Friday, February 27, 2009

Civil Disobedience: Coal is not clean

News has been circulating for awhile about this upcoming day of nonviolent civil disobedience to demonstrate the serious concerns many people have with coal-fired power plants and the need for viable alternatives. Here is official notice about the planned action from Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben, published on Common Dreams today, reposted from Yes! magazine:

Published on Friday, February 27, 2009 by YES! Magazine

Call for Mass Civil Disobedience Against Coal
by Bill McKibben & Wendell Berry

Dear Friends,

There are moments in a nation's-and a planet's-history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction. We think such a time has arrived, and we are writing to say that we hope some of you will join us in Washington D.C. on Monday March 2 in order to take part in a civil act of civil disobedience outside a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill.

We will be there to make several points:

Coal-fired power is driving climate change. Our foremost climatologist, NASA's James Hansen, has demonstrated that our only hope of getting our atmosphere back to a safe level-below 350 parts per million co2-lies in stopping the use of coal to generate electricity.

Even if climate change were not the urgent crisis that it is, we would still be burning our fossil fuels too fast, wasting too much energy and releasing too much poison into the air and water. We would still need to slow down, and to restore thrift to its old place as an economic virtue.

Coal is filthy at its source. Much of the coal used in this country comes from West Virginia and Kentucky, where companies engage in "mountaintop removal" to get at the stuff; they leave behind a leveled wasteland, and impoverished human communities. No technology better exemplifies the out-of-control relationship between humans and the rest of creation.

Coal smoke makes children sick. Asthma rates in urban areas near coal-fired power plants are high. Air pollution from burning coal is harmful to the health of grown-ups too, and to the health of everything that breathes, including forests.

The industry claim that there is something called "clean coal" is, put simply, a lie. But it's a lie told with tens of millions of dollars, which we do not have.

We have our bodies, and we are willing to use them to make our point. We don't come to such a step lightly. We have written and testified and organized politically to make this point for many years, and while in recent months there has been real progress against new coal-fired power plants, the daily business of providing half our electricity from coal continues unabated.

It's time to make clear that we can't safely run this planet on coal at all. So we feel the time has come to do more--we hear President Barack Obama's call for a movement for change that continues past election day, and we hear Nobel Laureate Al Gore's call for creative non-violence outside coal plants. As part of the international negotiations now underway on global warming, our nation will be asking China, India, and others to limit their use of coal in the future to help save the planet's atmosphere. This is a hard thing to ask, because it's their cheapest fuel. Part of our witness in March will be to say that we're willing to make some sacrifices ourselves, even if it's only a trip to the jail.

With any luck, this will be the largest such protest yet, large enough that it may provide a real spark. If you want to participate with us, you need to go through a short course of non-violence training. This will be, to the extent it depends on us, an entirely peaceful demonstration, carried out in a spirit of hope and not rancor. We will be there in our dress clothes, and ask the same of you. There will be young people, people from faith communities, people from the coal fields of Appalachia, and from the neighborhoods in Washington that get to breathe the smoke from the plant.

We will cross the legal boundary of the power plant, and we expect to be arrested. After that we have no certainty what will happen, but lawyers and such will be on hand. Our goal is not to shut the plant down for the day-it is but one of many, and anyway its operation for a day is not the point. The worldwide daily reliance on coal is the danger; this is one small step to raise awareness of that ruinous habit and hence help to break it.

Needless to say, we're not handling the logistics of this day. All the credit goes to a variety of groups, especially EnergyAction (which is bringing thousands of young people to Washington that weekend), Greenpeace, the Ruckus Society, and Rainforest Action Network. For more information:

Thank you,

Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is the author of many books, including his latest: Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future . McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, and cofounder of Wendell Berry, poet, philosopher, and conservationist, farms in Kentucky.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Troops home

By increasing US troop levels in Afghanistan, I think the Obama Administration is making a mistake. US military intervention in Afghanistan during the Cold War strengthened the Taliban in the first place. Collective punishment of Afghanistan's impoverished civilian population after 9-11 was, in my opinion, illegal, immoral and counterproductive. Even now, more than 7 years later, the only persons known beyond doubt to have perpetrated that crime against humanity are the hijackers who perished along with the planes. Civilian deaths caused by US air strikes in Afghanistan continue to increase animosity toward US soldiers, and the country is still one of the poorest in the world.

Afghanistan can't afford more war, and neither can we. We must invest in life.

Such was the message a few of us local CodePinkers conveyed on Friday, Valentine's Day eve, as we walked with decorated shopping bags around a few stores near the corner of 6th and Lamar while people were out shopping for their valentines. Our fliers contained the recommendations for Afghanistan policy written by September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows -- recommendations that do not include troop build-up.

On Valentine's Day, I displayed my "If we (heart) the troops, let's bring 'em home now!" shopping bag in the front basket of my bike as my partner and I rode around town -- to the farmers market, the new light rail demonstration at Saltillo Plaza, on the trail around Lady Bird Lake, into a sandwich shop -- and I didn't hear a single negative comment. Most folks gave a positive sign or repeated "bring 'em home."

Many thanks to Alejandra Almuelle for the photos

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Memo to the MSM: If you want nonviolence, report it

An editorial published recently by the Austin American-Statesman admonished readers to view a trial in Minnesota as a “cautionary tale for activists.” Two men from Austin were charged with making explosives intended for use during the Republican National Convention last September.

Cautionary tales are important, and it’s fortunate that the explosives were never used. I wholeheartedly agree with the editorial that using violence to effect change is counterproductive. But this story, focusing only on these two “activists” (and, later, their former colleague-turned FBI informant) has given a false impression of what activism actually looked like at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

The case of the men from Austin was the only front-page news (Sept. 9, 10, 11, 25 and Jan. 9, 27, 28, 31) published in the Austin American-Statesman about any aspect of the demonstrations at either convention. The larger, unreported story was that an array of creative, nonviolent action was organized in Denver and St. Paul by committed people who had gathered there to exercise their First Amendment rights to assemble peacefully despite the restrictions placed on them. People whose message was essentially, “it’s counterproductive to use violence (invasion, occupation, torture, war) to effect change” were muffled by the police and the press.

I followed news about the demonstrations at both conventions mostly through independent media reports and eye-witness accounts from friends who were there. Events included parades, marches, permitted encampments, art displays, concerts, street theatre and public forums. In Denver, a group of hundreds of young people led by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War marched peacefully for several miles to deliver a statement to Obama campaign officials at the convention site. In St. Paul, a similar march was led by several hundred members of Veterans for Peace who had held their annual convention in St. Paul in order to coincide with the RNC. A group formed by Voices for Creative Nonviolence walked 450 miles from Chicago to St. Paul during the month ahead of the convention to speak in towns along the way about the ongoing occupation of Iraq. CodePink activists rode bicycles around the heavily barricaded convention sites to promote a “War is Not Green” message, and they used some spontaneous satire to dramatize corporate influence of politicians and to resist the provocative corralling of demonstrators by cordons of black-clad riot police and national guard troops.

If newspaper editors are serious about wanting young people to choose nonviolence, then they must do more than pounce on stories about young people who use violence. They must report on the alternative. Otherwise, part of the message young people get is that only violence warrants notice. Jurors have debated the influence of the FBI informant in the RNC case. Another discussion could reasonably ask whether the major media plays a role in “inducing” people to use violence by selling it so heavily in the news while downplaying or ignoring news about people who practice nonviolent resistance.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was rightly cited in the American-Statesman editorial as a powerful practitioner of nonviolence. His resistance was active, not “passive,” as the editorial termed it.

At Austin’s MLK Day celebration, and also in our public high schools this year, the Nonmilitary Options for Youth group that I work with has used a “peace wheel of fortune” that we made as a peace education tool. The wheel contains names and pictures of peacemakers past and present, including prominent figures like MLK and Gandhi, and others not as familiar. Students spin the wheel and, for a prize, are asked to tell us something about the person on the wheel where it stops. We are encouraged when we see how much students like the wheel, so we’re also saddened when we see how little they are being taught in school about even the most well-known nonviolent movements. If young people know only that MLK “had a dream,” but don’t know what he did to achieve it, and if they have never heard of Gandhi or Cesar Chavez, then they have little idea of what nonviolent resistance actually entails: the boycotts, labor strikes, fasts, sit-ins, teach-ins, mass marches, court cases, good faith negotiations and the long road made of many important steps. Tools and strategies evolve over time and adapt to different situations because nonviolence is a living history.

Don’t miss out on this history as it is being lived. Don’t cheat kids out of it. In this time of hopefulness and reform, I’d like to see the mainstream media commit to report more than the cautionary tales, and to tell the stories of the many creative ways that people are using nonviolent methods to defend our freedoms and bring about positive change. Do it because it will increase fairness and accuracy in reporting, and do it because it will save lives.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

GI coffee house, 'Under The Hood' opens in Killeen, TX

It's been a long time in the making, with a lot of labor of love by many supporters to make it happen.

Today, a new GI coffee house called Under The Hood will open in Killeen. Killeen is home to Fort Hood, the largest US Army base in the US.

An article about the coffee house was published yesterday in the Killeen Daily Herald.

Under The Hood is managed by military spouse, Cindy Thomas, who is quoted in the article about the purpose of the cafe:

Thomas said the refuge, scheduled to open Saturday, will be a "free speaking zone" to discuss difficult issues such as the death of a friend or family member overseas, spouses and children coping with the absence of their loved ones during multiple deployments or perhaps a guilty conscience for fighting in a war that increasingly more soldiers no longer believe in.

"A lot of people want to hear the hero story. We don't want to hear that they're hurt because it hurts us," Thomas said. "I did that for a very long time. ... When I started searching for the truth, going online, looking at videos that no one wants to see, it becomes so much harder to live on a daily basis knowing that this is happening, and you're not doing anything about it."

"We have counseling services on post obviously, but when you're sitting around and hanging out, it's more relaxing and natural, and you feel more comfortable asking for help," Thomas said. "The concept of it is having that place they can come and not only support each other and help each other out, but maybe even advocate for each other."

Thomas said the house will have a kitchen with coffee and snacks, a break room, a pool table, a big-screen television, a jukebox and multiple couches and tables, all funded by donations.Though a peace activist herself, Thomas stressed the café is open to people of all ideologies.

Thomas said she is prepared for some public backlash, but her goal is to provide an inclusive environment for military community members to share their stories."They might not like what some of us or some of the soldiers have to say because everybody's experience is different. If you experienced ... reconstruction and helping the community, then great, that's absolutely great. But not every soldier did," she said. "There are others with difficult stories, and the difficult choices they had to make. They have a right to be heard. If you want to support them, hear them. Just let them have their voice."