Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#TheSelmaProject – The Encounter

By Emily Wirtz

When Dr. C.T. Vivian arrived on Ashland’s campus Monday, January 19, I was both inwardly and outwardly ecstatic simply to witness from a distance this civil rights legend. It’s not very often that one has the opportunity to meet someone from the history books. At first impression, prior to the event, I’d expected an ordeal—some kind of showy, Obama-esque, “look at my battle scars” kind of encounter. What I got on Monday evening was my grandpa. Granted, there was a glaring difference in skin tone between my biological grandfather and this legend standing before me, but all the same, Vivian was much less and yet so much more than I was expecting.

Down-to-earth and socially-aware are not two descriptions I would usually put together. I see the “check your privilege” bloggers who in the most basic sense are holding themselves on a privileged pedestal with an “I’m better than you because I’m socially aware” aura. Then I see the sincere, stay-out-of-the-way people sitting in the back corner of events like these, not because they’re okay with social injustice, but simply because they’re not public orators. Vivian, in a sense, held the best qualities of both—though obviously he was a public speaker. That is why my impression was that he was my grandfather reincarnate. I know that sounds a bit bizarre. In middle school, I did a history fair project on the March of Bataan in WWII, in which my grandpa was a prisoner of war. When I interviewed him about his experiences, an entirely different person I had no idea was there came through. In that moment, my down-to-earth grandpa became a victim, a hero, and a survivor, doing so with the humility with which I was familiar, but with an additional distance—he was a man from my history books. This is what Vivian became. He began as a legend, someone who existed in textbooks and documentaries but who I’d never encounter in a real-life setting. The privilege of meeting him completely shifted that outlook.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Thoughts on the Cuban Missile Crisis

By John Stratton

“Who do we want to be with when we die?” That was the question. Should we be with each other or with our families? I was a senior in high school during the Cuban missile crisis, and that was the question we asked each other as we heard about the Soviet missiles in Cuba and about “our” response.

I don’t remember being shocked that we were asking that question. We were accustomed to the idea of “mutually assured destruction.” We all knew that if someone — i.e., the Soviets or us — launched a nuclear missile, the other side would launch its missiles. Mutually assured destruction — and I don’t know of anyone who commented, then, on the acronym. It was the official policy of the nuclear age, the way to keep us safe — Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD. It was madness we had come to accept, and that acceptance was another kind of madness.

One of the unexpected joys about sitting in a doctor’s waiting room is finding old magazines, sometimes with really interesting articles. That’s how I found “John F. Kennedy's Vision of Peace” by Robert Kennedy, Jr, in Rolling Stone.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

One Hundred Years Ago — Christmas Truce

By John Stratton

What if they gave a war and nobody came?

This was a favorite slogan during Vietnam protests. The idea is wonderful. “They” have declared war, as “they” do for whatever reasons “they” declare war, but this time no one comes to the party. No soldiers, no war. It made a kind of cosmic comic sense; it still does.

The amazing thing is that it once happened: Christmas Eve, 1914.

When I first heard the story, I assumed it was apocryphal, a wish that people had for peace in the carnage of World War I.
The Christmas Truce 

For a generation, World War I was known simply as the Great War. Before that it had been known by different hard-to-resist propaganda slogans: the War to End All Wars and the War to Save the World for Democracy. Like most wars it was a failure: probably 7 million combat deaths, another 3 million military deaths from disease, accidents, malnourishment and maltreatment in POW camps; perhaps 6 to 10 million civilian deaths, perhaps more. Twenty million deaths in a war that was the prelude to another World War in 25 years, when two or three times as many would be killed. Twenty million deaths in a world with a total population of less than 2,000 million (2 billion). Perhaps one or one-and-a-half percent of the world killed. Shall we note there were probably 20 million non-lethal casualties of one sort or another.

But the Christmas Truce was not apocryphal. It was real, a spontaneous gesture reaching across no-man’s land on Christmas eve, 1914.

The War had begun just months before. The assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife in Sarejevo occurred at the end of June, and that set in motion the dominos of mutual defense alliances. Of course it could have been stopped, but no one was willing to stop it. Young men rallied to the cause — whichever cause they rallied to — as a way to test their manhood. The recruiters, including the press for both sides, said it would be over by Christmas, but it was just beginning.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Human Up!

By Peter Slade

In the aftermath of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program that revealed, among other things, that two psychologists were paid $81 million to design and participate in the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques, Fox news got an exclusive interview with Dr. James Mitchell - one of the psychologists that Physicians for Human Rights is calling a war criminal.

I watched the interview online and found the experience equal parts disturbing and morally disorienting.

Dr. James Mitchell presents himself as a reluctant torturer. A man compelled to abandon his “moral high ground” by the events of 9/11 to save American lives. That the interrogation techniques were in fact torture (whatever legal definitions the CIA hides behind) is clear from the interview. Dr. Mitchell told Megyn Kelly that “the techniques are so harsh that it’s emotionally distressing to those who are administering them.” One can only imagine how distressing they are for the subject of those techniques.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Videos from "Shall We Drone On?"

Have drones become the weapons of our age? These "unmanned aerial vehicles," sometimes used to assassinate human targets in remote areas, raise a host of constitutional, legal, moral and strategic questions. Here is a two part presentation from earlier this month that was sponsored by ACN and given by two faculty members from Ashland University. Dr. Craig Hovey is executive director of Ashland Center for Nonviolence and associate professor of religion and Dr. Michael Schwarz is assistant professor of history.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why Aren’t You Listening? The Role of Hip Hop in Social Justice Movements
By Sharleen Mondal

Music—both when it is heard and performed—has long been recognized for its power to inspire. Across cultures and time periods, music has played a key role in social movements, including, for instance, protest songs composed to signify a united commitment to a common cause of justice for all. The song “We Shall Overcome,” an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, has been translated into countless languages and continues to enjoy enormous cross-cultural appeal. On my first trip to Bangladesh in the late 1980s, I forged bonds with people I was meeting for the first time in part through a shared appreciation for the artists of the time—Roxette, Michael Jackson—but also “Amra Korbo Joy,” the Bengali version of “We Shall Overcome.” Despite the geographical gap between us, that song united us with a common understanding of what it meant to breathe sounds and words into a melodic, shared expression of the struggle for something better. Decades later, I was struck by Bollywood melodrama’s refashioning of “We Shall Overcome” in My Name is Khan (2013), wherein through that song, a Muslim South Asian immigrant to the United States who experiences horrendous Islamophobia forms a deep connection with a small church community in Georgia devastated by Hurricane Katrina. In real life and in fiction, the power of one song to mobilize and connect people for peace is evident.

And yet, some genres of music are less frequently associated with healing and connection. The recent so-called “loud music trial,” for instance, involved Michael Dunn shooting Jordan Davis, an unarmed black teenager, at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, triggered by Dunn’s disgust at the music Davis was playing in his vehicle—what Dunn reportedly called “thug music.” Dunn’s phrase betrays a fundamental disconnect between a widespread view of rap and hip hop as violent and culturally inferior, and a long history of the genre which has historically grappled, with brutal honesty, with issues such as class struggle, racism, police brutality, poverty, and the prison industrial complex. And while hip hop cannot be excluded from the wide-ranging cultural forms in our society that are tainted with homophobia, sexism, and other forms of violence, changes within the genre, mainly amongst progressive underground artists, have taken the genre to a new level.

This past Saturday, as I attended a performance in Cleveland featuring Brother Ali, I was struck by the discrepancy between a popular perception of hip hop which pervades particular communities, which discount the entire genre from having anything meaningful to offer, and the power of progressive hip hop to inspire and motivate social justice, a power widely recognized as a matter of course within other communities (mainly social justice community organizers comprised primarily of immigrants, people of color, and working-class people). The messages conveyed through song and speech throughout this particular show that I attended would not have surprised anyone familiar with this strain of the genre: a frank, unapologetic calling out of homophobia and sexism. The dire need for working-class people to organize and address—through creative and community solutions—economic and structural oppression. The injustices being committed globally in the name of wars on terror that are terrorizing countless innocent people. The lessons of previous social justice workers and the need to know their legacy, to converse with one’s community, to struggle together to understand acts of violence that strike one’s community, and to act in unity against injustice.

As we consider the role of cultural work, such as art, literature, and music, in shaping both our understanding of and participation in movements to forge peace and justice in our communities, it is important to ask along the way what narratives we are not listening to, and for what reason. If hip hop can help mobilize one of the most important movements in our cultural moment against police violence in Ferguson, articulate the pain and courage of Arabs and those living under a violent and long-standing occupation, and even help with depression and mental illness, perhaps the question for peace and social justice workers who have long dismissed the genre might be this: why aren’t you listening?

Sharleen Mondal is Assistant Professor of English at Ashland University, where she teaches Victorian and postcolonial literature and gender and women’s studies. She has also served as a trained advocate, translator, and volunteer for Chaya, an anti-domestic violence organization serving South Asian communities in the Seattle area. She has served on the ACN Steering Committee and is currently beginning volunteer work with ASHA Ray of Hope, based in Columbus, OH, and the Akron Area Interfaith Council.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Repentance, All the Way Down: A Columbus Day Meditation

By Myles Werntz

One of the questions which a day like Columbus Day presents is not whether or not Columbus should be celebrated, but what should be done instead of celebration. Columbus’ diaries and the historical record speak abundantly to the reasons for not celebrating Columbus, but should we perhaps celebrate another exemplar? Should we, as Seattle has recently done, reform the day into Indigenous People’s Day?  Or should there be perhaps another exemplar celebrated, such as Bartolome de las Casas?

In looking at this day from the perspective of nonviolence, there seems to be no easy answer, and certainly no perfect exemplar. Columbus, as the historical record attests, engaged in slavery, forced labor, and dismemberment of the indigenous people. The indigenous people were no pacifists, engaging in skirmishes with their neighbors. De las Casas, while famously advocating against the Spanish enslavement of the indigenous people, initially proposed that the Spanish enslave Africans instead of the North American natives. Any alternate celebration, while moving away from Columbus, only appears to celebrate violence again in a different form.