Choosing a Tribe

It all started with Howard Zinn.  A few years ago, I stumbled across a book entitled, “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress,” by a man named Howard Zinn.  The title sounded enticing, so I did something out of character and bought it without having opened it.

The book sat idle for a few weeks as I tried to find time to read it.  I discovered it was a selection of essays, making it easier to read in bits and pieces.  I started reading a chapter each night at bedtime and was quickly hooked. 

Zinn wrote with passion, and articulated concepts I had often felt swirling wordlessly around inside me; his words were a call to action.  I felt like I saw his soul, and admired his steely resolve of integrity, combined with genuine warmth and compassion.  I found myself dog-earing pages, and underlining and starring section after section of his words.  I had found a hero.

My “do-gooder” nature over the years has earned me some good-natured ribbing and the nickname of “Mrs. Justice” from my kids, but Howard Zinn understood.  His words validated my need for “do-gooding,” but also struck a deeper chord, because Zinn was a historian extraordinaire.  He gave a voice to those historically voiceless, and I realized that they are us, and all of us depend on all of us to do something.  Anything and everything makes a difference.  As Zinn illustrated in story after story, common people like you and me were the ones who changed the world, not leaders and politicians.  Not only do we have the right to be do-gooders; we have a responsibility.  I should probably mention here that I really hated history class, and skipped school at every opportunity to avoid it; now history had come alive.

About four days into my nightly Zinn-reading routine, I had a powerful and vivid dream.  I was part of an ancient and powerful nomadic tribe, living in a plains area.  Another smaller, peaceful tribe lived nearby, and I had become friends with a little boy from that tribe, about eight years old (I’m not sure of my age or gender in this dream; I guess it wasn’t relevant).  For some time, my tribe had been tormenting this other tribe, and I watched in unspeakable horror as adults from my own tribe beat this boy brutally, then drowned him in a stream, laughing raucously.  I knew in that moment that I was leaving my tribe, to live with the smaller, weaker tribe.  I also knew the decision would result in my death, but I was at peace with that; it was better than being one of the killers, and I would die standing with MY people.

I woke in tears.  I didn’t see the outcome of the dream and didn’t need to.  I had chosen my tribe.

After that night, I began standing peace vigil, and reading and learning all I could about creating peace… writings by politicians, faith leaders, former soldiers, people living in war zones, and ordinary folks like Peace Pilgrim.  I try to be mindful every day about standing on the side of peace, and not letting down my tribe. 

I’ll leave it to you to think about who my tribe is, but if you stand for peace, I will stand with you.  I know that Howard Zinn would too.

"The trouble is that once you see it, you can't unsee it. And once you've seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There's no innocence. Either way, you're accountable."  Arundhati Roy

Bread and Peace

My tiny rural town has a thrift bakery that has been there for decades.  Within walking distance are three low-income apartment complexes.  Historically, our economy has relied on four industries: dairy farming, fishing, logging, and tourism.  The local dairy industry has been largely dominated by a handful of local pioneer families, the fishing and logging industries have fallen into decline, and the tourism industry has consisted mostly of minimum-wage hospitality jobs, many of which are seasonal.  

This paints a bleak picture for our local economy, and underscores the need for a low-cost place for families to buy whole-grain bread, eggs, dairy, and other staples.  The Tillamook Franz Bakery Outlet has been that place.  In recent months, sales have suffered, leading the corporate office in another town to announce the store’s pending closure. 

For over half of the last year, the road on both sides of the store were nearly impassible, due to a construction project that seemed to take forever.  The road was closed, and even when it was reopened, the roads were still difficult.  People continue to avoid that stretch of road even now, as driving it entails negotiating an obstacle course of manhole covers that jut inches above the unfinished pavement.  In the local paper, a spokesman for the store’s parent company minimized the impact of the road closure on sales; locals know better.

It hadn’t occurred to me that there was any chance of the corporation changing their minds about closing the store, but I thought if they were going to close it, they ought to at least hear the truth of the matter: YES, that road closure DID matter, and locals are very upset about the closure and the impact it will have on our community.  On a whim, I looked up the company online, and called.  To my surprise, I encountered a friendly CEO who answered his own phone.  We had a nice chat, and to my surprise, he has agreed to reconsider the closure if sales improve.  I was impressed, so I posted details of the call to my Facebook page, encouraging people to shop at the store, and call the CEO to tell him of the commitment to keep it open.

A friend of mine created a Facebook event, using my original post, to “Save Tillamook Franz Bakery Outlet,” and as of this writing 270 people have signed onto this event to demonstrate their commitment to help keep this local asset.  There is also a write-up in the local paper.  The outcome remains to be seen, but I have high hopes.  I joked with the reporter from the paper, who is a friend of mine, that here I stand week after week at peace vigil, and sometimes feel so hopeless, but one call to a bread store…  !  It has kind of taken on a life of its own.

Many people are overwhelmed at the idea of creating peace.  It feels so daunting, so universal, yet peace is created in simple ways. Feeding the hungry creates peace, even if it’s just trying to keep low-cost food accessible to low-income families.  It can be other simple acts, such as making a phone call, writing a letter, interrupting a hateful remark, or sticking up for someone being bullied.  When we expand our definition of peace to include social and economic justice, and bringing comfort to others, it becomes so simple.  Peace can be a lifestyle!  Life, after all, is comprised of a series of individual moments; it’s how we spend those moments. 

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I am reminded that every single one of us, with each simple deed, is part of a larger process, the big picture.  To me, as corny as it may sound, this is bigger than a bread store.  It’s about the inspiration we can provide to one another.  I have been touched by the huge response to this by people who care enough about their community to take one small action.  Whether or not the bread store survives, the effort to save it has brought people together to do something good, and that IS a big deal.  The way we build community is the way we build peace: one action at a time.  Every small act of kindness counts, just like the ocean is made up of billions of tiny drops of water.  It’s when they band together, they become powerful.  For every Gandhi, for every Rosa Parks, for every Martin Luther King, there are countless others of us and we ALL make a difference.

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Peace Out Loud

This is a post I have really been looking forward to writing ever since I started my blog, because it’s about who I really am, what I stand for, and why I decided to start a blog.

I work for a non-profit that helps violence survivors and part of our goal is to educate and raise awareness to help our community to prevent violence. In my spare time, I am a peace activist, as much as I have time to be while playing a very active role in the lives of my grandchildren. I wouldn’t have any of this any other way!

Every Friday evening, a small group of us stands peace vigil in our small, rural town… often only two of us, but that’s okay. We stand as a human reminder that yes, there’s still a war going on, several in fact, and they need to stop. We stand for the people who can’t: the troops who are sent far from their families to fight in a battle that isn’t theirs, for those who won’t come home (on all sides of the battle; the “enemy” has family too), and for those living in the war zones. There are other reasons why we stand; I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now, and my friend Linda has been standing since the very beginning of the war, shortly after 9/11. Maybe the biggest reason is the need to, literally, take a stand for peace.

When I started, a couple of years ago, I noticed that we were frequently flipped off, screamed at, etc., by passers-by. But I felt very passionate about why I stood and those people only made me stronger. Over the past several months, I have experienced a change in attitude. More people honk, and give us thumbs up and other positive feedback, than ever before, and the rude gestures and remarks are fewer and further between. I think people are beginning to get as fed up as we are.

As time went by, I decided that reading about peace and standing vigil was nowhere near enough. I started using my Facebook page to promote peace. It started with a month-long effort to post a song about peace each day; this ended up going on for several months, at which point, I switched to posting a peace/anti-war quote each day. I continue to do this daily.

I have become much more outspoken than I used to be; to be honest, I can’t NOT be outspoken about a life or death issue that impacts every human on earth. I have not shied away from posting videos and photos showing the real devastation of war that network TV doesn’t want the public to see. I have promoted sites and efforts to resist the military draft, because our young people deserve better than that.

It takes more than the bombing to stop to create peace, although that’s a start. I see peace as a very holistic thing. Peace, like violence, can occur on all levels. Individual peace leads to more peaceful interpersonal relationships. It’s hard to be hateful and angry at others when you are happy with yourself. Once you reach the point of not carrying that anger and fear and malcontent, it’s much easier to create peace on a larger level. An example is speaking out against racism, and in favor of more peaceful means of communication. Violence becomes unthinkable and abhorrent. All the things that we as humans fight about seem petty and childish. On a global level, I really do believe that peace can be achieved. But it starts within each of us to care enough to talk about it.

Peace is about so much more than peace signs and hippies and tie-dye… it’s a way of life. It’s not wishful thinking; it’s faith in action. It isn’t always easy. It means choosing non-violence, no matter how justified violence may seem. It means respecting people, even if they are being disrespectful. It means being open to new ways to handle conflict that respect the person and the situation, then teaching it to our children and to others. Finding the good in someone you are angry with is a victory, not a weakness. And it means understanding the concept of karma: that revenge is pointless, because the person who hurt you has already created bad energy and you don’t need to go and create it too. It means listening, mediating, negotiating, and putting pride aside. These are values that traditionally have not been valued in our society, but I believe that, like many things, things are starting to change. Each generation seems to inch its way a little closer. The struggle for equality and civil rights didn’t begin or end in the 60’s; it’s on a continuum, and old, intolerant beliefs continue to be challenged and dismantled. I believe this is growing, as younger generations see the futility and stupidity in the previous oppressive behaviors.

Obviously, none of us are perfect, and we all fall short, but these are my goals in my daily life. Peace is hard work. But it can be habit-forming, because it feels good to live with purpose. We do each make a difference, you know. It’s just a matter of what kind of difference we make.

Peace can be created consciously. So how do we work more effectively toward world peace? I believe the keys are education and non-judgment. That takes effort, and it means having an open mind and doing research. If I hear something inflammatory about a particular group of people, I tend to distrust it immediately. After all, are you the same as every other person of your skin color, gender, religion, etc.? Of course not, and nobody else is all the same either. Whenever I hear stereotyping, I discount it, because I don’t believe in stereotyping. The best weapon against hateful thinking is facts. When I hear something that sounds like hate propaganda, I research it and refute it with facts. Needless to say, not everyone enjoys being corrected when they are trying to justify hateful beliefs, but I think it’s important to prevent the spread of misinformation. This is especially true when hateful stereotyping has led to violence, such as the racial profiling and hate crimes against people of Middle Eastern descent after 9/11. We can do better than this.

Another way to promote peace is by talking to combat veterans, especially in these most recent wars. Hear the truth, instead of the prime-time television pablum you have been fed. Realize that our money is being used to prop up the false concept of American exceptionalism, which essentially means, “we are Americans so we are better than you.” This kind of concept does not create peace. It causes resentment, and rightfully so. We are not better, and we are all just human. I am always baffled by people who refer to themselves as Christians who ascribe to this type of thinking… I don’t think Christ (the Prince of Peace) would be pleased with this arrogance.

This is also part of the reason I refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag. While others recite the verse they are told to recite, I stand with my hand over my heart and silently pray. I pray for those innocents we have killed, I pray for the American soldiers needlessly in harm’s way, and I pray for forgiveness of our nation’s warlike ways. First of all, I have a hard time picturing Christ pledging his allegiance to ANY flag, and I do try to live my life by those principles. I believe Christ saw the big picture, and was not caught up in nationalism. I cannot in good conscious be for global peace while supporting this thinking. I support my nation and those in it, just like I support other humans, but I will not support the drone strikes, the land mines, the obscenely huge war budget, the signing of the NDAA, the invasion and occupation of other countries under false pretenses, and the boosting of despotic regimes that has been carried out under this flag with my tax dollars. It makes me ashamed.

Needless to say, some have called me unpatriotic. I’d like to differentiate between patriotism and nationalism. Nationalism doesn’t question anything; it pledges blind allegiance, on the assumption that the government will do what is right. Patriotism wants what is actually best for the people. It wants justice, and fair laws, and equal rights. Nationalism cares about being number one. Patriotism means wanting to represent your country with pride by being the kind of person your country can be proud of. Therefore, I consider myself deeply patriotic. I value ALL human lives, not just American lives… kind of like Jesus would do.

If you are anything like me this way, and are being blasted as unpatriotic, take comfort in the fact that you are in prestigious company: Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Mark Twain, many of the Founding Fathers, Howard Zinn, Albert Schweitzer, Ralph Waldo Emerson… well, you get the idea, and I’m sure you can think of many of your own. In other words, people who didn’t settle for the status quo. It’s called thinking for yourself, and that’s a good thing.

I decided a while back I really wanted to write a book about war and privilege. It occurred to me that with my busy schedule, that would be a Herculean project at best. I don’t have the time to do the research to complete it in any reasonable time period. I suddenly realized that a blog would promote peace in a meaningful way, and in doable chunks. Best of all, it can morph and change and stay caught up with current events, unlike a book. I was hooked!

As soon as I decided to write a blog, ideas started to fly into my head, except for what to call it. A couple of days later, I was standing on the corner at my Friday night vigil when the phrase “Peace Out Loud” came into my head. It was perfect! After all, for peace to be effective, it needs to be spoken about, practiced mindfully, and lived out loud.

My goal with this blog is for every post to be in some way connected to peace. It may be personal peace, it may be world peace, or anything in between. Some of it may be very political, but it’s impossible to talk about peace without talking about such realities. Peace isn’t some lofty ideal to me, it’s a practical matter, which requires practical discussion about both the spiritual and the worldly.

At the end of the day, I always come back to myself and examine how I have behaved. Some days I get an “A,” and some days an “F.” We’re all a work in progress. Like a novice gardener, I’m starting with a small plot and dreaming big. Why not? I may be dreaming big and starting small, but I’m starting, and I’m learning, and that’s what counts. I’ll never be Gandhi, but it doesn’t matter. We only get a few decades on this planet to do what needs to be done, and my intention is to grow and learn while I’m here, and leave it nicer than when I came.

I am humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas. A big thank you to everyone who reads my blog, and I always welcome your feedback, thoughts, ideas, and dreams. Thank you for coming to visit, and I wish you peace!

Father's Day

I spent this last Father’s Day in silent, burning rage at my dad, and it’s taken me three months to sort it out enough to write.