(New stories of empowerment added from the bottom – so scroll down to see the latest!)
More Powerful than what you may ask. ..well, that is the question.
The title of this page comes from the PBS documentary, (which is also a book, and a game) A Force More Powerful. For any who have not seen it, I highly recommend it. Written and directed by Steve York, it is about people power movements battling repressive regimes, and military forces with nonviolence.
It is about using strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, civil disobedience etc. to make changes. Historically nonviolent movements have toppled dictators, saved lives, and brought about revolutionary changes.
Too often the world doesn’t know about these success stories. A Force More Powerful has 6 parts, each highlighting a different success story: Nashville and the US civil rights movement, Gandhi and the movement to free India from British rule, Mikhuseli Jack and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, Danish resistance during WWII, Poland and the Solidarity union, and the defeat of US backed dictator Pinochet in Chile. We need to know these stoires and we need to remember there are more stories. Countless stores.
As my friend Claudia points out in a short video about the Nonviolent Peaceforce (check out our website @ www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org) “if the violence in countries is silent, if we don’t know about it- that is bad. But it is worse when we don’t know about the nonviolent struggles that allow civil society all over the world to know there is hope.”
How do we build the world we want without knowing what is possible? Part of that is that we need to be creative. We need to imagine. We need to visualize the world we want and make it real. But, it also helps to have the models. It helps us to know there are alternatives to violence out there, and that they work. And sometimes we just need to share these stories in order to keep our spirits up – to stay positive and energized enough to do this work. So this page is a chance to share those “stories of empowerment.”
Make comments on the stories here, (I’ll add more from time to time) tell the stories you know from herstory, tell the stories from your own life… share hope. —————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————
10-28-07 – updated 11-2-07 Accounts from Nonviolent Peaceforce in Sri Lanka:
Return of Child Soldiers
The recruitment of child soldiers continues to be a serious problem in Sri Lanka. According to UNICEF, the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) recruited over 700 children under the age of 18 during 2003. The median age of LTTE casualties is 16. On August 5, 2004 a Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) team accompanied a group of mothers and a local human rights activist seeking the release of children allegedly abducted as child soldiers. NP team members provided a supportive international presence while negotiations between the mothers and the insurgency leadership continued. By nightfall of the second day, 26 children were released with their bus fares home. On their way home, the NP team met a representative of the UN High Commission for Human Rights in Batticaloa, who praised them for their role and stressed the value of rapid responses like this to improve human rights situations. He also said that he believed NP to be on “the front line” on such issues.
“Good Samaritan” in the Village
One night in a small Sri Lanka village, one man was walking on the street alone. A second man approached on a bicycle and lobbed a hand grenade at the walking man. The grenade made a loud boom, hitting the man who fell, critically injured. The bicyclist quickly rode away into the cover of darkness. Violence creates fear, and fear is the greatest silencer of a civil society. Fearful, silent people do not easily come out of their homes, especially at night, not to inquire or investigate, and not to meet or gather. No one came to the injured man’s aid. A Nonviolent Peaceforce peacekeeper heard the boom and saw a man lying alone, injured and bleeding in the street. She quickly ran to his aid, followed by a second NP peacekeeper. They comforted him and took him to the hospital. The next day, NP peacekeepers were heralded by their neighbors as heroes for showing fearlessness by helping the injured man. Inspired, the residents tried on their own fearlessness. They remembered their dignity as caring and courageous human beings. That night, residents showed their strength and came into the street to greet each other openly. That second night, the streets revealed the sights and sounds of a rebuilding civil society.
Internally Displaced Persons and Rumor Control
A Sri Lankan neighborhood was subjected to violent home searches. Additionally in the neighborhood there was the assassination and display of a family including two children. Residents fled to a neighboring village for safety. NP peacekeepers were called. NP activated “shuttle diplomacy”, meetings and gatherings. Military personnel from both armed parties and grassroots leaders from various ethnic groups met in safety. Immediate conflicts were resolved; the army withdrew some newly installed military checkpoints. These leaders held a joint community meeting, responded to families’ questions, and were able to clarify rumors and dispel fears. One thousand six-hundred people returned to their homes after being displaced.
11-20-07 Bags of rice defeat nuclear weapons
In the mid-1950’s the pacifist group Fellowship of Reconciliation started a campaign directed at getting surplus grain sent to mainland China where there was large scale famine. Members and friends mailed thousands of little bags of rice to the White House with a tag that said “If thine enemy hunger, feed him” on one side and “send surplus grain to China” on the other.
By all accounts the campaign was an absolute failure. Not only was no food sent to China, the White House never even acknowledged the bags publicly.
What activists learned 10 years later was that the campaign played a significant role in preventing a nuclear war, and were discussed at no less than 3 high level meetings. At the time the US was considering US options in the conflict with China over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. Twice the joint chiefs of staff recommended the use of nuclear weapons. Each time Eisenhower asked an aide how many little bags of rice had come in. When told they numbered in the tens of thousands along with letters and petitions, Eisenhower told the generals that with so many Americans expressing an interest in having the US feed the Chinese, he certainly wasn’t going to consider using nuclear weapons against them.
12-11-07 Nonviolence in response to personal assault
My friend Jen asked me to ensure these 2 stories got posted in more powerful…
Several years ago I was walking alone to my car which I had left in a parking structure in downtown Ann Arbor, MI. It was late – I had waited until after the structure closed to get my car, feeling too cheap to pay the cost of parking. As I walked down the ramp a man approached me from behind and to the side, he put a knife at my throat and demanded I give him my bag.
As I started to hand it over I remembered that I was “on call” and had the emergency phone in my purse. Michigan Peace Team (see the website @ http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org/ or our new blog @ http://michiganpeaceteam.wordpress.com/) had a team on the ground in Palestine. One way we offer support to those there is to provide an emergency phone that is answered as close to 24/7 as is humanly and technologically possible. The team that summer was in Gaza and many of them were new to peace team work – making this “life line” even more important than usual.
I said to the man, “you have all the power here, I’m not going to argue with a knife at my throat – I will give you my money, which is what I assume you want. I need the phone in this bag. It is an emergency phone and I’m on call. People’s safety depends on that phone getting answered and on the person answering it knowing what to do.”
He did not respond, but my not immediately giving in did not seem to escalate him either.
I continued. “I am going to reach in my purse… you can watch me or you can reach in and get out the phone. Then I can give you the bag.”
As I reached in I remembered this particular bag was a gift from my first trip to Palestine. It was dirty, the zipper broken, worth nothing monetarily – but a great deal sentimentally. “Actually,” I heard myself saying, “you’re likely just gonna toss this bag in the garbage somewhere. But it means a lot to me. I’ll just take the money out and give it to you. I don’t have any credit cards, and you and I know I’ll cancel the debt card immediately so the only thing in here that will be of use to you is the cash. I’m reaching in to get it.”
I did – and gave him all the cash I had. He left. I was unharmed and had the phone, the bag… all but the cash.
You might say I was still a victim… I was robbed.
But I didn’t feel victimized. I made a decision about what was important to me – what I would give and what I would risk not giving – and I stuck to that.
I know I was lucky. I know it could have ended differently.
But to me – it was empowering and a reminder we sometimes have more power and more choices in how we react than we might first think. I think somewhere in my spirit I knew I could do this because on earlier encounter…
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 ended up finishing 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 on to was not so well lit. In fact, it was fairly dark. It was also not so full of people. In fact, it was fairly deserted. And I realized I only mostly knew where I was going.
As I continued to walk 2 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 defiantly in shape. They stepped in front of me, not quite blocking my path completely, but making it impossible to get past 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 started to poke at me in the shoulder as they said it. I was wondering how I was gonna 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 am gonna have to. 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 mame, 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.
12-24-07 The Christmas Truce
The Christmas Truce The “Christmas Truce” is a term used to describe the brief unofficial cecessation of hostilities that occured between British and German troops stationed on the Western Front of World War I during christmas 1914. The truce began on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres,Belgium, for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, namely Stille Nacht (Silent Night). The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols. The two sides continued shouting Christmas greetings to each other.
Soon thereafter, there were calls for visits across the “No Man’s Land” where small gifts were exchanged – whiskey, cigars, and the like. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind thier lines by burial parties.
The truce spread to other areas of the lines, and there are many stories of football (soccer) matches between the opposing forces. In many sectors the truce lasted through Christmas night, but in some areas, it continued until New Year’s Day.
The truce occurred in spite of oppostion at higher levels of the military, who were furious knowing that after this humanizing event it could be much harder to order soldiers to forget thier own humanity.
The truce occurred in spite of oppostion at higher levels of the military, who were furious knowing that after this humanizing event it could be much harder to order soldiers to forget thier own humanity.
3-26-08 Small Act in Nazi Germany Saves One Life
Related to Rabbi Lawrence KushnerBy Shif Repenzy, a rabbinic student, about her great Aunt Sissy
It was in Munich in Nazi Germany. A light snow was falling and the streets were crowded with people. Sissy was riding a city bus home from work, when SS storm-troopers suddenly stopped the coach and began examining the identification papers of the passengers. Most of them were annoyed, but a few were terrified, for Jews were being told to leave the bus and get into a truck that was parked around the corner.
Sissy watched from her seat in the rear, as the soldiers systematically worked their way down the aisle. She began to tremble, tears streaming down her face. When the man next to her noticed she was crying he politely asked her why.“I don’t have the papers you have,” she said. “I’m a Jew. They’re going to take me.” When the man heard this, he exploded with disgust. He began to curse and scream at her. “You stupid bitch!” he roared. “I can’t stand being near you.” The SS men asked what all the yelling was about. “Damn her!” the man shouted angrily. “My wife has forgotten her papers again. I’m so fed up— she always does this! It is an embarrassment to be married to someone so forgetful”
The solders laughed and moved on.
Sissy never saw the man again. She never even knew his name, but she knew he saved her life.
4-23-08 The Power of Youth
1) Laurie Wolff was upset that her 8th grade classmates who refused to do animal dissection were getting failing grades. She collected signatures on a petition and then testified before the Las Vegas School Board, urging that students be given the option to do virtual dissections with the use of a CD-ROM. One of the largest school districts in the country responded to this 12-year-old student’s call and adopted this policy
2) Elementary school students in Colorado launched a campaign for new sidewalks. First, they met with the city planner, surveyed business and property owners, recorded traffic patterns, researched the cost of sidewalk construction. They presented their photos, statistics, surveys and petitions to the City Council. The kids’ demands were heeded.
3) High school students in Arizona were outraged that their state voted to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a non-holiday. The so-called Scottsdale Six came up with the idea that there should be a bronze plaque at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. where Rev. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963. They launched a fundraising effort called “Pennies for a Monumental Difference.” The students pestered the National Park Service, presented numerous plans, and eventually became members of the design team for the mini-museum now in the basement of the monument below the familiar statue of Lincoln that commemorates Dr. King and other civil rights leaders. (A referendum passed in 1992 making Dr. King’s birthday a legal holiday in Arizona
4) “Why can a kid get a gun in a few hours, but have to take a bus outside the neighborhood to buy school supplies?” This powerful sound bite by a member of Teens On Target www.youthalive.org convinced the Oakland, California City Council’s vote to approve a series of gun control ordinances including a requirement that buyers obtain trigger locks. More recently, this student group persuaded the Oakland Tribune to stop running ads for guns in their newspapers.
5-17-08 Personal Intervention Stories
Responding to the request of a friend, I post these personal intervention stories here
Bus Stop Intervention
Leaving a 6 day training on nonviolent conflict intervention I came home to walk my dogs, then head over to help A. unload the van of training supplies. By the time I got in my car to head to her house I was far from at my best – tired, cranky, tired, soooo ready to be done with clean up … did I mention tired? you get the idea. So, I stop to get coffee.
Across from the coffee shop is a bus stop and as I’m pulling out I see that at this bus stop there are 3 people. Two women who are just wailing on this guy. Kicking him, punching him… screaming at him…he has his arms over his head and is more or less just standing there getting the shit kicked out of him.
It’s a busy street and I can not imagine I am the only one noticing this scene, but no one else seems to be stopping.
Now, of course, having just come from 6 days of nonstop “nonviolent conflict intervention”, I think… “You have got to be kidding me!… I can NOT deal with this now…could they not just wait and hold this little scene next week when I’m not so tired?”
But, I figure that would make me a big hypocrite so I pull up along side them, get out of my car and as I’m walking toward them call out the first thing that comes to mind – which is something along the lines of “What the hell is this, some kind of test. Now that I’ve been talking about conflict intervention and role playing it – we’ve gotta see if I can actually do it?”
Of course, they both stop hitting the guy to look up at this clearly crazy person who has just wondered into their scene and as the continue to stare at me as if I’m insane and clearly a big ol’ narcissist for thinking their issue (whatever it is) could have anything to do with me the guy gets up and runs off. I say good-bye, acknowledge that I may be loosing it just a little… that I do actually know the world doesn’t revolve around me, and tell them to have a nice evening, then return to my car to go unload the van.
Fight at the local McDonalds
I’m driving home one night and as I pass a small strip mall near my house I see 3 guys in the parking lot of the McDonalds. Two of them are beating up the third one. Now… if 2 people want to have a fair fight it’s one thing and I may or may not have intervened. Really – I just don’t know. But in this situation, it was defiantly a matter of 2 guys beating on a third guy. So…
I pull up my car next to them and say “ Sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt your male bonding experience here. But, I am hopelessly lost.” I then proceed to ask them for directions. (Directions, of course, that I don’t need – remember I live around the corner.) Suddenly, they are not fighting. The three of them are working together to get me to where I need to go! “Try this way” on says setting out a plan… “yeah, but that has the odd turn… she could try this” says another. “Thanks, I say” driving away. Now… I have no idea if they went back to their fight when I left. And I guess to some extent it doesn’t matter. If the guy getting beat up needed to get away I offered the option to do so…. I hope.
Two stories of intervention with the Police
1 ) I’m s’posed to meet someone to talk about Nonviolent Peaceforce for some research she is doing. I show up. She doesn’t. Walking back to my car I see a group of 3 young Latino men being stopped by the Police. Something in my gut tells me to hang back and pay attention, so I do.
The men – boys really – around 16 yrs old – either do not speak English or are pretending not to speak English. I don’t know why they’ve been stopped. But I do know, I can see, that they are not being treated well.
The cop is rough with the one kid, and while I cannot hear exactly what he is saying I can tell he is being detained. He is being cuffed and shoved harshly toward the police car. I step up, “officer” I start to say… the second cop comes over. He is shouting at me. He is telling me not to interfere with the arrest. He is telling me I can be arrested. He is angry. Maybe scared. “I am not interfering”, I start to tell him, “but I am witnessing, and it appears to me an excessive use of force is being used.” He continues to yell at me to move along. I continue to refuse – politely. I wonder what will happen. I continue to point out what I am witnessing. He continues to threaten. But the behavior improves. While still being taken into custody it seems the treatment is less harsh, less heavy handed.
I offer the 2 other boys my cell phone. They call home. I don’t know what they are saying. I silently curse myself for not speaking Spanish. I am not sure what they need. Will my continued presence be helpful or intrusive?
We somehow communicate that they want to go to the station, meet family, get their friend. I take them. I file a formal complaint.
Others arrive. I leave. I hear “Gracias” called after me. I turn, smile and we all wave.
2) I’m driving somewhere and I notice the police have pulled a car over. An African American man is the drive and sole person in the car. There are 4 white cops on the scene. It seems like a lot of police for a traffic stop and something in my gut tells me to stop so I do.
I pull my car across from them making sure I am visible to all parties. One of the cops comes toward my car. I put my hands on the steering wheel where he can see them and see I am not holding a weapon. He asks why I’ve stopped. “I live near here,” I answer, “I think it’s my responsibility to know what is going on in my neighborhood, so I’m just observing.” I brace myself for his defensiveness – I don’t get it, and I am reminded once again not to stereotype and jump to conclusions.
He asks me to please be sure I remain in the car, and returns to the scene. The other officers on the scene are looking in the trunk and back seat. Soon, the man is put into a police car and taken away with 2 of the officers. The other two stay behind with the car. The officer who spoke with me before comes over to my car again. He tells me they will be waiting there for the tow truck, and he thanks me for stopping! I am stunned. I thank him for his professionalism and leave to meet my friend wondering if I’ve done the right thing in stopping.
5-25-08 Would be “victim” treats his mugger right
Julio Diaz recorded his story in New York City just days after he was mugged in the subway. StoryCorps
Morning Edition, March 28, 2008 · Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner. But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.
He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.
“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,'” Diaz says.
As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”
The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'”
Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.
“You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says.
Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.
“The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'”
“No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz says he told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'”
Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?”
“Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said.
Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says.
The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to.
When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”
The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.”
Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.”
Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.”
“I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”
Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo
24 July 24, 2008
A Jasiu Story
My Friend Jasiu shared this story with us at an MPT core meeting recently.
Years ago he started and ran a Catholic Worker house in Grand Rapids, MI. The house was on one side of the city, but there was a need for more and volunteers from the Worker house and others in the community determined to host a “mobile soup kitchen” on the other side of the city. At least once a week they would load up a car and drive across town to serve those who needed a nourishing hot meal.
At first those that came were skeptical, “what no strings attached? No sermon to listen to, nothing in return?” But soon realized there really were no strings attached – and it became the spot not just to get a good meal, but to see friends and check in on folks, enjoy community.
Then, as Jasiu tells it, within a period of about a week they got letters from about every government agency they could think of ordering them to stop. The police department, the health department, traffic control folks, downtown development and then some all sent letters. And all said essentially the same thing; “continue and you risk jail.”
Now, for some folks that was not such a big deal. But for many it was. So they had a meeting; talking ‘til late at night. And they determined they had to continue.
That week when it came time to serve the meal they found a large number of police and reporters had joined the guests and volunteers. With the cameras rolling and the police standing the atmosphere was tense with expectation.
The saving moment came from one of the guests. Looking disheveled and marginal he simply stated the truth as he saw it. “Yeah, I‘ll admit it. I’ve seen the inside of a jail cell a few times. And I’ve been tossed in the can my share for drinking – but man, I ain’t never been arrested for eating!”
At that the police looked at the cameras, looked at each other – and left. The catholic worker house had no more trouble with the city. The mobile soup kitchen continued until a permanent structure was built.
2 August 2008 — Sharks, Jets, and saftey calls
I took a short break at work the other day to run to the bank. Heading back I pass by a group of 7 high-school age looking boys. One has what appears to be a baseball bat. Others may be holding “weapons” also, I can’t tell – they are mostly obscured by the bushes. I only noticed because I watched a cat run across the road in that direction. I think they are about to fight. It’s hard to tell through the bushes – but I can tell they do not look like they are about to play baseball. And a baseball bat? That could do some damage.
As I pull into a near-by drive I call Abby and ask for a “safety call” in 1-2 minutes. It seemed wise. I am, after all, alone. I walk up to them. They don’t notice me. I call out, determining the words only as they come out of my mouth. “Hey guys – what are you all like rehearsing for West Side Story?” They look at me confused. One of them asks “what side story?” They have no idea what I am talking about. You know, I say and break into song “When you’re a jet, you’re a jet all the way….”
They continue to stare at me. Now you have to realize here that I can NOT sing. I mean, sure – in the car, alone where no one has to be subjected to my inability to carry a tune with a basket. But really, no musical ability. And here I come stumbling toward them in a skipping like dance step belting it out at the top of my lungs – arms outstretched in mellow dramatic enthusiasm. Luckily, we were all saved by the ringing of my cell phone.
I pick it up, “Hi, I’m fine. Thanks. I’ll call in a few and explain.”
By now I am standing in the group and they are all STARING at me. I think at least some are wondering if they should call 9-1-1, or just get away from the crazy lady. I say, in what I hope sounds like a calm and saner voice. “Oh, I wasn’t sure I’d be safe so I asked my friend for a 1-2 minute safety call.” They continue to state. One asks what I safety call is. I explain, and am sure to add that it can be useful also when observing the police or if they are observing you.
I hasten to add that it is a good idea to have the cell phone visible with the police. You don’t want to reach into your pocket – especially if they might not have heard a ring. They don’t know if you are reaching for a gun or a phone or what. We talk about keeping your hands open, in the front, and visible.
We also talk about what happens if you don’t answer a safety call.
This idea seems to have some resonance in their lives. I have to get to work. I leave, and they barely notice I’m walking away, they are immersed in a conversation about safely calls and plans.
I wonder what happened after I left.
18 November 2008
My dear friend sent this on to me, I share it here…a story on the ability of civil society to combat free trade agreements that threaten the ability of developing countries to provide medications for HIV/AIDS and other illnesses:
XVII International AIDS Conference —Globalization, Development and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)
August 6, 2008
SANYA REID SMITH, TWN Third World Network
…First to talk about that it is possible to do these things … the example I always like even though I am not from Thailand is the Thai people (with) HIV have done amazing things so even Thai villages from the far north of Thailand can tell you that the Thai patent law, section 52, compulsory licensing provision is not good enough because it takes too long to issue.
These are people with no university education, maybe even no primary or secondary education but they know. Why do they know? Because it is life and death for them. It is about their medicines. So, I think in Thailand the way it worked was, because of resource constraints, the village critics could only give our antiretrovirals once a month on the same day. So, all people with HIV would go the clinic on the same day to collect their medicines.
Since they were all there together, they had peer support groups on that day. First they talked about what is the medicine, what is treatment, what is adherence and then gradually, month after month, they said what is a patent? Why is it important to you? How it makes your medicines more expensive. Then they said what is a compulsory license and they can do these with pictures, even lawyers collective also does it in India.
Then they went through what is the free trade agreement with the U.S. How does it affect you? Why is it important?
So, then the first time the U.S. came to negotiate intellectual property in their free trade agreement, I think they had 10,000 people on the streets of Chiang Mai, in the far North of
Thailand, most of people are people (with) HIV, sleeping on the streets for five days, and they were so effective, they stopped the negotiators from even getting into the venue. They had to move the negotiations 20 kilometers down the road to a golf course and at the end, the Thai chief negotiator came out and he thanked the demonstrators. He said thanks to you, I could resist the U.S. in the negotiating room because I point outside to the demonstrations and say look, I cannot give you what you want on patents because these people, there will be riots, there will be civil war, there will be demonstrations, I am sorry. So, it actually strengthened his hand.
And the South Korean negotiators said the same thing about the beef aspects of their free trade agreement. Just in the last month or two, you would have seen they went to negotiate with the U.S., they took photos of the demonstrators and when the U.S. pressed them, they said look, a million people on the streets, what do you want me to do? My whole cabinet has had to resign. I am sorry, I just cannot give in.
So, you can see that it does reinforce the position of your governments to try and withstand these pressures. And in Thailand, the people (with) HIV succeeded. They campaigned over years and they got patents withdrawn, they got compulsory licenses issue(d), some of the best compulsory licensing in the world, all through people (with) HIV basically. People in the villages, who few years ago did not even know what a patent was.
So, it is definitely possible.
21 November 2008
I told the folks at MPT i’d write up some stories from domestic teams for the website, http//www.michiganpeaceteam.org – I figure I’ll feed to birds from one hand and add them here too…
The KKK rallies in Ann Arbor
Often when serving on a peace team it is easy to feel discouraged. Violence erupts, situations escalate and we feel discouraged – like we have failed. Yet, in the midst of the chaos success is often found.
In May 1998 the KKK rallied in Ann Arbor, MI. Two years prior to that the same group had held a rally in Ann Arbor, and many had chosen to protest by staying away – by removing any audience. Some who choose to come responded to the violence of the Klan with their own violence – throwing rocks, bottles and the like. The local police overreacted with tear gas; pepper spray, clubs and many were hurt, the KKK was able to paint themselves as victims and made international news. They vowed to come back. The community determined we needed to do it differently when they did.
For 2 years community members met and talked, organized and planned. Many people trained to join a violence reduction peace team should the Klan return. A peace team of 109 people turned out when the Klan returned. Below are a few of the many stories from that day:
1) The original plan was to have several blocks around city hall fenced off. To get to this area people would need to submit to a search and being “wanded” with a metal detector. Within this fenced in area there would be separate fenced-in areas for Klan supporters and Klan protesters. Police in riot gear would be stationed along the perimeter of the fence, in the “free speech” area and elsewhere
There were huge concerns with this: that any violence in the crowd would be so spread out along the outside fence it would be harder to deal with, that the fence designated “free speech area” and segregated inside areas, and the presence of so many riot police were at worst in and of themselves violent, and at best not calling the crowd to act at their best. Also, given the amount of police violence at the previous Klan rally – many in the community had real concerns about everyone being fenced in and “trapped”.
With input from representatives of the Peace team, the plan was changed. Although not want we wanted entirely a compromise was reached. Klan spoke in front of City Hall underneath an overhang in front of the door. Cyclone fencing and plexiglass was dropped down from the overhang to the ground completely surrounding the KKK and giving the impression that they were in a cage. City Hall, and its parking lot were fenced all-around with a 6 to 8 foot high cyclone fence. Inside this area was the “free speech” area. Once inside this area people could get very close to the KKK – almost within reach of the fence and plexi-glass “cage. “ To get to this area, however, one had to submit to a search and metal detecting wand. Visible police would not be in riot gear, however, there would be a large number or riot police just out of site. While not ideal, this was a more limited curtailing of assembly rights than originally planned and the more limited show of force may have mitigated some responsive violence
2) At one time a person in the crowd took off his shirt to reveal swastika tattoos. The crowd begin to push him and his head was scratched. Before anyone could hit him further I interpositioned, leaning over him with my hands on the fence essentially providing a protective roof over him. We inched down the line of the fence until the opening where the police stood to allow those searched into the “free speech area”. Once inside the free speech area the police provided him with first aid.
3) A man and his girlfriend were in the crowd. The man took off this jacket revealing both swastika and “white power” tattoos. The crowd began to push and shove them both, throwing things at them. At one point someone cracked a bottle over the woman’s head. An affinity team was able to get between the crowd and the couple. The team formed a protective circle around the two, escorting them out of the crowd and out of harm’s way. The team provided some simple first aid, offered to call an ambulance and (when the 2 declined that) walked them to their car. Ben who was a member of that particular affinity team later told me that as they walked the couple to the car he pointed out to them “an African American, an Asian American and (referring to himself) a queer Jew just saved your life today. I would hope I could expect the same treatment if I came to your town.” To which the woman responded quietly “you are all helping us today, so perhaps we do bleed the same blood.”
4) At the fence put up around city hall- when the peace team was attempting to keep it up- a young man that had been hitting and kicking the peace team became aware that several of those targeted were grey haired women. He suddenly stopped his attack and said “man, I just can’t keep beating up on grandmas”. Another counter demonstrator who moments before had been yelling insults at a peace team member offered her a vinegar soaked bandana to mitigate the effects of the pepper spray when the peace team member was sprayed. As the fence was coming down someone reached in and pulled out one of the peace team members – pulling her to safely “we don’t’ want to hurt you” he said.
5) Later, a group of counter demonstrators broke away from the main crowd and went around the back of city hall. The fence there – at the bottom of the stairs was not attached as well as the rest of the fence, and came down fairly easily. It was pulled down and counterdemonstrators ran up on the mezzanine of city hall. People threw rocks though windows, ripped lights out of their holders and knocked them down. At this point the siren was sounded and within a short time tear gas we deployed. As the crowd (now having a difficult time seeing) and feeling rather paniced attempted to run back down the steps the situation turned dangerous as tripping and trampling seemed likely. Peace team members worked with leaders of the counterdemonstrators (who previously had seen us as “targets” or “the enemy ) to encourage people not to panic and to move quickly down the stairs but without running and being cautious of others along the way. It was great how those who only minutes before had been “at odds” with each other worked together to ensure safety of all.
Nazis in Toledo
In MPT and the newly formed Toldeo local peace team placed a team of about 35 people in Toldeo where a neo-nazi group was rallying. The team, mostly made up of those who have not been on a peace team before, was there on the invitation of local residents from Pilgrim Church. Many expressed feelings of stress, cynicism and discouragement. The structural violence in the form of first amendment violations, and over use of force was so intense that it was hard to see any impact the peace team could have. Yet, on the mico-level, in the midst of the violence there were successes. Human life and safety was protected:
1) We talked and had some good conversations, an affinity team was able to interposition protecting a young woman who was there to support the nazi’s from the angry crowd around her that was threatening her etc.
2) We were also able (at this point) to deescalate some of the police use of horses, by turning it into a joke and reminding people to move out of the way. The police were riding the horses (who were badly spooked) back and forth in front of the crowd in a way that reminded me of the way the Israeli forces will drive their jeeps back and forth on the streets in a Palestinian town or refugee camp after declaring curfew – something that not only is provocative, but seems to be done with the sole intent of provoking. “Horse Line” team members would call out, or “Here comes the Calvary” laughing as they ushered the crowd back a few steps out of the way of the hoofs. At one point Amy pointed out to a increasing agitated group “hey, don’t forget the horses are in chains too.” and things like that – again provoking laughter and getting in the way of the cops escalating tactics.
16 May 2009
It was as if someone had stopped time. We all stand for a moment. Mouths opened and frozen. I think we were all equally surprised.
Which is funny. I know doing this I can get hit. I train people to do this. I tell them – you might get hit. Yet I find myself utterly shocked by this turn of events.
After a moment of stunned silence the woman says “ I… I hit you.” To which I reply “Yes, yes you did.” Another moment of silence and the man says “She. Hit. You.” I resist the sudden urge to say “Well, she meant to hit you – and you deserved it.” I file this in the “unhelpful comments” file I keep in my brain and instead reply again; “yes. Yes she did.”
“I think. I think I have to go he stammers.” and quickly leaves. (All thoughts of the accident and his car apparently forgotten.) She and I stand there a moment longer – me with my big box of burritos. And she offers to get me some ice, and asks what else she can do.” She gets me ice and I assure he I will be fine.
“ I think I have to go too” she says. I almost wonder if she is okay to drive. In hindsight I think I should have insisted she sit a moment. But, by now I was just feeling the need to get the food back to the training so we both went on our way.
Sometimes you might get hit.
I’d never been hit in the face before. It hurt. But ya know.. It is okay. I am okay. I’ve was hit. And I’m okay…
No big fight in the parking lot. No one seriously hurt. No police. Violence interrupted. Sometimes you might get hit. And sometimes it is worth it.
Last night was the a car show in Depot town – near where I live. Beautiful night – tons of folks out and about. I met a friend for ice cream and walking back to my car I see this guy bump into this car. I think he might be a little drunk. Didn’t hurt the car – just sort of tripped over it and made a loud thud. Next thing I know some other guy (I presume the owner of the car) is in his face. They are yelling at each other, red faced, arms gesturing enthusiastically, moving physically closer into one another’s space. People are watching. It’s like a bar fight in the street.
Assuming dumping my espresso mocha shake all over either of them, or the car is not going to help the situation I turn to a woman near me. “Can you hold this?” I ask handing her the cup – she takes it, rather automatically. I swing myself under the gesturing arms of the 2 men and end up between them just as one moves to punch the other.
Last time I did this I got hit in the face. I brace myself. I don’t get it. The fist stops and they both pause for a second, but then continue to shout over my head — tensions increase.
“Wow” I say just barely loud enough for them to hear “you guys are good at this.” They both now pause in their yelling and look at me – the crazy woman standing between them. I take advantage of the moment and continue “well, the last time I did this I got hit, you didn’t hit me. Neither of you.”
As I say this I shift from facing one of them to standing sideways between them. It’s a bit awkward, but at least I don’t have my back to anyone. I quickly continue. “Neither of you hit me. You’re good at this. You have more control than the last person.”
“The last person?” one of the men asks. “Yes”, I answer – offering no more explanation. Instead I point out — everyone is looking at us. Maybe we should like take a bow or something. They laugh, we all bow. We all move on.
No police. No fight. No one gets hit. And the woman gives me back my espresso mocha shake. All in all a good night.
Post script: One week later I was back in Depot town. The car show is a weekly thing and it was going on again. I was out on the street and a woman approached me “will you all be performing again tonight? ” she asked. Having NO CLUE what she was talking about I said “I think you have me confused with someone else.” To which she replied “Aren’t you with the theater group that did the fight skit last week?”……. I guess the bowing was convincing!