Poem for Eustace St. Meeting

In this time of such turbulence and strife
We come into the Silence and here reclaim our life

The powers of the world outside may be deeply shaken
But here, within, the Spirit quietly awakens

And when the touch of Light has eased our pain
We can re-emerge to face the World again

(written at Eustace St. Friends Meeting, Dublin, 5 March 2017)

A Green Year – updated version available

Start by looking over the “Ten Key Values” and “Four Pillars” of the Green Movement. You might notice that the Key Values can be distributed under each of the Pillars in an almost symmetrical way…

As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that with the addition of a couple of values, we could make four sets of three, and assign each Value to a month, and each Pillar to a season – thereby setting up a kind of canonical Green Year, that could then be used as a framework for Greens and Green groups.

So I added two, and tweaked some of the terminology a little bit. Here’s the result I came up with. Feel free to make your own adjustments – I know that not every Green will approve of some of my word choices (which is why I’m not submitting this for any kind of organizational imprimatur ;*).

Here’s a brochure version: GREEN YEAR brochure 3.5

For more information, see agreenyear.wordpress.com

WINTER
PILLAR: PEACE
First Month (January) – Nonviolence (Dr. King’s Birthday)
Second Month (February) – Restorative Justice (Black History Month)
Third Month (March) – Feminist Values (Women’s History Month)

SPRING
PILLAR: ECOLOGY
First Month (April) – Ecological Wisdom (Earth Day)
Second Month (May) – Future Focus/Sustainability
Third Month (June) – Personal & Global Responsibility

SUMMER
PILLAR: COMMUNITY
First Month (July) – Social Justice
Second Month (August) – Respect for Diversity
Third Month (September) – Community-Based Economics (Labor Day)

AUTUMN
PILLAR: DEMOCRACY
First Month (October) – Active Engagement
Second Month (November) – Grassroots Democracy (Election Day)
Third Month (December) – Decentralization

NOTES

  1. You can either count the months using the equinoxes and solstices as your starting points, or use the standard calendar months. (Alternatively, consider using the overlaps to reflect on the connections between these topics…!)
  2. I have included some key holidays and commemorations that relate to certain values – let me know if there are other special events that could be linked.
  3. Also let me know if you think the order of values within a season should be changed.
  4. Under “Restorative Justice” (the meaning of which can be found here) I also mean to include such notions as mercy and forgiveness.
  5. By “Active Engagement” I mean encouraging citizens to undertake ongoing participation in democracy – not just by voting, but staying informed, writing to elected officials, etc.  If you look back on the original 10KV statement, you’ll see that the “Grassroots Democracy” value is more about setting up systems that allow particpation – this value is about making sure that people use their power.

How Much

HOW MUCH
a country lament by Blind Peanut Nicholson

So how much for some simple friction
Or a nuzzle on the ear
How much for you to listen
While I tell you my darkest fears

How much for you to show me
The dreams you keep hidden inside
How much for us to just be here
Breathing side by side

(bridge)
How much for you to notice
The pain I can’t express
I didn’t come here to drink overpriced beer
Or to watch someone undress

How much for you to hold me
How much to let me cry
How much do you charge for a reason to live
Or some comfort before I die
How much do you charge for a reason to live
Or some comfort before I die

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: REYKJAVIK AND THE PERILS OF MONOCULTURE

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler left the United States on January 19, and is headed towards the Eastern Mediterranean to help with refugee assistance. He’s taking a few stops along the way…)

You notice it as soon as you get off the plane at Keflavik Airport, about 50 kilometers from Reykjavík. It’d be hard to miss, actually.

Practically all the signage – welcoming you to Iceland, directing you to baggage claim, encouraging you to purchase some luxury item or other from the duty-free shop – is in English.

It’s quite a nice gesture, really, designed quite purposefully to make Anglophones not just from the US and British Isles but from all over the world feel welcomed, and allow folks to avoid having to wrestle with the bearishly difficult Icelandic language.

And it’s been a very successful choice. Even in the dead of winter, tourism has become a huge part of Iceland’s economy.

But there’s a price to pay, and a careful balance to maintain.

The Roadhouse is an American-themed restaurant, located across a street with the wonderful name of Snorrabraut from one of the hostels where I stayed. The featured burgers are a bit over-the-top even by American standards – one is served on a doughnut, and another comes graced with a couple of dollops of mac’n’cheese – but the people were friendly and the fries really were excellent. I had some great conversations with the personnel, including a couple of native Icelandic waitstaff and their Japanese-Indonesian-Hispanic (!) manager. They agreed that making aspects of Iceland seem more familiar and accessible to tourists, while certainly good for business, also threatened to override some of the characteristics of Icelandic culture that make it such an interesting destination in the first place, as well as a tightly-knit society.

The notion of “globalization” implies different things to different people, and they respond to it (or rebel against it) in different ways. The “alt-right” neo-nationalists, like Trump chief of staff Steve Bannon, see it as a threat not just to national sovereignty but also ethnic and racial identity. They would rather see everyone pull back into tightly controlled and insular “ethno-states,” with minimal interaction and even less blending. They present their vision as the only alternative to sacrificing one’s uniqueness on the altar of commerce, and then use that false dichotomy as a cover for promoting their racist and supremacist ideology.

But that is far from the only alternative. If there is to be a global “monoculture,” it must be one that serves as background, not bulldozer – one that allows local cultures to stand out, flourish, and survive. There should be no conflict between the preservation of one’s own traditional heritage and participation in global exchanges.

A friend I met invited me to see her neighborhood in the southeastern suburbs of Reykjavik. We walked along snowy sidewalks to the local branch library, which was hosting a traveling exhibition of Japanese dolls, sponsored by the Japan Foundation. Some of the more formal dolls were exquisite studies in porcelain and cloth, remarkably detailed. I marveled, not just at the artistry, but at all that had brought me and this exhibit together, in a small-town library at the top of our confused but deeply interconnected world.

How It Ends for Donald

Dear Donald,

I have seen your end. It’s not pretty.

It happens at a rally, of course. One of those rallies that you love so much, that feed the gaping hunger in your soul. You are on a roll, and they’re loving it, they’re eating it up, you can tell them anything, promise them anything, ask them to do anything…

But then you slip. You get carried away by the moment, by the intoxicating power. Something comes out of your mouth that you didn’t expect. Something that breaks the spell. The roaring cheer that you expect doesn’t come. Instead, there is silence – an awful, awkward, painful … silence.

You look to your advisors, but they are staring at you, mouths agape. That wasn’t in the script, their faces tell you. You weren’t supposed to go there, not yet, it’s still too soon…

But you went there. And now the crowd is turning.

What happens next seems to be in slow motion. The Secret Service men come to surround you, guns drawn, faces grim, but it’s too late. The crowd has every exit covered. They swarm over the stage like a tsunami, bodies climbing over bodies, the faces that moments before were radiant with adoration now twisted into masks of betrayal and rage. They reach for you, grab at you, yank on your arms, clutch your pants, your feet… and the last thing you hear as you are lifted over their heads, as you feel your joints and tendons giving way, your fine clothes tearing, your heart exploding, is their chant:

“FAKER… FAKER… FAKER…”

TORONTO AND THE PROMISE OF POLYCULTURALISM

Reports from the Road #2: TORONTO AND THE PROMISE OF POLYCULTURALISM

There were so many choices for dinner, just along that particular two-block stretch in Midtown Toronto, I hardly knew where to turn. Moroccan, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Chinese… I picked one more or less at random, a Chinese restaurant, and settled in with a Tsingtao and some delicious mushroom egg-drop soup. I knew I’d found a good spot when a gaggle of Chinese students came in for dinner. As I wrestled with some unfamiliar vegetable (gai lan, I found out later – Chinese broccoli), they kept up a steady stream of laughter and conversation, delighting in each other’s company. The staff was also clearly pleased to have them there, as they brought out dish after dish for a family-style repast.

It occurred to me that these folks had probably not come to Canada to gain an appreciation of poutine and hockey – that is, not to be assimilated or digested into some generic one-size-fits-all kind of Canadian identity. They also hadn’t come to take over and enforce their own cultural norms. Rather, they came to benefit from and contribute to a vibrant and varied society. I thought of the young Punjabi women I had talked to in Niagara Falls, who were studying nursing and early childhood education, and preparing to take their skills back home. I thought of the elderly Colombian gentleman I had met in a pub, a chef who had come to Montreal to work on his French before heading for culinary school in France – but who found love instead, and stayed put.

Toronto has a long-standing reputation as one of the most diverse and multicultural cities on the planet, and from what I’ve seen it’s well deserved. Conflicts here seem to be more class-based, as hard-driving developers (from many different nationalities!) put pressure on neighborhoods to allow more and more high-priced luxury condo development.  Ethnic communities, where they have developed, get nudged further out towards the suburbs.   

But they not only coexist, they interact, and cross-fertilize.

As I understand it, there’s a difference between “multiculturalism” – where different cultural communities exist in close proximity, but within distinct borders, and claim certain physical and ideological spaces as their own – and what some call “polyculturalism,” where there is more openness towards hybridization, and a recognition that the overall community is in fact greater than the sum of its parts. So we can see things here like “Pad Thai burritos” – and even a Japanese variant of poutine, French fries and cheese curds covered with Japanese curry gravy with seaweed and scallions.

One of the things that I am interested in exploring and learning more about during this trip is how such polycultural societies are created – and more importantly, maintained. It seems to me that learning to exist in multiple worlds, so to speak – to be a part of one’s communities of heritage but also part of something larger – could be an important skill for avoiding the kinds of intercultural conflicts that threaten to tear our country (and our planet) apart literally at the seams.

Report from Rainbow Bridge

 Reports from the Road, #1: Report from Rainbow Bridge

20 January 2017

It was cold, damp, and lonely on the Rainbow Bridge.

I was sitting quietly, alone, there on the bridge, quite literally on the border between the US and Canada, hundreds of feet above the Niagara River.  (Yes, you might say I was putting my butt on the line.) Hundreds of miles to my south-southeast, a scowling orange man was about to rest his hand on a Bible, and make a solemn promise that no one (least of all me) expected him to be able or willing to keep.

On either end of the Rainbow Bridge sits a city called Niagara Falls, one in New York, one in Ontario.  Both are studies in contrast, the ritzy hotels and attractions of the tourist districts surrounded by drab but adequate working-class neighborhoods. I noticed that from my viewpoint on the bridge, the two cities shared one common feature: the brightly lit word “CASINO.” (Curiously enough, the name of the man with his hand on that Bible in Washington DC had nothing to do with the casinos on either side, at least not yet.)

usa-sideI sat on the American side of the border to begin with. Only a couple of pairs of tourists walked by – young people, maybe even honeymooners.  They smiled at me sympathetically – perhaps they understood why I was there – but they did not stop long to talk.

I looked up at the two flagpoles in front of me.

flags

The Canadian flag on my left waved and fluttered properly in the mild breeze – but its neighbor, strangely enough, remained unmoved, flaccid, listless. It seemed depressed. Perhaps, in some sense, it knew what was happening in that city so far away.

As noon approached, I moved.canada-side

It was a simple enough act – a mere schooching of only a few inches – but I felt it.

It was my acknowledgment to myself that I was leaving something, something that would never exist again in quite the same way.

I sat in sober contemplation of this fact for a while – and then I heard the helicopter overhead. As I watched it fly by, it suddenly occurred to me that my position – and the small pack that I was carrying on my lap – might arouse suspicions. Perhaps one of those couples had made a comment – “There’s some guy sitting on the bridge, and he has a package in his lap. He seemed depressed about something.”

So it was time to leave – but I also realized in that moment that I had one more thing to do, one more gesture to make… an obvious one…

So I made a wall. A mime wall, following the border. I worked my way back and forth along it, across the sidewalk, for a couple of minutes, tears welling in my eyes.

Then I noticed the policemen coming from the American side.

.

cops

(Do you see them? Look closely.)

They weren’t running, exactly, but they were walking towards me with clear intent and purpose, and more than a little urgency. I decided to allay their fears. I walked away a few steps, turned, and waved a big “Don’t worry, I’m harmless” farewell wave. They waved back, regrouped, and returned (relieved, I imagine) to their side.

 

So I was seen. My little gesture got a response. Maybe they even understood.

That’s about all I could have asked for, I suppose.