Category Archives: human rights

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  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.

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


U.S. Military Deaths


Civilian Deaths








Civil War 



























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.”

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) 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! )  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  

“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.



An open letter to Nicholas Kristof

Dear Mr. Kristof,

As an admirer of your work I was excited to see your recent column Waiting for Gandhi about the Palestinian nonviolent struggle; excited to see the nonviolent movement in Palestine finally getting some attention in the mainstream news and relieved to see that the person writing about it was someone who is willing to “put himself out there” in dangerous situations and write with integrity.


Thank you for bringing names like Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi and Ayed Morrar and the town of Budrus to the attention of the American people. And while international law allows for a militarily occupied people to resist by any method at their disposal , it is long past time that American citizens hear about something other than rock throwing and suicide bombings.

Being so glad to see the Palestinian nonviolent movement discussed, I was surprised to find myself still troubled by the column. I couldn’t put my finger on why. After re-reading and discussing and re-reading again I realize it has to do with the assertion that some “Palestinians are dabbling in a strategy of nonviolent resistance” .The term “dabbling” along with the focus on only fairly recent events seems to discredit the long and rich history of nonviolent resistance in Palestine. Sadly, this is a history that has all but been erased from the narrative, which seems to me to make it all that much more important to hold up.

What history one might well ask? I share here but a few examples:

* In 1902, three villages al-Shajara, Misha, and Melhamiyya peacefully protested against the takeover of 7000 hectares of agricultural land by the first Zionist settlers.

* In 1936 Palestinians held a six-month nonviolent industrial strike. The strike, brought about by British Mandate’s refusal to grant self determination to Palestine was designed to make Palestine ungovernable by anyone but the Palestinians themselves.

* In 1986, Hannah Siniora called for Palestinian civic disobedience by boycotting Israel-made cigarettes. This led to a full-scale Palestinian boycott of Israeli soap, food, water, clothes etc. Along with this boycott Hannah Siniora and Mubarak ‘Awad drew a list of civic disobedience activities heavily reliant on boycotting Israeli products and economic self-sufficiency (Interestingly, Mubarak Awad, was a along time advocate in the power of nonviolence and is a self-described disciple of Gandhi who was deported by Israel)

* The 1987-1993 First Intifada was largely conducted nonviolently. Palestinians held mass public demonstrations, refused to pay taxes, (The village of Beit Sahour is an amazing example of this tax resistance.) and sought out local alternatives to Israeli facilities. Mubarak Awad knowing Israeli law prohibited any construction on land dedicated to growing fruit, initiated olive tree planting on Palestinian land about to be confiscated by Israeli settlers.

And as you yourself noted, there is much happening today that is a continuation of this nonviolent struggle. I was glad to see you mention the small village of Bilin, which has become an inspiration to many of us working nonviolently for Justice in Palestine. This small village has held a nonviolent demonstration every week against the theft of their land since approximately 2005.

You noted the stone throwing at the Bilin demonstration. As a pacifist myself I too was troubled by the stone throwing. I am certainly not implying it should not be mentioned. I think, however, that it must be put in context.

I volunteer with a group based in the United States called Michigan Peace Team (MPT). MPT’s role is to send teams trained in nonviolence to places of violence with the goal of protecting human rights and making the space for the local people to resolve the conflict nonviolently. We have been working in Palestine on and off since we began in 1993 and consistently since around 2002.

What we have witnessed is that regardless of stones being thrown or not the response to Palestinian resistance is harsh. Protesters in Bilin are met with Tear gas, Rubber coated steel bullets, “skunk water” , and live ammunitions regardless of if a rock is ever thrown. Additionally night raids on the town with young men being rounded up – regardless of their participation in the demonstrations, detentions, arrest, and torture while in Israeli custody are common.

There are those (Palestinians, Israelis, and Internationals) who argue that rock throwing in the face of such odds is not violent, but an symbolic act of defiance. While I disagree with this analysis personally, I think it is important to note that “hard and fast rules” in nonviolence are rare and well meaning people with good analysis can disagree on what is nonviolent. Gandhi himself referred to nonviolence as “an experiment with truth.”

Finally, I want to note that as well as the organized nonviolent resistance movement in Palestine the very act of living with dignity is an act of resistance in Palestine. In 2002 while in Palestine doing nonviolence training for international solidarity activists I was invited to what can most closely be described as a bridal shower. I vividly recall that unlike an invitation I might receive at home in the US with a time noted the invitation was “ On the first Saturday that there is no curfew we will gather.” There was an alternative location in case the home had been demolished – as a demolition order was pending, and arrangements were made for places for people to stay if curfew was reinstated during the shower.

The women came to the shower and celebrated the upcoming wedding. I realized at that moment that I was participating in an act of nonviolent resistance. “ We will live. We will stay. We will celebrate and mourn together. “ And as long as that spirit continues there is nonviolent resistance in Palestine.

In Peace, Sheri Wander

to see what is negative as a potential positive; more from the USSF

Thursday 6/24

Today is the day for going to workshops I tell myself. Yesterday was great – nonviolence training, peace teams, and speaking on a panel, but today I want to be a participant.

First up, a conversation with Grace Lee Boggs and Emmanuel Wallerstein, two elders of the movement.

Grace Lee Boggs is an amazing organizer who celebrated her 95th birthday this last week. She and her husband, Jimmie Boggs, who died in 1993, have been the center of much of the creative and inspiring work in Detroit for decades.

The room is packed with not a chair available. People sit on the floor, lie on the floor, lean against the walls …. Joy and anticipation in the air.

I love how easily they talk about love. They put their heart into their work. It seems to be what sustains them. So much I can say and write about this one workshop alone… here are some highlights (in no particular order):

* Ideas matter, We need to understand our place in history, and we need to understand between local and international struggles

* “Another world is possible, but not inevitable. The world of 2050 will be what we make it. We have the power within us to change it.”

* We need to resist the danger of becoming mindless activists acting as if only action matters. Ideas matter”

* The struggle is both long and immediate. We need to take care of the present and look toward the future. In the short run we need to minimize the pain, in the medium run we transform the world. What will win the struggle?

* “ (R )evolution is a new beginning. It is not to prove our analysis is right. ” (Grace Lee Boggs)

* “In uncertainty there is hope.” (Grace Lee Boggs)

* We don’t need to capture the state we need to change the paradigm. Those who capture the state become prisoners of the state.

* A real revolution is an advancement in the concept of what it means to be human.

* Anger is real and vital but you can’t sustain a life built on anger as its sole foundation.

After this workshop is over I head over to one on Accompaniment. Panelist from ISM, PBI, CPT and FOR will speak. After some confusion about room assignment it turns out there are only 2 of us there, so we move the workshop outside onto a grassy spot and turn it into an organizers meeting ; discussing ways our groups can support one another etc. It was wonderful and productive and good to be with others who are doing this work I love so much!

Another spontaneous, “on the fly” training, a check-in with the team at tent city and the day wraps up with a good (if late) dinner at a local Middle Eastern restaurant.