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Excerpts from my journal while in Detroit, moving backwards (not always), last to first.

About deindustrialization, depopulation, residential and commercial vacancy, corruption of capitalism—and the rise of urban gardens, local resistance and activist organizations—ending with news about the US Social Forum, Allied Media Conference, and the first public national gathering of anti-Zionist Jews in the United States.

In several parts, with periodic photos and videos.

SEEKING VENUES: MIDWESTERN PHOTOGRAPHIC PRESENTATION TOUR ABOUT PALESTINE & ISRAEL (Oct 12 – Nov 7, 2010)

Ultimately photography is about who you are. It’s the seeking of truth in relation to yourself. And seeking truth becomes a habit.

—Leonard Freed, 1929 – 2006

June 25, 2010, Friday, Detroit, home of KD

Another short sleep night, 1 AM to 6:15, mainly because of miscommunication with Karen about the jazz club, how long that would continue.

But first, how the day went. Searching for the United Auto Workers’ building to check out my workshop venue, dropped off at the wrong building by Karen’s boyfriend, Michael, the healer, the 2 women in front of the city building that he thought was the UAW not knowing where the building was, a man walked by who knew. Ron turned out to be the leader of a Social Forum walking tour. We walked together to the correct building and he talked me into joining the downtown Detroit protest-oriented walk.

Locating what I thought was my room, I met 2 women with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, WILPF, and verified that the organization has a strong interest in water issues. I’d been trying to connect with them for years and now I had stronger leads. Meeting Ron, meeting these 2 women, were both providential. Later I discovered this was not the room, it had been changed and I barely located the correct room on time.

My workshop, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, I thought, given my inexperience with this sort of workshop format—highly interactive—went well enough, even possibly very well, but I’m not sure that is the assessment of others, especially Karen who seemed tepid about it. 20 or more showed up, which itself is an achievement for me since prior workshops in Atlanta at the first US Social Forum had not drawn more than a handful. I tailored this presentation of my Hydropolitics show to the format, selecting portions that seemed most relevant and helpful, interjecting questions and leading discussions periodically thru the show. Since one main emphasis of the forum is on finding solutions and working together, I highlighted that theme.

Detroit River (from the Detroit side, Winsor Ontario, Canada on left),
photo courtesy of the Internet

One brainstorm I had while checking out space was to invite the participants to view the Detroit River [connecting Lakes Erie and Huron, via Lake St Clair] from one of the windows, asking them, where do you see hydropolitics here? Which indeed led to a fruitful opening discussion. Then to instances of hydropolitics in the States, then the world. And now let’s turn to successes over water rights, where do we find that? More discussion. All this before the show itself.

I could have rehearsed better, I could have chosen episodes better, I can and will simplify the statistics, but with what I have and who I am I am guardedly pleased with the result. Karen added a great deal of insights, knowledge, experience, and passion. Reviewing this now I realize I’d forgotten to ask people to introduce themselves, even tho I’d prepared by considering how other leaders do that vital opening. Chock this up to how rattled I was by initially setting up in the wrong room. I’d not printed out my lesson plan either and then couldn’t easily access it on my computer during the show. I might have used the white paper in the room to outline the agenda, forgot to do that as well. Many slips between full success and partial. This was partial. Next time will be improved.

The walking tour began at the UAW building near Cobo Hall, headed up Woodward Ave, the route of the march Dr King led on June 23, 1963—he gave an early iteration of his famous dream speech then—, entered Cadillac Square, stopped in a few parks, and more or less returned to central area. Since the theme was protest and political organizing generally, we learned about Detroit labor history, a little too much detail about local politics for me but the group seemed to appreciate it. Also urban renewal, some solutions working well, others bringing more misery.

The problem last night that brought me home so late was a combination of miscommunication and mismatched expectations. Sure, the jazz club, but how about returning home at a decent hour? Karen is a night person, I a day, and never the 2 shall mix. She became awake, I went to sleep. As much as I love raucous jazz, the sound was piercingly loud, nearly painful, and sitting around listening or waiting to listen is to me just boring. Beginning at 9 PM—we’d eaten at Niki’s in Greektown—I thought we’d leave around 10 like we did the week before. Instead, we sat thru 2 sets, the raffle at midnight, and then awaited David Lippman’s decision about whether to play or not. He played and it was grand—and time to leave. Karen reminded me that she’d picked me up at 7:30 AM, extremely early for her, from the bus-train station, suggesting it is now my obligation to return the favor and accommodate her wish to stay late.

Surprisingly I gained new energy after initially nearly falling asleep at the table. And if not for this morning’s duties, might have wished to remain alive all night for the jazz.

Yesterday I met Anne R, my comrade on Quaker Palestine/Israel issues. Also ran into Carol Urner who I last was with 11years ago in Lesotho, Africa. She used a walker. I recognized her by her braids. Sad that her husband Jack died in an auto accident in Lesotho, and that she was so badly injured. Despite her disabilities she plods on, a model of endurance.

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Water Apartheid Fact Sheet by Skip Schiel

“They Need It. We Waste It. The powers that control the Great Lakes are fortifying the ramparts for the day the west runs out of water,” by Michael Miner

“How labor won its day” by Patricia K. Zacharias / The Detroit News

“Black history, labor history intertwined in Detroit” by John Rummel

“47 Years Ago in Detroit: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Delivers First ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech” (interview with Grace Lee Boggs)

Dr. King’s Speech at the Great March on Detroit

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Dr Martin Luther King Jr

©All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

—Theodore Roethke, from “In a Dark Time”

Early Christians

These early Quaker luminaries, Margaret Fell, George Fox, the Valiant Sixty, and Mary Dyer were carried by the strength of their beliefs, by the closeness of their community, and by their repeated use of the model of early Christians, who themselves, before Constantine institutionalized the budding Christian movement, were equally willing to witness. Indeed, the word martyr stems from the Greek word for witness. Those martyrs were numerous, numbering some 2000 who died during the persecution that arose around St Stephen’s time. Their suffering was legion, manifold, endlessly varied and often unspeakably horrific.

Beheading John the Baptist

Apparently this included all of the gospel writers: Matthew, slain with a halberd (like a long hatchet with a steel spike) in the city of Nadabah, CE 60; Mark, dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria; Luke, hanged on an olive tree in Greece; also John, the author of Revelations, boiled in oil only to survive; and Paul, once Saul, dying in the first persecution, under Nero, his neck severed by a sword. And finally Peter, to whom Jesus offered the lesson of “and you will be carried,” Peter apparently was crucified in Rome by Nero, choosing to hang upside down because he said, “I am unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus.” (History of Early Christian Martyrs, European Institute of Protestant Studies)

This is dedication. Not to the degree most of us might personally undertake, but worth considering. Can change occur, true witness be presented, without risk, without courage, without a testimony that says, here I stand, this is what I stand for, and I shall not be moved?

What carried these early martyrs? What was their direction?

Jesus Christ

For some of us in the Religious Society of Friends and the wider United States community, Christ is bedrock, surely for early Friends and early Christians. We can interpret his life and its aftermath in many ways, most onerously—and I believe wrongly—as anti-Jewish and anti-Judaism. Read James Carroll’s massive book, Constantine’s Sword, for explication, or the seminal book by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faith and Fratricide, or from our own Alan Kohrman, his pithy booklet, Quakers and Jews. Christ died in part for challenging the authorities, the Roman authorities and the Jewish authorities. He spoke out. He acted, and like Martin and Malcolm, he had premonitions of his own death. He was not deterred, he might have been emboldened by this threat. He was free to die, therefore free to live. He knew what he stood for and what the costs would be. In my book, he is a hero and a role model and a guide, arguably divine or maybe not, but certainly courageous and sagacious and prophetic.

Jesus with the woman accused of adultery

Archbishop Oscar Romero

I believe in resurrection, in the idea of resurrection, not necessarily bodily resurrection, but pedagogical resurrection. The teachings live on, or can. Here’s an example: Oscar Romero, knowing what might happen if he continued to oppose the military government of El Salvador, said, If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.

This last part is crucial, in the Salvadoran people. Romero will not live again magically, but only with the participation of the people. That is you and me. What carried him? What carries me? What carries you?

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador

I dream of Martin Luther King

While working in South Africa in 1999, I dreamt of Martin Luther King coming to me. I was back on the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, we were in our stay place for the night, a church somewhere in the south of the US. We’d eaten, we pilgrims were sitting around on benches and at tables. In walked Martin, he sat down at an empty table and no one came to join or welcome him. So I did, nervously. I sat opposite him, said in a quavering voice, thank you for coming to visit with us Dr. King. Can I bring you some tea?

He nodded yes.

I returned with the tea, set it down in front of him, my hand shaking. I worried I’d spill the tea on his papers. He was to talk to us. And that is how the dream ended, but only the sleep part ended. I awoke as if from a nightmare, and horrifying it was in its implications. Like profound dreams generally, this one carried into semi-consciousness. I lay there, thinking, Martin has appeared to me, as if tapping me on the shoulder, and whispering in my ear, “Skip, my friend, I’m dead, but you’re alive, it’s your turn.”

My turn to walk the talk, do the deed, take the risk. Martin—remember I am a born again Kingian—both commands me and holds me. He directs me and he supports me.

He’s reported to have said, Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. And those with nothing they’re willing to die for are not fit to live.

Let’s look at the last year of his life. He was speaking and acting against the war on Vietnam, angering many of his supporters. He chose to stand with the sanitation workers in Memphis when he might have been concentrating on organizing the Poor People’s Campaign. The Campaign itself was an attempt to shut down the federal government until it changed the system that fostered suffering. He and Malcolm were hinting at collaboration, bringing together the militant and more moderate wings of the civil rights movement. He propounded an analysis that pinpointed the roles of militarism, materialism, and racism, the triplet of our anguish. He called for a revolution of values.

On the way to the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington DC in 1968

I believe his analysis was correct and continues to be applicable. I believe government hands killed him—the so-called, by former vice president Dick Cheney, dark side—knowing how threatening he was. Thank god the dream is not dead, thank god for people like Boston city councilor Chuck Turner who is organizing to fund the dream. And I continue to be thankful for how Martin carries and directs me.

Rev. Ralph Abernathy and others at the Poor People’s Campaign, Washington DC, summer 1968

My role is not to organize the resistance, but to motivate and inform it. My role is not to analyze the political and social picture but to visualize its manifestations. My role is primarily to wake myself up and awaken others. Awaken, rise up from the slumber of comfort, from the ease of security, from the balm of convenience. Awaken to a life that is free to live, because free to die. To a fuller life, a more robust and edgy life.

We do not need to look far for examples of living the good life: Martin, Malcolm, Lucretia Mott, John Woolman, George Fox, Margaret Fell, Mary Dyer, Frederick Douglass, Francis of Assisi, Nichirin of the Buddhist order, his student Nichadatsu Fuji , founder of Nipponzan Myohoji, Gandhi, Thoreau, Dorothy Day, Rachel Corrie, the list is endless. We can each be, in the words of the South African author and activist, Alan Paton, humble apostolic successors, joining the cloud of witnesses, our lives teaching others how they might live.

Or closer to home we can look to the war tax resistance of people like Susan Furry and others in our New England yearly meeting. They see the folly of praying for peace while paying for war. They refuse to give their tax money to the government and instead usually put the money in an escrow fund the proceeds of which fund socially beneficent organizations. The agencies they and other dissidents and witnessers work for, such as Friends Meeting at Cambridge, New England Yearly Meeting, Cambridge Friends School, and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting all have to decide whether to accede to the demands of the Internal Revenue Service or live by the principle of our founder, the good Rabbi Yeshua: honor life, do to others what you wish them to do to you.

I honor political and social witness—sharing the suffering of the afflicted and fighting for justice and peace. As someone pithily put it: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. This may not be for everyone but it is important and a prime example of what I’m trying to express: the need for courageous, possibly self sacrificial action to challenge and correct the onerous conditions smothering us.

What carries you? What is your direction? How will you—in community—rise up?

Links:

Christian martyrs

Oscar Romero

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, April 1967

The Poor People’s Campaign

War tax resistance/redirection

US Social Forum, June 22-26, 2010, Detroit Michigan

Allied Media Conference, June 17-20, Detroit Michigan

Free Gaza Movement, a flotilla leaving in May 2010 for Gaza with humanitarian supplies and personnel—to break the siege

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graceleeboggs.jpg

To try my hand at answering some of Bill Moyer’s questions to Grace Lee Boggs (she did an excellent job in her interview on the Bill Moyers Journal, August 31, 2007):

Could Martin Luther King Jr have been more radical?

He departed from organizing the Poor People’s Campaign to support the Memphis sanitation workers, an act of courage and compassion. That’s radical. He was one of the first national leaders to challenge the Vietnam War, radical for sure. And most importantly he was embarking on a struggle to close down federal government until it responded positively to the call for economic and social justice, the Poor People’s Campaign. I’m not sure how he could have been more radical. Let’s recall that he was assassinated—possibly with involvement of the US government if the Memphis trial held a decade or so ago is any indication—as a danger to the empire.

Do you see signs of a national turning, a national movement?

Definitely in the US Social Forum held this summer in Atlanta, drawing over 10,000 grassroots activists, at least 60% of them under the age of 30, a racial and economic mixture unlike anything I’ve witnessed recently. True to form, the media (including the Moyers’ Journal, as far as I know) has not given it much attention. Likewise, for other aspects of national grassroots movements. Another example: a small lay Catholic non-violence community I’m part of in central Massachusetts, Agape. We now draw many-fold more college and university age students than ever before to our retreats, workshops, gatherings, and volunteer opportunities. I suspect Agape is one small example of numerous pockets of significant change.

And finally, where are the leaders?

I’m so pleased Grace answered that essentially they are you and me, not from government and not high profile. The venerated Buddhist monk and poet, Thich Nhat Hahn, has repeatedly taught that the next Buddha will not be a single character, but instead the Buddhist community, the sangha. This speaks to the truth that what we need is not individuation but collectivization.

Thanks to Bill for plunging into tough topics. May he continue for many years. And reach an ever-widening audience.

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