Category Archives: thinkin’ “out loud”

Memorial Day ramblings

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

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

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

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

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

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

War 

U.S. Military Deaths

 

Civilian Deaths

 

Revolutionary 

25,174

(unavailable)

1812 

20,000

(unavailable)

Civil War 

620,000

50,000

WWI 

116,516

6,458,886

WWII 

405,399

36,372,900*

Korean 

54,246

1,847,240

Vietnam 

58,177

2,000,000**

Iraq 

4,254

1,366,350

Afghanistan 

1,036

32,969

TOTAL 

1,304,802

 

48,128,345

 

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

Gaza Journal

 

Hello friends,

For now this is just a fingers to keyboard/ pen to paper journal. Thoughts, feelings, things I want to remember. Not much analysis or reflection. New postings at the bottom. I’ll do more when I get back in terms of some deeper reflection

25 Dec 2009

Some travel day news to share w/ you all…

As you may have heard, the Egyptian government has denied our request to go into Gaza and has cancelled our permits for our orientation at the College Holy Family for December 27 at 7pm. We are also told that gathers of 6 or more people (or maybe it is over 6 people – reports have been scattered) of any type are illegal. Either way, challenging laws is part of our work

And, we have come too far to “be tourists” as the Egyptian Government has suggested. Recognizing that our creativity and flexibility are one of our most powerful tools we are exploring new and exciting ways to get our message out and keep the pressure on!

The MPT team of 6 will meet up in Cairo and determine our next steps.
December 27

Today the plan was a simple commemoration of those killed in Gaza during operation Cast Lead.  In an effort to commemorate those killed in Gaza during the Israeli attack on Gaza, we were going to meet on the Nile River Corniche We were going to take feluccas (Nile river boats) onto the Nile and place 1400 lighted candles in bio degradable “boats” /baskets into the Nile that will then float down the river. That was the plan.

The Egyptian Govt. had other ideas. Our small group got there early and was almost immediately told to disperse. We didn’t. There were Egyptian Security from high officials on down. They would not let us down to the boats.  We refused to disperse, however, and a rally on the sidewalk parallel  to the Nile resulted. I have much I want to say about this but time is short. It is already not enough hours ‘til it is time to get up. For now a few misc. things:

      * Police did not want pictures taken or notes taken. Almost every time someone tried to take a picture the police would threaten to take the camera away. At one point I was taking notes and a plain clothes cop told me to stop. He reached out to take my notebook. I wouldn’t let him and at one point when he tried again I pretended not to understand and ripped out a piece of paper to hand it to him as though I thought he wanted to borrow it. When I went to offer my pen too he laughed a bit and looked away.

      * We held candles and walked but every few feet the police would stop us, but the crowd continued to grow and coalesced

     *Speaking on behalf of the marchers, Media Benjamin, one of the GFM planners stood aloft a concrete planter and proclaimed, with the crowd repeating: “We are part of the Gaza Freedom March. We would like to take a boat on the Nile and place candles on the water in memory of the dead in Gaza. Unfortunately, the government of Egypt finds this action a threat. We are people of peace. We are not here to cause trouble for Egypt. We don’t event want to be in Egypt, ” she continued. “We would be happy to leave now for Gaza. We ask the government of Egypt to change its position.”

 * you may also want to check out http://starhawksblog.org/ Starhawk does a nice write up and you can even see a nice photo of Yusif – one of my team mates

We also learned more about the plans of  85 year old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein who will begin a hunger strike demanding that Egypt open the border. I may join that, I will have to see how I feel and what actions I may be doing over the next few days. Others who wish to fast in solidarity are welcome!

Throughout all we will keep attempting to cross into Gaza! This is where we need your support:

Egyptian embassies and missions all over the world must hear from us and our supporters (by phone, fax and email)** over the coming crucial days, with a clear message: Let the international delegation enter Gaza and let the Gaza Freedom March proceed. ( I know, many of you called/emailed before! Thank you!! Please consider doing so again.)

Contact your local consulate here:
http://www.mfa.gov.eg/MFA_Portal/en-GB/mfa_websits/

Contact the Palestine Division in Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cairo
Ahmed Azzam, tel +202-25749682 Email: ahmed.azzam@mfa.gov.eg

In the U.S., contact the Egyptian Embassy, 202-895-5400 and ask for Omar Youssef or email omaryoussef@hotmail.com

Thanks friends! (sample letter below)

In Peace and Solidarity
Sheri

* * Sample text **

I am writing/calling to express my full support for the December 31, 2009 Gaza Freedom March. I urge the Egyptian government to allow the 1,300 international delegates to enter the Gaza Strip through Egypt.

The aim of the march is to call on Israel to lift the siege. The delegates will also take in badly needed medical aid, as well as school supplies and winter jackets for the children of Gaza.

Please, let this historic March proceed.
Thank you.

 

December (?) 28th

Hello friends,
Sorry it’s been so long. Both internet and phone access proved to be more challenging than we thought. We will post to the blog tonight or tomorrow including pictures! So please check, http://www.mptingaza.blogspot.com/ You might also want to check out code pink’s website/ http://gazafreedommarch.com/article.php?id=5022

Tomorrow early AM we will head out for another action. We will meet at the buses that we had planned to take to Gaza at that time. Unfortunately, the Egyptian Gov. has stopped the buses. We will see what unfolds. While our goal remains getting into Gaza we also know that we must use the nonviolent tools at our disposal to hold the Egyptian government accountable for their role in the illegal and immoral seige against the people of Gaza! 

Some smaller groups have attempted to go on thier own to Gaza. Egyptian security forces detained a group of 30 activists in their hotel in el-Arish as they prepared to leave for Gaza, placing them under house arrest. The delegates, all part of the Gaza Freedom March of 1,300 people, were Spanish, French, British, American, and Japanese. The Egyptian security forces eventually yielded, letting most of the marchers leave the hotel, but did not permit them to leave the town. When two younger delegates, a French and Japanese woman, attempted to leave el-Arish, the Egyptian authorities stopped their taxi and unloaded their luggage. Another group of eight people, including citizens from American, British, Spanish, Japanese and Greece, were detained at the bus station of Al Arish in the afternoon of December 27. As of 3:30 PM, they were still being held.

I think I have to end this for now. Very tired and more work to do. Please keep those calls, emails and faxes coming! I honestly beleive they can make a difference — and even if they do not convince the govt. to open the border it does let them know that people are watching which ultimatly helps keep us all a bit safer. More when I can.

Love, Sher

December 28

Some of this is a recap of what I’ve already written. But bear w/ me as the days are all a little running into each other… probably in part because there hasn’t been enough sleep to divide them. In any case – gonna try to catch up a bit.

Such days — it feels like I have been here for WEEKS instead of days. Ironic since I DON’T EVEN WANT TO BE HERE!! I WANT TO BE IN GAZA! But, beyond that…. where to begin?

After too brief a sleep, on my first night I woke to meet up w/ Yusif and Dorothy head over to one of the 3 hotels where most of the delegates are staying. Our big orientation meeting for that evening had been cancelled, its permit revoked. So we’re doing smaller briefings in hotels. This makes communication between delegates hard. And it seems to just keep getting worse. Any public gathering of over 6 is illegal and businesses are pressured not to help us. (The bus companies cancelled our buses due to pressure and fear of ramifications etc.) None the less we do what we can. Anyhow, briefings will happen each AM at this hotel and we thought it might be “the place” to hang out and see what the buzz is. It was.filled w/ activity. Activists were busy on lap tops doin’ the media work, banners being made, endless coffee and strategizing. I could have stayed much longer – totally in my element. But, I was also anxious to see my friends and team mates Kim and Liz who had gotten in even later than us the night before and were at the hotel sleeping.

Later, about a hundred people went out to the Kasr al Nil bridge around noon—the bridge to the large island in the middle of the Nile. They placed cards and flowers on the bridge to commemorate the more than 1300 Gazans who died in the Israeli assault that began a year ago today, on December 27, 2008. The police eventually showed up and ordered them off the bridge, but didn’t arrest anyone. I wasn’t there, but I heard it was pretty calm. The MPT team spent some time in a team meeting. This was a unique team and this was the fist time all of us had met face to face so we determined we needed to spend that time together.

Later, we attended an event that was also to commemorate those that were killed. The plan for was to meet at 4 pm down by the Nile and take feluccas, Nile river boats. From the boats we would place candles in biodegradable “boats” and float them down the river. Also, on the boats, we could meet in small groups and then converge later for a larger meeting. We got there right on time and were surprised not to see anyone. As soon as we paused in our walking however we found out why – When the team arrived we were immediately surrounded by Egyptian security forces and police officers who barred us from boarding the flotillas and closed down the rental place.

But we gathered, a group of a couple of hundred, which we had been clearly forbidden to do. As we gathered MPT members started to document w/ photos and notes. Almost every time we tired to take a photo we were told “no”. A plain closed police officer told me I was not allowed to take notes. He threatened to take my notebook. When he moved to grab it away I pulled it back. Acting confused , like I didn’t know what he meant I tore out a page and offered it to him with a pen – for taking his own notes. He laughed and the tension decreased

Medea Benjamin, one of the Code Pink organizers got up on a planter like thing and made a short speech. Speaking in short sentences so that those of us near-by could repeat them loudly amplifiying the sound. “Who here wants to take a boat on the Nile, like tourists do?” she asked. Everyone raised their hands. “Who here wants to go to Gaza?”The crowd began cheering and unfurling banners and chanting “Free Gaza!” She continued: planter and proclaimed, with the crowd repeating: “We are part of the Gaza Freedom March. We would like to take a boat on the Nile and place candles on the water in memory of the dead in Gaza. Unfortunately, the government of Egypt finds this action a threat. We are people of peace. We are not here to cause trouble for Egypt. We don’t event want to be in Egypt, ” she continued. “We would be happy to leave now for Gaza. We ask the government of Egypt to change its position”

We lit our candles in cups and held them up. There were people from all over the world in the crowd! The spirit was strong, and as more and more police arrived, everyone remained calm. I really felt like I was clearly in a group of seasoned and disaplined activists. The crowd began marching back down the riverside, and then the police threw up a cordon and blocked us in. The police seemed as if their hearts weren’t really in keeping us blocked in. Their barricade was simply them holding hands and they kept smiling. People lifted up their arms and ducked under and got out, and from time to time they opened up and let people out, without much rhyme nor reason.

MPT’s Yusif, was interviewed by several media outlets in both Arabic and English.

Was all that really only 2 days ago…. see now I am up to yesterday. But, I promised myself I would try to get to bed before 1 AM — sooooo , g’nt for now!

December 29th (I think)

So where am I at? 2 days ago…The morning was a never ending play of frustration. Looking for meetings only to get there and find they had been changed. Or asking a dozen people for directions all of them sending us in the wrong way … walking several miles around Cairo. Finally we gave the morning up and Determined to be a the Protest at the World Trade Center Building where the UN is housed (yes, really. that is what it is called.) at noon.

After lots more walking we got there to find a spirited crowd of around 300 had gathered. The UN was declared the ” Gaza Embassy”, the Italians were leading us in energized rounds of Bella Ciao  and people were signing, dancing, drumming. Dorothy, Liz, Kim and I were immediately welcomed to stand up on top of a short wall around a raised garden w/ a banner reading “Free Gaza” by a group of women.

We hoped up on the concrete planter wall a few feet in the air and clapped and danced along w/ the singing and drumming. How can you not clap and dance and grin when the Italians are singing Bella Ciao? Between rounds of signing and chanting we’d talk w/ folks around us. It feet good. We had nonviolently claimed some space – and here that has proven to be difficult task.

Egyptian police were there – but mostly in plain clothes and it all was going well. But apparently our elevated space on the planter was too visable. We were repeatedly told to get down.

 Do I even need to say we didn’t?

This went on for some bit when the police stepped up on the planter with us. These are mostly young men. Their hearts clearly with us, and struggling with their  role. Even as he told me to move the guy telling me to get down made space for my feet around his. Under his breath and out of the ears of his superiors he chanted “free gaza” along with us.

The young guys on the front lines are conscripts just doing their time and the truth seems clear that their hearts are with us. They seemed to struggle with their role.

The higher ups seem to be struggling less. On their command we were suddenly and roughly/forcefully pushed from the planter.

Things started escalating fast and me and my MPT team switched immediatly and instintively from role of demonstrator to peace team. Doing what we could to calm both the demonstrators and the police. I found myself in a line w/ Liz, Kim, and Dorothy from MPT and Starhawk, and for a bit former MPT team member Will.

One of the GFM started kicking the police and Liz stepped in to stop her. Reminding her of why we are there and our commitment and all. The Italians were… well, being loud and spirited and, well –  Italian and while some of us were comfortable w/ that others not so much so  and for a short time s it looked like we might be detained . Still, I realized this felt good. I am in my element up against a line of riot police, or between angry people somehow getting in the way.

Dorothy took our cameras and such and moved back to a less arrestable spot as planned. Yet we kept connected checking in w/ eye and hand gestures. In hind site she probably didn’t need to head out. Things deescalated quickly

Those of us “on the line”  joked and traded songs with the young Egyptian soldiers and I think they were teaching Starhawk to count in Arabic. They laughed with us when ever their higher ups looked the other way and from time to time would point to our “Free Gaza” signs and give the thumbs up.

There was a group of women near us who have worked w/ rageing grannies and they made up songs the soldiers would join us in singing.

I told them I was sorry their government put them in such a horrible position. That here they had to stop us from expressing our solidarity when I know thier hearts were truely with the people of Gaza. I told them I was sorry they felt they had to push us and maybe hurt us.  One young man’s eyes welled up w/ tears and he quickly looked away.

This went on for sometime and once it was clear things were calm we left to head back to the hotel. We planned for an early night but somehow that never materialized. Although at this moment I can no longer remember why.  I think it was because we all started to realize we prob. Won’t get into Gaza and we needed time to debrief with each other, to grieve and to cry. To be so close and still know we can’t seem to get there. It is …. I can’t even begin to describe.

More in a few days. In the meantime don’t forget to check http://mptingaza.blogspot.com/

Hugs,sher

30 December

Dear friends,
Here is an attempt at a report from December 29. I think that was yesterday, it is all a blur. Our team meeting the night before revealed we needed to do a variety of “housekeeping stuff” as a team. Liz and Yusif graciously agreed to take out cell phones to have them fixed while Dorothy and Bella went to do some report writing and blogging. (Check it out at  http://mptingaza.blogspot.com ). Kim and I would attend the briefings and meetings at the Lotus hotel and then we’d all connect at the US Embassy.

So, after an early morning of meetings to get filled in on the latest developments in the ever changing plans and to engage in some group problem solving about what the Gaza Freedom Movement (GFM) could and should do next Kim and I joined up with 2 of the GFM organizers to head toward the US embassy. We approached the gate and were told we had to use another entrance, walking around we were given the same response at a 2nd gate. Finally we ended up at the gate in a small recessed area along a busy street that runs along the Nile river.

We approached the gate and simply held up our passports prepared to just walk through “we are US citizens, and are going to see our ambassador. ” We were stopped and told we could not go in. Alternately the reason was given “you cannot go in” or “the embassy is closed”. A few more people arrived (still just a handful ) and barricades were put up in front of us and Egyptian security (police, plain clothes police and some who identified themselves to me as “private security” came out to stand in front of us.

As more and more of us continued to gather the ever present metal barricades that had moments ago been just in front of us  were placed both in front of us and behind us “blockading” us in. We continued to insist we see our embassy staff – holding up our passports and alternately singing, chanting and simply talking to those trying to stop us.

Many of the other delegates have reported having good meetings at their Embassies  and while I didn’t expect the US to really care I did think they would at least attempt to maintain the illusion by sending some low level person out to smile and pretend to listen to our concerns. HA — was I wrong!!!

When access to our embassy was denied, the Americans linked arms in groups of threes and marched to the gate where they held up their passports. Within a couple of minutes, one of the Americans was on the other side of the fence and on the ground. She yelled for help as she was surrounded by a large group of Eqyptian Security personnel.  GFM delegates surrounded her as well “pulling” her back from the security personnel.

Egyptian plain clothes police, uniformed police, and riot police as well as numerous Egyptian “security” officials continued to grow in number— along with an American K9 unit — complete w/ 2 German Shepherds.

Kim and I were able to document the situation although, at several points we were warned not to photograph or take notes. And on more than one instance security threatened to or tried to take our cameras away.

Since, as I said, this area is recessed and not too visible from the street, Kim and I decided to continue observing from the sidewalk in front of the area where the Americans were being detained. We felt it was important both to see and be seen, and the sidewalk gave them a good vantage point. Besides we still had not reconnected with the rest of the affinity team who as due to meet us there and we figured being out front would make it easier for them to see us.

Almost immediately, we were ordered to move off the sidewalk by one of the security personnel who demanded that we reenter the recessed area and join the others who were being barricaded. It was so odd and surreal. If I wrote a role play like this no one would believe it was realistic. The plain clothes and uniformed security were literally telling us “go in the pen”. 

There were two other American women, including one who walks with a cane, who were seated on the sidewalk. Plainclothes security forces, led by a man who identified himself to me as Mr. Sieead  physically shoved one of the woman and shouted at her. As this occurred, Kim and I  moved in between her and the men who were shoving her. Almost immediately, a police van arrived and we found ourselves ringed and barricaded by the metal barricades and a group of about 20 policemen.

Again, most of the young conscripts seemed to have their hearts with us – singing “we shall overcome” and giving thumbs up out of the eyes of those in command. But the plain clothes security and those who seemed to obviously be in positions of power were less sympathetic to us. While we continued to document and attempt to photograph “Mr Sieed” grabbed my hand that held my camera squeezing painfully until my hand was red and sore. He quickly pulled his hand away as I maneuvered my camera into my pocket.

Still, even with this I know we were treated w/ “kid gloves.“ We observed a young man who appeared to be of Arab ancestry shoved and screamed at by “Mr. Saieed“. who then directed a group of security officers to pick the man up and hurl him over the barricaide to the ground

Kim and I remained in this position for about two hours, observing, documenting and holding the space.   It should be noted that while the woman with the cane was being treated roughly, a man in shirt and tie who appeared to be American or European simply looked on.

When the other MPT members arrived, they were ordered away from the area where the others were being barricaded. Crossing the street, they were met by a group of plainclothes officials, including “Mr. Saieed“, who screamed at the team and then roughly pushed Yusif down the street.

Kim and I had decided to join Hedy Epstein and others in fasting and the team had agreed to go to the press conference that was rapidly approaching. Since, by this time, it appeared that the situation was relatively calm outside the embassy, notwithstanding the number of law enforcement and government personnel milling around Kim and I consulted with others being held to assure they felt okay with out leaving .  With their support we negotiated a release, but left wondering why a desire to visit one’s embassy would prompt such a response, especially when other internationals were graciously received by their embassies?

See the MPT blog www.mptingaza.blogspot.com for a more detailed “what went down” listing of what happened next. It is again late and I have had about 8 hours sleep over the last 3 days combined. I am tired, I am hungry and tomorrow is a big day. (is any day here not a big day?)

For now let me just say:

* Isn’t the US embassy considered American soil? What does it mean to have Egyptian police on US soil barricading US citizens , stopping them from seeing thier ambassadors, and at times being very very rough! (pushing, shoving, grabbing arms — yelling in the face of.)

* There is no doubt that this is a dictatorship and a police state. Everywhere we go we are fenced in. Everywhere we turn they stop us (or attempt to stop us) from gathering. I feel like I can’t move. My creativity feels as restricted as our movement. And I can’t remember ever feeling so helpless and hopeless. If , as Kim says, there is any grace from this it is that I have a small taste and understanding of how the Palestinians live.

* I really really do NOT like Egypt right now

* I really really do NOT like the US right now

* As I noted Most of the police we encounter are young, their hearts already seem to be with us. When thier superiors are not looking they laugh and joke and sing “we shall overcome” right along with us. They point to our “free Gaza” T-shirts and pins and give the thumbs up and whisper “free gaza” under thier breath. The higher ups -not so much so. Have seen some really mean people who seem like… while I don’t like to use the word evil when talking about people. I think it is rarely (ever?) true. But … it is the only word that comes to mind.

Good night friends, I prob. won’t post tomorrow. Remember no news is good news. Thanks for all your support!

In solidarity and struggle, Sheri

31 December

After the last few days I guess the team really needed to debrief and process a bit together. Long long after our nightly team meeting Kim, Bella, Dorothy and I sat around talking and laughing. Really really LAUGHING and at times crying.

Somewhere in the wee hours of the AM we got an email on Bella’s crackberry — a group from the women’s contingent had been able to meet w/ representatives for President Mubarak’s wife (maybe even w/ her? ) and had negotiated that 100 people could go to Gaza along with all the supplies we had brought. The organizers had about 2 hours to present them w/ the list of who would be going.

Now mind you — here we are in Cairo. Communication is HARD. They block us from gathering, navigating the streets is challenging and asking for directions seems sure to alert the authorities to where we were going — bringing company as soon as you step out of the cab or to walk w/ you along the way.

While many of the GFM have phones now we don’t yet all have each other’s numbers and you cannot guarentee people have access to the internet. So – I am sure they did not think the organizers could pull that off. None the less at 3:30 AM a list was released. Priority was given to journalists, those of Palestinian descent, those who haven’t been in the last 4 years, and there was a strong attempt to have folks from all 42 countries represented here. Yusif was on the list! We quickly called up to his room to wake him. No luck. We raced upstairs to pound on his door and finally used the hotel phone to call his room phone. The bus was meeting at 7:00 AM! He had just a few hours to get ready and we had to also determine how that impacted our plans for the next day. A few minutes of joyous celebration and the team went inot “prep mode” — who would make what calls, getting out a press release etc. After a bit we left him to have a moment to center himself and finish packing w/ the promise to meet him in the AM for a send off.

Ahh.. and hour nap.

We got to the bus station and at first all seemed like a subdued but happy send off. Yusif got on the bus to assure himself a seat upfront on one of the buses w/ a bathroom. Liz helped facilitate the loading of supplies and the rest of us buzzed about taking photos and hugging new friends. Then the tenor changed. People started to shout about the divisiveness of us not all going. Several people spoke and explained that they were not going even though they were choosen. The decsion to break us apart was wrong. The speaking went from those like Hedy Epstein who explained why she wouldn’t go but also spoke about folks needing to follow thier conscious to those who spoke harshly about those who were on the bus.

Not all were so understanding. Many spoke with angry voices. Code pink organizers said they made a mistake in accepting the offer. There was confusion and mixed messages. Gazans still wanted us to come. Gazans didn’t want us to come. What to believe.

We called Yusif on the bus. He was safe, wasn’t leaving. We were feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the scene . People — “my people” were acting horribly! Shaming those who were going. I felt betrayed. Yet, I also understood their points about solidarity and such. Then we heard that the Egyptian government angry about the deal had put the following spin on it. “The 100 people on the bus were choosen by the gov’t since they are the only ones here truly nonviolent. The rest of us are the troublemakers, “hooligans” and were denied.

As the scene continued to decline we again called Yusif. He was sad and angry about what was happening and but was not gonna get off that bus. I support that. We all thought the buses would be leaving any moment so we determined we’d head back to the hotel. Yusif felt good about that.

I wondered a bit about staying around to help calm the situation down. Do that peace team thing as we do. And leaving was one of the hardest decisions I made there. Maybe the hardest.  I know we could have been helpful.  But, I didn’t feel grounded and centered enough to calm anyone down.

Beyond that I didn’t feel at all hungry, tired or dehydtrated and after fasting for a couple of days, very very little sleep, and I know not enough water (I am doing better today — no worries!) I knew I should be! So, I was not trusting my ability to be in touch w/ my own body and needs. I wasn’t trusting my own instincts. I rely on my instincts in this work. If I can’t trust them it is dangerous.  So we left. It was really really really hard!!! But, I know I am here with some of the most skilled and creative organizers around and I needed to trust….

I guess after we left it all got much worse

From what we heard was a madhouse. People were weeping on the busses, others were crying “Shame! Shame!” at those who boarded. Some were bounding on the buses and calling those inside “traitor”. Yusif said that inside the bus it was also a mess. People weren’t sure what to do. Some were getting off the bus, then back on, then off again. Father Louis Vitale, the priest from San Francisco who has been arrested hundreds of times doing civil disobedience actions, got on, got off, got on again, and finally got off for good. Our friend David Hartsough did the same –ending up on the bus. Another friend, John Dear ended up not going after also getting on and off

As the bus went to leave people surrounded it and would not let it out. In an ironic and sick turn of events the bus needed a police escort to lead them out.

Those behind were encouraged to attend nonviolence training and be prepared for a large march today in solidarity with the march in Gaza. Our team spent hours in prayerful disernment about what to do. It felt like every move we made would look like a political statement. How could we support the decision of our dear friend Yusif yet still support the goal of those who stayed behind? And most importantly how do we keep the focus where it belongs – on Gaza.

There is more, but I cannot really capture it just yet.

We put a plan in place, headed to the internet cafe and promised each other we would all be in bed by midnight for a long day in the AM. I’ll write more about the plans – but it will have to wait.  Don’t want it “out there” public just yet.

(We made it to bed by 1:00 — not too bad). An early AM found us stuck in our hotel. While 2 team were able to make it out early early the other 3 of us planned to join them shortly after.

Unfortunately the police had a different idea. We found our doorway blockaded by “paddy wagons” and security, plain clothes, and Egyptian police. 5 uniformed police and several others were blocking the door, and not letting people out. When we saw them being served tea, coffee and food we knew we’d be stuck awhile and hunkered down.

It was fine in the sense we were safe and well. But soooooooo unfine in so many many ways. Can you imagine going to leave your hotel and not being able to? We also found suddenly none of our phone worked. Really, even the US phones. We could call no one, we could not get calls. This sounds so paranoid and surreal as I type it! I can barely believe it and I just lived it. But I assure you it was very real.

Once communiction was back, We learned others were in the same situation. After some brainstorming we have come up with a plan for today and a few back up plans…..

After about 2 hours we found we were allowed out. We came to the internet cafe to get some news on how others are doing and revamp plans for today. More when I can…

As always, thanks for all your support.

In Peace for Justice, Sher

 

1 Jan 2010

Happy New Year everyone!

Yesterday when I emailed I mentioned 2 of our team members had left the hotel before we got blocked in, but I didn’t want to say more in order not to jeprodize thier trip. Early early AM Liz and Dorothy set of for the bus station. Thier goal was to buy 5 tickets to Al Arish. With Yusif in Gaza we thought we’d try to go join him! Or …. really to go and hold vigil in Rafah Egypt. It seemed appropriate to go into the desert, to try to hold the space between those from Gaza Freedom March in Cairo and Gaza Freedom March in Gaza and in doing so to hold that tension. I don’t know if that makes sence if you are not here. But it just felt right.

So – Dorothy and Liz headed our to buy tickets with the idea that Kim, Bella and I would do some work getting some reports up etc. and would then meet up with them at the bus station. Of course, It is what we came to do. With full team consultation via phone we decieded that Dorothy and Liz would continue on as best they could and that Kim and I would stay here — scout the city and provide help, support and observation/monitoring work as needed. Bella would remain in the hotel acting as “home base” and being support should Kim and I get caught up in a sweep, detained or who knows what.

Kim and I noticed right away that we would not go more than 2 blocks without people watching us, taking notes, and calling someoone. It seemed as if they were calling to say what direction we were headed. We determined our safest way to scout was to play the role of tourist…. casually meandering from window to window, stopping in a park for a bit – while walking past the areas we thought people might be gathered on the way to the Egyptian Museum where we knew 200-300 people were holding space.

We had received word earlier that the March had not occured. Most of the hotels where activists were staying were blockaded in the AM, essentially puting people under “house arrrest”. In spite of this we also had heard that several hundered people had gotten out and were protesting in front of the Egyptian Museum. We also heard rumors of smaller gatherings scattered around the city as people were able. Hence our scouting.

We never made it to the Egyptian Museum. I have heard rumors of both police beating people, and that things were similar to many of our other events here. I am not sure what truely happened. The protest did breakup after about 6 hours. (So even if we got there it might have been over.)

What was interesting was noticing the difference in the city. Before yesterday people would invite us in to thier shops, talk with us etc. Yesterday that was simply not true. One young man told us to leave. Liz and Dorthothy reported the same experience in one of the bus station shops. The Egyptian Government has been engagaing in a campaign of lies and misinformation. It was put out in the newspaper that those who were allowed to go into Gaza are the only “good”/”truely nonviolent” people who came. The rest of us are (I kid you not…) ” Hooligans” here to cause trouble. While it does not seem most of the people believe that it seems very evident that they know we are being watched and that they have been intimidated and threatened if they help us.

Crime is very low in Cairo. Yet, I confess I have never felt really safe and secure here. That feeling of always being watched. We get in a taxi and the “tourism police” or some other police type official is immediately there asking the driver where he is taking us, and writtting down his licence number. I am not exagerating when I say Kim and I did not go 2 blocks w/out someone taking note of us and passing it along. (And we were walking in a group of 2 )

The repression is omnipresent and woven into the fabric of daily life.

After walking around many hours and a crazy number of miles we determined that there was nothing at any of the “likely spots” (the Israeli embassy, the US embassy, the UN, the government….) That seemed important to me to check as given how fractured we have become smaller protests might be isolated and really in need of support. We were sad we had not made it to “the big” protest at the museum but figured it was likley over and headed home.

How ironic that New Year’s eve was my earliest night yet. In bed by 12:30! And… I slept ’til 8:00!!! Ya’ll know that is crazy late for me!

The team all headed over to the Lotus hotel this AM and connected with folks there. After that Bella and Liz headed back to the hotel while Kim, Dorothy and I attended a pressconference for those of us who have been fasting. While it only lasted 1/2 hr. — 1 hour it was an incredibly powerful and nonviolent witness to our work and brought the focus back to Gaza and to Palestine.

We all sat on the steps of the journalist syndiate building and read a unified statment from those fasting http://mptingaza.blogspot.com/ in several languages, sang “we shall overcome” and a few people made personal statements. Most were great!

We hope to attend some closing “meetings” tonight for evaluation, reflecton, next steps etc. So hopefully, a calm and easy night. It’s hard to know. Here in Cairo everything you do seems to become an action in and of itself. Tomorrow is the day that Yusif returns from Gaza. I am so looking forward to hearing his news!!!! It is also the day I would have returned from Gaza to Egypt. The plan at that time was to then spend a few days in and around Egypt. I am mean it’s Egypt. So much to see. Only, I confess I am sick of Egypt. I just want to come home. I don’t want to spend my money or my time in this police state being a tourist after this week stuck here.

Dorothy, Bella and I planned to do this and then to fly out together. We will talk tonight and see if we are in agreement about changing our tickets — and further IF I can change my ticket. (The last 2 times I have tried I have not been allowed since I was told I am on “airport security” — then again the Egyptian gov’t might be just as happy to see us go at this point.

(Laurel, I’ll let you know!)

Thanks dear friends for all your love and support! Your encouraging emails, notes on FB and such have really helped. I hope in the days after I get back to do some relfecting and analysis on all we saw.

In solidarity and struggle.

Sher

2 Jan 2010

Dear friends,
This will most likely be my last report from Egypt. (Though I will send a note when I get home.) With the Gaza Freedom March officially at the end Kim and I broke our fast this AM. Dorothy, who had joined us in solidarity on our last day broke her fast as well. We had a team meeting and then a play day. I wasn’t sure I was up to it, but it seemed important to me to see some of the beauty in this country too before we leave.

It was great! Really fun. I felt I could breath easier, and weight was off me as soon as we left the city! We saw the pyramids, Bella and I rode camels, and we went to a huge suc (outdoor market). Not much money to buy – but wonderful to wander around, people watch, drink coffee and take it all in!

On the way back to the hotel we got a call from Yusif! He is back in Egypt -though still several hours from Cairo. I am so very much looking forward to seeing him and hearing all his news!!!!!

After a short rest, the 5 of us had a wonderful dinner together!

I still very much hope that we can work it out to leave early!! But, we shall see. In any case, I look forward to being home!

Love, love, love, Sher

Sunday 1/3

Hello my friends,
I started typing this once but the computer had a little glitch and all went away! Ug. Of course, being all emotional I hadn’t saved anything. Grrrr….. hate it when my own stupidity gets in the way…

In any case, after an early AM at the internet cafe Kim and I joined the rest of the team — including Yusif (who got back late last night) for breakfast. We then all headed over to hear the report out from those that had been in Gaza. There will be a more detailed report on the MPT blog soon http://mptingaza.blogspot.com but for now I just wanted to give you some of the things that stuck out for me: (These are just things that ressonated w/ me. They are not confirmed nor have I done any fact checking – yet I trust the intent, perception and heart of those who went.)

* 90 went

* One of the organizers noted she has been there 4X since March and every time it is more intense. Every time more and more surrounded by Hamas. Every time more evidence of a police state emerging

* “Every bottle of water we drank. Every piece of TP we used. Every everything was brought in through those tunnels. It is the only way.”

* Every person noted with awe the Palestinians resiliance, their ability to still love, forgive and have hope in all this. They also noted the ingenuity.

* MPT friend and NP co-founder David Hartsough noted that 61 years ago his dad worked in Gaza in a refugee camp.He met a man who worked w/ his father. 61 years later they still are refugees”

* Women met w/ a group of Gazan women who’s husbands were killed in operation cast lead. “We do not want/need your charity. WE need your solidarity and your help to have us help ourselves. We neeed sewing machines, we can raise rabbits, chickens”

* “What happened in Gaza was a march, a protest, and was imporatant and good for what it was, but it was not the Gaza Freedom March. The Gaza Freedom March has yet to happen. We will end the seige.”

* Many many spoke about the rabbi’s. 4 Rabbies who tried to get to Al Arish themselves and were left along the way. The GFM bus literally picked them up from the street in the middle of no where. At first the children in Gaza were afraid of them. They didn’t understand or recognize thier closhes, thier hats, their long beards and ringlets etc. But they soon won everyone’s hearts and were the stars. They said “Judism has been hijacked by Zionism. We all lived in peace together before and we can do so again.”

* One woman spoke of pictures drawn by school children and spoke of a girl around 10 who drew and bright eye with tears of blood.

* some spoke of a Hamas crackdown on the arts/artists and how it is getting worse and worse for women. Women were not allowed to March.

* a man spoke about being shown a box w/ what looked like cement pieces it was actually sand. It was the sand that contained the blood of the father

* Women in Gaza spoke about the difficulty in living under Hamas.

* Need for the end of Isolation

There is so so much more. But team members are ready to go back to the hotel and some are heading out tonight. Turns out our work here is not done (so I won’t be back early). Tomorrow some in the Egyptian civil society have asked for some international support and witness. I am honored to be able to do that.

In struggle and love, Sher

 

Thanx Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace Is….

I had tea with a friend the other day and she was talking about this cool thing she is doing – walking 1000 miles for peace over the course of a year.  (Starting and ending on her birth day.)  She asked me if I might be willing to write something up on how I define peace or what I think a peace might be. She mentioned that I seem like someone with lots to say — which is such a kind and diplomatic way to say “hey, you’re opinionated and have a big mouth” that I could hardly refuse.

 Plus, the question stuck and it’s been rattling around in my head off and on. It’s gonna stick there ‘til I look at it so here goes. (Oh, and I fully acknowledge that if you ask me next week this post might look totally different… my definition, like myself is a work in never ending process… and hopefully progress!)

 An initial “brain dump” looks something like  this :

Peace is: active, indivisible from justice, creative, willing to be confrontational, flexible, avoids either or thinking, hard work, fun, forgiveness, sacred, connections, interconnected, being in right relationship, embraces conflict as a necessary force for transformation, muddy, Gandhi called nonviolence an experiment with truth, calling people to act from their highest selves, assuming goodness/good intentions, “I will not harm you”, chaos, organized and strategic, embrace contradictions, holding accountable ourselves and each other, community, constructive, challenging…

 I could write an entire essay on each of those words. (And that was just what came out in 2 minutes) But, I guess for me, at the heart of it peace has something to do with the sacred interconnectedness of all living things. It is about honoring that interconnectedness. Someone – at some meeting somewhere along the line – spoke about peace as being in “right relationship” with each other. That fits too. It seems to me that striving to be in right relationship with myself, with others, and with nature/the environment is a way of honoring that sacred interconnectedness.

According to my friend, Melissa (age 10) “peace is joy, happiness, and freedom from evil.” My other friend, Melissa’s sister Evelyn (age 8 ) adds “peace is being in nature. Also peace is being fair.”

Smart and articulate friends I have!

What is your definition?

toward healing and empowerment

Note: I originally wrote this for a newsletter with a theme of Nonviolence as empowering. I am copying it here after a few requests. This is my personal story. I do not presume that my feelings are universal or that the path toward healing and power that was right for me is what is right for everyone.  Each of us who have been victimized by sexualized violence needs to find the path toward healing that works for us, and to support one another along that path. There is no one “right way”

A woman at a nonviolence training once told me that as a rape survivor she could only embrace nonviolence when she knew she could defend herself physically – even violently – if necessary. As a survivor of sexualized violence I “get that” – I understand it and respect it.

For me, however, it was the opposite. Or at least very different.

Let me back up. I was 16 years old when I was raped.  Spending the weekend babysitting, a friend’s boyfriend had come over to “talk about how to best remain friends with her after they broke up.”  He was flirty, and flattering and “in need of my help.” And I was insecure, needy and thought my only worth was in “fixing things” for others.

At the time I didn’t define it as rape.  I felt awful, and knew something awful had happened. Yet, in spite of the fact that he had held me down and forced me while I cried and repeated “No”, I somehow thought it must be my fault. I mean after all, I had invited him over. I had initially enjoyed the flirting, and had been flattered by the attention.  I told myself “you did kiss back at least at first.”  And besides, *“Jim” * was “a friend”. Wasn’t rape what happened when a stranger jumped out from behind the bushes?

I told no one. Not for years.

A few years later I was volunteering, answering phones for a crisis hotline. At the training we were told the legal definition of rape, several survivors came and shared their stories with us.  

It clicked. I cried. I got angry.  And I started to find my voice.  I started to tell my own story – at trainings, at “Take back the Night” rallies, in classrooms. I began healing.

Still, something was not quite right.  I had started to find my voice, but not my power.

And while I stopped blaming myself I did want to acknowledge that I had a role in what had happened. 

I needed a way to reconcile the reality that the choices I made, and the actions I had taken had put me in a risky situation with the new and certain knowledge that I was not to blame. I needed to separate “responsibility” from “blame”. Or more accurately to take responsibility for my decisions and actions without blaming those actions for the choices “Jim” made, without blaming myself for the violence. I needed a way to differentiate being victimized with being a victim. I needed a way to be able to say to myself, “that was a dumb decision” AND to say “that decision did not give someone else the right to hurt me.”

I also struggled with the fact that in spite of how everyone around me seemed to think I should feel, I didn’t hate “Jim.” I didn’t (and still don’t) wish him any ill.

It all just seemed so confusing, so muddy.

Friends suggested I take a self defense class. I tried it. But that didn’t feel right, and didn’t seem to help for me. I didn’t feel right. And it all remained so muddy.

Then I started studying nonviolence.  It embraced muddy.  As I read Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Gene Sharp I started to appreciate muddy. Barbara Deming especially rocked my world. Yes, we could hate patriarchy and the violence against women that is a part of that system without hating all men.

I began to see how we are all victimized by such a system of violence and oppression.  “Jim.” was victimized by this system also. I began to see how I too helped to maintain this system – most often in ways I was completely unaware of. This knowledge left space for me to hate what he did, without hating him as a person; to hate his actions without feeling guilty for not hating him as a person.  It created the space for me to feel okay with two contradictory things ; remembering the good times we had together, without diminishing my feeling violated,  and pained and enraged by his actions.

And as I started trying to live my life by principles of nonviolence I started to understand a difference between being victimized and being a victim. I started to see power differently – as something we have WITH someone, not only as something we have over someone.  That – power with – was something I wanted to cultivate, to claim.

I find, it is easy to forget I am powerful, that we are powerful.  It is easy to fall in to thinking in “this or that” terms and to forget that muddy is okay.

But to me –nonviolence is empowering and a reminder we sometimes have more power and more choices in how we react than we might first think.

Fast Forward several years:

In November of 2001 I traveled to Columbus, Georgia as I had for several previous years to take part in the annual demonstration at the gates of Ft. Benning to call for the closing of the US Army School of Americas/ Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (check out http://www.soaw.org/.)   

I had planned to help out with nonviolence training. For a variety of reasons I finished up early.

Some friends were supposed to meet me later, but since I finished so early I decided to walk over and meet them.  I left the theater where the training was being held – the street was well lit with several restaurants and lots of people walking around, many who were in town for the demonstration the next day. I turned the corner and walked a little way before realizing the street I had turned onto was not so well lit. In fact, it was fairly dark.  It was also not so full of people. Rather, it was fairly deserted. And I realized I only mostly knew where I was going.

As I continued to walk, two men approached me. They looked to be in their early 20s, average height (but since I’m 4’11” and was scared they seemed pretty tall). They weren’t super muscular, but definitely in shape. They stepped in front of me, not quite blocking my path completely, but making it impossible to pass them without pushing them out of the way.

They started talking to each other about me: 

“Oh, here is one of those people who come to town to tell us what bad Americans we are.”

“Yep, we don’t like people like that in our town do we?”

 “No, actually she’s probably here to tell us how bad America is – let’s show her what happens to people like that in our town.”

They continue to talk about me : a “stupid woman” and “anti-American bitch”, and  started to poke at me in the shoulder as they said it. I was wondering how I was going to get out of the situation when I heard myself talking.  I remember thinking “hmm… I wonder what I’m gonna say”

And what I heard myself say was:

 “Oh thank god you guys are here. I grew up with a lot of people who joined the military and they all think my politics are screwed too. They are always teasing me about it – just like you are now, so it’s sort of comforting. But, my friends are expecting me any minute and I just realized how stupid it was for me to walk over to get them on dark streets alone. And I hate to play in to all the stereotypes you have about women being helpless, and needing men… but … I’m wondering if you might be willing to escort me to meet my friends.”

Suddenly things changed. After a few glances over my head back and forth that seemed to imply that the guys clearly thought I was the dumbest person ever to walk the earth, the voice of the 2 guys seemed to change, become a bit kinder as they said “Of course maam, we’d be happy to, we wouldn’t want anything to happen to you when you were here in our town.” 

They then walked me over to the hotel where my friends were, “chatting” with me the whole time.   

Somehow, it felt like a circle had come ‘round.

(* Not his real name)

 

 

 

Gaza – Words fail

Several friends recently noticed it’s been a bit since I posted after posting frequently for a bit. Particularly folks wondered why I haven’t posted about Israel’s assault on Gaza.

 I can only say that I have tried.

I want to.

Words fail.

 I find myself sitting in front of the computer. I type a few words and then find myself obsessively looking at various other blogs, and the electronic intifada website, then compulsively checking facebook to see the profile and status updates of those living through this hell.  

If they have updated their status they are still alive right?

And I think of those who don’t have a facebook page or a blog. Those who have no electricity to post updates letting their loved ones know they are alive a well. I think of the young man recently adopted by my friend.   And I think of this young man’s family still in Gaza. My heart hurts when I think about how hard it must be for him not knowing if they are safe. His father is a physician and I worry about the trauma he will suffer as he scrambles without the necessary equipment and medicine to treat all those injured.

I am angry. I am sad. I am sick. 400 deaths, 2000 wounded. The majority noncombatants. How can people do this to each other? Why is so much of the world silent? How can we let this happen?

I anxiously wait for each new report and yet, I am ill equipped to speak of it myself. I haven’t the words.

Inshallah – an end to this madness. Inshallah – Justice and Peace.

www.gazatoday.blogspot.com

http://electronicintifada.net/new.shtml

http://www.freegaza.org/