The world is sweet and dripping with Spring. Holy abundance has sprung underfoot. My heart quickens at the sweet flute of finches, the hum of the first bees at the cherry blossoms. Wasps, lizards, chipmunks and coyotes learn to adapt to this explosion of Spring. And yet. I live with dissonance.
The discomfort is that humans show evidence that they cannot live harmoniously with other creatures. Humans murder each other intentionally more than any species. Kurds, Syrians, Americans, Australians, Russians, Salvadorans, Haitians, are starving or leaving homes or stealing from neighbors, or selling drugs or putting bullets in peoples’ brains. The United States, because it’s the largest exporter of military equipment and Intel, is the heftiest bully in Earth’s neighborhood. US weapons are killing young lives. This country crowned with verdant trees deports refugees under death threats back home. Mockingbirds sing while we bomb countries like Syria—Afghanistan—Yemen.Read more
by Minga Claggett-Borne
I have a neighbor whom I love and I deplore. This neighbor is rich, delivers great classes, inculcates our youth into the echelons of power, and sometimes leans in on justice. I love him, I love him not. I often have to contend with this guy. Who is this bemouth taking up lots of real estate in my mixed neighborhood? It’s Harvard Yard, Harvard housing, and its ubiquitous campuses. Like wild turkeys protected in Cambridge, Harvard is an institution with a long tail.Read more
I was in Ireland all of 20 days and I've been puzzling "why is the human race so violent and yet so loving?" How can this be? I can't find a kinder warmer people than the ones I met on Dublin streets. The Irish seem more active in their churches than other Europeans. Yet my time here has reverberated with violence: a Malaysian plane shot down; killing willy-nilly in Gaza/ Iraq; plus a local homicide/suicide in the Irish news. It's troubling because the AVPers in Dublin from over 40 countries (including violent places like Iraq, Mexico, Ukraine, Israel, Sudan) are working for peace in these countries. They share powerful stories of peace at work.
So I've been trying to learn from the sea-washed eyes of the Irish. Here I've seen that anger and frustration don’t necessarily lead to violence. Did you know that? The driving force behind war and murder is being disrespected. To feel shame is so degrading, that it's better to eliminate the other than to endure such pain.
Ireland has its rich history of misery and glory.
First, it seems that the Celts who were Christians in the 4th century in Ireland did well including their native rituals/symbols. And there's signs of Ireland's symbols of divinity (or otherworldliness) everywhere. Ireland has 40,000 prehistoric stone circles, of ring forts which are illegal to destroy. Plus belief in fairies seem alive.) The Anglo Normans invaded Ireland in the Eleventh century. Then through trade and intermarriage they became "more Irish than the Irish."
Another prolific sign all over Ireland is the appealing Celtic cross, a cross encircled by the sun. Some see the Celtic cross as a compass used by those planted so close to the sea. The interweave of the Celtic knot is a masterpiece befitting of a sailor. I saw a 10th century church where the baptism font included the Celtic knot and two stags alongside the cross. So when a culture lives with respect, such symbols of pagans and Catholics seem to thrive side by side. How is it that Christians on the mainland had such massacres as the crusades? Notice that the witch burnings for 5 centuries barely grazed Ireland. Religious tolerance was inculcated early.
Brigit the Irish Saint and St. Patrick in the 5th century modeled amazing cooperation. In the Trias Thaumaturga (extensive Irish history). Brigit's founded many churches and was beloved in the Diocese of Elphin. Her friendship with Saint Patrick is acclaimed from the Book of Armagh: "inter sanctum Patricium Brigitanque Hibernesium columpnas amicitia caritatis inerat tanta, ut unum cor consiliumque haberent unum. Christus per illum illamque virtutes multas peregit".
Between St. Patrick and Brigid, the pillars of the Irish people, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many great works.
But we have heard of the wars between the Irish and the English. The fight between the dragon and the lion: the green and the orange. I won’t say more of the troubled time in Northern Ireland when Protestant and Catholic fought. “And the tears of the people ran together.” The official peace accord was signed in 1992, but a remarkable turning of the tide happened in 1976. Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams organized peace marches in Northern Ireland after 3 children of Corrigan’s sister were killed by a gunman in a car. Tens of thousands turned out: Catholics and Protestants marching together. Corrigan said,
“We reject the use of the bomb and the bullet and dedicate ourselves to building a just and peaceful society. We offered love, not condemnation and self-righteousness, we offered forgiveness and reconciliation, and a vision of a Northern Irish society based of equality, fairness, and justice. If we want to reap the harvest of peace and justice in the future, we have to sow seeds of nonviolence here, in the present.”
Joan Baez wrote about Mairead Corrigan, "The breath of God ran through her like a fair summer breeze. She was endlessly brave, going into the homes of ‘the enemy’ unarmed. God bless the brave women of Ireland who, for a brief but exceptional moment in time, waged mass nonviolent warfare in one of the most violent times in the world."
Why would 100 prisoners organize a hunger strike in Guantanamo? Did our Congress answer that question adequately before an army of doctors coerced force feeding? Force feeding is not the opposite of hungering for food. Feeding tubes down the mouth are dangerously painful. Force-feeding is rape of the stomach.
It’s mutilation of the esophagus. And violation of one’s dignity.
Human life begins with eggs, seeds and then food. Food has a double oo. Food is one letter away from good. Good is one letter away from God. I’ve watched a scrawny, pinion-peppered baby robin get fed. I see that tiny dinosaur head with saucer eyes and huge mouth gaping wildly towards the mother. That robin chick clamors for food. It chirps vigorously before, during and after being fed. From mom’s beak, down mom’s throat and then regurgitation into chick’s mouth. Gulp, yum. Food.
But food is something we decide we want. Birds would never feed chicks against their will. Even a severe parent can’t force their child to eat those smelly foods, moving the jaw up and down.
Hunger strikes are often related to prisoners struggling for human rights. In England and the US women fighting the right to vote decided to stop eating about 1910. Pankhurst described the suffragettes’ ordeal, “[the prison Holloway] became a place of horror and torment. Sickening scenes of violence almost every hour of the day, as the doctors went from cell to cell performing their hideous office.” When the prison guards opened her cell door, Pankhurst raised a clay jug over her head, to avoid the force-feeding proclaiming, “If any of you dares so much as
to take one step inside this cell, I shall defend myself.”
Why does the US think that force-feeding is helping humans on the path of sanity and justice? Morally, only the very sick or wounded should be force-fed. Can we learn from the past, or will we veer towards extinction? Alice Paul, who more than Lucretia Mott or Susan B. Anthony, ushered into the White House the right to vote, was force-fed along with other women. Remember by 1913, the campaign for females sufferage (started in 1848), was floating like a dead fish in oily Potomac. In March of 1913 Paul had organized a march of 8,000 women which upstaged Wilson’s inauguration. Later, they organized a sustained picket (first group to wage civil disobedience) in front of the White House, called the Silent Sentinels. In 1916 hundreds of women were arrested for obstructing sidewalk traffic. In jail our foremothers, Lucy Burns, Dora Lewis, and others were beaten, hurled against walls, choked, and kicked. But the worst punishment was being force-fed.
At Guantanamo approximately 100 of the 166 detained prisoners are refusing food. Of those, 29 were being force-fed, shackled to a chair, fitted with a mask with tubes inserted through their nose for up to two hours at a time. Over 130 have joined the hunger strike that began February 2013. Force-feeding is considered torture by the United Nations and condemned by the American Medical Association. One prisoner described force-feeding by saying it felt like, a "razor blade [going] down through your nose and into your throat.
Is the treatment in Gitmo racist? The US treats immigrants as guilty, inhumanely, without evidence. A recent letter from a prisoner says, “I do not wish to die, but I am prepared to run the risk that I may end up doing so, because I am protesting the fact that I have been locked up for more than a decade, without a trial, subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment and denied access to justice. I have no other way to get my message across…”
Why would so many men and women go on a hunger strike, knowing they will receive the extra torture of force-feeding? They must be fighting for their lives. In 1917 finally Woodrow Wilson persuaded Congress to put the 23rd Amendment to vote. He had promised 5 years earlier in 1911 when first elected that he would defend women’s rights. Only after hundreds of women had suffered in prison was Wilson persuaded to act. Aleluja. Now for 93 years women have reaped the benefit. Suffragists risked their Lives, willing to die, so that we their grandchildren can Live.
What will we say in 90 years about the 30 Guantanamo prisoners asking Obama & Congress for their civil rights? These people, most are innocent, are choosing the torture of force-feeding instead of the long languishing torture of prison without cause.
Jewish scriptures proclaim, “Choose Life so that you and your children can live.” The baby birds that flap and tumble and chirp outside my window eat ravenously. They have their answer. The summer winds blow hot this year. Cuba is far away, and Guantanamo is a nightmare that I choose to ignore. “What does our God require of me?”
Today the river was liquid cellophane, silver and lugubrious. Thank God I am ambulatory and up before the Harvard hordes.
I had a nightmare the night before. The dream was a bad car accident where I was terribly hurt but without a drop of blood. Do you ever wonder where pain comes from? Does the river feel the pain of all the chloride and aluminum metals? Do beetles have receptors, knowing when your boot crushes them? Such were my thoughts on this early morning run by the Charles River. I was running despite the groaning of my joints and the dullness of my head. Often when I’m stuck or in trouble, I just run by the river edge. Sure , just rationalize it as exercise to relief stress, but I know better. I’m actually trying to become the river, to move over this earth soaking knowledge like water.
Today I was not disappointed. Spring came in the strangest form, not daffodils, not the bluegills running downstream. There, next to the packed earth of my running trail were little 5 centimeter mounds of dirt. These primordial mounds were tiny bubbles. Not linear ziggurats my brother made of sand, no they were pebbles of dirt piled by a blowhole. Scattered like confetti They were everywhere. The worms of spring had awoken. Not a one of their congregation was visible, just these tiny portals crested with a posy of earth. This way I knew the worms are doing their work without having to step over the slimy buggers. The geese were out trumpeting and cropping the grass to a nub. Among bright green tufts sat the worm piles, like drip castles made on the beach. They are fine decorations without their slithery blind carpenters. I know worms are the farmers of dirt, composting our soil. It’s nicer to see delicate mounds instead of a toilet thimble.
Running under the majestic sycamores, I saw buds all about. My stride stretched. I made my shoulders drop with my exhale. I and the worms are sharing this plot of earth. Do worms have nightmares? I just steamrolled over a worm hole pulverizing the mound. Oh well. “Sorry, for destroying your day’s work. Sorry for being a chunk in a delicate world of new growth. I can’t claim to be an animal rights maniac when I kill so many species with my gluttonous lifestyle. On a material plane, I take up more space than an elephant.
These squirmy, gutsy worms not just making rich loam for mammals, but aerating the surface. I run, thud, stretch, thud. My heavy steps harden the earth. I am planning Seder dinner, I pray for my son in New Orleans, I will build a garden bed. But the worms, they are preparing the earth better than a horse and plow. I run hard over the land, and the worms, one by one pull out the dirt, leave earth in piles, dive under and push the organic stuff.
Two Quakers taught me a lot. The first one I listened to and the second one I argued with. The first one, John Calvi, is a well-known healer who pronounced, “If you can’t pray, at least do something for 10 minutes daily where you are not thinking of yourself.” Oh-kaay. That way I’ll be ready, and open for the Messiah, who has come and is coming. So though my turbid brain wasn’t pray, my song to earthworms has saved me for today. The other Quaker, Lita, told me that history wasn’t important, but the fact that Quakers believe in continuing revelation is. I protested, I love the story of daredevil Quakers. This history informs me. But reveling in Quaker past glory is hubris and bunk. I lost the argument with my friend.
I feel strong and relaxed as I run over the last bridge. Revelation comes in small increments. I dodge a patch of daffodils on my way home. My nightmares met into the dank soil. But my foot comes down flat onto a worm mound. Splat!
At the end of October I learned that Eileen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, along with 2 other women, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman. Johnson Sirleaf is the first elected female African president and Gbowee from Liberia is active reconciling fighting factions. Karman,a 32 year old, Yemeni journalist inspired thousands of Yemen women to speak out. Karman called the award “a victory for our revolution, for our methods, for our struggle, for all Yemeni youth, and all the youth in the Arab world.”
I find myself singing Handel’s Aleluja chorus when I think of these three women at work in this tattered world. Go Madam Eileen. Give your heart, Gbowee. And Karman, speak the truth. Thank Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Abraham and especially Sarah. Finally we can hear some women’s voices. Thank you ancestors and the Living Spirit. In Liberia after the November 7 elections, Johnson Sirleaf appointed Gbowee to head a National peace and Reconciliation Initiative. “Reconciliation is a personal, internal, collective journey that people must decide they are going to take,” says Gbowee. Without a country addressing national grievances, no healing can occur. Liberians are still divided over the 1985 presidential elections and problems of unemployment and disempowerment rise up like a dusty whirling dust storm. During Liberia’s civil war, Gbowee brought together several dozen Christian and Muslim women who rose up to stop the war.
Sirleaf is affectionately known as Africa’s “Iron–lady”, due to her iron determination. She was awarded the Peace Prize for her "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work." There have only been 12 previous female Nobel Peace Prizes in 110 years, one was Wangari Maathai in 2004. Here on this October day speckled with yellow leaves falling like stars, we say goodbye to Maathai recently deceased and hello to Sirleaf, who will continue to inspire us to the higher calling of unity. Turn away from petty disputes toward healing.
Dear ancestors, Ishtar, Sarah, Hecate, Shekinah, Kali, Mary and Sophia. Give us guidance. Thanks be for all the women warriors who carry the torch of truth and compassion across the weeping land.
Henry David Thoreau Civil Disobedience 1849
Abby Kelley Foster/Susan B. Anthony/Elizabeth Stanton
Mock voting booth for women suffrage 1872
Alice Paul women suffrage 1920
Mahatma Gandhi started satyagraha in India 1910s
Salt march 1940s
Rosa Parks Civil Rights in Alabama 1961
MLK Freedom Riders in south 1960s
Robert/JFK US Peace Corps alternative service to military1960s
US Academia recognizes need for peace Departments 1968
Lentz Institute; Colgate; Manhattan Universities in forefront
Cesar Chavez Dolores Huerta United Farm Workers in CA 1970
Robert Hunter Greenpeace 1971
Seabrook NH and Antinuclear Movement 1979
Berrigan brothers Plowsharers Nuclear Disarmament 1980
Elise Boulding Culture of Peace 1980s
Jim Corbett in AZ 1982
Sanctuary Movement and Civil Initiative
Churches Sanctuary Movement in TX,AZ Chicago 1984
Peace Brigades International 1981
Pledge of Resistance against contras in Nicaragua
Act UP in NYC 1985
Gay rights and stopping unfair medical practices during AIDS epidemic
Bill Mckibben 350.org Stop Tar Sands 2010
Kathy Kelly Voices of Creative Nonviolence 2003
Nonviolence Peaceforce International 2003