Monday, December 29, 2008

Stop the bombing, stop the rockets

I took part in the demonstration tonight at 11th and Congress in opposition to the Israeli bombings of Gaza. We stood, a large crowd, around the large Christmas tree and the large menorah, all eight candles and the shammash lit. It was good to be there in the presence of many persons of Middle Eastern background, as well as others who identify as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Universalist or non-religious. In the middle of the demonstration, there was a break when some knelt in prayer on the capitol lawn. Jay Janner's fine photos posted on the American-Statesman site give an idea of those present.

My sign read, "Cease fire - all sides - life is precious." Some in the crowd believe that armed resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestine is justified. But, for both moral and practical reasons, I can't condone violence that takes human life on any side.

Of course, I live comfortably apart from the daily reality of life in an occupied territory. I do know that there are Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, and Israelies, both religious and secular, who advocate and practice nonviolent forms of resistance to the occupation even in the midst of the deadly violence. Making peace does not mean passive acquiescence. It does mean addressing the conflict without resorting to revenge killing.

In groups that meet to try and reconcile differences between Israeli and Palestinian causes, the most important ingredient seems to be the willingness to walk in the shoes of the other. Everyone has their story to tell, their loss to describe, their pain to express. If these stories can be told, listened to and acknowledged, on all sides, then progress can be made.

When it comes to US relations with Israel and Palestine, there are also questions that must be answered honestly. Who holds the greatest power? Where do business interests translate into political and military power? When do business interests influence media coverage? Who benefits financially when weapons are sold and used? Who pays the cost?

I was glad to see singer/songwriter Eliza Gilkyson present among the crowd tonight because she is able, through her music, to demonstrate what empathy means. She wasn't there to sing, but many Austinites know her piece, Tender Mercies, in which she gently puts the listener in the shoes of the bomber and the bombed, the parent and the child, so that we understand more than judge. To me, this kind of empathy is a crucial part of what will move us beyond the vicious cycle of war and retributive violence.

An American Dream

photos by Sylvia Thompson

My friends, Fran Hanlon and Sylvia Thompson, were among those who took part in the vigil and toy drive at the T. Don Hutto immigrant prison in Taylor on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 20th. Here is an account Fran wrote about the event. Many thanks to Fran and Sylvia for permission to post the report and photos here:

The Hutto vigil was, as always for me, very moving. I would estimate the attendance at about 75…folks from all over the state.

One of the speakers was a woman who had been incarcerated at Hutto along with her children. She expressed (through an interpreter) how grateful she was for our presence and said that she loved us, but, she also said something like “I came to this country seeking the American dream, but, when I arrived, I discovered that it did not exist, that it is a lie.”

I spoke with her a bit afterwards. I had guessed that she was from Honduras and I was right. I told her that I had lived in Honduras and made sure that she noticed my 'Cuerpo de Paz, Honduras' t-shirt which has a map of the country on it. She smiled and pointed to Tegucigalpa, which was her home.

There were LOTS of toys brought and quite a few children in attendance, most of them very young. When it was time to deliver the toys the children were invited to carry them. The adults helped by bringing the toys part way and then handing them to the children to take to the bins that prison staff had set out in the parking lot next to a van.

It was so sweet to watch those children enthusiastically delivering the toys. Some of them were barely old enough to walk, but, they went back and forth taking armfuls of toys. Earlier it had been announced that, though a lawsuit settlement had allowed the imprisoned children to have toys, they were restricted to certain hours. The toys are taken up at 8pm each night and placed in a central location. So, no child can have her very ‘own’ toy, no child can go to sleep with a stuffed animal or doll, as my child did.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mall freeze action on youtube

Check out the video of today's CodePink freeze action at Barton Creek Square Mall, posted here on youtube.

Thanks to Ric Sternberg of AiM Productions for filming and producing the video!

Freeze-in at the mall

The arctic cold front scheduled to bring plunging temperatures to Austin tonight was pre-empted by a brief freeze that blew into the Barton Creek Square Mall earlier today.

While shoppers buzzed from store to kiosk, a group of 15 of us organized by CodePink Austin stood still in an atrium area for 6 minutes to demonstrate the cold reality that the 6th year of an occupation of Iraq that continues to cost lives and dollars is being sold as the solution in Afghanistan as well.

Some of us carried shopping bags that we'd covered with bold lettering reading "Don't Buy War," " We Can't Afford War," or "Buy Toys, Not War." We wore clothing with peace messages and buttons that encouraged shoppers to read our flier. Some held mock newspapers emblazoned with the headline, "War is Over."

Our mall theatre was modeled on previous freeze actions held in New York City's Grand Central Station and other busy public centers to dramatize the "stop war" message.

The flier we made available to shoppers explained the action, urging them to not buy war toys and to not "buy into the notion that war in Afghanistan is the 'good war.'" The flier listed reasons to end the military occupation of Afghanistan and recommendations for a changed US policy, as prepared by the group, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization of 9-11 victims' family members, some of whom have travelled to Afghanistan to meet with family members of occupation victims.

Our freeze action elicited curious stares from shoppers who stopped and watched, some taking out their phones to take photos, and some asking for a flier. Coming across people standing still amidst a flurry of activity arrests the imagination.

I stood in my "Make Art, Not War" t-shirt holding a messaged shopping bag, a pocket watch and a sketch pad with the years 2003 - 2008, "$, injury and death" written on successive pages that I folded down as each minute passed. The final page read "2009, Enough!"

We did the action twice in different spots in the mall. The second time, within two minutes, several security persons arrived and told us to stop it. (But we WERE stopped!) We had decided beforehand to not press it when asked to leave. The security people ushered us out of the building and into the parking lot. When I remarked to one of them that there aren't many public spaces left for expressing our opinions, he agreed.

Some in the group were headed afterward to a demonstration and toy drive at the T. Don Hutto private prison in Taylor, where they were joining others calling for the facility that imprisons immigrant families with children to be closed.

Are we OK with privatizing our gathering places ... our prisons ... our wars? Strangely, at the same time that legislators are using public funds to prop up private companies, they are using private companies to carry out government business. Things are backward and topsy-turvy. It's time to stop and change course.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Karl Meyer and natural rights

The annual holiday letter from Karl Meyer arrived this week, and he graciously gave permission for it to be posted here. I like what he relates...

December 4, 2008

Dear fellow creatures,

My annual letters often tell stories of being arrested and jailed for trespassing on lands or properties claimed by others, usually in the name of The People of the United States, or subordinate jurisdictions. I confess that I was not arrested anywhere, for anything, this year; yet I still return to my familiar theme with this tale of –

The Trials of the Nashville Greenlands Twenty-Two
(With a tip of the hat to my old friend, Fr. Dan Berrigan, SJ, author of The Trial of the Catonsville Nine)

In these cases the defendants were thirteen rats, eight squirrels, and one juvenile possum, detained and arrested in Havahart traps while trespassing in the vegetable gardens and orchards of our autonomous republic, Nashville Greenlands.

We admit that they were born on these lands, or in territories immediately surrounding us, and have a natural right to be here, yet we claim sovereignty and jurisdiction by virtue of the powers of possession. They ate most of our gooseberries and soybeans, and much of our tomato crop, before we could get control of the situation. Of course, we did not create these crops – we just planted seeds and plants, pulled weeds and mulched a little, and then waited for Earth, sun and rain to do the rest.

I still remember vividly the words of a Catholic priest in Herscher, Illinois, in the spring of 1965, when I walked from Chicago to the State Capitol in Springfield seeking abolition of the death penalty (a goal we reached that year, though only for awhile). He left me standing in pouring rain on the steps of his porch, as he asked me through the screen door between us, “We shoot rats, don’t we ?”

Well, no. We don’t practice capital punishment at Nashville Greenlands. Here is where the irony and the contrasts begin, between the way we treat animal trespassers here, and the experience of protesters, immigrants, homeless people and others arrested in the United States for being in places where they are not allowed to be, such as the soybean fields of Iowa, or the tomato fields of South Florida, where they might be harvesting food for us to eat.

We give each rat or squirrel a prompt hearing, almost always within twelve hours of their original detention. They squeak and squeal in languages we do not understand, but wish we could. Unfortunately, English is the only language understood by the ruling powers here. We sentence them promptly and uniformly to thirty days of unsupervised probation for trespassing and destruction of property valued at less than $1000, and we warn them sternly that they may be sentenced to as much as six months of probation if they are found again on the property here. Then we quickly deport them at least a quarter mile into the fields and woods across the street, into jurisdictions claimed by the State of Tennessee and the United States of America, whence they will have a hard time finding their ways back to us (or so we think).

I admit to being a world class recidivist trespasser myself, though arrested always on properties allegedly belonging to the people : a nuclear missile base under construction in Nebraska; the hallways of federal courthouses while leafleting against the military draft, war taxes and imperial wars; the public wharf at the Bay of LeHavre, the streets of Muhlenbeck just north of East Berlin; a public subway platform in Chicago, while leafleting against a fare increase; a sidewalk in front of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; the steps of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, while inviting the Ambassador to share a meal of rice and lentils equivalent to a typical Iraqi ration during the period of economic sanctions; the grounds of the infamous School of the Americas; the Nashville office of Senator Bill Frist at the start of the current Iraq War. In contrast to our treatment of the Nashville Greenlands Twenty-Two, I have waited in filthy, crowded cells as long as twenty-six hours before seeing a judge for arraignment, as long as seven days in jail waiting for trial, and twice been sentenced to six months in prison for trespassing at military reservations. Of course, this was very mild if compared to recent treatment of people who dared to fight against the invasion of their countries, without being authorized by the U.S. Government, or people who come to this country to cultivate our fields and harvest crops for us, without the right authorization papers.

This year, as usual, I traveled north to Chicago for the autumn season and worked at carpentry repairs for old customers. [...]

Responding to the Housing Finance Crisis

I returned to Nashville, pulled out the cash savings I had been parking temporarily to prop up the flagging fortunes of J.P. Morgan/Chase Bank, and invested in cash purchase of another vacant house in our neighborhood (our fourth so far), that will be restored and owned by our friends Enrique Romero and his father, Felipe, highly skilled building tradesmen from Toluca, Mexico. Thus, a Catholic Worker style, direct action response to the housing finance crisis, sub-prime loans, and the need for affordable housing.

As the year winds down we are organizing locally against a proposed amendment to the Metro Nashville Charter that would make English the only language that could be used in any official actions, communications or publications of all Metro Government bodies.

Despite the inroads of our rodent friends, 2008 has been a year of bumper harvests from our gardens. Freezer, refrigerators and cabinets are full of preserved green beans, onions, beets, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, pears, peaches, cherries, almonds and chestnuts, while the garden cold frames still yield a generous supply of fresh carrots, beets, and greens.

And that’s the news from Nashville Greenlands, where all the men are good looking, all the women are strong, and all living things are held in reverence.

Fraternally, Karl Meyer