Co-creating a culture of peace
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I feel the finger on the trigger. I also feel it on the button.
âDear President Obama,â the letter begins. It goes on to remind him of something he said in his 2008 presidential campaign: âKeeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a momentâs notice is a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Such policies increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation.â
This wonât be the last.
Half a week into the Orlando tragedy, this reality remains pretty much unacknowledged, as cause-seekers focus on security and ISIS and the specific mental instability of Omar Mateen, who, as the world knows, took 49 precious lives and injured 53 others at the nightclub Pulse in the early hours of June 12.
Come on, they arenât tanks, theyâre armored rescue vehicles. And the, uh, grenade launchers would only be used to launch teargas canisters. When necessary. And the M-16s? Standard police issue.
What a journey these Los Angeles teenagers, and the civil rights group Fight for the Soul of the Cities, had, to get from there â the ho-hum justification by (good Lord) the cityâs school district police force, for the accumulation of surplus Defense Department weaponry â to here:
Whatâs the difference between education and obedience? If you see very little, you probably have no problem with the militarization of the American school system â or rather, the militarization of the impoverished schools . . . the ones that canât afford new textbooks or functional plumbing, much less art supplies or band equipment.
The Pentagon has been eyeing these schools â broken and gang-ridden â for a decade now, and seeing its future there. It comes in like a cammy-clad Santa, bringing money and discipline. In return it gets young minds to shape, to (I fear) possess: to turn into the next generation of soldiers, available for the coming wars.
âLook, nuclear should be off the table. But would there be a time when it could be used? Possibly, possibly . . .â
This is â who else? â Donald Trump, flexing, you might say, his nuclear trigger finger in an interview with Chris Matthews, who responds in alarm:
âFor over forty years our criminal justice system has over-relied on punishment, policing, incarceration and detention. This has ushered in an age of mass incarceration. This era is marked by sentencing policies that lead to racially disproportionate incarceration rates and a variety of âcollateral consequencesâ that have harmed our communities and schools. . . .â
In this time when our self-inflicted troubles seem so obvious but the possibility of change â that is to say, political transformation, through awareness, compassion and common sense â feels more illusory than ever, something extraordinary, that is to say real, is on the brink of happening in Chicago.
And the race goes on. So does the war, but youâd never know that the one had anything to do with the other.
Even when the mainstream media trouble themselves to acknowledge that the primary season remains open on the Democratic side, that Bernie Sanders â and his millions of supporters â are still in the race, the Bernie revolution is never portrayed as addressing foreign policy and the still-failing, still-catastrophic war on terror.
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.