Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘democracy’

I Carried Them With Me

geigerExcerpt featuring Nicola Geiger. From Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Born and raised in Germany, Nicola Geiger lived in a young girl’s dream world; a luxurious home, close friends, material goods and parties galore. By the end of World War II she was homeless, without possessions and absent her loving family. Her father, mother and one-year-old son died shortly after the war began. When she was eight months pregnant with her second child she was raped. The child died at birth as a result of the trauma. She was interrogated and tortured in Poland, lost many close friends, and her dear husband Rudolf disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Since her losses during the war, Nicola persisted in reaching out to others. Immediately after the war she worked with the International Red Cross and assisted refugees. After studying in England she moved to the U.S., met her second husband, fought against McCarthyism and became involved in the civil rights movement. When they moved on to Japan, she became active in visiting the atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima, waged campaigns for world peace, and fought for the rights of Koreans who had been enslaved and abused by the Japanese. When her husband died she decided to move to the Philippines. There she fought for democracy and the overthrow of the Marcos regime.

Ms. Geiger:

First of all, my two children died. One was a baby and the other was when I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant and was raped by twelve Russians. The child didn’t survive. It died right after birth. Fortunately, they found me in these ruins in Berlin. A lady heard me when I cried out for help and she took me to a Red Cross hospital. Then my husband disappeared and I never knew what happened to him. My father died a horrible death at the beginning of the war, which was said to be an accident, but it wasn’t – his legs were cut off while he was visiting a factory. Friends died and the absolute, total destruction of everything from the bombing. It was an enormous amount of simply taking in the losses.

Such losses can never be replaced. You’re totally wiped out . . . your associations and surroundings . . . furnishings that were two hundred years old, furniture, everything . . . so then you realize you are totally alone.

I was very active in helping refugees after the war. I moved to England where I studied theater. I came to America at the time of McCarthyism, where you were better dead than red. I was not going to stay in America one day longer with such attitudes and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t met my second husband. He was a scientist who’d worked on the Manhattan Project. He was really an extraordinary person.

I was very involved with anti-McCarthyism and the civil rights movement. I had never been told, “This is a Jew and this is a German.” I grew up in a socialist family and my father was extremely enlightened, as was my mother. My father was a Buddhist. He sat in the room where I was born and had prepared a meditation mat next to him so I could be put beside him upon birth.

I was very involved in the civil rights movement during the fifties and sixties and I worked a great deal with children in theater in order to empower them. I find theater to be a tool that is very useful. During the Vietnam War I continued in the civil rights movement. We lived in Philadelphia. There were sit ins from Baltimore up to Washington, women strike for peace and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. I was really involved with my whole heart then. When my husband went on sabbatical we went to Hiroshima Japan where he did research on atomic bomb victims, whom I worked with as well.

The Japanese had resettled two provinces in Korea and brought Koreans to Japan as slave laborers. In 1905 America and Japan made a treaty in which America took over the Philippines and Japan took over Korea. The Koreans were very badly treated, so I worked a great deal with Koreans in the Hiroshima area and in Kyoto after my husband died. I worked extensively with the Japanese peace movement and with the liberation people in Korea. For a couple years I moved to the Philippines because of my health. I lived with European journalists there and entered into the movement to oust the Marcos regime.

There was never a time when I wasn’t involved. It hasn’t been from an intellectual place. It really came from my own deep understanding of what life is about. The work I did was because I wanted to be in this world. I wanted to live in that light which takes away the occasion of all wars cruelty and control. I really understood, through my Buddhism, that I am the one that must work on myself . . . my ego. This is what I successfully did, in great part because of my experience with suffering.

Two of the major exercises which were brought to me when I was young, were to go over my day at night and decide what was harmonious and what was not. My parents did not speak of bad and good; they spoke of harmony and disharmony. They presented it in a way, because I was very small, that I was very much empowered. If I had done something, thrown a stone or fought with someone, I could go to that person and make it right or more accurately, harmonious.

My parents always used the bell. (She rings bell) The bell was used for settling down. My mother was not a Buddhist, but she saw how its values worked and she and father’s parenting was always together. There was also an enormous group of friends with whom we’d celebrate the change of the year. People would come together. Every weekend there would be music and poetry. It was an extremely interesting and wonderful life I grew up in.

I don’t really know how I managed to survive (the war), but I can tell you what happened. When I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, I thought, “I can change the world!” Don’t we all think that? I was nineteen when my father died on September 6, 1939, just six days after the war began. Then there was the attack on Poland and a few of my friends were killed. Then began the registration of food and nobody could travel on trains. Everything was regulated. My father was against Hitler and had voted against him in the election. Did you know he came into power with only thirty-three percent of the vote? A year after Hitler became chancellor he assassinated five thousand people, many who were homosexuals, gypsies (and political opponents). Five thousand people in two days! They were all rounded up.

When these things happened I really understood that I had no power; that I had been living in a fantasy; thinking my life could make a difference. I really understood that I was quite powerless, even though I knew many important people. I could go to them but they could not help me. I couldn’t say, “Let’s stop the war.” Then from my own view of the world, because of Buddhism, I really grasped, not so much understood, it really was a grasping, that I was responsible for myself and how I would live and what I would do in the midst of all that was going on. From 1943 on, when the totally destructive air raids came, I really lived day to day.

Why didn’t I have any feeling of revenge? I think this is fascinating. I thought it was futile to do so. I felt that to have these emotions were only hurting me. They didn’t give me any peace. I had feelings, not so much of revenge, but of anger and more anger. I wanted to lash back. But I began to understand very quickly, to grasp, that that would only hurt myself. I had to fight to really center down and my bell helped me with that. I centered down and did my Metta practice every day. Metta is a Buddhist meditation for loving-kindness. That was the thing to do. In many ways it’s a great mystery that I could do it. I think it had something to do with all the wonderful people I’d encountered through the years. The German people were not bad people. The people I’d been born in to were fine people. In human kindness and helpfulness I encountered many wonderful people.

So, I did my Metta practice. I didn’t deny my grief. Indeed, I felt it! I tried to commit suicide on my birthday on August 3rd, 1945. I took pills and my friends with whom I was staying came back home after I’d taken them. Luckily they’d forgotten something. I don’t speak of it very often. I was tired. I was so tired of knowing about evil. I was so tired that I wanted to rest forever. It’s really amazing all the things that went on around the world.

When I recovered, woke up and was back in the present, I was really grateful that I had lived! My time was not yet up. Indeed, I realized that I had a task. And each time someone died that was close to me; I carried them with me in their spirit. It’s like they’re marching with me. I’ve demonstrated and manifested in my life what most of the people who died would have done.

Post Script: Nicola Geiger died peacefully, after a long illness, on July 31, 2006.

More inspiring stories at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

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Memorial Day “Holiday”

Memorial Day – “a legal holiday in the U.S. in memory of the dead servicemen of all wars.”

That’s how Webster’s defines Memorial Day, but is that what takes place? Has this day of remembrance become just another holiday; another three-day weekend; a day of forgetting?

Memorial Day can be a powerful reminder and opportunity for honoring and remembering our dead; for paying homage to those who died believing that their lives made a difference; that their lives were sacrificed for the benefit of others.

In many respects, those who have died for this experiment in democracy are still living. They’re living in the water we drink, the food we grow, the ballot we cast, the policies we protest, the pains, sorrows and struggles of everyday life.

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I respect the men and women who fought to end slavery in the Civil War and those, like my grandfather William, who fought in World War I, believing it would be “the war to end all wars”. I remember and give thanks to my father-in-law, who fought during World War II against the Nazis and lost his parents, grandparents, family and friends in the concentration camps. I thank my father, who went away for years to an unknown fate to stop the dictatorships of German and Japanese governments during the second world war. And I remember and honor all those who died in Lebanon, Panama, Viet Nam, on 9-11, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those who returned from those conflicts and died from resulting disease, addiction or suicide.

Though Memorial Day honors those who have died during wartime, let us not forget the military women and men who have died outside of conflict; those who have died while training; while in transport; during missions of peace and rescue; and at home from illness, accident, governmental disregard or neglect.

Before we can ever proclaim, “Never again!” we must exclaim, “Never forget!” Never forget the soldiers and civilians who have perished. Let us honor they’re memory, by keeping them in our hearts and doing everything possible to prevent and end the wars that have caused such great sorrow and suffering. Take some time to bring out pictures, tell stories, make a toast, thank those still living and recommit our selves to the peaceful resolution of conflict.
Memorial Day reminds us that blood and tears are the same in any language. Every life is precious and every loss must be remembered, mourned and honored.

These thoughts and reflections are an excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

Also see: Paging Dr. Leff: Pride, Patriotism and Protest.

Write for Rights

W1312EAIAR1Imagine being imprisoned for voicing a New Year’s Eve wish for peace and democracy.

That was one of the reasons Ethiopian authorities sentenced iconic dissident journalist Eskinder Nega to 18-years in prison on charges of terrorism and treason.

Join Amnesty in calling for Eskinder Nega’s immediate and unconditional release.

Eskinder is one of 10 urgent human rights cases highlighted in Amnesty International’s 2013 Write for Rights campaign, the world’s largest and most effective letter-writing event.

Every day that Eskinder and other journalists remain imprisoned, the dark cloud of oppression in his country grows more menacing.

Eskinder and his family have endured arrest and harassment from authorities for years. In 2006 and 2007, Eskinder and his wife, Serkalem Fasil, along with 129 other journalists, opposition politicians and activists, were detained and tried on treason charges in connection with protests following the 2005 election.

Serkalem gave birth to their son Nafkot while in prison.

Show solidarity with Eskinder and Serkalem – raise your voice to defend theirs.

The crackdown on free speech in Ethiopia has intensified since early 2011 – a number of journalists have been imprisoned on trumped-up charges of treason and terrorism while others have fled the country to avoid jail time. Newspapers have been closed down and last year, printers were ordered to remove any content that may be considered illegal by the government.

The independent media, and freedom of expression itself, has been dismantled in Ethiopia. Eskinder has been prosecuted at least 8 times for his journalism. His words have done no harm. His writings are a lawful expression of his human rights.

Free speech needs more champions today. Be one of them.

In solidarity,

Jasmine Heiss
Campaigner, Individuals and Communities at Risk
Amnesty International USA

Hanging by a Thread

Dear Friends,

Most people didn’t know who the Rwandans were until it was too late, and 800,000 of them were dead. Right now, the fate of Burma’s Rohingya people is hanging by a thread. Racist thugs have distributed leaflets threatening to wipe out this small Burmese minority. Already children have been hacked to death and unspeakable murders committed. All signs are pointing to a coming horror, unless we act.

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Genocides happen because we don’t get concerned enough until the crime is committed. The Rohingya are a peaceful and very poor people. They’re hated because their skin is darker and the majority fear they’re ‘taking jobs away’. There are 800,000 of them, and they could be gone if we don’t act. We’ve failed too many peoples, let’s not fail the Rohingya.

Burmese President Thein Sein has the power, personnel and resources to protect the Rohingya, all he has to do is give the word to make it happen. In days, he’ll arrive in Europe to sell his country’s new openness to trade. If EU leaders greet him with a strong request to protect the Rohingya, he’s likely to do it. Let’s get 1 million voices and plaster images of what’s happening in Burma outside his meetings with key EU heads of state:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/we_said_never_again_en/?bMPbqab&v=26526

Torture, gang rape, execution style killings — human rights groups are using the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the brutality in Burma. Already more than 120,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee, many to makeshift camps near the border, while others have fled in boats only to drown, starve, or be shot at by coastguards from neighboring countries. Reports show that violence is escalating — earlier this year President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency after another round of deadly attacks, and it’s just a matter of time until there is a large scale massacre.

Genocides don’t happen when governments oppose them, but the Burmese regime has been leaning the wrong way. Recently, a government spokesperson admitted that authorities were enforcing a rule that limits the Rohingya population to having only two children and forces couples seeking to get married to obtain special permission. And experts report that government authorities have stood by or even participated in acts of “ethnic cleansing.” President Sein has finally been forced to acknowledge what’s happening to the Rohingya, but he has so far refused to implement plans to stop the violence and protect those at risk.

Until he does, the risk of genocide hovers like a dark cloud over not just Burma, but the world. Through their trade relations, UK PM Cameron and French President Hollande have massive leverage with Sein — if they press him to act when he meets with them this month, it could save lives. Let’s make sure they do. We’ve failed too many peoples, let’s not fail the Rohingya. Join the call now and share this with everyone:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/we_said_never_again_en/?bMPbqab&v=26526

Time and again, the Avaaz community has stood with the people of Burma in their fight for democracy. When the regime brutally cracked down on Buddhist monks in 2007, Avaazers donated hundreds of thousands of dollars/euros/pounds to provide technical support and training to activists to fight a communications blackout. In 2008, when a devastating cyclone killed at least 100,000 Burmese, but the venal military regime stopped all official international aid from coming in, our community donated millions directly to monks on the front line of the aid effort.

Our community didn’t exist when genocide was committed in Rwanda, 20 years ago. Would we have done enough to stop it? Let’s show the Rohingya our answer to that question.

With hope and determination,

Luis, Jeremy, Aldine, Oliver, Marie, Jooyea and the whole Avaaz team

Breaking Out All Over

Avaaz Supporters,

Something big is happening. From Tahrir Square to Wall St., from staggeringly brave citizen journalists in Syria to millions of us winning campaign after campaign online, democracy is stirring. Not the media-circus, corrupt, vote-every-4-years democracy of the past. Something much, much deeper. Deep within ourselves, we are realising our own power to build the world we all dream of.

Avaaz.org - STEP FORWARD, TAKE OUR WORK TO THE NEXT LEVEL

We don’t have a lot of time to do it. Our planet is threatened by multiple crises – a climate crisis, food crisis, financial crisis… These crises could split us apart or bring us together like never before. It’s the challenge of our time, and the outcome will determine whether our children face a darker world or one thriving in greater human harmony.

This is our challenge to meet. With 17 million hopeful citizens and rising, Avaaz is the largest global online community in history. There is no other massive, high-tech, people-powered, multi-issue, genuinely global advocacy organization that can mobilize coordinated democratic pressure in hundreds of countries within 24 hours. Our potential is unique, and so is our responsibility.

Responsibility is why we never accept money from governments, corporations or even large donors. 100% of our support comes from small online donations – the highest integrity funding in the world. Donating is an act of hope and trust, and I and my team feel incredibly serious about being worthy of yours.

It’s amazing, but just 20,000 of us make our entire community possible with a small weekly donation of around $2.00, the price of a cup or two of coffee. That funds all of Avaaz’s core expenses, but to rise to this moment and win it, we need to accelerate — by doubling our number of weekly ‘sustainers’ to 40,000, and doubling our capacity to do everything we do. Click below to make it happen and buy the world a cup of coffee:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/sustain_avaaz_dec_2012_2/?bMPbqab&v=20333&a=2.00&c=USD&p=28

Making a small but steady weekly contribution enables Avaaz to plan responsibly around long-term costs like our tiny but awesome staff team, our website and technology, and the security of our staff and systems (this can get pricey when our campaigns are taking on shady characters!). It also means we have the ability to respond immediately to crises as they occur and jump on opportunities for action without delay.

A very small donation of around $2.00 per week from 20,000 more sustainers would enable our community to expand all our work next year, helping to save lives in humanitarian emergencies, protect the environment and wildlife, support democracy and fight corruption, push for peace and reduce poverty.

Donating to Avaaz has a double-impact — because our donations not only make change now by empowering particular campaigns, every contribution builds our community that will be making change for decades to come. It’s an investment with both immediate and long-term results for our children’s and our planet’s future. Click here to contribute:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/sustain_avaaz_dec_2012_2/?bMPbqab&v=20333&a=2.00&c=USD&p=28

Fundraising is often a problem for social change organizations. Government or corporate funding would profoundly threaten our mission. Funding from large donors also often comes with strings attached. And high-pressure tactics like telemarketing, postal mail, or direct on-the-street programmes often cost nearly as much as they raise! That’s why the Avaaz model – online, people-powered donations – is the best way in the world to power an engine of social change, and a huge part of our community’s promise.

If we can multiply the number of sustainers we have, it will take our community, and our impact, to a whole new level. I can’t wait.

I know that donating is an act of hope, and of trust. I feel a huge and serious sense of responsibility to be a steward of that hope, and my team and I are deeply committed to respecting the trust you place in us with your hope, time, and resources. It’s a special thing we’re building here, and if we can keep believing in each other, anything is possible.

With hope and gratitude for this amazing community,

Ricken Patel
Avaaz.org

The Politics of Money

Dear Friends Across the U.S.

The flood of corporate and special interest money pouring into our elections is corrupting American democracy to the breaking point, but we have a powerful opportunity to begin to take our democracy back if we act in the next 48 hours.

Since the Supreme Court’s radical 2010 Citizens United ruling gutted most legal limits on what billionaires and corporations can spend on influencing our elections, so-called “SuperPACs” have raised more than $300 million from a tiny group of super wealthy donors. With this money, Big Oil can block efforts to fight climate change, Wall Street can block fair taxation and defense lobbyists can rev up the war machine — even when the public is opposed. The threat to good government is existential — yet the candidates are barely talking about it. We can change that by making sure big money in politics and the need for a Constitutional Amendment to fix the problem is a central topic in the first presidential debate.

PBS’s Jim Lehrer will moderate the debate — and his staff told Avaaz that if we petition for him to ask a question on this issue, they’ll present it to him this Friday, along with how many people signed. So let’s build a massive call — sign below and share with everyone you know:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/us_election_debate_i_full_us_list/?bMPbqab&v=18232

Just one man, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, has already vowed to spend more than $100 million dollars supporting Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Adelson is a savvy investor — a new analysis shows he stands to win back more than $2 billion in tax breaks if Romney ends up in the White House. But the problem affects both parties. The system is broken and most Americans know it: in poll after poll, a supermajority of Americans of all political persuasions say they want common sense limits put on what the super-rich can spend on our elections.

Centuries ago, America’s founders designed a way for us to put this genie back in the bottle, a way for us to amend what’s broken: by reversing the Supreme Court decisions that created this mess with a Constitutional Amendment. Some argue that an amendment is too hard to achieve, but organizing for an Amendment is a powerful tool in itself which forces candidates to stake out a position on this issue for voters to judge and can serve as leverage for other reforms like transparency and public financing, which are also needed. That’s why calls for an Amendment are gaining steam – several versions have already been introduced in Congress and President Obama recently offered support for the idea.

Jim Lehrer is no dummy: he knows that few issues are more worthy of debate than big money and corruption in government. But the campaigns will be pushing for softball questions, so it’s our job to remind Lehrer that the purpose of these debates is to force candidates to address the issues that matter to us, on the record and unscripted. Sign now and forward this to others:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/us_election_debate_i_full_us_list/?bMPbqab&v=18232

Around the world Avaaz members have come together by the millions to challenge government corruption and pay to play politics. With our fragile democracy in the US now at risk of being taken over completely by the 1%, it’s time to fight back. That’s why we’re launching Elections not Auctions, an Avaaz project to stem the flow of unlimited money into our democracy. They have the money, but we have the power.

With hope and determination and fighting spirit,

Ian, Joseph, Morgan, Dalia, David and the entire Avaaz team

21 Years Later

Dear Gabriel,

21 years later, the Nobel Peace Prize is finally where it belongs — in the hands of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Burmese human rights defender made history this weekend when she officially accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. When Suu Kyi was originally awarded the Prize in 1991, she was under house arrest and couldn’t accept it in person. She wasn’t freed until November 2010 — after years of international pressure and thousands upon thousands of letters from Amnesty activists like you demanding her release.

We shone a light for Aung San Suu Kyi. Now we need to shine a light of freedom for every last prisoner of conscience in Myanmar. Hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars there, simply for calling for freedom and democracy.

Myanmar must unlock the doors and free all prisoners of conscience now!

Watching Aung San Suu Kyi travel freely around the world with passport and now Nobel Peace Prize in hand fills us with joy and hope. But we cannot rest until all prisoners of conscience have been freed. And this is what Aung San Suu Kyi herself urged us to do in her Nobel acceptance speech on Saturday:

“… I was once a prisoner of conscience. As you look at me and listen to me, please remember the often-repeated truth that ‘one prisoner of conscience is one too many.'” — Aung San Suu Kyi

Today in Dublin, Ireland, Amnesty International will celebrate the remarkable life’s work of Aung San Suu Kyi by awarding her the prestigious “Ambassador of Conscience Award.” There is no better day to honor Suu Kyi and echo the powerful message that she and Amnesty International have long supported — that human rights matter.

When you take action now, Myanmar’s government will hear our message loud and clear — where there is freedom for one, there must be freedom for all!

In solidarity,

Michael O’Reilly
Senior Director, Individuals at Risk Campaign
Amnesty International USA

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