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Jazz Festival, claimed to be the largest free jazz festival in the world

Detroit Jazz Festival, claimed to be the largest free jazz festival in the world

Shrine marking a death

Shrine marking a murder

The city as a living entity with it being an environment for—and in turn, an environment being created by—the people who give it heart and pulse. I will observe, with intimate photographic scrutiny, these individuals as I encounter them during participation in the daily life of the city. (Yet, I will respect their ethical right of non-invasion of privacy.) Unlike other essays of mine, such as The Nurse-Midwife, I will not, this time, (photographically) know any individual as a complete person. For the individual, in my present essay, is a part of the teaming into the teeming whole that is the city, singular, and—Pittsburgh, the City of, is my project and is the individual to be known.

(From W. Eugene Smith’s 1956 application for a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation for his Pittsburgh Project)

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016.

PHOTOS

September 12, 2016, Monday

I wrote a long letter yesterday to S and will rely on that to bring my journal up to date:

this may be my last email to you until I’m home (or maybe one enroute on the train). i leave tues evening, arrive wednesday evening, inshalla, as they say, god willing (or the train and its staff willing and able).

weatherwise, i think you’ve been spared the hot weather that has afflicted detroit and southwest michigan. your region [in New England] apparently continues to suffer drought but here there’s been ample rain all summer. I’m mindful of this because 1. i love weather and once aspired to become a meteorologist, trained at mit, 2. I’m a gardener with paternal “roots” in iowa farming families, 3. food quality and prices and farmers in new england have suffered, and 4. i worry about climate generally….

my last days in detroit have been frustrating. today, for instance, i was to have photographed johnny, my next door neighbor, in his buffalo soldier uniform from the civil war on his horse (he’s a re-enactor). but at the last minute, after days of delay, he announced, a friend of mine, a vietnam brother (johnny is a vietnam vet) is in hospice and i need to visit him. plus, my neighbor across the street, anthony, known as “little anthony” to distinguish him from his father, never showed up for our appointed portrait-making session this afternoon. i’d photographed him and johnny on previous trips. there’s still tomorrow and tues.

 

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Johnny, my next door neighbor, 2011

counteracting these disappointments, S, this morning at a quaker meeting we commemorated the 15th anniversary of 9/11. movingly, simply, with personal reflections by two people. 

on my mind was faith, what it is, how to gain it, how to express it. for some individuals and for our society and perhaps the world, 9/11 was a pivot point. one might argue that it set off the catastrophe we now face with the mideast wars and the refugee crisis, perhaps the major debacle of our century (and we refuse to hold the perpetrators accountable, adding to the debacle). but out of this tragedy sprang large scale resistance, first noted in 2003 when millions flooded the streets thruout the world to say, stop the war, stop the violence, be civil, be human. i was among them in nyc, maybe you also made your stand. the climate march in nyc that you and i attended 2 years ago is another example of worldwide action. let’s not forget the arab spring and the occupy movement, and now black lives matter. [and locally in detroit, massive resistance to water shut offs and the pollution in flint]

where does faith come in? i believe we may be on an upward trajectory and that widespread, international resistance with a call for renewal can be effective. textron [manufacturer of cluster bombs and components of nuclear weapons in wilmington ma, near my quaker meeting in cambridge], which you remember our meeting vigils at monthly for going on 7 years, recently announced they will end the manufacture of cluster bombs (next march). i have faith that our little vigil series affected this decision, along with many other larger, louder groups protesting textron. ditto, for now at least, about the north dakota pipeline, resisted by thousands of native people and their supporters. i have faith; i believe that such actions can be productive.

well, S, enough from me. i wonder what you think about faith, in your life, and generally. see you soon i hope.

A mouthful, for sure. Perhaps I intimidate her or perhaps—my hope—I inspire her.

Other than the disappointments yesterday and the grand Birmingham Quaker Meeting (in Berkeley—a strange confusion of place names, not Birmingham Alabama but Michigan, and not Berkeley California but Michigan) with the subsequent business meeting that I attended for the first hour only (to return home for the assignations that never occurred), I’m still uncertain about the quality of this trip, the photographic quality. Is Billy correct in writing, “safe,” meaning not too digging, not too provocative? I need to ponder this.

One example of safe might be my experience yesterday riding home. Al at the meeting, keeper of the gate, an old wizened limping black man, showed me the kits that Song and Spirit folks, a Franciscan Brothers’ facility rented by Birmingham Quakers for their Sundays, distributes to homeless persons. Consisting of cap (fleece or baseball, depending on the season), gloves (light or heavy depending on season), and toiletries, I took two, and later gave them to 2 black men who I thought might need them. The older of the two accepted the kit gratefully, extending his hand in thanksgiving, the younger said, I don’t need this but I will give it to someone who does. Both were very appreciative.

Why didn’t I photograph them? I might have, and they might have agreed, in part because of perceived obligation. But I didn’t. Was I too timid, or did I respect their humanhood and in the case of the older man did not want him to feel obligated nor chosen because of his condition. I carried the camera over my shoulder, in plain sight, and they might have noticed and asked to be photographed. Which happens periodically (as at the bike store recently, which led to what I hope are some decent photos).

I might have photographed Al. This case differs from the above. No obligation to say yes, and not picking him because of his dire condition. But I just never found him in the correct light or position or setting. Leaving I thought, a photograph of Al in front of the building?, but it never happened. Instead I photographed what may have been the safer choice, the large garden behind the building that he told me about. Was this a good choice? Too safe, in Billy’s estimation?

Such are the choices facing me regularly.

D-Town Farm, a cooperative farm in Rouge Park

D-Town Farm, a cooperative farm in Rouge Park

To be continued

LINKS

Birmingham (MI) Friends Meeting

Song and Spirit’s Outreach Care’avan

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We can do it, you know. We can get there. We can have it all. The Third Millennium AD can be the green millennium, the time in which we learn to live as responsible human beings at last. There is no law, natural or divine, which demands that the world we live in become poorer, harsher, and more dangerous. If it continues to become that way, it is only because we do it ourselves.

—Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl

PHOTOS

I’ve long wished to join the series of actions at the West Roxbury lateral pipeline in Boston, which often includes civil disobedience. The actions attempt to stop a pipeline being laid thru land taken by eminent domain. The 5-mile pipeline is part of a 1,100-mile pipeline being built by Spectra Energy of Houston, Texas, and its subsidiary, Algonquin Gas Transmission in Waltham, Massachusetts, to carry natural gas from Pennsylvania. Some claim it will transport gas extracted by hydraulic fracking further south in the States for sale in Canada. This presents a multiple whammy.

  • The process of fracking pollutes water and releases methane, making it allegedly more destructive to the earth than coal.
  • While much of the pipe is under roads, causing little inconvenience except during construction, some pipe I suspect is under useful land snatched by the law, such as home and school lands.
  • The gas in this high pressure line could explode and destroy buildings and lives along the route. In addition, as a final seal of potential doom, one stretch is next to a quarry where explosives are used to mine the rock.
  • It increases the potential for gas leaks, already a major problem not only in Boston but widespread in the nation.
  • It encourages more use of fossil fuel rather than emphasizing renewable energy.

To be convincing in this article, I would need to research and corroborate all these claims. This would include reading counter claims about the economic benefits and safety of the project. Sufficient for now, I reference this article about the debate:

“Debate about the pipeline heats up” (September 2015)

The action itself on Saturday, June 25, 2016, billed as running from 10 to noon, lasted until about 3 pm. It consisted of a rally along the pipeline route, opposite the quarry and the compressor station also under construction; a march of about 1/2 mile to the pipe laying site, blocked by a police line; another march of about the same length to the other end of the police cordon with a short vigil along a main road, Washington Street; and then some unscripted but highly anticipated activity.

Compressor construction site

Metering and Regulating construction site

 

During all this, a smaller group of about 10 people who were prepared for arrest with their support people sniffed their way thru the warren of small country-like roads to the mid-point of the project. Searching for a way past the police who otherwise would block them, suddenly 3 men from this contingent who expected to be arrested, darted down the road past the police, onto the site, and soon were in the 10 ft deep ditch dug by a huge Caterpillar hydraulic mining shovel preparing to lay the pipe.

Police hurried into the ditch, extracted and arrested the three young men, handcuffed them, and brought them to a curb where they sat awaiting the police van to be delivered to the West Roxbury police station.

Arrest of Jay O'Hara and two others

Arrest of Shea Riester and two others

Where was I in all this, I the ever-seeing, or hoped to be the ever-seeing photographer, trying to be in all places at all times, hovering over the action, omniscient, omnipresent, a form of photographer god or angel, free to pass thru police lines with my magical fantastic credentials? I had been at the far end of the construction site, unable to see much about what happened at the site, casually photographing police juxtaposed with cranes and trucks behind them, when I noticed a flurry of activity. This included the only person with a large video camera and tripod. He must know something that I don’t; why else would he race away with all that heavy gear? I thought. So I followed, wondering whether I was about to photograph something important, or just go for a futile self-tour of West Roxbury.

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I call myself (usually not openly) an “opportunistic photographer,” that is, I often exploit opportunities presented to me rather than plan my work. Entering Gaza in 2003 for the first time is one example. I failed twice to gain entrance and then happened upon an international NGO thru a friend and slipped in with them. Or, also in Gaza, I was working with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) when they told me they planned a trip to one of the most heavily destroyed parts of the Strip, called Zeitoun (the Arabic word for olive tree) to deliver donated winter clothing. I accompanied them and made nearly a day’s worth of photos. Waking up that morning I doubt I knew where I’d be later in the day. That is “opportunistic photography.” Or maybe a better word is “spontaneous,” guided by my muses which I pray to and thank every day.

So I found myself virtually the only photographer at the most appropriate location to show the three young men, later a fourth, questioned by the police, searched, and stuffed into the police van. All close up. I did however miss their drop in visit to the ditch, trying to block construction, and the police response. This for other photographers, other opportunistic or simply lucky human beings with cameras. I do not work alone.

The action continued. By the same backwoods route used by my predecessors who were arrested and their supporters,the group and I found a way to join others prepared for arrest. This included an older woman in a wheelchair, waiting for a long period under hot sun. Altho our numbers had shrunk, from about 90, we 30 or so constituted an ongoing vigil, observing the ditch making and pipe laying, pieces of an evolving national labyrinth which could contribute to disaster not only of this neighborhood but of the planet itself.

The long road around the two police barricades

The long road around the two police barricades

West_Roxbury_Pipeline_IMG_4343West_Roxbury_Pipeline_IMG_4341

As I write this, today (June 28, 2016) on Democracy Now a few minutes ago Amy Goodman broadcast a troubling report about extreme weather in the United States.

From Aravinda Ananda, arrested with her husband Joseph at the demonstration on June 28, 2016:

Joseph and I did our business owners’ action earlier in the morning. They arrested Joseph immediately after crossing the police tape. I sat by the trench for maybe 3 minutes before they had me cuffed and taken away. No construction stopped.

30-40 people had come from western MA to risk arrest, but the police liaison made a deal with the police – protestors would approach the police line and construction would stop for an hour or something and there would be no arrests. I think they only ended up stopping construction for 40 minutes, but there were no other arrests.

We were in custody from about 9:30 until perhaps 3:00. They brought us to precinct 5 and we were in a holding cell for about 4 hours while they booked us. Then they brought us to lockup/the courthouse, and two holding cells later we went before a judge who offered us the same deal all other pipeline protesters have been offered thus far: to convert the charges from criminal to civil ones so long as we are not arrested again in this same protest in the next 6 months. So our journey through the court system may or may not be over. 

…I offered some Work That Reconnects practices including “bowing to our adversaries” at a conference two weekends ago at Pendle Hill on “Powerful Faith-Based Organizing for Climate Justice.” I have been feeling that piece a lot recently. Before the action yesterday, I had to pass through the construction site twice in search of a bathroom. I made a point of saying good morning to all of the construction workers and police officers. On the way back from the bathroom the sidewalk was closed, but an officer escorted me through and we chatted about the rain – I told him how much I appreciated it for gardening. I said “wow, this is a big project” (about the construction). He said “yea, some protesters are not happy about it.” I didn’t tell him I was one of them… Maybe next time. 

…We were singing kirtan chants in the police transport vehicle, and when I was in the holding cell alone for four hours whenever I would get restless I would quietly chant. I ended up sending a lot of loving kindness to the police officers in the precinct. It was so helpful to have had these spiritual tools (bowing to the adversaries, chanting, etc.) to steady me through this. All in all, the police were really kind to me. The arresting officer asked me if I had any medical conditions or arthritis before cuffing me. Joseph didn’t get the same courtesy (knee on his back!) [He’d not cooperated during the arrest, going limp.]. The officers who booked me asked me three times if I needed to use the bathroom, which is good because there were no facilities in my first holding cell. They also brought me my jacket which they had previously taken from me saying they thought I might be cold. It wasn’t too difficult to send them loving kindness. I wonder if I could have done it so well if they had been violent to me as I know people caught up in that system often can be…
Peace,
Aravinda

LINKS:

Stop the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline

Resist the Pipeline

“Should Massachusetts Oppose Further Natural Gas Pipeline Construction In The State? Boston Globe South” by Scott Gustafson, organizer, Laborers International Union of North America (May 2016)

“Unitarian Universalists fight to stop Boston-area gas pipeline” by Elaine McArdle, March 14, 2016

Watch out for those Quakers! 20 arrested blocking construction of Boston #fracked gas pipeline #StopSpectra #350mass  (by Bill McKibbon, June 2016)

QuakersPipelineJune 23, 2016

From Friends Meeting at Cambridge, at a recent pipeline action

“Following on weeks of actions at the Spectra West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline construction site, a Quaker-led group placed themselves in the way of construction….” (May 2016)

“Vice President’s Daughter Karenna Gore Arrested in the Trenches of a Climate Protest” Democracy Now

“Tim DeChristopher Arrested Again in the “Age of Anticipatory Mass Graves” for Climate Victims” Democracy Now

2016-01-04-wrl_gasleaks-Image of gas leaks in West Roxbury- Gas Safety USA. Courtesy BU professor Nathan Phillips

Gas leaks in West Roxbury, April 2016, Gas Safety USA, courtesy of Boston University professor Nathan Phillips

 

 

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Detroit-buildings-8858

PHOTOS

Excerpts from my journal

November 10, 2014, Monday, Detroit 

Cool, upper 30s, 80% cloudy with altocumulus, calm. 

Yesterday, Sunday [November 9, 2014], a day departing from my more usual Detroit days: attend Detroit Friends Meeting in the morning where I met a few people like Peter and Mike who provided photographic leads (later Peter very kindly toured around many parts of Detroit I’d not previously visited and Mike offered me possible use of an extra car), a discussion after meeting with a young woman and man who are part of the Friends of Jesus Quaker group, and generally a chance to exercise my tribal tendencies by linking with local Quakers and discover a home away from home.

DetroitFriendsMeeting

Photo courtesy of Detroit Friends Meeting

Since the meeting site is, you might say, inner city, near the river, (West Fort St and Livernois Ave), in an industrial zone (and they hope to keep the meeting located in such a site, after they’ve been forced to move by new bridge construction), by bike I cruised the area and acceded to my strong desire to photograph industrial landscapes. Plenty of them here: a former commercial harbor area, now mostly abandoned; a building with all its window frames scrapped; a mysterious industrial structure about 4 stories tall; a long warehouse without variation; a tall wide building missing all its windows; each structure an icon of Detroit, each a source of beauty—and potential. This was my first experience on this particular trip of free wheeling, spontaneous photography, the type I love to practice best. From Old Fort Wayne to under the international but privately owned bridge.

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Detroit-buildings-8811

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Then thru Mexican Town thinking I might devour a steaming burrito in a small restaurant or café. Nothing. Only one large restaurant which probably had waiters and table cloths and whose burritos might be too expensive for my budget and needs. I found some new construction, small houses, ticky-tacky type, but housing none the less, perhaps in a neighborhood convenient to downtown and possible jobs. Also some gorgeous murals. One I made a panoramic photo of, a testimonial to indigenous people.

MexicanTownMuralDetroit-8840

Home finally in the late afternoon, hungry, I feasted on my fish-chicken-lentil combo, beer, coffee, Arabic sweets, and accessories such as stuffed grape leaves from my favorite Dearborn bakery, New Yazmeen. After a nap, I phoned Rich F and when he called back (from Chicago) he was warm and helpful, promising many leads which I see in this morning’s email he’s provided. We have established a vital relationship. This type of photography relies on good contacts—to alert me to photographic possibilities, to inform me about underlying dynamics, to introduce me to otherwise wary communities, and in some cases for protection. Leads provide this and I give back photographs.

A few days ago I found lying along the sidewalk outside my house a notice about a crime:

Help solve this crime!

Cash reward up to $2,500

KENNETH PEETE KILLED!!!

On Friday, August 4, 2013, Kenneth Peete III, a.k.a. Skip was found murdered in his home on Detroit’s west side. He was found during the early morning hours at West Outer Drive and Santa Barbara.

To submit a tip: …

KennethPeete_9097

Chilling for sure, especially because we shared first names, Skip, sad also. I find nothing on-line about consequences, expected none. Could be me, I suppose, killed by a robber or because of mistaken identity. Thus I run a risk.

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Yesterday [November 9, 2014], bicycling home, a minor mishap. I was tired, I was hungry, I was cold, the light was beginning to fade, I was about 4 miles from home. And when I shifted, the bike chain jammed itself so tightly between the freewheel and the bike frame that it stuck. I was rendered powerless. What to do?

Free the chain of course. How do it? I had no tools. I was on Grand Blvd. West, apartment blocks nearby. I searched for something strong, maybe wooden, that I could use to pry the chain loose. Wood didn’t work. I wheeled the bike around a corner, into an alley, the area gasping with garbage. Maybe in one of these piles I could find something metal, a tool. First pile—no luck, just clothes, containers, old mobile phones, furniture. Second—none here either. Then finally, searching thru the debris behind one of the empty buildings—was anyone watching, prepared to jump me and steal my gear and bike?—I found a 1 foot length of metal, relatively thin. Would it be strong enough?

Yes—it worked. I finally freed my chain, vowing to either adjust the shifter so this doesn’t happen again when I suddenly shift to high gear, or remember to slowly shift into that cruising gear.

FoldingBikeDetroit-Farmada_Free_Ride-3880

I had been close to panic. Who could I phone? I thought. Could my neighbor, Johnny, pick me up with his truck? But I don’t have his phone number. Maybe another neighbor, Gloria, could give it to me or get Johnny to the phone. (She doesn’t own a car.). Karen? Lives in Ann Arbor, too far from here. Wink, maybe. All not needed, thank god. Skip’s little adventure, another in a long string.

Down the street, Washburn near Wyoming and Grand River Ave, where I stay

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS & MORE INFORMATION

“Detroit’s Staggering Murder And Violent Crime Rate Are ‘A Public Health Issue'” by Kate Abbey-Lambertz, November 14, 2014

“Detroit Crime Dropped In 2013, But City Had Same Number Of Murders As New York,” by Kate Abbey-Lambertz, January 3, 2014

Detroit Friends Meeting

How will the new International Trade Crossing affect the Detroit Friends Meeting? (from the meeting’s website)

The proposed International Trade Crossing between the United States and Canada will force the Detroit Friends Meeting to relocate.  The DFM is currently discussing ideas for a new meeting house and location.  The meeting is committed to remaining in the City, but an exact location has not been determined.

So why aren’t shovels in the ground? Well, the short answer is bureaucracy.

Because it is an international crossing, a presidential permit is needed. The Obama Administration has signaled it is strongly in favor, but getting a permit takes months. After that, there are needed site preparation measures. Building a billion-dollar bridge is a bit more complicated than adding a deck in your back yard. But Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general in Detroit, told me he expects to see actual work begin next year, or in 2015 at the absolute latest (Lessenberry, 2013).

Commentary: The latest on the bridge,  Lessenberry,  Jack, Retrieved from: http://buildthedricnow.com/,

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Quaker Meeting for Worship

Spontaneous Quaker Meeting for Worship

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Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing…

—George Fox, 1656

PHOTOS

PCM_Clarity

Like a suddenly-bright sun piercing the ozone-depleted atmosphere, not incinerating islands and other low-lying lands and peoples, but a burst of light crying out for earth justice, this march was a big event on the minor scale, and possibly—but we might have to wait decades to know—on a major scale: the People’s Climate March yesterday [September 21, 2014] in NYC. I marched with Quakers largely, SF and EM more minutely, a little-light-of-mine among the radiance of some 400,000 people. In turn we were one country among some 150 and one march or rally among some 2,600 that stood or marched or spoke or listened or sat for the earth.

Climate March numbers

Part of the "The Debate is Over," interfaith and scientists contingent

An estimated 300-400 Quakers from across the country marched in the interfaith contingent.

Our route thru central Manhattan was less than 3 miles long, which would require less than 1 hour when walking at the usual pace, but we had not marched one step in the first 2 hours, waiting for our contingent, named “The Debate is Over,” to join the main body. We were interfaith, thus Quaker, and scientists. EM and I wore blue sashes, indicative of Quaker affiliation (EM agreed to be an honorary Quaker for the day, even tho her Sisters of the Sacred Heart order were probably not too far from us; SF refused, and might have marched in the interfaith group reluctantly, being such a strong anti-religionist), and we three marched immediately behind the Quaker Earthcare Witness banner. MVB persuaded me to make a group portrait which I will process this morning and send to the Quaker Earthcare Witness head, Shelley Tanenbaum.

Several highlights for me:

Climate_March-NYC-7688

Marching in front of a group of boisterous college students, mostly from Princeton and the New School, who loudly chanted resistance to the big powers soon to descend on the UN this week to determine policy—probably more of the same, endangering the earth. A group from Bard MBA’s hanging out of window about 4 stories up shouted encouragement.

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The tall, well-muscled, black man who led singing, notably “Down by the Riverside.” Judging from signs carried by people behind him, I surmised he and they were from the famed Riverside Church where Martin Luther King Jr had delivered his Vietnamese War sermon. This leader’s gusty singing and powerful presence stimulated many others to join in song.

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Two groups on the border of Central Park that honored us. The first with silent meditation, with their banner, “Earth Vigil;” and a gustier group perched on a rock formation shouting support and waving arms, sometimes in the Black Power Salute.

Because of SF’s walking problems, we three rested a few times. This provided the opportunity to view other elements of the march, which would have been precluded if we had remained with our contingent.

And several disappointments:

Not meeting my daughter Joey and boys even tho Joey and I texted and left phone messages constantly. They were in Bryant Park where the march turned west after marching south and had hoped walk with their school, the East Village School, maybe as part of the “We Can Build the Future” contingent which included schools and elders. They may have left minutes before we arrived; perhaps the boys tired.

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Worried about my post surgery condition and after checking with my surgeon, I happily made the 4 hour each way bus ride and walked most of the march distance without incident.

We quit a little early, encouraged by organizers because of the flood of people at the end. I was tired and overloaded with so many people in a relatively small space. Waiting for our bus to leave, I made one last NYC stroll and discovered the Air Pegasus heliport along the Harlem River, a perfect counterpoint to what the march demands: climate justice.

Climate_March-NYC-7696

Helicopters are a major polluter with their noise, fuel, and fumes.

I made many photos. Have I expressed the faith of the marchers? Our belief that this symbolic gesture can help turn human beings from ruining the earth to bolstering it? When asked why I walked I answered, for my 3 grandchildren and for the Seventh Generation.

PCM_Favi

LINKS

People’s Climate March

Report in Time Magazine

Photos from related events worldwide

Quaker Earthcare Witness

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Gaza-violence-map

Gaza and the West Bank of Palestine and Israel

Brit Quakers 3

2014-08-04BathYMGBigTop-The Big Top at Yearly Meeting Gathering in Bath. | Photo- Photo- Trish Carn.

Epilogue, Monday 4th August Photo- Fran Lane

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The scarf lining the route between Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston and Burghfield | Photo: Photo: Luke Massey.

“Several hundred protesters [from Britain Yearly Meeting] were on hand Saturday, 9 August 2014, for the unfurling of an enormous pink scarf along the seven miles of road between the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield. The protest was intended to show the scale of opposition to Trident replacement in the UK.”

Quaker queries

A letter to my Quaker monthly meeting (and beyond), Friends Meeting at Cambridge, dear Friends,

At this summer’s New England Yearly Meeting sessions with its theme of witness, during the height of violence in Gaza and Israel, numerous Friends expressed deep concern to me personally (who many of you know has been directly connected with that region thru the American Friends Service Committee and other agencies), and in plenaries and interest groups. Yet—a huge yet—not a word that I heard from business meetings. No minutes of concern, no suggested responses, no debate, not even discussion. One possible reason for this silence is the fear of taking sides, or offending people, or diverting attention from proper business, or stepping outside the mandate of “spirituality,” or fostering division. And in our own monthly meeting, Cambridge, speaking out often counters similar resistance.

Martin Luther King Jr stated that silence is betrayal, or, alternately, silence is complicity.

British Friends during their yearly meeting, 2000 people strong, raised its voice. are they not a model for us?

Here’s how they began their bold statement:

Amid faltering ceasefires and talks, Quakers in Britain are calling for urgent action on Gaza. They urge the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a nation state; they call for a comprehensive arms embargo on all sides in the conflict and for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of Palestine.

The calls for action come in a statement made by the decision making body of Quakers in Britain, the Yearly Meeting, attended by 2,000 Quakers in Bath.  As part of their commitment to peacemaking, Quakers continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

  • The Yearly Meeting heard essential steps towards full and fair negotiations:
  • Palestine to be recognised as a nation state
  • An end to indiscriminate fire by all sides
  • A comprehensive arms embargo
  • An end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and blockade of Gaza
  • Freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners
  • The use of international law to hold all parties to account for their actions….

For the full statement.

And for general information from a reliable Quaker source: Quaker Palestine Israel Network, and Quakers with a Concern for Palestine and Israel.

And from the American Friends Service Committee.

FMC hs

Friends Meeting at Cambridge meeting house

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Meeting for worship outside Textron Industries, manufacturer of war munitions like cluster bombs, held monthly for nearly 6 years by Friends Meeting at Cambridge

British Quakers [in 2012] call for end to use of force in Gaza

Hague court under western pressure not to open Gaza war crimes inquiry” by Julian Borger

Israel bars Amnesty, Human Rights Watch workers from Gaza” by Amira Hass

One Result of the Gaza Conflict: Iran and Hamas Are Back Together” by Kay Armin Serjoie

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Directed by Tom Jackson of Joe Public Films, the 60 minute movie strives to open eyes and hearts to the reality of life in occupied Palestine. We dedicate our movie to the youth of Gaza, infancy to young adulthood, in hopes that they will soon experience, freedom, peace with justice, and the reality of “All we want is to be ordinary,” in the words of Mahmoud Darwish.

Eyewitness Gaza is a recent documentary movie about Gaza thru the photography of Skip Schiel. Between 2004 and 2010 he visited Gaza five times, shortly before and after Operation Cast Lead, the vicious Israeli assault on a virtually defenseless people trapped in the Strip and under siege since 2006. Because Israel justifies its ongoing attacks by citing the rockets fired by Gazan militants into Israeli civilian areas (Schiel opposes any attacks on civilians, and generally any use of violence by any party for any reason, an element of his Quaker and Christian beliefs), Schiel visited one of those towns, Sderot. less than 1 mile from Gaza. During two recent trips he has gained first-hand experience of life among Israelis, assessed trauma, and supported Israelis who contest some Israeli policies.

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The movie is  downloadable (maybe not with the same quality as on PEG Media, noted below) on YouTube.

And on Vimeo.

To order DVD copies of the movie.

Three minute preview

Thru PEG Media Public Access TV stations and producers can download a full version of our movie, Eyewitness Gaza. First register as a user. Then find the fastest and most stable connection possible, though­­ otherwise it will take forever and if the connection is lost, one must begin again.

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Eyewitness Gaza download

About the movie (with a preview).

In addition to this movie, Schiel has published a book by the same title. And maintains a website and this blog. He is also available to tour with his slide shows and photo exhibitions. You can usually reach him at skipschiel@gmail.com and 617-441-7756.

Photos from the movie:

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2013 may be the big year of transitions for Quaker and Quaker-related institutions in Palestine-Israel. First the Friends International Center in Ramallah (FICR) is currently evolving, having been initially an experiment in connecting better with the local community. Its founding coordinator, Kathy Bergen, has retired. FICR had become a significant source of transformation in the West Bank thru its cultural, educational, and political programs. The FICR board and the Ramallah Friends Meeting are currently working toward clearness on what will come next. I am exceedingly grateful to have been in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel during spring 2013 while some of this transition emerged.

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Ramallah Friends Meeting House, photo by Anarchopacifist

The American Friends Service Committee has ended its main project, Popular Achievement, after nearly 10 successful years and will turn over implementation of several new directions and funding to Palestinian organizations. While the Ramallah Friends Meeting continues to provide an invaluable spiritual base for residents of Palestine and international visitors, regularly hosting groups such as the Christian Peacemakers teams, when I attended, the majority of participants were internationals. The Ramallah Friends School and the main regional AFSC office continue, both as far as I can determine, with strength and stability.

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Kathy Bergen, retiring FICR coordinator

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Jean Zaru, presiding clerk of Ramallah Friends Meeting

A little more detail: FICR was affected from two directions. The bank that had been serving the Ramallah Friends Meeting and FICR was undergoing an international investigation for some possible irregularities. Because it was found that the Ramallah Friends Meeting account had been operating a sub account for FICR, the bank examiners determined that this presented a problem and closed the account.  At the same time, the Israeli authorities responsible for issuing long-term visas would not provide any response to questions about whether Kathy’s shortened visa was a sign of termination or if renewal might be a possibility. Such uncertainty made it impossible to plan for a future that required keeping a non-citizen as a Program Coordinator.

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Jean Zaru with Saida Khader, West Bank AFSC staff person, in front of the Ramallah Friends Meeting annex

The FICR Steering Committee is presently in a period of expectant waiting and looking forward to the planning meeting with members of Ramallah Friends Meeting in October. Possibilities that have been suggested by the community would be short-­term Friends in Residence, Muslim/Christian conversations around specific subjects of direct concern to Palestinians, ongoing conflict reduction/Alternatives to Violence programs, and spiritual foundations of peace-­making. In general, requests from the community have been for going deep in a few specific things rather than going broadly in many. Most agree that the Meeting and FICR are one entity so another outcome is likely to be a name that reflects the unity going forward.

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Deborah First, clerk of FICR’s board

At Kathy’s goodbye party in April 2013 (which I attended) when she was feted and lauded for her 7 years of devoted work, many of us felt that if the energy present at that party could be focused into leadership—preferably not an individual but some form of collective—FICR would continue. To further quote Deborah First in a recent email to me:

…We (the Meeting and FICR) have retained Hekmat [a local woman] …at least through the end of December [2013] and perhaps for much longer. Plans for ongoing spiritually connected workshops (that is a vital connection for the maintenance of our church status) will unfold this fall. Meanwhile, much repair work is happening on the Meetinghouse and the Annex ­roof tiles, leak, irrigation system, and so on ­ and the stream of visitors keeps coming. Hekmat has been arranging, and is present for, hospitality at the rise of Meeting each Sunday and is glad to do so. There is a sense of peace about the slow and steady work of the spirit….

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Omar Barghouti, founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel 

As for the AFSC: since 2004 the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza and the West Bank has concentrated on training youth, college age and high school. In an interactive and playful manner its Popular Achievement Program taught leadership and community building skills to volunteers. Once the graduates (now termed coaches) had successfully completed this training, the program required they recruit a group of high school youth to train in the same manner. The coaches then helped the younger youth design and implement a community service project such as a library, landscaping, first aid workshop, and conversion of an abandoned Israeli military base into a football (soccer) field. The AFSC joined with 11 strategic partners including NGO’s and universities to train more than 6000 young people.

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Gaza office of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program

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Popular Achievement programs in Gaza and the West Bank

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Photography workshop students (and friends) in Gaza taught by Skip Schiel

The new direction has 4 main goals, all in my view characterized by enhanced political content: challenging and transforming militarized societies in Israel, Palestine, and the US; fostering cohesion of disparate Palestinian groups (West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and the diaspora); supporting the boycott-divest-sanction (BDS) international campaign as called for in 2005 by Palestinian civil society; and supporting active nonviolence and social change movements to transform the occupation and inequality generally.

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SodaStream (targeted by the BDS campaign) factory in an illegal settlement industrial park in the West Bank,

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Landfill illegally operated by Veolia (also targeted by the BDS campaign) in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank

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Sahar Vardi, AFSC staff, East Jerusalem, at a demonstration in Al Masara

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Al Masara, near Bethlehem

To implement this new direction AFSC will close down its West Bank and Gaza offices (West Bank immediately and Gaza in 3 years, altho the Gaza office may transition into an NGO with AFSC support), devolve direction to local partners (such as Baladna and Pal Vision), and continue funding. It will maintain its East Jerusalem office. The new program, “Palestinian Youth: Together for Change,” is slated to run until 2016. Quoting the regional director, Patricia Sellick, directly:

This is the context in which we are working:

20 years after Oslo the Israeli military occupation is entrenched and conditions of Palestinians are deteriorating Israel remains a highly militarized society and is attempting to extend a militarized civilian service to its Palestinian citizens US continues to support Israel with military aid The vulnerability of Palestinian refugees across the region has been highlighted by the predicament of the stateless Palestinians living in Syria

Within this context, AFSC reviewed its plans for Israel and Palestine programming in June 2012 and identified the following priorities (explained further in the attached document):

Demilitarization Economic Activism Non-violence and social change Palestinian cohesion

These strategic priorities have led to the redesign of our Israel, Palestine and US programs. These three programs are coordinated but separate.

…The new project started July 2013 and like the previous project has funding from Bread for the World. I would like to emphasize that our overall funding for the Palestine Program has increased. Staff cuts do not mean budget cuts, they reflect the fact that the Middle East region will now be spending a greater proportion on our partners and a smaller proportion on AFSC staff.

I raise the question: how can AFSC effectively end control and influence while it maintains funding? What if a partner wishes to advocate or at least allow a more militant approach to resistance, one that contradicts AFSC’s non-violence principles? Another question: if the direction is more political, ie, toward ending the occupation and siege, will Israel allow the AFSC the latitude it’s experienced over its more than 60 years in Palestine-Israel? To compile this report I’ve spoken with most staff, including Patricia Sellick, and the general secretary, Shan Cretin. I’m in touch with key people for constant updates. AFSC has produced an exciting new newsletter specific to the region.

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Shan Cretin, General Secretary, AFSC

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Patricia Sellick, Regional Director, AFSC

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Amal Sabawi, director of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

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Ibrahem Shatali, program officer, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

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Islam Madhoun, Intelligence Technology office, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

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Firas Ramlawi, business officer, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

From most Palestinian staff I heard some hard feelings. Some claimed they’d not been consulted and of course they were not happy about losing their jobs (altho some may transition into new AFSC positions or be able to use their expertise with other organizations). To some it felt like a classic top down decision-making process. Ms. Sellick claimed all staff had been consulted and AFSC was responding to suggestions and requests made by Palestinian organizations. Furthermore she said the big picture is hard to view from a staff position. I am happy to wait and see, revise my thoughts as new programs unfold, and support them in any way possible with my photography. I am grateful to be a small part of a large process, one that dates back to 1869 when 2 Quakers from my region of New England, Eli and Sybil Jones, met a young Arab girl in Ramallah. They asked, what can we do? She answered, provide education for girls. From such a humble origin, great and worthy institutions formed. They will continue. Contact info for the AFSC: regional director Patricia Sellick (p.sellick@afsc.org) and her team in the Middle East Regional office. And for FICR, board clerk Deborah First, (deborahfirst@mac.com).

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Early 20th century

LINKS

AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) in Palestine-Israel

FICR (Friends International Center in Ramallah) Popular Achievement Program

AFSC position paper-2013 (also available in Arabic)

AFSC-BDS Campaign

Quakers in Israel & Palestine—Timeline by Skip Schiel

Notes on My Quaker Connections in Palestine 

Photos by Skip Schiel

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