Co-creating a culture of peace
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â€™Tis the season to feel rage and heartache about the economy.
I feel hope as well, praise the Lord, thanks to Pope Francis and the alley behind my house, where nothing of value goes to waste.
Iâ€™m the kind of person who canâ€™t throw anything away, but sometimes I have to anyway â€” an old microwave, a sewing machine that hasnâ€™t been used in 20 years, a threadbare easy chair, tangled computer wires and other excruciating miscellany â€” and when I do, itâ€™s usually gone within a day, if not an hour. When I can no longer find value in what I possess, others see it as a gift from the universe.
What goes around comes around . . . and around, and around.
Last month, the day after I left Santa Rosa, Calif., a 13-year-old boy carrying a toy replica of an AK-47 was shot and killed on the outskirts of that town by a Sonoma County deputy sheriff with a reputation for being trigger-happy. The officer had ordered the boy to drop the â€śgun,â€ť then in a matter of two or three seconds opened fire, giving him no chance to comply.
â€śThe only premise of the book was to just go out and listen.â€ť
And the book, edited by Miles Harvey, who is quoted above, is remarkable. Itâ€™s one of a kind, as far as I know â€“ How Long Will I Cry? â€“ the first publication of a newly formed nonprofit organization called Big Shoulders Books, which is affiliated with Chicagoâ€™s DePaul University. Itâ€™s available free of charge, because . . . how could a cry in the wilderness be otherwise?
I felt the music and the fire as the civil rights movement rose from its slumber.
â€śRepair . . . justice!â€ť went the call and response last week, in the basement of an old Chicago church at the corner of Ashland and Washington. â€śRestore . . . life! Rebuild . . . community!â€ť
Another crazed, furious loner shocks the world. This time Iâ€™m a little too close to the edge of the chaos.
I gape at the TV in disbelief: Iâ€™m supposed to fly out of Los Angeles Airport â€” Terminal 3, no less â€” that afternoon, but all I see is footage of scrambling police and snarled traffic. If Iâ€™d booked an earlier flight, I could have been sitting there when the 23-year-old gunman shot the TSA agent at the foot of the escalator, then wandered through the gate area with his rifle and his grievances.
â€śTo all of our atheist friends: Thank God youâ€™re wrong.â€ť
Move over, We Buy Ugly Houses.com and Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa. Here was religious faith on a billboard, refuting non-belief in letters three feet high. I was visiting Los Angeles, driving with a friend along La Cienega Boulevard, when this king-size ad for religious certainty smacked us in the eye.
What if we had politicians who believed in the abolition of war with as much passion as the Republican right believes in the abolition of taxes?
For me, the question that immediately follows is: What kind of politics draws power from resources other than the deep pockets of billionaires? Just because the world is sick of war, how will that ever translate into serious political action to defund standing armies and ongoing weapons research? How will it ever cohere into a consensus that has political traction? Does Washington, D.C. only have room for one consensus?
In an agony of stupidity, the government shuts down.
Only some of it shuts down, of course. The part that stays open is the part thatâ€™s at war. â€śThose of you in uniform will remain on your normal duty status,â€ť the president said. â€śThe threats to our national security have not changed, and we need you to be ready for any contingency. Ongoing military operations, like our efforts in Afghanistan, will continue.â€ť
The community was out of control â€” the children, oh my God, the children, were sniffing gasoline and pretty much abandoning any pretense of a future â€” and the social and criminal-justice systems were just adding to the problem. Nothing was working.
â€śOur children slammed us against a brick wall,â€ť Burma Bushie said.
Poison gas is not only a â€śmoral obscenityâ€ť â€” one the United States stockpiled for decades after its use was banned in warfare â€” but a metaphor for human recklessness and wasted science.
Like it or not, weâ€™re forced to think about it these days, since itâ€™s still an enticing pretext for war. And the more I think about it, the more I marvel at the persistent insanity of its existence. The â€śred lineâ€ť that the so-called civilized world crossed over a century ago was not in the use of poison gas but in its creation, because itâ€™s lethal whether itâ€™s used or not. Attempting to get rid of it â€” by burying it, burning it, dumping it â€” has consequences almost as deadly as firing it off in battle.
â€śImagine if we sent 5,000 well-trained nonviolent peacekeepers from throughout the world to protect civilians and work with local civil society in building the peace.â€ť
Indeed, imagine if we knew that doing this was an option.
â€śBecause these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them.â€ť
Why does the president need to address a classroom full of third-graders?
This is the time, as the next war strains to be born, amid the same old lies as last time, amid the same urgency and pseudo-debate and pretensions of seriousness:
The government of Syria has crossed a â€śred line.â€ť It has used poison gas, killing hundreds of innocent people and committing a heinous war crime. And suddenly, clear as a bell, we have good vs. evil. Our only course of action, President Obama and his spokespersons tell us, is to â€ścarry out a punitive strike against the Syrian government.â€ť
Itâ€™s hard to lie about your age once youâ€™ve told someone youâ€™ve just been to your 50th high school reunion.
Well, technically, it was the 49th â€“ this was the class of â€™64. The organizers made the decision to hold it a year early because, uh, more of us would be alive (if I understand the reasoning correctly). In any case, close enough. I went. This is the first class reunion Iâ€™d been to in all this time and I hadnâ€™t seen most of the attendees since we seized our diplomas and scattered off in search of our lives.
Stopping crime before it happens is a great idea, but stopping young men for â€śwalking while blackâ€ť â€” touted by true believers as the same thing â€” is a game played by an occupying army.
The tactic is called stop-and-frisk. As practiced by many police departments, including New Yorkâ€™s, it amounts to blatant racial profiling. Stop-and-frisk makes it impossible for young men of color to lead normal lives, to walk outside without fear of preemptive police harassment. The long-term hatred and tension it engenders does far more harm to a community than all the questionable good that proponents ascribe to it. Security based on racism is a sham.
â€śPakistani authorities have long denounced the strikes, out of concern that civilian deaths caused by drone strikes inflame the local population, bolster militant groups and violate Pakistanâ€™s sovereignty.â€ť â€“ CNN, July 26
Oh, the serious news! I read it with ever-fresh incredulity. Itâ€™s written for gamers. It reduces us to gamers as it updates us on the latest bends and twists in the geopolitical scene. Weâ€™re still playing War on Terror, the aim of which is to kill as many insurgents as possible; when theyâ€™re all dead, we win (apparently). The trick is to avoid inflaming the locals, who then transition out of passive irrelevance and join the insurgency. They get inflamed when we kill civilians, such as their children.
â€śMy life would be worthless without music,â€ť the girl said.
And the music came, up from the garbage, through her hands and heart and out to the world. My god, she was playing a violin made out of an old can. A boy was playing a cello crafted with more love and ingenuity than I can imagine, from a used oil drum, old wool and tossed-out beef-tenderizing tools.
Did the ghosts of our slave-holding and Jim Crow past high-five each other in the Florida courtroom on Saturday? George Zimmerman was acquitted, but does that mean that American history was, too?
The experts who weighed in on the legal battle essentially noted that, in the absence of any witnesses other than Zimmerman, the prosecution couldnâ€™t prove what had happened, or more to the point, couldnâ€™t convincingly counter-argue his version of events â€“ that he was returning to his car when Trayvon Martin assaulted him and threw him to the ground, forcing him to kill the boy in self-defense. Trayvon was dead; that left him, legally, voiceless and out of luck.
What I keep longing to hear, in the hemorrhaging national debate about Edward Snowden, whistleblowing and the NSA, is some acknowledgment of what the word â€śsecurityâ€ť actually means, and what role â€” if any â€” the government should play in creating it.
â€śYou canâ€™t have 100 percent security and also have 100 percent privacy.â€ť
A moment of silence, please, for the dying patriarchy. That, of course, was how President Obama explained it to the American public shortly after the spy scandal hit the fan. When did we become â€śthe childrenâ€ť in our relationship with the government, irrelevant to its day-to-day operations, utterly powerless as we stand in its massive, protecting shadow?
My laptop started making funny noises a few days ago and I knew that wasnâ€™t good. Iâ€™m embarrassed to say that my first instinct was to hope theyâ€™d just go away.
I also had a quick, guilty thought about an essay by Umberto Eco I read some years back, comparing science and technology. Whereas the former involves a painstaking commitment to gather knowledge and understanding over the long haul, the latter hides the process of its becoming, simply giving the user a raw upgrade of power â€“ instant, godlike. Wow, look what I can do! Technology encourages magical thinking, Eco wrote. And no piece of modern, reasonably priced technology spews magical thinking into the social arena more seductively than the computer.
America, America . . .
Certainly Edward Snowdenâ€™s crime is one of public relations. In this day and age, power ainâ€™t just jackboots, tanks and missiles. What he did by outing the NSA and its gargantuan surveillance operation was mess hugely with the American image â€” the American brand â€” with its irresistible combination of might and right.
â€śOur primary long range interest in Geneva, however, is general and complete disarmament, designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms. . . .
â€śWhile we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both.â€ť
We can end war.
Please, before you read on, let those four words float in silence for half a minute, until you actually hear them â€” until they come alive with meaning as insistent as a hatching egg. War is not inevitable, no matter how cluelessly enthusiastic the media may be to promote it, no matter how thoroughly it runs the global economy and dominates almost every government.
Wheel about and turn about and do just so. Every time I turn about I jump Jim Crow.â€ť â€” chorus of an 1828 minstrel song
â€śWe have not ended racial caste in America, we have merely redesigned it.â€ť â€” Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
Yeah, itâ€™s called mass incarceration. Our jails are filled with black and brown men and women. The number of inmates, primarily people of color, has soared sevenfold in the last three decades, according to Alexander, from 300,000 to more than 2 million, the largest number, by far, in the developed world. Many millions more are on probation or parole. And no matter what their crime, the inmates never get their citizenship back. The stigma of being an ex-felon brands someone for life as a second-class human being.
â€śGive me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.â€ť
I think Archimedes was serious. I know we need to be. Now is the time to choose our future, as the Earth Charter declares. This means thinking big: embracing a vision so enormous it overflows our sense of the possible. For instance:
â€śBeginning with even just a small group united behind a shared vision of how to end war by dismantling the war machine, it will be possible to rally the global community to the vision of a future in which war is no longer something we accept.â€ť So Judith Hand wrote recently at the blog A Future Without War.
Maybe the problem is that rape is an extension of military culture. And itâ€™s metastasizing, even as legislation to address it stays trapped in congressional subcommittee.
Scandals and outrage come and go, but rape is ever-present. In 2011, a Pentagon report estimated that 19,000 sexual assaults had occurred in the U.S. military, of which barely 3,000 were reported because of the stigma and risk involved in doing so. The â€śI own youâ€ť system of military justice traditionally turns on the victim far more than the accused. That year, in response to the shocking statistics, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would, among other things, remove the investigation of rape cases from the military chain of command, which has far more interest in ignoring the problem than prosecuting it.
Letâ€™s all work together to stop terrorism!
The Palm Beach County, Fla. Sheriffâ€™s Office has a new video out urging local citizens to call them if something smells bad or seems a little weird, like, oh, a tourist is taking a picture of a bridge but thereâ€™s no one in the foreground â€” no spouse, no grinning kids, just . . . a bridge.
Youâ€™re strapped to a metal table, unable to move. They stick a two-foot plastic tube up your nose, then down the back of your throat into your stomach. They squirt in the liquid protein. You gag, bleed, vomit. Itâ€™s unbearably painful.
The practice of involuntary force-feeding is condemned by most medical organizations, including the AMA. Itâ€™s banned by most governments. Itâ€™s torture.
â€śEverywhere near the building, the stench of death was overpowering. Men in surgical masks sprayed disinfectant in the air.â€ť
We move from tragedy to tragedy with hellish regularity.
In the new security state, not even garbage will have privacy.
â€śTerrorism,â€ť the Chicago Sun-Times informed us last week, â€śhas created a new market in Chicago and other big cities for a company that started out making bear resistant garbage containers about 14 years ago.â€ť