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November 21, 2006

Whose Ideas Are Valid?

Dear Friends,
I wrote this article recently for The Detroit Free Press. I hope you enjoy...

Whose Ideas Are Valid?

Evangelical leader Rick Warren has been criticized for meeting with the president of Syria, chastised into making sure we understand that he supports President Bush, and the troops, and the war on terrorism. It has been suggested he has fallen for a huge sin that sometimes tempts religious people: they get involved in politics! For shame!

So who exactly is it, then, who has the "right" to be involved in politics? Just politicians? Lawyers? The media, perhaps? But "religious leaders?" How dare they! Last time I read it, the US Constitution didn't say that when you take up the clergy, you give up your citizenship. It is hardly a violation of church and state for religious leaders to speak their minds about political issues. Quite the opposite: they're the last people on earth who should ever, ever, ever be complacent or quieted by a worldly status quo. It's particularly worth noting that today, the status quo is failing miserably in its ability to create peace on earth.

I don't usually agree with right-wing Christians about politics. Gay marriage? I find it abhorrent to think that the power of the US government would be used to officially limit the rights of any group of Americans. Whether or not a gay couple gets married, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, "neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Abortion rights? I think abortion is a choice between a woman and her God, and the government shouldn't even be in on that conversation. They could slow down the process -- demanding a time of reflection -- and that would be okay with me, but not have the right to stop it. But if Rick Warren wants to go to Syria and meet with its President, then God bless him. He should do whatever he wants to do. Condoleeza Rice won't go there. And such behavior on her part hardly makes me sleep better at night.

The problem here is not that religious people are messing with politics; the problem is that politicians are messing with religious people. I think perhaps we need to make something clear. The point of religion is that it answers to a Higher Power; its loyalty is to God. Religious people might not always agree on what God is asking of us, but that is not the point. Spiritual leaders are leaders too. Political leaders are the not the only kind of leaders, nor should their voices be the only ones that affect the affairs of the world today. What traditional politics is offering us is in fact not working, and perhaps it is the religious people among us who should if anything be pointing that out.

Terrorism is a spiritual darkness; it is a mass psychosis. People who know how to lead groups in prayer and collective meditations, people who have expertise in healing hearts and minds and relationships, people who know about dismantling insane behavioral patterns -- such as these have at least as much to offer in response to terrorism, as do people who know how to drop bombs. Killing a terrorist does not of itself kill terrorism. If worldly might is our only response to the problem, then that problem is going to devour us.

If Rick Warren, or anyone else for that matter, has a better idea for how to handle Syria, or Iran, or any other nation -- even if I don't agree with it -- unless it hurts someone, then I hope he or she shouts it from the rooftops. As they do, the false idol of politics as usual might actually fall away, and that would be fine. As the saying goes, "War is far too serious a business to be left in the hands of politicians and generals." Don't go quiet, Rick. If anything, push back -- and do not back down.

Posted by mwblog at 7:42 AM

November 10, 2006

The Cry of Our Inner Gandhi What's so scary about a Department of Peace?

By ROBERT C. KOEHLER Tribune Media Services

October 26, 2006

"While Republicans fight the War on Terror, grow our robust economy, and crack down on illegal immigration, House Democrats plot to establish a Department of Peace, raise your taxes, and minimize penalties for crack dealers. The difference couldn't be starker."

As a contribution to the general noise and ignorance, House Whip Roy Blunt's Web-site politicking is nothing special. Boo! Scared yet? Fear-baiting at election time is standard GOP save-our-keister strategy, but the list of acceptable bogeymen that party leaders parade before the constituency, with inimitable cynicism, is always instructional.

Taxes, check. Crack dealers, check. Department of Peace . . . huh?

Heaping derision on this quiet but potent piece of legislation — H.R. 3760, which now has 74 co-sponsors — may be a miscalculation on Blunt's part, given that most Americans have lost patience with the carnage in Iraq, don't feel safer because of the war on terror and want the country to move in a new direction.

I can understand why Blunt himself would be scared of it — the establishment of a cabinet-level Department of Peace would signal a profound national direction change — but, sadly, I also understand why he sees it as a safe target to mock and misrepresent. The extraordinary notion that violence, like disease, may have causes that can be eradicated — that it is not embedded in human nature and therefore inevitable — isn't in wide circulation yet. It remains barely a pinprick in the national awareness, as manifested by the mainstream media and other outlets of popular culture.

The concept is also dangerous and upsets the powers that be. Violence is not only big business, it permeates the mythology that unites us as a nation. To suggest building a culture of peace, of which a Department of Peace would be one component, no doubt seems like a "plot" to the likes of Blunt — but I'm convinced there is a groundswell of hope for such a culture, indeed, a spiritual hunger for it.

A woman recently wrote to me: "I don't think I've ever felt a deeper level of frustration with the direction this country is going. Honestly though, what do you do? I give to the candidates and important causes, I've gone to marches and rallies, I write letters when necessary but I honestly don't know what to do with the anger, frustration, despair that I feel. I've had this conversation with friends and we talk about it but then agree that we don't 'Do' anything. But what is there to do? What is the best way to get involved?"

How many of us haven't felt such anguish ourselves? There's no simple fix for this sort of frustration, which, though it may be triggered by the Bush presidency, is far more spiritual in nature than it is political. For all the nation's vaunted self-aggrandizement as the world's oldest democracy, we are not encouraged by the mass media to participate in public life — certainly not at that level.

The Washington Post, for instance, in a story about House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (the story quotes Blunt's laundry list of bogeymen), describes how the California Democrat set about revitalizing her party after its defeat in '04. Did she reach out to the public, tap into the great desire for change afoot in the land or craft a relevant party platform? Well, actually, no.

Instead, the story matter-of-factly notes, "she reached out to advertising executives, Internet moguls and language specialists to ask how Democrats could rise from the ashes and challenge President Bush and the Republicans."

This is the kind of story that ruins my day. The word "participatory" seems to be so thoroughly atrophied at this point that no self-respecting journalist would seriously consider using it as a modifier — much less an amplifier — for "democracy." Yet my anguished letter-writer is groping for precisely this word. That vibrating imperative she expressed, to do something that matters, is nothing less, in my view, than the cry of our inner Gandhi to become the change we want to see happen in the world.

And this brings me back to the Department of Peace, the culture of peace, the idea of peace. If we don't break the cycles of violence that keep hatred and injustice at a constant simmer, our future is limited and stunted. "We need a partner in our government so that peace becomes an organizing principle in this society," said Dot Maver, executive director of The Peace Alliance. That's the value of the movement to establish a Department of Peace, and for those of you, like my correspondent, who want to know where to put your energy, this may be the place.

Peace, as defined by Johan Galtung at transcend.org, is "the capacity to handle conflicts with empathy, nonviolence and creativity." Far from being a "plot" hatched by a cabal of Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi, as Rep. Blunt seems to think it is (if only he were right), peace is a principle, an array of social technologies and, above all, a life commitment demanding every ounce of our strength.

"Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing the power to make great decisions for good and evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe." — Albert Einstein

Posted by mwblog at 1:01 PM

November 1, 2006

Election Day, Tuesday, November 7th

Dear friends,

Election day, coming up on Tuesday, November 7th, is one of our greatest civic rituals. I urge you to vote - and get everyone you know to vote.

Millions of people will be voting on new machines and some concerns have been raised about their accuracy. Here is what we can do to make sure that our vote is counted accurately:

1) CHECK NOW TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE REGISTERED TO VOTE, even if you think you are (some people have been knocked off the rolls due to recent computer changes). Also find the current address of your polling location since many polling locations have changed. For many states, you can find this information at www.CanIVote.org, or call your county election office.

2) VOTE! Use a paper ballot wherever possible which is better than the touch screen machines. Voting by absentee ballot guarantees you'll vote on a paper ballot, if you have that opportunity. (Note to those voting on an electronic voting machines: if the machine has a paper trail printer, confirm that your vote is recorded accurately on the paper record. If there is a problem, notify the poll worker before casting your vote.)

3) BRING IDENTIFICATION and proof of residence when you vote.

4) IF YOU HAVE ANY PROBLEM VOTING, CALL immediately 1-866-OurVote (1-866-687-8683) for English or 1-888-VeyVota (1-888-839-8682 para la ayuda en espanol). Call from the polling site so people can help you right away.

5) HELP MONITOR THE ELECTIONS. If you can give 3 hours or more on Election Day, we need you to monitor the election. For more info, visit www.pollworkersfordemocracy.org.

Please spread this message far and wide.

If you want more information, contact the following citizen groups working to protect our democracy:

• Velvet Revolution is a network of progressive organizations demanding progressive change including action to ensure accurate US elections, www.VelvetRevolution.us

• VoteTrust USA has excellent info on the integrity of our voting system AND supports groups working at the local and state level (a good way to connect with people in your area), www.VoteTrustUSA.org

• Common Cause gathers info on voting problems, works for election reforms through state and federal government, www.CommonCause.org

• People for the American Way organizes volunteers to safeguard our voting through Election Protection teams, www.pfaw.org

• The Advancement Project works with communities to build a fair and just multi-racial democracy in America, helps to ensure universal opportunity, equity and access, www.AdvancementProject.org

Remember to vote on Tuesday, November 7th. Let our voices be heard!

With love,

Posted by mwblog at 7:27 AM