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#981 – Dick Bernard: “Third Thursday”

Friday, January 16th, 2015

The first “Third Thursday” of what is now known as Citizens for Global Solutions, Minnesota(CGSMn), was March 23, 2000. (For purists, yes, the first Third Thursday was on the fourth Thursday, but they had a good excuse…!) Since that first program there have been well over 100 topics explored by over 100 always well qualified speakers*, and last nights presentation by Dr. Christy Hanson (by my count, speaker #106 at Third Thursday) was no exception.

I have written frequently about one or other programs at Third Thursday and a consistent lament is how impossible it is to distill an experts presentation, punctuated by questions from an always alert audience, into a cogent summary. You have to be at these free programs to truly experience the learning available for the investment of two hours of your time.

Dr. Hanson’s topic title was intriguing. Here’s the title slide on her powerpoint (click to enlarge, look in lower right corner). The original work of art was by students at Macalester College in St. Paul, and according to Dr. Hanson, is still found on a wall somewhere on campus at all times. It is a beautiful piece of work. Dr. Hanson’s bio is here.

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Dr. Christy Hanson Jan 15, 2015

Dr. Christy Hanson Jan 15, 2015

Dr. Hanson’s talk on “Global Health: the Greatest Story Rarely Told”, highlighted not what hasn’t been accomplished to make the world better for, particularly, women and children; but rather the miracles which have been worked around the world by cooperative efforts by experts like Dr. Hanson, assorted countries, United Nations and allied agencies like World Health Organization, companies, and individuals like Jimmy Carters, Bill and Melinda Gates, Clinton Foundation, etc. quietly join hands, tackling immense tasks world-wide. Too seldom do these efforts get the attention they deserve.

The real heroes (and sheroes): ordinary people in villages, neighborhoods and local offices world wide. All they need is a little help from a lot of friends who care.

By no means did she sidestep the fact that on this globe of over 7 billion human beings there are immense problems and inequities. One of her first slides showed the stark reality of deaths of mothers dying as a result of pregnancy. In the U.S. that would be 1 in 4300; in southern Africa, 1 in 31. That is a huge gap, so huge that for those of us in the U.S. it is scarcely comprehensible. We have no way to truly understand such a disparity.

She continued to tell her story, basically focusing on themes like infant death, malaria, TB, HIV and horrible tropical maladies, like Guinea Worm and the like.

She could have ended with an “ain’t it awful” scenario, causing a listener to give up hope. But there was a clue when she accepted the offer to speak by changing the title of her talk from what had been suggested, “the Ebola Crisis”, to “The Greatest Story Rarely Told” about the immense accomplishments in Global Health in recent years.

She ended her talk with a simple quote from Helen Keller, herself an heroic figure who encountered her disabilities, making them into abilities. “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

So very true.

In these days of endless crisis, blown up by finely tuned words and images, it is easy for even an old optimist like myself to lose hope. But people like Dr. Hanson, and an earlier Third Thursday speaker on Rwanda, Dr. Holly Nyseth-Brehm, and many others, help turn the dismal on its head. By their very presence on the world stage there is hope! There is real hope.

(I was unable to write about Dr. Nyseth-Brehms excellent presentation when it was given back in May. At least, here is a photo of this fine new professor at Ohio State University. And she’s writing a book about Criminal Justice related to Rwanda in the wake of the genocide of 1994. Watch for it!)

Hollie Nyseth-Brehm, Third Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hollie Nyseth-Brehm, Third Thursday, May 15, 2014

* Here is the complete list of Third Thursdays, as published in CGSMn’s newsletter Third Thursday 2000-2014. The upcoming events are always published by CGSMn’s website. Check them out; plan to attend. Next one is Thursday, February 19.

COMMENTS
From Jim N, who was at the talk:
As a Christian I love the thought of relieving human pain and suffering. The people we are talking about are truly my brothers and sisters. I raised the issue is this sustainable? ie outside people landing in an impoverished, yet sovereign land. The solution is interesting: $15 million from US taxpayers, totally free drugs from 5 drug companies, charity from other Americans philanthropists. Is that sustainable?

Could you imagine a meeting in my homeland Norway. They would talk about the huge inequity of the American Indians near Bemidji MN who are not getting the proper medical care and are very prone to illness and suicide or the veterans like Jim Nelson’s Vietnam vet brother ( a hero who saved many innocent civilians) but couldn’t get the medication he needed from the VA to treat the affliction from Agent Orange. He suffered for 30 years and died in 2014. The solution would be simple: the taxpayers in Norway would take a little of their wealth, the drug companies would provide free medications and the philanthropists in Norway with pitch in and then we could take care of our MN native Americans or sick veterans who die waiting for help.

#977 – Dick Bernard: 2015: A Good Year To Remind Ourselves That We Are Part Of A Community of Nations.

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Continuing calendar/timeline for 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II: Community of Nations 2015 calendar April edition. This calendar will be updated on or about the first of every month in 2015. Your additions are solicited.

NOTE: Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg has separately written his own opinion about the history of the United Nations System and ideas for reform. His remarks are included, with his permission, at the end of this post.

Most Recent Related Posts, since January 1, 2015: (earlier posts are found at the end of this page, following Joe Schwartzbergs commentary.)
18. April 28. An Hour With The Governeur-General of Canada
19. May 1. Memorial Day 1946, and the Residue of WWII
20. May 12 The Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba, and Some Thoughts of the Early 1960s

(click to enlarge)

UN vehicle in Hinche (Ench) Haiti, March 2006

UN vehicle in Hinche (Ench) Haiti, March 2006

The United Nations turns 70 this year, less than two months after the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.

WWII followed WWI by about 20 years.

The dreaded WWIII, which could easily destroy us, has not happened and I have to believe the very existence of the United Nations is a large part of the reason our human species has survived in spite of dire threats, and in fact will continue to survive as we cobble together ways to get along.

Most of us know little about the United Nations (UN), which is a shame. My personal learning curve has been recent. There is a great deal to learn.

To some, the UN is an enemy entity, even though it is not a country, and its structure mitigates against making imperialistic moves, if indeed its actors would even have an interest in such.

Perhaps it is because the UN was a coalition of partners which had a logical structure at the time of its formation: five powers have always dominated it, each possessing veto power. They are the countries which won WWII: United States, England, France, Soviet Union and China. There were 46 other founding nations in 1945; now there are 193. (Japan was admitted in 1956; Germany in 1973.)

I have noted that change happens within the UN system, though at a glacial pace. This is to be expected. Some observers wish the UN system would cease to exist; others expect miracles from it, including instant change. Given the enormity of its mission, it is a marvel it exists at all!

But the UN and its numerous associated agencies, like World Health Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, UNICEF, and on and on, contribute markedly and quietly to helping our diverse world not only survive, but thrive.

A key question, for me, is “where would the world be in 2015 without a United Nations?” I think we would rue the day the UN disappeared.

A new resource I highly recommend to those wishing to learn about the UN: Dr. Joseph Schwartzbergs 2013 book “Transforming the United Nations System, Designs for a Workable World”: Schwartzberg 2013001 (cover illustrations below). This 364 page academic work is full of data, history, and ideas for “transforming” the UN and it is a book that is getting broad attention within the UN community of interest. Book is available on-ine from Amazon,Barnes and Noble, or the Brookings Institution. Inquiries and comment about the book to Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg at his University of Minnesota office schwa004ATtcDOTumnDOTedu.

Schwartzberg book001

Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg, December 4, 2014

Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg, December 4, 2014

POST NOTE #1: Some personal thoughts about the UN (yours are solicited as well).

My direct contact with the United Nations is very limited. Until 2006, the only direct exposure to the UN was a visit to New York City in 1972, part of which included a stop, as a tourist, at UN headquarters.

In March, 2006, we visited the interior of Haiti. It was my second visit, and a time of political uncertainty in the country. In the interior city of Hinche (Ench), we met and visited with a retired police officer from Quebec who was on assignment with the UN to help build a more effective local police force there. He saw his duty as a needed service.

Later we saw a UN vehicle on a Hinche street (a photo leads this post). The photo speaks for itself. I don’t know who was with the vehicle; at any rate, it was calm in the streets surrounding.

A few days later, enroute back to Port-au-Prince and in the town of Mirabelaise, one of our vehicles stopped to repair a flat tire. We took a break, and we met by coincidence a squad of UN Peacekeepers from Nepal. We had a very brief chance to visit with some of them, and I took this two minute piece of video of our interaction. There was nothing intimidating in our interaction or what we saw in the park. The voice-over you hear is mine. It was simply a spontaneous piece of history that I filmed – a different look at the stereotype of UN Peacekeeper. (Here is the same video, without crawl script.)

In this amateur video, you can get a sense of the humanity of the “peacekeepers”; young soldiers as you’d find anywhere in the world. That they are Nepalese came to be notorious a few years later when their encampment just east of the town, was identified as the probable source of the cholera epidemic that devastated Haiti in 2010. Instantly, that incident became another piece of evidence, to some, that the United Nations was no good.

But that chance encounter with those few young Nepalese has had a durable and positive impact on me.

POST NOTE #2: At the end December, 2012, I stumbled across a local incident which attracted my interest. The Commissioners of Hennepin County (Minneapolis and area) had taken down a United Nations flag which had flown on the plaza for 44 years. This story continues – you can read it here – and is fascinating mostly in the active interest in keeping secret who it was who pushed the Commissioners to take their unanimous action in March of 2012.

More recently, I noted that a flag I thought had been a UN Flag had been taken down at a major Edina Hospital. I inquired about it, and was informed that it wasn’t a UN flag, but rather the flag of the World Health Organization (WHO) (which is one of those UN agencies, now independent, whose flag essentially mirrors that of the United Nations flag on which it is based.

Again, someone wanted that flag down, someone probably threatened by its very existence there, but it is near impossible to find out the truth….

(click to enlarge, once enlarged you can further enlarge the flag and see that it is indeed the WHO flag).

Fairview Southdale Hospital Edina MN April 1, 2013

Fairview Southdale Hospital Edina MN April 1, 2013

DR. JOSEPH SCHWARTZBERG COMMENTS January 5, 2015

THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM: TIME FOR “ PLAN C”

In any given period, the international system is characterized by some minimally acceptable rules of order. These rules may be partially codified; but, to a large extent, they are tacitly understood, generally reflecting the balance of power perspectives of a small number of influential states. This essay considers systems in the period since World War II.

Plan A: Traditional Power Politics Plus a Weak United Nations System

The United Nations Charter, adopted in 1945, was not a democratic document. In the Security Council, the sole UN agency to enjoy binding powers, the so-called P5, the principal victors in World War II, were not only given permanent seats, but also the right to veto any resolution of which they disapproved. All other members reluctantly accepted this dispensation, relying for protection on their sovereign immunity from outside intervention. In theory, all states were sovereign equals. Each could do whatever it wished, no matter how immoral, within its own borders. Nor did it matter whether its actions were for the good of the planet. Nevertheless, most states behaved reasonably and the system worked well enough to help avert World War III and to provide modest benefits to needy nations.

In its early days, the UN was looked upon favorably by the United States, which, together with its allied and client states, mainly in Latin America and Western Europe, could win just about any vote in the UN General Assembly. The Soviet Union, naturally, frequently used its veto to block Western initiatives. But, as the UN expanded, mainly because of decolonization in Africa and most of Asia, the balance of power shifted. What had been a primarily East-West contest morphed into opposition between the global North and South. In the new power configuration the South won many victories, but they proved to be pyrrhic in that decisions were non-binding, unenforceable and largely ignored by powerful states. New agencies continued to be created to deal with issues of global importance, but they were typically under-funded and inadequately staffed. The United States continued to pay lip service to the importance of the UN, but we also made sure that it did not become a serious contender for global political power.

Overall, the planet continued to be wracked by political, economic and social injustice. Looming environmental dangers were ignored. Leaders and diplomats were largely oblivious to many mounting dangers and failed to recognize the sowing of the seeds of terrorism.

Plan B: An Abortive Pax Americana

With the unanticipated implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989, a seemingly promising new era dawned in world affairs. The United States emerged as the sole hegemon in a politically uni-polar world. Its capacity to lead was unprecedented. Many of our leaders, however, especially on the political right, perceived the global situation as enabling the establishment of a “New American Century,” a Pax Americana backed by worldwide acceptance of free-market capitalism and guaranteed militarily by “full spectrum dominance” (on land, sea, air, and outer space) and marked by pro-American, nominally democratic regimes on all continents. Remaining adversaries were to be hemmed in by a global network of hundreds of military bases. To be sure, it would be expensive; but it was a scenario we believed we could afford.

But there were problems. Nobody ever asked us to be the world’s policeman and political arbiter. We lacked the skill to export democracy to other lands. Most of the world did not buy into the neo-con myth that we were the “shining city on the hill” And then came 9/11! Our response was the unwinnable global War on Terrorism that has obsessed our political thinking ever since. Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations have wreaked incalculable death and devastation and drained our economy of trillions of dollars and precluded meaningful reforms in our own country and abroad. For all practical purposes, the UN was relegated to a bit and subservient part. And most of our political establishment still doesn’t get it.

Plan C: A Transformed United Nations System

All of the problems confronting our planet before 9/11 are still with us. Some, especially climate change, have become appreciably worse. Plan B isn’t working and needs to be replaced. We need truly global, not essentially unilateral decision-making. The United Nations must be transformed and strengthened. Decisions must be binding, democratically reached, accepted as legitimate, and enforceable. The global South deserves to have an appropriate voice in world affairs. Terrorism must be addressed, not by killing ever-greater numbers of presumed potential perpetrators, but by eliminating its root causes in global and local injustice. Ordinary citizens deserve to be represented in a World Parliamentary Assembly. Better ways must be found to tap the wisdom of civil society. Unilateral military adventurism must yield to duly authorized missions carried out by a competent standing peace force. The jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court must be made universal. The list goes on.

Happily, solutions are in sight. Suggesting how best to address these issues is the purpose of my most recent book, Transforming the United Nations System: Designs for a Workable World. The book, published by the United Nations University Press in 2013 has been enthusiastically endorsed by numerous prominent world thinkers. You may easily order a copy on-line from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the Brookings Institution Press.

(Continuation of Related Posts)
1. Jan. 16, 2015: Global Health: The Greatest Story Rarely Told
2. Jan. 15, 2015: The Paris Attacks.
3. Jan. 27, 2015: The 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau
4. Jan. 28, 2015:: Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Day After Yesterday.
5. Mar. 3, 2015: Netanyahu at Congress, March 3
6. 6. Mar. 6, 7, 8, 9, 2015: Series of posts about the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Forum, Minneapolis MN.
Ten Videos featuring major speakers at the 2015 Forum can be accessed here. In particular, I recommend President Jimmy Carter’s Mar. 6, 2015 address, found at this link.
7. 10 Thoughts at 1000
8. 13 When Stupidity Triumphs
9. 18 Netanyahu’s “Victory”
10. 20 A Remarkable Evening remembering Vietnam War
11. 21 Visiting Selma AL Mar 7, 2015
12. 29 Esperanto
13. 31 Negotiations with Iran
14. April 4. Death and Resurrection: Cuba and the Minnesota Orchestra.
15. April 9. Flossenburg
16. April 22. Earth Day 2015
17. April 23. War is Hell. How About Waging Peace?

#972 – Dick Bernard: The Dinner Party

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

There are several comments to the Cuba post, including a photo montage I’ve linked at the beginning of the Cuba section. See the additions here.

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Prior Lake MN, Franciscan Retreat Center, Dec. 14, 2014

Prior Lake MN, Franciscan Retreat Center, Dec. 14, 2014

Thursday evening we were invited to a small dinner party at the home of our neighbor, Don. He lives across the street so the commute was short. He had invited two other friends, Arthur and Rose, who we had not met before. Of the five, we were the junior members. The oldest was 84; the youngest 70.

We’re all well into the age when reminiscing is a common thread. Don, retired from a long career from a railroad office job with the then-Great Northern, had once, in his younger years, been a guest at a dinner party hosted by Elizabeth Taylor at her home in Hollywood. He was native of what has long been called the “frogtown” neighborhood of St. Paul.

Arthur came from a farm family of five in central Minnesota. He grew up in a log cabin, literally, he said. He named a tiny town I’ve been through, and said their farm was 12 miles east. I thought – I may have said – that is really in the boonies!.

His German immigrant grandfather was a carpenter and would load his horse drawn wagon with tools, and leave for sometimes as much as two and a half months, working on building this or that somewhere in the general area. “Commuting” with horses is not easy!

All the home windows, he said, were truly home-made, none of the fancy stuff we now demand.

Rose, also from a farm family, grew up near a little town that is now a Minneapolis suburb, and worked in a factory there.

As for us, I’m a tiny town ND kid, child of school teachers; Cathy is a St. Paul east-sider whose family basically could be called a “3M family”, from the days when that corporation often became a persons career.

As one might expect, our conversation was interesting and animated and covered lots of ground. Arthur became a meatpacker across the river in South St. Paul, and when the plant closed in the late 1970s, had a fairly long career driving a Metro Transit bus, often in neighborhoods that he deemed not safe.

Our social get-together ended, and we all went home. “Merry Christmas” to all.

I checked e-mails and there were three of special note:

Good friends Ehtasham and Suhail, both writing from Pakistan, wrote about the tragic bombing that killed over 100 school children in Peshawar this week. “Killing school children for political agendas has no parallel in history. The whole nation is mourning”, one said. The other: “Though I am safe along with my family, yet the kids who have lost their lives are all mine; they are my family as well. The level of frustration is so high that the things are looking gloomy and rays of hope are looking faint. I am currently working with Plan International, which focuses on child rights and child protection, and we have initiated an internal debate on how can we ensure protection to the lives of kids in Pakistan.”

Another e-mail came from a great friend, Said, a Syrian PhD in England, fluent in French, who I’ve been fortunate to know for years. “It is much better to make friends than enemies & especially in this world of ours with vulnerable internet/communications & weapons that are readily available and devastating! I have been investigating WWI a lot since it is a sad anniversary of sorts – except for the Christmas truce [of 1914] which moves me every time I read about it – I also watched a very good French film about it. I suppose instead of the war to end all wars that was the peace to end all peace (1918-19). Well I wish you & yours a Merry Christmas & a peaceful 2015.”

Eight different people, eight different life scripts, stories, differing cultures, backgrounds, religions…but with so many common threads to share. We are one human family; the overwhelming vast majority of us good people*, each who can make a positive difference each and every day.

A hymn I like so profoundly says: “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

All Blessings at Christmas and 2015.

POSTNOTE
*
– In mid-November, I attended a workshop by Paul K. Chappell, in which he cited research that found 98% of soldiers were averse to killing other people, even in battle. This left, of course, 2% who had no such scruples, called psychopaths. The research expanded to include civilians – our own U.S. population. The same results: 98% and 2%.

In other words, anywhere there are humans, of whatever race, or creed, or nationality, or country, 98% comprise the prevailing side of humanity.

There are a lot of people in the 2% of course, and they are everywhere, but the 98% overwhelmingly have it in their power to minimize the influence of the 2%.

I asked Mr. Chappell for a citation on the source of his data: “Roy L. Swank and Walter E. Marchand, “Combat Neuroses: Development of Combat Exhaustion,.” American Medical Association: Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 1946, 244″.

#963 – Dick Bernard: The First Sunday of Advent, 2014

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Today, at least for Roman Catholics, is the First Sunday of Advent. It will be noticed today at my Church, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis.

As with most everything in our diverse society, there are many definitions of the meaning of this liturgical season, the four Sundays between now and Christmas Day, December 25. Here’s “Advent” as found in google entries.

I happen to be Catholic, actually quite active, I’d say. This would make me a subset of a subset of the American population.

In all ways, the U.S. is a diverse country. The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published by the Census Bureau, says about 80% of adult Americans describe themselves as “Christian”; 25% of this same population says they’re “Catholic”. (The data is here.)

Of course, if you’re a “boots on the ground” person, as I am, raw data like the above pretty quickly devolves. As the most appropriate mantra at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis (my church) is stated every Sunday: “welcome, wherever you are on your faith journey….” The people in the pews know the truth of this phrase, and know that on every given Sunday, two-thirds of them are not even in the pews.

Regardless of specific belief, the vast majority of us, everywhere, are good people*.

I’m drawn to this topic a bit more than usual this weekend since I just returned from a visit to my last surviving Uncle, Vince, winding down his long life in a wonderful nursing home in a small North Dakota town.

Thanksgiving Day I decided to bring to him, for hanging in his room, the below holy family** (which had not yet been hung, and appears sideways, as it appeared in his room, prior to hanging.)

(click to enlarge)

Nov. 27, 2014

Nov. 27, 2014

For many years this image hung in the family farm home, and Vince seemed glad to see it come to visit. I asked him how old it was, and he said it was his mothers (my grandmothers) favorite, and it was probably older than he, in other words pre-dating 1925.

When next I visit, I hope to see it hanging on the wall he faces each day, and as such things go, it will likely bring back memories, and perhaps other emotions as well. Images tend to do this.

Of course, even in the religious milieu, an event like Advent is complicated. It is observed (including not being observed at all) in various ways even by people within the Catholic Church. A constructive observance, in my opinion, is to attempt to use the next 25 days to daily reflect on something or other in my own life. A nominally Catholic but mostly inspirational book of Daily Reflections given to me years ago by my friend Les Corey comes immediately to mind**; and very likely I can “tie in” Uncle Vince through letters this month. (It helps me to make a public declaration of intention on these things – a little more likely that I’ll follow through!)

Of course, there is, always, lots of side-chatter in this country at this season: “Black Friday” rolled out two days ago. We are a financial “bottom line” nation, I guess. Profits trump most anything else.

But, be that as it may, perhaps my essential message is that the next few weeks can be helpful simply for quieting ones-self and reflecting on a more simple way of being, such as greeted that icon when it was first hung in that simple North Dakota farm home perhaps even more than 100 years ago.

Have a good Advent.

* – A few hours ago, we experienced a good positive start to Advent. After a party for three of our grandkids who have November birthdays, we all went to a Minnesota based project called Feed My Starving Children where, along with 115 others adults and children, we filled food packets whose ultimate destination is Liberia. It was our first time participating with this activity, and it was a very positive activity. Hard work, but a great family activity. Check it, or something similar, out. Special thanks to one of the birthday kids, 8-year old Lucy, who apparently suggested the activity.

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

** – Of course, I don’t know the exact origin of the print which so captured Grandma. Almost certainly the real holy family of Bible days was not European white, as I am, and she was; rather, most likely, middle eastern in ethnicity and appearance.

*** – The book I’ve dusted off for the next weeks: All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time by Robert Ellsberg.

#961 – Dick Bernard: Ferguson MO. A Victim Impact Statement

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Beginning last evening there’s been plenty of news about Officer Darren Wilson, un-armed victim Michael Brown and Ferguson MO. There’ll be a great deal more.

The news will be as it is.

Some thoughts from my little corner….

Yesterday afternoon I met a guy at a local restaurant I frequent. He was a retired police Lieutenant. We were introduced by a mutual friend, Mary, who’s a grandma and a waitress par excellence.

As he was leaving, we compared notes a bit: he’s retired 16 years from an area Police Force, me, 14 from teacher union work. I gave him my card with my blog address, and told him I’d written about the tragic death of policeman Shawn Patrick in neighboring Mendota Heights some months ago. Maybe he checked it out.

Of course, very shortly thereafter Mendota Heights came Ferguson MO, which I also wrote about here.

The story about the implications of Ferguson is just beginning.

A few thoughts about what I’ll call “A Victim Impact Statement”.

When the Grand Jury deliberated, one witness obviously missing was Michael Brown, deceased. He was not available for questioning. He was dead.

He publicly lives on in (it seems) in a photograph, and a tiny piece of stupid kid action in a convenience store, caught on surveillance camera. There’s nothing he wrote about what happened that afternoon; there’s nothing he’s said.

He has no voice.

Officer Darren Wilson, on the other hand has a voice. He could tell his own story to people who mattered. And in the halls of justice he has apparently been cleared, according to the laws of the state of Missouri.

But Wilson’s own life will never be the same again. He is a victim as certainly as Wilson was.

He’s left the force, apparently, and after a certain period of great public attention, he will disappear into the anonymous world of one-time celebrities. His enduring fame will be as the cop who shot the unarmed kid on the streets of Ferguson MO. People will forget the date and the circumstances and the arguments will be whether or not he deserved his fate.

There are other victims too: Brown’s parents; Wilson’s family; the entire community…on and on. This espisode only began when the gunshots fell silent. There are many victim statements being written.

Shortly, I’ll head to my barber who is retired, works from his home, was a Marine in Vietnam, has a son who’s a policeman, and I’ll bring up the topic. We will have an interesting few minutes together today. We are, and will remain, very good friends. We might disagree.

For me, the un-indicted co-conspirator in this and in so many other cases will be weaponry – a gun. Surely it was used legally by an officer of the law. But without it, I wouldn’t be writing this piece. Michael Brown wouldn’t be dead.

Darren Wilson has killed a young man in circumstances none of us will never know for sure.

We can all be righteous in our judgments, but the fact remains: there are at least two victims in this scenario, a young cop and a young kid.

Will we learn anything?

Happy Thanksgiving.

POSTNOTE: The visit to the barber began with his bringing up the situation in Ferguson: I didn’t have to raise the topic. The topic dominated our minutes together. We had a very civil conversation.

There was talk about “anarchists” and the 2008 Republican Convention security in St. Paul. St. Paul was an armed camp then. At the time, his barber shop was within blocks of possible violence. He worried. I was in a protest march: I saw the police on rooftops in over-the-top battle gear. We were peaceful – no anarchists around me.

My barber was a Marine in Vietnam. In the course of conversation he brought up the battle of Chu Lai, of which he was a part, near 50 years ago. He remembered the shooting, particularly he and his buddy shooting at two people in pajama like garb running away. One fell dead. Afterwards they went to check. The victim was a very young girl. Neither of them has ever forgot what they saw that day in battle.

We wished each other a Happy Thanksgiving, and I was on my way.

COMMENTS:
from Flo, Nov 25:
Regarding your blog post. I think of the goal of Restorative Justice, recognizing that there’s a perpetrator, victim, and a community, including the families, for whom the need for justice needs to be addressed. For sure, there is no peace reigning in communities of color, anywhere, at this time. White people are further arming themselves against their perceived enemies, and the war goes on. Here is a piece that was just sent out by our UMC Bishop Ough for your consideration: “Do justice Special message from Bishop Ough following grand jury ruling in Ferguson”

from Carol, Nov 25: It didn’t take long to find this online, altho’ it was long ago. I remember being just stunned by the grand jury decision. These kids were running away from the police officer through an orchard, and he shot once. The bullet went through the back of both boys, killing them both. The officer said he thought they were adults, as “Hmong are small people” (I guess it’s OK to shoot adults in the back). This crap didn’t just start with Ferguson.

****
On Friday, November 19, the US District Court approved dispersal of $200,000 for the families of two Hmong teenagers that an Inver Grove Heights Police Officer Kenneth Murphy shot and killed in 1989, Inver Grove Heights Attorney Pete Regnier told ASIAN PAGES. The court determined this settlement last March, Regnier said.

… 13-year-old Ba See Lor, who was killed in the Inver Grove Heights case. Also shot and killed in Inver Grove Heights in 1989 was 13-year-old Thai Yang…

In 1990, a Dakota County Grand Jury issued a no indictment decision for the deaths in Inver Grove Heights, avoiding charges against Officer Murphy. After a police chase, the boys left their stolen car and ran across a field, but one boy carried a screwdriver that Officer Murphy thought was a gun.

from Dick, postnote: It happened, shortly after Ferguson erupted into the national news in August, that I was driving down a city street in Woodbury and for no apparent reason a policeman pulled me over. He approached the car, and was very polite, and told me I had not signalled my turn. This surprised me. I always signal my turn (but this time I had forgotten). He asked to see my insurance papers, and I looked where they always are kept, in the glove box. But they weren’t there. Now I was rattled.

There was no ticket, not even a warning, and the officer was very pleasant (such as these things go), and I was on my way. But the whole episode shook me up. This was not part of my daily return.

A little later I took out my wallet, and there was the insurance certificate. I had taken it out when I rented a truck to help a friend move. I wrote a note to the officer.

The entire episode reminded me that encounters between police and civilians are never benign, regardless of guilt or innocence. The word to the police has to be, it’s all about relationship. If the relationship comes to be based in power, and in the case of Michael Brown, armed power, all is lost. In my opinion, The Gun is a very major part of this issue. We need to attend to the issue of Guns in our society, regardless of who carries them or for what reason.

#957 – Dick Bernard: “Last night I had the strangest dream….”

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Directly related: here

Last night Paul Chappell inspired nearly 300 of us at the Annual Celebration of the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers at Landmark Center in St. Paul. “Is World Peace Possible?” was his topic. Of course, the answer is “yes”, but one needs both to believe that possibility and work towards the goal rather than get mired in a sense of futility.

Paul K Chappell at Landmark Center St. Paul MN Nov 17, 2014

Paul K Chappell at Landmark Center St. Paul MN Nov 17, 2014

His essential message, as I heard it, is this: by nature, the overwhelming vast majority of we humans are not a violent people. All we need to do is look inside ourselves.

And good change happens. It has happened. It continues to happen.

Look back a few hundred years and recall what you learned about slavery, the virtually total absence of womens rights, the intolerance of ages past, for example, against the Irish, etc. We’re in a much better place today.

Who is to say that we can’t be in an even better place 100 years from now? Why not work towards a better world with hope, rather than descend into despair?

It all resides in our attitude, our belief that we can make a difference, our willingness to work, one act at a time, for that better world.

Success is in each one of us, not some “he” or “she” or “them”. It only takes a few to be the catalyst. Looking back, Mr. Chappell said, only about 1% of the population were activists in the civil rights movement; only 1% in the women’s rights movement.

Why not become part of that 1%, that one of 100? The message, as I heard it, is very simple: do something good, share it with those you know, work together and good will follow.

Paraphrasing Forrest Gump, “good stuff happens”. Each of us are the essential vehicle for that good stuff.

Of course, it takes far more than just listening to a speech, or to keep on doing only as we’ve always done….

Which causes me to think back to a familiar song by an obscure songwriter, whose title leads this post.

Twice in my life I’ve heard memorable renditions of “Last night I had the strangest dream”, the circa 1950 Ed McCurdy peace anthem made famous by singer John Denver in the hottest days of the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 1970s.

Last night I had the strangest dream
I never dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war
I dreamed I saw a mighty room
The room was filled with men
And the paper they were signing said
They’d never fight again

The first memorable rendition was June, 2007, when an elderly (but perpetually young) man I barely knew, Lynn Elling, rose at the annual meeting of World Citizen, a group he had founded, and led us in the song. He inspired me that day.

The second time was Armistice Day (Nov. 11, 2014) at the USS Ward Memorial on the Minnesota State Capitol grounds. There another elder (but perpetually young) lady I know, Sr. Bridget McDonald CSJ of the McDonald sisters, led us in the same song. Ours was a very chilly (in a weather sense) but spirited rendition!

"Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream...." Nov. 11, 2014, St. Paul MN led by Sister Bridget McDonald CSJ

“Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream….” Nov. 11, 2014, St. Paul MN led by Sister Bridget McDonald CSJ

And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads
And grateful prayers were prayed
And the people in the streets below
Were dancing round and round
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground

My favorite rendition of Mr. Denver singing “last night…” does not come up on an internet search, but nonetheless is hidden in plain sight on YouTube.

On a particular afternoon later the same summer of 2007 I visited Lynn and Donna Elling at their home. He brought out from a closet a 16mm 30 minute film he produced in 1972 featuring the political and civic elite of the Twin Cities. That film, called “Man’s Next Giant Leap”, was of course unusable in its existing format, so I urged Mr. Elling to get it converted to DVD, which he almost immediately did. .

That film, Man’s Next Giant Leap (1972), featuring John Denver singing “Last night I had the strangest dream” in a Minneapolis suburban home about 1971, can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube, search “Man’s Next Giant Leap”.

Mr. Denver donated an entire day to the film project. Early in the film, in two segments, John Denver sings the song. Elsewhere in the film, he is interviewed about peace.

It was, and is, as Mr. Elling likes to say, “precious”.

Last night, Mr. Elling, nearing 94 and still full of spirit, could not be at the hall to hear Mr. Chappell, but was there in spirit.

And as I listened to the remarkable Paul Chappell share his insights (which I heard in more detail at a workshop on Saturday) I was thinking to myself about the connections between song writer Ed McCurdy, balladeer John Denver, Lynn Elling, Sr. Bridget McDonald, Paul Chappell, and everyone of us interested in making McCurdey’s dream an ultimate reality.

Last night I had the strangest dream
I never dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war

Lynn Elling with Hennepin County/ Minneapolis MN Declaration of World Citizenship, Jan 3, 2013.  The Declaration was signed March 5, 1968, by all major civic and political leaders of the area.

Lynn Elling with Hennepin County/ Minneapolis MN Declaration of World Citizenship, Jan 3, 2013. The Declaration was signed March 5, 1968, by all major civic and political leaders of the area.

Postscript: The above Declaration and the accompanying flying of the United Nations flag from May 1, 1968, till March 27, 2012, was a remarkable and once again unfinished story. Read more about its history and events preceding and following here.

Comment from Kathy M: I was impressed with him as a person and appreciated what he has put together.

His multiple examples of the changes our culture has made in so many areas was indeed encouraging. We have seen those changes in our life times and the cultural tolerance for violence and war may also shift.

I also loved how he elucidated the ways we use language that perpetuates prejudice such as collateral damage, terrorists, etc. and the ways the media scares the public that reinforces prejudice. I have used the “likely to be killed by a piece of furniture in your home as by a terrorist” several times already.

He was a breath of fresh thinking. The government/military bashing which, though I might agree with, gets tiresome and seems to lead into a dead end. I would like to hear more from him…thinking of getting his book…

#956 – Dick Bernard: Speaking of Peace, Paul Chappell

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

This day I chose to spend my time at an all-day workshop, “Waging Peace in Difficult Times”, facilitated by Paul K. Chappell, West Point Graduate, Iraq vet, former Army Captain, author and peace educator.

(click to enlarge)

Paul Chappell, at First Unitarian Society (FUS), Minneapolis Nov. 15, 2014.  The event was co-sponsored by Veterans for Peace Chapter Chapter 27 and FUS Social Justice Committee.

Paul Chappell, at First Unitarian Society (FUS), Minneapolis Nov. 15, 2014. The event was co-sponsored by Veterans for Peace Chapter Chapter 27 and FUS Social Justice Committee.

There were 26 of us in attendance, 10 who I knew. Chappell’s presentation was very stimulating. He is a great teacher (which involves much more than simply presenting information).

Based on my own personal experience, I would very highly recommend attendance at any of Paul’s Twin Cities talks, as follows:
Sun. Nov. 16, 9-10 a.m. at Plymouth Congregational Church, Minneapolis, “Why is peace possible?”

Mon. Nov. 17, program begins 6 p.m. at Landmark Center, St. Paul, “Is World Peace Possible?” (Here is the flier for Nov. 17: Paul Chappell001)

Tue. Nov. 18, 11:30-1:00 p.m. at Veterans Ministry Roundtable at Our Saviors Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, “Creating your own inner peace as a veteran”.

Typically, I attend sessions like this as a listener/learner. This doesn’t leave time for note taking. I am more interested in where the conversation leads me. This was certainly true today. Likely the other participants had their own “ah ha” moments like I did. For assorted reasons known to us all, we have unique components to our own life experiences.

My family history is immersed in military service: Dad’s brother, Frank Bernard, went down with the Arizona at Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. He had been a crewman on the Arizona for near six years. My brothers and I are military veterans, me, a two year Infantry enlisted man 1962-63; they both career Air Force officers, including Vietnam. To make an entire list of family members who served would be a long recitation.

In some of the gatherings from the ancestral ND home farm I just came across a Dec. 13, 1945, Christmas card from a neighbor of my grandparents, who was in service at Scott Field IL. He was one of many who finished high school in 1945, and left immediately for the service.

I think the sender of the card was cousin or brother of one local boy who, Grandma wrote Aug 20, 1944, was “killed July 2 on Saipan in action.” She sent that letter to her son, a Naval officer on a Destroyer in the Pacific. The potential cost of war was never far from people in my own family. On the other hand, a human consequence of war – one of many – is to dehumanize the other “side” with all the predictable consequences….. (Even talk about war is very complicated. More about the end of WWII from the family perspective here:Atomic Bomb 1945001)

My “takeaways”, when I left this afternoon, were simple:
1. To pass along a strong recommendation to everyone to take the opportunity to hear Paul Chappell in person sometime the next three days.
2. To stay engaged in the witness for peace, as opposed to defense of endless and deadly war, while recognizing that the issue is very complex with many differing opinions. (Even in our own group, all peace people, there were differences of perspective.)

Personally I’ve been active in peace and justice community since October 2001. I could see no good coming out of bombing Afghanistan.

But my witness goes a bit further back. Particularly, I close with a portion of my year-end “card” written in November, 1982:
Bernard card 1982001 Note especially the second page.

Part of the Paul Chapelle workshop group November 15, 2014

Part of the Paul Chapelle workshop group November 15, 2014

#954 – Dick Bernard: Armistice Day 2014

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

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The Armistice Day Bells, St. Paul MN Nov. 11, 2014

The Armistice Day Bells, St. Paul MN Nov. 11, 2014

This morning I attended the annual Vets for Peace observance of Armistice Day at the USS Ward monument on the Minnesota State Capitol grounds.

It was a bone-chilling day with a numbing wind, and on the way home I stopped at my favorite restaurant for a cup of coffee and a day old cookie (cheapskate that I am). Going to pay my tab I saw that the restaurant, in honor of Veterans Day, would give veterans for 50% of ordinary price, but you had to show evidence of service. Darn. Here I’d not only had a cheap meal, but my dog tags were at home….

Armistice Day? Veterans Day? Remembrance Day? They all commemorate the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when WWI, the War to end all Wars, ended.

It is no accident that the Vets for Peace, mostly vets of the Vietnam era forward, call their observance “Armistice Day”, while the official observance is called “Veterans Day”. The link hidden behind the words above gives the story of when the U.S. dropped “Armistice” in favor of “Veteran”. It was not a subtle change.

Our outdoor observance attracted about 30 of us today, less than usual, in substantial part due to the weather. On the other hand, this was a very good crowd especially given the weather.

But the gathering was its usual inspiring self, ending with an assortment of bells being rung 11 times to remember the 11th, 11th, 11th of the year 1918.

A moving rendition of the World War I poem “In Flanders Field” was offered by one of those in attendance.

"In Flanders Field the Poppies Grow...." Nov. 11, 2014 St. Paul MN

“In Flanders Field the Poppies Grow….” Nov. 11, 2014 St. Paul MN

One of the speakers announced the death, yesterday, of a young man, Tomas Young, 34, who I had never heard of. I read about him when I returned home, and this link includes a short article and a 48 minute video well worth taking the time to read and watch.

Mr. Young, who enlisted in the patriotic wake of 9-11-01 to go fight the “evil doers” in Afghanistan, ended up in Iraq and was near fatally wounded on his fourth day in combat there. The video continues the story.

Today I remembered the first Armistice Day observance I attended here. It was Nov. 11 of 2002, out at Ft. Snelling. I remember it particularly because a year earlier, Nov. 11, 2001, we were at Gatwick Airport in suburban London, about to head home after a vacation in London. At 11 a.m. on that day the public address announcer at Gatwick asked for two minutes of silence – of remembrance – for those who gave their lives.

We could hear a pin drop, literally. Not even a baby cried. I reported that at Ft. Snelling a year later to an attentive group of people who were all strangers to me.

The English take this day of peace seriously.

Today, those of us who served and got lucky and didn’t have to deal with the messiness aftermath of war, personally, can cash in on the sacrifices of others in our seeming endless wars. But there are huge numbers of “walking wounded”, homeless, etc. One of them, Tomas Young, died young yesterday.

Vets for Peace looks for some other way to resolve conflict than rushing into combat. Great numbers of us have been there, done that….

I end this column with the song that we started with this morning: an anthem of peace, sung here by John Denver, “Last night I had the strangest dream”.

"Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream...." Nov. 11, 2014, St. Paul MN led by Sister Bridget McDonald CSJ

“Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream….” Nov. 11, 2014, St. Paul MN led by Sister Bridget McDonald CSJ

#932 – Dick Bernard: International Day of Peace, September 21, 2014

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

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International Peace Day at Loring Park, Minneapolis, September 21, 2003

International Peace Day at Loring Park, Minneapolis, September 21, 2003

Eleven years ago, sometime in August, 2003, a group of peace and justice folks at Minneapolis’ First Unitarian Society had an idea: let’s do a Peace Day at Loring Park on the International Day of Peace, September 21. Their plan involved enlisting churches in the downtown Minneapolis neighborhood.

I volunteered.

“Peace Day”? September 21?

It wasn’t until later that I learned of Jeremy Gilley, a young Englishman, who had done the inconceivable: an ordinary citizen convincing the United Nations to fix a specific date for its annual International Day of Peace as September 21 each year, rather than the third Tuesday in September, or even other dates, which had been the practice since the day was established at the United Nations in 1981.

The first Peace Day observed on September 21 had been the previous year, 2002. Somebody in the Twin Cities had heard about it, and here we were: planning one for the Twin Cities in its second year, 2003.

(NOTE: Sunday, September 21, 2014, is this years International Day of Peace. The complex and fascinating story of Peace Day is told in a free 80 minute on-line movie, “The Day After Peace”, accessible here.)

By September, 2003, I had become active in the peace and justice committee at Basilica of St. Mary, one of the downtown churches, and I agreed to help out with the Peace Day event, which came to be called “Peace on the Hill” (First Unitarian is, in fact on Lowry hill, a couple of blocks up from Loring Park).

As I recall, the committee was having trouble finding somebody to be a speaker.

On the day itself, Sep. 21, 2003, the weather was uncertain, and maybe a couple of hundred of us gathered in a circle, some local musicians inspired us (photo above), and then-Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak came at the last minute and gave a very good speech. He had made a special trip to the event as this was his wedding anniversary weekend, and they had made other plans.

Peace on the Hill was a very good event, and my friend Madeline Simon, and her colleagues at First Unitarian, deserve the credit for a very good idea. (My personal thoughts, written a few days after the event, are at the end of this post.) I still have the t-shirt from the day: Peace Day 9-21-03001

Events like Peace on the Hill are difficult to put together, and it is even more difficult to sustain interest. So, to my knowledge, the first day was also the last. There were other efforts, but they were only sporadic and scattered.

Assorted “bugaboos” known to anyone who has ever organized anything interfere with long term success.

There were plenty of reasons for Jeremy Gilley to give up on his noble idea of a specific day set aside for peace.

By tragic irony, the United Nations adopted September 21 as the International Day of Peace on September 7, 2001, effective in 2002.

Four days later, on September 11, 2001, as the UN was celebrating the 2001 International Day of Peace, outside, on a pleasant day, the Twin Towers just down the street from the UN were hit.

It all could have ended, then and there. But it didn’t.

From all indications, in 2014, Jeremy Gilley has the focus and the momentum. His goal now, and it’s an attainable one, is that 3 billion people, half of the worlds population, will be aware of September 21 as the International Day of Peace.

Simple awareness is a large step towards victory.

Watch the movie, and commit to do something this International Day of Peace, and every day following.

*

POSTNOTE: Thoughts written after International Peace Day September 21, 2003.
Dick Bernard, September 29, 2003, P&J #460 “Who’ll be speaking?”
Note especially the bold-faced section beginning at #4.

A suggestion: I am reading a little book, and near the beginning was a paragraph which caught my eye:
“…if we so choose, we can always postpone the jump from thought to action. We really need to acquire more information, read another book, attend one more conference, hold further conversations, in order to “clarify the issues.” Then we’ll act. So if the action looks risky, there is always a good reason to postpone it: we don’t know enough yet.

“We are fooling ourselves: we never actually “postpone” the jump from thought to action. For, paradoxical as it sounds, not to act is to act. It is to act by default for whoever is in charge. People who did not oppose the Nazi gassing of Jews were supporting the Nazis: “See,” Hitler could say, “nobody is objecting.”….”
(From Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes, by Robert McAfee Brown. Check it out.)

What to do?

Some Actions among many we all can easily take:

1. Actually write a real letter to your Congressperson and Senators and editor, etc., about the $87,000,000,000 and the additional immense deficits. Make it brief and to the point. It will be read by somebody, and they will pay attention.

2. Do something for Peace and Justice YOU consider to be a bit outrageous – outside of your comfort zone, even if only a little. That is the only real way to get into action…to be at least a little uncomfortable. For sure don’t be stymied by a need to know everything (see the book quote above). As we are becoming more and more aware, the “big deals” probably know less than we do – yes, they may have more information, but their “blind spots” are huge – their ego causes them to miss the obvious…and then deny its existence long after it is obvious to others.

3. Pay much more attention to today’s quiet masses than to the loudmouths. I think the quiet multitude among us – the vast majority – is starting to wonder if Iraq, the economy, etc makes any sense. In a sense, they might be like the ordinary passengers on the Titanic who might have been on deck and wondering about those icebergs out there, but said to themselves “they must know what they’re doing”, and expressed concern to nobody. Of course, “they” up on the bridge of the unsinkable Titanic apparently didn’t have a clue, and the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. We are, collectively, on our own Titanic…. There is a temptation – I feel it myself – to say “see, I told you so”. Avoid the temptation. The nature of humans is to not want to admit they’ve been wrong.

4. Make a commitment to SUPPORT activities in your area that SOMEBODY like you is investing a lot of time, personal effort and even money in to make a success. Attend those demonstrations, and programs, etc., etc., and by so doing you show your support of somebody’s hard effort for peace and justice. Thank the people who made the event happen even if it might not have been perfect. Ditto for requests people make of you. (Personally, I will be giving you a couple of invitations in the near future: it will be a good opportunity to practice your skills of acknowledging/accepting/declining! Stay tuned.)

The importance of Active Support came close to home for me at an event I was helping coordinate in Loring Park in Minneapolis on September 21, Peace on the Hill. The event turned out to be a real success, but before it began one of my fellow volunteers was talking about a party he’d been to the previous evening. A number of peace and justice activists were at the party, and he invited them to come to the get-together. “Who’ll be speaking”, they asked in a variety of ways, suggesting that they’d consider coming if the program would be sufficiently “interesting”. At the time, we couldn’t guarantee any speakers – in fact, our focus was not speakers, rather music, and my presumption is that the activists my colleague was talking about were not in evidence at the Park during our program.

“Who’ll be speaking?”. In a real sense, the speakers that cool and overcast Sunday afternoon were the several hundred people who actually came with no expectations. (Ultimately, the Mayor of Minneapolis, R.T.Rybak did come to our Peace on the Hill event, and spent a lot of time with us, and gave a great speech as well. It developed that he couldn’t absolutely commit to coming beforehand because of a family commitment, and he had to drive home early to be with us. Rather than passing the duty off to an aide, he felt it was important enough to attend in person. He deserves gratitude.)

Some of you came to Peace on the Hill, and I was grateful to see you. It was acknowledgement that the event was important, even though there were many other things you could have been doing. Event organizers notice things like that, even if they’re too busy to chat at the time. The musicians noticed that the audience was an appreciative one, engaged. That was important to the musicians – who performed for nothing.

“Who’ll be speaking?”

How about you, in any of sundry ways?

Have a great week..

#923 – Dick Bernard: Policing. Alternative ways of keeping the peace.

Friday, August 15th, 2014

My too-frequent trips out to North Dakota, with a side trip last Thursday and Friday to Bemidji, yield numerous ideas for blog posts, all kept on a list of possibilities for sometime.

Today, the first post after my return, current events in Ferguson MO interfere.

One week ago at this space I wrote about the outpouring of emotion about a policeman killed while making a routine traffic stop in a neighboring community. You can read it here.

This week the news has been dominated by a deadly incident in St. Louis suburb Ferguson MO, where a policeman shot and killed an unarmed teenager. There have been other recent incidents involving excessive violence by police. A long and excellent summary is here.

In last weeks post, at the end, I included a May 27, 2014, proposal by my friend, Grace Kelly, about recognizing positive policing policies. It seems a good time to remind readers of that proposal, and invite you to read and share the proposal, and help towards positive results in your community.

Best I recall, Ms Kelly’s sensitivity to gross over-policing dates back to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in early September, 2008, when the police appeared armed and very dangerous to quell protests. Who can forget the gunboats in the Mississippi River at St. Paul, supposedly there to protect against river assaults by protestors? This was a very bad time in our town.

This and following from Greg and Sue Skog, at time of Peace Island Event described below Sep 2008.

This and following from Greg and Sue Skog, at time of Peace Island Event described below Sep 2008.

There was a single garish reminder of that time in the funeral procession of hundreds of police vehicles last week: One of those monster anti-something vehicles came up the street along with the normal police cars.

It did not fit.

It stood out. Very negatively.

Grace was a leader in the successful campaign to replace the then-Ramsey County Sheriff with a much more positive Sheriff, Matt Bostrom, in 2010. We see the difference every time there is an incident here. Tone is extremely important.

Like last weeks overwhelmingly positive tribute to police, this weeks overwhelmingly negative indictment of police overreach in Ferguson MO is a time to reflect, and Grace Kelly provides the opportunity to those who will look at her proposal. Please do.

Every single one of us can make a positive difference, where we live.

Comment
from Greg H, Aug 15:

A year ago or so I caught the testimony of a local police chief before a Congressional committee. In part, he chronicled the increase in fire power of the weapons issued to his patrol officers, in a small community.

The latest upgrade was to a weapon similar to that used in the Sandy Hook school shootings.

The police chief explained to the Congressional committee members that the reason for his community spending money to equip patrol officers with more lethal weapons was simply to prevent his officers from being out gunned by the bad people.

Just today we learned the suspect in the murder of the local police officer during a traffic stop had told a woman friend days earlier that he planned to kill a cop. He also told her he had been smoking meth for several days.

As to Ferguson, I prefer to wait for the facts of the confrontation between Mr. Brown and the officer before reaching any conclusions.

Early Sep 2008, Mississippi River, St Paul MN photo by Greg and Sue Skog

Early Sep 2008, Mississippi River, St Paul MN photo by Greg and Sue Skog

POSTSCRIPT:

Here are my memories, written September 8, 2008, in the aftermath of the heavily militarized security at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul MN. Personally, I walked in the major protest march (peacefully), but most of my time was in a major Peace Island Conference a group of us had organized which ran for the two days of the Convention, about three miles from the Republican Convention site. Our conference was so peaceful that even activist media didn’t cover us – the drama was down the street at the Xcel Center where the Republicans were meeting.

A GREAT END TO A LESS THAN STELLAR WEEK IN THE TWIN CITIES

This past Thursday, Sep 4, shortly after noon, I decided to deliver a large box of unused “Vote in Honor of a Veteran” buttons back to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, which is near the State Capitol Building (Watch for a future post on those buttons). When I arrived there, the youth protest gathering was commencing at the Capitol steps, and there were plenty of assorted kinds of police in evidence. But all was quiet.

I parked in front of the State Office Building, put on the warning flashers, got the large box out of the back seat, and began to walk up the front steps. A Minnesota State Trooper came out from behind a pillar, with his soft drink in hand, and I said I was going to the Secretary of State’s office. “Got a bomb in there?”, he said in an off-handed almost joking manner, and didn’t even venture a look inside the box (I guess I didn’t look like a terrorist), I went in, dropped off the box, and left. (Somebody could probably cite him for dereliction of duty, but for me he was the good face of the police this past week.) I decided not to stay for the demo, since I wanted to get over to the Peace Island Picnic, and legal places to park was an issue where I was, and it would have been a long walk to and from.

Driving my route to get to Harriet Island, I went down Chestnut Street, below the Xcel Center, and there were swarms of police preparing for the afternoon duty (today’s paper says there were apparently 3700 police in all, marshalled for the Republicans party in the twin cities – obscene overkill in my opinion.) Shepard Road was open, more police, and Jackson Street, and Kellogg to the Wabasha Bridge, and when I got to Harriet (now and forever more Peace) Island at 1 p.m. there was a great plenty of quality parking. There were few people in evidence, plenty of room to park, and a huge plenty of hotdogs, pork, cake, and on and on and on. It looked like it would be heaven for someone looking for a free meal (and it was). There was a box for contributions towards the event cost, and I hope they did well on collecting. (Coleen Rowley’s acknowledgements to all those who contributed their talent to Peace Island Picnic follow this text.)

Down on the river bank at Peace Island it was a chilly afternoon, overcast, breezy, maybe in the 60s. But it was about perfect for a gathering in many ways.

The Rowley’s were there, and, initially, perhaps 100 of us strolling around, and then the music gig began, first with Larry Long, no stranger to folks in these parts, joined by Pete Seeger’s grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, for a medley of songs beginning with Down by the Riverside, then This Land is Your Land, then Lonesome Valley, and on. The two musicians by themselves were phenomenal, the power for the speakers and instruments was solar (and stellar), and even in the overcast worked impeccably all afternoon.

The afternoon was off to a great start. In my initial planning for participation in the Picnic, I was going to stop by for awhile, go home, and come back later in the afternoon to help be part of the giant peace sign. But it was such a mellow place, this Peace Island, that I decided to stay the day.

I went back to the car to get my outdoor canvas chair, and settled in by the flagpole to the 9-11 victims, just to the musicians left, and with a clear view of the river. I was ready to settle in for one of the most relaxed afternoons I’ve ever had.

There could not have been a more peaceful place than Peace Island this day. The crowd grew, but slowly.

Tuesday’s Robot, a really good local group, followed Larry and Tao, and they were to be followed by a continuous succession of musicians all afternoon; there was some great jam session music going on as the afternoon progressed. I counted up to 15 musicians together at one point in the afternoon.

There were some bizarre twists, to be sure.

Patrolling the river just beyond the musicians was a gun boat – I kid you not – a Coast Guard vessel with mounted machine guns fore and aft. It appeared to be protecting the tour boat Johnathan Padelford as it carried passengers, probably delegates to the RNC, up and down the Mighty Mississippi. It was so bizarre as to be funny. (It’s in the slide show I previously sent.) I guess you never know what “tear-wrists” are going to be gunnin’ up or down the river to take out whomever…maybe that’s why George and Dick didn’t show in the twin cities.

At one early point, four SUVs ominously drove down a sidewalk in our area, all full of police, one with the back door open, as if they were preparing to raid our small assemblage, but they just slowly moved on.

To our west, a bunch of the police gathered, apparently for their souvenir photo, with, it seemed, the downtown St. Paul Skyline probably behind them. The gunboat arrived, apparently to be part of this photo op of “what I did on my vacation”.

Around 6 or so we all assembled into a giant peace sign. I’ve seen the photograph of all of us in this peace sign, and I’m sure that in a short time it will be published on Huffington Post or maybe even here on P&J. It was a very clear shot. I could even make out myself, on the back portion of the circle, a few folks to the right of the upright portion of the peace sign.

Together, Peace Island Conference and Peace Island Picnic turned out to be phenomenal and totally peaceful events. Together, they merited only the tiniest bit of news coverage – Peace Island Conference with 350 registrants none at all; Peace Island Picnic with about 1000 meriting only a few dismissive and inaccurate comments in the Pioneer Press On-line edition, bad enough so that a correction was apparently printed this morning in the print edition of the paper.

The message is “if it bleeds, it leads”. The anarchists, hated as they are by so-called ‘civil society’, were essential to the police state mentality that became St. Paul and Minneapolis this past week. Those anarchists should get thank you notes from the Republican Party, and the powers-that-be in our town. Without them, there wouldn’t have been any news. And while they’re writing thank you notes, maybe the likely abundant agents provacateurs should be on the thank you list as well. One of the persons on the march who was doing lots of photography, was quite certain she saw one person who had been egging on the Iraq Vets Against the War during the Labor Day protest march, breaking a window later in the downtown area – if so, he was probably arrested, and quietly released….

For us, the mantra for each of us has to become “I am the Media”. It is of absolutely no value to kvetch about what they aren’t doing. We have to become, as Gandhi said, ‘the change we wish to see in the world’. There is no alternative.

Let Peace Island become a continuing part of our conversation for sanity in our country and world.

From Coleen Rowley, Sep 6, 2008:

Wow!! Really good, Mr. Bernard! I’d like to forward the photos to my list too. I’m going to copy Mr. McGovern, Ann Wright, Tao, Larry Long, Sara Thomsen and Emma’s Revolution also as they figure in a few of your pictures.

If only there’d been a little more sunlight for the picnic. I think the cold weather was perhaps as much of a deterrent as the RNC bridge closings/traffic problems and the police intimidation.

With just a couple of “no-shows”, most of the info about musicians on our website turned out correct. Neither Clyde Bellecourt nor Dorene Gray made it for the opening water ceremony. And Mitch Walking Elk didn’t make it either. But I think everyone else listed did. The solar panel trailer was from Minnesota Renewables. David Boyce is the contact and as a power source, it worked absolutely great. The sound system was run by Doug Lohman of the Armadillo Sound Co. and it also got big compliments. (David Rovics had sung at the “March on the RNC” which didn’t have a good sound system and he said Doug’s was top notch. Doug used to do the sound for years at St. Joans.) The great grilled pork was made by Brian Huseby and his brother on their unbelievably large but portable grill. They grilled about 275 pounds of pork roast and 1200 hotdogs and almost all was eaten. (We did have a lot of buns left tho’.) We got free barbeque sauce from the Ken Davis company; donated French bread from New French Bakery; baked vegetarian beans at cost from Java Live in Faribault and also donated fruit from Co-op Warehouse and coffee from Equal Exchange.

We just had a great committee who did this all—not a lot of meetings—I think the grand total was only six—but we divvied up tasks well according to each person’s unique expertise.

Guess what? Tao already committed to coming back if, God forbid, St. Paul should ever host another RNC and we need to try and return to good neighborliness and sanity. Coleen R.