Posts Tagged ‘political change’

Strength To Love

Friday, March 1st, 2019

Martin Luther King Jr.’s, Strength To Love, was written during the Civil Rights struggle in the early 1960s. King’s stirring style was aimed at a live church audience and you can almost hear the “Amens” after some sentences. Many of his political statements were censored by the publisher at the time, but almost 60 years later his words remain powerful and relevant. King encourages people to be forgiving, non-violent, non-conformists; and to confront militarism and inequality in society.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together.

Expenditures for defence have risen to mountainous proportions. The nations have believed that greater armaments will cast out fear, but they have produced greater fear.

Through non-violent resistance we shall be able to oppose the unjust system and at the same time love the perpetrators of the system. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Capitalism must undergo continual change if our great national wealth is to be more equitably distributed.

All life is interrelated. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.

Feeding The World

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

About 2 billion people, mostly woman and children, are undernourished. But there’s enough food on Earth to feed everyone. It’s partly a problem of distribution and diet:

The world’s farmers produce enough calories today to feed 9 billion people. – Joel K Bourne Jr (The End of Plenty)

This food is produced mainly in the wealthier, developed countries which also eat more meat and dairy products than others – over two-thirds of the world’s farmland is used to grow feed for livestock. There’s certainly enough money: the world’s military spending is $1.5 trillion/year – just $30 billion of that could feed the hungry for a year.

Every 10 seconds we lose a child to hunger… we know how to fix this problem…

…says Josette Sheeran, head of the World Food Program. Her ideas for solving the hunger problem include:

  • Encouraging breast-feeding: in poor countries only a tiny percentage of mothers breast-feed their children.
  • Food banks: the community tops them up in good times with ‘food interest’ ready for use in lean times.
  • Malnutrition-busting food packs: made from chick-peas and nutrients and costing only 17 cents a packet.
  • Feeding children at schools: meals cost 25 cents a day and it also pushes up rates of girls’ attendance.

Why War?

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

There are many potent alternatives to military intervention which are often not pursued. The peace scholar, Gene Sharp, listed 198 non-violent alternatives including noncooperation, protest, sanctions, persuasion, and nonviolent intervention. The world spends about $1.6 trillion a year on the machineries of war – imagine if this was invested in  fighting poverty, in education and health care. Research shows that non-violent campaigns during the last century were more successful than wars in bringing change. When unarmed civilians gather in their thousands on the streets, people power has an impact.

It is the great challenge of our time: how to achieve justice — with struggle, but without war.– Howard Zinn

Video: Jamila Raqib promotes nonviolent resistance to people living under tyranny — and there’s a lot more to it than street protests:



Don’t Cross The Line – Review

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Gecko Press‘ latest picture book is that rare beast, a message book that also entertains – it’s also artfully designed with eight blank pages and sixty characters! In Don’t Cross the Line by Isabel Minhó Martins, an army general orders a guard to keep the right-hand page of the book blank. But a crowd of people build up on the border, desperately wanting to use the space. What can the guard do? People power succeeds in the end. It’s those eight blank pages that will speak to all ages about freedom:  children see an empty space and want to play in it; teenagers ask why it’s forbidden; and adults see the injustice in it. A wonderful concept with lively illustrations by Bernardo Carvalho. (Read about Peace books for children here)

Don't Cross the Line_Cover_med


Refugee Crisis

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

Never before have so many people fled political persecution and war as today.– German 10-point plan

The biggest refugee crisis is history is unfolding and our government refuses to increase our (already low) quota of refugees. Our population has almost doubled since 1987, yet our quota has fallen. Globally, 59.5 million people are forcibly displaced (up from 33 million in 2010).  The crisis in Europe mirrors the period before WW2 when the flood of Jewish refugees were blocked by unyileding refugee quota systems in the US, UK, France, Canada, South Africa, Australia and NZ.

In the late 1930s Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Germany were particularly keen to migrate to New Zealand. However, New Zealand restricted their entry. –Te Ara Encyclopedia of NZ

Currently the largest refugee-hosting countries are Turkey, Pakistan, and Lebanon. The crisis is massive but that’s no excuse for NZ not to make a start by increasing our refugee quota.

Rainbow Warrior Interview

Friday, July 10th, 2015

Thirty years ago today, French spies attacked the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour. It was on a voyage around the Pacific, relocating islanders from radioactive areas and protesting against American and French nuclear weapons. One of the ship’s engineers, 25 year old Hanne Sorensen, describes what happened that night:

“I had been working on another protest boat during the day doing some gas welding. That night I decided to go for a walk – I just had this urge to get off the Warrior…I can’t explain it. I came back at midnight and was stopped by police on the wharf who said there’d been some explosions. I thought, ‘Had I forgotten to turn the gas off?’ I didn’t even realise the Warrior had sunk at first. The crew were all huddled in blankets on the wharf and I still didn’t realise what had happened even though they all told me. It wasn’t until morning when I saw the boat that it really hit me hard.The first bomb blew a huge hole in the engine room – you could drive a car through – and the crew scrambled ashore as the boat sank. The next bomb exploded on the propeller shaft, close to my cabin. It was then we realised that the ship’s photographer, Fernando Pereira, was missing. He had returned to his cabin to get his camera and was drowned.
These people were my friends, like family…we’d all been through some intense things and trusted each other with our lives. Now they’d sunk our ship and killed one of our friends. After the bombing, the Greenpeace office was flooded with clothes, sleeping bags, and offers of homes to stay in. You couldn’t have had a stronger expression from the people of the world. Our aim back then was to save the world – not thinking that fifteen people on a boat could save the world, but that this was our little piece in a big puzzle. It matters what every single one of us does.”  (Extract from my book, Peace Warriors).

rainbow warriorPhoto by permission of Greenpeace, NZ

Brave Students

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Thousands of unarmed students in Hong Kong are currently standing up for democracy by taking to the streets. It’s often students who lead the way in peaceful protest movements:

  • 1943: The White Rose group were university students in Munich who distibuted thousands of leaflets exposing the Nazis’ crimes and encouraging people to resist. They were executed.
  • 1957: The Little Rock Nine were high school students in America who broke through the race barrier by enrolling in the local all-white high school despite threatening mobs.
  • 1986-89: University students in China protested to demand more freedom, culminating in Tiananmen Square with half a million Chinese citizens. The government crushed the event.
  • 1988: University students in Burma led massive street marches against the military rulers. The army killed hundreds but Burma eventually got free elections.
  • 2000: Students in Serbia led a non-violent protest to help oust a corrupt government.

Denmark – People Power

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

The Danes challenged the most barbaric regime of the modern period and did so not with troops or tanks but with singing, striking, going home to garden, and standing in public squares. – Peter Ackerman

flagofdenmarkDenmark’s resistance of the Nazis is one of the finest examples of people power. The Germans occupied Denmark during WW2 and took over industry and agriculture to support Hitler’s war machine. But the Danish government found ways to sabotage the Germans without waging war. In 1943 and 1944 they organised nationwide strikes. The Nazis threatened them with tanks and guns, cut off water and power, but the strikers held on and the army backed off. They succeeded in frustrating the supply of war materials to Germany.
Ordinary people also resisted the invaders: by non-cooperation, marches, students refusing to speak German; and communties holding ‘Songfests’ to celebrate Danish culture. When the Germans ordered the arrest of all the Jews in Denmark, people sheltered Jews and smuggled them out to Sweden. They saved almost all the Danish Jews – 8,000 lives.

Two Kinds Of War Hero

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

“You’re far too good a Highlander, Baxter,” he said, “not to be fighting for your king. When you get to France you’ll be throwing Germans over your head on your bayonet.”
“Yes, my ancestors fought for the king… I’m fighting too, only I’m fighting against a war.”
“Oh well,” he said,” they might get you a job rocking cradles.’
“If people of your views run the world,” I answered, “there soon won’t be any cradles to rock.”
– [A prison doctor tries to talk Archibald Baxter into fighting in WW1: quote from We Will Not Cease]

There are two kinds of war hero: those who show bravery while fighting, and those who actively resist violence. Young Archibald Baxter heard a lawyer explain that war was wrong simply because killing was wrong; so when WW1 broke out, Archie refused to enlist and was arrested.  He was sent to prison several times and finally, he and other pacifists were loaded onto a ship and taken to Europe.  He was imprisoned in England where they put him in chains and fed him on bread and water. To break his stubborn spirit, Archie was sent to the battlefield in France, where army officers tormented him.

Archie was tied to a post outside for up to four hours a day – the ropes so tight his hands turned black. Another time, they dragged Archie out onto the battlefield next to an ammunition dump during a German artillery attack. Incredibly, he was still alive when the explosions and mud settled.

Ordinary soldiers admired his courage, even if they disagreed with him, and were often appalled by their officers’ behaviour. One officer gave Archie a vicious beating then ordered some soldiers to throw him onto a wire covered walkway. But instead of smashing Archie down the soldiers lowered him gently down.

Archibald Baxter has never been hailed as a war hero by the media. His son, James K Baxter, was praised as our finest poet, and today it’s time New Zealand also recognised Archibald’s inspiring life.

5 Inspiring Websites

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

1. Common Dreams: news articles on social, economic, rights issues (mostly US).

2. Utne Reader: best of the alternative press on environment, culture, community.

3. Brain Pickings: nicely curated blog on creativity and culture.

4. Letters of Note: fascinating personal letters from famous people.

5. Templeton: Big Questions Essay Series on science, morality, religion, economics.


Full Human Lives

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Time is lost when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavour, enjoyment, and suffering. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This sentence, from the book Letters and Papers from Prison, was written by Bonhoeffer three weeks before he was hanged on Hitler’s personal orders in 1945. Hitler had already spelled out his own worldview:

Nature is cruel; therefore we, too, may be cruel.

Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law lawyer, Hans von Dohnanyi, resisted the Nazi’s control by recording their crimes, helping victims and finally, plotting against Hitler.

Hitler had no greater, more courageous, and more admirable enemies than Hans von Dohnanyi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.– Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern (read the full story here)

Across Many Mountains

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Book review: Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen is the remarkable true story of three generations of women from one Tibetan family, who encompass cultural extremes from old Buddhist Tibet to Hollywood glitz. The first part of the book is a gripping account of an escape, via the Himalayas, from the brutal Chinese invasion of 1950 ( which fulfilled a 1,200 year old Buddhist prophecy: ‘The Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth‘.) Part two is fascinating because of the culture clash when the Tibetans experience Western ‘civilisation’. When the family finally return to Tibet in the 1980s they find ‘a country that has been robbed of its soul’. The Chinese have suppressed the language and culture (and still do). But the book is even-handed and also has a warts-and-all picture of Old Tibet where Buddhism was influenced by folk religion. The 90 year old grandmother-nun, Kunsang, is the heart of this inspiring book.

Book group discussion notes.
Recent news about Tibet

A dangerous idea

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Non-Violence by Mark Kurlanksky is an excellent, opinionated history of a dangerous idea. Non-violence is not pacifism, it is active opposition to oppression. The book shows it’s both inspiring and depressing to see how the idea has been tried through-out history, but knocked back by every war. But ‘the advocates of peace and non-violence come back stronger and more numerous each time.’ As the brave people of Syria continue to resist, it’s a reminder that other countries can help non-violently with ‘investment/arms ban, isolating, and cyber-attack’ before using force.

It is odd that we can accept the need for courage to do battle with an enemy, but not the courage to stand bare-breasted before an enemy’s guns A C Grayling review

People Power

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

I admire the courage of the people power movements in Egypt and Tunisia in facing their military rulers. As Tolstoy said,

For us to struggle (the forces being so unequal) must appear insane. They have millions of money and millions of obedient soldiers. We have only one thing, but that is the most powerful thing in the world: Truth.’

The ‘truth’ here refers to peace and non-violent protest. Non-violent action has been successful in bringing political change. It even worked briefly against Hitler when much of the population of Denmark resisted the Nazi occupiers. Danish workers organised large-scale strikes and succeeded in slowing the supply of war materials to the German army.

People power has blossomed over the past fifty years. In the 1970s the military rulers of Argentina were confronted by a group of mothers who’d lost children in the ‘dirty war’. Their protest drew the attention of the world and the government fell. And don’t forget the massive strike by Solidarity workers in 1980 leading to  democracy in Poland; and tens of thousands of civilians who deposed a dictator the Philippines; the wonderfully named ‘Singing Revolution’ (1987–1990) restored independence in the Baltic States; peaceful protests in Chile in 1988 helped to remove Pinochet; and 100 000 people gathered in Wenceslas Sq to end communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1989. There’s been social change too, such as civil rights movements in the US and South Africa.

But any confrontations between civilians and the military state are a ‘slippery zone’. So to quote our Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, I hope that Egyptians continue to ‘express their views non-violently’; and ‘the authorities exercise restraint’.