Should President Obama Apologize for Hiroshima?

 

What difference would it make if President Obama did take time during his official visit to Hiroshima to apologize for the atomic bombs? Who would the President be speaking for? After-all, the overwhelming majority of soldiers who fought in WWII have not offered an apology nor do they want someone else to offer one for them. Whatever we can say about the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons on a human population, the weapons were used in the context of relentless war and unconditional ferocity. It was a time of kill or be killed.

Not to mention, the Japanese had struck first at Pearl Harbor. Whether Roosevelt and Churchill had advanced warning is irrelevant. It was the Japanese who seized the opportunity to devastate our naval fleet and murder hundreds of our servicemen for no justified reason whatsoever. Pearl Harbor- with or without Roosevelt’s collusion- was a watershed moment that transformed the Japanese people into barbarians in the eyes of most Americans. The bomb was used to pulverize an imperial empire which was hellbent on causing as many Pearl Harbors as it could get away with. Furthermore, we know that Truman went to great lengths to prevent civilian casualties. He picked Hiroshima and Nagasaki because they were industrial centers where the Japanese war effort was being catalyzed. When the decision was made to deploy the bombs, every few minutes an American soldier was being killed on a battlefield somewhere in the Pacific. Again, the Bomb was dropped in the context of total war. There were no good decisions. Every decision would result in the terrible loss of civilian and non-civilian life. The only decision which seemed to be moral was the one which had the potential to bring this ghastly war to an end. Were the Japanese people treated as a means to this ends? Of course they were. They were seen as victims of a tragic set of circumstances which could not be avoided without making them victims in some other way. Is it worse to be incinerated or stabbed to death? Is it worse to be burned alive or to be tortured to death? Would we choose to die from atomic radiation or mustard gas poisoning? 

Letting these questions marinate in their own filth, let’s ask a different set of questions. What would an apology by the President mean? Who is he speaking for when he apologizes for the decisions of former military commanders and politicians? What goals would he be trying to achieve by making this public statement of national contrition? Would it be a pure apology or would it be an apology in the philosophic sense of the word only-namely, a defense of American principles and inherent goodness? Would the President be using the apology to speak with more conviction and authenticity when it comes to curbing nuclear proliferation, which has been a signature effort of his administration? By apologizing for dropping the bombs would he be claiming for the U.S. a certain nobility that other nations are incapable of exhibiting with such dignified transparency? The line of thinking goes something like this: since we are the only nation to have used atomic bombs, we know the weight which this decision carries. Our role as leaders of the free world is to use our knowledge and experience to help eliminate such weapons of mass destruction and political tyranny.

But is this a genuine apology? Can we truly say sorry when we are trying to pursue an ulterior motive? Granted, saying sorry in order to take moral responsibility for the presence and potential use of nuclear weapons is not a bad thing. However, it does in some way distort the genuineness behind the apology. A true apology always refers to the needs and requirements of the victim first. The question should not be what can I get out of offering this apology, but what do you need from me in order to make this apology real? In other words, how can I express my condolences in a way that is not contaminated with personal agendas or national security interests? As a nation with  a rich and complex social and political history, what is it that you need from us in order to honor your worth and to make amends for the ways we contributed to your ultimate period of terror? Regardless of how the war started and what happened leading up to the horror of Hiroshima, what can we do now to make you feel like your pain and suffering is not only recognized but realized?

What is most important to understand is that how this pain is  realized is dependent on the needs of the Japanese people rather than the goals of American leaders. How do the Japanese want Americans to empathize with this unfathomable disaster? That is the main question which must be asked before any apology is issued on behalf of the American people. We need to ask permission to apologize and then be ready to listen to what that apology entails. To just say that you are sorry without wanting to hear how the apology lives in the hearts and minds of your victims is to commit yet another act of violence against them. Far too often our words become types of weapons used to say one thing and imply another. Even when it appears on the outside that a great act of reconciliation has occurred, it is within the implications where most of the psychological violence is committed.

An apology is not a string of syllables but an expression of sincerity.Yet to merely express sincerity is not good enough. If President Obama is speaking from the heart, he does not even need to speak at all. The way that he acknowledges the suffering of war victims in the past, present and future is something that happens without words. The way he thinks is more important than the words he uses to justify the way he thinks. When the President thinks about war differently his actions will reflect his most sincere beliefs. If the President truly was sorry for the bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki he would also be truly sorry for the hell fire missiles being fired into Aleppo. If he was truly sorry for the atomic bombs, then he would be truly sorry for using newer more sophisticated bombs today. What difference does it make to a civilian whether they were evaporated by the blast of a hydrogen bomb or ripped into shreds by the  earth shattering force of a cluster bomb? The result is exactly the same.

The only real apology that matters has nothing to do with geopolitical summits, historical pronouncements, or grand symbolic gestures meant to solidify powerful democracies. The real apology will come when Mr. Obama says I am sorry for war and I will study it no more. As absurd and unrealistic as that sounds in our hyper-militarized culture, it’s the only real apology that deserves the name. It is also the only apology that will make future apologies unnecessary.

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Rethreading the Web: Catherine Keller and the Theology of Entangled Difference: A Report from the Hickey Center’s Annual Sacred Texts and Human Contexts Conference at Nazareth College

On a picture perfect day on Nazareth College’s picture perfect campus, nearly 100 scholars and community members came together to commence a three day conference on the intersection between religious texts and environmental issues. During the dinner portion, keynote speaker and brilliant constructive theologian Catherine Keller, explored the concept of exceptionalism from a synoptic viewpoint which included political analysis, linguistic deconstruction, metaphysical wonderment, eco-feminist critique, biological and physical evidence, theological creativity, and religious insight. To adequately summarize everything that Dr. Keller said in this brief reflection would be impossible. She is that type of original thinker who speaks faster and with more ingenuity than most people can possibly keep up with. In nearly every one of her sentences Keller reconstructs old paradigms while suggesting new approaches that would be career pursuits for other academicians. That said, without getting too involved in the specifics of her multi-textured and trans- disciplinary presentation, I want to simply outline what I took to be her three main points.

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Keller’s first point is that we all live in a universe which is entangled in vastly intricate differences. The ecology of creation ensures that there is tremendous complexity and difference infused throughout the Kindom of Being. Although these differences lead to conflicts, they also create possibilities for relational interactions which foster vital human experiences that we  all value. Without relational awareness of others and the world “out there,” there would be no spontaneous action, genuine inventiveness, non-simulated learning, sensations of adventure and surprise, cognitive reflection, ideas of personhood, and so much more.

Furthermore, what the universe provides is an inescapable emergence of new possibilities all of the time. The choice has always been to accept and acclimate to this reality or to resist and resent it. What we see happening when we resist and resent our intrinsic gift for mutual awareness and relational knowledge is what Keller refers to as a “broken web.” For instance, the persecution of animals is a unique reflection of people who have been dehumanized and persecuted themselves. The state of our environment in general is primarily a reflection of the state in which our minds produce ideas, images, and instructions that are systemically dysfunctional, historically traumatized and scientifically confused. Out of these mental productions come all of our models of self-hood, concepts of the other, and whatever name we give to God. Speaking with fierce candidness and immense probity, Keller contended that what is happening to our biosphere (and our sole home in the galaxy), is a by-product of a collective consciousness nearing the brink of unmitigated psychological turmoil. We are rapidly heading towards the cliff of species wide collapse.

The second point that I heard Dr. Keller make is that the political reality of our world is also a mirror reflection of our mental schema. The mind forms political needs and pursues individual desires which impact the social and physical environments in which one must express those needs and actualize those desires. In particular, Keller made one point that I found to be especially pungent. When we move away from the relational model of social cooperation towards the hyper-exceptional model of  Neo-Liberal Capitalism, we wind up with a lustful and prideful version of Christianity that openly endorses racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia and justified warfare. What we end up with is a polluted version of Christianity which has propelled Donald Trump to his current position of influence and power over the Republican party.

According to Keller, both Christian exceptionalism in particular and human exceptionalism in general are by-products of a mindset which is essentially blind to the spiritual and biological processes of Life itself.  Folded together we are a complicated, resilient, diverse, inter-creaturely unified organism which sustains itself and thrives on beautifully unpredictable moments of solidarity, prayer and love. Separate from this enfolded community we are lowly castaways in a long, slow catastrophe of personal, interpersonal and environmental alienation.

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The third and final point I heard Keller make is perhaps less ontological and abstract. There is an inescapable emergency happening in the world. We all sense it. The changing seasons, rising oceans,  drought stricken farms, over fished lakes and rivers, and  clear cut forests are no longer possible to merely write off as necessary evils of industry and progress. There is a worldwide species depletion that has not happened on this scale in millions of years. We are in crisis.

In response to this crisis, Keller asks a simple yet profound question: What can emerge out of this emergency? How can we activate the deep earthiness of religious conviction to summon that voice of prophecy and apocalyptic power that is so desperately needed today? As Keller astutely reminded her audience, the Book of Revelation is not a prediction of God’s moral wrath on a sinful humankind but a political and ecological manifesto written by a rebellious and loving resistance movement-one clamoring for the people to wake up and take back their rightful place as stewards of God’s creation.

The time has come for people of conscience to rally together in a unified, interrelated, synthesized effort that goes far beyond theological discourse and religious studies. As conference organizer and interfaith visionary Dr. Muhammad Shafiq said in his opening remarks, “there is a new civil rights movement that is moving towards the hopeful action of Interfaith collaboration.” However, in order to move in this direction we must condemn the untruth that we are sovereign beings who can control and violate other beings without consequence. We must condemn the untruth that we are somehow exceptional incarnations who have no planetary responsibilities other than to consume and be happy. And we must condemn the untruth that we are separate from creation, distant from God, and even divided from ourselves. In order for our human differences to be entangled in the right way, it means that we must become cosmically attuned to the complex, ever changing, ever enfolding, terribly beautiful web of all existence.

IMG_20160204_120223101As Keller explained it in terms of metaphysics, the gap between God and humans is nonexistent. Either there is no God or God is everything. There is no real distinction between God and what God creates or experiences. In Keller’s words, “God has no circumference.” Since the gap between us and God is nonexistent, we can infer that the gap between humankind and nature is also nonexistent. As we know humanness can not be conceived without the categories of perception we call time and space. Nor can one picture a human without air, water, nourishment, the laws of physics, or the most primal forms of social communication. This sovereign, non-dependent, non-relational, totally separate being does not exist. 

This urgent insight punctuates the essential question that Keller came back to at the end of her probing address. How do we hope for a better planetary future?

We begin by hoping in hope. In other words, we begin by believing in our own goodness and  trusting in our own inherent worth. From this plane of self acceptance we can look out beyond the horizon of our own ego and see how everything is good. This is one way to interpret the creation narrative in Genesis. Everything that God made is good. The complete and total democratization of God’s creatures lies within the elemental veracity that all is good. As Keller concluded, “the unity of peace that is the ecology of spirit” can only happen once we accept our innate goodness and then see how this goodness reflects the goodness of creation.

 

Panentheism.

 

With or Without White People, Black Lives Matter

*This article was first published by Counterpunch Magazine

 

Here are the brute facts:

* The African American male lives 5 years less than the average white American male.

* 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.

* Unarmed black people were killed at 6x the rate of unarmed whites in 2015.

* For every level of educational attainment, black Americans have unemployment rates that are similar to or higher than those of less educated white Americans.

What do these facts mean? Do they mean what they say or do they mean something else? Is an African American male’s life really 5 years less deserving than a white American male? Is there something about the color of one’s skin that signifies that they are less deserving of freedom or a good paying job? Are black people 6x more worthy of death for committing crimes than whites?

According to Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza, these numbers reflect the reality of life for most black people living in America today. “When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. It is acknowledgement that Black poverty and genocide is state violence. It is an acknowledgement that 1 million Black people are locked in cages in this country-one half of all people in prisons or jails-is an act of state violence. It is an acknowledgement that Black women continue to bear the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families and that assault is an act of state violence.”

As I see it, to believe that skin color has anything to do with someone’s inherent right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is not only spiritually depraved but fundamentally unconstitutional. White people (men especially) need to step up and acknowledge that these “statistics” have names. In many instances they have the names of innocent children. They need to acknowledge that “Black Lives Matter” is not just a rallying cry for a new civil rights movement, it is a mantra for the growth of a new consciousness which makes social justice a global movement in the hearts and minds of whites and blacks alike.

With that said, replacing the words “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter” misses the point entirely. Sadly, white people have a long and undistinguished history of stealing from African American culture. From the Delta Blues to Hip Hop and from Cajun cooking to urban fashion, it is evident that many African American cultural traditions have been co-opted by whites for personal entertainment, commercial enterprise, and religious euphoria. Cecil Emeke once said, “Generally speaking, I think we live in a world that enjoys black culture and dislikes black people.”  What if America did love black people as much as black culture? How would we know?

To take the words “Black Lives Matter” and replace them with “All Lives Matter” is to participate in a terrible history of cultural theft which has its most evil apparition in the industrialized slavery of the 19th century.  Likewise, to erase the words from Facebook posts, op-eds, and office whiteboards today (like the infamous case at Facebook’s headquarters) is to physically and symbolically say to a person of color, “you don’t matter.”  What you just said does not matter. Your self expression does not matter. The pain and suffering behind those  “statistics” does not matter. It is a subtle yet pernicious form of white supremacy that ultimately leads- left if unchecked- to the worst displays of hateful intolerance.

I often wonder what it will take to get white people to understand that the words “Black Lives Matter” in no way implies that white lives matter less. If I may speak out of place, I think the term was coined to show that just acknowledging one’s presence is a major part of the healing and progress needed to address centuries of denigration, abuse and enslavement. The words “Black Lives Matter” means see us. Don’t try to silence our voices or erase our feelings. We matter with or without you. See us for who we are.  Garza says that “to take blackness out of the equation is simply inappropriate.” Even President Obama, who has been a Conservative on race issues, remarked in a speech, “there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities.”

The President is right: it’s called getting 5 years of your life ripped off just because you got the painted ping pong ball. It’s called getting locked up at a rate that quadruples other races because the system likes black bodies better than white ones. It’s called dying unarmed in the scope of a police officer’s rifle because they have an unwritten license to shoot first and ask questions later. It’s called injustice.

In the end, why does anyone need permission to chant a phrase? What is truly behind the need to change these words into something they are not? Why can’t someone say what they want to say, especially if they are not engaging in violent hate speech or treasonous discourse? Why can’t “Black Lives Matter” be accepted as a form of constructive self empowerment, civil political action, and creative social purpose? Why does it have to be a threat or an insult to whites?

These are the questions that I continue to wrestle with as a white American male living in the illusion of a post-racial democracy. I must admit that I do not have many answers. But I do know that we need to have this conversation out in the open. Only then can we come to the realization as a human community that what matters more than color is communication.

George Payne is Director of Gandhi Earth Keepers International and Philosophy Instructor at Finger Lakes Community College.

On Not Getting the Job: A Reflection on Freedom and Failure

Today I fumbled a second round job interview which could have positioned me to do something that I am madly passionate about for the rest of my professional life. With a few gaffes in the opening moments the whole shebang was practically over before I  knew it. On the way out of the room one of the search committee members told me that I had recovered nicely, but I knew that the stakes were too high for any failure. I was right.

Driving home it dawned on me just how devastating my performance had been in terms of sheer economic loss alone. For example, if I were to  quantify the amount of cash that I lost per bungled syllable, I would estimate that the brief 45 second exchange cost around $50,000 in salary next year, and roughly a million dollars over the span of a hypothetically tenured career (and that’s not even factoring into the equation all of the health benefits). Compared with the $2,500 (per course) that I currently receive as a visiting adjunct, the gross earnings squandered in that brief moment of opportunity makes my stomach churn like a damp sweatshirt caught in the spokes of a roaring Harley.

To be honest, during this period of infantile retrospection, I wanted to blame everything and everyone other than myself.  I thought about the questions that I should have been asked. I wondered about the time I should have been given to explain myself. How couldn’t they understand that I am the one who deserves this job? 

As this energy faded into impotent frustration, I had to turn my attention to more cosmic suspects. I began to think about how this personal disappointment must be God’s plan. Why else would I drop the ball at the touchdown line? It must be God’s will that I failed. Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to think?  Isn’t this what having faith is all about? 

Not surprisingly, this line of discourse also left me feeling confused and helpless. So next I turned my protest to Fate. That’s it. The stars were not aligned right. Why else was the interview conducted at 2:00 pm instead of 5:00 pm, like last time? Why was it held in a room that felt too bright and businesslike?  Why could this not be more like last time?

 After playing this blame game for a few more hours, I decided to act like a rational being with agency. In that moment of decision I remembered a wonderful teaching which first came to me in the form of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and the philosophical school of Stoicism. It states that to take responsibility for your successes only is a cheap and pathetic type of moral determinism. In that clear moment of realization it occurred to me that I could not continue to function while immersed in such a toxic methane like atmosphere of blame and cowardice.  In that moment of clarity I saw how I was literally gasping for the pure oxygen of genuine freedom.

I failed.

It was not the search committee who stopped me from succeeding.  It was not the time of day which held me back. It was not the decorations on the walls which distracted me from rising to the occasion.  It was not the constellations above nor Lucifer’s minions below. It certainly was not God.

I failed.

I am free because I am responsible to accept my failure as my own possession. I can hold onto it or let go of it. However, I am only free to accept my failure as a controllable possession when I do not hold accountable other people, powers, principalities, and probabilities for what happens to my life. That is the great trade off we make for freedom. We are actually free to be responsible (able to respond) for ourselves.

That being said, perhaps one of life’s cruelest yet most important ironies is that we can take very little credit for our birth, education, and fortunes in the world, but must accept our mistake alone.

 

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Trade and Keep It In the Ground Letter

Re: Pending Trade Deals Threaten Efforts to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground

Dear Member of Congress,

To protect our communities and avoid disastrous levels of climate change, the U.S. must boldly act to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Recent decisions – such as protecting the Atlantic coast from offshore drilling, enacting a moratorium on new coal leasing on U.S. public lands, banning fracking in New York, and rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline – have made progress toward this critical end. Such fossil fuel restrictions must be expanded to adequately safeguard our communities and climate.

However, two pending trade deals pose major barriers to this climate imperative. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), as proposed, would empower an unprecedented number of fossil fuel corporations, including some of the world’s largest polluters, to challenge U.S. policies in tribunals not accountable to any domestic legal system. There, the firms could use the trade pacts’ broad foreign investor rights to demand compensation for U.S. fossil fuel restrictions. These “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) cases would be decided not by judges, but by lawyers who typically represent corporations.

We strongly urge you to eliminate this threat to U.S. climate progress by committing to vote no on the TPP and asking the U.S. Trade Representative to remove from TTIP any provision that empowers corporations to challenge government policies in extrajudicial tribunals.

In January, TransCanada – the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline – illustrated that the climate threats posed by such trade deals are real. The company announced it would use the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to ask a private tribunal of three lawyers to order the U.S. government to pay more than $15 billion – more than $100 from every individual U.S. tax return – as “compensation” because President Obama rejected a pipeline that threatened oil spills and increased climate disruption.

But the TPP and TTIP would more than double the number of fossil fuel corporations that could follow TransCanada’s example and challenge U.S. policies in private tribunals. Indeed, the pacts would be the first to allow the world’s largest polluters – including all of the eight largest private greenhouse gas emitters outside of the U.S. – to wield this tool against U.S. climate policies. The fossil fuel firms that would gain this right are currently fracking on our public lands, drilling for oil off our shores, building liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals on our coasts, running refineries in our cities, and operating fossil fuel pipelines and trains in nearly every region of the country. No previous trade deal has given such broad rights to corporations with such broad interests in maintaining U.S. fossil fuel dependency.

Fossil fuel corporations are increasingly using ISDS under existing trade and investment pacts, contributing to a recent surge in cases. In fact, half of the new ISDS cases launched in 2014 targeted policies affecting oil or gas extraction, mining, or power generation. Law firms specializing in ISDS are now explicitly advising corporations, including fossil fuel firms, to see ISDS as a “tool to assist lobbying efforts to prevent” unwanted policies, as threats of costly ISDS cases can chill policy proposals.

By empowering many more firms to launch ISDS cases against the U.S., the TPP and TTIP would pose a major threat to efforts across the country to restrict fossil fuel activities, including these:
• Fracking: The TPP and TTIP would undermine efforts in various states to restrict the dangerous practice of fracking by granting ISDS rights to more foreign fracking firms than all 56 existing U.S. trade and investment pacts combined. The threat is real – a gas corporation named Lone Pine Resources is currently using NAFTA’s nearly identical foreign investor rights to ask an ISDS tribunal to order compensation from Canada for a fracking moratorium in Quebec.
• Offshore drilling: The TPP and TTIP would empower oil and gas corporations with more than 10 million acres’ worth of U.S. offshore drilling leases – one out of every three leased acres – to use ISDS threats to resist offshore drilling restrictions, posing a threat to coastal communities and the climate. That is 24 times more area than that leased to firms with existing ISDS rights.
• Oil and gas extraction on public lands: The TPP and TTIP would allow corporations with leases for oil and gas drilling on over 720,000 acres of U.S. public lands to launch ISDS cases against U.S. federal leasing restrictions, undercutting our ability to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
• Fossil fuel pipelines: The TPP and TTIP would enable corporations that own tens of thousands of miles’ worth of fossil fuel pipelines in at least 29 states to go to private tribunals and, like TransCanada, demand billions of dollars for delays or denials of dangerous pipelines.

The TPP and TTIP’s unprecedented expansion of U.S. ISDS liability would similarly threaten efforts to protect communities from fossil fuel trains, LNG terminals, refineries, and other fossil fuel hazards.

Much of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves are on or adjacent to Indigenous lands and territories. Unfortunately, the nation-states engaged in the TPP and TTIP agreements have not strongly defended Indigenous land rights and Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent. Ultimately, such trade deals grant more rights to transnational corporations, often at the expense of Indigenous rights, undermining special protections of Indigenous lands and cultural resources. For Indigenous peoples wanting a just economic transition away from oil and gas development, these deals pose severe risks to their sovereignty and ability to self-determine their futures as nations and tribal citizens concerned about the climate, health, and environmental impacts from fossil fuels.

We strongly urge you to stand up for healthy communities, clean air and water, Indigenous peoples, property rights, and a stable climate by committing to vote no on the TPP and asking the U.S. Trade Representative to remove from TTIP any provision that empowers corporations to challenge government policies in extrajudicial tribunals.
Sincerely,

350 Bay Area
350 Central Virginia
350 Colorado
350 Conejo / San Fernando Valley
350 DC
350 Eugene
350 Loudoun
350 Louisiana
350 Madison
350 Maine
350 Missoula
350 Plattsburgh
350 Santa Barbara
350 Santa Cruz
350.org
350Bellingham
350Brooklyn
350Kishwaukee
350Marin
350NYC
350PDX
350Seattle
A Glimpse of the Wild
Aaath Co.
Adirondacks NY Mothers Out Front for a Livable Climate
Advocates for Snake Preservation
AFRICAN YOUTH INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION
Alaska Applied Sciences, Inc.
Alaska Climate Action Network
Alaska Inter-Tribal Council
Allegheny Defense Project
Alliance for Democracy
Alliance for Democracy – Portland OR
Amazon Watch
Angelica Foundation
Animals Are Sentient Beings, Inc.
Arise for Social Justice
Arnold Piacentini, Pro Se
Asamblea de Gonzales
Asian Pacific Environmental Network
Athens County Fracking Action Network
Atlantic Energy Ltd
Barranquilla+20
Battle Creek Alliance
Be the Change
Berks Gas Truth
Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE)
Biofuelwatch
Black Oak Wind Farm, LLC
Bold Nebraska
bottomup economy
Breast Cancer Action
Breathe Easy Susquehanna County
Bus For Progress
Campaign for Renewable Energy
Carmelite NGO
Cascadia Wildlands
Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy
Catskill Mountainkeeper
Center for a Sustainable Coast
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Earth Ethics
Center For Food Safety
Center for International Environmental Law
Center for Media and Democracy/PRWatch
Center for Popular Democracy
Center for Sustinable Economy
Center of Concern
CEO Pipe Organs/Golden Ponds Farm
Chatham Research Group
Chicago 350.org
Chico Peace and Justice Center
Citizen Gas & Oil Advisory Lobby
Citizens Against Ruining the Environment
Citizens Climate Lobby
Citizens Coal Council
Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community
Citizens’ Environmental Coalition
Citizens for a Clean Harbor
Citizens for Global Solutions
Citizens for Sanity.Com, Inc.
Clean Air Watch
Clean Energy Action
Clean Water for North Carolina
Cleveland Environmental Action Network (CLEAN)
Climate 911
Climate Action Alliance of the Valley
Climate Action Now Western Mass
Climate First!
Climate Solutions
Coal River Mountain Watch
Coalitions of Mutual Endeavor
Columbia Divest for Climate Justice
Community Research
compressor and pipeline opposition in Windsor ma.
Conejos Clean Water
Conservation Congress
Cook Inletkeeper
Cooperation Jackson
CorpEthics
Corporate Accountability International
Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment
CT Progressives
Clean Up the River Environment (CURE)
Delaware Riverkeeper Network
Divestment Student Network
Don’t Waste Arizona
Dream of the Earth
Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition
Earth Care
Earth Care International
Earth Day Initiative
Earth Day Network
Earth Ethics, Inc.
Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light
Earthjustice
Earthworks
East Africa Climate Change Network
East Bay Community Solar Project
EcoEquity
Eco-Justice Collaborative
Ecology Party Florida
Eco-Poetry.org
Elders Climate Action
Endangered Habitats League
Endangered Species Act Coalition
Endangered Species Coalition
Energy Action Coalition
Energy and Policy Institute
Environment, Economics and Society Institute
Environmental Action
Environmental Justice Center at Chestnut Hill United Church
Environmental Justice League of RR
Environmental Youth Council St Augustine
EPIC- Environmental Protection Information Center
Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition
Fairmont, MN Peace Group
FLOW (For Love of Water)
Flush The TPP
FOGH (Friends of Grays Harbor)
Food & Water Watch
Food Democarcy Now!
Food Empowerment Project
Forest City 350
Fossil Free Northwestern
Fox Valley Citizens for Peace & Justice
Frack Free Colorado
FreshWater Accountability Project
Friends of Hudson
Friends of Merrymeeting Bay
Friends of the Bitterroot
Friends of the Earth – US
Fund for Democratic Communities
GAIA: Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives
GARDEN, Inc.
GARJAN-Nepal
Gas Free Seneca
Generación +1
Global Exchange
Good Business Association of Rochester
Grand Riverkeeper/LEAD Agency, Inc.
Grassroots Environmental Education
Grassroots Global Justice Alliance
Grays Harbor Audubon Society
Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit
Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Green America
Green Map System
Green Neighbors DC
Green Sanctuary Committee, CCNY, UU
Green Sanctuary Task Force of the UU Church of Bloomington, IN
Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice
Greenbelt Climate Action Network
Greenpeace USA
Guemes Island Environmental Trust
Gulf Restoration Network
Harford County Climate Action
HBERVISION.COM
Health Care Without Harm
Heartwood
Hilton Head for Peace
Holy Cross International Justice Office
Home
Honor the Earth
Idle no more SF Bay
Indigenous Environmental Network
Inspiration of Sedona
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program
Interfaith Moral Action on Climate
It’s Not Garbage Coalition
Kauaians for a Bright Energy Future
Kentucky Environmental Foundation
Kids Climate Action Network
Klamath Forest Allaince
Klamath Riverkeeper
KyotoUSA
Labor Network for Sustainability
League of United Latin American Citizens
Leave it in the Gound Initiative (LINGO)
Lehigh Valley Gas Truth
Liology Institute
Little Village Environmental Justice Organization
Long Branch Environmental Education Center
Los Alamos Study Group
Louisiana Environmental Action Network
Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper
Maine Fair Trade Campaign
Malaw National Youth Network on Climate Change
Mangrove Action Project
Mercy Ecology, Inc
Midwest Environmental Advocates
Milwaukee Riverkeeper
Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light
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With or Without White People, “Black Lives Matter”

Here are the brute facts:

  • The African American male lives 5 years less than the average white American male.
  • 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.
  • Unarmed black people were killed at 6x the rate of unarmed whites in 2015.
  • For every level of educational attainment, black Americans have unemployment rates that are similar to or higher than those of less educated white Americans.

According to Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza, this data reflects the reality of life for many black people living in America today. “When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. It is acknowledgement that Black poverty and genocide is state violence. It is an acknowledgement that 1 million Black people are locked in cages in this country-one half of all people in prisons or jails-is an act of state violence. It is an acknowledgement that Black women continue to bear the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families and that assault is an act of state violence.”

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As Garza makes clear, to believe that skin tone has anything to do with a person’s inherent right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is not only spiritually depraved and philosophically crooked, but it is also fundamentally unconstitutional. Furthermore, white people (men in particular) need to step up and acknowledge that “Black Lives Matter” is not just a rallying cry for a new civil rights movement, but a mantra which signifies the growth of a new consciousness which makes social justice a priority in the hearts and minds of blacks and whites alike.

That being said, replacing the words “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter” misses the point entirely. Sadly, white people have a long and undistinguished history of stealing from African American culture. From the Delta Blues to Hip Hop and from Cajun cooking to urban fashion, it is evident that many African American cultural traditions have been co-opted by whites for personal entertainment, commercial enterprise, and religious euphoria. Cecil Emeke once said, “Generally speaking, I think we live in a world that enjoys black culture and dislikes black people.”  What if America did love black people as much as black culture? March in Rochester

Moreover, to take the words “Black Lives Matter” and replace them with “All Lives Matter” is to participate in a terrible history of cultural theft and political silencing which has its most evil apparition in the industrialized slavery enterprises of the 19th century.  Likewise, to erase the words from Facebook posts, op-eds, and office whiteboards (e.g., the infamous case at Facebook’s headquarters) is to physically and symbolically say to a person of color, you don’t matter.  What you say does not matter. Your self expression does not matter. The pain and suffering behind those  “statistics” does not matter. This is a subtle yet pernicious form of white supremacy that if left unchecked will ultimately lead to the worst displays of hateful intolerance.

Indeed. What will it take to get white people to understand that the words “Black Lives Matter” does not in any way imply that white lives matter less. If I may speak out of place, I think the term was coined to show that merely acknowledging a person’s presence is a major part of the healing needed to address centuries of physical and emotional denigration and even enslavement. The words “Black Lives Matter” means see us. Don’t try to silence our voices and erase our feelings. We matter with or without you. See us for who we are. 

Regarding counter-phrases such as “White Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter,” and “All Lives Matter,” Garza says that “to take blackness out of the equation is simply inappropriate.” Even President Obama, who has been a Conservative on race issues, remarked in a speech, “there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities.”

The President is absolutely  right: it’s called getting 5 years of your life ripped off just because you got the painted ping pong ball. It’s called getting locked up at a rate that quadruples other races because the system likes black bodies better than white ones. It’s called dying unarmed in the scopeIMG_20141012_162150 of a police officer’s rifle because they have an unwritten license to shoot first and ask questions later. It’s called injustice.

But in the end, why does anyone need permission to chant a phrase? What is truly behind the need to change these words into something they are not? Why can’t someone say what they want to say, especially if they are not engaging in violent hate speech or treasonous discourse? Why can’t “Black Lives Matter” be accepted as a form of constructive self empowerment, civil political action, and creative social purpose? Why does it have to be a threatening  insult to whites?

As a white American male living in the illusion of a post-racial democracy, I must admit that I do not have answers to these questions. But I do know that we must have this conversation out in the open. Only then can our human community finally come to the realization that what matters more than even color is communication. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t just shoot: a local organizer’s critical response to “Peace Officer,” a new Independent Lens documentary airing on PBS

Currently a profound and alarming film,Peace Officer, is airing on PBS’s Independent Lens.With a somber and dramatic style, the film chronicles the story of William “Dub” Lawrence, a former sheriff who established and trained one of Utah’s first SWAT teams, only to watch helplessly as that same unit killed his son-in-law in a controversial standoff years later. Driven by a unalterable sense of mission, Dub uses his investigative skills to uncover the truth about that incident and other officer-involved shootings in his community, while tackling larger questions about the changing face of police investigations nationwide.

According to the film’s website:

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Many of Dub’s investigations stem from confrontations sparked by aggressive “no-knock” search warrant laws now typical across America. The film examines how officers in cities and small towns are routinely armed with military surplus weapons and equipment, backed by federal incentives to use what they are given. These and other factors have led to a 15,000% increase in SWAT team raids in the United States since the late 1970s.

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Watching this incredible documentary brought me back to the three days I spent in Ferguson as a photojournalist covering those emotionally and politically supercharged events in 2014. What happened in Ferguson was a national tragedy. As demonstrated on live national TV, some citizens are still not allowed to address their political concerns in a peaceful democratic manner. Like children, the protesters were given certain hours in which they were allowed to behave like American citizens, while the rest of the time they were told to go inside, keep silent and obey. The omnipresent threat of militarized force was impossible to ignore.

Peace Officer reveals how these expressions of autocratic paternalism are counter to the principles of real policing. As we hear in the testimony of former officers such as Dub, real policing never tolerates such abuses of power because it dishonors the integrity of the badge. Ultimately, real policing has nothing to do with power at all and everything to do with persuasion: it is flexible, tolerant, rational and unbiased. In fact, some of the most heroic and remarkable people I know are police officers. Yet not one of them looks at me as if I am not worthy of voicing my opinion in a constitutionally permitted way. They see me with respect and hopefully compassion.  If a police officer is not showing respect and compassion to everyone they are paid to serve, they are not policing. They may be a damn powerful cop, but they are not an officer of the law.

That being said, I walked away from the film feeling inspired by Dub’s courageous pursuit of justice and uplifted by the strength and resilience of every family member who has ever lost loved ones due to a fatally aggressive police action. I also came away from the film feeling like things are getting much worse. The line between the military and police has basically evaporated. Gradually over the past 30 years or so we have seen the near total erosion of civil liberties and the near total empowerment of police units to do whatever they deem necessary. We should all be gravely concerned about this trend. It’s happening not only in Ferguson and Utah, but in places like Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester as well.

For instance, I discovered the following article in the August 23, 2014 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle about the RPD’s response to that year’s Puerto Rican Festival. Reporter Justin Murphy wrote:

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The dynamic the night after the Puerto Rican Festival in the heavily Latino portion of northeast Rochester is familiar by now.

Revelers, not all of them festival-goers or even Puerto Ricans, clog the streets, blaring horns and waving flags, cheered on by even greater crowds on foot. Swarms of Rochester police dash from disturbance to disturbance, dispersing the gatherings with warnings, road closures and noxious gas. Arrests for disorderly conduct and traffic citations are common, and police have been targeted with rocks and bottles.

This year, police upped the ante. That night was the debut appearance for the Rochester Police Department’s new mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP, a mountain of a ride valued at $689,000 and obtained for freeJune 12 from the federal government.

The request to disperse was more readily obeyed when delivered by camouflaged officers in an armored 14-ton behemoth designed for use in war zones. Dancers left the streets, drivers laid off the horn and rowdy corners fell silent.

At the end of the night, one person was arrested for disorderly conduct and police reported one cruiser damaged by the crowd. Was the MRAP overkill, or did its deployment deter further problems?

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Is this the future we want to live in? I can only imagine how much money has been invested in military equipment and military styled training over the past two years. How much further is the RPD planning to go? Although I am not sure that Peace Officer actually provides any pragmatic solutions to the problem we face,  it does keep the conversation alive in a fresh and artistic way. I’m hoping that many millions will see it and take appropriate action in their community. After-all, “to serve and to protect” is not just a motto for police officers but a categorical imperative for all of us.

 

Peace Officer | Documentary about SWAT and Militarization of Police | Independent Lens | PBS

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About Peace Officer on Independent Lens

William “Dub” Lawrence was a former sheriff who established and trained one of Utah’s first SWAT teams, only to watch in horror as that same unit killed his son-in-law in a controversial standoff years later. In Peace Officer, Dub, driven by an obsessive sense of mission, uses his investigative skills to uncover the truth about that incident and other officer-involved shootings in his community, while tackling larger questions about the changing face of police investigations nationwide.

Dub’s commitment to turn around the systemic failings he saw as a young officer led to a successful bid to become Sheriff of Davis County, Utah, in 1974. Now retired from public service, Dub spends his free time as a private investigator, especially focused on the shooting death of his son-in-law Brian Wood. His resourceful instincts soon uncover tragic mistakes made by the SWAT teams who confronted Wood, igniting a long-term obsession with bringing to light the truth behind officer-involved shootings and SWAT team raids. Many of Dub’s investigations stem from confrontations sparked by aggressive “no-knock” search warrant laws now typical across America.

The cases Dub investigates are contextualized within the growing frequency of SWAT raids and immunity laws established to prosecute the War on Drugs. Officers in cities and small towns are routinely armed with military surplus weapons and equipment, backed by federal incentives to use what they are given. These and other factors have led to a 15,000% increase in SWAT team raids in the United States since the late 1970s.

Peace Officer follows Dub as he picks apart these cases with the dogged zeal of a rule-of-law TV detective, combined with the still-lingering grief of a victim.

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