Testimony for National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — END DRAFT REGISTRATION

I prepared the below testimony to present at a public meeting in Chicago before the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, a commission created by Congress to deal with questions of draft registration, most specifically, whether to end draft registration or expand it to women. The Commission designed the format for this meeting with severely restricted opportunities for general public input. I intend to submit this testimony in written form, but I do not anticipate that I will be able to present it in person. At the end of this testimony is a much shorter statement that I intend to present to the media in Chicago, and directly to the Commission, if possible.

FULL TESTIMONY

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, to be here today. I have come from 250 miles away to testify to you about service. I am volunteering my time to testify about that which is involuntary: conscience. I have come much further than 250 miles to be here today…

My testimony is rooted in family history predating the existence of the United States of America.  I am 12th generation in this land now known as the United States of America. In the early 1700’s, my ancestors settled on land given to them by William Penn, on what would come to be known as Pennsylvania. My Mennonite ancestors fled Germany to escape conscription and war.

With that wave of German immigrants and refugees, those that occupied the land had much fear about them ruining life as they new it. Newly-arrived German males age 16 and older were forced to take a loyalty oath to the British crown. The English oath was administered roughshod over the newly arriving boys and men, most of whom spoke only German upon their arrival. Apparently, a nominal and blind oath provided some comfort to those fearful residents already occupying the land.

As the Philadelphia harbor bells rang, signaling new arrivals, people gathered to greet them. Many gathered to welcome family or provide strangers with much needed assistance, knowing what it is like to leave one’s home and arrive in a strange land with little or nothing. Others gathered to enlist indentured servants. Here is my most important question regarding service. Serving freely or serving under coercion — which is the greater service? I submit that serving freely is greater. In this particular case, the free service of hospitality and welcoming outsiders is greater than enlisting indentured servants. In the shared scripture of The People of The Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — a similar exhortation is repeated multiple times: “You must love foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt.” This service of what may be considered radical hospitality is a time-honored practice of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The humble practice is at the heart of every great faith worldwide. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love because you were first loved. My ancestors, yearning to be free, wanted neither to be the cause of war as soldiers nor the tragic effects of war in its wanton destruction. This was at the heart of my ancestors’ journeys in life. This is my heritage.

More recently, in relation to war and peace, my great-grandfather, during World War II, ran an alternative service camp for conscientious objectors. As for me, I was literally born into service. I was born in 1961 in Haiti, while my parents were serving as medical missionaries, a doctor and nurse, with Mennonite Central Committee. Mennonite Central Committee has long encouraged and empowered years-long terms of service, often overseas. For my Dad, this was also as an alternative service to military service.

In 1979, the year I graduated from high school, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In response to this, President Jimmy Carter instituted draft registration of young men my age, ostensibly to send a message of military preparedness to Soviet leaders. I was in the first batch of young men required by U.S. law to register for the draft. However, the prospect of draft registration conflicted with a higher law, my conscience and ultimate commitments. I could not and cannot, in good conscience, participate in war-making. As the clarity of my conscience emerged, I could find no way to register for the military draft, whose sole purpose is preparedness for war. My conscience also dictated that if I was to disobey an unconscionable law, then I was to openly take full responsibly for my actions while I worked to change such a law. I began by writing letters to Selective Service and my elected representatives. I may not have had been well-schooled — yet, anyways — on the politics of waging war or peace, but I was intimately familiar with my conscience and the legal duty that my young male peers and I faced. I was a teenager facing obedience to my conscience. This obedience came at the legal threat of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

I quickly learned that my war resistance is not dependent on geopolitical circumstances, political pendulums, or legal threats. I am already opposed to the next war. Unlike in the pragmatism of war, my enemy’s enemy is not my friend. For me, war is the enemy. Nonetheless, the nearly 40 years since my initial confrontation with draft registration affords me a certain perspective as I have lived through a full cycle of history.  While I was a skinny teenager facing taking on the United States government, the U.S. government was backing the soon-enough-to-be-notorious Osama bin Laden as a so-called “freedom fighter,” leading the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation.  Of course, our support of Osama bin Laden, our enemy’s enemy, turned out to be a deadly lessen in the futility of weaponizing violent radicals in the vain hope that it won’t blowback in further violence on virtually all fronts. Today’s “freedom fighter” is tomorrow’s terrorist. Today’s war seeds tomorrow’s terrorist. Gandhi spoke frequently of the seamless connection of means and ends. War IS terrorism. How can we expect it to produce anything else — with it many “means” and “ends”? In the end, I cannot view warmaking as service to this country, or any country for that madder, certainly not to humanity as a hole. I find warmaking incompatible with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and to be peacemakers, the children of God.

In speaking with hundreds of Americans over the years about draft registration resistance, I have found that people’s objections to my objections are of two basic types. One type of response is basically that draft registration is such a minimal requirement that it isn’t worth much fuss. If this is the case, then why don’t we just get rid of draft registration, without much fuss? The other type of response is about the utter graveness of our warmaking, and usually something about our national doody. If war is so grave, perhaps the concerns around someone refusing to go postal should receive more thoughtful and consequential consideration. To add insult to injury, in a surreal show of moral farce, war apologists routinely cite “necessary evil” as their moral foundation. This is not the God I serve. Straddling these two poles of minimal and supreme concern, are the tired questions that are asked pacifists, such as: “What would you do if someone was raping your grandmother in the ally?” I learned to answer such questions with: “I’d register for the draft.” If their perplexity persisted, they might suggest that I go back to Russia (where I’ve never been) or indicated their inclination to see me face time in jail; presumably, so I am not around to not protect them.

Mean wile, back in 1980, soon after winning the presidential election, Ronald Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration. His campaign rhetoric about getting the government off the backs of people rang hollow, like a hollow bullet to my heart. The media wanted to do a story on this broken promise and how it affected the young men subject to the law, particularly those opposed to it. As it turned out, while there were millions of nonregistrants quietly in violation of the law, I was the only local public nonregistrant that they could track down, and I soon found myself highlighted in various media for years to come.

To make a long story shorter, in 1983, I was indicted for failure to register — I prefer refusal to register. In 1986, I was tried and convicted. My indiscriminate honesty more than compensated for their lack of investigatory skills. I served 107 days in the federal Community Corrections Center in Detroit, served two years probation, and served 200 hours of community service. I can’t help but note, today, since the theme is “service,” that the solution to my singular failure was to rip me from my community in order to integrate me back into my community. Plus, the court had to bean-count community service that you couldn’t have stopped me from serving anyway.

Of course, there were larger forces at work. I, and a select few others, had to be made examples of. I, for One, am proud of the example I served. In the case of The United States of America vs. Daniel A. Rutt, there was a focus on my failure/refusal. In the meantime, I had finished college, got married, finished graduate school, had a son, and got a job. I went on to serve in a public health career of almost two decades. I even got a national award from the feds for my work in health promotion — thanks for noticing, U.S. of A. For the last 16 years, I have run my own business promoting social justice.

I do not consider my time imprisoned or countless hours engaging in war resistance as any great burden. In fact, I consider this as service to my country and humanity. I do suspect that most any person who did a tour of active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan has suffered more than I.  Unfortunately, war is replete with suffering. Of course, suffering is of no great inherent value. Nonetheless, whatever we willingly suffer for is a good measure of what we truly value. I hope that more Americans, whether male or female, young or old, will volunteer to put more skin in the game and resist war in any way they can. I believe that the cost of freedom is found in not killing, rather than killing. As General Patton so infamously stated, “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”

It is impossible for me to separate my service from my conscience. Conscience is that small still voice that emanates from the foundation of our existence, that calls us, at the risk of trademark infringement, to be all that we can be. My war resistance is deeply rooted in following Jesus, The Prince of Peace. The Jesus I follow was executed as an enemy of the state. He was executed at the behest of the religious elite. Today, the religious elite dutifully save themselves and their clan, more faithfully blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war, more conveniently blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war. The first wave of martyrs in early Christendom were men who refused military service. The broader wave of martyrs were Jesus followers who refused idolatry, the literal and figurative “pinch of incense on the altar” to Caesar.

For me, draft registration is that “pinch of incense on the altar” of the state. When it comes to military service, in the great U.S.A., there is no “one nation under God.” When it comes to military service, The United States of America is God. Specifically, The United States of America, does not recognize ANY Constitutional right to refuse military service for ANY reason, including conscience or freedom of religion. As we all know, the U.S. Constitution provides for many rights, rights that cannot be infringed upon by the state. There are many constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to petition for redress of grievances, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to equal protection under the law, among others. These are often referred to as natural rights or God-given rights. Such rights define the character of a state, and place limits on its sovereignty, recognizing a power greater than itself. The United States of America, does not recognize ANY natural or God-given right to refuse military service for ANY reason. If you are surprised by this, so was I. I count this as the singular lesson that I learned in my draft registration resistance. This sad and idolatrous reality was unmasked only by a federal judge citing a Supreme Court case in a legal opinion rejecting my motion for dismissal on the basis of religious freedom. Fortunately, I have found that God’s grace extends further than legislative grace or constitutional provision of this republic. I strongly suspect that tens of millions of Americans of faith recognize that holy obedience sometimes requires civil disobedience.

My male ancestors age 16 plus who arrived to this land so many years ago were forced to swear a loyalty oath to the government, even though most didn’t even speak the language in which the oath was administered. This didn’t even seem to matter to government officials. Why is this? I suspect that the nominal and incomprehensible oath was a “pinch of incense on the altar,” a ritual form of national worship needed by a resident populace afraid of strangers. The minimal content of the oath served as a safe and surefire way to maximize compliance and minimize resistance. Who would get back on the boat and return across the sea because they had to mouth or sign an incomprehensible swearing. Who would not submit their name and basic information to the Selective Service System? Well, most young men do not register when they first become legally required. Most young men, hoping to go somewhere, register when they need to secure a driver’s license, or when they reach the shore of an education, needing a student loan.

I suspect that the ritual obedience of a “pinch of incense on the altar” may be more important than an actually functioning, fair and equitable system of potential conscription. Conspicuously absent from the Selective Service annual report is the noncompliance rate with the requirement for registrants to update their address (within 10 days) every time they move. Every observant person knows that 18-25 year-old men move a lot. How many address updates do they get? How many address updates don’t they get? Surely, this can be estimated, and certainly it matters if one actually cares about being able to effectively and fairly enlist young men in a potential draft. The noncompliance rate for initial registration is 8% for all 18-25 year-old men. I strongly suspect that the noncompliance with current address is much higher than noncompliance with initial registration; probably, in combination, high enough to blow a hole in any contention that draft registration is effective and fair. By the way, those young men not complying with address updates are subject to the same legal penalties of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. In FY 2017, 184,051 names and addresses of suspected violators to initial registration were provided to the Department of Justice. Does it strike anyone else as odd that the names and addresses of suspected violators are forwarded? If the Selective Service System has the names and addresses of potential enlistees, what else do they need?

I contend that what Selective Service is largely after is your assent to civil obedience, participation in a national religion of warmaking, your “pinch of incense on the altar,” if you will. This seems to be a better characterization of Selective Service’s function than, in the case of a military draft, to “rapidly provide personnel in a fair and equitable manner.” Oddly, if you find yourself a male age 26 or older, beyond the age requirement to register, and you failed to register, you could still run into trouble by being denied eligibility for federal student financial aid, federal job training, federal employment, or U.S. citizenship; yet, you may be in the clear if your can “show by a preponderance of evidence” that your failure to register was not knowing and willful. Just don’t be too conscientious; that is, until you have to prove that you were not conscientious. Apparently, the true crime is conscientiousness in not registering, more so than simply not registering. The selective prosecution of a few conscientious and public resisters while millions are noncompliant speaks volumes to this.  Certainly, a system where obliviousness is excusable and objecting conscientiously is a crime is a system that distorts our nation’s highest values.  I don’t object to Selective Service being shot full of holes regarding compliance. I do object to Selective Service dishonoring or punishing conscientiousness. As there is no way for a registrant to officially indicate any intent at conscientious objection, I would be very curious to see what would happen if conscientious objector status were a checkbox in the registration process. We might learn a lot about the state of conscientious objection in America. Of course, if Selective Service noncompliance is largely about non-conscientiousness, then I have to ask: What would such a level of non-conscientiousness say about what we might be fighting for and who might be fighting for it?

The draft registration system cannot account for true conscientiousness. The draft registration system cannot muster enough compliance, conscientious or not, to claim fairness and equitability. The honorable course of action, in both cases, is to end draft registration.

In truth, the actual practice of draft registration ignores conscientious objection. While there is no apparent constitutional right to refuse military conscription, there are some legislative provisions for what are called conscientious objectors. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to indicate conscientious objection during the current draft registration process. This is objectionable to many conscientiously opposed to war. Somewhat oddly, the only legal way to make such a claim is to submit to a system, the Selective Service System, whose sole purpose is preparing for war, which you must reject completely. Plus, conscientious objector status is only possible as a military service classification, if and when a draft may occur. The longer a registrant is unrecognized as conscientiously opposed to war, the further the objection. Further, conscientious objector status can only be recognized for those who are opposed to all wars. If you in good conscience object to whatever current war in which you are subject to serve, this is oddly irrelevant. You could, in fact, turn out to conscientiously object to every actual war that comes down the pike in your lifetime and this is deemed irrelevant if you are not opposed to every theoretical war (or past war). This renders conscientious objection to a meaningless idea for what is perhaps the vast bulk of being conscientiously opposed to war. Finally, there is no real mechanism to truly count or officially value the service of conscientious objectors, meaning that men will be drafted until the military need is met, whether ten or ten million men have conscientious objection. The service of a conscientious objector is superfluous to the determining aim of the Selective Service System. This itself is offensive to many persons of conscience opposed to war-making. Let’s end the criminalization of conscience.

In truth, the actual practice of warmaking habitually runs roughshod over international law and human rights. The promise of some possible future alternative service as a noncombatant is little comfort to my conscience, and of many others. In a warring world, the distinction between combatants and noncombatants offers fantastical sanitization rather than actual sanity. The fact is that across time and across a myriad of modern armed conflicts, over ten so-called “noncombatants” are killed for every “combatant.” The first casualty of war is the truth; most of the rest are noncombatants. My duty is to oppose war, not escape military service. This is my service to humanity. This service is regardless of combatant status. Plus, the best way to serve warriors happens to be ending war.

In the age of terrorism, some will claim that we live in new era of war, not subject to the old rules of war. We do live in a different time than in the 1980’s, the decade when draft registration was initiated. I can testify to a profound shift toward anti-war sentiment since then. During the first Gulf war, in the early 1990’s, I never felt so isolated as an American, confronting palpable resistance even from liberals. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, our local peace network, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition, initiated weekly Sunday demonstrations at busy intersections around town. These demonstrations for peace and against war occurred weekly for 15 years (and continue twice each month). In the early years, most of the feedback we had from passing motorists was angry yelling, middle fingers, and expletives flying. Over the years, this angry response has become rare, perhaps a couple a week, and the overwhelming positive responses are represented by hundreds of “honks for peace,” peace signs and thumbs up. Americans in the heartland of Ohio are tired of war and welcome peace. Draft registration is a relic of ages past. Why have draft registration when even the military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft?

One issue at the heart of draft registration and military conscription is what is the proper role of women in warmaking and peacemaking. I am delighted to see that women serve as 5 of the 11 commissioners. Surely, it is women who should determine what is the proper role of women, in this case, concerning warmaking and peacemaking. In my lifelong work across a wide range of social justice movements, I have found women to be the most reliable and most inspiring leaders and laborers for social justice. I strongly suspect that women will take up the mantle of even greater war resistance if they become subject to military conscription. I take inspiration to serve as a war resister from Julia Ward Howe. She, most famously known as the composer of the Battle Hymn of The Republic, was the founder of Mother’s Day, originally a day of war resistance. She issued this Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm! Disarm!” The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

As men have forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his time the sacred impress not of Caesar, but of God.

 In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

I would much prefer entrusting my conscience and fate to such “a general congress of women without limit of nationality,” rather than the currently constituted National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

Perhaps somewhat ironic, given my heritage, Germany now has a constitutional right to conscientious objection while the United States does not. When Germany ended conscription in 2011, the majority of those serving were conscientious objectors, and the debate had shifted from conscience to whether they should give up a huge pool of cheap labor. I believe that forced national service is incongruent with our nation’s highest ideals. I believe that volunteerism is at the core of authentic service. I suspect that lowering our ideals by forcing service is a poor way to nurture true service. Let us lead by example. This is why I am here today. If you want to gauge both the heart and the cutting edge of service in this country and for this country, look to those who volunteer, willingly, without pay, to live out their deepest values. This is the clearest view of our highest ideals incarnate, that service, that work, which cannot be bought and sold.

I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Commission. From your bios, I can see that you are exemplary leaders in service. Unfortunately, I think that you may have an impossible job. I appreciate that Selective Service is technically considered under civilian control. Still, I can’t help but notice that both Selective Service and this Commission are heavily represented by persons from the military or traditional national security apparatus. This does not fairly represent America in the civilian service necessary to make for peace in the world. Also, about 4 in 10 Americans are persons of color, including many of those in the military. Why is this Commission even whiter than the overly white Congress who appointed it? This is not a service to America, and raises the question of whether white supremacy is part and parcel to your work. In tandem, the Commission’s overwhelmingly militarized representation and unduly whiteness, inspires little confidence that your recommendations can represent America. Perhaps it would be more honest to call this Commission an Omission. I suspect that this failure is rooted in the failure and cowardice of Congress to deal with draft registration in a changing world, that is, a world that recognizes women as equals. Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Instead, Congress kicked the can down the road for a couple of years by creating a Commission to address this question for them. Unfortunately, This Congress-created Commission is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, any hopes of sparking a national conversation on service will be sparks falling on damp firewood.  Further complicating the credibility of the Commission is the tightly controlled and choreographed public meetings in conjunction with severely limited open public testimony. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then using this input to shape additional “invited” testimony. This may already be too late to remedy. The chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic or representative. In my years of public service, both as a community planner and as a citizen participant in many public forums, I think that it is fairer to characterize the Commission’s public meetings to date more as “dog and pony shows” than as an open and responsive democratic process. For this Commission’s work to claim legitimacy, there is a lot of changes that need to be made. Lastly, having to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission. I hope that you have found worthwhile input in my testimony to move toward a peace-loving democracy in which every one of us finds ample opportunities, free of compulsion, for self-sacrificial service for the good of all.

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PRESS STATEMENT

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, about 250 miles away, to be here today. I am one of the select few prosecuted and imprisoned for refusing to register for the draft, back in the 1980’s. We are here today for one reason, and one reason alone: Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Congress punted by appointing a Commission to provide recommendations regarding draft registration a couple years down the road. That Commission is the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Unfortunately, This Commission’s work is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to honestly and openly addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, the Commission will be a failure. Draft registration continues to have no mechanism to accommodate conscientious objection. Draft registration is fraught with noncompliance by young men either not registering at all, registering late, or not updating their addresses. The military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft. This is no time to expand draft registration, whether to women or persons with select skills the military might want. Now is the time to end draft registration. Voluntary service is true service. Let’s keep it that way.

Today’s public meeting in particular highlights the failing credibility of the Commission. Previous public meetings around the country have had very limited opportunity for open testimony from the general public. Today’s meeting has even less opportunity. Previous public meetings have been billed as having opportunities to speak directly to the Commission; and when people get there they find out that there is a scheduled two minutes per citizen. This meeting is being billed as an opportunity for Q&A, not even to the Commission but to their invited speakers. Furthermore, the overall time for the public to even participate in this insular Q&A has been cut down to “20 or 30 minutes.” From the experience of previous public meetings, the chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic. The Commission is moving in the wrong direction. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then used this input to shape additional “invited” testimony as needed. This may already be too late to remedy.

Unfortunately, the Commission has other credibility problems that may very well make their job impossible. This Commission is dominated by members from the military or traditional national security apparatus, all the while trying to couch their work in a broader, more generic view of service. This Commission is extremely white, in a nation where people of color are about 4 of 10 Americans. This Commission is poorly designed to represent America. To make matters worse, the Commission has chosen to conduct its business in such a manner that citizens have had to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission. This does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission.

Originally, I planned my trip from Toledo to Chicago, for this public meeting, to deliver testimony to the Commission, offering a story of conscience and how draft registration fails to meet a broad range of America’s ideals. Because this public meeting cannot accommodate such open testimony, I stand before you, hoping that a free press will shine a light on the ill-conceived and poorly executed work of The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

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Toledo Democracy Day Testimony: Focus on Racism, White Supremacy

Below is the testimony I delivered today before Toledo City Council, or rather the three council members who showed up.  The mayor also showed up for part of the testimony.

Democracy Day Testimony

March 5, 2018

Hi, my name is Dan Rutt.  Today, I want to focus on one thing: that is, racism, or more precisely, white supremacy.

I am trained professionally in public health and I can attest to the effects of racial disparities across a sweeping array of health issues.  It is key to note that these racial disparities cannot be explained away by differences in income, education or the like.  Racism and white supremacy are baked into our system.  Less than two weeks ago, the Center for Investigative Journalism released a massive, nationwide study of access to housing finance, for home mortgages and home improvement loans.  Blacks were 2.7 times more likely to be denied loans than whites.  Again, this is comparing loans for people with the same credit scores, financial ability to pay, and even for loans in the same neighborhoods.  Of particular concern, this racial disparity is larger than during the Jim Crow era.  Racism is not receding into the distance.

Today, I would like to further focus on the criminal justice system, which is perhaps the most palpable manifestation of racism in our society.  At every stage of the criminal justice system, people of color are more likely than whites to be harassed by police, arrested by police, subject to bail or larger bail by judges, given harsher prison sentences by judges, and less likely to get parole.  And please note again, that this is comparing for the same crimes.  The treatment of people of color by the criminal justice system raises inescapable questions of what is criminal, what is justice, and what is the true nature of the system.

Within the last couple of weeks, Danny Brown, who was wrongly convicted of a murder in 1982, exhausted perhaps his last legal recourse to exoneration and access to just compensation for his nearly two decades in prison.  As he enters his fourth decade of this criminally just nightmare, Julia Bates, the county prosecutor, continues her intransigence, in keeping Danny on a suspect list, so he cannot be cleared.  The illusory case that she has held open for so many years denies Danny his chance at justice.  The last time I saw Julia Bates on TV about Danny’s case she spoke about her concern for the money he might get if he is fully exonerated — speaking of valuing money over human life.  Is anyone surprised that Danny Brown is a black man?  Is anyone surprised that a hugely disproportionate amount of people across the country in similar situations are black men?  Today, I call, again, for Julia Bates to close the case on Danny Brown or retry him.

Last year, U.S. Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, visited our fine city and had a meeting closed to the media and the public, securing an entire block to keep him safe from looming democratic forces.  He came promoting his initiative, unfunded initiative, to ramp up the failed drug war and get prosecutors to charge defendants with the maximum charges they can. This initiative is in direct opposition to an ongoing effort by our criminal justice system to seek ways to minimize sentences, particularly for nonviolent offenses.  This Sessions initiative has been plagued by secrecy, including foremost, by our own Chief-of-Police, George Kral, who has been less than forthcoming about how Toledo got roped into this initiative, and what exactly does this initiative mean for Toledo.  Does Chief Kral really expect that this hard-edged, law-and-order Sessions initiative won’t magnify existing racial disparities in our criminal justice system?

I am here today because I witness again and again evidence from top to bottom in our community that white supremacy is, at a minimum, poorly understood, and more importantly, in practice, widespread.

A view from the top may be most illustrative.  During the recent mayoral race, CSRN, The Community Solidarity Response Network, our local Black Lives Matter group, held a mayoral candidates forum. The first question was, “How do you define white supremacy?” None of the four candidates defined white supremacy as institutional racism or society-wide systems of injustice against persons of color.  This included our former mayor and our new mayor.  The answers touched on white supremacy as neo-Nazis or the like — the worst of the worst.  There were several versions of “a few bad apples” within society and some of our public institutions.  And there was the issue of implicit bias, a polite term for subconscious racism.

All in all, I was left with the distinct impression that racism was a peripheral issue, largely something in the past, that the still-existing remnants needed some sweeping up; though, alas, there was plenty of regret for the occasional but rare racist that still managed to survive into our largely post-racial society.  I was struck by the seeming apologetics around implicit bias, as if not intending to be racist largely mitigated the real-life effects of racism.  I was left with the impression that racism was more about impropriety than injustice.  Please remember that their answers were at a mayoral candidates forum within the specific context of the sponsoring group being an anti-racism group.  I am hard-pressed to believe that they were caught unprepared to answer such questions, and I strongly suspect that their weak answers came close to their best effort.

I must confess that I was particularly struck by such a weak response of our then-Mayor, the African-American holding the highest elected office in our city.  Yet, on further reflection this seemed less as some personal failure of hers than, in fact, as a rather apt example of how the powers that be, the status quo, is better characterized by the strictures and limits set by white supremacy in our body politic than by the life experiences of any given politician with a black body.

Our community is currently in the process of planning how to rehab our county jail.  I have heard much about location, dominated by “not-in-my-backyard” attitudes, and about cost — not the disproportionate human cost borne by communities of color, but money, money, money.  This is the present nexus and test regarding our true valuing of human persons over money.  We may not have confederate statues to remind us of our racist heritage, yet, if a new jail is built without a bold plan to combat the racism inherent in our criminal justice system, then the new jail will be a very expensive monument to our racism.  This is the $100 million question of the day.  Many of us may take some comfort, even pride, in areas where Toledo may do better than other communities, but let us assure that this in no way dampens a bold resolve to end white supremacy in Toledo.

To that end, I call upon our mayor, Toledo City Council, and the Lucas County Commissioners to come up with a comprehensive plan to eliminate racism from our criminal justice system.  THANK YOU.

POEM: Answering The Call

He was called
Into the warden’s office
The best cell
In the big house
Next to the judges chamber
Of commerce
Inhumanity
Chain standing in
A stile
Rhyming with orange
The nature of bars and steal
Overtly concrete
Knot no’ing
How to behave
In a cage
Not belonging
As if
Won
Never will
Agin

This is a poem about the inhumanity of prison, the challenge of civil disobedience, and unrepentant freedom even behind bars.  Mischievous young spirits may get called into the principal’s office during their school years.  Civilly disobedient mature souls may get called into the warden’s office during prison sentences when mere cells cannot hold the full humanity of its inmates.  Abolish Prisons POLITICAL BUTTONThis poem harkens the reality that even the best cell — the proverbial warden’s office — in a luxurious society segregating it so-called criminal element is still a cell imprisoning all of us from our full humanity.  As the great Eugene Debs noted, “While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”  The cruel reality and sophisticated rationalizations for imprisoning others is incomprehensible to the apprehension of full humanity — “rhyming with orange.”  The latter part of this poem poses the conundrum of what a free human should do when put in a cage.  The question is not what am I doing in here?, but what are you doing out there? [prisoner] POLITICAL BUTTONThe fully free human being confronted with their humanity being held hostage can be likened to the classic paradox of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.  There are large forces at work when the prison-industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline are met by humans with a firm grasp of humanity.  In deed, this will illicit much civil disobedience.  May prisons be abolished and humanity set free.

POEM: Hell In A Handbasket

I would rather live…
In a trailer
That proverbial mobile homme
Seeing stars when roofs are razed
And nothing but realty at my back
As awe of creation is present
As I am
Looked down upon
Wading patiently fore that noonday star
When every real Job calls it a day
…Than exist
In a fool length feature
That mansion of a handbasket
With mirror interior decorating
Magnificent all the same
In funhouse pleasures
Overlooking up
In efface of the bottom of men’s soles
Knowing not what frees us

Foolishness and wisdom look different and produce different results.  Better to have a life well spent than merely saved.  Conventional wisdom often mistakes comfort for happiness, a grand foolishness.  High success and high status are virtually indistinguishable.  As the addled adage goes: winning is everything.  Wise souls are far too ardent and awe encompassing to abide only within the rules defined by one culture and one generation, one place and time.  Faith Trumps Skepticism PEACE BUTTONWisdom is necessarily counterculture, precisely because it seeks to move that culture, any culture, to a greater wisdom.  Acting within such a greater wisdom, not yet carrying the day, perhaps even amid night, often appears foolish.  Acting “as if” something is true is an existential conundrum we all face if we want to be more than what we are now, if we want the world and the rules by which it acts to be more than what they are at any given time.  Suspending disbelief is part and parcel for acting to perform its human artistry, and all of the world is a stage.  There are great truths in stories that never happened.  There are great truths in lives whose stories are bigger than one soul can live.  Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase. MLK QUOTE BUTTONAbout now, the postmodern brain must choose between serving only that within its reach or venturing to awe that the heart compasses.  Fools are conventionally portrayed as having an addled brain, which is infinitely better than having an addled heart.  This poem compares wholehearted living with merely existing — whatever the sum of our daze.  A willingness to be viewed as a fool by the conventionally wise may very well be the difference between heaven and hell.  Fools invite others into a better possible world, however improbable, not a theater of the absurd.  Typically, others are busy doing something else, absurdly similar to those around them.

In contemporary times, live theater has largely been replaced by movies [dead theater?].  This poem compares living, in a movie trailer, to merely existing “In a fool length feature.”  And as we all know, movie trailers are quite reliably better than the full-length feature.

FAITH is greater than FEAR SPIRITUAL BUTTONOne of the great dramas on life’s sufferings, unfulfilled longings, and doubt versus suspending disbelief is the story of Job in the Bible.  As the ever-hopeful person that I am, I was reminded of Job 11:17 “Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.”  Such poetry!  Here is the whole chapter, as the lineup of doubters mock Job’s enduring faith:

Are all these words to go unanswered?
   Is this talker to be vindicated?
Will your idle talk reduce others to silence?
   Will no one rebuke you when you mock?
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
   and I am pure in your sight.’
Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
   that he would open his lips against you
and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
   for true wisdom has two sides.
   Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.
Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
   Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens above — what can you do?
   They are deeper than the depths below — what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
   and wider than the sea.
If he comes along and confines you in prison
   and convenes a court, who can oppose him?
Surely he recognizes deceivers;
   and when he sees evil, does he not take note?
But the witless can no more become wise
   than a wild donkey’s colt can be born tame.
Yet if you devote your heart to him
   and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your handYou will not enter paradise until you have faith, and you will not complete your faith until you love one another. Muhammad quote PEACE BUTTON
   and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
   you will stand firm and without fear.
You will surely forget your trouble,
   recalling it only as waters gone by.
Life will be brighter than noonday,
   and darkness will become like morning.
You will be secure, because there is hope;
   you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
   and many will court your favor.
But the eyes of the wicked will fail,
   and escape will elude them;
   their hope will become a dying gasp.

May we awe find, life during whatever daze might be present.

Friendly Rant: Voting FOR Jill Stein NOT Wielding “Privilege”

Oddly, with the presidential candidates from the two dominant and domineering political parties setting new records for low approval, voting for anyone else is met with bafflingly high contempt.  My friend, local activist, and Green Party Jill Stein supporter, Shannon Frye, nailed it with this recent facebook post:

Facebook friends, I don’t think I’ve been shy expressing my views on our current election cycle, but I have tried very hard to remain respectful of the decisions you might make when you step into the ballot box. Even if we have sparred, I have still maintained your ability to elect the candidate of your choice. Know that this prerogative is not born of some feigned Victorian politeness, but rather out of desire to see each of you better articulate your realpolitik and claim your stake in the building of a better future for us all.

That being said, I have not, nor will I ever, tolerate the erasure of my person, my experiences or my conviction in order to capitulate to terror, be it tangible or intangible. I will not bend my moral arc in order that you may rest easy. And if you attack my position based on any difference between us under the false assertion that in that difference lies weakness, I will turn your blunt argument into a pointy reckoning.

One such example lies below. A person, who shall henceforth be known as Mr. Charlie, asserted on Jill Stein’s Dank Meme Stash that white privilege was the driver behind her surge in popularity and would be thusly responsible should Drumpf win the presidency. He erroneously held that the Green Party was the enemy, luring POCs, LGBTQ people and the socioeconomically disadvantaged away from their true salvation, Hillary Clinton.

I lost my cool…

“Mr. Charlie, what particular variety of White Savior Complex do you suffer from to make such an ignorant and ill-informed statement?

I am a queer feminist of color and I fully endorse Jill Stein for president precisely because self-righteous idealogues like yourself have absolutely no clue as to the remedy my people desperately need in order to set in motion our uplift.

It boggles my mind how the ONLY political party willing to stand up for racial, gender, socioeconomic and environmental justice has been so maligned by white neoliberalism under the supposed banner of care. How dare you attempt to whitewash the contributions of Green POCs motivated by the grassroots organizing and solution-oriented policies that would bring us into a new era of justice based not on our social capital – of which we have very little – but upon the mettle of our conviction?

You are speaking from a place of fear. Fear of a mango-faced minstrel who shouts deplorable things. Fear of an imagined confrontation with the rage born of over 400 years of oppression reigning. Fear of losing the mask of white indignation that threatens to reveal the fragility of your baseless, store-bought identity. Fear that causes a paralysis of logic and compassion. Fear.

On the social justice platform alone I’d vote Green for life.

The Green Party advocates for the continual challenging of racism, sexism, Homo/bi/transphobia, ableism, ageism, classism and religious persecution. The DNC has at no point in this election cycle or in its history committed itself to fighting inequality on every front in the manner in which the Green Party has fearlessly undertaken. What we, the underrepresented and oft voiceless, have instead received is a piecemeal equality, which is no equality at all. Hillary Clinton and the current incarnation of the DNC has done nothing but pay lip service to creating a level playing field. Clinton’s support for her husband’s 1996 Crime Bill, which contributed to the largest surge in prison populations since the Reagan Administration , has done nothing but ensure the institutionalization and disenfranchisement of scores of POCs – this did us no favor. Clinton’s silence during her tenure as senator amid the growing body of research that proved the inherent bias and disparate impact of stop-and-frisk police tactics on communities of color perfectly ensconced her ambivalence toward the further destruction of the Black and Latinx family. Had she desired more than the occasional Harlem photo op, she would have used her considerable privilege in service to the people she so shamelessly panders to every few years.

On the subject of LGBTQ people, Clinton supported the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as First Lady; as a senator, Clinton could have been the alky she pretends to be and challenged her fellow New Yorkers to expand their definition of marriage, or at least advocate for the inclusion of domestic partnerships in benefit programs for state employees. She didn’t do this. In fact, as recently as April 2013, Clinton went onto CNN with Wolf Blitzer to assert her belief that marriage was an institution between a man and a woman; she didn’t throw her support behind marriage equality until the conclusion of several SCOTUS cases were completely forgone.

As for sexism, which the Clinton campaign loves to cry each time a reasonable critique of her ability to govern justly occurs, there is no better political organization than the Greens to address the systemic oppression of women in the US and beyond. Why would I support a white feminism that capitalizes on the rape of our natural resources, a gross, self-indulgent imposition of Western cultural norms across the globe, and the plundering of our social security net budget in order to fund an imperialist military force that does nothing but wreak havoc in Black and Brown nations in service not to democracy or liberation, but rather in service the corporate master class? Either your feminism is intersectional or its shit: And straight up, if you’re running for office and posturing aggressively against 2 nuclear powers and continuing to take money from and politically ally yourself with nations we know have direct ties to ISIS, then you are not a feminist.

Mr. Charlie, have you any idea what war DOES to women?

1. It kills the civilian population, namely women and children

2. War increases the aggressive violence against women: gang rape, genital mutilation & forced childbirth are all methods used by occupying forces to demoralize a people .

3. War restricts women’s freedom of movement: women, who wind up bearing the burden of being the sole provider for their families and often are hindered by curfews and checkpoints from gaining access to food, medicine, work opportunities and building effective social supports.

4. War forces civilian populations to flee from their homes: this displacement causes refugee surges all over the world, which only seems to respond with more aggression to those already traumatized. For the unwelcome refugee, war continues, as their labor and sexuality are often exploited due to lack of legal protections. Yes, war is a huge contributor to sex trafficking and modern human slavery.

6. War and imperialistic culture prioritizes weaponry over human services:The war machine makes victims all around. Me? I’ve gotten kicked off of Medicaid 4 times this year. But at least our military can afford to bomb the hell out of brown people in 7 nations right now.

As a feminist, I have no country. As a feminist, I want no country. As a feminist, my country is the world and I will do everything in my power to protect her. My question is, how can any woman look at Clinton’s trigger happy approach to foreign policy, her dogged pursuit of profit over the safety and well-being of our planet, and the furtherance of the destabilization of the 3rd world and actually vote to keep it going?

So again I ask, who in this conversation is wielding privilege? Certainly not my brothers and sisters in Green, who care enough about me and my continued existence to vote for the one candidate, the one party, that could help free me from this state of perpetual subjugation. Surely not Dr. Stein, whose mettle has been tested time and again and stills shines brilliantly, compassionately and with the strength of truth on her side. Surely it is not me.

Must be you.

Now take several seats, STFU, and let the grown folks discuss strategy. Your petty semantic games and sanctimonious neoliberal lies will not stop our revolution or my liberation.”

THIS.  Enough said.

POEM: Standing On My Privy Ledge

I am a white, straight, Christian, male
And you see that
I am afraid
Though paying attention
To what is fare
I am more afraid
Of whites than blacks
Of straights than queers
Of Christians than Muslims
Of men than women
Of what is in than out
Of wear it so easy
To be dark, crooked, un-Christian, and un-manly
Standing on my privy ledge
Only names dropping
And eliminating a void
For it’s all in
The taking
That in is capable plunge
Before the plumb it
Takes us
Awe down
Oar
Run over by a drain
Holey a bout
In which wee re-side
And set assail
As expect torrent-ly weight
Up on that wayward look out
Going long with dinghy surroundings
Only keeping us on won’s tows
Castles in the err
As hope tangles with whose faltering
If only to feel
The win behind your back
In one fell sloop
Without assemblance of humanity
Ripping that one accord
With know shoot culpable save you
You are precariously throne
As a matter of coarse, bowled over
Un-less first choice
To devote your undivided tension
To what is fare
Forsake of humanity
Either weigh
That first step
Is a due see

This poem is about privilege: the privilege men have over women, the privilege whites have over blacks and other people of color, the privilege Christians have over Muslims, the privilege straight folks have over queer folk.   Privilege Is When You Think Something Is Not A Problem Because It's Not A Problem To You Personally POLITICAL BUTTONEnd Heterosexual Privilege - Rainbow Pride Bar--Gay Pride Rainbow Store BUTTONThis is a first person poem, in that I am such a multi-privileged person.  The unnamed privilege in this poem is the privilege people living in the first-world have over people living in the second- or third-world (or as some say: the two-thirds world).

I have been pondering the reality of privilege most of my life.  I consider my birth into this world in Haiti, but as a son of white, well-educated Americans, as representative of profound tensions within my life in relation to the many human conundrums set up by vast differences in privilege.  My Mennonite heritage, steeped in values of simple living, has been a fortuitous foundation for my drift into economic irrelevancy and semi-voluntary poverty. Live Simply So Others May Simply Live - POLITICAL BUTTONMy training and career in public health has afforded me a perspective rich in dealing with social justice.  My vocation and avocation as a social justice activist has yielded abundant opportunities to stand in solidarity with my human kin, and even reflect upon erudite concepts such as intersectionality.  My short stint in prison plus hanging around more poor folks has helped prompt me to shed some of my middle-class sensibilities.  I am working intentionally to trade many of my first world problems for second- and third-world problems.  Yet, perhaps the greatest testament to my many privileges, is that I still feel like the richest person I know (though I don’t really get out that much).

Recently, my dealing with privilege has been kicked into high gear, with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement.  BLACK LIVES MATTER [Black Power Symbol] POLITICAL BUTTONI am deeply grateful to all of the people of color, queer folk, highly conscious feminists, and “others” who have enriched my life beyond belief.  got privilege? POLITICAL BUTTONI hope that the privilege I have at my disposable serves the larger interest of equality for all.  May any privilege we possess not possess us but spur us to break down any inhuman barriers that separate us.

Feel free to check out LGBT equality designs, Black Lives Matter designs, feminism designs, human rights designs, and anti-hate, anti-discrimination designs.

REAL POLITICS, REAL CANDIDATE: Jill Stein 2016 Platform

IF you want a progressive presidential candidate that you can get excited about voting FOR, then Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate is worth serious consideration.  Jill Stein has selected her Green Party running mate, Vice President choice, Ajamu Baraka.  Mr. Baraka is an internationally recognized human rights activist, organizer and geo-political analyst with a deeply progressive resume.  Here is their platform:

Jill Stein 2016 Platform

Our Power to the People Plan

Climate Action: Protecting Mother Earth and Humanity

  • Enact an emergency Green New Deal to turn the tide on climate change, revive the economy and make wars for oil obsolete. Initiate a WWII-scale national mobilization to halt climate change, the greatest threat to humanity in our history. Create 20 million jobs by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, and investing in public transit, sustainable agriculture, conservation and restoration of critical infrastructure, including ecosystems.
  • Implement a Just Transition that empowers those communities and workers most impacted by climate change and the transition to a green economy. Ensure that any worker displaced by the shift away from fossil fuels will receive full income and benefits as they transition to alternative work.
  • Enact energy democracy based on public, community and worker ownership of our energy system. Treat energy as a human right.
  • Redirect research funds from fossil fuels into renewable energy and conservation.  Build a nationwide smart electricity grid that can pool and store power from a diversity of renewable sources, giving the nation clean, democratically-controlled, energy.
  • End destructive energy extraction and associated infrastructure: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, natural gas pipelines, and uranium mines. Halt any investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, including natural gas, and phase out all fossil fuel power plants. Phase out nuclear power and end nuclear subsidies.  End all subsidies for fossil fuels and impose a greenhouse gas fee / tax to charge polluters for the damage they have created.
  • Protect our public lands, water supplies, biological diversity, parks, and pollinators. Ban neonicotinoids and other pesticides that threaten the survival of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
  • Support a strong enforceable global climate treaty that limits global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and provides just financial compensation to developing countries.
  • Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe.
  • Support organic and regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and sustainable forestry.
  • Protect the rights of future generations. Adopt the Precautionary Principle. When an activity poses threats of harm to human health or the environment, in the absence of objective scientific consensus that it is safe, precautionary measures should be taken. The proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.
  • Invest in clean air, water, food  and soil for everyone. Clean up America.
  • Enact stronger environmental justice laws and measures to ensure that low-income and communities of color are not disproportionately impacted by harmful pollution and other negative environmental and health effects.
  • Support conversion to sustainable, nontoxic materials and the use of closed-loop, zero waste processes.

 Jobs as a Right, and Key Support for Labor

  • Create living-wage jobs for every American who needs work, replacing unemployment offices with employment offices. Government would be the employer of last resort, and the unemployed would have an enforceable right to make government provide work. Create direct public employment, as the Works Progress Administration did,  in public services and public works for those who can’t find private employment.
  • Advance workers’ rights to form unions, achieve workplace democracy, and keep a fair share of the wealth they create.
  • Enact the Green Deal full employment program to create 20 million green jobs in sustainable energy, mass transit, sustainable organic agriculture, clean manufacturing and improved infrastructure, as well as social work, teaching, health care, after school and home care, drug rehabilitation and other service jobs.
  • Provide grants and low-interest loans to green businesses and cooperatives, with an emphasis on small, locally-based companies that keep the wealth created by local labor circulating in the community, rather than being drained off to enrich absentee investors.
  • Replace NAFTA and other corporate free trade agreements that export American jobs, depress wages, and undermine the sovereign right of Americans and citizens of other countries to control their own economy and political choices. Enact fair trade laws that benefits local workers and communities.
  • Repeal  the Taft-Hartley Act which banned secondary boycotts and permitted state “right-to-work” laws. Enact a federal just cause law (to prohibit firing without just cause,) and outlaw scabbing on striking workers.

 End Poverty:

  • Guarantee economic human rights, including access to food, water, housing, and utilities, with effective anti-poverty programs to ensure every American a life of dignity.
  • Establish a guaranteed minimum income.
  • Reform public assistance to be a true safety net that empowers participants and provides a decent standard of living.
  • Free universal child care.

 Health Care as a Right:

  • Establish an improved “Medicare for All” single-payer public health program to provide everyone with quality health care, at huge savings by eliminating the $400 billion annually spent on  the paperwork and bureaucracy of health insurance. No co-pays, premiums or deductibles. Access to all health care services, including mental health, dental, and vision. Include everyone, period. No restrictions based on pre-existing illness, employment, immigration status, age, or any other category.
  • Eliminate the cancer of health insurance, which adds costs while reducing access to health care.
  • End overcharging for prescription drugs by using bulk purchasing negotiations.
  • Eliminate health disparities in communities of color and low-income communities. Ensure easy access to health care in communities of color, including community health centers.
  • Allow full access to contraceptive and reproductive care.
  • Expand women’s access to “morning after” contraception by lifting the Obama Administration’s ban.
  • Avoid chronic diseases by investing in essential community health infrastructure such as local, fresh, organic food systems, pollution-free renewable energy, phasing out toxic chemicals, and active transportation such as bike paths and safe sidewalks that dovetail with public transit.
  • Ensure that consumers have essential information for making informed food choices by expanding product labeling requirements for country of origin, GMO content, toxic chemical ingredients, and fair trade practices.
  • Prioritize preventive health care, including physical activity, healthy nutrition and pollution prevention.

 Education as a Right:

  • Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university.
  • Abolish student debt to free a generation of Americans from debt servitude.
  • Protect our public school systems from privatization.
  • Use restorative justice to address conflicts before they occur, and involve students in the process.
  • Evaluate teacher performance through assessment by fellow professionals. Do not rely on high stakes tests that reflect economic status of the community, and punish teachers working in low income communities of color.
  • Replace Common Core with curriculum developed by educators, not corporations, with input from parents and communities.
  • Stop denying students diplomas based on high stakes tests.
  • Stop using merit pay to punish teachers who work with the most challenging student populations.
  • Restore arts, music and recreation to school curriculums.
  • Ensure racially inclusive, sensitive and relevant curriculums.
  • Use Department of Education powers to offer grants and funding to encourage metropolitan desegregation plans based on socioeconomically balanced schools.
  • Recognize poverty as the key obstacle to learning. Ensure that kids come to school ready to learn: healthy, nourished, secure and free from violence.
  • Increase federal funding of public schools to equalize public school funding.

 A Just Economy:

  • Guarantee a living wage job for all.
  • Set a $15/hour federal minimum wage, with indexing.
  • Break up “too-big-to-fail” banks and democratize the Federal Reserve.
  • Support development of worker and community cooperatives and small businesses.
  • Make Wall Street, big corporations, and the rich pay their fair share of taxes.
  • Create democratically-run public banks and utilities.
  • Provide full protection for workplace rights, including the right to a safe workplace and the right to organize a union without fear of firing or reprisal by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • Ensure equal pay for equal work, ending discrimination based on race, gender, or generation.
  • Enact paid sick leave and family leave, strong overtime protections.
  • Take action against wage theft.
  • Oppose two-tier wage systems (e.g., for young people and individuals with disabilities).

 Freedom and Equality:

  • Expand women’s rights, including equal pay and reproductive freedom. Pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment).
  • Protect LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination.
  • Defend indigenous rights,  lands and treaties.
  • Support immigrants’ rights. Create a welcoming path to citizenship for immigrants.
  • Halt deportations and detentions of law-abiding undocumented immigrants, including the shameful practice of night raids being used to terrorize refugee families.
  • Improve economic and social conditions abroad to reduce the flow of immigrant refugees, in part by repealing NAFTA, ending the failed drug wars, and halting CIA and military interventions against democratically elected governments.
  • Demilitarize border crossings throughout North America.
  • Protect the free Internet. Oppose the Online Piracy Act and all other legislation that would undermine freedom and equality on the Internet.

 Criminal Justice Reforms

  • End the failed war on drugs. Replace drug prohibition with harm reduction. Legalize marijuana/hemp. Treat substance abuse as a health problem, not a criminal offense.
  • Release nonviolent drug offenders from prison, removing such offenses from their records, and provide them with both pre- and post-release support.
  • End police brutality, mass incarceration and institutional racism within our justice system. Support the Black Lives Matter Movement.
  • Demilitarize police. End use of SWAT teams and no-knock raids for drugs and serving papers.
  • Repair our communities rather than dump resources into the prison-industrial complex.
  • Establish police review boards so that communities control their police, and not the other way around. Appoint dedicated investigators to investigate every death or serious injury at the hands of police.
  • Enact laws to require independent outside legal representatives to investigate and prosecute any killing or brutality  by the police rather than prosecutors involved in the local criminal justice system.
  • Eliminate harsh  mandatory sentencing requirements which often result in unjustified sentences.

 Justice for All:

  • Enforce the Bill of Rights by protecting the right to free speech and protest, to be secure from unwarranted search and seizure and invasion of privacy, as well as our other Constitutional rights.
  • Terminate unconstitutional surveillance and unwarranted spying, close Guantanamo, and repeal indefinite detention without charge or trial. Repeal the unconstitutional provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act that give the president the power to indefinitely imprison and even assassinate American citizens without due process.
  • America’s youth should not be put in jail for offenses they commit.
  • End discrimination against former offenders who have paid for their crimes and should get a fresh start.
  • Abolish the death penalty.
  • End persecution of government, corporate  and media whistleblowers.
  • Issue an Executive Order prohibiting Federal agencies from conspiring with local police to infringe upon right of assembly and peaceful protest.
  • Repeal the Patriot Act that violates our constitutional right to privacy and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.


Peace and Human Rights:

  • Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, human rights, and nonviolent support for democratic movements around the world.
  • Cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases. Ensure a just transition that replaces reductions in  military jobs with jobs in renewable energy, transportation and green infrastructure development.
  • Stop U.S. financial and military support to human rights abusers. Barring substantial changes in their policies, this would include Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.
  • End the US’ role as the world’s arm supplier.
  • End use of assassination as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, including collaborative assassination through intermediaries.
  • End the destructive US economic and military intervention into the affairs of sovereign nations. Such intervention serve the interests of multinational corporations and  global capitalism over the interests of the vast majority of the citizens of those nations.
  • Freeze the bank accounts of countries that are funding terrorism, including the Saudi royal family.
  • US policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to prioritize international law, peace and human rights for all people, no matter their religion or nationality. End US policies that have supported the worst tendencies of the Israeli government in its treatment of the people of Palestine.
  • Restore the National Guard as the centerpiece of our defense.
  • Ban use of drone aircraft for assassination, bombing, and other offensive purposes.
  • End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, withdrawing troops and military contractors.
  • Join 159 other nations in signing the Ottawa treaty banning the use of anti-personnel land mines.
  • Lead on global nuclear disarmament:
  • Rejoin the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the US dropped out of in 2002 when it installed missiles and missile bases in Turkey, Romania, and Poland.
  • Agree to Russia’s proposal to jointly reduce US and Russian nuclear arsenals to 1,000 nuclear weapons each. Also call for all countries to the table to negotiate a treaty for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • Remove US nuclear weapons in Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands.
  •  Support Russia and China’s joint effort to open negotiations on a treaty to ban weapons in space.
  •  Pledge to end any further laboratory or sub-critical nuclear tests at the Nevada and Novaya Zemlya test sites, and end all nuclear weapons research, design, and modernization at the weapons laboratories.
  • The US must take the lead in nuclear disarmament by itself starting to disarm. We should create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East region and require all nations in the area to join.

Empower the People: Fix our Broken Elections with Real Democracy

  • Eliminate the doctrine of corporate personhood that among other things has been used to justify unlimited corporate spending in elections with a constitutional amendment to clarify that only human beings have constitutional rights.
  • Enact electoral reforms that break the big money stranglehold and create truly representative democracy: full public election financing, ranked-choice voting, proportional representation, and open debates.
  • Protect voters’ rights by enforcing and expanding the constitutional right to vote (including a new amendment if necessary). Enact the full Voter’s Bill of Rights guaranteeing each person’s right to vote, the right to have our votes counted on hand-marked paper ballots, and the right to vote within systems that give each vote meaning. Make voter registration the responsibility of government, not a voluntary opt-in for citizens.
  • Restore Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring preclearance by the Attorney General or federal district court of DC to election law changes in areas previously found to limit voting rights.
  • Abolish the Electoral College and directly elect the President using a national popular vote with ranked-choice voting..
  • Restore the right to run for office and eliminate unopposed races by removing ballot access barriers.
  • Guarantee equal access to the debates to all ballot-qualified candidates.
  • Provide equal and free access to the airways for all ballot-qualified candidates, not just those with big campaign war chests.
  • Eliminate “winner take all / first past the post” elections in which the “winner” may not have the support of most of the voters. Replace that system with ranked choice voting and proportional representation.
  • Enact statehood for the District of Columbia to ensure the region has full representation in Congress, and full powers of democratic self-rule.
  • Restore voting rights to offenders, including while in prison.
  • Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions.
  • Reduce barriers to voting by making Election Day a national holiday.
  • Enact simplified, safe same-day voter registration to the nation so that no qualified voter is barred from the polls.
  • Protect local democracy by making clear that acts of Congress establish a floor, and not a ceiling, on laws relating to economic regulation, workers’ rights, human rights, and the environment.

A Humane Federal Budget with Fair Taxes

  • Increase government revenues for social needs by restoring full employment, cutting the bloated, dangerous military budget, and cutting private health insurance waste.
  • Require full disclosure of corporate subsidies in the budget and stop hiding subsidies in complicated tax code.
  • Rewrite the entire tax code to be truly progressive with tax cuts for working families, the poor and middle class, and higher taxes for the richest Americans.
  • Strengthen rather than cut Medicare and Social Security. Remove the cap on social security taxes above a certain level of income.
  • Maintain and upgrade our nation’s essential public infrastructure, including highways, railways, electrical grids, water systems, schools, libraries, and the Internet, resisting privatization or policy manipulation by for-profit interests.

Financial Reform

  • Establish federal, state, and municipal publicly-owned banks that function as non-profit utilities and focus on helping people, not enriching themselves.
  • Create a Corporation for Economic Democracy, a new federal corporation (like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) to provide publicity, training, education, and direct financing for cooperative development and for democratic reforms to make government agencies, private associations, and business enterprises more participatory.
  • Democratize monetary policy to bring about public control of the money supply and credit creation. This means nationalizing the private bank-dominated Federal Reserve Banks and placing them under a Federal Monetary Authority within the Treasury Department.   Prohibit private banks from creating money, thus restoring government’s Constitutional authority.
  • Manage pension funds by boards controlled by workers, not corporate managers.
  • Regulate all financial derivatives and require them to be traded on open exchanges.
  • Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks.

Housing   

  • Impose an immediate moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.
  • Offer capital grants to non-profit developers of affordable housing until all people can obtain decent housing at no more than 25% of their income.
  • Create a federal bank with local branches to take over homes with distressed mortgages, and either restructure the mortgages to affordable levels, or if the occupants cannot afford a mortgage, rent homes to the occupants.
  • Expand rental and home ownership assistance and increase funding for public housing.
  • Use Department of Housing and Urban Development authority to grant or withhold funds in order to encourage state and local governments to take positive steps to desegregate housing, including ending zoning laws that effectively prohibit multi-family housing, prohibiting landlords from refusing to accept Section 8 vouchers, increasing Section 8 voucher amounts so that poor people can move into middle income neighborhoods, prohibiting the use of Low Income Housing Tax Credits to increase low income housing in already segregated neighborhoods, and building new public housing in middle income communities that is high quality and mixed income.

We can build a better future together.

FREE POLITICAL POSTER: Incremental Change, Heads Up!

This free political poster posits that the conventional wisdom of incremental change can be lethal to paradigm shifts needed for humanity to evolve to the next level.

FREE POLITICAL POSTER: Incremental Change, Heads Up!

Devotees of incremental change may view death by degrees as safer, or at least postponing the inevitable, but it is often merely a fearful reaction to the vagaries of life rather than fulling embracing that which we hold most dear in life.  Incremental change is the preferred mode of neoliberal politics, often under the guise of inevitable progress.  The shadow side of incremental change is that it can acclimate us to unsustainable practices and also be easily co-opted by reactionary forces serving any particular set of privileged elites benefiting from the status quo.  In the current presidential race, this shadow is solidly represented by the Democratic Party and its candidate, Hillary Clinton.  Of course, not all large change is a positive paradigm shift or revolutionary evolution.  Sometimes it’s just chaos, which can also serve those who have a better position to profit from upheaval (e.g., war profiteers, prison profiteers).  In the current presidential race, the apparent chaos of Trumpism reinforces reactionary interests more so than creating human evolution.  Donald Trump is the poster boy for devolution.

So, what is a revolutionary to do?   rEVOLution is the Solution (LOVE) - POLITICAL BUTTONIf it’s a revolution of love, then cast out fear — which includes not casting a ballot riddled with fear.  Of course, limiting ourselves to electoral politics, relying simply on voting in a deeply dysfunctional and rigged democracy, is the surest way to maintain our status as sheep.   A sustainable and evolved humanity will be built it must be built on the bedrock of mass resistance and noncooperation with evil. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you've found out the exact measure of injustice which will be imposed on them. Frederick Douglass quote POLITICAL BUTTONCompromise is the art of politics.  Noncooperation with evil is the truth force that sets healthy boundaries enabling the good to flourish.  Compromising one’s values is a luxury of the privileged who don’t directly experience the daily onslaught of an injustice.  Bigger Cages, Longer Chains - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTONCompromised incremental change is the privileged managing the underprivileged.  Revolutionaries have their own skin in the game — nothing to lose but their chains.  In liberation theology, developed out of the experience of oppressed peoples in Latin America, God’s “preferential option for the poor” recognizes the reality that God’s values are more directly accessible by the dispossessed, those not compromised by worldly power.  This revolutionary theology understands that the salvation of the world rests in the hands of the dispossessed of the world, not supremely triangulated politicians or populist (sic) billionaires.

Please feel free to check out more of Top Pun’s designs about resistance, dissent, and revolutionary politics.

 If They Won't Let Us Dream, We Won't Let Them Sleep POLITICAL BUTTONNice Day For A Revolution POLITICAL BUTTONProtest beyond the law is not departure from democracy; it is essential to it -- Howard Zinn quote POLITICAL BUTTON

Activism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quote POLITICAL BUTTONI am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject -- Henry David Thoreau quote POLITICAL BUTTONNever offend people with style when you can offend them with substance. Sam Brown quote POLITICAL BUTTON

POEM: Another Martyr Bides The Dust

Another martyr bides the dust
And I was a stray
Beside myself
In the fog
Of yet another mourning
The missed over my heart
Feeling only that ephemeral beaten
The wait on my brain
Fueled into thinking of the dread only
And the little I no
Of what remains
As the truth is bared
In ash holes with names
Temping to soil
Won an other’s life work
Un-till arising from hour grounding
Ready ourselves for a human race
Wear blood is thicker then water
Tearing at our soles
And water thicker than heir
The salt of the earth bides
It’s time
Too clear the weigh
Of what thou dust
Ahead razed for awe
As be holding the sons rays
Bringing a bout of sunshine
An enduring lightness
Out shining
Any faux
How ever clan destine
In efface of such shrouding allowed
In countering any illicit clout
Ever looming
Whatever we’ve
Got together
With standing any in thralling strayin’
Rapping up awe that is frayed
For whatever may seam
Know longer

I wrote this poem a while back, but I’m publishing it now to honor the passing of Father Daniel Berrigan who died over the weekend at age 94.  Father Daniel Berrigan was the first priest arrested for peace and anti-war civil disobedience — or holy obedience.  As recounted in the National Catholic Review:

Berrigan undoubtedly stands among the most influential American Jesuits of the past century…

A literary giant in his own right, Berrigan was best known for his dramatic acts of civil disobedience against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons. He burned draft files with homemade napalm and later hammered on nuclear weapons to enact the Isaiah prophecy to “beat swords into plowshares.” His actions challenged Americans and Catholics to reexamine their relationship with the state and reject militarism. He constantly asked himself and others: What does the Gospel demand of us?

“For me, Father Daniel Berrigan is Jesus as a poet,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote. “If this be heresy, make the most of it.”

“Dorothy Day taught me more than all the theologians,” Berrigan told The Nation in 2008. “She awakened me to connections I had not thought of or been instructed in—the equation of human misery and poverty with warmaking. She had a basic hope that God created the world with enough for everyone, but there was not enough for everyone and warmaking.”

In 1963, Berrigan embarked on a year of travel, spending time in France, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rome, South Africa and the Soviet Union. He encountered despair among French Jesuits related to the situation of Indochina, as the United States ramped up military involvement in Vietnam.

Berrigan returned home in 1964 convinced that the war in Vietnam “could only grow worse.” So he began, he later wrote, “as loudly as I could, to say ‘no’ to the war…. There would be simply no turning back.”

He co-founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship and the interfaith group Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam…

In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966), Merton described Berrigan as “an altogether winning and warm intelligence and a man who, I think, has more than anyone I have ever met the true wide-ranging and simple heart of the Jesuit: zeal, compassion, understanding, and uninhibited religious freedom. Just seeing him restores one’s hope in the Church.”

A dramatic year of assassinations and protests that shook the conscience of America, 1968 also proved to be a watershed year for Berrigan. In February, he flew to Hanoi, North Vietnam, with the historian Howard Zinn and assisted in the release of three captured U.S. pilots. On their first night in Hanoi, they awoke to an air-raid siren and U.S. bombs and had to find shelter.

As the United States continued to escalate the war, Berrigan worried that conventional protests had little chance of influencing government policy. His brother, Philip, then a Josephite priest, had already taken a much greater risk: In October 1967, he broke into a draft board office in Baltimore and poured blood on the draft files.

Undeterred at the looming legal consequences, Philip planned another draft board action and invited his younger brother to join him. Daniel agreed.

On May 17, 1968, the Berrigan brothers joined seven other Catholic peace activists in Catonsville, Md., where they took several hundreds of draft files from the local draft board and set them on fire in a nearby parking lot, using homemade napalm. Napalm is a flammable liquid that was used extensively by the United States in Vietnam.

Daniel said in a statement, “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.”

Berrigan was tried and convicted for the action. When it came time for sentencing, however, he went underground and evaded the Federal Bureau of Investigation for four months.

“I knew I would be apprehended eventually,” he told America in an interview in 2009, “but I wanted to draw attention for as long as possible to the Vietnam War and to Nixon’s ordering military action in Cambodia.”

The F.B.I. finally apprehended him on Block Island, R.I., at the home of theologian William Stringfellow, in August 1970. He spent 18 months in Danbury federal prison, during which he and Philip appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

The brothers, lifelong recidivists, were far from finished.

Swords Into Plowshares, Isaiah 2:4 PEACE BUTTONOn Sept. 9, 1980, Daniel and Philip joined seven others in busting into the General Electric missile plant in King of Prussia, Pa., where they hammered on an unarmed nuclear weapon—the first Plowshares action. They faced 10 years in prison for the action but were sentenced to time served.

In his courtroom testimony at the Plowshares trial, Berrigan described his daily confrontation with death as he accompanied the dying at St. Rose Cancer Home in New York City. He said the Plowshares action was connected with this ministry of facing death and struggling against it. In 1984, he began working at St. Vincent’s Hospital, New York City, where he ministered to men and women with H.I.V.-AIDS.

“It’s terrible for me to live in a time where I have nothing to say to human beings except, ‘Stop killing,’” he explained at the Plowshares trial. “There are other beautiful things that I would love to be saying to people.”

In 1997 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Berrigan’s later years were devoted to Scripture study, writing, giving retreats, correspondence with friends and admirers, mentorship of young Jesuits and peace activists, and being an uncle to two generations of Berrigans. He published several biblical commentaries that blended scholarship with pastoral reflection and poetic wit.

“Berrigan is evidently incapable of writing a prosaic sentence,” biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote in a review of Berrigan’s Genesis (2006). “He imitates his creator with his generative word that calls forth linkages and incongruities and opens spaces that bewilder and dazzle and summon the reader.”

Even as an octogenarian, Berrigan continued to protest, turning his attention to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the prison in Guantánamo Bay and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Friends remember Berrigan as courageous and creative in love, a person of integrity who was willing to pay the price, a beacon of hope and a sensitive and caring friend.

While technically, Fr. Berrigan is not a martyr, he sacrificed much and lived courageously in the belly of the beast called the United States of America of which he called its militarism and imperialism.

While I wrote this poem with a male character, this may not be truly representative of the martyrs in this world.  Soon after penning this poem, Berta Caceres, whose activism reverberated around the world, was assassinated by a Honduran death squad, shot in her own home.  This poem is dedicated to her as well, a well of hope deeper than any dam corporations.  As recounted from Alternet:

On March 3, assassins entered the home of Berta Caceres, leader of Honduras’ environmental and indigenous movement. They shot her friend Gustavo Castro Soto, the director of Friends of the Earth Mexico. He pretended to be dead, and so is the only witness of what came next. The assassins found Berta Caceres in another room and shot her in the chest, the stomach and the arms. When the assassins left the house, Castro went to Berta Caceres, who died in his arms.

Investigation into the death of Berta Caceres is unlikely to be conducted with seriousness. The Honduran government suggested swiftly that it was likely that Castro had killed Berta Caceres and made false statements about assassins. That he had no motive to kill his friend and political ally seemed irrelevant. Castro has taken refuge in the Mexican embassy in Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa. He continues to fear for his life.

Berta Caceres led the Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), one of the most important critics of government and corporate power in her country. Most recently, she and COPINH had taken a strong stand against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on a river sacred to the indigenous Lenca community. This dam had occupied her work. It was not merely a fight against an energy company, it was a fight against the entire Honduran elite.

Desarrollos Energeticos, SA (DESA) is owned by the Atala family, whose most famous member is Camilo Atala, who heads Honduras’ largest bank, Banco Ficohsa. By all indications, the Atala family is very close to the government. When the military moved against the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya Rosales in 2009, the Atala family, among others, supported the coup with their means. They can cut all the flowers, but they can never stop the spring -- Pablo Neruda quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe Honduran sociologist Leticia Salomon listed this family among others as the enablers of the coup. They backed the conservative National Party, which now holds the reins of power alongside the military. Berta Caceres’ fight against the Agua Zarca dam, then, was not merely a fight against one dam. It was a battle against the entire Honduran oligarchy. Her assassination had, as her family contends, been long overdue.

May we be inspired and encouraged by the fearless lives of those who have gone before us.

POEM: Until Hell Frees Us

Be very frayed
Terrorism comes
From know where
Deep in the recesses
Of kindergarten bullying
Capital vocations
And martial lawlessness
Awe rapped up in won’s highest I deal
Those unspeakable prophets
In security
Detained indefinitely
Until hell frees us
Ever more reckoning
The other
Who war like
A mirror reflection
Knot of won self
But a puerile of grate wisdom
Selling all
Having bought it
With bigger barns
Taking life easy

This is my third published poem in a row on the theme of terrorism.  You might say that I’m on a role in combating hypocritical fearmongering and conveniently overlooked accountability for vicious cycles of violence plaguing our whirled.  War: What Are We Frayed of? ANTI-WAR BUTTONThe prison of necessary evil is the bedrock upon which militarism is built.  Of coarse, the jailbirds sing oft-repeated jingles of in-group unmistakable righteousness and the presumptively incomprehensible evil descending upon their already worrisome state.  Fear is the only effective tool to fuel such jingoism and blind obedience to longstanding systems of oppression that conveniently turn justice into just us.  That such fear can swirl in a sea of privilege is the fundamental disconnect that makes chronic injustice passable.  Pointing out profound privilege and hyperbolic fears is heretical to the god of war.  Not surprisingly, the god of war, Nike, is well characterized by the slogan, “Just do it!” which has a singular ring to rule all idioms.  The inescapable prison of the permanent war on terrorism, with violence begetting violence begetting violence, based on the damnable logic of necessary evil, can only end with the absurdity “When hell frees us.” As Dante, in Inferno, signaled in his sign at the entrance of hell, “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.”  How can we free ourselves from this parent prison of necessary evil that infantilizes our moral development, and stultifies children of God into spawn of the devil?  How burden some is at the crux of this issue.  What must we sacrifice?  What must we cede?  What must we feed?

Bringing about peace and justice to the whirled is formidable work that takes a lot of time to cede itself and seed itself.  In the mean time, there is a need to endure sum violence, as an existing reality with its own inertia.  This brakes the cycle of violence.  As well, we need to address the causes and grievances powering violence and dis-empowering nonviolence.  This is required to prevent violence from seeding itself, and to feed nonviolent alternatives.  This breaks the cycle of violence.  This is not easy.

That violence can save us is as owed as life and death itself.  The myth of redemptive violence is deep-seated in human history and culture.  Walter Wink put it best: “The myth of redemptive violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has even known.”

This poem ends with a tip of the hat to two of Jesus’ parables.  First, the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) who has so much that he tears down his barns to build even bigger barns, only to have his “eat, drink, and be merry” life on earth end precipitously.  Next, the parable of the hidden treasure, a pearl of great value, for which we will trade all we possess for it (Mathew 13:44-45).  That pearl of great price is peace.  May each of us be barnstormers for peace, not barn-storers fore violence.

Our lives can begin the long weigh to peace when we get beyond the myth of redemptive violence.  May we each critically examine our own privilege and personal hurts that prompt us to take the low road of violence.  May we each meditate and daily work on awe the things that make for peace and a whole, new world.

POEM: What If Everybody Did That?

Such sophistry
Firmly on the bench
But
What if
Everybody did that
Judging propriety
Smudging property
An intolerable act
My conscience
He decreed
Must fall
Into line
With Kant
Where every reason
Reduced to rant
It’s the leash they can do
In such a fine whirled
Of ethical confinement
And duly deputized
Might be right
As I thought
With unparalleled infection
Of making love to my wife
Only to arrest my life
At the notion
What if
Every body did that
And the orgy in suing
As just us
Endures a courtly rendition
Sow evident
Out of the question
As signs everywhere
Of legal violation

This poem was inspired by my encounter this mourning with a Toledo Municipal Court judge.  I appeared in court to address putting address labels on light poles.  The labels called for justice for Danny Brown, a local man who has endured 32 years of legal violation, including 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit [see Justice for Danny Brown].  Also not having committed that crime, I feel as a kindred spirit to Danny.  Putting labels on light poles incited a criminal mischief charge, a third degree misdemeanor.  I was definitely more guilty than Danny Brown for this crime.  I made a statement that whatever cost may be associated with label residue on poles, it pales in comparison to the outstanding injustice Danny brown endures.  In simply monetary terms, compensation for his wrongful imprisonment would be over $900,000.  Interest alone, at 3%, would be $27,000 each year.  However, since Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates continues to hold Danny on a person of interest list, linking him to an “active” (sic) case, he cannot apply for due compensation.  Danny is living in this legal, yet immoral, limbo indefinitely.  I consider my stickering a simple act of civic responsibility, working for justice for Danny brown as a person of interest in this case.

In a stunningly predictable statement, the judge asked the rhetorical question, “What if everybody did what you did?”  My poem is one answer to this question.  I can sleep well at night meditating on the question: what if everybody took risks for one another in working to ensure justice for all?

The judge’s Kant do attitude, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is a reference to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s best known contribution, that of the moral imperative, of universalizing a proposition to see what would happen, and making a judgment informed by that perspective.  Of course, if everybody fined me for a low level misdemeanor, then I would be in financial ruin — hardly proportional to the so-called crime.  I am not mocking Kant so much as the poor application of such logic by the judge.  In any case, and there will probably be more, while the judge is firmly on the bench dispensing with justice, I’ll be in the streets addressing justice for Danny Brown.

P.S. the reference to “my wife” represents poetic license, not a marriage license.  My sweetheart of 17 years is still my official muse, though unofficial “wife.”

POEM: Not Buying Heaven or Hell

Being not tempted
Buy heaven or hell
I yearn my keep
From the love unearth

I like epic themes, such as heaven and hell.  Nonetheless, I find the carrot of heaven or the stick of hell to be a distraction from good living on earth.  Love strikes me as what melds the good life on earth.  Love is a good in itself, reflecting the grace of our Creator.  Love is the way.  Love puts hell in the refuse category, rejecting the cynical notion that redemption is a dead end street.  Hell implies that God gives up on us, and that God’s will can only overcome us with some sort of eternal prison.  More insidiously, hell accepts that human will is somehow supreme, even trumping God.  Death itself seems a more than adequate fail-safe for limiting any human’s will! If there is a heaven, it would prove consistent with God’s pattern of surprising me with good things, taking me beyond my limited intellect, experience, or even imagination.  My conception of how God operates is much more like a parent raising a young child, or in my more mature states, like a lover wooing me into even greater ways of being.  My siblings in this big, strange human family may behave badly at times, but we are still family and need to have each others back, and at least not kill each other!  Cain murdering Abel was all the more outrageous because they were brothers.  It is no different today — we are all brothers and sisters.  We should not forget such things.  This is not simply a metaphor.  Evolutionary biology indicates that all modern humans descended from a common ancestor on the continent of Africa.  Humanity would be better served to remember our African mother and know that we are one race, the human race. Love of family is our greatest inheritance. Let this love bring us together, not tear us apart.

POEM: A Wrench In The Machine

He was having one of those lives
Where he woke up
Only to find himself
A wrench in the machine
Threw and threw
Putting his whole life into question
What kind of tool are you?

This poem was triggered by a recent conversation with my lawyer about a pending criminal mischief charge (for stickering poles downtown Toledo in the criminal justice district with stickers reading “JUSTICE FOR DANNY BROWN .COM”). In this conversation, I used the metaphor of a wrench in the machine. There is a growing realization in my life that jail time is in my destiny. Eugene Debs, perhaps said it best in his statement to the judge prior to his sentencing for resistance, stating:

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. [see full speech here]

Quite a few years ago, I had a dream. In this dream, there was an image that has stuck with me: I was dancing effortlessly amidst the huge, moving cogs and gears of a giant machine. I was unhurt and at peace, even joyful. This image reminds me of the possibility of being at peace in the dance with the machine. Of course, this image does not include the pain and death of being ground up in the machine, a reality every moment. I believe that the best meshing of these two realities is to practice disciplines cultivating joyful dancing as we throw our whole beings into resistance of the machines of death and into the reawakening of the deadened souls who find necessity in siding with death.

Power requires consent. Our consciousness of this helps free us to choose to better align with the forces of life than the forces of death. My unofficial motto is “Screw ’em,” as modeled by the character Col. William Ludlow, played by Anthony Hopkins, in the movie, Legends of the Fall. This may seem unduly negative, or even juvenile, to some; but, the impulse to withdraw consent from unjust authority is divine. While such rebellion may only be a first step, it is a necessary first step to confront the powers that be and to speak truth to power. Either way, without consent, aka complicity, humans cannot multiply their worldly power beyond their own, short, God-given reach. People do bad things, though having their reach limited to a relatively small human scale mitigates the worst of it. When living a human-scale existence we find our kin within grasp — a grasp of hands, minds and hearts. This is enough. To want more, is to trade our humanity for mere stuff. Consent and complicity is required for technologies of death to persist, whether they be armaments or corporations. Let us examine our lives for where they are forged as tools, not as artisans and creators made in the image of God, but as artifacts to be bought and sold. Let us withdraw our consent to such dehumanization and create a joyful dance in which all can freely participate. May you be joyful in your resistance.

POEM: Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Jaden’s skepticism
Was like a cannibalism
That learned to crave
The taste
Of it’s own flesh and blood
And could settle for nothing
Less
Then a connoisseur
Of embalming
Empty vein hopes
Of immortality
In some unremitting pâté
With every golden goose cooked
In a dish best served cold
A first course
Able to stave off
Most kind of appetites
With well-bread relish
Where one helping
Is too much
For the rank and file
Of such a prison
Making ciao of anyone’s best guest
Too have your cake
And not eat it
For what may be
Inside
And passably left

I am very skeptical of skepticism.  Skepticism is most warranted when exploring empirical truths, those facts of the physical world, the realm of reductionistic science.  Skepticism has diminishing returns, and can even become cannibalistic, when applied overzealously to metaphysical or subjective truths.  While skepticism has its place, it can blind ourselves to subtler, higher truths, those of our subjective realm.  Many of such truths in life can only be taken in with a measure of grace.  Those refusing to risk being taken in are at risk for missing out of some of the best things in life.  Hope, love, and faith will wither in the face of unrelenting skepticism.  If your quest is for passable reasons to bypass hope, love, and faith you will almost certainly be rewarded with their loss.  Reducing them to mundane forms of psychological or sociological constructs will strip them of their transcending power.

Unrelenting skepticism is perhaps most dangerous at home, in one’s inner life.  Our own experience is the direct access we have to the world of subjectivity, a world mold-able to our free will.  This direct personal evidence cannot be shared in a verifiable or provable manner with others, as the methods of reductionistic science follow.  This does not mean that such realities experienced do not exist, or that subjectivity does not exist.  It simply means that they fall outside the methods of reductionistic science to examine.  Nonetheless, our experience, or consciousness, is at the center of our lives, not just some afterthought.  Plus, it can offer insights into others, as experiencers of their own human subjectivity.  Knowing thyself is the foundation for knowing others, the most important aspect of navigating the human world.  Metaphysics deserves our attention.

Some committed cynics consider free will an epiphenomenon, a mere shadow, illusion, or ghost, in a deterministic world.  Such determination is unwarranted, and cripples our abilities to perceive the world.  Of course, most people, and most philosophers, recognize that metaphysical realities exist.  To move from perceiving physical realities to perceiving metaphysical realities, one needs to move increasingly from skepticism (doubt) to openness (faith).  Such a move is not blind; it is based on experience.  Still, it requires a growing acceptance of uncertainty.  This veil of uncertainty is somewhat analogous to the veil of uncertainty in reductionistic science.  As our observations and experience grow, the veil moves.  The key difference is that science moves to include knowledge that we can know with scientific certainty, whereas metaphysical knowledge always includes a much greater degree of uncertainty, and the metaphysical veil can never be fully lifted, since it represents an intrinsic limit to human knowledge.  The metaphysical veil has a mysterious nature that becomes self-fulfilling in our approach to it.  If we approach the veil with too much skepticism, our knowledge of higher truths will be stunted and the resulting ignorance will appear as justification for a too constricted veil.  If we venture down the rabbit hole of such things as hope, love, and faith, we learn much more of such higher truths, and the territory once bounded by the veil will recede, even revealing vast expanses previously unimagined.

Fortunately, the payoffs of metaphysical knowledge are well worth the uncertainty and risk. As Saint Thomas Aquinas famously pointed out: “The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things.”  Exploring our own hearts, and risking relationships with others’ hearts requires courage, one of the highest things.  Clinging only to dead stuff, inanimate matter, because it is the most certain is the height of human foolishness.  Here the truth lies, in this grave of lifelessness.  Wisdom resides elsewhere.  Find it and you will find yourself, and a whole world as well.

POEM: Impartiality

Judge Stamper was renown
For his impartiality
Still thinking
Nothing of
Preferring
Stepping on others
Rather than being stepped upon
A justice so becoming
A courting to a void
Deputizing peons
Siding with minute ordnances
Backed up by deferential canons
Allege paper-thin
Untoward the tramped
His honor
Like a frozen statute
Without peers
A connoisseur of contrived generosity
More accustomed to threat than promise
Of a gavel from above
An arbiter of grievances
A master of small sells
To captive audiences
Gleaning threadbare
Take away messages
A requiem of dis interest
Overseers in black dress
Annunciating your last rights
Offering little chance of success
Unless over
A game of squash

This poem is a reflection on the criminal justice system, which is sometimes criminal.  The alleged impartiality is a convenient notion for those doing the judging.  Though if you look impartially at the effects of such a criminal justice system, you’d be hard pressed to say it is fair.  The poor are the most likely to experience injustice at the hands of the criminal justice system.  The same is true for people of color.  The rich are the most likely to have the criminal justice system protect them, or punish their opponents.  One only need look at who is in prison to see that prejudice is rampant, though noting who isn’t in prison surely cements the case.  White collar criminals are much less likely than “common” criminals to be convicted.  Also, if convicted, they receive much less punishment relative to the harm to society.

Well engineered legalisms often bear little resemblance to the truth.  Biases are institutionalized, blind to the injustice they create.  The veneer of objectivity helps shield unconscionable acts from their true effects.  Innocent until proven guilty is often reduced to he’s probably guilty if he was convicted.  This sad state of affairs seems to fit under the moniker of the banality of evil.  In an impersonal system, where human judgment is minimized and legalisms rule, personal responsibility is easily avoided.  The most palpable confrontation with this reality was during the Nuremberg Trials, following the horrors of Nazi Germany in World War II, which gave rise to a famous principle: It is not an acceptable excuse to say “I was just following my superior’s orders.”

The banality of evil is not limited to war crimes, nor international crimes.  The shifting of personal responsibility to an impersonal system is endemic in modern Western civilization.  This is an everyday experience for many, if not most, people.  Such experiences usually take one of the many forms of “I am just following the rules.” The real question should be: “Am I just, following the rules?”

POEM: Compassion Hoard

I may not have bread
And I can afford justice
My feet may be bare
And still
I have wings unseen
A fly on the wall
Reflecting on wear thou art
I cons
A mass
Pining for eternity
I see boxes full of people
Some with bars
Some with stained glass
Awe waiting
For enough compassion
That whored without end
Saving us
In sum coffer
Every talent bared
Under earth
As in heaven
Nails securing
That final wresting place
Claiming one
Again
And again
A trinity of
Applausible deniability
Crossing into hermetic souls
Wading for the rite time
Over countless venerations
Vespering in our years
To take leave of our census
And idol observances
Of mere images
Where weave a cryptic silence
Marching on
A fortified city
Encyclical motion
While trumpets blare
And walls crumble
De-spite all that is yearned
And our judicious will
Hearts do spill
Into the streets
And hands dirty
Embracing a future unwritten
And the present
No longer passed
Hereafter enough
Like know tomorrow

Religion is often confronted with the impossible task of selling compassion.  Sometimes folks recognize that compassion is incarnated into the world by practicing compassion directly.  This both enriches our own experience and models compassion to others.  Talking about the benefits and virtues of compassion may have some value, though mostly in a more academic sense; but for compassion to become real, it must transcend the eddies of the mind on the longest of journeys: from the head to the heart.  This long journey from the head to the heart typically includes on its itinerary works of the feet and hands.  This is the difference between talking about God and experiencing God.  This is quite literally the meaning of Matthew 25:35-36, 40:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Of course, in this poem, I portray the worst in religion: when compassion is whored for self-enrichment, unjust purposes.  Christian scripture has plenty of rousing and poetical indictments of stinky religion; here is one of my favorites:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24)

Much of bad human behavior is rooted in our fear of an uncertain future.  This is the obvious attraction and relative success of securing financial wealth, high status, and powerful positions lording over others.  We want control.  We often want control way beyond what we can control.  Unfortunately, such overreaching creates a host of problems, not the least of which, quite ironically, is a more dangerous and unpredictable world.  Another irony emerges when we realize that grasping for an uncertain, and even unknowable, future we perpetually rob ourselves of the now, the only truly real present within our control. Quite naturally, the present brings forth the future.  Again, plenty of Christian sacred texts are focused on the promise of God responding to our deepest groans and highest dreams by following in God’s way, the way of justice and mercy.  Of course, “following” God is actually “leading” humans because acting in the present without waiting for other humans to follow God is how God’s plan is manifest on earth. Here is one of my favorite scriptural examples of this relationship, or dance, between God’s purposes and human action:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.  (Isaiah 58:6-9)

Where justice and mercy are present, God’s presence is experienced.  This is true of all the gifts of the spirit, such as joy, faith, generosity, patience, and love.  Such experience resides in a place transcending buying and selling.  The mystery is how deeply we want that which cannot be bought and sold.  Somewhat less mysterious, though perhaps at least as baffling, is how our dominant experience of buying and selling — of both ourselves and stuff — short-circuits or crowds out experiencing much deeper realities.  I may not have bread/And I can afford justice.

POEM: Owed to XL

Owed to XL

Something irresistible
Drug from Canada
That must be some wick-ed shit!
What the “eh”
For the land of the free to be
Sold to the highest
Bitter
Everything must go!
“It’s going to happen anyway”
A juggernaut of lemmings
Full of subtle plunder statements
And generations of litter-gation
Brought a bout
By agitators wanting
Neither change nor dollars
Though perhaps
Some green back
And a few bucks
To run free
For if
Not
Just
Chain me
To the pipeline
To the prison
Of another’s drug habit
That makes cents for them
A million caliber fire arm
Into our vain
And heart land
Across to be borne
Again and again
Until we fine
The dose
That kills
It’s called “XL”
As we have a fit
For our over-sized ambitions
Though might
As well
Be one size fits none
Baggy pantsed gangstas
Stuffing their pants
With the stuff legends are made of
Getting under Mother Earth’s kin
And running out
Of patients
And ways to heel
Left in the mutter
There goes the neighborhood
Wondering if
There’s a belt big enough
To hold up
These fuels

I wrote this poem today, at the prompting of yet another fuel fool brandishing the inevitability of the XL pipeline and exploitation of the Canadian boreal forest tar sands strip mining.  Even more shameful, it was a “scientist” claiming metaphysical inevitability.  We don’t HAVE TO strip mine the earth of every fossil fuel to live a good life — in fact, destroying the earth is absolutely incompatible with the good life.

I’m sick and tired of people saying that the Canadian tar sands will be developed with or without the XL pipeline running through US.  It’s just another lame version of the “If I didn’t do it, somebody else would” excuse for not taking responsibility for your actions.  It’s not that complicated.  If your actions are destroying the planet, then you have a responsibility to stop.  Then, you can start working on changing the rest of the world.  It may very well be the exact opposite of leadership to say that you won’t do something until everybody else does it.  I might say that we’ve become a nation of sheep and lemmings, but that would be an insult to sheep and lemmings within whom the moral agency to save the planet does not reside!  We can continue to kick the can down the road, but eventually, it will be Mother Nature kicking our can…

POEM: I Went AWOL

One day
I went
AWOL
A
Well
Ordered
Life
I’m not sure
If anyone noticed
If they did
Judging me
By my backside
I would be too
Looking forward
Mirrorly suggestive
Of one’s self
In what might
A peer
A site to behold
But not
Aiming for the moon
In lieu of stars

Walking away from the dominant and dominating culture is an informal way of going AWOL, that is, the military acronym for Absent WithOut Leave.  In this poem, the AWOL acronym stands for A Well Ordered Life.  When you find yourself facing away from the dominant culture, you can expect that others will judge you by your backside.  In traversing the road less traveled, the price the dominant culture extracts by any counter-cultural behaviors, is more than made up for by aligning oneself with the stars, rather than the moon, a lower site to set for brown-nosers and mere associates of all types.  Much of modern life in Western civilization is built around group identities rather than passionate pioneering.  We idolize celebrities.  We cozy up to those with status and power.  We our often possessed by our possessions, identifying more with what we own than with our own character.

The opposite of traversing down the road less traveled is living vicariously through the lives of others.  Perhaps one of the greatest illustrations of this is in the cinematic great Cool Hand Luke.  I find this movie one of the most way existential movies ever.  The main character, Luke, played by Paul Newman, quickly develops a reputation as a “cool handed” man hell-bent on finding his own way in his own way.  Here I am referring to the “stop feeding off of me” scene, where Luke, broken down, pleads with his fellow inmates to stop pinning all of their hopes and dreams on him; in essence, saying “get a life of your own!”  In this scene, Luke had escaped from the chain-gang for a second time, having been away for a while, stoking freely the fantasies of his fellow inmates left behind.  Here is the script containing that scene from Cool Hand Luke:

It is Saturday afternoon. Carr is distributing mail and
packages, the men clustered around; others lying on bunks,
making wallets, etc.

CARR
Magazines for you, Dragline!

ANGLE ON DRAGLINE

Dragline sits up from his bunk, astonished.

DRAGLINE
Magazines? Who’s sendin’ me magazines?

He looks at the package. Carr has tossed on his bunk.

DRAGLINE
From mah uncle? Ah never heard from
him in eight years and now he’s
sendin’ me magazines. He musta gone
crazy.

He has torn open the package, looks through the magazines,
which are movie fan books, lies back to flip the pages. In
background. Carr is continuing the mail call. Suddenly Dragline’s
eyes widen, his mouth opens, but he catches himself and closes
it before he has revealed himself.

INSERT THE PICTURE

It is taped to page in the magazine. It shows Luke in a suit
and tie, holding up four aces and a joker in one hand, arms
around two buxom over-made strippers. On the table in front
of them is a giant bottle of champagne and glasses. Scrawled
across it is something in Luke’s writing.

ANGLE DRAGLINE KOKO SOCIETY RED OTHERS

Seeing Dragline’s reaction, they have gathered around.

DRAGLINE
Looka that! Two of them. Oh my…

KOKO
I’m dyin’. I’m dyin’.

Dragline suddenly realizes the danger and closes the book so
Carr and the Wicker Man don’t catch on. The others reluctantly
move away. Dragline casually hands the magazine to Society
Red.

DRAGLINE
(whispering)
What’s the writing say?

SOCIETY RED
(opening to the picture, reading)
Dear Boys. Playing it cool. Wish you
were here. Love, Cool Hand Luke.

DRAGLINE
Oh my. Oh my… Give it back here!

Red surrenders the magazine. Dragline opens it again and a
look of pure bliss settles over his face.

KOKO
Lemme see it!

DRAGLINE
(violently)
Get away!

He looks over at Carr but Carr has moved away, is talking to
the Wicker Man, his back to the men. Koko, Loudmouth Steve,
Gambler and the others hurriedly cluster around Dragline.
Their voices are eager intense whispers.

KOKO
Lookit the brunette…

BLIND DICK
The blonde’s gotta better set.

GAMBLER
Some legs.

LOUDMOUTH STEVE
They must be six feet tall.

TATTOO
…And the champagne.

SOCIETY RED
(from his bunk)
Domestic.

TRAMP
Wonder how he got the dough.

ALIBI
He’s probably a salesman. You can
make pretty good money if you know
what your doing in selling.

GAMBLER
A salesman! Cool Hand Luke a salesman?

BLIND DICK
He’s probably a gigolo.

MECHANIC
Or a con artist.

LOUDMOUTH STEVE
The head of the rackets.

KOKO
(reverently)
Oh lookit that brunette.

DRAGLINE
Mah baby! We’re diggin’ and dyin’
but our boy Luke is lovin’ and flyin’.

They all gaze at the picture with loving, dreamy, painful
rapture.

OMITTED

INT. BARRACKS (NIGHT)

Blackass time, dull, sad, boring. Koko sits idly flicking
cards from the poker deck, men staring into space. The cards
sail by Society Red who is clipping his nails.

SOCIETY RED
Stop that.

KOKO
How about you tryin’ to make me?

SOCIETY RED
Oh for…

They slowly subside.

KOKO
Dragline, lemme look at the picture.

DRAGLINE
(feigned innocence)
What for?

LOUDMOUTH STEVE
Yeah, Drag. Get it out for a look.

DRAGLINE
You’re just a kid. Whatta you know
about it? You don’t wanna see that
dirty picture. Luke and those broads
an’ all that booze.

KOKO
Come on, Drag. Lemme take a look.

DRAGLINE
It’d go to your coconut head. You’d
start getting ideas. Maybe even pass
right out.

BLIND DICK
Dragline! Be a buddy!

DRAGLINE
How much you figure it’s worth, a
peek at this here picture? A quick
look, I’m not talkin’ about no
memorizin’ job.

KOKO
A cold drink.

DRAGLINE
A cold drink? You mean one cold drink?
To feast yore starvin’ fishy l’il
eyes on The Picture? A true vision
of Paradise itself? With two of the
angels right there in plain sight a-
friskin’ round with mah boy?

KOKO
A cold drink? Okay?

DRAGLINE
Well — okay. It’s a deal. One cold
drink, if’n you please. In advance.
One chilly bottle right here in mah
hot l’il hand… That goes for the
rest of you mullet-heads, too.

Activity as the men dig out coins to purchase drinks. Dragline
pulls out the magazine and the men all gather round, gazing
into it as though it were a crystal ball. Suddenly the wicker
door slams open and as the men look up…

THEIR P.O.V.

Luke is dumped to the floor, face down, unconscious, by Boss
Paul, Boss Kean, others. The Captain is standing there over
him. Luke wears a new prison uniform and two sets of chains.

CAPTAIN
(to Luke)
You run one time, you got yourself a
set of chains. You run twice, you
got two sets. You ain’t gonna need
no third set because you’re gonna
get your mind right… And I mean
right.

He looks at the men who are stunned by the juxtaposition of
their hero in The Picture and the reality of the unconscious
figure before them.

CAPTAIN
Take a good look at your Cool Hand
Luke.

With his foot he prods Luke over onto his back.

CLOSE ON LUKE

As he rolls over we can see he has been badly beaten.

OMITTED

NEW ANGLE THE MEN

As the Captain turns and walks out past the guards who follow,
and the wicket chute CLANGS shut, Dragline, Koko and others
move forward and gently lift Luke onto the poker table.

DRAGLINE
Oh mah poor baby. They done you real
good… I don’t know if you gonna
have them gals chasin’ after you for
a while…

CLOSE ON LUKE

lying, eyes closed.

SOCIETY RED’S VOICE
I’ve got some aspirin.

KOKO’S VOICE
They half killed him.

ALIBI’S VOICE
He should have a doctor.

DRAGLINE’S VOICE
Don’t you never learn nuthin’? They
ain’t gonna let no doctor see what
they dont to him…

ANGLE ON DRAGLINE, OTHERS

Dragline looks up at Carr who stands hovering above them.

DRAGLINE
Carr, kin we use your razor to clean
up where they cut his head?

Carr moves off to his canteen area.

CLOSE ON LUKE

as Blind Dick, Gambler, others move in…

GAMBLER
How you feelin’, buddy?

TRAMP
He don’t hear.

TATTOO
Somebody get him something to drink.

SOCIETY RED
Here.

Gently he tucks two aspirin tablets into Luke’s mouth, holds
a cup of water to Luke’s mouth. Luke’s eyes slowly open, he
drinks the water.

DRAGLINE
That’s my baby.

KOKO
He’s gonna be awright.

NEW ANGLE ON MEN

as Carr moves in with a razor, bandage, etc. The men clear
to give him room.

KOKO
Luke?… We got the picture! See?

He holds it up.

CLOSE ON LUKE

His eyes squint open, close.

BLIND DICK’S VOICE
A pair of beauties. Best I ever seen.

TATTOO’S VOICE
You really know how to pick ’em.

LOUDMOUTH STEVE’S VOICE
Tell us about ’em. What were they
like?

CLOSE ON LUKE

as his lips open. He speaks slowly, painfully.

LUKE
Picture’s a phoney… Cost me a week’s
pay.

NEW ANGLE THE MEN

KOKO
A phoney? Whatta you mean, a phoney?

GAMBLER
We saw the broads.

BLIND DICK
Yeah. Did you have them both at once
or —

LUKE
It’s a phoney. Made it up just for
you guys.

LOUDMOUTH STEVE
Aw, come on. We saw it all.

TATTOO
The champagne.

TRAMP
Some life.

FIXER
You really had it made.

LUKE
Nothin. I had nothin, made nothin.
Couple towns, couple bosses. Laughed
out loud one day and got turned in.

KOKO
(about to cry)
But — but —

LUKE
That’s all there was. Listen. Open
your eyes. Stop beatin’ it. And stop
feedin’ off me. Now get out of the
way. Give me some air.

Stunned, the men shrink back.

DRAGLINE
He ain’t himself. He’s all beat up.
Cain’t you see that? He don’t know
what he sayin’.

I would definitely recommend watching Cool Hand Luke — again if you’ve already seen it!  Great movie, and a way more entertaining way to get a lesson in existentialism than reading Sartre!

POEM: Picket Fences

More people are imprisoned
By picket fences
Than steel bars
Sometimes by splinters
Sometimes by stakes
Through the heart
Lonely in the end
To come home

Dreams of white picket fences have waylayed many more lives than prisons or jails.  The temptations of desperation and criminality that lead to prison are much more easily identified, and such temptations have obvious negative societal reactions that help keep them in check.  The temptations of materialism and comfort are much more subtle, and even more pervasive.  The structure and mores of Western civilization reinforce, even laud, such temptations.  The fact that the worldview where “greed is good” can persist at all is the best evidence for the backwardness of modern, capitalistic society.  Religious folks have commented that the greatest accomplishment of the devil is to convince you that he doesn’t exist.  This is a stunning metaphor for recognizing the powerful human tendency to downplay, ignore, or even lift to the highest value, our dark side.  Only by a steady awareness of our dark side, and a commitment to an equal compassion for ourselves and others, can we hold in check our baser instincts.  Of course, wrapping our most base instincts in dreams of white picket fences may pass for civilization, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. The sadness and disillusionment reflected in this poem is about the all-too-common reality that chasing our dreams may leave us feeling alone, even in our dream house.  May you set your eyes and heart upon the finest things in life, and wherever this leads you, may you feel at home.

POEM: Chapter 58 – Isaiah

Chapter 58 – Isaiah

Isaiah was a man
A kind of a man
More generous than his wealth
Untouchable by another’s profits
With a frugality beyond any poverty
He was a gentle man
With a purposefulness typically beyond words
Speaking with a clarity too spirited for some
In jail for disturbing the peace
Though he would have said
“I am disturbing the war”
He was a headstrong man
Though less determined than unshakable
His single-mindedness
Exceeded only by a purity of heart
In that instant where mourning breaks
In the face of a rising dawn
Awaking
Following that first night
With an irrepressible smile
On his face
Realizing he is the freest person
He knows
Simply saying
“I really need to get out more”
Fast becoming hungry
Thirst things thirst
In spite of being
Like naked
For I’s guarded
Surrounded by men of this stripe
Wholly innumerable
Ever-present in the passed
His work was before him
A long line of just us
All the same, some lost
Some merely on their way
To share some food with his mates
Then off to work
For there is
No such thing as
Free room and board
From some anonymous uncle
After all the feds
Reckon the rest
As what will follow
When expecting to be herd
As well as something more

This poem is a tribute and extremely loose paraphrase or interpretation of Isaiah 58 in the Bible.  This Old Testament chapter is a classic among lovers of justice.  In this poem, the title alludes to a chapter in the biography of a man.  This modern-day take is inspired by those faithful and devoted workers for justice who commit civil disobedience in the course of their work for social justice.  The setting is a free man who finds himself in prison.  Barring all irony, he is still free!

The only truly obscure reference that I would elucidate springs from the lines: In spite being/Like naked/For I’s guarded.  It’s more easily accessible meaning is a reference to being vulnerable, particularly when at the hands of someone who, like a prison guard, literally oversees your every movement, peering into the bowels of your very being!  The obscurity is in that “Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen 9:20-27).”  In Matthew 5:40, Jesus says, “if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” The theologian and author Walter Wink explains how Jesus instructed his audience, the poor, how to fight back using creative nonviolence, taking advantage of the cultural fact that viewing nakedness is more shameful than being naked:

“…so the debtor parades his nakedness in prophetic protest against a system that has deliberately rendered him destitute.  Imagine him leaving the court, naked: his friends and neighbors, aghast, inquire what happened.  He explains.  They join his growing procession, which now resembles a victory parade.  The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been publicly unmasked.  The creditor is revealed to be not a legitimate moneylender but a party to the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness, destitution, and abasement.  This unmasking is not simply punitive, therefore; it offers the creditor a chance to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, what his practices cause, and to repent.
     The Powers That Be literally stand on their dignity.  Nothing depotentiates them faster than deft lampooning.  By refusing to be awed by their power, the powerless are emboldened to seize the initiative, even where structural change is not immediately possible.  This message, far from being a counsel to perfection unattainable in this life, is a practical, strategic measure for empowering the oppressed, and it is being lived out all over the world today by powerless people ready to take their history into their own hands.
     Jesus provides here a hint of how to take on the entire system by unmasking its essential cruelty and burlesquing its pretensions to justice.  Here is a poor man who will no longer be treated as a sponge to be squeezed dry by the rich.  He accepts the laws as they stand, pushes them to absurdity, and reveals them for what they have become.  He strips naked, walks out before his fellows, and leaves this creditor, and the whole economic edifice which he represents, stark naked.”

I encourage you read the full article by Walter Wink, Beyond Just War and Pacifism: Jesus’ Nonviolent Way, where Dr. Wink outlines three of methods of creative nonviolent disobedience that Jesus taught, from Mathew 5:38-41 (NIV): “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”  One of the truly magnificent revelations in this article is how it illustrates the extent to which Jesus’ teachings are commonly misunderstood; or perhaps more to the point, often understood as the exact opposite of what Jesus meant!

The spirit of Jesus is manifest in the scripture inspiring this poem, Isaiah 58 (NIV).  It is no accident that Jesus quotes Isaiah to kick off his public ministry!  The heading for this chapter is usually rendered, “True Fasting;”

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.