by Emily Parsons
Emily Parsons, a Latin American Studies student in Vancouver, BC, participated in CPT's June delegation to Colombia.
The air is hot and heavy, thick with humidity and weighted with sorrow. Across the table I link eyes with the president of the ACVC, an association of campesinos (peasant farmers) meeting in Barrancabermeja, an oil refining city in north central Colombia. His head rests against the lime green wall in this small room, which is crammed with too many chairs and cooled by a single fan. His eyes look as if they have been crying for years.
Seated with me around the table are seven other members of a short-term international CPT delegation to Colombia. At the invitation of the Colombian Mennonite Church, CPT has maintained a full-time presence based in Barrancabermeja (Barranca) since 2001. Team members accompany rural communities who have returned to their homes after the threats and violence from paramilitary and guerrilla forces displaced them.
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Through meetings with human rights workers, labor union members, embassies, state officials, and community residents, we delegates are exposed to the realities of this intensely complicated conflict. As the meeting with ACVC continues, I jot down my thoughts in a journal: "Forgive us our ignorance Lord."
I cannot help but wonder what these men, who have suffered such oppression, see in my eyes: the eyes of a woman who comes from a wealthy and powerful nation that allows the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Colombians to continue for close to five decades. "Forgive us our ignorance Lord."
The fear created by threats, written and verbal, permeates the lives of so many in Colombia, but only now, as I sit with these friends, do I begin to understand the terror. I feel physically ill as I listen to a written death threat this group, and other social organizations, received only the day before.
"From June 1-15 there will be a cleansing of revolutionaries. Revolution belongs only in textbooks, not in our streets. There will be two coffins – one for your tongue, and one for you. Death to the guerrillas of Barranca."
The feeling inside me is overwhelming and paralyzing. The "revolutionaries" they speak of are union members, social workers, human rights defenders, community leaders, people working for peace and justice in Colombia. These are the people labeled as guerrilla collaborators, targeted by organized paramilitary groups and private security forces for "social cleansing" in this country. These are the ones, threatened and killed, whom the state is doing little to protect. "Forgive us our ignorance Lord."Back to the top
Nobody knows for sure what happened, how it happened, or who did it, but in late June, Manuel Orlando Navarro, known as "Compa," was killed while harvesting his corn. His nephew found him lying on the ground and thought he was sleeping, but when he tried to wake him, he saw the blood oozing from his uncle's body.
The nephew struggled to load Compa's still-warm body into his small wooden canoe and travel up the Opón River to his aunt's house. There the family met to weep, to groan, and to ask "WHY! Why did they kill Compa?"
The painful news reached the CPT house that afternoon during our team meeting. All of us froze; we couldn't believe it – although we had known, sadly, that one day this might happen. For five years we had heard stories in the community that indicated Compa had been a guerrilla fighter, a paramilitary, and then a member of the gasoline cartel. The risk of someone wanting to make him pay for his past was very high.
At Compa's funeral, we witnessed his distraught family bury their third son – all three brothers killed in socio-political violence that is destroying, little by little, the hope of this country.
Now, Compa is added to the list of the dead, along with Fernando (May 2004), Ancizar (September 2004), Rosemberg (September 2005), and many others killed before.
The solitude of the countryside is increasing every day. Fewer and fewer peasant farmers are seeding their small, beloved plots of land because of lack of money, displacement, fear, and despair. Every day it is more difficult to keep the flame of life burning, and every day it is more urgent that we become aware of these realities and act for peace.Back to the top
In addition to accompanying communities along the Opón River who are resisting interference by armed groups in their daily lives, CPTers have visited other areas within the Magdalena Medio region and beyond where civilians are engaged in courageous work for peace.
"We don't like being labeled guerrillas," assert the residents of Mina Proyecto, the newest community in the gold mining zone of the Sierra of San Lucas. "We are civilians who want to work and earn our living in this mine. We are here to raise our children and give them good principles."
Mina Proyecto is growing rapidly. In three months the population grew from 37 to more than 50 families. Many residents came from nearby Micoahumado, a town that CPT accompanies regularly. In just over a year, miners have already dug four tunnel complexes with picks and shovels, one so deep they pump oxygen into the shaft.
According to community leaders, the founders of the village want Mina Proyecto to serve as "a model and an example for the whole mining zone" of mutual support. Everyone who arrives has work. The community has already built a school without external support and is working to bring in a teacher.
The Sierra of San Lucas is part of the South of Bolívar, a region hit hard by Colombia's long-standing war. More than 30,000 people there earn their living directly or indirectly from small mines. Below its soil lies the biggest remaining gold mine in Latin America. Kedahda, a Colombian subsidiary of the multinational AngloGold Ashanti has requested authorization from the Colombian government to establish open pit mines.
"We worry that when the transnational comes they will force us all out," shared the mine workers. "Then what will become of us?"
A military operation moving through the zone fuels that concern. Although the official mission is to search for guerrilla fighters, many soldiers have told people that they are in fact preparing the way for the transnational corporation. With reports of abuses filtering in, residents of Proyecto Minas expressed alarm.
A community leader explained the roots of their well-founded anxiety:
"The paramilitaries came to Rio Viejo (on the Magdalena River at the foot of the Sierra) several years ago and killed a local leader. They cut off his head and used it as a soccer ball. Then they impaled his head on a post, face toward the mining zone, and said ‘That's where we're heading to.' We have always felt that transnational interests lie behind these atrocities. They want the zone cleared of any opposition so that they can destroy our land with their open pit mines. But the paramilitaries couldn't force us to flee. We are here, and here we are going to struggle, without guns, to stay. We have lost many people, but we have overcome our fear. The South of Bolívar has risen from blood.
Colombia team members and delegates June-August were: Adaia Bernal (Colombia), Sally Ann Brickner (Green Bay, WI), Suzanna Collerd (River Forest, IL), Noah Dillard (Freedom, ME), Julián Guttiérez (Colombia), Joel Klassen (Toronto, ON), Christopher Knestrick (Cleveland, OH), Kim Lamberty (Washington, DC), Timothy McElwee (N. Manchester, IN), Shirley Osterhaus (Bellingham, WA), Sandra Rincón (Colombia), Pierre Shantz (Colombia), Ingrid Schultz (Vancouver, BC), Sarah Shirk (Chicago, IL), Michael J. Smith, (Gibson City, IL), Erik Turnberg (Hanover, NH), Carol Tyx (Iowa City, IA), John Volkening (Chicago, IL), Stewart Vriesinga (Lucknow, ON), Lawrence Whitney (Brighton, MA) and Tiffany Yoder (Lititz, PA).Back to the top
Throughout the war between Israel and Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon, CPT witnessed increased military activity in Hebron, especially in and around the Old City.
Within a three-week period, four different neighbors called CPT to their homes when Israeli soldiers invaded. On the other side of the Old City, on a hillside facing the large Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, soldiers invaded at least three additional houses.
These invasions typically involve a patrol of six soldiers who enter the home, herd the family into one room, then search the rest of the house, turning everything upside down. Soldiers often occupy one room of the house where they make themselves at home, sleeping in shifts. At one house, when CPTers were present, the soldiers changed their minds and left without spending the night.
In another case, CPTers visited a multiple-family dwelling on the third day of a four-day invasion. Israeli soldiers, occupying the second floor, had turned the family out and did not allow CPTers to enter.
Team members contacted the father of the family at his stall in the market. He reported that fifteen soldiers had taken over his home, forcing the family to stay with relatives. The soldiers allowed him to return that morning just briefly to gather up a few essential clothes for work. They did not permit his wife to collect anything for herself or the children.
The family on the lower floor was allowed to remain in the house, but the mother was crying when CPTers spoke with her. She said she felt like she was in a prison. "It is very difficult," she wept. "The soldiers only let us go out for one hour a day."Back to the top
Loud knocking jolted Miriam Al Qam from sleep at 2:00am on August 24. Six jeeps full of Israeli soldiers surrounded her home in the farming village of Beit Ummar, just north of Hebron. The soldiers had come to take her husband, Farhan Al Qam, the mayor of Beit Ummar.
Al Qam is one of numerous Hamas elected officials that the Israeli army has abducted and imprisoned without charges in violation of international law.
The children, ages four to fourteen, were sleeping when the soldiers took their father away in his night clothes, refusing his request to use the bathroom or to get a change of clothes from his closet.
CPTers have visited Beit Ummar residents regularly over the past ten years. In recent trips, team members became better acquainted with Mayor Al Qam. They were struck by his belief in nonviolence as a way to address the difficulties his village faced because of U.S. and Israeli sanctions on the Palestinian Authority. He also developed good working relationships with both international and Israeli peace and human rights groups.
On July 7, with tensions running high after the Israeli military killed 20 Palestinians in Gaza the day before, Beit Ummar residents carried out a nonviolent action supported by Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israeli peace group Ta'ayush, and international peace activists. Mayor Al Qam led hundreds of villagers from the local mosque to the fields near the Israeli settlement of Karme Tsur. They knelt for Friday prayers on land that Israeli settlers and soldiers had prevented the farmers from accessing.
When an armed Israeli settler moved in the direction of the Palestinians, Rabbi Arik Ascherman stood in between. When Palestinian youth responded with stones, Mayor Al Qam insisted on nonviolence and ushered them back to the village.
After four weeks in detention, Mayor Al Qam was finally released. He is now back with his family in Beit Ummar and continues to join with Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals who have worked together in villages all over the West Bank to create a nonviolent movement.Back to the top
Despite an ongoing court battle over its construction, the Israeli military built an 80 cm (2½ ft.) high "security" wall along the north side of bypass road 317 in June. At that time, the work crew left a five-meter (16 ft.) gap in the wall where the road from the town of Yatta crosses 317 into the village of At-Tuwani.
On July 13, CPTers witnessed construction workers, in the company of Israeli soldiers, placing large concrete barricades in the gap, completely blocking vehicle access from Yatta to At-Tuwani and neighboring villages in the South Hebron Hills.
Within several weeks, an Israeli judge ordered that the blocks be moved far enough apart to allow a loaded donkey to pass through.
Then, on September 5, Israeli soldiers removed the barricades.
At-Tuwani residents and CPTers surmised that the timing of the removal was linked to another court hearing scheduled for the following day.
"Apparently the military did not want to have to defend that blockade in court again," said CPTer Matthew Chandler. "Now they can tell the judge, ‘Everything is OK, there's no roadblock there.' It seems that sometimes getting lawyers to take the issue to the courts can be effective."
Palestine team members June-August were: Mike Brown (Harrisonburg, VA), Matt Chandler (Beaverton, OR), Angela Davis (Natchez, MS), Michael Del Ponte (San Ramon, CA), Claire Evans (Chicago, IL), Christina Gibb (Dunedin, New Zealand), Tracy Hughes (Miamisburg, OH), Maureen Jack (Fife, Scotland), Diane Janzen (Calgary, AB), John Lynes (E. Sussex, England), Rich Meyer (Millersburg, IN), Lorin Peters (San Leandro, CA), Dianne Roe (Corning, NY), Heidi Schramm (Lindenhurst, IL), Sarah Scruggs (Washington, DC), Andrea Siemens (Toronto, ON), Kathie Uhler (New York, NY), Diana Zimmerman (Baltimore, MD). Delegation members were: Lauretta Amundsen and David Szollosy (Willow Beach, ON), Mary Marjorie Bethea (Sherman Oaks, CA), Paula Bhagyam (Houlton, WI), Nancy Birdsong (Geneva, NY), Jamey Bouwmeester and Kelley Evans (Shade, OH), Michael Del Ponte (San Ramon, CA), Donald Friesen (Reedley, CA), John McCarthy (Portsmouth, NH), Inger Styrbjørn (Kalmar, Sweden) and James Thomas (Bronx, NY).Back to the top
From July 3 - August 11, CPT placed a violence-reduction team at Bear Butte, SD to accompany a peaceful encampment organized by an intertribal coalition resisting the development of a biker bar within two miles of their place of prayer. The annual Sturgis, SD motorcycle rally brings 500,000 bikers to the area each summer.
Undaunted by the roar of passing motorcycles, a hundred marchers chanted "Don't ride highway 79!" Participants, strung for miles along the road which passes Bear Butte, appealed to motorists, motorcyclists, and even their police escorts, with the same message: the desecration of Bear Butte violates the laws and constitution of the United States, to say nothing of basic human decency.
Earlier in the day, 200 Lakota people and their allies caravanned to the Meade County courthouse where they danced, sang, and urged bikers attending the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to avoid desecrating the holy mountain.
Vic Camp, a leader of the Bear Butte spiritual encampment said, "We call on all our biker friends to help us by not biking at our church. Bear Butte is our church. We're not against bikers. We know they love freedom. So do we. We're just against bars being built in our church. Please don't ride Highway 79."
CPTers were on hand to document the rally and march and to assist in de-escalating any harassment from motorcyclists. No one behaved violently toward those rallying and verbal abuse was rare. Many bikers, on the road and in town, gave thumbs-up signs and indicated their support.
"Given recent incidents of aggression against Lakota people by law enforcement officers and rumors we heard about the bikers, we couldn't have predicted such a peaceful march," said CPTer Char Smith.
Bear Butte, a sacred part of the Black Hills and the heart of the country promised the Lakota in the Fort Laramie Treaty, has played a central role in the spiritual beliefs and practices of many Plains nations for generations. In the twentieth century, when the First Nations of North America suffered oppression from Canadian and U.S. governments alike, the Lakota often had to make their pilgrimages to Bear Butte in secret.
Today the Lakota face a different version of land theft: local courts and governments license the commercial development of land in defiance of the Fort Laramie Treaty. These developments include bars. Local officials and developers expect the Lakota, a people devastated by alcoholism, to tolerate bars in the sacred place where they come to pray and learn. These bars promote uninhibited partying, often featuring nudity, which also offends the Lakota's strong sense of modesty.
The Lakota have acted with great restraint. They spent the summer preparing politically, intellectually, and spiritually for a long struggle. They lobbied for a four-mile no-development, no-alcohol-sales buffer zone around Bear Butte. They held a rally and march, walking eight kilometers (five miles) in the heat of the summer, to raise up the depth of their feelings to the community. Their struggle continues.
Lakota leaders anticipate organizing a similar encampment next summer to which CPT may be invited.
Team members serving in Bear Butte June-August were: Cassandra Dixon (Wisconsin Dells, WI), Jill Foster (Montreal, QC), Mark Frey (Chicago, IL), Lisa Martens (Winnipeg, MB), Doug Pritchard (Toronto, ON), Char Smith (Gibson City, IL), John Spragge (Toronto, ON).Back to the top
CPT Reservist Esther Kern spent several weeks in Kenora, Ontario this summer maintaining connections with members of the Asubpeeschoseewangong (Grassy Narrows) First Nation, supporting the work of the local Anishinaabe Peace & Justice Coalition, and helping host a CPT delegation.
"I am very concerned about my one-year-old granddaughter," said a friend from Grassy Narrows in a phone call. "She is at the blockade with her mother and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) are not allowing anyone to leave the site." Her plea sent me on my journey toward the Separation Lake Bridge carrying a supply of Pampers, formula, baby food, bottled water, bread and a jar of peanut butter.
Environmental groups and Grassy Narrows residents had set up a road blockade at Separation Lake to protest the harvesting and clear-cutting of the Whisky Jack Forest surrounding their community.
According to one resident, "Weyerhauser consistently clear-cuts the best of the region's forests, exports the profits, and then abandons the area, leaving devastated communities and destroyed forests."
As logging trucks emerged from the forest, activists blocked their passage across the bridge. Very quickly, OPP had surrounded the blockade site, and a day later, still refused to allow any of the activists – including two children and two infants – to leave.
Because I was responding to a humanitarian need, the police permitted me to drive to the site. Two OPP officers escorted me to the spokesperson of the group where I explained my reason for being there and turned over the supplies.
I returned to Kenora but was awakened around midnight when my cell phone rang. One of our partners reported that two hours earlier, a convoy of forty OPP officers had descended upon the camp of 18 people. The police threw them all to the ground, cuffed their hands behind their backs and dragged them to police vans for transport to prison. I spent the rest of the night at the OPP detachment where each detainee was processed, charged with several counts of mischief, and asked to sign a conditional release promising to leave the area within 24 hours.
The OPP treated an Aboriginal woman differently from her white counterparts. The white Canadian women were transported together in one police van and their handcuffs removed for the ride to the OPP detachment. The second van contained a woman of color, an Aboriginal woman, the lone white male and a woman who was a citizen of another country.
Following her release, the Aboriginal woman massaged her painful swollen wrists. The police had cuffed her hands behind her back in an upward position; all the others had their hands cuffed downward. "My arms felt as though they were being pulled out of their sockets," she said later. She had complained of pain and asked to have the cuffs removed, but the officers refused her request. She was also the only one in the group who was taken back into the station for a second round of questioning.
Delivering food and Pampers to babies in need is easy. Expecting justice for Grassy Narrows people and respectful treatment from authority figures continues to be the challenge.Back to the top
The July-August CPT Kenora delegation is giving up Thanksgiving dinner this year. No tasty turkey, no mashed potatoes. "We'll be fasting instead as a sign of repentance for our complicity in the sin of European colonization of this continent," say the delegates, "and we invite you to join our fast."
Although the origins of official Thanksgiving observances are different in Canada and the U.S., citizens of both countries grow up learning the same thanksgiving myth – that early European settlers were cared for and kept alive by the generosity of aboriginal people those first few winters. That story feels comfortable until we recognize that we have celebrated it in ways that cover over the violence of the European invasion of this land.
The puritan immigrants found the land around Plymouth already cleared for agriculture. They ate from the harvest stores of villages emptied by European disease that had already killed over 90% of the aboriginal population. King James of England offered thanks to "Almighty God" for sending "this wonderful [smallpox] plague among the savages."*
We can play the distancing game, saying, "This all happened so long ago, I'm not responsible." But the pattern continues – an Anishinaabe elder points out the hillside where she grew up, now occupied by large lakeside vacation homes; law enforcement officers harshly drag an aboriginal man from his sidewalk corner of peaceful sleep and shove him into a police vehicle; bulldozers gouge clear cut lesions through the forest, destroying the livelihood and stealing the holy home of Aboriginal trappers.
The First Nations community of Trout Lake received CPT delegates into their gathering under cedar trees and open sky. In response to their gracious welcome, we ask ourselves, "How can we live our way out of the deep wounds and stolen bounty of colonization? How can we undo the systemic racism that continues to impose upon and rob others while benefitting us?
We seek God's light in the struggle to dismantle this twin inheritance. Fasting is a listening school, a way to teach us the difference between receiving and taking. Let us learn our lessons well.
*from chapter 3 of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen
Kenora team and delegation members June-August were: Andrew Cressman (Toronto, ON), Ellen Johnson Arginteanu (State College, PA), Rebecca Johnson (Toronto, ON), Esther Kern (London, ON), Garland Robertson (Austin, TX), Carol Rose and Carol Soderholm (Chicago, IL).Back to the top
From mid-July to mid-September CPTers visited Suleimaniya in the Kurdish region (north) of Iraq. Team members are still unable to get visas to travel in other parts of the country.
I remember a satirical TV program from the late 1970s called Soap, a bizarre spoof on soap operas. The introduction to each show ended with the phrase "Confused? You will be."
I've been thinking a lot about that phrase recently. We go to meetings where people talk in acronyms. I hear about the KRG, the PUK, and the KDP; or is that the PDK?! And as if all the acronyms were not confusing enough, trying to understand the political situation here in the north of Iraq is even more confusing.
There are two governments in Iraq. One is the central government based in Baghdad and the other is the government here in the northern autonomous Kurdish region – the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Many political parties operate in the Kurdish north of Iraq, but the two main parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP, also known as the PDK), are the parties of the government. The leader of the PUK, Jalal Talabani, is also the President of Iraq. The leader of the KDP, Massoud Barzani, is the President of Kurdistan. His nephew, Nechirvan Barzani, is the Prime Minister of the KRG. The KRG controls three governorates of Iraq – Dahuk, Erbil and Suleimaniya.
The journey to self governance has been long and arduous for the Kurdish people of Iraq – often made more difficult by the influence and intrusion of neighboring countries. The political scene has been scarred by struggles, often violent, between ruling parties who want to form a secular system and the Islamic parties who want to form a government based on Sharia law.
In the first elections, held in May 1992, a party had to gain at least 7% of the vote to gain a seat. Only the PUK and KDP gained enough votes to win seats, and each party gained around 50% of the seats. The 30-year rivalry between the PUK and the KDP erupted into fighting in 1994. The fighting lasted until 1998 when the party leaders, Talabani and Barzani, signed a peace agreement. In 2002 the Kurdish Regional Parliament met for the first time in six years.
The truce between the two parties, though fragile, has so far led to unity rather than warfare. Until recently the PUK has governed the Suleimaniya province and the KDP has governed the Dahuk and Erbil provinces. Now they are joining forces.
People with whom CPTers have spoken welcome this unity as a sign of hope for a peaceful future after generations of wars, genocide and civil strife.Back to the top
In a surprise reunion, CPTers met with one of their neighbors from Baghdad who had traveled to Suleimaniya, Kurdistan for his work. He described the situation in Baghdad, and the attack that happened on July 27 not far from where his family and CPTers used to live.
"The mortars hit first," he recounted, "then, as people rushed to the scene to aid the victims, the car bombs exploded." Seventy-one people were killed and about 150 injured.
In talking with the rest of his neighbors, he realized that nearly everyone experienced a loss. One man's wife was killed, another lost his brother, and on and on. There were so many deaths that the local mosques, which normally allow only one family at a time to mourn and only one per day, were attending two families at a time starting at 11:00am and continuing until evening.
After the attack all the shops were closed, debris filled the street, and the neighborhood looked like a ghost town.
Residents suspected the attack may have come from U.S. Forces because the buildings hit by mortars were completely destroyed. The types of mortars used by the insurgents usually damage part of the structure and shatter windows but don't cause the demolition of the whole building. Also people reported finding mortar fragments that said "USA" on them.
"We know about these things," said CPT's neighbor, "because we Iraqis have been in many wars and we know what we see." He responded to the question of why the U.S. might do such a thing, saying, "Everyone has known since 2004 that the U.S. is interested in staying in Iraq for a long time." He asserted that attacks like this keep Iraq destabilized giving the U.S. a reason to keep a presence here. When asked if people want the U.S. troops to go, he said, "Yes, everyone wants them to leave now."
Over the past year, many Iraqis echoed similar sentiments, saying that the U.S. presence has actually increased tension between ethnic groups making civil war more likely. Some say the sooner U.S. Forces leave, the more likely the conflicting ethnic groups will come together to reduce the violence and negotiate a cooperative government.
Some Iraqis in the central and southern regions of the country have said that all parties involved in the strife do not really want peace. They say the unrest gives Shia leaders leverage to institute a federal system, helps Sunni leaders undermine the successful establishment of a Shia government, and allows U.S. troops to justify staying.
Even in the Kurdish north where most people are grateful to the U.S. for toppling the Saddam Hussein regime and believe the U. S. presence is needed to maintain order, there are those who quietly tell CPTers, "The U.S. must leave." One Kurdish professional said, "Saddam did things to deliberately set Iraqi groups against each other and create hatred. This has made it harder for the groups to trust each other and unify. But now all the factions are destroying Iraq. I believe the U.S. wants to create instability and U.S. policies make the situation worse."
Among all these voices one thing seems clear: many Iraqis consider a continued U.S. troop presence to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.Back to the top
Five members of Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT) from Kerbala and Najaf came to Suleimaniya to network with Kurdish organizations and to reunite with CPT. After catching up on happenings over the six months since the two groups last met in Baghdad, members of MPT took turns talking about their hopes for the future.
"I used to believe that violence was the strongest way to deal with conflicts, but I learned from MPT that peaceful methods are best," said Hassan.* "I want to be peaceful in all areas of my life. As a law student, I am trying to understand how I can work for peace through MPT."
Wisam* works with different organizations teaching democracy and helping women learn about their rights. Now he wants to educate people about the dangers of children playing with violent toys. He also wants MPT to publish materials that will "increase people's awareness about MPT, the importance of peacemaking and its roots in Islam."
"In the MPT meetings I learned that I need to look inside and understand the violence inside myself in order to understand how to work for peace," said Leela, a young university student.
Sa'id* added, "We not only want to work for peace in Iraq, but in the whole world!"
Despite incredible difficulties, MPTers have continued to intervene in violent situations in their communities and reach out across ethnic divides. They point to their deep faith in claiming strength to move beyond their fears. And while many in Iraq have lost hope that any positive change can take place, MPTers have held on to their vision for a peaceful world.
* Names changed for the protection of MPT members.
Iraq team members June-August were: Jan Benvie (Fife, Scotland), Cathy Breen (New York, NY), Anita David (Chicago, IL), Peggy Gish (Athens, OH), Kathy Kelly (Chicago, IL), Maxine Nash (Waukon, IA).Back to the top
On September 1, District Judge Raner C. Collins dropped all charges against "No More Deaths" (NMD) volunteers Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, declaring that the U.S. Attorney did not have a credible enough case to go to trial.
U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested Sellz and Strauss more than a year ago for medically evacuating three migrants wandering in the Arizona desert in critical condition. The three presented with clammy skin, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea – evidence of advanced stages of heat stroke and dehydration.
Sellz and Strauss, with whom members of CPT-Arizona worked closely, followed the protocol established by the Tucson-based "No More Deaths" movement in consultation with Federal authorities regarding the rendering of assistance to migrants in distress. CPTers often operated under the same protocol.
CPTers attended a press conference where Sellz, Strauss and their defense team talked about the judicial victory. Stanley Feldman, a retired Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court who volunteered his legal services, explained the ruling. "While there is a great deal to give thanks for in this decision," he said, "we should be clear that it was based on Judge Collins' assessment that Daniel and Shanti were acting on their belief that the Border Patrol had either explicitly or implicitly approved of the protocol...which called for medical transport in cases of extreme medical danger." He noted that the decision clearly stopped short of ruling on the assertion that "Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime."
"That assertion," wrote Judge Collins, "will have to be left for another day. There must be some way that both the government and the aid organizations can meet their obligations."
Between October 2005 and the end of July 2006, 171 people lost their lives in the U.S./Mexico borderlands. CPT completed its full-time presence along the border in May, 2006 and remains in contact with local partners regarding ways to support their ongoing work. CPT Reservist Rick Ufford-Chase will coordinate a continuing presence of delegations and teams of Reservists in the Arizona borderlands.Back to the top
Chicago Police arrested six CPT members as they prayerfully appealed for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel in the office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin on Monday, July 24.
"We are very concerned that U.S. aid to Israel is being used to carry out incursions into Lebanon and Gaza which violate the Geneva Conventions and the U.S.'s own trade and export laws," explained CPT training participant John Funk to the Senator's staff.
"Israel's aggression has already cost more than 350 civilian lives and displaced another 150,000. The flow of U.S. tax dollars fuels the conflict as more and more civilians die. This must stop," added Abigail Ozanne, another participant in CPT's month-long Peacemaker Training program.
More than 45 CPTers and supporters gathered for prayer outside the Israeli Consulate, then walked a mile through downtown Chicago to the Federal Building, drawing the connection with their bodies between Israel's military actions and U.S. military aid to Israel. Participants carried large STOP signs and a banner which read "U.S.A. STOP Funding Israeli Aggression."
Prayers of confession and songs of peace echoed through the Federal Plaza as the six-member delegation made its way into the office of Senator Durbin, a ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. The group asked that the Senator take a public stand regarding U.S. military aid to Israel and sat in the lobby to wait for a response from the Senator.
Group members prayed and quietly read the names of civilians killed in Gaza while waiting to hear from the Senator's Washington, DC office. A short time later, the local Chief of Staff insisted that the group leave or he would have them arrested. The delegation continued in prayer until Homeland Security agents took them into custody and turned them over to Chicago Police on charges of criminal trespass. The six spent up to 11 hours in jail.
In a September 14 court appearance, two defendants, headed for overseas assignments, plead guilty in exchange for supervision (a non-conviction). One week later, a judge dismissed the charges against three others after they accepted the prosecutor's offer of doing community service at CPT. She said she did not want to prosecute the case because she agreed with the defendants. The sixth person goes to trial on October 23, 2006.Back to the top
"We were sent as suicide bombers but no one told us we were on a suicide mission," said a U.S. soldier after learning about the toxic dangers of depleted uranium (DU) weapons.
Depleted uranium is the waste left over from the uranium "enrichment" process used in producing nuclear reactors and weapons. DU makes an extremely hard, armor-piercing munition that burns through tanks on impact, releasing uranium oxide dust into the air which is easily spread by the winds. Small particles of this dust can become trapped in the lungs. DU's combination of radioactivity and toxicity has been linked to devastating birth defects, cancers, and leukemia found among civilians and military personnel alike.
Veterans Administration statistics indicate that nearly one in six U.S. troops sent to the Persian Gulf in the last 16 years are dead (source). Of the soldiers deployed in the 1991 Gulf War, 54% are on permanent disability primarily due to DU exposure (San Francisco Bay View, 3/8/06). That compares to 5% from World Wars I and II, and 10-15% from the Vietnam War.
CPT's Northern Indiana Regional Group is on the move in a nonviolent campaign to stop the production of DU weapons. Throughout the summer, members tracked trucks and visited personnel at the Aerojet Ordnance Plan in Tennessee and Alliant Tech in Wes Virginia – two of the main DU production sites in the U.S. They held meetings at churches, connected with veterans and their families, met with staff at local veterans hospitals, and held a press conference at the gates of Aerojet. They also visited retired Major Doug Rokke, a Pentagon expert on DU weapons since Gulf War I.
What You Can Do:
- Join a CPT delegation to the DU production plants in Tennessee and West Virginia this fall. Contact Claire Evans (email@example.com) for details.
- Ask your state lawmakers to introduce legislation requiring that all returning veterans receive testing for DU exposure. So far only two U.S. states have passed such legislation and another dozen have similar bills pending.
- See www.stop-du.org for links to recent studies, legislation and other ways to become involved in the campaign.
Sr. Victoria Marie, O.S.C., Ph.D., activist for social justice, peace and nonviolence and co-founder of the Vancouver Catholic Worker, Vancouver, British Columbia – Before conducting future Unlearning Racism Workshops where there are participants from racialized groups, CPT needs to ask itself some hard questions. Why were we, as people of colour, invited to participate in an activity that would conjure up feelings of hurt, anger, sadness and possibly shame, that left us exposed and raw – then leave the feelings stuffed and unexplored to move onto the next activity on the workshop agenda?
Since that delegation, I have had the wonderful good fortune to become part of a community that was formed by the people of colour from that workshop. Together we come from the four directions and in some instances from three directions in one person. We have become for each other a safe place to explore and discuss our feelings, to help each other heal from recurrent assaults on our hearts and spirits, and – by sharing – be of help to others who know the daily assault of living in a society where racism is so entrenched that the beneficiaries of systemic racism react with genuine hurt and/or indignation when it is pointed out or discussed.
Jane Anderson, white European woman – Thank you for your frank and heartfelt sharing. I speak as a white European woman recovering from familial abuse and entrenched misogyny. I have had to struggle to find new roads on old maps – roads which lead to worthwhile destinations and not pain and self destruction. I am amazed that you are a catholic with the strong misogyny of the male clergy and the euro-centric value system of the present hierarchy. I couldn't deal with the insularity and smug self righteousness of the Christians I met and am no longer a frequenter of any church building. I find a park more holy than any building, but I have had so many miracles that I feel loved by a higher power. I taught children for 25 years but could never decide who was white, coloured or black. They were Carlos or Paul or Catherine.
Sr. Victoria Marie – There are two issues I think need addressing. The first is my remaining in the Catholic Church. I, too, left the church at one time because I could not understand the inconsistencies between the teachings and the actions of the teachers. However, as I looked for a spiritual home, I found that the people of God are those who try to do what they feel God is calling them to do. The Spirit blows where S/He wills. The hierarchy of the Church may try to legislate where that is but the Spirit of the Creator is in all of creation, every one, every thing. Therefore, I stay in the Church because (1) that is where the inner-city community that I worship with nourishes my soul; (2) I believe in Jesus Christ and his message; (3) there are a lot of good people in the church as a whole; (4) I can do a lot of good by staying; and, (5) one cannot escape eurocentricity in North America.
The second is in relation to your comment about teaching children. While you may have had the option of not deciding who was "white, coloured or black," the children of colour did not have the same option. Skin colour has definite consequences for those who are not "white" in North American Society. When you deny colour, you deny that person's lived experiences. White people go into stores, no matter whether it is an economy store or one that sells exclusive goods, with no problem. A person of colour goes into the same stores and they are followed, given unwelcoming looks, and made to feel generally uncomfortable. I use this example because it is a mundane, everyday thing – shopping, something one has to do. Imagine the wear and tear on a child's psyche with several of these experiences each week. Then there's school where you learn that your people are "social problems." All positive contributions of your people to society are glaringly absent from the history books. Therefore you never learn that your people have done anything but "burden" society. This is the reality of being "Black, Native American or Hispanic" in Canada and the United States. Thankfully, our peoples are beginning to demand more of a say in education. We are no longer being silenced by the ploy of being called "over-sensitive" because denying our experiences and our pain has been killing us and we wish to heal, to live and to thrive.
Kaaren Olsen, Anishinaabe grandmother, trapper and de-colonizer, Red Lake, Ontario – Thank you for this writing. It is really right on. In a book entitled "This Bridge Called my Back," a collection of writings by women of colour, one author says that it is not the duty of the oppressed to educate their oppressors. It amazes me that we people of non-white colour still have to step up to that position if any educating gets done. It will be a great day when white people make these observations publically. It is precisely part of unearned and invisible white privilege that this does not happen. That great day will be here when, as Hugh Vasques says in "The Colour of Fear," white people are "as outraged about racism as I am outraged about racism, as black people are outraged, as Asians are outraged, as Indians are outraged." I will add that, for me, that day will be here when I see or hear white people being outraged just about unearned and invisible privileges.Back to the top
The Fort Benning based School of the Americas (SOA), renamed in 2001 the "Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)," has trained over 64,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency and psychological warfare. Graduates of the SOA have been consistently linked to human rights violations including torture and massacres. Last year, a record 19,000 people converged at the SOA to call for its closing. Also a record 150 people attended a CPT gathering on Saturday evening to prepare for Sunday's vigil. CPT will be "Presente!" this November 18-19 as well with a gathering at the Convention Center scheduled for Saturday evening from 5:30-6:30pm and a table at both Saturday's rally and Sunday's vigil. For more information about CPT's presence, contact Kryss Chupp (firstname.lastname@example.org).Back to the top
Eight people completed CPT's Summer 2006 Peacemaker Training. One joined the Peacemaker Corps full time (ft) and five committed to a three-year term as Reservists (r). One participant continues in discernment regarding commitment to the Corps (d) and one completed the training but did not join the Corps (ct).
Participants (left to right) were: Front Row: Jason Arndt (Gary, IN) - r; Shirley Way (Stanley, NY) - d; Howard Taylor (Wentworth, New Hampshire) - ct; Abigail Ozanne (Falcon Heights, MN) - ft; Back Row: Nils Dybvig (Minneapolis, MN) - r; Michele Braley (Minneapolis, MN) - r; Joel Gullege (Chicago, IL) - r; John Funk (Armstrong, BC) - r.
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Plowshares Clowns Convicted: On June 20, three people were arrested for pouring blood and hammering on a Minuteman III missile silo in North Dakota. Fr. Carl Kabat, Greg Boertje-Obed, and Michael Walli called themselves the "Weapons of Mass Destruction Here Plowshares." They dressed as clowns as "fools for Christ," and because "court jesters were often the only ones who could tell the truth to the king and not be killed for it!" They were charged with felony damage to government property and kept in North Dakota jails until their trial in early September. The judge instructed the jury to disregard any testimony about nuclear weapons, international law, and the good motives of the defendants. One juror told people afterwards that many on the jury were sympathetic to the defense, but said, "the judge's instructions left us no option but to find them guilty." The three remain in jail awaiting sentencing on December 4. Greg Boertje-Obed is the husband of CPT Reservist Michele Naar-Obed, who has served on the Iraq team, and the father of 11-year-old Rachel.
Peace Preacher Pardoned: A Church of the Brethren minister is among 78 people granted pardons for sedition convictions in Montana during World War I, the fruit of a Sedition Pardons Project at the University of Montana. The project was directed by Clemens Work, professor of media law and director of Graduate Studies at the School of Journalism. Sedition charges were filed against the late Church of the Brethren elder and minister John Silas Geiser on July 2, 1918, stemming from statements he made opposing the war. Apparently Geiser was the only case in which a minister was convicted for what he said in a sermon. He preached that "All war is wrong," and urged members of the congregation not to buy bonds that "furnish ammunition for the killing of people."
Colombia – Fear and Intimidation: A September 7 report by Amnesty International criticizes the Colombian government for giving a "green light" to attacks against human rights defenders in the country and calls on the international community to support local activists more effectively. The report, which includes numerous case studies, highlights the difficulties faced by scores of individuals and organizations in cities and in remote areas of Colombia who work to protect civilians and to end impunity. For a copy of "Colombia - Fear and Intimidation: The dangers of human rights work" see: www.web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR230332006
Peace on TV: Every Church a Peace Church (ECAPC), one of CPT's sponsoring organizations, produces a weekly television series in Atlanta hosted by Don Edwards. ECAPC-TV airs each Tuesday at 10:00am and Saturday at 9:00am on various cable channels. Don't have Cable? Don't live in Atlanta? Nooo Problem! Watch selected episodes of ECAPC-TV on the web at www.ecapc.org (high speed connection recommended). ECAPC-TV also airs on the Free Speech TV (FSTV) network on the DISH Satellite network. Check listings for air dates.
Walk for Truth: Beginning February 1, 2007, Elliott Nesch and Raymond Schwab will walk from Denver, Colorado to Washington, DC. Concerned that "the Evangelical church in America is the number one supporter of the war in Iraq and illegal practices and policies of the Bush administration without debate, reservation or caution," they hope to spark discussion among Evangelical churches along the route. They plan to present a Petition of Grievances to President George Bush asking for a clear plan of withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as his resignation. For more information see: www.beitshalomministries.orgBack to the top
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- Colombia: International: January 17-30; May 23 - June 5; July 18-31; September 26 - October 9, 2007; National: December 3-10, 2006.
- Congo: October 18 - November 4, 2006
- DU Campaign: November 24 - December 3, 2006.
- Palestine/Israel: October 7-19; November 19 - December 1, 2006; January 10-22; March 19-31; May 29 - June 10; July 30 - August 11; October 16-28; November 19 - December 1, 2007.
- Winter: December 27, 2006 - January 27, 2007; Chicago, IL.
- Summer: July 16-August 16, 2007; Chicago, IL.
Steering Committee Meetings:
- Fall 2006: October 12-14; Hesston, KS
- Spring 2007: March 22-24; Chicago, IL
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