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Finding a Definition for Peace

July 12, 2012

What is peace? We are all familiar with the word, with the idea behind it. We use it all the time in a whole range of contexts and situations. It’s a part of common greetings during the holidays and at church. It’s seen on signs at various protests and spoken about in government debates.

You can buy it on jewelry or simply hold up two fingers to express it but if someone were to ask you what peace was, what would you say? It’s harder than it seems. Is it a feeling? A state of being? A foreign policy? Or an unattainable dream for the world? Whatever it is, dialogue between any people can expand the knowledge of it, enrich the meaning, and make the idea of it more attainable in the tangible world.

Eric Sirotkin is a human rights lawyer and peace advocate having done extensive work in South Africa, Korea, and the United States supporting peaceful movements and peace education. His time in South Africa in particular opened his eyes to the idea of “ubuntu” a philosophy of human connectedness. Ubuntu is the allegiance and relations between humans and the notion that every person belongs to a greater whole of one. Simply put by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it is the essence of being human because “the only way we can be human is together.” Sirotkin has embraced this and created Ubuntu Works Peace Education Project. With this he travels the world educating people on peacemaking.

Some of Sirotkin’s efforts include delivering presentations on peaceful conflict resolution and peace education. At a 2004 event at the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, Sirotkin engaged the attendees in conversation about what peace really was. He began by explaining that the peace movement is commonly misunderstood because there is not a coherent/cohesive idea across the board for what peace really is when it is achieved. While it’s a universal principle that everyone can relate to, is it more than just a notion of non-violence? He encouraged the participants to think of a concrete idea of what peace was so that the goal of peace would have a more direct path to take. The process of achieving “peace” and the movement as a whole would become more effective if more people understood what the common ideas of it were. He further explains the difficulty of translating universal principals such as peace because the idea of it transcends across different times and contexts. To him, it is “always evolving” but opening dialogue about it will help others get a better grasp of what it really is.

Many people began by claiming that peace is the absence of war and the absence of fear. In today’s society war is a metaphor for everything. It is taught in schools, evident in daily language, and must be waged against all things bad in the world; terrorism, drugs, poverty, and even women. Everyone is taught to be scared even if they don’t know what they are afraid of. When they don’t know who their enemy is they will buy into violence.

Many discussed though that it is more than that. This idea of war is embedded in the American culture because of its focus on competition and intimidation. Some participants in the workshop noted that the way we treat our young people builds fear because intimidation is embedded in the curriculum and teaching techniques of our education system. While students may not be scared of their teachers, they certainly are afraid to get a bad grade, sometimes ask a wrong question or stand up in front of the class. With this comes the competitive attitude because from a young age students enter into sports and academia where the attitude and mindset is to win and be the best. There are many good lessons learned from being on a sports team or being pushed to excel in school such as team work, cooperation, hard work, determination, and responsibility but with the mind-set of winning, someone always has to lose. The concepts of helping one another is dramatically overshadowed when a student is punished and accused of cheating when they try to help an opponent or fellow classmate in need. There is a “dependency to build conflict” as one participant noted and “everything of value is to beat somebody.” Many of the participants concluded that the educational system needs to be reformed in order to create a space in the future where peace is possible even if it unclear what exactly that might be.

Coming off of the discussion on education many people began to explore what peace meant in the context of conflict. It was noted by many participants that conflict is always going to be there because it will never be possible to settle and resolve everything. What needs to be taught is how to deal with that conflict in a way that is not a reaction or competition but a response. One participant noted that “it’s not what we do but how we do it.” Peace is the process of how we deal with problems individually, nationally and internationally. Peace can come by listening, learning to negotiate, and working together to try to understand each other buy finding commonalities. It’s idealistic but it’s possible. Many people agreed that there is a need for this connection and cooperation amongst people across international borders even without conflict. There is a need to live with respect and compassion for others, putting all people on a more equal common ground. More importantly, these relationships need to be valued. One woman went as far to express her opinion on how we need to get over nationalism. She explained that peace cannot come when we have the power over model to fall back on. With nationalist tendencies there it will always be a back and forth struggle to resolve conflict than an effort to ensure lasting peace or justice.

There is a deeper level to this idea of peaceful relations between and among people. Peace is very much a personal thing as well. It’s something that is acted on globally and nationally but very much so individually as well. One woman explained though that this strive for individual peace should not be for personal excellence and for yourself, you should do it for the betterment of society. We need to be virtuous in doing something constructive for your community and the world when making yourself a better person.

The question of which kind of peace comes first (individual or societal) supported Sirotkin’s initial belief that the idea of peace is always evolving. It can begin with one person. Mr. Sirotkin quoted Paul Hawkins in saying “You can blame people who knock over things in the dark, or you can begin to light the candles.” One woman said “excitement is a most contagious thing” which is true. All it can take is one person becoming at peace with themselves to inspire others to do the same. On the other hand though a societal peace individual people will be able to become inspired as well. Widespread social peace will enable peacemakers to be able to reach those who may be turned off by the idea of world peace. It’s a constant cycle, an ever changing evolution. There is no one place to start but as many participants pointed out the least they could do and the most they could work on was start with themselves. One participant in noting the importance of individual peace, nonviolent communication and conflict resolution claimed “Our privilege is being deconstructed” we are having the same problems as the rest of the world and are learning that we are not so isolated like we thought. Our problems and battles seem bigger than they are because of the globalized world we live in. Peace is not about loving your neighbor but loving yourself so find that something good in everyone, don’t fuel negativity with negativity, and focus on your own everyday behavior and we’ll be amazed at what we can accomplish.

Going back to the original focus of discussion on what peace was, participants collaborated ideas on what peace was aside from an absence of war and fear. It is equality, equilibrium, balance, and connectedness. Tranquility economically, socially, and culturally. It’s more than that though, it’s a state of being, a goal, and always a struggle to strive to maintain that state but it’s also an opportunity. It’s a commitment to resolve conflict with civility moving away from the urge to dominate and becoming comfortable with differing points of view; adding diversity and tolerance into our lives. Peace is a place in the middle of conflict where one can really hear what the other is saying. Peace and the peace movement come off soft, gentle, and passive in appearance but many participants saw it quite differently. Peace is fierce and aggressive. If you think about it Martin Luther King Jr. or even Jesus were not mild or passive men. They were radical, taking action that involved the risk of getting hurt or having consequences. It is more than signing a petition and standing in the streets. They reached out and mobilized people encouraging them to take a stand and use their daily actions to dislodge the current power structure. The current peace movement isn’t like this anymore though, many don’t want to be destructive but unfortunately that’s what is going to have to happen. One man brought up a very interesting point that peace was a negative concept in society. Not negative as a connotation of bad but negative as in it goes against the status quo, it’s an idea that is not inherent in our society. Because of this the peace movement today “demands self-examination, accountability, and responsibility” and the people involved have to be willing to make the same sacrifices as any other independent movement.

Sirotkin noted that it is easier to mobilize and organize people when you are for something than to organize people against something. There are many people around the nation and the world who want peace but one man brought up that not many excited over it. He used an example that Americans get excited over football and therefore many follow it. Peace isn’t exciting enough for many to follow it and this man suggested that we change that; make peace exciting, make people want to be involved. Many don’t realize that we don’t have to wait for a war to end to judge if there is peace. Sirotkin pointed out that peace can come to other realms of life and then can eventually make it to the conflicts of war. Simply put, you don’t have to end a war to spread peace. As many of the participants discussed, you don’t have to only focus on the big things to make a difference, start small, start with yourself and the rest will fall into place. There is violence everywhere in the world. It doesn’t just happen in poor neighborhoods or war zones. One woman pointed out that the corporate world is a much more violent place and it is their behavior that influences the everyday person. Even Mr. Siortkin, a lawyer himself, claimed that the legal profession was one of the most violent with the constant ‘us versus them’ mentality. He also said that we tend to forget the good when times are so dismal and low with current events constantly reminding the public of the horrors around the world. Another woman pointed out that the everyday injustice that occurs in our communities is a form of violence as well. As discussed peace is more than non-violence, she said it’s the strength to love and dissipate these things.

Peace is an abstraction. It is difficult to define yet easy to understand. In striving for safety and security to live one’s life it is thought that we have to make people fear us so we have the security that they will not attack us and jeopardize our safety. People utilize violence for fearful purposes but that is because they do not know the means of nonviolence. If the methods of nonviolence were known, Sirotkin and many other peacemakers are certain that they would chose to utilize those over violence. As discussed and concluded in this workshop nearly 8 years ago, the peace movement can very easily start with the individual. What needs to happen though is all these people need to come together not only to support one another in their efforts for peace but to encourage young people as well. One of the problems with the peace movement that was pointed out repeatedly was that it consists of the same group of people. What is wrong with it? Why are people so turned off by it? There are very few young people who are active in the peace movement and one of the thoughts behind why this is is because of the way young people are raised today. So think about what peace means to you. Discuss it with another, expand your knowledge, and inspire each other. Take that and share it with others, especially young people. Act together, connect with others and you’ll be amazed with what you can accomplish.

Please feel free to share your personal ideas of peace and what it means to you.

MPT Intern – Shannon Riley

Please visit Eric Sirotkin’s website to learn more about the Ubuntu Peace Education Projects at

A copy of the transcript for this conference can be found at


The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

July 12, 2011

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a 2003 documentary film that records the 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The film also documents the events leading up to the coup.  The Revolution Will Not Be Televised uses first hand documentary footage and interviews shot by filmmakers between 2001 and 2002.  Though critics accuse the film’s pro-Chávez bias of distorting facts, the film provides a remarkable first-hand account of the April 2002 coup.

Two Irish filmmakers, Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain, arrived in Venezuela in 2001, intending to make a documentary about Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who they saw as an intriguing figure.  One feature that makes Chávez so captivating is his impassioned oratory, and one of his speeches proclaiming the evils of neo-liberalism, and the U.S.’s role in its promotion, is featured in the film.  Chávez’s self-presentation as a defender of the people and as a staunch of opponent of international business interests makes him the target of both extreme loyalty and hatred.  The early part of the film focuses on the manner in which Chávez governs the country.  In many ways, he is far removed from the stereotypical modern leader; he goes to great lengths to talk in person to Venezuelan citizens, and also hosts a weekly TV show where any citizen can speak with him on-air.  His personal manner is also quite informal, demonstrated by his habitual greeting of supporters, and his attention to everyone around him, regardless of their status or rank.

While the early parts of the film show the successes of Chávez, they also foreshadow the coup by showing the private media’s campaign against Chávez, which becomes a major focus of the film.  The film pieces together several news reports from Venezuela critical of Chávez.  Also included is an ominous statement from George Tenet, the then-director of the CIA, “Obviously Venezuela is important, because it is the world’s third largest supplier of petroleum.  I would say that Mr. Chavez… probably doesn’t have the interest of the United States at heart.”  The film’s narrator, along with several of those interviewed for the film, accuses the United States of playing an active role in fomenting dissent and eventually supporting the coup plotters in their attempt to overthrow Hugo Chávez.

A few days before the coup, a leading general in the Venezuelan armed forces appeared across every private TV station and gave a statement that, while ambiguous, suggested that a coup was imminent.  Soon after, on April 11th, opposition leaders organized a march to the headquarters of the state oil company in protest of the Chávez regime, while crowds loyal to Chávez gathered around the Presidential Palace, Miraflores.  Leaders of the opposition protest than urged the crowds to march toward Miraflores, hoping for a confrontation (protest leaders acted if it was a spontaneous action, but the decision had been made long before, and was part of a larger plan).  The scenes that follow play like a thriller.  The makers of the documentary were in the crowd of Chávez supporters (Chávistas) when snipers began firing at the Chávistas.  The film includes several close-up, graphic shots of bleeding protestors lying on the street.  The camera shakes, and you can feel the fear and confusion of everyone in the crowd.

A main focus of the film is the private media’s role in the coup attempt.  The film shows appeals from private TV stations urging Venezuelans to support the coup.  The film also includes several manipulated clips shown by private TV channels that seemingly showed brutality perpetrated by Chávez supporters, and these clips became a major source of legitimacy for the coup plotters.  Throughout the coup, private TV stations reported extensively (and often falsely) on violence by Chávistas, but refused to air evidence of popular support for the ousted President.

Following the shooting, the camera crew finds refuge in the Presidential Palace.  This is certainly the tensest part of the film, as ministers, palace guards, and other staff all shuffle through crowded hallways hoping for news, with no one knowing any more than anyone else.  The viewer learns of developments elsewhere in the country through constant chatter and rumors being passed around the hallways, with the narrator occasionally stepping in to explain.  It becomes clear the Chávez government had lost the support of most of the leaders in the armed forces, and many government institutions had been taken over by the Army.  Coup leaders come in and negotiate with Chávez, who refuses to resign, but agrees to allow himself to be taken away in the early hours of April 12th to prevent the bombing of Miraflores.  Chávez is taken by the military to an island military base off Venezuela’s coast, but at the time, no one knew where he had been taken.

Following the removal of Chávez, coup leaders established a new government, headed by businessman Pedro Carmona.  The new government eliminated many government institutions (including the National Assembly) and instituted free-market policies, with at least the partial blessing of the Bush administration.

Though most international news outlets reported that Chávez had lost all of his support within the country, the reports were false.  Beginning on the morning of the 12th, Venezuelans, especially in and around Caracas (many of Chávez’s supporters come from the shantytowns surrounding the capital), poured out onto the streets in support of Chávez.  Protestors were met with heavy-handed police tactics.  Though it had appeared the armed forces had been united in their opposition to Chávez, this was also false.  Many high level army generals had in fact participated in the coup, but there were still several who supported Chávez.  Perhaps more importantly, many low ranking soldiers remained loyal to Chávez, including the Presidential Guard, who cooperated with the Carmona government reluctantly.

Crowds began to gather outside of Miraflores in support of Chávez on the 13th, and that number quickly rose into the hundreds of thousands, effectively cutting off the Palace from the rest of the country.  A dissident general advised the Presidential Guard of the situation, who decided to retake the Palace, which they completed successfully.  In the confusion, however, Carmona, and a handful of other coup leaders, escaped.  Palace Guards arrested the remaining coup leaders, and slowly, Chávez ministers, who had been in hiding, were greeted by cheering crowds as they were triumphantly escorted back into Miraflores.  The film documents the initial euphoria of those returning to Miraflores, as well as the confusion and disorganization that results.  The handful of ministers within Miraflores attempt to contact other Venezuelan leaders, but have major difficulties because they can’t get their message out through the private media.  Eventually, they regain access to State Television and swear in the Vice-President to exercise power in the absence of Hugo Chávez.  Chávez’s ministers continue negotiations with coup and military leaders, which eventually secure the release of Chávez.  He arrives early in the morning on the 14th to hundreds of thousands of cheering fans, and gives a TV address appealing for calm.  This is where the film ends.

The film does a truly wonderful job of documenting the events of April 11th– April 14th, 2002.  Unlike so many other documentaries that feel distant, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised provides an intimate depiction of Chávez, and a few other key figures, while also providing a first-hand, on-the-ground account of the coup.  This approach produces the side effect that in many parts of the film, the viewer feels just as much in the dark as those on screen, increasing both the tension and the personal attachment the viewer feels to the events depicted in the film.  The many short, impromptu interviews and the perpetually shaking camera add to these feelings.  While scenes of regular Venezuelans participating in the protests and speaking to the camera provide the most enthralling portions of the film, the news clips provide context, and the film does an excellent job of framing small actions within the broader situation.

The film, while not directly about peace or nonviolent change, certainly contains several examples of both.  While the coup largely used military force (and if there was not actual violence, the threat of violence certainly loomed over any who resisted), the restoration of Chávez was largely peaceful, and was precipitated by a massive, nonviolent protest.  Unquestionably, though, both sides used violence to achieve their aims, but perhaps it is something not shown in the film that demonstrates Chávez’s partiality towards nonviolence and reconciliation.  Following his restoration, he avoided a major crackdown on the opposition, and in 2007, Chávez issued an amnesty for sixty people charged with participating in the coup.  In his speech at the end of the film, he acknowledged his opposition, and said that while they may not agree with him, constitutional processes had to be followed.  His plea that both sides remain calm was in stark contrast to the crackdown ordered by Carmona’s government on April 12th.


MPT Intern-Danny Hirschel-Burns


Think about Hiroshima ( A Review of Hiroshima 60th Anniversary)

July 8, 2011



You might feel scared a few months ago when CNN broadcasted about severe situations of Fukushima daiichi nuclear power plant following the Tohoku earthquake almost every day. Serious discussions about nuclear energy were suddenly exploded in the United States, and it gave us a chance to think about “nuclear” again. Since we encountered “nuclear” for the first time, it has been more than 60 years. Although politicians have manifested that nuclear is a clean energy, safety is not 100% assured once an accident happens. Indeed, people almost forget about the fact that nuclear power was originally invented for weaponry purpose but not for utility purpose.

It was people in Hiroshima/ Nagasaki who were the first human being ever exposed to nuclear radiation in history. In August in 1945, they were exposed to nuclear radiation without any physical protection. For others, the decision to bomb Hiroshima/ Nagasaki might seem right since Japan was persistent and stubborn to surrender. It might be right at that moment for the US and the world to end the war. Japanese might be the bad guys, and both the US and Japan sides might lose more lives without atomic bombs. But, the decision should never be justified. People who justify the decision and the event are those who have never understood pain of survivors. Hiroshima 60th Anniversary does not directly tell you how inhumane using nuclear weapons against human are; however, you will see intentions that led the US government to make the choice.

The Manhattan Project, which created the horrible weapons, started three years before Hiroshima/Nagasaki. The story begins when exiled European scientists suggested the US government to develop nuclear weapons in fear of Germany. Thus, the project was originally launched against Germany. The project involved not only a number of scientists, engineers, and politicians but also a huge investment. In history, “nuclear” is one of the great inventions judging from a purely scientific view, and the potential of its use is high despite its dangerous characteristics. In July, 1945, Nuclear weapons, which took USD 20 billion and three years, were completed. However, Germany had already lost the war. Now what? Only Japan was left, and the United States had a good reason to attack Japan with the phrase, Remember the Perl Harbor”. According to the 2009 Quinnipiac University National Poll, about 60% of American voters think bombing Hiroshima was the right thing to do. Can you really say so after you know the real situation behind?

In April, 1945, Japan started preparing to surrender and negotiating with the Soviet Union. Although the Japanese government was divided into two groups at that time, conditional surrender was the common goal. When the US government knew the fact, they immediately cut off all lines between the central government and embassies and councils outside. This operation was called “Magic Intercepts”. The US government did not have an intention to give Japan conditional surrender. In any case, Japan loses. To lead the next world, they needed to show their absolute power to the world. They did not want Soviet Union to be a co-occupier of Japan or a double leader of the world. To end the war, bombing Hiroshima/Nagasaki was not necessary. In the film, General Eisenhower testified so. But it was necessary for showing their capability to end the war and giving threats of nuclear weapons to the world.

Therefore, the selection of the cities was carefully made. Such as topography, the city size, and strength of the buildings were taken into account to know accurate power of nuclear weapons. Hiroshima and Ogura (Nagasaki) were selected in the end, and shell bombing for the cities was stopped for a while. Then, as you know, 6th and 9th of August became the X day. Do you know both bombing were done in the morning?  Especially, the time when atomic bomb was dropped the city of Hiroshima was 8:15am. Yes, this was the very time when people go to office or school. That is to say, a number of people got directly exposed to nuclear radiation, blast, and excessive heat released from the bomb.

I personally contacted a survivor from Hiroshima, Keiko Murakami. Her testimony (5 series) is on YouTube, and I highly recommend you to watch those if you understand Japanese. As she testifies, people who exposed to heat and radiation died off one after another. Some of you may say she is lucky because she survived. Then, you do not know how much survivors have suffered. Both mentally and physically, being survivors is by no means a lucky thing. After Hiroshima/Nagasaki, survivors were treated like a guinea pig.  ABCC (Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission) was established in Hiroshima by the US government; however, ABCC never treated patient. Data, they took from the survivors, was used as a measurement of radiation effects, and the world today was built up on the research and Hiroshima/Nagasaki experiment.

We are the one who has created the today’s world. While declaring to create the world without nuclear, we cannot live without them. We should realize having treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is regrettable.  Today, the day when Hiroshima was bombed called “Peace Day” (August 6th), and 66th Peace Day is coming within a month. Although the day was a product from negative legacy, people have been fighting for peace. When will the world receive wish from Hiroshima/Nagasaki? Please think about Hiroshima again.


Works Cited

“Bombing Hiroshima Was Right, Amercian Voters Say 3-1, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds” 4 August  2009. Quinnipiac University. Web. 7 July 2011. <>.

Hiroshima 60th Anniversary. The History Channel. 2005. DVD.

Related websites

 Itou, Akihiko. “Voice of survivors-from the shores of a river(1)/ Keiko Murakami” 02 October 2010. Online video clip. YouTube. Accessed on 8 July 2011.  ( This source in Japanese)

Hiroshima Speaks Out.


MPT Intern-Mari Shibahara-


Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story

July 7, 2011

Robert Redford’s and Michael Apted’s film Incident at Oglala details the shooting of two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and the subsequent trial and eventual conviction of Indian activist Leonard Peltier.  The film itself does not take sides on the issue of Peltier’s guilt; it instead uses recordings of interviews to shape the audience’s view of the event.

In February of 1973, activists from the American Indian Movement (AIM), and Indian rights occupied the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee (within the current borders of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation), the site of a massacre of between 150-300 Sioux Indians by the U.S. 7th Cavalry in 1890.  The 1973 occupation was in protest of living conditions on the reservation and the rule of tribal chairman Dick Wilson, whose impeachment trial had recently been closed.  A stand-off resulted between AIM members and police, FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police.  The occupation lasted for 71 days, until both sides agreed to disarm in early May.  The on and off fighting resulted in the death of two AIM members, and a U.S. Marshal was paralyzed.

Following the Wounded Knee Incident, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation went through a very turbulent time (chronically, this is where the film begins).  At the time, there was significant conflict between supporters of AIM, who championed a return to traditional ways, and supporters of Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson, who was happy to work with the BIA.  This conflict led to significant violence, mostly perpetrated by Wilson’s supporters, known as GOONs (Guardians of the Ogala Nation).  GOON squad members repeatedly intimidated and murdered AIM activists and their families.  In 1974, the murder rate on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was 8.4 times higher than that of Detroit, which, at the time, was considered the murder capital of the U.S.  At least fifty opponents of Dick Wilson were murdered, and between 1973 and 1975, there were sixty unsolved murders on the reservation.  The level of violence created an atmosphere of fear among residents and a warzone-like atmosphere, meaning AIM supporters were constantly aware of the threat of attacks.

It was in the environment of terror and violence that the death of the two FBI agents happened.  Two FBI agents in unmarked cars followed a red pick-up truck (though this fact was later disputed by the prosecutors of Leonard Peltier), matching the description of the vehicle driven by Jimmy Eagle, a Native American wanted on petty theft charges, into a small compound.  Not long after the FBI agents entered the compound, shooting started, but it is unclear if it was the FBI agents, the occupants of the pick-up truck, or those at the compound that started the shooting.  Neither the occupants of the pick-up truck or the residents of the area were fully aware of the identity of the FBI agents.  Many of those interviewed in the film say they acted out of self-defense because they assumed the occupants of the unmarked cars were there to kill AIM activists.  Both FBI agents were wounded in the initial shooting, and then they were both executed at close range (an Indian was killed later).

Following the shooting, many of the Indians involved fled.  Two Indians, Bob Robideau and Dino Butler, were captured and tried for the murder of the FBI agents, but to the surprise of the prosecutors, they were both acquitted.  Following their acquittal (and Peltier’s capture in Canada), the FBI stepped up his efforts to convict someone of the killings.  Peltier fought extradition to Canada, but a statement by a woman claiming to be Peltier’s girlfriend convinced the Canadian government to extradite him.  The state of the woman’s mental health seemed questionable, and she changed her story many times.  In the film, she appears and says she was intimidated by FBI agents in testifying and says she did not know Peltier at the time.  Peltier tells the same story.  The actual trial was quite one-sided, and Peltier was convicted of both murders and given a sentence of two life terms.

Many pieces of evidence used by the prosecution during the trial were either flimsy or completely false.  A piece of evidence was that a shell casing from the AR-15 supposedly used by Peltier during the shootout was found in the trunk of one of the agents’ cars, and a ballistics expert testified that the bullet came from Peltier’s gun.  There had been several AR-15’s at the scene, but the prosecution did not present any further bullets from the other AR-15’s, and it’s not even clear if Peltier had an AR-15 during the shoot-out.  A few years later, it was revealed that the ballistic expert had performed a further test, and had confirmed that the bullet found in the trunk did not come from the rifle associated with Peltier, but that evidence was withheld from the jury.

Another piece of questionable evidence that led to Peltier’s conviction was the vehicle that the agents followed into the compound.  Over the radio, one of the FBI agents had reported that they were following a ‘red pick-up truck’, the car driven by Jimmy Eagle.  Peltier, at the time of the shooting, drove a vehicle that was a bit of a cross between a van and a sedan.  The prosecutors presented the idea that the FBI agents had been referring to Peltier’s vehicle by the term ‘pick-up truck’, and therefore it had been Peltier’s car they had been following, giving the theory that he executed the agents more credence.  The film shows Peltier’s car, and also shows various individuals involved in the case sharing their views on the vehicle driven into the compound.  It seems that it is incredibly unlikely that the FBI agents mistook Peltier’s red and white van/sedan for a red pick-up truck.

There were not any direct witnesses of the killing of the two agents, but three, young Indians gave testimony placing Peltier at the scene of the crime.  Their statements, however, were somewhat contradictory, and also contradicted statements they had earlier made.  One of them was featured in the film stating that his affidavit in court was a lie and that he was coerced by the FBI into appearing as a witness for the prosecution.

In addition to faulty evidence, the jury was prejudiced by the intense security it received during the trial.  The jury was shuttled between the courthouse and the hotel every day in a school bus with curtains over the windows, and was always escorted by at least three SWAT teams.  Observers of the trial were told to be careful when they left the courtroom, and to always lock their cars.  All of these extra security measures prejudiced the jury against Peltier, because AIM activists, and Native Americans as a whole, were portrayed as dangerous and a real threat to the lives and property of those involved in the trial.

Ultimately, the prosecution did not have any reliable witnesses of the murders, nor did it have any physical evidence that Peltier, versus the many other Indians firing on the police cars, was the one who walked up to the two wounded agents and executed them at close range.  The prosecution also invented the mix-up about the vehicle the agents followed into the compound, leaving no substantial elements of Peltier’s guilt.  Regardless of the facts, Peltier was convicted and given two life terms.  He is still incarcerated and has had numerous appeals turned down.

His imprisonment has attracted significant attention from the international community, and many well-known organizations and individuals have come out in support of his release.  In 2000, Amnesty International issued a statement to the United States Congress declaring Peltier a political prisoner and called for his immediate release.  The Dalai Lama, Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu, Bono, Peter Gabriel, Michael Moore, Dustin Hoffman, Helen Mirren, Mikail Gorbachov, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, the European Parliament, the Bundestag, the Italian Parliament, the Dutch Parliament, the Belgian Parliament, and many more have all come out in support of Leonard Peltier.    If you’d like to take action, you can visit this website, which has links to and instructions on how to contact your congressperson. If you’d like more information, you can visit the above website or this one  You can also watch either Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story or the 1990 documentary The Spirit of Crazy Horse.  Peltier has also written a book entitled Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance.

MPT Intern-Danny Hirschel-Burns


Sometimes in April

June 9, 2011

A past is a past, and no one can choose a different course to change the history. Therefore, it is not practical to discuss what we could have done in the past. But talking about what happened in Rwanda 18 years ago, regrettably, there were just too many things that we could have done. Especially, there is no excuse for the international community to be accused. With many organizations, including large to small NGOs, the United Nations, the French armies, and the Belgium armies, having been presented, any of them never really tried to stop the genocide. The government of the United States did not even call the situation “genocide” since they did not want another Mogadishu, where two of their pilots were killed and stripped in public just a year ago of the Rwandan genocide happened. During the genocide, those organziations did not rescue Rwandese due to their interests not limitation of their ability, and willing individuals could not have power. If the international community has made different choices before and during the genocide, could have the number of causalities reduced or even the genocide never happened? I want you to think of the question, “Could it have stopped?”, as you read through.

According to Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide is (a) killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. In Sometimes in April, there is a scene that an official replies to a question whether genocide is happening in Rwanda. She persistently answers that there are some genocide acts but not genocide. At least, Rwanda were obviously faced with the situations (a), (b), (c) listed above, how come it was not called “genocide”? Even nine months earlier, CIA reported that there is a possibility of occurring genocide in Rwanda, which the U.S. government simply ignored. One certain reason for this is tragedy of Mogadishu that traumatized the U.S. government to intervene any African matters for a few years. However, more than anything, Rwanda had little attraction for other nations. Since there was no oil and major natural resource to protect in the poor tiny country, it seems that the international community wanted to minimize their damage. Otherwise, there were too many things that could have done simply to save Rwandese.

One of the mediums played a focal role before and during the genocide was “Radio”. At that time, radio was the major tool for Rwandese to get information although there were also some newspapers and magazines. It was MRND, president Habyarimana’s party, who started using radio as a tool to spread the word. Through broadcasting lectures of Rwandan history and exaggerating stereotypes of Tutsis’ affluence, MRND surely planted hatred on Hutu people toward Tutsis. It is hard to imagine that radio commentators addressed Tutsis as “cockroaches” to the cheerful and lovely music. During the genocide, radio commentators denounced names of people who are on the list, addressed keeping road blocks, and even called for attacking the U.N. and European soldiers. Therefore, whether jamming the radio station was one of the issues for the international community. Only the United States had the technology to jam the radio; however, they refused to do so by making “freedom of speech” an excuse. Surely, “Radio does not kill people, but people kill people.” Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that western nations, who must have known influence of media, emphasized “freedom of speech” for a place where so many facts told mass killing was taking place. Current president Paul Kagame restricts media with media law in fear of leading similar situation to the genocide.

Also, the Church played as an important role as radio. Due to influence of Belgium, most of Rwandese was devout Roman Catholics; therefore, Rwandese, mostly Tutsis, rushed into the Church when the genocide started. Since political power moved from Tutsis to Hutus, occasional persecution towards Tutsis had never ceased. Whenever they felt insecurity, the Church was the place where they could be safe. However in 1994, there was no safety in the place any more. Indeed, most mass killings took place in the Church, and some pastors corroborated with Hutu perpetrations. In fact, the Church had helped state to promote ethnic divisions and spread history and myth of Tutsis affluence although the Church was believed as the largest non-state actor in Rwanda. There were a few members of the church, who felt insecurity of the country and tried to stop the genocide, were either dismissed or executed by the state. If they have made some voices toward both the inner community and the international community, the situation could have changed. However, attitudes of the Church towards violence and the Rwandan genocide were unbelievably positive as if they did not care. Today, the Church has not given official apology to victims and family of victims.

If I stated everything about all the actors involved in the Rwandan genocide and possibility of their actions at the place, I could not finish talking within a week. I would like you to remember things I talk about here and things you will watch in Sometimes in April are just a part of it. The Rwandan genocide could have stopped although it seems there was no way for Rwandese. Powerful others, who were there and who could be there, could stop it. Unfortunately, none of them tried to do so, and as a result, 800,000 people were killed during three months. No one knows how many lives we could have saved without trying, but we could have saved more if we really did.


“Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. “ Human Rights. 27 January 1997. Web. 7 June 2011. <>
“Prevention of Rwandan Genocide. “ 9 June 2011. <;
Sometimes in Spring. Dir. Raoul Peck. Perf. Idris Elba, Oris Erhuero, Carole Karemera, and Debra Winger.HBO Film. 2005. Film.
Tom, Nadahiro. ” Genocide and the role of the Church in Rwanda.” News from Africa.  16 April 2005. Web. 9 June 2011. <>
MPT Intern- Mari Shibahara-

Inspiration In Action: Neta Golan

May 31, 2011

Neta Golan is a close friend and ally of Michigan Peace Team, serving as not only a person of support for our teams in Palestine, but an incredible inspiration for all individuals pursuing a path of non-violence.  She lights up the international activist arena with her dedication, power and humility and has an extensive track record of successful non-violent action for social change.

Neta is third generation Israeli, born and raised in Tel-Aviv she attended Jewish schools where “Jewish history and religion were taught as regularly as arithmetic” (180, Brave Hearts Rebel Spirits).  Throughout her education, she was taught a strict Israeli agenda that engrained in her mind the view of Israelis as victims, and “Arabs” (lumped into a single group to erase the Palestinian identity) as inherently violent.  She was taught as all Israelis are, to hate their neighbors, to feel superior and violated by them.  However, as a teenager she was given a sneak peak into the realm of atrocious human rights violations and the moral fiber of her being began to violently reject the assumptions she was taught to make about Palestinians and their land.

Resultantly, this amazing woman dodged the Israeli draft in pursuit of non-violence, went on to study Buddhism in Canada and created her own foundations of spiritual non-violent resistance.  Delving deeper into the foundations of non-violence, Neta then spent months in France at the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village Buddhist Retreat Center, as well as taking time to practice meditation in prolonged silence in India.  It is my belief that these personal forays into spirituality profoundly effected Neta by grounding her in a life-long dedication to non-violence.  As a result of this deeply grounded stance, she has repeatedly put her body in potentially lethal danger, using her own flesh as a shield protecting Palestinian civilians from armed Israeli settlers and soldiers.  In 2002, Neta was among several other non-violent activists who voluntarily barricaded themselves inside Yasser Arafat’s compound and the Church of Nativity, where dozens of Palestinians were holed up against Israeli fire.  Using themselves as protection meant to the Israeli army that killing Arafat and other Palestinians in the compound meant the possibility of killing Israelis as well as international observers.

This type of non-violent action is known by numerous names, but we at Michigan Peace Team call it Third Party Non-Violent Intervention (TPNI).  Through this strategy, internationals (or in Neta’s case, untouchable nationals) provide protection simply by their presence.  This method of non-violent action has proven to be successful again and again, and is part of the provocation for the incredible organization Neta co-founded in 2001, International Solidarity Movement (ISM).  Among other incredible and like-minded individuals, many of whom are Palestinian, Neta organized a “movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent direct-action methods and principles” (  ISM has enjoyed continued exposure as a non-profit and may be the most well-known pro-Palestinian movements worldwide.  This is the same courageous organization that in 2003 lost to Israeli military machinery, non-violent activist Rachel Corrie, whose parents spoke at MPT’s most recent “Signature Event”.  Rachel Corrie’s death is still in the process of being vindicated, as her parents struggle through the corrupt Israeli court system.

Neta has been a backbone through these kinds of horrid events occurring to both internationals and Palestinians engaged in non-violent action in Palestine.  Throughout her time living in Palestine with a history of engaging in non-violent action, Mrs. Golan has sustained numerous injuries and near injuries.  She knows first hand how to deal with these situations and has come to MPT’s aide numerous times over the course of our action in Palestine.  Most recently, Neta has worked and continues to work with our own team member Sandy Quintano, who was severely injured earlier this month while participating in non-violent action in the field.  The incredible perseverance Mrs. Golan has continues to create positive change within individuals and throughout the world.  She now lives with her husband and children in Palestine, working extremely hard to train Israelis, Palestinians and international activists in non-violent action as well as support current activists on the ground in the territories.

With the recent brutal attacks on non-violent protesters during the commemoration of Nakba day throughout Palestinian territories and along the borders of Syria and Lebanon, activists such as Neta have their work cut out for them.  However, the power individuals like Neta have in their commitment to non-violence fosters dreams for peace and keeps the will to partake in non-violent action alive.  Neta’s life accomplishments and perseverance in the face of a way of life contrary to her  moral stance is an inspiration and encouragement to all who face adversity in the struggle for peace.  Her humble nature, hard work and uncrushable spirit encourage young minds such as mine to actually be that change Ghandi so eloquently asked of us.  Differences in this world do not come solely from the minds of our government officials, but begin with focused, passionate individuals, presser-veering through hardship to create positive and sustainable change through non-violent social action.  The change is happening all around us and we have ourselves, other non-violent activists and Neta Golan in particular to thank.

-Kellie Brandt-MPT Intern

Interested in learning more about Neta and others like her?  Check out the book “Brave Hearts, Rebel Spirits: A Spiritual Activists Handbook” by Brooke Shelby Biggs!


Review and Discussion of “Strip Search”

February 1, 2011

On April 27th, 2004 HBO aired a stunningly poignant, powerful and breathtaking 56-minute film challenging post 9/11 United States policies.  In “Strip Search” Big name stars such as Maggie Gyllenhaal and Glen Close, renowned writer Tom Fontana and talented director Sydney Lumet risked their careers to bring to film fears of the government’s violation of it’s citizen’s privacy via laws such as The Patriot Act.  The film opens with a confused Linda Sykes (Gyllenhaal) being handcuffed and forcefully escorted from a restaurant in China by two outfitted police.  She is then taken to a dingy interrogation room and thus a powerful and intimidating interrogation process begins.  Seemingly at the same time, an Arab man (Bruno Lastra) is hooded and taken by American police forces into custody at an American interrogation facility.  The roles are swapped, as a Chinese male (Ken Leung of ABC’s LOST) interrogates Gyllenhaal’s and an American female (Glenn Close) narrows in on Lastra as his interrogator.  The two storylines are paralleled with nearly identical dialogue use in the cell in China, as in America.  The two detainees are systematically stripped of their humanity throughout the interrogation process by being refused rights, detained indefinitely without charge, refused an attorney and kept from contacting family members.  In an especially poignant moment Gyllenhaal and Lastra comment, “I don’t know my rights, you haven’t read me my rights!”.  The interrogators respond frighteningly that the detainees have no rights because they have not been arrested or charged with any crime.  They are simply there for questioning.  But can they leave?  No, no not until the questioners have received the information they’re hunting for.  Can they call a lawyer?  Why would they need a lawyer?  Might they implicate themselves?  This frustrating loop of being denied simple rights goes on throughout the short film, only becoming increasingly brutal.

Eventually, the two are stripped of their clothes by their interrogators, reducing them to nothing more than mere subjects, capable of being molded and cajoled into whoever the interrogators need them to be.  Although our eyes are spared from seeing the full extent of the strip search, a cavity search is implied and we can see the extreme mental (and most likely physical) anguish rippling across the faces of Gyllenhaal and Lastra.  They are humiliated, mentally and emotionally tortured and the title of the film “Strip Search” begins to take on dual meanings as they are stripped of their very humanity in the faces of their captors.  I will not spoil the ending for those lucky enough to get their hands on a copy of this incredible film, but will note there is no positive resolution that we so anxiously and hopefully await, and the audience is left stunned and horrified at the implications it holds for our reality.

After the first showing of the 56-minute film on HBO, its subsequent showings were cancelled, the show’s webpage on was deleted and all electronic advertisements and information about the film were erased from the internet.  Where the TV guide showed a slot for “Strip Search” on April 28th, an entirely different (and might I add non-controversial) program was aired.  Still, eight years later, the only mention of the film on is a quick citation of it in the short biography of film credits of writer Tom Fontana.  HBO has in the past been renowned (and in some circles, notorious) for it’s snubbing of censorship and has been a willing outlet for sensitive and controversial content.  This film however, seemed to raise more questions with the American public than even HBO was willing to deal with.

Michigan Peace Team managed to obtain a copy of the film directly from writer Tom Fontana and aired it on the campus of Michigan State University shortly after it was aired and pulled from HBO, but even this direct link was fraught with suspect events and complications.  Finally after years of small but effective backlash from individuals who managed to catch HBO’s first airing of it, the station agreed to air it a second, third and fourth time in April of ’09.  It is still not possible to find any information about the film on HBO’s website, but it has been picked up by the popular Internet Movie Database (, and when “googled” a couple short articles about the film appear.  I also managed to find three copies available for purchase on and one on, ranging from about $29 to $160. The elimination of this film from HBO’s program schedule and its history suggests the question, how meaningful is this film to the American government?  Do the concepts and suggestions made hit too close to home for us as citizens to be privy to?  When it was originally aired, it brought up fears related to the recently passed Patriot Act, which was so heavily discussed at the time.  As I viewed the film recently, I began to wonder where the heat for this controversial and terrifying act has gone.  Has it passed from the minds of American citizens through the buffer of 11 years?  Are we more willing to give up our rights in the face of what seems to be an increasingly terror-filled world?  Have we since accepted the loss of rights as a necessary measure in our nation’s “war on terror”?  Or I wonder, have the concerns simply morphed form, hidden behind appeals using different language and media that doesn’t specifically speak of The Patriot Act but refers to it’s policies?

I think perhaps it is time to revisit the status of our rights as citizens of the free and great country of America and figure out if Fontana’s film reality still has the power to become our reality, either now or sometime in the future.  Three weeks after September 11, 2001 congress enacted the Patriot Act and was extended in 2009.  Through it, extended and exceptional powers were granted to government agencies including the power to perform “roving wiretaps” and unannounced searches of personal properties, denying citizens the ability to view and scrutinize warrants.  These powers were granted without empowering courts to monitor the use of the wiretaps and searches.  There was and continues to be an essential missing link of checks and balances within the Patriot Act and it has only continued, in spite of suggested privacy protecting amendments.  The government continues to claim the efficacy of the act although a study conducted by TRAC at Syracuse University suggests these claims are based upon skewed information.  “Despite the three-and-a-half-fold increase in terrorism convictions, the number who were sentenced to five years or more in prison has not grown at all from pre-9/11 levels.” (ACLU 2005)  Convictions are more often found for minor charges such as passport violations.  By allowing minor convictions such as these into their statistics, the Justice Department is able to give misleading information on how many terrorism-related abuses were curbed, and skews figures on how many of these were directly related to policies such as the Patriot Act.

After a bit of digging it is possible to uncover some of the abuses our government has taken in respect to these policies.  According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) numerous innocent people have been detained indefinitely and without charge for questioning in terror investigations.  Other abuses to citizens and migrants are also not so well hidden.  In 2005, Tariq Ramadan who had been invited to teach at Notre Dame was revoked of his visa under section 411 of the Patriot Act, which “permits government to exclude non-citizens from the country if in the government’s view they have ‘used [their] position of prominence to endorse or espouse terrorist activity or to persuade others to support terrorist activity’”.  Also, in the wake of the 100th anniversary of the FBI in 2008, the BBC cited an instance in which a Pakistani-American father and son from California were accused of attending Pakistani terror training camps.  After tapes of their interrogations were reviewed by another FBI agent he admittedly found the tapes “appalling”, stating it was obvious the questioners were “leading” the two, and found nothing to suggest their guilt.  The event failed to expose any active al-Qaeda cells in California (the objective of the detainment).  These cases are only two of the many instances of abuse granted by the Patriot Act and other privacy compromising acts passed post-9/11.

More recently, there have been numerous abuses of this power, which haven’t been specifically attributed to the Patriot Act, but have violated citizens right to privacy similar to the violations committed against Maggie Gyllenhaal and Bruno Lastra in “Strip Search”.  Kevin Zeese of in his article “Politically Active Americans Facing Searches and Surveillance” presents such a situation, which occurred in September of 2010.  In this instance, the FBI raided six homes of non-violent peace activists in Minneapolis and Chicago.  Those amongst the raided were individuals from Greenpeace and the Catholic Worker and of course, according to the Inspector General, there was little or no basis for the investigations.  The increasing number of unfounded and poorly conducted searches is an incredibly disturbing violation of the rights granted to us as United States citizens.  However, it seems the discussion of these sorts of violations have been traveling through the brains of U.S. citizens without much reflection or discussion.  What has happened to the controversy that once rained down upon the enactment of the Patriot Act and the fury of discussion that was sparked by questionable violations of constitutional rights?

Is privacy still something Americans value?  Or perhaps more correctly, is privacy a right the masses are willing to negotiate and compromise in exchange for the promise of a terror-free life?  (Although I suppose this depends upon the individual’s definition of “terror”.)  Is the frightening notion of losing our rights and privacies still eminent in the collective minds of the American people, or has the terror of war and death pervaded the American conscience enough to dull the idea of collective rights given to us by our forefathers, in the hopes of providing safety for our children?  I wonder; have we stopped demanding assurance and proof that the sacrifice of our privacy is being rewarded by anti-terrorist activity?  It is essential that we not passively accept what has been decided for us without question.  If the people of this country have decided to allow the exchange of privacy for the promise of a terrorism-free life, we must acknowledge the lack of checks and balances inherent in this policy and create a citizen based system, checking the progress of these policies and holding our government accountable to its claims that its conduct has been and continues to be effective.  We must be realistic in calculating the costs of these policies.  If our right to privacy is deemed a necessary sacrifice for the “war on terror” to individuals with no ties to terrorist organizations, one must question by whom, and by what criteria are organizations deemed “terrorist” mules?  I myself have given money to and received newsletters from organizations such as Greenpeace, which has been implicated as having terrorist conduct.  Michigan Peace Team itself, which promotes, practices and teaches non-violence (precisely the opposite of terrorism) has been tracked and monitored by the government.  Will those so willing to give up their rights for the cause of the “war on terror” be equally as willing when they are implicated, searched, detained and stripped of their rights and humanity as the characters in Tom Fontana’s film are?

I do not write for the goal of repealing the Patriot Act necessarily, nor to simply rant about our government intruding into the privacy of citizens of the United States of America but to bring up necessary considerations.  I seek to refresh the minds of Americans and reenergize the debate surrounding the Patriot Act and other policies of recent administrations that effectively deny constitutional rights.  It is our duty as American citizens to hold our government accountable for their policies and actions.  We must remain constantly informed, in order to ask questions and provide checks where the government is unbalanced.  It is my hope, that as films such as Tom Fontana’s “Strip Search” and other media is further dispersed across the nation and viewed by ever more diverse groups of people; on college campuses, in churches, amongst neighborhood groups and families so that the discussion does not die out but continues to demand response and action.  We must not forget what inspired citizens can do for their country.

Kellie Brandt- MPT Intern


Sources Cited/Further Reading:

Internet Movie Database. Strip Search (TV 2004). 2004.

The Library of Congress Thomas. Bill Summary and Status-107th Congress (2001-2002) HR 3162 CRS Summary. October 2001.

American Civil Liberties Union.  Myths and Realities About the Patriot Act. June 2005.

BBC News. Rights still an issue as the FBI turns 100. March 2008.

Kevin Zeese. The Huffington Post. Politically Active Americans Facing Searches Surveillance. September 2010.

Other Interesting Reading:

Bruce Fretts. Tv Guide. HBO’s Strip Show Stirs Debate. April 2004.

Lucia Graves. The Huffington Post. FBI Wants More Power To Track Internet Activity, Civil Rights Community Cries Foul. August 2010.

Senator Russell Feingold. On Opposing the U.S.A. Patriot Act. October 2001.

American Civil Liberties Union. Search: Patriot Act.

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