Peace & Justice

Wednesday afternoon at Modesto Peace/Life Center

Wednesdays, the Peace/Life Center is usually open from 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m. Bring brown bag lunch. Come by for some coffee or tea or to chat or to see a film or browse through various books and magazines. Beverages will be provided.

Cloud gathering: help with the brainstorm


There are innumerable opportunities for our “working for peace, life and a sustainable environment.” Those who support the PLC help us do our little bit to promote such things, while opposing those things that run counter to these values. I’m wondering aloud if our goals will be better served by shifting our m.o., at least in some regards, and engaging the community, especially younger folks, more directly and more potently. We can be more effective by rethinking how we engage (or fail to engage) others in the causes we believe are of vital importance.

We’re beginning to take some steps to do that already. Keith Werner is working on creating a website that is more up-to-date technologically and more interactive. Though it’s still on the drawing board, an interactive blog and more youth-oriented web pages have been discussed. In fact, like the “Buzz” section in the Modesto Bee, the youth-oriented (those teen/20/30-somethings) web pages that we are trying to envision would be “owned” by those in that age bracket, by and large.

Also, we’ve taken initial steps to seek to acquire a local radio frequency, though we are facing several technical and political obstacles. The potential for sharing our ideas and ideals, along with those of like-minded groups, would be greatly enhanced.

In what other ways can we (or should we?) engage others? The war, obviously, is a polarizing issue for many. Perhaps we could move some of the uber-patriots away from “supporting our country” (they mean the current policies, of course) by changing how we are perceived. For example, what message does the “average person” get when she reads a protest sign that says “Give Peace a Chance,” or even “No War”? Virtually everyone is “for peace,” and “against war”—at least in the abstract. Are there other things we can communicate that will get others to ponder the disconnect between our country’s founding ideals and our current path? Are there things that we can communicate that will get more of those passing by to want to actively join us?

What about establishing a local “speakers’ bureau” in which we can present alternative views—in many cases that simply means providing true facts—to churches, service clubs, etc.? What about having a “Peace Pie Contest” in addition to a Peace essay contest? It could be organized as a “pie potluck” and be an opportunity to combine it with a pie panel discussion or peace pie presenter (complete with pie charts, of course). Heck, the Bee will cover it just to get a chance to write the punning headline.

ACTION: What are some of your ideas? Please contact me at or any member of the board to help us increase our reach and our effect.

SODaPOP nonviolent direct action campaign launches November 7

From Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Join Voices for Creative Nonviolence and the Iowa Occupation Project in the run-up to the Iowa Caucuses in Des Moines, Iowa, in a nonviolent direct action campaign to end the Iraq War. Seasons of Discontent: a Presidential Occupation Project (SODaPOP) will launch November 7, 2007 and run until January 14, 2008.

SODaPOP’s mission is to introduce nonviolent direct action against the war in Iraq into the presidential election process. Activists nationwide are encouraged to journey to Iowa to “occupy” the Iowa campaign headquarters of presidential candidates (both Democrats and Republicans) who do not pledge to concrete plans for complete withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq. We may also challenge these candidates at their Iowa public appearances without regard for arbitrary “free speech zone” restrictions that may be established by candidates, parties, police or the Secret Service.

SODaPOP’s Kickoff begins Wednesday, November 7, 7:00 p.m. at Chet Guinn’s Old Fire Station, 1041 8th St., in Des Moines. Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly will speak on “What Have We Done to the People of Iraq?”

Tell us you’re coming! Contact Voices for Creative Nonviolence, 773-878-3815, or for information on lodging and activity schedules. Nonviolence training will be required.

On the road to Iran


The author, and his wife Leslie Potter, are English as a Foreign Language (EFL) instructors at the Academic Bridge Program in Doha, Qatar. They have also taught in China, Japan, and the United States.

“Axis of Evil”: Iraq, Iran, North Korea. How convenient it is to objectify the “other”! How politically expedient! Turn someone or something into an object by giving it a name and stripping away all layers of ambiguity, dismissing the need for deeper analysis. Axis of Evil nations are Evil by definition because Evil nations do Evil things. Axis of Evil leaders, moreover, are Evil by definition because how could they lead Evil nations if they were not Evil themselves? Therefore, the Axis of Evil is Evil because it does Evil things. It is therefore incumbent on the Good Guys to confront and defeat Evil.

Students of logic and teachers of persuasive writing call this line of reasoning a logical fallacy known as “begging the question.” In this fallacy, one takes for granted what one is trying to prove and then uses it to justify one’s conclusion. Messy logic but effective politics. While our president is clearly a master at labeling people and issues in this way, all politicians from all nations indulge in this linguistic deceit. Political realities, however, are rarely as simple as our handlers make out.

Leslie and I spent two weeks in Iran this summer. When we told our friends and family of our desire to travel there, the first questions we were asked were, “Why would you want to go there?” and “Is it safe?” The answer to the latter question was fairly easy—totalitarian states such as Iran are, by and large, safe. Penalties for street crime are severe, and political crimes are easy for visitors to avoid. The question about our motives is more difficult to answer, in part, because the overriding reason is pretty vague: it just seemed a good thing to do. In part, we wanted to go because it was a bit edgy and life in Qatar (apart from the traffic) was a bit too predictable. The allure of Iran was all the more enticing because it was forbidden; the “wet paint” sign, so to speak, which called out for a touch to see if the paint really was that wet, the country really that evil.

On a more considered level, how could we understand the world if we substituted the analysis of others for the insights we could gain from our own observations? Such a consideration had prompted our earlier visits to China and the Soviet Bloc before the dissolution of the last great Evil state. The visit to Iran also seemed to make geographical sense. Qatar is a short hop over the Persian Gulf. How could we speak about the Middle East without having visited its most powerful and influential player?

The deep reality of the situation was what we have always believed and all of our international experience has always confirmed: folks are folks the world around. Every Iranian we had ever met, whether in Qatar or back in the States, has been very warm and friendly. It’s always the governments that rattle the sabers and stir up animosities between nations. So shouldn’t we expect a warm reception from the Iranians we would meet on their home turf? In fact, that is exactly what we received.

Everywhere we went in Iran, people seemed eager to have us pose with them for photos or to just chat. In places, which we expected to be overtly hostile to Americans, such as Khomeini’s mausoleum, even people in authority seemed genuinely pleased to see us. Yet, it was extremely disconcerting to see all the “Down With America” murals on walls, billboards, and the sides of buildings. One must assume years of anti-American brainwashing has had some effect on Iranian perceptions of Americans. But we never experienced any ill will from the Iranians we met on our travels.

Two examples of the warmth of our Iranian welcome were found in the vicinity of Natanz, one of the two sites of Iran’s nuclear program. Outside of this sleepy traditional town, lies the country’s uranium enrichment facility, the likely target for a preemptive American or Israeli air strike. As we left an old mosque, two young couples asked us where we were from. Upon learning we were Americans, they asked if they could pose with us for some photos. They seemed so friendly—I wish we could have shared more of a common language. The women wore the black Iranian cloaks that cover a good part of one’s body and the heavily bearded men were dressed in severe black and white. I wondered if many Americans looking at these young people would have seen the faces of fanaticism and extremism instead of kindness and good humor, which these folks projected in person.

Later, I was standing on the side of the street in downtown Natanz. A guy came up to me and with a cup of tea and placed it into my hands with a smile and tried to engage me in conversation in Farsi without much luck. I wondered again how many Americans would walk up to an obvious stranger in town with a cup of coffee and a kind word.

As we drove out of town, I couldn’t help but picture these sweet people suffering because of the stupidity in Washington and Tehran.

Washington’s stridency and Tehran’s stubbornness aren’t compatible with the smiling photo, the cup of hot tea. Obliterating is much easier if they are just pieces on a chess board and not real human beings.

[The people we met] are likely casualties of a preemptive strike.