Category Archives: Fighting racism

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.

How I will honor 9/11 — 9/11/ 1906

As we come up on another anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 I find myself feeling overwhelmed, sad and ashamed.

 I look at the news and see churches with plans to burn the Qur’an, I see a planned Islamic community center near the site of ground zero in New York City attacked, and threats made against other Mosques throughout the United States. Islamophobia is on the rise and the hate crimes that go with it have not surprisingly risen as well.

 This occurs against a back drop of a continued war against Afghanistan and (in spite of the official message that “it’s over”) in Iraq.   (And countless other places)  Meanwhile, here in the United States unemployment continues to increase and with it the gap between the rich and the poor; as we spend our resources on death and destruction rather than uplifting human life and dignity. 

 Yet, we know we must do something to stand against violence. We know it when we think about how time and again the world as watched in horror as ethnic cleansing campaigns were carried out and said “never again.” We, as human beings have the responsibility to stop this.

 We know it when we look back on the events of Sept. 11, 2001. We must stand against terrorism.

 But must this mean more terrorism? Endless war? Vengeance?

There must be another way! Where a century ago 90% of those killed were combatants today estimates found in just a quick internet search put civilian casualties anywhere from 75 to almost 90%.  Clearly, this also something we have a responsibility to change.

Ironically, part of the answer also can be found on a Sept. 11th day.   September 11, 1906,

On that day Mohandas Gandhi, a 37 year old lawyer from India who had been in South Africa for 13 years, began a movement that would transform him, and mobilize the Indian community to nonviolently oppose racially degrading legislation. On that day he convened a meeting at the Empire Theater in Johannesburg. Those present solemnly declared, despite the consequences, to practice “ahimsa” or the absence of any violence, and resist injustice such as the racially degrading pass laws. Thus, the word “satyagraha” was coined, meaning truth (satya), which implies love, and firmness (agraha) which serves as a synonym for force.

Many this day will pause and reflect on the tragic events of September 11, 2001. But let us not stop there; let us rather resolve to learn the lessons of September 11, 1906.

Let us break the cycle of violence.

Gather with others, reflect on the teachings of Gandhi and the lessons of the many stories of nonviolence working to bring about change, and stop injustice. Commit to resolve personal conflicts nonviolently and actively work to encourage the use of nonviolent solutions to conflicts at community, national, and international levels. Work for Justice knowing that real peace cannot happen in the absence of justice.

As Michael Nagler points out in : Hope or Terror? Gandhi and the Other 9/11 : “Two September 11ths like signs on a path pointing in different directions.”

Which direction will we choose? What will you do to honor your choice?

I will honor my choice by supporting organization that offers a real alternative to militarism, and endless war.  An organization that is putting into place Gandhi’s dream of a Shanti Sena,(“peace army” )  and in doing so offers the world a real choice in how we stand against violence, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing.

Michigan Peace Team (MPT) http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org/ trains everyday people in nonviolence and nonviolent civilian conflict intervention. We place violence reduction peace teams both within the United States and internationally. I have been volunteering my time, and donating my dollars to this organization for several years and I would love to invite you to join me!

Currently we have international teams in place in Palestine and in Juarez, Mexico.  These teams are making a difference working with local people to intervene in violence and using the skills of nonviolence protect human life and human rights. Get that? We are standing up against violence, terrorism and hatred without weapons, and vengeance and endless war!

And we are doing it here at home too!  We are creating the world we want to exist by living it: a world where conflict and confrontation are healthy and inevitable and can occur with a mutual respect for human rights and dignity; a world where voluntary cooperation, egalitarian relationships, solidarity and mutual aid are the norm. We are creating a world where we can reclaim our communities – no matter if we are reclaiming them from gangs and drug dealers or corporations and law enforcement that too often are more accountable to the prison industrial complex than their communities.

And so, to honor my choice – to honor the direction I want to move in I pledge to continue to donate my money and my time to Michigan Peace Team. See I start to write about it and already I feel better! More energized, and hopeful. I feel less afraid, and more empowered. So, I hope you will check out MPT too! ) http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org/  Get involved, bring me to visit and facilitate a nonviolence training.  Make a donation

But, beyond that I hope you will do something to honor your own choice.  What speaks to your heart? Where does your hope get renewed? There are so many worthwhile organizations that could make good use of your gift. You could send a donation (your wages for the day or some other amount), volunteer your time and talents, or help in so many ways.

Rent the movie Gandhi, or the documentary A Force More Powerful, check out groups like Michigan Peace Team, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Peace Brigades International, Christian Peacemaker Teams or other groups such as this who are building on Gandhi’s dream of a Shanti Sena

This September 11th – choose peace.

In Peace , Sheri

Thoughts on the Islamic Community Center near ground zero in NYC

It seems lately that it is almost a requirement for every politician, every journalist, every blogger… heck everyone with a facebook account to weigh in on the subject of an Islamic worship space near ground zero in New York. It seems almost required… so, of course, I wasn’t going to blog about it.

Except that I keep finding myself thinking about it — more than that I find myself unreasonably triggered by any argument against it. I am finding it difficult to assume good intent… usually that is easy for me.

Yet, I know feelings about 9/11 are raw and real. Feelings about what happens on the sight of such a deadly terrible attack are raw and real. Many people, including some of the families who lost loved ones that day, find the prospect of a the center so near Ground Zero upsetting. So, why is my reaction so strong. Yes, I support the center – but why the intense and quick reaction to those that don’t. I thought writing might help me sort through some of it.

Part of the issue is the lies and misinformation being spread. To be sure some of it if just accidental misinformation; sharing what we’ve heard in an age of instant messaging facts are bound to get jumbled and misinformation is bound to get passed along. But, I have to think that some of it is out and out lies. A deliberate attempt to play on people’s fears and pain.

Yet, one by one these myths and lies have been proven to be false:

* A “13 story mosque” — no such plan. In fact, it isn’t a mosque at all but a community center that is planned anyhow, it would contain a 500-seat auditorium, a swimming pool, art exhibit spaces, bookstores, restaurants and, yes, — it does have a Muslim worship space.

* At ground zero — nope. Two blocks away, in an abandoned Burlington Coat factory. That might feel close in my home town of Ypsilanti or some other places, but this is Manhattan we’re talking about — it would not even be visible from NY’s ground zero.

* Anti- American, radical terrorist loving Imam. Please! Can anyone believe that who has heard the man speak? Check out the video. Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, a co-leader of the project, have a long record of interfaith outreach

and were praised in the months following the Sept. 11th attacks for their outreach and support by community members, and government officials.

* The mosque will be financed by terrorists. Well, this one too has been proven to be a lie.

 

* The mosque will be a symbol of victory for al-Qaeda. Again, does anyone really believe this? This fails to distinguish Islam from terrorism and sounds an awful lot like Islamaphobia. Its not fair that an entire religion and 1 billion people get blamed for the actions of a few. And let’s not forget Muslims died in the World Trade Center. The mosque and community center being proposed is known for doing great work for moderate Islam and speaking against terrorism. Many Muslims, have worried since the attacks on 9/11 that the attacks would spark widespread reprisals and discrimination. For some, the fuss about the mosque confirms their fearsBesides all this, the opposition to the mosque and Islamaphobia that it has whipped up has given the perfect recruitment tool for al Qaeda and other extremist groups by reinforcing the belief that America is at war with Islam.

And so, when misinformation is corrected and lies are exposed for what they are opponents of the community center fall back on the claim that it is insensitive, tactless, even mean spirited.

But why? What is insensitive about it? I am not saying the feelings themselves are not vailid. But that is not enough.  What are the perceptions behind those feelings?

This kind of reflection seems no where to be found. Instead what we get is some vague sense that Muslim worship near ground zero in New York is a reminder of the pain and suffering caused by a terrorist act; that because the terrorists claimed to be acting in the name of Islam, they are a symbol of Islam.

That seems to me irrational; group blame, collective punishment, and just plain wrong.

There are certainly Christians who preach hate and murder doctors who perform abortions. There are those that advocate violence against queer people. Do we assume they speak are all Christians. Do we see them as a symbol of Christianity. Do we say that Christians can’t be doctors because it is insensitive to those that have been killed in the name of Christian extremism? We should, according to the logic of those claiming the community center should not be built

Or as they noted in cracked.com  

“Because mosques are religious and the 911 terrorists perverted Islam into something violent and hateful? Guess what? Those knights did the same thing to Christianity for the 300 years of the Crusades, and no one’s saying that churches shouldn’t be built anywhere in … well, Europe. “ 

 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said well when he first came out in favor of the project. “if we say that a mosque and community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom. We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam. Islam did not attack the World Trade Center – Al-Qaeda did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few who twisted a great religion is unfair and un-American.”

And so if we are going to talk about sensitivity we must think about the perceptions behind it and when we stop to do that we find there’s no good reason why the Islamic center shouldn’t be built at its planned site.

Looking at it this way it seems as though the opposition to the mosque is all about bigotry and intolerance – and you can’t whip up intolerance, fear and hatred and expect there not to be consequences

I guess that is why my reaction is so intense. Because the consequences of that racism and Islamaphobia is too great. Fear and anger will not remain contained around “this issue”

Recently a cab driver in NYC was stabbed after the perpetrator asked if he was a Muslim. Mosques planned for construction in Tennessee, Wisconsin, California and Florida have been challenged by Americans claiming that Islam is not a religion or that Muslims are inherently violent and at odds with U.S. values. A Florida church is sponsoring a national “Burn a Koran Day” on September 11.

Where will we go from here?

We can do better than this. We must.

 

 

The massacre in Gaza continues…please do something

The massacre in Gaza continues.

I’ve seen the accounts of Palestinians killed ranging anywhere from 430 to over 500. Too many. And with many bodies still buried beneath the rubble the body count will continue to grown. Counts of the injured range around 2700 – 3000. And this does not take in to account the trauma, and other less visible – but no less real – injuries. The ground invasion began last night.  This will no doubt increase casualties on both sides.

Bloggers and journalists living in Gaza and volunteer human rights workers on the ground with ISM report that if you look at the bombs being launched from above it seems that Israel is dropping  cluster bombs –  yet another war crime. And Norwegian medics told Press TV correspondent Akram al-Sattari that some of the victims who have been wounded since Israel began its attacks on the Gaza Strip on December 27 have traces of depleted uranium in their bodies.

The madness continues.

Al jazeera http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/01/200914103921799948.html is reporting that Israel occupation forces have now cut gaza in two:

“Perhaps the most significant military development on the ground is that Gaza has now actually been split in two. A column of Israeli tanks and artillery, and armoured personnel vehicles has made its way through from the eastern part of Gaza, reaching as far as the Mediterrannean sea on the Western part, essentially splitting Gaza. That area, mostly in the former settlement of Nitzerim, was an open area after Israel withdrew the settlement, so they were able to make strong advances all the way across Gaza, essentially cutting off the northern part from the southern”

Schools, mosques, police stations, television stations, phone lines… all targeted with many reports of hospitals, medics and ambulances being targeted as well.

The devastation is unbelievable, and seemingly never ending. Hospitals and medical personal are overwhelmed with the incoming wounded and dead.

The corporate owned media tells us nothing, but lies. Please, take the time to read the eyewitness accounts:

http://palsolidarity.org/

http://electronicintifada.net/new.shtml

http://gazatoday.blogspot.com/

http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org

 

Meanwhile, the US – with out veto power -prevents any meaningful UN action, while our tax dollars pay for the terror brought down on the Palestinian people.

It is not difficult to see that the blockade and the conditions Israel (with full US support) has created in Gaza are a breeding ground for violence and retaliation such as the rocket attacks. Gaza is a huge, open air prison. Israel closes the borders, keeps food and medical suppliers, gas, replacement parts for water pumps and other necessities from getting through, and we wonder why there are rockets fired?

And do not get me wrong, I in no way support these rocket attacks.  As a (struggling to be) pacifist I do not support violence.  All life is sacred and any death by violence is wrong. And these rockets are sent into Israeli cities and towns where civilians live. That is, in my view, wrong.  And – let’s be honest – targeting civilians is a violation of humanitarian law. The rocket fire is illegal.

But, Israel’s claims that it is “responding to” or “retaliating for” these Palestinian rocket attacks is outrageous.  On her blog, http://gretasgroundhoggrooming.wordpress.com, my friend Abby notes: “According to the BBC, in 2007, 783 rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel, and 2 Israelis were killed by rockets.  And between 2000 and Jan. 2008, a total of 13 Israelis have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza.  Here is the link to that article:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3702088.stm.  

13 Israelis killed by rockets in 7 years, compared 500 Palestinians killed in one week. How can we even pretend to talk about “both sides” as if they were equal? How can we not acknowledge that the current massacre is not beyond disproportionate?

And anyway, that rocket fire, even if it is illegal and wrong, does not give Israel the right to punish the entire population of Gaza for those actions. This is not retaliation, it is vengeance. It is ruthless.  It is collective punishment and it is a violation of the Geneva conventions.  

I find myself feeling helpless and hopeless in the face of such overwhelming horror. I believe what we are witnessing is nothing less than genocide. But, giving up hope is not an option and claiming helplessness is too often just an excuse not to act. So what do We Do?

 

For the “now” – the answer is do something. Do anything. Do everything:

 

* don’t’ hide from the truth no matter how painful –  Read accounts of those living this hell, watch the videos, look at the photos – bear witness to the truth.

 

* sign on to the many petitions being circulated.

 

* write letters –  to Congress members and the State Department, to UN officials, to Israeli officials, the Obama transition team. Amnesty International has some templates and some addresses,  http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/israelopt-immediate-access-humanitarian-workers-and-observers-essential-20081231

 

 

* write letters to the editor and op-eds for every news outlet you can find, call radio talk shows

 

* Get in the streets! Organize and join demonstrations in front of Israeli and Egyptian embassies or when not doable in front of offices for elected officials, and any other visible place. End the Occupation, http://www.endtheoccupation.org/  has been keeping track of many of the demos happening

 

* Start talking! We need to engage people and tell them the truth Hold a teach-in, seminar, public dialogue, documentary film viewing  etc.   Pass out fliers with facts and figures about Palestine and Gaza in your community. Do something to gain attention and help start a conversation with someone: put a Palestinian flag in your window, wear a Koufiya (Palestinian head scarf) ,wear Black arm bands…

 

* Write and call people in Gaza. Let them know they are not alone! Call people in your community who have family there.  Get in the way of Israel’s plans to isolate the people.

 

* Pray, hold the people of Gaza in light, and whatever else your faith traditions call on you to do.

 

* Give aid directly- . Support Shifa Hospital in Gaza Palestine Aid Society of America
P.O.Box 130572,Ann Arbor, Michigan  48113  Tax # 38-2381-291 (I know the folks here, they are great and 100% will go to the hospital! See PS note at bottom of post also) or send direct aid to Gaza through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
http://www.un.org/unrwa/

 

So – yes, do something. Anything. Everything. Do it now.

 

But we need to go beyond the immediate. We need to build for real justice (which peace does not exist without ) in Gaza and in the rest of occupied Palestine. There is lots of work to do, my friends, but I firmly believe it is doable.

———————————-

PS – the following appeal if from a friend. It’s a good organization. They are good people. I have no hesitation in passing this along on their behalf:

Dear Friends,

Genocide is being committed in Gaza by the Israeli military in violation of international law, not to mention all sense of decency and proportion. We at the Palestine Aid Society (PAS) have been inundated with calls for action by fellow Americans of all faiths and ethnicities. We feel the pain and the hurt as we watch, with horror, the terrorized children, the dismembered bodies, the wounded crying in pain, the frustrated aid workers, all on our television screens. We also hear in disgust the support for this Israeli-conducted genocide by some of our representatives in Washington DC. At the time of this writing the number of dead has exceeded 345 and the wounded more than 1650, most of them unarmed civilians. And it seems that Israel is intent on carrying this orgy of violence for days to come, proclaiming that the people of Gaza are not Israel’s enemies, but that their democratically-elected government is! The need in Gaza for immediate relief is immense. The Shifa Hospital is the major medical facility in Gaza receiving and caring for the majority of the victims and it has been inundated, especially after months of an inhumane and punitive siege that has left it short of medicine and other medical supplies. As a small gesture of solidarity with the people of Gaza and in order to help alleviate a bit of their suffering, PAS is calling on all people of good will in our community to donate what they can to a fund for Shifa Hospital. Your tax-deductible donations (100% of all monies contributed) will be transmitted by PAS to the International Red Cross with instructions to deliver them to Shifa Hospital. Please make your checks payable to PAS, earmarked to Shifa Hospital, and send it to:
 
Palestine Aid Society of America
P.O.Box 130572
Ann Arbor, Michigan  48113
Tax # 38-2381-291.

Peace,

Rabia Shafie
Palestine Aid Society

 

 

 

UPDATED: Reflections on Gaza Solidarity Fast

On Wed. December 10 in honor of human rights day I fasted for 24 hours (through Thur. Dec. 11) in Solidarity with the people of Gaza whose human rights are being violated by the Israeli government’s blockade. A fast seemed an appropriate symbolic gesture because the blockade created a situation where the people in Gaza have no choice but do without enough food.

 

It was just a day long fast, something that I was able to do fairly easily. I drank a crazy lot of water. I mean really – a lot of water. Partly just ‘cut it made me feel not hungry. Partly ‘cuz I figured as long as I was fasting anyway I might as well get some health benefits from it.  Somewhere along the line I realized how much water I was drinking. And more to the point I realized that if I were actually in Gaza I couldn’t do that.  Water supply is so limited. People don’t get enough to drink. There is no fuel for the pumps for the wells. When there is water it is often contaminated as the sewage and waste treatment centers have no fuel for their pumps, infrastructure has been damaged by Israeli attacks, and there is not water purification chemicals getting in past the blockade. Wow.  How can people do this to each other? It makes my heart ache. Sounds so dramatic. But really it just does.

 

I also found myself explaining to a number of people why I was fasting. Perhaps it is because of the holidays so many in my life celebrate around this time of the year, but it seemed several people offered me cookies, or some other treat.  Which meant I got to explain what I was doing and why.  Of course, this was one of the main reasons for the fast – to provide the opportunity to talk about the situation in Gaza.

 

It was particularly meaningful when I found myself trying to explain to the children in my life. As children do they often cut to the heart of the matter “but why are they punishing everyone, if only a few people did things they don’t like?” I was asked when I explained the blockade.  And my 8 year old friend who pointed out “yeah, ‘cuz if you were eating today we wouldn’t be talking about this.” –  Yep!

 

A week from human rights day (a week from the first part of the fast) I will start the second phase of the fast. On Wed. 17 December I will begin a 4 day fast through Saturday 20 December. The 20th is Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, representing the long night that those in Gaza continue to suffer.

 

December 21st is the day when those of us honoring earth based spiritual traditions celebrate the returning of the light. I will use this day to break the fast and celebrate my re-commitment to peace and justice in Palestine and Israel, and to being in Solidarity with all those who have their human rights violated – particularly being aware of my connections with those in Gaza and the suffering of the people there in the current situation.

 

Won’t you join me?!

My fast will be a water fast, but should you desire to join you should create an experience that is meaningful – and realistic – for you. Perhaps a juice fast? Perhaps “liquids only” – including fruit/yogurt smoothies and such? Perhaps not a fast at all but time spent in silent solidarity. The goal is not so much to duplicate exactly the fast as I have planned, but to do something that gives us a physical reminder and pushes an awareness of the suffering to the front of our consciousness.

 

As I said, one of the goals of the fast is simply to raise awareness to start people thinking and talking about what is happening to the people in Gaza. To bear witness by making the suffering visible. Are there ways you can do this? Post a blog on your own site? If you are on myspace, facebook or other social networking sites can you change your status to read “fasting with Gaza” or “thinking of Gaza” from the 17th – 20th? Is there a public space you can vigil in your community? Letters to the editor?  Each of us can do something.

 

The fast is being sponsored by the Michigan Peace Team. (http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org)

 

In Peace for Justice, Sheri

 

 PS: For more information on the situation in Gaza check out:

 

* http://www.amnesty.org/

* http://electronicintifada.net/

 

And to read  eye-witness accounts from Gaza: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9995.shtml

 

http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10008.shtml  and   

 

https://playfulspirit.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/collective-punishment-gaza-crimes-against-humanity/

 

Update: 19 December 2008

Today is day 3 of the second part of the Gaza Solidarity Fast. I’m hungry. And cranky. 

Mostly I have been good about only drinking water. However, I did decide it is within the spirit of the fast to allow myself one cup of black coffee each AM. I know that drinking  caffeine is a big no no when you are fasting but I figure it’s a solidarity fast, not strictly speaking a health fast and it is far easier to be in solidarity with anyone when I am not in complete withdraw, have a migraine and generally hate everyone.  But beyond my AM strong black coffee, it’s been just water.

I realize that I get cold easily when I am not eating. And once cold it’s hard to warm up. This is something unusual for me. Also, it is currently snowing and sleeting and just plan miserable here. I got stuck in the driveway and shoveling was just not fun. I found myself needing to rest more often than usual and at feeling a little light headed. And this is after just 2 full days! I feel a little pathetic – but it all does keep me very aware of those who go without because they have no choice.

And I’ve had some good conversations.  I didn’t get together all the flyers and such I wanted, but I have made myself a couple of pins that say “I’m fasting with Gaza” and people have asked about them. Also, last night I went to a preview showing of Milk (which was fantastic!). It was a fundraiser with a speaker and a reception… tons of yummy food, including a chocolate fountain.  Not joining in eating was defiantly an opening to talk about what is happening in Gaza. 

One thing I have noticed is how so many people will say some variation of “I really admire what you are doing, I wish I could join you…. But I can’t fast. I’m sorry.” Or tell me all the reasons they cannot fast as if looking for me to say “that’s okay.”  I keep reminding people – fasting is meaningful for me – in part because it is difficult and in part because of the long standing tradition in nonviolent movements (Gandhi, Cesar Chavez…) but that folks should do what is meaningful and doable for them. 

The idea, of course, is not to duplicate what I am doing but find a way that keeps what is happening in Gaza in your heart and that motivates you to act.  Contact the Israeli government and remind them that collective punishment is a violation of international law. Remind them that according to international law an occupying power must allow those under occupation to receive medical care.  Tell them that the blockade violates these laws and others and is immoral and cruel and should be lifted.  Talk to your friends, your family. Organize a pray vigil in your faith community.  Raise money and collect medical supplies for organizations attempting to break the blockade. Do something.  Do lots of things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solidarity Fast with the people of Gaza

Dear friends and readers,

 

Those of you who have stopped by here before are aware that the situation in Gaza something I am deeply concerned about. As I hear first hand reports, and read ever more disheartening news I find myself feeling helpless – and feelings of hopelessness threaten.

 

Amnesty International reports: ( http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/gaza-reduced-bare-survival )  

 

” The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is having ever more serious consequences on its population. In the past month the supply of humanitarian aid and basic necessities to Gaza has been reduced from a trickle to an intermittent drip…

As supplies are being further withheld, most mills have shut down because they have little or no grain. People who have long been deprived of many food items now cannot even find bread at times…

Reserves of food have long been depleted and the meager quantities allowed into Gaza are not eve enough to meet the immediate needs. Families never know if they will have food for their children the following day…

Shortages of fuel, electricity and spare parts are causing water and sanitation infrastructure and other crucial services to deteriorate a bit more every day. Eighty per cent of the wells are now only functioning at reduced capacity and water supply is only available for a few hours every few days…

 At times when water is available, there is no electricity or fuel to pump it into apartment buildings. Shortages of chlorine increase the risk of waterborne diseases…

Routine blackouts disrupt every aspect of life for everyone. Hospitals are struggling to power life-saving machinery and it is ever more difficult to maintain essential services…

Even patients in need of medical treatment that is unavailable in Gaza, are often denied passage out of Gaza. Scores of people have died in the past year when they could have been saved if only they had been allowed to travel…”

 

It goes on…

Yet, each time feelings of helplessness threaten I am reminded of a story told to me by a member of an MPT team who worked in Gaza.  During her time in Rafah she met a group of women; mothers and grandmothers. Each day these women would struggle to feed their families on less and less. Every day and every night brought the renewed threat that their home would be demolished and their families left homeless. And each evening they would pull their chairs out in front of their homes and tell stories and laugh.  They sat their knowing that in any direction they would look they could see the gun towers and the soldiers with the weapons pointed at them and at their children. Yet they continued to gather, continued to tell stories and to laugh. My friend asked them how they could do this. How could they sit in front of the soldiers’ guns and laugh. The women wisely told my friend, “we sit here because the soldiers can see us laugh. They will know they have not taken away our ability to be together, to laugh.They have not taken away our spirit.”

 

 

I wonder about these wise women now. And I know that if they have not given in to feelings of hopelessness that I have no reason – no right -to give in to those feelings.  I have no right to give up.

 

And so as the siege and the blockade continue I have been feeling the need to do something, say something… show some solidarity with the people of Gaza. And in some small way hold their suffering in my own life to  keep myself  more aware.

 

While of course the best outcome would be justice and peace for all people in Palestine and Israel, or at least to end the blockade – my immediate and perhaps more realistic goal is that I can take an action that will raise the issue and start people thinking, talking, and maybe even taking steps such as educating themselves and others, contacting public officials etc.

 

Would you consider joining me?

 

The plan is simple: On Wed. December 10 in honor of human rights day I will fast for 24 hours (through Thur. Dec. 11) in Solidarity with the people of Gaza whose human rights are being violated by the Israeli government’s blockade. A fast seemed an appropriate symbolic gesture because the blockade created a situation where the people in Gaza have no choice but do without enough food.

 

Of course, I will use this opportunity to tell people why I am fasting and bring some awareness of the terrible situation there. Additionally, I will ask people to join me in a 2nd fast one week later. On Wed. 17 December I will begin a 4 day fast through Saturday 20 December. The 20th is Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, representing the long night that those in Gaza continue to suffer.

 

December 21st is the day when those of us honoring earth based spiritual traditions celebrate the returning of the light. I will use this day to break the fast and celebrate my re-commitment to peace and justice in Palestine and Israel, and to being in Solidarity with all those who have their human rights violated – particularly being aware of my connections with those in Gaza and the suffering of the people there in the current situation.

 

My fast will be a water fast, but should you desire to join you should create an experience that is meaningful – and realistic – for you. Perhaps a juice fast? Perhaps “liquids only” – including fruit/yogurt smoothies and such? The goal is not so much to duplicate exactly the fast as I have planned, but to do something that gives us a physical reminder and pushes an awareness of the suffering to the front of our consciousness.

The fast is being sponsored by the Michigan Peace Team. For more info. on Michigan Peace Team visit the website: http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org

In Peace for Justice, Sheri

 PS: For more information on the situation in Gaza check out:

* http://www.amnesty.org/

And Three eye-witness accounts from Gaza: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9995.shtml
and the account from letter at the end of my previous post “Collective punishment, Gaza and Crimes against humanity”; https://playfulspirit.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/collective-punishment-gaza-crimes-against-humanity/

WTF

I’ve been trying to find the words to write this post for a few days. I still haven’t really. The feelings are still to omnipresent and get in the way of coherent thinking.  Anger, sadness, bitterness, surprise, cynisism that I am not more surprised….But, it’s time. It’s past time. So, I’ll write what I can and maybe update later.

Some background:

On June 1, 2006 Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Deputis stopped a car driven by James Lee a few blocks from his home near Michigan’s Ypsilanti Township’s West Willow neighborhood. James Lee’s uncles, Clifton and Bruce Lee, walked to the scene and stood across the street observing the incident. When deputies ordered them to leave Bruce Lee refused to go and was arrested. An initial  verbal exchange between Clifton Lee and the cops started but then Clifton started to walk away while the deputy radioed for back-up.  Instead of letting him walk away, Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Deputies went after Lee in an attempt to arrest him for interfering with police. Within minutes Clifton Lee was dead and Bruce Lee had suffered serious injuries. The county medical examiner later ruled Lee died as a result of asphyxiation by respiratory restriction.

A civil lawsuit was filed by the family who later settled, and officers were indicted by a federal grand jury on criminal charges. During the trail witness testimony and the video from the patrol car show a clear excessive use of force. For example: One of the cops kneeling on Lee’s neck with his full weight and holding Lee’s face to ground. While Lee was on the ground, the cop applied pepper spray to Lee’s face at least once. At one point the police turn off the lights so that the video images can not be seen (FBI was able to lighten them for the jury). and the view from the patrol car video is obscured at one point by other officers who briefly enter the scene. As the abuse continues Lee’s body goes limp. The officer then turns Lee’s body over, steps over him and kicks Lee’s head with his heal. It goes on and on….

And so here we are: The jury found the first deputy to be tried not guilty! Did you get that? Not guilty. WTF?

I am sick and angry and sad in so many ways. There is just so much… the racism and classism that pervades the narrative of the officers and their view of the neighborhood. The racial profiling that creates the mind set where 2 African American men observing a traffic stop are seen as threats. (Have I not done the same thing many times… a few noted here on the “More Powerful” page?) The tolerance of violence, police brutality and excessive use of force and a willingness to justify it – especially when combined with the clear racism we see here…

I could go on. I am sure I will…..

for now I can really just say WTF.

Really… WTF.