Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chicago Sister City Campaign Update:

Now Showing: Israeli Apartheid

Coming Soon: A Free Palestine

Last Thursday, members of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and the Palestine Solidarity Group demonstrated at the opening of the Reel Real Israel film festival, a project of the Chicago Sister City program. We are continuing to pressure the city of Chicago to end it's relationship with Petak Tikva, an Israeli city known as Israel's Guantanamo. Petak Tikva is home to an Israeli detention center where Palestinians, like activist Ameer Makhoul, are detained and tortured. Our community doesn't want to support human rights abuses, like torture, so we say no to Petak Tikva. Thursday's demonstration was colorful and lively, complete with a mock academy awards ceremony in which we award the Chicago Sister Cities program a "best supporting actor" award for its support of Israel. Sam published a great report about the demonstration on his blog. Stay tuned here for how you can support the campaign.

Rachel Corrie in Wonderland: The Identity of Rachel Corrie's Killer kept Secret by Israeli Court

In Haifa, we have all fallen down the rabbit hole and into the Israeli legal system. Last Tuesday, the driver of the bulldozer who crushed Rachel Corrie testified in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the Corrie family. The former soldier has already been cleared of wrongdoing in an internal army investigation. This trial is last hope for the Corrie family to find justice for their daughter. It is one final opportunity for the Corries to hold the Israeli government responsible for what it has done and continues to do to unarmed civilians.

The driver gave this testimony from a screen designed to protect his identity. Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, said, “We were disappointed not to see the whole human being. It is a personal affront that the state’s attorneys and Israeli government, on the basis of security, chose to keep our family from seeing the witness.”

In this testimony, the driver of the bulldozer was unable to remember the facts of the case, like the date of Rachel's killing or the time of day when it took place. He seemed to struggle to read and understand his own affidavit and repeatedly contradicted his own statements. He couldn't even remember Rachel's name.

Curiouser and curiouser.

A couple of days after the testimony, my friend Amy and I attended a production of the controversial play “My Name is Rachel Corrie” organized by the DePaul University Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. Through the words Rachel's own journal entries, letters, and articles, this play reveals the motivations, fears, joys and vivid imagination of Rachel as she traveled to Gaza to stand in solidarity with Palestinians. The play is a little short, in the opinion of this activist, on the voices of Rachel's Palestinian colleagues. But it is a truly beautiful inquiry into the question of how one can lead a life mindful of the connections between all people. Over and over, Rachel asks herself how she, as a white, middle class, American, can live ethically in a world of such tremendous power imbalances. Here is one of my favorite lines in the play:

We are all born and someday we’ll all die. Most likely to some degree alone.What if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy? What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid? What if our aloneness is what allows us to adventure – to experience the world as a dynamic presence – as a changeable, interactive thing?

If I lived in Bosnia or Rwanda or who knows where else, needless death wouldn’t be a distant symbol to me, it wouldn’t be a metaphor, it would be a reality.

And I have no right to this metaphor. But I use it to console myself. To give a fraction of meaning to something enormous and needless.

This realization. This realization that I will live my life in this world where I have privileges.

I can’t cool boiling waters in Russia. I can’t be Picasso. I can’t be Jesus. I can’t save the planet single-handedly.

I can wash dishes.

Just as Rachel comes up with no easy answer, I can bring this essay to no real conclusion. Testimony in the Corrie's lawsuit continues. Meanwhile, an Israeli court sentenced Palestinian activist Adeeb Abu Rahmah to 18 months imprisonment for demonstrating against the wall in Bil'in. In Tuwani, settlers continue to attack Palestinians. And me? Honestly? I just miss my friends in Tuwani. I cried throughout the play, not because of any of Rachel's words, but just because I missed them. But here are a few more words for Rachel Corrie. As we linger, waiting on the Israeli court system to let the Corrie family out of Wonderland, may they be comforting.

We should be inspired by people... who show that human beings can be kind, brave, generous, beautiful, strong-even in the most difficult circumstances.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Activism and the Social Media Revolution: What does it mean for us?

The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.
The New Yorker has published an article called "Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted" and it has me thinking about social-media based activism. I strongly recommend reading this article - it's the first article about social-media based activism I've read that actually understands the dynamics of social change, namely that meaningful social change is strategic and high risk. In other words, social change requires exactly what social networking, by nature, cannot provide. I don't agree with everything this article says, but it has me thinking. Social networking is a tool and I think it's easy to lose sight of what that tool does well.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

This Columbus Day, Reconsider Our Nakba

This Monday is Columbus Day. I want to join the voices in the above video and ask you to reconsider how you think of Columbus and the history of the Western hemisphere. Even though our history books take great pains to cover it up, the arrival of Columbus in the so-called "New World" was certain the beginning of a catastrophe for the indigenous people. In Arabic the word for catastrophe is nakba and it is what Palestinian call the events that lead to the founding of the state of Israel.

During the nakba, approximately 725,000 Palestinians fled or were forcibly expelled from their homes. Many Palestinians were afraid of being attacked by Israelis. They left their homes, often clutching their keys and expecting to return home soon. Others were forced out of their homes at gun point. The result? The ethnic cleansing of most of Palestine. Today, many refugees still waiting in over-crowded, under-served camps outside of the land Israel claimed. This history, much like the history of Columbus' crimes, has been denied by Israelis.

Funny, it's often far easier for USAers to recognize the horror the Palestinian nakba than the admit to the history of our country. In his book A People's History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn quotes Columbus' own account of meeting the Arawak people, the first indigenous people he encountered.

They ... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned... . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... . They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

And subjugate the Arawaks he did. Columbus enslaved the people he met, exploited their land, and showed little regard for anything but gold and power. By 1650, no Arawaks remained. Through disease, mutilation, suicide, and murder, they all died. While Israelis committed ethnic cleaning against Palestinian, Columbus began a process of genocide.

I know Palestinians who survived the nabak. I've sat in refugee campus, ate with Palestinians who expect to die before they are able to see the homes they left, hung out with friends of mine who now live in the United States, but can still name the village their parents were driven from. The nabka, no matter how it is denied, is real for them. What happened in 1948 hasn't ended. The same is true for my Native friends. They are the decedents of the people who survive the process of colonization that Columbus started. This process hasn't ended. It impacts their lives today.

Both the nakba and the catastrophe that began with Columbus are denied by the people who benefit from them. I hope that by looking at the parallels between the situation in Palestine and the situation in US - and they are parallels only - I can chip away some of this denial. Still, I know that this blog post may not change anyone's mind. But I just have this to say - denial doesn't erase the past. What we refuse to acknowledge is no less real. Whatever history we will not face, the present is same: the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere and of Palestine need justice and they need it now. We all do.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


(Press Release from the Committee to Stop FBI Repression)

Chicago, October 5th, 2010, five anti-war and international solidarity activists from Chicago and Minneapolis announced they are invoking their 5th amendment right to not testify in front of a Grand Jury investigation. Stephanie Weiner, one of those raided and subpoenaed spoke to 150 supporters at a press conference outside the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago, “This is an attack on the anti-war movement, but the strong response of our movement, where more than 61 protests in cities across the country, makes it absolutely clear that this is about more than just 14 activists in the Midwest. It is an attempt to limit the voice of anti-war, peace, and international solidarity activists.”

The five signed letters to Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox. They informed him of their decision to invoke their 5th amendment rights to not testify. One of those subpoenaed to appear today, Meredith Aby of the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, said, “Our opposition to U.S. war and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, our scathing criticism of U.S. government support for repressive regimes and death squads in Colombia and Israel is well known and public. This attempt to criminalize the fourteen of us in the anti-war movement must be stopped. The Grand Jury should be ended. There should be no charges.”

Joe Iosbaker stated, “We have nothing to say to a Grand Jury. Most people do not understand how secretive and undemocratic the Grand Jury is. I am not allowed to have my lawyer with me. There isn’t even a judge. How strange is that? It is the U.S. prosecutor with 23 people they hand picked to pretty much rubber stamp whatever the prosecutor says. A person is defenseless in that situation.”

Jim Fennerty an attorney working to defend the activists said, “Assistant U.S. Attorney Fox is cancelling the subpoenas for the five due to appear today. This does not put an end to the Grand Jury investigation however. Fox can reissue subpoenas for new dates or decide to arrest the activists and charge them with crimes.”

Activists organized a successful National Call In Day yesterday, with thousands phoning to demand that President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Holder publicly call off the Grand Jury investigation.

For more information www.stopfbi.net

Updates from "I Saw it in Palestine": Grand Jury Investigations, Graphic Novels, Speaking Tours

Well, I don't know about all of you, but I'm tired. Things have been busy in my life. Here's a little run down of the most important things going on.

1. Midwest Anti-War Activists Refuse to Testify to Grand Jury I'll keep you updated as the story unfolds

2. The first draft of the script for my graphic novel about At-Tuwani is nearly finished. I've got four more comic strips to write and then it will be time to start designing the panels and pulling the script together. I'm giving myself four more days to work on the script and then I will be moving on in the process because momentum is a powerful force. It's very exciting!

3. We're still fund-raising for the 2010 Tuwani Women's Coop Speaking Tour. I'll be honest, we're still a long way from reaching our goal. We need your help. Can you take a moment to spread the word about the project? Send out an email, post it to your blog, tell your wealthy friends (I'm still trying to make some wealthy friends...), do something. And if you can, leave a comment and tell me about it. To all of you who have already donated, thank you! All of the information that you need to donate or share the project is right here: http://tinyurl.com/donate4TuwaniWomensTour

Friday, October 01, 2010

Press Release: Vancouver activists gather to protest FBI raids on anti-war activists in the Midwest

Here's a shout out to my home town and the awesome activists there. Thanks, everybody!

(Vancouver, October 1, 2010) On Friday October 1 at 4:15 pm until 5:30 pm Vancouver peace and justice activists will gather with banners on the Evergreen Blvd I-5 overpass to protest the FBI home raids and other investigations of anti-war activists in the Midwest one week ago.

Vancouver for Peace and other Vancouver residents will be protesting in solidarity with the anti-war and international activists whose homes were recently raided by the FBI. On Friday, September 24, 2010 the FBI raided seven houses and an office in Chicago and Minneapolis in an attempt to collect evidence of 'material support' of terrorism. The FBI also handed subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury to eleven activists in Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan. The FBI emphasized that no arrests are expected. However, a spokesperson for the FBI added that ”they were seeking evidence related to ongoing Joint Terrorism Task force investigation," according to the New York Times.

Vancouver peace and justice activists believe the Federal Bureau of Investigation raids threaten the First Amendment and suppress civil liberties. These local activists believe FBI spying on humanitarian advocates and harassing anti-war and solidarity activists should be denounced.

“These raids were aimed at those who dedicate their time and energy to protest U.S. wars of choice and to support the struggles of the Palestinian and Colombian peoples against U.S. funding of military and security forces that violate their human rights, “ said Mike Ellison of Vancouver for Peace. “The systematic and simultaneous raids by FBI officials in multiple locations is alarming and appears to indicate an attempt to stifle and silence the political speech of people of conscience through fear tactics. We stand with our fellow activists in the Midwest and call on the Department of Justice and the FBI to return people’s property and stop this grand jury investigation.”