Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tired of the same old war promotion?

We read in scholarly studies in the field of communications that our papers of record feature analysis after analysis justifying war, justifying bombing, justifying enforcing no fly zones with yet more bombs. We read that Obama hestitated on Syria and allowed millions of ruined lives. We read that Libya was the exemplar of presidential conduct, liberating oppressed people with a few sorties.


What methods of conflict management did the opposition choose? How serious was the initial repression of protest? What was the response of the protesters and their external friends? How did all that work out?

Ben Ali in Tunisia was the first down in Arab Spring. Then Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Both were clients of the US, both jailed journalists and clamped down on dissidents, including torture. Obama wisely STFU (kept quiet). US lack of interference allowed civil society to win.

Almost immediately the uprising spread to Syria and Libya and suddenly Obama was loudly declaiming about it all, much to the detriment of everyone on the ground. Colonel Qaddafi was the most despised US enemy in the MENA (Middle East-North Africa) and the previous despised enemy--Saddam Hussein--suffered a horrific endgame fate. As these known enemies of the US thought it through, they realized they might not be afforded the golden parachute of Ben Ali. As it went down, Osama bin Laden was added to that image-of-terrible-death in the middle of Arab Spring, on May 2. Then when Qaddafi was slaughtered, Assad knew what he had to do, slaughter all opposition. So instead of focusing our causal headlamp on US backfiring violence, we instead blast Obama for not attacking Syria.

Where is the peace scholarship on Libya and the effect of Obama's disastrous bombing policy? Mostly MIA. Instead of noting that Libya is now a failed state exporting jihadis to Europe, having killed the US ambassador Christopher Stevens, we read that it was "decisive" and a military success.

The relative costs of these uprisings have been overlooked by most, with some public peace intellectual exceptions, such as Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, who point out in Foreign Affairs that the nonviolent Arab Springs were costly but the violent uprisings have been orders of magnitude worse, with zero positive results.

Tunisa, 300 dead; Egypt, 900 dead; Libya, 30,000 dead; Syria, 150,000 dead plus nine million refugees internally and crossborder. Really? We can't see a difference?

The moral rhetoric justifying military responses is bankrupt. It never ends. Major media sources these people day and night. We need Chenoweth, Stephan, Patrick Coy, Cris Toffolo, Elavie Ndura, Linda Johnston, Michael Nagler, Erin Niemela, Lawrence Wittner, Rachel Cunliffe, Patrick Hiller, Laura Finley, and many many more peace intellectuals in the major media, not the same tired losers who cost blood and treasure.

Can we tell our media to help instead of being dupes? That would be the best start we could make.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Memorial Day seized for peace

Remember Armistice Day? No, of course not; it was hijacked by the militarists and transmogrified into Veterans Day. A peace holiday stolen and flipped to war.

Remember Mothers Day, the day when, in 1872, Julia Ward Howe issued a proclamation, an appeal, to all mothers of the world? Now, instead of the radical peace holiday of its origins, we find it a sentimental Hallmark holiday, free of all thought except thanks, Mom, for sacrificing your full humanity so you could enable your sons to achieve their dreams. 'Preciate it.

OK, fine. Thirty years ago, some of us decided to make a move the other way. We chose Memorial Day in 1985 as a day of nonviolent resistance to militarism, and as a day to memorialize past, current, and future civilian victims of war. Yes, civilians. Remember them, war hawks? They are forgotten on all your war days, even though the vast majority of those who die at the hands of warriors are not, in fact, other warriors, they are civilians.

We did our commemoration at a thermonuclear command center in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a facility opposed, in counted official referenda votes, by more than 80 percent of the citizens of the UP. It was linked to another command center in Wisconsin, where the overwhelming majority of citizens and their elected officials also opposed that facility. Further, just three years prior, in the largest exercise of direct democracy in US history, the citizenry of almost half the states--every state except one (Arizona) in which the issue could be on the ballot--voted overwhelmingly to call for a nuclear freeze.
The original transmitter in Wisconsin linked by underground cable to the Michigan site.

Democracy had spoken; the Pentagon and President Reagan flouted that voice of the people, so we did our level best to act in nonviolent resistance to the anti-democratic nature of our own military and Commander-in-Chief. Four were arrested in nonviolent blockade of the military base. I went out with some hand tools, dismantled a portion of the command center, and turned myself in at the sheriff's office the next morning (had to enjoy some last pizza and beer with peace buddies before going to prison for an indeterminate period of time).

Does it get any more sentimental than that? Memorial Day 2015 is my personal 30th anniversary of my First Felony for Peace celebration. This time I'll have pizza with some peace families and enjoy my role as peace grandpa.

My country claims to be spreading democracy. But it takes all of us, on the ground, in civil society, to reify that, to renew it, to make sure that we practice what we preach, and we stop regarding war and warriors and bombs and guns as tools of democracy. The best tools are the nonviolent actions and commitments from our people.

We see the results here and abroad. Our violence, our bombs, our warriors, have produced ISIS. The harder we act, the more we kill, the greater the pushback. It took the lying, rogue Bush regime and the mighty American military killing enormous numbers of Muslims to bring back a caliphate, and yet the call is for more bombing, ground troops, more expense and destruction. Perhaps it's time to try a new path that might actually work. I am sick of Memorial Day glorifying war and honoring those who kill. They are killing noncombatants and turning even more noncombatants into violent insurgents. Time for more Peace Memorials and no more war memorials.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Glimmers of justice in the justice system

Does the US justice system work? Yes, if you are in the one percent. Yes, if you are a white cop. Yes, if you are white and your adversary is not. But that is not the story we hear from elites. They control the government. They control corporate media. It's not a conspiracy; it's simple self-aggrandizement, self-interest, self-absorption by people who have been getting away with a great deal for a long time. It's time to stop letting them control our minds.

For us to keep faith, they have to appear to give us one now and then. They did today, May 8, 2015, at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, when the three-judge Appellate Panel reversed the lower court's conviction of 85-year-old Megan Rice, a nonviolent nun, and two of her nonviolent co-defendants, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, all three of whom have been incarcerated since they spraypainted messages of peace on a nuclear weapons facility 28 July 2012, nearly three years ago, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Michael, Sr. Megan, Greg just before prison
The Sixth Circuit ordered resentencing on a lesser charge--depredation of government property--which will almost certainly mean the three will be free to go just as soon as that resentencing happens.

Lions 500, Christians 1. Yay!

I'm a long-time friend of Greg, and his amazing wife Michele Naar-Obed. They are amongst the most dedicated, peaceful, faithful people I've ever known. I will be so happy when they are reunited. They have been separated by their resistance to war and nuclear bombs for much of their married life, with one or another in prison for nonviolent resistance or Michele off to work for peace in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams, where she was very nearly killed. They shared the raising of their daughter Rachel with the peace community, Sister Carol Gilbert more than any of the rest of us. I met Rachel when she was a curly-headed four-year-old, mom Michele just out of prison for hammering on a nuclear missile. We went canoeing. I got her a little Barney dinosaur life jacket.

I've been honored to host Sister Megan Rice a little bit in my peace house. She is a driving peaceforce of nature, gentle as the stream that rounds and polishes the jagged rocks of militarism. We are pen pals now.

One of the best observations I've seen on a justice system was in the film A Dry White Season, a tough one to watch about apartheid, made when apartheid was at its most furious worst, in the 1980s, starring Donald Sutherland and Marlon Brando. Watch this scene and then, if you want some sense of how elated I feel at this rare indeed court ruling, pay attention at about 3:20 in this 1980 Peter Gabriel song. "You can blow out a candle, but you can't blow out a fire. Once the wind begins to catch, the flames just go up higher." Another great version (with the best lines at about 3:35), also from during apartheid, making it urgent, not just nostalgic. Perhaps the candle of resistance is approaching inextinguishable flame. I'm not sure how many hundreds of years of prison we who have spit in the eye of the nuclear beast have collectively served, but we are ready for more victories. We want nukes to go the way of apartheid. Gone.

My own history is that I have done two of these acts of direct disarmament, in my case dismantling a portion of a thermonuclear command facility. The first time it took the jury 13 minutes to convict me. I learned. I went out again and this time got some of the greatest lawyers possible. My co-defendant and I faced 15 years in prison and our amazing legal team worked for four months while we sat in jail awaiting trial. They beat the major charge--sabotage--for exactly the same reasons the Sixth Circuit just vacated the conviction for that charge, which is that none of us interfered with the defense of the nation. We addressed the most unsoldierly weapons ever invented--weapons that are far far far more destructive to civilians than to the military--and the courts had to recognize that if the lawyers manage to get the evidence actually admitted.

Congratulations, Sister Megan, Michael, and Greg!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Transforming the language of the unheard to persuasive and heard

When cops kill unarmed people of color what is the most effective way for an outraged community to address that ultimate injustice? Shoot back? Plead on our knees? Burn it down? Ignore it and hope it fixes itself?

The problems those movements wrestled with have ranged from the lack of dignity to outright murder and everything in between. None of our history is crystal clear and unambiguous; it is a complex, historically deep story with illimitable factors. Grand proclamations are wonderful rhetoric but tend to hide competing narratives of truth.

So here is a modest assertion: The movements that have achieved change in the US have generally been nonviolent.

Yeah, but what if we all rose up? asks the young angry one (full disclosure: 47 years ago I became one of the angry young ones for several years). We could make any change we want.

True. So if we know that if we all rose up we could make it so, why use violence?

Well, says the justifiably outraged one, burning down a few buildings is just a natural expression of the righteous rage we should all feel. Even your Dr. King said that the riot is the language of the unheard.

Again, you are right. However, two points may add to your view. One, there are always multiple natural expressions to any phenomenon, so why choose the one that will set you back instead of one that will move you forward? Two, Dr. King certainly did make that exact acknowledgement after saying that he felt that riots were the wrong way forward. Using a handful of his words out of context is grossly misleading, some might say effectively spreading falsehoods. He was being compassionate but he also wanted to be strategic and he was always clear that his moral and strategic selves were in alignment that nonviolence is the best method of conflict management. He told Mike Wallace:
I will never change in my basic idea that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom and justice. I think for the Negro to turn to violence would be both impractical and immoral.

Those who work hard to change how police act and react, to their murderous outbursts, are absolutely justified in rioting. Justifying most violent behavior is easy. But historically we overwhelmingly see that those riots are setbacks, they postpone the day when we can expect proper community policing equally in all communities. This is not a moral judgment, just my view as an analyst. As the father of two African American men I confess it is more strongly moral; rioters make my sons less safe. So do those who are apathetic. I argue that Dr. King helped lead many changes successfully and if we want to ask WWMD? the answer is that he would be out in the street with robust nonviolence. He would be speaking in greatly inspirational ways, urging strong and confrontive nonviolence. The ultimate irreducible mandate of nonviolence always has been and continues to be:
Heighten the confrontation and deepen the invitation.