Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Nine (9) Years After Bush Admin. Lies Took Us to War in Iraq: Remembering Some Who Said “NO!”

Monday, 19 March 2012, will mark the 9th anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq: A war of pure choice based on lies and deception–lies mainly told by the Bush administration, but aided by lies from the Blair government, and by some in the mainstream media, especially at The New York Times and The Washington Post.  They lied about Saddam Hussein’s complicity in the attacks on 9/11 (He was an evil dictator, but had nothing to do with that attack, whatsoever); about “connections” between Hussein’s government and Al-Qaeda; about Iraq posessing “weapons of mass destruction,” including chemical weapons and the pursuit of nuclear weapons; lied about Iraq as a threat to the U.S. (it was under tough economic sanctions and TWO “no fly zones.”).  The vast majority in the United States Congress and the public were, at least initially, fooled by these lies and a majority (a slim majority at the time of the invasion which, as always happens when the nation rallies around the flag, quickly grew into a large majority for the first year) supported the invasion.  But not everyone.  I was among the many who said “no,” and I, along with many in the peace movement, did everything we could to make our objections loud and clear.

It is worth remembering the public figures who also objected and did what they could to prevent this national crime and international disaster.  I begin with the 156 Congresspersons and Senators who, in October 2002, voted AGAINST the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq” Resolution.  This is not a blanket endorsement of all their actions, before or since, but simply an acknowledgement that, on that day, these elected officials were right when so many were wrong:

The U.S. Senate:  These are the Senators who refused to authorize the invasion: Daniel Akaka (D-HI), a veteran of WWII, who is retiring this year at 87; Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) a Vietnam war veteran, who is retiring this year; Barbara Boxer (D-CA); the late Robert Byrd (D-WV) (1917-2010), who pleaded against the rush to war on the Senate floor; Jon Corzine (D-NJ), a U.S. Marine reservist during Vietnam, who left the Senate in 2005 to become Governor of NJ and has since returned to his previous career in finance; Kent Conrad (D-ND), who is retiring this year; Mark Dayton (D-MN), the current Governor of Minnesota; Dick Durbin (D-IL), who is now the Senate Majority Whip; Russ Feingold (D-WI), lifelong fighter against money and corruption in politics, who was defeated for reelection in 2010 and who now heads Progressives United, a movement that seeks to overturn Citizens United and work for electoral reform; Bob Graham (D-FL), who had been Gov. of Florida from 1979-1987, and who retired from the U.S. Senate in 2004 (after a brief run for U.S. President) for heart trouble; Daniel Inouye (D-HI), a veteran of WWII who lost an arm in combat while his family were in Japanese-American internment camps “guilty by reason of race;” the late Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy (D-MA), (1932-2009) who served in the U.S. Army from 1951-1953, but who has been a strong voice for peacemaking since the days of the Vietnam War;  Patrick Leahy (D-VT); Carl Levin (D-MI), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Barbara Mikulski (D-MD); Patty Murray (D-WA), who gave a Senate floor speech against the invasion warning “you break it, you buy it;” Jack Reed (D-RI), a West Point alumnus, and U.S. Army Reserve Officer; Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) who retired from the senate at the end of 2006; Debbie Stabenow (D-MI); the late Paul Wellstone (D-MN), (1944-2002), a liberal icon who died in a tragic plane crash in 2002; Ron Wyden (D-OR); Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), the only Republican Senator to vote against the authorization to invade,  who switched from Republican to Independent in 2006 and, who, as an Independent, is now Gov. of Rhode Island; Jim Jeffords (I-VT), who had been a Republican, but switched to Independent in 2001 and then caucused with the Senate Democrats.

House of Representatives:  .

Neil Abercrombie (D-HI 1st), Tom Allen (D-ME 11st), Joe Baca (D-CA 42nd), Brian Baird (D-WA 3th), John Baldacci (D-ME 2nd), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI 2nd), Xavier Becerra (D-CA 30th), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR 3rd), David Bonoir (D-MI 10th), Robert Brady (D-PA 1st), Corrine Brown (D-FL 3rd), Sherrod Brown (D-OH 13th), Lois Capps (D-CA 22nd), Michael E. Capuano (D-MA 8th), Ben Cardin (D-MD 3rd), Julia Carson (D-IN 10th), William Lacy Clay, Jr. (D-MO 1st), Eva Clayton (D-NC 1st), James Clyburn (D-SC 6st), Gary Condit (D-CA 18th), John Conyers (D-MI 14st), Jerry Costello (D-IL 12th), William Coyne (D-PA 14th),  Elijah Cummings (D-MD 7st).

Susan Davis (D-CA 49th), Danny K. Davis (D-IL 7th), Peter DeFazio (D-OR 4th),  Diana DeGette (D-CO 1st), William Delahunt (D-MA 10th), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT 3rd),  John Dingell (D-MI) 15th, Lloyd Doggett (D-TX 25th), Mike Doyle (D-PA 18th), John James Duncan, Jr. (R-TN 2nd)Anna Eshoo (D-CA 14th), Lane Evans (D-IL 17th), Sam Farr (D-CA 17th), Chaka Fattah (D-PA 2nd), Bob Filner (D-CA 50th), Barney Frank (D-MA 4th), Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX 20th), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL 4th), Alcee Hastings (D-FL 23rd), Earl F. Hilliard (D-AL 7th), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY 22nd), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX 15th), Rush Holt (D-NJ 12th), Mike Honda (D-CA 15th), Darlene Hooley (D-OR 5th), John Hostettler (R-IN 8th), Amo Houghton (R-NY 29th).

Jay Inslee (D-WA 1st), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL 2nd), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX 18th),  Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX 30th), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH 11th), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH 9th), Dale E. Kildee (D-MI 5th), Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI 13th), Jerry Kleczka (D-WI 4th), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH 10th), John LaFalce (D-NY 29th), James R. Langevin (D-RI 2nd), Rick Larsen (D-WA 2nd), John Larson (D-CT 1st), Jim Leach (R-IA 1st), Barbara Lee (D-CA 9th), Sander Levin (D-MI 12th), John Lewis (D-GA 5th), William Lipinski (D-IL 3rd), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA 16th).

Other prominent opponents of the invasion included:

U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Scott Ritter, a registered Republican, decorated veteran of Gulf War I and former United Nations weapons inspector. Ritter was critical of the Clinton admin. over Iraq’s possible cheating on sanctions. But he stood up to the Bush admin., too, risking his reputation by stating (correctly) that by 2002 Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no ability to create or purchase any. Ritter was openly derided in the media. Many claimed that he must be in the pay of Saddam Hussein. He marched in his first peace march in London.  None of those who trashed his reputation EVER offered an apology when he proved to be right. The Obama admin. should’ve given him a Medal of Freedom to publicly rebuild his reputation.

Brent Scowcraft, a Republican who was National Security Advisor to the first Pres. Bush, wrote an article in the 15 August 2002 edition of The Wall Street Journal entitled “Don’t Attack Saddam!” laying out the case against invasion and occupation–and correctly predicting the length and cost of the occupation against Bush admin. claims that the invasion and reconstruction would “pay for themselves” and take no more than a few weeks.  Scowcraft also correctly predicted that the invasion would distract from efforts against terrorism and from the urgent need (then much more possible than now) of forging a just peace between Israel and Palestine. (Wow. These days it’s hard to find DEMOCRATS who prioritize Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, never mind Republicans who care about it at all.)

U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, who would run as a Democrat for U.S. President in ’04 (and campaign for Sen. Hillary Clinton for president in ’08), repeatedly questioned the evidence that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. As a career military officer, Clark was no dove, and willing to invade Iraq (or anywhere else) if he thought it warranted, but he publicly continued to point out that the Bush administration case was weak to nonexistent.

U. S. Marine Corp General Anthony Zinni repeatedly threw cold water on the Bush admin. fantasies that “regime change” in Iraq would be easy. He mocked their lack of historical perspective and predicted a long, messy, occupation that would be costly in money, lives, troop morale, and U.S. reputation. He also stressed that an invasion of Iraq would drain focus and resources from efforts to destroy Al-Qaeda and work against terrorism.

Ray McGovern, a retired high-ranking intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (responsible for giving the first Pres. Bush his daily intelligence briefing), constantly exposed the lies leading to the Iraq War. He formed Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), which I often joked was “Spooks Against War,” and, in 2004, publicly accused then-Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld of war crimes. (Note: McGovern has also been very critical of the Obama administration, including Obama himself, on war, indefinite detention, keeping Gitmo open, and other related matters intertwining civil liberties, national security, and foreign policy.) McGovern became a Christian pacifist about the time of his retirement from the CIA in the late 1990s and today works with the publishing arm of Washington, D.C.’s famed Church of the Savior. I have met and talked to him at several peace conferences and been very impressed with him.

Joseph Wilson, a career diplomat with the U.S. State Department who had been U.S. Ambassador to Iraq prior to the first Gulf War. Wilson was decorated with the Medal of Freedom by the first Pres. Bush for standing up to Saddam Hussein face-to-face and making sure that ALL Americans in Iraq were able to leave the country before the start of Gulf War I.  Wilson had been asked to go to Africa by the CIA to check out part of the Bush admin.’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s attempts to get a nuclear weapon. (Wilson had the necessary contacts from his long career to easily check this claim.) He told the Bush folk that the claims were bogus and when W gave a State of the Union (in January 2003) address which repeated the erroneous claims, Wilson wrote an article, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa” that exposed the lie in this part of the case for war. In retaliation the Bush administration illegally outed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a covert operative for the C.I.A.–ruining her career and, even worse, putting numerous American and allied lives at risk all over the world. (Dick Cheney’s aide, Scooter Libby, was the only one ever charged with a crime in this matter, but I am among the many who believe that Libby acted on the direct orders of Cheney, who should be in prison for this, among other, crimes.) It is widely believed that Plame was involved in counter-proliferation work to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, especially in Iraq and Iran and that her exposure set back major efforts to keep nuclear weapons from Iran. The smear campaigns against Wilson and Plame continued for years.

Pres. Barack Obama, then a little-known state senator from IL, spoke out against the invasion, calling it “the wrong war at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.” Many peace activists, including myself, have been disappointed in the Obama presidency for not doing more for peace and, even on Iraq, ending the war slowly, on a timetable negotiated with Iraq by Pres. G. W. Bush in the closing days of his presidency, instead of much faster. But, it is worth remembering that Obama spoke up when it counted, showing real political courage, in trying to prevent the start of the war.

Social Justice advocate and entrepeneur Medea Benjamin, had been the founder of Global Exchange, an organization that used the principles of “fair trade” (rather than “free trade”) to work for human rights, global economic justice, and environmentalism. By 2002, it had become major success and many urged Benjamin to stay neutral in the debate over the planned invasion of Iraq. She refused (since the tragic events of 9/11, Benjamin has tried to work for a U.S. foreign policy guided by principles of peacemaking and respect for human rights) and risked her entire organization at risk to form Code Pink: Women for Peace.  Benjamin and Code Pink have used very confrontational forms of nonviolent civil disobedience to confront architects of U.S. foreign policy–not only in the Bush admin., but also in the Obama admin.

Ignored by U.S. conservative Catholics (even some of the hierarchy in the U.S.) on this matter, both the late Pope John Paul II and the current Pope Benedict XVI spoke out firmly against the invasion and occupation of Iraq, against torture, indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, against detention without (civilian) trials and against the Islamophobia of the “war on terrorism.”

Others could be mentioned. I invite readers to name others who spoke out and tried to stop the rush to war that resulted in a 9-year disaster and crime(s).  Many “went along to get along,” but these stood up when public, political courage was needed. We need to honor them–and promote such “speaking truth to power” no matter what political parties are in power and no matter what the context.

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March 17, 2012 Posted by | History, peacemakers, U.S. politics, war, war resisters | 2 Comments

Peace Sunday: 1,000 Candles, 1,000 Cranes

The following song by the folk group, Small Potatoes, was sung by my friends Donna and Dan Trabue at church today.  It says more than I can and it always makes me–the grandchild of a World War II veteran who fought in the Pacific and the friend of several Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals–cry my eyes out.

Rich Prezioso, ©1999 Tatertunes Music, BMI

My grandmother had three sons
She dreamed about her children’s children
Then came 1941
Only one son would see the war end

Joseph died marching in Bataan
Frank on the sands of Iwo Jima
The day the bomb destroyed Japan
She thanked God and Harry Truman

She blamed the “godless Japanese”
For having crushed her sweetest dreams
One thousand candles for my sons
Every day I will remember

In Illinois, far from her past
Miss Nakamura still remembers
She was six when she saw the flash
That turned the world to smoke and ashes

Mother taught her daughter well
Run from the fire to the river
There she found a living hell
But not a mother or a father

Though she survived with just a scrape
Her family vanished into space
One thousand suns, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember

My grandmother had three sons
She never dreamed she’d have a daughter
But at the age of eighty-one
She met a nurse named Nakamura

It was a question only meant
To make some talk and pass the hours
About a picture by the bed
A photograph of two young soldiers

Hatred and anger stored for years
Slowly melted into tears
One thousand candles, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember

I’ve a picture in my mind
Of two women slowly walking
August 6th, 1985
Walking to church to light a candle

And they once asked me to explain
Why grown men play such foolish games
One thousand candles, a thousand cranes
Everyday I will remember

August 7, 2011 Posted by | History, hymns, Just Peacemaking, liturgy, peace, worship | Leave a comment

The Freedom Rides: Fifty Years On

Fifty years ago, in the Spring of 1961, a group of courageous Americans seeking racial justice made history with the Freedom Rides, one of the greatest chapters in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.  Under the Jim Crow laws of segregation, whites and blacks were not allowed to sit together in the South even on interstate transport, such as the buses operated by Greyhound and Trailways bus companies (now merged into one company).  South of Washington, D.C., the bus companies would order black passangers to sit at the back of the bus. When they came into the bus terminals, black passengers were kept from the restaraunts and had to use separate restrooms–where available.  Federal law forbade segregation in interstate transportation, but this was not enforced–even though the Supreme Court had reinforced this in a 1960 decision, Boynton v. Virginia.

CORE: The Congress of Racial Equality, a civil rights organization founded in the 1940s to create a nonviolent mass movement for racial justice, had challenged this pattern with a “Journey of Reconciliation” in 1947 that rode through the upper South, but it had no lasting effect. Now, in the light of the 1960 ruling of Boynton v. Virginia, CORE decided to try again. It recruited volunteers and trained them in the principles of Gandhian nonviolence. Some were African-American, some were white. Some were young and some were old. Some were male and others female.  All were people of incredible courage.  Some, like the young John Lewis (now U.S. Congressional Rep. of Georgia’s 5th District–D), were already veterans of nonviolent struggle. (Lewis, then a student at Fisk University and the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville, had been a leader in the student-led Nashville Movement which successfully desegregated the town through disciplined sit-ins in 1960.  Lewis became a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC–“Snick”] and remained a leader in the nonviolent freedom movement until joining Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign for the U.S. presidency.) Others were novices.

The idea was simple. CORE chartered two buseses, one Greyhound and one Trailways, and the volunteers would board them in D.C. and sit together in an integrated fashion. When stopping in a terminal, they would test compliance with federal desegregation laws by having integrated groups go into the restrooms and lunch counters together. In the first leg of the trip, the Freedom Riders encountered minor hostilities and isolated incidents. But as news of the trip reached further South, the ire of the KKK and related groups of domestic terrorists was kindled.  Outside Anniston, AL, one bus was firebombed and burned up. In Birmgham, the remaining bus of Freedom Riders was attacked and beaten only two blocks from the sheriff’s office–which did nothing to intervene.  The Justice Dept. evacuated most of the riders to New Orleans.  Lewis called for reinforcements from his Nashville friends in SNCC and they drove down to Birmingham to complete the rides.  The remaining bus made it from Birmingham to Montgomery without incident, but upon arrival in Montgomery, the riders were attacked by a mob of over 1000 whites.  The riders continued into Mississippi, where the violence became even worse. Not only did the police not intervene, they arrested the beaten riders and imprisoned them for weeks in the notorious Parchmen Prison Farm, until federal intervention finally freed them. Other Rides continued in solidarity, spreading beyond the bus stations to train stations and airports throughout the South.  The campaign ended in November 1961 when the Interstate Commerce Commission issued new rules preventing segregation in transportation facilities and enforcing them.

On 16 May, the PBS progam, The American Experience, will run a special tribute at 9 P.M. “Freedom Riders.”  A DVD of the program can be ordered from PBS.com for $19.99.  I urge readers of this blog to check it out.

Segregation, America’s version of legal apartheid, was a very dark chapter in the history of this nation–and it still leaves ripples to the present.  We need to look at our past in order to understand our present.  Our young people need especially to learn this and other stories like it. I hope parents will watch this with their children and that screenings will be scheduled for youth groups, too.

Thank-you, Freedom Riders, for your part in transforming our nation to a somewhat freer and more just society.

May 6, 2011 Posted by | civil rights, History, human rights | Leave a comment

A Brief Note on Glenn Beck’s Horrid Usurpation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy

I haven’t written on this because it has made me so angry.  But I cannot let it pass.  Saturday was the 47th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  As the climax of that historic march, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech. The real title was “Normalcy: Never Again!” and the “Dream” refrain was a spur of the moment riff–since King’s public speaking style was shaped by Black Church preaching, which is a dialogue in which preacher’s adapt due both to the leading of God’s Spirit and to feedback from the congregation.  Sadly most people known only a few words of the speech and dismiss Dr. King as “the Dreamer,” never seeing him as the nonviolent WARRIOR for justice, peace, and the Beloved Community that he was. (J. Edgar Hoover, the evil, paranoid, and very racist founding Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not describe King as “the most dangerous Negro in America” because he was a harmless dreamer.)  While this was not his most radical speech (I’d give that award either to his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” or the sermon given the night before he was assassinated in 1968, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”), because so very few know the whole “Dream” speech, I am glad my friend Dan Trabue has reprinted it in full here.  I urge you to take your time and read it slowly and ponder it deeply–then go to Youtube and watch/listen to the speech given in Dr. King’s amazing delivery.

But Saturday the nation did not reflect on the March, the speech, and how far we still are from realizing the Dream.  Instead, tens of thousands of (mostly white) people poured into D.C. to attend a “Restore Honor” rally organized by former rodeo clown turned rightwing “news” pundit, Glenn Beck and hear speeches by him and Sarah Palin and others on how today white people are the only victims of racism, Pres. Barack Obama (of whom I am a critic from the Left–as Dr. King would be) is an evil tyrant who hates white people and free enterprise, how we need to have more wars in order to “restore honor” to the nation–and other pure bullshit! (I do not often use scatalogical language and I see this blog as a family-friendly forum, so I hesitate to use that term–but no other will do. The Apostle Paul counted his life before Christ as “all shit” (Phil. 3:8). ) Isaiah’s judgment on those who call evil “good” and good “evil” quickly comes to mind.

That anyone could see Glenn Beck as a contemporary standard bearer for the values of Dr. King shows how much King’s image has been “tamed” over the years.  Maybe it was a mistake to ever make his birthday into a national holiday.  Maybe it helped us forget the “dangerous Negro,” that the Dreamer was a radical democratic socialist who called his nation “the world’s largest purveyor of violence,” who wept over the funerals of 4 little girls killed at Sunday School by white terrorists and said “My dream has become a nightmare,” who called for a “revolution of values” in this nation, who spent the last year of his life organizing a Poor People’s Campaign of African Americans, whites from Appalachia, Native Americans, Mexican-American migrant workers, and others.  This man with a Ph.D. from Boston University was assassinated for marching for the rights of garbage workers in Memphis, TN.  We have too much tamed Martin King when Glenn Beck and his followers can see themselves as his legacy!!

And it enfuriates me that, 47 years later, most white pastors have still not read King’s writings–or the writings of any African-American theologian.  It should be IMPOSSIBLE to get a theological education in 2010 without wrestling with major non-white, non-Western figures.  But it is.  That’s the only way to explain how ignorant voices could portray Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a “hatemonger” based on snippets from one sermon or accuse James H. Cone, one of the founders of Black Liberation Theology, of “reverse racism” and hatred.

It should be impossible to graduate university or even high school without having to read major non-white voices alongside white and Western ones.  How can our children grow up without ever encountering Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Sojourner Truth, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois or Martin Luther King, alongside Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, and others?  Why is it that nearly every African-American (and Latino/a and Asian) pastor and theologian in this country knows the white, Western intellectual tradition, but so few whites bother to learn anything from others?  That unconscious racism, the “othering” by eliminating those voices from the conversation, is what allows rewriting of history and allows the ignorance displayed by the Glenn Beck usurpation.

Are there conservative African Americans? Sure.  Do Beck and others have the right to gather and make a case for their (individualistic, libertarian) view of society in which corporations can do no wrong, but any attempt at government work for the common good is denounced as “socialism?” Sure.  Do they have the right to try to convince Christians and others that “social justice” is a betrayal of the gospel? Sure.  But should anyone be taken in by their nonsense? No–and they can only be so taken in because of our failure to educate.  We reduce the Black Freedom movement to Rosa Parks sitting down one day and Martin King giving a speech the next day and think, “Poof! Segregation disappeared.” Our amnesia is leading to the resegregation of our schools. We rightly celebrate the first time a non-white person was elected president by a nation where whites are still the majority (although not by the middle of this century when we will have no majority ethnic group and whites will simply be the largest minority). But while Barack Obama gets to live in a White House built by slaves, we have a greater percentage  African Americans in prison than during the darkest days of segregation.  Dr. King would be more concerned about the latter–and Glenn Beck’s libertarian dream is not.

Al Sharpton had a counter-march on Saturday to “reclaim the dream.”  But to reclaim the dream of a non-racial society in which there are no poor people, which is characterized by justice and peace and in which people, not corporations, decide things, we have to first remember what the dream was.  I challenge white pastors and theologians and seminary students to do their part–by introducing themselves and their congregations to voices long ignored and silenced–including Martin King’s.

August 30, 2010 Posted by | civil rights, History, justice, racial justice | Leave a comment

Peacemaker Profiles #3: Mairead Corrigan Maguire & Betty Williams

Máiread Corrigan Maguire, Betty Williams, and the Community of Peace People

by Michael L. Westmoreland-White

Though they shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 1976 and have continued to be very active in peacemaking, Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams are far from household names, at least in the USA.  They deserve to be far better known, both for the roles they played in launching the peace movement in Northern Ireland and since.

First, a very brief bit of background. Before there was a “United Kingdom,” England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man were all independent, neighboring nations. The story of England’s successful wars for sovereignty over these other lands is too long to go into here. Suffice it to say that for a long period of time all of Ireland was ruled over by England, with all the usual oppressive moves, including outrageous rents by absentee landlords, denial of franchise, etc.

Eventually, the greater part of Ireland (the Southern part) won/was granted independence and is today the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. But that was/is greatly resented by much of the population. Religious differences were part of this strife as the vast majority of native Irish were Roman Catholic, but English colonizers and descendants were Protestant, usually members of the Church of England but also including Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and a scattering of other groups. Protestants in Northern Ireland wanted to remain part of the U.K. and formed Loyalist parties, often armed. Most Catholics in Northern Ireland, who were not represented in governmental decisions and had numerous other inequalities, wanted to merge Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland and thus formed various political movements, many of them armed, called Republican because of their desire to have one, united, Catholic Irish Republic. Over the years, most of the Republican groups used guerilla warfare and terrorist tactics. The Loyalists responded in kind and British troops imposed harsh measures, including many violations of “the rules of war,” resulting in gross human rights abuses. (For more on all this see David McKittrick and David McVea, Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. New York: New Amsterdam Books, 2002.) That was the status quo for nearly a century. Northern Ireland became synonymous with violence, terrorism, and massive military retaliation and much of that spilled over into the rest of the U.K. as well.

The story: On 10 August 1976, Danny Lennon, a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA — a guerilla army of Catholic “republicans”), was attempting to elude capture by the police. The latter shot and killed him. Lennon’s car swerved out of control and onto a sidewalk and into a fence. The car severely injured a young mother, Anne Maguire, out for a walk with three of her children, but the children, including a 6-week old baby, were killed instantly. The event could have been chalked up to just another act of violence and chaos in Northern Ireland, but it horrified the children’s aunt, Máiread Corrigan, and  Betty Williams, who witnessed the event. Corrigan and Williams began organizing the community, both Protestant and Catholic, to oppose the violence. A journalist, Ciaran McKeown, joined them, gave them publicity, and helped write their initial declarations. Thus, the Peace People, which had at one time 14, 000 members, was born.

Máiread Corrigan Maguire (b. 1944-). Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the daughter of a window cleaning contractor and a housewife, Máiread Corrigan had been neither an activist, nor a pacifist, nor even particularly politically involved until the tragedy of 10 August 1976 which took her sister and nephews and niece. A Catholic with mild republican leanings, Corrigan was a product of a rather typical working class Irish-Catholic family. She had attended Catholic schools and 1 year of business school (Miss Gordon’s Commercial College). Since age 16, she had worked in various clerical positions, especially as a shorthand typist. At the time when the movement started, she was confidential secretary to the Managing Director of Arthur Guiness & Co., a large Irish firm. She had done volunteer work for Catholic charitable organizations, especially helping to establish clubs for physically handicapped children. She also worked with young people and in prison visitation.

Once the Northern Ireland Peace Movement started, Máiread Corrigan became transformed. She helped to found Peace House, the headquarters of the Peace People, which also served as an intentional community for the leaders of the movement. She and Betty Williams led nonviolent demonstrations and strikes. They met with British officials and terrorists from the republican and loyalist groups and urged peace.

The three founders of the Peace People, Corrigan, Williams, and McKeown, were honored with the Carl Osseitsky Medal for Courage from the Berlin section of the International League for Human Rights in 1976. That brought them to the attention of peacemakers worldwide. They were awarded the Norwegian People’s Peace Prize (a populist alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize) in 1976 and the accompanying prize money gave Peace People some much-needed funding for their peace education projects. They were also nominated for the Nobel, but no Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for 1976. Instead, the 1976 prize, shared by Corrigan and Williams, was awarded in 1977 along with the 1977 award to Amnesty International.

In the years following the awarding of the Nobel, violence was renewed in Northern Ireland and the Peace People’s numbers and effectiveness dwindled. Only recently has peace appeared to have a real chance to take hold in that troubled land, especially after the signing of the Good Friday Accords. The Peace People themselves had dissensions over the direction that their projects should take. Of the three founders, only Máiread remains with the Peace People. Ciaran McKeown left to return to journalism. Betty Williams left in 1978 and in 1980 emigrated to the United States, but has continued her peace and justice activism in her new homeland.

Anne Maguire, mother of the slain children and Máiread’s sister, never recovered physically from her injuries or emotionally from the loss of her children. She died in 1980. In September Máiread married her sister’s widower and adopted the three remaining children, Mark, Joanne, and Marie Louise. In addition, Máiread and Jackie Maguire are also the parents of John and Luke from their own marriage.

Máiread’s work with Peace People gave her an extended contact with Protestants for the first time. Her peacemaking has included work for ecumenical harmony. She has received a Certificate in Ecumenical Studies from the Irish School for Ecumenics and has continued her work with ecumenical and interfaith organizations. She has become a leader in the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (the world’s oldest interfaith pacifist organization) and active in the U.K. chapter of the Catholic peace organization, Pax Christi International. She is a Patron of Edgehill College (the Irish Methodist Theological College) and Northern Ireland’s Council for Integrated Education. (In the U.S., “integrated education” refers to educating all races and ethnic groups in the public schools, together. Ireland is fairly monocultural in terms of ethnicity, but separated strongly by religion. There “integrated education” refers to educating Protestant and Catholic children in the same schools, with curricula which is fair to the contributions of each heritage. This was a movement started by Peace People.) She has received an honorary doctorates from Yale University, the University of South Korea, and the College of New Rochelle (NY), and special awards from Trinity College (Washington, DC), and St. Michael’s College (VT). In 1978, she was a special honoree of the United Nation’s “Women of Achievement” and the American Academy of Achievement. In October, 1990, U.S. Catholic Bishop Gerald O’Keefe of Iowa named her to receive that year’s Pacem im Terris, Peace and Freedom award. In June 1992, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, headquartered in California, awarded Máiread the “Distinguished Peace Leadership Award.”

Since helping to found Peace People, Máiread Corrigan Maguire has traveled widely in the U.S., New Zealand, Korea, India, Australia, Africa, Bangladesh, Japan, Israel/Palestine, and, recently, in Iraq. In all those places, she has been a voice for peace, nonviolence, justice, and human rights. She continued to urge the IRA to abandon guerilla warfare and terrorism for a political struggle for their goals and made similar calls on Protestant Loyalists. She has supported the ordination of women to the priesthood in her own Roman Catholic Church and called for reform of the church to a less heirarchical and more populist structure and urged it to stand for justice and peace within its structures as well as in the wider world. She has been a guest in Argentina of Aldofo Perez Esquivel, founder of SERPAJ (Servicio Paz y Justicia — “Service for Peace and Justice”) and Nobel Peace Laureate for 1980, whom Máiread first nominated for the Nobel. She has been part of the Nobel Peace Laureates’ Appeal for Global Nuclear Disarmament and Creating a Culture of Nonviolence, which began at The Hague, Netherlands, in 1997. Most recently, she has become one of the Councillers for the World Peace Council, based in Canada.

Betty Williams (b. 1943-). Born Betty Smyth, Betty Williams is the daughter of a Catholic mother and Protestant father. Like Máiread Corrigan Maguire, Betty Williams comes from Irish working class stock. Her father was a butcher and her mother a housewife. She was educated in Catholic schools, but married a Protestant (Ralph Williams) from Bermuda. They have two children, Paul and Deborah. (When the couple divorced in 1982 over Ms. Williams’ activism, she married James Perkins and moved to Florida.)  When the tragedy which led to the founding of Peace People ocurred, Betty Williams had no background in peacemaking or activism. She was an office receptionist and housewife whose interests were dressmaking, gardening, reading, and swimming. She had some sympathy with the republican cause, but not for either its methods or the hostilities between Protestants and Catholics. She is widely acknowledged to have been the original driving force behind Peace People. She enlisted Máiread Corrigan and Ciaran McKeown. She was the main drive in circulating petitions and organizing marches, tearing down barbed wire barricades, and initiating common events between Protestants and Catholics. It was Williams who gave the Nobel Lecture/Acceptance Speech for herself and Máiread in 1976 in Oslo on 11 December 1977. (It can be found at http://gos.sbc.edu/w/bwilliams.html)

Betty Williams has adopted the slogan that the Nobel Peace Prize is given “not so much for what one has done as for what one will do.” (One hopes that U.S. Pres. Obama takes up that slogan as a promise.)  Although she left the Peace People in 1978 and moved to the United States in 1980, she has continued to work and speak out for peace, human rights, and nonviolent struggle for justice. Her work since that time has especially focused on the plight of children as she has traveled the globe recording the testimonies of children plagued by war, hunger, disease, child prostitution, and other horrors beyond belief.

Betty Williams has continued to write op-ed pieces against the arms trade, the nuclear arms race, and for the U.S. ratification of major UN human rights treaties. In 1992, she met with the newly-elected U.S. President, Bill Clinton, and VP Al Gore, and recounted the horrors of Burma and East Timor in their presence, urging vigorous U.S. engagement to transform those situations. She wrote an article about that encounter that was widely published. That same year, Governor Ann Richards of Texas appointed Williams to the Texas Commission for Children and Youth. She has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws (Ll.D.) from Yale University, the Schweitzer Medallion for Courage, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for the promotion of human rights, and the Frank Foundation Child Assistance International Oliver Award. In 1992, she chaired the international committee celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Children’s Defense Fund and its founder, Marion Wright Edelman.

Betty Williams has written and spoken constantly around the world for peace and now is a special lecturer for Nova Southeastern University in Tampa, FL. In 1995, she was awarded the Rotary Club International’s “Paul Harris Fellowship” and the Together for Peace Foundation’s Peace Building Award. In 1995, her concern for children’s welfare led her to form World Centers of Compassion for Children International, an international network working to protect children’s rights and promote children’s welfare. Her advisory board consists mostly of other Nobel Peace Laureates, economists, futurists, child advocates. Her new organization has Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status at the United Nations where Betty Williams has striven to present children’s voices about their own problems to global leaders.

Additionally, Betty Williams serves on the Council of Honor for the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica, and is a Patron of the International Peace Foundation in Vienna, Austria. She is the Chair of the Institute for Asian Democracy in Washington, D.C., and an honorary member of the Club of Budapest. Like her friend Máiread Corrigan Maguire, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize did not crown Betty Williams’ peacemaking efforts, it propelled them across her lifetime and, apparently will continue to do so into the future. In January 2002, she gave a speech at the University of Miami admitting to students her profound anger over the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 — and her firm resolve that violent retaliation was the wrong response, continuing rather than breaking the cycle of violence. Students interviewed afterwords for the Miami Herald said that hearing a Nobel Peace Prize winner admit publicly that her first emotional reaction to the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania was “Nuke ’em!” made them more open to her later discussion of why such an emotional response should not guide our actions and to her analysis of how nonviolent peacework could do more against terrorism in the long run than a military response.

Máiread Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams show that sometimes tragic circumstances can yield to the healing brought by  active nonviolence. At first their actions were spontaneous. Neither woman had a history rooted in pacifism, in activism for social justice, or in training in the theory and practice of nonviolence. All this they picked up as they went along. Today, Máiread Corrigan Maguire has become a major voice for Christian nonviolence, in and out of her own Roman Catholic communion. Betty Williams’ relation to the church is more low-key, but she, like her friend Máiread, has become a complete pacifist deeply rooted in a spirituality of nonviolence. In Williams’ case that spirituality is nourished by many sources, including the works of the 14th Dalai Lama, but also Catholic and Protestant Christian pacifists, past and present. Their story also shows that a nonviolent movement may begin spontaneously, but then it has to form community and organization and connect to the longer nonviolent narrative in order to remain a vital force. These women, the movement they started, and the organizations with which they are connected today, are vibrant chapters in the ongoing history of nonviolence.

A few resources for further exploration:

David McKittrick and David McVea, Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. New York: New Amsterdam Books, 2002.

Sarah Boucher, Bettina Ling, and Charlotte Bunch. Máiread Corrigan and Betty Williams: Making Peace in Northern Ireland. Feminist Press, 1994. For ages 9-12. Part of the “Women Changing the World” series for young readers put out by Feminist Press.

Susan Muaddi Darraj.  Máiread Corrigan and Betty Williams: Partners for Peace in Northern IrelandForeward by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell.  Chelsea House Publications, 2006.  Young adult.  Darraj traces the roots of the conflict back to the 12th C. before focusing on the modern conflict.  Part of the Modern Peacemakers series.

Máiread Corrigan Maguire, The Vision of Peace: Faith and Hope in Northern Ireland, ed. John Dear, S. J. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999. Major writings and speeches by Maguire, edited by Jesuit priest and nonviolent activist/theologian John Dear.

Colin Irwin. The People’s Peace Process in Northern Ireland. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

August 29, 2010 Posted by | blog series, ecumenism, heroes, History, Just Peacemaking, nonviolence, pacifism, peace | Leave a comment

Peacemaker Profiles # 2: Diane Nash

Diane Nash (1938 -), Unsung Heroine of the Civil Rights Movement
by Michael Westmoreland-White

In the 20th Century, nonviolent mass movements began to build upon the experiences of earlier movements. This is abundantly clear in the case of the many connections between Gandhi and the Indian Freedom Struggle and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement (or African-American Freedom Struggle). The experiences of the Indian Freedom Struggle were reported and analyzed closely by Black newspapers in the U.S., newspapers that were distributed far outside their primary geographical circulation in the lobbies of the Black Church, African American barber shops and beauty salons, and in local chapters of the NAACP. Further, numerous African-American leaders traveled to India and met with Gandhi or (after Gandhi’s 1948 assassination) colleagues at Gandhi’s ashram. One such African-American was a young Methodist ministerial student whose pacifist convictions led him to become a conscientious objector to the Korean War, one of the first African-Americans to be granted C.O. status by the Selective Service Board. This young man was James Lawson and he studied organized nonviolence in India before returning to the United States to finish seminary. Lawson had hoped to do graduate studies at Harvard University, but Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced him that the Civil Rights movement needed him in the South. So, Lawson enrolled as a graduate student in theology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, one of the few prestigious institutions of the South willing to admit a few black students yearly.

Nashville was part of the segregated South, but not quite as virulently racist as many more cities deeper in the South. For instance, Nashville boasted of being the home of several African-American institutions of higher learning: Tennessee State University, The American Baptist Theological Seminary, Meherry Medical College, and Fisk University. In the Fall semester of 1959, Lawson began offering workshops in nonviolence for the students of these institutions on the premises of First Colored Baptist Church (whose pastor, Kelly Miller Smith, was a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith organization dedicated to nonviolence) and Clark Memorial United Methodist Church, near the campus of Vanderbilt Divinity School. A white student at Fisk University named Paul LaPrad told a young woman at Fisk named Diane Nash of these workshops and she soon joined a small group of African-American students whose names would read like a Who’s Who of future Civil Rights leaders: Bernard Lafayette, John Lewis, and James Bevel. By November, Nash had become the unofficial leader of the group.

Diane Judith Nash was a light-skinned African-American woman with green eyes who had been born and raised in Chicago. Although used to the racism of the North, she knew of the more blatant indignities heaped on African-Americans only through the stories of her father, who was from the deep South. In Chicago, Nash had even won several beauty pageants over white rivals as a teen, something that would never have been allowed in the South. She came from a middle-class Catholic family and had, at one time, even considered becoming a nun. Instead she enrolled as an English major at Howard University in Washington, D.C., before transferring to Fisk University in Nashville in 1959. In Nashville, Nash had found the segregated restrictions overwhelming and personally degrading. So, although she was initially skeptical about Gandhian nonviolence, she joined Lawson’s workshops determined to challenge Nashville’s Jim Crow laws. Some of those workshops took place at Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, TN, a center for popular education for social change founded by a white Christian radical named Myles Horton. At Highlander, Nash met and learned from Septima Clark, a 60 year old organizer of unions and educator in voter registration for the NAACP, white ministers Glenn Smiley (United Methodist, an organizer for the Fellowship of Reconciliation or F.O.R.) and Will D. Campbell (Baptist, a liason between the National Council of Churches and the Civil Rights movement), and other African-American leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and C. T. Vivian.

Back in Nashville, it was time to put these workshops to use, especially as nationally the Civil Rights movement was in a stall. On 7 February 1960, the students began the Sit-In Movement in Nashville, attempting to be served at the lunch counters of downtown department stores such as Woolworth. As the sit-ins continued, the press soon began to focus on Nash as a spokesperson because she was articulate and poised in front of cameras, doubtless due in part to her past in beauty pageants. The exposure placed her in extra danger. She once overheard white teenage hoodlums mutter, “That’s her. Nash. She was on TV. She’s the one to get.” Indeed, when white mob violence was released on the sit-ins, Nash was sometimes singled out for violence. But as a practitioner of nonviolence, she found courage in herself that she didn’t know she possessed. When the students decided not to accept bail or pay the $50 fines for their arrests (or allow others to pay them), Nash was chosen to explain their decision in court. She addressed the judge with respect, but without the fawning subservience Southern whites expected of African-Americans. “We feel that if we pay these fines we would be contributing to and supporting the injustice and immoral practices that have been performed in the arrest and conviction of the defendants.”

By April 1960, the sit-ins had cost Nashville tourist dollars and the downtown sector was suffering as whites stayed in the suburbs rather than shop downtown. The mayor, Ben West, tried to intervene and negotiate a compromise. He addressed a crowd of African-Americans (with small numbers of white supporters) and told them of his attempts at negotiating with the lunch-counter owners. He suggested at the end that they all pray together. Nash spoke up. “What about eating together?” West replied, “We should also try to arrange that.” Nash: “Then, Mayor, do you recommend that the lunch counters be desegregated?” Put on the spot, West answered, “Yes.” The crowd erupted in cheers. Soon the lunch counters were desegregated and the movement went on to successfully challenge segregation at Nashville’s movie theaters and churches.

Toward the end of 1960, the Nashville students began to communicate with student movements in other Southern cities, notably in North Carolina. They decided to create an organized movement for the entire South and named it, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC, which members and others alike began calling “SNICK.” Diane Nash left college to work full-time as a SNCC field worker. At first, SNCC had two branches, one for voter registration work and one for nonviolent direct action. Nash led the direct action wing of SNCC, along with her old friends John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, and James Bevel, to whom she would soon be married.

In 1961, CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality), led by James Farmer, revived a nonviolent strategy they had successfully used in 1940, the “Freedom Rides” in which white and black activists rode interstate buses (Greyhound and Trailways, then separate companies) together into the South where segregated seating was still the law. Federal laws demanding desegregation on interstate buses and in bus stations were not enforced. The Freedom Riders were to test compliance. In the deep South, they encountered mob violence that injured several of the Riders and threatened to destroy the rides. Nash contacted SNCC for students to take up the rides by substituting for injured CORE riders. She herself rode one of the buses into Mississippi where she endured both mob violence and imprisonment.

After this, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization founded and headed by Martin Luther King, Jr., hired Nash and James Bevel as field workers and liaison with SNCC, seeking to bridge the trust gap between the more militant (but still nonviolent) students and the older and more moderate leaders (mostly African American ministers) of SCLC. She also tried to build bridges to the NAACP which considered both SNCC and SCLC to be far too radical. NAACP had been committed to a strategy of legal challenge in the courts and was threatened by the nonviolent direct action campaigns. In these roles, Diane Nash Bevel was more than competent. Her articulate speaking bridged communication gaps between the various civil rights organizations and her good looks frankly charmed most of the (male) leaders of other organizations.

Nash was to learn the suffering that comes with nonviolent action in oppressive contexts. In May 1962, she was jailed in Jackson, Mississippi, for teaching black children the tools of nonviolent direct action, just as she had learned them from Lawson and others. She was four months pregnant, but was still sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment. On appeal, Nash only served a short time before release. Nash was also a major organizer for the 1963 campaign in Birmingham. Despite all these leadership roles, the sexism of both the press and the major civil rights organizations soon eclipsed her. In the 1963 March on Washington, not one woman was scheduled to speak. Nash was introduced by A. Philip Randolph, chair of the march, as “one of the outstanding women of the civil rights struggle,” but she was expected to fade into the background sweetly after that introduction.

Nash continued to play a vital role in the Freedom Movement. It was Nash who designed the plan used by the SCLC for their successful campaign in Selma, AL, in 1965. She also became a liaison to the peace movement and the early actions of the women’s movement. After 1965, however, Nash seemed to cut all ties to the SCLC and SNCC. SNCC had changed leadership that year, and its new head, Stokely Carmichael, took SNCC away from a commitment to nonviolence under his leadership to embrace the slogan “Black Power,” which he coined. The continued sexism of the SCLC and its dominance by clergy also alienated Nash.

Today, Nash, now divorced from James Bevel because of his serial adulteries, has returned to Chicago, completed her education, and is an educator. She has yet to write a “movement memoir,” but gave a full interview in 1998 that became part of the book, Free At Last? The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made It by Fred Powledge (Boston: Little, Brown, 1991). Nash remains involved in quiet ways in organizations working for racial justice and reconciliation and with the peace movement. She has remained committed to nonviolence as a way of life.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | biographies, blog series, civil rights leaders, heroes, History, peace, racial justice | Leave a comment

65th Anniversary of Hiroshima Bombing Calls Us to Repent

65 years ago, today, the United States of America became the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons in war when it bombed the non-military city of Hiroshima, Japan.  Along with the bombing of Nagasaki 4 days later, this act of mass murder MAY have helped end the war with Japan.  We know it killed thousands and we know that it led to the nuclear stand-off during the Cold War that daily threatened global genocide. We know that the contemporary threat of nuclear terrorism traces to this horrible day, too.

I suggest we use it as a day of prayer and repentance–and a call to action for a nuclear free world. In the U.S., urge your senators to vote for ratification of the New START treaty as the first step toward a massive “reverse arms race” and a nuclear-free world.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | History, peace | Leave a comment

Peacemaker Profiles #1

Barbara Deming (1917 – 1984)

Barbara Deming was major force for peace and justice.  A writer, feminist, peace and civil rights activist, Deming was born in New York City on 23 July 1917 and died in Sugarloaf Key, Florida, on 2 August 1984. Born into a Quaker family and educated in Quaker schools, Deming was nevertheless reticent about her own faith and, although she never rejected or distanced herself from the Friends/Quakers, neither was she regularly present in Meeting life. She studied literature and theater at Bennington College in Vermont.

The early part of Deming’s adult life was spent pursuing her life as a writer and poet and, although interesting in itself, need not concern us here.  Apparently during much of this time she was skeptical at least of some aspects of her Quaker heritage, because it was only after reading Gandhi’s writings and traveling to India in the late 1950s that she began to identify herself as a pacifist. Yet, it was her trip to Cuba in 1960 and a personal encounter with Fidel Castro that pushed her toward both journalism and nonviolent activism. Her discovery that Castro was a flawed and autocratic leader, but also genuinely concerned for economic justice for the poor and not the pure incarnation of evil that the U.S. government claimed, led Deming to become very critical of America’s Cold War policies. Although one would never know it from the denunciations of her by the U.S. establishment, Deming was far from blind to the evils of Communist militarism and autocracy, but she knew that this did not justify a national policy of nuclear build up, assassination attempts on Castro, funding for right wing dictators and other abusers of human rights. Deming came to see that U.S. hatred of Communism threatened to make it into a mirror-image of Communism’s worst evils — a danger that is rapidly returning in our day of hatred toward international terrorism.

Deming’s subsequent nonviolent activism ranged from fasting for the abolition of the CIA in 1961 to numerous arrests and imprisonments for anti-war and civil rights protests involving civil disobedience. In 1964, Deming joined the Walk for Peace from Quebec to Washington, D.C., to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Walkers were arrested in Albany, Georgia for attempting to walk through town as an interracial group. Prison Notes, written during Barbara’s month in Albany jail, was published in 1966. It is widely regarded as one of the classic prison narratives.

During the so-called Vietnam War (the war actually encompassed much of Southeast Asia), Deming traveled to North Vietnam with three other women in order to be both a peaceful witness and a journalist seeking more accurate information than available in the U.S. mainstream media. She returned home and spoke and wrote widely of her experiences with North Vietnamese villagers during U.S. bombing raids.

Deming’s best known essay is easily, “On Revolution and Equilibrium,” published in 1968 in the Left-pacifist journal Liberation. It articulates her argument for nonviolence, deliberately using as a counterpoint The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon which argues that the oppressed must use violence in their liberation struggles for their own psychological health. “On Revolution and Equilibrium” is an essay that everyone interested in peacemaking and social justice should read. It is as important as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail,” or his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, or his essay, “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence.” It ranks with Muriel Lester’s “No Moratorium on the Sermon on the Mount,” Dave Dellinger’s Revolutionary Nonviolence, Dorothy Day’s “Of Justice and Breadlines,” and “We Go on Record,” or Thomas Merton’s “Nonviolence and the Christian Conscience.” Only a few book-length works surpass this essay by Deming in articulating the call to active, nonviolent struggle for social justice. That it is better known by “secular” pacifists than by Christian peacemakers is to our shame.

Seriously injured in an auto accident in 1971, Deming struggled with ill health for the rest of her life. She turned to letter writing as a form of activism and became an influential voice in the emerging “Second Wave” American feminist movement of the 1970s. Although she had known herself to be a lesbian since the age of 16, Deming “came out” publicly in 1973 and worked to integrate pacifism/nonviolence into the new movement for gay and lesbian rights. I realize that this aspect of Deming’s life will be controversial for some readers of this column. Christian peace folk are as divided over issues surrounding sexual orientation as society and church as a whole. Although I, myself, have come to believe that sexual orientation is morally neutral and that the church should revise its moral theology to treat same-sex monogamy as morally equivalent to heterosexual marriage, that is a very controversial viewpoint and one that I will not argue now since my focus is elsewhere. I would ask readers that disagree and uphold the traditional Christian sexual ethic of either celibate singleness or monogamous heterosexual marriage to do two things: First, do not dismiss the witness of Barbara Deming in other areas because of your disagreements with her sexual orientation and commitment any more than you would dismiss the entire witness of Martin Luther King, Jr., after discovering his many adulterous affairs. Second, whatever Christian pacifists say about the place of non-celibate gays and lesbians in the church, at a minimum our faith should commit us to vigorous defense of their civil and human rights in society. Discriminating in jobs or health insurance or housing, etc., on the basis of disagreements over sexual lifestyles confuses issues of purity with issues of public justice. Discrimination in the latter area cannot be tolerated by followers of the nonviolent Christ since such discrimination is itself inherently violent.

In 1983, Deming was one of 54 women arrested at the Seneca Women’s Peace Encampment in upstate New York. Marines attempted to break up the action by force, but the women formed a circle on the ground, giving the double message, “We are no threat to you, but we will not be bullied; we will not be bullied, but we are no threat to you.” The women remained nonviolent in spite of jeers from the crown with horrible messages like, “All you gals need is a little rape!” Judith McDaniel, executor of the Barbara Deming archives, sums up the meaning of Deming’s lifework. Deming “was to highlight for us the connection between issues of oppression.” Most of Deming’s writings are out of print, but one can still find We Are All Part of One Another: A Barbara Deming Reader, ed. Jane Meyerding (New Society Publishers, 1984).

August 3, 2010 Posted by | biographies, blog series, History, pacifism, peace | 1 Comment

Recommended Works on Frederick Douglass

In my last post, I mentioned that there is a mini-scholarly renaissance in studies on Frederick Douglass.  Here are some of the better studies.

First, one needs to be familiar with the primary sources.  Douglass wrote 3 autobiographical works:  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845); My Bondage and My Freedom (1855); The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).  All 3 have been collected together as Frederick Douglass: Autobiographies, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Library of America, 1994).  Many of Douglass’ articles from The Liberator and from The North Star have been collected as Collected Articles of Frederick Douglass–A Slave (CreateSpace, 2010).  Another excellent collection is Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. Philip S. Foner (1910-1994), abrided and adapted by Yuval Taylor (Lawrence Hill, 2000).  Two other excellent collections are The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader, ed. William L. Andrews (Oxford University Press, 1996) and Frederick Douglass:  A Critical Reader (Blackwell Critical Readers), ed. Bill Lawson and Frank Kirkland (Wiley-Blackwell, 1999).

Among the many secondary sources on Douglass’ thought, I especially recommend the following:

Reginald F. Davis, Frederick Douglass: Precursor to Liberation Theology (Mercer University Press, 2005).

Scott C. Williamson, The Narrative Life:  The Moral and Religious Thought of Frederick Douglass (Mercer University Press, 2002).

John Stauffer, Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln (Twelve, 2008). 

James Oakes, The Radical and the Republican:  Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Anti-Slavery Politics (Norton, 2008).

Maria Diedrich, Love Across Color Lines:  Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass (Hill and Wang, 2000). 

William B. Rogers, We are All Together Now:  Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and the Prophetic Tradition (Routledge, 1995).

I’d also recommend Per Caritatem, the blog of theologian and philosopher Cynthia R. Nielsen, one of the few white theologians or philosophers who regularly interacts seriously with African-American scholars (and other non-white scholars).  Her work on Douglass is on a par with her excellent work on St.  Augustine of Hippo.

July 30, 2010 Posted by | book reviews, civil rights leaders, History, oppression, racial justice | Leave a comment

Garrison and Douglass: Friendship and Estrangement

The most famous white abolitionist in the U.S., and deservedly so, is William Lloyd Garrison.  The most famous black abolitionist, and deservedly so, is Frederick Douglass.  For over a decade (1841-1850), they were also close friends and co-workers in the American Anti-Slavery Society.  While not identical, their views on most topics of the day were close and each defended the other from attacks by critics.  Yet their friendship ended and the two men became estranged–a breach that was never healed in life.  Why?

Was it lingering racism on Garrison’s part, or an unconscious patronism that had difficulty when Douglass’ fame and leadership began to outstrip Garrison’s in the cause they both lived for?  Was it simply natural competition and resentment between two selve-made men from humble backgrounds–both strong-willed, ambitious, strivers?  Was it a growing “black nationalism” on Douglass’ part–an estrangement from the goal of an equal and integrated society?  Did the complex tensions of self-determination and integration break the two men apart in a way similar to the break-down of “black and white together, we shall overcome” in the face of militant nationalism and smoldering resentments in the Freedom Movement a century later?  Can we who seek a just and equal “rainbow society” today learn from both their friendship and its breakdown?

First, let us examine their very real friendship.  William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was older than Frederick Douglass (c.1818-1895) by more than a decade and began as a mentor to Douglass.  They met in an 1841 meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in which Garrison was the headline speaker but Douglass was unexpectedly asked to tell the story of his life during slavery and his escape to freedom. (Even his name, Frederick Douglass, was a pseudonymn to make it harder for slavecatchers to find and return him to slavery.) Riveted like everyone else, Garrison asked the crowd, “Have we been listening to the testimony of a piece of property or a man?” “A man!” they thundered in reply. “Can we ever allow such a man to be treated as property?” “Never!” “Can you doubt that such treatment is the grossest sin?” “No!” “Then will you pledge with us to end this sin and crime in which 3 million of our fellow beings are not seen as fellow citizens, but simply as property and tools of another to use as he will?” “YES!!”

Garrison and Douglass often shared a speaking stage for the American Anti-Slavery Society and they worked well together.  Because Garrison’s religious views had become more suspect (from hanging around Hicksite Quakers, Unitarians and holiness perfectionists) and Douglass was seen as more theologically orthodox, the tag-team often had Garrison keep quiet on-stage about the churches’ complicity in slavery while Douglass would thunder against the racism of the white churches.  Meanwhile, because Douglass was more vulnerable to reprisals by local, state, and federal governments, it would be Garrison who took the lead in criticizing the racism even of the free states.  This was a careful strategy since both men actually had radical views about the need for reform of both state and church.

Both were also strong supporters of women’s rights–although, after Garrison’s death, Douglass would strain his relationships with many white feminists by supporting the passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution even though it protected the voting rights of black men but continued to deny the right to vote to women of all races. 

Garrison’s paper, The Liberator, first published Douglass’ story in 1845 as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.  Garrison has never received enough credit for this publication. It was a bestseller and most of the profits went to Douglass and to the abolitionist movement–Garrison was poor throughout his life and made no attempt to exploit Douglass’ story for his personal gain.  He also took quite a risk in publishing Douglass’ book and was charged with several crimes, but he faced the charges bravely. Moreover, he recognized that this publication placed Douglass in grave danger of being recognized and reclaimed by his former “masters.” Garrison solicited wealthy abolitionists for funds to enable Douglass to tour Britain on the lecture circuit in order to avoid capture.  Further, although Garrison was against schemes of ending slavery by paying off slaveholders (enabling them to profit from their sin of slaveholding) instead of compensating slaves for their free labor, he defended the morality of escaped slaves and free blacks purchasing their own or others’ freedom.  Just as in cases of kidnapping and ranson, Garrison argued, the sin is not in paying for freedom, but with those who receive such money for the crime the King James’ Bible called “man-stealing.”  Thus, against further criticisim, when he joined Douglass in England at the end of the lecture tour, Garrison helped him raise money and purchase his freedom so that he could return to America without risk of arrest under the Fugitive Slave Law.

The split between the two men began in 1848 when Douglass started his own newspaper, The Northstar instead of continuing as a lecturer for the AAS and a regular writer for The Liberator.  This cannot be seen as a racist attack on black-owned business by Garrison.  He had long been a supporter of black entrepeneurs.  He had even previously supported a black-owned abolitionist paper in New York (The Ram’s Horn).  But, while The Liberator had once had a virtual monopoly on abolitionist papers, there was now much competition and Garrison had to see The North Star as an economic rival, especially for black subscribers.  Black subscribers had kept the always-poor Garrison afloat during many hard times. Now that abolitionism was a much bigger movement, there was competition for subscriptions and The North Star’s success might come at The Liberator’s expense–or so it had to appear to Garrison.

The split continued when Douglass changed his mind over political activity.  He had started in complete agreement with Garrison that the Constitution so protected slavery that the legal overthrow of slavery would need “disunion” and a new Constitution.  But after founding The North Star, Douglass came to agree with members of the short-lived Liberty Party that the Framers had intended  the Constitutional compromises with slavery to be short-lived, that slavery was un-Constitutional, and that Congress had the power to end slavery.  He was thus a supporter of the new Republican Party (a “free soil” party) while Garrison continued to see party politics as a distraction from the work of abolishing slavery having it seen as morally abhorrent by the overwhelming majority so that the popular will would demand a new (anti-slavery) Constitution. 

The split widened when Douglass rejected his earlier pacifism to praise John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.  Garrison saw Brown as being more morally right than the defenders of slavery–and struggled to show non-pacifists that Brown should be seen in the same light as the American patriots who rebelled against Britain.  But he continued to see nonviolence as a more excellent way, still.  But Garrison also, reluctantly supported the Civil War (and saw one of his own sons enlist on the Union side) and black soldiers after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  But while Garrison abandoned his absolute pacifism reluctantly and returned to the struggle for a peaceful world that would outlaw war after the end of the Civil War, Douglass moved to support the concept of “defensive” wars.  And Douglass ended up being influential with Abraham Lincoln in a way that Garrison never was.  The differences caused resentments.

But was this racism on Garrison’s part?  Perhaps.  I am among those who believe that in a thoroughly racist society like ours, it is impossible to be completely without racial prejudices.  The best we can do is to try constantly to become aware of our lingering prejudices, confront them, and attempt a life as a “recovering racist.”  I don’t think Garrison would have disagreed. He worked his entire life to see where he fell short of holiness, repent, and become more sanctified.  But I also think that some kind of split might have happened even if both men were the same color–because when students surpass mentors in fame and influence it usually creates generational rifts even if the mentor is rightly proud of the student’s success.

It is also difficult in our competitive society for two men to work so closely together, share so much, and maintain a close friendship.  The failure in Garrison and Douglass’ case is a case study in the tragedy of so many men to be able to sustain close friendships over a lifetime, but we ought also to give praise to the way they were able to sustain such a friendship for over a decade in very trying circumstances.  Outside of military service during war, we have few examples of such close friendships among heterosexual males for any length of time.  Garrison and Douglass both worked for a society that would go beyond the patriarchy that works against close male friendships, so it is sad that they did not succeed with each other–friendships should be able to survive differences inviewpoints when two kindred spirits agree on so much of the “big picture.”

Douglass was probably the deeper thinker–and it is good to see today a renewed interest in Douglass by political scientists, moral philosophers, and theologians.  But Garrison deserves more credit in all those areas than he usually gets, too–and without Garrison, would we have ever known Douglass at all?

July 29, 2010 Posted by | biographies, civil rights leaders, History, oppression, racial justice, slavery | 4 Comments