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I am sure that all of you saw the truly courageous act that Tom Gabel did last week when he came out as transgender. I truly admire the courage that has been displayed, to come out in a Rolling Stone magazine interview is something that I am sure most people would not have to guts to do themselves. In the interview Laura Jane Grace (Tom Gabel, for the rest of this post I will be naming her by her new name that best reflects her true identity) says that she has struggled with transgender dysphoria most of her life and that she could no long lie to herself. She has tweeted that she is completely overwhelmed by all the love and support that she has received from family, friends, and the punk rock community; unfortunately the message boards have also been plagued by ignorant xenophobic comments, people have made it a point of calling Laura gay and ridiculing such an important and difficult choice like the one that she has decided to embark on. First of all, I think that it is important that we look at what trangender dysphoria is exactly, because a person is not necessarily gay if they are transgender; and secondly I think that it is important to send out our love and support to Laura as she embarks on what must be liberating and scary all at the same time.

What is transgender dysphoria? It is described as discontent with the biological sex and gender that is assigned to someone at birth. It is used by psychologists and physicians as the symptoms with transexualism, it is considered clinically distinct when it is noticed in children, as opposed as adolescence or adulthood, it is reported to intensify over time. Just like how gender identity develops in children, so do sex-role stereotypes (sex-role stereotypes are the beliefs, characteristics and behaviours of individual cultures that are deemed normal and appropriate for boys and girls to possess; if one wants more explanations about this I highly recommend the book Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, I find that this book should be read by everyone, it is truly enlightening and eye-opening ) which are influenced by family and friends, the mass-media, community and other socializing agents. Most cultures unfortunately still disapprove of cross-gender behaviour, it results in significant problems for affected persons and those in close relationships with them. In many cases, transgender individuals report discomfort which comes from the feeling that their bodies are “wrong” or meant to be different. One contemporary treatment consists primarily of physical modifications to bring the body into harmony with one’s perception of mental gender identity rather than vice versa. There is no official cause for Transgender Dysphoria, but many believe that it is caused by genetic (chromosomal) abnormalities, hormone imbalances during fetal and childhood development, defects in normal human bonding and child rearing, or a combination of these factors. There are many great resources on the internet that are available in case anyone would be interested in learning more about this, it is best that one educates oneself about what one does not understand.

Here are a couple of links to get you started:

GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) http://www.glaad.org/

Introduction to Queer Theory http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-quee.htm

Alright, so, here goes… I must first of all say that I am truly humbled to witness someone taking part in such a courageous act, I have so much love for Laura and what she is doing these days and feel that education must also take center stage. At the same time that I have felt inspired by her courage, I have also been extremely disappointed by some of the punk rock communitie’s reaction. I know that there are close-minded xenophobic people in all spheres of our lives, but I have always believed that punk rock was that place, that safe place where we could all be ourselves and no one would judge us because we are being true to ourselves. I mean, I don’t know about your town, but in my hometown, the punk scene was made up of the outsiders that never felt like they fit in anywhere and it was these church basement shows which were a place where we could truly be ourselves without fear of being judged by our brothers and sisters; that is what the jocks and popular kids did all week at school. So, I am sad to see that even though there is a great outpouring of love and support for Laura, we are still met with hateful words and judgments on the message boards. To all the nay-sayers this is what I have to say to you:

Tom Gabel wrote music that made me feel alive, helped me through some hard and dark times, made me feel that I was not alone in this fucked up world full of oppression and hate; and you know what Laura, I am going to give that right back to you! For me this scene has always been about community and breaking all stereotypes and prejudices in society; so let’s keep smashing down those walls that divide us! And to the people that say that they will be boycotting future Against Me! shows because of Laura’s decision to live like what she feels to be right, stay the fuck home, we don’t want you around anyways! Would you want to live life denying to yourself how you truly feel? I know that I wouldn’t, and would hope to get the love and support of those around me. We all strive for liberation, from the shackles that keep us down in our everyday lives, once we start to become free (thanks punk rock, I owe you one!) we start to realize that there is so much more than borders, and that we are all just humans that want to be happy and free! Laura Jane Grace, may you live a life of ease and freedom!

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It has been a little over a month since the internet phenomenon of KONEY 2012 and Invisible Children has gone viral in the consciousness of the world. This has made me think a lot about Slacktivism and the impact that it really has, this site is interested in engaged people who try to impact the world in a positive while, so why am I so bother with this phenomenon of slacktivism and slactivists? I thought that it was important for me to wait till this latest phenomenon has blown over before I would write about this, to avoid any conclusions that I was reacting directly to the Invisible Children campaign (which I still believe must be questioned and examined) and also to see just what impact has this had. But first of all, what is Slacktivism?

Slacktivism is a term that is a combination of the words slacker and activism. It is usually considered to be a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts require minimal personal effort from the slactivist. The underlying assumption being promoted is that these low-cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research. These slactivist activities include signing Internet petitions, joining a community organization without contributing to the organization’s efforts, copying and pasting of social network statuses or messages or altering one’s personal data or avatar on social network services. Research is beginning to explore the connection between the concept and modern activism/advocacy, as groups are increasingly using social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids describes the term slacktivist, saying it “posits that people who support a cause by performing simple measures are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change.”

We could debate on the value of slacktivism in today’s world, but what I am more interested in exploring is the actual impact that campaigns like KONY 2012 achieve and also just how informed are people when they start plastering their Facebook profiles and twitter accounts with these types of campaigns. First of all, did anyone know who Invisible Children are and how were they working for the cause that they are publishing? Secondly, what are other organizations and groups in the area saying about this same cause? Are we to trust what one group is saying? This is something that I learned early in my activist days, my first activist actions were the creation of an ARA chapter (Anti-Racist Action), then taking part in Anti-Globalisation protests and then giving out flyers for Animal Rights Groups, and now I have been bringing meditation to people who are incarcerated. My message has always been one of compassion and tolerance, the vehicle might have changed through the years, but the message has remained. One thing that this transformation has taught me, and I think that most activists have the same storyline to a certain degree, we unfortunately learn that we can’t trust even those fighting the good fight. My best example is PETA, an organization that helped me discover the fight for animals, but as time went on I noticed that I could not support their methods and tactics by 100%. Discovery of their euthanasia practices, and especially the internet pornography site that they created ( I mean, how are you able to free animals from oppression and suffering while you oppress women?), these facts made me go through periods of self-reflection and realize that we have to research who we decide to follow and not be fooled by flashy and catchy advertising.

So when KONY 2012 came out, the first thing that I did was research Invisible Children and assure that they were an organization that would be trustworthy. And, with some quick research we see that Invisible Children might not be the organization that we should trust with this campaign. So lets start at the beginning… After some research, I found out that only 25% of their fundraising actually goes towards helping the children of Africa while the other 75% goes towards salaries, travel and other expenses. How could one support and contribute to a charity that barely even donates to the cause it is founded upon? Even the Ugandan people don’t support them according to the Uganda government? The Invisible Children organization used “multiple regional conflicts to make it appear that this is one rapidly increasing issue” according to one source. They used as much emotion as they could in order to provoke a young generation. But they provoked us all for a false purpose, a false issue and a war that has ended.

So many people that I know were outraged about this issue when they first saw this video; I decided to do more research to hopefully better inform those around me because I did not want them to fall into the trap of basing my opinion on emotion like so many had, simply because they are so uneducated on the situation in central Africa. I was faced with many people telling me that no matter what Invisible Children were doing, the important thing was that people were being informed; but, as I looked more into it, I noticed that people were being wrongly informed and letting emtions take over their judgements.  The Internet movement by Invisible Children was meant to play off our emotions and appeal to those who are uneducated about the issue and it did exactly that; however, none of us have ever lived there so why not believe those that have?

There is no denying that Joseph Kony is a terrible person. He has done shocking things and for them, he deserves to be punished. The nature and execution of the punishment is what we seem to be arguing over in every spare column inch and every other Facebook post. Given that we have decided to despise him, what’s the best thing we can really do to help Ugandans and others who have been affected by his regime? Kony stands accused of conscripting over 30,000 children into combat warfare over a twenty-year period. The plight of those affected has been brought to light by ‘Invisible Children’, the charity behind this campaign. They believe that the US military should intervene to capture him and the ‘KONY 2012′ video, which has now gone viral, intends to inform the wider world and work as a call to action so that the US government will take note.

This move has not been without backlash, as the charity has come under attack from many other aid groups and lobbyists claiming that the campaign is “at best a gross oversimplification of a really complicated situation, and, at worst, an actively unhelpful misuse of resources and attention.” Essentially, after only days of support for Invisible Children, the charity is now being accused of misusing funds, misrepresenting facts and essentially making the situation in Uganda worse. This idea has gained support from NGO workers, activists, academics and journalists but, naive as this statement may seem, how bad can they be if they are bringing attention to the crisis?

Whatever about making the situation worse, the basic fact is that while Invisible Children sells itself as a charity set up to campaign against the use of child soldiers, only one-third of money raised has gone to directly assist children and families affected by such regimes. The video seen by millions around the world may raise awareness, but what if this is awareness based on false ‘facts’? Joseph Kony isn’t actually in Uganda and hasn’t been for six years or so. Such a fact seemed to not to matter too much in the thirty minutes Invisible Children talked about stopping this warlord. If this is just the surface, where else has the charity bent the truth?

The President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni is not the leader of a democracy. Ushering in a fourth term in the office last year, he has now held this position for twenty-five years. Museveni lords over a country with minimal social services and well-documented governmental human rights abuses. Invisible Children is channelling money into a corrupt country. Stopping Kony will not change any of the other facts about Uganda and if we are to support the giving of more finance and firearms to those in power, we may actually make the country’s overall problems worse.

Furthermore, the crisis in northern Uganda is not seen by its citizens as one that is the result of the Lord’s Resistance Army, of which Kony is the head. Yes, you read right. The conflict in the region is viewed as one both the Government of Uganda and the LRA have perpetrated and benefited from after nearly twenty-five years of systemic violence and displacement. In order to stop Kony, we may be looking at a larger problem, far beyond the scope of Invisible Children.

What the charity has at its core is obvious – the welfare of children, especially those who have been conscripted, but condoning violence of the sort proposed to bring down Kony and to ‘free’ the Ugandan people seems slightly counter-productive. If you’re trying to save people and safeguard children, the best way to go about it is not to storm their country with ammunition and a mission to kill one man. Those caught in the crosshairs will not be few and far between.

Where there is an argument, there is always an objection and Invisible Children have not taken their criticism lying down. Finance aside, they say that co-ordination with regional governments is vital in helping to secure the arrest they so desperately want, and promise that no money has passed from them to the Ugandan government. They say that their video is simple because their goal, at its core, is not complex, but they also state that they want to see as many people as possible coming out to support the cause and the ‘KONY 2012’ video appeared to be the best way to do it. Whatever we think about it, they’re correct about one thing: we are talking about it.

Nevertheless, Kony 2012 focuses on one warlord and asks that viewers support the continued presence of U.S. military advisers in Uganda to capture him. However, U.S. forces participated in a disastrous operation in 2008 that failed to capture Kony in his base in Congo, but which succeeded in provoking the LRA to launch a ferocious counteroffensive. The rebels abducted an estimated 700 people and killed almost 1000. The Invisible Children video likewise ignores the brutality of the Ugandan military’s campaign against the LRA. In the hunt for Kony, they have been accused of looting the Central African Republic and forcing women into prostitution. The Kony 2012 campaign will not only reinforce this brutality by giving it a “humanitarian” justification, but it serves to strengthen an authoritarian state that last made global headlines for its attempts to pass a law to punish homosexuality with death.

Even from a strictly humanitarian point of view, it’s hard to see why U.S. intervention deserves support. First of all, if the military were to find Kony, we should ask how many of the LRA’s child soldiers—in whose name Invisible Children claims to speak—were killed in the attempt to bring him in. We might also question the commitment of the U.S. government to ending the use of child soldiers in Uganda when it funds the armies of four countries that continue to use them, including Yemen and the Congo. But beyond these questions, it’s important to remember that U.S. military interventions never have been and never will be carried out for humanitarian motivations. U.S. military involvement in Uganda isn’t about concern for ordinary people, but Washington’s desire to strengthen its foothold in Africa. According to a transcript from a March 1 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon’s Africa Command is aiming to expand its presence in the region.

For anyone who watched the Invisible Children video, the deceptions in the call for intervention weren’t the only troubling aspects.

Despite Invisible Children’s claim to speak on behalf of Kony’s child soldiers, only one such soldier appears in the video. The only other Ugandans interviewed are politicians—representatives of a U.S.-aligned government that has repressed the Acholi. In fact, the camera spends more time on the video’s white director and his child, and the white activists working with Invisible Children. According to the video, this is “a crucial time in history where what we do or don’t do right now will affect every generation to come.” But the “we” in that passage is clearly Westerners, not Ugandans. This approach—appealing to people in the United States to fight Joseph Kony on behalf of the people of Uganda—has a long and ugly history. It goes by the term “white man’s burden”—the racist argument made famous by British poet Rudyard Kipling that it is the duty of Western countries to be a “civilizing” influence in undeveloped parts of the world.

The Kony 2012 campaign embraces the idea that the people of Uganda must be “saved” from themselves by the benevolent West. This ideology justified almost a century of colonialism in Uganda and the rest of Africa, creating the very conditions that produced monsters like Joseph Kony and Yoweri Museveni. Naturally, people in the United States who see the Kony 2012 video will want to do something to alleviate the suffering that they see portrayed in the film. But if nothing else, a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan should teach us that the U.S. war machine can never be used to stop violence and end suffering. The Kony 2012 video gives false answers to a terrible conflict. The best way to help Uganda is to challenge U.S. intervention and the neoliberal economic policies that devastated the continent.

Are we still talking about bringing down this African warlord? I have to say that I have almost heard nothing about Invisible Children and their KONY 2012 campaign, like so many other online revolutions, people are distracted and have returned to their everyday Facebook use. A second video has been released but the campaign has definitely lost its steam, and now the slactivists of the world are waiting for the next big moment! This makes me sad, where are all these people that were up in arms? The ones that wanted to bring awareness to all corners of the world? Where is the fight? We don’t change the world with awareness, but with actions I suppose; and liking something on Facebook does not change anything….

Also, to just go back to the “white man’s burden”, what are you doing in your country to help the people who are oppressed and being killed by a morally bankrupt government. I feel that there is not the same empathy for the Native American and the suffering and oppression that he is faced with everyday in Canada. There are causes that are being brought to the publics attention by organizations like Amnesty International about the cruel indifference by the Canadian people towards its Native population, a peoples that our ancestors killed and stripped away all resemblance of the world and culture that they once knew. Here are some videos to help some of you be better informed about what is happening in our own backyards.

Two Worlds Colliding is a movie about Darrel Night, a Native American man that was dumped by two police officers in a field on the outskirts of Saskatoon in January 2000, during freezing tempatures (-20 degrees celsius). He was able to find shelter and survive the whole ordeal, but he was shocked to find out that the frozen bodies of other Aboriginal men were discovered in the same area. This documentary explores what was known as Saskatoon’s infamous “freezing deaths,” and the tension between a mistrustful Aboriginal community and a police force that has to come to terms with a shocking secret.

Two Worlds Colliding

This next video is about the hundreds of Native women that are murdered and ignored. This helps to show the stagering indifference that exists in regards to this subject.

Des centaines de femmes autochtones tuees dans l’ombre

Thanks for reading and I hope that we will always take the time to look into the causes that we decide to support, and most importantly… Are you acting locally also to help make your community a better place for those that will follow?

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This week I was faced with a question/dilemma/problem, it was all born out of a harmless comment in someone’s eyes I am sure, but these words maybe me look within and turn to the dharma for guidance. The dharma has never steered me wrong, it has always cleared everything up for me, but this case was not immediately cleared and I am asking all of you. What is right speech? And what does it mean to practice right speech? Let me put everyone to speed, I find that most will see how it is not as easy as one might think.

I was at work, a good day, I was wearing a new Fred Perry polo (I must admit that I am a total fan of this clothing line, bordering on obsession!) and one of my bosses was also wearing a new Fred Perry sweater. I always feel a certain feeling of joy when I wear a new item by this designer and I can see that I am not the only one that feels that way when we find that awesome shirt and get to share it with those around us. My boss was wearing a colour that some might say was more “effeminate” than the green that I was wearing. A colleague of mine asked me if I had seen his new sweater and I said yes in a tone that clearly stated my approval of his new digs, he then proceeded to say “I asked him if he switched teams and this is his way of telling us”, and this is where my debate and reflection starts. Is it right speech for me to call him on his homophobic statement and get to question why he thinks that first of all being gay is derogatory, that the colour that we were explains our sexual orientation, and lastly, seeing as how he is newly a father, what kind of role model is he being for his son and how he will view the world in the future.

Right speech is usually understood as one of the ethical conducts in the eightfold path as:

Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.

As one quickly understands, this is aimed at the individual and the actions that the individual does in the world. I am really questioning, if we are to practice engaged buddhism, if this act of calling people out on their racist or homophobic comments not a part of right speech. It is slanderous speech, the words that are used are malicious and create a world where it is Ok to use homophobia as an insult towards someone. I have always had a hard time when people use terms like faggot to joke around when someone is not being manly enough or good at a certain task, to the point that I am seen as a hyper sensitive person that has no sense of humour because I object to the fact that this term is being used. I should know that it is not what they mean and should not take it so seriously, I find the phenomenon of the normalisation of hate to be a plague in our society and assures that prejudice will continue for many generations to come.

What I wish I said to my co-worker, instead of simply ignoring the homophobic statement and saying that I was glad that at least one person had taste in clothing in the office, I wish I would have asked him first of all why he finds homosexuality to be derogatory, that he should take some time to reflect on what kind of role model is he being for his newborn son, and how would he react if one day he learns that his son was gay (would his vocabulary change)? I find that it is important to study the normalization of hate in our society, language is an extremely subtle tool for hate, the more we hear something the easier it is for us to use it in the same context. I am trying to be as mindful and aware with my dharma practice, so why would I not stand up to hate and respond with love, teaching others how they can be less hateful on a daily basis? I find that it is my duty to stand up and call people out on their ignorant comments, that is what right speech is, speaking out to help others suffer less. I owe it to my colleague to let him know what happened to me when he uttered what he believed to be “harmless” words, I owe it to him, and I especially owe it to his son!

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The death penalty seems to me to be a form of punishment that should not still exist in first world countries (the “civilized” world some say), or any country for that matter. Still, many countries around the world use to the death penalty as the ultimate form of punishment for its population. These countries are: Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Tonga, United States, Vietnam. I still don’t understand how these countries can’t see what capital punishment for what it is, legalized murder by the state. So many countries have realized the inhumanity in the type of punishment and banned it, countries like Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bhutan, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuela. As we can see, Capital Punishment has been practiced by most countries, and 58 nations currently still use this barbaric form of justice, while 97 nations have abolished it.

The UN General Assembly has adopted in 2007, 2008, and 2010 a non-binding calling for a global moratorium on executions, with plans to eventually abolishing them. Even if most of the world’s nations have abolished capital punishment, over 60% of the world’s population live in countries where executions take place, seeing as how China, India, the United States of America and Indonesia, the four most populous countries in the world continue to apply the death penalty (although in India and Indonesia only rarely. Each of these four nations have voted against the General Assembly’s resolutions. It is believed that in 2010 there has been about 5000 executions in China (there are no official numbers that are released by the government, but these are the estimates of different human rights organizations),  252 in Iran, 60 in North Korea, 53 in Yemen, 46 in the United States, and many other lives have been taken in the name of justice throughout the world. Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the United States are the only developed countries that have retained the death penalty. The death penalty was overwhelmingly practiced in poor and authoritarian states, which often employed the death penalty as a tool of political oppression.

I believe that the death penalty is ineffective in its role and the impact that it is meant to have, Albert Camus has greatly influenced my view on the subject with his essay Reflections on the Guillotine. Countries where the death penalty have been abandoned, crime has not risen. The world has changed since its implementation, capital punishment no longer serves as the deterrent that it might have been. One glaring fact that I have noticed is that during its implementation in the past, executions were conducted in public places and now it has been done privately in prisons. Even though I agree with conducting executions in private, it takes away the element of deterrence and renders the death penalty as a means for the state to dispose of those that they see as irremediable.

The threat of death is also insufficient to prevent people from committing crimes seeing as how death is the only common fate that is shared by all, regardless of guilt. Seeing as how most murders are not premeditated no deterrent can be effective and in the case of premeditated murder the deterrent is still insufficient to stop those who have already decided to commit the act.

Without serving a purpose, capital punishment is reduced to an act of revenge that only breeds further violence, which is fueled by sadism and perpetuated by tradition. This is then an act of state of revenge just like the concept of an eye for an eye and justice is to be based on law and principles and not base instinct and emotions.

Also, there is no absolute authority that is capable of delivering judgement as no man posses absolute innocence himself. Because of this the maximum penalty should be set at life labour due to the possibility of judicial error, a life of labour is first of all much harsher than death and it carries the possibility of being reversed, the convicted also can have the option of choosing death via suicide.

And lastly, capital punishment is inappropriate because by conducting revenge for grievances it simultaneously hurts the family and loved ones of the convict in the same manner as those being avenged were hurt by the initial crime.

I believe that it is now time to take action, there are two petition campaigns that amnesty international are conducting against the executions of two men in the USA. The death penalty is a contentious social issue, 37 states in the USA still practice this barbaric form of so-called justice. The most recent Gallop poll shows that 61% of Americans support the death penalty in the case of aggravated murder and more rarely for felony murder, these numbers drop drastically if there was on option for life imprisonment without parole. The first execution by the United States judicial system was Manuel in Illinois County in June of 1779 for Witchcraft; most executions in the beginning were for aiding slave runaways or slave revolt, which was a capital crime, these people have all posthumously pardoned since the abolition of slavery in the USA. The legal process of the death penalty in the USA has five steps: (1) sentencing, (2) direct review, (3) state collateral review, (4) federal habeas corpus, and (5) the Section 1983 challenge, which has become increasingly important (Clemency or pardon, through which the Governor or President of the jurisdiction can unilaterally reduce or abrogate a death sentence, it’s an executive rather than judicial process.). Right now in the US there are two men on death row that Amnesty International are trying save with an aggressive petition campaign to hopefully stop the execution of Romell Broom and Reggie Clemons.

The action that I think is more pressing is the petition to stop the second attempt for the execution of Romell Broom in the state of Ohio. On September 15th 2009 the technicians attempted for over two hours to execute Romell Broom by lethal injection, even with the help of Romell, the state was not able to complete the task because they were unable to find an adequate vein. During this witnesses have stated that you could clearly see the pain that he was experiencing, clearly showing the cruel nature of executions. This is not to pardon the crime that was committed for which he was found guilty, and it is not to minimise the suffering of the family of the victim, we are demanding that Romell Broom be spared of death by lethal injection and that he serve time in a Ohio penitentiary.

Reggie Clemons was sentenced to death in St. Louis as an accomplice in the 1991 murder of two young white women, Julie and Robin Kerry, who plunged from the Chain of Rocks Bridge into the Mississippi River. Two other black youths were also convicted, including Marlin Gray (executed in 2005). Clemons has consistently maintained his innocence. His case illustrates many of the flaws in the U.S. death penalty system. Shortly after a 2009 execution date was stayed, the Missouri Supreme Court assigned a judge (a “Special Master”) to investigate the reliability of his conviction and proportionality of his sentence. Amnesty International urges the state of Missouri to recognize the serious problems with Reggie Clemons’ case and to commute his death sentence. It is also important to note that there has been many irregularities that have arisen in this case, professional mistakes by the prosecution, allegations of police brutality and intimidation, possible racial prejudice, and an inadequate jury representation during the trial. There is a petition that has also been created to stop the execution of Reggie Clemons, Amnesty International is leading this campaign. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used.

I urge you to please take action and print out the petition and bring them to your workplace, school, social clubs, and whatever other activities. We must speak up and act until we are able to live in a world that is free of the death penalty and that humanity is honored and recognized.

 

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Today I was sitting in the subway on the way home from work when I heard school children saying very derogatory comments in regards to Indian culture (for example, Namaste is something to laugh at if you ask them). It seems that lately I have been faced with many racist/anti-immigrant comment and also many borderline comments on these issues and have begun to ask myself “Why does it feel like I am the one that always siding with the other side?”, why do I always feel like there is a peaceful solution to the world’s problems? Where does this hope come from? Why do I feel like I don’t necessarily have the moral high ground in all these different situations? Why do I feel that we should always discuss and find a middle ground, that no one should impose values on others?

I feel lately that it seems that the mechanics of racism and intolerance are being acknowledged and simply accepted as matter of fact (We all remember the ESPN fiasco with basketball star Jeremy Lin and how no harm was intended by the blatantly racist comment [could someone please explain to me when the word Chink is ever used in a non-racist way?]). I think of the anti-immigration laws that have been passed in the past couple of years, the war on illegal immigrants has grown to a scale that justifies war like actions. If we look briefly at the US Mexican border we are reminded of the divide between the reality that these two countries live in, and how it is normal that one would seem like a dream no matter what the work may be. I have always gotten a kick out of the term illegal immigrant, migration is a human right and has always been what we do since our early beginnings on this planet. And hey, I wouldn’t be typing this blog post from this seat if my ancestors did not participate in some illegal immigration of their own. Here comes my question about moral high ground, who the fuck are we to say that some people are not allowed to come and impose their traditions and values in our country when that is exactly what we did 400 years ago? I mean seriously, why is our genocide of the Native American Peoples justified and now we freak out that a poor Mexican wants to come to work in horrible work conditions to ensure that I can eat my strawberries when I watch my horrible reality television shows, then what’s the problem? Please don’t talk to me about healthcare as a reason as I watch my fellow citizens eat McDonalds everyday and live mostly sedimentary lives. Seriously!

Mexican – US border

I am also having more and more difficulties with the idea that we accept immigrants to our country, but they better not try to put their beliefs in my face! Again, let’s remember the imposition of Christianity on the Native American Peoples (to save their souls if I remember correctly), by putting them in residential schools and making them live away from the parents and tribes for years only to return to their new homes on newly made “reserves” with Christian names. If this is not imposing values on a population, then I don’t know what isn’t. This is when I ask myself, who am I to judge which cultural values are better? How do I know what is best? I mean, my country doesn’t have that great of a track record either, it’s not like we have a good track record when it comes to how we treat the Native American populations, seniors (ref: The new allegations of abuse in a seniors wing in Edmonton), our veterans once they have stopped being useful to the war machines. the homeless (we all remember the Vancouver Olympics I think), and unfortunately the list could go on.

I have always believed that no one is entirely innocent or guilty, and this is why it should be hard for us to carry such absolute judgements towards others. I have and will always believe that we must take the time to sit down with people and find a middle ground instead of always fighting for the high ground. We say to the world that we are a tolerant people, but I find more and more that this statement is losing its validity. The 20th century was a century of violence (there was not a time when there was no war) and make this century a century of dialogue and tolerance. Before we try to impose our views or judgements on others maybe we could give ourselves a check list of points to examine to ensure that we make this a tolerant and compassionate world.

  • If I were the target of these comments or judgements would I find them fair?
  • Am I trying to impose a moral high ground?
  • Am I feeding into my fears of my ignorance towards a certain subject?
  • Have I looked at both sides with an open heart and mind?
  • Am I looking for a compromise to try to please both sides?
  • Am I approaching this without judgement or prejudice?

I am sorry to have imposed this rant on all of you, but I find that it is important to speak up and show people who there is maybe a better way. I am not trying to impose a moral high ground on others, but to show that we will develop a better relationship with others around us if it is done with respect and compassion. We are all different and let’s take advantage of that fact, there is so much that we can teach each other!  And who knows, we might learn a thing or two about ourselves along the way!

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What is happening in the Aceh region of Indonesia, the “re-education” of punks, most specifically the Aceh 64 who were taken from the city of  Tamn Budaya has not been sitting well with me. I have to admit that seeing as how I have been a punk from an early age, the best form that I was able to find to express the isolation and anger that I was feeling, and my hopes for a better world, this has really struck a chord with me.

The Police in the Province of Aceh, Indonesia have, under orders of a religious fundamentalist government, rounded up  punk rock fans and have shaved the punks heads, taken their dog collars, necklaces and chains and thrown them into pools of water for “spiritual cleansing.” The punks will  now ‘spend 10 days getting rehabilitation, training in military-style discipline and religious classes, including Quran recitation. Afterward, they’ll be sent home.’ We can easily imagine how this must feel to receive this type of treatment, also if you are a fan of punk or metal or any similar music subculture, it hits home in a slightly different way than the other human rights cases that we have sadly come accustomed to ignoring in the West. I can easily empathize with the complete frustration and humiliation these ‘punks’ must feel as I have had  a few brushes with bully ‘authorities’ who pretend they’re acting ‘in the name of the law’ but I have never, and hopefully never will, experience this type of human rights abuse by authorities of a state.

What is maybe the most interesting in all of this is the growing gulf between some particular official accounts of the detainment, and this is where I am starting to think that this might be an attack on the poor and that the street punks have simply become the face of this fight. Most authorities have all held the same line that punk is at odds with the teachings of Islam, they have claimed that these raids will continue to support their purpose of suppressing the growth of the punk communities and there are no plans for it to end anytime soon.

” Maybe, if there’s funding for us, we can continue their re-education on an extended basis until they’re better. After that we’ll hand them all over to the city government.”

The Police Chief’s justifications are religious in nature, and revolve around a notion of protecting the wider society in Aceh from the supposed threat of punk, and it’s adherents. Although, Armensyah draws distinctions between “clean” punks “that exist in different classes”, and the 64 young people his force swept off the street, detained without charge, confiscated their clothes and were forced to get haircuts. When the media asked why, if it is hygiene the main issue, the police would not also round-up the homeless in Aceh, the Chief said: “There are no homeless in Aceh, there are only punks.” The Governor however states that they were arrested for falsifying a permit for a gig, it is still unsure if all 64 detainees were arrested on this charge or just the one person who applied for the permit, and at other times he claims that the detainees were not arrested:

It is untrue that the police arrested them. That’s not it. The truth is that the police are helping them develop [their skills].

Human Rights Watch however have very different views to the officials mentioned above in reference to what has happened. M. Choirul Anam from Human Rights Watch said: “First, they violated freedom of expression. Punk is only a way to express oneself, just like a person wearing a necklace. The punk kids do not disturb public order, so the police do not have to catch them.” Anam has also gone to declare that the way that the detainees have been treated go against the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment which Indonesia is bound to since signing it in 1985. The Aceh Police force has also not followed the due process of law. The punks were not given proper legal treatment, the police executed treatments without going through any legal channels. Human Rights Watch has also stated that there will be more human rights violations if they don’t proceeded this case legally.

To everybody:  If you believe in human dignity, autonomy, and the right for people to be able to make their own decisions- keep fighting for your rights and freedoms, as well as the rights and freedoms of others. There are many actions that have been happening in support for the Aceh 64, and there are many things that you can do to help.

– Change.org has made a petition to advocate for their release.

– The record label Aborted Society is collecting mix tapes and burned CD’s (no cases) to send to their fellow punks to help with morale. Maybe you can help out?

– Check out this 100% ruling documentary about the Indonesian punk ‘scene’

– German punks Red Tape Parade have appealed for their fans on Facebook to send them spare gear to be sent out to Aceh punks in the near future, with their initiative, Up The Aceh-Punx.    Here is a status from their Facebook page: ” I have direct contact to someone in Aceh, so now I’m asking all of you – no matter if you play in a band, write for a zine, own a label, or simply share our love for punk music and punk culture – to contribute stuff so we can send it over to Indonesia, to let our friends there know that they are not alone, and that “unity” is more than a catchphrase in a song. So, if you have CDs, zines, records, pins, shirts etc. you can give away please leave a comment and we’ll get in touch.” They are posting pictures of the donations on their Facebook page.

Let’s keep the spirit alive!

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The Occupy Wall Street movement has been spreading like wildfire for a little over a month now, people are hearing about the 99% rising up and demanding that the widening gap that is growing between the haves and the have-nots becomes smaller. The Occupy movement describes itself as:

Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.

This #ows movement empowers real people to create real change from the bottom up. We want to see a general assembly in every backyard, on every street corner because we don’t need Wall Street and we don’t need politicians to build a better society.

It has become the 1% and the 99%, these numbers have been burned into most news coverage of this new movement and rightfully so, but I have always believed that I was part of a different statistic. Noah Levine in his book The Heart of the Revolution describes a definition of another 1%, people who follow the teachings of the Buddha and the Dharma are ones that go against the stream and are a part of a very select group of people. I find it interesting that he used this kind of language and imagery before this movement arose, and in many ways I find it very fitting to be using it at this point in time in history. So my question is, what is a Buddhist to do with a movement like this one? I believe in this cause and find that it is really great to see its success since its inception in September, I am also happy that it has been mostly peaceful as movement, so what can a socially engaged Buddhist like myself bring to this movement? I actually found a great article at the Buddhist Peacemakers Institute website about occupying the present moment.

  1. Interconnection.  We are moved by the interconnectedness expressed in this movement.  Occupy Wall Street is not about one environmental situation or one war, but rather about all of the systems which create suffering for all beings, and which are all related to each other.  Our spiritual practice is not just for our individual enlightenment, but to end suffering for all beings, so we are moved to address this system.
  2. Ending suffering means changing the conditions of inequality. The influence of money, corporations, and banks in our U.S. political system blocks all of the human and environmental goals that BPF works towards.  Numerous Buddhist texts point out that if an individual lives in poverty it is not due to karma as a form of personal punishment, but rather that poverty exists within a web of collective causes and conditions. The Buddha also noted that the way to build a peaceful society is to ensure equitable distribution of resources.  Many U.S. Buddhists believe in the importance of cultivating a limitless heart that embraces the goal of a society in which everyone has their basic needs met, plus education, a living wage, and the opportunity to care for their families and to develop spiritually.
  3. The means are the ends.  We are moved by and in agreement with the nonviolent tactics of the movement.  We believe in the power of compassionate presence, of bearing witness, and of nonviolent strategies toward spiritual awakening and liberation. The people on the streets in New York, and around the country and world, are in the process of being the change they wish to see, to use Gandhi’s phrase.
  4. We participate in solidarity with the 100%—with all beings.  While we want to change the situation of disparity in world, we don’t want to exile the 1% from our hearts.  Furthermore, we are aware that lumping people together, whether into the 99% or the 100%, can invisibilize people’s experiences, especially those of people of color, and the many others who bear the heaviest burdens of inequality in the U.S. and in the world.  While we are all interconnected, we are not all the same.  With this recognition of diversity, we stand in solidarity with the 100%.

This is what I find sticks with me the most out of this statement, standing in solidarity with the 100% and not exiling anyone. I mean, in a way, this is why the 99% are so upset right now, they feel pushed aside and ignored, so it is not much better if we push the 1% to the side and ignore them. It is not the people who are the problem but the system that exists in the world, this is what we must change. We are all interconnected and we must work together (everyone) if we want to change things for the best. We want to end the suffering of every being, not just a select group. Let’s continue speaking out against injustice, but lets not forget to bring compassion and wisdom to the movement. Organise a meditation flashmob at one of the occupy protests in your town and show people that this revolution will remain peaceful and compassionate, let’s not forget that this revolution must also happen within us! Be the change that you want to see in the world!

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