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 A SHORTER VERSION WITH LESS PHOTOS CAN BE FOUND AT THE MONTEVERDE 60 WEBSITE, LINK BELOW

Morning is starting to lighten the eastern sky. It has been a starry starry night – each time I opened my eyes, there seemed to be another layer of stars sprinkled across the top of the world. All last evening, the fireflies that played throughout the valley below seemed like playful reflections of the stellar ceiling, and sometimes it was unclear if I had seen a shooting star or if it was just one of the more adventurous fireflies traveling at the top of its range. The branches above us, bobbing in the constant breeze, kept distorting the pattern of the heavens – was that star moving or a satellite or a plane or was I dreaming? On our platform in the tree up on the ridge, we were under the influence of a nocturnal mirage.

Mary Newswanger and I were excited to spend a night together on the Joyce platform which sits about six meters up a tree – but that tree sits on a steep ridge hundreds of meters up from the deep dark valley floor. The total effect is one of being securely suspended over top of a verdant abyss. We volunteered for our time on this platform, following those other tree sitters who have joined in this unique fundraising effort for the Monteverde Friends School. We listened to all those who climbed before us – expect it to get a little freaky when the wind blows, prepare ourselves for a cold night. Mary insisted that we haul her heavy thick sleeping bags – the kind used for camping in a previous century, the ones that roll up into something almost the size of round muffety hay bales (hey, those Muffets are Quakers too!) – so we lugged them down the narrow ridge path and up the ladder to the platform. Thanks to Mary, we’ve both been warm and comfortable all night.

The wooden platform feels like a raft being manipulated by a current, but the force providing the push isn’t water, it is wind. Here on my back, looking up at those stars, I can imagine our raft floating lazily down an airy stream until it hits the turbulent white rapids of wind. We are pushed into an eddy where we are held against our will for a few moments, threatening to be tossed, until we are released again and resume our tranquil floating. During the first hour or two of darkness, as can only happen in cloud forests such as Monteverde, or when you are on a river or sea, a spray of mist kept our faces moist and added to the watery effect, yet there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. Considering that in our aerie we seem closer to the sky than the land, I’m sure we would notice if a cloud was lurking above us.

I fell asleep as Mary was telling me stories of her experiences with the Peace Pilgrim and her hopes and dreams for the future. I realized I was asleep when I felt her crawling into her sleeping bag, no doubt noticing that she had lost her audience to slumber. I slept quite well through the night but woke from time to time and watched the heavens, once listening to a creature of some kind passing on the ridge below. I didn’t have a flashlight to check it out without waking Mary, so I will just think of it as the jaguarondi that Liam spotted here the other day and be pleased with the possibility.

with visiting Patricia Fogden

Of the night time thoughts that came to me, there were some that visited my drowsy mind often. One was wondering how our friend Wolf is doing as he has been struggling with his blood sugar more and more. Yesterday they took him to the local clinic believing him to be in insulin shock. They fixed him up with an IV but he also came away with yet another round of more serious antibiotics for his chronic urinary tract infections. Benito, Stefany and Wolf dropped me off here yesterday on their way home from the clinic and Wolf seemed okay, but as time goes on, one wonders if he will need some medication adjustments again soon. He often seems down, though whether that is emotional, physical, or drug-related is difficult to decide.

My mind also wandered to my homeland, Canada, this being the end of an election day. I realized that at the same time I was lounging in the tree, somewhere in that maple-flavored country one of the party leaders, a man, would be walking to a microphone in front of a room full of supporters and claiming victory in the federal election. I took two trips to the Canadian Embassy in San José to cast my vote, a privilege that I continue to take seriously. I don’t like the present right wing conservative government and the direction it is taking our beautiful country. As I finish writing this, obviously back on the ground and in cyberspace, I ache with the knowledge that the same party is back in power, with a majority and more possibilities of extending their agenda. The consolation is that the NDP, the social democratic party that has always attempted to speak for the working man rather than the ruling class, gained ground and is now the official opposition for the first time.

Just as promising is the fact that an incredibly intelligent and devoted woman, Elizabeth May, also had her moment at a microphone, claiming victory as the head of the Green Party. She is the first one of their members elected to a seat in our federal parliament and she will keep the important issues of environmental and social protections on the floor. Our voting system is deceptive, with the number of party members elected not reflecting the actual numbers of people voting for each party and until we change to some kind of proportional representation, we will continue to struggle to achieve a government that truly reflects our national political desires. As Canada is dragged down a more corporate and less humane path, I consider that I feel safer, up here in a tree, suspended over the sheer cliff edge, wind shaking our little raft to the bones at times, than at the hands of any ultra-right wing regime. Oh Canada, I weep for thee.

As we passed our peaceful night, I thought about the many tree sitters who used this type of action as one of protest to draw attention to specific forests under threat of destruction by logging companies. They placed themselves physically between the harvesting machines and the remaining Abuelas, those large redwoods or pines or hardwoods that had survived all the natural forces for centuries only to be cut down in a matter of hours for lumber.

Forests and trees have been saved and others not, but tree sitting is an effective and non-violent means of civil disobedience. Perhaps it started in the Pureora Forest Park of New Zealand in the 1970s – which was saved by peaceful protest in the treetops. Famously, in northern California, Julia Butterfly Hill stayed for two years in the late 1990s in her arboreal home “Luna” – a tall redwood that is still standing amidst the ravages of barren deforested hillsides in Humboldt County. In central Los Angeles, in 2006, Julia Butterfly, actress Darryl Hannah, Joan Baez and others sat in trees in what was then a large fourteen acre urban organic community garden. They were there to draw attention to the injustice that was unfolding as a company refused to allow the neighborhood to continue growing food on this plot of inner city land – even though the community came up with the same amount of money to purchase the land as it was being sold to a developer for. In the end, the garden was moved out of the city core.

Back in 1989, in Temagami Ontario, I was one of a group who supported our friend Maryka (the same woman who later introduced me to Monteverde), who lived in a tall ancient pine for nine cold, almost wintery days and nights. The action was part of several months of non-violent protest to prevent the continued construction of a logging road through one of the last remaining old growth pine forests, which was also indigenous territory, of Ontario. We were successful in stopping the road, and for the most part saved the forest, but weren’t able to stop the chopping of that stately old tree.

In true Quaker fashion, this tree sitting exercise in Monteverde is neither illegal nor in protest, but a joyful display of a community working together, communing with nature, bringing attention to their school and hoping to raise funds from their many supporters around the world through the use of the internet. I doubt that there is a school in North America who would condone such an adventurous fundraising plan – it wouldn’t make it past the discussion of liability at the board meeting. Just the fact that the Monteverde Friends School and the Monteverde community are taking part in this month long tree sit is an expression of the kind of freedom and originality that is very much a part of life at MFS.

I’m neither a Quaker nor a teacher nor a parent, but I was raised to live carefully on the earth and I have enough love of life and love for this precious planet to hope that we will continue to survive here. The only way I truly see that happening is for children to be taught to walk softly on the earth, to respect all the living creatures as well as the inanimate ones , to make decisions based on sustainable and ecological reasoning, to learn how to solve conflicts in a peaceful non-violent way, and to be cooperative and kind. The Monteverde Friends School is a place where all these values and many more are not only taught, but expressed in a myriad of ways by both young and old, teachers and students, past and present. I am happy to support their efforts in any way that I can, but the truth is that coming up this tree and spending the night, surrounded by the treasures of the cloud forest, with my friend Mary, under a blanket of stars – well, I would do it for no reason at all.

As I write, dark feathery clouds are gathering above the eastern ridge. As they shift and move in the wind, a brilliant light peeks through, the size of five of the night time stars joined together – it must be Venus, that planet of rising love. It reminds me of last November when we were caring for our ailing friend Wolf on the Guindon farm. We would awaken in the very early morning hours to that love light shining down on the family home. It doesn’t surprise me that we are seeing that messenger of love glowing over Monteverde again this morning, perched here in our nest. For Mary, who can see her home just across the valley, where her husband and sons are probably still asleep, the light of love is very clearly rising over the eastern ridge and shining down on the house that Elias built.

Now that the sky has lightened into blue and Venus is almost faded away, it is time to close this, have some breakfast, and await the moment the sun comes over the ridge. (As it turned out, we couldn’t get ourselves out of that tree till 10:30 a.m. and even then, we went reluctantly.) I sincerely thank everyone for the opportunity to spend these seventeen hours up this tree, especially the Joyce/Van Dusen household who are our “hosts”. Thanks to the MFS fundraising committee who facilitated the opportunities for each of us to climb various trees and continue to keep us all connected and inspired through their website.

Mary told me that it was Jude Gladstone, a dedicated woman who has worked hard on many committees helping the community, who brought the idea to the table. Searching for an effective way to raise much needed money for the scholarship fund that assists students at the school as well as those who go on to higher education, Jude suggested they create an event, something that people can join in whether here in Monteverde, or from afar via the internet. She suggested that it needed to be something exciting that would catch people’s imaginations, like Julia Butterfly Hill living high up in that redwood. Katy Van Dusen, thinking about her family’s platform in this tree on the ridge, took the idea and climbed higher. Good thinking Katy! Great idea Jude! And thanks Mary – too bad we have to go down.

Please follow the link below and donate whatever is possible to this wonderful school so that more children will be taught the values necessary to continue the good work for our earth and our mutual peaceful co-existence:

http://www.Monteverde60th.org

One last word on a very successful initiative by Fish and his team who held the first Ecofest in Monteverde. On May 1st, hundreds of community members participated in a day that blended displays, demonstrations, art, music, poetry and information in a seamless and spectacular manner. The things that happen in this small rural mountain community are truly stupendous, smart and sustainable! I applaud you Ecofest – we are all ready for next year!

PS It has taken a couple of days to get this writing to my blog and the weather has changed. Mary and I may have spent one of the last nights in the tree with clear weather as the rainy season in Monteverde begins. Hopefully others will still have the opportunity for a beautiful dry starry night during the last two weeks of the campaign, but we were definitely blessed.

I just finished watching Michael Moore’s new film, Slacker Uprising.  As of today, September 23, 2008, you can go online and download it for free at http://slackeruprising.com  I intended on working on a couple of articles today for publications in England, but I got sidetracked by Mike – again. I always find his movies interesting and moving. And again I marvel at his prowess in making captivating documentaries with a message – you can call it propaganda, but that’s okay. As is part of his message, we are inundated with propaganda daily in a media that supports the powers that be, making sure their message is being spread far and wide. One of the first things he talks about in Slacker Uprising is the responsibility of the media to investigate beyond the walls of controlled information, ask the difficult questions, dig up the facts, and disseminate truth. Which is exactly what wasn’t done in the months leading up to the second invasion of Iraq (or probably in the build up to any military performance) – instead the mass media supported the United States heading into a war based on lies. And further to Mike’s message is that this work of seeking and supporting the spread of truth should always be protected by the famous First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States – the freedom of religion, expression, the press, and speech .

 

Mike started a movement in the weeks prior to the 2004 presidential election when he saw John Kerry and the Democrats’ campaign floundering. This film records the Slacker Uprising Tour that he embarked on, organizing events in sixty cities to see that the truth about the war in Iraq and the antics of the Bush administration would be heard. The slackers referred to are the youths of America who are uninterested in politics and can’t be bothered putting down their playstations and ipods long enough to vote – with reason they have lost faith in government and fail to understand that their vote can still count in making real change. On his mission to get them up, reinspired, and moving to the ballot box, Mike was joined along the way by musicians, actors, politicians, parents of fallen soldiers, and war veterans opposed to the insanity of this war. He has now released this new film, without a doubt timed so that its message will be seen and heard far and wide before the coming presidential election amd hopefully rile up the masses to get out the vote. It is the first full-length film to be made available for free on the internet. Mike has become a master at editing film clips into a powerful, flowing instructional video for an angry society and giving the public the alternative facts from what they are being fed on CNN and Fox. He is equally as skilled at getting publicity, both by his own actions (free download throughout North America? – the attention he’ll get just for doing the download will serve his purpose) and by the ensuing media reaction to his documented outcry. 

 

Slacker Uprising shows the opposition to the war that is omnipresent, as well as the outrage from both sides of the issue, including those who believe that he, Michael, is the devil, not Bush.  To me you don’t need to see mothers crying about their children who died in Iraq to be against war, but obviously those are powerful images. Mike employs them. As the father of a soldier says in SU, people would be “supporting our troops” more by bringing them home then sending more into Iraq. To be against the war is not to be abandoning the young men and women who are fighting for corporate and entrenched political interests in Iraq or Afghanistan, it would be demanding a saner approach to solving conflicts than throwing usually young, usually poor citizens into that so often deadly arena. There are people who continue to make huge amounts of money as war rages on, and it generally isn’t their sons and daughters who are dying. 

 

Of course much of Mike’s films are edits taken out of context and he pieces together each film in a very deliberate way. But every newscast that we digest is prepared in just the same way, night after night, deliberate information sent streaming into each home in the country. Here in Canada we are only marginally ahead in the fairness and non-partisanship of our media. Mike isn’t looking to be president, he is simply asking that people think and seek and stand and vote. As Joan Baez says in SU, she believes his best quality is his compassion. I have found that the people who spend their lives doing difficult but important work on behalf of the less fortunate or powerless or voiceless, must be driven by compassion – as well as a sense of outrage. And hopefully are blessed with a big sense of humour for their own sakes. Michael Moore obviously has all of this. As Michael Moore states so eloquently in Slackers Uprising, it is not what we look like or what we own that we should be judged by, but by how we treat the poor, the less-able, the disadvantaged.

 

I am one of those with believes that war is not the answer. Perhaps peace takes more work, but war is generally waged at the price to the poor and for the benefit of the rich. Wolf Guindon is one of those who stood up for his conscience as a young man at nineteen years of age and went to jail for refusing to register for the draft. He took this action in peace time, in 1948 and 49 when the US was between wars, but he did not believe in what the military was standing for and therefore would not support it.  As he says in Walking with Wolf, it was reasonable to believe that American taxes and its military should be used for promoting peace and helping the poor and hungry in the world, but not preparing to enter into and raise the level of armed conflicts outside of the border of their own country. Wolf, along with three young Quaker men from the Rockwell family in Fairhope, Alabama, spent four months of a one-year sentence in prison. Their incarceration was followed by their move from the U.S. to Costa Rica, a country which had just abolished its army following its own internal conflicts. Pacifism is a central tenet of Quakerism. It is one of the beliefs that draws me to the Friends.

 

I happened to meet Michael Moore last year. I was in Traverse City, Michigan with my friend Cocky.  We went to visit her brother but also to attend the film festival there.  Mike started and supports that festival and was present at the various screenings. On a beautiful warm summer’s evening, Cocky and I went to the opening party of the festival, mingling with the pretty people of Traverse City. Mike arrived himself half way through the evening, obviously exhausted, and I have to say, not looking well but pale, short of breath, and obviously too overweight.  One of the men we were with went over and asked him if he’d like a plate of food as he collapsed into a chair. He said that he would and soon a plate was put in front of him which he tried to eat while being smothered by the pressing crowd. A couple of hours later, we were walking by his car just as Michael Moore was coming to get into it.  Cocky spoke up and thanked him for making the great films he does. I piped up, “And take care of yourself Mike”, as I’m quite convinced this man is going to drop over dead if he doesn’t look after his own health. We need him as few manage to get done what he does in spreading the truth to the masses – but he is just a mortal like the rest of us, moving into a time of his life when health issues become serious, and I truly fear for him.

 

He thanked us and then noticed the man with us, the one who had brought him that plate of food. Somehow, in the crush of fans and media and film buffs all wanting to get near him, he had actually noticed this man who had quietly brought the food to him. He stepped back as he was entering the car, and walked over to the guy, saying, “Thanks man for bringing me that food. That was real kind of you.” He shook his hand warmly and then got in his car. That moment cemented for me the image of Michael Moore as a real human being who speaks the truth with compassion, who is paying attention, and who believes in doing the right thing and taking the moment, or lifetime, to just do it.

 

In Slacker Uprising there are performances or speeches by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Eddie Vendor, Rosanne Barr (never my favorite but her sarcasm here was priceless), Viggo Mortensen (who mentioned Canada in a positive light), and another of my great heroes, Steve Earle (see my blog post Steve and the Hammer). Steve sang Rich Man’s War, another in a long line of anti-war, anti-insanity songs that he has written. When he sings, or even talks, it gives me shivers, because he poetically and musically always speaks the truth. All of these people, along with the thousands who filled the arenas on the Slacker Uprising Tour, are committed to the future, dedicated to finding better ways to solve conflicts that don’t involve killing young people and destroying environments, speaking up against the powers who control and profit by the military mentality. I sure hope that in both the American election in November and the Canadian federal election in October, that the compassionate ones will win – those who care for the poor, who don’t support sending them to war against other poor people to do some rich man’s dirty work, who believe in demanding that politicians and corporate barons take care of the world not use it as a playground for profit and power games…and who believe that speaking the truth is the only way we will ever really begin to solve anything.

 

    

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