Protest

VIDEO: Requiem for Mike Brown

Rather than taking to the streets, demonstrators took to the theater in October to protest police brutality in Ferguson, Mo. Audience members who came to enjoy the St. Louis Symphony perform Brahms’ German Requiem were also confronted with singing protestors, asking them, “Which side are you on?”

“Advent is a season of disruption, a season of silences and unexpected angelic choirs, one of prophetic demands and alarming wake-up calls.” Advent forces us out of complacency and into necessary disruption to ask us difficult questions: Are we on the side of the oppressed? Are we on the side of the meek and the mourners? The side of the singing peacemakers? Read more in Rose Berger’s “Season of Disruption” (Sojourners, December 2014).

Watch this video to see how the audience reacted to the “disruption.”

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Incubating Peaceful Revolution

IN NOVEMBER 1964, as the long Cold War heated up again, this time in Vietnam, Trappist monk Thomas Merton set forth a koan to 14 peacemakers: “By what right do Christians protest?” For three days, these activists and theologians—famously uniting Catholic and Protestant faith traditions—met with Merton in the Kentucky hills, grappling with how and why Christians should resist the violence of war.

Historian Gordon Oyer has re-created this meeting so pivotal to the peace movement and—most important—assessed its meaning for our time. The historic retreat is meticulously sourced with detailed textual analysis of the presenters at the retreat and the writers who influenced them. Particularly impressive is the lucid summary of the era and the delicacy and respect with which the author treats cultural and doctrinal differences among the participants.

Ecumenism in peace work is thankfully common today, but in the early ’60s the blending of faith traditions at the retreat was groundbreaking. Even more revolutionary were the two Masses the group celebrated together, with Jesuit priest Dan Berrigan presiding, everyone in the group receiving communion, and John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite theologian, preaching at the second liturgy. (Both practices were proscribed at the time.)

Attendees included Phil Berrigan, later one of the creators of the Plowshares actions for nuclear disarmament, and A.J. Muste, dean of the U.S. peace movement at the time, with years of experience in War Resisters League, the Committee for Nonviolent Action, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). FOR’s Paul Peachey and John Heidbrink were instrumental in initiating and organizing the retreat, although neither of them could attend in the end. (Neither could two other invitees—Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr.)

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The Emptiness of Gun Violence

Empty shoes at the Wisconsin State Capitol represent 467 gun deaths in Wisconsin

Empty shoes at the Wisconsin State Capitol represent 467 gun deaths in Wisconsin. Image courtesy Phil Haslanger.

The empty shoes came in all shapes and sizes — cowboy boots and sneakers, children’s sparkly shoes and women’s dress shoes. They filled step after step going up toward the entrance of the Wisconsin State Capitol. 
The shoes — 467 pair of them — represented the death toll from guns in just one state: Wisconsin.  

"I want you to look at these empty shoes," Jeri Bonavia, told the crowd gathered on the Capitol steps on Monday. "I want you to bear witness. All across our state, families are aching with emptiness." 

Bonavia is the executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, which is using this display of empty shoes in five cities around the state this week. 

In the nationwide scheme of things, Wisconsin has a lower death rate from guns than the nation as a whole. The annual average of 467 from murder, suicide and accidents is just a fraction of the approximately 30,000 gun deaths each year across the U.S.  

And yet the row upon row of empty shoes on the steps spoke to the heartache that comes with each death, whatever the toll in whatever state.  

Michael Brown's Funeral Echoes with Cries for Justice

Photo by Christian Gooden, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at Greater Grace Church in Florissant. Photo by Christian Gooden, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — Justice was a recurring theme as thousands of mourners packed the mammoth Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Monday for the funeral of Michael Brown, a black teen whose fatal shooting following a confrontation with a white police officer set off weeks of sometimes violent protests.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, among the speakers, called for a “fair and impartial investigation” into the shooting.

“We are not anti-police, we respect police,” Sharpton said. “But those police that are wrong need to be dealt with just like those in our community who are wrong need to be dealt with.”

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer representing Brown’s family, alluded to the “three-fifths” clause in the Constitution for counting slaves (which actually was an anti-slavery clause) and demanded that Brown get “full justice, not three-fifths justice.”

Brown’s body was being laid to rest, but the controversy surrounding the Aug. 9 shooting was far from over. Prosecutors have not determined whether the Ferguson police officer, 28-year-old Darren Wilson, will face charges in Brown’s death.

God Hears the Cries of #Ferguson: A Burning Bush and a World on Fire

jorisvo/Shutterstock.com and Light Brigading and Shawn Semmler/Flickr

jorisvo/Shutterstock.com and Light Brigading and Shawn Semmler/Flickr

"Then the LORD said, 'I have observed the misery of my people…I have heard their cry…Indeed, I know their sufferings…’ - Exodus 3:7

For the last few weeks, the eyes of America have been riveted on the town of Ferguson, Missouri, a formerly little-known suburb of St. Louis. It was there on Aug. 9 that an unarmed African-American teenager named Mike Brown was shot six times by police, sparking ongoing protests and demonstrations by grief-stricken and outraged citizens. Clashes between demonstrators and heavily armed local police, highway patrol, and the Missouri National Guard have been the subject of extensive coverage and all manner of commentary across broadcast and social media.

These demonstrations in Ferguson represent something more than just lament for the tragic death of Mike Brown. They are an outcry at the demonization of black men, racial profiling, institutional racism, intergenerational poverty, the militarization of law enforcement, and a culture of incarceration in America. Over the last three weeks, Ferguson has become a flash point for urgent issues facing minority communities, issues which have been largely unnoticed or ignored by the majority white culture. The #Ferguson hashtag no longer just refers to the events happening in Ferguson but has come to represent a national conversation about the toll that institutional racism and its many diabolical expressions have taken on our fellow Americans.

In the days following Mike Brown’s death, columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. described the protests as “an act of outcry, a scream of inchoate rage. That’s what happened this week in Ferguson, Mo. The people screamed.” These screams echo of the cries that God heard from the Hebrews enslaved in ancient Egypt.

#BlackLivesMatter: Gathering for Solidarity in Washington, D.C.

Last night, Washington, D.C., residents young and old gathered in the Columbia Heights neighborhood to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, stand in solidarity with those on the front lines of continued protests in Ferguson, Mo., and let our governmant and law enforcement officials know that #BlackLivesMatter. The protest was organized by a Howard University student who hails from St. Louis and "needed to do something" given the reports she received from friends and family on the ground in Ferguson.

About a dozen Sojourners employees were in attendance. Check out the video below with testimony from two protestors who spent some time over the last week in Ferguson.

A Pivot on the Peace Island

Hang Dinh/Shutterstock.com

Jeju Island, South Korea. Hang Dinh/Shutterstock.com

Jeju Island, South Korea — For the past two weeks, I’ve been in the Republic of Korea (ROK), as a guest of peace activists living in Gangjeong Village on ROK’s Jeju Island. Gangjeong is one of the ROK’s smallest villages, yet activists here, in their struggle against the construction of a massive naval base, have inspired people around the world.  

Since 2007, activists have risked arrests, imprisonment, heavy fines, and wildly excessive use of police force to resist the desecration caused as mega-corporations like Samsung and Daelim build a base to accommodate U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines for their missions throughout Asia. The base fits the regional needs of the U.S. for a maritime military outpost that would enable it to continue developing its Asia Pivot strategy, gradually building towards and in the process provoking superpower conflict with China.  

“We don’t need this base,” says Bishop Kang, a Catholic prelate who vigorously supports the opposition.

Palm-Powered Protest

Courtesy Odyssey Networks

Palm-powered protest. Courtesy Odyssey Networks

Have you ever noticed that society allows fans to do things that, short of fandom, we would deem absolutely crazy? When do grown adults have permission to paint their faces with logos except on the day of the big game? When is hugging perfect strangers acceptable? After a 3-point shot of your favorite team beats the buzzer, it’s expected. Screaming at the top of our lungs is perfectly acceptable when we’re in a crowd of thousands doing the same.

March Madness wraps up this week and a tournament champion will be crowned. Whatever the outcome of Monday’s championship game, we can guarantee that there will be screaming crowds at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (The final may break the record of largest crowd ever to attend a NCAA basketball game with 75,421 attendees.)

Crowds change social norms. Whether they are for sport, political protest, or public worship, gathering with thousands inevitably changes our mood and actions. I have never felt as alone as in a rival team’s stadium filled with thousands of home-team fans. I rarely feel as important as when I’ve gathered with others to protest unjust laws or call for social action. I get Goose bumps when I’m able to recite the Lord’s Prayer with a few thousand other worshipers.

Next Sunday, April 13, 2014, is known as Palm Sunday. Around the world Christians will gather to wave palm branches.

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