Friday, March 24, 2017

Inclusion




Last Sunday as I sat listening to the bell choir play the prelude at church, I recognized the melody in a medley they were ringing. It was the hymn "Be Still My Soul." I was moved by the music. I realized I was moved because my soul was troubled. It wasn't still. I wasn't at peace.

The soul disturbance continued through the greetings, the singing, the Scripture readings, the children's time. It wasn't till the congregational prayer when I approached the lectern that I realized I had to confess my soul sickness. Before I could pray for others I had to unburden myself.

So I told the congregation how I had heard and then read the news from Kansas City. How a man had shot and killed a man of Indian descent, shot his friend, also an Indian national working in this country, and then shot a bystander who decided to intervene. He yelled at the men from India, "Get out of my country."

India is my second home. I've been in India a total of a dozen times over the last 39 years. I've never been threatened nor felt threatened while there, among the very wealthy or the poorest of the poor. 

The first person who contacted me after 9/11 was a friend from India. He assured me it was an attack not just on the U.S. but on all humanity, including him and his country.

I informed the congregation that Sunday evening was India Night at SDSU. It's a wonderful occasion when the community joins with students from India for a night of food, dance and culture. It's an occasion my wife and I look forward to every year. 

But how was I to face friends and neighbors from India that evening? Another terrorist had done his damage, spreading fear and hatred, simply based on a person's appearance or seeming national or religious origin? 

My heart was heavy Sunday morning and it only got heavier as other news surfaced.

As I wondered how we could assure guests or even citizens in this country of their safety, when every unstable and troubled person carries a gun, I received an unwanted response. As he prepared to lament the killing in Kansas City in the State of the Union address, the President, without any fanfare, chose to repeal a regulation that put the mentally ill in a background check database. It's estimated that will allow 75,000 people with a history of mental illness easier access to weapons.

Also troubling was the response of the grief stricken parents of the dead Srinivas Kuchibhotla. They encouraged parents in India to send their young adults to university in Europe or Australia, not to the United States. For them, there was no longer any assurance they would be safe here. Would there even be an India night in the future?

Then I spoke with my brother and sister-in-law. They were with her family in Chile for the holidays. She shared how she spent 45 minutes in a TSA holding room on their return to the states. No reason was given. There was no explanation for a U.S. citizen who has lived here for 40 years. There was no notification to my brother waiting patiently at the baggage carousel (no cell phones allowed in the holding room).

Then came Tuesday night. The Brookings Human Rights Commission introduced a Resolution of Inclusion to the City Council for their consideration and action. It affirmed our place as an inclusive city that treats all people with dignity and respect. The resolution  celebrated our diversity and reaffirmed our commitment to equality of opportunity and justice for all. It confirmed our intolerance of discrimination and hate or bias motivated activities.

Several persons spoke in favor of the resolution. They represented school teachers, ministers, SDSU, the Inter-Faith Council, the larger community. When those who supported the resolution were asked to rise, the council chambers were filled with those standing.


Speaking to the issue, the Councilors one by one affirmed the resolution. One Councilor summed it up saying she believed in the Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The role was called. By a unanimous vote of 7 to 0 the resolution was passed. 

We applauded! But we were also reminded that the Council is only seven people. It's up to all of us to put flesh on the bones, at the grocery store, on main street, in school, at church and with our other elected officials.

Thank you Brookings! Now my heart is not so heavy. I know that at least in this small community in the heartland, there is still a special welcome for the neighbor. May it always be so.


Carl Kline   March 24, 2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Friday  March 17, 2017

"Suffer the little children..."
Tomorrow morning,  my husband and I will  board the ferry to leave the island with 14 kids and 2 faculty members from our local high school.  By boat and bus and train we will make our way to Manhattan to participate in a Model UN conference.  Several thousand high school kids from various points on the planet will gather to learn in a simulated UN experience  - participating on committees, hearing position papers, drafting resolutions, making judicial decisions - - working together across language and cultural barriers to create solutions to real world problems.  Immigration issues will be among the topics they will work on.
            Meanwhile, this morning's paper editorializes on the effort to “devise new forms of bureaucratic cruelty for immigrants. The latest policy proposal from the Department of Homeland Security would separate children from their parents at the Mexico-US border if they’re caught trying to enter the country illegally.”  (Boston Globe  “Border policy on kids harsh and ineffective” Tuesday March 14, 2017 p. A8).

            All too often, the morning news represents an  “Alice down the rabbit hole” kind of irrationality.  I have to shake my head in an effort to make sense of what I have just read.  Is this for real? I come from a Christian and Jewish background spiritually.  The revered texts of both traditions hold children as a sacred trust from the Holy One.  Hebrew texts admonish adults to teach the sacred law to their children - - and hold adherence to the law as the way to life.  Recognizing that this is always a choice, the texts also exhort the people to “choose life so that you and your children may live.”
            There is a  scenario in the Christian texts where some of Jesus’ own disciples try to keep children away from Jesus.  His stern rebuke rings in their ears: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”  Even more pointed, Jesus teaches “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones......it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the sea.”   The  “little ones” - - young children - - perhaps just “innocent ones” - - perhaps any child or youth or adult who is defenseless against the power wielded against them.
            Even as this country continues to wrestle with what “family” means there are still some norms that remain in our collective consciousness.  One of them is the notion of the value of the family as a social construct that promotes the safety and well being of children.  Stable families tend to give children a stronger start in life.  And yet, there are policies in the making that would destabilize and destroy immigrant families.
            Currently, mothers with children who are caught at the southern border trying to enter this country, seeking asylum, are processed and released together.  The law states that minors cannot be held in detention.  The proposed new policy would separate mothers from their children.  Mothers would be sent to an adult detention center under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security to be processed while their children would be taken into custody by the Office of Refugee Settlement under the Department of Health and Human Services.  (Boston Globe Editorial March 14, 2017 p. A8).

           It is hard to imagine the pain and terror inflicted on families already suffering under the constant threat of violence - so much so that they choose to leave their homes to flee elsewhere. They come seeking safety only to discover that the nightmare continues when they reach the long sought border of the “land of the free” to be separated from one another and virtually imprisoned while strangers with power determine their fate.
            Perhaps Jesus’ words for this age might be  “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name is responsible for seeing to it that the child is safe in the arms of his/her parents and that the parents are welcome too.”  Perhaps he would say   “Get your act together and work this out in the most loving and compassionate way.”  And, of course, he might reiterate: “Whoever welcomes one of these little ones welcomes me.”
            The threat of the “millstone around the neck” was never literal - - but the weight of the  cruelty to children inherent in the proposed DHS policy ought to feel just that heavy on the neck of the powers that be.  Perhaps it might weigh heavily enough to warrant reconsideration;  perhaps heavily enough to warrant a turn in the direction of hospitality and compassion as attributes to be utilized when considering the fate of so many suffering members of the human family.
            Tomorrow we will begin a 4 day journey with 14 teenagers - children on their way to becoming adults.  We will witness them participating in a process that teaches their minds how to cooperate with others to solve problems.   We will watch as their budding consciousness is stimulated and shaped by their experience of seeing life from the perspective of their peers from around the world.   We will also learn more about how we need to protect and nurture the precious resource that the children of the world represent for the future of humanity.   For after all - we have it on great authority that  they are considered the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and that it is indeed to such as these that the reign of peace belongs.   The sacred texts do not discriminate across social and political boundaries.   They simply tell us that we must not fail the little ones entrusted to us.

Vicky Hanjian  March 17, 2017




Friday, March 10, 2017

It's Time To Reclaim Our Highest Vision: Let's Embrace The Great Turning

      Across the nation, activists, organizers and newly enlivened social change onlookers are hungry for a shared, coherent sense of direction. George Lakey's recent 10-point strategy for nonviolent resistance to the new Trump administration offers an excellent beginning to an absolutely critical conversation about comprehensive movement strategy.

But our many social change movements, which together have begun to comprise the macro "movement of movements" Lakey describes, may have a short window of time to get our strategic ducks in a row. The new administration has demonstrated a determined will to consolidate power, and to do so quickly. Fascistic executive orders; the systematic de-legitimization of existing institutions, checks and balances; unfettered propaganda; and the normalization of bombastic and hateful rhetoric are stark early-warning signs of totalitarian takeover. In this setting, as Lakey argues, the new administration is relying on social change-makers to stay in their customary mode of "playing defense." We're called to be culture-shifting movement builders, but by setting enough fires in enough places, Trump, Bannon and Co. seek to render us firefighters.
      In the face of the new administration's systematic dehumanization, the strength and clarity of purpose needed in order to break free of our defensive posture is going to require us to very thoughtfully and intentionally knit our movements together. This doesn't mean that our emerging movement of movements needs to become a centralized, top-heavy institution. On the contrary, decentralized models of organizing are wholly appropriate right now, and fully in step with the times. But, to move in decentralized concert -- the paradoxical holy grail for movement-makers today -- we need to set our sights on a shared and deeply inspiring beacon.

     Visionaries Joanna Macy and David Korten have popularized the phrase "the Great Turning" as a way to name our collective and diverse efforts to transition from our exploitative and destructive industrial growth society to a truly just and life-sustaining society, a shift that they and a growing number of change-makers believe represents a new and pivotal epoch in our human evolution.
     The Great Turning is all-encompassing, giving answer to the great array of our current social and ecological concerns -- from racial justice to indigenous sovereignty, from economic imperialism to murderous drones, from factory farming to fracking, and far beyond. And, by definition, the Great Turning is inclusive of three mutually supportive modes of action: bold nonviolent resistance to the systems and forces of empire, the constructive building up of the alternative society in which we long to live, and a depth of self-transformation, individual by individual, that will enable a critical mass of us to break free of our personal collaboration and collusion with the status quo of the Domination System (a system of which we are a part, if only unwittingly).
     The Great Turning does a magnificent job of meeting our movement of movement's current need for an overarching visional statement, and I encourage us to claim and celebrate it as the spacious, yet exacting umbrella under which our vast constellation of social struggles can now locate themselves.
Some will argue that language such as this, and the high ideal to which it points, is unrealistic, and that the emerging movement of movements should set its sights on lower hanging fruit. This, I argue, would be a potentially fatal mistake. In the face of our existential climate crisis, what has passed as political pragmatism up until now has most definitely become impractical. A great many of our most powerful thought leaders have been going to great lengths to explain this to us in recent years -- perhaps none more persuasively than Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein.
     Movement builders of many stripes have begun to discern the sturdy movement footpath that Alexander and Klein have constructed for us. Alexander's The New Jim Crow, released in 2010, did far more than expose the treacheries of the US system of mass incarceration. The book presented a crushing critique of gradualism and of social change advocates' loyalty to it. The gist of Alexander's argument is that piecemeal policy reform is simply not going to cut it in our age of cultural collapse. What's needed, she says, is a shift in public consciousness that will give rise to a massive social movement with the courage and power to fully transform our economic and political systems.
Four years later, in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein followed and expanded on this thesis in a most powerful and instructive way.
     While harmonizing with Alexander's insights about the paralyzing limits of superficial reform, Klein couldn't help but notice, point to and name the elephant standing in the middle of the room: capitalism. Through her monumental and terrifying exploration of the climate crisis, Klein could not escape the conclusion that our society's allegiance and addiction to winner/loser capitalism -- a system that requires by default the two-fold plunder of the earth and poor people -- must be renounced and abandoned, personally and collectively, if we want to see our way to a livable future.
     The Great Turning -- the epochal shift from our extraction-based, plunder-ridden industrial-growth society to a truly just and life-sustaining society -- is the natural, inevitable and majestic movement goal to which such prophetic thought leaders are pointing. It's time to rally to this call and to let it serve as the foundation for our emerging strategy for national transformation.

Chris Moore Backman   March 10, 2017
Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission

Chris Moore-Backman is author of The Gandhian Iceberg: A Nonviolence Manifesto for the Age of the Great Turning and producer of Bringing Down the New Jim Crow, a radio documentary series examining the movement to end the US system of mass incarceration.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Decision Making

     Some years ago I worked closely with an international peace organization that has now been in existence for 35 years. We have always been organized into country groups with active support networks in at least a dozen nations. These country groups recruit, train and support volunteers for the projects. 
     We have supported projects in several countries around the globe where we were invited to offer protection for human rights defenders, who often put their lives on the line defending human rights in dictatorial and repressive regimes. Projects have taken place in El Salvador, Nepal, Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico, N. America, Haiti and Kenya, to name a few.
     The first project was in Central America, where mothers of disappeared husbands and sons were politically active. The mothers were seeking knowledge of their loved ones, oftentimes with gatherings in public places with signs and speeches. The mothers were being targeted by repressive forces, in many cases the same ones that had disappeared their family members. Because of their activity, some of the mothers and their remaining family members were receiving death threats.
     Peace Brigades International (PBI) was asked to send volunteers to accompany the mothers and their families with unarmed peacekeepers, drawn from the different PBI country groups. These volunteers are people trained in nonviolence and the culture and language of the people requesting them. They give six months or longer of their lives in virtual war zones to accompany these brave defenders, who are risking all for basic human rights. The work day of a PBI volunteer might mean observing at a parade. Or it might mean walking a child to school in the morning and sitting outside the school all day, making sure the child is not kidnapped.
     Non- partisan in approach and visually identifiable by their clothing, these PBI volunteers speak with all the different parties to each conflict upon arrival. Their mission is to simply accompany human rights defenders. Testimony about the effectiveness of this accompaniment has been consistently positive, with gratitude expressed by human rights defenders in all of the countries where projects have taken place. 
     PBI is governed by an International Council. Attending one of the annual meetings in Switzerland, I was introduced to how decision making is supposed to work. PBI from the beginning has been committed to consensus decision making. Everyone has to agree before a decision can be implemented. You can abstain, but one person can also block the decision of the whole group.
     At this International Council meeting, we were some sixty persons, from all the various countries and projects, using three languages. Some of the decisions to be made had people lined up on opposite sides. Disagreement was heated. Feelings were intense. Individuals were adamant. Consensus seemed impossible, especially in three days. But without decisions the organization would be left it limbo.
     Experienced facilitators were appointed. Intense meetings with the most invested persons followed, often late into the night. By the end of the gathering we had made our decisions as an organization by consensus. No one's opinion was ignored. No one abstained or blocked. Everyone prepared to move the organization ahead as one body.
     Afterward, I wished our Congress could witness what happened. Democrat and Republican principles are no more polar opposites than opinions in that PBI gathering. Yet, for some reason, our government has descended into a wrestling match with no end in sight. Could it be that the primary commitment in Congress is not to democracy? Could it be that the primary commitment in Congress is to "my way or the highway?" Why can't we seem to elect our representatives based on their willingness to work with others to move us forward together?
     Now we are faced in this country with the most politically and racially divided nation we have seen in my lifetime. Even the sixties, an era of the civil rights struggle and an unpopular war in Vietnam, didn't have the explosive potential of our present historical moment. Thousands have been marching for Immigrants, for Muslims, for Refugees, for Black Lives Matter, for Standing Rock and No DAPL. And we will soon see millions of women striking on International Womens Day and perhaps a million more gathering in Washington, D.C. for the climate in April.
     In the meantime, we have a President who doesn't seem to understand what all the fuss is about. He thinks he is  just following up on his campaign promises. He seems oblivious to the fact that he was elected by one quarter of the electorate after a divisive, sometimes hateful campaign. He seems puzzled he should have to move the country forward with communication, consultation and some kind of consensus.
     In a country this large and diverse, consensus won't always happen. But if our ultimate commitment is to the democratic process, we have to try. Can you hear Senators, Congresswomen? Can you hear SD State Legislature? Can you hear Mr. President? Could you try?

Carl Kline