Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Peaceable Animal Kingdom

By Emily Wirtz

Over the summer, my two new roommates and I took a girl-bonding trip to the Columbus Zoo. What can we say? We find rescued animals much more interesting than the latest fashion trends at Macy’s. We walked through exhibits from all over the world, got an impromptu tour of the manatees, and took more than enough pictures. However, what I didn’t expect was a lesson in peace from apes.

The bonobo, closely related to the chimpanzee and humans, is on the Red List of endangered species. The most fascinating part of this exhibit, however, was the sign in front of the bonobos’ habitat. “Peaceable Kingdom,” it read, using the language of Stanley Hauerwas, a prolific theologian and ethicist. This could additionally reflect the Quaker ideals represented in Edward Hicks’ painting, portraying a peaceful scene of animals and children from the book of Isaiah.

It explains the bonds between these apes. The female bonobos, especially mothers, are extremely sociable and get along well with both male and female bonobos. This allows the apes to live both in small and large communities—up to 200 in a single group! Very little conflict occurs within these groups due to their cliché, but entirely legitimate, way of living: “Make love, not war.” This quote held its own spot on the bonobos’ exhibit, and yes, it means exactly what the peace-mongering hippies of the ‘60s intended: “The hallmark of bonobo society is its use of sexual activity to help keep peace!” Granted this is probably not the method we as humans should use to reduce conflict, the bonobos and science alike have proven that this methodology does in fact relieve tensions.

We might not take a literal lesson from the bonobos, but if apes can strive for peace, why shouldn’t we find a way that works for us? Even if we don’t take the lesson from them, ideas of peace and community were scattered about the entire zoo, including one by Martin Luther: “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” I think if anything is to be learned from the zoo community, it is to move forward in peace, hope, and love—“not war.”

Emily Wirtz is a Peace Scholar and student intern with the Ashland Center for Nonviolence.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Our 2015 Annual Report

Check out our annual report and read about all of the exciting things we did last year.

Click on the above image.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Our Souls

By Craig Hovey

Seventy years ago, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, ending World War II. Now, after decades of nuclear weapons buildup across the globe and some disarmament following the end of the cold war, there are questions about whether and how Iran’s nuclear plans can be kept reliably peaceful and how Japan’s pacifist constitution can be maintained. Nine nations currently have nuclear weapons.

Urakami Cathedral following the Nagasaki bombing Courtesy of
Aristotle taught that we do not simply act based on decisions that we make; our characters and dispositions are formed by what we do and in turn inspire our further actions. This works for both virtues and vices: good actions can make a good person; bad actions can make a bad person. And while most ethicists categorically condemn the US bombing of Japan, it is less common to ask what kind of societal soul both produces and is produced by it.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sign the Nonviolence Commitment Card -- Help us reach 1,000 signatures

Alycee Lane's book, Nonviolence Now!: Living the 1963 Birmingham Campaign's Promise of Peace got me thinking about the kinds of commitments we make to nonviolence. Have a look at our interview with her here. Lane cautions against the inherently "masculine" accounts of nonviolence in which nonviolence is merely a tactic that better ensures victory for a cause in certain instances. 

But when peace is a personal commitment and a way of life, as Lane insists it should be, it will not only run much deeper within us, but it will also, as a consequence, yield a much more disciplined and ultimately effective movement. Even though it's now 50 years later, today's continuing challenges especially on violence and race in America will benefit from the kinds of cautions and counsels that Lane makes. 

So we at ACN thought it would be good to have another look at the 1963 pledge and to invite others to consider committing themselves to it. 

Even though the original Commitment Card reflected the Christian ethos of much of the movement, many others have since then found other religious and secular ways of articulating their deep concern and personal devotion to the ways of peace.

Our goal is 1,000 signatures. Help us reach our goal!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nonviolence Now! Author Alycee Lane discusses her book

Alycee J. Lane is a former professor who taught African American literature and culture at UC Santa Barbara. She is author of "Coming in from the Cold," a blog in which she analyzes political and social issues through the prism of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence. A student of Engaged Buddhism, Alycee in 2012 participated in the year-long Commit to Dharma course offered by the East Bay Meditation Center under the tutelage of Larry Yang. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Howard University, Doctorate of Philosophy from UCLA, and Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall). Alycee currently lives in Oakland, California. Alycee was one of the presenters at ACN's 2015 conference on "Challenges to Nonviolence."

ACN: We were so pleased to meet you when you came to Ashland earlier this year and presented a terrific paper about the ways that the language of nonviolence gets co-opted by official and governmental appeals to "peaceful protests." Now it's great to celebrate the recent publication of your book, Nonviolence Now!: Living the 1963 Birmingham Campaign's Promise of Peace. Could share with us, first of all, the reasons why you wrote this book?

AL: Nonviolence Now! was not the book that I intended to write. What I intended to write was a book on the subject of African Americans and Buddhism – a topic inspired by my participation on the East Bay Meditation Center’s year-long Commit to Dharma (C2D) Buddhism study group, facilitated by Larry Yang. In particular, I was initially interested in the growing African American Buddhist community and how it was thinking through the relationship between African American histories/cultures and Buddhist practices.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Charleston Shooting was Terrorism

By Craig Hovey

It’s important to refer to the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina as an act of terrorism. I join with others (like here and here) in insisting not only that the June 17 massacre meets the FBI’s definition of terrorism, but also that calling it by its proper name is important to highlight America’s long history of terrorism against African Americans.
Photo courtesy of

There may be a connection between Wednesday’s terrorist attack and the thwarted 1822 slave revolt centered at the church (see articles here and here). Even more likely is a connection with April’s shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was shot in the back and killed by a white police officer in Charleston as he tried to flee. (The police officer was indicted for murder.) The church’s pastor, Clementa Pinckney who was also a state senator, had led a prayer vigil for Scott and had pushed for police officers to wear body cameras. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

An Element of Violence

By Jeff Weidenhamer

Following Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore, the Washington Post reported that he, like too many other children of the inner city, grew up with lead poisoning.  At 22 months, Freddie Gray’s blood lead concentration was 37 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.  This is high enough to cause serious brain damage and far exceeds the level (5 micrograms per deciliter) identified by the Centers for Disease Control as the current level of concern.  Less well appreciated is the link between lead and violence in our society.
It is hard to grasp just how poisonous lead is to young children.  An average grain of salt weighs approximately 100 micrograms.  Dissolve that in 2 liters of water and you have a concentration of 5 micrograms per deciliter. What do these miniscule amounts of lead do to a young child?  Effects linked to low-level lead exposure in children include reductions in IQ, learning disabilities, and ADHD. Ralph Spezio, a Rochester NY principal, found that all of the children in his school’s special education programs had histories of elevated lead exposures.  The brain damage caused by lead is permanent, and the only way to prevent harm is to prevent exposure.