Minnesota Fellowship of Reconciliation

North Country Peace Builder

Vol. 55, No. 1, March 2004

In This Issue


Nigerian activist Annie Brisibe speaks
Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m.

Hamline United Methodist Church, Fireside Room

The MN FOR is honored to host Annie Brisibe for a discussion about nonviolent resistance to corporate injustice in Nigeria. Brisibe is director of the African Women Research Center and president of Niger Delta Women for Justice, an organization that uses public education to influence government policy and increase local people's rights to self-determination.

Brisibe will discuss the negative impact that the oil industry has had on the health and culture of the Nigerian people, and the innovative, nonviolent strategies Nigerians, especially women, have used to gain control of their natural resources and make progress toward self-determination. Activists have used a broad range of nonviolent tactics, from occupation of plants, singing protests, and threats to disrobe -- a strong shaming symbol.

The resistance has been met with intense violence -- from government forces as well as paramilitary troops hired by the oil companies themselves. Human Rights Watch reports that many hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced in the conflict over control over Nigeria's oil resources.

Hamline United Methodist Church is at 1514 Englewood (across from Hamline University), St. Paul.

Annie Brisibe's talk will be followed by a reception to celebrate the hiring of Don Christensen as MN FOR regional coordinator (see below for more on this exciting news). Come hear this dynamic activist and speaker, and celebrate with us!


An evening with Don Christensen --
Experiences at the Wall and
Perspectives on the Nonviolent Struggle
in Palestine, Israel

Wednesday, May 5 at 7 p.m.
Macalester Plymouth United Church

From August to November 2003, Don participated in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program of the World Council of Churches in Palestine and Israel. He was part of a 19-person ecumenical team from 6 nations that accompanied Palestinians and Israelis committed to peacemaking through nonviolence. Don served in the Muslim village of Jayyous on the West Bank of Palestine, a village divided by the "Separation Barrier" that Israel is currently constructing in Palestine. Much of Don's time was spent as a human rights observer at the two gates in the Wall at Jayyous.

Don will share his experiences as an Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine and Israel and his views on the struggle for an enduring peace with justice in this land regarded as 'holy' by people of three faith communities.
Macalester Plymouth United Church is at 1658 Lincoln Avenue in St. Paul.


Hope in Hard Times *

by Don Irish

* the title of Paul Loeb's book, subtitled America's
Peace Movement in the Reagan Years
(DC Heath, 1987)

This is the second part of Don Irish's "Hope Dies Last," published in the last issue - ed.

Many events in recent months could be enumerated that discourage the "peace and justice community." Other noteworthy events can be cited that may bring societal changes for which we hope. Also, we need to remind ourselves of Gandhi's admonition that each of us should strive to manifest the changes and spirit that we wish to see in the world!

For understanding and hope, we might recall the Hegelian dialectic: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. We may benefit by applying this process to bring realism into play with our idealism in regard to the societal changes we wish to see occur over time. Virtually every movement to extend equal rights in our nation has been, step-by-step, more or less successful: anti-slavery, women's suffrage (still no ERA!), right to organize as workers, Native American citizenship (1924), Japanese and Chinese American citizenship (after WWII), 1965 Voting Act, anti-hate legislation, inter-racial marriage upheld, restrictive covenants outlawed, some reproductive rights assured, and accommodations for "disabled" persons. The struggle for equality for gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender persons has made remarkable progress since the New York Stonewall events, and is now much in the public arena. Many of us hope that, out of debate and struggle, this and yet other forms of traditional discrimination will no longer be tolerated in our "democracy."

Thesis: that gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender persons should be granted full and equal rights in all jurisdictions of the USA. There have been remarkable changes in public opinion, corporate responses re: health coverage and other benefits, municipal ordinances, and court decisions supporting this proposition. Staff members in San Francisco have nonviolently disobeyed the law to issue marriage permits to more than 4000 couples; and many others in Vermont and Massachusetts have been able to form legal unions under different conditions. However, while historical trends may aid the thesis, the backlash (antithesis) is mounting. The Supreme Court may be brought to decide the issue (antithesis), for this epoch, although not necessarily with consensus among the justices or a final resolution of the issue for all Americans. A parallel condition exists for the contesting forces related to the issue of abortion and Roe vs. Wade.

Numerous additional issues provide hopeful signs, and all are in "process" of civic dialogue and legal decisions. From among about forty such developments that are now in the public arena, the following selection may represent a range for significance and diversity:

- Capital punishment is being seriously challenged (since Governor Ryan of Illinois decided to halt all executions and free some inmates who were exonerated), regarding discrimination in class/race, concern over executing youths and the mentally disabled, and also regarding its status as cruel and unusual punishment.
- An increased understanding of Islam by many Americans has developed through reading, personal contacts, thoughtful discourse by clergy, conferences, and so on.
- A growing awareness of the increasing gap between "haves" and poorer classes has developed from national tax policies, campaigners' rhetoric, and widespread personal economic difficulties.
- Federal courts (and ACLU action at the Hague) have challenged the administration's unilateral detention of American citizens here and 600+ foreigners in Guantánamo Bay without access to legal aid, etc.

- More than 235 communities have passed measures challenging at least portions of the "Patriot Act." Patriot Act II is being held in abeyance!
- Paul O'Neill, the Army War College, and the Carnegie Endowment recently, separately accused the administration of deliberately misrepresenting reasons for the Iraq war (War Watch, February-March).
- Twelve million people in sixty countries around the world and across the USA protested the impending Iraq war (2/15/03).
- The "budget crunch" is many states brings review of imprisonment practices (three strikes; mandatory terms, incarceration of large numbers of nonviolent drug offenders and so forth) as prison construction and maintenance costs exceed those of schools.

- Perhaps 14,000 demonstrators (a large proportion of whom were youth) assembled last November at Fort Benning, GA to protest the continuance of the School of the Americas.
- The collective impact of Move-On.org, Working Assets, and Meetup.com has given new strength to progressive opinions in the electronic media.
- Nonviolence is being increasingly utilized, in a greater variety of situations, with more frequent success, and thereby gaining greater credibility.
- Indigenous groups/tribes/individuals are gradually recovering their cultural artifacts from museums and college collections.

- A good start has been made in the regulation of campaign financing with the McCain-Feingold bill. Numerous additional electoral changes are needed!
- Citigroup has agreed to pursue logging in places and ways that will not damage environments or threaten indigenous cultures.
- Public opinion has become a bit more sophisticated about official "spin," "overstatements," re: the Iraq war and other foreign policy decisions, asking for greater accountability. The president, after his initial opposition, has authorized an official "non-partisan commission" to investigate "intelligence" failures before the war.
- The administration has admitted to improperly altering a health care document regarding large racial and ethnic disparities, and now will publish the full original.

- There is developing concern and action locally and nationwide to reduce the pollution of rivers, streams, and lakes by run-off from residences, "factory farms," septic tanks and so on.
- The thousands of demonstrators in Miami protesting NAFTA, WTO and other "free trade" (not fair trade) agreements that place "Third World" nations at economic disadvantage exposed the "embedding" of journalists with police, excessive force used by the police, brought media attention to the lack of concern regarding democracy, transparency, labor and environmental aspects that lack protection; and the official gathering ended without agreement. That was viewed as a partial victory by many of us.
- The long-standing failure of the US government (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to rectify the "trust accounts" and finances due to the American Indian tribes and individuals has now brought court action to force remedies involving billions of dollars due for decades.
- The efficacy of war and ethical issues of violence in foreign policy have been highlighted by review of the Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq, and other military ventures of the USA by many thoughtful, often faith-based, US citizens. One presidential candidate (Dennis Kucinich) has dared to include nonviolence as a platform principle, a first!

No doubt each reader can add several more.

We all know that water will quench fire. However, a teacup of water cannot extinguish a conflagration! When the multitude depreciate the fewer in a movement for not being "effective," what is needed are more bucket carriers and deeper wells of commitment to fight injustice! A "critical mass" of informed, committed citizens is needed to initiate social change; a majority is not.

All social movements begin with an individual and small groups! Together we and our other companions on this earth constitute a countervailing "super power," when organized with strategic planning. We are in revolutionary times; great changes for the better are possible. Our tasks, spirit, and commitment are to assure that these major shifts come nonviolently.

So, friends -- Cheers! Thumbs up! Smile! Keep hope alive! Despair is not an option! "Believe that a further shore is reachable from here!" (FOR).


Books for Peacemakers

reviewed by Duane Cady

War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning
by Chris Hedges
(New York: Public Affairs, 2002) $23 (hardback)

Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic
by James Gilligan
(New York: Vintage Books, 1996) $14 (paper)

Chris Hedges, long-time war correspondent for the New York Times, has written a bestseller about war. War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning is engaging, insightful, and informative on US military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and others. The book is also deeply flawed.

Hedges is trying to understand our cultural -- and his own -- fascination with war. He writes very well and has had amazing and harrowing experiences as he has traveled, war by war, in Central America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Africa. He manages to weave his classical education beautifully with his lived experience, giving a historical and literary context to his sense of our predicament.

The book is at its best when Hedges is exposing the myth of war, that is, the heroic ideal that war is right, good, likely to solve problems, and that it's worth the sacrifices it entails. He exposes the myth by showing war for what it is: organized murder, usually racist, manipulative, cruel, and dishonest. He ridicules the "plague of nationalism," shows the inevitable destruction of wider culture, and rejects the causes offered for war.

Hedges' thesis is that war remains a central part of human life because it fills a spiritual void that we don't know how else to fill. He says, with Freud, that we are caught between love and death, between an instinct for life and an instinct for destruction and that, failing to love, we find a sense of purpose, of calling, in sacrifice for others through war. The problem with this is that while rejecting the cultural glorifications of war, Hedges himself contributes to them in his opening pages when he tells us he's not a pacifist, that war is sometimes necessary. With this he undercuts his own brilliant critique of war and opens the door to the "necessary" violence his own arguments ridicule.

…. It's easier to condemn and punish violence than understand and prevent it, so we take the easy way. We may as well condemn cancer or a tornado.

The problem is that once one takes in the critique of war offered by Hedges one can no longer find credible his notion that the absurdity of war can fill our spiritual void and give us meaning. War doesn't provide meaning for those who understand it. Hedges undermines his own position.

A much more difficult -- and more rewarding -- read is in store for those who take up James Gilligan's Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic. Gilligan is a prison psychiatrist who spent years working with violent criminals in an effort to understand and change their behaviors. His interest is not in moralizing about violence but in preventing it.

Gilligan sees America as obsessed with revenge, what is euphemistically called retributive justice. It's easier to condemn and punish violence than understand and prevent it, so we take the easy way. We may as well condemn cancer or a tornado.

Gilligan prefers a medical model: prevention is better than cure. He wants to know why the US murder rate is five to twenty times the rate in any other industrial society. Based on his work with violent criminals, he develops a germ theory of violence - namely, that violence is contagious. He comes to the realization that violence is caused by shame, humiliation, disrespect and ridicule, and it is manifest when there are no nonviolent means to rid oneself of the shame and no emotional inhibitors (love, guilt, or fear).

Since prisons continue the humiliation and shame that led to the violence that landed criminals in prison, our current prison policies increase violence, as does legislation to "get tough on crime." The only way to stop violence, says Gilligan, is to stop shaming. Guilt ethics or shame ethics contribute to violence rather than address it or intervene in the cycle. The violence of violent criminals forces others to care for them. Folks who are cared for have no need to act out violently to gain care.

For Gilligan, crime is illegal individual violence while punishment (beyond what is necessary for restraint) is legal collective violence. Punishment is the mirror of crime, crime the mirror of punishment.

Not content with cursing the darkness, James Gilligan sheds light on our national epidemic of violence. His insights are grounded deeply in longstanding experience and success in helping violent criminals find their way to less violent lives, despite the policies, practices, and politics of revenge common to our country. His is an important book that deserves a wide readership.




Minnesota FOR gets a new Regional Coordinator

Don Christensen has been a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation since 1982. He was on the National Council of the FOR from 1983 to 1986, and served two terms on the Board of the Minnesota FOR. Photo He has participated in national FOR delegations to Nicaragua (with Witness For Peace) in 1984, and to the former USSR in 1989.

Don is a minister in the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ and a member of Macalester Plymouth United Church in St. Paul. He has twice pastured local congregations, and he has also done ecumenical ministry with Church World Service-CROP in Minnesota and the Dakotas, and United Ministries in Higher Education at Drake University in Iowa.

For nine years Don worked with the Augsburg College Center for Global Education, planning and leading travel seminars and study abroad programs to destinations in the Two Thirds World. In 2001-2002, Don directed an ecumenical retreat center in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

From September through November 2003, Don served as a volunteer with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program of the World Council of Churches in Palestine and Israel. One of 19 volunteers from 6 nations, Don was deployed to Jayyous, West Bank, where he participated in human rights watch activities along the "Wall" at Jayyous.

Don and his wife Rachel make their home in St. Paul.

You can contact Don by email at <chris385@umn.edu>, or by mail at the MN FOR postal address: PO Box 14792, Minneapolis, MN 55414-0792.

In memoriam

The Minnesota FOR notes with sadness the passing of Walter Mann, judge and husband to Polly Mann of Women Against Military Madness. He was 88 when he died on February 11; services were held at St Joan of Arc Catholic Church on February 16.

Walter and Polly Mann had been married for 61 years. He is survived by Polly, two daughters, a son, and six grandchildren. Our heartfelt condolences go to his family in this painful time.


The Soldiers at My Front Door

by John Dear

I live in a tiny, remote, impoverished, three block long town in the desert of northeastern New Mexico. Everyone in town -- and the whole state -- knows that I am against the occupation of Iraq, that I have called for the closing of Los Alamos, and that as a priest, I have been preaching, like the Pope, against the bombing of Baghdad.

Last week, it was announced that the local National Guard unit for northeastern New Mexico, based in the nearby Armory, was being deployed to Iraq early next year. I was not surprised when yellow ribbons immediately sprang up after the press conference.

But I was surprised the following morning to hear 75 soldiers singing, shouting and screaming as they jogged down Main Street, passed our St. Joseph's church, back and forth around town for an hour. It was 6 a.m., and they woke me up with their war slogans, chants like "Kill! Kill! Kill!" and "Swing your guns from left to right; we can kill those guys all night."

Their chants were disturbing, but this is war. They have to psyche themselves up for the kill. They have to believe that flying off to some tiny, remote desert town in Iraq where they will march in front of someone's house and kill poor young Iraqis has some greater meaning besides cold-blooded murder. Most of these young reservists have never left our town, and they need our support for the "unpleasant" task before them. I have been to Iraq, and led a delegation of Nobel Peace Prize winners to Baghdad in 1999, and I know that the people there are no different than the people here.

The screaming and chanting went on for one hour. They would march past the church, down Main Street, back around the post office, and down Main Street again. It was clear they wanted to be seen and heard. In fact, it was quite scary because the desert is normally a place of perfect peace and silence.

Suddenly, at 7 a.m., the shouting got dramatically louder. I looked out the front window of the house where I live, next door to the church, and there they were -- all 75 of them, standing yards away from my front door, in the street right in front of my house and our church, shouting and screaming to the top of their lungs, "Kill! Kill! Kill!" Their commanders had planted them there and were egging them on.

I was astonished and appalled. I suddenly realized that I do not need to go to Iraq; the war had come to my front door. Later, I heard that they had deliberately decided to do their exercises in front of my house and our church because of my outspoken opposition to the war. They wanted to put me in my place.

This, I think, is a new tactic. Over the years, I have been arrested some 75 times in demonstrations, been imprisoned for a "Plowshares" disarmament action, been bugged, tapped, and harassed, searched at airports, and monitored by police. But this time, the soldiers who will soon march through Baghdad and attack desert homes in Iraq practiced on me. They confronted me personally, just as the death squad militaries did in Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s, which I witnessed there on several occasions.

I decided I had to do something. I put on my winter coat and walked out the front door right into the middle of the street. They stopped shouting and looked at me, so I said loudly, publicly for all to hear, "In the name of God, I order all of you to stop this nonsense, and not to go to Iraq. I want all of you to quit the military, disobey your orders to kill, and not to kill anyone. I do not want you to get killed. I want you to practice the love and nonviolence of Jesus. God does not bless war. God does not want you to kill so Bush and Cheney can get more oil. God does not support war. Stop all this and go home. God bless you."

Their jaws dropped, their eyeballs popped and they stood in shock and silence, looking steadily at me. Then they burst out laughing. Finally, the commander dismissed them and they left.

Later, military officials spread lies around town that I had disrupted their military exercises at the Armory, so they decided to come to my house and to the church in retaliation. Others appealed to the archbishop to have me kicked out of New Mexico for denouncing their war-making. Then, a general called the mayor and asked him to mediate "negotiations" with me, saying he did not want the military "in confrontation" with the church. Really, the mayor told me, they fear that I will disrupt the gala send-off next month, just before Christmas, when the soldiers go to Iraq.

This dramatic episode is only the latest in a series of confrontations since I came to the desert of New Mexico in the summer of 2002 to serve as pastor of several poor, desert churches. I have spoken out extensively against the U.S. war on Iraq, and been denounced by people, including church people, across the state. I have organized small Christian peace groups throughout the state.

We planned a prayer vigil for nuclear disarmament at Los Alamos on the anniversary of Hiroshima this past August, but when the devout people of Los Alamos, most of them Catholic, heard about it, they appealed to the archbishop to have me expelled if I appeared publicly in their town.

In the end, I did not attend the vigil, but the publicity gave me further opportunities to call for the closing of Los Alamos. I receive hate mail, negative phone calls and at least one death threat for daring to criticize our country. But New Mexico is the poorest state in the U.S. It is also number one in military spending and number one in nuclear weapons. It is the most militarized, the most in need of disarmament, the most in need of nonviolence. It is the first place the Pentagon goes to recruit poor youth into the empire's army.

If we are to change the direction of our country, and turn people against Bush's occupation of Iraq, we are going to have to face the ire and persecution of our local communities. If peace people in every local community insisted that our troops be brought home immediately, that the U.N. be sent in to restore Iraq, that all U.S. military aid to the Middle East be cut, and that our arsenal of weapons of mass destruction be dismantled, then we might all find soldiers marching at our front doors, trying to intimidate us.

If we can face our soldiers, call them to quit the military and urge them to disobey orders to kill, then perhaps some of them will refuse to fight, become conscientious objectors and take up the wisdom of nonviolence. If we can look them in the eye and engage them in personal Satyagraha as Gandhi demonstrated, then we know that the transformation has begun.

In the end, the episode for me was an experience of hope. We must be making a difference if the soldiers have to march at our front doors. That they failed to convert me or intimidate me, that they had to listen to my side of the story, may haunt their consciences as they travel to Iraq. No matter what happens, they have heard loud and clear the good news that God does not want them to kill anyone. I hope we can all learn the lesson.

John Dear is a Catholic priest, peace activist, lecturer, and former executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. His latest books include Mohandas Gandhi (Orbis) and Mary of Nazareth, Prophet of Peace (Ave Maria Press). For info, see <www.johndear.org>. This essay was first published Nov. 29, 2003, by <CommonDreams.org>.


"Something there is that doesn't love a wall
That wants it down." - Robert Frost

The Sharon government in Israel is building a barrier around much of the West Bank, with the stated aim of keeping out Palestinians responsible for suicide bombings against Israelis. At 25 feet in height and projected at 440 miles, the concrete wall is more than twice as high and will be four times as long as the Berlin Wall. About a quarter of it has been completed.

The barrier has severely disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians, often standing between them and their farmland, jobs, schools, and hospitals. While Prime Minister Sharon says the wall is necessary for Israel's security, Palestinians say it amounts to the confiscation of West Bank land they are demanding for a future state.

In December the UN General Assembly asked the World Court to rule on the legality of the wall.

PhotoThe current plan approved by the Sharon government puts about 15 per cent of West Bank land on the Israeli side of the wall. Sharon has said that any change in the route of the wall would be to address internal Israeli security, not Palestinian or UN demands.

At Hamline University, Students FOR Peace sponsored and created a mock wall to educate the community, encourage learning more, and foster a more informed discussion of obstacles to peace in the Middle East. Four Hamline students - Maxine McDonald, Haytham Safi, Colin Schumacher, and Laura Wilson - were primarily responsible for construction of Hamline's wall. The wall has now been moved to the University of St Thomas -- visitors interested in viewing it should contact the UST Peace and Justice program for information. -- Duane Cady

"Stop the Wall" project at Hamline University:
standing (L to R): Laura Wilson, Maxine McDonald;
kneeling (L to R): Haytham Safi, Colin Schumacher.



Calendar of Events - Spring 2004

Upcoming Event - mark your calendars
Come take part in a
nonviolence training weekend, June 18 to 20.

The weekend will be organized by the
Minnesota FOR and will use the
National FOR's "From Violence to Wholeness" model.
Details to be announced.

Thurs., April 15, 7 p.m. - Annie Brisibe speaks, and welcome reception for new MN FOR Regional Coordinator (see page 1 for details).

Sun., April 18, 3 p.m. - Guarding Freedom in a Time of Danger. Hennepin Ave. United Methodist Church, Mpls. Featured speaker is Caroline Palmer, a member of the National Lawyer's Guild who works for the Minnesota Aids Project.

Sat., April 24, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. - Every Church a Peace Church conference: "Sure, I believe in nonviolence, but...." Mount Olive Lutheran Church, 31st and Chicago, Mpls. $20, including lunch. Call 651-695-4113 or 952-473-7839 for more information.

Wed, May 5, 7 p.m. - An evening with Don Christensen (see above for details).



* * *   * * *  L I N K S  * * *   * * *

National FOR | MN FOR
Minnesota Peacemaker Project
Peace and Justice Websites (nonviolence.org)
Benedictines' Website | Justice and Peace Links

* *  * * *  *  * * *  * * 

North Country Peace Builder

Produced quarterly (September, December, March and June) by the Executive Committee of the Minnesota Fellowship of Reconciliation. Send submissions, letters and comments to Rachel Mordeai <mord0010@umn.edu>, editor,

Or use the online form to send comments or contributions. 


© 2004 by MN FOR / www.osb.org/for/2004/