Category Archives: Michigan Peace Team

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

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 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/opinion/11kristof.html?_r=2&hp 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.

Another World is happening; 2 days at the USSF

Tue. 6/22/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed. 6/23/10

What a fun (and exhausting!) day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another world IS not only possible – it is happening!

USSF – Opening March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am so glad that I am here!

 

 

 

 

 

An open letter re: effective strategies for Peace event

A few weeks ago a local peace and justice organization asked me to be part of a panal discussion at an event entiteld :  How can people in the faith communities in our area be most effective in advocating for a peace and justice in Israel/Palestine?

The advertsment for the event invited those attending to  “Join us to discuss three very different strategies being pursued by various groups within the faith community in Ann Arbor. A panel of presenters will discuss 1) building alliances with Israeli-Palestinian peace groups on the ground,  2) supporting the J-Street “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” approach of seeking to change the direction of U.S. policy and to broaden the public and policy debate in the U.S. about the Middle East, and 3) promoting economic sanctions against Israel. What are the pros and cons of each of these strategies? How can we from SE Michigan really make a difference?”

I was asked to speak to #3 Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which I was glad to do – being a strong supporter of the BDS campaign.  At the same time, it was challenging to speak to only one strategy. The situation in Palestine is urgent. This seems hardly a time for ” one or the other” , but rather a time for “all, and”.  It seems to me that embrassing a number of different nonviolent strategies opens more possiblilites to be heard by a broader audience.  Not every individual or every group in a community needs to do the exact same thing. 

After making note of that and my appreciation for the work of my co-panalists I spoke about both my personal reasons for supporting BDS and how Michigan Peace Team came to support this campaign. (see http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org/boycott_divest_sanction.htm or my earlier post here https://playfulspirit.wordpress.com/2007/11/  for more details. )

After the panal spoke members of the audience came to the front to share their thoughts. People were respectful, and gave one another the chance to express “their truth” . I appreciated that, yet found myself leaving feeling frusterated and wanting more. Days later I couldn’t shake that feeling.  Was it just that I was not given an opportunity to clarify things I said that I heard others misinterpret? Was it that I felt unheard? Was it that I had a hard time hearing what some others said?  What was it?

A friend pointed out that I had expressed similar feelings at another event organized by this same organization a year or more ago when I sat on a panal to discuss the Wall.  Knowing the individuals who organized these events to be people with integrity who seem to appreciate honest and heartfelt feedback (when given respectfully) I wrote the letter that follows.  A friend suggested I post it hear as it may have relevance for others. Not sure if she is right, but figured why not…

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Dear ICPJ Common Ground committee,

 First – and very important – thanks for the invite to speak on the recent panel regarding various ways to work for justice and peace in Palestine and Israel. There is so much strong emotion — anger, fear and pain — around this issue, it can be such a challenging topic to organize programs around. This has seemed to me to be particularly true in the Ypsi- Ann Arbor area. I do appreciate ICPJ’s concern not just for justice and peace in the region, but also the need for justice and peace – and civility – in our own communities as we work towards the larger justice and peace!
 
Alan and Claire were both great and it is always heartening to hear about the good work folks are doing on this issue. And, I appreciated hearing the thoughts and opinions of those not on the panel. In fact, I wish there had been more of a chance to hear from folks “in the audience“. Which is, I guess, what prompted this letter. I missed having the opportunity for the give and take conversation with folks.
 
I know that often before a community can move into any problem solving or conflict resolution everyone needs to feel safe to say their own truth without cross talk or feedback. Perhaps that is where our community is at. At the same time, I think real progress comes when we can engage with each other… challenge each one another (respectfully), and “wrestle” with the issues in order to emerge with some “common truth”. I do think some in our community are ready for that.
 
For example, I really appreciated the feedback from Ruth, Barry and others who pointed out that “apartheid” and “genocide” are trigger words for them. I wish I had the opportunity to ask them more about that and to ask for their help. I don’t want to trigger people when I am giving a talk. Not only does it raise ethical concerns and concerns about kindness – it is simply not a good tactic. Triggered people often have a harder time hearing the message.
Often when I am giving a talk (particularly where there is more time, or when the topic is less narrowly defined) I will spend a few minutes at the start asking people to just note their emotional reaction to some words and expressions: terrorist, Palestine, Israel, occupation, security, genocide, ethnic cleansing, land without a people for a people without a land, suicide bombing, homicide bombing, Seperation wall…. Etc — I then acknowledge the reality of  strong emotions and note that it is often challenging to discuss the issue in ways that speak our truths and at the same time don’t trigger anyone or push any buttons. I wonder if doing that would have made a difference for them? I wish I had the opportunity to ask that night.
 
As I said, I would have also liked to ask for their help — – when I think about what is happening in Palestine right now (perhaps particularly  in Gaza) I am scared. I honestly do believe that what I and others are witnessing is genocide. It is ethnic cleansing.
I don’t use those terms flippantly — when I first started hearing others say that I was very resistant to adopting that language. It seemed so melodramatic and unnecessarily harsh. Yet the more I looked, and read, and talked to people, and really listened to people the less I could deny that I believe that is what the world is witnessing. I simply do not know how else to say it.
And I am so afraid we are not stopping it. That we ( those concerned with justice,  human rights workers, the world community ) have this space in time and history to make a difference and we are not doing it.  So… how I do I honor “my truth” , how do I say what I believe without watering it down or “making it nice” – — how do I do all that without triggering people. How do I acknowledge that at times  I have felt censored from saying that truth and that feeling of censorship triggers me.
 
I believe that every one of us in the room last Thursday has the same overall goal: Justice, Peace, and Security for every individual living in what we now often refer to as Palestine and Israel. Security, peace, justice for every Israeli. And security, peace, and justice for every Palestinian.Perhaps if we start there we can assume good intent and it matters less if we are triggered. I am reminded of a book Sitting in the Fire: Conflict transformation and Diversity (or something like that) by (?) Mindall that talks – among other things – about the need to be willing to sit in our discomfort.

 

Wow, my “quick example” ended up being a letter in and of itself. Sorry for the digression. My point is that as I said I know that often before a community can move into any problem solving or conflict resolution everyone needs to feel safe to say their own truth without cross talk or feedback. If people don’t get that opportunity it can block the process from moving forward.
Yet, when people are ready for “the next step”  – when people are ready to engage with one another in messy, muddy, sometimes painful and real conversation — asking questions, challenging, clarifying, wrestling with the issue and they don’t get the opportunity to do that – it can be equally as problematic.
 
I would guess that there are those in this community in each of these places. So how do we provide opportunity for both? Longer programs with components of each? Programs with follow up programs? Clear expectations about what need a program is trying to meet?
I don’t pretend to know. But, I would be happy to work with some others who might want to brainstorm some options. Anyone interested? Maybe a meeting to just brainstorm?
Gandhi called nonviolence “an experiment in truth”…… thanks to each of you for continuing the experiment.
 
In Peace for Justice, Sheri