Winter in America by Gil Scott-Heron

From 1974. Or today.

From the Indi­ans who wel­comed the pil­grims
And to the buf­falo who once ruled the plains
Like the vul­tures cir­cling beneath the dark clouds
Look­ing for the rain
Look­ing for the rain

Just like the cities stag­gered on the coast­line
Liv­ing in a nation that just can’t stand much more
Like the forest buried beneath the high­way
Nev­er had a chance to grow
Nev­er had a chance to grow
And now it’s win­ter
Win­ter in Amer­i­ca

Yes and all of the heal­ers have been killed
Or sent away, yeah
But the peo­ple know, the peo­ple know
It’s win­ter
Win­ter in Amer­i­ca

And ain’t nobody fight­ing
‘Cause nobody knows what to save
Save your soul, Lord knows
From Win­ter in Amer­i­ca

The Con­sti­tu­tion
A noble piece of paper
With free soci­ety
Strug­gled but it died in vain
And now Democ­ra­cy is rag­time on the cor­ner
Hop­ing for some rain
Looks like it’s hop­ing
Hop­ing for some rain

And I see the robins
Perched in bar­ren tree­tops
Watch­ing last-ditch racists march­ing across the floor
But just like the peace sign that van­ished in our dreams
Nev­er had a chance to grow
Nev­er had a chance to grow

And now it’s win­ter
It’s win­ter in Amer­i­ca
And all of the heal­ers have been killed
Or been betrayed
Yeah, but the peo­ple know, peo­ple know
It’s win­ter, Lord knows
It’s win­ter in Amer­i­ca

And ain’t nobody fight­ing
‘Cause nobody knows what to save
Save your souls
From Win­ter in Amer­i­ca
And now it’s win­ter
Win­ter in Amer­i­ca

And all of the heal­ers done been killed or sent away
Yeah, and the peo­ple know, peo­ple know
It’s win­ter
Win­ter in Amer­i­ca

And ain’t nobody fight­ing
‘Cause nobody knows what to save
And ain’t nobody fight­ing
Cause nobody knows, nobody knows
And ain’t nobody fight­ing
‘Cause nobody knows what to save

“My secretary just walked in wearing pants.… and she looks terrific!” and other mom stories

2015-08-14 12.53.23
My mother’s death notice is in today’s Philadel­phia Inquir­er.

Here’s anoth­er instal­la­tion of mom sto­ries, orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten for a longer obit­u­ary than the one run­ning in today’s paper.

A sin­gle par­ent, she earned an asso­ciates degree at Rid­er Col­lege in Tren­ton and worked as a sec­re­tary at a num­ber of Philadelphia-area based, include Women’s Med­ical Col­lege and the Pres­by­te­ri­an Board of Pub­li­ca­tions. In the mid-1960s she became an exec­u­tive sec­re­tary at the newly-formed Colo­nial Penn Life Insur­ance Com­pa­ny. An office fem­i­nist, she liked recount­ing the sto­ry of the day in the 1970s when the wom­en of the office unit­ed to break the dress code by all wear­ing pant suits. A senior vice pres­i­dent was on the phone when she walked into his office and is said to have told his caller “My sec­re­tary just walked in wear­ing pants.… and she looks ter­ri­fic!”

When Colo­nial Penn lat­er start­ed an in-house com­put­er pro­gram­mer train­ing pro­gram, she signed up imme­di­ate­ly and start­ed a sec­ond career. She approached pro­grams as puz­zles and was espe­cial­ly proud of her abil­i­ty to take oth­er pro­gram­mers’ poorly-written code and turn it into effi­cient, bug-free soft­ware.

In the ear­ly 1990s, she moved into her own apart­ment in Jenk­in­town, Pa. She reclaimed a short­ened form of her maid­en name and swapped “Bet­sy” for “Liz.” Dur­ing this time she became a com­mit­ted atten­der at Abing­ton Friends Meet­ing. As clerk of its peace and jus­tice com­mit­tee, she worked to build the con­sen­sus need­ed for the meet­ing to pro­duce a land­mark state­ment on repro­duc­tive rights. As soon as it was passed she said, “next up, a min­ute on same-sex mar­riage!” In the late 90s, that was still con­tro­ver­sial even with LGBTQ cir­cles and I imag­ine that even the pro­gres­sive folks at Abing­ton were dread­ing the thought she might put this on the agen­da!

In her late 60s, she bought her first house, in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy neigh­bor­hood. She loved fix­ing it up and babysit­ting her grand­chil­dren. She nev­er made any strong con­nec­tions with any of the near­by Quak­er Meet­ings only attend­ing wor­ship spo­rad­i­cal­ly after the move. When she was diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease in 2010, she took the news with dig­ni­ty. She moved into an inde­pen­dent liv­ing apart­ment in Atco, N.J. and con­tin­ued an active lifestyle as long as pos­si­ble.

Expanding our concepts of pacifism

My blog­ging pal Wess Daniels wrote a provoca­tive piece this week called When Peace Pre­serves Vio­lence. It’s a great read and blows some much-needed holes in the self-satisfaction so many of us car­ry with us. But I’d argue that there’s a part two need­ed that does a side-step back to the source…

Eric Moon wrote some­thing that’s stuck with me in his June/July Friends Jour­nal piece, “Cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly Not the Tes­ti­monies.” His arti­cle focus­es on the way we’ve so cod­i­fied the “Quak­er Tes­ti­monies” that they’ve become ossi­fied and tak­en for grant­ed. One dan­ger he sees in this is that we’ll not rec­og­nize clear lead­ings of con­science that don’t fit the modern-day mold.

Moon tells the anec­dote of a Friend who “guilti­ly lament[ed] that he couldn’t attend protest march­es because he was busy all day at a cen­ter for teens at risk for drop­ping out of school, a pro­gram he had estab­lished and invest­ed his own sav­ings in.” Here was a Friend doing real one-on-one work chang­ing lives but feel­ing guilty because he couldn’t par­tic­i­pate in the largely-symbolic act of stand­ing on a street cor­ner.

I don’t think that we need to give up the peace tes­ti­mony to acknowl­edge the entan­gle­ment of our lives and the hypocrisy that lies all-too-shallowly below the sur­face of most of our lifestyles. What we need to do is rethink its bound­aries.

A mod­el for this is our much-quoted but much-ignored “Quak­er saint” John Wool­man. While a sense of the equal­i­ty of humans is there in his jour­nal as a source of his com­pas­sion, much of his argu­men­ta­tion again­st slav­ery is based in Friends by-then well-established tes­ti­mony again­st war (yes, again­st war, not for peace). Slav­ery is indeed a state of war and it is on so many lev­els – from the indi­vid­u­als treat­ing each oth­er hor­ri­bly, to soci­etal norms con­struct­ed to make this seem nor­mal, to the economies of nation states built on the trade.

Woolman’s con­cep­tu­al leap was to say that the peace tes­ti­mony applied to slav­ery. If we as Friends don’t par­tic­i­pate in war, then we sim­i­lar­ly can’t par­tic­i­pate in the slave trade or enjoy the ill-gotten fruits of that trade – the war prof­it of cot­tons, dyes, rum, etc.

Today, what else is war? I think we have it hard­er than Wool­man. In the sev­en­teen­th cen­tu­ry a high per­cent­age of one’s con­sum­ables came from a tight geo­graph­ic radius. You were like­ly to know the labor that pro­duced it. Now almost noth­ing comes local­ly. If it’s cheap­er to grow gar­lic in Chi­na and ship it halfway around the world than it is to pay local farm­ers, then our local gro­cer will sell Chi­ne­se gar­lic (mine does). Books and mag­a­zi­nes are sup­plant­ed by elec­tron­ics built in locked-down Far East­ern sweat­shops.

But I think we can find ways to dis­en­gage. It’s a never-ending process but we can take steps and sup­port oth­ers tak­ing steps. We’ve got­ten it stuck in our imag­i­na­tion that war is a protest sign out­side Dunk­in Donuts. What about those tutor­ing pro­grams? What about reduc­ing our cloth­ing con­sump­tions and find­ing ways to reduce nat­u­ral resource con­sump­tion (best done by lim­it­ing our­selves to lifestyles that cause us to need less resources).

And Yoder? Wess is dis­heart­ened by the sex­u­al mis­con­duct of Men­non­ite paci­fist John Howard Yoder (short sto­ry: he reg­u­lar­ly groped and sex­u­al­ly pres­sured wom­en). But what of him? Of course he’s a fail­ure. In a way, that’s the point, even the plan: human heroes will fail us. Cocks will crow and will we stay silent (why the denom­i­na­tion kept it hush-hush for 15 years after his death is anoth­er whole WTF, of course). But why do I call it the plan? Because we need to be taught to rely first and sec­ond and always on the Spir­it of Jesus. George Fox fig­ured that out:

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had noth­ing out­ward­ly to help me, nor could I tell what to do; then, oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy con­di­tion’: and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. …and this I knew exper­i­men­tal­ly. My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowl­edge of God, and of Christ alone, with­out the help of any man, book, or writ­ing.

If young Fox had found a human hero that actu­al­ly walked the talk, he might have short-circuited the search for Jesus. He need­ed to expe­ri­ence the dis­heart­ened fail­ure of human knowl­edge to be low enough to be ready for his great spir­i­tu­al open­ing.

We all use iden­ti­ty to prop our­selves up and iso­late our­selves from cri­tique. I think that’s just part of the human con­di­tion. The path toward the divine is not one of retrench­ment or dis­avowal, but rather focus on that one who might even now be prepar­ing us for new light on the con­di­tions of the human con­di­tion and church uni­ver­sal.

Christian peacemaker Teams News

On Sat­ur­day, Novem­ber 26, 2005 four mem­bers of “Chris­tian peace­mak­ers Teams”:www.cpt.org were abduct­ed in iraq. On March 20th the body of Amer­i­can Quak­er Tom Fox was found; on March 23rd, the remain­ing three hostages were freed by U.S. and British mil­i­tary forces.
Here at Non​vi​o​lence​.org, we have always been impressed and high­ly sup­port­ive of the deep wit­ness of the Chris­tian peace­mak­ers Teams. Their mem­bers have rep­re­sent­ed the best in both the peace and Chris­tian move­ments, con­sis­tent­ly putting them­selves in dan­ger to wit­ness the gospel of peace. Not con­tent to write let­ters or stand on pick­ett lines in safe west­ern cap­i­tals, they go to the front­li­nes of vio­lence and pro­claim a rad­i­cal alter­na­tive.
While we can be grate­ful for the release of the three remain­ing hostages, we should con­tin­ue to remem­ber the 43 for­eign hostages still being held in iraq and the 10 – 30 iraqis report­ed­ly tak­en hostage each and every day. As iraq slips into full-scale civil war we must also orga­nize again­st the war-mongerers, both for­eign and inter­nal and finde ways of stand­ing alongside those iraqis who want noth­ing more than peace and free­dom.

Here’s links to recent articles on the situation: https://​deli​cious​.com/​m​a​r​t​i​n​_​k​e​l​l​e​y​/​n​e​w​s​.​c​p​t​-​f​o​u​r​.​f​o​x​m​e​m​o​r​ial

And a per­son­al note from Nonviolence.org’s Mar­t­in Kel­ley: I myself am a Chris­tian and Quak­er and one of our folks, Tom Fox, of Lan­g­ley Hill (Vir­ginia) Friends Meet­ing is among the hostages. I don’t know Tom per­son­al­ly but over the last few days I’ve learned we have many Friends in com­mon and they have all tes­ti­fied to his deep com­mitt­ment to peace. Some of the links above are more explic­it­ly Quak­er than most things I post to Non​vi​o​lence​.org, but they give per­spec­tive on why Tom and his com­pan­ions would see putting them­selves in dan­ger as an act of reli­gious ser­vice. I am grate­ful for Tom’s cur­rent wit­ness in iraq – yes, even as a hostage – but I cer­tain­ly hope he soon comes back to his fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty and that the atten­tion and wit­ness of the­se four men’s ordeal helps to bring the news of peace to streets and halls of Bagh­dad, Wash­ing­ton, Lon­don and Ottawa.

Action Step:

If you have a blog or web­site, you can add a feed of that will include the lat­est Nonviolence.org-compiled links. Sim­ply add this javascript to the side­bar of your site [Dis­abled Now]

Arnold: Losing Our Religion

Johann Christoph Arnold has an interesting piece on the intersection of peace activism and religion [originally published on Nonviolence.org]. Here's a taste:

The day before Martin Luther King was murdered he said, "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life...But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will." We must have this same desire if we are going to survive the fear and violence and mass confusion of our time. And we should be as unabashed about letting people know that it is our religious faith that motivates us, regardless of the setting or the consequences.

Many peace activists are driven by religious motivations, which is often all that keeps them going through all the hard times and non-appreciation. Yet we often present ourselves to the world in a secular way using rational arguments.

It took me a few years to really admit to myself that Nonviolence.org is a ministry intimately connected with my Quaker faith. In the eight years it's been going, thousands of websites have sprung up with good intentions and hype only to disappear into oblivion (or the internet equivalent, the line reading "Last updated July 7, 1997"). I have a separate forum for "Quaker religious and peace issues" [which later became the general QuakerRanter blog] In my essay on the Quaker peace testimony, I worry that modern religious pacifists have spent so much effort convincing the world that pacifism makes sense from a strictly rationalist viewpoint that we've largely forgotten our own motivations. Don't get me wrong: I think pacifism also makes sense as a pragmatic policy; while military solutions might be quicker, pacifism can bring about the long-term changes that break the cycle of militarism. But how can we learn to balance the sharing of both our pragmatic and religious motivations?

 

Where’s the grassroots contemporary nonviolence movement?

I’ve long noticed there are few active, online peace sites or com­mu­ni­ties that have the grass­roots depth I see occur­ring else­where on the net. It’s a prob­lem for Non​vi​o​lence​.org [update: a project since laid down], as it makes it hard­er to find a diver­si­ty of sto­ries.

I have two types of sources for Non​vi​o​lence​.org. The first is main­stream news. I search through Google News, Tech­no­rati cur­rent events, then may­be the New York Times, The Guardian, and the Wash­ing­ton Post.

There are lots of inter­est­ing arti­cles on the war in iraq, but there’s always a polit­i­cal spin some­where, espe­cial­ly in tim­ing. Most big news sto­ries have bro­ken in one mon­th, died down, and then become huge news three months lat­er (e.g., Wilson’s CIA wife being exposed, which was first report­ed on Non​vi​o​lence​.org on July 22 but became head­li­nes in ear­ly Octo­ber). The­se news cycles are dri­ven by domes­tic par­ty pol­i­tics, and at times I feel all my links make Non​vi​o​lence​.org sound like an appa­ratchik of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty USA.

But it’s not just the tone that makes main­stream news arti­cles a prob­lem – it’s also the gen­er­al sub­ject mat­ter. There’s a lot more to non­vi­o­lence than anti­war expos­es, yet the news rarely cov­ers any­thing about the cul­ture of peace. “If it bleeds it leads” is an old news­pa­per slo­gan and you will nev­er learn about the wider scope of non­vi­o­lence by read­ing the papers.

My sec­ond source is peace move­ment web­sites

And the­se are, by-and-large, unin­ter­est­ing. Often they’re not updat­ed fre­quent­ly. But even when they are, the pieces on them can be shal­low. You’ll see the self-serving press release (“as a peace orga­ni­za­tion we protest war actions”) and you’ll see the exclam­a­to­ry all-caps screed (“eND THe OCCUPATION NOW!!!”). The­se are fine as long as you’re already a mem­ber of said orga­ni­za­tion or already have decid­ed you’re again­st the war, but there’s lit­tle per­sua­sion or dia­logue pos­si­ble in this style of writ­ing and orga­niz­ing.

There are few peo­ple in the larg­er peace move­ment who reg­u­lar­ly write pieces that are inter­est­ing to those out­side our nar­row cir­cles. David McReynolds and Geov Par­rish are two of those excep­tions. It takes an abil­i­ty to some­times ques­tion your own group’s con­sen­sus and to acknowl­edge when non­vi­o­lence ortho­doxy some­times just doesn’t have an answer.

And what of peace blog­gers? I real­ly admire Joshua Mic­ah Mar­shall, but he’s not a paci­fist. There’s the excel­lent Gut­less Paci­fist (who’s led me to some very inter­est­ing web­sites over the last year), Bill Connelly/Thoughts on the eve, Stand Down/No War Blog, and a new one for me, The Pick­et Line. But most of us are all point­ing to the same main­stream news arti­cles, with the same Iraq War focus.

If the web had start­ed in the ear­ly 1970s, there would have been lots of inter­est­ing pub­lish­ing projects and blogs grow­ing out the activist com­mu­ni­ties. Younger peo­ple today are using the inter­net to spon­sor inter­est­ing gath­er­ings and using sites like Mee­tup to build con­nec­tions, but I don’t see com­mu­ni­ties built around peace the way they did in the ear­ly 1970s. There are few peo­ple build­ing a life – hope, friends, work – around paci­fism.

Has “paci­fism” become ossi­fied as its own in-group dog­ma of a cer­tain gen­er­a­tion of activists? What links can we build with cur­rent move­ments? How can we deep­en and expand what we mean by non­vi­o­lence so that it relates to the world out­side our tiny orga­ni­za­tions?