No Jury Trial in Beale Case

Released from custody

Released from custody

Last October, I was arrested for civil disobedience with eight other people during an anti-drone demonstration at Beale Air Force Base.  Charges were dropped against four of my co-defendants.  The case against the remaining five of us continues.

Our trial will be held on August 12 in federal court in Sacramento.  We had hoped to make our case before a jury, but on Thursday U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn K. Delaney denied our lawyers’ request for a jury trial.  In other words, we will not be able to testify before a jury of our peers, some of whom might be sympathetic to our reasons for taking the action we did at Beale.  Instead, we will be tried before Judge Delaney, a representative of the very system that charged us with misdemeanor trespass for publicly challenging its drone warfare program.  Although we each face up to six months in federal prison, $5000 in fines, and five years’ probation, our case does not qualify as serious enough to warrant a jury trial.

Nor will we be able to explain why we found it necessary to break the law by trespassing a few feet onto Beale Air Force Base property.  Judge Delaney granted the prosecutor’s motion to disallow “the necessity defense,” that is, a defense based on taking action to prevent a greater harm.  By denying us the necessity defense, the judge prevents us from testifying about our motivation, which was to interfere with, call attention to, and prevent the grave harm taking place through the U.S. drone warfare program.

A bit of good news:  the judge’s ruling resulted in a front-page article in the Sacramento Bee, which I hope helps to open peoples’ eyes to the issue of drone warfare (which was the intent of our action at Beale) and to the eroding of our constitutional rights.  See the full Bee article here.

I don’t relish the idea of being locked away.  I’d rather be here among the trees, watching the birds, and playing with my grandkids.  But at what price?  I refuse to go into denial about the far-away families, not that different from my own family, where U.S. drones hover overhead, threatening and delivering death in my name, with my tax dollars, and (supposedly) for my benefit and security.  The only way I can face this reality and be at peace with myself is by taking a stand against the policies and institutions that perpetuate such killings.

I understand why people in this country want to keep a low profile, especially now, considering the NSA surveillance program and the targeting of whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.  The whole point of such policies is to use threat and violence to engender fear and unquestioning obedience to the domination system.  That is what Empire does when it has lost its legitimacy.

But the more of us who speak out and take a stand, the more hope there is for transformation.  In “Naming, Masking, and Engaging the Powers,” an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell, I write:

“When we refuse to live in fear of and obedience to the Powers, their stratagems no longer work. When the Powers can no longer count on fear, selfishness, and apathy to keep us in line, they cannot do business as usual.

“For engaging the Powers exposes not only their evil effects, but also their folly. When we refuse to live in denial and instead speak truth to Power, the lies and pretensions of the Powers are exposed. When we challenge their morality, the Powers lose their legitimacy. When we choose lifestyles that reflect creative, life-giving values, the Powers lose their ability to dominate culture. When we enter actively into solidarity with the poor and oppressed, with victims of war and unjust economic policies, the brutality of the Powers is exposed. When we take part in organized actions of nonviolent resistance, the futility of their attempts to rule through domination is exposed. When we refuse to live in fear and are willing risk even death, as Jesus did, the ability of the ruling Powers to govern life through violence and intimidation is lost and the triumph of God’s love is revealed.”

I pray that whatever comes, I can witness to the transforming power of the God of love.

Check here for past blog postings related to the Beale anti-drone case.

A Resurgence of Humanity

Kathie and Sherry

Tomorrow my sister Kathie plans to go to a “Moral Mondays” demonstration in Raleigh.  She may even participate in civil disobedience there.  Because she lives in Asheville, I’ve been watching the right-wing coup that has been taking place in what has been a relatively progressive Southern state.   The state took over Asheville’s public water district, which has always been locally-run and locally-funded, without negotiation or compensation. The legislature is now in the process of dismantling voting rights, firing environmental regulators, cutting unemployment, firing teachers’ aides, increasing class sizes, and ending safety net protections for the most vulnerable people.

Powerful billionaire Art Pope, active in ALEC, is now North Carolina’s Budget Director.  Pope has been called “a cross between the Koch brothers and Karl Rove.”  Big money, corporate sponsors, and entrenched political players are clearly at work here, aligned to make true democracy irrelevant.  And yet, in the face of incredible odds against them, people are rising up to say “no.” 

This is not just happening in North Carolina, but around the world:  in Taksim Square, in Brazil, in Idle No More and related actions against the Keystone XL pipeline,  in anti-drone actions, in appearances of still-alive Occupy movements.  People are also engaged in smaller but persistent struggles taking place around the world.

It is heartening to see people rising up in resistance to the Powers that Be.  Why?  For one thing, many of us know that only through “we the people” is there any hope of turning back the ascendant evil of today’s domination system, which consumes life and threatens the future.  For another, when people join together, rise up, say “enough,” and organize new ways of being in community, it is an expression of our humanity. I’m convinced that the Spirit is present wherever people resist dehumanization and come more fully alive.

During the Nazi Regime, theologian William Stringfellow claimed that in times of great social evil, resistance enables us to maintain our humanity.  We live in such a time.  Stringfellow wrote, “In resistance people live most humanly.  ‘No` to death means ‘yes’ to life.”

As we stand together, respecting all aspects of our diversity as human beings, joining in solidarity with people of every race, class, and nation, resisting the powers of death, we express our humanity.  We are connected!  We are in solidarity with each other as we take our turns standing against the takeover of our world by institutional forces that would have us believe that they cannot be stopped.  As I wrote in “In Resistance is the Secret of Joy” from Shaking the Gates of Hell:

“In resistance to the institutions and systems that destroy the earth and crush the life out of people, hope comes alive. As we withdraw our consent from these Powers, practicing noncooperation, finding or creating life-supporting alternatives, what has seemed impossible becomes possible because we are willing to pay the price to make it so. It is like the difference between being a spectator in the stands and being a player on the field. As Dorothee Soelle says, “Only when we ourselves enter the game and bind our own life inextricably to the game’s outcome does hope arrive.”

As we begin the process of breaking free, we recognize others engaged in the same process and we see that change is not only possible, but is happening now. Then, in spite of the risks, losses, and even sacrifices, the struggle becomes joyous, even fun. Fun? Yes, fun, energizing, inspiring, hopeful.”

People rising up in so many places is hopeful.  It is evidence of a resurgence of humanity.

I wish I could go with you tomorrow, Sister.  I’ll be with you in spirit.

Have fun.

To find out more about North Carolina and Moral Mondays, read   “Protestors Shake Up North Carolina’s Legislature.  Read more about how the state takeover of Asheville’s water district is motivating people, about clergy involvement in Moral Mondays, about Art Pope pushing the ALEC agenda, and “Why North Carolina’s Moral Mondays Matter for Democracy and the Planet.

Corporations Can’t Dance

parade 2012

According to U.S. law, corporations are “persons” under the law and are entitled to the constitutional rights and protections that we human beings have fought for and won over the centuries.  This has created a crisis in our democracy, because of the huge power imbalance between corporations and regular human beings.  Transnational corporations can harness their vast wealth to purchase media time and political power to use as a megaphone to drown out the voices of “we the people.”

Of course, everyone knows that corporations aren’t really persons.  For one thing, corporations can’t dance.  But we can!  Rehearsals start on Wednesday, June 19, at 6 p.m. in Pioneer Park in Nevada City for the “Corporations Aren’t People” dance that we will be doing in the 4th of July parade.

This will be fun!  Last July 4 our local Move to Amend group won third place in the Nevada City parade. This year the parade will be in Grass Valley, and our contingent will be bigger, more colorful, and will have even better music.  It will be a parade within a parade.  It will start with people carrying a big banner that says “Corporations are not people” and end with another that says “Money is not speech.”  Our Move to Amend truck, “Bubba,” will carry children and play  the Corporations Aren’t People song (adapted from Depeche Mode’s “People are People”).  We will have as many dancers as possible–last year at least 20 of us danced.   Others in our group will walk, carrying signs and passing out literature.  A few “corporate persons” will be in costume as well. See us in last year’s parade video.  You can also watch the full training video with Amous Lou, set in my living room with her kids playing around her.  Join us or use the training video to prepare for a parade or a flash mob.

Our local Move to Amend group is part of the National Move to Amend coalition.  We support the passage of a constitutional amendment that would make it clear once and for all that corporations are not persons and money does not qualify as free speech. We support the “We the People Amendment,” which has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

Corporations can’t dance.  Nor do they breathe air or eat food or drink water.  They can’t love or take action for the common good.  Their only conscience is the bottom line.  As John Steinbeck said in The Grapes of Wrath, “They breathe profits:  They eat the interest on money.”

But we can dance, and we will.  We will celebrate our humanity, our ability to love, our commitment to clean air, clean water, and clean food.  And we will celebrate the “power of the people” and our determination to create a working democracy for the sake of the whole community of life.

(To find out more about our local group, go to our Nevada County Move to Amend website or our FaceBook page.  Go to the national Move to Amend website for more information or to find a group near you.  For more of my writings on this topic, see “They Breathe Profits” or “Democracy is for People.”  Sign up if you want to receive notice by email of my blog postings.)

Living Sacramentally in a Time of Climate Change

moon slice

“It’s about time you got trained for that,” said my friend Charly when I told him I was leaving today for Tempe, Arizona for a presenters’ training on “Living Sacramentally, Walking Justly.”  He knows that for 35 years the core of my work has been the link between personal spirituality and social and environmental justice.

I’m taking this training, put on by the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Church, so I can present for them this summer at several United Methodist Women events in California and Nevada, and so I can use the resources and training I receive in future work.  United Methodist Women is quite progressive as an organization, although that is not always apparent at the level of the local church.

I arrived here in Tempe around noon.  It was hot and getting hotter.  A conference employee told me it was 111 degrees, approaching the record of 112 degrees for this date.  Meanwhile I saw on CNN (which I don’t get at home) that 100 homes had been destroyed so far in the raging Black Forest wildfires in Colorado, and that giant windstorms (La Derecha) were threatening several states.  Are we seeing evidence of climate change?  Although no specific weather event can be directly attributed to climate change, increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase the odds of such events.  And record-breaking extreme weather events are increasing in number.

What does it mean to “live sacramentally?”  It means acknowledging the holy in the midst of what we often take for granted as the ordinariness of life.  I have written:  “We live in a sacramental universe, a universe that is an expression of the divine.   A sacrament is an `outward and physical sign of an inward and spiritual grace.’  The inward and spiritual grace at the heart of creation is revealed by its outer and physical manifestations… God’s beauty and love, power and energy are mediated through the natural world.”

I have also quoted the late Thomas Berry, who pointed out that since God’s glory is revealed and mediated through the natural world, when we degrade the earth’s bounty or turn its natural beauty to ugliness, it changes how we experience God.  When the earth is diminished, its ability to mediate God to us is diminished, and thus our experience of God is diminished as well.  To read more on this topic, see  A Sacramental Universe.

Living sacramentally in a time of climate change requires us to recognize the sacred all around us, in the earth community and in the very elements of life; to value the water, air, soil, plants, and living creatures with whom we are intricately connected; and to live as responsible members of the community of life.  There are complex issues to sort out and hard decisions to be made, but if we shirk our responsibility we will be complicit in further harm, and our grandchildren’s heritage will be climate chaos.

Now it’s beginning to get dark.  It’s getting cooler – 104 degrees.  A slice of moon is out, and a few stars.  It’s truly beautiful.

Yes, there has been much damage.  But there is still so much of beauty to be saved.

Finding Rest in God

IMG_0415

Last night I dreamed about going to some kind of spa.  It must have been a wish-fulfillment dream.  My Unconscious always seems to know just what I need.

I was up early this morning after a full and intense two weeks, grateful to be sitting on my deck watching the sun illuminate the trees.  It’s glorious to bask in the beauty of creation and be open to the grace that is showered upon us in every moment.

I often forget.  Whatever I’m doing becomes primary.  My resting place becomes my to-do list.

So many things are of urgent and immediate importance–economic, social, and environmental crises are all around.  I know I need to do my part, stay aware, and be willing to act.  But if I lose touch with the Holy Spirit who guides me, I won’t be clear about what to contribute or have anything of value to contribute anyway.  So wherever I am, when I remember, I consciously and deliberately pull my attention back to the present moment.  I “practice the presence of God.”

This is much easier to do when I am faithful to my regular practice of contemplative prayer and meditation.  Setting that time aside in the morning makes it more likely that I will remember and return during the activity of the day.  This is especially important when I’m working hardest and life is at its busiest.  Otherwise, in the words of Rabindranath Tagore, “my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.”

Today I’m grateful to be taking time for refreshment.  Today I remember to find my rest in God.

A Moment’s Indulgence

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941).

I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by thy side. The works
that I have in hand I will finish afterwards.

Away from the sight of thy face my heart knows no rest nor respite,
and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.

Today the summer has come at my window with its sighs and murmurs; and
the bees are plying their minstrelsy at the court of the flowering grove.

Now it is time to sit quiet, face to face with thee, and to sing
dedication of life in this silent and overflowing leisure.