To Those Who Call for Calm in Ferguson

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Justice for Mike Brown, National Moment of Silence in Washington, DC on August 14, 2014. Photo by Elvert Barnes/flickr

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.

Frederick Douglass, 1857

“The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies.” Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857

Safety Elusive for Destitute Families in Kabul

Refugees in the Chaman e Babrak camp stand amid the rubble /photo by Abdulai Safarali
Refugees in the Chaman e Babrak camp stand amid the rubble /photo by Abdulai Safarali

by Kathy Kelly

Kabul, Afghanistan–The fire in the Chaman e Babrak camp began in Nadiai’s home shortly after noon. She had rushed her son, who had a severe chest infection, to the hospital. She did not know that a gas bottle, used for warmth, was leaking; when the gas connected with a wood burning stove, flames engulfed the mud hut in which they lived and extended to adjacent homes, swiftly rendering nine extended families homeless and destitute in the midst of already astounding poverty. By the time seven fire trucks had arrived in response to the fire at the refugee camp, the houses were already burned to the ground.

No one was killed. When I visited the camp, three days after the disaster, that was a common refrain of relief. Nadiai’s home was on the edge of the camp, close to the entrance road. Had the fire broken out in the middle of the camp, or at night when the homes were filled with sleeping people, the disaster could have been far worse.

Zakia, with bruised cheeks, survived the fire /photo by Abdulai Safarali
Zakia, with bruised cheeks, survived the fire /photo by Abdulai Safarali

Even so, Zakia, age 54, said this is the worst catastrophe she has seen in her life, and already their situation was desperate. Zakia had slapped her own face over and over again to calm and focus herself as she searched for several missing children while the fire initially raged. Now, three days later, her cheeks are quite bruised, but she is relieved that the children were found.

Standing amid piles of ashes near what once was her home, a young mother smiled as she introduced her three little children, Shuba, age 3 ½, and Medinah and Monawra, twin girls, age 1 ½. They were trapped in one of the homes, but their uncle rescued them. Continue reading

Silent deterrent to war, Peace Vigil keeps watch over White House

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The White House Peace Vigil takes up only a little sidewalk space on Pennsylvania Ave. but leaves a big footprint. For 32 years, two six-foot yellow signs with a white tarp between them have warned us about the dangers of nuclear weapons. This iconic statement for disarmament almost came to an end today.

In the middle of the night Park Police disassembled and carted off the vigil’s tent and signs when its watchman left. Vigil supporters contacted the police, with Eleanor Holmes Norton following up, to restore the vigil this afternoon.

Thousands of tourists have seen it, taken pictures of it, and talked to Concepcion, the co-founder who’s been there since the beginning–Chinese tourists from Shanghai, Koreans from Seoul, Germans on their way to Philadelphia, gay rights activists from Africa, and school groups from Iowa.

Peace Vigil was removed temporarily
Peace Vigil reinstated today

Hundreds of volunteers have invested over 282,000 hours of labor staffing the vigil, sitting through rain, snow, cold, heat, thirst–and boredom. During Hurricane Sandy three people held it in place for hours as the wind screamed.

There’s a bathroom nearby but it closes early. Someone has to man it 24 hours a day, so volunteers are organized into shifts and bring their own food and water. They have to wait for their replacements, even if they come late.

Facing the north portico of the White House, the tattered tarp and yellow signs present an image of the powerless confronting the all-powerful. Undoubtedly every president since 1981–five of them–has seen it and knows its history, yet none have ever acknowledged it. Continue reading

Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC gets the “Standing Man” treatment

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by John Zangas

Turkish activist Yurter Özcan stood motionless with supporters in front of the Turkish embassy in Washington, DC on Tuesday evening for four hours–from 8pm until midnight. Their “Standing Man” protest, known in Turkish as “DuranAdam,” followed the example of Erdem Gunduz, who stood for more than five hours in Istanbul’s Taksim Square the day before.

Gunduz was joined by hundreds of other Turks who assembled on the Square in spite of massive tear gassing by police over the weekend. They faced a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey as a secular state. Protestors continue to defy the Prime Minister’s three-week crackdown on people across Turkey.

“Standing Man” is a throwback to “Tank Man,” who famously stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the Chinese uprising of 1989. Since Gunduz’s silent protest, hundreds of Turks have taken up his tactic and stood motionless in public spaces, including Özcan and his comrades at the Turkish Embassy in Washington.

Cool Quote of the Day

Photo by PublicDomainPictures

Learning not to cause harm to ourselves is a basic Buddhist teaching. Nonaggression has the power to heal. Not harming ourselves or others is the basis of an enlightened society. This is how there could be a sane world. It starts with sane citizens, and that is us.

-Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty

CODEPINK alleges mass civilian casualties from drone bombings, asks Senator Feinstein for investigation

CODEPINK activists outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office

Just two weeks after disrupting the confirmation hearing of John Brennan, the activist organization CODEPINK paid a visit to the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In the Atrium of the Senate Hart Office Building, CODEPINK demonstrators donned black robes and ghoulish masks to dramatize the alleged killing of civilians in drone bombing attacks by the U.S. in the Middle East. Under heavy escort by Capitol Police, they delivered a petition to the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) requesting public hearings into drone casualties.

CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin hung placards bearing the names of people they claim are civilian victims of drone bombings around the necks of her fellow demonstrators, while she herself carried a sign saying, “200 children killed by drones.” CODEPINK believes that civilian casualties have numbered at least a thousand.

Aides in Senator Feinstein’s office didn’t respond to CODEPINK’s request for public hearings, except to say that the Senator believes that civilian casualties from drone bombings are few.

Benjamin is skeptical that Feinstein and others on the Foreign Intelligence Committee can rely on the information they are getting from the CIA and the Pentagon.

“How are we to know?” asks Benjamin. “We know that the Justice Department doesn’t even give the Intelligence Committee the nine legal memos that they have that provide the legal basis for the extrajudicial killing of Americans. So if they can’t even get that, why should we think that the CIA is giving them the information?”

Without transparency, Benjamin thinks the oversight process is broken. “The public is kept totally in the dark.” And, she says, Congress isn’t doing its job holding the Obama administration accountable. “I would say that they’re literally letting President Obama get away with murder.”

Capitol Police were well-prepared for CODEPINK, especially after their members had disrupted both the Kerry and Brennan nomination hearings, when officers removed them from the gallery and in some cases made arrests. Inspector Wesley Mahr told Benjamin she was “pushing it” when she still held a sign after he had delivered a third warning threatening arrest. A planned banner drop within the building was abandoned after it was clear Capitol Police had gotten wind of it. Demonstrations are not allowed in the Senate Hart Office Building.

Senator Feinstein, who did not see the protestors today, was visibly irritated with CODEPINK at the Brennan hearing, as activists one by one disrupted the proceedings. Feinstein then cleared the room.  Progressives have objected to Brennan’s nomination to the head of the CIA  due to his alleged complicity with Bush-era detention and torture practices. As the White House’s counterterrorism advisor, he’s pegged as an architect of the drone program.

The vote on Brennan’s confirmation, scheduled for last week, was postponed, although Democrats are confident that he will in fact be confirmed. In a new set of written answers for the Intelligence Committee, Brennan said only: “This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.”

Photos from the Senate Hart Office Building are here.

UPDATE: Senator Feinstein’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Cool Quote of the Day

Without the recognition of non-violence on a national scale there is no such thing as a constitutional or democratic government.

-Mahatma Gandhi, Non-Violence in Peace and War

Cool Hero of the Day: Mahatma Gandhi

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One of the most significant facts about the life and vocation of Gandhi was his discovery of the East through the West. Like so many others of India, Gandhi received a completely Western education as a young man. He had to a great extent renounced the beliefs, the traditions, the habits of thought, of India. He spoke, thought, and acted like an Englishman, except of course that an Englishman was precisely what he could never, by any miracle, become. He was an alienated Asian whose sole function in life was to be perfectly English without being English at all: to prove the superiority of the West by betraying his own heritage and his own self, thinking as a white man without ceasing to be “a Nigger.” …

Gandhi was unusual in this. Instead of being fooled by the Western costume, and instead of being persuaded that he no longer really existed as an Asian, he recognized that the West had something good about it that was good not because it was Western but because it was also Eastern: that is to say, it was universal. So he turned his face and his heart once again to India, and saw what was really there. It was through his acquaintance with writers like Tolstoy and Thoreau, and then his reading of the New Testament, that Gandhi rediscovered his own tradition and his Hindu dharma (religion, duty). More than a tradition, more than a wisdom handed down in books or celebrated in temples, Gandhi discovered India in discovering himself. Hence it is very important indeed to understand Gandhi’s political life, and particularly his nonviolence, in the light of this radical discovery from which everything else received its meaning. Gandhi’s dedicated struggle for Indian freedom and his insistence on non-violent means in the struggle–both resulted from his new understanding of India and of himself after his contact with a universally valid spiritual tradition which he saw to be common to both East and West.

-Thomas Merton, Gandhi on Non-Violence

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948 in New Delhi.

One Million Moms for Gun Control

The morning after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Shannon Watts founded One Million Moms for Gun Control. Mother of five, Watts wrote on Huffington Post that the tragedy in Newtown was an epiphany for her:

I, like many American mothers, looked on for decades as gun violence increased and gun laws loosened. I hoped I could make a difference by raising compassionate children. I hoped that the President, our Congress, and our state and local legislators would act to protect us.

No more dependence on the actions of others; it is our time as mothers to rise up as a collective force and demand action on gun control.

The organization wants to enact “common sense” gun control laws, such as re-instituting the assault weapons ban and passing other laws limiting gun availability and misuse in the U.S.

On January 26, One Million Moms for Gun Control co-sponsored the March on Washington for Gun Control. In the video above, John Zangas interviews Shannon Watts at the conclusion of the march.

CODEPINK activist disrupts Kerry nomination hearing, demands end to military aid to Israel

Guards remove Code Pink intern Lachelle Roddy from the Kerry hearing in a screen grab from CNN Photograph: CNN

[UPDATE below: Lachelle Roddy comments on her reasons for speaking out during Senate Foreign Relations hearing.]

CODEPINK intern and college student Lachelle Roddy disrupted Senator John Kerry’s nomination hearing for Secretary of State today. [VIDEO below] From the gallery of the Senate chamber, Roddy voiced her objection to U.S. military aid to Israel:

We’re killing thousands of people in the Middle East who are not a threat to us. When is it going to be enough? When are enough people going to be killed? I’m tired of my friends in the Middle East not knowing if they’re going to live to see the next day!

CODEPINK is an activist group which opposes U.S. military aggression abroad, including military aid to Israel, which it believes is being used to oppress Palestinians.

Video of Roddy disrupting the hearing:

Update:

Roddy commented on her reasons for speaking out during the Senate hearing, which she says was a spontaneous outburst and not a planned action:

I stood in the back listening as they continued to reference how big of a threat the Middle East is to America and how America needs to be a global leader, as if we are not already occupying enough countries. I had had enough when they mentioned economic sanctions on Iran. I could not stay silent any longer, and decided to speak up.

Activist Lachelle Roddy, left, participates in CODEPINK Flash Mob at Union Station on January 19, 2013.

The effect of U.S. foreign policy on the lives of her friends from the Middle East also motivated her:

I live in a global village in Roanoke while in school [at Hollins University], and there are many women there from the Middle East including Afghanistan and Palestine. They never know whether their families will be alive the next day because of U.S. drones as well as U.S. funding of Israeli war crimes.

It’s very difficult for them to go to school here when they have so much hardship back at home because of our nation’s foreign policy, especially when they can not speak up out of fear of being labeled a terrorist.

Roddy was charged with unlawful conduct and interrupting Congress.

Update:

In response to Roddy’s outburst, Senator John Kerry retained his composure and recalled his activism following his military service in Vietnam:

When I first came to Washington and testified, I obviously was testifying as part of the group of people who came here to have their voices heard. And that is, above all, what this place is about. So I respect, I think, the woman who was voicing her concerns about that part of the world, and maybe one of you have traveled there. Some of you were there recently. Senator McCain, you were just there, you were in a refugee camp, and I know you heard this kind of thing. People measure what we do.