Tuesday, December 17, 2013

An Earnest Plea

Humanity remains beset by seemingly intractable problems including war, disease, famine and the unconscionable living conditions endured by hundreds of millions of individuals throughout the world.  The wondrous wealth of natural resources that exist on this very fragile planet continues to be ruthlessly exploited and the growing reality of the enormity of climate change is becoming ever more apparent. 
In spite of these daunting realities, there is no visible concerted effort on the part of the community of nations to correct these frightful wrongs.  The nagging and haunting question remains as to why so many human beings continue to endure such extreme and needless suffering while the remedies to their plight are so readily available.  There are many possible explanations for why so many live under such terrible conditions in both the undeveloped and developed nations.  These reasons include the following –
  • The continued unabated growth of the human population that exerts a significant strain on natural resources
  • The pursuit of national self-interest by so many nation states in a way that exacerbates international tensions and often leads to conflict
  • The dramatically inequitable distribution of economic wealth and resources that results in a rather small population of haves In comparison to the have-nots who represent the overwhelming majority of humans on the planet
  • The enormous gap that exists between the advances made by science especially in regard to climate change and the effective application of this knowledge to prevent the ultimate catastrophe for humanity that looms on the horizon.

These considerations contribute to the overall understanding of the current state of humanity; however, I believe that the fundamental and underlying reason is that individuals have not yet evolved sufficiently to accept the essential reality that all members of the human race are rightful members of the human family and worthy of the same respect, compassion, care and concern that we gladly extend to our own immediate families.
Humanity has not yet encompassed the necessity to find non-violent and equitable solutions to conflict.  Humans are, in many ways, mired in essentially tribal relationships and have inherited a culturally accepted and narrowly-focused mentality.  This kind of highly constrained and constricted outlook may have proved efficacious when human populations were much smaller, more isolated and independent; this worldview is no longer viable in the modern era.  The widespread issues of poverty, hunger, disease, political turmoil, conflict and the ineluctable degradation of the natural environment - that sustains all of life - require reasoned cooperation and collective action on the part of all nations.

In spite of these disheartening realities, there has, nonetheless, been considerable progress made in quite the opposite direction.  There is, in reality, a significant move by many within diverse organizations that seek to shatter the restrictive boundaries between people that retard real human progress.  Hope for a more equitable and sustainable future for all of humanity is not yet moribund.  It is up to us and our collective endeavor to use that hope to inspire concerted action in order to mold this dream into a tangible reality.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ida B. Wells - Courageous Pioneer for the Cause of Civil Rights

Ida B. Wells has been described in many different ways as a militant, courageous, determined, impassioned and aggressive.  Wells was born into slavery; her parents were slaves.  Her pace of birth was Holly Springs, Mississippi in the year 1862.  Her mother was a deeply religious woman and her father was of an intense independent spirit and welcomed full independence as a result of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. 
In the 1830’s, Holly Springs had an abundance of cotton plantations.  In the post-civil war era its economic base shifted from agriculture and became the home of an iron foundry and the main office of the Mississippi Central Railroad.  This change was, in part, a result of the fact that Confederate forces had set the town ablaze during its occupation by the Union army.
Ida grew up in a house built by her father; she was the eldest daughter with seven other siblings.  Her father was a skilled carpenter and was well employed in helping to rebuild the town in the aftermath of its destruction.  He was also a member of the first board of directors of Rust College – formerly called Shaw University.  Wells’ parents were strong advocates of education and she attended Rust College during her childhood.  She also was an avid reader of the bible.
In 1878, the town of Holly Springs was struck by an epidemic of Yellow Fever.  This created such a panic that 2000 of the 3000 residents fled their.  Of those who stayed behind seventy- five percent succumbed to the disease.  As a result, Wells lost both parents and three of her siblings including the youngest, Stanley, only 10 months old.  This was, of course, a substantial blow to the remaining family and especially Wells, 16 years old and the oldest, for it fell upon her to take care of her siblings.   Thankfully, her father left behind money and the Masons – of which her father was a member – served as guardians for the family.
Wells became a teacher and two of her brothers became carpenters like their father.  In 1882, Wells accepted a job as a teacher in Memphis, Tennessee.  In order to fill a requirement for this new position, she commuted to a school in Woodstock, Tennessee to obtain her teacher’s certification.  In May of the year 1884, a momentous incidence happened to the young Wells – an event that would make a lasting impression upon her and helped shape her worldview.  She was traveling to Woodstock, Tennessee on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, when she was informed that as a “colored” person she was forced to ride in the smoking car.  Believing this was totally unjustified, she was adamant in her refusal.  When attempts were made to forcefully move her, she left the train, returned to Memphis and immediately began litigation proceedings against the railroad.  Her case received media attention on account of the fact that Tennessee law clearly stated that accommodations for people of color must be separate but equal – an example of the prevalence of Jim Crow.  However, the smoking car that she was commanded to move to was not commensurate with first class passenger service.  On account of the strength of this legal argument, Wells actually won the case; she was awarded $500 in damages.  It is interesting that this event is closely analogous to Mahatma Gandhi’s incident on a train in South Africa during the era of Apartheid.  It was this occurrence that awakened the young Gandhi to the real nature and pernicious character of racial prejudice and convinced the neophyte lawyer to instigate reform.
Wells’ victory, however, was short-lived; for, it was ultimately reversed by the Supreme Court in April of 1887 - ruling that the smoking car was in fact equivalent to first class accommodations when provided to people of color.  Wells was so upset by this decision that she wrote, “…I felt so disappointed because I had hoped such great things from my suit for my people generally.  I have firmly believed all along that the law on our side and would, when we appealed to it, give us justice.  I feel shorn of that belief and utterly discouraged, and just now, if it were possible, would gather my race in my arms and fly away with them.  O God, is there no redress, no peace, no justice in this land for us?  Thou hast always fought the battles of the weak and oppressed.  Come to my aid at this moment and teach me what to do, for I am sorely, bitterly disappointed. Show us the way, eve as Thou led the children of Israel out of bondage into the promised land.”

Life was difficult for Wells in the post-reconstruction era in the South on account of her race.  In spite of the many obstacles she faced, Wells had developed superb journalistic skills and became a part owner of the Free Speech and Headlight newspaper.  In 1891, she lost her position as a teacher on account of her outspoken views.  She ultimately renamed her publication and called it simply Free Speech.
In March of 1892 a horrendous event occurred in the city of Memphis that would shape Wells’ future.  Three young Black businessmen were lynched by a mob in Memphis.  Incensed, Wells utilized her journalistic acumen to both report on the event and relentlessly attack this kind of extreme violent behavior directed against Blacks.   
She wrote the following in her publication, Free Speech -
“The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are out-numbered and without arms. The white mob could help itself to ammunition without pay, but the order is rigidly enforced against the selling of guns to Negroes. There is therefore only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.”
This outspokenness within such a hostile and threatening environment certainly revealed her courage, strength of character and determination.  Her words had immediate impact – many members of the Black community in Memphis left town and others organized a boycott against white business owners.   As a result, Wells’ newspaper office was destroyed for it was seen as a threat to white-dominated society.  Her life was in such jeopardy that she moved to Chicago but continued her journalistic campaign against the extrajudicial practice of lynching of black men that had become quite common.
For this reason, Wells decided not to return home after attending a convention in Philadelphia.  Wells, however, would not let fear silence her.  Instead, she continued her anti-lynching campaign in which she pointed out the existence of such a horrific practice in the Northeast as well.  At that time, Wells presented her point of view in the New York Age – an influential black newspaper that was published between 1887 and 1953.
This reporting also captured the interest of reporters from abroad.  As a consequence, she was invited to tell her story in England, Scotland and Wales.   While there, Wells was impressed by the progressive activities of women in the UK.  She carried these impressions back with her to the States and stressed the importance of women’s organized civic clubs.   Notable among these was the Women’s Era Club of Boston, Massachusetts presided over by President Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin.
Racial prejudice was so pervasive at that time that Blacks were prevented from participation in the World’s Columbian Exhibition held in Chicago celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in America. Included in the list of those prohibited from participating were such notable representatives as Ferdinand L Barnett and Frederick Douglas.  Barnett was an attorney, writer and lecturer; he was instrumental in founding one of Chicago’s first black newspapers, The Chicago Conservator and would later become Wells’ husband.  Douglass was a famed abolitionist who was born into slavery in Maryland. He became one of the most famous intellectuals of his time; he was so admired and respected that served as the advisor to presidents.    
In spite of this pernicious environment and her horrific experiences and probably because of them, Wells lectured throughout the North and organized anti-lynching committees.  As a direct consequence of her journalistic investigation of lynching, Wells authored a book entitled, The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States: 1892, 1893, and 1894.  In the book entitled, On Lynching: Southern Horrors, A Red Record and A Mob Rule in New Orleans – a compendium of her most valued works - she wrote, “The Afro-American is not a bestial race. If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service. Other considerations are of minor importance.”

In regards to Wells’ personal life, she had a long relationship with Attorney Ferdinand L. Bennett.  They were married in 1895 and she gave birth to two sons – the eldest being born in 1897.  Her children became targets of race violence from the notorious Thirty-First Street gang in Chicago and for reasons of personal safety for herself and her children she carried a pistol. 
From 1898 to 1902 Wells served as secretary of the National Afro-American Council and in 1910 she founded and became the first president of the Negro Fellowship Leagues; its stated purpose was to aid blacks newly emigrated from the American South.  She was militantly opposed to racial prejudice in all its forms both locally in Chicago and throughout the nation.  In Chicago she also was instrumental in establishing numerous African-American organizations dedicated to reform and she remained undaunted in the opposition to lynchings that was eloquently expressed in her writing especially one entitled, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.  In addition, she became involved the burgeoning issue of women’s suffrage and participated in the 1913 march for suffrage in Washington D.C.  In this regard, she joined forces with Jane Addams and managed to help prevent the establishment of officially-sanctioned segregation in the Chicago school system.
In 1906, she joined forces with William W.E.B. Dubois and others and in 1909, she was one of the two women signatories to a document that called for the creation of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  William Edward Burghardt "W. E. B." Du Bois (1868 –1963) was an American sociologist and historian.  He became renowned as a civil rights activist.  He was the first African American to earn a doctorate.  Her outspokenness even amongst her peers, however, had made her controversial and was subsequently marginalized from any position of power within the leadership.  Wells became thoroughly disheartened by her diminished role with the leadership of the NAACP.  As a result, she decided to enter politics.  In 1930, she ran for office in the Illinois State Legislature.  A year later, she died.

Ida B. Wells was a woman who possessed immense moral courage and an unshakable conviction for the cause of social justice.  Her boldness and unflinching insistence on equality and justice left an indelible mark on history of civil rights movement in America and was undoubtedly an inspiration for those who followed.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Land Reform in India

The following story is taken from a report by Jull Carr-Harris that appeared in the Oct. – Dec. 2013 issue of Peace Magazine.

On October 11, 2012, a momentous event occurred for landless poor people who inhabit the area around Agra, the city that is home to the Taj Mahal.  On that day, the government of India issued a ten-point program that included land reform measures.   Jah Ram Ramesh, the Minister of Land Reform, presented this proposal to a crowd of 50,000 landless poor people who were in the midst of a non-violent protest heading for New Delhi.

This policy came as somewhat of a surprise; since, it represented an apparent turnaround from previous government action in the area of land use.   This apparent awakening on the part of government of India to the plight of the poor and landless was precipitated by the effectiveness of the land reform movement.  The culminating event, the Jan Satyagraha – Satyagraha means truth force - march, was fashioned after Gandhi’s use of non-violent protest to draw attention to a particularly grievous issue.   One Hundred thousand people were mobilized for the effort.  Each villager saved one rupee and one handful of rice each day for three years prior to the mobilization. 

Both the young and women played an instrumental part in the leadership surrounding this mass action.  The role of women was particularly important; since, it helped focus on gender-related issues in a culture where women have traditionally assumed a markedly inferior role in society.

The success of this movement is meaningful for a number of reasons.  It clearly establishes the power of the seemingly powerless when they act in an organized way to demonstrate categorically for reform.   It also shows that non-violent action needs to play a fundamental role in such demonstrations lest they be construed with fear and suspicion.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lucy Stone - A Key Player in the Woman's Suffrage Movement

The woman’s suffragist movement took over seventy years from the inception of feminine activism until the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution in 1920 granting women the right to vote.  The well-known leaders of this movement were Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.   There was another leader who played a substantial role in this regard for well over forty years, and yet who has not received nearly as much recognition as she deserves.  That woman is Lucy Stone.
She became an exceedingly eloquent spokesperson for equal rights for women and for woman’s suffrage.    She was a woman of firsts –
• First woman to speak full-time as a relentless advocate for woman’s rights
• First woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree
• First woman to keep her birth name after marriage.
Stone was known for her remarkable organizing ability, adept skill at lobbying lawmakers and especially for the power of her intellect and her natural charisma.

Stone was born on August 13, 1818.  After her birth her mother was reported to say, “I’m sorry it’s a girl.  A woman’s lot is so hard.”    She grew up on a subsistence farm and lived in a clapboard farmhouse.   She was the sixth child born to Hannah Stone and the day before Lucy was born, her mother had milked eight cows.  In the 19th century, women had few options besides being a wife and mother.  There were a limited number of professions open for women, including nursing and teaching.  It was part of the plight of women in that era to “suffer and be still.”  Paradoxically, this period in history was rife with social, moral and technological upheaval. 
Stone describes her growing up in the following way, “It was so hard and so difficult that if I had been at the foot of the loftiest peak of the Rocky Mountains with a jackknife in hand and had been told, “Hew your way up” it would have been pristine compared to my task.”  In fact, many aspects of her personality that would typify her behavior throughout her adult life have been shown to be common among abused children.
Her father was Francis Stone; he was hard working, had a problem with alcohol abuse and was quick to anger.  He saw himself as the undisputed head of the household.   Growing up in such a male-dominated and repressive environment had a lasting impact upon the young and impressionable Stone. She was variously described as extremely intelligent, rebellious and stubborn. 
In regards to her ancestry, Gregory Stone left England in 1635 and immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Historically, of the sixty men who stood at Lexington Commons on the morning of April 19, 1775 during an event what would represent the first armed resistance of the revolutionary war, twenty-five were related to Gregory Stone.   Stone’s grandfather, Francis Stone, led a tumultuous life – he fought during the French and Indian Wars and was involved in the farmer-led Shay’s rebellion of 1786.

In a speech Stone delivered in 1855 in support of woman’s equality, she describes herself in the follow way -“From the first years to which my memory stretches, I have been a disappointed woman…In education, in marriage, in religion, in everything, disappointment is the lot of woman.  It shall be the business of my life to deepen the disappointment in every woman’s heart until she bows down to it no longer .”

When Stone was thirteen years old, she heard of series of lectures regarding woman’s rights that was touring Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York.  The woman who was leading these discussions was Frances Wright.  In these talks Wright called for equal educational opportunities for women and insisted that women have the right to control their own property after marriage.  Although Stone probably did not personally attend these talks, she heard of them and was influenced by their content.  She was so upset when she learned of the inequities that women had to endure when married that she vowed at a young age that she would never marry in spite of the fact that during that era marriage seemed to be the only economically viable option for women.  Stone was determined to go to college - in 1837 Oberlin College had initiated a college degree program for women.  Oberlin was founded in 1833 by evangelical reformers; it rapidly became a center for the abolitionist movement.  Its agenda was focused on the education of women and its mission was to instill in women a “moral perfectionism.”

The political climate during the time she was a young woman was tumultuous and was indicative of a culture in flux.  It was earmarked by the populism espoused by President Andrew Jackson.  It was also an era driven by industrialization, the fever of national expansion and the romanticism of the Transcendental Movement.   Stone had the opportunity to read and hear women speak publicly about such issues as slavery and woman’s equality.  She was particularly taken by the women who had the moral courage to speak out about such controversial issues.  Stone describe her experiences in the following way, “I was young enough then so that my indignation blazed.”

Stone left home at Coy’s Hill in August of 1843 at the age of twenty-five to attend Oberlin College and escape the confining and oppressive environment of family life.  She would, however, return to her place of origin periodically to find some degree of solace from her frenzied existence.   Within the nourishing environment of college life, Stone matured rapidly.  Ultimately, however, her evolving ideas regarding a woman’s right to vote, run for office, have access to a professional life commensurate with men and the content of her public speaking became problematic for the college.  She worked long days in pursuit of her studies and during the spring of her second year, she wrote for the biweekly paper, The Plain Speaker.  In addition, she published articles and letters in reform-minded publications.  Also, she began to help organize young women’s debating teams.  These activities would certainly presage her long and eventful career of public speaking.  Stone would express her feelings during this formative time of her life in the following way, “Women will not always be a thing.  The signs of the times indicate a change.  I see it in the coming events whose shadows are cast before them, and in the steady growth of those great principles which lie at the foundations of all our relations.  I hear it in the inward march of freedom’s host and feel it deep in my inner being.”

Stone graduated in 1847 and returned to Coy’s Hill.  At that time, the nation was in the midst of the Mexican War – General Zachery Taylor had advanced as far as Mexico City.   She gradually established herself as an effective orator.  People began to attend her talks in large numbers.  She had a remarkable gift for public speaking; she had the uncanny ability to incorporate plain prose and timely anecdotes in her presentations; her style was remarkably persuasive.  Stone became particularly involved in the abolitionist movement and, as a result, became close friends with William Lloyd Garrison.  She befriended such notables in the transcendentalist movement as Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Ascott.

Eventually her passion shifted towards woman’s rights.  At that time, she was the only woman making a career of lecturing on such a hot-button issue.  In 1848, there was a woman’s rights gathering at Seneca Falls, New York.  The culmination of this meeting was a Declaration of Rights and Sentiments crafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton – a feminist theoretician and Lucretia Mott – a Quaker abolitionist.  This declaration insisted upon equal equality for women and the right to vote (woman suffrage).  Momentum for the institution of these rights was growing and Stone was recruited to participate in a traveling tour in order to propel this cause forward.  Her talks drew crowds often numbering between two and three thousands.  Eventually, Stone began to charge a nominal fee upon admission; she did well. 

Although Stone’s focus was now clearly on woman’s suffrage and equality, she had not forgotten her abiding interest in the abolitionist cause.  The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, as a part of the Missouri Compromise, made it abundantly clear that slavery remained a divisive issue within the body politic.  Under this act, all slaves who fled their enforced servitude and were subsequently apprehended were subject to forceful return to their captors.  She toured New England, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Ottawa, Canada speaking out against slavery and advocating woman’s rights.   She also argued persuasively for divorce reform and for a woman to have control over her own body.

In this regard, Stone said the following, “We want to be something more than the appendages of Society; we want that Woman should be coequal and help-mate of Man in all the interests and perils and enjoyments of life.  We want that she should attain to the development of her nature and womanhood: we want that when she dies, it may not be written on gravestone that she was the “relict” of somebody.”
In regards to her personal life, Stone was courted from 1850 by Henry Blackwell a successful southern businessman who was committed to the reform movement and was one of the founders of the Republican Party.  They were finally married on May 1, 1855.  Given her past history of abuse at the hands of her often tyrannical father, Stone had serious misgivings regarding marriage and especially in the area of sexual relations.  Nonetheless, she relented.  Both Stone and Blackwell, however, issued on the day of their marriage what they referred to as a “Marriage Protest,” in which they stated that, “…we enter our protest against rules and customs which are unworthy of the name, since they violate justice, the essence of all law.”  Regarding her marriage Anthony charged Stone with, “defection from the woman’s rights cause.”  Their life together was not without problems in matters of intimacy and economics.

In 1861, the South attempted to secede from the Union creating what they referred to as the Confederacy.  President Lincoln found this wholly unacceptable and the nation entered a time of extreme strife and the Civil War ensued.   Near the end of the war Stone and Anthony presented a resolution to the New England anti-slavery society that specified that the anti-slavery and woman’s rights organizations combine efforts to secure political rights including suffrage for both women and the Blacks.  Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 decreeing that the slaves were free; although, this would have no reality until the war was over with the assumption that the Union forces would be victorious.

In April of 1865 the Confederate armies under General Robert E. Lee surrendered.  The Union was preserved at a terrible cost – 620,000 lives were lost and the nation was terribly wounded.  As a consequence, President Lincoln was assassinated in April of that year.
At this time in Stone’s life, she had a daughter, Alice, now eight years old and Blackwell was in the midst of serious financial difficulties.  Immediately after the war the nation entered a period of national Reconstruction.  At that time Lincoln was pushing for the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The contents of this amendment are listed below –
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.  

This amendment was eventually ratified and passed due in large part to the impassioned persuasion of Senator Charles Sumner for Massachusetts who was well a known champion of the abolition of slavery.  In section 2, as shown above, it clearly states that any state that denied its male citizens twenty-one years of age the right to vote could have its representation in Congress reduced.  Stone lobbied to broaden the definition to include women.  This proved unsuccessful.

Nonetheless, Stone was determined to keep both Black and woman suffrage before the public.  She argued for what she regarded as, “natural justice.”  She stated that, “Women and Blacks need the ballot to secure equal means of education.”  These sentiments were not shared by either Anthony or Stanton.  In fact, the issue of race would divide the ranks of woman suffragists and retard the progress of the movement for more than 30 years.

Wendell Philips, a leading voice in the American anti-slavery society, was opposed to joining forces with the woman’s suffrage movement.  This represented a growing breech between the two movements.  According to Philips the, “Negro’s hour and the hour of women had not yet come. “  He refused to merge forces; for, he believed that such a merger would endanger the chances for full Black suffrage.  In addition, Stanton was attempting to win the support of the Democratic Party for women suffrage in spite of the fact that the party was on record as being in opposition to Black civil rights and Black suffrage.  Frederick Douglass strongly objected to this tactic.  Stone felt that this was an error in judgment on Stanton’s behalf; for, it risked the loss of allies in the anti-slavery movement.  She refused to separate the two causes being deeply passionate for both.

Stone was invited to address the Impartial Suffrage Convention in Topeka Kansas.  This proved to be a problematic event in regards to the history of woman suffrage movement.    At that time, the state of Kansas was in the midst of the divisive politics that resulted from the destabilizing effects of Reconstruction.   Kansas was a hotbed of mistrust and political corruption.  In addition, the Republican Party was dominant in the state and it was riven by factionalism.   Kansas Republicans had no interest in supporting woman suffrage; their focus was directed exclusively to Black suffrage.  To make matters worse, decidedly racist statements made by leading suffragists including Anthony and Stanton added to the developing controversy.  In fact, at the opening session of the American equal rights association (AERA) Anthony’s response to Frederick Douglass’ criticism of her reference to blacks as “Sambo” and “bootblacks” was the following, “If the “entire people” could not have suffrage , then it must go first to the most intelligent for if intelligence, justice and morality are to have precedence in the Government, let the question of woman be brought up first and that of the negro last.”   Stone was devastated by these and other comments made by her associates;  this was to represent a definite split within the suffrage leadership.
In addition, Anthony enlisted the help of George Frances Train, a so-called Copperhead Republican and unabashed racist, and did not oppose accepting Train’s connection with AERA.   In fact, she traveled around Topeka with him.
These statements and affiliations cost the woman’s suffrage movement dearly.  They lost the support of William Lloyd Garrison who wrote a letter to Anthony proclaiming that she had, “departed so far from true self-respect as to be travelling companions and associate lecturers with that crack-brained harlequin and semi-lunatic, George Francis Train.”

On February 27, 1869 the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution was passed granting Blacks full voting rights.  Anthony and Stanton had published anti-fifteenth amendment articles hoping to prevent its final ratification to no avail.  This position did further damage to the cause.  Disheartened by these countervailing forces, Stone argued that,   “If one has a right to say that you cannot read and therefore cannot vote, then it may be  said that you are a woman and therefore cannot vote.  We are lost if we turn away from the middle principle and argue for one class…Woman has an ocean of wrongs too deep for any plummet, and the negro too has an ocean of wrongs that cannot be fathomed.  There are two great oceans; in the one is the black man, and in the other is the woman.  But I thank God for the Fifteenth Amendment and hope that it will be adopted in every State,  I will be thankful in my soul if anybody can get out of the terrible pit.”

Unfortunately, this was not the end of the controversy that besieged the suffrage movement.   Stanton, Anthony and others wove an insidious web of scandal that would provoke harsh criticism of not only them but the movement that they supported.  Among their ranks entered Victoria Woodhull who became a vociferous spokesperson for the suffrage movement and was embraced by Anthony and Stanton.  She was, in fact, an unabashed advocate of free love.  At thirty-three years of age she was a self-proclaimed prostitute, mesmerist, spiritualist – claiming Demosthenes as her medium, healer, blackmailer, extortionist, stockbroker and journalist.   Woodhull also became a presidential candidate of dubious distinction in 1871.  She also published an account of an alleged affair between the prominent minister Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton, who were prominent supporters of woman’s suffrage.  Stone had written to Anthony urging caution in regard to enlisting the support of Woodhull within the movement.  In the coming years, Stone began to despair regarding the cumulative damage done by all of these missteps.  Membership in Anthony and Stanton’s group, the national woman’s suffrage association (NWSA), had fallen off to the point that meetings had become “parlor-size.”   By 1882, the organization was all but dead.

Stone recognized, however, that there was also cause for optimism.  Woman’s suffrage proposals were under legislative consideration in nearly every northern and western state and women had been enfranchised in Utah and Wyoming.  In 1881, suffrage amendments were presented in Indiana, Nebraska and Oregon.  In addition, twelve states had passed laws granting women full access to all levels of education and women were working alongside men in professions from which they had been previously barred.
Even though Stone was tiring of her efforts and had been suffering bouts of illness and in spite of the fact that Blackwell was prone to serious depression, she did not shy away from making her views known.  From a book entitled, Sex in Education, the author, Dr Edward Hammond Clarke a Boston physician and a member of Harvard Medical School, proposed that a woman’s education needs to be adapted to her more delicate nature.  In it he states categorically that, “Women who tried to study ethics or metaphysics would suffer from menstrual irregularities; their energy would be physically weakened and subject to brain fever.”  This book was immensely popular; because, it gave credence to the prevailing notion regarding a woman’s role in society especially held among the male population.  Stone was persistent in her rebuttal to this assumption.

At a gala event in Boston in 1876 celebrating the Boston Tea Party, Stone gave a speech that was well received.  In it, she argued that women were still “held politically below the pardoned rebels, below the enfranchised slaves, and on the same level as idiots, lunatics and felons.”    It must be remembered that at that time, women had no legal rights to their own children.  They were legally prevented from selling their own land or leaving an estate to their descendants following their death.

The persistent sexual scandals centered around Woodhull, Anthony, Stanton and Beecher had significantly diminished the ranks of self-proclaimed suffragists and increased the difficulty of adding recruits in the 1870’s.   Tilton sued Beecher for the “alienation of his wife’s affections.”   Yet Stone persisted in urging that women organize and engage in political action, “in very town.”  Yet another factor that contributed to the apparent decline in interest among women regarding the suffragist movement was the Panic of 1873 that had a profound economic impact among the working class.
The rift between Stone and Stanton and Anthony continued to worsen during this time.  However, Stone continued to write, lecture and encourage women to demand equal rights for themselves.  A major conduit for the expression of her views was the Woman’s Journal.  This was a publication she was primarily responsible for and consumed considerable energy in keeping it going.   In this she was helped by her daughter, Alice, who eventually took complete responsibility for its publication.
In the meantime, Anthony and Stanton had published two volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage in which they made no mention of the Stone’s AWSA.  In spite of this, Stone refused to press for being given appropriate credit for her relentless efforts for the cause.  By 1887, her health steadily worsened ultimately impacting her joints, throat, heart and kidneys. 

A funeral was held for Stone on October 21, 1893 in Boston.  The funeral was described in the following way – “No woman in America had ever called out so general a tribute of public respect and esteem.”   Among her pallbearers were two sons of William Lloyd Garrison, the noted abolitionist. Tributes were offered not only throughout the nation but also around the world.  She left behind a remarkable legacy including scholarships and public buildings in her name.  Her most important contribution, however, was providing the momentum to keep the woman’s rights and woman’s suffrage movements moving forward to reach its ultimate goal almost forty years following her death with the passing of the nineteenth amendment  to the Constitution in 1920 granting women the unalienable right to vote.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Remembrance Day and the White Poppy

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) has a rich history in the UK.  It has been operational since 1934.  At that time it was campaigning for a world without war and took an extremely courageous stand against the horrendous bombing campaigns that were being waged in Europe during World War II (1939-1945).  The PPU is currently active in protesting the use of unmanned drone aircraft as a method of assassination, especially in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

Armistice Day was originally celebrated every year on November 11 to draw national attention to the armistice signed by Germany and the Allies that officially ended World War I.  This commemorative event is celebrated today and is now referred to as Remembrance Day as a reminder of World War II.

In 1933, the white poppy first appeared on Armistice Day. In the following year, 1934, the newly formed PPU began the widespread distribution of white poppies; it is worn by those who wish to use it as a symbol of peace and an aversion to war.  This tradition continues to this day.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Leyman Roberta Gbowee - Peacemaker from Liberia

Leymah Roberta Gbowee of Liberia was one of the three women who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 along with Tawakul Karman of Yemen and fellow country woman Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  Sirleaf was covered in Part II of this series and Karman will be discussed later in this section.  As we have discussed in some detail earlier, the nation of Liberia was settled in 1822 by ex-slaves from the United States.  It officially became a nation in 1842.
Gbowee was born on February 1, 1972.  She played a pivotal role in organizing and directing a women’s peace movement that helped end a disastrous civil war that raged in Liberia from 1989 to 2003 as previously described.  As a child and young woman she endured many hardships that helped shape her concerns regarding human rights especially those involving women.  According to Gbowee, “During the war in Liberia, almost no one reported the other reality of women’s lives.  How we hid our husbands and sons from soldiers looking to recruit or kill them.  How, in the midst of chaos, we walked miles to find food and water for our families – how we kept life going so that there would be something left to build on when peace returned.  And how we created strength in sisterhood, and spoke out for peace on behalf of all Liberians.  This is not a traditional war story.  It is about an army of women in white standing up when on one else would – unafraid, because the worst things imaginable had already happened to us.  It is about how we found the moral clarity, persistence and bravery to raise our voices against war and restore sanity to our land.”

In 1989, as a young girl of seventeen, Gbowee’s future looked bright and promising.  She was soon to graduate from high school and her parents had thrown a party for her to which many people in her neighborhood had attended to wish her well.  She had three older sisters, Geneva. Josephine and Mala and a younger sister, Fata.  Her family belonged to the Kpelle, an ethnic tribal group.  The five sisters often visited their grandmother who lived in a neighboring house.  She had fond memories of this time of her life that would soon be irrevocably shattered by war.  Gbowee remembered the capital city, Monrovia as being, “beautiful – clean and modern.”  At that time the leader of the country was President Samuel Doe.  Gbowee’s family was relatively prosperous and she and her sisters attended the best schools; she planned on attending university and pursuing studies in biology and chemistry.  As Gbowee described it, “Life at home could be hard, but when I think back to the years before the war, I remember being happy.”
Beneath the apparent calm that seemed to typify life in Liberia, there were some unsettling issues that stratified economic and social life in this country.  It is sadly ironic, that the black settlers from the United States saw themselves as separate from and superior to the Africans native to this part of the continent.  Even within Gbowee’s family, Mala was darker in complexion than the rest of her siblings and felt like an outsider among her parents and siblings.  The social and economic inequality that permeated Liberian society helped fuel a tension that would inevitably explode into violence.

In 1989, life for Liberians began to unravel.  During that year armed rebels crossed the border into Northern Liberia; they were led by Charles Taylor whose stated aim was to overthrow President Doe.  In March of that year Gbowee enrolled in the University of Liberia, and the family subsequently moved to Paynesville in the suburbs outside of Monrovia where they had almost an acre of land.  In the meantime, Taylor’s forces were gaining territory and momentum.  Even though the rebel forces were gaining in strength, Gbowee’s parents chose not to give any consideration to preparing for the worst.  This state of denial left them quite vulnerable. 
President Doe was strongly supported by Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr., but proved to be corrupt and used violent means to preserve his power.  In addition, Doe’s policies had further stratified the population by showing favoritism to members of his ethnic tribe, the Krahn and excluding others like the Gio and Mano.  These policies certainly sharpened and accentuated the deep divisions that already existed.

On one particular midsummer Monday morning, everything in Gbowee’s life suddenly and irrevocably changed.  Soon, any security the family may have enjoyed would soon unravel.  In the distance family members began to hear unmistakable sound of small arms fire.  When the realization finally struck that the war had reached them, members of the family quickly ran outside to bring in the children who happened to be playing there.  Suddenly, they were all huddled inside the screen door entrance to the house.  Although the sounds of gun fire had diminished, they remained inside fearful for their safety.  On the news, Taylor was boasting that he was about to take the capitol.  Violence, rape and looting were now occurring all around them.  The family was eventually moved to a shelter in a nearby church due to the fact that Gbowee’s father worked for the Doe government. 
On account of the chaos that generally accompanied the violence of war, ethnic tensions exploded into a state of violent frenzy in which rival tribes attacked each other brutally and with intentions to kill.  Gbowee had the misfortune to see this kind of senseless killing up close; the experience left an indelible and frightening image of the senseless brutality of war and violence.  This unmistakable and brutal reality left Gbowee profoundly discouraged – “What’s the point of education when one bullet can undo it?”
It is often difficult to grasp the kind of feelings of terror and foreboding that can inundate the spirit of a young woman in such a situation.  Gbowee describes it in the following way, “Fear was the first feeling, when I opened my eyes every morning.  Then gratitude; I’m still living.  Then fear again.  While you’re thanking for being alive, you worry about being alive.  People said the rebels were merciless.  But all around me, the government forces were killing, too.   Our connection to the government was less important than our ethnicity – we weren’t Krahns.  We were sitting ducks, caught in the middle.”  Gbowee witnessed death first hand.  This, of course, had a profound effect on her and would ultimately influence her internal resolve to work towards a better and more peaceful future.
Gbowee and her family were finally brought to the US embassy compound where her Dad was staying.  Within its walls, they remained for three weeks and booked passage on a Ghanaian cargo ship in order to flee the country.  They ultimately ended up in the Buduburam refugee camp in Ghana.  Life there was grim, but at least they were away from the killing.

Taylor was growing more successful in his campaign; however, his brutality had lost him many friends and allies.  Finally, in May of 1991, a peacekeeping force arrived in Monrovia, a new transitional government was formed and the fighting ceased.  When Gbowee returned home, she found a devastated country – its infrastructure in shambles and the university destroyed.  On returning to her home Paynesville she found ruin and desolation.  This peace was short-lived, however, for in 1992, Taylor renewed his efforts to gain control through armed conflict, but ultimately failed though the conflict would continue for another ten years.

In her personal life, Gbowee became involved in a troubled relationship in which she was physically abused and had two children.  Her life at that point seemed to have no direction.  That would change in 1998 when she became involved with a program sponsored by St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia – where her mother previously worked.  This program was called the, Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Program (THRP).  The aim of this program was help treat and heal the trauma that gripped so many Liberians as a direct result of the physical, economic and psychic damage created by years of war.  In this way, her life now had direction and a clear purpose.
In 2001, she received her associate of arts degree and soon after that gave birth to her fourth child.  Her passion for peace and reconciliation in her war-damaged country soon became common knowledge and she was invited to participate in the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP).  Inspired by these organizations devoted to the promotion peace, Gbowee began expanding her horizons by reading the writings of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and especially the Kenyan author, Hizkias Assefa, a noted advocate for peace and expert on peaceful reconciliation.  In addition, Gbowee attended the first meeting of the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET).  At that meeting, Gbowee related the traumatic experiences she endured as a young girl in the midst of Liberia’s civil war.  Due in no small measure to her eloquence and passion for peace and social justice, Gbowee was named as the coordinator of Liberian Women’s Initiative as part of the newly formed WIPNET branch in Liberia.
It was at WIPNET in Liberia that Gbowee worked directly with Liberians traumatized by the war in an effort to aid in the healing process.  It was in the summer of 2002 that she was considered to be the spokeswoman and leader of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace.  It was in this capacity that she organized protests that included the threat of a “sex strike.”   Through this daring and radical approach, her group received so much media attention that Taylor granted a hearing involving the women on April 23, 2003.
At this meeting, Gbowee spoke, “We are tired of war.  We are tired of running.  We are tired of begging for bulgur wheat.  We are tired of our children being raped.  We are now taking this stand to secure the future of our children.  Because we believe as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, “Mama, what was your role during the crisis?”
Gbowee led a delegation of women to the peace talks that were being conducted in Ghana in order to put pressure on those leaders present to put an end to the conflict that plagued her country.  Finally, on August 18, 2003, the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed.  In 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected as the President of Liberia – the first woman to be elected to such a position in all of Africa.

Of course, Gbowee’s work was not done at the conclusion of the conflict.  Some of the unfortunate statistics regarding the state of war-ravaged were the following:
·         Over 250,000 dead
·         350,000 internally displaced Liberians were living in squalor in refugee camps
·         About one million Liberians at risk for malnutrition, infectious diseases, especially malnutrition, measles and cholera
·         Much of the nation’s infrastructure was destroyed.
In order to play a leadership role in the reconstruction of her own country, Gbowee continued her education at the Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia seeking a graduate degree in Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding.  While she was in the US, she addressed the UN on September, 2006 regarding the fifth anniversary of the passing of UN Resolution 1325 that addressed the issue of protecting women from gender-based violence.  With her course work completed, Gbowee finally returned home to her children in Liberia in May of 2007.

After so many years of almost ceaseless struggle and enduring hardships that are difficult to imagine, Gbowee had discovered the light at the end of a long and often treacherous journey.  The following statement she made in the midst of her travails sums up the persistence and courage that epitomizes the woman, “The women of Liberia had been taken to our physical, psychological and spiritual limits.  But over the last few months, we had discovered a new source of power and strength: each other.  We’d been pushed to the wall and had only two options: give up or join up to fight back.  Giving up wasn’t an option.  Peace was the only way we could survive.  We would fight to bring it.”

Friday, August 30, 2013

Jean Vanier and the L'Arche Community for the Mentally Disabled

Jean Vanier was born in Switzerland on September 10, 1928 to Canadian parents.  His father functioned as a military advisor to his nation’s delegation to the United Nations stationed in Geneva.   Vanier’s maternal grandmother‘s ancestors had emigrated to North America in the 1730’s.  Therese de Salaberry Archer was an intensely religious woman.  Vanier’s maternal grandfather moved to the city of Quebec at the age of 42.   The two were married and had one child, Pauline, who was a nurse during World War I.  Pauline Archer met Georges Philias Vanier in Montreal.  Georges Vanier was a lawyer by profession who had fought in World War I; while in the midst of battle, he was grievously wounded in the right leg.  As a consequence of this injury, his leg was amputated.  Upon his discharge from service, he returned to Canada and subsequently met Pauline.  They were married in 1921
Vanier had four other siblings.  Their family was deeply devout Catholics.  His father served as the Canadian minister to France (1940-1941) at the time of the Nazi invasion and takeover of that country.  He was able to flee to the U.K. and eventually returned to Canada. 
As a very young man, Vanier decided he wanted to join the Navy to help in the war effort.  He asked his Dad for permission and got it; after joining, he was dispatched to England.  He lived there from 1942-1950.  Vanier was educated at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire.  As a young man, Vanier experienced the horrors of war directly and was deeply impacted by that experience.  France was eventually liberated by the Allied Forces in 1944 and Georges Vanier returned to his diplomatic post, stationed in Paris.
In retrospect, Vanier described his experience in the navy in the following way, “When I was in the navy, I was taught to give orders to others.  That came quite naturally to me!  All my life I had been taught to climb the ladder, to seek promotion, to compete, to be the best, to win prizes.  That is what society teaches us.  In doing so, we lose community and communion.” 

Vanier witnessed the liberation of the Jews from Nazi concentration camps – Dachau, Buchenwald and Ravensbrook.  He saw first-hand the extent of the horror, the anguish, the pain and the fear experienced by those Jews who had survived the Holocaust.  He also was personally devastated by the news of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and its horrific aftermath.  In speaking of these events Vanier said, “A few months after the liberation of Paris, I accompanied my mother, who was in the Canadian Red Cross, to the Gare d’Orsay in Paris – the train station where hundreds of men and women arrived like skeletons in their striped blue and white uniforms, from Dachau, Bukenwald, Ravensbrook, and other concentration camps.  We became very conscious of the capacity of humanity to destroy itself.”
Deeply troubled by these experiences, Vanier began to formulate and refine his thinking.  He was also profoundly affected by Thomas Merton’s book entitled, Seven Story Mountain (published in 1941).  Within this autobiography, Merton refers to the two weeks he volunteered at Friendship House in Harlem, New York.  Friendship House was a Catholic interracial center that served the poor, homeless, unemployed and addicted members of the local community.
Friendship House was originally founded by a Catholic social reform advocate, Catherine de Hueck Doherty in the 1930s in Toronto Canada.  Friendship Houses were subsequently setup in other Canadian cities, including Ottawa.  Doherty’s views regarding racial equality were viewed unfavorably by certain members of the Church leadership, however, and the establishment was closed in Toronto in 1936.  She was eventually asked to open one in Harlem in 1938.  Vanier was so impressed by this idea of community that he visited Harlem’s Friendship House and was deeply moved by the experience reinforcing in his own mind the value of community; an idea that would  grow and eventually find significant expression.

Vanier underwent a personal transformation that would lead him to embark on a thirty day retreat in which he followed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius - a collection of meditations, prayers, and practices developed by St. Ignatius Loyola to assist individuals in their pursuit of a relationship with their God.  Following this retreat, he made a monumental decision – he resigned his Navy position in 1950 and his life took on a spiritual direction .
His mother, Pauline, introduced him to her spiritual mentor – A Dominican priest, Father Thomas.  This relationship between Vanier and Father Thomas would assist Vanier in shaping what would ultimately become his life’s work. 
In regards to his mentor, Father Thomas founded a community he called, Eau Vive in 1947.  This community was designed as a place where students of philosophy and theology could pursue their academic careers while living in a community based on love, reconciliation and good works.  It was an austere community to which all were welcomed regardless of ethnicity or religious belief.   Vanier’s stay at Eau Vive had a profound effect upon him.  Father Thomas was ultimately removed from his position by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church on the grounds that his beliefs and methods were considered unorthodox.
In pursuit of a new direction, Vanier decided to work towards a doctoral degree.  He was so influenced by the works of the famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle that he entitled his doctoral thesis, Happiness as Principle and End of Aristotelian Ethics.  Vanier felt that Aristotle’s ethics were based on the innate human desire for a fullness of life.   It was Aristotle who said, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
Armed with his doctoral degree, he began teaching at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto in January of 1964.  However, he could not forget the suggestion made by Father Thomas that he could do something meaningful to help alleviate the suffering of the afflicted.  He also remembered the misery and pain he had witnessed in post-war France.  As Vanier saw it, his life could be seen as consisting of three distinct phases.  According to him, “…Then during the third phase, I discovered people who were weak, people with mental handicaps.  I was moved by the vast world of poverty, weakness, and fragility that I encountered in hospitals, institutions, and asylums for people with mental handicaps.  I moved from the world of theories and ideas about human beings in order to discover what is really meant to be human, to be a man or women. “

 From the time Vanier resigned his position in the military and his promising career in 1950 to the 1964, he spent a great deal of time immersed in studies and contemplation.  The culmination of this hiatus led him to concentrate his energies and efforts upon being of service to the poor.  On August 5, 1964, Vanier founded the L’Arche Community and was joined by Raphael Simi, Philippe Seux and a man called Dany - these were gentlemen who had severe mental disabilities and who had been previously housed in a mental institution.  The original lodgings were so small and so austere that there was no toilet – merely a bucket – and the accommodations lacked electricity.  Since its simple beginnings, the L’Arche Community is a live in institution whose purpose is the care and rehabilitation of the mentally disabled.  During the first months of residing in L’Arche, Vanier was deeply moved by the lives of these individuals deeply perturbed by the internal chaos that is the hallmark of mental illness – “I sensed how their hearts had been broken by rejection, abandonment, and lack of respect.  At the same time, I was beginning to discover some of the beauty and tenderness of their hearts, their capacity for communion and tenderness.  I was beginning to sense how living with them could transform me, not through awakening and developing my qualities of leadership and intelligence, but by awakening the qualities of the heart, the child within me.”
By the end of the year, he had an opportunity to move into a bigger house; he was asked, in fact, to become director of the mental institution at Val Fleuri after the staff had resigned.   In March of 1965, the transition was completed.  Suddenly, thirty-two additional disturbed individuals joined what was previously a small quiet community.   Word of his work grew and with encouragement from such renowned individuals as Mother Theresa, the number of L’Arche Communities subsequently expanded around the world; now there are approximately 150.  Vanier is currently involved in speaking engagements describing the nature of his work and has written numerous books, including Becoming Human and Befriending the Stranger in which he clarifies and expands upon his fundamental message of caring and compassion for those in need.

In spite of the fact that the scientific disciplines of Neurobiology and Neuroscience have elucidated many of the biological and biochemical mechanisms that are responsible for the galaxy of symptoms that are collectively regarded as mental illness, there remains a great deal of suspicion and the resulting stigma that is associated with those who are afflicted by mental illness.  Like Dorothea Dix who preceded him, Vanier is determined to look upon those suffering from disease originating within the human brain as worthy of respect, compassion and caring.  For this reason, he has done a great service to humanity. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Violence and Death in Egypt – A Personal Lament

The hundreds of Egyptian civilians being killed and grievously wounded in Egypt as a result of the military’s decision to suppress all opposition to its usurpation of political power is the kind of news that causes me considerable mental anguish.  The decision to implement the wholesale use of violent aggression and unadulterated military power in order to enforce a particular vision of what should constitute Egyptian values and culture runs counter to reason and will fuel the cycle of retribution and violence that apparently continues to haunt human history.  

I believe that the particular issues in this conflict that seem to drive such impassioned feelings are less important than the failure to resolve deep social and cultural divisions through peaceful means.  This particular crisis is emblematic of the failure of humanity to more fully utilize the wondrous human capacity for compassion, understanding, reasoned judgment and, most importantly, love.  There are many examples of similar conflagrations throughout the human world that mirror this particular crisis.  Yet, in spite of this abysmal historic record, the drums of hatred, aggression and war continue to beat and the savagery seems unabated.

There are many reasons for such a societal breakdown that underlie the usual political analysis.  Fear plays a dominant role in the dissolution of those ordinary societal constraints that make community possible.  Fear is a powerful emotion that can readily kill the intellect.  Fear can have numerous origins – when personal safety and security seem threatened; when economic factors make living inordinately stressful; when population pressure is such that everyone must aggressively compete for the basic necessities of life; when a particular set of ideas and principles make peaceful compromise impossible 

The great tragedy that seems represent such an integral part of the human experience is that in spite of the vast amount of advanced knowledge and information that typifies the 21st century that should enlighten us, humanity remains rooted in a darkness of its own making.  In spite of all the wisdom that can be gleaned from the human experience, humans continue the unabated assault of members of their own species.  In spite of all the information that warns of the harm we pose to the natural environment, we continue to endanger the future with our present behavior.  In spite of the enumerable voices that echo throughout human history reminding us of our failings, humanity remains rooted in the darkness.

In my mind, all these harsh and unforgiving realities are cause to lament.   The questions that inevitably face us as a species are quite simple – are we really smart enough to remain viable in the coming centuries, or will we ultimately fail this evolutionary experiment?  Are we collectively up to the challenge of facing divisive global issues with the intent of finding tangible solutions that allow for a peaceful and enduring future for the human race?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Jane Addams - Passionate Advocate for the Liberation of Women

Jane Addams was born on September 6, 1860.  Her father was John Addams a noted politician; he was the Senator in the state of Illinois.  The family lived at the state Capitol in Cedarville, Illinois.  When Addams was only 2 and1/2 years old, her mother had a serious accident while pregnant – assisting in a neighbor’s childbirth – and she subsequently lost the baby she was carrying and lost consciousness.  After five days, the mother died.  The young Addams never had the opportunity to see her mother during this brief illness, for she was not permitted to enter her mother’s bedroom or attend the funeral.  She had four other siblings.  Her oldest sister, Martha, died of typhoid at the age of 16.  When Addams was 20 years old, her father passed away.
Religion played a strong role in Addams’ young life.  Although the family went to church every week – they were Presbyterian – her father refused to have any particular religious affiliation.  He viewed himself as a “perfectionist” Christian.  He believed that all deeds should be for the benefit of others.  As Addams was growing up in this religious environment, she began to take issue with the idea of predestination, for she felt that human actions had definitive moral consequences.  She was influenced by her father’s intellect.  She remembered one of his admonitions to her, “Do not pretend to understand what you don’t understand and you must always be honest with yourself inside, whatever happens.”   These words resonated with the young woman.  In addition, she befriended Elias Hick, an influential Quaker and John Noyes – founder of the utopian Oneida Community in the western region of New York State.
John Addams joined the Republican Party in 1854.  He believed that the government had a meaningful and necessary role to play in protecting the vulnerable and strengthening the economy.  He was against slavery and even took on the role of a “conductor” in the Underground Railroad – a system set up to assist slaves in breaking the yolk of slavery by secretly leaving the South.  Addams was 4 and 1/2 years old when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated; her father was profoundly impacted by this tragic event.  At the age of 12, she read about Robert Owen and the community of New Harmony in Indiana.  Owen had a vision of a classless society whose members worked together to meet everyone’s needs.  At the age of 15, she read a long series of articles about John Brown – the radical abolitionist.  In her later years she became familiar with the life of Lucy Stone –a well-known abolitionist and suffragist - a woman she came to admire, deeply.  All these myriad influences in her life, convinced her to pursue a career in social reform. 

As the young Addams matured, she became enthralled with politics; this should be no surprise since she grew up within that arena.  She was especially interested in the Presidential election of 1876 – the election was between Samuel J. Tilden form New York and Rutherford B. Hayes from Ohio.  Tilden won the popular vote but an electoral controversy had to be resolved in the US House of Representatives where Hayes was declared the winner. 
As she was formulating the direction her life would take, Addams decided to practice medicine among the poor.  In order to achieve this goal, she was determined to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.  Although from today’s perspective that does not seem like a formidable task, in that era less than .75% of women went beyond high school.   Unlike her three sisters, Mary, Martha and Alice, Addams wanted to attend the recently opened Smith College for women.  Her father refused to send her there; he cited her duty to her family.  Addams was not happy with her situation; she  felt personally  thwarted.
Regarding the spiritual dimensions of her life, Addams identified herself as a deist – she did not believe in the Son of God, but envisioned that God was everywhere.  It is this kind of independent thinking and resolute behavior that set Addams apart from her contemporaries.  In addition, she drew inspiration from a number of free thinking women.  Among them was a teacher, Caroline Potter, who believed that the study of history taught about character, for it was character, she believed, that shaped history.  Potter and Addams were also deeply influenced by Margaret Fuller’s book - Women in the Nineteenth Century published in 1845.  A major thesis in this work was that the division of society into rigidly defined gender spheres damaged both men and women and that for human beings to thrive requires expanding the mind.  Fuller went on to conclude that women must discover their masculine aspect, energy, power and intellect as well as the feminine side.  Potter believed that her mission was to groom women for what she believed was a new age.
All this input convinced Addams to find an all-consuming passion in a role that would be self-sacrificing.  She was determined to shatter the perception that women were, by nature, limited in their minds; she refused to succumb to the notion of women’s inherent powerlessness.  On account of her father’s obstinacy, however, she postponed her desire to go on to higher education and received a collegiate certificate in 1881 from Rockford Female Seminary when she was 20 years old.  That same year, during the summer, her father died from acute appendicitis. Each child inherited roughly $50,000 (about $1.2 million in today’s economy).  Following her father’s death, Addams and family moved to Philadelphia.   It was there that she began to fulfill her dream of going to medical school.  However, she suffered a long illness (1881-1883) that severely limited her energy and she had to drop out of school.
Undaunted, Addams decided to expand her horizons and traveled to Europe; the year was 1883.   She traveled through Ireland, England, Holland, Italy Austria, Germany, Switzerland and France.    In London, considered to be biggest city in the world with a population of 4.7 million people, she witnessed extreme and devastating poverty.  There, she visited the Mile End Road Market – five miles long that on Saturdays at midnight sold decaying meat, fruits and vegetables to the poor for pennies.  Addams was deeply impacted by what she saw.  She became obsessed with the suffering of the poor. 
In 1885, she returned to the US.  Addams read Leo Tolstoy’s My Religion and was deeply taken by what she read.  She felt redeemed and wished to emulate Tolstoy’s example and that of Adin Ballou regarding passive non-resistance to evil.  She was also influenced by a book entitled, The Duties of Man by the Italian revolutionary, Giuseppe Mazzini.  Accordingly, Addams came to believe that serving humanity was a higher calling than serving one’ country or one’s family and that to attain true democracy a person should interact closely with as many individuals as possible.  Another writer that had a marked influence on her thinking was John Stuart Mill, especially his book entitled, The Subjugation of Women (1869), in which the author argued that women should have complete latitude in choosing their work.  Addams ultimately converted to Christianity, joining the Cedarville Presbyterian Church.
While in London, Addams had the opportunity to visit Toynbee Hall, a so-called settlement house.  It was located in London’s East End.  It was established by the Anglican Clergyman, Samuel Barnett.  Fifteen young graduates from Oxford University moved there, living in an exceedingly poor neighborhood.  The purpose of this arrangement was to serve the poor.  The model upon which this was based was innovative in that those who were serving the indigent did so on an equal social footing.  Addams was so enamored of this idea that together with her good friend, Ellen Gates Starr started a settlement house in Chicago; it came to be called Hull House.
Each day Hull House served the under-privileged including mothers leaving their children in its nursery and the young and the elderly attending classes and social clubs.  The policy of Hull House, under Addams’ guidance, was to serve all of those seeking assistance.  Addams describes it in the following terms, “The memory of the first years at Hull House is more or less blurred with fatigue, for we could of course become accustomed only gradually to the unending activity and to the confusion of a house constantly filing a refilling with groups of people.”  Hull House endured many setbacks but had many successes and helped draw attention to the plight of the poor.  It endured for twenty years under her aegis.  The work of Hull House exposed many deficiencies in public policy in regards to child labor and the working conditions of the poor.  These revelations helped in the overall reform effort and, ultimately, the State of Illinois remedied many of these situations with appropriate legislation.

Addams, due in large part to her eloquence as a public speaker and sharp uncompromising intellect, became a spokeswoman and ally in regards to the issues of peace, social justice and women’s suffrage.  She was so influential that she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.  Addams was hospitalized that same year and was unable to receive her prize and give an acceptance speech.  In its stead, the following excerpt is from the presentation speech given by Halvdan Koht, a member of the Nobel Committee on December 10, 1931.

“It must be said, however, that the United States is not the power for peace in the world that we should have wished her to be. She has sometimes let herself drift into the imperialism which is the natural outcome of industrial capitalism in our age. In many ways she is typical of the wildest form of capitalist society, and this has inevitably left its mark on American politics.

“But America has at the same time fostered some of the most spirited idealism on earth. It may be that this idealism derives its vigor from the squalor and evil produced by social conditions, in other words from the contrasts within itself. It is certainly an undeniable fact, which must strike anyone who knows the country that the American nation has an instinctive and profound faith in what the philosophers of 100 or 150 years ago used to call human perfectibility, the capacity to become more and more perfect. It is a faith which has provided the foundation for some of our greatest religions and one which has inspired much of the best work for progress. It was proclaimed by Jesus Christ; it inspired the work of men like Emerson and Wergeland1. To the American mind nothing is impossible. This attitude applies not only to science and technology but to social forms and conditions as well. To an American an ideal is not just a beautiful mirage but a practical reality the implementation of which is every man's duty. American social idealism expresses itself as a burning desire to devote work and life to the construction of a more equitable society, in which men will show each other greater consideration in their mutual relations, will provide stronger protection to the weak, and will offer greater opportunities for the beneficent forces of progress.

“Two of the finest representatives of this American idealism are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today. Both have worked assiduously and for many years to revive the ideal of peace and to rekindle the spirit of peace in their own nation and in the whole of mankind.

“In honoring Jane Addams, we also pay tribute to the work which women can do for peace and fraternity among nations. The old concept implied that woman was the source of nearly all sin and strife on earth. Popular tradition and poetry would also have it that women were frequently the cause of the wars waged by kings and nations. I know of only one legend to the contrary, the story of the Sabine women who threw themselves between their Roman fathers and brothers and their Sabine husbands.

“In modern times the poets, starting with Goethe, Ibsen, and Bjørnson 2, have seen women in a different light; in their eyes women reflect the highest and purest moral standards of society. And no man has placed greater faith in the work of women for the cause of peace than did Bjørnson. It is this new position acquired by women in the society of our time, their new independence in relation to men, that gave us reason to anticipate that they would constitute a new force in the work for peace. Bjørnson seemed to see women as bringing «the spirit of calm to the tumult of battle», with the prayer that love should prevail over the passion to kill, and to believe that when women obtained power in society and in the state, the very spirit of war must die.

“We must nevertheless acknowledge that women have not altogether fulfilled the hopes we have placed in them. They have allowed too much scope to the old morality of men, the morality of war. In practical politics we have seen too little of that love, that warm maternal feeling which renders murder and war so hateful to every woman. But fortunately we have seen something of this feminine will which revolts against war. Whenever women have organized, they have always included the cause of peace in their program. And Jane Addams combines all the best feminine qualities which will help us to develop peace on earth.

“Twice in my life, once more than twenty years ago and now again this year, I have had the pleasure of visiting the institution where she has been carrying on her lifework. In the poorest districts of Chicago, among Polish, Italian, Mexican, and other immigrants, she has established and maintained the vast social organization centered in Hull-House3. Here young and old alike, in fact all who ask, receive a helping hand whether they wish to educate themselves or to find work. When you meet Miss Addams here - be it in meeting room, workroom, or dining room - you immediately become poignantly aware that she has built a home and in it is a mother to one and all. She is not one to talk much, but her quiet, greathearted personality inspires confidence and creates an atmosphere of goodwill which instinctively brings out the best in everyone.

“From this social work, often carried on among people of different nationalities, it was for her only a natural step to the cause of peace. She has now been its faithful spokesman for nearly a quarter of a century. Little by little, through no attempt to draw attention by her work but simply through the patient self-sacrifice and quiet ardor which she devoted to it, she won an eminent place in the love and esteem of her people. She became the leading woman in the nation, one might almost say its leading citizen. Consequently, the fact that she took a stand for the ideal of peace was of special significance; since millions of men and women looked up to her, she could give a new strength to that ideal among the American people.”

Addams died in 1935 and her funeral was held in Hull House, a fitting location.   She was a remarkable woman whose life journey is a testimonial to courage, persistence, intellect and an unflinching dedication to a life of service.