Thursday, June 25, 2015

Uplift for All

Mahatma Gandhi wasn't just concerned with resisting the English occupation of India. He was also concerned about the self development of the people. For him, it was two sides of the same coin. He once described it as walking on two legs. You wouldn't be balanced with only one. 

The campaign for independence required active nonviolence, what he called Satyagraha or the force of Truth. The self development campaign was aimed at the universal uplift of all strata of the society, self determination and equality for all. It was called Sarvodaya.

Even after Gandhi's death, his followers carried on this idea of Sarvodaya throughout the country. I've witnessed countless cottage industries in practically every state in India where the program spread and brought a subsistence level of living to those who were hopelessly poor and destitute. It might be a weaving industry or an agricultural cooperative or a recycling operation where everything (I mean everything) is repurposed in some incredibly creative way.

One such cottage industry was solar ovens. I recall seeing demonstrations of those low tech operations on visits to India in the 1980's. It was a way followers of Gandhi were bringing development to every strata of society. Rural communities could produce, distribute and use them. One or two responsible people could do the necessary oversight of the construction and training. It was self development at it's best.

It even got exported to other lands as people realized that universal uplift was the pathway to happier and healthier societies. Those of us right here in Brookings, South Dakota have our own incarnation in Haiti Solar Oven Partners. Here is a local cottage industry that has helped bring solar cooking to the people of Haiti for the last 15 years. Now the Partners are in the process of transitioning to new countries and peoples.

If you haven't had some banana bread or chocolate brownies cooked in a solar oven, then you still have a treat in your future. And if you lived in poverty, without access to clean water, boiling water in a solar oven could save the lives of your children.

Lives can be saved; healthier societies can be created; economies of scale can be introduced; if we access even modest resources for the common good, for lifting up all.

I'm thinking about all that free sunshine that blesses us most days in South Dakota, that modest and unclaimed energy resource. Why we couldn't be a leader in solar energy is beyond me. It took us years as a state, watching our neighbor to the east installing wind turbines and profiting from them in myriad ways, to begin accepting the idea in our own wind driven state. Now we continue to sit on the sidelines as solar becomes commonplace elsewhere and cottage industries develop all over the planet.

Even for those who don't accept climate change and aren't invested in the development of all, there's reason to look at solar as an alternative energy source. It's cheaper! "I'm probably the furthest thing from an Al Gore clone you could find," says Jim Briggs, interim city manager of Georgetown, Texas. This small community of some 50,000 people is going 100% renewable in a state best known for it's fossil fuel industry. "We didn't do this to save the world," Briggs says. "We did this to get a competitive rate and reduce the risk for our consumers."

Since the Georgetown utility company is a city owned monopoly, in examining their options last year they discovered renewable energy was cheaper. By January 2017, SunEdison (not a cottage industry but a giant multinational) will bring their renewables to 100%. In 2014 they had already signed on with a nearby wind outfit. They'll have sun by day, wind by night. It sounds sensible! 

A record amount of solar power was added to the world's grid last year. Total cumulative capacity is 100 times more than it was in the year 2000. Many are convinced the tipping point has now been reached that will allow for the rapid expansion of the technology and the continued descent of the cost.

If we could just convince the decision makers we need net metering in our state, so rooftop and other smaller solar installations were more economically accessible, we might give our citizens a bit more self determination about their energy sources. And if we could get some sensible local ordinances passed about individual wind energy, it could be comparable to getting a solar oven in Haiti. People have satellite TV receivers on their roofs, why not small scale wind systems?

Carl Kline

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Eyes on the Prize

The school year is finally over and as a teacher you begin to reflect on how the year turned out. It’s easy to think that the only measure of success is the test scores, but I know that is bogus. Yes, success can be measured by academic achievement and “data”, but it also is measured by much more qualitative measures: mindsets like perseverance, skills like problem-solving ability, and other not-so-simple things like motivation and confidence. I bind myself to these stories and not to test scores because a score does not show the whole picture, nor is a score alone enough to propel a student out of poverty into their dreams. 

One of the more qualitative measures of success I tried to build into my students this year was a long-term vision for their future – recognition that success is a LONG process and therefore every day matters. Today matters for the job you want or the car you want or the NBA game you want to attend, whatever it is. So I repeat things to them over and over and over. I say, “you want to do well in 3rd grade so you can go to 4th grade, and 5th grade, and 6th grade, and 7th grade, and 8th grade, and 9th grade, and 10th grade, and 11th grade, and 12th grade, and college.” (I’m actually pretty good at saying that very fast now.) We also talk a lot about what that future is going to look like: how knowledge gives us power and power gives us choices. Choices – freedom – that is the prize we work towards every day because poverty is not just a lack of money; it is a lack of options. This is a long chain of events a long way in the future for a 9 year old to grasp and work towards, but I think it’s important because when they get it, they become responsible to themselves.

The problem with building these qualitative measures is they are exactly that, qualitative. I cannot give a test and receive “data” to tell me exactly, to what extent, each child has grown their own personal long-term vision. Luckily however, you sometimes receive little glimpses of growth breaking through the concrete.  For me this glimpse came the day before the big End-Of-Grade (EOG) test with my students, when I gave each a chance to write down their worries about the test and put them in the “worry box” (a.k.a. “where worries go to die”). Reading through their worries after class most said things like, “I’m afraid I won’t pass and won’t get to go to 4th grade with my friends.” This is a legitimate concern because of the way the law is written in NC, but one kid in particular struck me. He wrote, “I’m afraid I won’t pass and I won’t get to go to 12th grade.” This kid – who so often at the beginning of the year said he didn’t care if he failed or not – has just proved his long-term vision to me. He wasn’t thinking about 4th grade. He was thinking about “4th grade, and 5th grade, and 6th grade, and 7th grade, and 8th grade, and 9th grade, and 10th grade, and 11th grade, and 12th grade, and [hopefully] college.” His eyes are on the “prize”. His note made me simultaneously extraordinarily proud of him and also kind of sad because I could feel the added pressure he felt for the upcoming day.

The next day after the test I had the kids write a reflection about how they felt. This student again proved his mindset when he drew two accompanying pictures with his writing. Both pictures begin with him sitting at a desk taking the EOG. From here though he imagines two different futures based on his test score. In the first set an arrow is drawn to him buying a car and then another arrow to a picture of him getting paid $100 bills. “This,” he tells me, “is me passing the EOG and getting to choose out any car I want when I get a good job.” His eyes are the prize – choices, opportunities! However, in the second set the arrow from him taking his test points to two stick figures behind bars in what he calls “EOG jail”. From “EOG jail” an arrow points to my student crying when his boss tells him, “You’re fired.” When you see this it is hard not to cry at the reality, or at least the fear, of it all. Study after study links 3rd grade reading success to high school graduation rates and high school dropouts have a much higher rate of incarceration than those who graduate. It’s not hard to put the two and two together. At this point you begin to wonder if teaching your kids to have a long-term vision was actually a good idea. Maybe it’s too much. Hope seems so far away for some of the kids. The test seems too big. It would be easier if we only had to plan for next year, not the next ten.

Yet, I cannot give up on the long-term vision. Kids need to know what they are working towards and so do we as peacemakers need this too. Our work will not happen overnight or even over the next year.  We need to keep our eyes on the prize. We need to teach each other and encourage each other to have patience, perseverance, and the determination. We need to remind each other that this year, this moment, matters for “next year, and the year after, and the year after, and the year after, and the year after, and the year after…” until we reach our goal. Sometimes it is hard to understand why we don’t reach our goals right away. Perhaps we feel too much pressure but only with our eyes on the prize can we “Hold on! Hold on!”

So please, dear readers,

Hold on, Hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize
Hold on, why don't ya
Hold on, Hold on!

Jennifer Arnold

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Nuclear Disarmament

Almost unnoticed by the major news media, four weeks of negotiations on nuclear disarmament ended with the scuttling of a revised treaty. Apparently the biggest hurdle was a requirement that Israel meet with Arab neighbors to discuss the development of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East. 

At least that's the excuse given by the U.S. for the veto. U.S. representatives blamed the failure of a new agreement on Egypt for including the nuclear free zone idea.

It's reasonable for Egypt to seek such a zone. Israel has an estimated 400 nuclear warheads, which it won't confirm or deny. It simply stonewalls on any questions about their nuclear stockpile, since if they admitted to having them, they might be forced by international agreement to reduce their numbers. 

Egypt warned that the Arab world would take a strong stance as a result of the U.S. veto. There are rumors afloat that Saudi Arabia may go nuclear as they are concerned about Israel and the possibility of a nuclear Iran.

Iran on the other hand, has requested further meetings at the U.N., in the hopes of coming to some new agreement. Apparently, they would prefer to put the world at ease as a non nuclear weapons power if only there were assurances the rest of the middle east would do the same.

At the same time, non nuclear states are upset with Russia and the U.S. because of the slow progress on reducing their nuclear weapons numbers. It's estimated both states have about 8,000 warheads with about 1,500 on missiles ready to launch at a moment's notice. 

But yes, you're right! It happened! Back in 2009 in Prague, President Obama declared with conviction, "America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." That was then, this is now! So now the U.S. vetoes the idea of a nuclear free Middle East. And now the New York Times has reported the modernizing of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and infrastructure, and plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years doing it.

How many know the U.S. has recently been sued, along with the other eight nuclear armed countries? The suit by the Marshall Islands is for failing to negotiate in good faith on nuclear disarmament. Instead, the movement is toward modernizing and updating arsenals. And it's altogether appropriate that the island peoples who suffered as nuclear testing guinea pigs for years be the ones to bring suit. From 1946 to 1958, the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear and thermonuclear tests with an explosive power equivalent to 1.6 Hiroshima bombs dropped daily for 12 years in this homeland for some 70,000 people.

One hopes nuclear weapons can't and won't be used ever again. Unless of course there's an accident ("accidents happen" is an old and familiar saying … so you probably don't want to read the book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser). Or unless the human capacity for madness escalates (which seems to be our tendency … M.L. King once said, "We have guided missiles and misguided men.") The primary reason for having nuclear weapons is fear and intimidation, though their possession doesn't seem to threaten ISIS as much as it threatens the U.S. government.

Nuclear weapons is a transient power. It's absurd to spend more money on an obsolete system that can't be used and makes us all less safe. What we need is more spiritual power, like that of 85 year old Sister Megan Rice. She was one of those arrested in 2012 for cutting through fences at the Oak Ridge enriched uranium storage facility in a protest of nuclear weapons, because she said, "we had to - we were doing it because we had to reveal the truth of the criminality which is there, that's our obligation. We have the power, and the love, and the strength and the courage to end it (the nuclear weapons industry) and transform the whole project, for which has been expended more than $7.2 trillion. The truth will heal us and heal our planet, heal our diseases, which result from the disharmony of our planet caused by the worst weapons in the history of mankind, which should not exist. For this we give our lives - for the truth about the terrible existence of these weapons."  

Sister Megan was recently released from prison. She and her fellow Transform Now Plowshares still in prison, represent the strength of heart Gandhi describes. "Power invariably elects to go into the hands of the strong. That strength may be physical or of the heart, or if we do not fight shy of the word, of the spirit. Physical force is transitory. But the power of the spirit is permanent, even as the spirit is everlasting."

Carl Kline

Friday, June 5, 2015

I Believe in Silence

I am grateful for quiet, as it often goes hand in hand with what my mother paired it with, when after ‘too much’ of 4 rambunctious children she would declare, “ I need some peace and quiet!”  Outside we were sent, and though I was not seeking quietude I would find it sitting on the limb of a tree I had climbed. Amidst the leaves, feeling nearer to the clouds, not intending or thinking about anything other than the joy of being in the tree, I would feel almost as if I were the tree.

 I knew it in the swing our neighbor, Mr. Mongold carved out of an old tire, hung from a high branch that made for this perfect wide expansive quality of  movement, which made me feel free, light, tranquil with only the backdrop of an almost noiseless small town.

My childhood invited, encouraged, made space for this. To stop ‘constructive’ living, and do nothing but be present to, listen to ‘silence-filled’ moments.

Adulthood, on the other hand, seemed to frown upon this. It prided productive, profitable, accomplishing, which frankly I took to just fine as my natural style is more active, a  completed ‘to do’ list , and usually thinking of what else needs to be done. As I strove to make a life, it was fairly easy for me to loose sight of my childhood practice of hearing the inner music of my heartbeat, my breath, my sighs, of listening to  birds, the rustling of the wind, or soundless clouds.

It became apparent, however,  that a ramped up externally stimulated busy life fueled by stimulants was not serving me well. I felt hollow inside. Now don’t get me wrong, I had many rich opportunities, and significant  achievements. But without nourishment of my soul, I felt internal hunger.

In our revved up world, where everyday life is invaded by technology, I believe it is imperative that I defend my need for peace and quiet. In a time where I fear we have mistaken outer stimulation for spiritual intensity, I stand firm for silence. When I look around and see so many feeling so spent I, like my mother  think, ‘lets all go outside and get some peace and quiet’.

For it is in the pause, the deep breath, a moment of letting go, of doing nothing ’productive’ that I shift to a deeper inner reality which I believe is the source of inspiration, solutions, self awareness, fulfillment, and tranquility.

Thus daily, I stop. Stop everything I am doing, engaged with, and deliberately, consciously assume a quiet, receptive, listening state with no agenda, no music, no cell phone, no external connections. It is a practice, a commitment, a kind of naked vulnerability, which nourishes my soul with the food that feeds it: silence. The nourishment that grows me, and helps me digest the experience of life.

Ironically, I find a brief hush actually often allows me to work smarter, not harder, for I will find a new idea, an inspiration, a creative twist for how to do something better when I let it go, even for a few moments, or I take a step back from it all.

In the quiet, sometimes I encounter my mind sifting through my problems, and struggles. If so, I naturally allow myself to turn them in the direction of God.  In the comfort and presence of Spirit I seek guidance. In this silence, which allows the larger Reality to enter into my awareness, I allow myself to receive instruction.  The silence helps me to bring myself into contact with a world beyond me.

I believe in silence. Like air, water, and food, I believe it is a basic human need.  For me, I believe the way out of the stresses, strains, and struggles of these times is quiet.

Colleen Natalie Lees
Guest Blogger