Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Root of All Evil

Beliefs are the root of all evil.

Now that I have your attention, allow me to clarify. Attachment to beliefs…, or Personal identification with beliefs…, or Belief that beliefs are “truth” and not just opinion… is the root of all evil.

Most, if not all, of the conflict we witness on a daily basis (that which is not based on fighting over subsistence issues, such as food and water) is the result of the zealous defense of personal beliefs. Whether on the local, national or international stage, when people feel they have to protect the value they have placed on their beliefs in order to preserve the value of their own existence, conflict is inevitable and often leads to violence.

Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that some people hold beliefs that help them deal with their daily lives in ways that are more meaningful to them than would be the case without those beliefs - something along the lines of “Being kind to each other makes us more human.” These benign beliefs are very personal and don’t have much impact beyond the circle of the person who holds the belief or those who share the belief. If the belief were somehow to be proven untrue tomorrow, the individual(s) might struggle to make new sense of the world, but it would be a personal struggle, not a major disruption of world events.

The type of destructive, malignant beliefs I’m talking about are those beliefs that are used to manipulate political or religious power to control the behavior of large groups of people and create “us vs. them” separation in order to bolster the sense and importance of “us.” Beliefs such as “life begins at conception” or “my prophet is more right than your prophet” take on the mantle of “truth” when professed ad nauseum by people in power. And the Believers gladly back up these opinions with threats and acts of violence as ways of “proving” their beliefs are “right”.

I believe that a massive re-education of humanity is needed on the definitions of “truth”, “belief” and “delusion”. I also believe (there’s that word again) we all need training on how to embrace uncertainty as a mystical, magical part of life that does not need to be feared or explained away with fantasy and superstition. I don’t know how this amazing planet got here, or why I’m here, but it’s a fun project trying to find out.

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Amazing Grace" - Amazing Movie!

"Amazing Grace" is a movie about the abolition movement in England, but it has meaningful and inspiring messages for the modern peace movement, as well. It's also a darned good movie in it's own right, especially for fans of period pieces. I give it five peace signs, easily.

One of the early scenes shows the protagonist - William ("Wilber") Wilberforce - holding a meeting at his estate with very few attendees, much to his dismay. How many of us peace activists have held such meetings, with our hearts full of passion for the cause and in need of an audience? Without giving too much away, his later meetings have larger attendance.

Other scenes emphasize the importance of the slave-industrial complex to the British economy, and the reluctance of politicians to support abolition because of the negative economic impacts on their constituents. The parallel to the importance of the violence-industrial complex to the US economy, and the impediment this poses for progress toward a more peaceful society, is obvious. The abolitionist come up with a creative legal move around this - I hope advocates for nonviolence will come up with a similarly creative approach to break the stranglehold of the violence industry.

One of my favorite lines from the film comes in a scene where a young fan of Wilber's efforts is consoling him during a bout of discouragement after years of campaigning have yielded (apparently) no results. The British Empire is in a sustained period of war with America and France, and the public is too distracted by the wars to pay attention to anything else. Any voice of opposition to the Crown on any topic - including that of abolition - is considered sedition. Wilbur's new friend reassures him that “when people stop being afraid they rediscover their compassion.” This thought, along with other encouragements, gives Wilber the strength to carry on.

The modern peace movement can learn a lot and gain much strength from the story of William Wilberforce. Whether you're campaigning for a Department of Peace, or for the Youth PROMISE act, or for any significant change that will reduce violence, you can be assured that the momentum of history will eventually lead society to the logical conclusion. Carry on!

Visit DoPeace

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Memorial Day Salute

This Memorial Day, I'm choosing to honor those who died for our country by considering what we should be doing to make sure no one else need to die for our country ever again. A couple of things that come to mind:
  • Outlaw the concept of "Preemptive War"
  • Embrace the concept of "Preemptive Peace"
We need to stop funneling billions and billions of dollars year after year expanding our national capacity to create and then destroy our enemies while creating thousands upon thousands of Memorial Day honorees in the process. Instead, we should be using our financial and human resources, along with our communal creative energies, to identify those who would seek to harm us and work with them to proactively address their grievances and work to turn them into allies.

I know this may sound Utopian, but we do already possess the necessary technologies to make this work. Experts in international affairs know from experience what factors will create levels of desperation that will ultimately result in violent conflict - high infant mortality, lack of access to free markets, absence of democratic processes, for example. If we make investments in these situations to address the root causes and create lasting solutions to these problems, we will not have to send in the troops later as peacekeepers or invaders. I think we should give it a try, don't you?

This promising approach is not going to happen if we don't change the way our federal government is organized. We need a new structure that includes a Department of Peace that will work with the State and Defense departments to establish conditions that foster allies, not just project our national interests and exploit international relationships to our benefit. There is currently legislation in the House - H.R. 808 - to create a Department of Peace. If you are interested in getting involved in the national grassroots campaign to make this happen, contact the Peace Alliance at

Let's not let the sacrifices of those brave servicemen and women be for nothing. Let's put our hard-won freedoms to work and create a better way for all.

Visit DoPeace

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Peace on the Streets" Ad

Choice FM - a radio station in London - has been working to end street violence. Not quite "Department of Peace" worthy, but a striking video, nonetheless.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

NAACP Supports the Youth PROMISE Act


The Issue:
The United States, by far, incarcerates its residents at much greater rates than any other nation in the world. Incarceration costs in the U.S. have risen to $65 billion a year. African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities are especially over-represented among the prison population. Especially devastating to our communities and to our youth is gang violence: many of the crimes committed by gangs and gang members are reprehensible and cause irreparable harm not only to individual victims but to families and whole neighborhoods as well. While the perpetrators of these crimes must be punished, it is becoming clear that we must take a proactive approach and try to steer at-risk youth away from gangs and towards being successful, productive members of our communities before a crime is committed.

Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott (VA) and Senators Robert Casey (PA) and Olympia Snowe (ME) have introduced H.R. 1064 / S. 435, the “Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education Act” (the “Youth PROMISE Act”) to reduce crime before it happens by investing in research-based programs. The Youth PROMISE Act mobilizes community leaders and invests almost exclusively in prevention and intervention, as opposed to the standard approach, which is obviously not working, of waiting for a crime to occur and then putting the alleged criminals in jail.

Specifically, the Youth PROMISE Act allows communities facing the greatest youth gang and crime challenges to form a council to include representatives from law enforcement, court services, schools, social service organizations, health and mental health providers and community-based organizations, including faith-based organizations. These councils will then develop a comprehensive plan for implementing evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies that fit the needs of the particular community. These strategies will target young people who are at-risk of becoming involved, or who are already involved in, gangs or the criminal justice system and redirect them toward productive and law-abiding alternatives.

To show your support for the Youth PROMISE act, go to on and let Congress know you think this legislation deserves their attention.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What's More Deadly? Swine Flu or Gun Violence?

(by Cynthia Tucker - April 29, 2009)

The deadly contagion is spreading, striking down young and old, well-heeled and downtrodden, sophisticates and illiterates. Last year alone, the affliction killed thousands in Mexico and even more in the United States.

Not swine flu. Gun violence. While federal and state authorities are preoccupied with preventing a swine flu pandemic from overwhelming the United States, the epidemic of gun violence rages on, unabated and little noted.

Last Saturday, George Zinkhan III, a well-respected University of Georgia professor, took two handguns to a community theater and killed his wife, Marie Bruce, and two of her theater colleagues while wounding two others, police said. Zinkhan left his 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son in his car while he went on his bloody rampage, according to authorities. Then, he dropped the children off at a neighbor’s house — he explained he had an emergency — and fled, police said.

Don’t expect that this latest mass killing will arouse any more outrage or prod any more public action than those that preceded it. In March and April, armed gunmen of curious motive and deranged sentiment opened fire in a nursing home, a community center, their own homes and public spaces, killing family, friends and strangers.

Among the lowlights of this savage spring were the murders of two children of Devan Kalathat, who shot them and three other relatives before he killed himself; the murders of five children of James Harrison, who killed them before committing suicide; and the murders of the daughter and nephew of Kevin Garner, who, similarly, killed his estranged wife, his sister and the children before turning his gun on himself, law enforcement officials said. The shootings produced outpourings of grief and outbursts of anger but few calls for tighter gun laws.

In fact, state legislatures in the South, including the Georgia General Assembly, have recently loosened laws that deal with weapons in public places. In Georgia, gun owners with concealed-carry permits may now take their firearms into state parks, onto public transit and into many bars and restaurants.

Moreover, the sales of firearms and ammunition have soared over the last several months, sparked by the election of President Barack Obama and the belief that Democratic control of the White House and Congress will lead to restrictions on gun ownership. It’s a strange notion with absolutely no basis in fact.

Witness Obama’s tepid response to Mexican authorities who pleaded for help in stopping the flow of deadly firearms from the United States into the hands of drug thugs.

After Attorney General Eric Holder suggested the Obama administration might push to reinstate the ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004, the White House received a letter signed by 65 craven Democrats insisting that the president leave assault weapons alone. Obama agreed to do nothing.

We have an odd way of assessing risks. While swine flu may yet emerge as a full-scale pandemic, it hasn’t proved especially lethal so far. Even in Mexico, where public health facilities are not as well developed as in the United States, the death toll has crept past 150 but hasn’t claimed lives on the scale of drug-related gun violence.

Yet, swine flu has prompted the travel industry to brace for a panic; pharmacies report a run on supplies of antivirals such as Tamiflu; and the news media have hurriedly produced new catchphrases for their round-the-clock swine flu reportage. President Obama has dispatched Cabinet-level advisers to assure Americans that his administration is doing everything necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.

If only we could muster half that hysteria over gun deaths.


Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor at AJC. She can be reached at

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Proclamation (1870)

By Julia Ward Howe

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress,
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

(Editor's note: IMHO, JWH would have loved the idea of a Department of Peace!)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Youth PROMISE Action Day - Report from DC

(Guest blog from the Youth PROMISE group on Facebook.)

WASHINGTON – A broad coalition of civil rights, religious and juvenile justice groups called on Congress to pass H.R. 1064, the Youth PROMISE Act, a bill that would use proven prevention and intervention strategies to curb youth violence.

This bipartisan legislation would promote local youth violence prevention strategies by establishing Promise Coordinating Councils that include a broad range of representatives from law enforcement, community organizations, schools, health, social services and mental health providers. The councils would generate comprehensive community-centered strategies to help young people live safe and healthy lives, free from gangs, delinquency and violence. Representative Robert Scott (D-VA, pictured above with activist Jessica Carla) and Michael Castle (R-DE) sponsored the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education Act.

The Youth PROMISE Act, was the centerpiece of a 24-hour online and off line Youth Advocacy Day that started with an evening film screening of a movie on gang life, “Crips and Bloods: Made in America,” followed a morning forum; and ended with phone calls and emails to lawmakers as well as congressional lobby visits. During the forum, advocates received last minute inspiration from a list of speakers that included Representative Robert Scott (D-VA), Sheriff Gabe Morgan, the City of Newport News, producers of the Made in America film Cash Warren and Baron Davis, Los Angeles Councilmember Tony Cardenas and Khalid Samad of Peace in the Hood.

As part of the Youth Advocacy Day, representatives from this ideologically diverse coalition issued the following statements:

“We have to reach young people before they become involved in a cycle of violence,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The Youth PROMISE Act is an ounce of prevention and intervention for communities at risk of gangs, delinquency and crime. This legislation recognizes that for young people to lead productive lives they belong in schools, not prisons."

"It is morally and fiscally responsible to do all we can as citizens, elected officials, policy makers, mentors, teachers, artists and athletes to intervene in and prevent gang violence and juvenile crime by providing options and support for the most vulnerable and at-risk youth in our communities,” said Beto "Boneco" Simas, Founder and Executive Director of ALMA Vida Foundation. “The YPA creates a unique framework that will address the specific needs of a community. This legislation is not a band-aid, it is a long term solution to a fundamental crisis in our cities. We must care for our youth, show them direction, and give them the opportunity to succeed."

“We are calling on Congress to reduce our country’s over-reliance on incarceration and prosecution of children in adult court as a response to juvenile crime and instead promote more effective approaches that will help our youth become successful and productive adults,” says Liz Ryan, President & CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ). “The Youth Promise Act will help communities to increase positive supports for youth, reduce crime and keep our young people out of adult jails and prisons.”

“CJJ’s nationwide membership believes that we have spent an inordinate amount of public dollars on interdiction and incarceration practices that splinter families and communities and relegate young people to long prison sentences and a lifetime of barriers to education and employment, said Tara Andrews, Deputy Executive Director for Policy & Programs. "The balance of federal funding should focus on family-engaged and community-connected prevention and rehabilitation programs that have been shown to yield healthier and longer-lasting outcomes for everyone involved. That is why CJJ supports the PROMISE approach.”

“NCLR supports the Youth Promise Act as a step in the right direction for addressing the root causes of crime and violence in a manner which is least expensive and most effective,” said Cassandra Villanueva, Legislative Analyst, Criminal and Juvenile Justice Policy of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

“The Youth Promise Act is common-sense legislation based on research about what works with youth in conflict with the law to help them become productive citizens,” said Sarah Bryer, Director of the National Juvenile Justice Network. “The Act incorporates community engagement, a youth development approach and adequate resources so that communities in need can respond effectively and appropriately to crime problems in their jurisdictions.”

“Voices for America’s Children demands new approaches to combating youth crime and violence,” said Bill Bentley, President and CEO of Voices for America’s Children. “We want to promise our children that we’ll give them the best possible start, and that’s why we support the Youth PROMISE Act.”

"The Youth PROMISE Act provides an effective approach to addressing the complex issues of youth crime and violence,” said Joseph Mettimano, Vice President of Advocacy of World Vision. “Supporting vulnerable youth with programs designed to reduce the risk of delinquency will help steer them away from a life of crime and toward a productive future."

To add your own voice in support of H.R. 1064 - the Youth PROMISE act - go to to learn more about the legislation and send letters to your Representative and Senators.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Nonviolent Americans, Unite!

Hello. My name is Ted (“Hi, Ted!”), and I am a Nonviolent American.

The preamble of the U.S. Constitution charges the federal government with providing for “domestic tranquility”. As Nonviolent Americans, our right to peaceful coexistence is being violated, directly and indirectly, by Violent Americans.

If Nonviolent Americans represent ninety percent of Americans (for the sake of discussion; the percentage may be higher or lower in your community), then we are being held hostage by the remaining ten percent of the population that represents Violent Americans. This violent minority has the ability to cramp the lifestyle of the nonviolent majority through sheer intimidation. Imagine an elderly, nonviolent woman trying to decide if she should walk to the market to pick up a few essentials or if she should stay home and avoid a potential confrontation with a Violent American. If 1 out of every 10 people she might encounter on the way to market is a Violent American (again, just for the sake of discussion), then there is a 10 percent chance that she could experience a violent incident. What would you do if you were in her walking shoes?

On the financial side, a good portion of our local, state, and federal taxes goes to finding, prosecuting, and incarcerating Violent Americans – but only after they have committed a violent act. As Nonviolent Americans, why should we have to pay a financial penalty because someone else chooses to be a Violent American? If you are the victim of a violent crime, what good does it do you to have the Violent American(s) who perpetrated the act prosecuted and locked up for an extended period? True, those Violent Americans who are locked up won’t be hurting anyone outside of the prison any time soon. But your right to enjoy domestic tranquility has already been trampled! And those Violent Americans are likely to be on the outside again someday. If they haven’t picked up new skills and chosen to join the ranks of Nonviolent Americans, the “Justice” system has done nothing to preserve the rights of NVAs.

To tell which side of the equation you are on, below are some of the distinctions that illustrate the differences between Nonviolent Americans and Violent Americans:

Nonviolent Americans

Violent Americans

People who watch hockey because of the competition and skill involved

People who watch hockey hoping a fight will break out

Fans of Olympic wrestling

Fans of WWF

Gun owners who want to protect their loved ones

People who own guns to kill and maim, to feel more powerful, and to intimidate

People who relish the diversity of life

Racists, sexists, ageists, homophobes

Adults who love, honor and nurture our youth

People who neglect and abuse children

Intimate partners who respect and cherish each other

People who abuse and dominate their loved ones

Neighbors who resolve their conflicts through dialog and compromise

People who use lawsuits as a first resort

People who use their physical strength to help others in need

People who use their physical strength to bully and intimidate

People who use their financial strength to help others in need

People who use their financial strength to dominate and create distance from others

Drivers who follow the written and unwritten rules of the road

Aggressive drivers who think the road belongs to them and everyone else should get out of the way

The Centers for Disease Control considers violence to be a public health problem. If you consider yourself to be a Violent American, I hope you will consider taking a twelve-step program (to be presented in an upcoming blog). The first step is to realize you have a problem, that you have control over the problem, and that their is a solution to the problem if you choose to accept it. It's not an easy journey, but the rewards are immeasurable for yourself and those around you.

If you consider yourself to be a Nonviolent American, I hope you will join me in helping create a welcoming and supportive environment for Recovering Violent Americans. They are going to need all the support we can offer as they make their way through this tremendous shift that will be required. One way to support their journey is to lobby Congress to pass legislation that will provide research and funding to develop and distribute tools to help Recovering Violent Americans. Two such pieces of legislation in the current Congress are H.R. 808 - the Department of Peace act - and H.R. 1064 - the Youth PROMISE act. Please contact your Representatives and Senators and ask them to support these and any other pieces of legislation that will help reduce violence.

To quote Bob Marley:

"Get up! Stand up! Stand up for your rights!"
("Thanks for sharing, Ted!")

Friday, May 1, 2009

School Violence Solved! (Or was it just moved?)

I was excited to come across an article from Chicago in my Google alert for "violence" yesterday. The headline drew me in:

Effort to curb Sullivan High School violence a success

Could this truly be one of those rare news stories about school violence that has a happy ending? Then I read further... It turns out that one of the main components of the "solution" was to get suspended students to sign a statement that they can be arrested if they come within 1000 feet of the school. Questions:
Why would any student voluntarily sign this?
What carrot/stick was used?
Did they have a lawyer present when they signed away their rights?

The article doesn't say.

The article also doesn't say anything about providing some kind of nurturing environment for the suspended students, so one assumes they are pretty much left to the streets. A troubled student on the streets with no supervision during school hours? It will be interesting to watch the violence and crime rate trends in the 1000-2000 foot range from the school!

Another tactic employed to "reduce violence" at this school is to let students leave through multiple exits at the end of the school day so they disperse more quickly. I remember wanting to get away from school as quickly as possible when I was a kid, but it didn't have anything to do with avoiding violence.

IMHO, it seems pretty obvious that these measures are merely band-aids on the issue of youth violence. The violence problem at this school is moved away from the school. Sure, the students who get to stay at the school may have a more pleasant learning environment, and that is worth something. (Even the statistics there are not all that great - 47 crimes in the 3 blocks around the school last month vs. 58 a year ago.) But when they go home to a violent neighborhood, has there been any net improvement?

Instead of applying these types of band-aids on the hemorrhaging wound that is violence in our society, we need to understand and address the root causes of violence. Current legislation in Congress is designed to do that, but it will require the will and lobbying energy of the public to put it into law. The Youth PROMISE act - H.R. 1064 and S. 435 - is designed to reduce youth violence by providing alternatives to gangs and getting troubled youth the skills they need to deal with their problems nonviolently. The Department of Peace act - H.R. 808 - is designed to similar ends, but looking at all sources of violence. Please contact your Representatives and Senators and ask their support for these much-needed pieces of legislation.