Monday, March 29, 2010

The War Racket

This Past Saturday, March 27th, Veterans for Truth(Who's headquarters are provided by AFSC) hosted a workshop entitled, "The War Racket". The title is of course inspired by the WWI two star general who came out against the military, admitting that it was a big profit scheme.
Veteran's for Truth(VTF) had a number of presenters that covered a variety of topics. Bruce Dixon from the Black Agenda Report talked about the militarization of the Chicago School system, Ingemar Smith, a veteran and DJ AT WRFG spoke about racism and misogyny in the military, and former Marine Corps recruiter Chris Raissi answered questions about the realities of military recruitment in Georgia. Other speakers included Gloria Tatum( Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace), Stephanie Stuckey Benifield( Georgia Representative), Hugh Esco(Georgia Green Party), and John Zientowski( Student Career Alternatives Program).
The crowd was also treated to a wonderful performance by the spoken word collective, "Guilty Penmanship" who put pieces together that highlighted the injustice of the military industrial complex.
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta's Peace Network was also on hand to present the first Annual "Ed Arnold Peacemaker Award" to your truly, what an honor! Ed was a great man who I had only met a few times back in 2003, 2004 before he passed away. He left behind a mighty legacy of peace and justice work in the southeast. I can't tell you how honored I was to receive the award. I only hope I can life up to Ed's example.

The King Center Shifting Focus Towards Local Grassroots work!!

AFSC has a deep connection with Dr, Martin Luther Kings work. It was AFSC that set up and financed a tour of India for Coretta Scott and Dr. King to meet with folks that had worked directly with Gandhi. It was AFSC that first published the famous, "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" and distributed it nationally. It was AFSC that nominated Dr. King for his nobel peace prize. It was AFSC that built the King family a retreat center in North Carolina that Dr. King never got to set foot into as a result of his assassination.
I can honestly say that my choice to pursue employment at AFSC was greatly influenced by the historical connection to Dr. King. His writings have extremely influential and have played a major role in my personal and professional evolution. So I was surprised to discover, after I accepted the job at AFSC Atlanta, that we had really no connection at all to the King Center. In fact in one takes a tour of the King center they would really see or read nothing of AFSC. I've often browsed the King Centers website looking for ways that AFSC could plug into something the King Center is working on.
Finally, the opportunity came! Jeremy Foreman, a staffer from Hands On Southeast Georgia and follow GPJC member, suggested that the King Center sponsor a workshop for our upcoming "Be the Change" Youth Convergence. This of course made perfect sense because the grounding text for the workshop is Dr. King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech. Jeremy had been working with the King Center and was willing to help me make the initial contact.
The King center invited me to participate in a two day Kingian Nonviolence Education training which is part of their "Beloved Community Network" project. In an effort to combat the obvious institutional racism that we live with today the King Center is trying to train hundreds of potential trainers that will be sent out to community centers, high risk schools, and Churches in an effort to institutionalize nonviolence. The Beloved Community, as Dr. King defined it, is a global vision, an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood, where people can share in the wealth of the Earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger, racism,violence, and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of decency will not allow it.
While at the training I was able to meet trainers that were at the last stage of the training, preparing to use what they has learned to reach out to their communities. There were former Atlanta gang members, felons, members of the clergy. There were a few dozen Nigerians, some of whom were former warlords that had grown heartsick of war and violent conflict resolution.
The workshop taught Kingian nonviolent conflict resolution as a practical alternative to violent resolution.
The workshop facilitated by Dr. Benard LaFayette, who has been a hero of mine every since I started studying King. Dr. LaFayette was a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee(SNCC), a leader of the Nashville Movement, and the Freedom Rides. I had the opportunity to spend one of the breaks talking with him and I learned that he actually used to work for AFSC. He told me that AFSC actually got him involved in the peace movement and proceeded to swap a few AFSC stories with me! Pretty amazing!

Charles Alphin also facilitated portions of the workshop. His story was pretty compelling. He was a police captain in St Louis for 26 years and used to write off Dr. King's nonviolence as a waste of time. In fact he admits to teaching, encouraging, and participating in many violent actions that he's ashamed of. In the late 70's he met Dr. LaFayette and had a convergence experience, retired from the force and at the request of Mrs Coretta Scott King moved his family to Atlanta and eventually became the Director of Education and Training for the King Center.
There was a last minute presentation at the training by CT Vivian! Another giant of the civil right movement. He helped found the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference, and helped organize the first sit-ins in Nashville in 1960 and the first civil rights march in 1961. Vivian rode the first "Freedom Bus" into Jackson, Mississippi, and went on to work alongside Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, Diane Nash, and others on SCLC's Executive Staff in Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, Nashville, the March on Washington; Danville, Virginia, and St. Augustine, Florida. Some claim that the St. Augustine campaign helped lead to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Vivian's role in it was honored when he returned to the city in 2008 to dedicate a Freedom Trail of historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement.

During the summer following the Selma Movement, Vivian conceived and directed an educational program, Vision, and put 702 Alabama students in college with scholarships (this program later became Upward Bound). His 1970 Black Power and the American Myth was the first book on the Civil Rights Movement by a member of Martin Luther King's staff. I note all that just to give an idea of what is was like to be in such an intimate setting with these folks, these living breathing history volumes.
So the King Center is currectly looking into the possibility of sponsoring a workshop at thei years, "Be the Change" and AFSC Atlanta is looking at the possibility of getting some of our folks to participate in the Kingian Nonviolence trainings that are coming up some...let me know if you're interested.

Tim Franzen
American Friends Service Committee

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"It's My Life" Art Contest, Huge Success!!!!

We've been promoting the Student Career Alternative's, "It's My Life" contest across the metro area since January with an underlying fear that no submissions would come in.
High School Art and English teachers in Gwinett, Cobb, Fulton, and Dekalb Counties were all invited to participate by passing along the contest information to their students.

The contest challenged students to create art works inspired by one of four themes:
"Young People Acting for Local and Global Change"
"Your Vision of a Peaceful and Sustainable Future"
"Non-Military Career Paths and Dreams"
"Is America Addicted to War? If so, How Does it Affect you?"

There five art mediums that students could submit entries in:
Essays/Short Stories/Poetry
Graphic Design
Painting/Mixed Media

Prizes promoted were:
1st place in each medium: 12 month membership to WonderRoot Community Art center along with a very special, funded six month mentorship with a successful artist in that medium.
2nd place in each medium was a $50. gift card to Sam Flax art supply store, donated by Sam Flax!!!!

Then there was an over grand prize of $100. cash.

Our Goal was to provide an opportunity to showcase some of Atlanta's talented youth, possibly provide some new windows of opportunity, and to get folk to really think about some of the themes that each piece was to be inspired by.

Well, during the first week of March all of our worries about light submissions evaporated as we were overwhelmed by phone calls by students, parents, and teachers about the contest. We were invited to come out to more high schools to talk about SCAP and the contest then we could cover. It was pretty amazing to be invited to so many schools to talk about SCAP, many remember that it was just last year that it was like pulling teeth to get school faculty to return a phone call from SCAP. Some administrators even laughed us off their campuses. For the first time ever we were in a position to have to turn down invitations to high school due to capacity, clearly an issue we must address.
By March 15th, the contest deadline, we had 63 amazing entries all worthy of being part of our three week, "It's My Life" exhibit at WonderRoot. As we went through all of the entries that came from a dozen different metro area schools it was clear that the judges of the contest were going to have a difficult time picking winners.

Our panel of judges where:
Joey Arbuckle with Sam Flax
Kwajelyn Jackson with WonderRoot
Haley Murphy with Student Career Alternatives
Jo A Peterson, a professor with Savannah College of Art and Design
Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, renowned painter, photographer, and writer

On Saturday March 20th we held our art opening and awards ceremony at WonderRoot. Turn out was wonderful. We had artists, SCAP members, parents, teachers, students, and other community members come out for the event. One of the highlights was live performances by extremely talented high school students, Aaron Cooper, Iqbal Chandbury, Manuel Allison, and Britnie Valentine.

After performances everyone that entered the contest was given a certificate of participation and invited to get a picture taken next to their art work.

After certificates were given out and pictures were taken Andy Fritz, our emcee for the night, called everyone together and introduced the judges who announced the winners.

Grand Prize
Samara Abdulla- None-military career paths and dreams-Essay.

First Prize
Lisa Bi – Awakened By Sleepless Nights
Mixed Media
Khris Dixon - Survivors Story
Iqbal Chandbury – One Rhyme
Graphic Design

Michelle Partogi – Peace Starts With Saving One Person
Wesley Harmon – A Soldier’s Tale

Second Prize
Courtney Seale - Sacrifice
Mixed Media
Erin Foster – Affected Youth
Aaron Cooper - Fatherless
Graphic Design

Julia Kim – Hello, My Name is Peace
Manuel Allison – Young People For Local and Global Change

In addition to the 1st,2nd, and grand prize winners WonderRoot extended the offer of a free year long membership to every student that entered the contest!!
We plan to chronicle all of the winners on this blg in the coming weeks so stay tuned.

ALSO!!! Please stop by WonderRoot between now and April 11th to view the art exhibit!!


Sam Flax:

Student Career Alternatives Program:

Tim Franzen
American Friends Service Committee

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Operation Anti-War Visibilty Claimed the Atlanta Skies on the Anniversity of the Iraq Invasion

It's hard to believe that we have been living with war in Iraq for seven years now. With the economic crisis and health care reform taking center stage in our national discourse many people have forgotten that the war In Iraq continues. Paradoxically heath care reform would be an easier sell if we weren't spending unthinkable dollars on a war that an overwhelming percentage of American believe is based on lies, and certainly the argument could(and has) been made that our economic crash is a direct result of these multiple wars(Iraq alone cost 720 million a day!!).

It's time we start to see the Iraq war for what it is, a robbery from out communities. Not only has this war robbed us of people who were loved and needed, it has robbed us of much needed resources.

The draining of social safety nets, the pending increase in College tuition's all over the country, and the Military Industrial Complexes 11 billion dollar recruitment budget,has created a poverty draft into the military. Middle and low income youth often reach out to the military, not to serve their country, but to get a job, a steady pay check. So it's not just an overwhelming majority of our budget that goes to plan for and fight wars, it's also our loved ones.

The Georgia Peace and justice Coalition(GPJC) wanted to do something different this year t mark the 7th year anniversary of the Iraq invasion, something that would perhaps shock Atlanta, remind our city that we still live with this war, we still pay for this war, and Iraqis still die in this war. The idea that was given birth in the GPJC meeting went on to be called, "Operation Anti-War Visibility". Groups and individuals were asked to create banners and signs and that reminded folks that we're still in Iraq. Folks were asked to find ways to make sure mass numbers of people in the city saw these banners, even if it meant risking jail.

AFSC Atlanta answered that call. We hosted a banner making party and resembled several streets teams(members of these teams will remain anonymous). Five huuuge banners were created and three smaller ones. There were also stacks of posters that were made available for wheat pasting projects.

On Friday, March 19th, at 7am,we know that four banners dropped of the 75/85 connector. One very large banner that read, "Iraq War: Seven Year Too Long" was seen on the 5th street bridge, visible to morning commuters going southbound. Another huge banner that gave the casualty numbers for Iraqi civilians and US soldiers was seem dropped right next to the Olympic torch neat the North Ave exit on the connector.

During afternoon rush hour we know at least four more banners were dropped. One was 30x15 ft! One was dropped off the Freedom pkwy Bridge and another huge one was daringly dropped of the overpass on International blvd that read, "Troops out of Iraq Now."

There was also a team of folks that wheatpasted anti-war messages around the city, and there were two lunch hour street demonstrations held, on at 14th and peachtree, and the other on the Marietta Square in front of the courthouse.

We at American Friends Service Committee truly hope that this is the last year we mark this sad day. We can only imagine a world where the resources raised in our communities are invested in social uplift instead of annihilation.

I'll end this post with a quote from Martin Luther King's, "Beyond Vietnam" speech, a speech that has shaped my life in many ways.
"A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

-Martin Luther King, April 4th, 1967

Link to short Creative Loafing story on the banner drops:

Tim Franzen
American Friends Service Committee