leroymoore

Archive for the ‘Nonviolence’ Category

Immanuel Kunt’s Vision Of Life Beyond Guns And God

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Peace, Politics, War on February 7, 2018 at 2:47 am

(A tribute to a great idea; ‘The Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases’@ University of Baltimore)

Immanuel Kunt…living in Ballarat, a provincial Australian city with a population of 100,000 plus…felt inspired when readingabout the activities of a new organisation of concerned world-wide citizens called The Coalition Against U.S. Military Bases.From the hidden cryptographic depths of his mind, a valued item of stored wisdom crystallised; its’ got to be what Immanuel what’s-his-name believed, he thought… “Act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world”.

Immanuel was an experienced organizer of public events. The Ballarat Begonia Festival, which attracts more than 60,0000 spectators annually, owed much to his organisational skills. This three- day event—held on the Victorian (State) Labour Day long weekend in Ballarat had something for everyone. Flowers, celebrity gardener’s displaying their skills, markets, entertainment, kids’ activities and a community parade.

The more Immanuel thought about the issues ‘The Coalition Against U.S. Military Bases’ were fulminating against, the more he became convinced that he could do something in his own right that could support their cause. They believed, as he did, that “The United States cannot be a moral or ethical country until it faces up to the realities of the U.S. Empire and the destruction it causes around the world. The U.S. undermines governments…including democratic ones…kills millions of people, causes mass migrations of people fleeing their homes, communities and countries and produces vast environmental damage.”

Immanuel Kunt believed that nature was a spectrum of ideas, projecting forms amidst light and colour phenomena that required a certain balanced conditionality to achieve health wellbeing and sustain order. Begonias had been his path to enlightenment. He had come to associate the skills of the more talented gardeners he encountered, withthose who possessed an understanding of the subject-object nexusthat was normally associatedwith people of a scientific bent of mind. When he walked among the begonias in the Ballarat Conservatory, he perceived the role of science as one which could function asanauxiliaryforce, benevolently reaching out to assist all living things captive to nature’s survival of the fittest gambit, soa more equitable outcome could be achieved.

Only the day before…Immanuel Kunt, after reading what The Coalition Against Military Bases had to say about America’s exceptional hi-tech military creep across the globe, encountered a very different example of exceptionalism in a delicatessen in Ballarat. While standing in a queue waiting for a take-away roastchicken, he fell into conversation with the elderly man next to him: “They do a great chicken here, and most Sundays I buy one to take to Buninyong to have lunch with my sister”, he said to Immanuel. As Buninyong was 11km from Ballarat, Immanuel replied, “You’re managing to stay mobile then, and obviously doing something right?”. “I’m 93 and the doctors can’t find anything wrong with me…I’ve lead a free and natural life, avoiding the guns and god call-to-arms” he said,befo readding somewhat wryly, “a civilized life confronts one’s instinctive urge to resort to force”.

Immanuel left the deli wondering if it was the philosopher Immanuel-what’s-his name who wrote“Science is organised knowledge, wisdom is organised life, and health is a randomly allocated affair in the hands of impersonal forces”. Stopping to reflect a moment, he wondered if time had played tricks upon his ability to retain information? The choice of the word ‘confront’,used by the old man, awakened something in him. Over the following week, his thoughts kept going back to the deli and his chance encounter with the 93-year old.

While observing the multifarious splendours of the begonias assembled for the upcoming Labour Day holiday weekend, Immanuel suddenly became profoundly aware that people were prone to be led astray by false doctrines. A call-to-arms, he mused, is a call to defend or make ready for confrontation and is understood as a call-to-arms to defend against a take-over. Instead it seems to act more as the fiery torch that keeps the impressionable…who only cheer for the ‘good’ guys…ready for the call-to-arms.The more Immanuel thought about the old man’s parting words, “a civilised life confronts one’s instinctive urge to resort to force”, the more his mind went back to The Coalition Against U.S. Military Bases and their questioning of the merits of a hyped-up military,recklessly investing the nation’s treasure in perpetual warfare.

Immanuel wondered how long it would take for the American public to free itself from the tendentious voices of the ruling elites…the military juggernaut…who sold them the proposition that their form of exceptionality confers righteousness upon their quest to straddle the globe with military bases, bythe hundreds…800 maybe…where they then could resortto force, strangling anything and everything that resisted the American way of doing business…business validated by god and gun.

Early in the morning of the day the Begonia Festival was to commence, Immanuel was standing some distance apart from the entrance to the Conservatory admiring the flower arrangements when, to his utter amazement, he saw an old man in jogging apparel slowly move into view and recognized the figure to be that of the old man he had encountered in the deli. The force of his ‘good-morning’ greeting was loud enough to get the jogger’s attention, whereupon he immediately veered towards Immanuel. Stopping in front of Immanuel, he peered at the identity tag connecting the bearer to the events taking place within the Conservatory and exclaimed, “Ah! … so, you’re ‘that’ Kunt!

Over the course of the next half-hour, Immanuel learnt the old man’s name and the name of his older sister who lived in Buninyong. It transpired that Errol Flynn and his 95-year-old sister Peg were committed activists concerned about the corruption of language …especially the propagandistic tactics used to conceal the poisoning effect militarism has had on the health of entire communities.

They were part of a group known as the ‘Buninyong Salon’ who met Sundays to discuss the devious reasons behind the U.S. Empire’s reasons for having bases in Australia. By the end of the half-hour encounter with Errol…much of it covering the tawdry reasons the U.S. gave for being in Australia or elsewhere…Immanuel found himself in receipt of an invitation to attend the group’s bring-your-own style of Sunday luncheon, held from noon onwards every week at Buninyong Salon. Watching the figure of Errol fade from view and disappear behind distant foliage, he was astounded by the magnitude of recent chance encounters that seemed to sign-post a path toward something that requiredhis attention.

Immanuel brought a home baked pizza and a vibrant begonia plant on his very first visit to Buninyong Salon. To his great surprise, the seventeen people who had come together, were all above 90 years of age.A second surprise was to follow when he discovered that none of the people there behaved like ‘old people’ in the least. They were the most lucid, alert, frisky and fun-loving people he had ever encountered. Realising that he had been conditioned to believe that old people belonged in retirement homes once they lost interest in worldly affairs, he took note of the fact that this latest chance encounter had opened a door for him, one enabling his entry into their brave new world. When he was introduced to Peg, he was challenged by her appetite for knowledge when she said without preamble, “interesting name you’ve got there Kunt…how’s it spelt?”

Immanuel was intrigued to discover that even in provincial Australia,in spite of the cant coming from the American propaganda machine and its’ supplicant media, the establishment view of things was now being questioned more openly.It was high time for a greater awareness of the danger of nuclear warheads to percolate through the collective consciousness, he reflected.The propaganda that projected the notion that the U.S. was motivatedby good intentions, and was there to protect smaller states seeking freedom, was now perceived to be fallacious. The very myths that had launched America as the guardian of freedom,were now regarded by millions of people throughout the world as nothing more than hollow jingoism…the policies of the U.S. empire didn’t float allboats…instead, the world witnessed a gung-ho US sheriff repeatedly blow them out of the water.

The military narrative that promotes the U.S. empire as just,is finally beginning to evaporate.As a result, America’s abhorrent foreign policy is being subjected to evergreater critical attention across the globe. Under the weight of evidence showing the frequency of U.S.military powerusing its’ might torepeatedly inflict misery on so many parts of the world… especially in the Middle East…more peoplehave discovered that truth tends to prevail over propaganda in the longer term.

As America’s reputation and stature in the world now rests at the bottom ofa cesspoolof its’ own making, the fundamentals of democracy are once more being revisited. Reprising thethreat of the ‘other’ no longer works. The parasites that now occupy the so-called democratic system have American voices, and they know how to lie. But now, a new era may be approaching, where civilized means may prevail over the urge to use primal methodologies…sane thinking may finally beready to call an evil bluff.

Immanuel was intrigued to be in a situation where the collective wisdom of 17 people, whose primary interest was eliminating U.S. Bases from Australian soil, confirmed what Immanuel what-was-his-name had said, “reason is the source of morality”.

Errol and Peg Flynn had inherited Buninyong Castle…now a heritage site…upon the passing of their parents. Neither could agree on how many rooms were in the castle, or the number of acres it stood upon.During the afternoon,Immanuel was left flabbergasted when he discovered that Buninyong Salon had a plan that would host an expected 300 guests.Some were arriving from as far afield as Hong Kong, California, Singapore and New Zealand. But flabbergast soon gave way to admiration when he realised that the Buninyong Salon was where the denizens of WWW awareness came to stand up and be counted. The festival would have its’ day in the sun and go by the name of ‘Confront’.

All throughout the Begonia Festival weekend, Immanuel Kunt’s mind remained apart from the flow of events at ground level. He dreamed of extending invitations to everybody across the world interested in curtailing the ravishes of U.S. Imperialism. That’s when he got the idea forBegonias Against Imperialism. He was convinced that if he could give Begonia Day the status of Poppy Day in Australia, the symbol of the begonia would, in time, come to represent the people’s concern for the future, as does the Poppy represent people’s concern for remembering the past. It would require people to focus on the dangers of nuclear war and the attendant weapons of mass destruction that throw so dark a shadow over everyone.

Addressing his friends at the Buninyong Salon the following Sunday, Immanuel pitched the following ideas to them;

“The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCray. After reading the poem, Moina Michael, a professor at The University of Georgia wrote the poem, “We Shall Keep the Fate”, and swore to wear a red poppy on the anniversary. The custom spread to Europe and the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth within three years.”

Continuing his speech, he went on to say; “We need to use these actions as a template for our own purposes so that, with the right means,we can proceed to storm the barricades of apathy by marshalling support for all the groups militating against U.S. military bases throughout the world.We wish Ballaratto be the first region to celebrate the begonia as the emblem of resistance to nuclear-madness. Our hope is that our beloved flower will acquire, over time, an emblematic status equal to that of the red poppy. Our first project will involve producing some thousands of badges bearing the word ‘CONFRONT’ under an image of our beloved flower”.

Immanuel received the reaction to his pitch with a mixture of gratitude and astonishment. The consensus was that three years was a reasonable time in which to make the idea work, and the group also advanced the belief that time was on their side. Adeline Armani, a member of the ‘salon’ knew of someone capable of writing a poem dealing with the dangers of nuclear missiles…tarrying with the devil…were her words for describing the potency of The Pentagon and its’ ability to take us all to the edge of the precipice, and beyond. Joel Harris believed that Australians were now past the point where they would uncritically enter alliances that mightopen Pandora’s Box. Referring to the American base in Darwin he vouched “Aussies are no longer the gullible servants of empires they once believed to be true blue commodities”.

So, time passed,and the ‘oldies’ remained firmly on the perch to observe Immanuel Kunts’ efforts now steadily bearingfruit. From many quarters of the globe, hundreds, then thousands of enquiries arrived in Buninyong,attesting to the need for solidarity in the face of a military culture perceived be extremely toxic. Immanuel Kunt, given over to musing, believed that if all the people from around the world who empathised with the ‘Confront’ cause came to Ballarat, their number would exceed those attending the Begonia Festival by a magnitude of 00000’s.

Something has to be done and something has to start somewhere, he mused!

Denis A. Conroy, Freelance writer, Australia

Advertisements

Why the moral argument for nonviolence matters

In Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, Race, War on January 18, 2018 at 11:13 am

Kazu Haga May 5, 2017

“Bernard? Oh yeah, he’s great. He was always the principles guy.”

That was what an old Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, organizer told me when I mentioned that I had been trained by Bernard Lafayette, co-author of the Kingian Nonviolence curriculum and a legend of the civil rights era.

“I was always a strategies guy,” this elder went on to tell me. “I believed in nonviolence as an effective strategy, but Bernard was always talking about nonviolence as a principle.”

I let out a little laugh. In that moment, I was proud to have been trained by “the principles guy.”

When people talk about nonviolence in the context of social change, they’re typically talking about nonviolent organizing, nonviolent direct action, nonviolent civil resistance; arenas where the word “nonviolence” is only an adjective describing the absence of physical violence within a set of tactics and strategies. The philosophy of nonviolence and the moral question of violence are often considered too messy or complicated, even by those who do believe it to be a principle.

The civil rights movement was led largely by leaders who believed in nonviolence as a moral imperative. It was not only the most effective thing, but also the right thing. While Martin Luther King Jr. and his closest allies held to this belief, some other movement leaders — as well as the vast majority of people who mobilized for the movement — only understood nonviolence as a strategy.

Most of the movements I have participated in, even those that had a strict policy of nonviolence, tend to shy away from the moral question — possibly for fear of turning away potential participants.

And I get that. Making the argument that nonviolence should be seen as a way of life is a much harder sell than convincing people that it is the most effective strategy to accomplish a goal. Convincing people to remain nonviolent during a demonstration is a lot easier than convincing people to look at how to practice nonviolence in all areas of our life.

We find ourselves in an urgent moment in history. From climate change to the Trump agenda, we do not have the luxury to wait until tomorrow. We need a movement today. So maybe trying to make the moral argument is not the most strategic thing.

But King taught us that it is never the wrong time to do the right thing. And so, I believe the time is right to make the argument that violence itself is our biggest enemy.

Honoring violence

Making the moral argument for nonviolence does not mean placing a moral judgment on those who use or advocate for violence, especially as a means for self-defense.

As an advocate for nonviolence, I have learned a great deal from the likes of the Black Panther Party, the Zapatistas, the Deacons for Defense and the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, among others. Their struggles and sacrifices should never be discounted, nor should we ignore the many lessons from their movements.

We should also never judge those who have used violence for self-defense in interpersonal relationships — abusive relationships, robberies, assaults, etc. If people felt like that was their only means of protecting themselves, I only pray that they were okay.

Finally, we need to acknowledge the extreme levels of violence that many people are born into because of systemic injustice. We put people into generations of poverty and invest in a culture of violence, then judge them for reacting with violence? As inarticulate as it may be, even riots are typically a cry for peace from a people who have never had it.

So violence can be an effective tool to protect yourself and others against a threat, and it can be used to express outrage about injustice. There is great value in both.

Yet violence is also limited in one very important way, and that is that violence can never create relationships.

Violence can never get you closer to reconciliation, closer to King’s “beloved community,” the reconciled world with justice for all people. And that is perhaps the most significant difference between a principled nonviolent approach and an approach using violence or nonviolence that is strictly strategic. The goals are different.

Resolution vs. reconciliation

In movements that are violent or simply use nonviolent tactics, the goal is victory, where victory is defined as “your” people beating “those” people to win your demands. The victory is over your opponents. But in a principled approach, there is no victory until you’ve won your opponents over.

In a principled nonviolent approach, the goal is always reconciliation and steps toward beloved community. The goal is always to build and strengthen relationships and to bring people and communities together, not separate them. If we are not able to find ways to bring communities together, we will always have separation, violence and injustice.

Even if you are able to achieve short-term gains, if relationships between people were harmed in the conflict and you are further away from each other as a result, then it is not a victory at all. If only your tactics are nonviolent and not your worldview, whatever issue you’re working on may get resolved, but the relationships don’t get repaired.

It was a team of incarcerated Kingian Nonviolence trainers in Soledad Prison that taught me this during a conversation we were having about the difference between conflict resolution and conflict reconciliation.

Conflict resolution is about fixing issues. Conflict reconciliation is about repairing relationships. Resolving an issue is about the mind. It’s about policies, structures, laws — the causes of violence. Reconciling a relationship is about the heart. It’s about the people, the stories, the history — the human impact of violence.

The levels of violence today are so heightened that there will be times when movements will need to use assertive and militant nonviolent tactics to stop the immediate harm and demand change.

As Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of nonviolent communication, says, we need to, “use the minimum amount of force necessary to stop the immediate harm.” And we never think about what the “minimum amount” looks like.

That is the realm of nonviolent strategies and tactics like noncooperation and civil disobedience. Tactics that could stop the construction of a pipeline, pass voter protection laws or even lead to a political revolution.

But if we stop there, the relationships between the communities are still divided, and there could still be fear, mistrust and resentment. If the human relationships are not healed, the conflict will resurface again on some other issue. Any peace gained through political revolution but not a revolution of relationships is short-lived.

Reconciliation is what a principled nonviolent approach demands.

The need for healing

The very nature of violence is unjust. As Rev. James Lawson, one of the lead trainers for the civil rights movement, has said, “Violence has a very simple dynamic. I make you suffer more than I suffer. I make you suffer until you cry uncle.” It is the very idea that we can use force, fear and intimidation to get what we want that is our enemy.

Because violence hurts. Period.

We all know that. We’ve all experienced it — physical, emotional and spiritual. It hurts to get punched, but it hurts more to feel abandoned, alone, ashamed, hopeless, desperate, unworthy, afraid, used. And too often, we are made to feel those things by people in our own families, in our own movements, in our own communities.

Being committed to a principled approach to nonviolence requires us to look at the pain that we carry ourselves, and the pain that we inflict on each other within our communities. It is easy to point the finger and say that the violence is “over there.”

I have talked to too many people who shared that the traumas they carry were only re-triggered and made worse by the violence they witnessed within movements. When we say that we are committed to nonviolence, we are not only saying that we want to stop the violence “over there” that “those people” are committing. We also try to work on the ways we ourselves perpetuate harm as a result of our own unhealed traumas. We are working to heal our own selves as much as anyone we perceive as our enemies. We are working to change how we relate to each other in own communities as much as we are working to change any policy.

Whether you live in an impoverished community or work in law enforcement where your job is to dehumanize people all day, we are not a healthy society. It hurts to witness violence, it hurts to experience violence, and it hurts to inflict violence. Each causes trauma.

Yes, we need to fight. But only so that we can create spaces to heal and to build.

Beloved community

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

This universal truth comes out in many cultures and traditions throughout the world. The aboriginal peoples in Australia teach us, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

That is the vision of beloved community. A world where we acknowledge our interdependence — our “inter-being,” as Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says.

My liberation is bound up in yours. That is a beautiful concept, and a popular quote in many progressive circles. But to what extent do we really believe it? Is our liberation bound up with the liberation of some and not others? How about people who voted for Donald Trump or people who have hurt us personally? Who draws that line? Do some people fall out of the “network of mutuality” that King talked about?

What does it look like to work together to “liberate” those who commit harm? What does it mean to acknowledge that being oppressed hurts, but being an oppressor also destroys your soul? The privileges of being an oppressor doesn’t take away the violence that gets internalized when you hurt someone.

Beloved community is not about loving the people who are easy to love. It is about cultivating “agape” — a Greek word for unconditional love for all of humanity, including those who are difficult to love.

King said that the civil rights movement was a movement for the bodies of black folks and the souls of white folks. He acknowledged that being a white supremacist destroys your soul. To have so much judgment and hatred in your heart is an act of violence you do to yourself, and part of the goal of the movement was to help them. To bring them back into the network of mutuality and to remind them that they are part of beloved community.

Because our liberation depends on it.

Faith in people

The core of the theory of nonviolence for me has become an unwavering faith in the nature of humanity. That at our core, we are a species that wants to live in peace and wants to be in service and relationship; that we have the resiliency to heal no matter how hurt we are, and we have the ability to transform no matter how much harm we’ve caused.

We get asked all the time in our workshops, “Well, isn’t violence just part of human nature?” And I used to struggle responding to it, because it was hard to argue. It has always been part of our history.

Then several years ago, I met Paul Chappell, a graduate of West Point turned peace activist. During his presentation at a conference, he said that every study that has ever been conducted shows that violence is traumatic. It can cause PTSD, depression, anxiety and permanent damage to our brain. And yet not a single person has ever been traumatized by an act of love.

He then asked, “If violence is part of our nature, then why does it short-circuit our brain?” Shouldn’t we be able to engage in it and not have it cause permanent damage?

That to him was evidence that violence isn’t in our nature, that at the core of human nature are the things that fulfill us: love, joy, community, peace.

And that is what we need today: a determined and dogged belief in the goodness of people. We need the fierce tactics of nonviolence to stop the immediate harm, and the principles of nonviolence to transform the pain. Without one or the other, we are always going to be spinning our wheels, fighting the next injustice or addressing the next hurt.

I’ve been very privileged in my life. I’ve gotten to see so many people transformed from the most violent circumstances, that it might be easier for me to have faith in people. It is the greatest honor being able to work with incarcerated communities. Everyday, I get to learn from people who have survived so much violence and in many cases have inflicted so much harm, yet have transformed to become some of the greatest peacemakers I’ve ever met. It gives me faith in the resiliency of people and in the core of human nature.

And if I can have faith in their core and their ability to transform, why not the prison guards? Why not the politician who passed the laws that filled the prison? Or the corporate lobbyist who pushed for that legislation? Or the conservative voter who put those lawmakers into office?

It may take seven generations, but if we are not working for a world that works for all of us, then what exactly are we working for? If we are working to change laws and policies, but the hearts and minds of the people are still corrupt and we still see each other as exactly that — “others” — will we ever know peace?

We are in need of a truly nonviolent revolution, not just of systems and policies, but also of worldviews and relationships. We need to understand that people are never the enemy, that violence and injustice itself is what we need to defeat, and that the goal of every conflict must be reconciliation.

Each conflict we face has to be seen as an opportunity to strengthen understanding between members of a human family that have grown so far apart that we have forgotten our dependence on each other.

That is why we need a principled nonviolent approach to society’s ills. Because it is not just laws and systems that have poisoned us. It is a worldview that has made us forget that our liberation is bound up in the liberation of all people.

And only a holistic nonviolent approach — one that involves both strategies and principles — can muster the force to stop injustice in its tracks while bringing communities towards reconciliation.

Pope Warns World Is One Step Away From Nuclear War

In Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on January 17, 2018 at 9:11 am

By Philip Pullella, Reuters

15 January 18

Pope Francis said on Monday he was really afraid about the danger of nuclear war and that the world now stood at “the very limit”.

His comment, made as he flew off for a visit to Chile and Peru, came after Hawaii issued a false missile alert that provoked panic in the U.S. state and highlighted the risk of possible unintended nuclear war with North Korea.

Asked if he was worried about the possibility of nuclear war, Pope Francis said: “I think we are at the very limit. I am really afraid of this. One accident is enough to precipitate things.”

He did not mention Hawaii or North Korea.

Pope Francis has often flagged the danger of nuclear warfare and in November he appeared to harden the Catholic Church’s teaching against nuclear weapons, saying countries should not stockpile them even for the purpose of deterrence.

As reporters boarded his plane bound for Chile, Vatican officials handed out a photograph taken in 1945 that shows a young Japanese boy carrying his dead brother on his shoulders following the U.S. nuclear attack on Nagasaki.

“I was moved when I saw this. The only thing I could think of adding were the words ‘the fruit of war’,” Francis said, referring to a caption put on the back of the image.

“I wanted to have it reprinted and distributed because an image like this can be more moving than a thousand words. That is why I wanted to share it with you,” he said.

FIGHTING HATE // TEACHING TOLERANCE // SEEKING JUSTICE

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Politics, Race on December 16, 2017 at 11:51 pm

DECEMBER 16, 2017
Good morning Leroy,

When it came time to cast her ballot in the presidential election last fall, Dechauna Jiles voted at the First Assembly of God in Dothan, Alabama. But when she returned to her polling place on Tuesday to vote in Alabama’s special election, poll workers told her she was “inactive.”

“That makes no sense,” said Jiles.

The African-American woman had always voted at the First Assembly of God.

Jiles told ThinkProgress’ Kira Lerner that it would be a “dishonor to her family” not to vote. Her parents, she said, grew up two blocks from the historic 16th Street Baptist Church. The church had been a rallying point for civil rights activists during the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963, a pivotal moment in the movement. And it was the scene of one of the era’s most heinous acts of terror when Klansmen set off a powerful bomb on a Sunday morning – killing four little girls – in September of that year.

In fact, Doug Jones, the winner in Tuesday’s Alabama Senate election, successfully prosecuted two of the Klansmen nearly 40 years after the bombing.

But on Tuesday, workers told Jiles that she could only cast a “provisional” ballot, one that would not be counted unless she drove to another precinct to update her information. Six other voters, Jiles told Lerner, were told the same thing.

“It’s not that we’re not showing up to vote — we’re being suppressed,” said Jiles.

We were concerned going into the special election that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s decision to inactivate 340,000 voters a month before the August primary — and his recent threat about jailing crossover voters — would have a chilling effect on turnout.

Merrill said he was updating the voter rolls to reflect address changes.

But black voters in Alabama are right to be suspicious. The state has a long history of making it harder for them to cast their ballot. In an interview with the SPLC ahead of 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Dorothy Guilford, then 94, recounted taking a literacy test to become eligible and standing in long lines to pay her poll tax.

“Now that, I think, discouraged a lot of people, the long lines, because so many had to go back to work,” Guilford said.

The Voting Rights Act put an end to such overtly discriminatory measures, but the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 to gut key provisions of the Act opened the door to new forms of discrimination.

In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded that Alabama — which requires a photo ID to vote — disproportionately hurt black voters in 2015 when it closed 31 driver’s license offices, including offices in eight of the 10 counties with the highest proportion of black residents.

“All you had to do was look at a map to see it,” wrote AL.com’s Kyle Whitmore.

Thanks to the federal probe, some of the offices have since reopened. But it wasn’t the last attack by an Alabama lawmaker on the right to vote.

Just before last year’s presidential election, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill criticized automatic voter registration as the “sorry and lazy way out,” claiming that “just because you turned 18 doesn’t give you the right to do anything.”

Merrill’s comments were not only ignorant — the 26th Amendment gives citizens who turn 18 precisely the right to vote — but part and parcel of a broader campaign to suppress minority voters.

We’ve seen it in President Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, in lawmakers’ purges of voter rolls, in lawsuits against poor counties for out-of-date voter rolls, and in gerrymandered districts.

We saw it in Alabama on Tuesday, when voters across the state reported misleading ballots, police intimidation at the polls, and text messages erroneously telling them that their polling locations had changed.

“It’s important for everybody to be able to vote and let their choice be known,” Dorothy Guilford told the SPLC shortly after the VRA was abolished.

Without its protections, systematic voter suppression – not voter fraud – is the real cause for concern.

As always, thank you for reading.

The Editors, Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, Alabama

The necessity of imagining an unimaginable war

In Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 14, 2017 at 10:05 am

Lisa Fuller, Waging Nonviolence, December 5, 2017
The prospect of nuclear war with North Korea has repeatedly been described as “unimaginable” – and in fact, most of us have literally failed to imagine it. As the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof points out, “We’re complacent — neither the public nor the financial markets appreciate how high the risk is of a war, and how devastating one could be.”

Admittedly, with biological, conventional and nuclear weapons expected to kill millions, the scenario is genuinely difficult to comprehend. We struggle to translate such high numbers into pictures of individual men, women and children suffering.

Nevertheless, we can no longer afford to be in denial. Top military and political experts warn that the risk of war is at an all-time high, the threat is imminent and the impact would be catastrophic. Even before North Korea’s latest missile test, former U.S. Army General Barry McCraffrey, Council of Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and the International Institute for Strategic Studies Executive Director Mark Fitzpatrick all estimated that the risk of war was 50 percent. General McCaffrey expects that war will breakout by summer 2018.

There is a significant risk that a war would escalate beyond a regional conflict. China has warned that it would intervene on behalf of North Korea in the case of a U.S. preemptive strike, and international security experts Nora Bensahel and David Barno argue that China may launch attacks on “U.S. bases in the region or possibly even the U.S. homeland, especially since radiation would inevitably blanket some of its territory.” China has been carrying out military drills near the Korean peninsula since July, and tested an ICBM capable of hitting the continental United States on November 6. Russia also recently publicly warned that it is preparing for war as well.

Even if the war was confined to the Korean peninsula, however, it has the “potential to cause mass starvation worldwide,” as a result of nuclear winter, according to nuclear experts Alan Robock and Owen Toon.

In other words, World War III is no longer just the stuff of sci-fi movies — it may be right around the corner.

With such high stakes, it is critical that we voluntarily imagine the “unimaginable,” as uncomfortable as it may be. Those who do imagine war are much more likely to take action to prevent it. Journalist and author Jonathan Schell advocated for this position in his 1982 book “The Fate of the Earth,” writing that “Only by descending into this hell in imagination now can we hope to escape descending into it in reality … the knowledge we thus gain cannot in itself protect us from nuclear annihilation, but without it we cannot begin to take measures that can actually protect us.”

It is no coincidence that members of Congress who are war veterans have been some of the most outspoken and active in raising the alarm over the crisis in North Korea.

Although President Reagan never personally experienced war, a movie depicting a nuclear attack on the United States was enough to activate his imagination and change his entire orientation to nuclear war. After seeing the “The Day After,” he wrote in his diary that the film “left me greatly depressed … We have to do all we can to have a deterrent and see there is never a nuclear war.” A few months later, he announced that “reducing the risk of war, and especially nuclear war, is priority number one.” His shift in perspective is often credited with being one of the most important factors in de-escalating the Cold War.

As our brains are hard-wired to protect us from thinking about large-scale suffering, we too may need to take proactive efforts to imagine a potential war. For example, we can look at pictures of Hiroshima and read the stories of atomic bomb survivors, transposing such scenarios to our own cities. We can use nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein’s Nukemap to understand what would happen if a bomb was dropped on our own cities. We can ensure that we stay updated on the crisis and that we obtain information from reliable sources with expertise.

However, while imagining the prospect of war may be necessary, it is not sufficient: Americans must mobilize quickly and effectively to address the threat. If they are able to do so, there is good reason to believe they can prevent war.

First, there are viable options to resolve the Korean crisis — the Trump administration just hasn’t tried any of them yet. In 1994, the Clinton administration successfully negotiated a framework agreement that centered on the idea of a freeze-for-freeze: North Korea suspended its nuclear program in exchange for the U.S. suspending some of its military exercises. The agreement held up until 2003 when the Bush administration — not North Korea — ended the agreement.

A new freeze-for-freeze (which North Korea has repeatedly indicated it would be open to), in combination with legislation preventing Trump from launching a pre-emptive strike, would be the best possible option to solve the current crisis. Essentially, if North Korea doesn’t feel threatened, it will probably stop threatening others.

Second, there is already an existing grassroots structure with the capabilities to organize an effective large-scale movement. Since Trump became president, “an astounding number of new grassroots groups, at least six times the number the Tea Party could boast at its height,” have formed according to grassroots leader L.A. Kauffman. Activists have already done the hard part — they have formed movements, mobilized large segments of the American population, and proven their efficacy, successfully organizing to prevent the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, for example.

Third, unlike with Obamacare, there is already bipartisan support for efforts to prevent war with North Korea. There are already over 60 co-sponsors, including two Republicans, to the “No Unconstitutional Strike against North Korea Act” in the House. Although there are only three Democrats co-sponsoring the Senate bill, several Republican senators — including Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Dan Sullivan, and John Thune — have all publicly expressed concern about Trump’s approach to North Korea.

However, there hasn’t been any movement on the bill since it was introduced in October, nor on various other bills that would restrict Trump’s power to start a pre-emptive war. Public pressure is needed to ensure that Congress prioritizes such legislation.

Although no bills have been introduced as of yet to support a freeze-for-freeze, 61 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in August highlighting the success of the aforementioned 1994 Agreed Framework, stating that there is an “urgent need to replicate these successes.” While the Trump administration is responsible for making international treaties, Congress could still force a freeze-for-freeze by passing legislation that prevents funds from being used for the most provocative military drills.

Fourth, there is a historical precedent for a large-scale nuclear freeze movement. During the Cold War, as activist and writer Duncan Meisel explained, over a third of Americans participated in “a series of city and state referendum campaigns calling for a Nuclear Freeze.” What’s more, “Reagan’s militaristic temperament” — according to Andrew Lanham of the Boston Review — actually aided the movement’s efforts to garner support across the political spectrum.

However, all of these advantages are meaningless if activists fail to focus sufficient attention on the North Korea crisis. With so many important issues at stake, activism can feel like triage these days: Efforts tend to be focused on whatever legislative calamity is most imminent. The problem with that approach is that activists’ focus becomes determined by Congress’ agenda rather than grassroots priorities.

If activists take a breath from firefighting long enough to imagine a potential war with North Korea, they may realize that they need to proactively organize to insist that Congress urgently focuses its attention on the North Korea crisis, and implements an effective legislative strategy to prevent war.

As the Bulletin of Scientists President Rachel Bronson says, “we have reversed the hands of the Doomsday Clock before. We can do it again.”

Reach High for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 4, 2017 at 2:37 am

Youth appeal to world leaders to participate constructively in the 2018 UN High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament

Participants of the Reaching High conference* in Prague, November 27-29, 2017 express our;

  1. Alarm at the risks of nuclear weapons use by accident, miscalculation or intent, especially in these times of increasing conflict;
  2. Concern at the catastrophic human, economic and environmental consequences the use of nuclear weapons would have, possibly ending civilization as we know it;
  3. Sorrow at the extensive impact already caused by the production and testing of nuclear weapons on human health and the environment, and the fact that such impact will last for generations;
  4. Agreement with the notion that ‘There are no right hands for wrong weapons’ and that nuclear weapons are wrong weapons as they could not be used without affecting civilians, the environment and future generations;
  5. Opposition to the $100 billion spent annually on nuclear weapons, when such funds are sorely needed for climate protection, to achieve the sustainable development goals, and for other social and economic need;
  6. Support for efforts to slash nuclear weapons spending directly through budget allocations and indirectly through ending investments of public funds and banks in nuclear weapons corporations;
  7. Affirmation that the goal of nuclear disarmament is a universal goal that transcends differences in politics, nationalities, religions, cultures and ages;
  8. Insistence that nuclear weapon states and their allies fulfill their obligation to nuclear disarmament by replacing nuclear deterrence with common security approaches, such as those outlined in the UN Charter of diplomacy, negotiation, mediation, adjudication and application of international law;
  9. Highlight the important role of civil society, including all ages from youth to seniors, in the promotion of nuclear disarmament and participation in international disarmament forums such as the 2018 UN High- Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament;

10. Encourage governments to work with civil society organisations to educate and engage public in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament as agreed by governments in the final report of the United Nations Study on Disarmament and Nonproliferation Education.

And in particular we call on:

  1. All governments to participate at the highest level (Prime Minister, President, Foreign Minister or Minister for Disarmament) in the 2018 UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament;
  2. Non-nuclear countries to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the 2018 UN High- Level Conference, if they have not already done so, in order to secure 100 signatories by the end of the conference;
  3. Nuclear reliant countries (nuclear armed countries and their allies) to adopt a declaration at the conference to never use nuclear weapons first, and to ensure that all nuclear weapons systems are taken off high-readiness to use, and to commit to negotiations on phased nuclear disarmament.

* The Reaching High for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World conference, held at the Charles University in Prague, included university students, young academics, policy analysts and activists from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States. The conference was organised by the Abolition 2000 Youth Network. Co-sponsored by the Basel Peace Office, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND), Prague Vision Institute for Sustainable Security, Centre for Security Policy at Charles University (SBP) and UNFOLD ZERO.

Anti-nuke nuns return to crime scene with a treaty and a Nobel Prize

In Human rights, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics on October 22, 2017 at 9:50 pm

By DIANE CARMAN | The Denver Post
October 20, 2017 at 12:01 pm
It was a lovefest — warm embraces, beaming smiles, raspy renditions of old-timey peace songs and nonstop visits to military bases and nuclear weapons sites. Fifteen years to the day after they succeeded in getting themselves arrested at a Minuteman III site in Weld County, Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert were back, performing in a reunion tour across Colorado.
This time they didn’t end up in the slammer. Quite the contrary, in many of the places they visited this month, they were given a hero’s welcome.”

Well, not at the mayor’s office in Colorado Springs. They stopped by for a friendly visit — Catholic-to-Catholic — with John Suthers, who had prosecuted them for sabotage and destruction of federal property back when he was U.S. Attorney.

He wasn’t, um, available, so they left him a note saying their visit was “an act of love.”

In the years since they served their sentences in federal prison, the Dominican sisters, hardly deterred by the threat of future incarceration, have become pop culture icons.

A character on “Orange is the New Black” is based on Platte, who practiced yoga at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution with Piper Kerman, author of the book on which the series is based.

Gilbert had her own brush with celebrity. She struck up a friendship with Martha Stewart when they served their sentences at Alderson Federal Prison.

The women are the subject of a documentary called “Conviction,” and The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post and numerous international publications have told their story.

Another Dominican sister, Jackie Hudson, who participated in the Weld County demonstration and also served time in federal prison, died of cancer in 2011.

“She’s with us here in spirit,” said Platte.

They wish she could have been here to share the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, which was announced on Oct. 6 while they were visiting Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.

The prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, which succeeded in getting 69 nations to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The sisters spent weeks at the U.N. working with ICAN, meeting with world leaders from Ireland, Sweden, Cuba and other countries, and lobbying foreign ministers to get the treaty enacted.

The United States was not among the signers. U.S. diplomats boycotted the U.N. conference along with foreign ministers from the other nuclear nations.

Gilbert and Platte were not surprised by the boycott, and they flatly refuse to be discouraged. They remain fiercely determined to see the treaty ratified and, to get the word out, they are delivering copies to military commanders across the country. They even thoughtfully left one for Suthers in his absence.

“This is an urgent time for us,” said Platte, who advertises her cause on a shirt that proclaims “I’m already against the next war.”

With the Trump administration threatening to “totally destroy North Korea” and Kim Jong-un responding by calling Trump a “dotard” and ordering more ballistic missile tests, Gilbert and Platte said nuclear anxiety has helped generate overwhelming support for their work, especially on college campuses.

“The young people want to live in a nuclear-free world, a world without war,”

Gilbert said. “Everywhere we went, we felt such hope for the future because of the young people.”

Young people were with them when the sisters returned to the missile site, opened the gates and left a copy of the treaty not far from the spot where they were arrested in 2002.

“That was a highlight for me, having all those people with us,” said Platte. “That was touching.”

After decades of anti-nuke activism, marches, die-ins, prayer vigils, fasts, acts of civil disobedience and countless arrests, Platte, 81, and Gilbert, 69, admit it was nice to feel the love.

Because, after all, that’s the whole point.

No matter how craven the politics, how divided the country, how hateful the speeches and tweets become, these sisters of resilience and resistance fight their battles with messages of peace.

“This is our vow,” said Gilbert. “It’s why we keep on keeping on. We will never give up.”

Platte nodded in agreement.

“I refuse to have an enemy,” said the gentle convicted felon, her face suddenly breaking into a beatific smile.

“I simply won’t.”

Diane Carman is a communications consultant and a regular columnist for The Denver Post.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s New Bill is a Necessary Next Step in Addressing the Climate Change Crisis

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, War on September 27, 2017 at 12:35 am

MARK SCHLOSBERG, Sep 25 2017

The OFF Act takes aggressive action on climate and energy legislation.

This is an opinion piece by Mark Schlosberg, Organizing Co-Director, Food & Water Watch

Almost three weeks ago, as the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey still inundated Texas and Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, EPA chief Scott Pruitt commented that it was “insensitive” to talk about the relationship between climate change and the storms. But just two weeks later, as Hurricane Maria forges a path of destruction across Puerto Rico and beyond, as we continue to see the impacts from massive floods in Asia and Africa, and as wildfires in our own Western states burn nearly year-round, the real insensitivity is not talking about climate change. It is more critical than ever that we talk about it and do something to address it, before increased climate chaos dooms us all. Thankfully, a solution exists.

Recently Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act), the strongest, most aggressive climate change legislation we’ve got. But it’s up to us to build the pressure to help make the OFF Act a reality. And we must.

Representative Gabbard’s OFF Act responds to the urgency of our climate crisis with a clear roadmap of where we need to go to rapidly move off fossil fuels and onto 100 percent clean, renewable energy on a timeline that will give us a fighting chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate catastrophe. The bill requires a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, but also compels immediate reductions in a major way, requiring 80 percent renewable in the next ten years. It transitions the auto industry to zero-emissions by 2035, halts new fossil fuel projects, bans the profit-driven export of oil and gas overseas, ends foolish subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, promotes environmental justice, and provides a just transition for displaced oil and gas workers.

Introduced just a few weeks ago, the OFF Act already has the support of more than 350 organizations, including Progressive Democrats of America, National Nurses United, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network and the American Sustainable Business Council. This early support represents the vanguard of a growing consensus that we must act immediately and decisively.

Now we need our elected representatives to understand our demand for action and feel the urgency behind it.

This week, members of Congress are at home in their districts. Now is the time for them to hear from us with meeting requests, letter deliveries, phone calls, letters in local papers, calls to radio stations and more. The message is simple and clear: The future of our planet is at stake. We must move off dangerous, destructive fossil fuels now. Rep. Gabbard’s OFF Act is the best way to do it.

We know that with the current conservative makeup of Congress, the OFF Act won’t pass tomorrow. But just as we’ve seen with the significant recent progress made in the single-payer health care movement, building strong support for the OFF Act now will put us in a position to make this critical legislation the law sooner rather than later.

We need to act now. Let’s get to work.

@
Eric Weltman
Senior Organizer
Food & Water Watch
347-778-2743
eweltman@fwwatch.org
147 Prince Street, 4th Fl., No. 7
Brooklyn, NY 11201
http://www.FoodandWaterWatch.org

Threats of Total Destruction Are Unlawful and Extremely Dangerous; Direct Diplomacy between the United States and North Korea Is Essential to Avert Disaster

In Democracy, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on September 23, 2017 at 9:45 am

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and Western States Legal Foundation
September 22, 2017

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
– President Donald Trump, speech at United Nations, September 19, 2017

President Trump’s threat of total destruction of North Korea is utterly unacceptable. Also unacceptable are similarly threatening statements made in pieces carried by North Korea’s state-owned news agency. Instead of making apocalyptic threats, the two governments should agree on a non-aggression pact as a step toward finally concluding a peace treaty formally ending the 1950s Korean War and permanently denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

The U.S. and North Korean threats are wrong as a matter of morality and common sense. They are also completely contrary to bedrock requirements of international law – law which is part of the law of the land under the U.S. Constitution. Both countries, by engaging in a cycle of threats and military posturing, violate prohibitions on the threat of force to resolve disputes and on threats to use force outside the bounds of the law of armed conflict. Trump’s threats carry more weight because the armed forces of the United States, capped by its immense nuclear arsenal, could accomplish the destruction of North Korea in short order.

Threats of total destruction negate the fundamental principle that the right to choose methods and means of warfare is not unlimited:
Under the law of armed conflict, military operations must be necessary for and proportionate to the achievement of legitimate military objectives, and must not be indiscriminate or cause unnecessary suffering. Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits threatening an adversary that there will be no survivors or conducting hostilities on that basis. The Nuremberg Tribunal found the Nazi concept of “total war” to be unlawful because it runs contrary to all the rules of warfare and the moral principles underlying them, creating a climate in which “rules, regulations, assurances, and treaties all alike are of no moment” and “everything is made subordinate to the overmastering dictates of war.”
Conducting a war with the intention of destroying an entire country would contravene the Genocide Convention, which prohibits killing “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group ….”
Limits on the conduct of warfare apply to both aggressor and defender states. Thus Trump’s statement that total destruction would be inflicted in defense of the United States and its allies is no justification. Moreover, the U.S. doctrine permitting preventive war, carried out in the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, means that Trump’s reference to “defense” does not necessarily rule out U.S. military action in the absence of a North Korean attack or imminent attack.
North Korea has explicitly threatened use of nuclear weapons. While the United States likely would not use nuclear weapons first in the Korean setting, it remains true that Trump’s references to “fire and fury” and “total destruction” raise the specter of U.S. employment of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons cannot be used in compliance with the law of armed conflict, above all the requirement of discrimination, as the recently adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons recognizes. Threats of use of nuclear weapons are likewise unlawful. The illegal character of the threat or use of nuclear weapons is especially egregious where the express intent is to “totally destroy” an adversary, a purpose that from the outset rules out limiting use of force to the proportionate and necessary.
U.S. and North Korean threats of war are also unlawful because military action of any kind is not justified. The UN Charter prohibits the threat or use of force except in self-defense against an armed attack or subject to UN Security Council authorization:
Article 51 of the UN Charter permits the use of force as a matter of self-defense only in response to an armed attack. No armed attack by either side has occurred or is imminent.
The Security Council is addressing the matter and has not authorized use of force. Its most recent resolution imposing further sanctions on North Korea was adopted pursuant to UN Charter Article 41, which provides for measures not involving the use of force. There is no indication whatever in that and preceding resolutions of an authorization of use of force. Moreover, the resolution emphasizes the need for a peaceful resolution of the dispute with North Korea. That approach is mandated by the UN Charter, whose Article 2(3) requires all members to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”
It is urgent that diplomatic overtures replace threats. In the nuclear age, the first principle of diplomacy should be that adversaries talk to each other to the maximum possible extent, and in moments of crisis directly and unconditionally. We learned during the Cold War that even when the prospects for any tangible progress seem dim, negotiations between nuclear-armed adversaries have other positive results. They allow the military and political leaderships of the adversaries to better understand each other’s intentions, and their fears. They build broader channels of communication between military and government bureaucracies that can be of tremendous value when tensions rise.

Accordingly, the United States should declare itself ready and willing to engage in direct talks with North Korea, and a commitment to denuclearization should not be a precondition for such talks. To facilitate negotiations, the United States and South Korea should immediately cease large-scale military exercises in the region, providing North Korea with an opportunity to reciprocate by freezing its nuclear-related testing activities. The immediate aim of negotiations should be a non-aggression pact, as a step toward a comprehensive peace treaty bringing permanent closure to the Korean War and providing for a nuclear-weapon-free Korean peninsula. Success in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula will be much more likely if the United States, Russia, China and other nuclear-armed states also engage, as they are obligated to do, in negotiations for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The Silence of the Good People

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Poetry, Public Health, Race, War on September 9, 2017 at 12:06 am

By Paul Street

Trutdig, Sept. 6, 2017

Editor’s note: This essay was written before Hurricane Irma emerged in the Caribbean. Irma is another historic superstorm whose fury is significantly fueled by climate change.

I naturally disapprove strongly of the virulent white racists who gathered to violently defend Confederate “slave power” statues in Charlottesville, Va., two weekends ago, but I’ll say one thing for them: At least they seem to care quite a great deal in urgent, if vile, ways about politics and current events.

The older I get, the more I am struck by the bloodless social and political indifference and lethargy of millions upon millions of my fellow Americans.

Tyranny feeds on mass apathy and docility as much as it does on the marshaling of dark and reactionary forces. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. … In end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“He who passively accepts evil,” King added, “is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

Ecocidal Evil in Power

Look at the rolling national atrocity that is the quasi- and perhaps pre-fascist Donald Trump presidency. Every week, it seems, the orange-tinted beast comes forward with new threats and offenses to basic civilizational decency. Look at recent events: the crazy game of thermonuclear chicken Trump continues to play with Kim Jong Un; the dog-whistling cover Trump gave to the Nazis and other white supremacists in Charlottesville; the president’s threat to “shut down the federal government” if Congress doesn’t pay for his criminally idiotic and racist border wall; his granting of an early, pre-sentencing pardon to diabolical Joe Arpaio, the former longtime racist-fascist sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County.

Behind the scenes of “This Week in Trump” (TWIT), the “Insane Clown President” has been effectively advancing a hard-right agenda directly through the nation’s executive branch. The federal bench is being remade in the image of the radically reactionary and arch-regressive Federalist Society. Financial regulations are being rolled back along with environmental, consumer and civil rights protections. Trump is doing everything he can to slash health coverage for poor people short of his failed efforts to repeal Obamacare—this while he angles to pass a plutocratic tax cut for the rich in a nation where the top tenth of the upper 1 percent already has as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

The worst and least discussed part of the Trump outrage may be the White House’s climate change-denialist commitment to the deregulation of energy and the dismantling of environmental protections. Humanity stands on the precipice of full-on environmental collapse, with anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) global warming (A/CGW) leading the grave threat to livable ecology. Trump’s radically reckless response is to pull the United States out of the moderate Paris Climate Accords, to remove all references to climate change from federal websites, and to head the Environmental Protection Agency with a fellow petro-capitalist climate change-denier who is dedicated to crippling that federal department.

Trump’s proposed budget calls for a 16 percent cut to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors all things climate- and weather-related. The White House wants to slash $513 million from that department’s satellite program.

On Aug. 15, 10 days before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Trump signed an executive order repealing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, established under Barack Obama in 2015. The standard required the federal government to factor in climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure.

Meanwhile, as Houstonians struggle to recover from an epic storm clearly rooted in A/CGW, Trump proposes to lop off $667 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). His budget slashes disaster preparedness and response programs and FEMA’s pre-disaster mitigation program. It would wipe out the agency’s entire national flood insurance analysis program.

This is exterminist, ecocidal madness on steroids.

At the same time, Trump calls for $2.6 billion to finish his big, stupid, racist wall. In Phoenix two weeks ago, he threatened to “shut down the federal government” if it fails to fund that great monument to white-nationalist nativism. All this while advancing major tax breaks for the wealthy few and their giant corporations.

The Destructive Ideology of ‘I Voted’

This is big, existentially dire stuff. Talk about evil. And yet I routinely confront abject indifference and aversion to anything and everything political on the part of ordinary white middle-class Americans. If I were to try to engage people on these topics in downtown Iowa City, Iowa, right now (I am writing on a sunny, football-perfect Saturday afternoon here), people would politely step past me with no more consideration than what they give to a Jehovah’s Witness. “Go Hawks” (short for the Iowa Hawkeyes), they’d tell me. Yes, there is a significant increase in occasional liberal and progressive activism and protest under Trump. But it’s nowhere close to matching the level of dangerous and malicious criminality in Washington.

Millions of “good Americans” go through life in a chilling state of morally idiotic self-obsession and consumerism, chattering endlessly about their vacations, purchases, home repairs, automobiles, ailments, jobs and purely private dramas. The fact that the world’s most powerful state is headed by a racist, sexist and eco-exterminist white-nationalist, nuke-wielding malignant narcissist atop a team of right-wing, arch-plutocratic, planet-killing, science-denying enemies of peace, justice and democracy somehow doesn’t register as worthy of mass civil unrest in most American minds—white minds especially.

Masses of good Americans have other things to worry about. A well-dressed liberal and white-haired white lady I often see downtown is perpetually on her computer planning her and her retired husband’s next flight to some city abroad (today it’s Amsterdam, last month it was Jakarta, Indonesia). I asked her recently if she thinks she makes the world any better by flying around it again and again. She shot me an angry look and said, “I voted. For Hillary.”

It’s one thing to tell a pollster that you think government should work for social justice and common good. It’s another thing to forgo your drunken football tailgate or your next planet-cooking travel adventure in order spend your time and money differently, for movements to bring your purported noble ideals into fruition.

Trump and his noxious cadres of sociopathic ecology-wreckers and plutocratic racists calculate that masses of good Americans are so pervasively indifferent, self-absorbed (often to the point of pathological narcissism), preoccupied, distracted, diverted, disinterested and demobilized that they can get away with just about anything while pounding his ugly and angry white base to make the world yet more precarious and vile.

There’s something else that Trump counts on: mass acceptance of the childish notion that going into a two- [capitalist-] party ballot box for two minutes once every two or four years is a great and glorious exercise in popular self-rule. “Rejoice citizens,” the U.S. wealth- and power-elite and its ubiquitous commercial media tell the people: “You had your input on Election Day.”

Under the American religion of voting, Noam Chomsky told Dan Falcone and Saul Isaacson last year, “Citizenship means every four years you put a mark somewhere and you go home and let other guys run the world. It’s a very destructive ideology … basically, a way of making people passive, submissive objects. … [We] ought to teach kids that elections take place but that’s not politics.”

Remember what Trump tweeted on the second day of his presidency in response to historic, large-scale protests of his inauguration: “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote?”

Beyond the weird assumption that the people who marched against him didn’t vote against him, the real problem with that statement was the notion that a narrow-spectrum, candidate-centered election contest between two capitalist candidates once every 1,460 days grants a serious popular say on the direction the nation should take.

The marches against Trump’s inauguration were historic in scale. They were completely tied in with the election cycle, however. And, all of them (with all due respect for the airport and town hall protests in defense of Muslim travel rights and health care) have been remotely replicated in response to the actual policies—as opposed to the electoral advent—of the openly geocidal, racist and corporate-kleptocratic Trump presidency.

“The really critical thing,” the great radical American historian Howard Zinn once wrote, “isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating—those are the things that determine what happens.” As Zinn explained in an essay on the “Election Madness” he saw “mesmerized liberals and radicals alike” as Barack Obama rose toward the White House in the spring of 2008:

The election frenzy seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. … Would I support one [presidential] candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. … But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.
‘The Real Issue to Be Faced’

But here Zinn was not radical enough. “Changing national [and state and local] policy” (Zinn) is only the tip of the iceberg of the transformation required. Near the end of his life, Dr. King wrote in his final essay that “the real issue to be faced” beyond “superficial” matters (like the color or partisan identity of a U.S. senator or president) was “the radical reconstruction of society itself.” He wrote that the black struggle of his time was “exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws.”

Those sage words ring with even greater relevance today than they did half a century ago. The U.S. didn’t get to its current horrific state simply through the machinations of the Trump campaign and the Republican Party. The real and deeper causes are systemic, institutional, cultural, moral and intellectual-ideological. As Naomi Klein notes in her new book, “No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need,” the shocking Trump ascendancy is “not just [about] an individual or even a group of individuals. … [It’s about the neoliberal capitalist] system that has elevated them to such heights.” A system, writes Klein, under which the “Democratic Party establishment [is] also enmeshed with the billionaire class.”

Hurricane Harvey is no aberration, no freakish fit of nature. It’s another terrible example of the new normal created by U.S-led global petro-capitalism, headquartered to no small degree in the “petro-metro” of Houston itself—the nation’s fourth largest city. As the environmental writer Robert Hunziker noted last Friday:

The human footprint is driving climate change to hyper speed. … Today’s rapidly changing climate is the upshot of the Great Acceleration or post-WWII human footprint into/onto the ecosystem. … Abnormal is now normal. One-hundred-year floods are passé. … Epic floods and historic droughts are the norm. It’s all happened within the past couple of decades. It was only [five] years ago that Hurricane Sandy caused $75B in damages as the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history. In France in 2003, the hottest heat wave in over 500 years killed approximately 15,000, as well as 70,000 throughout Europe. Stifling heat hung in the air for months, no movement, atmospheric troughs of jet streams stood still, likely influenced and altered by global warming, specifically via radical changes in the Arctic, which is losing its bright reflecting ice cap that used to reflect up to 90% of solar radiation back into outer space. … Meanwhile, drought clobbered the Middle East, especially Syria, experiencing its worst-ever drought in 900 years, displacing one-to-two million farmers.
This is the handiwork not of humanity per se but of Homo sapiens under the command of capital—as it has been for just a small slice (roughly half a millennium) of its history. Harvey is yet another deadly reminder that “nature bats clean-up” and will not let Homo sapiens off the hook for letting its capitalist “elite” drive global temperature to deadly extremes with excessive carbon emissions that are a direct consequence of modern capitalism’s lethal addiction to endless accumulation, commodification and quantitative “growth.”

‘The Time Is Always Right to Do Right‘

Those who persist in thinking that we can “wait” for the next election (assuming that Trump doesn’t take action to suspend the next presidential electoral extravaganza)—and then the next one after that and so on—to address the pressing issues of our time might want to read the following passage from a forgotten speech Dr. King gave at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1966:

The great challenge facing the nation today is to get rid of a system that is evil and that is morally wrong. Now, in order to get rid of this system, it will be necessary to develop massive action programs. The problem will not work itself out. In order to develop massive action programs, we’ve got to get rid of one or two myths that are quite prevalent and that we hear a great deal around various communities. One is what I often speak of as the myth of time … the argument that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. Only time can bring integration into being. And so those who set forth this argument tend to say to the Negro and his allies in the white community, just be nice and just be patient and wait 100 or 200 years and the problem will work itself out.

I think there is an answer to that myth. That is that time is neutral, it can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that in so many instances the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme righteous of our nation have used time much more effectively than the forces of good will. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people who would bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time.

Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes though the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so it is necessary to help time and to realize that the time is always right to do right.
As I’m sure Dr. King would observe were he alive today (he’d be 88 years old), climate change—the biggest issue of our or any time—is a problem that is not going to “work itself out.”

More to the main point of this essay, we don’t have time to wait for it to do so. The fourth chapter of Klein’s new book is properly titled “The Climate Clock Strikes Midnight.” Tell me, dear reader, when did then-senior Exxon scientist James Black write that “man has a time window of five to ten years before the need to make hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical” because of how “mankind is influencing the global climate … through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels”? As Klein notes, those words were penned in 1978—the very year, for what it’s worth, when I (a budding young former-juvenile-delinquent-turned-bibliophilic-Marxist) read the great eco-socialist Barry Commoner’s urgent 1971 book “The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology” and then promptly forgot about the environmental issue for 15 years.

It is one thing to speak the standard “liberal” and “pragmatic” language of gradual, step-by-step progress—the discourse of “not making the perfect the enemy of the good”—when it comes to issues like poverty, inequality, mass incarceration, school funding, health care, taxation and the right to form unions. With these and other problems, Bill McKibben noted seven years ago, it is sometimes acceptable “to split the difference between different positions, make incremental change, and come back in a few years to do some more. It doesn’t get impossibly harder in the meantime—people will suffer for lack of health care, but their suffering won’t make future change impossible.”

Global warming is different for two reasons. First, as McKibben observed, it is “a negotiation between human beings on the one hand and physics and chemistry on their other. This is a tough negotiation, because physics and chemistry don’t compromise. They’ve already laid out their nonnegotiable bottom line: above 350 [carbon] parts per million [ppm in the atmosphere] the planet doesn’t work.” Second, as Klein writes, “Climate change … ha[s] a different relationship to time.” She further says:

With the politics of climate change … we don’t get to try again in four years. Because in four years, the earth will have been radically changed … in the interim, and our chances of averting an irreversible catastrophe will have shrunk. … Lots of social movements have adopted Samuel Beckett’s famous line: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” as a lighthearted motto. I’ve always liked the attitude; we can’t be perfect, we won’t always win, but we should strive to improve. The trouble is, Beckett’s dictum doesn’t work for climate—not at this stage in the game. If we keep failing to lower emissions … there won’t be more opportunities to fail better.
Talk about what King called “the fierce urgency of now.” And talk about evil: The greenhouse gassing-to-death of life on Earth will make the Nazis, the sadistic Southern U.S. slave owners and the perpetrators of the Belgian genocide in the Congo all look like small-time criminals.

Mother Nature is a harsh and demanding mistress. We are anthrosuicidal fools to ignore her ever more pressing entreaties. 350? We passed 410 ppm earlier this year. We are on a pace for 500 by 2050 [which means so-long Antarctic, which means the end of the planet’s life-support system. As Klein notes, relaying what the world’s leading Earth scientists recently told her, “the window during which there is time to lower emissions sufficiently to avoid truly catastrophic warming is closing rapidly.”

If we are serious about averting environmental catastrophe in the next generation, we cannot take a “letter grades” approach. We are in pass-fail territory—and failing badly—in that policy realm. By all Earth science indications, it’s not about gaining a little bit this year, a little bit next year. We are approaching a chasm: We either take the leap or it’s game over, and, as Chomsky told Occupy Boston five years ago, “everything else we’re talking about won’t matter.” Hence the name of a recently formed Canadian statement platform for socially just, democratic, and environmentally sustainable policy: The Leap Manifesto.

Since Dr. King’s time, the United States has made some shining progress around questions of identity, civil liberties, bigotry and sexuality. It has made zero progress and, in fact, moved backward on economic justice and, most dangerously of all, on the intimately related environmental question, which now hangs over us like a great global Grim Reaper daring us to care about the fate of our own and countless other species.

A recent report on Moyers & Company shows that left-leaning social, political and environmental/climate progressives are the nation’s “new silent majority.” Now would be the time for that silence to find a voice. King’s line from the introduction to this essay bears repeating: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

 

Paul Street holds a doctorate in U.S. history from Binghamton University. He is former vice president for research and planning of the Chicago Urban League. Street is also the author of numerous books.