Co-creating a culture of peace
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âThe people are being reduced to blood and dust. They are in pieces.â
The doctor who uttered these words still thought the hospital itself was a safe zone. He was with Doctors Without Borders, working in Kunduz, Afghanistan, where the Taliban and government forces were engaged in hellish fighting and civilians, as always, were caught in the middle. The wounded, including children, had been flowing in all week, and the staff were unrelieved in their duties, working an unending shift.
The headline, from the Los Angeles Times, hit me like a sucker punch: âVotersâ âBernie or Bustâ efforts persist despite Sandersâ vow not to be another Ralph Nader.â
Actually, it was worse than that. When my brain cleared, I realized I was, once again, caught in a media straitjacket.
What remains endlessly hinted at about the 2016 presidential race, but not fully articulated, is that something enormous â bigger than politics, bigger than America itself, perhaps â is trembling and kicking just below the surface, struggling to emerge.
I have a name to suggest for this hypothetical phenomenon: the New Enlightenment. Nothing less than that seems adequate.
âConflict happens in isolation.â
Wow, thatâs it. A sense of awareness ignited as I listened to Kristin Famula, president of the National Peace Academy, make this seldom-acknowledged observation. When we feel wronged, violated, disrespected, suddenly weâre alone with our careening emotions.
Here in America, we celebrate democracy by staying in touch with the lack of it. What better way to honor our ancestorsâ struggles to win the right to vote â and have that vote counted â than to have to struggle ourselves for the same thing?
Considering that, as I wrote four years ago, âdemocracy is nothing if not a perpetual nuisance to the powerful,â and that apathy is the national curse, I remain amazed that weâre having a presidential race this year that cuts so deeply â to core human values â and is worth enduring a sort of bureaucratic totalitarianism to participate in.
You shouldnât play with guns, unless you do it the way âJimâ apparently did.
His gun play â a (seemingly) satirical petition at change.org â has enveloped the looming Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer in awkward surrealism and forced the three Republican presidential candidates to duck for cover from their own words.
The pols cry glory and revenge. They cry security. They cry greatness.
Then they stick in the needle, or the missile or the rifle shell, or the nuclear bomb. Or at least they imagine doing so. This will fix the world. And they approve more funding for war.
By Robert C. Koehler The snaking line was more than a mile long. Thousands of us had been waiting for hours in the bitter cold to get into Chicagoâs Auditorium Theatre to hear Bernie Sanders speak. It was Monday night. The Illinois and four other state primaries were the next day and, as has been […]
âWhat Iâm not trying to do is just pass legislation. Iâm trying to change the face of American politics.â
Pull these words out of the context of âthe newsâ and let them pulse like the heartbeat of the future.
The words are those of Bernie Sanders, of course â engaged last week in a confrontational interview with Chris Matthews. Free college tuition? Matthews loosed his skepticism on the presidential candidate, who pushed back:
Itâs the day after the big vote and Iâm doing my best to dig Tulsi Gabbardâs endorsement of Bernie Sanders out from beneath the pile of Super Tuesday numbers and media declarations of winners and losers.
As a Boston Globe headline put it: âClinton and Trump are now the presumptive nominees. Get used to it.â
A young, much-beloved woman was gang-raped three years ago on a bus in Delhi and a culture exploded.
The documentary Indiaâs Daughter, which addresses the horrific rape-murder and its aftermath, is part of that explosion of awareness, aimed straight at the heart of Indiaâs cultural dismissal of women as full-fledged members of society and full-fledged human beings. It opens up a world where people can still say: âA decent girl wonât roam around at 9 oâclock. A girl is far more responsible for a rape than a boy.â
For at least the last four decades now I feel like Iâve been living in Beached America: a nation that has lost its values, even as it writhes in violent agitation, inflicting its military on the vulnerable regions of the planet.
It does so in the name of those lost values . . . democracy, freedom, equality. These are just dead words at this point, public relations blather, silently followed by a sigh: yada, yada, yada. Then we send in the drones.
Maybe if we declared âwarâ on poison water, weâd find a way to invest money in its âdefeat.â
David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, writing at Tom Dispatch this week about what they called âThe United States of Flint,â make this point: âThe price tag for replacing the lead pipes that contaminated its drinking water, thanks to the corrosive toxins found in the Flint River, is now estimated at up to $1.5 billion. No one knows where that money will come from or when it will arrive. In the meantime, the cost to the children of Flint has been and will be incalculable.â
âIt was also a shock to the system that a candidate universally known in Iowa, with deep pockets and long experience, could come close to losing to a relative unknown who was initially considered little more than a protest candidate.â
Just think of it! The tiny, tightly controlled consciousness that calls itself The Worldâs Greatest Democracy got all rattled and discombobulated by the behavior of Iowa caucus participants this week, because a large number of them â virtually half of the participating Democrats â cast their vote for an old socialist, well outside the zone of official approval.
When I want to believe that America is a democracy â indeed, to feel so deeply this is so that my soul trembles â I turn to Martin Luther King, who gave his life for it.
He cried out for something so much more than a process: a game of winners and losers. He reached for humanityâs deepest yearning, for the connectedness of all people, for the transcendence of hatred and the demonization of âthe other.â He spoke â half a century ago â the words that those in power couldnât bear to hear, because his truths cut too deep and disrupted too much business as usual.
âAnd finally, how can we make our politics reflect whatâs best in us, and not whatâs worst?â
The president asked the right question in his State of the Union address last week. What if heâd actually answered it â or at least addressed it honestly?
She had so little and she had so much.
I didnât know her, except for the tiny piece of her life that was revealed in the 2013 documentary Hear Our Voices, directed by David and Patricia Earnhardt, but her candid, gutsy presence in that film was sufficient to pull her into my heart.
âJust as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century. And . . . as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.
âSo today, I state clearly and with conviction Americaâs commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.â
Want a ringside seat for the war on crime? Go to killedbypolice.net. A few hours ago (as I write this), the site had listed 1,191 police killings in the U.S. this year. I just looked again.
The total is up one.
Write about love, as in love thy enemy, and the social recoil sounds like this:
âThere is no nexus at which we can speak with ISIS. Singing Kumbaya while being led to a beheading canât work.â
âThe question now is how to change our institutions so that they promote human values rather than destroy them.â
Philip Zimbardo, who posed this question in the wake of the famous â or infamous â Stanford Prison Experiment 44 years ago, might have added: If we fail to do so, we guarantee our own social collapse.
If Donald Trump can thrive politically by throwing meat to the American id, what else is possible? How about the opposite?
Trumpâs most recent attempt to reclaim poll supremacy â his call for âa total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out whatâs going onâ â is not simply reckless and dangerous, but also starkly clarifying. Americaâs bully billionaire, so rich he doesnât have to heed the niceties of political correctness, is channeling old-time American racism, as mean and ugly and self-righteous as itâs ever been. Jim Crow is still with us. âThe only good Indian is a dead Indianâ is still with us.
Itâs too easy to reduce acts of kindness to an âaw, isnât that nice?â sort of irrelevance. What if we thought about them, instead, as templates for foreign policy?
For one thing, if we did, there would be no such thing as âforeignâ policy â no segregation of most of humanity behind borders and labels, to be controlled and, most of all, feared. There would only be getting-to-know-you policy, not in a simplistic sense but with a deep and courageous curiosity . . . because our survival depends on it.
âSince the people are sovereign under our Constitution . . .â
Ralph Nader writes in a recent essay that we should demand acknowledgement of this fact from our presidential candidates and ask what they will do to restore this sovereignty to the American people, in their various manifestations as voters, taxpayers, workers and consumers.
Iâm sitting in the aftermath of Paris, feeling emotions tear me apart. One of the emotions is joy. My daughter, who lives there, is safe.
Has âjoyâ ever felt so troubling?
âBy God,â Bush said in triumph, âweâve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.â
This was Bush 41, a quarter of a century ago, celebrating the terrific poll numbers his kwik-win war on Iraq was generating. Remember yellow ribbons? I think he had a point. âVietnam syndromeâ â the public aversion to war â still has a shadow presence in America, but it no longer matters.
Another deep cry, followed by a shrug. The world is at war, at war, at war. But it only hurts them, the helpless ones, the anonymous poor, who absorb the bombs and bullets, who bury their children, who flee their broken countries.
Sixty million people have been displaced by the current wars, the highest number of uprooted since World War II. But who cares?
So South Carolina has a special crime category called âdisturbing schools,â which seems to be creating just that: disturbing schools. Very disturbing schools.
Not that I need to single out South Carolina. In my brief stint teaching writing as an outside consultant in several Chicago high schools, some 20 years ago, I was smacked broadside with the observation that the cityâs educational system exhibited the behavior of an occupying army, at least in its low-income neighborhoods. Education was something imposed from above and force-fed to the students like bad-tasting medicine. It didnât honor the studentsâ own culture.
Political wisdom always has a sharp, cynical edge. You canât utter it without feeling the throb of ancient wounds.
For instance: âIf voting changed anything, theyâd make it illegal.â
âThe Pentagon said on Saturday that it would make âcondolence paymentsâ to the survivors of the American airstrike earlier this month on a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, Afghanistan, as well as to the next of kin of those who died in the attack.â
Such a small piece of news, reported a few days ago by the New York Times. Iâm not sure if anything could make me feel more ashamed of being an American.