Category Archives: Politics

End the Crisis in Gaza

By David Gibson and Dr. Janet Amighi,
7/20/14

While Israel claims it is under threat, its own actions and policies are actually the driving force of Palestinian resistance.  It is most extreme in Gaza.

Gaza is kept shut off by land, sea and air from the rest of the world and even from their relatives in the West Bank. They cannot export their products or import needed supplies to rebuild after each Israeli incursion or bombing. They are locked in an overcrowded prison with undrinkable water and worse and then condemned as terrorists if they protest.  Gaza is permanently under siege- who can live like that?

Now as Israel attacks, Gazans run terrorized in the streets or cower in their homes with nowhere to flee. (Warning leaflets dropped from the air have no use when there is no place to evacuate to.) They have no shelters, they cannot become refugees. They can’t even get ambulances through to collect the wounded and the many dead. Even on the beach a group of boys are not safe.  They are trapped victims of an unbelievable horror. No one comes to their aid.

What is the cause of this brutal attack?  Israel says it is self-defense, against rockets, against kidnappers, against tunnels.  Palestinian leaders in Gaza say they will not accept a ceasefire until the blockade is lifted, that they will not stop resisting until they can lead tolerable lives.

According to Nathan Thrall writing in the New York Times, the trigger of this most recent Israeli attack against Gaza was the Reconciliation Agreement under which Hamas agreed to turn over leadership of Gaza to President Abbas and his Fattah party and create a unity government.  The West at first supported this move, but Israel resisted and her allies fell into line. Thrall calls it, “Gaza and Israel: The Road to War, Paved by the West, (July 17, 2014).  He claims that Israel is trying to preserve the status quo- keeping control over Palestinian land, water, and lives.

The US is Israeli’s willing ally to the tune of 3 billion dollars a year in military aid, not because it is in our national interest, but because our politicians are afraid to confront right wing actions by the Israeli government.

The United States can help save both Israeli and Palestinian lives by demanding a lasting ceasefire, lifting the blockade on Gaza, ending U.S. military aid to Israel (or at least withholding such aid until a ceasefire begins and lasts for, say six months), hold all sides accountable for human rights violations, and engage with all Palestinian factions (including Hamas).

Peace, Shalom, and Salam to all

Please take action for peace in Palestine and Israel.

Call the White House comment line:

202.456.1111

Demand a ceasefire and suspension of U.S.  weapons and military aid to Israel.

To call your Member of Congress:

US Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121

To locate your Member on-line:
U.S. House of Representatives: www.house.gov
U.S. Senate: www.senate.gov

White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/

Demand a ceasefire and suspension of U.S. weapons and military aid to Israel.

The Criminalization of Survival

What do we all need to survive? Think about it for a minute… what would YOU need? Food, Water, shelter, transportation, the internet?

Seriously, I was looking for jobs a while back because, as a paid activist, and a single dad, it was getting hard to make the so called ends meet… because paid activism is a poorly paid sector. So I was looking. I was doing my very best to find a job and live up to my responsibilities to take care of my daughter and pay the bills and meet the legal arrangements, rent, utilities, insurance, and that sort of thing, that I had signed on to in less lean times. In times of two paychecks. (A thing of the past for me now. A thing of the past for many.) There never seemed to be enough money to get everything paid. I still made sure my daughter had what she needed to not only survive, but to prosper in today’s world, a basic, working computer, books, clothes, food, some toys, most were second hand or discount or hand-me downs, and the rest were simply cheap. She was in Soccer in her home town, and I was a soccer dad.

I worked over 50 hours or more, most weeks, and spent little on myself for “entertainment”… All my clothes were thrift store purchases. I also would buy used dvd’s at the thrift store, or accept used ones from friends. I took a lot of books out of the local library and went to the movies maybe once every other month. When I had a particularly good week at work, (much of my income was percentage) I might be able to treat myself to a half hour of horseback riding for about $25. But this was a rare luxury.

And I still stressed on a regular basis and tried not to feel guilty every time I read something, or talked with a medical professional, (which was rare as it was the early 2000’s and I could not afford health care, so I went to the free clinic, which often meant waiting to be seen) and I was informed that the kind of food I was eating was not very good for me. I often felt like I was not doing the right things, but it was all I could do with the limited income I had… It was too expensive to shop at the Co-Op, so the Super Market, and at times, the Dollar Store would have to do… Eww!

I most probably could have gotten a job pumping gas, or working for some large retail outlet… but then I would not be able to sleep at night knowing I was contributing to a system that exploits poor people across the planet or does direct damage to the planet’s eco-systems… and they do so thanks to any number of wars we have fought to ensure our “national interests” which is code for business interests which is really all about access to resources in other places where we do not live and have no sovereignty in order to supply the consumer needs that help people live in the aforementioned world of today… at a profit .. but that profit was not for me or any of my friends or family… the few family I had left anyway.

I was skilled enough to run most development departments for your average hospital or university, but lacking a degree, I could never even get my application answered. I had done professional development and direct marketing, in essence, for non-profit activist groups for about 25 years up to that point, so I had the skills.

Oh yeah, and so I was looking for a better paying job and I could not even find a gas station job in the local papers because the classified section was shrinking and had so very little to offer that I was qualified to do.

Most of the jobs were now listed on the internet so, if I did not have time to go to the local library, or did not have a decent internet connection, which cost a bunch more money each month, then I was simply screwed.

As I wrote earlier, I worked over 50 hours most weeks, and spent little on myself for “entertainment” and I often had to depend on public transit, unless my car happened to be working when I could afford the repair bills … so to survive, and to look for a better deal, I needed the internet. Since I was divorced from my kid’s mother, and she was registered in the City and I lived in the immediate suburbs, I did not get report cards. I had to log onto my kid’s school web site or email her teachers, unless I could take time off work, to schlep down to the city to meet her teachers… which I did whenever I could afford to … So yes, the internet, in today’s world, is a survival tool.

I was, as you have no doubt read somewhere before, a paycheck away from homelessness… But I prefer George Carlin’s perspective instead. He would say that the problem was not one of homelessness. It was one of “Houselessness”. Here’s what he meant:

I worked as a grant writer for a short time at a non-profit organization whose mission was to end homelessness, at least in Philadelphia. (It was one of my better payng jobs and during that brief time, I was not so financially desperate. They soon laid me off mainly due to lack of funds. Despite my rather decent rate of 20% positive grant acceptance. Not bad for a beginner in the grant world. But not enough to pay my way… so it goes in non-profit activist-land.)

It was a great experience just the same giving me a fuller understanding of the bigger picture and I did do some significant good while I was there…

What I learned there was that the majority of homeless people, (and they ARE people, each with their own stories like you and I) ACTUALLY WORKED AND HAD JOBS. So why were they homeless? Well let’s put all the behavior issues aside for the moment because the idea that it was somehow the fault of most of these people because of some form of moral turpitude that they may have engaged in (Like rich or middle class people don’t engage in these behaviors too) is not and never has been the reason why most people are homeless in the first place. Most people are homeless in the first place for a very simple reason which I have already alluded to twice.

They cannot afford rent.

In the publication “In Focus” put out by The National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, it is revealed that incarceration and homelessness are MUTUAL risk factors, meaning that one can lead to the other. But why would it be illegal to be homeless? In a caring and compassionate society one would think that people who have fallen on hard times would not be punished right?  (It could easily have been me in the past as my story above illustrates.) If they have some kind of condition that helps lead to their plight, why are we not providing some kind of treatment? Besides, the vast majority of homeless individuals are homeless for economic reasons. (Substance abuse, though high in the homeless population, is as often a result of the reality of homelessness as it is its cause.)

The fastest rising population in prison these days are single mothers. Why is that? Are people who are single moms more inclined to be bad people? Of course not! My Mom was a single mom for a while. And she raised me with a strong sense of right and wrong and how to treat people with care and respect. But she raised me in the early 50’s and the 60’s… a time when the economy was still artificially inflated from our countries success after World War Two. So I lucked out… not so much for single moms these days. Because there was enough money around, and the U.S. had such an economic advantage that one wage earned could support a family. My Mom was pretty independent, had skills and was the only person in her family with a high school diploma, but in those days, still could not find a job to support us as easily as a man could, so after leaving my birth father, she felt compelled to remarry, I am sure that love played a role in her decision but economics had to as well… But compared to single Moms today, we had it easy when it came to our economic options. My mother’s second husband was working class, but was able to support us as a warehouse manager for the US Air Force. (Yes, my adopted dad was a military contractor. But instead of dealing with weapons, he dealt with household items that service men – in those days – bought at the base exchange, a sort of department store for military families who lived on base… all the better to keep our troops out of the local economy and mixing with the citizens of whichever country we found ourselves in.. In our case it was Canada.)

So single moms in my day had economic supports that are harder to find if not gone today. Which means that options for survival are limited compared to the days when we all dreamed the “American Dream”.  A dream that for many has become an American Nightmare.

Worse still, according to the Correctional Association of New York, 75% of women in prison are domestic abuse survivors. Why are survivors of another crime landing in prison? What’s wrong with this picture? 9 out of 10 convicted of killing an intimate partner, in the words of Justice Debra James, Supreme Court, Civil Branch, New York County, Chair, New York Women in Prison Committee, National Association of Women Judges in her forward to the Association’s report, “From Protection to Punishment”, published by the Cornell University Law School, Avon Global Center for Women and Justice, and the Women in Prison Project, of the Correctional Association of New York.

The report shows how these cases are often convictions for illegal acts that happen as a result of actions these women take to protect themselves from “… extreme physical and mental abuse.” The vast majority of these women are women of color.  She also concludes that, “As this report illustrates, these punishments represent not only failures of policy and practice but also violations of survivor-defendants’ fundamental human rights.”

Then there is the War ON Drugs.

According to the ACLU, marijuana arrests account for over half of all drug arrests—and 88% of those charges are for simple possession. Because of decades-old grant programs, local police precincts are showered with money from the federal government if they keep their arrest numbers high. Police have a built-in financial incentive to focus their arrests on low-level drug offenders to fatten their statistics, especially because these are some of the easiest arrests to make. This is a major reason why marijuana arrest rates have gone up in recent years, and why they make up the majority of all drug detentions nationally.

But for many, this was, and is, an underground economy that actually helped families make those aforementioned ends meet. I knew a young man on Long Island in the eighties who sold low effect drugs from the basement of his parents home and actually paid off their mortgage for them at a time when the economy was experiencing one of a repeated number of “corrections” making those damn ends hard to meet again.  This was one case I was personally aware of, but there were many other examples of so called victim-less crimes,  like pot selling that was often a families only way to keep from going under. But it gets worse…

Contracts with private prison management companies exhibit the same incentive. Cash strapped states contract with these private corporations to run their jails. As a stipulation of the contract, the state must “keep the beds full” or be in breach of contract. This is an incentive to criminalize all kinds of behavior to create a large enough population to round up, (like suspects on the streets of Baghdad, now languishing at GITMO) AND FILL THE BEDS. So single moms who cannot find work with sufficient wages to make those aforementioned ends meet, turn to… Crime? Prostitution, drugs, or maybe just leaving their kids in the car as they queue up for an interview for some dismally paying service sector job in order that their kids eat. And so now, single mothers facing or living in poverty are considered criminals… and they are incarcerated and the beds are full…

This is what we mean by “The Criminalization of Survival”.

On October 9, 2013, Solvej Schou, who writes regularly for TakePart, and has also contributed to the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, BBC.com, and Entertainment Weekly, tells us this: “… lower income Americans increasingly unable to find steady work and housing, post-recession homelessness and panhandling is on the rise in the U.S., and increasingly being ignored or punished.

“Case in point, peaceful begging—the act of non-aggressively asking for money or food—is increasingly being banned in various cities and states across the country. The criminalization of homelessness in U.S. cities, anti-panhandling and anti-solicitation laws in 188 cities had increased by seven percent from 2009 to 2011, according to a National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty report.”

Examples abound. Check out these extracts…

“According to dailykos.com, the Houston city council passed a law in 2012 making it against the law for anyone to give food to a homeless person, whether that homeless person was in a park or in a food kitchen set up specifically to feed the homeless people of Houston.”

“The same law made it illegal for homeless people to feed themselves with found food (usually from the trash). Dailykos reported that a homeless man was ticketed a week before they published their story on this subject and fined $500 for taking a partially eaten donut out of a dumpster. Five hundred dollars is the amount of the fine for persons who feed the homeless, or for the homeless who feed themselves inside the Houston city limits – the City Council lowered the fine down from $2,000 because of public outcry.”

“Noah’s Kitchen Executive Director Amber Rodriguez told The Christian Post that there are 13 and a half thousand homeless people in Houston and that the $500 fine would feed at least 750 people (Christianpost.com).”

“It was necessary for Noah’s Kitchen (as well as other charity groups that help the poor) to move outside the Houston city limits or pay the $500 fine every single time they offered a homeless person a cup of soup or a piece of toast. Yes, $500 for each and every offense. A second piece of toast to the same person would mean another $500 fine in addition to the first one! Yes, a hungry homeless person could quickly put Noah’s Kitchen out of business completely by simply eating 4-5 pieces of toast from that soup kitchen.”

“Several news agencies, including ABC News, Huffington Post, NY Daily News, Daily Mail, and the New York Times, to name a few, reported on March 19, 2014 that 56-year old homeless Marine veteran Jerome Murdough was jailed for trespassing in Harlem, and was then allowed to literally bake to death in his prison cell where he was jailed. Yes, the cell where Jerome Murdough was confined was allowed to heat to well over 100 degrees and Mr. Murdough died. He was allowed to swelter to death while being neglected by jail officials and employees.”

“Jerome Murdough was just looking for a warm place to sleep on a chilly night last month when he curled up in an enclosed stairwell on the roof of a Harlem public housing project where he was arrested for trespassing,” (Huffington Post).”

Oh, that’s right, there is even  more…

According to the ACLU Debtors prison is making an illegal comeback. There is the story of Stephan Papa.  According to the ACLU:

“After he returned from Iraq both homeless and out of work, Stephan Papa spent one night in a drunken misadventure. Convicted of destruction of property and resisting arrest, Mr. Papa was sentenced to pay $2600 in fines and court fees.” Of course he was not able to pay those fees, and, though illegal to sentence people to jail for inability to pay, he was jailed anyway. Now it may not be the most laudable behavior, but many of us have had a drunken misadventure before and though the particular action may or may not have been criminal, taking a person’s circumstances into account seems prudent. And being drunk hardly seems to require the extreme reaction that Mr. Papa dealt with… His life is disrupted and possible ruined for a long time. Does this seem fair to you? Survival often includes basic coping with one’s situation.. When survival is on the line, we all may resort to “regressive behavior” that we may not be proud of, but that is part of being human isn’t it? So maybe it’s the criminalization of being human is what is at issue? Why not invest in the kind of support to help down-on-their-luck individuals like Mr. Papa a chance to learn new coping skills? Investing in any number of community mental and emotional health programs with just a sliver of what we now spend on war and intervention across the globe would go a long way to building security at home by lifting up people like Mr. Papa while creating jobs and stimulating the local economy in the first place. But how many of you have read that these kinds of community base support programs are attacked because they are “jobs programs”?

Well, what’s wrong with that? We need jobs programs and we need them where there is a real need. Why not reinvest in our communities and stimulate the economy by paying to help people in need rather than helping already obscenely profitable industries with more US tax dollars, (yours and mine) that benefit a few at the so called top at the expense of all of us let alone those most in need?

Criminalization of survival. Who does it benefit? Who profits? And why?

It is time for a change. There are legislative efforts afoot that can help begin to change these things. Simply enforcing current law against debtor’s prison is one solution. Several states have begun issuing simple cards for judges to assist in legal sentencing practices so that they are aware that jailing people for inability to pay for court costs and fines is illegal in the first place… Something one would think a judge should know?

There is a bill in Congress that I have mentioned before to help Mothers and other care givers stay out of poverty by, in essence, providing a wage for home care and what we used to call “housework” affording people of modest means the ability to be good care givers without forcing them to have to make choices like leaving their kids in a hot car to attend a job interview, or stealing the proverbial loaf of bread or its equivalent to feed their families or themselves… This bill is the RISE Out of Poverty Act, and its companion piece, the WORK Act… bills that deserve your support. You should call your Congress Person, both Bills are in the House, (The WORK act is in search of a prime sponsor) and you should demand they co-sponsor and vote for these two important pieces of legislation that would help de-criminalize the very act of survival, like taking care of ones family for example. You can call your Congress Person at the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. You can also support the campaign to pass these bills by going to the following web site and signing the petition. http://www.everymothernetwork.net/support-the-rise-and-work-acts/  A growing number of organizations have been signing on as endorsing organizations and maybe your church or synagogue or Temple may do their part, or if you belong to a secular group or labor union ask them to endorse as well.

I once faced poverty and, with things as unstable in this world as they are becoming could face it again. So could you or someone you know. The current systems are shaken, and crumbling at their edges, if not at their very core. If nothing else, our economy is uncertain and it is far easier to be facing such a plight these days in a moment by any number of chance circumstances. An unexpected illness in your family, a sudden job loss, or a loss of your home possibly brought about by some extreme weather event thanks to rapidly advancing global climate change.  Most of us are all “one paycheck from homelessness” these days.

Once again, when we look closely we can see that we are all in this together and we must break down the walls that divide us if we are all to be more secure.

History Shows, People Power Makes the Difference.

By D. E. Gibson ©

Power comes down to two things. Money and People. When they have the money, we need the people!

It was dusty, hot, and the air and the ground around us, seemed yellow. It was sandy, rocky, sage brush with a few stunted trees all around. On one side of US 95, was a steel chain link fence some 10 feet high or more, which stretched for miles in both directions, topped with concertina razor wire. On the other, about 3,000 individuals from all over the country were lining up to support hundreds who were illegally entering the gates on this side of the fence. Beyond this throng, just a mile north, organized in a sand pit past some small hills on Bureau of Land Management property were a collection of tents, small and large, pitched as I recall, about 100 yards from the road. White ones. Bright yellow and orange ones, blue ones. Olive… There were a number of vehicles as well. Support vehicles, generators, water trucks, and personal transportation of a wide variety. Some of the tents were individual one and two person affairs. Some were much larger canopies, and house size structures used for kitchens, dining halls and communal meeting spaces. I remember flags on poles. Peace flags. Rainbow flags, even American Flags. (I will have plenty more to say about the American Flag in later posts)

I have been told that you could hear the sound of the drums in the back ground. I do not remember this myself but do remember drums and other musical instruments there, so … why not? Sounds like something we would have been doing then. Playing drums and clanging cymbals and making noise in celebration of life and resistance to oppression. And if we were not, we should have been. Like the Canadian activists who have come out recently banging their pots and their pans during their protest marches! How cool.
Here was the layout:

Top

In 1988, in the Nevada desert, I was part of an event involving civil disobedience where about 3,000 people were arrested over the course of 10 days. I have read that this was the largest civil disobedience action in US history with a record of arrests.

We were protesting underground nuclear weapons explosions to test and develop new and more dangerous bombs and missiles about 1,000 of which, could destroy most life on Earth. (There were about 70,000 in the world then, ready to launch) The demonstration was named “Reclaim the Test Site.” I had trained and prepared for this event for months. I had flown out here all the way from Montclair NJ to meet my crew. They had driven out earlier, caravan style, meeting up with other caravans and rolling into “Peace Camp” within hours of many others that I had spontaneously coordinated by phone and fax back in our office in Montclair before driving to Newark Airport and boarding a plane to join the fun. (This was all before cell phones… Members of other caravans from the South and the North East and the East, and the North West called in to their headquarters by pay phone… Does anyone reading this remember those?) I spoke with their home offices. They, in turn, would let their folks — who would call in from time to time – know how far in miles they were from some other group of fellow travelers and on what particular route some other caravan from some other part of the country might be. Some joined up en-route thanks to this. Some joined up outside of Peace Camp. Others aimed to roll into peace camp as close to a common arrival time that we organized in an impromptu fashion over the phone. Me with my map spread out on my cluttered desk with my speaker phone in front of me… No google maps in them days … Most of the travelers arrived on the same day within hours of each other… an intermittent procession of caravans arriving from all over the country. I imagined cheering campers greeting them, which indeed is what I was told later actually happened. This helped build solidarity and gain us some local media attention too.

I was up most of the night alternately on the phone and at our brand spanking new copy machine, my back pack and travel gear stored on the floor by the door, as I was running off materials for a professional door-to-door canvass we had organized as one of our contributions to this effort. While the protest was set for Nye County, the canvass was in Las Vegas, which was the next county over. Since none of the money we collected was for the protest, but to set up a group in Vegas of locals who would call for conversion of the test site to peaceful purposes, we were completely legal,– much to the chagrin of Las Vegas police who wanted to arrest us, like their Nye County Compadres, but were unable to. So… Ha!

My crew, all experienced professional canvassers, had caravanned out to meet some other canvassers from other canvass offices — most from SANE/FREEZE, (The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy merged with the Nuclear Weapons FREEZE Campaign.) Some were committed to the canvass, and others were committed to the action and planning arrest. We were well represented.

When I arrived just hours after most of the caravans got there, I disembarked at Las Vegas Airport. As I got off the plane the very first thing I saw drove home what we were really resisting. I saw a line of Slot Machines. “Yes” I thought to myself with a wry smile. “Makes sense”.

I was up and animated when I got to Vegas thanks to the excitement of the occasion and adrenaline in my system, despite my tired state due to a night of little sleep. (Exacerbated by the little plastic bottles of bourbon I drank on the plane.) I made my way to the temporary office for the American Peace Test in Las Vegas. The American Peace test was, in a way, a splinter group of sorts, breaking off of the larger FREEZE Campaign to mount increasingly militant, disciplined, civil disobedience against the US nuclear weapons program, and the US’s overall policy of militarism. They coordinated with groups protesting in Greenham Common in England and at the test sites in, what then was still, the Soviet Union as well… making this a truly global organizing campaign. Most Americans would have been shocked and in denial of the fact that there was a robust peace movement in the USSR in those days.

The office certainly felt temporary. It was located in the rear of, some sort of commercial, newly and cheaply constructed mini-mall sort of thing, though it didn’t appear to have any retail outlets. It had small offices of the kind where you might find a moving company, a machine shop, or a fly-by-night furniture warehouse. Lots of white and silver and aluminum, and no trees to mention in the parking lot except for the small, spindly newly planted variety. The kind held in place by some cable tied to the ground and supported by fresh pine one by twos. Even the doors seemed to be made of a hollow aluminum frame. The office was located across from the rear parking lot of one of the smaller casinos… (Casinos were everywhere. So were more slot machines. They seemed to be in every commercial location one entered, including super markets.)

Some of the canvassers took what they made canvassing and leveraged it at the gaming tables. One guy won enough money to buy an airplane ticket back to Los Angeles, which was fortunate as he did not have a return plan when he got there. All of us took advantage of the very cheap food, steak dinners and the like, and cheap booze that the Casinos made available to attract out-of-towners to come in and lose their savings. What a racket! But it was, after all, Vegas! Back at the office there was a kitchenette kind of deal, with a sink a very small refrigerator, and a microwave.

We lived on peanut butter, bagels and bread, and some whole wheat pasta which I would cover with tahini sauce. At Peace Camp there was a communal kitchen with lots of … well… chili and salad I imagine… I never ate there myself. We ate pretty well off of the money we canvassed. Which was also OK because the contract called for paying us from revenues that we raised while signing people up. Not a bad system.

The whole operation was run on consensus, which immediately ended my role in the canvass as a leader as soon as we had our first meeting. It stung my ego but enriched my soul. I was suddenly no longer the architect of this unique first ever organizing model, but simply the driver and another canvasser. It was kind of liberating in a way and immensely satisfying seeing everyone step up and take responsibility. My ego healed quickly.

Upon arrival I met with an organizer or two. The details are a bit hazy, but we arranged, from previous contact, to have access to either one of the two rental vans that were around to bring people to and from the office to Peace Camp and back.

We also arranged whose couch I would sleep on as I did not have a tent at Peace Camp. I don’t remember getting much sleep anyway. As I remember I moved around a lot, staying on the weekend with other canvassers and activists at some out of town lawyer’s home for a night and a day. I was charged with going to the grocery to pick up food for a large group meal, and since I had not yet gotten my paycheck, I was to do most of the labor for my part of the meal. When I got to the super market, I dropped a few quarters (all I had left) into one of the slot machines up front and won enough to cover my share of the groceries and a little extra, saving me from a night of indentured servitude at the whim of my fellow activists… WHAT a relief. Capitalism came through for me that time.

We would have access to the van at around 2:00 PM each day to bring people to the City and then, after meeting and preparing for the field at about 3:00, we would drive canvassers to their neighborhood and drop them off. Then I would drive back to the office, and pick up whoever needed a ride back to Peace Camp. Then I would turn around, and head back into the city giving anyone who needed it, a ride and drop them off. If I had time, I would go out and canvass. If not I would just go and pick up the crew. Then drive back to Peace Camp. To get around during the day or on the weekend, I used the little red Mazda owned by one of my crew, a young man with blond dread locks.

I found myself going back and forth to the city for various reasons during the day while some members of my crew joined hundreds of others crossing the line and being abducted by Wackenhut Security on the test site grounds and put in a large metal “pen” in the desert until they could be loaded on buses and driven to the town of Tonopah, some 65 miles from the vicinity. We called it “The Cage”. It was a 28,800 square foot chain link fence built in the shape of a square near the South Entrance not too far from the road. As activists crossed the cattle guard at the gate’s entrance, or scaled the fence, they were picked up by security guards, some on foot, some driving souped up dune buggies. Once herded into the “cage” they were taken, as a group, to the buses.

On March 13, 1988, the Los Angeles times had this to say about it: “Orchestrating the arrests were about 100 sheriff’s deputies, 50 Nevada Highway Patrol officers and an unknown number of Department of Energy security officials, who used helicopters, motorcycles and camouflaged dune buggies to track down the hundreds of trespassers who managed to evade a wall of guards manning the area near the entrance.”

The first time this happened, on the first day of the action, it was not expected… Organizers scrambled to find all manner of vehicles and gave chase. After about a day or two, we got really good at following the buses and retrieving our folks and getting them back to the scene of the demonstration pretty quickly thereby effectively thwarting the Nye County Sheriff’s office in their plan to break the civil disobedience.

The reasons they cited for this strategy, to bus our people far away, showed our evident effectiveness at gumming up the system, which, at its root, is one of the reasons for civil disobedience to begin with.
Also in the LA Times was this:

“Activist Jessie Cox was one of many who chastised authorities for using “the cage.” “This cage that has been built in the desert appears to be a detainment camp for nonviolent protesters,” Cox said. “We are not only concerned about its use, but about the historic precedent that the image of a stalag-like structure conjures up.”

But Chris West, a spokesman for the Department of Energy, which manages the test site, said the enclosure, which cost $35,000, was needed to control ever-increasing numbers of protesters here.
There have been 3,610 people arrested here since the first demonstration was held in 1957, authorities said. But 3,217 of those arrests were made in 1986 and 1987.

“We are sorry this is happening,” West said, “but we can’t just let people go haphazardly anywhere they want on the test site.”

Still, Nye County prosecutors stopped filing charges against most trespassers here a year ago in an effort to ease the county’s mounting court load.
“They are trying to use the Nye County criminal system as a forum and we are not going to waste taxpayers’ money by giving them that recognition,” said Nye County Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Morrison. Instead, he said, “the complaint is routinely dismissed and they go on their merry way.”

So it was obvious that all of that work, demonstration after demonstration, was paying off from a tactical point of view at least.

But was it paying off strategically? A most important question. While the department of energy denied any effect on operations, which was true at the time, the effect on political policy was another matter.

Representative Pat Schroeder, a Congressional ally from Colorado introduced HR 3442, mandating the cessation of US nuclear testing (and thereby British tests, since they used our test site for their own nuclear tests… stopping the US would stop the Brits… A twofer) so long as the USSR maintained their moratorium on testing. The bill eventually gained over 100 co-sponsors, but was never voted on. Schroeder claimed its support was influenced by the civil disobedience at the test site.

The Soviets ended their unilateral moratorium on February 5, 1987, but the last US test explosion was 4 years after Reclaim “The Test Site”, in 1992, though the amount of tests were vastly reduced before that time.

However, later in 1988 the US and the USSR began the Joint Verification Experiment, where technical personnel from both countries traveled to each other’s testing facility to begin the actual monitoring program that would allow each to verify that the other side was not testing. So this, then, was the beginning of the end of nuclear test explosions by all countries to this day with the exception of North Korea, and it looks like possibly Pakistan (and then maybe India?) again soon. We have to organize to stop this if we can!

In 1992 the US Congress passed the Hatfield-Exon amendment, cutting funds to achieve a nine month nuclear testing moratorium. This cancelled the last three scheduled tests for 1993. The ban has held ever since despite our Senate’s refusal to verify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signed by Bill Clinton in ‘96.

My own belief is that what finally ended nuclear explosions was civil disobedience, like this action and the threat of continued demonstrations, along with millions of petitions, tons of letters and phone calls, and simply ongoing unrelenting pressure of ALL kinds from many, many regular folks from all over the place.

There was also the largest single demonstration in US history to end the nuclear arms race, earlier in Central Park in 1982, which can be seen as the start of the final grass-roots push to end all nuclear testing. Protests had been going on since the beginning of nuclear testing.

The nuclear weapons freeze referendum passed in many states across the country before being defeated in Congress… which helped change tactics to a more militant variety culminating in the mass arrests at the test site.

Who knows? The increasing acts of civil disobedience (CD) HAD to worry policy makers. As the protests and CDs grew in frequency and numbers I am sure, it is only common sense, that despite official denials, it had to worry those in power that this kind of thing might continue to grow until it got unmanageable.

Back in the late 80’s a one judge, Judge Sullivan, after listening to an emotional appeal from a family member who was in court on his trespass charge (which they received at the Test Site) stopped the proceedings and told the court and everyone there that “I just want you to know I think you are making progress through your efforts.” according to a personal account in a book entitled “A Family Says No to Violence: Personal Empowerment through Nonviolent Civil Disobedience.” by Sally A. Mack.

We must never underestimate our own power… It is, after all, all we can count on in the end… and when united with others, we can multiply that power to make real, and often lasting change.

But our power is not like the power we resist. The power of greed, suicidal greed, when one thinks of the polices that give us realities like 70,000 nuclear weapons, “Shock and Awe”, addictive use of fossil fuels resulting in increasing average global temperatures, and the very real and staggering threat of a possible runaway greenhouse effect.

Their power is massive, it seems to be everywhere, but it isn’t. It is pervasive, and it is coercive. Ours is different and, when planning to resist and work for change it is always, in my opinion and that of many experienced organizers, best to organize from a place of your own power. As a matter of fact, Saul Alinsky, one of my early organizing role models, had set down some principles for us to use when developing strategy. He said, we need three things to give an organizing campaign a decent chance of success.

1 – Give your people a sense of their own power. You do this by organizing from your own experience and outside your opponent’s experience. Mass CD is often a good case of this, but not always. It is good to assess the degree to which your target understands and knows how to respond to CD.
2 – Alter the relations of Power. Doing things outside their experience can win you a seat at the table.
3 – Win concrete improvements in your people’s lives…
The Anti-Nuclear Arms Movement has succeeded at all of these…

What’s next?

There are still dangers to be sure, and nuclear weapons still need to be abolished because they still pose a very real threat to each of us and all life on the planet, though we ARE in an undoubtedly safer position than we were in 1988.

But in terms of the goal of the campaign for the Anti-Nuclear Arms movement, I would say that if we can succeed in achieving a ratification of the Test Ban Treaty in the Senate, then we have won and we should have one hell of a very public and audacious party to celebrate because we need to, for our own psyches, reward ourselves for a hard-fought campaign that many of us sacrificed much for. But as importantly, we need to organize that celebration as a national event. We need to put some resources into it to give notice to those in power that – yes — we DID win. We went up against the most powerful death machine in history and we pushed it back from the brink and saved us all from annihilation.

ANNIHALATION!

That IS something to celebrate. And we want them to know that we will not take whatever else they have in store for us without a fight. We need not be violent. That is their way of playing the game. We will NOT let them reduce us to their level. We WILL overcome… That is the message a large victory celebration would send. Stand by, next chapter in the saga is coming up and we are prepared to win again…

We have no choice if we want to live. Because as soon as the hangover wears off, we will be planning our strategy for our next campaign to make this world we live in a better place to live the kinds of lives we want to live and that we all deserve.  So, to spell it out, what I am proposing is a national celebration as a campaign strategy.

The powers we resist threaten to do us all in, globally and in our own neighborhoods. All to serve a system which more and more people have witnessed serves a very few at the expense of an increasing number of people at the bottom. A growing, and REQUIRED underclass that must exist for this system to operate.

This is what we resist: A war around the planet, and one in communities of poor and African-American people and other people of color and people who are divergent from the main stream life style.

We resist a system which pits us each against each other to purposely keep us divided so that we never learn our power. The power of our numbers. The power of the many, the power of people, the power that has been seen throughout history to eventually overthrow the tyrants that have oppressed them time and time again. The Power of unity. The power of love!

A power we can realize when we break down the barriers and differences that divide us and when we learn that everything IS connected.

Like the power of 3,000 people from all walks of life and an amalgam of backgrounds that came together in the hot Nevada Sun to stand up to the nuclear nightmare that had been created to threaten us all just to profit a few.

It is the same power that we use when we reclaim our streets by building community and sharing the burden to make the streets safe to walk again. The power to change how we raise our children so that they suffer less trauma than we have, and can grow with understanding of, and compassion for others. Nothing else will do… There is no other way for us to survive, otherwise, as things progress and resources dwindle and new ways of organizing society are called for, we won’t be competing and killing each other to eat, but feeding each other to prosper.

We ARE all in this together. So far, there is no other planet we can go to and the world as we know it keeps getting smaller. We must choose to run our own lives, personally and as a community. Power structures HAVE to change. Patriarchy, and yes, Capitalism, at least in its current form, must become a thing of the past. We must evolve or perish.
________________________________________

Action in the face of fear

There was a time, not too long ago, when the world had 70,000 nuclear warheads poised to launch at a moment’s notice.

They were aimed at various points on the globe, but roughly 60,000 of them were armed to explode on and incinerate and destroy most of the cities in the US and the USSR. This was an existential threat…. that threat still exists today, but it is arguably, in relative terms, much less… There are now 17,300 armed poised devices. You can imagine my relief. Yet this IS a welcome change. Still, many of them are more accurate and … if it were possible to be more deadly than 60,000, they may be more so upon impact, which may be irrelevant, since their use would most certainly be just as deadly anyway. This is because the far reaching effects will get just about everybody in the end. I mean, how many times can you destroy the planet anyway?

There are still too many. There are too many weapons… of all kinds.
It has been said that the world is awash in weapons and, of course, this alone is not the only threat, though these weapons magnify it and make the threat more likely by their very being.

The other threat that needs to be addressed to reduce the chances of their use is human beings willingness to use them. Even more important is our willingness to hurt others. This is part and parcel of their destructiveness and begs the larger question of how do we achieve safety and security? I will come back to this question in its more fundamental aspects later. For now, back to world annihilation.

Many of these bombs are no longer pointed at cities, and many are on hold. In storage if you will… only a few thousand still stand ready to be launched quickly… and the overall “threat level” or Def-Com as it is referred to by the military in the US, is set lower so the chance of a so called “hair trigger” response is less … somehow, I still feel unsafe when I think about all this.

When I contemplate their use… the effect these weapons would have on me, and those I truly love, who are close to my heart, especially if they do not live close by, it is deeply frightening. If these loved ones lie on their deathbed, I should be able to get to their side, but how can I even view their remains if we all go up in a conflagration such as that?

This is a numbing consideration. It is the kind of threat that is obliterating in all its manifestations. Disempowering to even think about. This is so big, bigger than each of us, how can we ever do anything about it? How can this change?
But as noted above, it already has. And this did not simply happen. And it was not at the whim of those who directly control and create this monstrosity.

It happened because of the countless efforts of people like me and you. It changed because enough people, not everyone, but enough people demanded it and, some, many, broke society’s rules to force the change. It was not easy and much work remains to be done….

The outcome is not certain which, in itself, demands that further action be taken or the unthinkable may yet happen. It took direct action. It took actions large and small. It took civil disobedience and the guts to face arrest and abuse both legal and physical.

However, UNTHINKABLE is what this cannot be! Because to be changed it requires us to think about it and face it head on to deal with it and bring about the change we wish for. There is no other way. Denial will get you in the end. So true of so much that holds us back and hurts us.

How to overcome the denial and the numbness and the inaction about this? Like an addict, or an abuse victim our world keeps functioning at this level of insecurity, wondering why life now seems depressing and simply not enough, wondering why it is all so bad out there, and often overcome with the strong desire to distract ourselves with all manner of inducements and intoxications… our fear and denial prevent us from facing these horrors that stalk our nightmares.

We may even convince ourselves it is all for our own good. That things can’t be that bad. We may even think that this is a good thing for us for fear of thinking of ourselves as somehow to blame when we find ourselves in an unhealthy situation such as this one. After all, we may have gone along with it for too long and do not want to feel stupid. But the stupidity lies in remaining in a bad situation. Even if we think it provides us some benefit. (After all, this makes us the strongest Nation on the planet, right? But at such a cost is it worth it?)

But like addicts and abuse victims everywhere, the first step is to admit we have a problem… the second is to face our fear, not an easy task, and then to take action. In essence, to become survivors!

Even small action counts. Small action can build up to big, more effective action and we gain strength and confidence in ourselves and our actions when we take them a bit at a time. We make progress, sometimes slowly, and there can be set backs… but if we look back along the road we can see that we have made progress so, after a much needed rest to recharge, we are required by our need and call to change that we get back up and continue onward. The promise of healthy joy-filled life demands it.

Life itself demands it.

We cannot have what we really want, what we all really want, deep down, unless we overcome the fear and the denial that prevents us from taking action. Then we can sort things out.

It is important to realize that there are some things that cannot be avoided and some things we cannot affect… and many things we should not control… A compassionate young man I knew was recently lost to us due to what we think was a massive heart attack. Maybe he could have taken action to prevent it. But it is also true that there are heart problems in the family and it may have been a congenital issue. There is no way to control for that. Some things we simply cannot help.

But the question is not about control. That attraction has more to do with powerlessness and control is the flip side of denial, because to affect healthy change one must take account of the forces that one is trying to affect and deal with, or overcome if need be, and what keeps us from the changes that need to be made.

One must also be mindful of the other players and why they want control, because, like me or you, they too want the same things and are dealing with similar fear and denial and are obviously losing that struggle to the deleterious effect of us all… so instead of control, which in and of itself is at issue, we should instead, if we wish a healthy outcome, seek appropriate engagement, and when necessary compromise… nothing else will do.

That is not to say that we accept abuse or oppression, but our struggle with it will only succeed in the long run if we do not fall prey to the same afflictions as our oppressor, for if we do then our oppressor has already defeated us and positive, healthy change cannot come about. Our oppressor may have suffered, but we do not have to become like them and we cannot heal them unless they heal themselves.

We CAN be an example and show them the way. Then we all win. Though we cannot make them follow us, our example may be the best we can do.

Cooperation is better than control unless you are so afraid that you are too weak to accept others, and if so, and you embrace control, you are by your actions allowing a battle you may lose as you are giving the other the “right” to be an opponent, rather than a partner in the search for security and a healthy life.
To achieve a healthy life, if it be an engaged one or a separate one, for anyone to have security, we must accept the security of others.

Appropriate boundaries are the key when we live separately. But we must also remember that any separateness is in degree only, as all things, each of us, are connected to everything else and each other too… There is no getting away from this. This is an inevitable truth about the universe as vast as it is. I will show evidence later for this notion in future writings.

So considering all of this, how did such a large change in our existentially threatened, connected lives occur? How did we manage to take such large steps back from the brink of possible destruction in such a short time? Just 28 years.
By facing the disease head on and taking action.

I took an active part in this story and as such, I can share personal experience of my part in it.

I went door to door for the Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy in the 80’s. But I started my activist career on Long Island as a professional canvasser for the Citizens Alliance, which was the community organizing project of the Public Interest Research Group, or NYPIRG. This was one of the original student run organizations that was part of the Ralph Nader family of groups working for progressive change through state legislation and public education and in the courts. This “movement” was reformist and left of center, non-partisan and targeted at the so called middle class.

The Citizens Alliance was a classic attempt at grass-roots organizing right out of the Saul Alinsky play-book so it was a bit more radical at its core than much of the rest of the Nader Network and was really about politicizing middle class suburbanites as a way to erode their electoral support for the Reagan agenda.

But the Alliance worked mainly in neighborhoods of color and poor white neighborhoods so their experience was different from the reformist crowd. In truth it was a good place to cut my political teeth. We canvassed on a variety of issues, many chosen not just for their importance as issues but because of their relation to the populations we were targeting. As such the issues we talked about were familiar and, though controversial to some degree, hardly the kind that would radically change the system in any fundamental way in terms of anything thing like capital and empire. Though in its defense it did foster democracy and politicized a large part of the population to help advance a healthy kind of populism.

In terms of the context of this article, I mention all of this to explain that by and large, though any kind of canvassing can be challenging and, in truth, so outside most people’s experience that it takes a rare individual to be good at it depending on which kind of canvasser one is. I digress here for a moment but this will give you a context to, hopefully, give you a better idea of the challenge we faced..

Though there exists in the world of political canvassing a wide range of flavors, most of it falls into two broad categories. They are what I would call politically oriented or financially oriented. While both consist of raising funds and setting quotas as an intrinsic element of the tactic, (And fundamentally, canvassing is a tactic) one category has its focus as politicizing populations and seeking a grass roots base of support for organizing through memberships and grass-roots pressure on policy makers and corporate targets. The other is much more concerned about building a financial base of donors as the main purpose (though both kinds do this).

But the fact remains that to most people, canvassing is hard to be good at, especially the more politically oriented kind. Because when your main concern is funding, you can get away with being a good salesperson. But when it is social change, you often have to break through suspicion and common misperceptions of fence sitters. (You don’t talk to true opponents if you are a good canvasser, They get changed, if ever, in other ways by their own experience.)

Now having stated this, my point in terms of this story is that I gravitated to and had the good fortune to be part of. the more political variety. As a matter of fact I was pretty good at it and as such became a leader and this gave me opportunity to be an early, and in my day, a somewhat influential one at that, doing all that I could to push the organizations I worked for toward more political kinds of outreach. You see, I wanted to be a real organizer in the worse way and helped develop the early canvass as a political outreach and organizing tool as much as I could.

So my experience was that canvassing on issues like rent control, or toxic dumping and other environmental hazards, even stopping nuclear power or working to get stronger regulation of utility companies and similar more reformist agenda’s over all, it was not too hard to gain significant support in most places I canvassed. My ratio of positive to negative interactions was somewhere around 50% or greater in most locations.

That changed significantly when I began to canvass for SANE. Not only was this long time organization more political than the Nader flavor, which was enough of a challenge, but it was a leader in the US Peace Movement. The US Peace Movement, as distinct from the “Anti-war” movement, dealt with issues that were fundamentally at the heart of the struggle for freedom and justice and empowerment of the public against the system. A system that has had vast inequality deep within it for at least as long as this nation has existed. And its roots, in truth, go back much farther.

But what really made it hard, as if that was not enough, was canvassing to end the nuclear arms race during its very height. With the exception of the struggle for voting rights and to resist racism and sexism, which I have also had occasion to canvass on, the nuclear arms race has been one of the hardest most polarizing issues I have ever brought to the average US citizen’s door because of two things.
The first is the deep divisions in those days regarding the whole US foreign policy strategy which for so many sprung directly from the sense of “American Exceptionalism”.

This notion that we are a chosen people has always been the tactic that those in power in this country have used to win over enough of the population to enable their militaristic, imperialist pro capitalist agenda. (If I may be so bold) Despite the growing change in attitudes by many more people these days about this, the idea of the US as being the good guys, still runs deep.

But in the 80’s during the Reagan years, at least half of the people we talked to, and in many places more than half, were so afraid of the Soviet Union that even though majorities favored a nuclear weapons freeze, there was still resistance to arms negotiations and great suspicion of our movement. We had to learn to achieve our goals with about a third of the support of people in most places we canvassed. Why such a small number when the majority in poll after poll supported our core position?

Because the other thing that we encountered that was very different from all of the other issues I have ever worked on, and this goes to the heart of my argument here, was simply an unwillingness to deal with the realities of a potential nuclear war. There was a deep “Psychic numbing” about the size and scope of the issue. And this was not only experienced by us as a characteristic of people who we canvassed, but many of us felt it ourselves… including me!

I was not entirely convinced that we would be successful in our goals. Though I knew the odds were long, and I reasoned that our only chance was to ignite a movement for change, one of the ideas that kept me going was that if they were going to kill us all anyway I was simply not prepared to go into the night without a fight and if I could send any of the people we considered war mongers to bed having had a bad day as a result of our actions then I would sleep a little bit easier.

One of my political hero’s was Alard Lowenstien. Now I am not normally inclined to find politicians of any stripe very heroic. They can be good allies, and often well meaning and righteous people, some with their heart and their beginnings in some social change movement or other. Indeed I have personally known of one or two who became involved after we canvassed them and got them to attend a grass-roots planning meeting. They became politicized after we brought them up against the system and they learned how corrupt it was. This was canvassing at its best. Mobilizing people for change. And there are other stories which I will share later of the potential effectiveness of this unique organizing tool. But that’s for later.

Now Alard holds a special place in my heart because before he ran for office he was the lead organizer for the Student Dump Johnson Movement which helped mobilize grass-roots voters for Eugene McCarthy’s campaign, whose early win as the Anti-War candidate in New Hampshire and elsewhere helped propel Bobby Kennedy into the Democratic Primary. This, in part, eventually convinced Johnson not to run for re-election. So this guy helped engineer the political defeat of one the most powerful men in the world at that time.

Alard used to say that nothing is for certain. The only thing that is for certain is that you either win or you lose, so you work hard as you can to win. This was the attitude that helped him succeed.

The point here was that what we were doing in those days, that in my mind, was more significant than all the money we collected or all the signatures that were signed was bringing hope to the doors of many and helping open their eyes to the danger all around them. And despite the sense of futility that we and so many people we talked to door to door struggled with when facing this issue, the issue of the existential threat discussed earlier, we made a difference.

We stepped into people’s homes across the country as we canvassed in a number of key cities in a strategic effort to effect congressional action by electoral district. We pulled them away from the TV and engaged them in a conversation about the state of the world and the fate of the earth and everyone on it.

In those days the Congress was a bit less bought off and we were indeed helping to mobilize the deep grass-roots feelings against the arms race that already existed. We did succeed in crafting our message in a way that got around the fear of the Soviet’s by addressing a balanced verifiable approach and using logic and touching on people’s concerns and being as life affirming as we could be. We got good at our craft and worked hard on our communication skills in professionally run workshops in briefings and by reading and training daily.

And we drew from the examples of great leadership figures such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Aung San Su Chi and others. We were a well educated seasoned group and our canvass had a higher percentage of long term, very serious minded and very often older staff than most canvasses of the day. Many of our leaders were woman and we were very well indoctrinated in larger issues of oppression and the connections between them. And we convinced many people that any action, no matter how small, could, be important if we wanted things to change.

As Ted Taylor, the Anti-War Nuclear Physicist told us, to paraphrase him just a little here, it would be better to strive with all our hearts to achieve a world that may seem too good to be true, than to drift toward one that is too dreadful to contemplate.

We did this not just with canvassing, but with a crack PR department and a well run publishing arm that was renowned in Washington DC for accurate and informative briefings and carefully researched literature that we got out to a mass audience on radio, at colleges and events that we held all over the country. We were a respected background source by the Washington DC and New York News Media. We worked hard! And SANE had a rich history. Not a perfect one to be sure, but one with a strong culture of resistance to oppression and militarism including early and strong opposition to the war in Viet Nam and a close association with organizers in the civil rights movement.

But a very concrete example of a small action making a big difference was the act of signing those petitions we carried around.

One of the historic occurrences which helped turn the tide on the escalation in the development and deployment of ever more dangerous nukes was Gorbechev’s rise to power and his eventual challenge to Reagan, who, to a significant degree, was forced to the bargaining table by grass roots pressure which was vey much stimulated by SANE and the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.

Of course there were many others besides us as well, too numerous to list here, but we played an undeniably large part in this struggle by virtue of our resource base… much of which can be credited to our canvass. In our first year we more than doubled our membership base and it continued to grow not only giving us more grass roots power, but fundamentally altering the breadth of our base and making it more mainstream and much less establishment liberal as the traditional base of SANE largely was. This was already true of the FREEZE and as the two organizations grew closer together and eventually merged, it changed even more. Though our leadership and staff were more militant, our base was a good cross section of the country.

But getting back to the lowly act of signing petitions. In many cases petitions are not taken seriously by policy makers. This is a widely accepted notion and very often true. The success of petitions is usually more in their use to build lists of supporters, but when one knows how to use them correctly they can actually make a difference in swaying the politically powerful and public opinion which in turn can have the same effect.

You see, one does not have to perform acts of civil disobedience, or risk their lives to make change. Some will have to, and maybe in growing numbers, and they will need our support, but even very small acts can have an impact. EVERYONE does have to do their piece of the work. There is a line in the Koran that speaks to this. It says something like that. That everyone has to do their piece of the work. It may be a big piece. It may be a small piece, but everyone has a piece to do.

In this case millions of names played a key role in an important public relations event that was picked up by major media and helped propel both the US and the USSR to end all nuclear explosions in the testing and development of new weapons. A ban that has held to this day. Though a test ban treaty remains elusive, both the US and Russia still maintain a voluntary cessation of live explosions and this is a good thing. This ban helped warm the cold war and made the eventual reductions in these weapons that I began this article with possible.
And the petitions helped to create that atmosphere when our delegation to Moscow, led by Jesse Jackson, attempted to present them to the Reagan delegation at the summit talks.

When Reagan refused to accept them, this played into Grobey’s hands giving him a distinct political PR advantage when he not only accepted them, but had a field day with the press touting them as representing the peaceful aspirations of the people of the World. This put even more pressure for Reagan to meet the Soviet Ban on testing, which Gorbechev had already initiated.

I personally collected hundreds of those names and the day before our delegation left for the Summit I helped box thousands of them with my staff on the floor of our New York City office blocks from where Norman Thomas had done community organizing years earlier in Soho. Those names played a role in a historic event. Each person who signed helped make a difference and from this I have learned that no action is too small. One never knows what effect a positive action may have down the road.

This has been my experience on many occasions and the point here is that even in the face of a strong attraction to, and in a pervasive environment for, the aforementioned psychic numbing that kept many from acting, we were able to demonstrate that action can work. Indeed, without it we will be doomed to failure. Action, of course never guarantees success, and I cannot tell you that action will promise victory, but I can tell you that in the face of threats and hurts and abuse of all kind, non-action will ensure defeat.

And we must remember all of this as we work to rid the World of ALL weapons of war, the rest of the Nukes, and everything else too… As we work to eliminate poverty, and end racism, sexism and cruel behavior of all kinds.

We live in a world where there is so much unnecessary hurt and pain and so much less love than there needs to be. We live on a planet that can provide for us all…. There IS enough to go around and there are solutions to climate change and most all of the ills that we suffer. The rich and powerful have to learn to share and play well in the sandbox that is the Earth. A better world is possible, but we first have to believe in it. Then we have to get to work.

But all of this will require us to get past our fear. It will take courage and we will all have to help each other.

So things may seem hopeless, odds may appear insurmountable and depression may sometimes consume us but if we allow ourselves to wallow in it, if we accept our lot and fall prey to the weight of our own disempowerment, if we allow ourselves to remain victims and shrink from a struggle for our own lives then we will not become survivors but we will be defeated, at least in part, by our own hand.

In the end it is up to us to take action. In the end there are only two choices.
Action or inaction.

We may need to reach out for help and support and we may not be able to turn the tide alone, but we cannot permit ourselves the distraction of complacency and immobilization. We have to overcome our fear and have the courage get past what terrifies us to live the healthy lives we wish to live and that we all deserve to live.

Life demands it.

David Gibson

Why Poverty is a Peace Issue and Why We Should Embrace it as one Now.

Why Poverty is a Peace Issue and Why We Should Embrace it as one Now.

We all know this… Eisenhower said it.   “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

We all believe it. We have all been advocating this for as long as any of us can remember. But now things are different. The current economic crisis which persists for way too many in this country (And around the planet) brings it all home as we all knew it would be brought home sooner or later.

We have all done our work advocating redirecting military spending to social needs for a very long time. We watched as we were sometimes turned down by groups working on other social issues when we WANTED to work together because to be seen with us risked, for these organizations, backlashes from a public addicted to military security that threatened their work. So we waited.

With the global economic decline and, more directly, with the current decline of the U.S. empire, the time is ripe for coming together and building real alliances… Nothing anyone reading this does not already know. But we are called to from history to take a stronger stand.

Dr. Martin Luther King, as usual, was ahead of the curve on this. On April 15, 1967, he spoke at an anti-war rally in NYC saying “…And I believe everyone has a duty to be in both the civil-rights and peace movements. But for those who presently choose but one, I would hope they will finally come to see the moral roots common to both.

The following year He began organizing the “Poor People’s March” because he felt that Congress had shown “hostility to the poor” by spending “military funds with alacrity and generosity”. He contrasted this with the situation faced by poor Americans, claiming that Congress had merely provided “poverty funds with miserliness”.[139] His vision was for change that was more revolutionary than mere reform: he cited systematic flaws of “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism”, and argued that “reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced”.[140]

Lesser known was his call for compensation. King stated that black Americans, as well as other disadvantaged Americans, should be compensated for historical wrongs.

King said that he did not seek a full restitution of wages lost to slavery, which he believed impossible, but proposed a government compensatory program of $50 billion over ten years to all disadvantaged groups.[36]

He posited that “the money spent would be more than amply justified by the benefits that would accrue to the nation through a spectacular decline in school dropouts, family breakups, crime rates, illegitimacy, swollen relief rolls, rioting and other social evils”.[37] He presented this idea as an application of the common law regarding settlement of unpaid labor, but clarified that he felt that the money should not be spent exclusively on blacks. He stated, “It should benefit the disadvantaged of all races”.[38]

I mention all of this to underline the notion that “Welfare” which carries an unfair stigma as a “handout” should really be seen as compensation for work done that benefits all of society. Parents and care givers play a vital social role in raising healthy, well adjusted children, Public investment in this sector is for the greater good and, as we all know, is a much better investment in the nation’s real security than any number of over blown over funded unneeded weapons systems. The legislation that I am proposing we endorse and the campaign that I propose we participate in, to the degree possible, The RISE out of Poverty Act and its companion piece the WORK Act, come in at a price tag of around $2.5 Billion. (Though the final cost is likely to be much higher, and we have asked National Priorities Project to help us determine both more accurate costs and appropriate trade-offs from the military side of the budget. But for now we will be using this lower figure.) Compare this to the F-35 which comes in at $12.6 Billion, Terminating the V-22 Osprey, a system with little real need, would save $2 billion. Another $2.9 Billion for operations in Iraq. What can I possibly write to put this in perspective?

It is therefore that I propose that peace and justice organizations endorse the following two pieces of legislation realizing the dream of King and positioning ourselves for the future while developing new allies among social needs organizations who increasingly are calling for cuts in military spending now that real reductions on are the table. (See either of the web sites below)

The time has come for us to get on board and by adding our name to this effort, and mobilizing our networks and members and activists, each according to our abilities, clearly demonstrating that we are ready to work alongside groups that are now taking up our call to reorder national spending priorities.

Specifically we should:

  • Sign the endorsement form. (Also on one of the web sites.)
  • Put a link for the endorsement form for our groups and allies up on our web sites and display prominently.
  • Do at least one e-mail “blast” to our activists when ACTION ALERTS are generated for this upcoming legislation.
  • Reach out to congressional allies to seek co-sponsors. Help us find a new sponsor for the WORK Act
  • Put up educational materials on RISE and WORK on web sites.
  • Distribute petitions and return to  www.globalwomenstrike.net or www.everymothernetwork.net

Welcome to the New Pennsylvania for Change! (We will eventually have a new name)

On February 17, way back in 2003, Patrick E. Tyler wrote in the New York Times “…there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” This was, of course, the now famous statement made in reference to what was likely the largest, if not the FIRST, world-wide protest in our planet’s history. In that case protests were held on every continent in the world in opposition to the U.S. Government’s planned invasion of Iraq.

So, what of it, one might ask? What difference does public opinion really make when it comes to super-power policy? For example…

Largest anti-war demonstration EVER… and the U.S. still goes to war. 
People the world over protesting global climate change, countries meeting over and over again to come up with some kind of world standard on climate emissions that make sense, and the U.S. one of the planet’s two most egregious climate change enablers, (along now with China) largely ignores it and goes on with business as usual. 

People being arrested in growing numbers at Obama’s front door – not just “ordinary people” – but a growing number of celebs and local leaders. Yet Obama looks likely to give the Keystone Excel pipeline, now the most threatening development to boost global climate-change emissions past the point of no return, a go ahead anyway. (At press time this is still an open question… MAYBE we ARE having an impact eh?)

Innocent children, gunned down in a Connecticut suburb, a place synonymous with the American dream, a concept that evokes, ironically  ultimate security, the entire nation mourns, and yet the Senate and the House of REPRESENTATIVES still fails to enact a solution to gun violence in the United States of America.

Is it any surprise at all then why many lament, “Is this the change I voted for?” and “What good is resistance in the first place?” Why sacrifice when all one gets in the end is… the end of what there is to know as we now know it? At least… or worse … the end of the human species and all the other species we are dragging down with us.

Why resist? In the words of “The Borg”, the imaginary human/machine synthesis as portrayed on Star Trek TNG (and maybe a most apropos icon of 21st century Homo sapiens after all…) “Resistance is futile!”… It is, right? Is it?
Well, maybe, but….

Doesn’t the notion of “progress” leave a lot to be desired when time for the human species is actually running out? Doesn’t it? It begs the question. Does protest work? And if it does not, what SHOULD we do? Is it time to just accept the inevitable? Should we just let world history run it’s course and get as much out of things as we can before the end times are really upon us? That is if they aren’t already.

Well, I think we need to look at some examples of real victories achieved by organized grass-roots people like you and I. There are many, many examples of successful acts of social change throughout history.OK. Now, before I continue, I would like to settle one thing. 

Some argue that was then this is now and that the corporate take-over of our government has gone too far for anything like these victories for peace and justice to ever happen again… Well, maybe,,, maybe not.. THAT is what we are here to discuss. But first I want to give a few more examples of more recent success. Smaller and less far-reaching … but that may be how it get’s done in the big picture. THAT is how it has been done for most of time. Small, local victories, building one upon the other making change over time till enough momentum is built, and conditions are ripe, then the “BIG MOVEMENT PUSH” takes place. THAT may be what we need to work on now. Let’s get back to that later. First a couple of more recent examples of successful campaigns.

So first. let’s look at a recent campaign for health care rights in Vermont. This is a direct quote from the abstract of a report on the web site Health and Human Rights, An International Journal.

“In 2008, the Vermont Workers’ Center launched the “Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign,” a grassroots campaign to secure the creation of a universal health care system in Vermont. Campaign organizers used a human rights framework to mobilize thousands of voters in support of universal health care. In response to this extraordinary grassroots effort, the state legislature passed health care legislation that incorporates human rights principles into Vermont law and provides a framework for universal health care.” 

Here is the link: http://www.hhrjournal.org/2013/08/19/human-rights-from-the-grassroots-up-vermonts-campaign-for-universal-health-care/

OK… Here’s another:
“As of May 21, 2013, gay marriage has been legalized in 12 US states (CT, DE, IA, MA, MD, ME, MN, NH, NY, RI, VT, and WA) and the District of Columbia. Thirty-six states have gay marriage bans through either laws or constitutional amendments or both.”

Thirty six to go… OK .. a big lift, but just two years ago I think there was something like ZERO states with Gay marriage rights. So ha!

I think by now you get the drift…
But Wait you cry… those are local victories. How do we win against the monolithic state/corporate duopoly when it has soooo much power and the stakes are sooo much higher?

Big Oil and Natural Gas and coal interests will not simply give up without a fight, to nod to Frederick Douglas. Stopping the defense industry is the sacred cow. NO empire will give up its guns till the day it is over and by that time there may be nothing left for us to struggle for….

One of my political heroes was Allard Lowenstein who organized the Student Dump Johnson Movement in the 60’s. He was successful in getting President Johnson, arguably the most powerful person on the planet at that time, to refuse to run for a second term. No small potatoes that one. They said it couldn’t be done. Allard did it. True, there were other influences that helped Johnson to take his exit, The announcement of Bobby Kennedy that he would run, to name just one. But it was the Campaign that helped create the conditions that made a Kennedy run desirable and, I might argue, even possible.

Well…. another thing Allard Lowenstein inspires me for, is his is take on this issue… the issue of “should we could we”… His philosophy was pretty simple. He used to say, “Nothing is for certain. The only thing that is for certain is that you either win or you lose, so work as hard as you can to win.” Hard to argue with that. What other choice do we have? Oh yeah, we can just bide our time and go out in a delirium of hedonistic distraction… not for me thanks… that would make a mockery of our existence on this planet and in this world so whatever your world view, if… IF we are all connected, and I believe we are, and a close examination of science AND religion would attest to this, then we are here for a reason… simply to live. As Schopenhauer said, if nothing else., He wrote, “If life IS an accident then you have to say ‘Yea’ to it.”

If you are still with me then… what is to be done? Unite and fight like hell for the living. After all,,, what would Jesus do? (I just couldn’t resist.)
Let the dead bury the dead. Let’s choose to live. And if we choose to live, then we must fight back. But of course how we fight matters because if we go about winning any kind of power the same way as our oppressor does then our oppressor has already won because we become just like them. 

The ends do NOT justify the means anymore than the chicken came before the egg.. The ends and the means are the same thing, just as the variation always appears in the offspring first. 

That does not mean we do not struggle. Life IS a struggle, though not without its joy and wonder. The joy and wonder are what we struggle for and if all this be true then we dare not do this alone. Working together, as everyone know, works better. There IS strength in numbers.

This then is my case. And I will reinforce this on these pages whenever challenged. And I invite your challenges, because if I cannot defend my positions then they are in need of revision.

Here is the purpose, or mission of this blog. It is to initiate a POSITIVE discussion of social change with an eye toward survival of our species, and others and our culture, world-wide, and to head off the environmental and potential destructive war-making policies that threaten … almost …. everything.

It is to encourage discussion on how progressive forces, those whose intent it is to see progressive social change, from a non-violent basis, succeed for everyone.
Here I am not interested in power over others, whoever they are. I am interested in empowerment of everyone, which by definition means shared power. A balance of power, or, even better, redistributed power. You know the old saying. Power is like mustard. It’s best when spread around.

I am not interested in revenge or violent solutions, for when we take up the standard of violence our oppressor has already won. You cannot make change by being as corrupt as those who hold us down and expect to be pure when you have gained power. You will still be cleaning the same house.

And always remember that the slogan “Power comes out of the barrel of a gun” is meaningless when they have all the guns.

Let’s amend that to say most of the guns and the ones that count.Besides, violence is an end in itself. We cannot resist violence to bring about a peaceful, fair world by using violence. Not on the streets, or on the battlefields or behind the closed doors of our homes or anywhere else. This is an untenable position whichever way one looks at it.

That does not mean we do not defend ourselves and if we use violent means in the pursuit of our own defense or the defense of others, that is one thing. But defense is the basis for this. I study Aikido whose foundation is to hurt no one. It has been called “The Way of Peace”. In Aikido we “blend” with our attacker, the goal being to stop and re-direct the attack and protect both ourselves and the attacker to bring about a resolution and defuse the violence. Not unlike Gandhi’s Satyagraha, or Truth-force” one cannot obtain the truth by subduing the truth of your oppressor, one obtains truth by being open to your oppressor and one obtains peace and resolution by using the truth to help your oppressor change. A tall order and, in the real world, one that we may not be able to achieve every time, especially if we find ourselves fighting for our very lives, but we should attempt to, whenever possible, as a matter of… “policy”, if we wish to live up, even a little bit, to the ideals we strive for.

Thomas Merton said that there is no way to peace. PEACE IS THE WAY. And PEACE is more than the absence of conflict it IS the presence of justice. It is the ability for families to stay together and for hurt people to mend and for children to be safe and for women, (and men) to walk the streets safely.

But we will not win if we do not unite, for separate, we are weaker than we are together. 

In the 60’s we used to say that if each person next to us took part we would sooner or later have everyone taking part. Remember, if soldiers will not fight armies are powerless. 

What will this all mean? It will mean true alliances. What is one movements fight is every movements fight. What is one movement’s problem is every movements problem.

We must take up each others causes. we must truly share resources or we are bound to fail. And we must work locally and globally. It is true that if everyone grew their own food we would radically alter the entire structure of society. But if we do not maintain influence in the current system they will simple make growing our own food illegal and seize our right to grow it.

This struggle will proceed on many fronts and for many people simple survival is in question so we must, whenever possible, do what we can to support the struggles of those weakest and most at risk among us or we will be without mutual support when it is our turn. We ARE all in this together and we must begin to act that way if we expect anyone else to support the struggle that we deem our own main focus. And there will be something for everybody to do. We all bring our own unique skills and experience to the table.

Different strategies and tactics will have their place in the larger picture.An example: Voting…

Some contend that voting merely recognizes and legitimizes a corrupt system. I can see that point of view. But voting is one way to influence those already in power and to organize others and build relationships that will be important for other, more pertinent struggles. I vote strategically, even choosing not to vote and telling our constituents to stay home en-mass to make a statement in one city election. The statement was essential in this case as the campaign was about demonstrating the corruption of this very election. That coalition went on to replace the people in power the following election with allies that supported our cause in the first election.

That is not to say that we all put down our current campaigns and start from  scratch. If does behoove us to look at ways that we can support others in their struggles and combine, where possible, our campaigns to include others whose struggles are peripherally effected or whose success may embolden our own. The advance of conditions for teachers IS an advance for students IS an advance for parents IS an advance for families etc. add-infinitum.

Besides, fighting the fight is the right thing to do because it is. Another thing Allard used to say. “The question should be, is it worth doing, not can it be done.” So true. 

After all… isn’t it about time?

When Do We Get Outraged?

The New York Times has reported that there were many more “ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and killing factories that the Nazis set up throughout Europe” then originally documented.

After reading the article, I suspect the German citizens were aware of these ghettos and camps as they were everywhere.  We are outraged at this cruelty and rightfully so.  The occupants were not only Jews but included Poles, Russians, homosexuals, the mentally impaired, the elderly, the sick and political enemies.  Millions of people were killed by the Nazis.

The United States government is also guilty of genocide.

Two studies have been conducted that attempt to number the natives killed by the United States. The first of these was sponsored by the United States government, and while official does not stand up to scrutiny and is therefore discounted (generally); this estimate shows between 1 million to 4 million killed. The second study was not sponsored by the US Government but was done from independent researchers. This study estimated populations and population reductions using later census data. Two figures are given, both low and high, at: between 10 million and 114 million Indians as a direct result of US actions. Please note that Nazi Holocaust estimates are between 6 and 11 million; thereby making the Nazi Holocaust the 2nd largest mass murder of a class of people in history.
REF:
American Holocaust: D. Stannard (Oxford Press, 1992) – “over 100 million killed” “[Christopher] Columbus personally murdered half a million Natives”
God, Greed and Genocide: The Holocaust Through the Centuries: Grenke (New Academia Publishing 2006)
Holocaust: Critical Concepts in Historical Studies: Cesarani, (Routledge 2004)

H/T to WikiAnswers.

In 1840, the Indian Removal Act made it illegal for Native Americans to live in Georgia.  This act wasn’t repealed until March 1980.  Beginning in the 1830’s, the Leni Lenape were removed from the areas surrounding the Hudson River and Delaware River and sent to Oklahoma.  The Native American children were sent to the ‘Indian School’ in Carlyle, PA.

More information about the removal of Native Americans can be found here.

Today, Native Americans live in extreme poverty on reservations that are on land that no one else wants.  After breaking treaty upon treaty, our government corralled the first people onto wastelands.

Why aren’t we angry about the US government’s genocide?  Where’s the outrage?  The Nazi holocaust stirs up anger as do the current drone strikes happening in other countries.  Do we only get offended by deaths that occur in other countries?  When it happens on our soil, do we just turn our heads aside and ignore it?

The US is host to the ‘Holocaust Museum’.  When will we build the Native American genocide museum?