Archive for the ‘civil discourse’ Category

An Open Letter to Chertoff

January 19, 2008

No Border Wall

 

 

 

Mr. Chertoff:

Yesterday, you were quoted as saying, ”It’s time to grow up and recognize that if we’re serious about this threat, we’ve got to take reasonable, measured but nevertheless determined steps to getting better security.”  As Gandhi clearly states, “In the dictionary of satyagraha, there is no enemy,” I will refrain from thinking of you as the enemy. For that way leads uncivil discourse and uncommunication; if I were to posit myself as your opponent, then it would me vs. you rather than liberalizing border policies and militarizing border policies. Let it be about the issues.

(http://www.philly.com/inquirer/world_us/20080118_Time_to_grow_up__Chertoff_says_of_border-entry_rules.html)

 

When you say “grow up,” then, it is clear that you are intimating maturity is one’s ability to protect oneself against perceived threats (in this case, people). By urging America to grow up, you seem to mean that we should willingly swap a sense of safety for a sense of community. In commanding the citizens of North America to “grow up,” it is clear you assume that it is a childish gesture to wish to travel freely in the pursuit of one’s happiness.

 

On the contrary, the citizens of the Americas – the United States, Mexico, and Canada- do not take lightly the privilege and the right to pursue happiness, be it across borders or at home. We are united in our desire for the borders to places of peace and mutual benefit, not walls of contention and threatening militarism. We have grown up, beside each other, with each other, in each other. The United States is no more independent of Canada and Mexico than they are of it. To feign otherwise is to commit the worst kind of self-limiting arrogance.

 

We citizens on the border with Mexico join together with those individuals who cross the Canada-United States border every day. This new law is said to impact your economy most. We realize that injustice on any border is an injustice to all, and we unite with you in protesting such an unnecessary and ultimately destructive limitation on the border.

 

Additionally, Mr. Chertoff, we would like to clarify the fact that immigration is not a “threat” to national security. Rather, to the extent we can fill this country with individuals intent on raising families, capital, and dreams here, we are fighting terrorism at the most important, grassroots level. For every terrorist, then, that this proposed law would turn away at the border, many more immigrants and sojourners will be disenchanted and disenfranchised. Security is found in community, not in walls.

 

Finally, we will be praying for you. Obviously, the weight of our nation’s protection falls heavy on your back, so that you would attempt to trade some of our inalienable freedoms for added security against “aliens.” We, the American people, will pray for you as you work on community-building legislations, and we will civilly disobey any and all laws which seek to sow discord between Canada and Mexico and these United States.

 

Sincerely,

 

We, the Indivisible

Learning to Communicate

December 15, 2007

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Humans thrive on communication. To feel that your morals and ideas are understood and validated is a fundamental desire of all people.

It is precisely this desire for direct, clear communication which drives violence even in our modernized, technological world. Violence is direct and clear, if nothing else. War polarizes sides, forces people to have an opinion, clearly delineates right and wrong, and establishes lines of communication (granted, these “lines” of communication are bombs and bullets, but the message is still clear). Contemporary society is still most adept at voicing hate, and still clumsily silent or muddled with its other stances.

Ultimately, violence thrives because it is more immediately gratifying and seemingly more direct. And yet, no meaningful, substantive dialogue can be born out of the negative negotiations of military conflicts. Because we have been and continue to shy away from engaging in civil discourse, we persist in military engagements which only silence real communication. It is one of the most damning indictments upon our civilization that it killed because it was at a loss for words, that nuanced discussion was avoided in favor of seanced apologies and regrettable military conflicts.

Violence too often appeals to those who are passionate for immediate action. And violence itself can take many forms; the true definition of violence could be the physical combating of spiritual conflicts and moral issues. Read in this manner, violence is much more than the Iraq War – it is the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which seeks to physically impede immigrants we ignore in Congress. It is detention centers which strip detainees of human rights because of a lack of creativity and dedication to immigration reform. It is the over-funding of the Border Patrol and the under-acknowledgment of immigrants’ true contribution to America.

Overcoming violence, then, is simply learning to communicate. We do not need more divisive rhetoric, more negative nativism or xenophobic partisanship. We do need real immigration reform, we do need deep discussion about our business relationships with Canada and Mexico. We do need to bring our country to a unified whole which does not exclude 12 million immigrants nor the qualified millions waiting for their chance to work in the United States.

Let it be said of us that ours was a generation which learned how to communicate. Martin Luther King and Gandhi pioneered the modern era of true communication sans the ultimately distracting and self-defeating implements of violence. May we carry on this commitment to communication within these United States and to our neighbors of the world.

The Quest for Quality Quarreling

November 10, 2007

     Quakers know how to quarrel. Perhaps that is how they can be pacifists. According to a good brother of mine, Friends table their disputes until the next day of the meeting (every meeting is more than one day). If the dispute still exists, then the two Friends at odds participate in Two Men Standing. This involves standing beside each other for hours in silence, usually in a very public place. One person eventually cracks or comes up with a compromise/solution, and the dispute is solved without violence and without bitterness.

     If it’s one thing our country’s politics need, it’s civil discourse. Barack Obama has repeatedly voiced his stance for civil discourse, and to the extent that he and other candidates have engaged in such discussion throughout their campaigns, our nation has seen a much more respectful campaign trail. While it is important that our politicians civilly disagree, it is even more vital that we as Americans discuss common issues with respectful dialogue. “Illegal alien,” “welfare queen,” and “terrorist” are all incendiary terms which do little to progressively engage the issue but do much to inflame opinions and summon the worst in human biases. Lou Dobbs, I hesitate to mention his name for fear he might use it for further publicity, is solving our nation’s disputes about as well as a border wall will resolve our border insecurities. Such bombastic hate-speech separates us from our neighbors much more than a border wall, and it further discriminates those legal immigrants from the countries which have been targeted as chief senders (ex. Mexico).

    People are people, and to peg them as issues is to divest them of their sanctity. Civil discourse does not judge an entire race or gender or subculture on the actions of a single individual. Civil discourse does not try to beat one’s opponent but seeks eventual harmony between both sides. I wonder if shock speakers like Lou Dobbs would take up my challenge and stand beside me outside the U.N. Building in New York, agreeing to wait in silence until we had some words of peace and reconciliation for each other. Our country, I think, could do more with these standing disagreements than with a standing army.