Support statement for Graeme Dunstan’s Rocky Tiger Ploughshares trial

My good friend Graeme Dunstan goes on trial one week from today for an action he did with Bryan Law in 2011. Together they disarmed a Tiger Armed Reconaissance Helicopter with a garden mattock (details of the action, including video, here.). Bryan died around Easter this year, so Graeme faces court alone, though with many friends present (including me). He asked me to write a statement of support for him, which I’ve included below. Graeme shaped it into this media release.

I am an ordained Baptist minister with the GraceTree Community in Melbourne. I wish to express my support for Graeme as he faces trial for the Rockhampton Tiger Ploughshares action, and will travel to Rockhampton to be present at the trial.

Graeme and I have been spiritual companions for a few years now, having first spent significant time together at a peace gathering near Canberra in April 2010. Graeme being a Buddhist and I a Christian has opened up rich opportunities for common understanding and mutual challenge and encouragement. I consider him a friend and a person of great integrity.

As an antiwar activist myself I have been involved in many acts of civil disobedience (see below), and been arrested half a dozen times including for trespass actions into Shoalwater Bay Training Area at the 2007 and 2009 Talisman Saber military exercises. In March 2011 I was part of an international delegation of peacemakers who spent time in Afghanistan to learn the reality of war for ordinary Afghans. Along with members of my church I have been involved in countless public demonstrations for peace and built friendships with the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an Afghan peace movement.

I admire, and am personally challenged by, the stance Graeme has taken in this Tiger Ploughshares disarmament action and trial. His and Bryan Law’s willingness to risk suffering in order to arouse the conscience of the Australian community on war demonstrates integrity of the highest order, not to mention exemplary citizenship. Civil disobedience is generally not well understood in this country, but it is one of the highest duties of any person when their government is acting immorally or unjustly.

Ploughshares actions take their inspiration from the Biblical books of Micah and Isaiah, which speak of a day when “swords will be beaten into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks”. The image is one of disarmament, the transformation of destructive weapons into creative farming tools. There have been more than 80 such actions since 1980, with three common elements: 1. being absolutely nonviolent towards people; 2. to remain and take responsibility for the action; and 3. to make some attempt to disarm a weapon and begin its transformation into something useful.

Disarmament is often seen as an impossible dream; desirable, certainly, but utterly unrealistic. It is precisely this societal torpor that Ploughshares actions seek to address. Ploughshares actions are an indictment on the imagination and moral commitment of contemporary society just to the extent that they are seen as outrageous, destructive, or utopian. While most of us ask, “Why would we reduce or even give up our ability to kill?” people like Graeme and Bryan gift us with the confluence of flesh, steel and carbon fibre, and ask, “Why not?”

In a time of perpetual war, it is high time we took that question seriously.

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.

Holy Innocents Peace Procession 2012 reportback

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Each December 28th for the past four years, a small group of us have held an event to mark the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the day when the church remembers the babies killed by Herod in his quest to maintain his own power, and those innocents killed by contemporary Herods in their quest for power and security.

One of the significant parts of the leadup for me was an email exchange with my friend Graeme Dunstan of Peacebus.com, a Buddhist and a long time peace activist. It was largely a theological discussion of the similarities and differences between Christianity and Buddhism, particularly with regard to the Christmas story. This is the kind of deeper connection I was hoping to make post-Facebook. So while my Facebook absence meant more limited event advertising, it also meant deeper connection. So be it.

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Graeme made an amazing banner, which we will be able to use for many years to come. I’m deeply grateful for his work and creativity.

Graeme has already done a great reportback on the event here. So rather than concentrating on recounting the event itself, I’ll concentrate on my reflections from it.

One, this event is a deeply significant one, now established as a permanent fixture on our calendar. This was our fourth Holy Innocents event in a row, and has become as much a part of Christmas as the turkey and plum pudding. And rightly so. As one of the processionists shared in the debriefing time afterwards, this is far more authentically Christmas than anything going on in the frenzy of the Bourke St mall.

20121228_105943Two, having been permanently established it is in some ways in danger of becoming rote. While we changed some things from previous years, others I think could have been improved. I’ve tried to keep it a reasonably simple, accessible, DIY event, being post-Christmas Day and in a season people are busy. But perhaps with some creativity we can make more of a public splash.

Part of the tension of this particular event is the balance between it being a form of public action and a discipleship formation event. I see part of my role as being an evangelist (some have said ‘prophet’, I prefer evangelist) to the church, encouraging us to see our calling as bringing the good news of Jesus and his gospel of peace to bear on all societal problems, rather than simply a matter of private morality. And in particular to see our story, the great narrative of Scripture (as played out in the church year), as our primary resource20121228_104113 for making that practical. This means deepening our commitment to and practice of our story, rather than throwing out the parts we don’t like (as the left often does), or abstracting and reducing it to the merely personal (as the right so often does). So the two dimensions of this – namely, educational and inspirational for us AND the bearing public witness for them – need to both be present. I think I’ve tended to err on the side of the former, perhaps at the expense of the latter.

We did change the route this year – walking from Victoria Barracks to Defence Plaza was just too long a distance, especially with children, so we instead went Vic Barracks to Fed Square and back to the Shrine. One thing I missed with the change of route was 20121228_110120processing through Bourke St Mall. The small interruption to “business as usual”, the irruption of reality into the reverie of bargain-hunting, has been a significant feature of previous years, and I missed it.

Having said that, finishing at the Shrine of Remembrance I think was deeply significant. As I noted at the end, these days 90% of casualties of war are civilians. Where are the Shrines of Remembrance for them? Where are the Shrines for the refugees, for the terrorised and the maimed? For at least a time, we were that Shrine. That was beautiful and significant.

As always, the presence of children at these events is not just a bonus, but essential to its spirit. I’m so grateful for our children and all they teach us, which makes the Holy Innocents remembrance all the more devastating, knowing what other children and parents are going through.

In our closing, many people referenced the small size of our gathering. I recalled the story of Jesus, who gathered just 12 people, and ended up alone. Hence Daniel Berrigan’s dictum, “A good peace movement starts out small and gets smaller.” Because keeping awake in a time of permanent war is hard – the “narrow path” as Jesus describes it. We are in exile – strangers in a strange land – and always there is a small remnant who carry the tradition forward, finding new expressions and ways of being faithful.

I finish with an excerpt of my rant at Victoria Barracks – really the nub of this event for me. A reflection partly birthed in the interfaith discussion between a Buddhist and a Christian. Thanks be to God.

“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.”

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Holy Innocents Peace Procession 2012

187.jpgIn the days after Christmas, while most people are recovering from the indulgence of Christmas Day or deeply immersed in the liturgy of the Boxing Day Test, the Church calendar commemorates the Holy Innocents, the children killed by Herod in a bid to maintain his power and privilege. This is a part of the Christmas story which gets little attention in churches, yet it forms a major part of the biblical birth narrative. It is a day when we remember children and other innocent people killed by today’s Herods, who consider such innocents to be acceptable collateral damage in their quest for power and security. Children are still the most deeply affected by wars around the globe – 65% of Afghans are under the age of 18. 90% of those killed in wars are civilians.

Join us on Friday December 28th for a peace procession from Victoria Barracks in Melbourne to Federation Square, and returning near the Shrine of Remembrance. We will begin at 10am with prayers at Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Road, and process to Federation Square and then back to the Shrine for further prayer and reflection together. We will be finished around 11:30am.So make some space in your post-Christmas calendar to remember the victims of global warmaking, and to encourage one another to acts of resistance.

Please pass this invitation on to anyone who might be interested. (Facebook event here)

Reports from previous Holy Innocents processions:
https://smoyle.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/holy-innocents-peace-procession-2010/
https://smoyle.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/feast-of-the-holy-innocents-peace-procession-melbourne-reportback/

(I forgot to write a report on 2011’s event :))

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.

Breaking up is hard to do: thoughts on leaving Facebook

This week I quit using Facebook. For a number of years I’ve used it as a platform for spreading information I thought was worthwhile: mostly around nonviolence, Afghanistan, and Christian discipleship. But for some time I’ve had some questions about the effect it’s having (not new thoughts, questions long posed by many others), and decided it was time to finish.

This was my last status update:

So, I promised myself that when I finished at Urban Seed I would also be finished with Facebook…so, so long and thanks for all the memories. If you want to get in contact with me, you can email me or get my snail mail address or phone number so we can write or talk to each other. Better yet, come hang out with me at GraceTree Community. I’ll leave this account active, and might check in occasionally, but for the most part this won’t be a reliable way to get in contact with me anymore. I hope that over the years I might’ve contributed something to your life through this medium, and I hope that I’ll see you again in real life.

My friend Marcus then emailed asking a series of questions:

Why the connection with leaving Urban Seed? is this about stage of life/work change?. The best stuff u offer seems quite distinct from your urban seed focus. Your posts are good share material from your unique mix of nonviolence research, networks and circles that many of us don’t access easily. This makes you an important leader in this movement. Are you continuing with this work and if so why not share it in this way? Is this a theological response to disembodied digital connections, a response to ‘clictiv/slacktiv-ism’ or are you just sick of the haters and people posting cat pictures? will u even be reading this??? 😉

I thought it was worth giving a significant response to those questions, so emailed the following back to him. I then thought it might be worth sharing more widely, so am posting it here in case other folks are interested.

Hey Marx…hehe…how long you got?!

The Urban Seed connection was just that I was doing social media for Urban Seed, so until I finished there I couldn’t exactly stop using FB completely…so yeah, nothing to do with the focus, it’s just something I’ve been wanting to do for ages and finishing at the Seed seemed like a good moment. To be honest it’s a relief. When it begins to feel like a burden and is liberating to stop…that’s a pretty good indication right there that something’s been wrong.

It is in the context of my making lots of significant changes in terms of where I put my energy/time etc at the moment. Finding myself drawn towards prayer and solitude and away from technology. I spend way too much of my life with a screen in front of me. I keep coming back to Thomas Merton, who had more impact on people as a hermit than he ever would have otherwise. His impact wasn’t despite being a hermit, but precisely because of the life of prayer and contemplation that he drew from.

This societal dependence on one piece of technology – particularly one controlled by a large corporation – seems to me to be hugely problematic. I realised that if I’m not on FB, there’s a lot of events I wouldn’t even know about. How is it that we’ve allowed this one website to mediate our lives in such a way? What does it mean when the new ‘marginalised’ means those not on Facebook (and ironically, the “old” marginalised are?!)? What does it mean that we complain about the Coles/Woolworths duopoly or the Labor/Liberal two-party system but not about the monopoly of Facebook for mediating social relationships? Is there life after (or outside of) Facebook? (I suspect there is. :))

Another factor (more an annoyance than anything) was the constant changes…you just get used to one way of doing things and they change again. Plus erosion of privacy, boundaries, etc. I don’t like that one corporation has that much information on me. Not because I’m ashamed of any of it, just because I don’t know who they are and they don’t know who I am. That’s stuff that used to be the domain of human memory, mediated through relationship, shared experience, friendship, fondness, etc. Now it’s marketed as a commodity.

What does it mean that a website can store and own your whole history (admittedly whatever history you put on there, but the barriers to sharing are being constantly eroded)? At the very least I want to stop and think about that kind of thing, and that requires some distance.

Technology itself is to an extent, I’m coming to realise, dehumanising in and of itself – an attempt to escape our human limits and vulnerabilities. I’ve had a growing realisation the more I do NVDA that technology most often (perhaps not always) obscures the human factor that is transformative. The more technology, the more problematic. Partly because it’s bound to fail, so dependence on it is a bit silly. But also because it distracts people from the purity of will, bodies, intention. That’s where the power of nonviolent action is – in vulnerability. I think that’s also where life is most potent.

Another factor was the links/posts themselves – we have more information than ever but I wonder if we are more informed? To what extent is information inward formation (and for better or worse)? Do we give information enough time to do its inward formation work on us or is it just washing over us because of the sheer volume? Or do we listen only to that which reinforces our existing beliefs? What does the constant stream of ‘stuff’ – much of it minutiae – do to us? Some days I find myself anxious about the sheer amount of stuff I want to read online, and simply don’t have the time to. That can’t be good. John Dear has been telling me for years: don’t read the paper. Read the saints. I’ve tried that at times, but always come back to the paper. I’m a slow learner. (I also keep coming back to the saints. :))

So I guess you could say I didn’t so much get sick of the haters and cat pictures as the noise – the sound of my own voice as much as others’.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly a place for being informed – and I’m of the kind of temperament that I don’t think I’ll ever act without being well informed, but I think the kind of volume churning through there is excessive. It’s easier to stop than it is to slow down.

And yeah, the disembodied/slacktivism aspect is a factor. Mostly FB didn’t seem to me to be translating into action in others – and where it was translating into action for people, Facebook wasn’t the crucial factor (thank God – if it ever became the crucial factor that would be even more problematic). And yes, that is a big part of the point of posting those links. Jesus doesn’t just want to change your opinions, he wants all of you. I’m not convinced that FB can facilitate that process. I suspect the medium breeds expression of opinion rather than action.

To be perfectly honest I also didn’t think anyone much was listening anymore…with a combination of FB virality algorithms you never know who is seeing what, and it seems like those who interact and therefore see your posts are those who agree anyway. Felt like preaching to the converted.

As I say it’s been coming for a while so although it seems to have been a surprise for a lot of people it wasn’t a split second decision…To be honest I was trying to make as little a deal of it as possible! I was going to write a blog post about all the reasons, but it just felt weird writing a whole bunch of longwinded justifications (like I’m doing here!) for not using a website anymore! I do seem to have underestimated the value people place on my role there though, which has taken me by surprise. At the same time, some people’s reaction to it disturbs me a little as well – almost more like I’ve died than just stopped using a website. I’m still alive, and still the same person. If people want to contact me, they can. In fact, I’d be delighted.

The other thing I’ve struggled with is the public nature of the medium. What does it mean to not let your left hand know what the right is doing when every meal or coffee you consume, every event in your day, is instagrammed for public display? What does it mean for nuance and independent thought when every political opinion is plastered over a meme and ‘shared’ 46,000 times? What are the lines between information sharing, boasting, and straight out propaganda? Where’s the line between “letting your light shine before others” and not “practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them”? I’m not sure I know anymore. Does anyone even care?

Finally, it’s the question of whose desires ‘run’ me…I’m glad my posts have been valued, but I don’t think I should allow others’ desires to run mine. There’s only one Other whose desires I want to run me, and if I spend more time listening to the louder voices instead of the still small one I’m going to have a hard time being ‘run’ by the latter.

It’s given me a small profile, that I confess I wonder if I’m ‘wasting’ by getting out completely…but then I think about the Holy Transfiguration community, and their choice to live in obscurity, and I feel drawn to that kind of integrity, that kind of kenosis, that emptying of ego. In the end I ask myself: “Is there anything worth having that I’m giving up by quitting Facebook?” And I honestly can’t think of enough to justify staying, or that I couldn’t do better in other ways.

My hope is that, whatever leadership I offer in terms of this movement (as you put it), it can be done better off Facebook than on…through real face to face relationships where conversations and mutual aid can take place. It’s less “efficient” in terms of reaching fewer people in a smaller geographical area, but then a) efficiency is not a gospel concept and b) perhaps a more significant impact on fewer people is not such a bad tradeoff. But of course, I don’t need to tell you about the value of small and local. 🙂 So yes, I’m intending not just to continue in this work but to do so more slowly, more deliberately. Maybe less effectively, maybe more – I don’t know, but at least more humanly.

And I guess insofar add I have any leadership role to offer it’s not because of Facebook but because of what I have offered and will continue to offer in terms of a life of faithful discipleship. That will remain accessible, just the bar for access is slightly higher (not necessarily a bad thing).

All of which sounds horribly preachy. But then what can I say: I’m a preacher.

It may end up being a hiatus. Time will tell.

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.

Merton on nonviolence

Wow, this just blew me away.

“Nonviolence must avoid the ambiguity of an unclear and confusing protest that hardens the warmakers in their self-righteous blindness. This means in fact that in this case above all nonviolence must avoid a facile and fanatical self-righteousness, and refrain from being satisfied with dramatic and self-justifying gestures.

Perhaps the most insidious temptation to be avoided is one which is characteristic of the power structure itself: this fetishism of immediate visible results. Modern society understands “possibilities” and “results” in terms of a superficial and quantitative idea of efficacy. One of the missions of Christian nonviolence is to restore a different standard of practical judgement in social conflicts. This means that the Christian humility of nonviolent action must establish itself in the minds of modern people not only as conceivable and possible, but as a desirable alternative to what they now consider the only realistic possibility: namely, political technique backed by force. Here the human dignity of nonviolence must manifest itself clearly in terms of a freedom and a nobility which are able to resist political manipulation and brute force and show them up as arbitrary, barbarous and irrational. This will not be easy. The temptation to get publicity and quick results by spectacular tricks or by forms of protest that are merely odd or provocative but whose human meaning is not clear may defeat this purpose.”

–Thomas Merton, from Passion for Peace.

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!

Australian/Afghan Strategic Agreement – take action now

Defence Minister Stephen Smith recently took a trip to Afghanistan, with a range of reasons cited in the Defence Department media release. What wasn’t mentioned there – or anywhere else by the Gillard government – was the finalising of a draft Australian/Afghan Strategic Agreement for post 2014, due to be signed in just five weeks. That I discovered in a tweet from TOLOnews, an Afghan news organisation. It appears the Gillard government is keeping this agreement under wraps, hoping no one will notice.

The good news is that thanks to an email to some journos the story ran in the Age today. There are also a couple of us trying to get the attention of other media outlets. Hopefully the Greens can ask some sticky questions in both Houses of Parliament.

Please post the Age article to your social media accounts, and tell everyone you know that this is happening, we have about a month to cause a ruckus that might bring some transparency, and then accountability.

I’m also thinking of putting together an email/social media appeal for people to contact their MPs, etc. so that there’s at least some wider knowledge and a modicum of accountability.

Just so people are aware of the significance of this:

1. In these kinds of agreements there’s always a “status of forces agreement”, which details how that particular military will be permitted to relate to the country post withdrawal. There is a good possibility that Australian SAS will continue to operate in Afghanistan post 2014. In particular it has already been said that while the mentoring task force (those training Afghan troops) are likely to drawdown and leave before the 2014 deadline, SAS will still be conducting capture and kill raids up to that deadline. Remember that just last November Gillard insisted that Australia will have a presence in Afghanistan “until the end of the decade at least”. It would be quite a turnaround in six months to bring that date forward so dramatically. So one question is: will SAS stay doing capture and kill raids for whatever criminal syndicate is in central government by 2014? (Karzai is already considering breaking his own election rules by seeking a third term, and to give himself the best chance is looking at bringing the election forward from the scheduled 2014 date to 2013)

2. The other big factor is aid, and in particular military aid. We already know that the force that we’re supposed to be training will likely cost around $6 billion a year, in a country which has a GDP of $1.6 billion, meaning the force we’re training will rely on massive ongoing military aid for the foreseeable future. Either that, or if the amount drops (and you can bet it will post withdrawal, particularly given financial crises and such) Afghanistan ends up with thousands of armed and trained men with no job. This is the disaster-in-waiting we’ve created.

3. The Australian agreement sits alongside (and no doubt works in with) the US/NATO Strategic Partnership Declaration, which some Afghans are describing as “slavery” and consigning them to “permanent terrorism”. It essentially allows for permanent US bases.

So, I think we have an opportunity, over the next five weeks, to let the government know that we know about this agreement, and call for accountability.

Please contact your MP and ask them what the Australian Afghan Strategic Agreement contains.

Thanks.

Update: April 16th: Former Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is saying Australian SAS will be staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014, which gives us a good indication of some of what’s in this Strategic Partnership Agreement.