How I will honor 9/11 — 9/11/ 1906

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us break the cycle of violence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This September 11th – choose peace.

In Peace , Sheri

Thoughts on the Islamic Community Center near ground zero in NYC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or as they noted in cracked.com  

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Where will we go from here?

We can do better than this. We must.

 

 

What’s up with the wonky layout

Hello lovely readers.

Came to my blog today to find it looking wonky? Me too!  Apparently, my old “theme” layout  is no longer available on WP and another one was chosen for me. I’ve lost a few pictures (not that I had a lot), and the links to some of your wonderful blogs. I’ll prob. play around some later this week or maybe next.

Until then, this is … well, as my friend over at wildlands would say…Meh.  It’s a work in progress. Give me a few days and I’ll get something back up that I like more, but in the meantime, please excuse the construction. And (as always!0 thoughts, ideas, feedback always welcome!

Peace!

An open letter to Nicholas Kristof

Dear Mr. Kristof,

As an admirer of your work I was excited to see your recent column Waiting for Gandhi http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/opinion/11kristof.html?_r=2&hp about the Palestinian nonviolent struggle; excited to see the nonviolent movement in Palestine finally getting some attention in the mainstream news and relieved to see that the person writing about it was someone who is willing to “put himself out there” in dangerous situations and write with integrity.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Peace, Sheri Wander

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

Thursday 6/24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another World is happening; 2 days at the USSF

Tue. 6/22/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed. 6/23/10

What a fun (and exhausting!) day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another world IS not only possible – it is happening!

USSF – Opening March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am so glad that I am here!