Category Archives: celebration

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.

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.”

Another World is happening; 2 days at the USSF

Tue. 6/22/10

It is so exciting that the USSF is being held in Detroit. I LOVE this city. I forget how much I love this city because I really don’t like driving to or around this city – causing me to come less often than I might. Yet, once here I remember that I love it.

And I know (although not as much as I should) the rich movement history of this city. A great example of the social forum theme “another world is possible”, Detroit is a strong center of resistance and resilience. As Grace Lee Boggs , an amazing organizer and movement elder says “with all that’s happened to the city we continue to re-create, re-vision, re-imagine. We come back with something new.”

The day started off at Tent City where we have planned a short nonviolence training. We arrive to find folks busy at work. A delay in permits from the city created a late start and the impressive thunder storm and downpour the night before left campers busy with set up and repairs. Flexibility is key in a peace team and taking in the situation we realize it is best to reschedule the training and head over to Cobo Hall to register. The line is long, but moves quickly as we visit with old friends, new acquaintances, and other USSF participants.

A young man walks by with a guitar singing union songs. “Solidarity Forever” he sings as he walks near-by and Kim and I join in. Yeah for the music! We need music in our movement. I see ghosts of union organizers and think of strikes and struggles past and present, I am again am struck by the rich history of Detroit. “We will build a new world from the ashes of the old,” we sing — Yes, Yes, we will.

All registered I am sitting in a grassy corner with a friend waiting for our ride over to do an orientation for the Peace Team that we’ve been asked to place at the opening march. It is hot, and the sun is strong. Sunburned from the 3 days of peace team work just prior to start of the USSF I am covered in zinc-oxide but still wishing for a wide brim hat when a man shows up from seemingly out of no where. “You ladies look like you need some shade” he says, have a hat.“ Handing my friend and I each a straw hat he disappears as suddenly as he had appeared.

Later, Inspired by an incredible opening march (see earlier post) I head back to tent city several others from Michigan Peace Team. We were invited by local organizers and many of those who biked in are not aware of who we are or what are role is. We pass our handouts explaining who we are and our role (see MPT post: http://mptatussocialforum.blogspot.com/2010/06/what-is-peace-team-who-is-mpt.html) , and try to find a balance between being “apart from” (respecting the space and community created and not inserting ourselves into it) and being friendly, approachable and not seen as lurking around the edges. I find this balance to be a challenge, yet it all seems to go okay.

The storm the night before meant most of the campers were busy drying out and setting back up and not in much of a “chatty” mood. We mostly position ourselves around the corners and near the showers – places where traffic is higher or where people might be more vulnerable. Our occasional “peace walks” through the camp meet with friendly “hellos” and as when our shift ends we head “home” to sleep – happy and exhausted after a long day.

Wed. 6/23/10

What a fun (and exhausting!) day.

We start off our AM with a short “check in” meeting of MPT folks. We talk about the workshops we want to attend for the day and I realize I am overwhelmed — with over 100 pages in the program book of amazing workshops how can I choose?

Realizing I have to immerse myself in the space in order to feel out where I should be I determine I’ll hop in a workshop a little late and head into the big room where display tables are set up.

After a preliminary look around I head towards a workshop and notice a group of young people sitting in a circle on the floor. As I go by I get caught up in their conversation and I find myself talking about MPT and our nonviolence training. “What do you do in the training?” they ask and suddenly I’m inspired THIS is what I want to do! “Let me show you” I respond and we spend the next 2+ hours sitting on the floor in the hallway in a spontaneous nonviolence training!

 The training is awash in laughter and everyone seems to be having fun. We do some continuum exercises and use the discussion from that to set the rest of the agenda. We practice listening and CLARA, do some role-plays, share our stories of nonviolence at work. I am energized! What a great way to spend the morning!

As the morning goes on I do this again just outside Cobo Hall with similar results. Afternoon has me speaking on a Panal discussion and another Nonviolence Training at Tent City.

As the night winds down I go to pick up a friend and catch the end of a concert that Word and World has organized at one of the churches hosting us. Inspired by the music and also the solidarity and hope in the room we end the day about 14 hours after we started – exhausted, happy, full of hope.

Another world IS not only possible – it is happening!

USSF – Opening March

From 6/19-6/21 MPT placed a peace team at the IJAN conference. I want to write about that experience and the amazing people I have had the chance to meet and work with as part of it. Watch for that soon… in the mean time, here is some other news from my time at the USSF.
 
MPT was asked to place a peace team at the opening march. A group of us responded to the call. Our job – to be a peaceful presence – projecting out intentions for peace, dignity and justice. It is hot, sunny, and I am already sunburned and sore from long hours of Peace Team work the 3 previous days. The march is long and I am not sure I want to do this. But I made a commitment.

We start down the streets with “feeder marches” joining us along the way our numbers swell.

The march is fabulous—colorful, lively, joyfully loud, and made up of an incredible diversity of people.

Leading the march is the indigenous peoples contingent with the tribal elders leading the way. Detroit area youth follow, labor leaders and workers march near-by environmentalists carrying sunflowers. There are anarchists with black flags and red flags, Revolutionary workers selling newspapers, a group of domestic workers in magic T-shirts, faith communities, anti-war activists and Welfare Rights Unions. The groups go on and on.

Big puppets including one of Martin Luther King with recordings of his speeches play as we pass Central United Methodist Church – known in the community to be the place where King gave his famous I have a Dream speech – a practice run of sorts before he gave the speech in the well known March on Washington. Black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, Arab…every race, ethnicity, style of dress, gender expression, and age are represented.

A brass band plays, people dance. People sing, people chant, people laugh. The sun is hot and people offer to spray us with water guns and spray bottles. Clowns walk by on stilts, fairies dance by and drummers beat energy into the air. People pass around water bottles and sunscreen. Our peace team is near the front and as we move toward Cobo Hall a young girl near-by is lifted onto her mother’s shoulders so she can see the crowd behind us. “Look at ALL the people” she declares.

Look indeed! As I look myself it strikes me that the march is a beautiful vision of what a real social movement could be – a sign of hope and resilience. A march through Detroit – a city on the surface full of decay and despair and yet , when you look just right — the city that is itself a sign of hope and resilience.

I am so glad that I am here!

 

 

 

 

 

Thanx Friend

I had a long talk with a good friend this afternoon. We were on the phone over 2 hours in spite of the fact that both of us have huge to-do lists this weekend, and giant deadlines hanging over out heads.

We had also both had long weeks. Really really long weeks.

I needed our talk. I think she did too. It was good.

We easily moved in and out of deep listening and beaming caring loving attention to one another and casual back and forth banter interrupting both ourselves and each other with “that reminds me” , “oh shit I’ve been meaning to tell you” , “the dogs just….”

Close my eyes and I could forget it was a phone we were talking over rather than the spance of the kitchen floor.

How good to have friends we can connect to in that way. I know, such an obvious statement. And yet, I think of how I take this for granted.

I knew Jen when she was a mess – I think it is okay that I write that here. Hell, she has known me when I was a mess. (And we’ll probably both be a mess again….) Point here is neither of us is a mess now – and that is both a testament to our strength as individuals and as women and to the type of friendship we have.

It is a joy to have remained connected to (or reconnect with ) friends from so many parts of my life. So many different lives- in a way. I find myself thinking about how they all know different parts of my story. And how those parts weave together. I find myself incredibly grateful.

So, dear friends – should you happen to be reading this thank you. I am because we are. And I am grateful.

Happy Mothers’ Day for Peace

Happy Mothers’ Day for Peace!

For approximately 30 years Mother’s day was celebrated on June 2nd as an day of activism.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 mothers’ day:

While Mothers’ Day has become a great day for florists, card shops, and those who sell lotions, perfumes, and other gifts to “pamper mom”, 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.
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.

 Julia Ward Howe’s original Mother’s Day – 1870 (from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother%27s_Day_Proclamation )

“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 Mother’s 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. 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?

Julia Ward Howe’s original Mother’s Day – 1870

from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother%27s_Day_Proclamation 

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.

Annual Womyn’s day letter

An open letter to the Womyn in my life…
Here again is my “annual” Happy International Womyn’s Day letter! I am wishing you a Happy International Womyn’s Day because you are a woman who has touched my life, supported me, inspired me….
 
Today, womyn all over the world gather and celebrate this day. By one count there are over 956 events schedule in over 62 countries, and the day is an officiallyrecognized by the UN and marked as a  holiday in China, Armenia Azerbaijan, Russia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
 
In Uganda womyn have come together to put on a musical on behalf of all womyn suffering in Uganda.  In Mexico the sacred feminine will be honored in dance. Womyn rally in Iran and Turkey. In Egypt a group of womyn from around the world will gather and deliver humanitarian relief and gift baskets to the womyn in Gaza.
 
 
Although there will be some events in honor of this important day here in the US, it’s not celebrated as much here as the rest of the world, but I love this holiday!
 
For those who don’t know about this day, it started in 1908 by American Socialist women, who wanted to commemorate the deaths of over 140 women in a sweatshop. Later, in 1910 at an international Conference of Working Womyn in Copenhagen a woman named Clara Zetkin put forth the idea of an international women’s day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a womyn’s day – to celebrate womyn and and press for their demands. The holiday got larger as the labor movement and suffragist movement gained strength….it is also influenced by Russian women’s struggles….but more recently, West African and Indian women have made major celebrations and advancements on this day….
 
And so each year on this day, I take time to think of each woman who has shaped me, and I am so grateful. Some of you have gotten this letter in years past. Some of you I have only recently reconnected with and may be getting this for the first time. No matter if “you’ve heard it before” or not I want to take time out on this day to say “thank you!”
 
Thank you for your examples of strength and courage. Thank you for loving and accepting love. Thank you for your humor, and your wisdom. Thank you for living with authenticity and intention. Thank you for your audacity to believe this world can be a better place, and for your struggles to make it so.
 
In Peace with Love and Gratitude,
.