Vine and fig planting

IMG_20120926_115626This is the spiel I wrote for the vine and fig tree planting at the 2012 Swan Island Peace Convergence. It was used again in 2013. Anyone is welcome to use this with appropriate acknowledgement (I am myself indebted to Harry Wykman and others for the idea and many of the connections herein).

Climate change, not terrorism, is the greatest threat to world security. Yet the world continues to spend trillions of dollars every year on weapons solely designed to take life and destroy property. We must begin to see that poverty, climate change and militarism cannot be tackled in isolation from one another, because they are inherently connected.

For that reason militarism, economics and politics cannot be understood apart from one another. We are among the world’s rich because of our history of colonialism, dispossession and ongoing exploitation of people and the earth, an exploitation we can only maintain by a military mindset of domination at all costs. We’re mindful of the Wathaurung as traditional custodians of this land, who no doubt had their own vines and fig trees.

In climate change we are reaping the harvest of our economic and military exploitation of the earth. By treating it as a resource to be expended rather than a garden to be tended we have denied our relationship of dependancy on the earth and sown seeds of toxicity that will be reaped in harvests of sickness and death for generations to come.

In the poverty of the developing world and even here in Australia we see the domination and exploitation of the world’s  poor for the sake of the world’s rich. With our militaries we keep the poor in their place even while rising sea levels and greater food scarcity hit the poor first and hardest.

In militarism we see the enforcing of the politics of domination and exploitation. We invade other countries for their resources. We invade them because our economic exploitation of the poor leads to resentment, and resentment to violence in the form of terrorism. We leave toxic legacies of depleted uranium, white phosphorus and other toxins for future generations to deal with.

But all is not lost, for this is God’s world, and we are the hands and feet of Christ. Hands that can reach out to make the connections across national boundaries, across ideologies, and hands that can work to cooperate with God, with the earth.

The vine and fig tree is an ancient image of peaceful self-sufficiency – where no one has too much and no one too little, where we tend the earth that supplies our needs, and where war has been abolished. What if we were to make flesh and blood and bone the transformation the Bible speaks of? What if we begin the transformation here and now, in this place, with these hands, and this soil?

The world needs such acts of prophetic imagination to see that such a world is not only possible, but is already here in a people gathered under the name of the God of all the nations.

And so we will begin this transformation of the Swan Island military base, in the name of the God of peace. We’re going to have an opportunity to share a thought, then we’re going to do some planting, and then we’ll share in the Eucharist together, of the broken body, and the crushed grapes.

Holy Innocents 2013 reportback

20131228_110032It’s tempting at Christmas to focus on love, peace, joy and hope as abstract sentimentalities – particularly for those of us who live relatively privileged lives. Yet we dare not forget the context of Jesus’ birth – the violence of an oppressive regime which imposed its own order at all costs, even the lives of innocents. The Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th reminds us that in the midst of Christmas joy the lives of innocents are still at risk from the Powers – through our war-making, our treatment of asylum seekers, and the sweatshops in which our gifts are often made.

This was the fifth year of commemorating Holy Innocents, and it has become a fixture on the calendar. Though many are away on holidays at this time, there is always enough to hold it together.

We began on the grass at Victoria Barracks, where we read the story from the book of Matthew, followed by a minute’s silence. Then Erika read this prayer from Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers for Privileged People:

Christmas…the Very Next Day

Had we the chance, we would have rushed to Bethlehem
to see this thing that had come to pass.

Had we been a day later,
we would have found the manger empty
and the family departed.

We would have learned that they fled to Egypt,
warned that the baby was endangered,
sought by the establishment of the day
that understood how his very life
threatened the way things are.

We would have paused at the empty stall
and pondered how this baby
from the very beginning was under threat.

The powers understood that his grace threatened all our coercions;
they understood that his truth challenged all our lies;
they understood that his power to heal nullified our many pathologies;
they understood that his power to forgive vetoed the power of guilt
and the drama of debt among us.

From day one they pursued him,
and schemed and conspired
until finally…on a grey Friday…
they got him!

No wonder the family fled, in order to give him time
for his life.

We could still pause at the empty barn –
and ponder that all our babies are born under threat, all the
vulnerable who stand at risk before predators,
our babies who face the slow erosion of consumerism,
our babies who face the reach of sexual exploitation,
our babies who face the call to war,
placed as we say, “in harm’s way,”
our babies, elsewhere in the world,
who know of cold steel against soft arms
and distended bellies from lack of food;
our babies everywhere who are caught in the fearful display of ruthless adult power.

We ponder how peculiar this baby at Bethlehem is,
summoned to save the world,
and yet
we know, how like every child, this one also was at risk.

The manger is empty a day later…
the father warned in a dream.
Our world is so at risk, and yet we seek after and wait for
this child named “Emmanuel.”
Come be with us, you who are called “God with us.”

Then we had the opportunity to share stories of contemporary innocents who have been killed as part of our society’s quest for domination and security. Greg shared a story of child victims of drone warfare. I shared a story of Zukoom (9) and Hashim (8), killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul in opposition to the Bilateral Security Agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Others shared about Gaza, asylum seekers, and West Papuan Independence activists. Each name or group was written on a white cross, a bell rung, and a reverent silence observed.

I then shared this reflection:

We know that hundreds of children have been killed in drone strikes. The Australian government continues to lock up children and adults alike in inhumane conditions simply for fleeing persecution by boat.

We must recognise, confess, and begin to undo our complicity. It is our power and privilege that is maintained by the standing armies we have – in other words, by force – and we do not resist the use of force in our names as much as we could because we are afraid; afraid, amongst other things, to lose our power and privilege, within our own society and in the rest of the world.

To our fears, the angels have one thing to say: Do not be afraid. To Zechariah, as he learns that he will soon father a child who will become John the Baptist, forerunner of the Messiah, the angels say: do not be afraid. To Mary, as she learns that she will carry God in human form: do not be afraid. To the shepherds, as they learn that the Saviour of the world has been born: do not be afraid. To those Herods, ancient and modern, who wage war out of fear, the angels say: do not be afraid. And to those of us who resist, the same message: do not be afraid.

This is the original ‘war on terror’ – not a violent military bent on destroying their enemies but a nonviolent heavenly army announcing peace on earth and goodwill to all. The bright light in the sky over Palestine shining with the glory of God, not the white phosphorus of today’s wars raining down on the terrified people below.

As we reflect on the absurd mismatch of the Christ child in a manger pitted against the might of an empire, we remember that it does not take great strength of arms to prevail over the culture of death, merely great vulnerability. And that is something that you and I possess.

Then we made our way up St Kilda Road to Fed Square, singing spirituals. There police informed me that the Shrine guards would not allow us to proceed onto its grounds – that under the Shrine Act we would be risking arrest if we proceeded, and that they would 20131228_115445confiscate our banners. The Shrine Act apparently dictates that a) only ceremonies commemorating servicepeople are authorised to take place on Shrine grounds, and such events must be granted advanced permission and b) banners were banned from the Shrine grounds except for such authorised events. We had a decision to make.

After a brief pow-wow in the shade, we decided together to proceed to the Shrine, with the intention of holding our closing circle, and if turned away we would lay the wreath there. This meant we would not avoid the confrontation, and would force them to turn us away, but we would not risk arrest. With a range of experience levels in the group, this seemed like an excellent compromise.

We were met at the entrance to the Shrine by three police cars, two Shrine guards in full dress uniform, and six or seven police. They explained the rules, and told us we could go no further.

It seemed somehow fitting to be turned away – remembering the story of the Christ-child, exiled from his own society, forced to flee from the army of his own people. And here the powers of our society dictate that only those who perpetrate war are to be remembered and honoured, and all innocent victims will be shunned, forgotten, ignored, acceptable collateral damage. This despite the fact that 90% of war’s casualties these days are civilians, caught up largely in a struggle for power that has nothing to do with them, and the benefits of which they will not experience. Where is the shrine to civilian victims? Why is no sacred ground is dedicated to their remembrance? I think we all know the answer.

So the wreath was laid, and the police and guards bore witness to our prayers and lamentations. As long as this event remains in the church year, it will ensure the victims of warfare, and of oppressive political rule, are remembered. In the runup to Anzac commemorations in 2015, when the sacrifice of society’s sons in war will be glorified, it is all the more important that we remember the forgotten victims.

20131228_121741Thanks to Sam, Jade and Erika for sharing the facilitation of this year’s gathering, and a HUGE thanks to Graeme for his amazing gift of visually spectacular banners. And thanks to all who participated.

Give your vote to an asylum seeker

What if you gave your vote to someone who doesn’t get to have one?

As we all probably know by now, the Australian federal election is coming up on September 14. If you’re anything like me, you’re pretty cheesed off with the current state of Australian politics. If the rising rate of informal and donkey voting is anything to go by, a lot of us don’t care anymore, or can’t find a candidate for whom it is worth voting. I personally haven’t voted since the 2004 Federal Election, and have claimed a religious exemption each time (you can read why here).

But I was hanging out today with a young guy from Zimbabwe who is seeking asylum in Australia – let’s call him Larry (that’s not his real name, just for privacy reasons).  We were talking about how in Zimbabwe, elections have been rigged for years, with Mugabe and other powerbrokers basically threatening or killing any opposition. At least here in Australia, he said, no one dies because they oppose the government of the day. It might not be pretty politics, but at least no one gets shot for their ideas. In Zimbabwe, he said, when a leader is knifed in the back, they’re literally knifed in the back. Here, he said, there’s peaceful politics.

As I listened to him talk, it struck me that Larry is more invested in the current state of Australian politics than I am. Partly that’s because he’s come from a place where politics is depressingly different, but it’s also partly because not only is he vulnerable in this land, but he’s completely disenfranchised from the system that will decide his fate, and the many tens of thousands of others in similar positions.

And then I thought: what if I gave Larry my vote?

So I asked him: if you could vote, who would you vote for? He told me, and gave a deeply insightful answer as to why. And then I told him I would vote for them on his behalf.

And then I thought: what if a whole bunch of people gave their votes to asylum seekers? We could, in some small way, give a whole lot of very vulnerable people a way to have their say about Australian politics.

So, here are some reasons why you should give your vote to an asylum seeker (if you have more, add your own in the comments):

1. If there’s a more marginalised, disenfranchised group in Australia, I don’t know what it is. I mean, the Australian mainland doesn’t even exist for these people. They have no power over their fate (hence the rates of suicide, self harm, etc in detention centres), and they can be locked up for years for doing nothing other than seeking a safe place to live. Even when they’re let out of detention they’re not allowed to work, or do many of the things we take for granted. Why not give them something that enfranchises them within the system even if just a little bit?

2. It means you’ll have to go and meet an actual asylum seeker. I did think about having a database or something that some asylum seeker advocate could put together that people could access like a gift registry, but that would mean people could do this exercise from a distance, without actually getting to hang out with a real person. There are plenty of ways you can meet people – including going to visit people in detention (it’s likely there’s one near you).

3. This teeny bit of enfranchisement will likely pay dividends for years to come, as they inevitably receive citizenship (statistically speaking, it’s highly likely they will) and want to invest more deeply in the political system. They would already have some investment in their new country’s system, and know a bit about it if they didn’t already.

4. Asylum seekers are often intelligent and insightful, but have always had incredible life experience that has grown wisdom in them. Why wouldn’t you want engaged, wise people voting?

Obviously you can’t literally have an asylum seeker go into the little cardboard booth for you (although it would be really cool if they could), but you can ask them how they would vote and then vote that way. It might not be the way you’d vote anyway, or it might be – but the point is that the system has to in some way acknowledge and enact their will, rather than an already enfranchised person’s.

This shouldn’t replace asylum seeker advocacy inside or outside the system – goodness knows we need a massive shift all over the country, at all levels on this issue. But this would be a small way for the system to be forced to acknowledge that these people exist, and have wills and intentions, and often better thought out ideas than the rest of us have.

P.S. If you don’t want to do this for an asylum seeker, do it for a child instead. After all, they have more investment in the future than the older folks who get to vote.

Out of my head: Simon’s soundtrack 2012

Here it is. As usual, no apologies for bad taste, diversity, etc. Click the song titles to hear the songs (not all included):

1. Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
Spring always feels like this.

2. Jump in the Line – Harry Belafonte
This should get you dancing. At least in your seat. A song you can’t help moving to. Go on, I dare you!

3. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing – Sufjan Stevens
Has there ever been a better lyric than, “Here I raise my Ebenezer”? (for the record, “Ebenezer” is a biblical word meaning “stone of help”, and was a stone Samuel named when God helped the Israelites win a victory over the Philistines.) But really, mostly I resonate with this verse:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

4. Mercy – Counting Crows
This year Counting Crows released an album of covers of little-known songs. This is one of many they’ve covered by Tender Mercies, who do some of the best contemporary gospel songs I’ve come across.

5. John and Jesus – Peter Kearney
Putting together a songbook for GraceTree, I tracked this song (which is part of the Urban Seed songbook) down to Peter Kearney, an Australian songwriter and performer. The album version is a little dated, but if you want a contemporary version, come to GraceTree. 🙂

6. Salome – U2
We had a great session on John the Baptist at GraceTree earlier in the year. I spent the week meditating on this interpretation of John’s execution by U2. I didn’t end up using this as part of the session, but it certainly informed it.

7. Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen
I heard this in – of all things – a chase scene in an episode of Family Guy. It stuck with me.

8. Halfway Down the Stairs – Amy Lee
I grew up reading A.A. Milne’s poetry, particularly Winnie the Pooh. This is a quirky interpretation of the original poem set to music, from the Muppets “Green album” (covers of Muppets songs by contemporary artists). (For the record, the original song by Kermit’s nephew Robin is here.)

9. You’re the Voice – John Farnham
This became the official Swan Island Peace Convergence 2012 theme song – complete with celebratory dance – when it blasted out of the portable sound system soon after we held the gate. For two days we were not just the voice, but the hands, the feet, and the bodies too.

“We’re all someone’s daughter
We’re all someone’s son.
How long can we look at each other
Down the barrel of a gun?”

10. Stay Right Here – David Rovics
Occupy Melbourne seems like ages ago now, but actually it was still going through the first months of 2012. In fact it’s now morphed into a bunch of affinity groups, most of which were radicalised by the State response to the initial movement. Occupy lives.

This is a song by David Rovics on why Occupy exists.

11. Never Fall in Love Again – The Whitlams
I remembered the Whitlams doing this version of the classic Burt Bacharach song and tracked it down. It’s still a doozy.

12. Stir it up – Bob Marley and the Wailers
How did it take me this long to find reggae?

13. How to Make Gravy – Paul Kelly
This song, written in the first person about a bloke in prison at Christmas, gets me every time. Especially thinking about the kinds of risks I’ll likely take in the future. Sigh.

14. Leaving, On A Jet Plane – John Denver
While looking for songs for GraceTree worship, someone suggested Annie’s Song, which sent me on a while nostalgic childhood trip down John Denver lane. My parents used to listen to John Denver a lot when I was growing up. I actually like it now.

15. Song of Ascent – Tom Wuest
Having looked for good worship music for GraceTree, I came across Tom’s music. Produced mostly on his family farm, and sounding just that intimate, these are great, simple, biblical songs for small group worship.  I also appreciate his intentionality about relational connection and slowness.

16. Bonus track: Smells Like Teen Spirit – The Muppets
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the Muppets doing a Barbershop Quartet version of the classic Nirvana song. And if you haven’t alreadys seen the new Muppets movie, do yourself a favour and go see it.

What you can do

I’m often asked after workshops or talks on nonviolence or war, “So…what can we do?” I usually don’t have a very good answer, so this is my attempt to get something down that might be useful. Obviously these lists always date quickly as events come and go, but here goes:

The first and best thing you can do it take the kind of time required to sit in the love and grace of God. If you start from any other motivation, you’re going to struggle to sustain it, and it will either emerge as self-righteousness or legalism. That takes some discipline for those of us who don’t sit still very often (or at least not without staring at a screen). As you sit and bask in this, something is likely to emerge that you can follow up.

If I could add anything to the encouragement to pray, it would be these two: to think about where you are when you pray, and to think about how the narrative of Scripture shapes your prayer. The old saying, “where you sit determines what you see” is apt here. If we’re only ever exposed to situations of comfort and convenience, it’s hard to hear the invitation of the God of the oppressed.

And then I’d suggest trying stuff. If you hear about an action, any action (do an online petition, write a letter to a politician, attend a vigil, whatever creative idea you might have), go along, participate, and see what it’s like. Act, then reflect. What felt true, good, empowering? Why? What felt uncomfortable, inauthentic? Why? Gandhi used to call nonviolence “experiments with truth” – a term I find helpful, because it doesn’t mean every action has to be a “success” but it does mean you have to learn from it.

Most of all, do it with others. Church cell groups are perfect “affinity” groups, because you likely share similar worldviews and interests, and trust each other. Talk together about what you could do, what you’re interested in, passionate about, then go try stuff, experiment. Do things locally if that makes it easier.

Here are some suggestions for getting involved with specifically antiwar actions:

I’m thinking of running some Bible studies in the leadup to the Swan Island Peace Convergence. If you’d like to be kept in the loop about that let me know.

One thing you can do fairly easily is hook up with a Global Day of Listening, on the 21st of each month (often the 22nd in Australia). This is a simple skype call where you talk to people in wartorn countries, particularly Afghanistan. All the instructions are on the website, and all you need is an hour or so and a skype connection. It just personalises the whole situation rather than merely being abstract issues, and you can hear what Afghans are thinking and feeling rather than just getting media bias.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) are also organising a 2 million friends for peace campaign for December 10th this year. Watch this space for more detail, but basically it will involve lighting candles for a ceasefire in Afghanistan. 2 million is the approximate number of people who have been killed in wars in Afghanistan in the last 35-40 years.

In Melbourne we have monthly vigils against the war, to maintain a visible antiwar presence in our city, and to keep us active (“The only way to be hopeful is to do hopeful things” – Dan Berrigan). The next one is August 7th from 4:30-6:30pm, outside Flinders St Station. A vigil is about watching and staying awake – Jesus tells his disciples to “keep vigil” on the night he was arrested. In a society that is sleeping or distracted through permanent war, staying awake and watching becomes particularly important. People also often worry about knowing what to say if people ask them why they’re vigilling. There are three things to this: one, coming along gives you an incentive to do the research necessary to be able to articulate why you’re there. And two, you don’t have to have answers for every possible question before trying something or none of us would ever try anything! And three, you can take it as an opportunity to learn from people who have been doing it for a month, a year or a decade longer than you.

Obviously anyone would be welcome to come along to the Swan Island Peace Convergence, September 23-27, for the whole or part of the time. It’s an opportunity even just to hang out and see what happens. We’ll have a day and a half of nonviolence training before having a day of one mass action together, and then a day of affinity (small, self-contained) group actions. Obviously no one is under any pressure to do anything they don’t want to do. There will be a range of actions, and the likelihood is (I hope, otherwise it’s a logistical nightmare) that more than half of the people involved will only do actions that don’t risk arrest. We’re always clear about what will constitute an action which risks arrest, so no one needs to worry about being arrested unexpectedly. 🙂

So that’s a start. If you have other ideas please add them in to the comments section below.

Requesting donations for Swan Island Peace Convergence II

Last July the first Swan Island Peace Convergence was held in Queenscliff to disrupt a local contribution to the war in Afghanistan. Over four days of blockades a group of about 50 people were able to disrupt the workings of this secretive military facility. Recent revelations of a secretive SAS squadron operating out of Swan Island have made this task all the more important.

So this year, on September 23-27 2012, we’ll be holding the second Swan Island Peace Convergence. Over four days of nonviolence training, cake stalls, and diverse nonviolent direct actions we will do what we can to disrupt our current warmaking and promote a robust culture of peace.

We’ve booked the Salt House, group accommodation which sleeps 38, and which is situated just 100m from the entrance to the military base.

I know that many of you may or may not be in a position to take part but would like to support the SIPC in some way. Right now we’re asking for donations to defray the cost of accommodation and food for people who may wish to participate. We don’t want cost to be a barrier to participation for people but can’t fund the whole thing ourselves! So if you’d like to support us in this way, you can either pledge an amount or transfer the money directly to:

Acc name : Swan Island Peace Convergence
BSB: 633 000
Acc: 145734596

We’re currently putting together a budget so we know how much to charge people in order to cover costs. If you could let us know how much you’d like to pledge, or if you’d prefer to support anonymously, transfer the money within the next fortnight it will enable us to make this more affordable for people. Even if it’s just $5 or $10 or whatever, every little bit helps. And please pass this on to anyone you know who might be able to help out.

Many thanks for all you’re doing for peace and justice!

An open letter to Occupy Melbourne

Firstly, let me say thankyou for what you are doing for a fairer and more compassionate world. I spent a bit of time around the camp in week one, and experienced it as an inclusive space where significant conversations were taking place.

What follows is my hopes, my encouragements, for what they’re worth, from someone who has studied and participated in social change movements in some depth.

What we saw at last Friday’s eviction was just the first skirmish in a larger struggle, a struggle which may take years and must be conducted nonviolently if it is to succeed in birthing a better world than the one in which we currently live. And by ‘nonviolently’ I do not mean merely the absence of violence but the robust, active, public, persistent transformation of wrong.

Now the real struggle begins.

We are witnessing a shift in world politics which has for too long been allowed to be dominated by a few. It would be easy and self satisfying to blame the few for this, but we must take our share of the responsibility, for we the many have largely remained inactive and therefore ineffective.

That is changing. The ordinary people of the world are shaking off their apathy and rising up for a world of love and justice. We are realising that we all need each other. More than ever in this world we are all interconnected.

In fact, even the very language of the 99% implies our need of the 1% to be whole. This is as it should be, for as long as we all live under the same blue sky we cannot pretend we exist in isolation from one another.

That’s why I encourage you to not just refuse to demonise your opponents but to treat them with love and respect. Whether we’re talking about those who are sceptical or outright opposed, if you are to succeed you need to win them over, not alienate them further. You must therefore act in such a way that you win the sympathy, and then the support, of the majority. Know that the public wants to choose a side with which to identify in this struggle, but whether or not they do depends entirely on the way you conduct yourselves. If you are to win, you have to be the ones with whom they want to identify. You have to be the courageous ones, the principled ones, the disciplined ones, the ones who persevere with patience and love. If not for moral reasons, then for strategic ones.

Resist the temptation to scapegoat or demonise others, even those who make themselves the most bitter opponents of this movement. Demonisation of others may help you feel self righteous but does nothing to win over the very people you call brothers and sisters in the 99%. What is more it ignores the reality of our own moral ambiguity, and sets you up as dishonest and hypocritical. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has said, the dividing line of good and evil runs through us all. Let us therefore admit our own failings as well as keeping others accountable for theirs. But let us not allow our own failings to be used as excuses for inaction. You will win by appealing to the best of both your opponents and yourselves, not by shaming the worst.

Nonviolent action cannot be defeated because it carries within it the seeds of its own moral victory: persevering love that puts itself at the service of others. It works because our capacity to accept suffering for a noble cause is greater than our opponents capacity to inflict it. It does not seek suffering out but is willing to persevere through it where necessary because the cause is greater than any one of us.

Persistent nonviolent action cannot be defeated by the violence of your opponents for with every use of violent force they undermine their own moral legitimacy; they admit that they have run out of sufficiently compelling ideas to be convincing. The reality is, the only ones who can lose this struggle are you – either by giving up, or resorting to violence.

The key to broadening the movement is reducing your opponents’ fear – and believe me, they are afraid of you, which is why Friday’s eviction was conducted so brutally. Reducing their fear is not the same as backing down; on the contrary. They need to know they have nothing to fear from you, but you will not go away. If with every instance of repression you remain silent but resolute, polite but defiant, the truth in which you stand has a chance to shine through. With every such act you bond together, and as you bond together you get stronger and draw more people. Fear begets fear. Courage begets courage.

After all, police and authorities know only too well how to deal with hostility and violence – it’s what they’re trained and ready for. What they’re not equipped or prepared for is love. Love undermines and transforms any hostility they display towards you. It’s much easier to beat up or hurt someone who is hostile to you than someone who displays only kindness and generosity.

To those who think nonviolence is for the weak, I encourage you to look at its exemplars in the U.S. Civil Rights movement, the Serbian Otpor! movement, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and elsewhere. Nonviolence requires a discipline and strength of character, especially in the face of oppression and provocation, that the violent will never know. It also requires a serious sense of humour. Whatever else you do, enjoy yourselves.

No one ever said this struggle could be conducted without inconvenience, difficulty or suffering though. The powerful few have resources at their disposal and they will use them to maintain their place. But know that in time you will overcome – not by strength of arms, but by strength of character.

Remember you cannot rely on the mainstream media to be your allies. This is not entirely their fault; we’re talking about a quantum shift in imagination, something even the Occupy movement itself doesn’t fully understand yet. You will be the exemplars of what Peter Maurin called “a new world in the shell of the old.” One thing we must insist on; that the means are the ends in seed form. That if we want a more inclusive and democratic society then all voices must be heard and valued – even the ones we disagree with, and the ones we think are crazy. That if we want a world where all have enough then those who have more must share what they have with those who have less. That if we want a peaceful world without war or threat of violence, then we must do conflict well. It is us who must give flesh and bones to such a world, so that imagination is no longer needed.

So stay humble. Stay compassionate. Witness to a better way.

I will stand with you. We are the 99%. Together we will become the 100%.

EDIT: I am concerned that my open letter above was misunderstood by some as too passive – because it was written partly in response to the violent eviction on Friday, and the potentially volatile backlash within the movement, it probably didn’t focus enough on continued, repeated defiance of the existing order. Nonviolence is essential for practical and moral reasons, but it should not be mistaken for passivity or a lack of active engagement. As Gene Sharp says, nonviolence is not passive, it is action which is nonviolent. If Occupy does not pose a serious (nonviolent) threat to the existing order (not to the safety/wellbeing of those who run it) it will become just another carnival of protest.

That said, I understand that many who were in the thick of things on Eviction Friday were deeply traumatised by the violence of the police. My concern is that a) they were unprepared for it (hence the importance of training everyone who participates in nonviolence, early and often) and b) instead of building resilience and solidarity, the fear of police has been allowed to rule the day for many, whether by passivity (retreat to faraway spaces) or counter-violence (“f*** the cops” type of language). It should be noted that some remained nonviolent (that is, neither allowing their actions to be intimidated by police nor reacting in kind) and were able to hold the State Library over the weekend as a consequence, despite forcible eviction and despite protestations of some within the movement that such a feat was impossible or would result in more police violence. This should be a lesson for Occupy Melbourne in the kind of gentle but robust defiance I’m talking about.

In other words, don’t be afraid of creating tension and conflict by appropriate, strategic nonviolent civil disobedience or defiance of authority. As Dr. King said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored… Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

Finally, if you haven’t already read Zizek’s analysis of the Occupy Movement I suggest you do so now.

My statement to the court

This is the statement I prepared for Wednesday’s court appearance after this action a few weeks ago as part of the Swan Island Peace Convergence:

Thank you for this opportunity to speak. I am a Baptist church minister in a parish in Coburg, where we try to live simply and lovingly together, and I work for Urban Seed, an organisation in Melbourne’s CBD which provides hospitality and connection to homeless and other marginalised people. I’m married to Julie and we have three young kids. I did not take this step lightly.

I have been doing what I can to stand against this war for years now. We have signed petitions, written letters, held information nights, done public vigils and organised demonstrations. But in the face of a ten year war which according to our Prime Minister will go on for at least another ten years, I had to ask myself, is that all I am willing to do? Is stopping there an abdication of my responsibilities as a human being and certainly as a follower of Jesus?

Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jnr

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said,

“There is nothing wrong with a traffic law which says you have to stop for a red light. But when a fire is raging, the fire truck goes right through that red light, and normal traffic had better get out of the way. “

What is happening in Afghanistan is not just an emergency, it’s a full scale disaster.

War and violence cannot create the conditions of trust and cooperation that any country needs in order to be peaceful and secure. Only active nonviolent love has the capacity to transform the fear that lies behind wars and that is why we chose it as the means of our resistance. We were entirely open with the police and military about what we were going to do. That nonviolent discipline led to a significant relationship of trust being built with police over the week we were there.

Please understand this is not merely an intellectual or ideological exercise for me. Earlier this year I travelled to Afghanistan to spend time with the people there, and to understand what they want for their country. I spent time with with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a courageous group of Afghan nonviolent peacemakers. They are not only working to end the war, but to teach fellow Afghans and the world that the only way to peace is through actively loving those you oppose. And that means listening, and speaking truthfully, and acting truthfully, even when it might be controversial or costly. I have sat with 15 year old Abdulai who told me he spends every night crying at the trauma this war has caused him and his family, with 22 year old Faiz whose brother was murdered right in front of him. And I’ve sat with 15 year old Zikhrullah who lives with the daily terror of never knowing if a US helicopter gunship or unmanned aerial drone will come out of nowhere and kill him or his family. Afghans have had enough of violence and we continue to force it on them by our military presence there.

I believe any law which stands in the way of those who seek to end this war through nonviolent means is unjust, particularly after all legal means have been exhausted. I accept the penalty of that law willingly.

I went to Swan Island because it is one practical, identifiable part of the machinery behind this war. I climbed the fence and attempted to block the gate because it is one practical, identifiable way that I could put myself in the way of the war being conducted.

And so I’m guilty, not only of breaking this law but more importantly of not doing enough to end this war, not being at Swan Island every day, every week, every month until this war is over. Of that, I’m truly guilty.

I do need to be honest and say I cannot in good conscience pay a fine into the general fund, as that money may go towards paying for further military engagement. My family and I deliberately live a simple life, under the tax-free threshold in order to not pay for war. I also cannot honestly sign a good behaviour bond, as I would not want to give an undertaking I could not honestly keep. As long as this war goes on, I need to be free to resist it. I would, however, pay a fine to a charitable organisation, particularly one which is trying to help the Afghan people, such as the Red Cross or the Mahboba’s Promise orphanage, which I visited while in Afghanistan, if you deem that appropriate. But obviously I leave that in your hands.

I guess I’m saying is that, with respect, there is no deterrence value to any punishment you might give me. I intend to continue this course as long as war continues.

Swan Island Peace Convergence – Be brave: resist the war!

Yikes it’s been a while since I posted here but some exciting developments have emerged. Here’s the latest!

Are you against the Afghanistan war?

So are we.  So we’ve planned a solid week of action to resist the war at Swan Island near Queenscliff.  Swan Island is where SAS troops are trained-one of our major contributions to the war in Afghanistan.  It will coincide with Talisman Sabre, the biggest military exercises in Australia, aimed at interoperability with the US militaries and involving 30,000 troops.

Come to Queenscliff 4-8 July (or part thereof) and be part of blockades, public stalls, movie nights, facetious cake stalls for the military, and maybe even the inaugural Swan Island swim carnival.

We are thinking big, and we’d love a team of people to organise a fun week to nonviolently challenge, disrupt and transform the military.

Check it out and register at http://swanislandpeace.org and follow the planning and action on twitter @SwanIslandPeace

Facebook event

For more info – e-mail us at swanislandpeace@gmail.com

For those that don’t live in Victoria – there is of course the national action at Shoalwater Bay and other actions around the country – see http://www.peaceconvergence.com.

Do you want to be involved in action against the war in Afghanistan?

Hi friends

Last year was fantastic for anti-war direct action in Victoria.  We had two very successful nonviolent disruptive direct actions at Swan Island, which were both followed by dismissals of participants’ charges.  (http://www.indymedia.org.au/2010/11/29/charges-dismissed-for-swan-island-activists)  These actions needed a strong group of well grounded and prepared people who both played arrestable and nonarrestable roles.

The war in Afghanistan continues to rage, and becomes more lethal for both Afghans and internationals.  This year also sees the bi-annual Talisman Sabre military training exercises.  So we’d like to continue to build on our work together towards more actions here in Victoria this year.

Would you like to be involved?

Successful actions require thorough preparation – addressing strategy; ideology as well as logistical planning.  In looking towards an action, two full-days of planning are scheduled for Melbourne.  What do the following dates look like to you?

Friday 13 May OR Saturday 14 May

AND

Friday 3 June OR Saturday 4th June

If you’d like to be involved, please reply to jessicaamorrison@yahoo.com.au and let us know what dates best suit you.

In solidarity and peace

Jessica Morrison & Simon Moyle