American Democracy at Risk

On June 1, 100 scholars of democracy issued a Statement of Concern.

Onpoint, NPR, broadcast and interviewed three scholars to discuss the state of American democracy. Go here to listen. It is worth listening more than once. During the discussion, Americans contributed their thoughts to the discussion. These are very insightful and encouraging in terms of action and belief in our democratic way of life.

On the Onpoint site there are other resources to continue reading and listening to scholars who have deep understanding of what comprises a democracy, our current situation. Let’s start a discussion here. Please post your thoughts.

Remembering Dad

WWII Veteran, my father, Edward B. Feathers

All he wanted was to learn to fly. He was a teenager in rural Tennessee, inspired by the heroic flights of the Wright Brothers and then Lindbergh, Dad worked in a little village of Watauga and saved to take flying lessons in near by Johnson City. Soaring over the green hills, he then was seized with a huge desire to leave the poverty and inward directed community of his youth to see the world, to break free.

He had a wonderful mind for math and science, eventually graduating with a degree in physics from East Tennessee State College (his mother walked the graduation stage for him as the US colleges awarded a full degree to all the men and women serving in the military in WWII in their last year of college but not able to finish due to the war).

Dad joined the Army Air Corps when Pearl Harbor was bombed. All the country kids who had not made entry into the military were now able to join up as the USA took everyone willing. Most of the rural kids did not have the best of health, having suffered as children through the Depression, a time my Dad recalled as being hungry all the time. America’s poor citizens comprised a good half of the country back then. Farmers all.

He became a bomber pilot, Captain of a B-29 crew, which he ably led through terrible, death defying excursions in the Pacific, flying over Saipan and Tokyo on bombing raids. His crew included men as young as 19. Dad told many stories from this period of his life, naturally, as it remained the most dramatic of the remaining 75 years (he lived to 95 in reasonably good health to the end).

I think of him every Memorial Day since he passed in 2012 on Pearl Harbor Day ironically. To the end, he worried he’d not be forgiven for killing people on those low level bombing raids. “We could smell flesh burning, Susan!” he recalled often.

The men and women who serve in the nation’s military carry the burden of killing, of maiming in the name of us. We must always remember that what we ask them to do in defense of our way of life is very serious and has life long consequences for them. Honor your war heroes, and let us never forget them and their devotion to the cause of America.

The Good Mind

The legacy of the Peacemaker [the man credited with bringing the Iroquois Nations together under a Pax Iroquois] is best illustrated in his concept of The Good Mind. The Peacemaker believed that a healthy mind naturally seeks peace and that a nation of individuals using reason and harboring good will in their hearts can not only establish peace in the worst circumstances but maintain it forever.

At the time the Peacemaker was born, the region was beset by wars among the five tribes (Onandaga, Mohawk, Huron, Seneca, and Cayuga). In some areas the hatred ran so deep that individual warriors practiced cannibalism on their enemies. These dark times were at least 1,000 years before the Europeans arrived in what is now New York State.

There are noteworthy circumstances surrounding the Peacemaker. First, his grandmother had a dream that a great man would be born who would save the tribes from utter destruction. He  was recognized as a youth for his exceptional qualities of mind as someone who would become a leader. But he had a problem—a speech impediment (stuttering)—which later required the assistance of the great Iroquois orator, Hiawatha, to help him accomplish his mission to bring the tribes of his nation together under the Great Tree of Peace—the democracy of constitutional laws and principles that exist to this day.

When I began studying with my teachers in Yuma, Arizona (see previous blog post, The First American Democracy) I was completely unaware of this body of law, the Iroquois legacy of which some passed into the U.S. Constitution, nor was I aware that the Iroquois Confederacy had maintained peaceful coexistence for 750 years before the founding of the fledgling American democracy.

The most important lesson of my four years of study was the reading of Basic Call to Consciousness, written as an address to Western civilization in the 1970’s when the Iroquois were still under threat and domination by the powers that be: the Canadian government and New York State legislature. Basic Call is still relevant in its astute analysis of the values that drive Western societies and how they lead to the destruction of the very basis of life.

In Basic Call to Consciousness Americans have a useful guidebook on how to strengthen our own democracy by broadening our bill of rights to include the natural world and all the life in it as sacred because,  everything emanates from our common Creator. Practically, the document gave the early constitutional authors further reason to formulate a bicameral congress and institute a process of checks and balances. For example, the Peacemaker charged the women of the tribe to act as arbiters of peace by choosing the male leaders and representatives and removing them should their thoughts and actions stray from the sacred purpose of the Great Law.

I remember being shocked to find this gem of a small book in whose pages lay all the wisdom needed to solve entrenched political, economic, and relational problems here and abroad.  But I realized the document was politically dangerous in the U.S. precisely because it would prevent greed and avarice from being the dominant drivers in our social and cultural enterprises. In fact, when my teachers suggested I read it, the book was out of print and hard to find. But I eventually did find a used copy at the Bohdi Tree bookstore in Los Angeles. It was considered an occult book and probably still is by a society that relegates any true challenge to its economic values as dangerous and suspect.

Today you can find Basic Call to Consciousness on Bookshop.com to support independent book stores. I consider that progress!

 

Policing: Peace Building, Community Building

I’ve been reaching outside the U.S. for models of policing in countries with long-standing troubles related to justice and peace. Troubles related to putting one group above another. One source which I have featured on this blog for the past several posts is Ireland’s Peace and Reconciliation movement. I’ve posted about the Corrymella Community which is the oldest Peace and Reconciliation movement in Ireland. See precious recent posts, video and audio links on the sidebars and in posts.

Today I am summarizing the wisdom of Peter Sheridan whose leadership on policing is particularly relevant to the U.S. police brutality against the African American community. Groups have called for a whole new approach to police culture in the U.S. Sheridan’s approach is important.

Two Central Ideas First: 1) The lens of justice is too narrow because you can never adjudicate the atrocities of the past adequately. There is a subtlety to the notion of justice, Sheridan advises. What justice looks like is not straight forward. Acknowledgement of the other’s view and experience, no matter how much we might disagree with it, is essential in a peace process. 2) You can bow to the past but not be bound by it. This latter idea is essential when dealing with centuries of injustice and violence. The statement was actually made by Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Ireland during a reconciliation visit.

Sheridan is a man of deep faith. Love your neighbor as yourself is a teaching that is a core part of his leadership. He states that the majority of people are decent and essentially want the same things that he does. He bases his policies on getting to know each other’s families. Relationship building is essential in peace-building. He sees policing that way: improving people’s lives. There is no homogeneous viewpoint, Sheridan states.

Police Service of Northern Ireland – PSNI is an independent board that evaluates policing in NI. *This might help communities and the USA in general. However, Sheridan’s view is that “everyone is responsible for policing their neighborhood and community.”

Regarding attempts to make sure police are represented by commensurate percentages of gender identity and ethnicity he disagrees. “Selection should be based on skills and abilities.” He referred to the past attempts to artificially balance the force with percent representation. It did not result in peace. Note to the wise: this is based on his considerable experience. He began at age 16 as a junior volunteer in the police force, and rose in the ranks as an effective leader during the atrocities of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. When he could have been made the Chief of the police forces in Ireland he chose to accept leadership of Co-Operation Ireland – NI’s Peace and Reconciliation organization. A 36-year veteran in the police force and graduate of Cambridge, Peter’s voice is a powerful one for the USA police justice movement, Black Lives Matter.

As many black activists and leaders in Louisville and Minneapolis have recently called for, policing needs to be community-based and part of true relationship-building, not the violent policies that characterize American policing today. Listen to the interview with Peter Sheridan by Padriag O’Tuama on the Corrymella Podcast below.

https://www.publictheologyireland.com/podcast/the-corrymeela-podcast-season-1-episode-9-peter-sheridan

History and Justice

Who do we want to be? How do we become that?

Christine Bell, Professor of Constitutional Law at Edinburgh University, in a recent interview on the Corrymella Podcast, states these two questions as fundamental to achieving reconciliation and peace.

Another key statement Dr. Bell shares is that Peace and Reconciliation process is not about solving a problem, but rather, agreeing to disagree and working forward to find ways that move us closer to agreement. A key part of it is getting to know each other on a nonpolitical basis, finding ways to be in dialogue about common experiences.

At one point in this interview, Padriag O’Tuama, a theology leader in Ireland and founder of the Corrymella Community, mentions that Joe Biden is searching for a process like this to help heal the divided nation of the U.S.A.

What can Big Data Add to the Peace Process?

Bell is involved internationally with states and groups that are studying big data collected from 200 countries of the world community from 1990 forward. 170 peace agreements exist among them, and data shows that at least 39 subsequents agreements after the declaration of peace were required to actually achieve peace. But, people came together who disagreed. They agreed to disagree to enter into a peace process. Dr. Bell states that you begin with the two questions, 1) who do we want to be,, and 2) how do we become that?

How can this information help Americans achieve national unity?

Clearly things are changing in the U.S. and we are bitterly divided with each side of the political divide distrusting the other. Listen here and think about how you could start a process to come together using these two questions in your local community. Who do we want to be and how do we get there? Listen here.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Everyday Wonder

I woke to a dense fog hovering over Dream Meadows Farm. Sun filtered through the mist. A little later when I stood on my porch breathing in the fresh cool air, I noticed how the lawns and the farmland had turned emerald. Distant dogwoods are in their glory. Redbuds in full flower. Skies blue.

Everyday is a wonder.

The world’s problems and threats are still there but viewed from my porch this morning each seems possible to overcome or at least, prepare to face. When I remember to just stand in my own feet and be right here, right now, the world opens up to everything I have always yearned for. Right here all the time.

Grateful for this moment, this day. Be well my friends!

Dream Meadows Farm, Bowling Green, Kentucky

It’s the Hunger Games – for Real

$65B wealth building during the Pandemic year – $7M per hour – is just Jeff Bezos’ profit among our 657 billionaires while millions of people struggle to pay the rent, buy food, and stay healthy. This, when Amazon decreased its pay to employees and they fight for unionization for basic living wages. See Chuck Collin’s article at the Institute for Policy Studies. And Democracy Now Interview with Collins here.

Mega wealth is a result of our capitalist system which, when left to the markets, favors the wealthy. But, now it has reached the level of a Hunger Games scenario. Suzanne Collins‘ masterworks for YA audiences, is a good read for us adults, and maybe more today than when it was first published in 2008.

When I see the super wealthy today, I’m reminded of the fawning, glittered things Katniss confronts on her journey to take back the real world for real people.

What are we going to do about this? Well, first, we need to have a fair taxation of wealth in the country because guess what? We are the people that made their wealth possible. Not that we intended it.

I’m done with unbridled capitalism, aren’t you? Go get your quiver and bow and meet me in the parking lot. Metaphorically speaking in case you are taking it literally. It’s code for Call Your Senator!

Photo by Thiago Schlemper on Pexels.com

There is a path to Reconciliation

During WWII, Ray Davey conceived the dream of a community of reconciliation and peace. He eventually founded Corrymeela, an “‘open village where all people of good will’ could come together to learn to live in community.”

Over the years the community became distressed by the growing disharmony between folks living in Protestant and Catholic areas of the island. The divide had been there ever since the British Crown imposed an area in Northern Ireland where people loyal to the Crown could live with autonomy. Since then, the fissure grew wider and rumblings broke out from time to time until the division resulted in a brutal and violent time referred to as “The Troubles.”

In 1997 Mary McAleese was elected as President of Ireland. She was raised in Belfast, in one of the few Catholic families living in Protestant Northern Ireland. Her family roots were very old but not in predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland, but rather in Roscommon in the Republic of Ireland. Her parents had moved to Belfast for jobs. Thus, when Mary McAleese grew up, she knew many loyalist, protestant families, and on the whole her family was accepted by neighbors based on people to people relationships. When she assumed her responsibilities for leading the country, McAleese developed measures that were very similar to Corrymeela: “Together is Better” principle. Listen to an Audio Interview with McAleese on Corrymeela Podcast. You can also download a transcript of the interview.

During her 14-year presidency, Mary McAleese sought reconciliation among all the people of Ireland — a very high bar to achieve considering The Troubles and past violence among the nation’s citizens. Her national campaign was entitled, “Building Bridges”. Many of the activities under this program involved bringing people together in non-political ways, such as showing up to commemorate the violence perpetrated by one side against the other, when all joined in mourning together, commemorating, remembering. Few words were exchanged. During this time, McAleese worked to bring the British Monarch to Ireland, which had not happened for centuries. The Queen and McAleese planned together, resulting in a visit that provided healing in the Republic of Ireland. For example, Queen Elizabeth greeted citizens in Gaelic, causing many Irish nationals to weep in gratitude for her recognition of their culture. It sounds simple, but it had never been done. For centuries the Irish had been held as secondary citizens to a superior oppressor. Now they were recognized as equals by the Queen herself. It was ceremony of reconciliation. The Queen then visited, wordless, to all the places of mourning where Irish citizens had died in their fight for equality and self-determination.

This is beautifully chronicled in a recent interview of Mary McAleese by Padraig O’Tuama on the Corrymeela Podcast. (Scroll down to the first interview.)

I wondered after listening to Mary McAleese if the U.S. Democrats and Republicans might find a way to heal the political divisions that became violent on January 6 in our Capitol. Could we come together as neighbors, churches, states, and citizens…could we commemorate that day together as one of mourning with a mutual vow to never let that happen again? What do you think? What other nonverbal kinds of reconciliation might we do? Please comment.

How Can America Heal Its Wounds?

Our democracy is in peril. So write the principals leading a nation-wide initiative to improve civics and history education. Led by the Educating for American Democracy (EAD) Principal Investigators—Danielle Allen of Harvard University, Paul Carrese of Arizona State University, Louise Dubé of iCivics, Jane Kamensky of Harvard University, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg of CIRCLE, Peter Levine of Tufts University, and Tammy Waller of the Arizona Department of Education—EAD created a Roadmap as a guide for educators, communities, and citizens. Over 300 educators, students, and civic and history organizations contributed to the Roadmap.

EAD Vision Statement

“Our constitutional democracy is in peril. After years of polarization, the United States is highly divided, and there is widespread loss of confidence in our very form of government and civic order. For many decades, we have neglected civics and history, and we now have a citizenry and electorate who are poorly prepared to understand, appreciate, and use our form of government and civic life.

“At the federal level, we spend approximately $50 per student per year on STEM fields and approximately $0.05 per student per year on civics. A lack of consensus about the substance of history and civics—what and how to teach—has been a major obstacle to maintaining excellence. The Educating for American Democracy (EAD) initiative provides tools to make civics and history a priority so that we as a country can rebuild our civic strength to meet the modern challenges we are facing.

“The EAD initiative demonstrates that an ideologically, demographically, and professionally diverse group can agree about history and civics content, as well as pedagogy. This detailed consensus, presented in a broad Roadmap that allows states, localities, and educators to assess and reprioritize their own approaches, will encourage investments in civics and history at all levels.”

GO HERE TO READ MORE AND TO DOWNLOAD THE ROADMAP

Go Here to Watch a YouTube Video Explaining How EAD Helps to Build Civics and History Education