What Needs Changing (the Peace Movement)

Transcribed from a speech given at Military-Industrial Complex at 50 Conference by Jonathan Williams manager of communications and online organizing for Peace Action and co-founder of Civilian-Soldier Alliance:

Thanks to everyone for organizing this conference. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today.

How do we win? How do we get our demands met? We need power. But what is power? How do we get it?

Simply put, power is the ability to act; the ability to end the wars, the ability to convert our economy, the ability to change the world. But how do we get that kind of power?

A lot of my mentors have said there are two kinds of power in this world: there’s organized money and there’s organized people. Which one do you think I’m here to talk about?

So how do we organize people? We can’t get that organized money, but we have the other kind of power. We have the numbers. We have the majority of people on our side.

There’s a great quote that goes something like this: we have to stop thinking that we’re going win because (1) the majority of people are on our side, (2) the facts are on our side, or (3) because we’re morally right. Our opponents have none of these things, and they are consistently winning.

How are they winning then? It’s because they have power. So how do we get that kind of power?

In my organization, Civilian-Soldier Alliance, we talk a lot about leadership. In our work, leadership and relationships are what we think actually organizes people. That’s where you get people power.

So how do you become a leader for social change? None of us are born as social change organizers. We don’t pop out ready to change the world. That’s not how it works. It is a process of transformation. It’s a transformation of an individual to become a leader, and in turn, transforming lots of individuals transforms society. We call thistransformational organizing.

Read more here.

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No Place Called Home

Kim Schultz on the making of her play “No Place Called Home”, a reaction to 9/11 and the costs of war.

Recently we as a nation commemorated the anniversary of 9/11. I along with my fellow New Yorkers and Americans mourn the loss of those almost 3,000 lives that fateful day ten years ago. It was a tragedy unlike any I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. An attack of epic proportions for the U.S., more commonplace, perhaps in other parts of the world, but a devastating attack for Americans. What frightens and horrifies me however is how we have transformed as a nation since then, who we have become as individuals and as a country since the attack on 9/11. We were attacked by Islamic terrorists, not Islam itself. And yet, attack Islam, we do.

This is not who we are as Americans or at least who we were. Have we lost all decency? All reason?  When did we decide to go to war with everyone who is different from us?

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I was down near the World Trade Center site performing a piece of a play called “No Place Called Home,” I wrote about the Iraqi refugee crisis – a crisis created because of our invasion of that country. While performing a short section on the street in front of City Hall, several individuals shouted such things as “God bless America. Screw Iraq!” and “Bang! Bang!”

Now, we can say these were freak events. But I don’t think that is the case. These people spoke their minds as our nation’s freedoms allow us to. But what I found most distressing and disturbing was the anger and ignorance under the words. Why do we have to disregard, even hate the other, in order to be an American?  Since when do patriotism and bigotry go hand in hand?

Over 4 million Iraqi people have been displaced since the war began. 4 million made homeless from a war most Americans now look at as a mistake.  This is to say nothing of the 100,000 innocent killed in Iraq. Most Americans don’t know this– or choose to remain ignorant.

Every Day I wonder what I can and should do about this. One thing I can do and we all can do is speak up for injustice and inequality through art by whatever means we have-to give voice through our art. 10YAC allows just that—an opportunity to speak up  and say “enough”, an opportunity to do right by others through the powerful medium of creative creation. Art is powerful and unique. It makes the audience feel and connect in a way articles, interviews and news articles never can. What do you want to say? How can you say it? Just start.

I was never an advocate for anything. Prior to my trip, I knew very little about Islam and now? Now, I wrote a play about Iraqi refugees, giving voice to those 4 million people and write blog posts about anti-Islam bigotry. What can you do? Let your voice be heard. It can change the world.

Originally from Minnesota, Kim Schultz is an actress, writer and comedienne. Nationally, she has worked at The Guthrie Theatre, Childrens’ Theatre Co. ,Theatre de la Jeune Lune, The Chicago Improv Fest, The Brave New Workshop, HBO Comedy Showcase and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Currently residing in New York, Kim has performed at The Hamptons Shakespeare Festival, Oberon Theatre, 3LD, Themantics Group and The Zipper Factory Theatre. She also created, produced and acted in a regionally televised comedy improv show on ABC called Comedy Hotel. Kim wrote and performed a critically acclaimed autobiographical solo show performed off-Broadway called, The F Trip. And after traveling to the Middle East in the fall of 2009, Kim was commissioned to write a play to draw attention to the Iraqi refugee crisis. No Place Called Home was directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde and enjoyed an off-Broadway run in NYC in the fall of 2010 and is currently touring nationally. Kim is a prize winner for a short story she wrote on fieldreport.com, has been published at humorpress.com, Futuretakes  and is a NYC Moth storytelling champion for a story she wrote and performed about falling in love with a conman. Kim also teaches improvisation for people and organizations wishing to change their lives and laugh more. www.kimschultz.net


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Poetry of Provocation and Witness from Split This Rock: Poem # 15

For the people of Iraq
consider the infinite fragility of an infant’s skull
how the bones lie soft and open
only time knitting them shut
consider a delicate porcelain bowl—
how it crushes under a single blow
in one moment whole years disappear
consider: beneath the din of explosions
no voice can be heard
no cry
consider your own sky on fire
your name erased
your children’s lives “a price worth paying”
consider the faces you do not see
the eyes you refuse to meet
collateral damage
how in these words
the world
cracks open
-Lisa Suhair Majaj
From Geographies of Light (Del Sol Press 2009)

Lisa Suhair Majaj is the author of Geographies of Light (winner of the Del Sol Press Poetry Prize) and co-editor of three volumes of literary essays: Intersections: Gender, Nation and Community in Arab Women’s Novels (Syracuse University Press, 2002), Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and Artist (McFarland Publishing, 2002) and Going Global: The Transnational Reception of Third World Women Writers. (NY: Garland/Routledge, 2000). She publishes poetry, creative nonfiction and critical essays in journals and anthologies the US, Europe and the Middle East, and has read at venues such as London’s Poetry International. She currently lives in Cyprus.

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Still Counting

Minneapolis based writer Tami Mohamed Brown provides personal reflections prompted by the 10 year anniversary of our nation at war in this story for the Minnesota Women’s Press:

Sept. 11, 2011-Oct. 7, 2011 marks the 10-year anniversary of our nation continuously at war. This hadn’t even occurred to me until a friend sent me an emailed call to action for artists at: www.10yearsandcounting.com.

10 Years + Counting invites artists and others to take this time as inspiration to use the power of creativity, to use the weeks of this anniversary of devastation to advocate against war and for peace via the arts and community engagement, a commitment to expose the true costs of war and work towards peace.

I’ve taken this charge seriously, thinking beyond my everyday routine and my own comfortable life. As a writer, I’ve been considering the costs of war and realizing just how removed I’ve been-how removed many of us, perhaps, have been lucky enough to be.

And I’ve been considering war over not just the last 10 years, but over the course of my own life, how it’s shaped my own thoughts and attitudes and actions.

I was friends with a boy in high school. One warm, May evening before graduation, he told me he had enlisted in the military-signed on to see the world. I was disappointed; he was so smart, so talented, I expected that he would go on to college. I never really comprehended that financially he had no opportunity to do so. He left in June and wrote me letters later that year from a base in California, and then, later yet, from the Persian Gulf and the heart of Operation Desert Storm.

He wrote to other former classmates, too, I recall, each of our young selves already having gone our own respective and separate ways.

One friend was incensed by his letters and involvement in the military. She sounded self-righteous, amazed that he would even keep writing.

Another friend simply never acknowledged the war, but answered the letters with jokes, a much more appropriate response, but I believe probably still lacking in what he was looking for-a connection with his life back home.

I myself am ashamed to say I did not answer his letters.

And when that boy came back from Iraq and sought me out, I couldn’t help but notice that he spoke differently, he moved differently. “The things I seen,” he drawled to me in his new voice, which sounded much more Mississippi than Minnesota. “I tell ya, the things I seen …”

He started to tell me of the ringing in his ears that never went away and the fact that he couldn’t get a good night’s sleep to save his life. I am even more ashamed to say that I stopped listening, that I found him as annoying as the lazy, late-autumn mosquitoes that buzzed around us. Instead, I made a lame excuse to get home, away from him and his rambling. I climbed into my car and promptly drove into a telephone pole, which led me to cry inconsolably for hours, although neither the vehicle nor I were physically damaged.

I thought I’d seen enough on TV that year to understand war, watching it, across time zones, live, like some crazy video game and never fully realizing that so many people-that whole nations-were aching.

It’s far more than 10 years later and I’m still counting. I’m still ashamed that I never asked him about the things he’d seen.

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Self Organizing in the Name of the Powerless




Mourning Troy Davis, Union Square, September 22, 2011

Debra Sweet is the Director of World Can’t Wait, an organization that has focused on a range of issues related to the wars of the past decade. She’s based in NYC, where many groups are mobilizing around issues of both state-sponsored violence and Wall Street’s economic violence. Read her piece Occupying Wall Street & Resisting State Execution here

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This spring, twelve months after 10 Years + Counting was imagined at lunch during the Costs of War Residency at Blue Mountain Center, BMC hosted a conference to make 10YAC real and make it count: How could we use art and its vast audience—during the tenth anniversary season between the attacks on 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7—to wake up our fellow Americans to the costs—the monetary, physical, spiritual, social, environmental, and political costs—of our current wars?

A palpable current of excitement and determination and possibility charged through the BMC living room. It steadily powered the conference for four days, as artists and activists from some of the most influential and committed anti-war/pro-peace movements, groups, and institutions in the United States threw all their expertise, passion, and creativity into the project of raising our collective consciousness to stop the wars.

Image by Robert Spahr. Find more work by this and other artists in the Galleries at 10yearsandcounting.com.

Often enough, street protests were mentioned, and uncertainty and near despair followed as our thoughts moved from the influential anti–Viet Nam War protests of the 1960s and early 70s to the subsequent protests against other unbidden and undeclared wars, which fell on deaf legislative and fellow-citizen ears; from the 1990s era of police brutality against citizens protesting war and the social ills caused by corporate control of world resources to the creation and enforcement of Bush-era regulations that relocate crowds so far away from their political targets as to corral their legitimate protests into self-referential circles rather than allow pointed, peaceful actions to change the status quo.

Despite the current climate, a simple, elegant idea emerged in the BMC living room. It had a hopeful tinge of difference. Thinking about it, on top of all the ideas and connections and strategies that had formed in that room made me feel that my head was going to explode.

Good. Better my head explode metaphorically than more people than the 225,000 and counting meet their real deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The idea requires no organization, only dissemination. It requires individual commitment, which might organically expand into group commitment. It’s an exhortation and an invitation, a hope and a call. A dream to make come true.

What if on October 7, everyone who wants to end the undeclared US wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan steps outside and says so?

What if people who want to protest peacefully on their own stoop or lawn, meet peacefully in a public park or on a neighbor’s lawn—in small groups or large, in pairs, or trios, with silence, signs, or candles—step outside and make it known that we are part of a nationwide peaceful protest to bring war and its costs, costs that reverberate through time, to an end?

I will be in the Adirondack Mountains, holding my sign, my candle, my vigil, on a country road. I will wait for company. Please join me, wherever you are.

Alice Gordon is a writer and editor, and has been the program director of Blue Mountain Center since 2009.

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Poetry of Provocation and Witness from Split This Rock: Poem # 14

Greetings from the War
I will greet you with flowers
no matter how many
bullets you bring.
I will greet you with bullets
because the flowers you greet me with
are from my garden.
I will greet you with song
though you curse me
and raise arms against me.
I will greet you with curses
because the wounded child at your feet
is my only son.
I will greet you with embraces
though the knife you carry
cuts away at my arms.
I will greet you with knives
they are made from the shrapnel
I pulled from my leg.
– Sami Miranda

Sami Miranda is an educator, poet and visual artist who makes his home in Washington, DC. His work has been published in Full Moon on K St, the Chiron Review, D.C Poets Against the War Anthology,  MiPoesias.com
and Beltway among others. He has performed at the Kennedy Center, The Smithsonian Museum of American Art, The Arts Club of Washington, GALA Theatre, and other venues. Sami curated the Sabor Sunday reading series in Washington DC, bringing two poets, a trio of musicians and two visual artists into conversation, and is currently working with DC based artists and musicians to create collaborations between the arts. He develops and facilitates interactive poetry workshops for youth and adults and holds an MFA from The Bennington Writing Seminars.

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