Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Human Factor
Part I
Look what we have done to the people of Iraq. How will we ever rectify a military invasion of a country that was and is absolutely no threat to the United States? There are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and grandchildren that were or will be injured or killed as a result of this invasion and occupation. There are the brave men and women in our military, who have or will come home in caskets. Many others will survive with physical and mental injuries that will deeply affect their quality of life. The numbers are hard to comprehend, so I put the statistics in human terms and I feel so very sad for these people. There is no justification for what our government has done.
Last summer I attended the regional conference of the Department of Peace Campaign. I talked with Congressman John Conyers from the 14th Michigan congressional district. I asked him if there was some classified information our representatives and senators were given that convinced so many to vote for the invasion of Iraq. He looked at me and said, "We all knew Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with September 11th." I had the need to hear the truth from someone in Congress. I thanked him for his honesty.
Since the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota on December 29, 1890, our government has ordered 132 military interventions in the United States and throughout the world. Since 1922, there have been twenty one instances of military action in the Middle East. (1) Is our world a better place? Do we feel safe?
Our country is always poised for war. We have a huge military industrial complex that creates thousands of jobs manufacturing and selling weaponry to our military and other countries. We have more nuclear bombs than all other countries combined. Is our world a better place? Do we feel safe?
The United States accounts for 47% of the world's total military spending. The United States spends five times more on the military than China, and eleven times more than Russia. Our government also out spends Iran and North Korea by a ratio of seventy-two to one. (2) Is our world a better place? Do we feel safe?
We need a change of consciousness; it is time to take a stand for waging peace. Martin Luther King explained it so well when he said, "True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force----tension, confusion, or war; it is the presence of some positive force---justice, good will and brotherhood." We have the resources and expertise to become a nation that works for the end of human suffering. It is up to us to create the political will to make it happen.
1. Ziauddin, Sardar. Why do People Hate America; New York, MJF Books; c2002; pp. 92-101.
2. Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation;
The Human Factor
Part II
Political Will
Throughout history there were individuals who took a stand for human rights. There were the abolitionists who saw the evil of slavery and worked to end it. The 13th amendment to the constitution was ratified in 1865, the 14th amendment, stating the rights of citizenship was ratified in 1868, and the 15th amendment gave men of color the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul disagreed with the status quo and worked to change our consititution so women could vote. The 19th amendment to the constitution was ratified in 1920. Martin Luther King, Jr. took the leadership role that resulted in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which created the means to enforce the 14th, and 15th amendments to the constitution. In spite of many obstacles, these people had the political will to work for change.
If we truly want our government to change direction, then we the people must make our position known. With a cabinet level Department of Peace, existing programs will be used and new ones developed to promote peace, social justice and care of the earth here and throughout the world. This will go a long way in changing the self-destructive path that our political leaders have set for us.
Our world will be a better place when we help our cities, small towns, rural areas, and countries around the world to develop broad-based economic development that will enable people to earn a living wage.
Our world will be a better place when we help institutions of civil society become effective providers of education, health care and other needed social services.
Our world will be a better place, when our foreign policy supports governments around the world who are responsive to the needs of their people.
Our world will be a better place when we work for improving water resources around the world.
Our world will be a better place when our public officials support the work of environmentalists.
Our world will be a better place and we will feel safe when it is understood how "we are all related."
The Human Factor
Part III
We are all Related
"It feels like my brothers and sisters are buried here," I said as the tears ran down my face. My friend Leatrice responded, "that's because they are." I was standing by the mass grave in the Wounded Knee cemetery in South Dakota where I draped prayer ties over the surrounding chain link fence.
The cemetery is on top of a hill overlooking a road, a grassy plain and then Wounded Knee Creek. I sat with my friend, looking at this tranquil view, picturing the tragic event that had happened here, and thought what an incredible journey my husband and I have traveled. We volunteer at a Boys and Girls Club on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation located in the southwest corner of South Dakota. We live in a suburb west of Detroit, Michigan. The physical journey is 2200 miles round trip; the spiritual journey is infinite.
My husband, Rick, first visited the Wounded Knee cemetery when he went to the Reservation in 1997 to work on their first Habitat for Humanity house. When he returned home, Rick told me what he had learned about the massacre that had happened there in December 1890, the mass grave, and how people come and leave various tributes: He saw flowers, bouquets of sage, bird feathers, and a teddy bear.
He also told me about the SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club. The Club was located in a converted factory building with half of it being the Happpy Town restaurant and the other half for the Club. The restaurant was the primary source of financial support.
SuAnne Big Crow was a natural leader, an outstanding student and a South Dakota basketball star, still holding the state record for scoring the most points in a game. She led her team to the state championship in 1991. Tragically, she was killed in an automobile accident in 1992. SuAnne always wanted a place for the children. A safe place where they could play and learn together and support one another and it would be called "Happy Town." For more about SuAnne see
My husband and I were deeply touched by the stories of SuAnne and her family. Out of a personal tragedy Leatrice Big Crow, SuAnne's mother, her family and the tribe took the daugher's vision and made it a reality.
In the spring of 1998, Rick was told that the Boys and Girls Club could use some help. He learned that the restaurant kitchen was in need of many repairs to bring it up to code. Without these repairs, the restaurant, which was the financial source for the Club, would be closed. We managed to raise money for materials and recruited four other people to go with us.
Rick wanted to take a tribute to leave at the Wounded Knee cemetery. He decided to have a wood carver construct an eagle feather. He told Leatrice what he would like to do and she contacted a medicine man to meet with us during our time at the Club. Will Peters sat with us and held the carved feather. He told us in his way about the massacre on December 29, 1890.
The Big Foot band of the Oglala Lakota people agreed to come live on the reservation. It was a group of primarily old men, women and children. They had little food, many were sick and so they surrendered at Wounded Knee to the 7th Calvary. The soldiers demanded they give up their weapons and when they tried to explain that they needed them for hunting, their reason was ignored and the soldiers started shooting. A mass grave was dug for those who were injured and left to die in the snow along with the dead. These people never had a proper burial, and so their spirits still wander there to this day.
I sat and listened to his story and it felt like it had happened yesterday. Will Peters agreed to perform a consecration ceremony at the cemetery. He said that the person who carved the feather has a good heart, and he believed the same of my husband and me. The carved eagle feather was put in a box top surrounded with bouquets of wild sage. Each bouquet was tied together with four strips of cotton cloth in the four sacred colors of white, black, yellow and red. I was given the honor of carrying this offering up the hill and presenting it to Will Peters.
We stood around the mass grave. Will Peters stood by the head stone and started to chant. My eyes filled with tears and ran down my cheeks and I was surprised at my reaction. I reasoned that my ancestors had nothing to do with this. My grandparents came from Europe to Michigan in the early 1900s. As he continued to sing, I continued to cry. His song came from his soul and he was praying that the spirits find a resting place. He then motioned to me to give him the carved feather and his chant continued.
At the conclusion of ceremonies and prayers, Will explained that in the Lakota tradition, everyone joins in and says "mita kuye oyasin." The translation is "we are all related." By the end of the ceremony, I had pulled myself together, pushing away what I felt and started helping people set up and serve the food we had brought.
For two years, I was drawn to the Wounded Knee cemetery. Leatrice came with us. She invited us to pray, she showed me how to make prayer ties, and we were invited to ceremonies. God, Yahweh, Spirit or Higher Power gives us many opportunities for growth, and I truly believe my higher power was not going to let me go until I understood in my soul the meaning of "we are all related."