the government officials to display the United States flag on all government buildings and do invite the people of the United States to display the flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodrow_Wilson)

Sadly, yet not surprising Wilson left out the true spirit of Mothers’ day. Neglecting to mention the spirit of international cooperation and solidarity, ignoring the hard won victories for improved working conditions, protection for children and improvements in sanitation and social welfare. Wilson left out of his proclamation a tribute the ongoing struggles to put an end to lynching, to militarism and other violence

And so today, if you really want to honor mom – in the true spirit of mothers day – get out of the florist and into the streets. March. Rally. Write letters. Support unions that support women.

Yes, unemployed mothers may enjoy flowers, and they also need child care, health care . Mom’s living in poverty might love lotion and perfume. At the same time, what they really need is a living wage. Most mothers I know who also work outside the home might enjoy some chocolate and might love breakfast in bed, and they also need parental leave, and to know their children won’t feel forced to join the military because school is too expensive.

Feel the need to give a gift? – how about a donation in mom’s name to a group working to improve the lives of all women and make this world a bit more peaceful and just?

We can create a Mothers’ Day filled with voices demanding justice and peace. Imagine a Mothers day honoring the work of women all creating a more sustainable future.

After all, the origins of the day demand it. And don’t we owe it to all mothers to make the world a more just and peaceful place for their children?