Category Archives: Human Spirit

In Peaceful Protest, Nuns to Deliver UN Nuclear Abolition Treaty to US Military Base

“Our politicians could be heroes of these times, if they start working with nations rather than against nations.”

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Sister Ardeth Platte, one of the nuns staging anti-nuclear weapons protests at two Colorado Air Force Bases this week, was arrested in 2000 and 2002 for similar actions. (Photo: Frank Cordaro/Flickr/cc)

Speaking out against the United States’ decision to forego last month’s United Nations treaty prohibiting the use and development of atomic weapons, two Catholic nuns on Monday will perform their latest in a long series of anti-nuclear protests.

Sister Ardeth Platte and Sister Carol Gilbert plan to present the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, signed by 53 countries, to officials at the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, delivering the message that the U.S. must join with other nations to reach worldwide nuclear disarmament.

“We’re coming as peacemakers and peace advocates, to teach and show our concern,” Platte said in an interview with the Denver Post. “Our politicians could be heroes of these times, if they start working with nations rather than against nations.”

The U.S. was one of several countries with nuclear capability that did not sign the agreement. North Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom were among the other nations that refused to take part in negotiations—which Platte and Gilbert say too many Americans don’t even know took place.

“We want the citizens of Colorado to know about this treaty,” Gilbert told the Post. “The treaty would make nuclear weapons illegal.”

The treaty was signed amid growing tensions between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has tested several intercontinental ballistic missiles since July, launching them into the Pacific Ocean over Japan.

Last week, following weeks of antagonizing Kim using his Twitter account and in impromptu comments about unleashing “fire and fury” on the isolated country, Trump cryptically told reporters the U.S. could be currently be in “the calm before the storm.”

“We’re in an extremely dangerous time,” said Platte. “A strike could be launched from Colorado within 15 minutes and go 7,000 miles to its target within half an hour. It would be total devastation.”

The two nuns will also visit Schriever Air Force Base on Tuesday to deliver the same message, and ahead of their visit to Peterson will hold a vigil at a nuclear missile silo in Weld County, Colorado.

Gilbert and Platte have spent decades demanding an end to nuclear proliferation by countries including the U.S. Fifteen years ago they were convicted of sabotage for pouring blood on a missile stored in a silo in Weld County. They’ve also been arrested numerous times for staging peaceful protests at military bases like the ones they’ve planned for this week.

The pair say that the existence of the treaty signed by more than 50 countries has given them hope.

“I’ve been working on this issue for 50 years, and this is the greatest hope I’ve had,” Platte told the Post. “We finally have a tool, a treaty that declares criminality to the possession and threat of using nuclear weapons.”

 

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Indigenous people invented the so-called ‘American Dream’

Indigenous people invented the so-called ‘American Dream’

Lewis Borck, Leiden University and D. Shane Miller, Mississippi State University

The 2016 Standing Rock protest was only the most recent manifestation of the indigenous American values inherited by European settlers on this land. James MacPherson.

When President Barack Obama created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the 2012 program that offered undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children a path into society, for a moment the ideals of the American Dream seemed, at least for this group, real.

We call these kids (many of whom are now adults) “Dreamers,” because they are chasing the American Dream – a national aspiration for upward economic mobility built on physical mobility. Fulfilling your dreams often means following them wherever they may lead – even into another country.

The Trump administration’s decision to cancel DACA and build a U.S.-Mexico border wall has endangered those dreams by subjecting 800,000 young people to deportation.

But the notion underlying both the DACA repeal and the wall – which is that “illegal” immigrants, most of them from Mexico, are stealing U.S. jobs and hurting society – reflects a profound misunderstanding of American history.

On Indigenous Peoples Day, it’s worth underscoring something that many archaeologists know: many of the values that inspire the American Dream – liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness – date back to well before the creation of the U.S.-Mexico border and before freedom-seeking Pilgrim immigrants arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620. They originate with native North Americans.

A Native American dream

The modern rendition of the American Dream can be traced back to 1774, when Virginia’s governor, John Murray, the fourth earl of Dunmore, wrote that even if Americans “attained Paradise, they would move on if they heard of a better place farther west.”

The actual term “American Dream” was popularized in 1931 by the businessman and historian James Truslow Adams. For him, its realization depended on not just being able to better oneself but also, through movement and human interaction, seeing your neighbors bettered as well.

The first peoples to come to the Americas also came in search of a better life. That happened 14,000 years ago in the last Ice Age when nomadic pioneers, ancestors to modern Native Americans and First Nations, arrived from the Asian continent and roamed freely throughout what now comprises Canada, the United States and Mexico. Chasing mammoth, ancient bison and the elephant-like Gomphothere, they moved constantly to secure the health of their communities.

The indigenous communities of the Americas knew none of these modern-day national borders.
USGS

A more recent example of the power of migration reappears about 5,000 years ago, when a large group of people from what is today central Mexico spread into the American Southwest and farther north, settling as far up as western North America. With them they brought corn, which now drives a significant part of the American economy, and a way of speaking that birthed over 30 of the 169 contemporary indigenous languages still spoken in the United States today.

The Hohokam

This globalist world view was alive and well 700 years ago as well when people from what is now northern Arizona fled a decades-long drought and rising authoritarianism under religious leaders. Many migrated hundreds of miles south to southern Arizona, joining the Hohokam (ancestors to modern O’odham nations) who had long thrived in the harsh Sonoran desert by irrigating vast fields of agave, corn, squash, beans and cotton.

When the northern migrants arrived to this hot stretch of land around the then-nonexistent U.S.-Mexico frontier, Hohokam religious and political life was controlled by a handful of elites. Social mechanisms restricting the accumulation of power by individuals had slowly broken down.

For decades after their arrival, migrants and locals interacted. From that exchange, a Hohokam cultural revolution grew. Together, the two communities created a commoners’ religious social movement that archaeologists call Salado, which featured a feasting practice that invited all village members to participate.

As ever more communities adopted this equitable tradition, political power – which at the time was embedded in religious power – became more equally spread through society. Elites lost their control and, eventually, abandoned their temples.

America’s egalitarian mound-builders

The Hohokam tale unearths another vaunted American ideal that originates in indigenous history: equality. Long before it was codified in the Declaration of Independence,, equality was enacted through the building of large mounds.

Massive earthen structures like these are often acts of highly hierarchical societies – think of the pyramids of the ancient Egyptians, constructed by masses of laborers as the final resting place of powerful pharaohs, or those of the rigid, empire-building Aztecs.

But great power isn’t always top-down. Poverty Point, in the lower Mississippi River Valley of what’s now Louisiana, is a good example. This massive site, which consists of five mounds, six concentric semi-elliptical ridges and a central plaza, was built some 4,000 years ago by hunter-fisher-gatherers with little entrenched hierarchy.

Poverty Point: a city built on cooperation.
Herb Roe/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Originally, archaeologists believed that such societies without the inequality and authoritarianism that defined the ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Aztec empires could not have constructed something so significant – and, if so, only over decades or centuries.

But excavations in the last 20 years have revealed that large sections of Poverty Point were actually constructed in only a few months. These Native Americans organized in groups to undertake massive projects as a communal cooperative, leaving a built legacy of equality across America’s landscape.

Haudenosaunee

The Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, offer a more modern example of such consensus-based decision-making practices.

These peoples – who’ve lived on both sides of the St. Lawrence river in modern-day Ontario and the U.S. Great Lakes states for hundreds, if not thousands, of years – built their society on collective labor arrangements.

They ostracized people who exhibited “selfish” behavior, and women and men often worked together in large groups. Everyone lived together in communal longhouses. Power was also shifted constantly to prevent hierarchy from forming, and decisions were made by coalitions of kin groups and communities. Many of these participatory political practices continue to this day.

The Haudenosaunee sided with the British during the 1776 American Revolution and were largely driven off their land after the war. Like many native populations, the Haudenosaunee Dream turned into a nightmare of invasion, plague and genocide as European migrants pursued their American Dream that excluded others.

Native Americans at Standing Rock

The long indigenous history of rejecting authoritarianism continues today, including the 2016 battle for environmental justice at Standing Rock, South Dakota.

There, a resistance movement coalesced around a horizontally organized youth group that rejected the planned Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Native American pioneers continue to fight for the same ideals that inspire the American Dream, including equality and freedom.
John Duffy/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

The movement centered on an environmental cause in part because nature is sacred to the Lakota (and many other indigenous communities), but also because communities of color often bear the brunt of economic and urban development decisions. This was the indigenous fight against repression and for the American Dream, gone 21st century.

Redefining the North American dream

Anthropologists and historians haven’t always recognized the quintessentially Native American ideals present in the American Dream.

In the early 19th century, the prominent social philosopher Lewis Henry Morgan called the Native Americans he studied “savages.” And for centuries, America’s native peoples have seen their cultural heritage attributed to seemingly everyone but their ancestors – even to an invented “lost” white race.

America’s indigenous past was not romantic. There were petty disputes, bloody intergroup conflicts and slavery (namely along the Northwest Coast and American Southeast).

But the ideals of freedom and equality – and the right that Americans can move across this vast continent to seek it out – survive through the millennia. Societies based on those values have prospered here.

The ConversationSo the next time a politician invokes American values to promote a policy of closed borders or selfish individualism, remember who originally espoused the American Dream – and first sought to live it, too.

Lewis Borck, Archaeologist, Leiden University and D. Shane Miller, Prehistoric Archeologist, Mississippi State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Ayotzinapa three years later: new light, few answers

A reconstruction of the events surrounding the disappearances of the 43 Mexican students has highlighted the mistakes authorities commit. Sadly, we may never get to the bottom of what really happened.

By Manuella Libardi. Published 9-26-2017 by openDemocracy

Credit: Forensic Architecture.

The third anniversary of the the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College students (known as normalistas) in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico has come and has brought new developments with it.

Forensic Architecture, a London-based agency that conducts research on behalf of international prosecutors, human rights organizations, and political and environmental justice groups, has reconstructed the events of Sept. 26 and 27, 2014, which is presented as a forensic tool for parents, investigators and the general public to further the investigation. The interactive platform depicts a vivid account showing federal and state police agents in the vicinity at the moment when 43 students disappeared from Iguala. Continue reading

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Southern Kurdistan’s Referendum: Self-Destiny doesn’t need Permission

Every flower that sprouts in the mountains had to first break through a rock.

By. Dr. Thoreau Redcrow. Published 9-22-2017 by the Region

Rallies and celebrations take place throughout Kurdistan as the referendum vote approaches Monday’s date.. Photo: Al Arabiya/Twitter

 

In a few days on September 25th the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Southern Kurdistan / Bashur (i.e. northern “Iraq”) is set to hold a non-binding aspirational referendum on their region’s independence. For many of the 6+ million Kurds of Bashur it is undoubtedly a day they have dreamt of or longed for; perhaps even a chance which seemed all but a fantasy through the billowing smoke of chemical bombs in Hełebce, or Saddam’s mass graves of the 1980’s.

Moreover, although this referendum is only related to one of the four regions of Greater Kurdistan—leaving those 20+ million Kurds of southeastern Turkey (Northern Kurdistan), 12 million Kurds of northwestern Iran (Eastern Kurdistan), and 2-3 million Kurds of northern Syria (Western Kurdistan) awaiting their own eventual ‘independence day’—I have still anecdotally witnessed a surge in Kurdish patriotism and excitement throughout wider Kurdistan and the diaspora at the possibility that the first of the four dominoes may finally fall. Continue reading

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Corporations Have Legal Personhood, But Rivers Don’t? That Could Change

Indian Country could finally see an end to nonconsented infrastructure projects if they follow New Zealand’s Maori in achieving legal protection for natural entities.

By . Published 9-12-2017 by YES! Magazine

The Whanganui River, New Zealand. Photo: Pinterest

 

In mid-March of this year, New Zealand officially recognized the Whanganui River as a living entity with rights. The river, which the Maori consider their ancestor, is now offered protection through the New Zealand legal system against any human or human-led project that threatens its well-being. It is a critical precedent for acknowledging the Rights of Nature in legal systems around the world.

The communities seeking protection for their natural entities through this approach are operating from a non-Western, often indigenous paradigm that holds a spiritual reverence to homelands and natural systems and an urgency to protect their natural resources. These values are not held in the laws of colonial governments like New Zealand, Australia, Canada, or the United States. But that does not mean they cease to exist, and, in fact, we are seeing a revival. Continue reading

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What can be learned from the movement to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline?

Why indigenous civil resistance has a unique power.

By Molly Wallace. Published 8-17-2017 by openDemocracy

Stand With Standing Rock Nov 11-15 2016. Credit: Flickr/Leslie Peterson. CC BY-NC 2.0.

2016 saw the emergence of a powerful movement against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, through land vital to Native communities, especially the Standing Rock Sioux. For non-Native people who have not been paying attention to indigenous rights struggles over the past several decades, the #NoDAPL movement may have served as a wake-up call to some of the injustices still confronting these communities.

For others, as Tom Hastings points out in “Turtle Island 2016 Civil Resistance Snapshot,” in the Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict, #NoDAPL is simply another in a long line of civil resistance struggles Native communities have mobilized, often successfully, to claim their rights. Continue reading

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Rev. William Barber Says GOP Voter Suppression the ‘Real Hacking’ of US Democracy

“We would not be having this healthcare deconstruction if we had the Voting Rights Act!”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-23-2017

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber. Photo: YouTube

In an effort to bring national attention to “homegrown voter suppression” and to launch a campaign of “moral resistance” against Republican attempts to strip healthcare from millions, Rev. William J. Barber and other faith leaders marched in Washington on Friday just ahead of the anniversary of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Writing for NBC News prior to the march, Barber—a member of the NAACP national board of directors and a key figure in the successful effort to overturn North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered districts—argued that absent deliberate efforts by Republican lawmakers to prevent minorities from voting, a Donald Trump victory “would have never been possible.” Continue reading

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What Democracy Looks Like When You Have to Disagree With Your Neighbors

As much as I dislike and distrust our current national administration, I also deeply value community harmony.

By . Published 6-8-2017 by YES! Magazine

Protestors gather outside the hotel where Republican Rep. John Faso is scheduled to speak in Schoharie, New York. Congressman Faso has an 89.7% track record for voting “Yes” on Trump initiatives. Photo by Reggie Harris.

I’m leafing through a stack of protest signs in the corner of the mudroom, reading the markered letters, looking to see what can be recycled for tonight. The subjects we’ve collected thus far are about human rights and the environment. It looks like we’ll need to draft something fresh and new for tonight, because the topic is health care. Our Republican congressman, John Faso, has an 89.7 percent track record for voting “Yes” on Trump initiatives. He hasn’t been holding town meetings with constituents, he and his staff have stopped responding to letters, I’ve never had a phone call even answered, and his recent vote to repeal ObamaCare in the House has sparked this last minute protest down in the village of Schoharie, New York, where he’s the keynote speaker at a countywide Republican fundraiser. Continue reading

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The Last Ride of General Robert E. Lee

 

Photo: YouTube

On Thursday, the final statue in New Orleans was removed that symbolized the Confederacy’s hold over the deep south. Erected 133 years ago, after the end of the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee stood atop the pedestal in the city, reminding all that passed below that the history of slavery and white supremacy would be the best depiction the city should present to the world.

Mayor Mitch Landreiu of New Orleans delivered a speech following the removal of the statue, explaining his reasons and responsibility for doing so. Many are heralding this speech as one so noteworthy it should be viewed with the same regard as the Gettysburg Address.

We present the speech, in its entire text, below.

Thank you for coming.

The soul of our beloved city is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way—for both good and for ill. It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans—the Choctaw, Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando de Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Color, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese, and so many more.

You see, New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum: out of many we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market, a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold, and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor, of misery, of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined “separate but equal”; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well, what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions, why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.

For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth. As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.” So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other. So, let’s start with the facts.

The historic record is clear: The Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This “cult” had one goal—through monuments and through other means—to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America. They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city. Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now famous “corner-stone speech” that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears, I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us, and make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago. We can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and a more perfect union.

Last year, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need to contextualize and remember all our history. He recalled a piece of stone, a slave auction block engraved with a marker commemorating a single moment in 1830 when Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay stood and spoke from it. President Obama said, “Consider what this artifact tells us about history. … On a stone where day after day for years, men and women … bound and bought and sold and bid like cattle on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet. For a long time the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history with a plaque, were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.”

A piece of stone—one stone. Both stories were history. One story told. One story forgotten or maybe even purposefully ignored. As clear as it is for me today … for a long time, even though I grew up in one of New Orleans’ most diverse neighborhoods, even with my family’s long proud history of fighting for civil rights … I must have passed by those monuments a million times without giving them a second thought. So I am not judging anybody, I am not judging people. We all take our own journey on race.

I just hope people listen like I did when my dear friend Wynton Marsalis helped me see the truth. He asked me to think about all the people who have left New Orleans because of our exclusionary attitudes. Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth-grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it? Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too? We all know the answer to these very simple questions. When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. We can’t walk away from this truth.

And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing and this is what that looks like. So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics. This is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naive quest to solve all our problems at once.

This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong. Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division and, yes, with violence.

To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past. It is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future. History cannot be changed.  It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.

And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans—or anyone else—to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd. Centuries-old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place. Here is the essential truth: We are better together than we are apart.

Indivisibility is our essence. Isn’t this the gift that the people of New Orleans have given to the world? We radiate beauty and grace in our food, in our music, in our architecture, in our joy of life, in our celebration of death; in everything that we do. We gave the world this funky thing called jazz, the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages from different cultures. Think about second lines, think about Mardi Gras, think about muffaletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think.

All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing something better; everything a product of our historic diversity. We are proof that out of many we are one — and better for it! Out of many we are one — and we really do love it! And yet, we still seem to find so many excuses for not doing the right thing. Again, remember President Bush’s words. “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we need each other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial. We still find a way to say, “Wait, not so fast.” But like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Wait has almost always meant never.” We can’t wait any longer. We need to change. And we need to change now.

No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain. While some have driven by these monuments every day and either revered their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans see them very clearly. Many are painfully aware of the long shadows their presence casts; not only literally but figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that the Confederacy and the cult of the lost cause intended to deliver.

Earlier this week, as the cult of the lost cause statue of P.G.T Beauregard came down, world renowned musician Terence Blanchard stood watch, his wife Robin and their two beautiful daughters at their side. Terence went to a high school on the edge of City Park named after one of America’s greatest heroes and patriots, John F. Kennedy. But to get there he had to pass by this monument to a man who fought to deny him his humanity.

He said, “I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride … it’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us. This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It’s a sign that the world is changing.” Yes, Terence, it is. And it is long overdue. Now is the time to send a new message to the next generation of New Orleanians who can follow in Terence and Robin’s remarkable footsteps.

A message about the future, about the next 300 years and beyond: Let us not miss this opportunity, New Orleans, and let us help the rest of the country do the same. Because now is the time for choosing. Now is the time to actually make this the City we always should have been, had we gotten it right in the first place.

We should stop for a moment and ask ourselves: At this point in our history — after Katrina, after Rita, after Ike, after Gustav, after the national recession, after the BP oil catastrophe and after the tornado — if presented with the opportunity to build monuments that told our story or to curate these particular spaces, would these monuments be what we want the world to see? Is this really our story?

We have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations. And unlike when these Confederate monuments were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new symbols, but to do it together, as one people. In our blessed land we all come to the table of democracy as equals. We have to reaffirm our commitment to a future where each citizen is guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That is what really makes America great and today it is more important than ever to hold fast to these values and together say a self-evident truth that out of many we are one. That is why today we reclaim these spaces for the United States of America. Because we are one nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice for all, not some. We all are part of one nation, all pledging allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America. And New Orleanians are in …  all of the way. It is in this union and in this truth that real patriotism is rooted and flourishes. Instead of revering a four-year brief historical aberration that was called the Confederacy, we can celebrate all 300 years of our rich, diverse history as a place named New Orleans, and set the tone for the next 300 years.

After decades of public debate, of anger, of anxiety, of anticipation, of humiliation and of frustration. After public hearings and approvals from three separate community led commissions. After two robust public hearings and a 6–1 vote by the duly elected New Orleans City Council. After review by 13 different federal and state judges. The full weight of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government has been brought to bear and the monuments, in accordance with the law, have been removed. So now is the time to come together and heal and focus on our larger task. Not only building new symbols, but making this city a beautiful manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.

Let us remember what the once exiled, imprisoned, and now universally loved Nelson Mandela and what he said after the fall of apartheid. “If the pain has often been unbearable and the revelations shocking to all of us, it is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of a common understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of the nation’s humanity.”  So before we part let us again state the truth clearly.

The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered. As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history.

Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause. Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite as one people when he said, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Thank you.

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Love in a time of fear: an interview with Dashni Morad

‘The Shakira of Kurdistan’ discusses feminism, Kurdish unity, and healing the scars of war.

By Benjamin Ramm. Published 3-30-2017 by openDemocracy

Dashni Morad. (Credit: John Wright, February 2016)

As the battle for Mosul nears its conclusion, the fate of civilian survivors remains uncertain. The Kurdish singer and humanitarian Dashni Morad, whose youth was defined by conflict in the region, aims to highlight the psychological scars of living under a brutal regime. In 2014, Morad raised funds for refugee camps outside Mosul, where she witnessed the impact of three years of war on displaced children. Tutored only in fear, the children are aggressive even in play: “it made me so upset to see that a kid can be taken from its inner child”, she says. “It is the worst thing you can do to a human being – to take away that magical world”. Continue reading

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