Posts Tagged ‘justice’

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MPT’s Fall Newsletter

October 29, 2012

Click here:  MPT’s Fall 2012 Newsletter 

Knowing that active nonviolence is always our MPT focus, how do we keep on doing the good work with informed action in community, and with commitment in the face of obstacles? And secondly: What are effective ways of overcoming our own, our community’s, our world’s sense of hopelessness, paralysis, atomization, apathy and cynicism?

This Fall 2012 Newsletter offers the following answers to those questions:

  • Some Tools for the Long Haul – Peter Dougherty (pg. 1)
  • A Noble Difference – Annette Thomas (2-3)
  • Where There Is Apathy, Let Us Bring Hope – Albert F.J. Kreitz (3)
  • This is It!: Experiencing Beloved Community – Kim Redigan (4)
  • Seeing the Other  – Kristie Guerrero-Taylor (5)
  • The Outcome Is Not In Our Hands – Sandra Schneiders, IHM (6)
  • Cynicism & Community – Lydia Wylie-Kellermann (7)
  • Making a Difference, Moment by Moment – Paula Marie (8)
  • Nonviolence Training (8)
  • Peace Teams and the Fall 2012 Peace Team (9)
  • Growing Community Events – Elizabeth Walters, IHM (10-11)
  • Help Continue the Dream (12)
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We Have Not Heard the Last Word!

August 31, 2012

By Elizabeth Walters

MPT Staff Member & Peace Team Member for Michigan Peace Team in Gaza

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The verdict came on August 28, 2012, when the Israeli Court declared that the military is free of blame and absolved of any wrongdoing with regards to the death of twenty-three year old Rachel Corrie on March 16, 2003. The investigation concluded that Corrie’s death was an accident and that she had endangered herself by entering a combat zone. Simply stated the court believes that Rachel chose to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and that is why she died.

Days before the verdict, at a meeting at the US embassy in Tel Aviv the ambassador, Dan Shapiro, told Rachel Corrie’s parents and her sister that the government did not believe the Israeli military investigation had been “thorough, credible and transparent”, as had been promised by Israel. (The Guardian, Friday 24 August 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/24/israel-rachel-corrie-us-ambassador

I join with people around the planet who are shocked and dismayed by this verdict.

Beginning of MPT’s Involvement:

My concern and commitment date back to the beginning. In early June 2003, Mary Ann Ford, Jim Noble and I arrived in Rafah, Gaza two and a half months after Rachel’s death and shortly after peace team member Tom Hurndall was shot in the head and journalist Jim Miller had been killed by Israeli military personnel. Also, Mary Ann and I returned to Rafah, Gaza during Operation Rainbow in 2004. In both instances, local people in Rafah, Gaza had invited Michigan Peace Team to come. Once in Rafah we were able to monitor and document human rights violations and carry out other aspects of our peace team work.

Also we were committed personally to investigate the circumstance surrounding Rachel’s death. We interviewed eye witnesses including members of the peace team of which Rachel was a part. We went to the site of Rachel’s death. In addition, we gathered, organized, and studied documents, photos and videos regarding Rachel’s death that were in the peace team office and at key agencies that had been involved in investigating the death of Rachel.

Here are some of our findings

1.   Rachel Corrie was in the right place at the right time. She was doing what people are called to do worldwide: to nonviolently protect people, homes and neighborhoods from unjust and illegal demolitions. The Israeli military was destroying homes and neighborhoods in spite of international condemnations, and concerns about violations of human rights and international law.

 2.   The dictates of human rights, international law, and moral code enjoin military personnel to make a distinction between civilians and the military and to ensure the safety of unarmed civilians.

 3.   Eyewitness accounts and documents confirm that the Israeli military was given every opportunity to be aware of the presence of the nonviolent peace team on the ground on March 16, 2003 because:

•        Rachel Corrie wore a reflector vest and the whole team wore bright clothing;

•        These nonviolent protesters posted signs for all to see regarding their presence and protest against home demolitions that day; and,

•        The peace team was using a bull horn to announce their presence and to urge the military to stop destroying the homes of Palestinians.

4.   Rachel Corrie and the whole peace team were unarmed and nonviolent. The military was armed, moving in armored vehicles, and guarded by tanks and gun towers. Clearly there was no threat to the soldiers.

5.   The ISM peace team’s expectation that they would not be shot or crushed by the military during their nonviolent protest was in my view a reasonable expectation at that time.

In spite of these findings and hundreds more, Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer on March 16, 2003 and years later, on August 28, 2012, in response to the civil suit brought to court by the parents of Rachel Corrie, the Israeli court declared the Israeli military free of blame and absolved from any wrongdoing with regard to Rachel’s death.

Today the Haaretz Digital Edition is reporting that Corrie’s mother, Cindy, put it this way at a news conference following the court ruling:

“The state has worked extremely hard to make sure that the full truth about what happened to my daughter is not exposed, and that those responsible for her killing are not held accountable.”

(Haaretz, August 31, 2012, http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/double-take/what-the-rachel-corrie-case-reveals-about-israeli-justice.premium-1.461938)

As mentioned earlier, Mary Ann and I served on MPT peace teams in Rafah, Gaza during 2003 and 2004 and I went back to Gaza on another team in 2005 with Karen Donahue and Mary Miner. Our MPT peace teams lived and worked among the people of Gaza, and along with the people, we experienced firsthand the horror of the occupying military forces.

Here are some of our lived experiences: Sealed shut, by land, sea, and air, Gaza was and is the largest prison in the world. The Israeli military continued destroying Palestinian neighborhoods, seizing land, and declaring military zones in Palestinian neighborhoods. Throughout this process, when shooting from the gun towers, tanks, helicopters the military operated as if there was little or no distinction between civilians and military personnel. Many Palestinians died at the hands of the Israeli military and more than 2000 Palestinian homes were destroyed at the border to create the so-called Philadelphia Corridor. Also, we and Palestinians living in Gaza endured Operation Rainbow in 2004.

Then in 2007, after MPT was prevented from entering Gaza, the Israeli military invaded Gaza and conducted Operation Cast Lead.

In light of both Rachel’s death AND the on-going misery of the people of Gaza it is impossible for me to believe or accept that the Israeli military is blameless and absolved of any wrongdoing.

For years, the situation in Gaza and Rachel’s death has had a lasting effect on my life and the lives of many others. We continue to remember the commitment to active nonviolence so evident in Rachel and in many Palestinian people in Gaza. In that same spirit we continue to resist nonviolently on behalf of human rights, peace, and social justice.

In closing, I want to share with you my message to the parents of Rachel Corrie:

Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Corrie!

I am grateful beyond words that you to seek justice regarding your daughter’s death while continuing to speak on behalf of Palestinians.

Do not lose heart. Know that the truth IS breaking through and a light shines on your work. Know too that the courage and love of your daughter Rachel continues to inspire and move us to action on behalf of justice for Palestinians. Know too that we have not heard the last word! The arc of history bends toward nonviolent resistance, peace, and social justice.

Your sister, Elizabeth Walters, MPT Peace Team Member who witnessed the horror of the Israeli military in Gaza during 2003, 2004, and 2005

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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 http://uwpep.org/Index/UWPEP.html

A copy of the transcript for this conference can be found at http://uwpep.org/Index/Reframing_Peace_files/Peace%20transcript-1.pdf

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Documentary Review: “The Corporation”

October 28, 2010

What do you call someone who has callous unconcern for others, an incapacity to maintain enduring relationships and feel guilt, is reckless in regarding the safety of others, and fails to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors?  Psychologists diagnose this person as a psychopath.  What if that person was the dominating institution of the world?  What implications would that have for the world and all that constitutes it?  The Corporation provides a detailed picture of one of the dominant institutions of the world and clearly describes its ascension to the top of the global order.

So, how did the corporation achieve the influence it has today?  Initially, a corporation was defined as an association of individuals chartered by states to perform a particular function, such as building a bridge or constructing a road.  Essentially, the corporation was considered a subordinate entity to the law and culture of the states and was deemed a tool that was to serve the public good.  After the civil war there was an explosion of corporate growth.  This led to corporate lawyers pushing for more power, as corporations were becoming a more substantial institution within the structure of the country.

In 1868, a constitutional amendment (14th) was passed with the purpose of granting citizenship to African Americans and prohibiting state and local governments from depriving all persons of life, liberty and property.  The law that was unquestionably of good intentions would later be interpreted by the Supreme Court as to include or cover corporations as well through its mandate.  The court argued that a corporation is a group of people and in that sense it was to be interpreted that their rights were to be protected under the stipulations of the 14th amendment.

In addition to this, it was later put into law that corporations were required to put the financial interests of their owners above other “competing interests.”  These interests included all externalities, which are the effects of transactions between two individuals (or corporations in this sense) on a third party who has not consented to, or played any role in the carrying out of that transaction.  The following paragraphs will demonstrate the consequences of the court’s decisions.

Let’s now look at the track record of how corporations have “enjoyed” the freedoms granted to them and what their relationship is with people and the environment in general.  The Corporation documents specific cases that all describe a science of exploitation enacted by transnational businesses.  One of the main areas of injustice has evolved specifically from the capitalist doctrine followed by all corporations; the doctrine of efficient cost and production.  In search of fulfilling the curriculum requirements of capitalism, corporations have spanned the world in search of cheap labor in order to produce their products at the most profitable levels possible.  So take NIKE co. as an example.  Multiple copies of internal pricing documents explaining the corporation’s production process illuminated the aforementioned “science”.  At one of its shirt production factories in the Dominican Republic, workers are allotted 6.6141 minutes (yes, they break time frames of operations down to ten one thousandths of each second) to make each shirt.  They receive an hourly wage of 70 cents per hour for their labor, or 8 cents per shirt.  Skipping the math, that means that each worker is receiving 3/10 of 1 percent of the retail price for each shirt.  This exploitation would be obvious to those in developed countries which are by law required a minimum wage that is the majority of the time over 7 dollars per hour.  However, in developing countries, this rate is unheard of.  In fact, in many countries a considerable amount of the population lives on less than 2 dollars per day.  Consequently, corporations walk in advertising cents on the hour wages and are seen as an opportunity to the poor.  After different human rights groups and worker unions provide enough pressure on governments and corporations, causing wages to rise past what is considered an efficient cost level in the production process, corporations move out and on to another country to repeat the injustice.  This is the science of exploitation that is deeply engrained in arguably the most dominant institution in the world.

It is important to note that the span of spheres in which the corporation occupies is constantly expanding.  In 2000, the third largest city in Bolivia, Cochabamba made the decision to re-finance its public water service through a $25 million loan from the World Bank.  As a condition of receiving the loan, the bank required that the Cochachamba’s water supply service be privatized.  Soon after, the San Francisco transnational corporation, Bechtel, obtained a private contract over the Bolivian city’s water supply.  The corporation, in conjunction with the government, went as far as rendering the collection of rain water to be illegal.  In essence, the corporation claimed ownership of the city’s rain water falling from the sky.  And again, the exploitation of the poor, part of the corporation’s doctrine explained legally in the courts and theoretically in capitalism took place.  People living on less than $2 per day were forced to pay ¼ of their income for fresh water.  The externalities that corporations ignore can be found in the brutal dilemma imposed on many Cochabamba citizens.  The new cost of privatized water forced many people to choose between things such as sending their children to school or providing an adequate amount of food and medical coverage for their families.  So, should the externalities of designating water as a commodity for sale be ignored, particularly in developing countries where personal resources are limited to begin with?  And if they are, what does this lead a person to conclude about the nature of a corporation?  Also, in fulfilling the requirements of the loan agreement, Bolivia’s airline and oil industry, along with its railroad, electricity and phone companies were all privatized as well.

One may ask, “Why haven’t I heard about these cases of corporate exploitation?”  Are the previous cases mentioned just outliers in a capitalist system that raises the living standards of so many people around the world?  The answer to the first question lies in the fact that mainstream media outlets such as Fox, CNN and ABC are all owned by corporations with vast interests outside of the news media itself.  These corporations’ interests are loyal first and foremost to the viability of their collective enterprise.  This includes, in addition to their news channels, holdings in everything from sports teams and airline companies to nuclear power plants and transportation systems.  Aside from that, media outlets depend heavily on advertising from thousands of other corporations who purchase air-time in between news breaks to promote their own product or service they are selling.  So, news about the exploitation of workers in the Dominican Republic won’t be making headlines while news channels are depending on revenue supplied in this case by Nike’s purchasing of CNN’s or Fox’s advertising air-time.  In other words, news that could in any manner negatively affect the image of, and thus the corporate interests of Nike will not be presented to the public simply because the profit motives of both the news channel and the sporting company come first in both cases.  The answer to the second question is lucidly explained with multiple examples of exploitation by different corporations in the documentary.  Examples include IBM and Coca Cola’s relationships with Nazi Germany and the chemical company, Monsanto’s hazardous antibiotic, rBGH, used in the production of milk.

By now you are probably asking yourself, “Where is morality in all of this?”  The problem with any psychopath or corporation is that their belief system is non-existent.  This special kind of “person” is concerned for and liable only to their stockholders.  The global community and workforce are not brought into the equation.  So in essence, there is only one overwhelming motivation: profit.  In simple terms, the corporation’s slogan can be expressed as profit over everything.

One must question the future implications that are linked to the influence which corporations possess.  The “personal” characteristics that define the very nature of a corporation imply a dark reality in which exploitation of the person and environment is permitted by law.  One must also question where and how any type of significant change is to occur when the supposed “watchdog” media is so deeply entrenched in a mutually defined relationship based on corporate interests.  The Corporation implies the need for a systemic change involving the relationships of corporations and other dominant institutions of the world.  In addition, it also advocates for a redefining of the fundamental capitalist principles that determine the overall functioning and objectives of modern corporations.   The film serves as an invaluable tool that will increase your understanding of how our complex world works and is much recommended.

– Bryant Anderson, MPT Intern

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