Ezra’s house

Guilford College students in Italy
We passed out olive branches for folks to take home with them.

We hosted a group of students from Guilford College at the farm last month. The group is studying a semester abroad in Northern Italy, in the castle Ezra Pound once lived in.  Pound was an American ex-pat poet and critic of US capitalism who supported Italy’s fascist regime during WWII. His Cantos, some written while in US captivity during the occupation of Italy at the end of the war, still inspire a new generation of neofascists today. I don’t think the students knew much about the history of their host family or even the war as it played out in Italy (neither did I before moving here), but their visit put him squarely in my mind.

We connected with the students because an old friend from when I lived in the anarchist community in Greensboro served as the faculty representative this year for the program. It was amazing to see Mark again after all these years, and as we showed the group around we talked a little about the history of our farm. After lunch we were joined by a group of our friends who live in La Casa della Pace (the House of Peace), a project of Italian former “peace corps” volunteers who live together in intentional community to continue the work they did building bridges abroad at home.  Their project is similar in many ways to what we hope the farm becomes, a inspiration toward our future.  One aspect of La Casa della Pace‘s work is hosting asylum seekers, so they brought 2 fellows from Pakistan along who stay with them these days.

An intercultural wood crewEverybody worked at hauling wood and planting starts in the afternoon to break the ice, then after dinner we had a discussion about living in community, the immigration situation in Italy, and how we make the transition from institutional structures (like college or a peace corps experience) to life after.  What does one do when one finishes a powerful experience abroad but that program comes to an end?  How do you keep “that spark” you feel while fully immersed in a program when its expiration date comes around?  What can we do when the Italian immigration system, built to accept a few thousand immigrants, receives over a hundred thousand in one year?

I think about Ezra, who left the US disillusioned by capitalism and Marxism and truly hellbent on finding a new way. It seems to me he was looking for new community of support when he left the US.  One could say he “fell in with the wrong crowd” as his intellectual pioneering was conveniently appropriated by the politics of the Axis powers. But supposedly he began writing some of his most inspired work on sheets of toilet paper  while locked in a US prison cage toward the end of the war, once again alone the isolated. This was a part of the war I didn’t know much about and it challenged my sense that Ezra was just the worst kind of “Americans abroad” stereotype.  He is said to have had a mental breakdown in the cage, for very understandable reasons, and this inhumane treatment by his own countrymen, “liberating” his adopted country, left an indelible mark.  Reinforcing his sense of the US’ moral corruption and his own extremist view that fascism would lead to new world order, he would return to Italy after being released from a mental institution in the States to live out his later life in the castle.

In these days of rising right wing rhetoric and renewed extremism, I think about what leads people to support fascism.  I think about the barber in the village here who casually mentioned while cutting my hair a few months back that “the gas chambers” were the only way to straighten out politics.  (I am currently using a boycott of his shop as an excuse for my disheveled appearance) We’ve seen fascism veiled in anti-immigrant rhetoric come close to tearing apart the European Union and the United States, and perhaps I think this is a good wake up call.  It’s clear that people are fed up with institutional structures as they exist right now, but we no longer know how to commit directly to one another and many want the iron fist of “The State” (not The Union) to step in and save us. We long for our castles.

In the course of our conversation with the students, someone suggested that if Ezra’s relatives were committed to starting a new chapter in the history of their family’s relationship to fascism, they could take in refugees at the castle.  What message might that send, versus hosting students from a country their ancestor forsake?

Sure enough, I’ve just gotten word that as the returned from our visit they introduced their hosts to  Every Campus a Refuge, a project started at Guilford that encourages academic campuses to open some part of their space to refugees transitioning into permanent housing.  It makes so much sense.  Colleges or even study abroad housing are set up with dorms, cafeterias and built-in opportunities to meet other people.  It’s a new take on an institutional structure we take for granted as static or inflexible, and it’s a beautiful alternative to building walls or turning inward when we reach unfamiliar territory.

My Grandfathers, My Privilege

The woman arrived late for worship and quickly rose, prefacing her message with: “I can assure you this is spirit led….” She spoke at length about white privilege, systematic injustice, the civil rights movement, the death of Micheal Brown and her recent visit to Ferguson. I didn’t catch the whole message because a Friend needed an urgent ride home and when I came back she was still speaking.

I watched her through the half-light doors of the meeting, catching snippets of “reparations” and “brutality” and “mass incarceration” through the cracked doors, waiting to return without disturbing worship. Clearly as folks shifted in their seats many were already disturbed.  Eventually a Friend stood and asked that the speaker allow for some silence to consider her message.  She broke into song, spoke a practiced “don’t silence me” line and sat.  I returned to my seat and mulled what I’d only half heard.  I was bugged by the break in norms, but sometimes we can use a shaking up in meeting. I agreed with parts of her message, but the delivery was rambling. At the end of meeting she confirmed “her mission”, spoke briefly with supporters and was gone.

Missing most of the actual message, my churning emotions about policing, racism and my own privilege lead to my grandfathers:

My dad’s dad was in the New Jersey State Patrol.  He’d retired by the time I came around, but his official patrolman’s portrait used to hang in the garage “to scare the rats away.” I’m certain my Pop-pop felt what MC Killer Mike recently described about his father: “Being a cop must be hard. My dad was one, and never wanted any of his children to follow in his footsteps.” I knew he deployed to Newark in 1967 during the riot there, but that topic was as off limits as discussion of the South Pacific beaches he’d crossed as a Marine.  Near the end of his life, I asked him if he’d ever shot anyone.  He avoided the question. I think of the words Killer Mike adds: “The police have the power of life and death in their decisions — they need to know that Americans hold them to a higher standard than these examples, of American men laying lifeless like deer.” I think of my own standards as his grandson: how can I evaluate his service, knowing so little but also fearing to know more?  Perhaps for some people it’s enough to know he served in uniform, especially as a white man, but I still want to find a lesson there.

My mom’s dad Jack was the Quaker, the one who’d gone to Europe in the war and came back resolved to changeMe and my brother with Grandpa Jack, 1987 things. While I’ve heard a little more about his military experiences, everything after was meant to transform that violence.  He’d moved my mom and her siblings to a majority-black school district in the 70’s to sensitize them to the importance of race relations. The most vivid images of this experience have come from his kids though, and they describe getting beaten up by black classmates and fear. He’d done American Friends Service Committee work camps around the country rebuilding poor neighborhoods. At Thanksgiving this year I found a picture of him at one of those work camps.  He’s dressed in a shabby work outfit handing a bemused looking older black woman a glass of milk on a plate. I guess.  It looks even more staged than the state patrol portrait, and gives little sense of reparations or restorative justice. What is his lesson of transformation?

I ask myself:  Didn’t all three of these people believe they were being of service?  Their methods differed, but it seems to me the self-styled prophet, the white man and his burden, and the tight-lipped officer all wanted to make things better.  What I wonder is whether their service could have been better served in a broader community, a beloved community. If you bring a message to worship meant to change things, can you really expect anything if you leave right away?  If you followed orders you regret, can you heal or be accountable without telling anyone what happened?  If you wanted to transform pain and violence, can you succeed without accountability to those you “serve”?

Italian TV

After several visits to Italy and confirmation that I have not said anything about this before, I must comment briefly on the absurdity of Italian TV.  In order to be a truly informed anthropologist I should have watched more TV in the States before arriving in Italy but in a certain way, without comparison, I am shocked all the more by what I see here.

One of the things that is always interesting is to watch how folks outside the US view tragedies at home.  The recent marathon tragedy is an example.  Just like in 2001, (and for some reason the many horrible events that have taken place in the US while I’ve been abroad), media here assumes that whoever carries out a violent act against the US will inevitably meet a quick and violent end.  It’s a forgone conclusion, and so there is little hysteria about manhunts, fair trials, ethnicities of perpetrators, etc. which is a big story for crimes here. (It’s very interesting when the two worlds collide, like in the case of the girl from Seattle acquitted but by Italian popular opinion guilty of killing her roommate.) It’s not to say these stories don’t get a lot of airtime, but it seems like an unspoken understanding the US has lots of enemies  but there’s always a bloody end for anyone who does us wrong.  It’s an interesting perspective, and one I imagine we lose as folks cry out for blood after terrible tragedies.  I don’t condone the violence of terrorists or the State or State terrorism, but what can we expect to gain from this cycle of violence?

On a completely different other side of things is being slightly horrified by “entertainment TV”.  In Italy there is the universally recognized role of the velina, or sidekick showgirl, who dances between commercial breaks and makes seductive passes at the show hosts but never speaks.  They are particularly famous on one show a news parody program that aims to humiliate various personalities in the news, and apparently women try out across Italy to become the following season’s velina.   I knew I was living in a truly bizzare media driven world when I watched these women pole dance to Macklemore’s single “Thrift Shop” the other day. I can remember the first time I heard “My Oh My” on Live from I-5 hosted by DJ Luvva J as he made a shout out to a young MC who’d graduated from Evergreen.  The crazy juxtapositions are everywhere:  Show hosts here often hawk all type of products during the commercial breaks of their very same show, yet even so it was pretty wild to watch the host of a “Who wants to be a millionaire?”-style show ask a question about porn star celebrity weddings just seconds before cutting to a commercial break where he pitches a new child car seat.

Occupied Graceland

Gates of GracelandImagine for a moment that you live at Graceland. You and Elvis had been close back in the day, and though you didn’t like to think of yourself as “one of His groupies”, you did spend a lot of time at His place. At some point He invited you and your family to come live there. It was a comfortable place to live and you made it home, appreciating Elvis as a singularly unique guy with an awesome pad. There were others there who made a big deal of it: fawning over Elvis, marveling at the hot brownies cooked fresh every night by his special order, growling like tigers in the Jungle Room for a laugh. They acted like they owned the place, but you just tried to ignore them and figured their 15 minutes would pass.

Years went by and Elvis’ career slowly declined. The house got more chaotic. Those of you who’d been there the longest stuck together, but the comings and goings of others started to wear thin on the collective patience. Everybody suddenly had an idea of how Graceland ought to be.

When He died, folks who’d never lived there and knew nothing about the place moved in and started bossing people around. It was like they’d been waiting for the opportunity. With the excuse that “Elvis would have wanted it this way”, they started to move things around, put the Lisa Maire under 24-hour guard “just in case”, and patrolled the area like they owned it. They started to favor some people living in the house over others (especially the fawning brownie-types), all the time invoking Elvis and “extenuating circumstances” as justifications for new rule after petty new rule. Limits on the number and type of house guests, a complex composting system, and a “chore wheel” all became daily realities. None of these things ever seemed to restrict the outsiders or their Favored residents. Some folks pushed back, longing for the good old days. The occasional fistfight broke out as tensions ran high. For some reason the outsiders, with the support of the favored residents, always won out.

Things took a drastic turn for the worse when one day the whole house was informed the favored residents, along with their powerful outsider backers, would be running everything but the pool room and the garden shed from here on out. The neighbors would clean the pool but you were on your own to pull together a fridge and bathe in the pool. You couldn’t be in the other rooms except with special permission, and anyone that was caught lingering in an unauthorized area would suffer consequences. You, your family and others not on the VIP list balked. What the hell? Hadn’t Elvis invited you just like all the others? Suddenly you started to recognize those Outsiders for who they really were: They were the same guys who’d ruined Elvis. The favored residents were just their newest objects of affection. The Outsiders were the ones who’d hooked Elvis on coke, who’d sold keychains with His likeness without giving Him a dime, who’d spread rumors about His life and death.

Once you saw the Outsiders for who they were, you were enraged. These guys were dragging Elvis’ good name through the mud and wrecking Graceland. You rejected their sovereignty and some of your family started getting a little out of hand. The Outsiders used the Favored residents as their eyes and ears in the house which made them the easiest targets. To spite this new conspiracy, your people burned up the precious “Lisa Marie”, all the mirrors leading up the main staircase were smashed, and someone pushed the white baby grand off the deck. This only made the favored residents more upset. They started to occupy more and more of the rooms, pushing more people into the pool room or out of the house entirely. They always had the support of the outsiders. They said things like “if you can’t use the house respectfully, you don’t deserve to live in it” or “did Elvis even invite you here in the first place?” or “A Hundred Years from Now, we’ll have A World of Our Own” You started to hate the Favoreds for being just like the Outsiders, only closer and smugger. Pretty soon, you and the others who’d lost favor resigned yourself to the hopelessness of the situation. You were outnumbered but especially outgunned. Your friends and neighbors that came to help out at first eventually drifted away, only to send you encouraging texts occasionally or Tweet on your behalf. You listened to Paul Simon sing about the good old days at Graceland and bided your time.

Years later, the neighborhood started to get fed up with all the trouble Graceland was causing and everyone decided you were going to do something about this bullshit. You were fed up with this tyranny and suddenly it seemed like the neighbors woke up and were ready to help out. (You knew some of the neighbors had skeletons in their closets, but who didn’t really?) In honor of Elvis’ memory, the sanctity of Graceland, and especially your lost freedom and bedrooms you plotted revenge. The neighbors started planning an attack from the outside and you did what you could to fill water balloons in the swimming pool. On the night before your big coordinated raid, the rest of the house preempted the attack and rained down savage brutality on you. The pool ran red.

The neighbors were routed, and when the dust settled 2 things had changed completely: First, the favored residents posted 24 hour lifeguards in the pool room. These guys watched everyone, bullied folks who ran or carried glass containers, and created “closed pool times” when only favored residents could swim. Reports were the garden shed was worse, but if anyone so much has put a foot outside the pool room they were kicked out, never to return. Those of you that had jobs were forced to leave them or scrape by running odd jobs for the lifeguard and cleaning bathrooms in the rest of the house. The second big change was that suddenly the number of Outsiders around the house taking an interest in Graceland increased tenfold. Now that the favored residents had shown they could kick ass, everyone took notice. Suddenly the sympathetic neighbors (such as they were) started to be replaced by others who talked like the old neighbors but clearly had other designs on Graceland. They were all shills on the take. Things looked especially bleak, and then it got worse.

Shortly after all this went down, the lifegaurd invited some of the Favoreds to occupy the pool. Many of these folks where some of the biggest jerks from before, the ones who’d acted like they were Elvis’ bosom buddies. They set up inflatable houses in the pool and would belt out horrible renditions of Elvis’ songs all night long. You and your family living in the pool room barely got any sleep anymore, which made it hard to keep your pitiful jobs and stay sane day to day. You shuffled around the pool edge, trying to hold onto whatever pieces of dignity and pride you had left. You had a hell of a time explaining this to your kids, but with no money left and the neighborhood going South, where we you gonna go?

One day when the pool occupiers got particularly belligerent, they started trying to convince you and your remaining family that Elvis’ lyrics justified all the misery you were being put through.
“Love me Tender?,” they said, “that’s about us. Hound dog? That’s about you.”
This pushed one of your kids over the edge, and during the night when the Floaters weren’t paying attention he poked a hole in an inflatable house and it sank. This really sent the Floaters, the whole rest of the house and the neighborhood into hysterics. Your kid was disappeared, never to return, and suddenly things got worse than you ever imagined. The lifegaurd started requiring IDs they could check at any time, the Favoreds put hoses into the pool to draw water out for a butterfly annex in the Jungle Room (with an environmentally friendly misting machine, you heard) and you all lost your measly jobs. More Favored Floaters came, some of whom were completely new to the house, and suddenly they had more rights than you did. A TV was installed in the pool room and it began to run stories day in and day out about the righteousness of the Saviors of Graceland (the Favoreds), pitted against the savage malcontents (you) who were backward and violent. Pundits discussed your inherent hatred of inflatable homes and medieval interpretations of Elvis’ music like you were somehow unable to speak for yourselves. Your preferred name for yourselves was largely ignored and you were just lumped in with “the Neighbors” on the news. You saw programs broadcast in languages you couldn’t even understand that were clearly spewing this same twisted propaganda. Had the whole world gone mad?

At various points as the years dragged on you had what you thought were small breakthroughs in the situation, a Pool Committee that could negotiate for towel drying contracts with the lifeguards or the Unilateral Garden Shed Withdrawl, but the cumulative effect of these “benevolent allowances” never lived up to the huge hope you placed in them. They inevitably were corrupted. Seasons changed, your kids grew up and they had kids, occasionally unwashed activist types who knew nothing about Elvis would show up to support your cause. You always welcomed them, hoping they’d tell the world you weren’t the animals the Favoreds made you out to be. You struggled to see how this impasse could ever be resolved, but you believed in the goodness of Graceland and your right to be there.

One day, this ad ran on the TV, talking about an amazing new project in Floaterville:

Imagine for a moment that you live in occupied Graceland. Would you take that job? Please share your thoughts #OccupiedGraceland

Just when you thought you couldn’t add another thing….

I tied a wish to this wishing tree, next to the 12,000 year old neolithic shrine of Gobeklitepe near Urfa.
A few months back, as our wedding plans were in full swing, I was feeling overwhelmed. I’ve been learning to share about these things at Quaker meeting, living into the honest exchange I hope to build in community. After I shared, a Friend came up to me and said “when you feel like you’ve got too much going on, take on just one more thing to push yourself over the tipping point. I’ve found it helps me put everything back into perspective.” I shrugged off the advice, not really knowing what to make of it at the time.

But as my wedding thank you notes still sat waiting and the grant project at my work drew to a close in a flurry last week, I got a surprise offer: How would I like to go to Southern Turkey to accept an award on behalf of the Rachel Corrie Foundation, my former employer? I sprang at the opportunity and quickly understood the earlier advice.

It was an amazing experience, accepting an award on behalf of an organization that means a lot to me. I worked very hard for the Foundation, and sometimes it was challenging from Olympia to feel the wider impact of our global mission. Going all the way to Sanliurfa, Turkey, to accept an International Abraham Meetings “Goodness” award, had a big impact on me regardless of its larger purpose for the organization. For one, Turkey is very close to my heart and even in the few short days I was there I got to see old friends, speak a language that I still love to learn, and eat amazing food. I also had a fascinating experience as I learned about the award the Foundation was receiving, part of a clear effort within Turkey to raise up the history and heritage of Abrahamic faith traditions from an Eastern perspective. Thirdly, and probably most importantly in some ways, I reoriented my perspective on what I am doing now and the responsibility of the blessings all around me.

In the afterglow of my wedding, as I enjoy a great job and live a comfortable life, I’ve really felt blessed. I’ve been thankful every day for all the blessings I have. But I had not reminded myself about the responsibility I have because of these blessings. My blessings are only as meaningful as the way I share them, like my lesson from Quaker meeting. As I spoke with my good friends in Turkey about their fears of an impending war with Syria, of destroyed homes and refugee situations that were “at least a little better than Iraq”, I remembered that I could take on one more thing. I take my blessings with me no matter what I do, but carrying them and sharing them where I am led takes one more bit of effort. I believe that effort is worth it.

Book Review: “Goatwalking” by Jim Corbett

I will admit that the title and cover of “Goatwalking” drew me in.  I had only a vague memory of the term “sanctuary” that kept me reading the jacket.  I was truly fascinated when I picked up the book and read in earnest. 

Jim Corbett’s narrative style appeals to me: he waxes philosophical with just the right mixture of fantastic imagery (he loves Quixote) and cowboy anecdotes.  He doesn’t jump right into his work with the Sanctuary movement, for which he is (in)famous, till late in the book.   “Goatwalking” is really a series of essays and excerpts from his journals, woven into a rationale for returning to nomadic lifestyles as a gateway to gospel order. Jim talks about his evolution as a goatherder learning to reconnect with his faith and surroundings, complete with fascinating information about goatherding and how following flocks is communing with our Biblical ancestors.  Many intellectuals could have left it there, but he jumps then into talking about how his herding through the Southwestern deserts eventually helped him build an underground railroad for central American refugees as they sought asylum in the US. As I look back on my reading, it’s almost a intellectual leap to link these ideas but the logic flowed naturally as I read. 

I can tell from his work that Jim was a Friend and a truly dedicated man. He saw way open to build an interfaith movement to exploit loopholes in US immigration law as US sponsored death squads were displacing thousands of people in El Salvador and Nicaragua.  Goats fade in prominence as he describes the huge amount of organizing he did in border communities in the 1980’s, building networks of supportive churches, handing out literature, and eventually standing trial for his work.  “Goatwalking” was published in the early 90’s, as his trial had wrapped up and he clear was reflecting on the fruits of his work.  He died in 2001, I was disappointed to learn.

Shortly after I returned to Olympia about 5 years ago, ICE had been raiding local communities to arrest immigrants and anti-war veterans were being harassed for their military resistance in protests.  In that context, a coalition of local groups joined up to draft a proposal for the Olympia City Council, designating Olympia a “Sanctuary City” for immigrants and war resisters regardless of their legal status with the US government.  A lot of work went into planning the proposal, which we knew would largely be symbolic but that we hoped would pave the way for some cross-movement building.  The day that we hoped to hand in the proposal, organizers held a rally and march downtown that was meant to raise up the issue.  During the march, some folks took it upon themselves to throw bricks through bank windows which is what made the paper.  Before long, the sanctuary proposal was completely discredited and in short order so was the City council (for other reasons)

This experience came back to me as I read Jim’s book, thinking about how much work it takes to organize communities and movements.  And not all work is speaking truth to the authorities, because sometimes they’re caught up in their own red tape.  Sometime the work is within, nourishing oneself on goat’s milk (which apparently is enough to keep you alive in the desert) and spiritual discipline.  I’m sorry that I never got to meet Jim Corbett in person, but I’m curious to learn more about the movement he helped build

 

So much for the afterglow…

After such a huge buildup of anticipation this year, for 3 weddings, for new jobs and exciting work opportunities, for sharing the excitement of Fede’s graduation and green card, i’m feeling a little letdown now that it’s all over. I’ve felt so hugely supported by my community of friends and family, it’s a little sad to be on the other side of a huge shower of love.

And then this morning a judge in Israel absolved the state and the IDF of any wrongdoing in the death of Rachel Corrie. I simply can’t help but think of how many people who I know, including my wife, who have put themselves on the line and been luckier than Rachel. Rachel did the right thing as many before her any many after her will do, and she was and still is surrounded by loving community. But today I have been reminded what I already know: the state has no interest in protecting those who seek justice. The state is a cold and ultimately heartless thing, unable to hold itself accountable. As the media falls all over itself to cover party conventions and presidential theatrics, who asks the agents of the state, the gatekeepers and handshakers, what they would do to protect the dignity and human rights of the people? It is our consciences that make us free, but how willing will we be to put that conscience on a shelf, “compromise for the greater good?”

I honor those who follow their dreams and stand up for the right thing, who organize and surround themselves with a true community of accountability.

Olympia BDS- Coop Member Forum

I just returned from the Olympia Food Coop’s member forum to discuss its recent decision to join the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.  I was at the Coop’s board meeting on July 15th when they decided to join BDS, and they knew then this forum would be necessary to air concerns.  The forum this evening was very tense at times, with many people speaking emotionally both in support and in opposition to the boycott.    The thing that was hardest for me personally was to see so many members of the community I have known all my life, whom I know to be both for and against this issue, and to speak my truth in the midst of all of them.  I was at first very unhappy with what I could muster when I finally got my 1 minute in front of the microphone, but in retrospect I appreciate the fact it was entirely real and true for me.

As a white, owning class, straight, Christian, able-bodied man, I was sure I came to this event prepared tonight.  Despite the fact I am struggling to find work right now, despite the fact I have yet to find a place to hang my hat, despite all the other self-imposed inconvieniences my lifestyle choices impose on my way of life  I thought I had myself and the room under control.  My privileged opinion of myself and the weight of my words told me I could wait to the end of a 2 hour emotionally charged forum and speak pure gold to sum up my feelings and address the loose ends of others.  I have been humbled.  When I reached the mic, much of what came to me as I stood before the Board was my sense of connection to this community, my appreciation for their courage in making a difficult decision and standing by it, and my tremendous sense of fear and personal vulnerability.

I rarely feel truly vulnerable in front of others.  Many of the difficulties in my life are directly traceable to my own ego, hurt or fear.  When I feel pain and trace it back to these sources within myself,  I  seek spiritual comfort and I feel freed of myself and forgiven for my tresspasses.  This is my privilege and I enjoy it quietly.

Eid, who’s bulldozed home I visited in the West Bank, does not have this privilege.  When he calmly looked me in the eye and asked me what Israeli settlers tell their children when they tuck them into bed at night with an M-16 on their shoulder,  I could not answer.  I could not answer his father who asked “what person wants to live on the broken scraps of their neighbors houses?”    These men are so vulnerable they are forced to ask  existential questions of themselves AND of their oppressors every day.  My experiences in Palestine tought me that it is neither useful nor possible to compare pain.  In this case, however, in a very rare instance of tables turning, I as the privileged was forced to sit with difficult questions about someone else’s decisions, and ultimately my complacency in them.  It is the decisions of my government, my culture, and the price tag of my way of life that destroyed Eid’s family’s home.  I truly believe that and it makes me incredible uncomfortable.

People at the forum tonight discussed frustration with the Co-op’s process for deciding to support this boycott, for its “divisiveness in our community.”   These words ring hollow in my ears as I remember themeasured storytelling of a Palestinian woman in Hebron speaking about the Israeli settler who entered the mosque in which she was praying, killed over 50 people in her community, and in doing so forced the hand of the complacent Israeli authorities to divide the mosque in two to make one half a synagogue.  What evil logic supports that kind of “process”, what sick “divisiveness”? How often are we forced to reconcile internal doubts or consider personal process for people that destroy our houses, kill our livestock, burn our harvest, poison our wells, steal our water and humiliate us in front of our families? How do we in Olympia look beyond our own identities and allegiances, our own hurts and fears, to truly get inside the hearts of the people who our foreign aid oppresses?  When we feel comfortable and they are far away, we cannot.

I am made vulnerable and uncomfortable by my decision to support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.  I am unsure whether I will lose friends, misrepresent the voiceless in my rush to speak or lose sense of my own needs as I plunge into the fray.  But I believe this discomfort is an act of God in my life, an opportunity to have solidarity in my own community with Palestinians in their struggle for self determination and freedom on their native lands.  Palestinians have offered me a gift today, an opportunity to liberate my heart, if not entirely my mind or my body, from seeing only the pain I stand to feel in my own community today.   By supporting BDS, I have seen my privilege reflected back at me, been asked the difficult questions I might not ask if I wanted to feel comfortable.   I seek only to act justify, love mercy and walk humbly with my God.

Rest in peace

I mentioned the Freedom Flotilla in my last post, before anyone who wasn’t interested in Israel or Palestine or justice was paying much attention to it.  In my last days in Turkey, as I’m sure most people know by now, Israel attacked the Turkish ship in the flotilla and killed nine Turkish activists on board, the youngest of whom was a 19 year old high school student.  Turks, needless to say, were furious, and in a totally different way than my shrill liberal internet community.

On the bus to the beautiful town of Amasra the night before the attack, I read the proud account in a Islamist newspaper of some British guys’ conversion to Islam while aboard the flotilla.  They lingered on the details and his rather inarticulate explanation of his convincement. “Well, I thought a lot about it and it seemed like the thing I wanted to do” (as best I could translate from Turkish) An early victory!

Turks, in my general experience, are terribly fatalistic.   I’ll try to justify that sweepingly general statement in the context of this event.  People were pissed, sure.  People did not see any reason, as a confirmed pacifist such as myself deigned suggest, why the activists on board shouldn’t have tried to kick the shit out of soldiers landing on their boat at 4 in the morning because……why should they? Weren’t they going to get shot at and killed anyway?  Didn’t they realize this was probably, in some ways, the most spectacular outcome they could hope for out of their whole hopeless effort?  Ok, maybe that’s a bit of overkill, but I’m shocked that despite tremendous effort on the part of the activists, and complete tacit approval of their cause in the media, in my conversations with friends, etc. NOBODY seemed to think their efforts nor their horrible deaths would change much.  How depressing.

At some point in the last few months, mom recounted a story of one of the conversations she had had with a Turkish friend. They were talking about death, and the best ways to go.  Mom’s friend suggested that, for a Turk, the best way to go was in a blaze of glory, ideally in violent defeat.  Mom’s look as she recounted the story told me she shared my desire for a quiet, peaceful death after a sense of glorious accomplishment, concluded nonviolently years earlier.   Has this got something to do with Turkey’s cultural connections to Islam, often portrayed as bloodthirsty and harsh?  Maybe our disconnect comes from naive Western optimism that believes results come from a stoic protestant work ethic?  Perhaps it’s about a sense of personal fulfillment and differing cultural myths of sacrifice? Regardless, it is clear in the bloodthirsty, Western-sponsored and USA-protestant-approved actions of Israel on Monday that the real problem is not culture, religion, whatever.  The problem is national pride. Nation is identifying so heavily with a collectively-enforced wrong headed hammer that everything looks like a nail.  Those Turks were killed because Israel didn’t want egg on its face for it’s unjust blockade of Gaza.  Life is so cheap in the borders we build around ourselves.  My only hope is that those folks that died felt they went out in the way they wanted.  May they rest in peace, and may their work not be in vane.

The Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival

I mentioned that I was working for the festival, but I didn’t talk about what that was like.  It’s been oddly familiar in the “chaotic NGO atmosphere” sense, but oddly unfamiliar in the “getting death threats from a radical newspaper” sense.

Actually that’s not true, the RCF has been threatened plenty of times, but usually those threats are vague intellectual blatherings or clearly idiotic rants. This time I couldn’t really tell, because it was in Turkish and I certainly wasn’t going to go out and BUY a copy anyway.  I was busily doing this or that in the office last week when I overheard people talking about threats being made against the organization because of the film festival.   It seems one of the radical Islamist newspapers in town has taken offense at the pornstars-turned-serial killers content of one of the films (really) Even some of the festival organizers have admitted the film in question is a bit extreme; by their descriptions I would assume even our American fundis would take offense.  But suddenly one can feel very exposed and vulnerable when the threats are coming from the much demonized, but often disembodied and distant seeming, “Islamists” who are openly doing their thing across town.  As a bleeding heart, prone to questioning venom spitters from WITHIN my own country first and challenging their constructions of who my enemies are, this gives me pause.  Apparently both film festivals and newspapers enjoy similar free speech protections here as they do in the US. Too bad the same can’t be said for “the only democracy in the Middle East”(my apologies if you’re not already familiar with this case)  I didn’t really want to see the movie anyway though, which is also my right in this Islamic republic.