Fri 19 Jan 2007
“War corrupts everyone who engages in it.” Howard Zinn
In 1989, after attending college on a NROTC scholarship, I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. I served as a logistics officer in a unit on the island of Okinawa, my first duty station. At that time in my life, I was still a practicing alcoholic, and gave little regard to how my life choices might be affecting my personal integrity or my spiritual well-being. At that time, the commitment to serve four years in the Marines in exchange for a college education seemed an advantageous arrangement. A short two years later, my life took a profound and dramatic turn.
While stationed on Okinawa, I took part in the mobilization of American forces to the Persian Gulf during the first war in Iraq. I was fortunate not to be shipped out myself. This time coincided with the “bottom” of my drinking. In the midst of extreme alienation exacerbated by alcohol-induced depression, I had begun reading the Bible again in search of comfort and solace for my situation. I was soon confronted with a statement which would radically transform my life:
“THOU SHALT NOT KILL.”
With a vague understanding that the Ten Commandments represented a sort of contract between me and God, I immediately recognized that I had sold my soul, so to speak, when I entered into my unholy contract with the Marine Corps. Some people may indeed be capable of taking another life, but I could not… ever. As an officer, however, I was unable to claim conscientious objector status and had to endure this moral crisis for several months.
Eventually, my alcoholism led me to a stay on a psychiatric ward and, in my newly found “desire to stay sober” by living a life of “rigorous honesty”, I naively disclosed the fact of my same-sex attractions to my case psychologist (my sexual orientation had been a long-kept secret, of which I was very ashamed and in which I was a great deal of denial about). I was subsequently diagnosed with a “sexual dysfunction” in addition to alcoholism and processed for discharge.
Several months later, I was back living in Boulder and had managed to find work in the house wares department at a local department store. A Marine reservist by the name of Andy worked in the electronics department next to mine. He had been deployed to the Persian Gulf and had participated in Desert Storm. We soon struck up an acquaintance.
One day, Andy invited me on a smoke break, and began telling me about his experiences in Iraq. He was relating about participating in trench-clearing operations–and how he had come face to face with an Iraqi soldier. I asked him what had happened.
“I butt-stroked him.” (1)
He stood there, looking at me, lower lip quivering. I stood there, looking at him, speechless. I still occasionally think about that moment, and wish I had known then what to say that might have helped him deal with his guilt and grief.
Years later, still living in Boulder, I began attending a coming out group as I struggled to come to terms with this newly accepted truth about myself. An older man in the group, Roger, had fought in the Korean War. One evening, the conversation turned to anti-LGBT violence, and the facilitator sagely asked Roger if he’d like to share about his war experience.
As Roger talked, I felt as if I could literally see the weight he had been bearing for nearly five decades. When he finished, I spoke up… this time, I knew what to say:
“Roger, this may be presumptuous of me… but God forgives you.”
Roger looked at me with surprise for a moment, and then began to weep. I hope Andy doesn’t have to wait 50 years to hear a similar message.
A CAPACITY FOR GOOD
Both Gandhi and King taught that all humans are creatures of dignity who have an innate capacity for positive change. This includes Dr. Dobson and the rest of our friends at Focus on the Family. Andy, Roger and I perpetrated great harm on others during our years of military service–but the cost we each experienced was enormous. As long as James Dobson continues to incite spiritual, institutional and physical violence against LGBT people, he will incur a similar wound. Some have counseled me that James Dobson is intractable and incapable of change; that I should turn my back on him. To accept this counsel would be to deny his humanity. To turn my back on James Dobson would itself be an act of violence that I am unprepared to commit.
The end goal of nonviolence is the creation of what Dr. King called the “Beloved Community”. (2) This we accomplish by applying the principles of Satyagraha to resolve our conflict(s) with our adversaries and achieve justice through reconciliation. Dr. King often wrote that the struggle to end segregation was a struggle for ALL Americans—not just African-Americans. The “Beloved Community” could be characterized by genuine harmony in relationships. What’s in it for us? Freedom from anger, bitterness and fear—and a society that acknowledges the civil and human rights of LGBT people.
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Throughout 2007, Soulforce intends to escalate our Satyagraha in Colorado. By facilitating an ongoing campaign of civil disobedience featuring a myriad of direct “micro-actions” occurring at random but frequent intervals at Focus on the Family and County Clerk offices (marriage license issuers) throughout the state, we will elevate the “nonviolent tension” experienced by James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and statewide political leaders—thus persuading James Dobson and Focus on the Family to end their defamatory campaign of antigay misinformation and our elected officials to recognize the inalienable rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people through constructive, meaningful legislative action.
Gandhi once wrote:
“All reforms owe their origin to the initiation of minorities in opposition to majorities… Those who believe that they are not bound to obey laws which are repugnant to their conscience have only the remedy of [nonviolence] open to them.”
We hope you will consider joining Soulforce in this exceptional opportunity to gain valuable experience in planning and organizing a substantial nonviolent campaign while working in a constructive way on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.
Soulforce Colorado State Organizer
(1) A technique used in hand-to-hand combat with a hand-held M16.
(2) “BELOVED COMMUNITY - Term coined by philosopher Josiah Royce to denote an ideal community, used frequently by Dr. King to describe a society of justice, peace and harmony which can be achieved through nonviolence. In his sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 2, 1957, Dr. King said, ‘The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community.’” http://www.thekingcenter.org/prog/bc/index.html
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Thu 18 Jan 2007
“It was a clear engagement between those who wished the fullness of their personalities to be met and those that would destroy us physically and psychologically. You do not walk away from that. This is what movement meant. Movement meant that finally we were encountering on a mass scale the evils that had been destroying us on a mass scale. You do not walk away from that, you continue to answer it.” C.T. VIVIAN, Eyes on the Prize: Back to the Movement (1979-mid 1980s)
On the first day of this fast, I pointed out that human rights are inalienable and should never be made the subject of popular vote. I also argued that our system of government was designed in part to protect otherwise defenseless minorities from what Alexis de Tocqueville called “tyrannical majorities”. In the wake of the November mid-term elections, it is clear that the state, through an otherwise rational and reasonable electoral process, has become an unwitting agent of oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. I asked readers to consider how they feel we might respond to this hijacking of our political process by the religious and political adversaries of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Should we continue to cooperate with a system which demeans and degrades our existence (thus making ourselves complicit in our own disenfranchisement)?
Gandhi offers a more effective method of resistance:
Because we have dedicated ourselves to “seek the truth, to live by the truth and to confront untruth wherever [we] find it,” Gandhi would remind us that we have the same obligation to disobey unjust laws as we do to obey just laws. Thoreau made a similar argument in his classic essay “Civil Disobedience”. (1) Many of us, therefore, feel a responsibility to confront untruth in the form of unjust laws through deliberate acts of civil disobedience. In fact, there are many ways that a Satyagrahi might engage in nonviolent non-cooperation including boycotts, conscientious objection, and other forms of direct action (marches, sit-ins, picketing, vigils, etc.). Nonviolent non-cooperation is used in part to create “constructive tension”. In his classic “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”, Dr. King wrote:
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue…I must confess that I am not afraid of the word, tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive tension that is necessary for growth… the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.” (2)
Throughout 2007, Soulforce intends to escalate our Satyagraha in Colorado. By facilitating an ongoing campaign of civil disobedience throughout the state, we will elevate the “nonviolent tension” experienced by James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and statewide political leaders. Our goal is to persuade James Dobson and Focus on the Family to end their defamatory campaign of anti-LGBT misinformation and our elected officials to recognize the inalienable rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people through constructive, meaningful legislative action.
Nonviolence is not only a philosophy of action, but also a methodology. Throughout this campaign, we have diligently followed “The Soulforce Process - Nonviolent Principles of Direct Action” (by Mel White for Soulforce, Inc.™ from the writings of Gandhi and King.). (3) For the past two years, Soulforce has conducted trainings here in Colorado to educate our allies in the principles of nonviolence. Soulforce has also researched an exhaustive case against James Dobson and Focus on the Family and worked to educate the public through the media in nonviolence and our research of James Dobson’s defamatory, anti-LGBT rhetoric. (4) We have repeatedly sought to begin a dialogue with Focus on the Family. All our efforts have either been ignored or denied. We have and will continue to sponsor direct actions at Focus on the Family in an effort to end Dobson’s campaign of anti-LGBT rhetoric and achieve justice through reconciliation for LGBT people.
As we continue our campaign of civil disobedience at Focus on the Family, some may ask, “doesn’t James Dobson have the right to believe what he believes? It doesn’t seem right to trespass on private property in order to protest his right to advocate what he believes.” It may be true that James Dobson has the right to believe as he does. Unfortunately, his campaign of untruthful, defamatory rhetoric continues to result in religious and political oppression of LGBT people. The fact that James Dobson’s actions may be legal does not make them moral. Just laws can be misused to defend unjust purposes. Dr. King discussed the distinction between just and unjust laws in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”, writing: “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal’. It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers.” Since James Dobson seems determined to continue his campaign of anti-LGBT hate speech, we have no choice but to escalate our Satyagraha in Colorado. We adherents of nonviolence feel an obligation to risk arrest while confronting Dobson’s unjust, immoral words and actions.
During interviews with the press, Focus spokespeople have suggested that we aren’t really interested in dialogue, pointing to a proposed “public debate” which Soulforce declined in 2005: “Soulforce doesn’t want a dialogue, they want to make a statement and they’re doing that,” (Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family’s Vice President of Public Policy). With this “red herring”, our friends at Focus seek to distract readers from the basic fact that for over a decade, Soulforce members have repeatedly sought meetings with the leadership of Focus on the Family. These endeavors have been repeatedly ignored or denied.
Soulforce’s refusal to “debate” Focus is a position consistent with Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent non-cooperation. The ongoing “debate” about LGBT people is only one other instrument employed by our religious and political adversaries—and we refuse to become complicit in our own oppression. The purpose of nonviolent negotiation is to “change hearts and minds” while seeking a mutual understanding of truth which will enable us to reconcile with our friends at Focus on the Family. So-called “debates” serve only to provide Focus on the Family yet another forum to propagate their hurtful rhetoric, and do nothing to enhance mutual understanding or further the cause of justice for LGBT people. Public forums of the type envisioned by our friends at Focus on the Family only further polarize the conversation, widening the breach between our two communities. Throughout history, the Bible has been used to justify slavery and segregation, as well as to deny ordination of women. Religion-based oppression of LGBT people derived from bigoted misinterpretation of Judeo-Christian scripture is just as intolerable. The inherent dignity and worth evident in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people is no longer up for debate!
“All reforms owe their origin to the initiation of minorities in opposition to majorities… Those who believe that they are not bound to obey laws which are repugnant to their conscience have only the remedy of [nonviolence] open to them.” M.K. Gandhi (5)
It is certainly true that conservative religious and political extremists have successfully scapegoated the LGBT community and made the private lives and civil rights of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people a matter of public debate—thus persuading the state to deny the inalienable human and civil rights of private citizens. When citizens find their Liberty infringed by the state, however, they have a human and civil right to nonviolently resist that oppression. M.K. Gandhi could hardly have imagined reconciliation with the British that didn’t include the relinquishment of their enslavement of India. And Dr. King could hardly have envisioned reconciliation with segregationists that didn’t include the dismantling of the system of segregation. We should envision no less than “freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance”.
(3) Commit and recommit ourselves to the non-violent Soul Force principles; Research the case against our adversary carefully, in print, audio, and video; Negotiate with our adversary first: amicably, carefully, relentlessly, if this fails; Educate the media, our allies, and the allies of our adversary; Recruit and train allies for direct action; Confront our adversary with direct action only to move negotiations forward; Negotiate a third position that will satisfy us both; Reconcile with our adversary and help bring in “the beloved community” which is the ultimate goal of Soulforce. (http://www.soulforce.org/article/170).
(4) A False Focus on My Family: Why every person of faith should be deeply troubled by Dr. James Dobson’s dangerous and misleading words about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community; by Jeff Lutes, MS, LPC; In this 32-page booklet, Jeff Lutes begins by revealing Dr. Dobson and Focus on the Family’s harsh and misleading anti-gay rhetoric. He then constructs a response to shed the light of truth using the latest in scientific, psychological, psychiatric, and medical research; http://www.soulforce.org/article/false-focus-family.
(5) M.K. Gandhi “Hind Swaraj” (http://www.forget-me.net/en/Gandhi/hind-swaraj.pdf) (Navajivan Publishing House:Ahmedabad, 1938), 56-57.
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Wed 17 Jan 2007
In the mid-twentieth century, British colonial law held that no one could produce or distribute salt in India without a license sanctioned by the British colonial government. This meant, essentially, that wealthy landowners possessed an effective monopoly over the production and distribution of salt, a prized commodity. Gandhi challenged this monopoly with “Salt Satyagraha” and was subsequently jailed along with thousands of his followers. (1) On May 21, 1930, his followers and members of the Indian National Congress continued his “Salt Satyagraha” by conducting a nonviolent raid on the Dharasana Salt Works. (2) Hundreds were brutally beaten by the local police under the command of British officers. The international outcry was overwhelming. This defeat of British pretensions to moral superiority became the portent signaling the eventual end of British rule in India.
SWARAJ AND SATYAGRAHA REVISITED
Over the last two days, we have examined two principles from Gandhi’s teachings: SWARAJ and SATYAGRAHA. These two signposts provide us with the beginning of a framework for exploring Gandhi’s philosophy, but it is important to keep in mind that every adherent of his teachings discovers their own insights and framework for understanding Satyagraha. This realization is a suitable starting point for introducing two additional principles today: AHIMSA and TAPASYA. These new signposts will help us begin to discern the utter brilliance of Gandhi’s philosophy–and why the determined, consistent, relentless application of these principles can only lead to the end of religious and political oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
THE PRESENCE OF LOVE
AHIMSA derives from the Sanskrit “himsa” which means “injury”. (3) Therefore, AHIMSA means “abstention from harming others”. (4) “Non-injury” is one of the five “yamas” (abstentions) identified in The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (5). In these sutras, it is written that “when [one] becomes steadfast in [their] abstention from harming others, then all living creatures will cease to feel enmity in [their] presence,” (II.35). Since AHIMSA essentially represents the negation of an idea, it has often also been reframed in a positive sense. Gandhi sometimes referred to Satyagraha as “love force” instead of “truth force” or the more commonly used “soul force”. So AHIMSA, the “absence of violence”, could also be defined as the “presence of love”. A commitment to live and speak our truth(s) with love is the second promise of Soulforce:
VOW TO LOVE – I PROMISE TO REJECT VIOLENCE (OF THE FIST, TONGUE, OR HEART) AND TO USE ONLY THE METHODS OF NONVIOLENCE IN MY SEARCH FOR TRUTH OR IN MY CONFRONTATION WITH UNTRUTH.
A PERSONAL ENDEAVOR OF SELF-SACRIFICE
The ancient philosophies of yoga may be the most precious gift that India offers the rest of the world. When most Westerners think of yoga, however, they most often think of the many systems of physical exercise which have become so pervasive in our culture over the last few decades. But the Sanskrit “yoga” actually means “union” and refers to the many Hindu mystical teachings which have as their main object the integration of one’s ego-identity with the spiritual, divine aspect of being. (6)
Although many Westerners find reflected in Gandhi’s philosophy aspects of their own doctrines which seem similar or in some way resonate with his teachings (7), we cannot overlook the fact that Gandhi was first and foremost a karma yogi. (8) Central to the path of karma yoga is the notion taught in the Bhagavad Gita that the highest form of service is to offer one’s work as a sacrifice, without any attachment to the results or outcome. (9)
“THE TEST OF LOVE IS TAPASYA AND TAPASYA MEANS SUFFERING.” (10)
The Sanskrit “tapas” means heat or energy (11)–principally, heat which purifies and disciplines the ego-identity, thus enabling the practitioner to realize higher levels of consciousness. TAPASYA is “a personal endeavor of discipline, undertaken to achieve a goal”–a “willingness for self-sacrifice”–consistent with the Gita’s concept of sacrificial action. (12) Taken in context with SATYAGRAHA and AHIMSA, TAPASYA is also the suffering which directly results from our ongoing search for truth and confrontation with untruth:
VOW TO VOLUNTEER SUFFERING – I PROMISE TO TAKE ON MYSELF WITHOUT COMPLAINT ANY SUFFERING THAT MIGHT RESULT FROM MY CONFRONTATION WITH UNTRUTH AND TO DO ALL IN MY POWER TO HELP MY ADVERSARY AVOID ALL SUFFERING THAT MAY RESULT FROM OUR CONFRONTATION.
This third promise of Soulforce is the vow to volunteer suffering. In Gandhi’s view, because no one is able to fully understand or comprehend “absolute” truth, AHIMSA (nonviolence) and TAPASYA (self-suffering) necessarily became cornerstone principles of his philosophy. Gandhi asserted that no person has the ability to discern whether their perspective is definitively THE “truth” or whether their adversaries’ insights are definitively “untruth” or in error—only that we each possess our own unique insights into truth. Any attempt to impose through coercion one’s own perception of truth on one’s adversary is itself an act of violence. Therefore, in Gandhi’s view, throughout our search for truth and during our confrontations with our adversaries, we Satyagrahis must refrain from violence of any kind and accept self-suffering as the primary mechanism (some might say the only mechanism) and catalyst for promoting social change.
The “sacrifice of self”–that is, accepting without retaliation the suffering which results from our encounter(s) with untruth–is the Satyagrahi’s cardinal tool. This self-suffering creates in the mind of our adversaries an internal tension which forces them to recognize the consequences of the injustices they perpetrate—and to thereby reevaluate their own beliefs. Through this use of creative, nonviolent tension, the Satyagrahi thus conquers the mind and heart of her adversary. (13)
This concept is known as “moral suasion”: that is, “appealing to the moral beliefs of an adversary or the public to convince the adversary to change behavior or attitudes.” (14) In a sense, through our self-suffering, we are holding up a mirror for James Dobson, visibly and publicly dramatizing the terrible consequences in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people of his words and actions. Our goal is NOT to coerce or to shame our adversaries–but to PERSUADE them to change of their own free will.
Moreover, and perhaps most important, in the principles of SWARAJ, SATYAGRAHA, AHIMSA, and TAPASYA, Gandhi has developed an ingenious method for personal development (he might have called it God-realization). Because self-suffering is, according to the theory of yoga, a purifying discipline, the life of the Satyagrahi is transformed through the process of acting upon Gandhi’s principles.
There is a distinct difference between what Soulforce calls involuntary suffering and Gandhi’s voluntary redemptive suffering (15). All injustice is a form of violence which leads to the suffering of its object(s). This we never tolerate–involuntary suffering never results in social progress. But offering SATYAGRAHA, AHIMSA, TAPASYA, and SWARAJ in the face of oppression and untruth inevitably serves as a cathartic catalyst for positive change.
At the beginning of this entry, we read about how Satyagraha worked to end British rule in India. Let us close by reading another scenario illuminating how Satyagraha helped end segregation in the American South of the 1960’s:
In the spring of 1965, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside of Selma, Alabama, several hundred African-Americans were confronted by state troopers and local law enforcement officials when they attempted to march across the bridge en route to Montgomery, the state capitol. They were beaten, gassed, and trampled by the troopers’ horses in one of the most savage public spectacles of violent suppression of nonviolent protest. On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, the graphic images of this police riot in response to a peaceful protest march were broadcast nationwide, galvanizing public opinion against segregation and in support of the National Voting Rights Act of 1965. (16)
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharasana_Satyagraha; http://www.saltmarch.org.in/h_press.html.
(4) Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood “How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali” (Translation & Commentary) (Vedanta Press:California, 1981), 147-148.
(5) Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood “How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali” (Translation & Commentary) (Vedanta Press:California, 1981), 141-143.
(6) Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood “How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali” (Translation & Commentary) (Vedanta Press:California, 1981), 15.
(7) Christians, for example, generally associate AHIMSA with AGAPE: “overflowing unconditional love for all, including adversaries [which is] needed for nonviolent conflict-resolution… Dr. King called it ‘love in action…love seeking to preserve and create community…love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative,’” (“Glossary of Nonviolence”, http://www.thekingcenter.org/prog/non/glossary.html).
(8) M. K. Gandhi (Ed. M. S. Desphande), The Way to God (Berkeley:Berkeley Hills Books, 1999), 13-14.
(10) PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS AT COW-PROTECTION CONFERENCE, BELGAUM [December 28, 1924]; OTHER STATEMENTS MADE BY GANDHI ABOUT TAPASYA: “Hinduism teaches that when evils and corruption are beyond control by ordinary means, human endeavour is supplemented by tapasya or penance which, in its extreme form, means fasting either conditional or unconditional.” 448. STATEMENT ON UNTOUCHABILITY-XIII December 30, 1932; “Fruit is hard to come by without tapasya. The suffering that has to be undergone in satyagraha is tapasya in its purest form. Only when the tapasya is capable of bearing fruit, do we have the fruit. This establishes the fact that when there is insufficient tapasya, the fruit is delayed.” SATYAGRAHA—NOT PASSIVE RESISTANCE1 [About September 2, 1917]; “It means that religion is to be grasped not by the intellect but by the heart. For an awakening of the heart the only effective means is tapasya. Tapasya is the extreme form of renunciation. Tapasya begins with fasting. Tapasya means to take on suffering. Only those who fast know the suffering of fasting. I hope to teach through tapasya, that is, fasting, what I cannot teach through arguments.” 94. FOR A HEART AWAKENING Harijan Sevak, 12-5-1933.
(11) Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood “How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali” (Translation & Commentary) (Vedanta Press:California, 1981), 96.
(13) M. K. Gandhi (Ed. Louis Fischer), The Essential Gandhi (New York:Random House, 2002), 1, 77 “[There] is a great and fundamental difference between passive resistance and Satyagraha… If we continue to believe ourselves and let others believe that we are weak and helpless, and therefore offer passive resistance, our resistance would never make us strong, and at the earliest opportunity we would give up passive resistance as a weapon of the weak. On the other hand, if we are Satyagrahis and offer Satyagraha, believing ourselves to be strong… we grow stronger and stronger every day…Passive resistance is often looked upon as a preparation for the use of force, while Satyagraha can never be utilized as such…Satyagraha postulates the conquest of the adversary by suffering in one’s own person.”
(14) “Glossary of Nonviolence”, http://www.thekingcenter.org/prog/non/glossary.html
(15) Step Four (http://www.soulforce.org/article/570) of Soulforce’s Four Step Journey (http://www.soulforce.org/article/566)
(16) “The Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights represented the political and emotional peak of the modern civil rights movement,” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selma%2C_Alabama#Civil_rights; http://www.cr.nps.gov/NR/travel/civilrights/al4.htm; http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/mar07.html).
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Tue 16 Jan 2007
Most Americans now remember September 11th as the date in 2001 when nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens perished after terrorists flew two passenger jetliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. On 9/11, most Americans remember the victims and recall a rare and poignant moment of national unity. There is, however, another reason that many of us consider 9/11 an historic, special day: nonviolent adherents remember September 11, 1906 as the birth date of Satyagraha, M.K. Gandhi’s philosophy of relentless, nonviolent resistance.
Of course, Gandhi had been developing his ideas for several years. During the early days of the Indians’ struggle in South Africa, he first used the term “passive resistance” to describe his philosophy—but observers unfortunately tended to draw erroneous conclusions about the movement as a result. (1) After soliciting alternatives through a naming contest run in his journal, Gandhi coined the term “Satyagraha” as a descriptive moniker that would more accurately describe his teachings.* The winning entry had been “sadagraha”, a conjunction of “Sat” (meaning “truth”) and “agraha” (meaning “firmness”). (2)
Gandhi explained the word “Satyagraha” (and therefore both his philosophy and methodology) thus: “Satyagraha is literally holding on to Truth and it means, therefore, Truth-force. Truth is soul or spirit. It is, therefore, known as soul-force.” He also sometimes referred to Satyagraha as “love-force”. (3)
A person of intense religiosity, Gandhi conceptualized and worshiped God as “Truth”. He envisioned his continuing search for and “holding on to Truth” as a spiritual duty and moral responsibility. Ultimately, the pursuit of Truth, therefore, becomes an ongoing struggle—a life-long, sequential series of deliberate, assertive, resistive encounters—with “untruth”. (4)
“Truth is within ourselves. There is an inmost center in us all, where truth abides in fullness. Every wrongdoer knows within himself that he is doing wrong, for untruth cannot be mistaken for truth.”—M.K. Gandhi (5)
QUEER TRUTH FORCE
So what does all this talk about “truth force” have to do with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people?
Soulforce was founded in 1998 with the purpose of “freedom from religious and political oppression for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.” For over a decade, members of Soulforce have been engaged in a Satyagraha campaign directed at James Dobson and Focus on the Family in a determined attempt to persuade them to end their campaign of defamatory, untruthful rhetoric that incites violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people while catalyzing a political environment in which we continue to be deprived of our inalienable human and civil rights.
Since the early nineties, Soulforce adherents and supporters have fasted, prayed, marched, rallied, written letters to James Dobson or called Focus on the Family, and have even been arrested in our efforts to persuade James Dobson to end his inflammatory rhetoric directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Through those efforts, hundreds have experienced a new kind of empowerment by reaffirming their intrinsic worth and dignity while nonviolently confronting James Dobson’s untruths about sexual and gender minorities.
Yet James Dobson persists in misleading Americans with his efforts to scapegoat the LGBT community for the ills of society while he continues to incite spiritual, physical, and institutional violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people by misusing the biblical evidence and by misrepresenting the psychological and sociological research about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families.
Last November, James Dobson and Focus on the Family were instrumental in helping secure passage of Amendment 43 and in defeating Referendum I. This stunning electoral defeat occurred against a political backdrop, incidentally, in which state Democrats secured the governorship and increased their hold on both houses of the state legislature, thus demonstrating Dobson’s remarkable political influence—and that the sociocultural and political forces which he represents transcend party affiliation.
UNTRUTH IS THE ENEMY
James Dobson, however, is not our enemy—but his defamatory and inflammatory untruths demonize and degrade lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people nonetheless. They could be encapsulated with the following statement: “the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father.” (6)
What is Dobson really saying here? None of the “research” to which he refers actually compares children raised in intact, same-gender families with those raised in intact, mixed-gender families. With this very carefully scripted “Big Lie” misrepresenting the social science research, he misleads Americans to believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people threaten children, so-called “traditional” families, along with the stability of our society.
Here are just two of the consequences which result from the untruths James Dobson so persistently propagates:
—Numerous studies dating as far back as 1986 have consistently shown that between 20%-50% of homeless youth in urban centers throughout America identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. (7)
—Since June 2003, the ever-present anti-LGBT violence (to which so many of us have grown accustomed) surged with the backlash of anti-LGBT rhetoric in response to the U.S. Supreme Court Lawrence v. Texas ruling. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, anti-LGBT violence during the second half of 2003 increased by 37% when compared with the same period of time in 2002, and anti-LGBT violence increased 33% during the first half of 2004 when compared with the same period of time in 2003. (8)
These statistics paint a very grim picture. Yet lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people manage to survive and even thrive in the face of James Dobson’s very cleverly contrived hate speech.
As a result of their enslavement to British political and economic hegemony, the Indians of Gandhi’s day had been deprived of both an awareness of their cultural heritage as well as economic self-sufficiency. This resulted in the devastating impoverishment of millions. In response, reintroduction of the ancient Indian arts of spinning and weaving became one of Gandhi’s constructive programs through which Indians engaged in “nonviolent non-cooperation” with the British—and were thus enabled to reawaken a sense of pride in their cultural heritage while also achieving an economic independence which became a critical component in their struggle for political independence:
“We have put the spinning-wheel in the centre of our activities, because for the millions in the country spinning is the only work we can think of as a universal supplementary occupation to agriculture. It subserves moral and economic ends alike.” (9)
In the face of religious doctrines which degrade and demean our dignity and a society which denies us the most basic, inalienable human rights, we accomplish the apparently miraculous in our lives by weaving families and an LGBT “beloved community” which nurture and validate our existence.
We have accomplished this in part by also discovering and living out our own “home-spun” spiritual journeys. And we become Satyagrahis when we nonviolently take our truth(s)—how we discovered and walked these “home-spun” spiritual faith journeys—directly to the primary source of our oppression, Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. A commitment to live and speak our truth(s) is the first promise of Soulforce:
VOW TO TRUTH – I PROMISE TO SEEK THE TRUTH, TO LIVE BY THE TRUTH AND TO CONFRONT UNTRUTH WHEREVER I FIND IT.
Would you spend some time today contemplating your own “home-spun” spiritual journey of suffering, triumph, and faith? Gandhi asked his Satyagrahis to spin daily. You may already daily wear your own garment of truth with pride and dignity. Do you also feel ready to share your truth nonviolently with James Dobson and Focus on the Family?
(1) PASSIVE RESISTANCE - Challenging an injustice by refusing to support or cooperate with an unjust law, action or policy. The term “passive” is misleading because passive resistance includes pro-active nonviolence, such as marches, boycotts and other forms of active protest. (“Glossary of Nonviolence”)
(2) “None of us knew what name to give to our movement. I then used the term passive resistance in describing it. I did not quite understand the implications of passive resistance as I called it. I only knew that some new principle had come into being. As the struggle advanced, the phrase passive resistance gave rise to confusion and it appeared shameful to permit this great struggle to be known only by an English name. Again, that foreign phrase could hardly pass as current coin among the community. A small prize was therefore announced in Indian Opinion to be awarded to the reader who invented the best designation for our struggle. We thus received a number of suggestions. The meaning of the struggle had been then fully discussed in Indian Opinion and the competitors for the prize had fairly sufficient material to serve as a basis for their exploration. Shri Maganlal Gandhi was one of the competitors and he suggested the word Sadagraha, meaning firmness in a good cause. I liked the word, but it did not fully represent the whole idea I wished it to connote. I therefore corrected it to Satyagraha. Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement Satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase passive resistance, in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word Satyagraha itself or some other equivalent English phrase. This then was the genesis of the movement which came to be known as Satyagraha, and of the word used as a designation for it.” “Satyagraha in South Africa” M. K. Gandhi, Navajivan Press, 1972 reprint.
(3) M. K. Gandhi (Ed. Bharatan Kumarappa), Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha) (Mineola:Dover Publications, Inc., 2001), 3, 6.
(4) M. K. Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Boston:Beacon Press, 1957, 1993), xxvi.
(5) M. K. Gandhi (Ed. M. S. Desphande), The Way to God (Berkeley:Berkeley Hills Books, 1999), 51.
(6) Dobson’s Time Magazine Opinion Piece, 12/18/06 — Family Pride response: Family Pride Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler.
(7) Approximately 40% of homeless youth are identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, (“Survey of Street Youth”, Seattle Commission on Children and Youth, Seattle, WA: Orion Center, 1986); 27% of male teenagers self-described as gay or bisexual move away from home because of conflict with family members over sexual orientation… almost half have run away from home at least once, (Remafedi, Gary. “Male Homosexuality: The Adolescent’s Perspective,” Pediatrics, March 1987); 11.5% of gay and lesbian youth report being physically attacked by family members, (Hetrick-Martin Institute Violence Report, 1988); Paul Gibson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Task Force on Youth Suicide found that “26% of gay adolescent males were forced to leave home as a result of their sexual identity,” and that “26% of youth living on the streets are lesbian or gay,” (“Gay Male and Lesbian Youth Suicide”, Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide, 1989); the National Network of Runaway and Youth Services reported that service providers estimate that gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth make up 20%-40% of homeless youth in urban areas (“To Whom Do They Belong?: Runaway, Homeless and Other Youth in High-Risk Situations in the 1990’s”, The National Network of Runaway and Youth Services, Washington, D.C., 1991); 50% of 432 homeless youth surveyed in a 1996 study identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (Clatts, et al. 1996); Caitlin Ryan and Donna Futterman reported in “Lesbian and Gay Youth: Care and Counseling” (Columbia University Press, 1998) that an estimated 25%-35% of homeless youth served by agencies in Los Angeles were lesbian and gay, and that approximately 40% of homeless youth served by agencies in Seattle were estimated to be lesbian or gay.
(8) “Trends in anti-LGBT violence are largely a function–a physical, real-life, real-time manifestation–of the rhetorical and political attacks being waged against LGBT communities, individuals and families,” (NCAVP 2004 Annual Report, p. 16); “LGBT communities are experiencing not only unprecedented attacks politically, but have also been living through an unprecedented and only recently–however temporarily–abated increase in anti-LGBT violence,” (NCAVP 2005 Annual Report, p. 14).
(9) LETTER TO PREMABEHN KANTAK, January 25, 1932. See also, “THE SWADESHI VOW” (written May 13, 1915) at: http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL018.PDF, 43-46.
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Mon 15 Jan 2007
DAY 1 - SWARAJ
Who in their right mind would deprive themselves of food for five days? And why would anyone take such a drastic measure… risk their life for no apparent reason? Well, there are many that immediately come to mind. Most importantly, I needed to obtain your undivided attention. Have I?
You see, I wouldn’t have taken this drastic measure if I didn’t think I had something important to share with you.
I’m madly, deeply, and passionately in love with nonviolence both as a way of life and as a way to achieve social progress and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. I hope you’ll let me share this passion with you over the next several days. I only ask that you take just a few minutes each day during the coming week to read and reflect on these short journal entries. I also ask that you use them to create an opportunity to explain to a friend or acquaintance why you are committed to “freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious & political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.” Finally, I hope you will forward these e-mails to others in your network that might benefit from reading them.
This is my first reason for undertaking this fast: to educate our community in the philosophy and practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.
SWARAJ is one of several central principles in Gandhi’s teachings. It meant “self-rule”. On one level, it was used in a political context: framing the Indian desire for home rule and for the British to leave the Indian subcontinent. On a more personal level, SWARAJ referred to the practice of “self-purification” for the purpose of strengthening and preparing oneself spiritually for a Satyagraha campaign (1):
“Purification undertaken not merely for the purpose of individual peace but for the purpose of national happiness does result in promoting such happiness. Happiness here means an enlightened realization of human dignity and craving for human liberty which prizes itself above mere selfish satisfaction of personal comforts and material wants and would readily and joyfully sacrifice these for self-preservation.” M. K. Gandhi, “SWARAJ IS SELF-PURIFICATION”, Young India, 5-3-1931 (2)
Human rights are inalienable (and ought not be made the subject of popular vote). Our system of government was designed in part to protect otherwise defenseless minorities from what Alexis de Tocqueville called “tyrannical majorities”. (3) When the state, through an otherwise rational and reasonable electoral process, becomes an unwitting agent of oppression of LGBT people, how should we respond–by continuing to cooperate with a system which demeans and degrades our existence (thus becoming complicit in our own disenfranchisement)–or by adopting more effective methods of resistance?
This is the second reason I am undertaking this fast: to discipline my desire for material comforts in order to better fix my attention on the practice of nonviolence to defend the human dignity and liberty of sexual and gender minorities in Colorado.
RULES FOR FASTING
You mean there are rules that must be adhered to when someone undertakes a fast? Actually, according to Professor Emeritus Michael Nagler of the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at the University of California in Berkeley, Gandhi identified five guiding principles to be considered when fasting. They are:
1. You have to be the right person for the job;
2. You have to choose the right audience, someone who is in “deep sympathy” with you;
3. Your demands have to be reasonable and doable;
4. One should fast only as a last resort;
5. Your decision to fast must be consistent with the rest of the nonviolent campaign or your life.
I do not claim perfect adherence to these rules, but they serve as an adequate starting point for further explaining why I have undertaken this fast. First, I won’t be so presumptuous as to suggest that I am the “right” person for this, but I do feel well placed to undertake this “teach-in” fast on behalf of the LGBT community with the purpose of educating my community in the philosophy of nonviolence.
We have accomplished much toward our goal of building a Queer nonviolent movement in Colorado. During the previous two years, the two largest direct actions in Soulforce history were staged at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. Those actions simply would not have been possible without the unqualified support of Colorado’s LGBT community. At those two actions, hundreds experienced a new kind of empowerment by reaffirming their intrinsic worth and dignity while nonviolently confronting James Dobson’s untruths about sexual and gender minorities.
And yet, we still have a long journey ahead of us. Throughout this coming year, the people of Colorado will witness a substantial escalation of Satyagraha on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. My hope for this fast is simple: that it will remind people that there remain a diversity of constructive methods with which we can still work for full equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
For me, however, this fast is a last resort because it is the only way I know to expose LGBT people to the principles of nonviolence on a massive scale in a relatively short period of time. On a personal level, this fast is a means by which I can deepen my practice of nonviolence.
I hope you’ll continue to read these journals during the next several days and share them with your friends so that we can together prepare to do justice nonviolently this coming year.
(1) Soulforce offers two promises (fourth and fifth out of five) in relation to Gandhi’s principle of SWARAJ:
SOULFORCE VOW TO CONTROL PASSIONS - I promise to control my passion for food, sex, intoxicants, entertainment, position, power that my best self might be free to join with my Creator in doing justice (making things fair for all).
SOULFORCE VOW TO LIMIT POSSESSIONS - I promise to limit my possessions to those things I really need to survive and to see myself as a trustee over all my other possessions, using them exclusively to help make things fair for those who suffer.
(2) See also: “Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule”: http://www.mkgandhi.org/swarajya/coverpage.htm; http://www.forget-me.net/en/Gandhi/hind-swaraj.pdf
(3) “Democracy in America”, 1835, 1840
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