Prisoners Practicing Peace Part I

mp9004389201I go into prison several times a year to offer nonviolent strategies. The Alternative to Violence program (AVP) is a successful program with a simple concept. If you practice self-respect and treat others as if you expect their best behaviors, you can live without forcing your way on others. If you examine how to act respectfully in tough situations, then you can cultivate nonviolence skills in your own life. If you believe a power to transform violence exists, then you practice ways to make it happen. Have you seen the fury of a nor 'easterner pummel the rocky NE coast? Then the next day see how the land swept by storm illuminates emerald meadows? Violence shifts to nonviolence all the time.

I wonder why would a person shoot a close friend? I wonder how tempers fly off the handle? Why would I slap my 2 year old for spilling mango juice? Have you ever seen the like? Furious actions and words cause damage. Why do we shut our doors on the homeless person who comes looking for money? Why do we fail students who read in Arabic or Spanish and can't read English? Is the system at fault or the individual who doesn't fit?

Providing shelter, food and language is part of our humanity and us building a land of peace. In the US, land of the free, health, jobs and education is plummeting to an all-time low. I'm trying to live humanly, so I sprout a few tender shoots in prison. Starting with prisoners seems like starting with those who are losers. But they are eager to learn because of the serious mistakes they made. "My first crime was being at the wrong place at the wrong time. We were selling drugs. I didn't shoot anyone. Now, 20 years later , I've been here four times. I don't know why I keep coming back."

Any of us who have let anger, punishment and revenge rule our minds need this workshop. Anyone who wants to voice more understanding than put downs. I take some responsibility for a world of woe. I live often by disregarding others, and not lifting up others.

Before I went into Concord prison last Friday, I had a play date with a friend, , Kali is adopted and now 7 years old. She has bright eyes framed in trim black braids. I tell her not to snap a rubber band at me and a scowl dances on her forehead. She walks with me from the bus and we talk about nature's amazing ways. I show her where Monarch butterflies lay their eggs. Wind showers red leaves around us.

water-drops1"If you catch a falling leaf, your wish comes true." Kali tells me. She and I run foolishly around the parking lot, darting and twisting to catch a leaf. We come close, my hand bats at the yellow leaf, but it slips away. I watch for cars. Kali laughs. As nimble as she is, Kali couldn't snatch the leaf. Another golden leaf returns to the earth. I decide to count my blessings and let the leaves tumble at will.

Prisoners are people first, their crimes are such a tiny part of their lives. In prison the guys live in a cell block. On their unit they describe their criminal exploits and how they survived on the streets. Many were inducted into committing crimes as young teens, many sold drugs or made some quick cash because that was the best way to stay alive. Rarely do they talk about the sadness and loss in their lives. Anger and dominant behaviors get lauded and reinforced. I meet guys in super maximum prison who have tattoo tears on their cheeks. Each teardrop signifies someone that they killed. The indigo tear is a tragedy and a badge.

Doing a workshop on Nonviolence with convicted felons is difficult and ultimately rewarding. It's like walking in the woods with moonlight to guide you. You have to adjust your pupils and irises to see. All 7 senses are needed. It's personally challenging; it's absorbing; it's funny (I can end up in stitches); it exposes hypocrisies; it's touching as bullies show their softside. A 24-year old guy told me, "I've been locked up off and on for 12 years since I was eleven years old. I just what to grow up. All that I ever learned is in prison."

In prison there's a code. The following is what inmates tell me:

"Live with honor. Die with dignity."

"Don't be a slave from cradle to the grave."

"Anger with no outlet is a slop bucket."

"Are you sure you want to cut in front of me? Don't be too quick. Because I'll take you down. Then I'll go in the Hole' (solitary) and you'll go to the hospital."

"Don't snitch." The code of conduct is not outlandish.

The inmates see how unbending punishment squeezes them on the inside. Part of no snitching builds a shield between the men and their enforcers, "Don't see, don't tell, don't stand out." They unite together. This passivity among inmates not getting involved in any way with their enforcers is reinforced. "Shhh. Don't tell mama or we'll all get a whipping. It's hard to keep your dignity if you decide to hide the truth from those who have power over you.

The AVP workshop has genuineness and opportunity to admit our weaknesses. After the AVP workshop many men come up to me and say, "I really appreciate it. The whole time we were in the workshop, I didn't think about being behind bars. I could forget about the sh- - out there."

"Yeah. I don't see how it works, but I'll try it."

" It's somethin' different to hear the stories of walking away. You all are being real."

leavesAs an AVP leader I see apathy turn to questioning. I see guys move from hands crossed in front of the chest to open hands cuffing each other. I see grim faces turn to grins. Teaching peace is elusive. It's done face to face, one relationship at a time. Next week I'll visit with Kali again.

Maybe we'll catch a falling leaf this time.

Nature can be very forgiving.


Elections and Zealous Angels

The trees are candle flames flickering in the wind. The wind doesn't howl, but it's brisk, sharp. The leaves dive, pause and with a sudden updraft a bouquet of color is tossed upward. It's Halloween. A hallowed time. A time suspended. Oct 31 is a sacred day on the wheel of the solar calendar. It is exactly half way between the end of summer (Sept 21) and the first day of winter (Dec 21). October 31 is the New Year for those of the Wiccan faith. Instead of black cats and frosty nights we have flaming trees this year. Ah, the weird joys of global warming.

And within the cloister of the trees and the vaulted blue, I feel a shimmer of fear in the air. It's not just the gathering cold weather. We, are a people gone awry. Do you feel it? We listen to belligerent political shoot-him-dead duals; we buy fruits and broccoli packed in plastic; we are proud of driving Priuses 100 miles, when we need to be hopping a hybrid bus. Humans are on a runaway train and its picking up speed. In the US we are in the first car. We have chest thumping, hate language, teens bullying, suicides after your private life is on the internet. Will we let the train carry us over the cliff?

Angels as bright lights
Angels as bright lights

Where is hope? -it's not in Obama or any giddy wins on election day. Where is reliable hope?

"So All friends be faithful, ... be zealous for...truth," says our Quaker prophet. Mary Waite writes to friends in 1679 heedless to the fear and chaos of 17th century England with its insurrections and moral ineptitude. Quakers were a movement and called themselves Publishers of Truth.

Mary Waite says, [the Lord] will deliver thee out of every unclean way and polluted path. ...the day of the Lord is at hand, in which he will arise in ... strength, to plead the cause of his suffering seed." Geepers and OMG.

Can we buy into this reality? Yes, I can open my heart to the possibility that a Holy Spirit is at work. Just barely. Any victims of poverty and war are the suffering seed. I weep and cry out for the injustices. If I step out of my chronic denial and realize that my consumption of oil is ruining the planet, I mourn. I see pictures of oil coated egrets from Louisiana coast, I mourn. I met a friend having coffee who just lost her job, I mourn. This decade is an era of sorrow. And I have gone to 7 or 8 funerals this year already. There are funerals for 21 year olds in Mattapan and 15 year olds in Boston, and suicides in Wellesley. I cry and beg that our hearts of stone can be broken open.

I will plow this field of sorrow until Spirit shows me a way to transform the systemic violence. How do I plead the cause of my suffering? The suffering of those killed? The suffering of our planet? Mary Waite says, "fear the Lord and obey his voice in thee, and he will deliver thee out of every unclean way and polluted path." May it be true. I often know what is the moral thing to do, and the voice isn't a booming megaphone. God's message comes in many forms, the wind, the miners trapped in Chili far underground, a oil drill gushing, the shimmering trees.

Looking out
Looking out

No one wins by manufacturing guns, amassing oil tanks or shooting others down. In 2010 there are many war lords bent on spilling blood. Combine this with the conglomerate way all humankind is pilfering to the point of strangling the earth, our home. Ahh, we can see heaven on earth. Hope is in the damp winds. The birch trees offer licks of yellow that do acrobatics across the lawn. The plum tree usually drops its leaves weeks earlier, by early October. Today its leaves are an especially deep shade of peach, luminous sails shaped like almonds. The maples are sorted mandarin/gold colors. The trees with buttressed branches rustle with pale green, lava yellow and fiery orange. Maple trees are everywhere: some are tiny squirrel flags of trees, and others large square-masted brigades towering over the plebeian plants.

... the weary travelers are refreshed, the feeble knees are strengthened, the broken spirit bound up, and the wounded soul hath oil poured on (Luke 10:34 the wounded soul is the Samaritan); who can but rejoice and be exceeding glad? for he hath put a new song in our mouths, he hath given his people beauty for ashes....Speak truth, Mary Waite. Give hope.


To Love a Mockingbird

nicholas-and-asayes-091
Who is my enemy?

Trees are so green. Still. I love the lingering days mid-October, the temperature drops one degree lower each day. Slowly, so slowly the dahlias and sunflowers descend into a frosted land. Summer grips us tighter this year. Its talons hold on fiercely even as its fire fades. Do I love summer more than I fear winter? Once Bar St. John said that she harbored a hate towards mockingbirds. How very absurd. I was baffled beyond belief that Bar would say that. This clear woman was loved by Quakers. She played the harp and loved the world until the butterflies ate out of her hand. Could she even harbor a drop of hate. She detested mockingbirds because they were pilfering off others. She begrudged their chasing off smaller songbirds. She thought their sound was obnoxious, copying other birds without singing their own song.

She said, "I realized that my dislike was not changing the mockingbird at all. Humans have little effect on the cares of this bird. We aren't that important. So any hate that I have prevents me from loving." One morning she woke up happy to be back in her own bed. She heard a familiar cacophony. Barb had been visiting a sick person out of town. It was a symphony of beauty. She knew the birdsong of cardinals and mourning doves and the twittering of sparrows. She heard the mockingbird. And she blessed it and welcomed it. Imitating the song of others could be useful. Music composers borrowed a phrase of music often and added their own style to it. Bar was sure mockingbirds were loved by God. The birds were on earth for a purpose and her hate was only corrosive to herself.

Was Bar, a seer, giving me instruction in that preposterous task to love your enemy?' Wasn't she talking about the mundane? Changing your attitude about an annoying bird is like shaking off a creepy fear of a dark room. Or how we get used to the clicking of the electric heater. Or deciding that we can mop up a child's vomit and it won't kill us. Or is changing an old assumption about mockingbirds as pests rather sublime? I mean, think about it. This is not a simple task. Hate comes in many shrouds and we need to unveil them. I hate the Tea Party movement. I hate the military generals who derail world peace. I hate garbage, I hate pale green, I hate sleet in November. You get the picture. But what good does any of that feeling do? Anger is energizing: and hate? Hate is destructive.

Loving your best friend is as hard as loving your enemy. It's just when I consider loving someone who has hurt me, I slam into my sense of personal integrity. Such love often unloosens my grip of self-preservation. I spend more time licking my wounds than pouring a drink for my enemy. I spend more time hesitating and building my case than walking over to the other side. Xenophobia is so limiting. It's so inside the box. It's so retro. Fear of mockingbirds, or of another person is worse than retro. Fear is so Jurassic Age; it's at least 2 millennium old.

Yes, the mockingbird has a song that I can learn to love. I can only surmise how Jesus went about ‘loving your enemy.' I can only imagine what that Quaker lioness Margaret Fell meant when she claims, "We [Friends] do deny and bear our testimony against all strife, wars, and contentions that come from the lusts that war in the members, and that war against the soul." (letter to King Charles 1660). I'm guessing that Fell is saying that when I participate in war on the outside, my soul is also at war. Isn't the US in a state of endless war? I am a small mammal, trying to learn heavenly ways. We Quakers sign onto a peace testimony but our practice flounders. Quakers commit to peace, and the path is muddy with hidden sand traps. I've dedicated my life to learning how to treat others with respect. That is a stepping stone to loving others. Have I learned how to treat others? Golly. I'm as good at making peace as a cat swimming against the tide.

And I laugh at Colbert's March to Keep Fear alive at the Washington Monument on Oct 30th. but I don't have anything against the Rally to Restore Sanity. Does Jon Stewart want to clean out the destructive forces in our political ruckus? Doesn't he want to create an attitude change to political mockingbirds? Humor does open doors for peace to happen.

I love Bar St. John even though she died 10 years ago. Love will conquer fear. I will dwell in the house of love with friends. I will work on the seeds of hate inside me. And when I am called I'll venture into loving my enemies. We are all called to do this. I just hope I only have to do it until I can a full-time job. Like I can't love my enemies all the time, can I? Maybe just every election day.


Eyanna and Amani

Eyanna Flonory was loved by many people. She was just 21, learning to be an adult. She had gone to Bunker Hill CC. She had a bent to study criminal justice. Her bright-eyed, son Amanihoteph Smith , was a gregarious 2 year old. Simba Martin (21) was Eyanna's new boyfriend.

The rain drove down from low, dark clouds. The ground was saturated with water. The water blipped from the sidewalk, pounded off the church roof, seeped around highly polished shoes. It rained for hours before dawn, the hour before Eyanna and Amani's funeral, during the burial and afterward. It seemed the insurmountable rain of a tempest minus the howling winds. Simba had been buried 2 days ago.

I went to the funeral of the 2 victims at the Baptist church in Mattapan, just 2 blocks away from the murders. Three of us from Friends Meeting went. The head minister, Bishop Borders, spoke of galvanizing the community to stop such violence. "I will go on a retreat and pray for one year. I am not the same person as I was last week....I'm asking God to change the city of Boston," he prayed.

'Yanna' had many friends and an adorable child. Both were bright and eager. Not eager for death. The rains portended the rage that many felt because of Yanna's death. The bloated leaden clouds witnessed our fear. The two were killed by gunfire while mother held her toddler. Four dead­ and one with a bullet in his head who is hanging on for his life at Boston Medical Center.

Morningstar Baptist Church 10/6/10
Morningstar Baptist Church 10/6/10

This city is filled with sleek cars; we have Astroturf football fields; we have I pads and social networking. We carry around encyclopedias on small chips. We have Ben Affleck and John Hancock. We access a library of music by pushing a button and using earphones. But we are short sighted and hard put.

Because we don't have 'Yanna studying justice at college. We don't have Amani giving his sponge painting to his grandmother. We don't know who killed these 4 people, in short order on a street in Mattapan. But it's not totally the murderers fault. We accept our children carrying guns. In 2010 almost 50 people have been killed on the streets of Boston; another 26 in MA have been killed in their homes. This is an increase from the death toll of 2009. So as a people we are spilling more blood, much of it our children's.

What a crazy way we humans treat each other. Even cows, horses and goats figure how to live in the same pasture. The carnage in our cities is worse than a jungle. Humans seem to be defying evolutionary paths. Our species quite primitive, prey on each other due to anger and revenge. Even sharks have a better code of behavior.

The 20th century brought us Gandhi and Hitler. We have MLK and Milosevic. All of them acted with a sense of justice. Which path will we follow to justice? John Borders proclaims in a loud voice to stop the violence. .... "We need to work with a mother's love....This is not a natural war we must fight, but a spiritual war." Too many of our country's laws reflect punishment and killing: the death penalty, flunking students, 3 strikes and you're out. That's not forgiving, it's derogatory.

Personally I usually live in denial of such violence. I don't walk down the street listening for gunshots like those on Woolsen St. on Sept 28th 2010. I work to stop greed, bloated military budget and family violence. I'm not a Mohandas Gandhi or a Mother Teresa to stop such senseless murders.

Stopping violence is not the same as working for peace. On October 6th I prayed for Amani and those murdered at the Morningstar Church in Mattapan. I prayed as the rain swiped across tall glass windows. I cried. My tears brought me out of shock: the pain hit hard, harder than denial. But a community needs to feel before it can heal.

Oh dear hearts, Let's try to be smarter than the lemmings who run themselves off cliffs. Let's reject homicide, suicide and infanticide as a species. The rain is appropriate. Our prayers are appropriate. The heavens are harbingers of change, but only humans are make it manifest. Our hands are made of love. Put our prayers into action. Let's put our two hands forward and surround this problem. Otherwise the rain will keep washing our tears.


Do Quakers run? Fight? or Knit Together?

Every day I run by the Charles River in Boston. Every week I pick up my knitting. I love both the speed of running and the patience of knitting. My endorphins ramp up with running. Actually some call my carriage jogging, but jog is a sodden word. It does nothing for my endorphins. As I ran today yellow leaves tumbled down from the locust trees-- little scraps of plants not afraid to knock into me. The trees put on French polish before dropping their fingernails. I kept running and running, delirious.

Running is straight forward. When running I cut through confusion. Sometimes I run out of fear, running from any weakness that could kill me. I do run to save my life. But I'm not running from imminent danger, just the creeping fear of a future paralysis. I breathe deep and my body tingles.

I love both running and knitting. Gratitude infuses all of us past 50 who can still run. Thanks for stamina and the blood rising up my cheeks. But knitting is more complicated. There's design, forethought and grace to knitting. How is it that grace pertains to knitting? I can run gracefully. Twoneedles being tossed back and forth is mechanical. Is Spirit involved in knitting? It seems to be the opposite spiritual practice than running.

Knitting helps me weather Quaker thunderstorms. My spiritual nettle is tied up in the yarn. I don't knit during open worship. Holy croutons, not that. But I do knit during worship when business is at hand. Some time ago I was knitting a hat with 4 strands of thread. The strands got tumbled about. The clerk explained that Trustees had just hired an ex-convict to clean our buildings for 15 hours a week. There was anger. "We invited a low-life person to work at our church? We weren't warned about this." There was a stormy silence. I felt my hands automatically threading the yarn back and forth: knit 2, purl 2. I tried to find God's voice in the friction.

"This is totally unheard of. Who is this ex-con? Can we (the entire meeting) see his criminal record?" Some Quaker parents weren't sure whether they wanted their children in the same room with a criminal. I felt prejudice and odious racism lurking in these questions. How in God's name could my sister Quakers be racist? I breathed and knitted. I exhaled and changed needles. How do Quakers let off steam when we are glued to our chairs, our bodies perfectly still? I knitted another ½ a row. Needle front, needle back. There is rhythm, God isn't static. Forward and backward.

"Shouldn't we hear from the man we hired whether he's guilty?"
"But that's illegal."
"But he's willing to talk about how his life turned around. He's made amends."
"He's leader in the AA group."
"He's been to jail twice." Your job Minga, is to keep praying,.
Suddenly I had come to the end of my blue thread and I realized that I had a huge tangle in the middle of my skein. I looked at my orderly rows hanging from the needle: 4 blue knit; 2 white knit: 4 blue , 1 white.

Crap. I couldn't pull any more blue yarn off the skein. A maze of blue string blocked the next row. The meeting was tense. Tight, staccato voices spoke back and forth to each other.

Power Running
Power Running

"We should let him in-- he's changed his sinful ways."
Others said, "We can't be so naive - he's been an addict and a killer."
"We should trust in that of God in him."
"We should be careful in this case."

A trustee said, "But our lawyers say it's illegal to ask an employee to speak openly and jeopardize himself. We must get a waiver." There was a pause. From somewhere came the smell of fermented apples. Were people just confused between privacy of this man and whether to hire him? What do Friends do when they're stuck? I turned to my neighborhood, Sarah and handed her the mangled blue skein.

Hold this, I gestured to her. She smiled and opened her eyes in mock fear at the yarn. I started winding the loose end into a ball. I threaded the ball in and out. Sarah held open pockets in the tangle for me to weave onto the ball. My fingers were working overtime.

The clerk suggested a way for this ex-con to speak to the entire meeting. Many heads nodded. Someone apologized if they were sounding paranoid. At this point that assembly of God's people was in unison after wrestling with the injustice of incarceration, with our doubts that Spirit is in charge, with our fear of violence, with recovering addictions, with our slowness to forgive being ruled by fear. Was it fear? Or was it caution?
The rows of stitches on my needle were larger than my tangle of threads. The meeting closed and Sarah handed me back the loose yarn. My tiny ball had started the size of a grape and was now was the size of a peach. The length of the hat had only grown by a few rows, but the tangle of knots had shrunk.

Quakers get caught in the world's evils and we don't know instantly how to excavate ourselves. I get my yarn in terrible knots, feeling stuck. But Sarah held my tangle and progress was made. The design is still in place for my knitted hat. The yarn kept my hands busy so I didn't feel paralyzed in the midst of a Quaker convoluted fight.

I'd rather be running, but I can't run from human entanglements. How do you stay grounded during a heated argument?

God knows the path ahead is murky, please keep me knitting and running.


DREAM Act Dismissed by Senate Vote 56 to 43

Hello sister citizens and hell-raisers.

I'm mad. For a 54 year old happy mother and neighbor, I still feel fury. I can live with chaos. But I can't live with disgust. I am boorishly fed-up with our leaders' incompetence. I'm angry because last week in the Senate, the DREAM Act was ricocheted out of target. The Dream Act, which has been languishing in Congress since 2001 (yes, that's 9 years) was voted on Sept 22, 2010. Harry Reid amended the DREAM Act to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011. (Now the Dream is 10 years old.) What ways are the three branches of government improving jobs, health care and education?

Freedom
Freedom

I write this story to all activists who are fighting for their dream. I write to transform anger.

So I went to Scott Brown's office on Sept 21st with my friend, Susan. I had to give him a piece of my mind. He isn't giving hard working young people raised for years as US citizens half a chance. Did I tell you I was wild-eyed? Susan, made her own sign and carried it on her back as she biked into the state house. Young people were swarming around the steps of the Statehouse. They looked like a rainbow nation, many in graduation robes. All sat on the steps with funny square hats on. I talked to several trying to keep the grit out of my growl. They spoke about having a chance for a diploma from a US university. They enacted a cap and gown ceremony without the diploma. A few wanted to enlist in the navy. The sun glinted on the gold capped dome. A few crows flapped around the iron fence keeping the public off the statehouse grounds. The sky was cerulean with signs bobbing up against it saying, "I have a Dream. I want to study engineering." Or "Don't just Dream, ACT." The crows were yapping, "Caw, caw, caw." The wind blew off a black hat and it tumbled close to the curb on Beacon St.

The Dream Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), introduced when these young folks were 10 years old, hasn't done anything. No D, development. No R, relief: only a narrow portal for E, Education. No person is illegal and no A, aliens. M, for minors insults these adults. Senators, don't ignore them, don't stunt their knowledge. The Brazilian, Chinese, and Dominican, students towered over me that bright afternoon. Long brown locks blew in the wind; onyx eyes spoke out their dreams of education; a Mexican girl in low shiny flats started to cry and sputtered out her hopes to become an architect. Three crows landed in the tree above Colonel Shaw of the 54th Regiment Memorial.

"We will not be quiet.
We have heard the promise.
We knew the dream.
We were promised the dream.
We will be heard.
The Dream Act must pass."

The crows too, kept harping from one tree to the next, their necks stretched in an open throttle.

So Susan and I and others went up to the 24th floor of the government building. I barely passed the security gates because I had knitting needles on me. We listened to a Salvadoran woman speak to the Senator who'd left her country during the US-fed insurgency in the 1980s. As she spoke of her escape to this country, I looked over the steely Boston skyline and glittering harbor. The Salvadoran said her children didn't choose to come here and pay taxes. They deserve their full rights and to live here without death squads. We spoke about how the Dream University helps the aptitude of the US as a whole; it brings revenue for the state coffers; it offers justice in a land where the rich rule. But the Senator's office didn't give us much mind. It was a polite and heated conversation. Something on the order of how crows talk across the noisy street. 'Talkin' about revolution | money pays | anchor babies |no amnesty | which immigrants." We must teach the fledglings "Who migrates? "Caw, caw, caw."

Susan and I retrieved my knitting from a safe place (To muster attention from authorities, carry knitting needles!) and strode out to the day. Susan cheered me up despite our defeat. Our Senator was going to vote against the Dream Act sure as a bat out of hell. My eye caught a seagull wheeling high above the T station. Its wingspan a blade of glinting sharpness. These young people, still disenfranchised, are preparing their next fight to pass the Dream Act. They are pugnacious. They know justice is on our side.Why after 10 years are we so hopeful?Where does the will to learn and to stand proud come from even when access is denied?. Something divine is under these high-flying wings. Yes, indeed—caw, caw, caw.


USA Lurches Forward - Saalam

Why am I not elated? A pallor descends on my face. Why does my heart come to a standstill? The President pulled out the last fighting troops in Iraq, but I'm not jumping for joy. I wish I could celebrate. I admit that removing combat troops is a step in the right direction.

"Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!" exclaimed Colonel John Norris, as the last brigade crossed into Kuwait. Operation Iraqi Freedom was the name coined in our blitzing 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"Hooah!" the soldiers roared. Over 7 years of fighting is good news? As a soldier I'd definitely be delighted to pull out. The living conditions in Baghdad are torrid, so I hear. There's lower education than under Saddam Hussein 10 years ago. Since 2003 and the fall of Saddam, the war on terror and in country conflict has destabilized the Iraq education system. 2751 schools were damaged severely. Other schools experienced looting. Teachers attendance dropped drastically. It is unsafe for many female scholars to attend school.

Water, jobs, and doctors are lacking. I heard that houses, bakeries and sewer plants limp on 3-8 hours of electricity in Baghdad. Imagine that! There are many injured and an estimated 100,000 innocent Iraqis killed by troops. Need I state that the infrastructure in Iraq is much worse than 10 years ago? War destroys progress.

Vets for Peace, Boston 2007 by Scheil
Vets for Peace, Boston 2007 by Schiel

Some regimes are toppled such as the British reign in India (1930s) and the apartheid government in South Africa (1989) with a humanitarian outcome. But in Iraq since Operation Iraqi Freedom we now know there were no weapons of mass destruction, and no elimination of terrorists. Members of Al Qaeda in Iraq have increasingly resorted to kidnapping and extortion to stay afloat, General Higgins said. What freedoms did we offer the Iraqi? Do they have a democracy? No, they can't even arrive at results from the March elections. As of September 5th, there's more suicide bombings and killings in Baghdad against American troops.

Does the quality of life allow new enterprises? Has the crippling war delivered any more religious tolerance? With grinding poverty can Iraqis enjoy cultural pride of film, art and architecture? Would you be happy if a country, let’s say Sweden invaded the US saying that the religious right and the practices of oil companies was a form of terrorism? Supposing the Europeans came to occupy the USA until BP criminals could be put to trial?

I plead to Obama, Palin, or Elijah that we arrest our war making. We still have 50,000 troops in Iraq. And 57,000 in Germany; 60,000 in Japan and Korea; and now about 100,000 in Afghanistan. Altogether we have 360,000 troops deployed in other countries. We are armed to the teeth; we are a nation always at war without studying methods of peace. Instead of putting our best foot forward in other lands, we put our combat boots first. I admit to a sharp tone here, but as a Quaker, I aim to eliminate the need for war. Quaker principles aside, does anyone claim Operation Iraqi Freedom a worthy war? Iraq didn’t prosper even with our tax dollars to the tune of $751 billion gushing over there. And so in short order, we will say of Obama's Afghanistan war.
Friends, let's seize this opportunity. As the combat troops disappear out of Iraq, let all citizens ask for a time of amnesty. Each of us ask the US to do one thing to lead to peace among countries. What are the many avenues to consider? I'm asking for a 30% reduction in US military spending for our next fiscal year.

I'm aiming to salute my neighbors Asalam`alakum during this holy month. And I'm knitting wool hats and blankets during my planning meetings. I could send these to some Iraqi injured children. Or should I send it to one of the soldiers stationed in Iraq, 5,000 kilometers away from this home that is still hemorrhaging?