Tikkun Daily button
David A. Sylvester
David Sylvester
David A. Sylvester is a writer and teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area with an interest in classical philosophy, spirituality and social justice.

Conscience is contagious: The growing opposition of UC law profs and grads to John Yoo’s torture theories


by: on May 15th, 2010 | 8 Comments »

Code Pink protests John Yoo at the Commonwealth Club. Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr

The long line of UC law school graduates approached the protest with some hesitation.

Crossing from the opposite side of Gayley Avenue on the northern edge of UC’s campus, the professors in their colorful medieval robes were the first to see the photos, the orange suited inmate, the leaflets against torture. Then some 250 students followed in their black caps and gowns, streaming toward the Greek Theater for their graduation ceremonies.

They saw once again the unforgettable images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. A color photograph of a naked young man with a black hood stretched to a metal bed frame, a man in an orange jumpsuit kneeling and in chains. And they filed past a dozen of us handing out pamphlets and orange ribbons to protest American torture policies.

These photos show war crimes. They show people seized without any process of law, held in arbitrary detention and subjected to agonizing suffering. For what? For the false confessions, inaccurate information and wild allegations that have become a staple during the “war on terror.” Some day, I’m convinced they will convict Bush administration officials, such as UC law professor John Yoo, of war crimes.

When I joined these protests four years ago, organized by the Bush impeachment group, the World Can’t Wait, we seemed pitifully few in number. Maybe six or eight of us gathered outside of Boalt Hall on the busy Bancroft Avenue. Few of the passers-by took the leaflets. We often addressed our arguments loudly and persuasively – to ourselves. It was easy to feel irrelevant and marginal. Behind us, with its imposing stone façade, Boalt Hall seemed an impressive, almost impregnable institution.


Bravo for the Pope! He’s Facing Reality.


by: on May 12th, 2010 | 16 Comments »

At last Pope Benedict XVI is moving the Catholic Church toward the truth: the victims need justice and the Church needs transformation. In this, he shows the human struggle for and against change — and the path of renewal ahead.

Last Easter, the Roman Catholic Church, my beloved church, seemed to retreat into a shell of institutional defensiveness. Some of the top clerics absurdly complained of an anti-Catholic backlash similar to “anti-Semitism” when, in fact, it was facing the cry for justice among the victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests for decades.

But when you love someone, or some community, you see the greatness that lies within the heart. Every parent knows what the faith of love is like. You weep with grief over the child’s destructive behavior, but you never think these actions are the final verdict of the child’s nature. With the eyes of love, you see that your child’s destructive actions are only mistaken aberrations and that his or her inner goodness always remains the truer self.

Pope Benedict XVI during his arrival in the Lisbon airport on May 11, 2010. Credit: M.Mazur/www.thepapalvisit.org.uk.

That’s why I castigated the Church for its self-pity — a dominant Euro-centric organization of 1 billion members is not a very convincing candidate for victimhood — but also explained why I have faith in the Catholic Church. Back in April I wrote:

It is precisely at the moment of moral challenge, whether from the suffering of the sexually abused or the victims of anti-Jewish genocide, that the Catholic Church has the opportunity to show its true self. It has the powerful spiritual tools of prayer and Gospel values for uncovering the roots of the errors of the past and making the necessary changes.

It is my faith and conviction that this will – and must – happen. This is why the sturm und drang of the moment does not disillusion me. The best in the Catholic tradition reflects a pilgrim Church on the journey of growth and change.

Now it is time to acknowledge, and celebrate, that the best in the Church is emerging, at least for the moment. It is taking responsibility for its own sins, recognizing the attacks from the world are justified and that the Church needs to change.


Governor Brewer, who are you to check for documents?


by: on May 7th, 2010 | 19 Comments »

The irony of the Arizona law (pdf here) outlawing “immigrating-while-poor-and-brown” is that Arizona has 22 federally recognized native American tribes — people who suffered the onslaught of European colonists in successive waves. From the point of view of the First Nations United, Arizona’s law is based on power “established by an immigrant and illegal settler colonialist government, which has consistently relied on the genocide and mistreatment of the original peoples of this continent.”

As the first peoples of this continent, we pose this question to Governor Brewer, Senator Russell Pearce, and law enforcement in the state of Arizona, “Who are you to check for documents?”

Who indeed? If Arizonans start pointing a finger at the new arrivals, they have three fingers pointing back at themselves.


Reagan’s Refugees: Why Undocumented Migrants Have a Right to Work Here


by: on April 30th, 2010 | 19 Comments »

Undocumented migrants have a right to work here because they deserve economic reparations for failed U.S. economic policies and disastrous military interventions.

Hundreds of thousands march for immigration rights in Chicago, May 1, 2006. Credit: Alana Price.

We hardly need another symptom of the spiritual and social bankruptcy of the system, but this new Arizona law targeting and criminalizing undocumented migrants is a good example. You might know that Gov. Jan Brewer signed last week a new law that broadens police power to stop anyone at anytime for virtually any reason simply for looking suspiciously like an undocumented immigrant. It is supposed to take effect in August, but this is unlikely since it is probably unconstitutional and will face a barrage of court challenges.

This Saturday, May Day, the traditional day for workers rights, more than 70 cities are planning protests against the law, and boycotts against Arizona are spontaneously spreading — as they should. Mexican taxi cab drivers are apparently refusing to pick up anyone from Arizona, and the Mexican government has issued a travel advisory warning Mexicans of the danger of traveling through Arizona. In California, pressure is growing to join the boycott.

In the midst of this uproar, few are asking one simple question: Why? Why do so many Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans enter the U.S. by the most dangerous and expensive route possible?