His breath made night light
He gave sound to silent truths
His fire inspires us.
His breath made night light
He gave sound to silent truths
His fire inspires us.
Friday, June 24, 2016, I went to the first showing of the movie “The Free State of Jones” at my local movie theater. It was the day after the shocking vote in the United Kingdom where a majority of voters expressed their wish to exist the European Union. It was an OMG – Oh My God – moment for me. Why do I, sitting here in the United States, care what happens in the UK? It must be all that Masterpiece Theater on PBS, all that Downton Abbey and Poldark and Wolf Hall. It must be all that James Bond and Adele and Sting and Idris Elba. It must be Love Actually.
Watching this movie about a little known chapter of American Civil War and Reconstruction history where poor whites in Mississippi made common cause with runaway slaves, formed a community, and fought the Confederacy together made me think about how history can inform our thinking about the world we live in today.
As the fragments of my thoughts about the Brexit vote crashed against the confines of my mind, I saw on screen at least one yeoman farmer during the Civil War realize that this war was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. (Quiet as it is kept, most wars are such.) Conscription laws made it possible for men who owned at least twenty slaves to offer them for service to the Confederacy rather than go to fight and to die themselves. Men with no slaves had no choice but to go and fight when called. (In the north, the rich could also avoid the draft by paying others to take their place or by paying $300.)
Further, because of what was known as in-kind taxation, the Confederacy could come and take away a portion of a farmer’s harvest, livestock, and other goods to support the war effort. When Newton Knight, the hero of the movie, deserts, he helps women and children who are left behind defend their property against this confiscation. Life is hard enough. The reality of war made life harder.
The citizens of the UK who voted to leave the European Union must have felt that membership in the EU was making life harder. I was trying to understand why they would take such a vote. Some analysts cited discomfort with immigration into the UK from Europe. Too many people were coming into Great Britain, primarily from Eastern Europe, and competing for jobs and taking advantage of the National Health System and other social safety net provisions of the country. Brexit supporters wanted tighter restrictions. They understood the situation as a zero-sum game. They thought that leaving the EU would protect them from people who they thought were making their life harder.
Too often I’d like some direction
but am ashamed of this fact, still I ask for it,
men are supposed be bad at admitting
they’re lost though why men agree
to fulfill this is lost on me.
Who cares what men are. Can’t we
scrap this whole enterprise, seriously
top down management
small talk, normative dating. A little box
I fill in over and over, like feeding pennies into a slot
it leads somewhere I think
I’m saving them. For when? The pulldown menus
reach longer and longer, so to scroll becomes
the new version of a sweeping gesture, more ways
to be erased. At the end of the day
we still march on directionless,
used by pronouns & all the livelong
language still drags us through its shitty toll plazas,
do “you” have a highway phobia like “I” do.
Or who do you feel most related to.
Under my breath I say Love
thy neighbor as thy self
is to thy as neighbor is to the scraggle
in my front yard is to a badly pruned bush
across the street. But love it & those neighbors
drunk and too loud on their porch while I’m trying to sleep
to love us all better. The steepest hill
in maybe all of Oakland California, pointing my body up it
walking leg muscles burning, love the fortune
to have legs the cinderblock the succulent and none of them equal,
fuck equality, predicated on sameness
why not by now insist on a complex star cluster
a fuck of will and willingness and imagination, all our most unwieldy crap?
But crap, I’m daily losing my grip as if having
handed my only bow and arrow to a stranger who
might shoot it off look at that thing! it could hit
someone I care about or love, you myself anyone or a bush
here’s another bush and another they all mash together,
one is pine-ish the other has purple flowers, it’s basically formless
& somehow I feel it’s my key relative
that cousin I’m always close to no matter how many years pass,
who once cared about art now he’s a depressed socialist
vaguely entrepreneurial by necessity, as once I was
a slutty teenage girl they now call Sir, I guess I can see that
here’s another bush that could be shaped into another form
or just left alone. Outside the neighbor kids
shout without regard like their parents
before them, I saw one kid the other day point a phone
from their window into mine to take a photo of me I wanted to take
one in response as reminder that hey it’s a window
not a mirror and the object talks back
Today I build flowers out of concepts
in order to speak to you sincerely.
Today you want nothing because wanting
comes too close to feeling.
And though a sad old person
who combs their silver hair
all afternoon in a high window
curses you with great acuity,
you being anyone in a suit, a suit
being whatever you insulate yourself with
so you don’t hear that voice up there
calling you out, you keep going
as grim fleets of semis keep going,
shuttling dry goods across the continent.
In their fervent rumble lives
a hope to be getting paid soon. I get it.
Even last night’s cream roses still in their cellophane
and chucked on a downtown sidewalk
by their recipient have been called out.
These are the conditions of our times, you say,
stuffing ourselves with what’s greenish,
filming quickly in a garden
whose foliage is nearly realistic.
Once, we faced each other.
Now the unused filaments grow limp in us each day.
What huge thing catapults through you
when alone on the edge of your bed
is sincerity, or a need to absorb
its most mineral clarity & let it
bloom out your eyes,
but you’d rather it didn’t.
Theory of feeling will sling feeling back to you
so you can just think it.
I offer these compact shapes of affection and sadness
which the words affection and sadness do not convey.
Cancer’s sincere, shit is, indigestion, resentment
is sincere, sweat, dogs, mint, rust,
certain friendships are utterly sincere, and genitals
are sincere, though a flower is indifferent.
Ari Banias is author of Anybody, forthcoming from W.W. Norton in September 2016. He currently lives in Berkeley, CA and holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an MFA in poetry from Hunter College, where he was a teaching fellow. The author of a chapbook,What’s Personal is Being Here With All of You (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2012), his poems appear in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, FIELD, Guernica, The Offing,The Volta, and as part of the exhibition Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects. He has earned numerous fellowships and awards.
Since 1983, Sharon Tennison has worked to develop ordinary citizens’ capacities to avert international crises, focusing on relations between the U.S. and Russia. Now, amid a rising crisis in relations between the U.S. and Russia, she has organized a delegation which assembled in Moscow yesterday for a two week visit. I joined the group yesterday, and happened to finish reading Sharon Tennison’s book, The Power of Impossible Ideas, when I landed in Moscow.
An entry in her book, dated November 9, 1989, describes the excitement over the Berlin Wall coming down and notes that “Prior to the Wall’s removal, President Reagan assured Secretary General Gorbachev that if he would support bringing down the Wall separating East and West Berlin, NATO would not move ‘a finger’s width’ closer to Russia than East Germany’s border. With this assurance Gorbachev gladly signed on.
Little could he or the world have guessed that this promise would soon be broken during the next administration – and that the redeveloping distrust between the countries would threaten to become a second cold War, due to NATO’s expansion up to Russia’s borders.”
Today, NATO and U.S. troops will conclude 10 days of military exercises, Anakonda, on Russia’s western border, involving 31,000 troops. The operation was named after a snake that kills by crushing its prey. Ongoing deployment of 4,000 additional NATO troops has been announced. U.S. and South Korean military exercises just completed at the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea were dubbed “Decapitation” and mobilized 320,000 troops.
Conn Hallinan, in “Bear Baiting Russia,” notes that “Russia has two bases in the Middle East and a handful in Central Asia. The U.S. has662 bases in foreign countries around the world and Special Forces (SOF) deployed in between 70 and 90 countries at any moment. Last year SOFs were active in 147 countries. The U.S. is actively engaged in five wars and is considering a sixth in Libya. Russian military spending will fall next year, and the U.S. will out-spend Moscow by a factor of 10. Who in this comparison looks threatening?”
It’s important for U.S. people to learn more, from ordinary Russian people, about their responses to troop build-up and new bases on their borders, threatening military exercises, and antagonistic arsenals of nuclear weapons on high alert. As President Vladimir Putin begins summoning a new Russian National Guard that could include 400,000 troops, it’s important to hear how Russian people feel about this development.
Rather than foster cartoonized versions of foreign policy, the media should help people recognize complexity in Russian society and include awareness of desires to live in peace on the part of people in both countries.
During the G. W. Bush years a friend of mine lamented, “We have a war President, a war economy, and a war culture.” Yes on all three; but he might have gone on to add, the key is culture. If our culture did not promote violence the way it does we would not elect a war president, we would build our economy on very different, sustainable and just principles; we would find ways to avoid conflict and use robust, creative ways of dealing with it when it surfaced. In all this our belief system, or mindset is the key three-quarters and there are signs that we’re beginning to notice it.
I have been teaching, writing and speaking about peace for close to forty years; I founded a non-profit that long ago to educate people about nonviolence. I therefore do not make this statement lightly: I feel that we are beginning to see a breakthrough. If we widen the crack there may actually be a silver lining behind the mass shootings that took place last week in Orlando, the latest and worst we’ve yet endured.
The new awareness I’m referring to is admittedly slight, but it’s enough to make a three-quarter difference if we seize the opportunity it represents. Two examples showed up in my local paper, the Santa Rosa Press Democratic on June 13th: the editorial board writes, tellingly, that nothing will stop these massacres “unless something changes in our culture, our conscience or our Congress.” On the same page, a cartoon by “Venn Detta” from theWashington Post shows Uncle Sam bowing his head (in grief ? shame? both?) before three circles labeled “Terrorism, Homophobia, Islamophobia.” They intersect a central circle called “Hate,” and the caption explains, “What ties it all together.” Why do I say that these might be signs that we’re turning a corner? Because up to now the responses to every one of these tragedies has followed a script, almost ritualized, and the one thing they have never included is any look at our culture or any attempt to probe some of its underlying forces. They have been at best irrelevant and at worst a sure way to provoke the problem. Most of them, to be sure, still are: statistics, “This is the largest number of victims in a mass shooting;” details, “Here are the names of the victims,” “Police are reconstructing the timeline,” and labels, they are “searching for the motive” so they know what kind of label to slap on the event, thus shielding us somewhat from its emotional impact. We’re being lead to relive the massacre instead of understand it.
We at Tikkun reaffirm our commitment to the safety of and respect for the LGBTQ community.
“They” are “us”–we are both straight and gay, bi and trans, Jewish, and Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist, Hindu and earth-based religions of every variety, young and old, religious, secular humanists and atheists.
We will not let any sector of “us” get scared that the rest of us will abandon them. Just as I said at Muhammed Ali’s funeral that Jews will stand with Muslims in the face of growing Islamophobia (all the more needed now that some politicians are trying to use the horror of the mass murder of members of the LGBTQ community in Orlando by a supposedly Muslim young man to justify repression against Muslims). We will not let any of them become an “acceptable” target for the haters. Not the LGBTQ community, not anyone.
We are one global “we,” and we must never let any part of us become the target that is somehow made a “legitimate” target.
But true solidarity needs to go beyond standing with the victims of hate crimes, including, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia and all the other variants of hatred. True solidarity should guide us to the imperative to develop strategies to heal the distortions and pains that lead people into communities of hate.
Our strategies must separate the hateful behavior from the pain in people that underlies their misdirected rage, and sometimes violent actions. We must develop ways to speak to those deep psychic wounds and hurts, and show people that there are better and more effective strategies to deal with those pains than to act them out on others, whether that acting out be in the form of demeaning, raping, making war against others, or in the form of mass politics of hatred.
According to the masters of the moral universe who have housed themselves in the Democratic Party, that bedrock foundation of all human wisdom and enlightenment, I shall forever wear a Scarlet B on my chest. B for Bush.
I was one of the “Nader Spoilers” of 2000, one of the 97,421 Floridians who cast a vote for Ralph Nader. If those of us in this group – the “Scarlet B Community” – had voted for Al Gore instead, George W. Bush would never have been president of the United States. I don’t dispute that math. But I do roll my eyes at the partisan emotions behind it, as if Al Gore had the political heft to save this country’s early 21st century descent in proto-tyranny. Barack Obama’s magnetic persona and persuasive ability – and I would say his intellect too – far surpasses that of Al Gore, with all due respect to the former VP, and even he could not stop it.
Let’s be clear: At present, we have probably the most corruption-free, morally-minded, intellectually-disciplined president to ever occupy that office in U.S. history. And here we are.
Lest there be any doubt that we are at a chilling point in the American democratic experiment, consider these words of University of Texas law professor, Sandy Levinson, who writes at Balkinization:
This really and truly may be the most important election in our lifetimes if, as I fear, it will call into question basic issues of political stability within the US. We really are looking more and more like Weimar in the late 20s, where parliament is basically beneath contempt because of an inability to respond to the challenges facing the country, and the political parties increasingly view their opposition as Schmittian enemies to be crushed…
Indeed, as far Congress goes, what could be more “beneath contempt” than the fact that U.S. soldiers are now deployed in Iraq and parts of Syria operating under the same AUMF (Authorization to Use Military Force) that was passed in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, 2001, before ISIS even existed. As Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) said last fall about his failed bill to require congressional authorization for any deployments to Syria to fight ISIS, “I get it, members of Congress are afraid to cast a vote on war.”
In case you who missed it, here’s Rabbi Lerner’s talk at Muhammed Ali’s funeral.His vision is all the more relevant given the horrific killings in Orlando and the way it is being used to promote fear, hatred and Islamophobia. It has gone viral on social media and inspired over a million people already. If it inspires you as well, please read below for how to be an ally with Rabbi Lerner to help build the world he describes.
Wondering why Rabbi Lerner got invited and how to respond to the handful of naysayers who have been upset by Lerner’s powerful message? Please read below.
Muhammad Ali had known Rabbi Lerner as a friend and ally in the 1960s and early 1970s when both were indicted by the U.S. government for their roles in opposing the war in Vietnam. He then wrote Rabbi Lerner to praise his book with Cornel WestJews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin.Approximately seven years ago, he decided to invite Rabbi Lerner to represent the American Jewish community at his memorial service. Rabbi Lerner only received a phone call invitation from the Ali family four days before he got on an airplane to Louisville.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
There is something about people dying that I cannot fully make sense of. When it’s a group of people, and even more so when it’s at the hands of other people, I have nothing inside me that feels prepared to know how to make sense of it, what to say to myself, to others. Silence then becomes appealing. Yet silence allows hatred to continue.
What does love look like in the wake of violence I cannot grasp? What does love mean when one of two contenders for the most powerful political position in the world is responding with targeting entire groups of Muslims?
It is love, for me, to explicitly say that the killing in Orlando wasn’t actually the largest mass shooting in US history, no matter how often this message is repeated. Why? Because it’s an invitation to remember people who, at the time of their mass killing by the hundreds, were considered other, and to have their lives count, at least now: the 400 Tolowa Indians in Yontoket in 1853 and the 300 Black people in Tulsa in 1921, as just two examples.
It is love, for me, to note to myself that this recent carnage brought together in a terrible tragedy three groups of people all of whom are made other, all of whom are targets of violence, violence which often goes unnoticed: LGBT, people of color, and Muslims. My heart sinks at the horror of imagining that a subtle hierarchy of whose life counts is woven through the fabric of US culture. Today, Islamophobia is on the rise. In Trump’s world, for example, the fact that these were mostly Latinos, another group he has maligned, shrinks in comparison with the killer being a Muslim. No, I won’t go for that. I want to go for love, for knowing and proclaiming that all violence counts. I want to join Alan Pelaez Lopez in remembering “that xenophobia teaches us to only celebrate and empathize with white immigrants,” and to claim that all humans are precious. As Michael Lerner said: “We are one global ‘we,’ and we must never let any part of us become the target that is somehow made a ‘legitimate’ target.”
In his eulogy to Mohammed Ali at the Louisville memorial service, Rabbi Michael Lerner reminded us all of the distinguishing feature of “The Greatest,” that from the start of his career he spoke Truth to Power and paid the price when he was stripped of his heavyweight title for five years.
In that spirit, and in the presence of eminent national leaders, Rabbi Lerner listed major issues that concern Liberal Progressives, adding one issue that is often overlooked. He said that attempts to subjugate peoples and rule the world have been made over the last 10,000 years and they have never worked. In what follows, I will try to expand on that very important observation and how it bears on our own and broader humanity’s prospects for survival now.
One of the very sad consequences of the monopoly control of mainstream print and electronic media, as well as of the two houses of Congress by the ideologists of Neoconservatism and Liberal Interventionism is that the broad American public, including instinctively skeptical Progressives, is clueless about the level of risk of all out nuclear war we are incurring by our current and projected policies of global domination. America’s seemingly irresistible force is coming up against indomitable resistance from Russia and China and the result is an escalating confrontation that we have not seen since the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
I had a personal awakening to the reality of the false sense of security that pervades American society some 18 months ago when I participated in a Peace Day event organized at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where the keynote speaker was Noam Chomsky and a number of other leading personalities in the nationwide antiwar movement also held forth. The auditorium which accommodated our opening, plenary session was filled by perhaps 350 activists, many of them gray headed veterans from the 1960s Vietnam War resistance, but also a representative sampling of students from the Greater Boston area. When we broke up for workshops, perhaps 250 chose the then very fashionable issue of the Islamic State, whose exploits had filled our newspapers with beheadings and bloody terror taking place in distant lands. My own workshop on the red hot civil war then raging in Donbass, in southeastern Ukraine, which was becoming a proxy war between Russia and the USA, drew in a total of 5 auditors.