We share this fine article by Michael Nagler, founder of the Metta Center for Nonviolence. Michael’s  insight into USA culture offers hope, direction and identification of how all of us could challenge and focus more attention on our culture which often seems so violent and keeps us so separated.
Kathleen Kanet

We Can Stop This Violence 

During the G. W. Bush years a friend of mine lamented, “We have a war President, a war economy, and a war culture.” Yes on all three; but he might have gone on to add, the key is culture. If our culture did not promote violence the way it does we would not elect a war president, we would build our economy on very different, sustainable and just principles; we would find ways to avoid conflict and use robust, creative ways of dealing with it when it surfaced. In all this our belief system, or mindset is the key ¾ and there are signs that we’re beginning to notice it.

I have been teaching, writing and speaking about peace for close to forty years; I founded a non-profit that long ago to educate people about nonviolence. I therefore do not make this statement lightly: I feel that we are beginning to see a breakthrough. If we widen the crack there may actually be a silver lining behind the mass shootings that took place last week in Orlando, the latest and worst we’ve yet endured.

The new awareness I’m referring to is admittedly slight, but it’s enough to make a difference ¾ if we seize the opportunity it represents. Two examples showed up in my local paper, the Santa Rosa Press Democratic on June 13th: the editorial board writes, tellingly, that nothing will stop these massacres “unless something changes in our culture, our conscience or our Congress.” On the same page, a cartoon by “Venn Detta” from the Washington Post shows Uncle Sam bowing his head (in grief ? shame? both?) before three circles labeled “Terrorism, Homophobia, Islamophobia.” They intersect a central circle called “Hate,” and the caption explains, “What ties it all together.” Why do I say that these might be signs that we’re turning a corner? Because up to now the responses to every one of these tragedies has followed a script, almost ritualized, and the one thing they have never included is any look at our culture or any attempt to probe some of its underlying forces. They have been at best irrelevant and at worst a sure way to provoke the problem. Most of them, to be sure, still are: statistics, “This is the largest number of victims in a mass shooting;” details, “Here are the names of the victims,” “Police are reconstructing the timeline,” and labels, they are “searching for the motive” so they know what kind of label to slap on the event, thus shielding us somewhat from its emotional impact. We’re being lead to relive the massacre instead of understand it.

All these superficial details serve to distract us from the one true motive cause driving every one of these crimes, which also happens to be the one place we can intervene to prevent them. Call it hate; call it violence. As a colleague of mine said some years ago, “We’re increasing violence by every means possible.” Think about that the next time you turn on your television set, open a book, or go to a movie. Not to mention let your son or daughter play a video game. The cultural formula we’ve been following is to stimulate violence as much as possible and flood the country with horrific weapons so those who go over the edge can act on it. This is not a culture worthy of a free people.

Interestingly enough, David Brooks had addressed our culture in a New York Times editorial days before the massacre happened (June 7): “We need to be more communal in an age that’s overly individualistic; we need to be more morally minded in an age that’s overly utilitarian; we need to be more spiritually literate in an age that’s overly materialistic; and we need to be more emotionally intelligent in an age that is overly cognitive.” And for heaven’s sake, more nonviolent in a country that’s being torn apart by violence.

In an important way, Brooks’ language is better than the more recent references to culture just mentioned: nothing is going to change all by itself. We have to change. Of course, we have to tell the legislators who are offering “thoughts and prayers” to the victims’ families but still won’t pass laws limiting access even to assault weapons, “spare us your crocodile tears: you yourself have victimized them by taking the money ¾ and the ideology ¾of the NRA.” But if we want our votes and our admonitions to stick, we also need the long, slow process of cultural change that begins when we take charge of our own mind. Remember the words of a medieval Islamic mystic, “Watch vigilantly the state of thine own mind; love of God begins in harmlessness.” In contemporary language, never lend your precious mind to the violence and vulgarity of the mass media, even when it’s passing for “news.” Use your discrimination, cut way back, and spend your time instead learning about the positive things going on in our world, for example in the field of nonviolence. Learn about and support them. This will totally change the way we look for security and the people we elect to lead us there.

Maybe the biggest mistake we can make is to think we have to passively accept whatever trend the prevailing culture is fostering, and overlook the power of our own minds to change it.

Michael N. Nagler is professor emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature at UC, Berkeley and author of The Search for a Nonviolent Future




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Reminiscing Earth Week 2016

During our Earth Week from April 14th– 22nd, we invited Friends to join us visiting natural sites, engaging in conversation about our relationship to Earth, and immersing ourselves in information that will help us strengthen our awareness of the natural world. Our newsletter has personal pieces on Earth Week as well as past works.

Thursday, 14 April

Living Room Dialogue: Shared Responsibility- for decreasing environmental impact.

Everyone came to our usual venue for the event, our own living room at Network for Peace. The main question for the evening was “How can we bring people together to share responsibility for our ecological impact?” The highlight of this gathering was to engage in a conversation starting with “and” instead of “but,” which turned out to be quite challenging, and interesting. You can read more about this here.

We discussed topics like wages, current political standpoints, fracking, carbon emissions and the food industry among many others.

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Most of our friends have participated in our Living Room Dialogues for years!

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Exchanging dialogue while enjoying food.

Friday, 15 April

Plein Air (outdoor observation painting) at the Highline

Plein Air, in definition is “denoting or in the manner of a 19th-century style of painting outdoors, or with a strong sense of the open air, that became a central feature of French impressionism.” For Earth Week, we wanted to explore our creativity while connecting with nature as well. Our friends Marjorie and Carol, along with our Network for Peace members Kathleen, Virginia and Maisha met at The Highline, located in busy Chelsea. The combination of the gorgeous skyline surrounding us, and all the green that led us through the promenade was quite fascinating. Our staff member, Maisha gave us the basics on how to do an observation painting, after which we all decided to go to a spot that we thought to be suitable to paint out. It was a gorgeous day where we got to be outdoors in an urban setting, all the while doing something colorful and social.


Most of our friends have participated in our Living Room Dialogues for years!


Maisha showing us the basics of observation drawing.

Highline 6

The team showing off their artwork!


Monday, 18 April

American Museum of Natural History, where we viewed “The Secret World Inside You” exhibit.

Our friends Michael, Martha, Marjorie, Peggy and Carol and Network for Peace members Kathleen, Virginia and Maisha met at the American Museum of Natural History to attend the exhibition The Secret World Inside You. This special exhibition was all about the microbiome, the living organisms that live inside and on us. These living cells are very much responsible for our health and well being, contrary to the belief that every bacteria is out there to harm us. It was great to come across information on how every human being is introduced to their personal microbiome as soon as they pass through their mother’s birth canal. Another interesting fact to learn about was how the trillions of bacteria and other microbes living within us can also largely affect our behavior and mental health.

Museum 6

Peggy, Virginia and Kathleen posing in front of a picture collage of numerous belly button cultures.


Maisha intrigued by the presentation on the microbes in our body.


The group gathering on a warm day in front of the museum.


Wednesday, 20 April

Imani Garden and meet with Greg Todd in Crown Heights

Kathleen, Virginia, Fiona, Maisha, Luke, Marjorie and Peggy  visited the Imani Gardens in Crown Heights, Brooklyn to meet Greg Todd, one of the organizers for the garden. It was a gorgeous community garden, with a large amount of amenities sufficient enough for a small scale urban homestead- raised beds for vegetables and herbs, a green house, rain water harvesting system, a chicken coop as well as an elaborate composting system. A large willow tree towers over the plot, and can be spotted from blocks away in the neighborhood. It was unfortunate to learn about one of the plots (the one with the tree) in Imani being sold off and the tree facing the possibility of being chopped down.

Your action means a lot to help save this tree. Please take a look here to see what you can do!


Fiona poses in front of the banner asking the community to help save the gorgeous Willow tree.


Peggy and Marjorie hugging the tree that grows in Brooklyn!


Greg Todd showing us his elaborate composting system in the garden.

We had a blast this Earth Week. It was a splendid balance of learning, travelling and socializing. We thank those who joined us and made it memorable.



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President Obama and Gun Control

obama crying

Dear President Obama,

I was touched by your speech introducing the executive measures you are putting in place to reduce gun violence. Your evident compassion for the victims of gun violence and for the grieving friends and family members of victims showed you to be a man of feeling as well as intellect. I felt proud to have such a man as my President.

You concluded your remarks by saying changing the gun culture in our country would be a long process. I agree. The use of deadly weapons is embedded in our society in many ways. The defenders of gun rights seem to fear that they are liable to be threatened at any moment and must have a weapon at the ready. There is the example of local police forces which have armed themselves with the weapons and paraphernalia of warfare under the guise of needing to protect against terrorists but have used them against peaceful protesters. There is the readiness of some police officers to shoot anyone they are afraid might be a “dangerous person.” The assessment of such police officers as to who is dangerous often appears to be highly subjective and, in many cases, suspiciously racist. What makes them and so many other people afraid of their fellow citizens and how can that be defused?

To my mind, we have to include in the discussion of gun violence the reliance of our country on military might to assure access to oil and other resources. The power of our guns is what many seem to see as proving that ours is the greatest country in the world, whatever that might mean to them. Military might is arrayed in pursuit a mirage called “security.” In recent years, military interventions have been at the forefront of foreign policy over diplomacy. In a way our federal government provides a model of how to deal with conflict for the rest of us, and that way is resolving disputes with the use of guns.

I think you might ask yourself, President Obama, about your own willingness to accept as collateral damage the deaths of innocent people as a result of drone attacks. Those victims have grieving friends and family members, too. Many believe the primary result of drone attacks is that they recruit anti-American jihadists.

I wish someone would revive former Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s proposal for a cabinet level Department of Peace. That plan included strategies for promoting non-violent approaches to resolving conflict at many levels, from the education of young people to top-level government decision-makers. Something that comprehensive is what is needed to address the gun addiction we see in our country.

By Peggy Ray

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Engaging the ISIS Threat

Dialogue_to_unlockThe perspective and approach that Marc Pilisuk suggests in this blog is radical and courageous. In it Marc suggests we should talk to ISIS and engage them in dialogue. This suggestion re ISIS is hardly a part of our national dialogue! Nevertheless this war with ISIS in which we are engaged is another kind of war. We are not engaged with a particular state, but more with a movement with those who see terrible evil in some values of the West. Can bombs and weapons wipe out a movement? Unfortunately violence will help the movement to grow.Read this blog piece, engage in conversation with others whether you agree with it or not.



By Marc Pilisuk

We find widespread agreement that the methods chosen by ISIS and other groups espousing indiscriminate acts of terror are abhorrent. The responses I have heard suggested cross a political spectrum and are summarized as follows:

Wipe them out militarily;

Mobilize an international coalition of nation states to battle them;

Target their identified leaders and assassinate them with drones;

Increase international and domestic surveillance;

Deny them the ability to control territory;

Isolate them;

Get Muslim leaders to denounce them and stop referring to them as ISIS.

Rarely is “them” described other with the names of suspected organizers of specific acts of terror. None of the responses appear to hold any promise for undoing the threat. In times of threat we typically find a demonization of an evil enemy that must be checked at all costs before its influence grows to destroy us. That condition is shared with most previous heightened conflicts. But there is an additional factor now. The most militant factions of the dissident extremists are not governed by a state or even by a clearly identified revolutionary identity. They employ soldiers and weapons strewn of the middle-East over decades, largely by US interventions but weapons trafficking is well established. Their horrendous acts of terror are most frequently the work of men and women ready to engage in suicidal missions. Acts of retribution or suppression aid in their recruitment of increasing numbers of such people.

One cannot fully understand this recruitment without recognizing the wide-spread sympathy with some of the core beliefs. They believe that Western colonial powers, particularly the US, have through modern history:

Exploited their natural resources;

Created and supported repressive regimes more responsive to transnational corporations than to public needs;

Bombed mosques and medical facilities, assassinated journalists, disdained the culture, religion, and the historical contributions of their region;

Fanned anti-Arab hatred.

None of this justifies indiscriminate acts of terror, but the beliefs have a sufficient validity to be reflected among larger numbers of the middle-eastern population and diaspora, some small percentage of whom will be recruited to engage in acts of terror — completing the cycle of escalating military violence on all sides and apparently without end.

In order to break the cycle of endless war against never-ending terrorist attacks we may have to take more seriously what is often acknowledged. There is no military solution. The step needed to engage ISIS and other organized groups planning acts of terror is to talk to them.

Always in times of escalating rhetoric of war, reasonable discourse is not considered. The enemy is considered vicious, culpable of violent and criminal activity and not to be trusted. The idea of talking with ISIS sounds preposterous. What do we say? With whom would we meet? What security assurances would be needed? What ground rules would have be set?

As one of the founders of the first Teach-in on the VietNam war and planners of both a national Teach-in in Washington and a cross-national teach-in in Toronto I have sad memories at our efforts at dialogue. In Washington, invited guests in the State Department and White House advisors did not show up for a dialogue with highly qualified opponents to the war. In Toronto, we tried to get lower level officials of the South Vietnamese puppet government, to meet with Viet Cong officials. We were not successful in initiating talks. It was far easier for government officials to generate demonizing accusations, to plan strategies for winning, to bomb military targets and rice fields, to send soldiers into the black hole of war. 58 thousand did not return from their battles which killed two million VietNamese and led to the Cambodian genocide. The returned soldiers, beset with trauma, still account for disproportionate numbers of suicides, homeless, jobless and mentally ill people. Surely dialogue could have addressed untrue charges of single US ship being attacked and the reality that VietNamese nationalism rather than mythical fears of dominos falling into a Communist orbit. We speak of preserving values of the dignity of all lives. When the International Atomic Energy Agency was conducting its expert in dialogue with Iraqi official to gain sufficient access to determine whether Iraq had bomb-producing facilities and when the largest anti-war demonstrations around the world asked for this time, US and British authorities instead initiated a war with Iraq, the consequences of which include the emergence of armed, angry people whose influence continues to grow. Talks with Saddam Hussein would surely have been preferable. Talks have occurred between nuclear powers with expressed concerns that they would be annihilated but for the threat of massive retaliation. It is time now to talk directly with ISIS.

With whom would we speak? The US already retains an extensive list of suspects, many already on watch lists with data on their interactions with colleagues. Many already are targeted for assassination. They can as easily be targeted with invitations to talk. Citizen diplomacy could use personal contacts to initiate interest. Surely elaborate security guarantees would need to be arranged. Perhaps a unanimous Security Council resolution might help with such guarantees.

What would we say?

“You are angry with those who have mistreated your lands and your culture. You have made your point in how strongly you wish to strike back. We may disagree on many things but do agree that outright destruction of all groups espousing terror or military violence is neither a possible nor a desirable outcome, nor would it be in keeping with any spiritual faith. We are prepared to listen to your message and try to better understand it. We ask only that you do the same. We start with a belief that colonial powers hold a share of the blame for unrest and owe a debt for past and continuing exploitation. The path to a more just world may be difficult but the attack and counter attack in place now is too disrespectful of human dignity and devoid of hope to continue. Let us begin with small, safe, talks to try to find something better.”

 Years back, at the height of the cold war, psychologist Charles Osgood proposed a strategy of GRIT, graduated reduction in tension-reduction, in which, small conciliatory unilateral initiatives would be announced and followed through, regardless of adversary response. Successive efforts would summon both curiosity and small reciprocal efforts. Evidence from both lab studies and analyses of gestures in the Kennedy-Khrushchev is promising.

Given the alternative, this is a time to test our beliefs in the power of creative non-violence.

Marc Pilisuk, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, The University of California


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A Call for Positive Role Models.

By Maisha Todd

The Arab Spring of 2010 was well known for its uprisings in countries like Egypt and Syria, which started out promising but did not end that way. On the other hand, the tiny country of Tunisia, which was also very much involved in its protests for liberation from authoritative rule, is just catching our attention now. Not for unrest and violence this time, but for its attempt to peacefully resolve it through a much underrated action – dialogue, all done by local civil society groups called the National Dialogue Quartet.

This post will not look at the heavy political intricacies of the Quartet (I am sure they have done a great job of it themselves, as well many other media sources), but rather the importance of honoring individuals and groups who do work in order to bring about actual and measurable peace, especially during crucial times such as what Tunisia was going through when the Quartet stepped in. I believe such groups are only recognized within their own networks and not the broader public.

This is where I find myself being thankful of the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize actually exists. Their contribution to the world by awarding individuals who are working hard to change social, economic and political change for the better is much needed, considering that it is a prestigious award itself.

Getting the Nobel Peace Prize is also a gateway for awardees to not stop there, since they now have more exposure to other opportunities, such as being the face of magazines like Time and Esquire, and start their own foundations. At the same time, it encourages others to have a figure to look up to that is not in mainstream media as much as  the Kardashians or Taylor Swift etc. have!  (They have enough fame already) We need more Malalas!

The premise of my argument may not be strong enough to some of you. But in my opinion, there is a need for the good to be glamorized, the “good” here being the people who are working hard to make a positive impact and who deserve their faces being in the front page cover of Rolling Stone magazine. They are the true rock stars, not like a man who made a conscious decision to carry out a mass killing in Boston. Think about it, shouldn’t the ones who were willing to run the marathon for a cause be the faces we remember? Instead we all recall Tsarnaev’s face.

This article is my encouragement for others to hold our kind-hearted and benevolent groups, figures and even friends who are taking action, on a realistic pedestal; to acknowledge them as human beings (not non achievable models) who are worthy of praise; to share their stories and enlighten others to follow their footsteps.

Congratulations to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet.  You give us courage to change the world through effective and non-violent communication.

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July 4th: Can We Celebrate and Atone at the Same Time?

By Peggy Ray

When I was a child growing up, my Dad set off some (probably illegal) rockets in our back yard on July 4th. We children burned sparklers. The rocket bursts were just an exciting entertainment, and I never made any connection between these explosions and the patriotic anthem we sang at school where “the rockets red glare gave proof thru the night that our flag was still there.”

Nowadays I do. On July 4th I think about the fact that our nation was born in war (like most, I suppose) and has been a pretty violent place from the beginning. I feel ashamed to remember, as I help cook a holiday meal on a friend’s backyard grill, that a program to cut down forests and exterminate “the red man” began almost immediately. Not long afterward, black people were imported from Africa and brutally enslaved. These are the origins of our country’s fabled wealth, now so inequitably distributed.

So I was grateful to read a call by Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center to atone as a nation as we celebrate on July 4th. He writes:            “What would it mean for all American society to repent in prayer, tears, fasting, and also action — for our historic lethal arrogance in slavery, racism, & genocide; in aggressive & oppressive wars in Central America, Vietnam, & Iraq;  and in our destruction of the Earth?

“The truth that the USA is ALSO an experiment in growing freedom, community, and democracy calls on us precisely not to ignore but to embrace the need for repentance of these our society’s sins.

“Could we as a nation bear? – could we dare? – to pause, fast, pray, meditate on July 3 to reflect on and atone for our history of lethal arrogance – and then turn on July 4 to celebrate our efforts to grow into compassion and community, and act to sow the seeds of change?”

Rabbi Waskow suggests poems, songs and prayers congregations could use in places of worship and in other groups. For the whole message, go to https://theshalomcenter.org/content/charleston-murders-vs-pope-francis-rabbis-ramadan.

As inspiring as this message is, I find it impossible to make a commitment to the whole thing, even to the fasting on July 3 part. I’ve never had any luck sticking to a fast by myself, and I do not belong to any congregation where I might find companions to take this on with me. But at least on July 4th I can meditate for a while on the crimes of my people from which I surely benefit and hope that my intention to help create a better world counts with the Universe.

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An Out-Dated Social Message

By Peggy Ray

I was glad I didn’t have a child with me when I viewed a film at the American Museum of Natural History recently. It was shown on a huge screen in three-dimensions and probably pretty frightening to the small child sitting on his mother’s lap a few rows ahead of me.

Called “Tiny Giants,” it taught that in life we have enemies everywhere, predators who want to kill and eat us, as well as undeserving members of our own kind who want to steal whatever we have. Each of us is all alone in the world and must be ready to fight for survival, just as the two brave and valorous tiny giants (both male) in the film show us. I wondered, would the child watching this grow up to think “I better get together with friends to help with this,” or “Yikes. I’m going to need some guns!”

The film opens in the chipmunk’s habitat with the young male chipmunk on his own among giant oak trees in a thick forest. The only salvation for the chipmunk in this dark world is the feast of acorns the oak trees drop in the fall. The youngster must work hard to gather them to store for the winter or it will surely starve. Possible starvation is not the only threat our lonely hero must face. Predator owls and hawks swoop down on him (in 3-D) and come close to eating him at various points in the story. Besides all that, a thieving older chipmunk who doesn’t want to do the work of gathering acorns himself is raiding the stash our unsuspecting hero is patiently collecting in his storeroom.

His acorns are almost gone when our hero finally comes upon the thief and realizes that he has been robbed. A fierce battle ensues, which of course our stalwart youngster wins. Our little chipmunk proves himself to be tough enough to survive and may go on to father another generation.

The other tiny giant in the film is a grasshopper mouse, barely three inches long, who lives in a harsh, dry desert. When we meet him, he is living with his mother in a burrow. His mother hunts for food to feed her babies. Our hero, the older and most adventurous of the litter, ventures out on his own before his siblings are ready to leave the nest.

Like the chipmunk, he faces many dangers, including nearly being drowned in a dramatic flash flood. But a grasshopper mouse is a fierce predator himself: not a vegetarian like the chipmunk, this one eats scorpions. After his near drowning and successfully killing and eating a scorpion, the mouse heads back to the burrow where he was born and where his mother remains taking care of his siblings. He gets to the door of the burrow but turns away: He decides that even though it is tempting to return to the nest and be taken care of by his Mom, it is more interesting and challenging to be out in the world confronting by himself whatever dangers life might present.

That was the final lesson of the film for viewers to take home. It seemed to me like an out-of-date message of social Darwinism, and not one I’d choose for a child of the 21st Century. Our survival as a species depends now on realizing that we are not separate from other humans and from the natural world. As humans we have come this far more through cooperation and collaboration than competition and individual struggle and more “togetherness” is what we need to survive the challenges before us.

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