Archive for the ‘Take Action’ Category

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail [Martin Luther King, Jr.]“

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer
criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

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. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Coal Mine Safety Cover Up – Finally leads to arrests and convictions. Historic Moment!

Massey official sent to jail for cover-up

Upper Big Branch explosion killed 29
January 18, 2013 12:23 am
By Michael A. Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The former superintendent of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia was sentenced Thursday to 21 months in a federal prison for conspiring to cover up mine safety violations before the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.

Gary May, 43, of Bloomingrose, W.Va., had faced up to five years in prison on a felony charge that he conspired to impede the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement efforts at the mine between February 2008 and the fatal explosion on April 5, 2010. He pleaded guilty in March 2012 and cooperated with the investigation into the tragedy, the nation’s worst mine disaster in four decades.

Family and friends view the 48-foot-long granite Upper Big Branch Miners monument, Friday, July 27, 2012 in Whitesville, W.Va, On the heels of a West Virginia coal mining death, families of the 29 men killed in the Upper Big Branch mine dedicated a memorial Friday to their fallen relatives and those injured in the April 2010 explosion.

Three separate investigations concluded the disaster was preventable but occurred because then-mine owner Massey Energy routinely circumvented numerous federally mandated safety requirements in order to reap higher profits.

May, the highest-ranking Massey official to be sentenced thus far, began working at Upper Big Branch as a foreman in February 2008 and became mine superintendent in October 2009. He admitted that he and others conspired to impede MSHA in administering and enforcing mine health and safety laws at Upper Big Branch mine.

May said he gave advance warning of MSHA inspections, often using code phrases to avoid detection. He admitted that when he knew inspections were imminent, he concealed health and safety violations such as poor airflow in the mine; piles of loose, combustible coal; and scarcities of rock dust, which prevents mine explosions. Furthermore, he acknowledged that he ordered the falsification of a mine examination book and told miners to rewire the methane gas detector on a piece of mine equipment so it could run illegally.

Separate investigations by MSHA, the United Mine Workers of America and an independent panel appointed by former West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin concluded that the fatal blast occurred because Massey let highly explosive methane gas and coal dust accumulate inside Upper Big Branch, and that worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited the combustible materials. Because water sprayers were broken and clogged, what should have been a mere flare-up erupted into a deadly inferno that ripped through miles of underground tunnels, killing the men.

In addition to imposing the prison sentence in Beckley, W.Va., U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger ordered May to pay a $20,000 fine and sentenced him to three years of supervised release. In sentencing May, she emphasized that his actions risked catastrophic consequences and that mine business interests cannot be put ahead of mine safety laws.

“With this sentence, Judge Berger took the opportunity to send a powerful message to this mine manager and other mine managers who would put profits over safety: If you violate mine laws and put miners at risk you will go to jail,” said Booth Goodwin II, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.

Several other officials have been charged in the investigation of the mine tragedy. The highest-ranking among them is David Hughart, former president of Massey’s Green Valley Resource Group, who was charged in November with violating mine safety laws and conspiring to impede inspectors. Like May, he has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in the continuing criminal probe by the FBI and the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.

The former security chief at the mine, Hughie Stover, was sentenced in February to three years in federal prison for lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy documents following the fatal blast. Former mine foreman Thomas Harrah pleaded guilty in October 2011 to making false statements and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.
First Published January 18, 2013 12:01 am
 

Mining Companies Coverup Safety Violations— 29 Dead

Charges filed in W.Va. mine disaster
Massey ex-executive expected to enter guilty pleas to federal counts
Thursday, November 29, 2012
By Michael A. Fuoco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette
Shortly after the mine disaster, this temporary memorial to the victims went up along Route 3 in Whitesville, W.Va., with their names on lumps of coal.

A former key executive of the company that owned the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed in an underground explosion in 2010 has been charged with violating mine safety laws and conspiring to impede federal mine inspectors.

David Hughart, 53, of Crab Orchard, W.Va., former president of Massey Energy Co.’s Green Valley Resource Group, was charged Wednesday in federal district court in Beckley, W.Va.

Federal prosecutors said Mr. Hughart, the highest-ranking official charged to date in an ongoing investigation, has agreed to plead guilty and is cooperating with the investigation spurred by the Upper Big Branch tragedy, the nation’s worst mining disaster in four decades.

Mr. Hughart’s plea agreement may indicate prosecutors are targeting officials higher on the Massey executive chain, possibly including controversial former CEO Don Blankenship, whose critics said valued profits at the expense of safety. He retired at the close of 2010. His Washington, D.C., attorney was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Four investigations into the Upper Big Branch disaster concluded that poorly maintained machines used to cut into sandstone caused a spark that ignited methane gas. Broken water sprayers then failed to stop the fire, which set off a series of explosions fueled by coal dust.

Those investigations concluded that Massey systematically covered up problems at the mine through an elaborate scheme that included sanitized safety-inspection books and a system providing advance warnings of surprise inspections by federal mine safety officials.

The wide-ranging probe of Massey has found that the company’s actions that compromised safety weren’t confined to Upper Big Branch.

“Mine safety and health laws were routinely violated [at coal mines] owned by Massey in part because of a belief that consistently following [mine safety] laws would decrease coal production,” according to the information filed against Mr. Hughart.

Authorities accuse Mr. Hughart of working with “known and unknown” co-conspirators to ensure that miners underground at Massey-owned operations received advance warning about surprise federal inspections “on many occasions and various dates” between 2000 and March 2010. The advance warnings provided them the time to conceal violations that could have led to citations, fines and costly production shutdowns.

The United Mine Workers of America, which consistently has criticized Massey’s safety record, was quick to react to Mr. Hughart’s charges.

“We’ve been saying for years that Massey Energy was a company that put production first, with safety being an afterthought,” UMWA International president Cecil E. Roberts said in a statement. “We look forward to the U.S. Attorney continuing his investigation, with a special emphasis on all Massey officials, regardless of title, who formulated and implemented criminal behavior, like Mr. Hughart.”

In December, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration officials announced a $209.5 million settlement agreement with Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, which took over Massey and the mine in a June 2011 merger. The firm has since announced it will seal the mine.

The settlement prevented criminal charges against the company, but did not preclude charges against individual employees. Federal authorities said the firm is assisting in the investigation, in which three former Massey employees have been charged thus far.

Gary May, the former superintendent of the Upper Big Branch mine, pleaded guilty in March to a federal fraud charge. Prosecutors said Mr. May manipulated the mine ventilation system during inspections to fool safety officials and disabled a methane monitor on a cutting machine a few months before the explosion.

In February, Hughie Elbert Stover, 60, the former security chief at Upper Big Branch mine, was sentenced to three years in federal prison for lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy documents following the deadly explosion.

 

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.

Read more: http://old.post-gazette.com/pg/12334/1280356-84.stm#ixzz2Dco70L79

 

Romney for president? Look deep into his eyes…

Romney is one crazy mother fucker

Romney is one crazy mother fucker

 

More Jobs moved from USA to China – Jesse Jackson Arrested During Civil Disobedience Workers Protest

Rev. Jesse Jackson Arrested During Workers Protest

10/24/12 11:19 PM ET EDT

Jesse Jackson Arrested

FREEPORT, Ill. — The Rev. Jesse Jackson has been arrested in a group of protesting northern Illinois workers during an act of civil disobedience in Freeport.

Michael Peery, a spokesman for Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, tells The Associated Press that Jackson was taken into custody Wednesday with about a dozen workers. He is expected to be released later in the day.

Freeport police didn’t immediately have comment.

Sensata (sen-SAH’-tuh) Technologies is owned by Bain Capital and in the process of moving its Freeport manufacturing operations to China. That’ll cost Freeport 170 jobs.

Company officials say most of the plant’s revenues are generated in Asia, making the move a logical decision.

The civil rights leader has been among other high-profile supporters who’ve visited the workers. The Rev. Al Sharpton recently held a rally in Freeport.

 

Ever been to Utah? Tar Sands could destroy it.

Help Defuse Utah’s Tar-sands Carbon Bomb

Tar sands mining
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Utah is ground zero for Alberta-style tar-sands strip mining in the United States.

More than 140,000 acres of Utah’s eastern highlands are already open to tar-sands strip mining, and regulators have permitted mining on nearly 6,000 acres near the Book Cliffs; only a difficult court battle stands in the way of mining on the first of those lands.

Tar-sands mining would do tremendous damage, decimating wildlands, destroying sage grouse habitat and depleting and polluting Colorado River water needed by endangered fish — as well as millions of people. Once it begins, mining could set in motion a wildly inefficient cycle of energy and water use, igniting a carbon bomb that will further dry the Colorado River, melt the Arctic and acidify our oceans.

Please take a moment today to send Gov. Herbert a letter urging that he abandon his disastrous tar-sands mining plans.

 

SIGN PETITION TODAY! »»

 

GMO alert: Eating GM wheat may destroy your liver, warn scientists

(NaturalNews) Genetically engineered wheat contains an enzyme suppressor that, when consumed by humans, could cause permanent liver failure (and death). That’s the warning issued today by molecular biologist Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury in Australia.

Heinemann has published an eye-opening report that details this warning and calls for rigorous scientific testing on animals before this crop is ever consumed by humans. The enzyme suppressor in the wheat, he says, might also attack a human enzyme that produces glycogen. Consumers who eat genetically modified wheat would end up contaminating their bodies with this enzyme-destroying wheat, causing their own livers to be unable to produce glycogen, a hormone molecule that helps the body regulate blood sugar metabolism. This, in turn, would lead to liver failure.

“What we found is that the molecules created in this wheat, intended to silence wheat genes, can match human genes, and through ingestion, these molecules can enter human beings and potentially silence our genes,” said Heinemann in a press conference on the threat of GM wheat (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FI7n_caiTvE).

“We found over 770 pages of potential matches between these two genes in wheat and the human genome,” he continued. “We found over a dozen matches that are extensive and identical, and sufficient to cause silencing in experimental systems. The findings are absolutely assured. There’s no doubt that these matches exist. …from this information, we know that it’s plausible there will be an adverse effect and therefore that’s why we’re calling for a particular battery of experiments to be done before humans eat this wheat.”

Professor Judy Carman, biochemist and director of the IHER, Flinders University, Adelaide, added: “If this silences the same sort of gene in us — as it silences in the wheat — then, well, children who are born with this enzyme not working tend to die by the age of about five. And adults with this problem, just kind of get more and more sick, and more and more tired, until they get very very ill indeed.”

She continues, “Before this comes near any human feeding studies, you need to undertake thorough animal safety assessments, where you actually look to see if the animals get sick. So you need to see if this genetic modification survives digestion and gets into the bodies of the animals. You need to see what effect it has on them. You need to do proper long-term toxicology studies… you need to check for cancer, you need to see if there are any reproductive problems, and you need to check for allergies…”

CLARIFICATION: This note was added after initial publication to help clarify the status of GM wheat. Currently, GM wheat is not commercialized. It’s not yet found in everyday foods. But the GMO industry is trying to commercialize it while skipping any real safety testing and buying off regulators to declare it safe. GM corn, of course, is already widely used in foods, as is GM soy. But GM wheat is not yet in the food supply. If we don’t resist the domination of the biotech industry, however, it soon will be.

GMO pushers want you and your children to be the guinea pigs

As you consider this information, keep in mind that GMO pushers want you and your children to eat GMOs that have never been safety tested on anyone! You are simply supposed to believe in the safety of GMOs, like a cult followers, without any scientific evidence proving it.

In today’s corporate-run quack science agricultural system, YOU are the human guinea pigs. There is no science behind the safety of GMOs, and in fact the real science shows that GMOs cause infertility, sickness and disease in the animal tests that have been done. GMOs are a threat to humanity, and those who promote them are junk science villains who have sold their souls to the criminal biotechnology industry.

The GMO industry is so evil that it doesn’t even want you to know you’re eating GMOs! That’s why industry giants are funneling tens of millions of dollars into a scheme to try to defeat Proposition 37 in California (www.CArighttoknow.org) which would legally mandate the labeling of GMOs on food products.

Even popular brands that “sound” natural are actually fighting against GMO labeling: Kashi, Larabar, Cascadian Farm, R.W. Knudsen, Silk and other brands have all betrayed consumers and are now the subject of a global Natural News boycott.

Click here to see the infographic.

Australian regulators sell out to Monsanto

In commenting on all this, Dr Brian John of GM-Free Cymru said:

“What we see here is yet another example of a GM wheat variety released into the environment without any proper assessment of health and safety issues. CSIRO and the Australian and New Zealand regulators have long had a strategy of promoting GM crops which nobody actually wants, with a degree of enthusiasm that verges on criminal negligence. We see a very similar scenario in the UK, where GM wheat is being grown at Rothamsted in spite of strong public opposition and in spite of zero market demand, just to satisfy the whims of politicians and multinational corporations. It is high time for this absurd and dangerous experiment with GM technology to be stopped in its tracks, since new evidence of harm to health and the environment now seems to be appearing on a weekly basis.” (http://gmwatch.org/latest-listing/51-2012/14181-gm-wheat-health-dange…)

See the background on CSIRO here:
http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/CSIRO

It shows that CSIRO has financial ties to Monsanto and other biotech companies.

Read the expert scientific opinion reports

(Thanks due to GMwatch.org for this list.)

Professor Jack Heinemann’s Expert Scientific Opinion

Professor Judy Carman’s Expert Scientific Opinion

Professor Michael Antoniou’s Expert Scientific Appraisal of Heinemann and Carman’s Work

Heinemann’s Expert Scientific Opinion: Appendix 1

Heinemann’s Expert Scientific Opinion: Appendix 2

Safe Food Foundation media release on the opinions

ABBREVIATIONS
CSIRO = Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
FSANZ = Food Standards Australia New Zealand
OGTR = Office of the Gene Technology Regulator

Background on Jack Heinemann

Source: http://safefoodfoundation.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/He…

I am a molecular biologist. I have been an academic at the University of Canterbury since 1994. Prior to that, I was employed by the US National Institutes of Health. My doctorate was conferred by the University of Oregon at Eugene (1989) and my Bachelor of Science (with honours) degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1985). I am involved in risk assessment research and participate in risk assessment through evaluation of assessments provided to regulatory bodies and through the development of international guidance documents for risk assessment. I have over 100 scholarly works published on the topic of molecular biology, genetics, risk assessment and other scientific matters within my expertise. I publish in leading international journals and my work has been recognised by prestigious professional organisations for its excellence.

Watch the Mike Adams video commentary on this breaking news story:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9v2aCmHVQM

Sources for this story include:
GM Watch
Safe Food Foundation

Watch the presentation of Jack Heinemann

 

Green Party candidates Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala were arrested after being denied entrance to the US presidential debates

“Corporate-sponsored American politics have stifled true democracy,” says Cheri Honkala, Green Party vice-presidential candidate. “We really need the outside help” to ensure fair debates and return democracy to America, she told RT.

­Green Party candidates Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala were arrested Tuesday after being denied entrance to the US presidential debates, despite being on 85 per cent of the ballots. “Democracy was taken away from us,” Honkala, told RT.

“Jill and I had decided to go before the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), we wanted to go in [to the debates], we’re on 85 per cent of the ballots in this country, and so we thought it should be up to the American people, so that they could listen to us and decide who they wanted to have as their president and their vice-president,” Honkala said.

The CPD was established in 1987 to monitor the presidential debates. CPD regulations stipulate that in order to be represented at the debate, a candidate must have at least 15 per cent support across five national polls and have the mathematical possibility to win the election. Tuesday’s debates were held by the CPD at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

“We’ve done our homework, it’s mathematically possible for Dr. Jill Stein and I to win the presidency, so we should be a part of the debates,” Honkala said.

However, despite being on 85 per cent of the ballots, Stein and Honkala were not invited to the big debate that took place Tuesday night.

“We thought it should be up to the American people, so that they could listen to us and decide who they wanted to have as their president and their vice-president.”

However, after being denied entry, Stein and Honkala were arrested for blocking traffic.

“We didn’t block traffic. We were at a stand-still because we were greeted by tons of officers who did not let us go in to the CPD, did not let us talk to somebody from the CPD.”

“We were then arrested by the police officers and then we were taken by secret service to a secret location and we were handcuffed to metal chairs for eight hours in a very cold warehouse,” she said.

“It just seemed like an absolute waste of taxpayer dollars. Homeland Security is continuing to be used to preempt the civil liberties of people here in this country.”

­

Mainstream media silence

Honkala told RT that she and Stein have been charged and will have to face trial for what they say is a fight to bring real democracy to America.

“We will have to face trial. We were charged with disorderly conduct. It became very clear to the both of us that this was very political and they wanted us to be silenced,” she said.

“Jill and I, we speak to the 99 per cent in this country. We have a program that’s about eliminating the student debt, it’s about taking money out of politics, it’s about making sure that everybody has access to a job; it’s about ending climate change and it’s about ‘greening’ America,” she told RT.

Mainstream media seems to have mostly turned a blind eye to the arrest of the US presidential and vice-presidential candidates, as well as to their party platform, as the airwaves continue to be dominated by the two-party system in America.

“We have a problem with a small number of corporations owning most of our major media outlets here in this country and we really need the outside help from different international media outlets to tell the real story of the American people. We are fighting for democracy here – it doesn’t exist. We do not have fair elections. We need elections monitors here and we need help from the international community,” she says.

Should the system change and Americans elect Green Party candidates, democracy would come to America, Honkala believes.

“Not only people in the US would  benefit, but people throughout the entire world, because no longer we would have a foreign policy that would be about bombing and killing people in other parts of the world just for oil and for the 1 per cent [the wealthy few]. The international community would benefit as well from our foreign policy, which would be about other countries’ need to police their own countries, and work on their own democracies. We need to bring democracy back here to the United States, we need access to the media, and we need fair elections and debates.”

 

NYPD Arrests Veterans Reading the Names of Afghan War Dead.

Nypd-arrests-veterans-reading-the-names-of-afghan-war-dead

NYPD arresting veterans as they read the names of the dead

Video streaming by Ustream

 

Military Veterans and Soldiers Against the War

2012-09-09

As the war in Afghanistan drags through its eleventh year, discussion of U.S. occupation has been forgotten in election cycle discourse.

Yet in Fort Hood, Texas, a community of military veterans, soldiers, and allies who are unable to forget are organizing their community in response to the widespread trauma that underlies U.S. policies of endless war. Calling their campaign Operation Recovery, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and The Civilian-Soldier Alliance are working with Under the Hood Cafe and Outreach Center to demand service members’ right to heal.

Even as the U.S. military claims to draw down its forces, suicide rates among active duty service members and veterans continue to climb. According to the Army’s own studies, the year 2011 set a record for the highest number of Army suicides in military history. That same year also marked a spike in sexual assaults within the ranks of the military. While comparable studies of trauma in occupied populations do not exist, the death count in the “Global War on Terror” continues to rise, with over 12,000 Afghan civilians killed since 2006 and more than 185,000 Afghan civilians displaced in 2011 alone, marking a 45 percent jump from 2010.

War trauma is acutely felt at Fort Hood, the largest military base in the country that houses many soldiers on their way to and from war zones. The Army reported in 2010 that the base’s suicide rate was double the national average, and today the base’s sexual assault counselors and healthcare providers cannot meet the swelling need for help. Military communities have decided to take matters into their own hands by organizing within this sprawling military installation for the right to heal from war’s trauma and an end to the dehumanization and abuse that underwrites U.S.-led occupation.

Maggie Martin is a two-time Iraq War veteran and a Field Organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War, currently based at Fort Hood. In this interview, Maggie discusses campaign strategy, talks about Fort Hood military communities, and explains how healing is a force against war.

Can you tell me what you and other IVAW members are doing at Fort Hood?

We’re here organizing an active duty outreach drive for Operation Recovery. We’re trying to get the word out about the work we’re doing at Fort Hood around the right to heal. We’re also collecting stories and information from soldiers here about the situation on the ground, particularly around issues of access to mental and physical healthcare.

People are experiencing things like stigma for trying to seek care. People are having profiles violated. Medical profiles are from doctors and healthcare workers to put restrictions on certain kinds of work for service members related to what they’re capable of due to their mental health status. Violating a profile means assigning service members work that is unsafe for them.

What kind of response have you been getting from active duty service members?

Most people who have experience with traumatic injuries are able to tell us some of the things that have been difficult for them around getting treatment. A lot of people are still afraid to get help because of stigma. There are also issues of unofficial punishment where there is not necessarily a paperwork trail but people are getting disrespected and treated badly for seeking care. This is not necessarily across the board – we’ve heard from some folks that their command and leadership are doing the right thing and really encouraging soldiers to get care and help. It is important that everyone get the care they need and deserve, and we are trying to figure out how to ensure that.

What is the focus of the campaign right now?

We’re trying to set up interviews, do house visits, and have one-on-one conversations with new members at the Under the Hood Cafe and Outreach Center, both IVAW members and potential members. This includes people who come to our ribs and rights events, as well as different trainings we put on, including Warrior Writers and G.I. rights trainings. We are trying to solidify people’s roles in the community and understand more about why they came into the community and why they’re interested in Operation Recovery as well as what they want to see for the future. Next Saturday, before I leave, we’re going to have a larger IVAW chapter meeting for the Fort Hood chapter and the Austin chapter that’s forming. We’ll invite potential members as well, both active duty and veterans. That should help us get a sense of where the community here wants to take the campaign and how they see themselves continuing as an area of operation for the campaign.

Have you found that talking about trauma is an effective starting place to relate to service members?

Yeah, it is. I think that our one-on-one conversations with people show us that the reason they came to Under the Hood is because of the injustices that are happening around service-members’ care, and they feel really betrayed that they have given so much and their comrades have given so much but can’t even get decent healthcare. It is an important issue to people. It is something that can be seen as a really blatant disregard for the dignity and respect of soldiers. With the reduction of the military, we are seeing so many more folks being forced out and not allowed to re-enlist. Many of them are people who have been deployed repeatedly and are now struggling with their own physical and mental health issues and are now being disregarded and discarded.

As a veteran, how does it feel to be organizing active duty service members at a massive military base like Fort Hood?

I think one thing that’s really interesting for me about going back to a military base is remembering where I was when I was in the military, what was important to me, what issues I thought about, and what power and control over my own life I thought I had, which was pretty much none when I was in. Going back, I feel like I know a lot more about how widespread the issues are that service members are facing. I know more about service members’ rights. I think it is really helpful to remember back to where I was and try to be a bridge for people to understand more or to explore their own ideas just by inviting them to Under the Hood Cafe and Outreach Center, asking questions, and making space. It’s also cool being able to organize around service members’ rights while not being in the military anymore because there is a lot more freedom and less fear of the military legal system.

How is Operation Recovery an anti-militarist campaign?

Militarism and dehumanization go hand in hand and really work off of each other. Operation Recovery is predicated on reclaiming our humanity through talking about human rights. I think that if people and soldiers see themselves as people worthy of dignity and respect and healthcare, then that’s a step in the direction away from the dehumanization that happens to soldiers in their training that is carried on to the work they do overseas.

That reminds me of this quote we used as a prompt for our Warrior Writers workshop yesterday from Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk: ”Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding, and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again.” I think that the military is so separated from the rest of American culture, and people believe that the military is happy to participate in these things and that everything we engage in is for this greater just cause. The reason I joined IVAW is because I believe that it is powerful for people who have been immersed and participated in the military to counter the popular belief that the military is a separate group of heroic people carrying out the needs of our country. I think that soldiers speaking out creates a shift in the American consciousness.

 

How does the trauma that service members face relate to the trauma faced by those living under occupation?

I think that we see cycles of trauma repeat themselves within families and communities with service members here in the States. We know a lot less about this trauma in occupied countries because we are so separated from what is happening in occupied countries. People in the military aren’

t getting care, they’re struggling with drugs and alcohol and prescription drug abuse, they can’t sleep at night, they’re having nightmares and flashbacks, they have a hard time distinguishing when they’re safe and in danger. You add some hardcore weaponry to that equation, and it is pretty obvious this is a recipe for disaster.

What was Ft. Hood like under Fort Hood Commanding General Donal Campbell? General Campbell has been tapped for the role of new commander of U.S. Army Europe, which amounts to a promotion. Can you tell us a little about his track record so far?

General Campbell was a target of Operation Recovery because he was in control of such a large military installation that had been repeatedly deploying many soldiers since the early stages of the war. Soldiers at Fort Hood have been through a lot of serious combat, a lot of multiple deployments, and a lot of traumatic injuries. In 2010, this base had the highest suicide rate of any military installation. It is important for us to identify and hold accountable the military leaders who are responsible.

General Campbell recently held a Facebook “town hall” meeting that purportedly aimed to get feedback about base policy from the Fort Hood community. In reality, it seemed to be more about public relations than about how to help service members. We got a lot of political non-answers to tough questions we were asking. In response to questions highlighting lack of access to care for service members, General Campbell responded by telling people to contact his office if they are having problems. We really think that’s ridiculous. If someone gets turned down from help from their supervisor, if they get told they are weak and need to suck it up, they are not going to feel comfortable going to the post commander to ask for help. The town hall responses were disingenuous and lacked any concrete solutions or steps for improvements. We also know that one of the active duty service members we have been working with is being targeted and penalized by his command for demanding his right to heal at that Facebook town hall meeting.

What does General Campbell’s promotion say about the values of the U.S. military?

I think it shows that they want these tough leaders who are going to carry out orders and make hard decisions and be willing to put soldiers’ welfare second to the needs of the military. It shows that the military has no accountability to the community or even to the soldiers under their command, and the only way we’re going to be able to make a difference is to go to the people who control their promotions and cash flow.

What’s next for Operation Recovery?

We’re going to release an Appeal for Redress for service members’ and veterans’ right to heal. IVAW members and other veterans and service members across the country will be invited to sign on to the Appeal for Redress and engage with their congressional representatives. An Appeal for Redress is a protected form of communication for active duty service members to resolve an issue and seek redress through their congressional representatives. It is protected under the Military Whistle-Blower Protection Act that is supposed to keep service members safe from reprisals from command and leadership that they’re trying to address. We’re in the process of figuring out what we want to come out of this and what local campaigns will be happening under the larger umbrella of Operation Recovery. I think there will be specific demands for specific local targets. Our overall goal will be to put pressure on congressional representatives and build up to open hearings for service members and veterans to be able to share their stories about dealing with traumatic injuries in the military and VA system. The hope is that congress will put pressure or force military and VA to give proper care.

Why is this organizing relevant now?

I think it is crazy that we’re in the eleventh year of the war in Afghanistan, in a presidential election year, and the war is not even an issue in the presidential campaigns: it’s not even being discussed. Soldiers coming home from Afghanistan, and soldiers who have come home from Iraq, are starting to see mental health issues surface in their lives. More and more service members and veterans are dealing with the consequences of traumatic injuries, yet this issue is getting less and less coverage and spotlight in the political arena. We think it is really important to keep standing up for service members and let people know that the wars are not over for those who participated and for those who were and are occupied. We need to remember these things and learn from mistakes as we move into the future.