My July 4th

The highlight of my July 4th was carrying a sign around the Washington Monument before the fireworks.

On one side it read:
Fireworks: Good
Bombing: Bad
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On the other:
Fireworks in DC
Bombing
in Iraq & Gaza
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(One from July 3, while joining the Troops Home Fast gathering:
Fireworks in DC
Bombings in Ramadi)


There were tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of pairs of eyes there. They would look curiously. They are usually deluged with signs and ads. The Mall on July 4th is amazingly an ad-free place (we'll see how long that lasts...). Eyes would seek my sign and after reading it, quickly dart away.

A young woman walking up to me: You realize you're offending soldiers who are here.
Me: How am I offending them?
Woman: Because you have that sign, they're risking their lives and doing their jobs and they are the people protecting your freedom.
Me: I really don't think that if we withdraw from Iraq my freedom will be curtailed. But I'm happy to talk to any soldiers here. Actually the people who are making the decisions about this war -- not the soldiers -- are also trying to curtail our freedom. So it's the opposite of what you're saying.

She had to go.

Some people clapped -- I'd say hi, shake their hands and gave them a flier about the Troops Home Fast, which is centered on the other side of the White House from the Washington Monument, in Lafayette Park.

A young man followed me around briefly, holding up a piece of paper scrawled with:

Fireworks: Good
Protesting on July 4th: Bad

I glanced at him, laughed and kept walking. After a minute, I turned around, wanting to asking him what it was about the meaning of July 4th that makes it a bad day to protest -- is it better to protest on Groundhog Day? But he was gone.

It was great to hear kids reading my sign, spelling out the syllables. "Fire-works-good bomb-bing-bad."

I had hoped other activists would join me in this, and at times I did feel alone in a way and would call a friend on my cell phone. It was good to smile while carrying my sign.

Man to my left shouting from 15 feet away: How quickly we forget 9-11.
Me walking toward him: Forget what about 9-11?
Man: All those people killed.
Me: Right, people shouldn't be killed, they shouldn't be bombed --
Woman to my right 10 feet away: Freedom isn't free.
Me: What does that have to do with Iraq -- they're not fighting for freedom --
Police officer walking up to me: Let's go.
Me: We're just talking.
Police officer: Let's go.

I walked away and waved to the man and woman. The police officer made no attempt at all to hinder me from carrying my sign.

Man coming up and shaking my hand: I just want to thank you for having the guts to carry that sign around here.
Me: Sure, thanks.
Man: Have you looked into the 9-11 attacks?
Me: Not much, I think there's enough that we know for certain about hideous things this government's done and we don't need to speculate...

Two young women came up, I think they were Italian, applauding me and wanting to take a picture. One whipped out her camera, the other posed with me, giving a thumbs up with one hand and holding up one end of my sign with the other hand. I told her she would have to carry the sign around alone if she wanted to hold it. She looked at me in horror. I told her I was kidding.

[originally published at husseini.org on July 5, 2006]

Not Taking the Fifth on the Fourth

As someone was speaking about the Troops Home Fast as it began here in D.C. they said it wasn't being done in the hopes of changing Bush, but of reaching out to others. I happen to be standing next to Cindy Sheehan at the time, and she muttered "and to change ourselves."

That's why I love Cindy Sheehan. Cindy Sheehan certainly says a lot of what's wrong with Bush, but she derives her strength I think from acknowledging her own flaws. "I knew this war was wrong, I knew the invasion of Iraq was wrong -- but I didn't do anything about it [before it started] and I'm going to regret that for the rest of my life."

Too many people have spent too much time talking about what's wrong with Bush -- and sometimes missing the point entirely, I think, because we rarely talk about what's wrong with us. What can we do differently to change the world? Asking questions like "Who would Jesus bomb" is a way saying how superior to Bush we are -- without saying what we should do.

At the fast, Raed Jarrar and some others have been wearing t-shirts which said "We Will Not Be Silent" in Arabic and English. I am silent much too much. One time I was not silent was July 4, 2005, the day I met Cindy Sheehan.

Some soul spent lots of money to have a stage and a sound system for a protest near the Capitol. Only 20 or 30 people showed up, but one of them was Cindy. I said to her: "There will be hundreds of thousands of people later today near the Washington Monument for the fireworks, let us reach out to them."

We did. We passed out flyers featuring some writing from Cindy. I approached each huddled family or group listening to a military band on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Some thanked me; some gave me the flyer back when they read some of it. I kept doing it. I felt free.

Taking charge like that reminds me of the best of Flight 93. Taking charge like that reminds me of the best of the Declaration of Independence. Taking charge like that is a part of articulating human freedom.

To the extent that the U.S. flag and July 4 represented that sort of self-determination, it has atrophied. To the extent that they have symbolized unjust domination over Native Americans and others, it has proliferated.

That must stop.

Whatever nobility has been symbolized in the flag is desecrated every day by the actions of our "leaders."

That must stop.

It is many Palestinians and Iraqis and others who are upholding both decent tenets: Self determination and protecting indigenous culture from illegitimate attack.

We must reach out. By fasting, by empathizing, by listening, by engaging. Each other and ourselves.

[originally published at husseini.org on July 4, 2006]

Can Pacifica Live Up to Its Promise?

In an age when "progressives" seem segmented at times, each faction focusing on specific issue areas; and at a time when the power of media seems central, the promise of the Pacifica network could be of enormous importance.

Pacifica was founded by radical pacifists who refused to fight even in World War II; nor were they content to wash their hands of the situation and be quietly hidden away in camps. Rather they wanted to disseminate their ideas; so after World War II, they established Pacifica radio, in the words of its mission, to "gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflict between" and to "contribute to a lasting understanding between nations and ... individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors." Hopefully the Pacifica board, which meets this weekend in New York City, will live up to this legacy.

In the late 90s and early in this decade, problems long-festering within Pacifica spilled out and resulted in a series of lockouts, lawsuits and conflicts that gripped the network, which owns five stations. By the time the cataclysmic events of 9-11 happened, the network was in a state of internal war; crucially, its flagship program, "Democracy Now!", was eerily being censored from Pacifica's stations in New York City and Washington, D.C.

This occurred largely because "Democracy Now!", unlike much of the other programming on those stations, sought to report on moves by the Pacifica national board, which seemed intent on mainstreaming the network, and possibly selling off parts of it. There was some indication that these actions could even have been motivated by goals of personal profit for board members (the stations are now worth hundreds of millions of dollars).

Some listeners, board members and programmers struggled to resist these attempts. By 2003, the lawsuits were settled, Pacifica's bylaws were rewritten and new Local Station Boards with more power were elected by listener/members to oversee the stations and in turn elect a national board. This new structure seems to have assured that there will not be a "hijacking" of Pacifica, but it has not shown that it is leading to a vibrant network -- which is what is desperately needed.

While there have been some positive developments since that time, their pace has been rather slow and there have also been some negative changes.

Imagine a Pacifica that has reporters going to the major news conferences: At the White House; at City Hall; at the State Department; at the Pentagon; at the place they call the Department of Justice; at the big think tanks. All asking tough, timely questions.

The WPFW (Pacifica's D.C. station) local board, when I was chairing it five years ago, called for this.

Had Pacifica reporters gotten into the White House regularly, or even the State Department or Pentagon, could they not have increased scrutiny on false claims for the Iraq war before the invasion? Had Pacifica had someone effectively covering Homeland Security issues, could that not have highlighted the vulnerability of the levees in New Orleans before Katrina hit? When progressive forces don't set up the structures necessary to avert disaster, should we really be surprised when it strikes and the flood waters -- and death -- come?

There was one WPFW programmer who was occasionally asking tough questions at the White House briefings, Russell Mokhiber who edits the Corporate Crime Reporter newsletter. But the program he hosted, "Challenging Corporate Power," brought on to WPFW in 2002, was cancelled. WPFW General Manager Ron Pinchback had -- after I voiced concern when the program was regularly preempted in late 2004 -- assured me the program would not be cancelled. In short order, it was.

Imagine a Pacifica that does not merely pretend to be brave, that and that avoids the cheap shots of demonizing Bush supporters as "brownshirts"; instead, actually building a news and information infrastructure that will help change the world for the better -- by providing information that changes hearts and minds.

Imagine a Pacifica with programmers who have the knowledge and wit to regularly bring on officeholders, mainstream pundits and others and expose their fallacies on the air.

Imagine a Pacifica that, rather than bringing on people who agree with each other, or at least pretend to, actually have open discussions. Advocates of different movements, say liberalism and socialism, can and should be in dialogue; should be critically examined, including by each other. The worst elements of all should be exposed; the best aspect of each should proliferate. As it is, too often advocates of each of various "schools" undermine each other behind the scenes. Similarly, too often, cultural and political programming have been pitted against each other when they should be complementary.

Imagine a Pacifica and WPFW that helps organize people around Washington, D.C. so that the collective conscience of the people around the nation's capital is felt on a daily basis by federal government officeholders. Imagine WPFW being used to announce timely protests at crucial events and places in DC. Imagine a Pacifica that has training programs to bring in new talent. The DC Radio Coop, just such an initiative, has been purged from WPFW by the management of the station.

Imagine a Pacifica that organizes "town hall" meetings between the people of various cities in the U.S. and the people of cities around the world where our government is exerting its violence and threats of violence. Imagine a Pacifica that builds on this and uses the power of the Internet effectively, that builds local and global connections.

What needs to be scrutinized is the collusion of incumbent programmers, many of whom were put in place by the previous utterly corrupt management, with the current management that seems resistant to change -- and stays in place largely because of support from incumbent programmers. Some local board members seem to be joining such cliques; others seem reluctant to assert their power to reform the network.

People need to demand excellence from their independent media; not simply to repeat platitudes, but to provide a serious news, information and cultural infrastructure that exposes the mainstream media as the dinosaurs they are.


Sam Husseini is a former chair of the WPFW local advisory board. Many of his writings are at husseini.org.

[originally published at husseini.org on June 2, 2006]

More Breaking -- or Fullfilling -- the Law

Today was also the second anniversary of Mordechai Vanunu being released from prison. He revealed Israeli's nuclear capacity and suffered in Israeli prisons for it for over 18 years, most of it in solitary confinement. Daniel Ellsberg has called him the "prophet of the nuclear age." Vanunu is still under a series of travel and speech restrictions by the Israeli government. He can't leave the land Israel claims as its own; and he is violating Israeli dictates by meeting with non-Israelis like myself. On his web page, he calls for "a congressperson or senator, to support and stand firm and bold with me, in Jerusalem, demanding my freedom and criticising Isreal's nuclear weapons, one who will come here for a press conference, and then take me with them to the U.S." People might want to give their "representatives" a call, if that they are; and even if not.

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I met with Vanunu in the afternoon, but if you look at his watch, you'll note it's set to the morning. For several years, he's had his watch set to New York time. A hungry soul finds a sliver of freedom where ever possible.

[originally published at husseini.org on April 21, 2006]

Some Hope on Sad Friday



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It's orthodox "Good Friday" and I always wondered why it was called that. And here, it's not. The Arabic-speaking locals where Jesus was crucified call it "Sad Friday." Still, even here, Jesus is pictured as a European and does not have facial features resembling people from the region.

On the way from Ramallah to Jerusalem, one passes the Kalandia checkpoint, where art has sprung up on the wall Israel is building through Palestinian territory, helping to decimate Palestinian life.

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Gandhi was fond of saying that he was a Muslim and Hindu and a Jew and a Christian. That might have had an effect on me when I went to enter the grounds of the Dome of the Rock where both the Muslim guardians and Israeli soldiers asked me if I was a Muslim. I indicated I was.

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The Muslims were rather accepting; the Israeli soldiers less so; it was on their prompting that I said "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet," which I think technically makes me a Muslim and for that I have the Israeli military -- and Gandhi -- to thank. One Israeli soldier was quite disbelieving of my claim as I was leaving the grounds of the Dome of the Rock. In the midst of his interrogating me, a large group of Jews who seemed intent on praying on the ground of the Dome of the Rock appeared; the Israeli soldiers stopped them and -- after they were permitted to sing for quite a while -- they were shoved back.

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I've heard of right-wing Jewish groups who are intent on doing away with the mosque on the presumed hope that they will find a temple beneath it, but this group seemed act as thought they thought the mosque was theirs.

[originally published at husseini.org on April 21, 2006]

I'm not in Israel

Israeli Border Form

I'm in Ramallah and am filled with thoughts. Here is a simple one: Upon traveling from Amman to Ramallah yesterday, had a long hassle with Israeli authorities at Allenby Bridge; I had to fill out their form if I wanted to enter. It "asks": "IS IT YOUR FIRST VISIT IN ISRAEL." I responded "Yes" since I have been inside Israel in the past and wanted to get past the border military personnel; but I was going from the Allenby Bridge, near Jericho, to Ramallah. I am not going "in Israel." Which begs the question: What does Israel have to do with this; why are they controlling the border?

[originally published at husseini.org on April 20, 2006]

End the Myth of "Preemption"

The Bush administration has just released their National Security Strategy document which re-affirms the U.S. policy of so-called "preemption." The document actually states that "no country should ever use preemption as a pretext for aggression."

But that is exactly what the Bush administration did.

Claiming that an action is "preemptive" presumes that there's something to preempt. Of course, there were no Iraqi WMDs. There was no imminent attack. There was nothing to preempt. But the use by many, not only in the Bush administration, but also alleged critics of it, of such a term assists in the war plans.

James Bamford titled his book "A Pretext for War," which is a rather good term. A "pretext war" is waged on alleged motives which have no relation to the actual motives for war.

Some use the term "preventive" war rather than "preemptive" war, since one might argue that the U.S. is out to prevent the emergence of something that might one day be a threat. But this too is dubious given the circumstances. What we are talking about with the U.S. government in Iraq is exactly what the Bush administration is trying to deny: aggressive war. With Iran or Syria we are talking about the threat of the use of aggressive war.

The Nuremberg Tribunal, when prosecuting Nazi war criminals called the waging of aggressive war "essentially an evil thing ... to initiate a war of aggression ... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

I raised this issue of the term "preemptive" with some "anti-war leaders" before the war -- and got dazed looks in return.

Three years after the invasion of Iraq, with all the rationales for war debunked, many alleged critics of Bush are still referring to the war as "preemptive."

The administration understands the terms and how to twist them to suit its purposes. Those who claim to oppose those purposes should understand the terms and use them properly if they really want positive change.

This is an aggressive war.

[originally published at husseini.org on March 16, 2006]

Syriana

This movie, much lauded by U.S. liberals, which purports to explain the dynamics of the contemporary Mideast, makes no mention of Israel.

[originally published at husseini.org on March 6, 2006]