By Nathaniel Batchelder, 2/15/06
Address to OK Conference of Churches’ 2006 “Day at the Legislature”
Thank you for this opportunity. I’ll touch briefly on the purpose of government, a few issues in our world, share some inspirational stories and close with a reminder to be people of God from a surprising source.
I trust we all have a shared commitment that government policy should serve the common good and general welfare of all citizens – now and for future generations – even for the world community of nations.
Government is necessary for the protections of individual rights, human & civil rights, labor rights, workplace safety, pure food, pharmaceuticals, quality of roads & bridges, environmental impact, etc., etc.
Naturally, we always appeal to the conscience and higher values of individuals and corporations to do the right thing to make things better. But regulations set the standard. Without traffic regulations the streets would be undriveable.
So, what’s going on that needs some regulation?
I am concerned about trends over the past 30 years whose impact is alarming. I see the wealthy getting more wealthy, poverty expanding, environmental regulations compromised, and the power of government to intrude into citizens’ private affairs growing.
I do not lay these trends at either political party. Actually, the differences between our political parties seems to diminish with time. Rather, I’m concerned about the growing power of money in politics because money pollutes fairness in government, and makes every other consideration less important.
In the US, policies on taxes, trade, finances, and banking, have contributed to enormous growth and concentration of wealth at the top of our economic ladder: In 1983, Forbes magazine reported that there were some 17 billionaires in the world. Today, according to Forbes, there are more than 300 billionaires in the US alone.
Unfortunately, poverty has also expanded in America — many families with 2 or 3 jobs cannot support a household, and luxuries like health insurance, or saving for college and retirement are impossible. Everyone doing missions to the poor reports that their client numbers are growing.
The stock market went up, but the fortunes of America’s working and poor families have gone down.
Tax cuts for the wealthy also shift the tax burden down the economic ladder onto the backs of those with less…. and necessitate cuts to the programs offering ladders of opportunity or a safety net to those at the bottom – public education, college loans, assistance in medical care, housing, access to food — with the resultant expansion of the numbers in poverty.
The so-called global free trade treaties have backfired with regard to the interests of working and poor families. — NAFTA, the GATT, the World Trade Organization, and CAFTA – were all written by the corporations and bankers whom they would benefit most. They made it easier for US corporations to relocate to El Salvador or China, but did nothing for workers left behind, and nothing about worker safety, labor rights, or environmental regulations in the nations where a business might move.
On the environment, let’s agree that it is up to us to pass on a world as clean and healthy as the one we inherited. Few believe we are doing that. Why not? Those with a financial interest in lax regulations successfully influence policy-makers with targeted donations. In his book, “Crimes Against Nature,” Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. reports on some 400 environmental regulations compromised or reversed just since the year 2000.
And the beat goes on.
Is our government becoming a government “of, for, and by the rich?” What do we do?
Some call us a Christian nation. But if we believe in the teachings of Jesus, who spoke incessantly about the dangers to the spirit of great wealth and our duty to remember the plight of the poor, then what do we do? If the book of Matthew is really to be heeded, which admonishes that “the nations” will be judged by how they treat “the least among us”, what do we do? What does Oklahoma – and the nation – really need, in terms of policy for the common good and general welfare?
Of course we need quality public schools, accessible to all, with well-paid teachers.
We need wise policies in criminal justice, to bring down our huge prison populations. Oklahoma is 3rd in the nation, per capita, in incarcerating men, and first in the nation, per capita, in incarcerating women. This is unjust and wasteful of lives and money. It costs $30,000 a year to keep someone in prison; it would be cheaper to send them to Harvard. We must give back to judges the power to do alternative sentencing; we need special courts for handling drug and alcohol cases, so people can get into treatment, live with their families, support their own children.
We need wise transportation and energy policies, especially with fuel prices on the rise and no ceiling in sight. We must protect our railroads which ship freight at only 5% the energy cost of heavy 18-wheeler trucks, which, in addition to being fuel gluttons, do the most damage to our bridges and highways. Think about this: If Oklahoma City’s General Motors plant had been producing fuel-efficient hybrids instead of SUVs, they would be opening up another shift now, instead of closing the plant entirely. Federal incentives to build and buy fuel-efficient cars could have saved our GM plant.
We need care facilities for the mentally ill who are poor and unable to earn a living. Hats off to Sheriff John Whetsel, who is developing an alternative housing plan for the mentally ill who take up some 400 beds in the Oklahoma County Jail. This could be a model for all our 77 counties.
We need programs to assist families with the rising costs of fuel and energy for utilities. Current leadership in the Oklahoma Conference of Churches has done exactly that, building a fund of some $4 million from private sources, helping thousands of families with utility bills which have almost doubled in the past year.
We need full funding of the Head Start program and other programs offering the pre-school experience they need to start school ready to learn. Such programs not only help the kids and their families, they save money. Studies in this country and around the world demonstrate that for every dollar invested in pre-school programs, society will save between $4 and $7 while the child is in school, because they will not repeat grades, they will more likely graduate from high school, they will become job-holders instead of societal dependents.
We need sensible policy on animal wastes polluting ground water and surface water in our state. It is unconscionable that corporate hog and chicken operations — called CAFOs — should operate without responsible waste handling.
We need sensible environmental policies and special attention to blights like the notorious Tar Creek Super-Fund site in eastern Oklahoma, where thousands live in close proximity to toxic mine tailings — a situation languishing for lack of direction and attention. The Oklahoma Conference of Churches has this under discussion as well, and may harness the influence of Oklahoma’s Christian denominations to focus state and federal resources to address Tar Creek. Stay tuned on this one.
We need to defeat TABOR – the so-called “taxpayer bill of rights” – which is transparently a bill to further reduce the resources government needs to do the things we believe in.
We need a “Living Wage” in Oklahoma, so that working individuals can earn a salary making it possible for them to escape poverty.
Nationally, we need a guarantee of health insurance including preventive care and not just intervention when illness becomes catastrophic. Canadians have a single-payer health-care system which most Canadians think is terrific. The cost of health care in Canada is far less per person than the cost-per-person in the US, where conflicting demands of a thousand insurance plans gobble up 30-cents of every dollar spent for medical care. And, in our system, millions receive virtually no care at all.
We need a rational national defense policy and budget acknowledging that the greatest danger in the world today is not attack from another nation, but attack from desperate organizations or movements –- typically called terrorist — whose members may come from many nations, but who align with organizations like Al Quaeda. Against this threat, nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons — even war against nations — are useless, wasteful of our resources, and even counter-productive. Some call these relics of the past “necessary evils” but like most necessary evils, I believe they are more evil than necessary.
We need a creative Foreign Assistance policy to demonstrate America’s commitment to help eliminate the worst aspects of poverty and disease around the world. Technical interventions to prevent disease, save lives, and contribute to economic possibility in poor families are astonishingly cheap and cost-effective. Our Foreign Aid Budget is currently less than 1% of our national budget. Perhaps you have heard of the “ONE Campaign” — to increase US Foreign Assistance up to 1% of our national budget. Think of the impact this would have: Imagine Al Quaeda trying to recruit terrorists in a population whose children were saved by US medical assistance.
Are these not ideas and possibilities that inspire passion for action?
And the record is clear: individuals taking personal action based on their real values always make a difference.
Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat sparked the Montgomery bus boycott that launched the Civil Rights Movement.
Nelson Mandela, in prison for 27 years for refusing to comply with South Africa’s apartheid laws, became President of that nation, and a world leader.
Who knew that a handful of committed Oklahomans in the 1970s could take action resulting in Oklahoma’s utility rate-payers saving more than $2-billion dollars since then? It was the Sunbelt Alliance that helped to stop construction of the Black Fox Nuclear Power plant until the disaster at Three Mile Island put a stop to nuclear power plants until their safety could be insured. The billions saved by Oklahomans is a largely untold story.
Another handful of Oklahomans, opposed to the death penalty, have successfully ended executions of severely mentally retarded individuals, and individuals whose crime was committed while they were juveniles. The death penalty has no effect in preventing violent crimes; it costs far more than life without parole; no European nation practices the death penalty; it’s time to do away with it.
The efforts of another handful of Oklahomans, many here today, resulted in Oklahoma committing $10 million for drug and alcohol alternative sentencing treatment programs, lifting Oklahoma to first place in the nation in this commitment, per capita.
To me it seems crucial that we heal the terrible break that exists today between American citizens and our government. Most people know the values and policies they support, but too many of us don’t know who to call. Few Americans know who their US Representative and US Senators are … much less who their state Senator and Representative are. By contrast, a person once told me, “A year ago, I didn’t know my US Representative’s name. Now my US Representative knows MY name.” That’s a person transformed into an effective citizen.
We need places and opportunities where citizens can learn about our system; comfortably admit what they do not know; and safely ask questions how to make government work. No wonder a majority do not vote. They hate admitting their ignorance, so they leave it all to others.
Nobody can do this work alone. We all need the support and solidarity of collective actions through a group with experienced organizers. American government is not an ‘us-&-them’ game. WE ARE the government, and together, we can effect change and policies in ways that will surprise even ourselves.
To hold the door open for the possibility of unity among people of different political perspectives, we must all learn that it is politically savvy — and spiritually mature — to respect every person in government, in the hope that they will help us on our issue.
Did you know that Senator Jim Inhofe and Representative Frank Lucas are both committed to Microcredit Lending for Self-Employment, and support it every year? Citizens taught them about Microcredit, and faithfully ask for their support.
I visited Daily Oklahoman editor Patrick McGuigan the first time in 1992, resulting in his writing an editorial supporting foreign aid for Child Survival Programs. Over the years, Pat wrote 20 more editorials supporting poverty-reduction policies supported by RESULTS — not all the policies we supported — but some of them. We honored Pat for his efforts at a RESULTS dinner where many guests were shocked to see him in attendance. He and I disagree on most issues, but Pat is still a friend whom I greet at our exercise club. The new editor, Ed Kelley has written two editorials about global disease issues, and just last week, I had a piece published on the editorial page expressing my opposition to the Iraq War.
We must remain open and ready for such surprises, to be an instrument in bringing them about. Or else we just retreat into the safety of cynicism to justify our resignation and to make doing nothing seem rational.
I think what we all need is a little of that very hopeful Revolutionary Spirit that formed this nation — nonviolent revolution, I mean — grounded in citizen education and improved voting habits … everybody getting involved. That would wake ‘em up over at the Capitol.
Oklahoma may be the perfect place to start. We have 3 million citizens. That seems to be a magic number for revolutionary change.
The American Colonies had about 3 million people at the time of the American Revolution.
Alabama had about 3 million people at the time of the Montgomery bus boycott launching the civil rights movement.
Nicaragua had 3 million citizens at the time of their 1979, almost bloodless revolution ousting the Somoza family’s dictatorship and beginning their experiment in public education, public health, and safe water for all.
As a Vietnam Veteran, I have found a job and life at the Peace House where issues of justice and compassion consume all my working hours. I find it exhilarating — every day — and it brings me in touch with others who inspire me with their dedication to similar values. Look around this room at the people just like yourselves making a difference through individual actions. Maybe this excitement can spread like a virus throughout all our Oklahoma neighbors, and ultimately the whole nation.
And, through it all, we must listen for the call of God to be people of God, actively involved in the betterment of this world, wherever that call may come from. The international rock star Bono of the music group U2 was a speaker at the recent annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC., attended by President Bush and many Congressional leaders. This is an excerpt. Bono said:
“God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poorest make their home. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us, when we are with them. ‘If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday, and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places.’ ”
So, I say, in the name of God, let’s start that revolution!
The full text of Bono’s comments are on the website of Sojourners Magazine, www.sojo.net.
By Nathaniel Batchelder
Printed in the Daily Oklahoman, Wednesday, February 8, 2006
In January three years ago, almost 2,000 Oklahoma City citizens participated in an interfaith Spiritual Walk for Peace, expressing hope in prayer that war in Iraq could be avoided. Many of us had supported the U.S. effort to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, but it seemed the 9/11 terrorist attack was being used to justify a war in Iraq that some had wanted for years. Most Americans now believe the war was a mistake but go along for a host of reasons. It’s tough to challenge your government when your government is waging war, but, many of us see a bad decision bringing worse outcomes. Some 2,200 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqis have been killed. More than half a trillion dollars has been spent. Many believe this war inflames antiAmerican sentiment throughout the Middle East, assisting the recruitment efforts of America’s enemies there.
Before the war, U.N. weapons inspection leaders Hans Blix and Scott Ritter said they were finding no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They were ridiculed by the Rush Limbaughs on U.S. radio, but today we know they were right. The assertion that Iraq already had nuclear weapons has proven groundless. Iraq’s alleged mobile chemical weapons labs didn’t exist. The American people and Congress were whipped up for war with allegations of dangers for which no evidence has been produced.
Our leaders said the war would be quick. When American forces reached Baghdad and toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein, President Bush announced victory from the deck of an aircraft carrier before a banner proclaiming, “Mission Accomplished.” At that point only about 150 Americans had died in Iraq. Since then, another 2,000 have been killed, and untold thousands wounded and maimed.
Many have asserted, and I believe, that the U.S. presence in Iraq is the primary fuel for the continuing insurgency. Of course, I pray for the best possible outcome of this tragic violence. But many also believe that no government installed by the United States in the Middle East will be tolerated without permanent military and economic support. Many predict Iraq’s religious and political factions will descend into civil war without a perpetual military presence holding them in check. Since the Shiites make up 60 percent of Iraq’s population, Iraq could become a political ally of Iran.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has resorted to torture and humiliation of Middle East prisoners, compromising our national reputation for supporting human rights, and deepening resentments against us. Around the world the U.S.’ is seen as a threat to world peace. Would this war ever have been waged if Iraq and the Middle East were not the world’s center for oil production? Shame on us if we went to war for oil.
The United States must engage the international community in seeking oversight of Iraqi security while we remove our military forces, which fueling the insurgency. In any case, peace walks and demonstrations will continue in Oklahoma City and around the world to decry what we see as a tragic misuse of U.S. military force.
We love the troops. We want them home.
A peace activist’s manifesto
Nathaniel Batchelder, 10/15/2005
Social Justice Forum — Norman, Oklahoma
The author has worked at a peace center in Oklahoma City 18 years. He is a Vietnam veteran and active member of Church of the Open Arms, UCC.
This is about Iraq — but it is more about the soul of America and the possibilities for humanity. As bad as the Iraq War is, I believe it is a last gasp of those with an obsolete view of the world. What is called for is not simply to end a bad war, but to completely transform the vision and spirituality of our nation into alignment with a future that serves humanity’s real needs: physically, mentally, intellectually, and spiritually.
The Neoconservatives currently misruling the White House and controlling Congress are, of course, the polar opposite of the leadership which a transformed vision of humanity calls for. Indeed, they are simply the culmination of 30 to 40 years of politics reflecting NOT the common good and general welfare of Americans and the rest of humanity who are our neighbors on earth — but rather the interests of profit-making by an elite minority invested in transnational corporations. Their agenda is a single-minded drive to deregulate finance, business and industry so that corporations may enjoy the cheapest possible labor and operate with the fewest possible environmental regulations, the fewest possible worker protections, the least possible financial oversight, and the lowest possible taxation or return investment into society.
This savage view of the world is terribly short-sighted because it is not sustainable economically or environmentally, and is clearly not aligned with the needs of the great majority of people or humanity’s future.
It is a vision grounded in selfishness like that of an addict or an alcoholic who is just unable to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. They herald as praiseworthy the most base and selfish impulses of financial gain and disregard for everything else.
A brief review of the state of things — taking of stock of where we are — is troubling and even frightening, but we can never reach the best without taking a full look at the worst. Cancer must be diagnosed before it can be cured. The solutions I will then propose will, I hope, be both hope-giving and inspiring to us as human and spiritual beings — because the solutions are not only politically necessary for our nation’s and the world’s economic stability and survival, they are actions and politics reflecting and expressing humanity’s important spiritual motivations as emotional and sentient beings in community with one another, to express and live out our possibilities for life in harmony with Nature and all others on earth.
First, the bad news.
The War in Iraq — planned and waged by people in government, but even more by those who pull their strings from international financial institutions and board rooms of transnational corporations — is very simply about global dominion by a super-power willing to smash anything in its path to gain control over the resources needed to fuel its addictions: in this case the region of the world where petroleum is found.
The lies and disinformation broadcast to sell the war before it started — that Iraq had or was building nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction, and that Iraq was a hotbed of terrorism with links to Al Quaeda and the 9/11 terrorist attack, have all proven false. The Downing Street Memos from the highest levels of British intelligence reveal that the administration was fabricating evidence to gain the support of a manipulated American People and United Nations for war.
The projections of the administration that the war would be a cake-walk because American forces would be welcomed as liberators also proved false — and was either the grossest miscalculation by the war-planners, duped by their own deceptions, or was just more of the most cynical and deceitful propaganda put out to manipulate the American People into supporting war.
On a wall of names of the almost 2000 Americans killed since this war began, which was displayed at the recent ANTI-WAR FAIR in Oklahoma City on September 24th, there were 12 columns of names with about 160 names in each column.
Some two-thirds of the way down the FIRST COLUMN of names is the note that, at that point, President Bush announced “Mission Accomplished” from that aircraft carrier. More than 90% of the dead were killed after Bush proclaimed victory and that the fighting was over.
Worse, reports of people closer to the fighting and killing reveal their suspicion that numbers of Americans killed may be much higher, masked by technical mathematics … that the wounded evacuated to Germany and elsewhere who die later may not be listed as killed in Iraq … or that individuals killed in non-hostile events may not be listed as War casualties.
In any case, we veterans of the Vietnam War know that there are already — and will be more — tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands whose wounded bodies, minds, and spirits will result in lives knocked off the tracks into alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, depression and rage, resulting in domestic violence, social incompetence, and personal dependence on decades or lifetimes of counseling and support to struggle back into productive and satisfying lives.
This war was not engineered by people who served in combat themselves, or who have any personal insights into the grave social costs of war. The vast majority of those planning and executing this war were born to elite families whose sons and daughters rarely serve in combat, but avoid military service entirely. The privileged sons and daughters of their families avoid the grime of military service in favor of college and life in the Country Club set who perceive themselves above the class giving military service when their nation goes to war.
And, in this war, untold tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed by military sweeps of cities like Fallujah where planners ordered a “scorched earth” policy to destroy pockets of what may have been support or sympathy for an insurgency which reflects the natural inclination of any people to throw out an occupying military force.
Planners of this war totally ignored the political, social, and religious complexities of Iraq and its factions of Baathists, Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, and others which had been held in a tension of civility by the oppressive Saddam Hussein government. Today, some of these opposing forces seem on the surface aligned as working for development of a new government — a hopeful possibility — but underneath is the other reality about which so many express apprehension: that these factions are temporarily aligned around the desire to cast out the foreign military which they view as occupying Iraq, but may well devolve into civil war as soon as the American military leaves.
The United States is losing its soul in more ways in Iraq, by stooping to mass imprisonment and interrogation of thousands of Iraqis in a desperate quest to smash the insurgency, sinking to degrading torture and humiliation to gain knowledge of who and how the insurgency is organized and carried out. More than a year ago, we read about national leaders considering a “Salvador Option” for Iraq — in short, the implementation of techniques utilized or tolerated during the decade of the 1980s in El Salvador to smash the insurgent revolution there through mass killings, scorched earth policies, torture houses and death squads to identify and assassinate those who sympathized with or supported the revolution.
In this caldron of tensions, violence, and degradation, what is the ‘Right Course’ for America?
What we must call for with one voice is to end the war now and bring the troops home. This is not a criticism of America’s military forces, but rather an admission of bad decisions by the government which sent them to war in the first place. The growing insurgency and political dissolution in Iraq require that the United States agree to turn the situation over to some body of nations willing to take over the crying needs in Iraq for security, to supply a police force to maintain some kind of order while a new government forms and US forces are withdrawn.
Many people, and certainly I, believe that the continuing US presence in Iraq is the very lightning rod energizing the insurgency, and that American forces must be removed before peace can be achieved. The US is an unwelcome military presence in Iraq and the Middle East — and about this I believe the entire Middle East and Moslem world are in agreement. This is not Central America — what the United States considers “our back yard” where military control and economic policies from Washington, DC, can be implemented and reasonably controlled.
The Middle East is too far away, too large and too foreign to us in language, culture and religion for the United States to control as the planners of this War dreamed was possible. The War in Iraq is a train wreck based on false assumptions, false hopes, incompetent planning, and arrogant reliance upon US military force. It is the culmination of decades of self-serving national policies which placed so-called “US interests” above all other human and civil considerations.
So we must end the war, and we know that. But more, we must be about the transformation of American society back into the kind of society which our parents or grandparents remember after World War II.
That was a time in which Americans really believed that our nation had helped to defeat evil in the world, and had helped bring about the possibility for expansion of democracy, human rights, and global human development which could reach into every corner of the world where poverty, ignorance, disease, and political oppression caused suffering.
The great social programs of the Franklin Roosevelt era caused an explosion in this country of repair and development of America’s infrastructure serving human need: …. railroads, highways, schools, public buildings, libraries, civic centers and concert halls including Oklahoma City’s Civic Center, built by WPA in 1936. Social Security for the first time extended a guarantee of dignity to retired older people. Huge development projects extended electrification, safe water and sanitation to virtually every community in the country. Our postal service was the finest in the world. Telephones brought communication to virtually every home. It was a time of unbridled expansion of prosperity for average working families, and missionary zeal that the American Way was indeed the hope for the world.
But, incrementally, especially in the last 30 years, beginning with the so-called Reagan Revolution, virtually all of that has been compromised by growing mountains of legislation which have slowly but surely chipped away at that commitment to the Common Good and the General Welfare.
The litany of tax cuts to America’s wealthy citizens and corporations — sold as investments in economic vitality — have simply resulted in the expansion of the unimaginable wealth of a few at the expense of public and social services benefiting America’s working and poor families.
The passage of all the so-called “Global Free Trade Treaties” facilitated the exodus from America of tens of millions of jobs providing wages and benefits regulated to ensure worker safety, job stability, health care and retirement guarantees.
Millions of jobs were exported — and are still leaving — going to the farthest reaches of the world where women and children work for two dollars a day and less, with no protections from dangerous working conditions, chemical and environmental hazards, no health benefits, no retirement guarantees, virtually no protections at all.
This has been a profit bonanza for transnational corporations able to reduce labor costs to virtually nothing, and to operate without environmental and other regulations achieved in the US through decades of social struggle by and for the American people.
For hundreds of millions of Americans, this has brought economic insecurity, lower wages, and an environment where corporations like Walmart can pay the lowest wages and employ workers with so few benefits that many of their workers remain in poverty, needing social services, Food Stamps and Food Pantries to get through the month.
Meanwhile, the numbers of billionaires in America, according to Forbes Magazine which tracks such things, has grown from some 17 in 1983 to more than 300 today. America’s growing disparity of wealth between rich and poor is already the greatest of any other nation. We are a nation of expanding wealth among the elite, and expanding numbers of families in poverty, whose desperate circumstances exist in “Pockets of Poverty” exposed by the recent hurricane which flooded New Orleans. Hundreds of thousands simply had no means to evacuate the city, and were left when the hurricane arrived, not “high and dry” but flooded, ignored, and uncared for by a government which has simply turned its back on the needs and plight of its most vulnerable citizens.
And — if you follow environmental matters — you have watched and resisted to the best of your ability the alarming reversals and compromise of America’s environmental regulations protecting our air, waters, and land from the degradation of corporate exploitation. When regulations are removed or non-existent, competition of corporations inevitably reduces standards of behavior to the lowest common denominator. Bill McKibben’s book “The End of Nature” first published in 1990, is one of hundreds outlining ways in which the human use and misuse of natural resources, spaces and Nature itself are degrading the very environmental systems which support life. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s book published in time to be read before the 2004 elections: “Crimes Against Nature” outlines more than 400 reversals and compromises of environmental regulations just during the four years of the Bush administration since 2000.
These and more reveal the extent to which the US government is handing over responsibility for clean air, safe water, and productive land to the very corporations willing to degrade them all for short-term profit. Ultimately — as I have said — these short-sighted and exploitative policies are unsustainable.
The world outside the United States understands that human and corporate activity are changing the climate and weather around the world. Environmental and public health experts predict negative health effects upon populations from deregulating industries which pollute the environment.
Even more ironic, such policies are not even financially sustainable. How can an economy continue which enriches only those at the top while impoverishing virtually everyone else. As wages and disposable incomes of 80% of Americans stagnate or decline, purchases of the very fruits of capitalist production also decline, with the ultimate result being something like the collapse of the 1930s — the Great Depression — brought about when America’s warehouses were full but people were too poor to buy.
To you and me — and the vast majority of Americans — such an economic collapse looks bleak: a time when bankruptcies and foreclosures result in millions losing homes, farms, and businesses.
But, frankly, and quite cynically, such a collapse is a windfall bonanza for the rich, who can then buy houses, real estate, and businesses at a national tag sale for ten cents on the dollar. There are financial wizards lurking on the top rungs of America’s economic ladder who see the looming economic collapse which a 30-year spree of profit-taking may well bring about, and they don’t see it as all bad.
As the wizened economist says in ads for a leading investment corporation, “When the economy goes up, our clients make money; when the economy goes down, our clients make money.”
As a nation whose government professes to hold as a top priority the Common Good and General Welfare of all its citizens, America has truly lost its way.
WHAT SOLUTIONS ARE THERE?
As individuals, it may seem as though our impact is too small to make much difference, but it is high time that all of us lived as though all of our choices do make a difference, because they do: socially, economically, spiritually, environmentally, and politically.
Win, lose, or draw in this great effort to humanize and civilize our nation and the world, we will always feel better about our own lives if we made a best effort.
First, we must live personally as though all our choices make a difference, because they do. Many of you are already doing this: living more simply, reducing your environmental impact, driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, living communally, buying food from Coops supporting sustainable food production, becoming vegetarians.
An internet search for “Ecological Footprint” reveals websites providing information about lifestyle choices which really make a difference in reducing our environmental impact on earth.
Many of you already monitor your purchases to avoid corporations with the least socially responsible policies — Walmart being one of the worst — and endeavoring to support companies whose policies are labor friendly and environmentally sustainable. Numerous websites guide consumers to socially responsible purchasing. Such information must be shared widely.
More than ever now we must nurture and encourage our immediate communities of friends and family to support one another in better choices, wiser purchases, shared resources, and communal consciousness of the ways we live which affect the natural world near and far, and which affect workers and families in this country and around the world. This spiritual connection, one to another, I believe is key to our personal and social health and energy for living in ways that contribute to the Common Good and General Welfare of all people and Nature. It is really taking the first steps toward changing what we do as a part of changing the world.
Then, as we are cleaning up our act at the personal level, we are liberated to more cleanly seek change in the larger world around us.
We can become effective advocates of social change and political change at all levels — local, state, national, and global — as we study and learn how this is effectively done. I stress the crucial value of NOT isolating oneself, but in working with and through communities of like-minded citizens supporting one another in small gatherings that are joyful and loving, but also politically astute and realistic about what it takes to implement small and large changes in society.
If we would build a world where love for humanity and Nature are paramount, where compassion for society’s most vulnerable citizens is a shared common value, where the elderly and mentally ill and families in poverty find access to resources lifting them above the status of discarded garbage into a world where the common concern of all extends the hand up they need — then our lives, our spirits, and our manners must reflect that love and possibility in all our interactions and choices.
In short, we must demonstrate, as have all the prophets, that love CAN conquer all. The human potential for compassion and service are deeply rooted in us all, and can — if we WILL it to happen — come to infuse all our political and economic systems with that same spirit.
Difficult as it often feels, this means that we must work as effectively as we can with those who currently hold the seats of power in government … even as we empower ourselves and others to become involved in the political arena where candidates run for office, and candidates get elected to public office.
It is ultimately up to us, individually and collectively, to bring to the political and economic arenas the love and compassion for humanity and Nature which fuels our hope and vision for the world.
And — even more difficult — we must do this reflecting the very love, compassion and hopes which underlie all our lives and which inspire our spirits to seek a better world. I don’t believe we can ultimately change the world for the better through energy based primarily upon our anger, resentments, hostilities, and rage.
Of course these are present in everyone working for justice and for leadership better than the current self-serving and short-sighted zealots. Anger at violence, greed and savagery proves that you are still alive and fighting for something better. Anger about what is simply wrong proves your love of a higher vision.
But, in contending against wrong we must struggle not to become wrongly contentious ourselves. For when we do, we simply slide into oppositional contests which gentle people usually lose anyway. And we compromise our better spirits which seek to implement policies of compassion and love for humanity and Nature. Operating out of angry contention may seem cathartic in the moment, and it may even seem politically advantageous during one election cycle, but it is not truly sustaining, for it taps into the same roots of aggression and contention which our better natures seek to overcome and to dissolve. It saps the good energy we feel when grounded in joy and loving spirit. We should not give our opponents this victory over us.
I have found it true that, to be really effective, our campaigns and our lives must also be joyful, happy and creative. As we go about our work for change, we must celebrate all the things in the world which are beautiful and worthy of exalting, like glorious days, family picnics, and outings in Nature. We must celebrate living things and obscure species which share the earth with humanity and contribute to the beauty of Nature.
We must celebrate and participate in music, art, poetry, sculpture, dramatics, weaving, carving, pottery, tapestries, quilts, gardening and every other form of human creativity which lift human life above mere survival into something which exalts the human potential.
We must celebrate and love our own sexual natures and the sexual natures of others as expressions of the free gift to humanity and the good energy for loving and pleasure which sexuality is meant to be. Have you noticed how the authoritarian powers of both the political-right and the religious-right, which usually support the systems of human greed, exploitation, conquest, aggression and war, generally reflect no appreciation for art, creativity, personal expression, sexual love and the personal freedom of being fully alive to Nature and the world?
No — they are afraid of such free expression of creativity, energy, love and sexuality. Their dysfunctional twisted maladjusted souls want you to compromise yourselves too: to become as self-serving and materially acquisitive and unconcerned about the future and humanity as they are.
In every moment we are alive, we can say “YES” to life and personal freedom, and “NO” to the death-dealing politics of personal selfishness, military aggression and fundamentalist religiosity which would crush the human spirit and make a world where a few live in obscene excessive consumption while the rest live less-than-human existences.
This is our choice: Will we say “Yes” to life and all its possibilities for humanity to live in harmony with our natural surroundings and one another? Or will we compromise our better natures and just “go along to get along,” living half alive as bystanders, tolerating systems that exploit people and Nature, because we have given up on the possibility that our lives can make a difference?
It is not given to us to know at the outset whether we shall “win” or “lose” in this great struggle for everything on earth which has meaning. But I say at the outset that from my perspective, my own life has more meaning and more satisfactions when I find expression of my love for the world and my hopes for humanity’s possibilities through daily actions in the social and political arenas where great decisions are made.
They would like us to give up, but we will not.
They would like us to descend into cynical and angry oppositional tactics, proving that we are just like them, but we will not.
They would like to reshape us in their image, into people whose desperate pathetic lives are defined by material possessions and wealth, but we will not.
They would like us to go away, move to a different country, silence our calls for social change and environmental sustainability, but we will not. They would like to contain and constrain our spirits and have us become automatons serving the systems they support, and become people disconnected from our own creativity and loving and sexual natures, but we will not. Look around you and recognize that we are the ones we have been waiting for. There is no one else but us. There is no one else but you. This is the time. Now is the moment.
Let all of us henceforth live our lives as though every breath we take and every move we make can be our contribution to a better world, living harmoniously with Nature, other species, other nations, cultures and religions, building a world where the needs of every working family, mother and child, becomes a high priority of societies and governments the world around.
Let us live life as though our lives matter, because they do
OPS News, September, 2005
I preface these remarks with the encouragement that elections and voting are the only viable means for changing the faces in government enacting policies affecting all of us. Beginning with President Ronald Reagan’s two terms, I have observed an America becoming more like El Salvador every day.
During the 1980s, under President Reagan, the UmiliS annually poured $500 million dollars into El Salvador in mostly military aid to support the government’s defensive war against its own people.
El Salvador was ruled by 14 families which owned or controlled everything — police, army, industry, commerce, media, government — everything. And 90% of the people of El Salvador survived on poverty wages, often doing seasonal work, without benefits or access to public education, public health services, even safe water or sanitation. Little wonder that popular movements for social change, which had met no success lobbying their government nonviolently for decades, evolved into an organized revolutionary force determined to overthrow the elitist oligarchy misruling the tiny nation.
Sometime in the late 1980s I had the thought that if the US government was willing to spend $5 billion in El Salvador to support an elitist government maintaining policies “of, for, and by the rich” then maybe El Salvador was the model of how they felt a nation should be managed. Since then, each year, incrementally, America has become more like El Salvador.
Numerous tax cuts through the decades have benefited primarily the rich, leaving programs unfunded which traditionally helped America’s most vulnerable citizens. Virtually gone are the mental health institutions whose clients now wander the streets in confusion. Today, they end up in jail alongside criminals. Meanwhile, the number of billionaires in America has grown, from some 13 in 1980, to more than 300 today.
The disparity of wealth between America’s rich and poor is the largest in history, and is the largest of any other nation. Meanwhile, some 2.1 million people are incarcerated in the US, a higher percentage of our population than any other nation. The US military budget today is around $500 billion per year, about half of what the whole world spends on military preparedness or actions.
The Salvadoran government in the 1970s and 1980s was committed to maintaining a system which enforced the status quo of rich and poor. To this end, the government targeted organizers of popular organizations, or any organization working to improve the lives of the poor, and simply had them “disappeared” by death squads. The United States naturally denied any knowledge or complicity in this wholesale slaughter of tens of thousands of “liberals” in El Salvador, but it is not possible that US leadership was unaware of what was going on.
Would the US government knowingly do such things?
A year and a half ago, it was reported in some of our news media that US government officials concerned that the war in Iraq was going badly were considering a “Salvador Option” in Iraq. Not only was this an admission that US leaders had known all along about the assassination campaigns in El Salvador, it also revealed that the plan was being dusted off to be implemented again, in Iraq.
And, indeed, just a week ago, it was reported that United Nations human rights observers were expressing concern about the rising numbers of “extrajudicial killings” in Iraq, and evidence that many such corpses displayed evidence of torture before death. Is it possible that the US and its Iraqi collaborators are implementing the “Salvador Option” in Iraq already?
In 1988, the FCC policy was repealed which mandated equal time for a “fair response” if someone felt they had been unfairly characterized in the media or a news broadcast was simply erroneous. Some of us remember calling a radio or TV station and requesting time to reply to some outrageous news story about an issue or person. Because that policy was repealed, there is no legal recourse to today’s right-wing “shock jocks” who broadcast misinformation, disinformation, lies and calumny 24 hours a day on the 1500 or so radio stations of Clear Channel Communications or the Fox News Network.
Part of today’s challenge is communicating to our fellow Americans that there is no longer reliable information available through much of the corporate-controlled “news media.” TV and radio news “anchors” often realize that their job is not to investigate or challenge the stories placed before them, but simply to participate in broadcasting “news lite” which ignores information challenging to US policy, or which just distracts people from issues affecting their lives.
The two women — Malka Drucker and Gay Block — who produced the remarkable “Rescuers” exhibit now on display in Oklahoma City as part of the Holocaust Exhibition — free and open every day through October 23rd, at the “Untitled Artspace” at 1 NE 3rd St. — made a telling point about the Holocaust during the Nazi regime. They said that everyone in Europe fell into one of four categories: 1) perpetrators, 2) victims, 3) rescuers, and 4) bystanders.
Each of us is challenged today to define ourselves in regard to issues of justice and compassion in the world affecting all six billion people on the planet … and Nature too. Whatever issue calls most clearly to you, I pray that you may find energy, meaning and value in engagement, and resist with all your spirit the temptation to remain simply a bystander.
The world desperately needs every one of us now: artists, poets, musicians, chefs, carpenters, mothers, bankers, speakers, lobbyists, politicians and political activists.
As the late Archbishop Oscar Romero said before he was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980, “Everyone can do something.” Romero’s life and words have much to teach us today. I invite you to read the Romero retrospective on page 6.
America is being governed by people who see the world through the eyes of the 14 Families in El Salvador, the privileged Sultans of Brunei and Saudi Arabia, the elitist well-born raised to believe that their class deserves all the wealth they can accumulate.When impoverished masses suffer and die from preventable disease, malnutrition, famine or plague — as the poor always do –they shrug and say, “It’s God’s will.What are we supposed to do?”
They view government “of, for, and by the people” as evil, because such a government promotes policy for “the common good” and “the general welfare of all” which they consider wasteful or socialist.They have been systematically dismantling America’s social programs for 35 years, passing huge tax cuts leaving government under-funded, shifting programs to the states which then must pass sales taxes and lotteries to make up the shortfall, regressive taxes which fall most heavily upon the poor and working classes.
FEMA was apparently a “social program” thus starved, thwarted, and redirected into “Homeland Security” such that, throughout the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, FEMA has been criminally inept and dysfunctional ….. failing itself to respond, and actually blocking other efforts to help.
And starving federal programs designed to help people may not be the worst of sins the neoconservative gang has foisted upon America and the world.
Regarding the 9/11 terrorist attack on America, information trickles in from various sources that the very intelligence agencies which might have prevented it had been taken off the job by this administration — reassigned to patrolling North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, for example — thus missing the developing attack plan.Memos about the possible attack plan forwarded to superiors were ignored or brushed aside.Air Force fighter jets which can be scrambled to intercept any rogue airliner or private jet in less than 20 minutes were otherwise engaged on 9/11,doing “practice exercises” simulating the very kind of attack that was actually taking place on 9/11.Air Force pilot transmissions included questions like, “Is this part of the exercise?Which planes are real?”Bush was off in Florida reading “The Pet Goat” with elementary school children.The first plane hit the tower before the President sat down with the kids.The message whispered into his ear, after which he sat for seven more minutes with the children, was that the SECOND plane had hit the SECOND tower, at which moment everyone in America knew that America was under attack.)President Bush and staff didn’t know that their seven minutes of inaction was being videotaped by a teacher.Information places Dick Cheney at that moment in the White House bunker.
It is profoundly troubling even to imagine that top officials in the US government might have participated in “allowing” the terrorist attack on9/11 to take place ….. but the attack certainly provided the spark which justified the War in Iraq which neoconservatives had wanted to pursue for years before G W Bush was elected.
We have a government “of, for, and by” America’s “Pharoahs” … the wealthiest of the super-rich who would just as soon let the poorest 20% die or starve in neglect, even believing the country might be better off without them.
You have difficulty believing such people exist?A few years ago I participated in a delegation to lobby Senator Jim Inhofe’s aides on a bill to extend support to alleviate poverty and disease in Africa. The aide we spoke with looked puzzled by our efforts and asked, “But, isn’t Africa a sacrifice zone?”We were too stunned to pursue the conversation.
Of course, our legal right to vote is still ours.If Americans become sufficiently motivated the neo-cons can be thrown out of office.I believe they have demonstrated a willingness to lie, cheat, and mislead in order to”win” elections, and — frankly — I believe that the voting rights of working and poor people were violated in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004 to “win.”(Young Karl Rove entered politics working for Donald Segretti, director of the dirty tricks team which targeted Democrats for Richard Nixon.Calling themselves “Ratfuckers” this gang planted the story that Edmund Muskie’s wife was alcoholic which resulted in the emotional news conference ending Muskie’s campaign.)
Our vision of America and the world is so profoundly different from theirs that I do not believe we can communicate with them.They care not whether a majority opposes or supports them so long as they keep winning.The only issue is whether we can stop them.Electoral defeat is the only remedy for getting such individuals and policies out of government.Maybe we can do it. Maybe we can’t.Everything is on the table.
Dear Friends, Using the email address below, you could write the FCC too.
TO: FCC Managers & Directors, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Sirs and Madams:
The call from Rev. Pat Robertson for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez struck me as profoundly obscene …. both because Robertson’s words defiled Christianity itself ….. but also because his call for assassination will no doubt be replayed endlessly by the news media throughout the Muslim and Middle Eastern worlds, which already suspect that America’s “War On Terrorism” is in part a “Christian crusade” against Islam.
When a highly visible American “Christian leader” uses public airwaves to call for the assassination of a world leader, adding, “It would be so much cheaper than the war in Iraq,” it’s time for the FCC to draw the line.
Please consider amending FCC regulations to define as obscene all comments on United States TV and radio airwaves openly calling for death of people, or implying that someone’s death would be “valuable” to our country. This misuse of our airwaves threatens civil behavior in America, and — on the world scene — threatens America’s national security by inflaming people already resentful against America. This is more than obscene; it is dangerous.
Pat Robertson has also “prayed” on his national TV broadcast for “God” to grant America another appointment to the Supreme Court during the Bush administration. Is this a veiled threat to the lives of the other Supreme Court Justices? Would some Christian listening to Robertson believe they were carrying out “God’s will” if they were to assassinate a sitting Supreme Court Justice??
Many of the “right-wingers” on national radio shows (particularly on Clear Channel Communications) have said over the national airwaves that the deaths of “some people” would be a “good thing” for America. Whether they are railing against homosexuals, people with AIDS, liberal Congress members or anti-war activists, to me their comments are not “free speech” when they suggest that the “possible deaths” of other Americans would be in the national interest.
The FCC is a monitor and a regulator of obscenity over America’s radio and TV airwaves, and I state emphatically that using our public airwaves to call for the deaths, or joke about the deaths, or fantasize about the “value” of the deaths of people is OBSCENE.
Please regulate this “hate speech” in light of its threat to civil behavior in America and — particularly — to our national and domestic security.
Rev. Kathy McCallie, Okla.City, Peggy Johnson, Lexington, Serena Blaiz of Oklahoma City, Melissa Rabe of Blanchard, Mary de Julius of Muskogee.
Activists from around the nation, and news media from around the world are in Crawford, TX, to see whether President Bush will grant an interview with Cindy Sheehan.
At least five Oklahoma women are now participating in “Gold Star Mother for Peace” Cindy Sheehan’s vigil in Crawford, TX, whose request for a hearing with President Bush has so far been rebuffed, according to Crawford’s “Lone Star Iconoclast” newspaper.
Oklahoma City’s Rev. Kathy McCallie, joining the vigil because her son Jesse has orders to Iraq this fall, said the world press has come to Crawford, TX, bringing questions from Germany, Argentina, Korea, England, and “other European countries.”
McCallie said the Oklahoma women have met participants in the peace vigil from states including CA, MN, MA, RI, WA, KS, NM, IL, OH, PA, and “all over Texas.”
Cindy Sheehan’s son Casey was killed in Iraq, and she has asked President Bush not to use her son’s name in justifying further hostilities in Iraq. President Bush has said those killed in Iraq died for a “noble cause” and that they will have “died in vain” unless Americans support “staying the course” in Iraq.
Sheehan wants an audience with President Bush to tell him that the US should end the war now and bring all US troops home. Sheehan has said, “This is not because it’s what the American people want, but because it’s what the Iraqi people want.”
LINK: Crawford Peace House, www.crawfordpeacehouse.org/
“When women act united, we will never be defeated.”
Crawford, Texas–Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, California, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004, traveled to Crawford, Texas with hundreds of anti-war activists to confront President Bush at his Crawford ranch. Sheehan wants to ask Bush, “What did my son die for?” and demand a speedy withdrawal of troops in Iraq. During their march in the 100 degree heat, the protesters were forced into a ditch teeming with fire ants. Sheehan, who co-founded Gold Star Families for Peace, refuses to leave until the President comes out to speak with her.
Marching with Sheehan was CODEPINK co-founder Diane Wilson, along with many members of CODEPINK: WOMEN FOR PEACE, a grassroots peace and social justice movement that seeks positive social change through proactive, creative protest and non-violent direct action. Wilson, who continues to stand vigil with Sheehan, pledged that CODEPINK would join Sheehan in solidarity through a hunger strike. Members of are flocking to Crawford to support Sheehan’s stance, and are embarking upon vigilant fasts around the globe. Ann Wright, who resigned from the U.S. Foreign Service on March 19, 2003, in disagreement with the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq without the authorization of the UN Security Council, has joined Sheehan and Wilson in their roadside vigil.
In an open letter, Sheehan writes, “We would like for [President Bush] to explain this ‘noble cause’ to us and ask him why Jenna and Barbara are not in harm’s way, if the cause is so noble.” She adds, “If George is not ready to send the twins, then he should bring our troops home immediately.” She asks supporters to “Bring water and hats.we plan on staying until we are arrested or satisfied with the answers.”
Aug. 9 /U.S. Newswire/ — More members of Gold Star Families for Peace (GSFP) and Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) are traveling to Texas to join the protest outside of President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he is vacationing for the month of August.
Starting today, Gold Star families from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Arkansas and other states whose loved ones have died as a result of the war in Iraq will be joining one of their members, Cindy Sheehan, at the protest. Ms. Sheehan, whose son Army Specialist Casey Sheehan was killed in Sadr City, Iraq on April 4, 2004, has been in Crawford since August 5th, demanding a meeting with the President. These families will be joined by military families with loved ones currently serving in Iraq or about to deploy or redeploy to Iraq. All of these families are coming to Crawford, Texas to share their stories about the personal costs of the war in Iraq and add their voices to the call for a meeting with President Bush.
On August 3, 2005 President Bush, speaking about the dreadful loss of life in Iraq in early August, said “We have to honor the sacrifices of the fallen by completing the mission… The families of the fallen can be assured that they died for a noble cause.” Gold Star and military families coming to Crawford know that the cause was not noble; that their loved ones died, or are currently in harm’s way, serving in a war based on lies.
In the first 8 days of August, 36 service members died in Iraq; countless Iraq children, women and men are dying each day. All of the families traveling to Crawford will carry the message to the vacationing President: Honor our fallen and honor our loved ones’ service by ending the occupation, bringing the troops home now and taking care of them when they get here.
President Bush has consistently tried to hide, and to hide from, the cost of the war in Iraq. This August, these costs are being brought right to his doorstep.