Take Action to Stop the Killing in Gaza

“it is not the use of violence that leads to peace. War calls on war, violence calls on violence. I invite all the parties involved and the international community to renew their commitment so that dialogue, justice and peace prevail.” Pope Francis, Audience, May 16, 2018

The Quixote Center has never had an institutional presence in the Middle East, or actively campaigned on Palestinian statehood and the conflict with Israel. We nevertheless feel compelled to raise our voices with others at this critical time in condemning the extraordinary violence that the Israeli Defense Forces have employed against demonstrators in Gaza. We wish to encourage everyone to speak out, contact members of congress to suspend military aid to Israel until the killing stops and consider joining the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.

The Association of International Development Agencies issued a statement this week (May 15), signed by 80 international non-governmental organizations. They summarize the level of violence:

Since 30 March, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed, and another 12,271 injured, including hundreds of children. In addition, medical personnel and facilities have also come under fire, resulting in the injury of 211 medical staff and damage sustained to 25 ambulances, according to WHO. Hospitals are at the brink of collapse, unable to deal with the vast number of injured as a result of a decade-long blockade and insufficient electricity and medical supplies and equipment. Due to the near impossibility of obtaining a medical referral for surgery outside of the Gaza Strip, 21 Palestinians injured during demonstrations have so far had limb amputations since 30 March.

Maryknoll Office of Global Concern has issued a call to action, and we would encourage all to follow through contacting members of congress.

“Palestinians have long asked ‘how long?’ and looked for signs that they are not forgotten…Seventy years of displacement and dispossession, half a century of occupation, and generations of yearning are enough. We trust in God, that the hope the prophets foretold is not only a promise for all of God’s children, but will be realized, and we pray—and recommit to working—for the realization of God’s justice and peace for all peoples.”

Click here to tell your elected officials:  70 years is enough!  Ask them to:   

  • Call for an end to the use of violence by Israeli forces against the protesters,
  • Call for an investigation by the State Department to ensure that US military aid to Israel is not used in ways that contravene established US and international laws,
  • Insist on humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza and an end to the Gaza blockade, and
  • Support policies that promote the human rights of all people, Palestinians and Israelis alike.

As noted in a statement signed by 14 faith communities, the United States government has a large responsibility here.

We know that our own government’s seemingly unqualified and unquestioning support for Israel is a significant enabling factor for Israel’s continuing and repeated violations of international conventions and laws. The United States’ unequaled military aid to Israel, its regular defense of Israel in diplomatic arenas, especially the UN Security Council, national and state efforts to criminalize the use of economic measures as a moral act, U.S. support for the blockade of Gaza, and the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, are but some of the ways the US has acted without regard to Palestinian rights.

Until the violence ends, until the U.S. government ceases its support for militarization of the conflict, enabling the worst human rights abuses, all should consider joining with Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement. You can find more information here, as well as a list of action ideas for your local community.

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“Animals” – just another day in the Trumpian Hellscape

In a meeting with California officials to discuss Sanctuary Cities, Trump uttered the following: “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.”

News outlets tended to cover this in “Trump calls immigrants animals” fashion. I’m a fan of the mainstream media and the Deep State, but as the National Review rightly points out, Trump’s use of the word “animal” was in direct response to a question about MS-13 asked by the Sheriff of Fresno County, where MS-13 gang members have been convicted of murder and gun charges.

Fine, context is important.

But the context doesn’t really make it better. Recently, one of our contributors wrote a piece on MS-13 and the cycle of dehumanization that leads to violence. (I’ll give you a minute to read it before I continue…ready?)

One could argue that the press is in the wrong here because calling Trump out for dehumanizing immigrants (which he does regularly) without specifying which particular group of immigrants he happens to be dehumanizing today actually does his work for him – contributing to the lumping together of undocumented immigrants with the small percentage of those who have committed violent crimes.

In any case, calling a particular group of people “animals” is simply an explicit articulation of his dehumanizing policies on immigration, which have a much more concrete and immediate impact on people’s daily lives. For example:

  • Stripping people of TPS and shipping them back to their “shithole countries” (which actually contributes to gang violence, thus increasing the number of people seeking asylum).
  • Dehumanizing children by treating that as contraband to be confiscated at the border and storing them in military installations (distorting a law, that, whatever you think of it, was originally intended to protect children from human trafficking – and turning them into mere leverage) and referring to bringing one’s own child across the border as “smuggling.”
  • Dehumanizing the youth who get caught up in gang violence – “they’re not people” – by taking a lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach to a criminal justice that essentially does throw away the key (storing inmates in solitary confinement for years at a time, for example).
  • Doing the same in federal detention centers filled not only with undocumented immigrants who have committed no other crime than existing within the borders of the United States without the right paperwork – but also with asylum seekers who have committed no crimes whatsoever (since it’s not illegal to enter the country if you’re seeking asylum).
  • Forcing detainees to work for $1 a day and then requiring them to use that little bit of money to purchase food, linens, and phone calls to family, friends, lawyers – threatening them with criminal prosecution or “the sensory and psychological deprivation of their humanity resulting from solitary confinement” if they refuse (incidentally, this is pretty much the definition of human trafficking, hence SPLC’s lawsuit against CoreCivic).

When corporations become “persons,” there is a financial incentive for treating people like animals and animals like machines. If we can start to think of criminals as “animals,” the next step is to criminalize whomever we perceive as undesirable or inconvenient so that we can hand them over to the private prison industry and store them away like so much clutter. Hence the criminalization of immigration, poverty, compassion, and so on.

Justice must be re-humanized.

 

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Nicaragua: An Urgent Call for Solidarity from ATC

Below is a “Call to Solidarity” from The Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo (ATC), or Rural Workers Association in Nicaragua in relationship to the current political crisis. As the international media continues to emphasize only the voices of opposition groups, it is important that we work to get out other perspectives on what is happening.

“The ATC represents approximately 50,000 rural workers and small-scale producers in Nicaragua. The ATC has several hundred labor unions and agricultural cooperatives throughout the country. The organization coordinates agrarian sector employment training programs, political formation workshops, agricultural practicums, and advocacy on national policies that protect workers and food systems. It has active rural women and rural youth movements” (Friends of ATC). The ATC has historically been associated with the Sandinistas, though even during the 1980s was one of the most independent of the FSLN affiliated popular organizations. Today the ATC is a leader in the international peasant movement, Via Campesina, and the regional coordination of CLOC. If you’re interested in learning more, the Alliance for Global Justice is organizing a delegation to Nicaragua this coming June to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the ATC.

PDF Version of Statement, English and Spanish.

An Urgent Call for Solidarity with Nicaragua Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo /Rural Workers Association

May 17, 2018

Friends in Solidarity,

We have lived a month full of tragedy in our country. The peace we achieved as a people, so fragile and at the cost of so many lives, is in immanent danger of disappearing irreparably. There are now two sizeable camps of the population with dangerously contrary positions. On one side, there is a combination of private university students, media outlets with rightwing owners representing the oligarchy, Catholic Church bishops close to Opus Dei, the private sector and, of course, the US Embassy, working together to create a situation of chaos in the country in order to remove president Daniel Ortega. This group of actors accuses the National Police of having killed dozens of protesters in the riots that reached all Nicaraguan cities, ostensibly against a reform—since revoked—to the system of social security. As we have described, the reality is more complex, and the violence was generalized and explosive, involving protesters with homemade firearms that often misfired, as well as counter-protestors, paid pickets, unknown gunmen and street gangs. The National Police was really a minor actor in the violence, using tear gas and rubber bullets to clear crowds in a few points of Managua, but not involved in the vast majority of the 50 or more deaths that have been reported since April. The Interamerican Commission of Human Rights has been invited by the government and currently is investigating the events of April.

A national dialogue began on Wednesday, May 16th, with the participation of anti-government students, civil society organizations, and the Presidency, and mediation by the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church led by Archbishop Leonaldo Brenes. However, the coup-like violence has only grown and currently, rightwing armed groups have all of the main highways in the country closed. On the other side of the conflict, the militancy of the Sandinista Front continues to withstand phenomenal provocations, including:

  • The destruction of its Sandinista homes (party headquarters) in dozens of cities
  • The destruction or defacement of hundreds of historic monuments, murals, and memorials of Sandinistas
  • The arson of dozens of public buildings
  • The interruption of work and the food shortages that have resulted from the road closures and violence
  • The deaths of passersby and journalists by paid pickets and violent protesters
  • Relentless false accusations and lies circulated by corporate media.

It must be added that Facebook has been the primary means for transforming Nicaraguan society that one month ago was at peace into a toxic, hate-filled nightmare. Currently, hundreds of thousands of fake Facebook profiles amplify the hatred and pressure Nicaraguan Facebook users to begin to share and post hate messages. Many, if not most, of these fake Facebook profiles have been created in countries other than Nicaragua, and in particular, Miami is the city where many of the Facebook and WhatsApp accounts behind the violence are managed.

Historically, the ATC has been a participant in the Sandinista struggle. In truth, we have not felt consulted or represented by the current FSLN government. The current coup attempt makes use of these historical contradictions and is trying to co-opt the symbols, slogans, poems and songs of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution, since of course the rightwing has none of its own. However we may feel about Daniel Ortega, the ATC would never contribute to making chaos and sowing violence in order to force the collapse of the democratically elected government in order to install a more docile, Washington-friendly neoliberal government. There are clearly real frustrations in sectors of the population, especially youth, and if these sectors are unable to find popular organizing processes, they will end up being the cannon fodder for a war, which would be the worst possible situation for the Nicaraguan people.

In this context, the ATC has called for “all national actors to reorganize themselves based on their aspirations.” With this intention, the ATC proposes to confront the national crisis with aseries of dialogues among young people, without party distinction or any ideological basis, in favor of peace and understanding. We propose extraordinary youth assemblies in the cities of San Marcos, Jinotepe, Rivas, Granada, Masaya, Estelí, Matagalpa, Jinotega, Juigalpa, Santo Tomás and Tipitapa, as spaces for young people to discuss the national situation and find pointsof unity. It is important to mention that we do not have a previously defined “line” to impose upon these debates—they will be spaces for listening, forming ideas and thinking with our hearts.

We call upon your solidarity and generous support for the creation of an emergency fund for peace in Nicaragua that makes possible this round of extraordinary youth assemblies. The national coordinators of the Rural Youth Movement, Sixto Zelaya and Marlen Sanchez, will have the responsibility of organizing the assemblies and administering the fund with absolute transparency.

It is urgent to organize the Nicaraguan family and win peace!

International Secretariat of the ATC

 

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Manufacturing Dissent: The N.E.D., Opposition Media and the Political Crisis in Nicaragua

The world’s major media outlets have spoken, and the verdict is in: Daniel Ortega is on his way out. After years of cronyism, his dictatorial rule has met with mass popular resistance, a resistance Ortega’s government responded to with unprecedented force. All of this signals that Ortega is isolated and clueless, and that “the people” have had enough. It is only a matter of time before he and his wife go the way of former dictators, like Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu in Romania. No need to look further. The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker and others, have lent their editorial pages to “investigative” reporters, who have accepted and reproduced a consensus analysis concerning the political conflict in Nicaragua.

But this story is not true, or at best, partially and selectively told.

The consensus in the international media that Ortega is a dictator on his way out seems a conclusion underdetermined by the facts. Certainly, prior to the demonstrations in April, the Sandinistas generally, and even Ortega specifically, remained popular in many quarters. The FSLN’s anti-poverty initiatives have garnered it significant support; and Nicaragua’s overall economic performance, one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America over the past few years  – even according to the CIA  –  has until now alleviated fiscal strains that such programs might otherwise cause.

To be sure, the FSLN approach is not “revolutionary.” It is more a neo-liberalism lite, e.g., market reform offset by social service provision. But now, the tripartite alliance of government, business and labor that has allowed this strategy to move forward may well be coming undone – as signified by the business community’s opposition to the government over social security reform and its own call to demonstrate. What might replace this tripartite model is not clear, but the process of National Dialogue might offer the possibility for forming a new governing coalition. You would never know any of this from the international press.

The framing of the protests we read in the international media emerges from a concerted effort within Nicaragua to coordinate messaging and tactics among opposition groups, an undertaking funded in part by the United States’ National Endowment for Democracy. It would be a gross oversimplification to argue that the protests themselves were simply manufactured by the United States. Some of the grievances are real, and much of the protest legitimate. But our understanding of events has been distorted by the opposition filter that dominates the international media.

The Manufacturing of (a certain kind of) Dissent

Midway through Jon Lee Anderson’s April 2018 piece for The New Yorker he claims:

Arguably the only other [in addition to La Prensa] independent Nicaraguan media outlet of note is Confidencial, an online publication whose small team of reporters has taken on the Ortega government with uncommon valor. The editor-in-chief of Confidencial is Carlos Fernando Chamorro—one of the sons of Pedro Joaquín and Violeta Chamorro. [emphasis added]

But Confidencial is not really an “independent” media outlet. Confidencial’s framework of taking on Ortega with “uncommon valor” is funded, at least in part, by the National Endowment for Democracy. In 2014, for example, INVERMEDIA received a $60,000 grant in order to “foster independent digital media in Nicaragua” and they received an additional $175,000 in subsequent years. Per the grant details,

INVERMEDIA will strengthen the organizational capacity of the digital newspaper, Confidencial. Confidencial will conduct investigative reports on issues affecting Nicaraguan democracy. Confidencial will also establish working relations with leading civil society organizations in order to provide a media platform for coordinated action. Confidencial will strengthen its social media presence.

This grant is just one of 55 grants totaling $4.2 million given to organizations in Nicaragua between 2014 and 2017 by the National Endowment for Democracy as part of a U.S. government-funded campaign to provide a coordinated strategy and media voice for opposition groups in Nicaragua. NED grants fund media (radio, social media and other web-based news outlets) and opposition research. In addition, strategies targeting youth get substantial funding, along with programs seeking to mobilize women’s and indigenous organizations. Though the language is of support for “civil society” and “pro-democracy” groups, the focus on funding is specifically to build coordinated opposition to the government.

Some examples from the NED database:

  • Hagamos Democracia received $520,000 in this period in order to expand reporting on activities in the National Assembly and “develop a joint civil society strategy.”
  • The Fundación Iberoamericana de las Culturas received nearly $400,000 over this period to build a network of local chapters throughout Nicaragua, and “increase the number of alliances with like-minded civil society organizations.“
  • $395,000 in grants were made to organizations including the Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicación (CINCO), to “foster collaboration among civil society organizations. A common civil society strategy to defend democracy in Nicaragua will be promoted.“ [emphasis added]

The problem with the words “developing a joint civil society strategy,” and similar formulations of this idea, is what they obscure, which is the control of media representation through a well-coordinated strategy that excludes facts that might disrupt the story of a corrupt dictatorship with no popular support. The result of this consistent building and funding of opposition resources has been to create an echo chamber that is amplified by commentators in the international media – most of whom have no presence in Nicaragua and rely on these secondary sources. During and immediately after the INSS protests, the NED-funded opposition lost no time in using overblown rhetoric to frame a complex situation in simplistic terms, focusing solely on government misdeeds.

To take one hyperbolic example, the International Statement issued by Hagamos Democracia and other groups after the initial protests denouncing the “assassination of more than 30 young people by the police,” characterized the conduct on the side of state forces as a “genocide.”

But it is perhaps on the pages of the Confidencial, the “independent” news source celebrated by Anderson, that one can best appreciate the impact of coordinated opposition messaging. Concerning the protests, the most detailed overview of events published by Confidencial is an analysis from the Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicación, yet another NED grantee. According to this report, students protested, and the state and “paramilitaries” repressed them. Period.

No burning of public buildings, no murder of police officers, no torching police motorcycles.

A “common civil society strategy” must omit facts that do not fit with the prevailing storyline advanced by the Centro de Investigaciones de Comunicación and others who participate in the network of media outlets and opposition groups funded by the NED. 

The Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicacion’s analysis ends with three scenarios, presented in descending order of desirability, according to the authors of that piece: 1) Ortega could step down immediately; 2) electoral reforms could be undertaken to ensure a fully transparent election, setting up Ortega’s departure in 2021; or 3) “The least favorable scenario would be one in which the government… uses dialogue as a political mechanism to buy time and dismantle protest and mobilization.” This characterization, of course, undermines the whole process of National Dialogue, as it is intended to do.

In the end, the one-sided narrative has stuck. Even on the left, there is a marked tendency to focus on a specific plot line concerning Ortega’s betrayal of the revolution. I’m not sure what to do with this narrative. The revolution was ultimately destroyed not by Ortega but rather by a bloody U.S. intervention. One need not love Ortega to understand that inviting further U.S. intervention today is a really, really bad idea. Melissa Castillo’s piece on Latino Rebels captures this problem:

Something about the entire narrative, readily accepted by everyone with an opinion, feels too neat. All the facts presented fit perfectly, every loose thread is tied together, and the only possible conclusion from this package manufactured by social media activists on the ground is to overthrow Ortega. For years, the right wing has been trying to delegitimize Ortega and the FSLN and now it seems to be anonymously consolidating itself under a banner carried by moderates with novel grievances.

For international audiences, especially those in the United States, we must look outside the echo chamber generated by U.S.-funded opposition, which has no other agenda than the collapse of the Ortega government. Further U.S. intervention at this point will only deepen the polarization of society and kill any chance for a new domestic consensus or compromise.

Drowned out by the chorus repeating the manufactured media package is the establishment of a Truth Commission to investigate the violence that unfolded during April 18-22. In addition to the Truth Commission, Nicaragua’s Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation into the protests and deaths. Which is to say, domestic processes have been established to provide for investigation and prosecution, that alongside the process of National Dialogue, offer a real chance of justice for those killed, a real understanding of what happened, and the possibility of constructing a path forward.

We just need to let it happen.

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The Dumpster Fire Rages On

We all know we’re going to die. We understand that fact intellectually, but few of us have what Heidegger called an “authentic being towards death.” For most of us that only comes, if at all, when we come face to face with it – when our death is imminent. Sometimes we get a momentary sense of it when someone close to us dies, especially if that death is unexpected, or if we witness a death.

Yet, despite our own “inauthentic being towards death,” we still understand and respect the experience of those who are dying (or have died). Similarly, most of us have never been captured and tortured, but we can respect the experience of those who have.

Unless you work in the White House.

We all know about Trump’s multiple financial bankruptcies. Moreover, we’ve grown so familiar with his moral and ethical bankruptcy, which dominates the news cycle daily, that it’s become mundane.

But it’s Trump’s (and perhaps much of his administration’s) utter empathic bankruptcy that has been on full display this week.

Earlier this week, John McCain expressed his opposition to Gina Haspel’s nomination as CIA director after hearing her answers to Senate questions on torture – leading Kelly Sadler, a senior Trump aide, to quip “it doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.”

Sadler, whose focus is messaging on “illegal immigration” (of course it is), remains on staff. Recall that Rex Tillerson was, if we’re being honest, fired in large part for calling Trump “a fucking moron,” a far less reprehensible remark than Sadler’s.

As of the time of this writing, there has been no public apology from Sarah Sanders, John Kelly, or anyone else at the White House, let alone Trump himself. Nor have there been any denials.

Later, Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a FOX News military analyst, claimed that McCain caved under torture and gave the enemy information during his five years as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton. “Songbird John,” he called him. This was intended partly to defame McCain and partly to serve as false proof that “torture works.” FOX condemned the long-debunked story and parted ways with McInerney.

In fact, not only did McCain not cave, he refused to be released before his fellow-prisoners, leading to years of confinement and torture – but his code of honor superseded his self-interest.

We all remember Trump’s remarks about McCain during the Presidential primary campaign: “Heroes don’t get captured… I like people who weren’t captured.” That’s because Trump has no honor, only self-interest.

And speaking of hostages, three men who had been held in captivity in North Korea for one to three years were greeted by Trump at Andrews and had to stand next to him at 3 a.m. on Thursday while the President talked about TV ratings.

During a refuel in Alaska, one of the men had asked if he could step off the plane for a moment because he had not seen the sun in so long – but, yeah, ratings – that’s what matters.

Trump’s total lack of empathy (we could call this “apathy” in the technical sense of lacking a capacity for pathos…) may not be his most dangerous deficit, but it is the most vile and disturbing. It’s the only one of his many bankruptcies that is still a shock to the system when we see it. We have become inured to his constant lies, his farcical corruption, and his blatant incompetence. But we can’t seem to harden ourselves to his utter inability to understand that other people exist, that they are real and not just avatars in his virtual reality. The reason we can’t get used to it is because we’re human.

My grandpa, a construction worker and Pentecostal preacher, had a particular soft spot for the rabbits in our yard. I never knew why he was so protective of them. Years after his death, I finally heard the story: when my mom and aunt were still young, my grandpa went out hunting with his brothers and shot a rabbit. It didn’t die quickly, but rather stumbled toward him, finally landing on his shoe. At that moment, the story goes, God caused him to feel everything the rabbit was feeling as it died – not just the pain, but the fear, the confusion, the dread. He sold his guns and never went hunting again.

Most of us are never granted such a dramatic epiphany. Nevertheless, we have some sense of the gravity of suffering and death.

But Trump… well, I’ll give Joe Biden the last word on this one: 

“People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration. It happened yesterday.”

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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Dorothy Day

Part VI of the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series

“Don’t Call Me A Saint.” – Dorothy Day 

To call Dorothy Day a saint would be to dismiss her and her life’s work too easily, according to Ms. Day (Catholic Education). Born in New York City in 1897, Dorothy lived a balanced life of freedom and service until her passing in 1980 in New York City. She was the middle child in a family of seven in a two-parent Protestant household. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a sports writer, which caused the family to move twice until they landed in Chicago where they stayed for over a decade. 

An intelligent young lady who enjoyed the liberal arts, Dorothy enrolled in college at the University of Illinois at the age of 16 to study journalism. Her collegiate life was short-lived and only lasted 2 years but had a huge impact on her life moving forward by exposing her to different social conditions.

“There was a great question in my mind. Why was so much done in remedying social evils instead of avoiding them in the first place? . . . Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves but to do away with slavery?” (The Catholic Worker)

She soon left the University of Illinois and moved to New York where she continued to practice journalism while immersing herself in socialist ideology. She was only 18 years old.

The Bohemian

Being young in New York and living in free-spirited Greenwich Village allowed Dorothy to be immersed in art and activism. She began living a very passionate life as a “progressive activist and an artistic bohemian.” Her journalism surrounded her with anarchists and free thinkers and various types of liberals overall who were motivated to change social conditions, “She reported on protests, the ‘bread riots’ against the high cost of living, strikes, unemployment, and the many forms of human misery.” (The Catholic Worker) Writing captivating stories, being arrested for protests, and having lovers was nothing new for her during this segment of her life. It was through one of these lovers, writer Lionel Moise, that Dorothy became pregnant and, in an effort to keep Moise, had an abortion. He still ended up leaving her. 

Her writing as well as her commitment to social justice took her to Europe, Chicago, New Orleans, California, and eventually back to New York. It was during this time that she wrote and published her book, which was eventually adapted into a screenplay, called The Eleventh Virgin. And with money from the book’s sales, she bought a beach house on Staten Island which remained in her possession until her death.  

Catholic Worker Movement 

Although immersed in a Bohemian lifestyle, Dorothy’s view of God never faltered. As life went on in her beach house, so too did her writing and activism. It was with her partner at the time, Forster Batterham, that she became pregnant again. Not wanting to live with the regret she experienced with her past abortion, she decided to have the child, a daughter by the name of Tamar – her only child. With the birth of Tamar, Dorothy became more in-tune with the Catholic Church. And after her daughter’s baptism, converted to Catholicism in 1927.

She became a devout Catholic and continued to write but felt that she had more to offer. It was during this time, the Great Depression, that she met Peter Maurin. Peter encouraged Dorothy to start the Catholic Worker newspaper as a way to encourage people to apply Catholic social teachings to everyday life. It was from the newspaper that the Catholic Worker Movement came to be, which is what Dorothy Day is most known for helping to co-found. From the movement was the establishment of homes known as Catholic Worker Houses, in which simple living was practiced and hospitality was given to those in need,

“Her basic message was stunningly simple: We are called by God to love one another as He loves us.  If God was one keyword, hospitality was another.  She repeated, again and again, a saying from the early Church, ‘Every home should have a Christ room in it, so that hospitality may be practiced.’ ‘Hospitality,’ she explained, ‘is simply practicing God’s mercy with those around us.’” (Catholic Education)   

Conclusion

A writer, activist, Bohemian, devout Catholic, and mother, Dorothy Day was many things and lived many lives. To call her a saint would dismiss her too easily because she was more than that, she was a human being.  Her three autobiographies, The Long Loneliness, From Union Square to Rome, and The Eleventh Virgin all capture Ms. Day’s many lives. I find it odd that so many people want to canonize her because it was clear from the way that she lived her life that she never wanted to be glorified. It seems the best way to show appreciation for her and her work is to continue to show compassion and mercy to those around us.

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Fling and a Prayer

As briefly noted yesterday, Thursday was an eventful day for church, state, and everything in between.

Let’s start in the realm of less-bad news: Father Patrick Conroy, House Chaplain, sent a letter rescinding his previous letter of resignation to Paul Ryan, House Invertebrate, who had canned him either (a) for not being an evangelical, as he was told by Ryan’s aide, or (b) for the not-super-enthusiastic-about-the-tax-bill prayer he offered during the tax bill debates in November, as he was told by Ryan himself. (See video below for full prayer that shows concern for the poor.).

Ryan accepted his de-resignation and Conroy will remain House Chaplain.

Speaking of prayer and things Paul Ryan has chosen to accept… Donald Trump gave what passes these days as a “speech” on the National Day of Prayer (after typing up several tweets regarding funneling money to re-pay his “fixer” for fronting hush money to cover up an affair with a porn star while his 3rd wife was recovering from the birth of their child) during which he announced an executive order that established a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative (one of two things he did yesterday).

As WaPo reported:

President Trump in a Rose Garden ceremony Thursday announced an executive order he said would expand government grants to and partnerships with religiously-affiliated groups through a new faith-based office — a move described by one of his top faith advisers as aimed at changing the culture to produce fewer discussions about church-state barriers with “all of these arbitrary concerns as to what is appropriate.”

I’m looking forward to the day when Trump finally just changes the name of “The Constitution of the United States of America” to “Arbitrary Concerns as to What Is Appropriate.” We should start a betting pool as to when that will happen.

The past several administrations have had similar faith-based offices, so the idea is not new. However, the language used in the speech and in the order has alarmed LGBTQI groups, who fear that this will be used to erode their hard-won rights in the name of religious freedom. Many religious groups are expressing concern that the order endangers the separation of church and state. Such concerns are well-founded. Trump described the Johnson Amendment in yesterday’s speech as “a disaster.” Moreover, the initiative is largely the result of Trump’s conservative Evangelical Advisory Board. As NY Magazine noted

In line with Trump’s loud-and-proud advocacy of the political views of conservative Christians, his new faith-based office will apparently focus on policing agencies to make sure there is no interference with participation by church-sponsored organizations, and no transgressions against the “liberty of conscience” of believers. This is a term, of course, that both political and religious conservatives these days construe very broadly to sanction all sorts of exclusive and exclusionary demands, even in the use of federal funds.

In addition to announcing the executive order in yesterday’s remarks, Trump also took credit for how frequently people are now saying “under God” when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (not to be confused with the pledge of loyalty), touted having saved Christmas, portrayed solitary confinement as a good opportunity for God to “find” people, and re-affirmed his commitment to religious freedom and to ending religious persecution (ahem… Muslim ban… ahem).

Mike Pence said yesterday, “There’s prayer going on, on a regular basis, in this White House.”

Given the variety of legal developments in just the past 24 hours, I’m guessing there’s prayer going on, on a constant basis, in this White House.

The text of the executive order can be found here. You can find the speech, if you’re so inclined, here.

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Quixote Center Reunion – Retrospective

On April 13 and 14, 2018, the Quixote Center Reunion gathered long-standing QC friends and former and current staff members to celebrate our shared history of pursuing impossible dreams. If it felt at times like a high school or college class reunion, there is a good reason. Since its founding 42 years ago, the Quixote Center has often functioned as a school where young, idealistic people learned about the nuts and bolts of working for peace and justice. They learned on the job how a nonprofit survives – developing programs and strategies for their implementation, creating budgets, forging alliances with partners, and (of course) fundraising, all with characteristic QC humor. We believed that the ability to laugh is key to surviving the grim realities of systemic injustice that can seem impossible to change. Thus, our mission statement:

A gathering of people who work and pray with laughter,

to reach for the stars that seem too distant to be touched,

or too dim to be worth the effort.

We try to be friends with people in need,

and to celebrate life with people

who believe that the struggle to be like Jesus

in building a world more justly loving

is worth the gift of our lives.

Of the approximately 130 people who have worked at the Center, some have died, others we cannot find, and a few have permanently parted ways. But the majority remain connected by a silken, unbreakable thread, and that connection was palpable at the reunion events.

On Friday evening, over 100 people gathered at the College Park Marriott for dinner and fun, some having travelled from as far away as Scotland, Nicaragua and the west coast. And it was fun – with wistful moments interwoven in the program.

The founders were present—Dolly Pomerleau and Maureen Fiedler in the flesh, and Bill Callahan in spirit, in song, and in the beautiful quilt made from his favorite t-shirts after his death. Samantha Hegre played the cello as people arrived. Frank DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry emceed both as himself and as Sancho. Mercy Coogan was the “Greek chorus” seeking to keep Sancho in line. Dolly Pomerleau welcomed everyone, and John Marchese, QC’s director, presented the Quixote Center of today with special emphasis on our new program “Activists in Residence.” Bill d’Antonio read a poem he wrote as a tribute to QC co-founder, Bill Callahan. Maureen Fiedler, Jane Henderson, Shari Silberstein, Ketxu Amezua, and Tom Ricker shared their tributes on the major programs with which they worked.

Even Sancho, our two-faced, curmudgeonly computer persona was there, complaining and kvetching the whole time. 

And then we heard from Bill de Blasio, former Quixote Center employee and current mayor of New York City. His RSVP had been a “maybe” until two days before the event, when we were told he could be with us for “an hour.” In reality, that hour stretched out for the whole evening. Taking advantage of Dolly’s offer to speak, he remembered his interview at the Quixote Center (feeling out of place in a suit and tie) and his days organizing shipments of humanitarian aid for people in Nicaragua. He described organizing a softball league among solidarity groups in the DC area and the lesson he learned about the need to laugh, especially at ourselves. In this vein, the team was named “The Screaming Communist Iguanas,” and he concocted a plan to increase the popularity of justice work by opening a “Pizza and Justice” center. He spoke warmly of his colleagues, Bill Callahan, Dolly Pomerleau, and Maureen Fiedler, and he ended with a message of hope.

Apparently, a right-wing New York Post reporter infiltrated our reunion! At 9:47 p.m. he posted “Bill de Blasio was back to being just another comrade Friday night at an out-of-town reunion for a left-leaning social justice group that helps families sympathetic to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.” It’s nice not to be ignored!

Tom Ricker, joined by Andy Laken, performed an original song commenting on current events in the US.  Then the entertainment turned to Quixote Center history. Being fans of NPR’s “Wait, Wait…” we drew up stories from QC’s history leaving the audience to vote on which story was true. Two out of three scenarios were easily ferreted out – the third – not so much. Hosting this section was Heidi Siebentritt. The readers were Joe Izzo, Steve Brown, and Nancy Sulfridge.

To end the evening, we sang the Quixote anthem “The Impossible Dream” with gusto and a surprising degree of consensus on pitch. At 10:00 p.m., Bill de Blasio quietly slipped out for his four-hour ride back to New York. Attendees who were staying at the hotel had some time to reminisce and get reacquainted; the next day, we heard reports that some of the former staff were up until 2:00 a.m.!

Saturday, April 14, was reserved for a gathering of former staff. There were 35 people present – a few more than the 24 people who were expected. There were special gifts for these Questers. Walter Winfield, a former QC staff member living in Taiwan, couldn’t attend, but he put together a Quixote Year-(s) Book which we reproduced in the office. It included pictures and brief bios of all former staff we could locate, a list of people who were “camera shy” and those we could not find, a memorial list of those who have died, and a touching tribute to Bill Callahan, written by Walter. The second gift was a votive candle holder made by Dolly with a glaze that contained a sprinkling of Bill’s ashes. Everyone was genuinely touched by these presentations, some even teary.

The main event on Saturday was a round-robin. Everyone present spoke about their current work, and many gave touching tributes to how formative their time at the Center had been and how it has continued to impact their lives. Some remembered their surprise that, even though they were fresh out of college, Maureen, Bill and Dolly gave them equal voice in discussions and decision making. No one missed the sometimes-endless staff meetings!

By 2:30 p.m. folks meandered off to continue their lives with other friends, colleagues, and family, and to pursue their own work for justice, whether locally or globally.

The Reunion was successful because of the generous and talented people who helped shape it – special thanks to Carol Binstock, Mercy Coogan, Jessice DeCou, Mfon Edet, John Marchese, and Jocelyn Trainer, and to all who attended with their enthusiasm and happy hearts.

If you believe in miracles, this weekend was one.

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What could possibly go wrong?

More on this tomorrow, but…today, on the National Day of Prayer, Trump ushered into being a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative to attend to “poverty, religious liberty, education, strengthening the family, helping prisoners, mental health and human trafficking.” 

I’m sure they’ll do a great job. 

 

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Why does the U.S. government hate immigrant children?

Over the last week there have been a number of stories that have illustrated the ways in which the Trump administration’s war on immigrants is having a disproportionate impact on children. From continuing a hard line against the caravan of migrants, mostly people fleeing violence in Honduras, to the shocking admission that the administration lost track of 1,500 immigrant children last year, the war on immigration is hurting families, and doing so with the intention of discouraging their claims for asylum in the United States.

Caravan Update

The Trump/Fox invasion isn’t happening. Indeed, the rhetoric about the caravaners crossing Mexico to seek asylum in the United States met a reality check point Sunday. The number of people who arrived at immigration checkpoints in southern California as part of the Pueblo Sin Frontera’s caravan was under 200, mostly women and children fleeing violence in Honduras. Upon arrival, caravaners were told that the port of entry had been closed because the facility at San Ysidro was at capacity. Late Monday, eight members of the caravan were admitted for asylum processing. From the San Diego Union Tribune:

On Monday morning, some 20 members of the caravan, most of them women with small children, spread out on blankets at the door to the port’s PedWest entrance, watching as northbound pedestrian crossers filed past at a rapid clip, heading to jobs, school and shopping excursions.

“I feel that God will help me cross, and will touch the president’s heart,” said José Cristobal Amaya, 16, among the small group waiting at the PedWest door.

The Honduran teenager, who was traveling alone, said he was fleeing gang members he calls Los Mareros who beat his father and threatened to kill his entire family.

The eight caravan members to go through were from this group, with mothers and children the first to be selected, according to a spokesman for Pueblo Sin Fronteras: three mothers, four children, and an 18-year-old were in the initial group.

The spokesman said that they will remain detained at the port until they receive a “credible fear” interview, an initial screening that launches the asylum process.

Meanwhile a larger group of caravan members continued waiting, spread farther from the PedWest entrance in an open area outside El Chaparral, Mexico’s federal port that connects to San Ysidro.

Attorneys who have been assisting them have said that up to 200 participants had been preparing to apply for asylum.

Lost 1,500 children?!?!

The Trump administration was forced to admit that its Department of Health and Human Services had lost track of 1,500 children that were processed through our immigration system. 1,500. Children.

From the Washington Post:

A Senate subcommittee has found that federal officials lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children last year after a government agency placed the minors in the custody of adult sponsors in communities nationwide.

The Health and Human Services Department says it uses its limited funds to track the safety of at-risk children, and could not determine where 1,475 missing minors had gone.

The Health and Human Services Department came under fire two years ago for rolling back child welfare policies meant to protect unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America. An Associated Press investigation found that more than two dozen were placed in homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations says federal agencies need to take full responsibility for the children’s care.

A more detailed report from Think Progress is here. The number represents 19% of the children processed through the system from October to December last year. Importantly, HHS’s system for placing children in custodial arrangements while they await processing has been flawed for years, and cannot be laid entirely on Trump’s doorstep. From the Think Progress report:

Two years ago the subcommittee released a report, detailing how HHS placed more than a dozen immigrant children with human traffickers after officials failed to conduct thorough background checks to sponsors. To prevent this from recurring, HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) signed a memorandum, agreeing to establish procedures together within a year to protect unaccompanied minors who come to the United States. The agencies have not completed the new guidelines, and said they would tell senators Monday, by close of business, when they would complete the agreement.

The systemic problems may not have originated with Trump. Yet, the rapid increase of child separation as a tactic by this administration, without providing adequate safeguards, means the problem is now just worse.

1,500. Children.

 

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)