Monday, April 30, 2007

My Friend, Rev. Don Coleman Goes to Prison Protesting the School of the Americas

Don Coleman (70) and his wife Ann Marie Coleman are pastors of the University Church in Hyde Park, Chicago. I have known them for over 15 years. They are two people who embody what Jesus means when he says: "Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." Two weeks ago Don checked into the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago for 60 days as punishment for his protest at the School of the America's in Fort Benning, Georgia.

In September, 2006, after about a year of consideration, he took part in civil disobedience at the School of the Americas now called Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in Ft. Benning Georgia. He crossed the physical and symbolic line between protest and resistance and was arrested at once.

The School of the Americas has a terrible history of training Latin American forces in the dark arts of war and interrogation. Many of the commanders of death squads in Guatamela and El Salvador came to America to learn their trades; many of the leaders of the Contras in Nicaragua were first students in Georgia. We are all implicated in murder, rape and torture through our acceptance of the School of the Americas.

At his trial, Don offered the following statement, (reproduced from notes and may not be verbatim):

Your honor and friends:

My name is Don Coleman. I am co-pastor, with my wife Ann Marie, of University Church in Chicago. I come to this court room with support and encouragement from members and friends of University Church.

University Church has been involved in matters of Central America for 25 years. Members have traveled to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Colombia. We have spent hours in study groups learning about Central America. Members of the congregation were active in the creation of the Sanctuary Movement in Chicago in the early eighties.

We have been blest by Virgilio Vicente, Isabel Canu, and their family of four children, who became active at University Church when they came to Chicago in 1986 through the Sanctuary Movement. Virgilio is from Saq Ja, one of four hundred villages destroyed by the Guatemalan military. Saq Ja was razed to the ground; plants were uprooted and burned, animals killed, people slaughtered, and a few escaped into the jungle, Guatemala City, or with help from the Sanctuary Movement came to the United States.

Virgilio and Isabel have become American citizens. But they are caught in the contradiction of citizenship and knowing that it was they United State?s military (namely, School of the Americas) that trained the military leaders in Guatemala responsible for the destruction of their village and the slaying of their family members.

University Church has sent people to these demonstrations at the gate of Ft. Benning since 2002. Last year (November 19, 2005) a delegation of 13 people attended the demonstration. Virgilio placed a cross against the fence blocking people from entering the base. I was moved to tears for on the cross were the names of his father and mother who had been killed in the destruction of the village of Sq Ja.

Those of us at University Church know that there are consequences to the training that takes place here. We know names and see faces of people brutally slaughtered by Guatemalan military personnel trained here. They keep the upper class in power, protect corporate interests, rob the poor of their land, and are responsible for killing or disappearing church leaders and labor organizers and teacher and community leaders.

I have pleaded not guilty but have agreed to the stipulations of the government that I did cross through the fence on November 19, 2005. Let me plead guilty, your honor, to what I accept guilt for:

I plead guilty to respecting the law. I have been a law abiding citizen all my life and have never had any convictions for actions like this before. But the comparison of climbing through a fence with no damage to physical property or harm to another human being cannot be compared to the injustice and brutality that is the consequence of the training that takes place at this base. And I believe the focus on the petty misdemeanor that we are accused of makes this court complicit in the brutal acts of the Western Hemisphere Institute of Internal Security / School of the Americas.

I plead guilty of thinking long and hard about my decision to participate in this action. I could find no other way of putting WHINSEC/ SOA on trial for the crimes committed because of their training than this action. I consider what the sixteen of us have done as a way of holding the military in this country accountable for the injustice created by their actions. This act of civil disobedience on my part is really an act of holy obedience to the God who called me to respond.

I plead guilty to this action as a way of closing the WHINSEC / SOA. My act is the act of one person but it supported by members and friends of University Church and people from around the country. There will continue to be people from University Church joining with the thousands committed to closing this institution. And we are confident that in God?s long arc of justice its will be closed. So let justice roll down like an ever flowing stream.

Read about others who went to prison with Don

Read an informative article by Peter Rothberg published in The Nation entitled "School of the Americas: Shut It Down"

When Don was asked what people can do to support him, he suggested four things:

1. Pray: for him, for the other 15 prisoners of conscience and for our congress: that they wll act to quickly close the School of the Americas.

2. In solidarity, join him an the 15 other prisoners of conscience in fasting on April 23, 26 and 27.

3. Contact with your member in the U.S. House and ask him/her to co-sponsor H.R. 1707, the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2007. The bill that would suspend funding for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as the School of the Americas)

4. During the next 60 days, tell the story of the SOA to a few of your friends who don't know about it already.

Send a card of encouragement and thanks to Don!
Arthur D. Coleman
Metropolitan Correctional Center
71 W. Van Buren Street
Chicago, IL 60605

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why Did the Press Buy the War? Check Out Bill Moyers' Journal

On April 25th on PBS stations nationwide

Click here for Bill Moyers' Journal Website

The marketing of the war in Iraq by the administration has been much examined, but a critical question remains: How and why did the press buy it? The new Bill Moyers Journal premieres with a documentary that explores these very questions.

Bill Moyers and his team piece together the reporting that shows how the media were complicit in shaping the "public mind" toward the war, and ask what's happened to the press' role as skeptical "watchdog" over government power. The program features the work of some intrepid journalists who didn't take the government's word at face value, including the team of reporters at Knight Ridder news service whose reporting turned up evidence at odds with the official view of reality.
Buying the War includes interviews with Dan Rather, formerly of CBS; Tim Russert of Meet the Press; Bob Simon of 60 Minutes; Walter Pincus of the Washington Post; Walter Isaacson, then president of CNN; editor- at-large of The New Republic; and author Peter Beinart; and talk show host Phil Donahue. Noted media critics Eric Boehlert and Michael Massing are also interviewed.

Click here to view a preview of Buying the War:

Host a House Party with Bill Moyers on April 25th!

On Wednesday, April 25, you can host An Evening with Bill Moyers house party to watch his newest documentary, "Buying the War," broadcast live on your local PBS station. Just before the screening, Moyers will be available to answer your questions during an exclusive conference call with media reform and anti- war activists around the country. The house parties are being organized by the media reform group Free Press.

Sign up online to be a host

Invite people you know (Free Press will also invite Free Press Activists if you'd like) Read the hosting guide and print hosting materials Open your home or find an appropriate venue Watch "Buying the War" and join the conference call with Bill Moyers

Click here to learn more or sign up to host a party.

Click here to find a house party in your area.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Shame on you, Harry Reid!

When the Democratic leader of the US Senate, Harry Reid said, "I hope there's not a rush to do anything!" I couldn't believe my ears. A mentally ill man who bought hand guns legally, and used it to kill 32 students at Virginia Tech, and the US Senate will not "rush to do anything!"

"We're in mourning now," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

President Bush said he expects a national debate on gun control but "now is not the time." It's too soon even to think about changing gun policy, let alone to discuss it, he said.

Finally, the Democrats and the president agree on something.

New York congressman Charles Rangel when asked why this is the case when some 85% of the US population favors stronger gun controls, replied, the 15% is organized, the others are not. This indeed is the issue.

It is time for people of faith, who value life and love neighbor to stand up to the lethal organizing power of the NRA lobby. We've been silent and allowed the masscre of innocents to go on for far too long.

I appreciated Matthew Rothschild's column entitled: When “Good Politics” Gets Lethal: Harry Reid Takes a Dive on Gun Control. Perhaps you would too.

Friday, April 20, 2007

McCain's Song Is NOT Funny

Senator John McCain's presidential campaign hit a new low on Wednesday, when in answer to a question about Iran, he began to sing bomb,bomb, bomb, Iran to the tune of the Beach Boys song "Barbara Ann." The audience responded with laughter and applause. This is NOT funny. Responsible leaders will look for ways to resolve difference through diplomacy rather than violence.

The delegation of Christian leaders to Iran, two months ago, called on politicians, media and US Americans to stop talking about Iran using enemy images.

Confronted with criticism, Senator McCain brushed it off saying that those who criticize him should "get a life." To which, I say, we all want to get a life -- but Senator, you are advocating a culture of death.

Thoughtless and knee-jerk violent responses only create a deeper culture of violence in a society that is already saturated with guns and violence as we so tragically experienced on Monday in Virginia.

Click here to see the McCain video:

Click here to a TV ad that is being promoted by Move

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia, Iraq and DC -- from Rabbi Arthur Waskow

All America is in shock and tears – and should be – over the murder of 33 students at Virginia Tech.

So the President said: “How horrifying! These people did nothing at all to deserve dying. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Right. So were between 200,000 and 500,000 Iraqis whom the President’s war sent to their deaths. And more than 3200 Americans. Is there NO self-awareness left in this empty shell of a human being?

How much of America is in shock and tears at the report from Afghanistan that American marines used "excessive force" last month, in a machine-gun rampage that covered 10 miles of highway and left 12 civilians dead, including an infant and three elderly men? One 16-year-old newly married girl was cut down while she was carrying a bundle of grass to her family’s farmhouse. A 75-year-old man walking to his shop was hit by so many bullets that his son did not recognize the body when he came to the scene.

This was not just "excessive force." In international and US domestic law, it was murder, as were the killings in Virginia. How many Americans are in shock and tears at the death-a-day statistic being run up in Philadelphia where childen and grown-ups are destroyed by gun violence? Where the state legislature won’t limit pourchase of handguns to no more than one a month?

All these events are disgusting. Not one is surprising. We have a government of old men who turn guns and bombs into Idols for the worship of their own power. Is it surprising when young men in Afghanistan or Virginia or Philadelphia use such guns to worship their own power?Certainly these killers bear personal responsibility for their actions. Whatever nightmares, fears, and rage haunted the Virginia or the Afghanistan killers are not excuses for their murders. Neither is the official arrogance that for no legitimate reason sent armies to shatter Iraq, or the official arrogance that turns ownership of assault weapons into a Constitutional right.

If the President is serious about being horrified by the Virginia killings, let him NOW, TODAY, ask Congress to outlaw assault weapons and announce NOW, TODAY, the beginning with commitment to a swift completion for bringing safely home US soldiers from the US occupation of Iraq – an occupation as criminal, and as rooted in the worship of violence, as the murders in Virginia.

And as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught,: In a free society, when officials commit crimes, some are guilty; all are responsible. ALL.

That means all of us.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Monday, April 16, 2007

NCC Offers Prayers, Calls for Gun Legislation

New York City, April 16, 2007 – "My pastor's heart breaks for the families of those who died today," said the Rev. Bob Edgar following today's fatal shooting at Virginia Tech University. Edgar, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA (NCC), also renewed the NCC's call for meaningful legislation to prevent such gun violence.

"Faith leaders have spoken up continually about the epidemic of gun violence in our country," Edgar said in a statement (complete text below). "Despite repeated calls from faith and community leaders to Congress and presidents nothing ever seems to get done to stem the tide."

Edgar, himself a former Member of Congress, lamented that the issue of gun violence seems to get such little attention from those who have the power to do something about it.

"How many more will have to die before we say enough is enough? How many more senseless deaths will have to be counted before we enact meaningful firearms control in this country? How many more of our pastors, rabbis and imams will have to preside over caskets of innocent victims of gun violence because a nation refused to stop the proliferation of these small weapons of mass destruction?," said Edgar.

Edgar pointed to the NCC's 1967 policy calling for firearms control and a March 2000 interfaith campaign calling for an end to the epidemic of gun violence in the nation.

"The escalation of gun violence compels us to call for an end to the manufacture and easy distribution of such instruments of destruction," Edgar said in 2000 and reiterated that statement today.

Edgar invited people of faith and goodwill to send messages of support to a weblog set up by the Virginia Interfaith Center.

The NCC is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches. These 35 communions have 45 million faithful members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.

NCC News contact: Dan Webster, 212.870.2252,

Statement of the Rev. Bob Edgar, NCC General Secretary, on the campus massacre by gun violence at Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, Va.

The news of yet another senseless act of gun violence in our nation brings to mind the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "Only a suffering God makes sense."

My pastor's heart breaks for the families of those who died today. I pray for them and for those who witnessed the unspeakable violence that destroyed the peace of a spring day on a scenic campus at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia.

Faith leaders have spoken up continually about the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Despite repeated calls from faith and community leaders to Congress and presidents nothing ever seems to get done to stem the tide.

How many more will have to die before we say enough is enough? How many more senseless deaths will have to be counted before we enact meaningful firearms control in this country? How many more of our pastors, rabbis and imams will have to preside over caskets of innocent victims of gun violence because a nation refused to stop the proliferation of these small weapons of mass destruction?

Unfortunately this is not a new issue for the National Council of Churches. In September 1967, the General Board of the NCC called for federal legislation to regulate the sale of guns. Our Board was realistic in its policy statement.

"We are fully aware that firearms control legislation does not take the place of constructive measures to eliminate the causes of crime and social dis-organization," says the 1967 statement in part. "It does, however, represent a long overdue measure which might have prevented much tragic loss of life."

Seven years and one month ago the NCC joined an "Interfaith Call to End Gun Violence." It was yet another effort to get the attention of legislators to stop listening only to the gun lobby and claim their responsibility as leaders of a civil society to take the guns off our streets.

I said then and I reiterate now: "It is increasingly evident that guns, rather than providing the security people seek and rightfully deserve, only add further to our sense of unease and danger. The escalation of gun violence compels us to call for an end to the manufacture and easy distribution of such instruments of destruction. A faith that expresses compassion for all God's children is opposed to violence in all forms."

NCC News contact: Dan Webster, 212.870.2252,

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Why is Talking a Concession?

The British sailors are back home. Praise God for their safe return!

Clearly the leaders of the Islamic Republic decided they had gained as much as they could from the crisis -- and that further confrontation could prove counterproductive. Kamran Bokari, a senior analyst at the private intelligence consulting firm Stratfor said, "The bottom line that they've underscored is: If you mess with us, we can mess back. The Iranians come out looking really good, because they've demonstrated they can checkmate."

Iran's leaders insisted the release of the Britons on the 13th day of their detention was a matter of pure goodwill, saying they had made no compromise. The official news agency IRNA quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying the release was a gift to the British in celebration of the birthday March 30 of the prophet Muhammad and in honor of the upcoming celebration of Easter.

In today's New York Times an Op Ed entitled "What We Can Learn From Britain About Iran" written by Vali Nasr, professor at the Naval Post graduate School, and Ray Takeyh, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations addresses clearly and forthrightly the lessions we can learn from Britain. They write:

"Had the British followed the American example, once the sailors and marines were seized, they could have escalated the conflict by pursuing the matter more forcefully at the United Nations or sending additional naval vessels to the area. Instead, the British tempered their rhetoric and insisted that diplomacy was the only means of resolving the conflict. The Iranians received this as pragmatism on London's part and responded in kind."

The background to this most recent confrontation with Iran was outlined in an article in the UK Independent on April 3 entitled, "The botched US raid that led to the hostage crisis." It connected the dots between the US arrest of five junior Iranian diplomats in the city of Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan on January 11 and the crisis with the British sailors.

Writes Patrick Coburn, "The raid in Arbil was a far more serious and aggressive act. It was not carried out by proxies but by US forces directly. The abortive Arbil raid provoked a dangerous escalation in the confrontation between the US and Iran which ultimately led to the capture of the 15 British sailors and Marines - apparently considered a more vulnerable coalition target than their American comrades."

Through all of this, the Bush Administration's policy on diplomacy with Iran is that talking is a concession. The issue surfaces on another front, House Speaker Nancy Peloci's trip to Syria.

Vice President Dick Cheney said in a radio interview that Syrian President Bashar Assad has been isolated and cut off internationally because of his government's behavior. "The unfortunate thing about the speaker's visit is it sort of breaks down that barrier," Cheney said on ABC News Radio. "In other words, his bad behavior is being rewarded, in a sense."

When did talking become a concession and diplomacy a reward? The British example clearly shows how misguided that policy is.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Beyond Vietnam:" 40 Years Later Martin Luther King, Jr., Still Speaks

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at Riverside Church, New York

Today, April 4th is the fortieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic sermon at Riverside Church, New York, entitled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence." There is no topic more relevant today than that trumpet call to break the silence.

Click here for a transcript of the sermon.

One year later to the day, he was assasinated. Today is also the 39th anniversary of his death.

One of my colleagues, Rev. Dr. Steve Sidorak, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council of Churches wrote an Op Ed about this published today in the Hartford Courant.

He writes: "A damning judgment on the nation, his harshest words, in "Letter From Birmingham Jail," were reserved for the church, which he believed provided "silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are." King struggled against not only the imperialism of "the principalities and powers" but the cowardice of the religious community. "

Click here for Steve Sidorak's article

Its' time to break the silence!

The Parents Circle – Families Forum: Bereaved Families Supporting Peace, Reconciliation and Tolerance

Yesterday, I met with representatives of the Parents Circle, an organization of bereaved families primarily Israeli and Palestinian, who promote reconciliation and peace.

Their website states:

It is, as far as we know, a world precedent that bereaved families, victims from both sides, embark on a joint reconciliation mission while the conflict is still active. Consisting of several hundreds of bereaved families, half Palestinian and half Israeli, The Families Forum has played a crucial role since its inception in 1995, in spearheading a reconciliation process between Israelis and Palestinians. The Forum members have all lost immediate family members due to the violence in the region.

It also quotes Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

"Peace is possible when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable (…) the members of the Parents Circle have experienced this truth In the depths of their Suffering and loss. They have found that there Is more that unites us than Divides us, that we are All members of one family, the human family (…)" Desmond M. Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus Letter to The Parents Circle – Families Forum, April 2004

They have an Exhibition created by 135 Israeli and Palestinian artists to create an environment of reconciliation on behalf of the bereved family forum. The artwork will be on display at in Washington DC at the World Bank from April 30 - May 6th. Click here for other scheduled exihibitions.

A documentary film, "Encounter Point," that follows a former Israeli settler, a Palestinian ex-prisoner, a bereaved Israeli mother and a wounded Palestinian bereaved brother who risk their lives and public standing to promote a nonviolent end to the conflict, was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival where it won numerous awards. I understand the DVD will be available in June. Click here for screening schedule.