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Archive for August, 2014

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A quiet country road from Dublin to Hancock, New Hampshire was the site of the New Hampshire Rebellion’s latest “Granny D Walk” to end the influence of money in American politics.P8230046 (2)

Granny D was the public moniker for Doris Haddock, a long-time Dublin resident who set out from California a few days short of her 89th birthday to walk across the USA and publicize the need for campaign finance reform.  She had just turned 90 when she reached the nation’s capital on February 29, 2000. 

The path of today’s walk was one she used to train for her historic pilgrimage, which ended at the US Capitol on February 29, 2000, a month after she turned 90.

Few people reflect the strength of conviction demonstrated by Granny D, observed Larry Lessig, the writer and Harvard Law School professor who launched the Rebellion last year.  The group conducted a winter march from Dixville Notch to Nashua in P8230054

January and another along the New Hampshire seacoast in July. 

Today forty people, aiming to make breaking the money-politics link a central issue of the 2016 presidential nominating contest, continued Granny D’s quest.  Walking through a wooded area with no pedestrians and barely any cars, there weren’t many people to educate and convince.  But perhaps that wasn’t the point.  P8230045

There’s a long history of walks, marches, and pilgrimages intended to bolster movements for social change.  Gandhi’s march to the sea, the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, the United Farm Workers Union’s 300-mile march from Delano to Sacramento, and the regular peace walks led by the Nipponzan Myohoji monks come to mind as examples.  Yes, they are expressions of political views, but they also embody spiritual power. 

When we sing “we won’t let nobody turn us around,” we aim to capture that same spirit.  When musicians Leslie Vogel and Fred Simmons treated us to “Just a P8230063 Walk with Granny D” before the march, I felt the spirit in motion. 

Part of the point was also to get to know new people, Dan Weeks said at the walk’s outset.  Dan, who was recently appointed as Executive Director for the NH Coalition for Open Democracy (NH COD), says his own activist inclinations began when Granny D visited his high school.  At that time the impressionable 15-year old learned from his elderly neighbor that companies which profited from selling tobacco had a heavy hand in writing the nation’s laws through their political involvement.  Children were dying because of the nation’s twisted approach to campaign finance, Granny D explained.  Dan was hooked, not on cigarettes, but on money & politics activism.  “The systemP8230109 excludes so many of our people,” he says. 

To put it another way, if money is speech, then those with the most money get the most speech.  And as the distribution of wealth becomes increasingly skewed, inequality of speech becomes a profound political problem for a country where government of the people, by the people, and for the people is supposed to be imperishable.

From Dan’s perspective, a walk in the steps of Granny D is a statement that we have not given up hope.

Two hours after setting out, clusters of walkers arrived in the center of Hancock, a town with a population of fewer than 2000 people.  There we were greeted by volunteers and treated to ice cream donated by Ben & Jerry’s.  The crowd had grown to about P8230117 60 people, now including Jim Rubens, a Republican candidate for the US Senate who has made campaign finance reform a plank in his platform (and who says he’s the only Republican in the race who is speaking out against the third Iraq war).  

When the ice cream had been eaten, Dan Weeks introduced Professor Lessig for a short speech by the gazebo on the Hancock Common.  Lessig apparently didn’t feel a need to educate the assembled dozens about the corruption caused by the billions of dollars in the political system, nor did he choose to restate the strategy of the NH Rebellion.  He chose instead to exhort the small crowd about the importance of action, something he says our country has become unaccustomed to taking. 

“We’ve just gotten through a century of very passive politics, where we were told to shut up and listen to the commercials and just show up to vote,” Lessig said.

“That’s the only thing we were to do. We weren’t to organize or to get people out in P8230104

the streets.  We weren’t about ordinary citizens trying to lead.  We weren’t practiced in that kind of politics.”

“But that’s the kind of politics this will take,” he continued.  “Neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party leadership like this issue.  Neither of them are going to make this transition happen on their own.  It will only happen if we force them.”

Plans are already being hatched for another walk next January, timed to coincide not only with Granny D’s birthday but also with the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United court decision. 

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Peace on the Corner

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Ken Mayers’ little red Honda hybrid was loaded up with banners and signs when I hopped in on Friday morning, headed for a peace protest at the corner of St. Francis Drive and Cerillos Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  There, Ken and other local activists give the community’s peace movement dependable visibility.  Friday was the 12th anniversary of their first weekly protest during the build-up to the Iraq war.P8080503

Back then the protest might attract upwards of a hundred people.  Now they are down to a few stalwarts, but someone is there every week.

Ken takes out a large Veterans for Peace banner but since the weather is calm, he assembles another using sections of plastic pipe.  The vinyl banner on one side says “Stop the War on Mother Earth.”  The banner on the other says “Close Guantanamo.”  Both are attached to the pipe framework with bungee cords.  I admire the design, and tell Ken about Don Booth, who held peace vigils for years in Concord and who never ceased fussing with banner designs and slogans.  Ken is able to hold the flag and the banner rig at the same time.

Ken started the Santa Fe Veterans for Peace chapter in 2002, but he’s been an activist longer than than.  He still runs a business out of his home, but peace is high on his agenda.  Ken has made several trips to Israel and occupied Palestine and participated in the 2011 “Audacity of Hope” flotilla to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. [Click here to read more about Ken.]  We share the distinct honor of having been arrested with Will Thomas in acts of civil disobedience.

I grab an FCNL “War is Not the Answer” road sign from the back of the car and join Ken on the sidewalk by the busy intersection.

The corner is on the road from Albuquerque to Los Alamos, which still functions as a lynchpin facility in US nuclear weapons development, but the location was chosen, Ken said, because it gets so much traffic.  Sometimes demonstrations are held in the center of town, near the state capital building P8080492 (“The Roundhouse”), but the weekly Friday protest is always at the corner.

Soon after we arrive, Ray rides up on his bike with his service dog, Dawson, and unfurls his own peace banner.  Ray tells me he and Ken were both active in Vietnam Veterans Against the War back in the day.  Now Ray supports programs that provide shelter to people who are homeless. 

Ken points across the intersection to another man having his own peace protest. 

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d2/Peace_sign.svg/220px-Peace_sign.svg.pngHis name is pronounced “Mo,” but he says he spells it with an “M,” an “h,” and a  – a peace sign.  He’d like the peace sign to be recognized as the 27thP8080470 letter and says his own vigil was inspired by former Beatle Ringo Starr, who asks people to stand out for peace and love at noon on his birthday.  Tibetan peace flags dangle from a pole that also sports Buddhist symbols, feathers, and peace buttons. “It’s a hippie thing, too,” he says.  A button that reads “stop the next war now” is pinned to his shirt.  He used to be joined by a World War 2 vet named Bob, but Bob is 90 years old and can’t stand out by the road for an hour.  So Mho stands by himself, waving peace signs to the cars driving by, just like Ringo suggested.

When I head back toward Ray and Ken’s corner I find another spot occupied by Mark and Bud with another set of signs.  Mark’s says “One Nation Under Surveillance” on one side and P8080482 “War is a Racket” on the other.  Bud holds a poster with lots of photos and the words “violence begets violence begets violence … ”  Later he gives me a copy of his film, “The Forgotten Bomb: Everything Depends on Remembering.”

Dave arrives and joins Ken and Ray.  His sign says “honk for peace” and it works pretty well.  But by then the allotted hour is up.

I help Ken take apart his banner display and stash it in the back of the car.  Ray and Dawson ride off on their bike.  The protest will resume next Friday.

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It’s kind of like summer camp but maybe more like a family reunion.  It’s like a retreat center or perhaps a mini-micro version of the World Social Forum.  It’s a vacation resort, except without most of the amenities you might associate with that word.  It’s a place where you can play badminton, have intense conversations about conflict minerals in Africa, hone your activist skills, take aP7210095 nap on the lawn with a novel on our lap, or commune with loons.  You can even debut your new play at Fun Night (more on that later).

It’s the World Fellowship Center on the edge of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and it’s a great place to visit for a day or a week or the whole summer from early July until Labor Day. 

Where else would you find 30 people sitting around on a rainy Sunday morning talking about the importance of divesting from the fossil fuel industry, the final session of a 3-day program on “Living the Transition to a New Economy?” 

“Their business model isn’t going to change,” said long-time organizer Chuck P7200036 Collins about the companies that mine coal, drill for oil and natural gas, and process them for sale.  “Young people are driving a movement to address the climate crisis,” he emphasized. 

One of them is Collins’ daughter, Nora, who called climate “the ultimate social issue,” with a disproportionate impact on already marginalized people throughout the world.  

“We are revoking the license of the fossil fuel industry to wreck our future,” Chuck said.  He recommends divestinvest.org as a source of information for individuals and institutions interested in this strategy.

Molly Messenger and Bruce Mallory led three discussions about the work of New Hampshire Listens, a project based at UNH that fosters community dialogues on P7210057 controversial issues.  This might include something local like whether to install a traffic light or build a roundabout at a dangerous intersection, a statewide issue like whether to permit gambling casinos, or a campus matter like divestment from the fossil fuel industry.  The process of promoting real dialogue is “an antidote to the highly polarized political discourse” that dominates talk radio, P7210056 the US Congress, and a lot of local forums, Mallory said. 

The public engagement they advocate and teach is distinct from public relations, public input, and public education because it is aimed at engaging community members in shared problem solving, not just one-way communication.  To work well it needs a commitment to a community organizing process, not simply the hosting of public gatherings for people to meet up and air their views.   

World Fellowship also hosted the Kimba Vitu Institute, a 5-day program for young adults from the Democratic Republic of Congo dedicated to developing leaders inP7210065 the struggle to free their country from dictatorship, war, and foreign domination.  They kept busy with their own programs most of the time, but Institute participants gave two presentations and offered an introduction to Congolese dance to wrap up the Friday Fun Night program.

Paul Pumphrey and Kambalae Musavuli of Friends of the Congo, a US-based organization that helps organize the Kimba Vitu Institute, outlined some of the intense challenges facing the Congolese people at this time, including aggression sponsored by the government of Rwanda, a corrupt national elite, and foreign corporations that exploit minerals such as copper, cobalt, and coltan,  (It’s not only our government that is unduly influenced by corporate interests.)  If you’ve never heard of “coltan,” check out this link to learn about a rare mineral that has become an essential  component for many of our modern  electronic gadgets, including mobile phones.  Sixty percent of the world’s coltan reserves are in the DRC. As they outlined, it is not uncommon for corporations to move into communities that have been abandoned following militia attacks and mass rape. 

In addition to educating the public, Friends of the Congo has a campaign to pressure the US government to enforce the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006, sponsored by then-Senator Barack Obama.  In particular, Section 105 of that law calls on the US government “to withhold assistance made available under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151 et seq.), other than humanitarian, peacekeeping, and counter terrorism assistance, for a foreign country if the Secretary [of State] determines that the government of the foreign country is taking actions to destabilize the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” This provision would apply to Rwanda, which according to Pumphrey and Kambalae is a US ally.  Visit their website for more information and to get involved, for example by organizing educational programs during Congo P7230156 Week in October””.

Every evening at World Fellowship there is some type of educational or cultural program.  One evening John Uniack Davis gave an update on Syria.  Saturday evening we were treated to a concert with Hudson Valley Sally (none of whose members appear to be named “Sally.”)  You can find all the details of what you missed and what’s coming up in the summer program.

World Fellowshippers also find plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors, especially Whitton Pond and hikes in nearby mountains.  Howie Fain offers two (sometimesP7240163 three) recreational outings a day, usually a hike or bike ride, always with his rating of how easy or challenging the trip will be.  There’s also the daily “art on the porch” sessions, morning body movement programs, and Children’s Fellowship for the 3 to 9-year-old set.  In the evening you are likely to find people playing scrabble or other games, doing jigsaw puzzles, or sitting around the porch with guitars and copies of Rise Up Singing.  

Every Friday evening is Fun Night, the all-World Fellowship talent show featuring stand-up comedy, stories, music, and more.  This year I recruited volunteer actors, singers, and musicians to stage the premier performance of my play, “Metamorphosis Two: The Corporation Strikes Back,” the story of a person who discovers she has been transformed into a corporation.  (More on this project soon.)

Our week wrapped up with the annual Clamshell Alliance Reunion, which this year featured talks by Roy Morrison on how to make large-scale shifts from nukes and fossil fuels to renewable alternatives and Joanne Sheehan on the historic roots of the Clamshell’s application of nonviolent action.  

Morrison believes an ecological transition is compatible with economic growth through “a market system that would send money signals for sustainability,” for example by means of “a comprehensive system of ecological taxation.” P7270403

A tax on carbon won’t do the trick, he said, for reasons of basic economics.  If taxes on fossil fuels effectively reduce demand for coal, oil, and natural gas, the prices will drop, Morrison suggested.  That’s why he favors a broader “ecological value added tax.”

Joanne Sheehan found the roots of the Clamshell Alliance’s approach to nonviolence training in the application of Gandhian approaches by World War Two war resisters, first to desegregate prisons and subsequently in the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, the first “freedom ride.”  The use of nonviolence training for P7270408 participants and acceptance of a set of guidelines for participants would be among the methods adopted by the Clams in 1976. 

The three decades before Clamshell’s birth, though, saw plenty of applications for nonviolence training, notably the workshops led by the Rev. James Lawson prior to the Nashville sit-ins and the sessions for participants in Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964.  There were also clear lines from the civil rights movement to pacifist groups like Peacemakers and the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), which applied Gandhian tactics in the movement for nuclear disarmament. 

Marge Swan was a CNVA activist in the early 1960s and directed the AmericanP7230117 (2) Friends Service Committee’s New England office in the mid-1970s when the No  Nukes movement sprouted from environmentalist, anti-war, civil rights, and feminist seeds.  Sukie Rice, an AFSC staff member in Cambridge, took her anti-war experience to the Clamshell and with Elizabeth Boardman, another Quaker active with AFSC, led the Clamshell’s first nonviolence training workshops in the summer of 1976.

[For more details on early Clamshell see “Clam Magic: The Birth of a National Anti-Nuclear Movement, A Chapter from the Oral History of How the No Nukes Movement (1973-1982) Saved the United States and Maybe the World,” by Al Giordano at http://www.narconews.com/Issue67/article4739.html.]

As Joanne Sheehan outlined it, the Clamshell model included six components:

1. Required nonviolent action training;

2. The use of guidelines, essentially a code of discipline that all participants agreed to uphold;

3. The use of Affinity Groups, small groups of participants who worked together for preparation, mutual support, and decision-making;

4. Consensus decision-making;

5. A non-hierarchical structure; and

6. Bail solidarity, i.e. refusal to pay bail until everyone is released.P7270413

One piece of history Sheehan learned from Giordano’s interviews is that Sukie Rice first experienced the use of affinity groups at the 1971 May Day anti-war protests in Washington and adapted materials from the May Day action manual to use with Clamshell.  Clamshell produced its own action manuals for major actions.  These led eventually to the Handbook for Nonviolent  Action, or the “generic manual,” published by Kate Donnelly and the War Resisters League.  

If the roots of Clamshell’s nonviolence can be traced back a few decades, it’s also possible to identify the fruits of the Clamshell model in the mid-80s Pledge of Resistance to US aggression against Nicaragua, the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, Occupy Wall Street, and plenty of other campaigns that used nonviolent civil disobedience.  However, in many cases elements of the model have been dropped.  As an example cited by Sheehan, groups using civil disobedience to protest the climate disruption caused by fossil fuel consumption often spend as much time raising bail money as they do planning the actions that will get them arrested.  In many cases, tactics are determined through hierarchical structures, not through horizontal ones. 

But lessons learned in the past can be re-learned.  The Clamshell Weekend ended with discussions about making deliberate plans for next year’s gathering to be inter-generational.  If so, we shouldn’t see this just as way for the elder generation (of which I am now a member) to pass our wisdom on to the youngers.  The youngers no doubt have much to teach the elders, too. 

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A strike by Fairpoint workers is still possible but negotiations have not ended, a union spokesperson announced an hour short of the strike deadline this evening.  “Make no mistake, this fight is not over,” Glenn Brackett of the IBEWP8020501 told a hundred or so union members and allies outside Fairpoint’s downtown Manchester office at 11 pm. “We will continue to mobilize until we get a contract that’s fair.”

Brackett said workers should return to work but that a strike could be called at any time.  Terms and conditions of the expired contract will remain in effect while negotiations continue.

“The company has been very unresponsive to many of the major proposals we have made,” Bracket said, P8020489 adding that the company’s attitude has been dismissive and antagonistic.  

He explained that the company had turned down a union proposal that would have saved the company millions of dollars.  

Fairpoint workers are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America.

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