Monday, June 2, 2014

Druze youth refuse to serve in Israeli military

The earnest young man beside me spoke of the complexity of growing up as a Druze Christian Palestinian youth in Israel.  He is the sixth brother of seven. The Druze community is somewhat isolated, both from Jewish Israelis and from other Palestinian Israeli citizens.  That has been by design.  For years Israel "allowed" Druze citizens to serve in the military and later required them to serve. That was one of many steps to isolate them from other Palestinian Israeli citizens, who are not required to serve in the military.  There is a special department to supervise Druze schools and curriculum, a special section to supervise Druze municipalities (but not other Arab Israeli cities). 

Rafat was the first of his brothers to question serving in the military.  He had seen a film that
showed a Palestinian woman in the Occupied Territories being attacked by a dog while the nearby soldier did nothing.  He realized he didn't want to be in that position and began to consider refusing to serve.  He talked with his family and gradually they came to support him. They realized that their identity as Druze was very tied to their identity as Palestinians.  They slowly came to stop celebrating Israeli Independence Day and began to teach their children about the Nakba ("the Catastrophe" of Palestinian ethnic cleansing begun in 1948) and to honor Nakba Day.  His mother no longer asks fearfully if he went to the demonstration but asks "How was it"?  After much discernment he joined other Druze youth refusing to serve, in spite of dire threats about jail and that he would never be able to get a job.  He did do several months in jail, but he is now in college and has a job.  He is active in the youth program doing outreach to Druze youth.  They help them think about how they identify (Druze? Israeli? Palestinian?), offer support to refusers, do media work to reach the Druze community and are networking with other Palestinian groups. 

Rafat was one of many young people the AFSC staff delegation met with during our visit to Israel/Palestine to learn first hand about the work of our colleagues there.  Many, like Rafat, have grown up quickly as they consider whether to refuse compulsory military service while still only 16 and 17 years old.  Palestinian youth also grow up quickly as they have to learn to navigate their way through the complex and often capricious military authority that governs the Occupied Territories.  Gazan youth have grow up through bombardments, a siege that severely limits what items get into Gaza (from prohibitions on concrete and other building supplies to food and medicines to rationed electricity) and occupation that bans travel outside of the 25 mile long Gaza Strip.  Yet they, too, have dreams they pursue and are finding ways to work with other Palestinian youth to challenge the status quo. 

As you read the headlines about Israel refusing to recognize the new Palestinian coalition government, Israel's refusal to accept its own currency from Palestinian banks, and other high level dysfunction about the area, know that beneath the surface there are amazing youth who are tired of the failures of their elders and who are actively working to solve the many problems of the area.  Listening to them is to have hope, to have deeper understandings of what resistance to the status quo we are all called to in these times - and awe at the resilience of the human spirit.

I would love to do a presentation to Quaker Meetings or other groups about the trip.  Please contact me to so that we can make arrangements. 
Check out the AFSC website on Advocating for Peace in Israel-Palestine.  It is full of interesting and informative resources as well as ways to take action. 
Sign up for the AFSC newsletter, which often includes action steps.  The most recent edition, addressing the collapse of the "peace talks", is here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Of Sugar Snow, Food Security and more

I am not so brazen as to say "Let it snow", but I do confess to a secret love of "Sugar Snows".  I grew up in Vermont.  By this point in March there usually was still snow on the ground, but it was looking pretty tired.  Then along would come a "sugar snow", named for the maple "sugaring season".  The world would be freshly white and beautiful, sometimes with deep snow.  The horses that pulled the huge sled along  with the holding tank for the sap along the side of our road had an easier time with less ice and patches of bare ground.  It often warmed quickly over the next few days, making playing in the snow a much more fun thing than in January.  It was often a wet snow, great for snowmen and building things.   Sugaring was finished off with a "sugar on snow" party (sap boiled till very thick, then drizzled on the snow where it hardened into candy for a delicious treat).  And then the snow was gone, brooks roared, wood frogs croaked - and it was time to plant peas.
Food - locally grown.  Seasonal.  What does it mean to talk about food security in these times of climate change and increased urbanization?  How has the corporate food industry changed what we eat and what food costs?  And who has access to what food?  How can we change those patterns?  Who gets to make those decisions?  What does a sustainable food shed look like?  (And what is a food shed?)
Food.  We all need it.  It can be a source of pleasure and satisfaction.  It is a topic one can approach as a casual gardener, with environmental concerns, with justice concerns, or with just a delight in the pleasure of food.
There are a lot of reasons why AFSC-SENE (along with other AFSC offices) is looking more closely at how we can build sustainable food networks accessible to all people.  Please join us the evening of April 25th at Providence Friends Meeting House to learn more about how food is produced in our area, who has access to that food, and how we can work together to build a just and sustainable network that will help all of us be food secure.  Watch for more details, but save the date.  We know it will include brief talks about amazing work taking place in the area.  We will have locally baked desserts.  Bring baby plants and seeds to swap during the dessert time.  And celebrate Earth Day and Spring with us!   Watch for details and registration information.
Raise the Minimum Wage in MA:  Press conference and lobby day Wednesday, March 26th.  Click here for more info.
National Day of Action to stop deportations.  President Obama will soon have deported over 2 million people, the most of any president.  Over 1000 are deported every day, many for the simple offense of driving without a license (which is part of why both MA and RI have legislation to expand access to drivers licenses).  The Providence event is April 4th at 4pm at the state house and will focus on the call for Governor Chafee to stop honoring ICE holds (which are not mandatory).  In Worcester the event is from 1-3pm on April 5th at the Federal Court House.  Can't make an event?  Visit the National Day Laborers Network website and take action there.
There are a lot of important events coming up - check out the listing on the right of this message.
And Happy Sugar Snow - and Happy Spring to you!
In Peace,  Martha Yager, AFSC-SENE program coordinator
P.S.  Your work every day for a more just and peaceful world is essential.  Your donations to AFSC-Sene help us help you stay connected to ways you can work for change.  Please give what you can - and THANKS!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Equality and the many faces of inequality

AFSC's work is informed by Quaker values, or as the tagline on the logo says, it tries to be Quaker values in action.  One of the core values or testimonies is that of equality.  In the New England Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice, 1985 edition, the introduction to the section on equality reads:
Friends believe the divine Light is accessible to all people, regardless of race, sex, age, or material wealth. Everyone has the potential to respond to God within. All persons ought to have the opportunity to develop their talents and skills under the leadings of the Spirit. Equality is not sameness. It is equality of respect. Every person is a child of God.
Evidence of our collective failure to live up to the ideal of equality that is also stated as a core ideal in our country, is all around us.  Profound poverty next door to extreme wealth, unequal education, structures that perpetuate racism, military occupations, violence in many forms against women, unequal opportunities to be come who we might be if given a chance ...
But these structures are human creations.  Working together we can change them.  And working together we can change the attitudes and address the fears that cling, sometimes fiercely, to those structures.  It is always ongoing work, as fears and greed will always be working to create structures to protect those who have more.  It is work that asks much of us - it asks us to be honest about our fears, about the priveleges we may not even be fully aware of, and it asks us to understand that our security is only as real as the shared security of the larger community.
The coming week holds a variety of activities that all in some way name varies faces of inequality and present opportunities to change attitudes and structures to make a more equal and just world. They range from the Women of All Colors assembly to programs on nonviolent resistence to occupation to screenings of the films Inequality for All and A Place at the Table and a discussion of what we mean by Shared Security.  I hope you will join us at one of these events.  Check out the AFSC-SENE website for event details.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reflections on the holiday

From childhood I have been uneasy with the the way Native peoples were talked about, especially around Thanksgiving.  As a child I didn’t quite know what it was, but something was wrong with the story.  As I learned more about the genocide and theft of land, the endless broken treaties and the ongoing struggles of First Nations People, I looked for another way to spend the holiday.  For many years we celebrated the harvest of our small farm with friends and family, preparing a meal almost entirely home grown.

In the late 1990s, my family began traveling to Plymouth, Massachusetts to attend the National Day of Mourning held by the United American Indians of New England.  The orientation leaflet for the day states "An annual tradition since 1970, Day of Mourning is a solemn, spiritual and highly political day.  Many of us fast from sundown the day before through the afternoon of that day (and have a social after the Day of Mourning so that participants can break their fasts).  We are mourning our ancestors and the genocide of our peoples and the theft of our lands."  Non-Native supporters are welcome to stand with the gathering, but it is a day when only indigenous people speak about their history and the struggles taking place through out the Americas.  Being present each year has become an important way to honor the more difficult history that brings us to the present.

With hopes that I could find a more complete telling of the story for my grandchildren,  I wandered into one of my favorite independent bookstores that has a fabulous children's section.  I was distressed to find a display of picture books that fell into roughly two categories - books that replay the mythology of the Pilgrims and the Indians as one big happy family having a festival together, or ones that focused on Thanksgiving as a family time (and sometimes a harvest time) - and all the people at the table were white.  I was amazed to see how little had changed.

But then, I shouldn’t be amazed.  The work of AFSC in grappling with structural racism and other remnants of colonialism have taught me how deeply embedded they are, both in the U.S. and around the globe.  So this Thanksgiving/Day of Mourning, I invite you to spend a little time thinking about the continuing impact of the colonization of this land and its peoples, about how histories/origin stories get written and by whom, and what stories we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren.  And for those who want to offer alternative stories to the children in your life, go to the article in Colorlines that offers five books that reframe the Thanksgiving Narrative.   And here is a piece on the Wampanoag Side of the Story. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Deportation by the numbers ...

The National Association of Day Laborers, NDLON, released the following statement and graphic:

In response to new data released by TRAC analyzing the 1,000,000 ICE hold requests made to local jails in the President's first term, Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network issued the following statement:
"This is further proof of the troubling contradiction between the President's words and his actions on immigration. The evidence is in. The Obama Administration's policy of using police as immigration 'force multipliers' through programs like Secure Communities has violated civil rights, imperiled public safety, and compounded injustice. Moreover, the Obama Administration has failed to be transparent about what amounts to a radical change in implementation of US immigration policy.

Join with people working in RI and MA to end the deportations and insist on real, just, humane comprehensive immigration reform.  (FYI, so far, there are no such proposals on the table, only plans that will make the nightmare worse.)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Standing with unpaid workers

Botany Bay Construction (Worcester MA) wage theft demonstration. Metrowest Worker Center (Casa) and Carpenters Local 107 come together to support 5 construction workers who together are owed $25,200 in back wages for work they did. The men did such quality work that Botany Bay (the project general contractor) offered to hire them after the subcontractor, Fastway Builder, took off without paying the workers for work already done. General contractors are responsible for the work in its entirety, both the finished product and for having hired a scam subcontractor with a history of nonpayment. It is time for the contractor to do the right thing and pay the workers. The money is a drop in the bucket for the project but essential to these workers and their families.

Allies stand with the workers in front of the construction site.

Worcester Councilwoman Sarai Rivera addresses the group. 

Scott Shaffer-Duffy of the Worcester Catholic Worker house, addresses the group, reminding us (and Botany Bay Construction) that the Bible is very clear - workers should be paid for work done.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I write with a heavy heart.  A cold wind blows out of the north and the temperature is dropping.  A few nights ago, when RI did it’s “Point in Time” count, 996 people were homeless.  So far this year, 214 families, with 385 children, have been sheltered – up from 159 last year.  Last year, in Massachusetts, 16,664 were homeless when that count was done.  (Click here for images from the RI Press Conference on homelessness, including photos of Harrington Hall.)

And Congress sits on its hands about continuing to offer long term assistance (instead of just 26 weeks) to people who are unemployed.  If they fail, thousands of people in MA and RI will lose what little income they have and be even more at risk of homelessness.

There is political will (appropriately) to respond to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy – yet little or no political will to respond to the disaster of thousands of people, including children, homeless in the winter in RI and MA.

And Congress dithers over the so called “fiscal cliff”, putting funding for homelessness and affordable housing in jeopardy instead of showing a small bit of courage to slash funding for the boondoggle F-35 plane (that flies so badly some pilots refuse to fly it, is way over budget and willcost over $1 trillion dollars over the next 10 years) . 

Nor do they seem to find the will to return tax levels to what they were a few years ago (still way lower than what they were 30 years ago) so that the wealthiest can help alleviate the suffering we see all around us in our communities.
We were all painfully reminded of the fragility of life with the shootings in Newtown last week.  We could so easily place ourselves in the shoes of the people of that community.  We are asking important questions about gun control but also about mental health care in this country.  I am grateful at that new energy and you will hear more on this in coming weeks.
But tonight it is homelessness that tugs on my heart.  Until homelessness and/or mental illness touches your family, the urgency of addressing the utter inadequacy of mental health care and assistance for those who are most in need in this country remains just an abstraction.  But standing in an old gymnasium with row upon row of metal bunk beds housing about 100 men every night breaks my heart every bit as much as the tragedy in Newtown and carries its own urgency.    With both situations, the tragedy is felt more acutely because we know that it doesn’t have to be this way.  We know how to fix these problems.
Our task is to use our voices to insist that the manufacturers of tools of death and war are put in their place and the resources shifted to support life and true security.
Here are some ways you can do that:
·         Call your congressman or senator and insist that they stop dithering and put people before the profits of the weapons (from guns to F-35s to nuclear weapons)makers and fund our communities not war and guns.   Or use the AFSC action page for this.
·         Sign petitions in support of tax increases for the wealthiest, cuts in military spending, gun control, funding for mental health care, etc..  Any one of these may not mean much, but together they are creating public noise that is getting harder for Congress to ignore.
·         Donate to your local shelter or food pantry or food bank.  Some places look for volunteers, others just need money to keep the doors open.
·         Donate to AFSC-SENE so that we can work with you to change our country’s priorities.
I want to end with a story.  During the press conference today I was handed a brochure that had the photo of a man who died this past year when his camping lantern caught the tent he lived in on fire.  Tears unexpectedly welled up in my eyes as I thought of all the homeless men and women in NH whose funerals I had presided over.  A man standing near me gently touched my arm.  He had been friends with the man and told me about him.  He always worked, just never had enough to rent an apartment.  He never asked for help – he was proud.  And he was ashamed of the fact he couldn’t read, so he just did the best he could.  As for himself, he had finally accepted shelter.  He said he is clean and sober.  Just couldn’t find work.  When he lost his job several years ago in the recession, and his marriage fell apart, he left his wife with the house.  “I got sisters.  I wanted her safe.”  He said that staying there was hard  (imagine trying to sleep in a big open room with 100 other people!) but he was grateful for it.  And trying to keep hope alive that he can put his life back together.
Please do what you can to help.  Thank you.  And may your holidays hold fellowship and renewal.