After a week here in FMC Lexington Satellite camp, a federal prison in Kentucky, I started catching up on national and international news via back issues of USA Today available in the prison library. An "In Brief" item, on p. 2A of the Jan. 30 weekend edition, caught my eye. It briefly described a protest in Washington, D.C., in which members of the antiwar group "Code Pink" interrupted a U.S. Senate Armed Services budget hearing chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The protesters approached a witness table where Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, and George Schulz were seated. One of their signs called Henry Kissinger a war criminal. "McCain," the article continued, "blurted out, 'Get out of here, you low-life scum.'"
At mail call, a week ago, I received Richard Clarke's novel, The Sting of the Drone, about characters involved in developing and launching drone attacks. I'm in prison for protesting drone warfare, so a kind friend ordered it for me. The author, a former "National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism," worked for 30 years inside the U.S. government but seems to have greater respect than some within government for concerned people outside of it. He seems also to feel some respect for people outside our borders.
He develops, I think, a fair-minded approach toward evaluating drone warfare given his acceptance that wars and assassinations are sometimes necessary. (I don't share that premise). Several characters in the novel, including members of a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, criticize drone warfare, noting that in spite of high level, expensive reconnaissance, drone attacks still kill civilians, alienating people the U.S. ostensibly wants to turn away from terrorism.
What good would it do for three kayaks, three canoes, and a rubber dinghy to paddle into the path of a Pakistani steamship? For a tiny fishing boat with unarmed, praying Americans aboard to sail toward an American battleship threatening Nicaragua? For an 80-year-old lady in a wheelchair to stop in front of advancing Filipino tanks? Or for nonviolent protesters to defy the communist rulers of the Soviet Empire?
Soviet communism collapsed. The tanks stopped and a nonviolent revolution succeeded. The American battleship left and the threat of invasion faded. And the U.S. shipment of arms to Pakistan stopped.
Those are just a few of the many dramatic successes of nonviolent confrontation in the last several decades. Everyone, of course, knows how Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent revolution eventually defeated the British Empire and – as the powerful film Selma now reminds us – Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful civil rights crusade changed American history. There have been scores upon scores of instances of nonviolent victories over dictatorship and oppression in the last 50-plus years. In fact, Dr. Gene Sharp, the foremost scholar of nonviolence today, has said that the later 20th century saw a remarkable expansion of the substitution of nonviolent struggle for violence. More recent scholarship has not only confirmed Sharp’s comment; it has also shown that nonviolent revolutions against injustice and dictatorship are actually more successful than violent campaigns.
The Bureau of Prisons contacted me today, assigning me a prison number and a new address: for the next 90 days, beginning tomorrow, I’ll live at FMC Lexington, in the satellite prison camp for women, adjacent to Lexington’s federal medical center for men. Very early tomorrow morning, Buddy Bell, Cassandra Dixon, and Paco and Silver, two house guests whom we first met in protests on South Korea’s Jeju Island, will travel with me to Kentucky and deliver me to the satellite women’s prison outside the Federal Medical Center for men.
In December 2014, Judge Matt Whitworth sentenced me to three months in federal prison after Georgia Walker and I had attempted to deliver a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander of Whiteman Air Force base, asking him to stop his troops from piloting lethal drone flights over Afghanistan from within the base. Judge Whitworth allowed me more than a month to surrender myself to prison; but whether you are a soldier or a civilian, a target or an unlucky bystander, you can’t surrender to a drone.
When I was imprisoned at Lexington prison in 1988, after a federal magistrate in Missouri sentenced me to one year for planting corn on nuclear missile silo sites, other women prisoners playfully nicknamed me “Missiles.” One of my sisters reliably made me laugh today, texting me to ask if I thought the women this time would call me “Drones.”
It’s good to laugh and feel camaraderie before heading into prison. For someone like me, very nearly saturated in “white privilege” through much of this arrest, trial, and sentencing process, 90 percent (or more) of my experience will likely depend on attitude.
In cities and towns across our nation, this weekend’s coordinated actions for the #BlackLivesMatter movement center on reclaiming Martin Luther King Jr.’s radical legacy. As you may recall, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and President Barack Obama — among others — invoked the nonviolence of King in their calls for peace following the non-indictment of Darren Wilson. As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approached, organizers had to field countless criticisms by white people telling them, “King wouldn’t approve of what you’re doing” and “I’ve studied his work, I know he wouldn’t react like you have.”
Based on comments like these, it stands to reason that white people in the United States may need a jolt of reality about King’s anti-capitalist agitation.
King was outspoken against capitalism’s oppressive clutch on both the national and global levels. King made it clear that racism and economics were intimately intertwined. I’m reminded of his classic quote, “What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?”
King acknowledged that the discussion of class couldn’t be divorced from the discussion of race. While both conversations make us uncomfortable, somehow we would rather remember King as a civil rights leader only, and not also as a vocal critic of capitalism who instead favored a form of Democratic Socialism.
I often hear criticisms that protesters are disturbing the peace, employing overly aggressive tactics, and generally making people too uncomfortable. The hypocrisy in these claims is that King disturbed the peace, used aggressive tactics, and made people extremely uncomfortable. Why do we call for peace when what we mean is order?
Christmas is a time for celebration, joy, and family. But Christmas is much more than a sentimental holiday.
Christmas is subversive.
The Bible doesn’t tell us the specific date Jesus was born. Later Christians tradition gave us the date of December 25. It was chosen by Pope Julius around the year 350 and Christians have been celebrating Christ’s birth on that day ever since.
But Pope Julius didn’t just randomly pick December 25. He was deliberate. As Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan claim in their book The First Christmas, when Pope Julius declared December 25 as the date to celebrate Christ’s birth, he integrated “it with a Roman solstice festival celebrating the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.’ The Roman birthday of the sun became the Christian birthday of the Son.”
That last sentence isn’t just a cute turn of phrase. It symbolizes the subversive quality of Christmas.
The letter arrived at work about two weeks after baseball’s opening day in 2003. It had a Zanesville, Ohio, postmark. A return address sticker mentioned a Mrs. Howard Richardson.
What‘s this about?
Inside was a handwritten note along with a neatly clipped copy of my Cincinnati Reds season preview story from the Zanesville Times Recorder. I didn’t have to read far to get the gist.
This Mrs. Howard Richardson — she wasn’t happy with me. Not at all.
In beautiful cursive — the kind of handwriting you don’t see anymore — she pointedly took me to task for suggesting the Reds could be awful that season. I should be more positive, she insisted. It would help the players.
“You get more flies with honey than vinegar!!!!!” she wrote. (Yes, underlined and topped off with many exclamation points.)
The note was signed: Evelyn Richardson.
One hundred years ago, during the First World War, the Christmas truce took place between British, German, and French soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front. On Christmas Eve 1914, soldiers from opposing sides, who were stationed there to kill each other, instead got to know one another, shared photos of loved ones, and even had a game of soccer.
This of course made their superiors furious, not just because the troops were disobeying orders, but because it is much harder to harm someone with whom you have formed some sort of relationship. The enemy is to be faceless and nameless.
The same holds true for millions of people living in poverty around the world this Christmas. They are the faceless and nameless ones. In reality though, the enemy that is poverty is not faceless. Poverty is about people; it is not about statistics. Poverty is also not just about a lack of material goods; it is more about a lack of dignity, a lack of a sense that you are important. We are reminded that poverty is always personal because it is about relationship.
I'm grateful for the warm, safe shelter of my home when there are 610,042 experiencing homelessness on any given night in the U.S.
I’m grateful for more than enough to eat when there are 805 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active live.
I’m grateful that I have clean drinking water when over 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes.
I’m grateful that I have good health when so many people do not have access to decent medical care, like the 5,459 people who have died from Ebola this year, and the millions more who die each year from preventable diseases.
I’m grateful I have clothing to wear when in the poorest of places, the lack of proper clothing costs lives, and hundreds of millions still live in conditions of material deprivation.
I’m grateful for my freedom when the U.S. had 1.57 million inmates behind bars, the highest percentage of a population of any developed country in the world.
I’m grateful for my citizenship when there are over 11 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. living in the shadow of constant fear.
But I’m especially grateful for the people I know, and the ones I don’t, that are working for justice and peace; a world where all our brothers and sisters have the basic necessities of shelter, food, clean water, decent medical care, and warm clothing. A world where every human being’s dignity is respected and valued. A world Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven.
I currently serve as Pastoral Associate at a Catholic parish in Buffalo, NY, where our pastor decided to hold monthly Prayer Hours for Peace in response to the violent outbreaks in Syria, the uprising in Ferguson over Michael Brown’s death, ISIS, gang violence — to name a few.
Our November Prayer Hour for Peace offered four rounds of Scripture passages and ten-minute reflection and prayer time, followed with an excerpt from a Pax Christi USA prayer called “Just for Today.”
I read this excerpt aloud:
“Just for today, I will believe that world peace is possible. I will remember that hope is the most important gift I can give my world.”
The next Scripture verse was from Psalm 122:6-8.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, Peace be within you.”
For the next ten minutes, I inhaled “belief….possible” and exhaled “hope most important gift.” Physically, my body relaxed, and I watched my hope flow out into my immediate surroundings.
Peace, with its connotation of tranquility and stillness, is the Christian’s most misunderstood concept. We have long sought to keep peace by silencing dissent under the guise of pursuing unity, coated with a zealous concern for niceties, unwilling to budge a status quo. We forget to ask the crucial question: for whom do we keep peace?
Wherever peace is elusive, the first ones to suffer are the vulnerable.
When corporations engage in legal battles, employees who don’t get a vote have the most at stake. When marital tensions rise high, children’s tender spirits lay at the parents’ mercy. When war ravages a country, the displaced peoples helplessly suffer.
When keeping the peace only benefits the powerful, it is not a Christian peace. The sweet baby Jesus portrayed in sentimental Christmas cards has taken an abrupt departure from the kind of peace we see Jesus embody in Scripture. Even as an infant, the baby Jesus so disrupted the power authorities of the day that sent them scrambling into every home killing firstborn baby boys.
Christian peace is not about coddling people’s fear of conflict. It isn’t about making sure everyone is comfortable. It does not silence those for whom a lack of peace is a life or death situation. The irony is that often, the ones with feeble power are the ones who are told to keep peace and remain silent.
When the society is disrupted by scandalizing conflict — whether it is the Bill Cosby rape accusations, or the “harsh disciplinary methods” of certain celebrity parents, or an entire neighborhood weary of losing their young men to police violence — the Christian dare not keep peace by silencing the voice of the victims.
I believe in love. I don’t subscribe to any particular religion.
Feroz, a Hazara who is a Shia Muslim, lived with me in a community in Kabul with 13 other Afghan Peace Volunteers, including Tajiks and Pashtuns, who are Sunnis.
This is a community established with the intention of learning about and practicing nonviolence, a little like an Afghan version of Gandhi’s ashram.
One day, there were black faces and a curt exchange of words.
“What meaning does praying with the little piece of stone have anyway?” Bashir, a Tajik, who is a Sunni Muslim, snapped at Feroz, a Hazara, who is a Shia Muslim.
“Why should that bother you? It’s important to us. Your way of praying isn’t particularly good either, praying with your hands ‘closed,’” Feroz retorted. Shia Muslims like Feroz pray with their hands and arms in an ‘open’ posture, and till today, some Shia and Sunni religious leaders make an issue of it.
The ways we reach out to God should be happy endeavors, but these ways can become bones of contention, especially if they’re deemed to be special or exclusive paths to God.
In the wake of the latest escalation of the U.S. “war on terror,” it’s time to remember the origin of Veterans Day. In 1926, Congress officially recognized the commemoration of Armistice Day on Nov. 11 with the exhortation, “the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” Armistice Day commemorated the day when World War I hostilities ceased, and had been celebrated informally since 1919 as a day to work for peace.