Nonviolence International is Proud to Partner with We Are Not Numbers (WANN)
We Are Not Numbers develops the communication skills of Palestinian youth living under occupation or as refugees, coaching them as they share the human stories behind the numbers in the news with a Western world that knows them only as stereotypes.
How did WANN start?
We Are Not Numbers was founded in early 2015, conceived by American journalist Pam Bailey and brought to fruition with the support of Ramy Abdu, board chair for the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor. The project launched under the umbrella of Euro-Med, which provided significant logistical support; today, our fiscal sponsor is Nonviolence International.
The story behind our founding:
Twenty-one-year-old Ahmed Alnaouq lives in Deir Al-Balah, in the middle of the Gaza Strip. During the Israeli assault of the summer of 2014, his older and only brother was killed by an Israeli missile, while walking on the street near his home. A few weeks later, Pam connected with him on Facebook. Here is how she describes it:
Our chat went this way: “How are you?” I asked, rather inanely. “I am fine, doing well. How about you?” Ahmed responded. I could tell something was wrong, so I shot back, “Don’t just say ‘fine.’ Tell me something real.” The barriers down, he told me the truth: “I extremely miss my brother. I go to his grave all the time, and when I am alone, I burst out crying.”
Given Ahmed’s passion for writing and burning desire to master the English language (thus his major – a popular one in Gaza), I encouraged him to write about his brother, to celebrate him, rather than try to hide his grief from me. He was hesitant at first, given my “Western” identity. It turns out that Ayman was a resistance fighter with the Al-Qassam Brigades – so quickly assumed to be “terrorists” even by many pro-Palestinian activists. Yet the few little tidbits of information Ahmed shared made me want to get to know him better. Ayman clearly had played a very positive role in Ahmed’s life, and there was a reason why fighting the Israeli occupation with whatever weapons were at hand seemed to be the only option to the young man. It was, I believed, a critical story to tell – and share.
Over the next two months, I worked with Ahmed on his essay, pointing out patterns of English-language problems such as run-on sentences, and tagging spots that could benefit from an anecdote to make the story come alive.
When we were done, Ahmed commented that his English-language skills and grasp of storytelling techniques had improved more with my one-on-one coaching than from a year of classes. But with a future that looked dim – with no opportunity to apply what he was learning – Ahmed was increasingly thinking of following in Ayman’s footsteps and joining the armed resistance. At least then, he reasoned, he would be doing something to stand up for his people. My liberal, Western knee-jerk response was to say, “No, don’t do it. Your family already has lost one child. There are other ways to resist.” But then I realized that I had nothing to suggest as an alternative. Thus was born We Are Not Numbers.
What is We Are Not Numbers?
There are many Ahmeds in Gaza, who are aching with loss, struggling to eke out a living and feeling neglected by the world. Fifty percent of the population are between the ages of 15 and 25 – about 70 percent of whom are unemployed. Their stories deserve to be brought to the attention of the Western world whose foreign policy has caused so much of their distress. At the same time, we need to give these youth a way to turn their writing into a mission with a purpose.
WANN recruits young, developing English writers. To provide the coaching they need to reach their full potential, each participant is assigned a mentor who is both a native English writer (so rare in Gaza these days) and published author. The mentors coach them on their language/writing skills and the project publishes their essays, poems, etc. on the realities of their lives to educate Western audiences and build bridges based on greater understanding.
In the process, we encourage freedom of expression and civic engagement and the youths build relationships with influential advocates around the world.
What are our goals?
1) Develop the language, media and storytelling skills Palestinian youth need to obtain good jobs and earn internships or scholarships.
2) Nurture self-esteem through self-expression and publication of their work.
3) Foster international connections that broaden participants’ world views, lessen the feeling of isolation and provide useful references when applying for internships and scholarships.
4) Provide a supportive creative outlet and environment that promotes positive mental health and in which participants build capacities in leadership, teamwork, critical thinking and advocacy.
5) Amplify youth voices to help educate the Western world on the realities of life under occupation.
Some of our special projects:
George Floyd mural in Gaza
GazaVision singing contest
“Dreams in the Crosshairs” short film
We Are Not Numbers rap
“Six Miles Out” Short Film:
We Are Not Numbers is Gaza’s first journalism academy
Why should people contribute with individual donations?
When the world talks about Palestinians living under occupation and in refugee camps, it is usually in terms of politics and numbers – specifically, how many killed, injured, homeless and/or dependent on aid. But numbers are impersonal, and often numbing. What they don’t convey are the daily personal struggles and triumphs, the tears and the laughter, the aspirations that are so universal that if it weren’t for the context, they would immediately resonate with virtually everyone.
To survive, grow and resist in Gaza, we need more than the typical aid, however. As youth, we know we are the next generation of leaders, and more than anything we need to develop our creativity, be given a platform through which we can be heard, develop our skills, forge international connections, and also, simply, HAVE FUN.
Donate at: https://www.nonviolenceinternational.net/donate_wann
Where can we learn more about us?
For more information, visit: www.wearenotnumbers.org
The Many Faces of Nonviolence - Angela Davis
By Alfonzo (Fonzi) Mendoza
Angela Yvonne Davis is a lifelong civil rights activist, abolitionist, feminist - communist, author, professor, scholar, and more. She is widely known for her participation in the 1960’s uprisings against injustices and inequalities for Black people, people of color and oppressed groups in the United States and abroad; Davis was affiliated with the Black Panther Party at the height of their activism and helped build and lead the movement for prison and police abolition. Davis’ views on prison abolition and Black resistance come from her life experiences growing up in a segregated Birmingham, Alabama, and spending 16 months in a women's prison for her connection to the Soledad Brothers’ courtroom incident. She first came to prominence when she was wrongfully laid off from her teaching position at UCLA for her communist political views and affiliation with the Communist Party USA. After winning her lawsuit against the school, she was soon fired again for her use of inflammatory language.
Living in a segregated Alabama, Davis knew racial injustice all too well from a young age; her neighborhood in Birmingham was known as “dynamite hill” for the large number of homes targeted and bombed by the Klu Klux Klan. Violence has played a central role in Davis’ life, as much of it was spent trying to escape racism, homophobia, misogyny, and the prison industrial complex. One of the most prominent instances in her life took place during the Soledad Brothers’ trial in 1970. On August 7th, Jonathan Jackson, brother of George who was on trial at the time, stormed the courtroom taking the judge, prosecutor, and members of the jury hostage and hoping to exchange them for the release of his brother. Unfortunately, Jonathan, the judge, and others were killed during this incident by police, and the guns used to carry out the abduction were traced back to Davis. Going into hiding for over 2 months, Davis ended up on the FBI’s top 10 most wanted list and fled California as a fugitive. She moved at night, staying with friends and comrades until she was found in a New York City hotel, and was even labeled the “dangerous terrorist Angela Davis” by then President, Richard Nixon.
While in prison, Davis was interviewed and questioned by Goran Olsson for the documentary The Black Power Mixtape on her participation in the Black Panther Party, the Communist Party USA, and her characterization as a violent militant by the media. “Because of the way this society is organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions [revolutions]. You have to expect things like that as reactions,” stated Davis. In an interview with Black Journal in 1972, Davis said, “If there is violence in the process of waging a revolution, that will be determined by the ruling class, that will be determined by those who hold power.”
Davis has spent the majority of her life as an educator and activist, pushing the boundaries on how we view gender, race, and class. She is a highly regarded author and writes extensively on the intersections of identities and how those intersections affect the way one moves throughout the world. One of her most famous works, Are Prisons Obsolete?, discusses how gender, race, and class all affect the outcomes of one's life in the United States where the prison industrial complex looms over the lives of queer and poor people of color constantly. In a 2018 lecture on eradicating state violence, Davis said, “When we look at the struggle in Palestine, it becomes clear that state violence against Black communities in the U.S. cannot be eradicated by simply hiring better police officers, by hiring police who are less racist, or who have attended anti-racism workshops; And of course all the while keeping the police apparatus intact and that apparatus incorporates some of the histories of colonialism and slavery.”
Davis’ contributions towards Black liberation are continuing to inspire and lead a generation of abolitionists today. Her work is essential to the nonviolence movement, and helps others think critically about the structure of our society; systemic and institutional racism, classism and bigotry are not accidents of a flawed system, but rather, were intentional frameworks drafted into the fabric of our world to protect systems and people in power. Davis’ work force us to engage critically with our surroundings, and asks us to analyze the current political, economic and social structures in place today that frequently and continuously cause us harm. Her book, Are Prisons Obsolete?, make the connections of modern-day prisons to slavery in the United States. “Slavery, lynching, and segregation are certainly compelling examples of social institutions that, like the prison, were once considered to be as everlasting as the sun. Yet, in the case of all three examples, we can point to movements that assumed the radical stance of announcing the obsolescence of these institutions.” Davis’ work illustrates the true perpetrators of violence in our society and calls for a paradigm shift on how we attribute and recognize violence. By challenging our pre-existing beliefs and inherent biases, she implores us to evaluate our way of life and take the steps towards building a world free of violence, with that violence being: racism, capitalism, white supremacy, homophobia and all systems of power and oppression.
The Many Faces of Nonviolence- The Faces of the Me Too Movement
By Maegan Hanlon
On October 7, 2018, the New York Times published a story in which actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd accused entertainment giant Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. The women claimed that Weinstein promised to advance their careers in exchange for sexual favors. Most of the women subject to his abuse wanted to get a foot in the Hollywood door. In the New York Times article, victims detailed horrors such as Weinstein stripping naked in front of them, asking for or giving women massages, and forcing them to watch him bathe. Many of the victims who spoke out against him said that he often tried to coerce women into bed with him. When a woman said no to him, he would ask more and more favors until she said yes or left. Humiliated and confused, victims believed they had nowhere to turn.
Rose McGowan. Creative Commons, Rhododendrites.
Most victims did not speak up about the abuse out of fear of retaliation. Weinstein was one of the biggest names in Hollywood and working with him brought fame and money. However, his victims also reported his explosive anger. Furthermore, Weinstein used generosity to manipulate his victims. Abusing his power within the industry, he would help them make connections to go farther in their careers. One meeting with Weinstein could secure magazine covers, roles, or endorsement deals. One meeting with Weinstien could be the meeting that launched a career. Because of this, women felt pressured to stay silent.
After her assault in 1997, up and coming actress Ashley Judd could not stay silent. According to her testimony in Time Magazine, Judd says she felt she had to warn others of Weienstien’s behavior. After telling a friend in the business about her experience, Judd learned shocking news - whispers of Weinstien’s inappropriate behavior had been circulating around Hollywood for years. Judd realized that many Hollywood executives and actors were aware of Weinstien’s behavior but said nothing. In fact, Harvey Weinstein was not the only perpetrator of abuse. There was an epidemic of misconduct happening in the entertainment industry. As more women in the entertainment industry learned of the widespread sexual harassment issues, they realized they were not alone. Rather, they found a community of women who experienced similar horrors, and they banded together to expose both their abusers and culture of silence surrounding the abuse.
McGowan and Judd’s actions sparked a global movement called Me Too. Starting in the entertainment industry, celebrities, such as Alyssa Milano and Selma Blair, began telling their stories about their sexual assault horrors. Actor Anthony Rapp detailed abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of film legend Kevin Spacey when Rapp was still a minor. As more victims spoke up, more Hollywood royalty faced accusations of misconduct. The floodgates had opened, and the truth came out. While some men’s careers were left unscathed, some men were held accountable for their actions with lawsuits from victims like Ashley Judd and Taylor Swift. In fact, Taylor Swift had photographic evidence of her assault, yet she still faced a trial. She won, and her abuser was sentenced to pay her a symbolic one dollar. Swift was not concerned about financial compensation, but rather she wanted to set a legal precedent for future assault trials.
The Me Too movement extends far beyond the world of Harvey Weinstein. In 2006, sexual assault survivor Tarana Burke coined the phrase Me Too on MySpace, but the phrase did not become mainstream until later. The hashtag #metoo trended on Twitter in 2017 after Alyssa Milano tweeted about her experience with Weinstein, and the hashtag quickly went viral. Women all over the world began speaking up about sexual misconduct in the workplace and in their personal lives. Time Magazine highlighted some stories of women who suffered from sexual abuse at their jobs. For example, Crystal Washington worked in the hospitality department at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. She detailed almost daily crude comments from her boss. Fearing for the security of her job, Washington stayed quiet. However, despite her own struggles with sexual harassment, she fielded complaints of sexual harassment almost daily. Washington often listened to reports about guests cornering and harassing her staff. According the Time article, Washington and six other employees are suing the hotel for sexual harassment.
Anita Hill, 1991. AP Images.
McGowan and Judd were not the first women to face their abuser publicly in court. In 1991, American lawyer and professor Anita Hill accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual misconduct. After her accusation she endured polygraph tests and investigations. Hill testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 where she was subjected to extreme doubt in her experience. Former Senator Joe Biden was head of the all white committee, and he handled the hearing poorly. After saying Hill could testify first, he let Justice Thomas testify before Hill. Then, Biden did not let other accusers testify with Hill. Justice Thomas still served on the Supreme Court. Today, Hill is a professor of Social Policy, law, and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University. Similarly, in 2018, American professor and research specialist Christine Blasey Ford accused President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of rape when the two were in high school in Bethesda, MD. Like Hill, Ford went through a Senate Judiciary hearing in which the committee doubted her allegations. She was subjected to polygraph tests and psychiatrist testimonies to validate her claim. In Ford’s case, believing the victim became a political stance. Justice Kavanaugh has been serving on the Supreme Court since October 2018. Unfortunately, due to the wide media coverage of her committee hearing, Ford has been forced to keep a low profile for the safety of herself and her family.
McGowan and Judd’s New York Times article blew the whistle on a widespread problem around the world. Strong women continue to take down powerful men with their reports of misconduct. Their bravery has led to a new understanding of sexual misconduct, and has helped the topic shed some of its taboo reputation. The Me Too Movement didn't stop there, it continues to evolve and expand to this day. New and deeper understanding of the issue sparked the creation of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which helps victims afford to go to trial against their abusers. Since January 2017, cities across the world have participated in annual, peaceful Women's Marches to advocate for change. While the awareness of sexual misconduct has grown enormously since 2018, there is still more to be done to help victims and prevent future victims. To learn more about the powerful nonviolent Me Too movement or to donate to help victims, please see the links listed below.
End Violence Against Women International
The Many Faces of Nonviolence- Reverend Joseph Lowery
By Maegan Hanlon
Reverend Joseph Lowery dedicated his life to the civil rights movement. Growing up in the Jim Crow era in Alabama, Reverend Lowery saw first hand the damage violence and racism caused in everyday life. In fact, Reverend Lowery cites an incident with Alabama police that sparked his dedication to nonviolence and civil rights. He recalls as an eleven-year-old, a police officer in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama “jabbed him with a nightstick.” The police officer then accused Reverend Lowery of not respecting white men. Rather than letting this incident allow rage to fester internally, the reverend said it inspired him to dedicate his life to nonviolent resistance. After college Reverend Lowery worked on a newspaper column about racial injustice, and later decided to attend seminary school to become a minister. He was ordained into the United Methodist Church and joined the NAACP. His experience with faith greatly inspired his commitment to nonviolence throughout his life.
As a minister in the American United Method Church, he believed in using nonviolent tactics to advocate for equal rights under the law. He organized his first nonviolent protest with the goal of desegregating buses in Mobile, Alabama during the 1950s. Later, he helped organize the 1955 Montgomery Bus boycott in which black riders sat in seats reserved for white riders. Their efforts were successful, and Montgomery's buses were desegregated. When reflecting on this victory, he said that the boycott, “sparked and triggered an era of self-determination.” Additionally, the bus boycott victory led to the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The SCLC, led by Reverend Lowery and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., aimed to coordinate local activist groups with a strong commitment to nonviolent protest and action against injustice.
In 1965, Reverend Lowery led the march from Selma to Montgomery that brought demands on voting rights to Alabama’s Governor, George Wallace, a fervent segregationist. Reverend Lowery brought marchers from the SCLC and other organizations to the Alabama state capital to protest racial discrimination in voting procedures. His peaceful marchers were attacked by state police on the Governor’s orders, but the altercation only served to further inspire Reverend Lowery and his supporters. Later that year the reverend led a march on Washington, DC, which ultimately led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Reverend Lowery continued to work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for many years, using his nonviolent tactics to fight for justice all over the world.
In the 1970s, he shifted his nonviolent focus to the power of the ballot, and he encouraged millions of black Americans to use their votes to fight for justice. After his success with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Reverend Lowery wanted to assure both young and old black voters that voting held power. Throughout his career Reverend Lowery continued to advocate for nonviolence tactics after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. He used his platform as a nonviolent civil rights leader and minister to preach about peace. A great example of this occurred during his eulogy for Coretta Scott King, a fellow civil rights leader and friend, who passed away in 2006. During the eulogy he denounced the United States’ involvement in the Iraq War in front of President Bush and emphasized both his and King’s lifelong commitments to peace.
In 2008 he gave the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration, and in 2009 President Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. After a long and passionate life of nonviolent activism, Reverend Joseph Lowery passed away at the age of 98 on March 27, 2020. He was a celebrated pioneer for civil rights in the United States. He led the fight for equal rights in a time when it was dangerous. Reverend Lowery provided a light among the darkness for millions of Americans. His nonviolent legacy sets a remarkable example for all of us to live by.
Reverend Lowery worked diligently for civil rights in the United States, and he accomplished a great deal. However, there is still more to be done. Thus we must ask ourselves, how can we follow in Reverend Lowery’s footsteps and stand up for peace in our own communities?
Written by David Hart
Nonviolence International Welcomes The Isaiah Project
We are thrilled to welcome our latest fiscally sponsored partner - The Isaiah Project. Please be on the look out for much more about their important work in the months to come. 2020 is the 40th anniversary of the Plowshares Movement and there is some exciting news coming about how we can celebrate together.
Many months ago, I dreamed of a series of profiles on our website that could begin to tell the story of a powerful, diverse, creative nonviolent movement growing all over the world. A movement that inspires us to continue taking daily action to build Nonviolence International and thus strengthen our capacity to make a difference in this brutal world.
Tonight I’ve been reading about seven amazing nonviolent leaders and giving thanks that they are now, in a way, part of the Nonviolence International family. I hope you will join me in learning about these guiding lights at: https://kingsbayplowshares7.org/about/bios/
They inspired me to draft a piece about them and their witness against the most horrific weapons in the world. In his history of the Plowshares Movement, Art Laffin reminds us that we are, “trying to build a new world within the shell of the old.” This is a challenging and essential task. The old world is fading. If the new world is not born quickly, the decay of the old may crush all our hopes.
Today I had the opportunity to work with the amazing Interns at Nonviolence International and a new friend, former NVI staff, and Plowshares leader, Paul Magno, to create a donation page for The Isaiah Project.
I love the beautiful graphic Meagan Hanlon, NVI Intern, found on the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 website. Together we decided to use this image of painted rocks as the background photo for the new donation page. I don’t know who took this photo, but I can see that the collection of rocks is not just a colorful image to make a webpage pop; it is also the result of committed people coming together to create something unique and precious together. I imagine many hands painting their messages on these rocks.
Maybe someday I will learn the true story of this photo. Now as I ponder this image, I see it as a reflection of the inspirational Plowshares movements that have taken shape over the last 40 years. 40 years we’ve spent in the wilderness. It is time to come home to peace.
There is a rock painted with the words, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” One that reads, “Friendship Not Warship.” Another says “Seek Peace.” And one made me laugh with the simple power of its truth, it reads, “It is not ok to kill people.”
When we realize that we are all part of one another killing people doesn't seem like a good idea. As a Jew, I remember hearing the question - what would we have done if a concentration camp was being built in our neighborhood. I celebrate these faith leaders who decided that they would take it upon themselves to notice the ultimate horor of nuclear weapons being built and deployed in our communities and do what they could to knock down these crematorium towers rising among us.
The Jewish prophet Isaiah said, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
40 years ago dedicated peacemakers inspired by the disarmed Jesus took action against evil. They didn’t know what ripple effects would come of their bold, creative, nonviolent direct action, but they decided they would witness in a way in keeping with their heart’s calling for peace. So armed only with love, they beat the most destructive weapons in the world into plowshares.
Without any expectation of future actions they created an international movement that has challenged runaway militarism for decades. The movement has shifted and grown in a variety of ways including actions in the US, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia. I predict more to come in additional regions of this beautiful and broken world.
Decades after that first action, Nonviolence International is proud to welcome the Isaiah Project as our latest fiscally sponsored partner. The Isaiah Project is actively supporting the Kings Bay Plowshares 7. You can learn more about their much needed work at: https://kingsbayplowshares7.org
And starting today, you can donate to support this work right here on our site. https://www.nonviolenceinternational.net/donate_isaiah Check out the photo of the colorful rocks, be inspired by their actions, donate, and spread the word. And, ponder what you can to put your values into action. How can you live out the beliefs that are core to who you are?
I’m still asking myself these questions and while I find no perfect answers, I celebrate the inspiration in the light shining from those whose commitment to peace seems to know no bounds. Thank you to all the Plowshares activists who for decades have declared that the world can be better than it is today and who, by their actions, have shown us a path out of the darkness and into a future of peace, justice, and environmental sanity.
I am grateful for the Plowshares Movement and all those whose spirits move them to take bold creative nonviolent action.
Written by Maegan Hanlon
Ann Wright was on an assignment in Mongolia when she resigned from the State Department in March 2003. Having served in the U.S. Army for over two decades retiring as a colonel and in the U.S. Foreign Service for sixteen years, she knew the devastating effects of war. Ann was opposed to the Iraq War and felt that she could not in good conscience represent the United States in the conflict. Because of this, she resigned from the U.S. Department of State to dedicate herself to promoting nonviolence.
Ann decided to shift her efforts to peace and nonviolent protest. She started working with organizations that were trying to stop the United States government from using war as a first resort. When talking about using war as a way to solve global issues she says, “use of the military and war seldom results in stability.” She knew that there had to be a nonviolent way to solve international disputes. As a result, Ann began a new adventure working with civilian-run organizations instead of government agencies. She advocated for nonviolence in Washington, DC and around the US talking to tens of thousands of citizens on alternatives to war. Since her resignation from the U.S. in 2004, after nearly two decades of commitment to nonviolence, Ann can testify that most Americans don’t want any more wars, yet U.S. politicians, no matter which political party is in power, still favor war and mobilization.
Ann began being personally involved in the situation in Israel and Gaza when she left the U.S. Diplomatic corps in 2003. She decided she needed to see for herself what was happening on the ground when Israel first attacked Gaza in early 2009. She went to Gaza in January 2009 to observe with her own eyes the huge level of destruction that a major military power like Israel had done in its 27 attacks on the small, unarmed territory of Gaza. The loss of life-over 1400 Palestinians killed, 5,000 wounded, and over 10,000 left homeless-inspired her to take action. In 2009, she went back to Gaza six times with CODEPINK Women for Peace to bring more people to Gaza so they could meet with survivors, document the damage, and return home to write stories about what they saw. Later in December 2009, Ann and CODEPINK brought over one thousand people to Egypt for the Gaza Freedom March to march in Gaza in solidarity with the people of Gaza on the first anniversary of the Israeli attack. However, Egyptian border police allowed only about 100 people to enter Gaza, and the rest had to remain in Egypt and used a number of nonviolent tactics including staging demonstrations in Cairo to bring international attention to the blockade in Gaza including sit-ins outside the US Embassy.
In 2010 Ann continued to support Palestinians living under the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza by joining the Free Gaza Movement. In 2008 this organization sent two boats full of people and medical supplies to Gaza and took out of Gaza some Palestinians in need of healthcare. In 2010 the Free Gaza Movement expanded the of challenging the illegal Israeli naval blockade of Gaza by sending no just two boats, but a flotilla of boats to Gaza. This project became the Freedom Flotilla Coalition. In this 2010 mission, they sent three cargo boats of medical supplies along with three passenger boats to Gaza. Ann was on one of the passenger boats when Israeli forces attacked the flotilla for attempting to enter the naval blockade zone. Nine people were executed by Israeli commandos on the boats, and one later died of Israeli gunshots. More than 50 of the unarmed, civilian activists aboard the boats were shot by Israeli commandos. See a list of casualties here. After raiding the boats in international waters, Israeli police arrested nearly 700 people and brought them to Israeli prisons. They were deported which meant they could not return to Israel for ten years. Ann has been deported from Israel three times meaning she technically has a 30 year ban to travel to Israel and therefore also to the West Bank. After her initial deportation, Ann returned to Gaza through the Rafah, Egypt crossing in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is an international organization of 13 national campaigns participating in the movement. In the 2018 flotilla, four boats in the flotilla visited twenty ports before reaching Sicily, from which they travel to Gaza. In each country they visited, they worked with Palestinian solidarity organizations to educate Europeans about the horrors of the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. By stopping at multiple ports to meet with supporters, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition is able to further spread the message about the suffering people endure in Gaza from the Israeli land and sea blockade. The journey to attempt to break the illegal naval blockade of Gaza typically ends about forty kilometers off the coast of Gaza when Israeli forces intercept the flotilla and arrest passengers. The long journey brings international media attention, except in the U.S., and awareness to the suffering in Gaza. With the help of their international partners, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition has sent boats to Gaza in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 (an all women’s trip), and 2018.
US Boats to Gaza, the United States chapter of The Freedom Flotilla Coalition, is dedicated to educating Americans about the situation in Gaza. Ann and other organizers travel across the United States holding educational events to spread awareness about Gaza. Many educational events help with funding so the flotilla can keep sending ships to attempt to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. The flotilla’s dedication helps Palestinians remain hopeful that the world is not forgetting them.
Ann Wright came to work with Nonviolence International when she met our co-director, Michael Beer. They ran into one another at a number of peace events around the DC Metro area. Today Nonviolence International serves as the fiscal sponsor of US Boats to Gaza. Ann and Nonviolence International also support We Are Not Numbers, a platform for young Palestinian writers and artists to find their voices and tell their stories as journalists. In fact, We Are Not Numbers has released two documentaries showing the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. The first is an award winning short film, “Six Miles Out,” about fishermen struggling to make a living under the blockade. The other, called “Dreams in the Crosshairs,” is about the permanent disfigurement and amputations many Palestinians suffer under Israeli violence on the people of Gaza. The films help raise awareness and inspire international solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Through all of the suffering she has seen, knowing so many people willing to challenge Israeli and U.S. government policies towards Palestine and are willing to stand up and encourage nonviolent approaches to resolve international issues gives Ann hope. She says, “I know courage when I see it, and I have seen more courage in the brave, determined citizens...than the heavily armed forces arrayed against them.” Grassroots movements around the world show Ann the dedication many citizens have to use peaceful and nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution. She has found that civil society pressures politicians to act peacefully rather than to initiate violence. For example, United States citizens pressured President Obama to refrain from attacking Syria in 2013 over the alleged chemical attacks by the government of Syria. President Trump’s decision not to go to war with Iran also came from civil pressures to remain peaceful and avoid war. Civilian long term dedication to promoting peace and nonviolence gives Ann hope in times of violence and suffering.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition has begun its fundraising campaign for the May 2020 Flotilla by hosting fundraisers across the country to raise money to purchase the next boats to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza. To learn more about the campaign visit usboatstogaza.org and to donate please click here
A Doctor’s Remedy for Peace: Follow the Path of Nonviolence
By Connor Paul
Most people never fully experience life and death during their existence even though we all live, and eventually die. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish has certainly encountered his fair share of both states of being. An internationally renowned doctor in obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Abuelaish works to help conceive and deliver life on a daily basis. As an infertility expert, his work, research, speaking appearances, conferences, and counseling regarding the conception of life are all part of his effort to provide humanity the greatest gift we receive. “Using my skills to save a life or help a patient in distress or bring a newborn into the world was what I became most excited about,” he recalls of his preliminary studies at the University of Cairo in his memoir, I Shall Not Hate. But he has also grappled with death on a personal level that few of us have ever experienced.
Born and raised in Jabalia Camp, located within the Gaza Strip of the occupied-Palestinian territories (oPt), Dr. Abuelaish witnessed the death and destruction caused by the Israeli occupation throughout most of his life. From the Six-Day War of 1967 at age twelve through the Gaza War of 2008-2009 at age fifty-three, Dr. Abuelaish saw how a path to peace based on mistrust, hostility, revenge, and political maneuvering produces cycle after cycle of violence instead of lasting results. “It seems humanity has still not learned their lesson,” he told me in our recent conversation. “Even though we are in the twenty-first century, we continue to try to solve our conflicts with wars and violence instead of working to find out their root causes.” This path of darkness taken up by both sides replaces nonviolence with coercion; coercion which directly impacts and destroys the lives of ordinary civilians.
On January 16, 2009, the violence finally touched Dr. Abuelaish and his family more tangibly than they could ever imagine. Two days before the parties signed a truce ending the Gaza War of 2008-2009, an Israeli tank fired multiple rockets at his house. Three of his daughters, Bessan (twenty-one), Mayar (fifteen), and Aya (thirteen) died instantly, as did his niece Noor (seventeen). The shelling also left his daughter, Shatha, his niece, Ghaida, and his brother, Nasser, critically injured. Innocent lives lost. A father in despair. A family overcome with grief. But just like the title of his memoir indicates, he refuses to hate.
After enduring such heartbreak, how does one prevent hate from seeping into their heart and filling them with a desire for revenge and violence? The answer lies in the emotion's corrosive abilities. Just like a cancer, it spreads throughout the body and ingrains itself deeply within, blinding those afflicted from being able to positively engage in conflict resolution. Dr. Abuelaish described the emotion of hatred to me in our recent conversation as, “a destructive, contagious, disease. It is most harmful to the one impacted by it as it is like a poison that weighs us down and prevents us from moving the dialogue forward.” Hate confines people to approach the reconciliation process from the path of darkness where ignorance, arrogance, and greed dictate the terms of negotiations. But there is a more humanistic path to achieving peace, a nonviolent path, a better path--the path of light.
Dr. Abuelaish embraced the path of light long ago which seeks to counter hate and violence by building upon commonalities that we share across humanity. From his endless hours in the maternity ward and intimate work with human life, he notices our commonalities as early as birth. “No one can discriminate or differentiate between the cry of a newborn baby. American, Palestinian, Israeli, male, or female, their cries cannot be distinguished from one another. But even more importantly, humanity has the same reaction to a newborn’s cry. Once we hear the cry of a newborn baby, we all smile because it is the cry of new life.” But even before beginning his medical career, Dr. Abuelaish learned very early on from his own life experiences how similar we all are across our different societies, including Israelis and Palestinians. At fifteen years old, he spent the summer in Israeli working on a Jewish family farm. In his memoir, he talks about the powerful impression the family left on him by not only how kindly they treated him, but also how similar they were to his own family. While working to resolve conflicts, the path of light helps illuminate all of our shared similarities that get obscured when we fixate on our differences. When we are able to see the experiences, emotions, and values that so many of us have in common; we are able to come together to make lasting change that will better all of our societies. Dr. Abuelaish chose to construct his path of light and nonviolence on the strengthening of the solidarity that societies exhibit within the fields of healthcare, education, and the role women maintain. By building upon the shared values of these societal spheres, we will all be able to follow this path of pacifism to achieve a deeper understanding of one another’s situations, making peaceful resolutions much more obtainable in the future.
As a practitioner of medicine his whole professional career, Dr. Abuelaish sees how humanity’s shared worldview regarding the importance of healthcare can serve as a great starting point to begin constructive dialogue. Dr. Abuelaish rightfully pointed out to me that health is one of the few indiscriminatory “human equalizers” among our distinct societies. “When you go to any hospital and treat any patient there, all of them are treated equally. Treatment is not based on ethnicity, religion, skin color, gender, or name; it is based on the patient’s need and the physician’s diagnosis.” Just as doctors treat all their patients equally and humanely, we all need to learn to apply the same approach to our day-to-day interactions with each other. One of the most important aspects of good health is learning to coexist with one another in stable, peaceful, nonviolent environments. Dr. Abuelaish goes on to note, “Health is peace and peace is health. My health and my peace are linked to your health and your peace. I am not in an environment of good health and peace as long as you are not and vice versa.” More often than not though, the politics we implement on the ground, instead of the healthcare we provide, dictate and create the environments of our societies. These politics so frequently neglect the humanistic aspects of our cultures. We must learn to act based on the needs of the people, not the needs of our governments, as our fundamental needs cross borders and created shared experiences through which we can establish dialogue. “If I come to someone who is in labor and ask what is health, she would tell me a successful delivery; if I come to someone who is thirsty and ask what is health, they would tell me a drink of water; if I come to someone who is oppressed and ask what is health, they would tell me freedom.” Just like how we provide healthcare by listening to the needs of the people we strive to help; we must learn to reconcile our differences through the same measures. Once we actually listen to and acknowledge the realities of our concerns through dialogue, will we then be able to follow the path of light in our efforts to achieve peace through humanity.
Education is just as important of a tool in Dr. Abuelaish’s humanistic approach to peace as it helps eradicate the hatred and discrimination that lead us down the path of darkness. “Education enlightens the people, it gives wisdom to the people, it allows us to see things outside of the box.” He then went on to wisely point out what happened regarding the public education campaign to quit smoking. “When people began to learn that smoking was harmful, what did they do, nothing? But once they began to educate themselves as public awareness of the dangers increased, they began to stop.” The same concept can be applied to hatred as we need to understand the dangers of the emotion. It is our responsibility, as Dr. Abuelaish practices himself so often, to increase the awareness of how hatred and violence spread and to educate ourselves on their root causes. But one of the most important aspects of education is that it not only brings people together, it allows us to learn from a diversity of perspectives. “Education is the passport that enables us to travel and cross this small world, it brings people together.” When we learn together, we share knowledge and experiences that help us reconcile our differences in a proactive, nonviolent way.
But to fully embrace a humanistic approach to peace, our governments and societies need to operate at their full capacities. By this notion, Dr. Abuelaish means we must involve women to participate in the resolution of conflicts to a much greater degree as their perspective provides invaluable input which is so often missing from the discussion. “Women symbolize the humanity, the passion, the love, and life itself; yet more often than not, they are not the ones involved in the decision-making, they are not the ones who wage the war…They do not wage war yet they bear most of the consequences from it.” When we fixate on statistics and numbers from violent conflicts, we so often overlook the wife left without a husband, the mother left without a son, sisters left without brothers. Females are so often the guardians of the house, where they defend what is theirs just as staunchly as men do in wars, but by projecting the values of love and compassion. It is exactly this approach that is so often lacking in the decision making of executive offices, congresses, parliaments, and military headquarters. Dr. Abuelaish sees a quick fix to this problem. “the more we see women sitting at the table, being part of the decision-making, the world will be a better place.” As the keepers of the family unit, females are so much more in touch with humanity than men and can use their perspective and experiences to overpower the hate and vitriol that so often cloud male-led reconciliation. Women are emblematic of following the path of light and serve as an example of how we should embrace nonviolence and humanity when we attempt to foster peace.
Dr. Abuelaish has delivered so many lives into this world, endured death so close to his heart, and yet he never deviates from the path of light. The hope that radiated from his tone when we spoke shows his unique ability to find the positive in bad situations. “We always have to see the positive, and during the bad we must maximize the positive and give hope.” Even in the tragic deaths of his daughters and niece, he managed to find the light and salvage life through the establishment of his ensuing foundation, Daughters for Life. The foundation provides scholarships and awards to young girls from the Middle East who seek to empower themselves and improve their lives through education. Dr. Abuelaish keeps the positivity of his daughters alive through his foundation, just like his tireless work in the maternity ward keeps alive the many babies he delivers or his embodiment of nonviolence and dialogue keeps alive the aspirations for peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict. By following the path of Dr. Abuelaish, we shed light on the path of darkness and make the road to peace much more visible and achievable.
The Many Faces of Nonviolence
by Emily Mattio
In April 2018, twelve women in red cloaks and white bonnets stood behind California State Treasurer John Chiang, voicelessly embodying the handmaids from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel of a future where women’s rights are nonexistent. These costumed protesters, among many others, gathered in support of Chiang’s announcement that he would circulate a petition to direct part of California’s state budget to end rape backlog and begin testing approximately 13,000 untouched rape kits. Out of the many survivors of sexual assault, only some go through these invasive examinations to help prosecute their attackers. However, many of these kits remain untested, which prevents thousands of survivors from building a strong legal case. Chiang’s call to action, inspired by these powerful protesters, is a step towards justice.
Among the crusaders was Chelsea Byers, who was asked to not only organize, but also to speak at the press conference. She founded her organization, the Campaign to Abolish Statutes of Limitations on Rape and Sexual Assault (CASOL), after observing the power of grassroots movements and hearing survivors’ stories firsthand. Its message is simple and straightforward: it is time for every state across the nation to eradicate statutes of limitations (SOLs) for rape and sexual assault.
SOLs restrict the amount of time between a crime and the ability to charge someone for it. SOLs for rape and sexual assault ignore the holistic knowledge that we now have about survivors of such crimes, along with recent technological developments that make it easier to identify and prosecute perpetrators. This prevents survivors from speaking their truth and bringing their attacker to justice once they are emotionally and physically ready to do so.
Due to societal stigma, a broken justice system, and the severe emotional and/or physical trauma that results from an sexual violence, many victims choose not to report their attackers. SOLs don’t take these factors into account, and instead gives victims a time limit to come forward. It disregards the fact that the time provided by the SOLs might not be sufficient for the victims to heal and prepare to report their attacker. Chelsea Byers has heard this story countless times. A specific instance that came to Byers’ mind concerns a nurse in the Midwest, whose daughter was sexually assaulted but unable to prosecute her attacker once she felt ready to speak with law enforcement officers. This mother now works with CASOL to rally her community behind this issue.
CASOL is in the process of publishing an advocacy toolkit and organizing an advisory committee to combat SOLs on sexual crimes. The toolkit will compile relevant information that will make it easier to share ideas, give advice on how to influence local legislation, and run meetings/campaigns. Additionally, CASOL will start an advisory committee to represent different communities across the country in order to build a stronger support system, decentralize efforts while maintaining a central body, and address intersectionality. In the meantime, CASOL continues to support active campaigns in five different states. As the movement grows, CASOL hopes to grow with it, offering solutions and resources for any problems that arise.
CASOL also offers Nonviolent Direct Action Training (NVDA), which plays a large role in the organization’s activities. NDVA puts power back into the hands of a survivor by providing them with effective tools to rise up against injustice. Byers believed that a legislative approach alone would miss the greater movement-building opportunity inherent in this cause. Investing in building capacity for nonviolent action is the best way to create a large base of people power, which then puts pressure on lawmakers to change legislation.
Byers argues that everyone, not just survivors, should be working to abolish SOLs for sexual assault. Movements such as CASOL and #MeToo demonstrate that our current criminal justice system cannot adequately address sexual violence. While CASOL cannot change the past, it provides survivors with tools that will empower and motivate them to advocate for a future where individuals are able to come forward once they are ready. Nonviolence International is proud to be partners with such an incredible organization that is making significant strides in using nonviolent action to support the rights of survivors. We are grateful for the opportunity to tell their story.
The Many Faces of Nonviolence
by Emily Mattioli
Surrounded by thousands of people, an activist named Renaldo Pearson stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang, “the only thing we did right was the day we started to fight.” One of the thousands was Tania Maduro. She had stepped out of her Connecticut home in April 2016 to take part in the largest American civil disobedience action of the 21st century. It was a march from Philadelphia to Washington D.C., followed by a weeklong protest led by Democracy Spring demanding the removal of big money from politics and the expansion and protection of voting rights.
99 Rise, one of Nonviolence International’s former partners, created Democracy Spring to address problems that are keeping democracy in the United States from thriving. As a grassroots social movement, it uses civil resistance demonstrations to bring attention to voter suppression and the outsized influence of big money in politics. Maduro joined this movement in 2016 after learning about the extent of the issue.
Very few bills get passed in Congress without some input from wealthy donors and their lobbyists. And politicians have good reason to listen. The Washington Post found that better-financed candidates win elections 91% of the time. Through demonstrations, marches, and advocacy, Democracy Spring brings the issue into the public view so that the people will demand greater regulation of money in politics.
Another obstacle that Democracy Spring addresses is voter suppression. While Maduro was initially motivated to end corporate corruption, she soon experienced the threat to voting rights first-hand. She lived out of state due to her work for Democracy Spring, but she went back to her home state of Connecticut to vote in the 2016 primaries. However, officials turned her away, saying that she was ineligible because she did not vote in the last election. Voters laws vary by state, but nearly all of them disproportionately make it harder for minority populations to vote.
The 2018 Midterm Election is one of the most recent displays of voter suppression. The Center for American Progress documented many barriers, from strict registration laws to administrative mistakes, that kept thousands of minority voters and college students from casting a ballot. Similar to Maduro’s experience, many Ohio citizens couldn’t vote because they had not made it to the polls for the previous two elections. These discrepancies, and many more, make voting more difficult for specific populations in the United States, creating unrepresentative election outcomes.
Maduro contends that one of the greatest challenges to rallying people behind these causes is that the discussion surrounding them is very academic, leaving many without the vocabulary or understanding on how to address the injustice. This is one of the reasons why nonviolent direct action is an important tool for the movement. NVDA is unique because it is accessible to everyone and will help the conversation to become more prevalent. Both big money in politics and voter suppression threaten American democracy. While partisan divisions may seem insurmountable, this is something that all Americans can come together on. Nonviolence International supports 99 Rise’s and Democracy Spring’s efforts to enforce a democracy where money does not corrupt and every citizen has an equal opportunity to vote.
Follow Tania Maduro on Facebook to keep up with the Pro-Democracy Movement.
The Many Faces of Nonviolence
by Emily Mattioli
In the autumn of 2011, different colored camping tents scattered the grassy area of Washington D.C.’s popular McPherson Square. These tents varied in sizes, as the smaller ones were used for sleeping while some larger ones were utilized as kitchens, storage areas, libraries, and meeting places. The individuals who organized and lived in this ‘tent city’ were part of the Occupy Wall Street Movement fighting for economic justice. One man who spent multiple days and nights in McPherson Square was former Nonviolence International (NVI) employee, Andrew Batcher.
Batcher joined the team at NVI after completing his Master’s in Social Justice in Intercultural Relations at the School for International Training (SIT), a Vermont-based educational institution that trains individuals to become successful global leaders and citizens. Batcher already possessed a great deal of knowledge about the many ideas and theories surrounding nonviolent action and movement building, so he enrolled in SIT to supplement his learning with hands-on experience. SIT provided Batcher with the necessary training and skill-building tools that would assist him in becoming an effective activist and a great addition to the Nonviolence International team.
According to Batcher, the height of his work at NVI occurred after the Occupy D.C. protesters removed their tents from McPherson Square. Although they had left their main protest site, the Occupy D.C. Movement as a whole still had a driven and passionate base. Organizers used this momentum to transform the movement, which they now called Occupy 2.0. Various leaders took charge of different projects that they believed would be valuable to the movement. Batcher worked with a team to create the D.C. Learning Collective, which partnered with schools to support student-led movements.
During his time with the Learning Collective, it wasn’t uncommon for Batcher to observe the emergence of strong movements, relationships, and leaders. One of Batcher’s favorite memories from working with the D.C. Learning Collective occurred when he witnessed a group of high school students stand up for their right to protest. Commonly, when students take part in protests or walk-outs for a certain cause, they will stop if they are reprimanded by the school’s administration. Batcher was pleased when he saw a group of students stick to their principles even when faced with an official reprimand. Frustrated over the negative treatment of their immigrant teachers, this group of students organized a school walkout. As a result, the administration suspended the organizers and held a school assembly that attempted to justify their negative behavior and dismiss student concerns. Batcher was even more pleased when he saw that the community sided with these fearless’ students actions.
According to Batcher, society has improved in several areas due to the Occupy D.C. movement. The underlying theme of all these changes is the same: the conversation has changed. While no legislature has been passed to address the concerns of the millions who protested in Occupy movements around the country, it has become more acceptable to talk about things that may have been taboo prior to movement, such as criticizing capitalism.
After his work with the Occupy D.C. movement and the Learning Collective, Batcher continue his activist efforts by protesting against various extremist groups in the United States. While nonviolence is not always the first thought for others partaking in these movements, Batcher has used nonviolent tactics that he strengthened during his time at NI in order to achieve impressive victories. When asked to reflect on his time at NVI, Batcher responded, “It’s important to challenge the stigma of movements and activists, because the stigma prevents people from joining. I think Nonviolence International does a really good job at that.”
Our organization is proud to be tied to Andrew Batcher, the work he has accomplished at NVI, and what he has gone on to do in his own life. As Nonviolence International celebrates its thirty years of impressive history, we also celebrate Andrew Batcher.