Archive for Current Issue

One Black Woman’s View

Courtesy Photo Heather Mosley

Courtesy Photo
Heather Mosley

What is the root of racism, the cause of conflict, the answer to anger? As we transition from our nation’s first black president and the dream of a post-racial America to a man elected by supporters that include Confederate battle flag-wavers, I need to reflect on my own journey to help myself deal with it all.

I grew up in a family of six kids, I’m the youngest, and was born and raised in Portland, Ore. My mom is black and native from Mississippi, and my father was a strong black man from Alabama. Both were raised in the segregation era. We were not raised to be violent or racist and would get disciplined if we showed any signs of it. My mom said she never worried about people messing over me even as a child. I was outspoken and would defend myself if it became necessary. I was a fairly small child but came with a powerful pack of energy. I never started any fights or picked on anyone, and never played the bully role. You would have to pick on me first for me to go into action.

I was bused out to all-white schools through elementary and high school. I can remember my first day of school; my oldest sister was getting me dressed to walk me to catch the bus. The buses picked us up from the black schools that were in the neighborhood to take us to the white schools. When my sister was putting me on the bus she said, “You better not let anyone treat you differently or disrespect you just because of your color.” I did not understand. I was too young to understand about racism but I surely learned.

There were about 10 of us black kids who were bused out to this elementary school. To this day I can remember this incident that took place when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. I was the only black kid in the classroom and a white girl raised her hand and told the teacher her lunch bag was missing. She said she believed I was the one who took it. The teacher who was an older white woman asked the class who wanted to go search my stuff to see if I had stolen it. All of a sudden, I saw all the little white hands go up into the air. I remember thinking; as soon as one comes towards me I was going to sock them in their face. One of the kids then said to the girl who was missing her lunch, isn’t that your bag over there on the window ledge, and she said yes. The class went back to normal with no apology to me from the teacher or the girl. I remember feeling so degraded even at the young age I was. That evening, I cried and told my mom what had happened.

The next morning she, I, and my dad headed to the school and my parents were not happy. My mom went into the principal’s office and explained how they were not going to treat her child in any disrespectful matter. My dad and I sat outside the door and then I saw the teacher enter the principal’s office. I will not repeat the words I heard my mom saying to this teacher. What I remember about the incident is, the teacher no longer taught that class, my parents and I were given a written apology, and I’m not sure what other actions may have ensued legally. I continued, graduated from that school, and had no more problems that I could not handle on my own.

In this world I have seen and faced a lot of unfair racial treatment, and at times I have reacted in anger. Yes, I would get up in someone’s face and be ready to handle the situation whichever way it went. It never got physically violent but certainly got verbally violent. Over the years, I learned the only person who suffered and got hurt from handling racism this way was me. I have been a work in progress and have come a long way from being aggressive. I have learned how to approach the situation and voice my opinion without hostility. I pray for strength from God to show me, and I have nothing to prove to anyone in a violent way. Now, instead, I use constructive communication skills, take conflict resolution classes, and get my point across where it does not cause serious problems. I will continue to work on being less aggressive, for I am a woman who carries herself in a respectful manner and violence is not the answer.

In the coming period, I pray we all reflect and respect and learn to overcome our inner aggressions. We will need this, I suspect, together.

Heather Mosley is a returning college student. The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Free Weekly or its staff.

Human Rights Day, A Call To Care

Shutterstock A refugee girl stands amid a camp in Dunkerque, France, January 2016.

Shutterstock
A refugee girl stands amid a camp in Dunkerque, France, January 2016.

December 10 marks the U.N. Human Rights Day, celebrating and upholding the indispensable and crucial declaration of universal human rights. On the eve of this event, I visited a refugee camp housing 700 families in Kabul. Conditions in refugee camps can be deplorable, intolerable. Here, the situation is best described as surreal. As I approach the entrance to the camp with my friends Nematullah, Zarghuna and Henrietta, we are overcome by the stench emanating from an open sewer filled with filth. I ask myself, “Can this be real?”

Inside the camp, primitive mud huts are separated by narrow walkways. When the inevitable snow comes, the ground inside and outside the homes will be muddy until the mud freezes. Plastic has been placed over some of the doors and roofs, in hopes of providing insulation from the coming cold. Mothers in the camp tell us winter months are unbearably hard. Children become sick at the onset of winter and they don’t recover until spring arrives. People burn plastic, boots, clothing, and water bottles for fuel, but when those resources are depleted, they rely solely on heavy blankets to protect them from the cold.

A single water pump serves all 700 families, and the water isn’t even potable. It needs to be boiled for 20 minutes before use.

Latrines here are the “traditional type,” simple holes dug in the ground.

Our visit was arranged by Nematullah, an Afghan Peace Volunteer. A friend of his teaches informal language and math classes to children at the camp. Nematullah leaned over and asked me to jot down the rights listed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I quickly scribbled food, water, shelter, health care, employment and security in my notebook. As we listened to the mothers describe their daily lives, we checked off the rights they have been denied.

“Some days we get food from the market if our children work there,” said Nazar Bibi. “They bring back potatoes or turnips. Otherwise we eat bread and tea. Sometimes we have no tea, and sometimes we don’t even have bread.”

We were told,

“If someone becomes sick there is no clinic, no first aid. And we have no hospitals nearby that will help us. We can’t afford to travel to hospitals that might accept us. (Six hospitals serving “better off” people are within walking distance of the camp, but none of them accept the camp residents, who have no means to pay hospital bills, as patients.)

We don’t want to send our children to work on the streets. We’re afraid they’ll be hit by a car or blown up by a suicide bomber. But we are desperate for food and fuel and there is no work for men and women here in the camp. Sometimes the children return home and there is no bread for them. They wake up after midnight, begging for food because they are so hungry, and there is nothing for them.”

“If we had education, perhaps we wouldn’t be here,” said Nazar Bibi. “We want our children to learn, but even government schools cost money. We have no income.”

One woman managed to laugh. “We don’t even know what a dollar looks like! What color is it? Is it black, or white?” said Shukria. “If America sends dollars here, we never see them. No one cares about us.”

The women said they do feel secure within the camp. They can go to the latrine without being harassed.

Shojun and her family are relieved to have escaped the fighting in Kunduz. She described nightmare experiences with bullets flying back and forth over and through her house. After fleeing in haste they realized one of the seven children was still in the house. Fortunately, he was saved. She and her family arrived in Kabul with no belongings, only themselves.

Shukria, who fled fighting in the Laghman province, showed us the large raw scar tissue covering her inner, upper arm. The Taliban killed her husband 12 years ago. She then married his brother, but two years ago, during renewed fighting between the Taliban and government forces, their home was attacked. Her husband lost a foot. He then left the province, abandoning her and her two children. Shukria says that sometimes she considers suicide but then thinks of the two children. Today, she has no food to serve them lunch. Shukria herself is painfully thin. She shakes her head, and adds because she never has shampoo she washes her hair with detergent and she thinks it’s causing her hair to fall out.

Up to the end of 2014, the U.S. had spent more money for ‘reconstruction’ in Afghanistan than was allotted for the Marshall Plan (more than two-thirds of this had gone to build up Afghan military and police forces), yet Afghans remain one of the poorest people in the world.

At the same time, the U.S. Congress has authorized $618.7 billion for the National Defense Authorization Act, to fund the Department of Defense in 2017. Even a fraction of this budget, directed toward human needs, would solve the problem of starving children worldwide as well as meet the needs of the destitute people living in the camps throughout Afghanistan. It would be fitting on this Dec. 10, U.N. Human Rights Day, if the citizens of the U.S. were to extend a hand of true friendship to those in need throughout the world and make meeting the needs of the world’s least fortunate the first priority. True security for the U.S. will be achieved through caring for and respecting the world’s most needy, not through the rampages of war and destruction that has made the U.S. the most feared country in the world.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) writes for PeaceVoice and co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) When in Afghanistan, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com).

Scapegoating By The Political Right: A Mask For Privilege

Richard Spencer, a leader in the "alt-right" that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism, poses between interviews Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in College Station, Texas. Spencer is scheduled to speak at Texas A&M University after being invited by a former student. Texas A&M is holding an event to highlight diversity and unity at the same time Spencer is set to speak. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Richard Spencer, a leader in the “alt-right” that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism, poses between interviews Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in College Station, Texas. Spencer is scheduled to speak at Texas A&M University after being invited by a former student. Texas A&M is holding an event to highlight diversity and unity at the same time Spencer is set to speak. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Recently, many commentators have expressed surprise at the romance between the incoming Trump administration and the hate-filled ranks of racial, religious, and nativist bigots.

But, in fact, the phenomenon of scapegoating―blaming a hapless and helpless minority for problems caused by others―has been fundamental to advancing the fortunes of the political Right throughout modern history. In Europe, political reactionaries traditionally found the Jews a useful target, for Jews not only practiced a much-reviled religion, but were considered an inferior race and disloyal to the nations in which they lived. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Czarist Russia’s rulers launched bloody, devastating pogroms by Christians against the Jewish minority, plus anti-Semitic decrees and legislation that made life for Jews such a nightmare that large numbers fled the country. In subsequent decades, right-wing parties in Eastern and Western Europe also employed anti-Semitism as a staple of their campaigns, ultimately joining in Nazi Germany’s “final solution” to “the Jewish problem.”

In the wake of the disaster of World War II, Europe’s right-wing parties gradually changed their focus. Downplaying their traditional anti-Semitism, they began to whip up hatred against “guest workers” from southern Europe and Turkey and, more recently, Gypsies, North Africans, Muslims, and assorted refugees from the Middle East. Prating of their alleged national, racial, and religious purity, supposedly threatened by these “outsiders,” parties of the Right have attained popularity and won major election victories. They include the National Front (France), the Alternative for Germany, Progress Party (Norway), Law and Justice (Poland), the Freedom Party of Austria, the Swiss People’s Party, the Danish People’s Party, the Sweden Democrats, the United Kingdom Independence Party, the Golden Dawn (Greece), Lega Nord (Italy), and dozens of others.

Nor is this right-wing penchant for scapegoating minorities limited to Europe. In India, the ruling party is the BJP, a right-wing Hindu nationalist political party that has arisen in recent decades with the avowed goal of saving the country from the danger of Muslims, at home and abroad.

How should this marriage of right-wing politics with racial, religious, and nativist passions be explained? Psychologists and other social theorists have argued that human beings have an unfortunate tendency to blame others for problems that these others did not cause, especially if they constitute a small minority and, therefore, are unable to defend themselves.

But this phenomenon also acquired a political dimension. With the gradual democratization of politics in the nineteenth century, the wealthy grew increasingly fearful that the lower classes would use their right to vote—and thus to govern—to take away their wealth and power. And, in fact, the masses often did have that in mind as they promoted political parties and government policies to foster economic and social equality. Simply championing a program of maintaining upper class privilege or of funneling even greater riches to the wealthy wasn’t going to win elections for the outnumbered upper classes and their parties on the Right. But, if the masses could be persuaded that their real problems didn’t lie with the privileges of the wealthy but, rather, with dangerous religious, racial, or foreign-born minorities, these parties’ election chances would be vastly improved. Not surprisingly, then, right-wing parties resorted to a bigoted appeal again and again. As Carey McWilliams, the long-time editor of The Nation, wrote of anti-Semitism, scapegoating served as “a mask for privilege.”

Certainly that’s how scapegoating worked in the United States. Although racial, religious, and foreign minorities served as targets for political abuse throughout American history, African Americans were particularly useful along these lines. The Southern planter class drew on racism to maintain its political power during the slavery era. And, even in the aftermath of the Civil War, the planters and the new industrial magnates defeated interracial working class alliances in the South by appealing to racism among poor whites. By fanning the flames of racism and using the Democratic Party to cement their rule in Southern states, wealthy Southerners succeeded in turning back Reconstruction, Populism, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, and union organizing drives.

Outside the South, America’s economic elite operated for a time within a Protestant-dominated Republican Party, where it drew upon prejudice against Catholics and Jews (which often overlapped with prejudice against immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe) that helped provide the GOP with a mass political base. Then, after the national Democratic Party passed civil rights legislation in the 1960s, Republicans saw an excellent opportunity to widen their support. Barry Goldwater, nominated as the Republican Presidential candidate in 1964, combined a vigorous defense of wealth with an assault on racial equality legislation. Subsequently, the GOP employed Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” Ronald Reagan’s dog-whistle appeals to prejudice, and George H.W. Bush’s racist Willie Horton campaign ads to appeal to racists in both South and North. From the standpoint of rallying a white majority, racist politics worked very well. Donald Trump’s combination of giveaways to America’s millionaires and billionaires with demagogic attacks on blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and immigrants constituted only an extension of the GOP strategy.

By contrast, parties of the Center-Left and the Left usually supported the rights of racial, religious, and foreign-born minorities. In the United States, this opposition to discrimination—plus the long-term scapegoating of minorities by the political Right—has resulted in the fact that the Democratic Party now attracts the votes of the overwhelming majority of African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Jews, Muslims, and recent immigrants.

Even so, thanks to the efficacy of racial, religious, and nativist prejudice in election campaigns, we can probably expect that unscrupulous right-wing politicians will continue to draw upon bigoted political appeals. Given the power of scapegoating, there is no single way to resist this onslaught. But one way might be to expose the program of class privilege hidden behind the mask.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark? The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Free Weekly or its staff.

Focus on the Silver Lining

The election is over and Trump won. In a country with a sane election system, he would not have, but we have the Electoral College, so he did. In Joe Hill’s immortal words, “Don’t mourn; organize!”

Organizing Everywhere

Hidden in those words is one of the silver linings that surrounds Trump’s cloud. Look around. People are organizing as they have not done since 2003, when the Iraq invasion was imminent, and maybe even not since the 1960s anti-war efforts. People are coming together to protect each other from racist attacks, support the water protectors at Standing Rock, counter hate speech with love, sustain the environmental gains we have struggled for, continue efforts to halt climate change, reorganize the Democratic Party, protect a woman’s right to choose, and more.

In addition, protests have sprung up spontaneously all over the country, some of them involving people not old enough to vote. While complaining about the election results will not change anything, such protests offer a path to building a movement that can make serious change. Stress planning, humor, newsworthy positions, and connections to basic societal values so your campaign will resonate with mainstream Americans.

Seattle, San Francisco and other cities have affirmed themselves as Sanctuary Cities, where human rights are respected and protected.

Others are demonstrating outside the banks that fund the Dakota Access Pipeline. When I did that with a local group recently, one of the banks immediately locked its doors and its customers could not get in!

In my home town of Salem, Ore., a city councilor posted flagrantly racist materials on his Facebook page. The spontaneous uproar that ensued was immediate and intense, leading to his resignation.

There is encouraging news on the foreign relations front as well. Trump’s website reported shortly after the election that Trump and Vladimir Putin “discussed a range of issues including the threats and challenges facing the United States and Russia, strategic economic issues and the historical U.S.-Russia relationship that dates back over 200 years.” Rather than pursuing the tense relations that have steadily worsened in recent months giving rise to fears of nuclear war, “President-elect Trump noted to President Putin that he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.” Putin’s militarism in Ukraine, his administration’s recent repression and his reported assassinations of dissidents, are no doubt reprehensible, but finding common ground where we can is an inoculant against nuclear aggression.

The Struggle of Our Lives

All that said, we all know that we are about to face the struggle of our lives if we are to avert disasters for the environment, human rights, good government, equity, healthcare, workers’ rights, human decency, politics and a host of other controversial issues. We need to acknowledge that Trump’s candidacy and victory did not cause any of these crises. All were there before. We fear that his administration will make them worse — because his candidacy already has; it is our job to see that he does not succeed.

We stand at a crossroads from which things can get a whole lot worse, but they can also get a lot better. Let us choose the latter course!

Each of us will be drawn to the issues and tactics that resonate for us. Please don’t try to convince others that your cause is “the most important.” They are all important. Instead, thank each person who is working on any of them – even those you never thought about or thought were important. Come to appreciate how intimately interconnected they all are. They are varying forms of resistance to domination, and efforts to replace it with cooperation. Replacing domination with cooperation has a short name – “nonviolence.”

No one is saying this is going to be easy. It’s not. It’s going to be one of the hardest things our country has ever attempted, if not the hardest. However, the stakes have never been higher either. The reward of success will be happier, more secure, more fulfilled, healthier people living together more peacefully and gracefully. The price of failure could well be the extinction of our species from this planet, taking many other life forms with us.

100 Days of Peace and Justice

So here’s a specific suggestion, recently offered by a friend: as Donald Trump follows his inauguration on January 20 with 100 days of revealing to us what his administration’s agenda is going to be, let us begin 100 Days of Peace and Justice during which we reveal what our agenda is going to be. Never in the history of the world has there been a leader who was able to govern without the cooperation – or at least the acquiescence – of the governed. Let us make it clear that we will only accept governance that meets our needs and aspirations. Under the umbrella of 100 Days of Peace and Justice we can speak with a unified voice on all the issues we care about by demonstrating what we want and resisting what we do not want. Initiate projects that fire your enthusiasm and refuse cooperation with those that do not represent you. No overall coordination is required. Just Do It.

A Few Examples

Initially protests will come to mind. Protest if you wish, but I believe we must go beyond protesting to demonstrating what we want and how to refuse what we do not want. For example:

• Wear the safety pin (meaning: commitment to everyone’s safety) and be ready to back it up. It says you are a person who will not accept mistreatment of others in your presence and will help resist it. That involves intervening if violence is threatened, of course, but also if racial slurs, misogyny, bullying or any kind of personal domination appears in your environment.

• Set an example of ecologically conscientious behavior. Don’t waste resources. Choose ecologically sound products, resist unsound ones, and cultivate behaviors and attitudes that protect the planet and its systems. Let others know what you are doing.

• Take an interest in, and become better informed about, foreign relations. Don’t trust everything you receive from the mainstream media. Seek out alternative sources to balance them.

• Support local businesses, boycott irresponsible marketing and marketers, reward good corporate citizens with your business. Tell others.

• Turn up at government hearings that concern you, let your representatives at all levels know what you want and what you do not want, support candidates you like, and demand action on important issues. Object when money is used to pervert the democratic process.

• Resist the violence that flows into our homes, schools, workplaces and lives on a daily basis via entertainment, video games, language and attitudes. Interrupt it and replace it with healthier alternatives.

Nonviolence

In closing, a word about nonviolence — it is crucial to ultimate success in this endeavor for a number of reasons:

• If we use violence, or threats of violence to coerce cooperation, we are selling out the fundamental paradigm shift we need to achieve.

• Recent research has shown that nonviolence is twice as likely to be successful as violence, and is much more likely to have lasting results.

• Any form of social change requires only about 3.5 percent of sustained actively involved people in order to be successful. Violence turns many people off and thus is counter-productive. It also makes it much more difficult for very young, elderly and alter-abled people to become involved.

• Violence is often initiated by oppressors hoping to tempt their opponents to violence in order to discredit them. Think of the difference in public reaction to the recent window-breaking demonstration in Portland, Ore., vs. the determined nonviolence of the Standing Rock water protectors, even in the face of massive provocation.

We won’t know how much power we can wield until we try. Now is not the time to err on the side of timidity.

Peter Bergel is a lifelong peace, justice, environmental, and indigenous rights activist and organizer.

Read My Apocalypse: Dead Reckoning

The Ship of State—especially that of the United States—may have begun as a lithe and limber craft back in the day, but it is now more of a battle group with attendant oil tankers, nuclear submarines, and a long affixed line of garbage barges. You don’t turn that one easily, even when you are Rooling Roost Grand Poobah Gold Epaulets Sprayed Orange Comb-over Admiral President Donald J Trump. Attempting to veer sharply or reverse course could set off a string of mishaps, with the Ship of State aground or sinking and scuttled.

Here we go!

My father was the navy man, not I, but he helped me understand the idea of dead reckoning, that is, tasting the air, looking at the horizon and the sky, remembering the map, thinking about time gone and direction traveled, imaging the destination, and intuitively, experientially, setting a course forward, a strategic line of sight toward the port, the beach, or the portage trailhead (he took me paddling through the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness frequently, a massively confusing welter of boreal forest-ringed glaciated lakes stretching across the Minnesota-Canadian border).

Our Ship of State is about to be handed to a man who will give an entirely different, darker, more deadly meaning to dead reckoning—a reckoning from Mother Earth, a reckoning from Cosmic Justice, a reckoning that may well include nuclear apocalypse, climate Armageddon, and financial plunge to the bottom. Mr. Trump, capsize is more than fitting you for the gold-braided admiral hat.

Sometimes a different sort of fleet is needed, one that is clean and collective, more like a million sailboats and a hundred million kayaks, using the hive mentality to achieve a dead reckoning yielding a sustainable, equitable, just and inclusive voyage toward safe harbors for all, not luxury liners for the few served by armed battleships. Dr. Erica Chenoweth and others help us envision that, a vision of people power and clean power, not polluting power predicated on armed robbery of resources.

My old paddling buddy Davy was on a short 19-mile Lake Superior crossing from Grand Portage to Isle Royale, kayaking with his uncle. They were hit by a white squall, a sudden blast of very high wind and tall, rough waves. With just a minute or two notice, they rafted up, slapping together a human arm/kayak paddle strongback across the decks of their boats. They held on for dear life, were tossed like a mouse by a big cat, and rode it out right-side-up.

We the people were hit by a different sort of white squall with this election, wouldn’t you agree? While Trump did about the same with white voters as did Romney in 2012, the rest of us failed to raft up and that white squall tipped us over. We are scattered and broken-hearted.

This is when we dig deep for our connections to each other and begin rescue operations with a better strategy going forward. If some Muslim sailboats keeled over, we need to rally around them and use our creative selves to set them right. If Native activists are being brutalized to make way for polluting pipelines, we need to raft up with them and prevent that. If immigrants from Mexico are forced into hiding, our homes and churches should be sanctuary islands.

When we think, love, and act together, our mass wisdom can exercise a dead reckoning that will set us on a course that will work for all. That is the wisdom and commitment we need now and into the coming period. We can do this.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

Democracy is Not Demonization

Courtesy Photo Saadia Ahmad studies conflict resolution at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She can be reached at saadia.ahmad001@umb.edu.

Courtesy Photo
Saadia Ahmad studies conflict resolution at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She can be reached at saadia.ahmad001@umb.edu.

I am a Muslim-American and a peacebuilder. In the aftermath of a polarizing election season, the victory of President-elect Donald Trump, and an onslaught of violent hate crimes and proposed policies threatening human rights, I am struggling to simultaneously maintain my commitment to both roles and identities.

I am deeply troubled by the racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, ableist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic rhetoric and violence that is on the rise. In my hometown of South Brunswick, New Jersey, the school board election signs of a respected, Muslim woman leader were defaced with the phrases “ISIS,” “Rag Head,” “Oppressor,” and “anti-American.” This trend threatens the human dignity that America and Islam seek to protect and preserve.

But ignoring what lead us to this point today will not serve any of us well. Through this election season and its results, half of our country is communicating something to the other half. Unless every person who voted for Trump is racist, sexist, or xenophobic (which I do not believe is statistically plausible), there must have been something else deeply compelling that motivated their votes for him. Likewise, those who are experiencing immense fear, pain, and trauma from Trump winning the presidency need to be heard and recognized by those who voted for him. Continuing to shut our eyes, ears, and hearts to one another will continue the polarization that brought us to where we are today.

The dehumanization of Republicans by Democrats and of Democrats by Republicans undermines the pluralism that constitutes both America and Islam. As divided, fearful, and hurt as many of us are, we all still share in the responsibility of what happens to ourselves and one another in the months and years ahead. A college mentor of mine commented recently that the price of being an American is tolerance and protection of people we have disagreements with on the issues that matter most. This is a choice each of us faces when we encounter someone whose background, belief, or ideology differs from our own.

In no way is this choice meant to ignore, excuse, or normalize the hate speech, violence, and proposed policies that threaten the human rights of our minority and vulnerable populations. Rather, the point I hope to get across is that at the interpersonal level, each of us has the choice to engage with one another at a level beyond hostility and tolerance, and with curiosity and compassion in its wake. This is where our empowerment and potential can be most impactful.

I am finding many of my progressive, liberal, and Democratic friends unwilling to speak to or even recognize the other side, as if having any connection or communication equates to accepting or condoning what some (not all) of Trump’s supporters are doing. One friend referred to his supporters as dogs needing to be tamed.

There are stories, pains, and hopes behind positions that we often cannot see at the surface. This is what I strive to remember in the wake of an unprecedented and unexpected outcome to an election season that has introduced new levels of polarization, pain, and fear, leaving many of us afraid and uncertain of what lies ahead. The needs of an unheard portion of our country have finally been recognized; it is deeply unfortunate and concerning for the other half that this occurred within the context of unprecedently public prejudice, violence, and threatening policies towards our country’s minorities and most vulnerable populations.

I fear that I may soon be coined a self-hating Muslim and child of immigrants for suggesting the humanity of the other side. But what I am speaking from is my training in mediation and conflict resolution. While recognizing and not denying nor excusing the real harm that has been done and which is still ongoing amid this national conflict, the best tool that mediators have to offer to parties in conflict is the question: “how do we want to move forward now?”

Amid this time of divisive politics and dehumanization, we each still have the power to decide individually how we engage with those who differ from ourselves in thought, word, and deed. It is our choice, always, as are the consequences of that choice.

Indeed, those choices are what lead us to where we are today: polarization, fear, prejudice. It is up to each of us now how we move forward, but that fate is shared by us all.

The High Calling Of Teaching

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Post-election shock has invited many of us to look within. What might have been our own role in this extraordinary outcome? I hope having been a teacher for 40 years gives me sufficient credibility to address my own profession. Many teachers are underpaid and asked to do too much, but that’s not where my concerns lie at this anxious moment.

Whatever else it means, this election surely denotes a landmark failure to help our citizenry learn to think independently—the difficult job of our benighted teachers. Voting did not break along class lines that would indicate that those with fewer educational opportunities were more susceptible to demagoguery and lies. Forty-two percent of all women—all women!—voted for a serial sexual assaulter, an over-promiser in an empty suit, upon whom we now must project our best wishes, for his successes and failures will be ours, up to and including the prevention of nuclear war.

I was privileged to graduate from a top-ranked private high school and university. These two “elitist” institutions had one thing in common: they put together the best teachers with small groups of students in a circle, encouraging the dialogue to become, at its best, student-led.

Educational research demonstrates the counterintuitive fact that we learn to think autonomously, expand our worldviews, and temper our judgments by speaking. And thus the counterpart to speaking, listening, also becomes a sacred act in the classroom. So much teaching is debased simply by teachers slipping into a lifetime of being in love with their own voice, with student cynicism the awful consequence—cynicism that leads ultimately to making debased choices in the voting booth.

I had a colleague who could not have cared more deeply for his charges—except that he pretty much undermined his own authenticity by asking a question, waiting two beats, three beats—but not long enough for the students to believe he really wanted to know their thoughts. After silence hung in the air for a few seconds, he would inevitably answer his own question. It was just easier. Soon enough students were content to remain silent if that was what he wanted, and his classes, year after year, became permanently univocal.

Early in my career I myself believed I was a mediocre teacher, precisely because I had had such remarkable models at the institutions from which I had graduated. But that forced me back upon myself. What did it mean to teach well, and what was worth knowing? What gradually helped me improve were two things: first, appreciating at the heart level the fundamental interaction through which a teacher awakens the mind of a student, deepening the teacher’s readiness for further, ever-richer relationships with students and with the infinite body of collective wisdom and hard-won truth. This led me to set up my physical teaching space in the same kind of circle, as opposed to a lectern and desks in rows, I had experienced in my own education. Second was my encounter with what is now being called “deep history,” the scientific story of the 13.8 billion year development of the universe—the story we all share.

From the natural coherence of that story I began to sense that however much the departmentalization of knowledge had given the world by way of dissection into chewable bits, there was a crying need for students to see the vast spectrum of knowledge in a larger context of a single great unfolding, a new way to apprehend all knowledge, the whole of history, scientific endeavor, the arts. From that perspective the widest artificial gap of all had become the divide between the scientific and the humanistic, what Stephen Jay Gould mistakenly called “non-overlapping magisteria.”

In the classroom or in the great world beyond it, is the search for truth exemplified by the scientific method so different from Socratic dialogue as practiced in the humanities? Are such questions as “how does the chemical process of photosynthesis work?” and “what is Robert Frost trying to say in his poems about spring?” entirely “non-overlapping”? Pregnant, endlessly searchable mystery hangs equally over these “separate” realms of knowledge.

Teachers provide the initial role-models, after parents, for what it feels like to be a sensitive, independent, fair, thinking and feeling citizen engaged in a sincere search for truth. Teachers can lead students into skepticism about bunkum, but only by authentic, not instrumental, encounters between themselves and their constituents. The needed skills are endlessly perfectible and challenging; there is no final arrival.

Take for example the essential skill of leading a discussion about any aspect of our current national political scene—our original sin of slavery, the uses and misuses of great power, if or how America is an exceptional nation, bias in the news. To bring it off without betraying one’s private preferences while encouraging the civil engagement of diverse points of view can never be easy. But not to have the discussion at all out of fear of what might go awry is a tragic reinforcement of the ignorance that oozed out, not just on Election Day but overflows from our whole gridlocked, venal and science-averse political culture.

How different might our recent history have been if Henry Kissinger had had a history professor who taught him to see the truth of the thousand-year enmity between Vietnam and China, dispelling the simplistic nature of the “domino theory” in favor of the Jefferson-admiring nationalism of Ho Chi Minh? If the ethical context of Nixon’s Quaker background had sunk in more deeply? If George Bush or Dick Cheney had taken something in college about the Middle East and the fraught record of the colonial powers in that region since World War I? If the Fox News folks had been educated to the ever-unreachable but always worthy ideal of objectivity over ratings-based partisanship? And yes, if someone at Wellesley had touched Hillary Clinton’s heart deeply enough to give her from the outset an instinctive sense of what ethical short-cuts to avoid?

The sacred encounter of teacher and student, where teachers hope they can set students on their way toward both self- and teacher-surpassing, replicates the interdependence of all growing, evolving, blossoming life, and even points toward the ideal of ideals, what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.” That the United States produced a teacher, for he was that as much as preacher, on King’s level is one exceptionalism we can claim with pride. King taught us well by making connections across race in the basis of constitutional rights, and, not long before he was martyred, by dispelling the illusion that grinding poverty at home and racist wars abroad were “non-overlapping magisteria.” Teaching at its best is true servant leadership. Servant leadership on behalf of an inclusive beloved community is what we admired in King—servant leadership into which we can only hope our new president will grow.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He also serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

Demographics May Favor Democrats – Someday

For years, researchers have predicted that changing U.S. demographics — the rising tide of Hispanics, blacks, Asians, Pacific islanders, city-dwellers, educated women and young people who don’t attend church — will create an unbeatable majority for the Democratic Party.

Well, it didn’t quite happen in 2016.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote among all stripes of Americans — but whites, especially fundamentalists, tipped the electoral majority to Donald Trump. Exit polls said 81 percent of white evangelicals chose Trump.

How long can the GOP keep winning as a mostly-white party? In the future, Census Bureau projections foresee a relentless “browning of America” — and most of the minorities tend to vote Democratic.

By 2040, minorities will pass 50 percent, and traditional European whites will become a minority in America (although they will continue to control most wealth and power).

Conservative columnist George Will says Republicans are wrong to depend on the “kamikaze arithmetic of white nationalism.” He wrote:

“Arizona whites have gone from 74 percent to 54 percent of the population in 25 years; minorities will be a majority there by 2022. Texas minorities became a majority in 2004; whites are now 43 percent of the population. Nevada is 52 percent white and projected to be majority-minority in 2020. Georgia is 54 percent white, heading for majority-minority in 2026. … In 2016, Republicans won a ruinous triumph that convinced them that they can forever prosper by capturing an ever-larger portion of an ever-smaller portion of the electorate.”

Researcher Steve Phillips wrote a book titled “Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority.”

Minority people — often treated as outsiders — generally have liberal, progressive, humane values and tend to support the Democratic Party. Their relentless increase helps Democrats. But they often don’t vote.

Author Phillips says the Democratic Party could secure a strong, permanent, national edge if it focused more money and energy on recruiting minority voters through low-cost, door-to door personal contact.

He outlined this strategy in a New York Times analysis titled “How to Build a Democratic Majority that Lasts.”

Churchless Americans who say their religion is “none” have become the largest single bloc in the Democratic Party base. They’re growing steadily, and now are the nation’s biggest faith category. The Public Religion Research Institute says “nones” have reached 25 percent of the adult population, outstripping Catholics (21 percent) and white evangelicals (16 percent). They’re destined to increase more, because 39 percent of adults under 30 have no church affiliation.

Unfortunately, the churchless are poor voters. Evidently they shun politics as much as they shun religion. A quarter of them aren’t even registered to vote. In the 2012 election, when they comprised 20 percent of U.S. adults, they were only 12 percent of voters. In 2016, as one-fourth of the populace, they were 15 percent of voters, according to Pew Research.

Will all these varied minorities someday constitute a Democratic powerhouse? I hope so. But remember, groups aren’t monolithic. Some blacks, Hispanics, educated women, agnostics and the like voted for Trump (only God knows why).

The tide of demographic change is unstoppable. Eventually, I hope, Democrats may become an inclusive “rainbow” party with better chances for success. It almost happened in 2016. As losers say in sports, Wait til next time.

James Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Threats and “Strategic Patience” Haven’t Worked With North Korea, Let’s Try Serious Diplomacy

Last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper surprisingly told a House Intelligence Committee that getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons was probably a “lost cause.” The assessment was not surprising, but rather the candor, an admission the Obama Administration’s policy of “strategic patience” — refusing to negotiate with North Korea and hoping economic sanctions and international isolation would bring it to the negotiating table — has failed.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken contradicted Clapper almost immediately, trying to re-assure South Korea, Japan and other regional allies the U.S. has not thrown in the towel, that the U.S. does not accept North Korea’s possessing a nuclear arsenal. In the midst of all this, unofficial talks with the North Korean government were taking place in Malaysia.

“I think the best course would be to test the proposition by some serious engagement in which we see whether their (North Korea’s) legitimate security concerns can be met,” said Robert Gallucci, a participant in the Malaysia talks and lead negotiator of a 1994 disarmament agreement that curbed North Korea’s nuclear program for nearly 10 years. This is a rare admission that North Korea has legitimate concerns, which is welcome.

“We don’t know for sure that negotiations will work, but what I can say with some confidence is that pressure without negotiations won’t work, which is the track we are on right now,” noted Leon Sigal from the New York-based Social Science Research Council. Sigal also took part in the Malaysia talks.

While it is cause for serious concern, no one should be surprised by North Korea’s insistence on maintaining its nuclear arsenal. Tensions in the region are high, and require a serious commitment to diplomacy and disarmament by all parties, rather than recent threats by South Korea to ramp up its military posture. Informal talks with North Korean officials are better than nothing, but no replacement for formal negotiations on a peace treaty to replace the supposedly temporary armistice in place since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Surrounded by far superior militaries (those of the United States, South Korea and Japan) it is no wonder North Korean leaders feel the need to keep their nukes.

Threats against the North have proven a failure. A far cheaper and more effective strategy to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear arsenal would include the following:

-negotiate a formal peace treaty to replace the supposedly temporary armistice negotiated in 1953;

-address North Korea’s concerns about the U.S./South Korea/Japan alliance’s aggressive military posture in the region (an end to provocative joint “war games” in and around the peninsula would be a great start);

-restore some credibility to U.S. non-proliferation policy by scrapping plans to “modernize” our entire nuclear weapons enterprise – laboratories, warheads, missiles, bombers and submarines – estimated at $1 trillion over the next 30 years (Predictably, every other nuclear state including North Korea has followed suit in announcing their own plans to “modernize” their arsenals.);

-explore regional peace and security-building measures with other key regional actors including China (without overestimating China’s ability to compel North Korea to denuclearize).

Compounding the problem is our country’s lack of credibility, with North Korea but also globally, on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The U.S. and other nuclear weapons states are working to undermine plans for the United Nations General Assembly to begin negotiations on a global treaty to ban nuclear weapons, beginning next year. (The exception is North Korea, which last week voted with 122 other countries to support the negotiations. The U.S. and other nuclear states opposed or abstained, but the process will go forward with solid support from a large majority of the world’s countries).

Even worse is the exorbitant nuclear “modernization” plan, which should instead be dubbed The New Nuclear Arms Race (That Nobody Wants Except Weapons Contractors) for the Next Three Decades Proposal.

Resolving tensions over North Korea’s nukes, likely by the next president at this point, will require the same commitment to diplomacy the Obama administration showed in securing the Iran nuclear agreement and opening to Cuba, but we would have much more credibility were we not preaching atomic temperance from a barstool brimming with nuclear weapons.

Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is President of Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.

To Survive, Evolve

The concept of evolution should not be limited to the scientific assertions around Darwin’s theory of natural selection, but ought to include the more general idea that people and processes constantly evolve in response to the forces that surround them. We evolve from childhood into adulthood, and, ideally, from self-centeredness toward the good of larger entities like our community or nation (and now, faced with climate change, the good of our planet). Political arrangements have evolved from the divine right of kings into still–evolving democratic systems.

A Supreme Court justice’s orientation toward evolution in this basic sense determines whether he or she is a strict originalist (a nicer word for fundamentalist), or sees the Constitution as a living document that must be responsive to changing conditions. No founding father composing the second amendment could have foreseen the surfeit of guns decimating our country today.

Such evolutionary processes are alive, dynamic, an unstoppable juggernaut pervading every aspect of reality. Against them, even the determination not to evolve has evolutionary effects, as we have seen in the bizarre presidential process of the past year. A Neanderthal candidate has helped awaken a generation of young women, and ideally young men also, to evolve beyond being victims of crude chauvinist stereotypes.

The whole cosmos has been evolving for 13.8 billion years, from energy to matter to, here on earth, life and self-conscious life. Evolution is the context of our reality, the story all humans share. This story is beginning to seep into collective consciousness in a way that may yet render obsolete divisions such as those between Shia and Sunni, let alone between “radical Islamic fundamentalism” and the “post-Enlightenment West.” We all evolved from the same mysterious source. Every differentiation in that largest context, by race, tribe, religion, ethnicity, feels arbitrary and abstract.

It is not surprising that fundamentalism in whatever form has often found the evolutionary paradigm threatening, because it implies a challenging dynamic of change that feels insecure. For many believers, to generalize unfairly, religion provides behavioral rules that can be a source of security and comfort even as they are used as excuses to remain exclusive and resist evolving.

Within each world religion, there are minority enclaves (the Sufis in Islam, Zen practitioners of Buddhism, Catholic mystics like Teilhard de Chardin) who understand that their spiritual discipline is an opportunity to evolve toward inclusivity, toward looking within at fears and projections rather than looking outward for enemies, and toward expanding our identifications and responsibilities beyond the national to the planetary.

Far from being a benign, feel-good process, evolution is often painful, one step forward, two back. Take the tortured but necessary demise of the American coal industry. No one wants to see the debilitating effects of unemployment on real people with real families, but so far the technology of coal burning hasn’t evolved a way not to accelerate global warming.

We humans are supposedly not built to respond effectively to long-term threats like changes in climate, but, late in the game as it is, we do seem to be collectively learning what is at stake and evolving locally and globally. Entrepreneurs are rapidly bringing to market solar, wind, and other cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.

Unfortunately, negative and harmful processes can also become subject to an evolutionary juggernaut. Since 1945 weapons systems have evolved (more accurately, we have evolved them) to a level of complexity and destructive power that we are already powerless to control. The Pentagon is reported to be spending its usual vast sums on research into computer-controlled robotic drones capable of making their own autonomous decisions about who is an enemy. The defense establishments of other great nations are presumably up to the same mischief, or soon will be, because the arms race never stops evolving. Or won’t until we embrace a new way of thinking: that we must evolve to survive.

We, we the nations, are hopelessly complacent in our present reliance upon deterrence as a workable security system. As the fellow falling from the hundredth floor said as he passed the sixtieth: so far so good. The system, an emperor with no clothes solemnly worshipped by legions of self-confident experts, is too complex not to be subject to breakdown at any moment, perhaps by accident, perhaps where NATO and Russia push up against each other in Eastern Europe, perhaps in Kashmir.

The threat of nuclear extinction provides a new context for the obsolete parochialism of the world’s major religions. If this threat isn’t enough to accelerate the ecumenical impulse, what is? As people of diverse spiritual worldviews acknowledge that they have in common the possibility of annihilation, our shared anxiety can energize evolution toward inclusivity and nonviolent solutions to conflict. The world is in a race between fundamentalists and arms manufacturers on the one hand, and evolutionaries who see clearly both the futile dead-end of the arms race and the possibility of a security built upon the truth of interdependence, which appears in similar form in all the religions as the Golden Rule. We will live together or die together. As we treat others, so we will be treated. Whether they each understand this or not, this is the hidden-in-plain-sight background behind the Trump-Clinton mud-wrestle.

Will the arms manufacturers and the politicians in league with them evolve in the face of the nuclear threat in a way similar to our positive responses to the challenge of climate instability? I live in Maine, where the state’s largest private employer is the Bath Iron Works. They are building three of a new kind of guided missile destroyer that is contoured to hide from radar. Each one costs 4 billion dollars. Recently I had a conversation with an Iron Works employee. I made the assumption that, given his job, he would be hawkishly supportive of a robust military. Not at all. His exact parting words were “I’d be much happier building solar panels.”

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the Boards of Beyond War and the War Prevention Initiative. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Free Weekly or its staff.