PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

Activists: How to Thrive in Recession by peaceprobe
January 13, 2010, 9:44 am
Filed under: Nonviolence | Tags: , , ,

Everywhere I travel grassroots organizations have felt the impact of recession and are worried about their financial future. There is no formula for grass roots organization that will assure an organization’s future or make for growth. Big foundations will continue to fund big organizations and educational bodies who write slick proposals, and governments will continue to support their favourite generally uncritical groups.

Everybody including grass roots change groups face financial challenges just like businesses. Under our economic system if there are profits they are reserved as much as possible for the people at the top. This year Wall Street executives and traders will get bonuses worth 25 billion dollars. Meantime most of us at the bottom already live at subsistence level and took a cut last year. No one else will find a way for us through this financial crisis. Our natural partners overseas, peace groups, community groups, environmental groups are feeling the pinch of less money and hurt even more than we are.

Some of our organization will recover and some will not and as they pass let us celebrate and honour the good work that they have done. Fresh initiatives being born as you read will take their place. Those that recover likely enjoy exceptional leadership and a diverse population of committed participants and supporters who don’t resort to backbiting, gossip or blaming in hard times.

Here are 5 ways to think about thriving in difficult times.

1. A diverse funding base that relies heavily on individuals or community groups, religious bodies is always better than a single source.

I was once a member of an organization that received almost all its support from a single government source. It had done excellent work in grass roots international development even speaking out against U. S government policies during the Viet Nam war. I sat in board meeting after board meeting as we wrung our hands in search of grass roots fund raising models. In the 1990s even the limited government support faded and the organization closed. Nothing worked well enough and the organization had to terminate projects. If early on we had worked for more diversified and community based support I believe we could have continued some very innovative work.

2. In recovery always think about outreach and enlargement of the circle rather than hunkering down and retreating into a mind set of scarcity.

I briefly worked with one organization that had to cut expenditures during an income drop. The process accentuated long held grievances, including sexism, racism, and accusations of hidden favouritism arising from religious convictions. The working atmosphere was barely tolerable. All the organizational consultants in the world could have been only marginally helpful. The experience reminded me of how much work we have to do to enlarge our circles of trust long before the fury of financial crisis explodes. Even without the residue of long held grievances and unfairness there is always a collective psychic cost to lay offs. I know of one group who avoided depleting their collective energy last year during cut backs by agreeing to organization wide pay cuts of 10%.

3. As the crisis of survival unfolds it is tempting to forget the vision that drew the energy of people together. Someone will probably encourage the organization to go on a new vision quest forgetting that a vision quest is usually done by individuals, especially native warriors as they set out early in life. Instead this is the time for a revision quest, a moment to clarify the vision’s pillar that keeps it going financially. If the group has developed a body of individuals who have given financial support over the years, many or all of them may need to be personally visited or phoned to get an honest assessment of what might be possible. In cases where support was limited to one or a few big funders the personal visits are imperative but the problem of funding may be terminal.

4. There are three components of any solid grass roots endeavour, good committed people, a clear explainable program, and money to support it. People who give money out of a sense of wanting to be part of a healthy mission want to know that even in times of crisis, the strategy for coordinating these three pillars are in harmony and attended to. They don’t have to be told that these are hard times. They might like to know that their hopes, thoughts and commitments do count.

5. Even in the most desperate situations there are moments of surprise when unexpectedly good things happen. People who do social justice work with the tools of nonviolence know this but easily forget. It can help to know that the major adjustments that we must face from time to time in organizational work can be grounded in spiritual energy and kindness. The breath of God and the light of the Spirit creates the surprises of unity that otherwise may not be expected.

This is the time to remember that an enduring characteristic of our work is the element of surprise. This is different from magic which is the science of entertainment with manipulation. Surprise and joy lubricated with humour comes in hard times. If you don’t believe me go visit the folks fighting mountain top removal in West Virginia, or to Pakistan where people are overcoming violence in the context of so much craziness, or to the Nevada desert where people are standing against nuclear bombs and drones. In the end the rewards are bigger than our survival. It includes laughing at our mistakes, celebrating an occasional breakthrough, and enjoying a good meal together. By itself the best economy will not buy any of these things. We can create the context for them to happen. That’s where the fun starts.


Massacre: Remembering the Holy Innocents by peaceprobe
December 30, 2009, 9:36 am
Filed under: Politics of Empire | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

In this final week of the year, Christians who follow the church calendar remember that children were massacred at Bethlehem. Life stopped. We are always shocked whenever life stops because of events like this, 9/11 or US drone bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The surviving victims and the onlookers stammer as they ask, how this could happen? How can people do this?

From what I know about Herod who ruled when Jesus was born the story of the murder of children is entirely plausible. As a politician and Roman vassal Herod was caught between the demands of an empire and his unpopular regime at home. His dynasty ruled because of Roman blessing not because of the grace of God. The local Jewish population distrusted his intentions and had grown restive over his taxation policies and cruelty. In foreign affairs he cleverly used a combination of diplomacy and good guess-work to convince Roman rulers, sometimes in the midst of their own power struggles, that he was reliable and could deliver strong political rule that would not cause the empire headaches. That is what empires want from their vassals.

Herod’s rule included territory roughly equivalent to ancient Israel. It brought him power but little favour with the people who disliked his decadent life style. Herod claimed to be a Jew but his mother was Arab. Herod’s tenuous claim to Jewish faith was further eroded by his compliance with Rome’s public religion, emperor worship in shrines created at his monumental construction sites. These facts fed unrest.

The gossip that a new King of the Jews had been born was a mortal threat to Herod’s rule. Thirty some years before Herod had been elected to that office by the Roman Senate after angling for the position in the midst of Caesar Augustus’ rise to total power. He may have known of this new threat through his police, palace guards or intelligence service before the arrival of the wise men. However, a diplomatic call by foreign dignitaries called Magi with access to mystery knowledge from the stars alerted him that there may be serious trouble ahead and still manageable ways to crush another impending rebellion. Always on the look out for a coup or usurper of royal office Herod, like his contemporaries today had an insatiable appetite for intelligence information and its first cousin, popular gossip sometimes called news. Information meant that suspects disappeared often for good.

To be safe the dignitaries slipped away by “another road” without checking in with King Herod after they visited the new King in swaddling clothes. This act of avoidance, perhaps rude in the context of routine diplomatic niceties awakened Herod’s deeper suspicions, and the action he settled on was the killing of all children born in the most recent two years in or near Bethlehem, the site of the usurper’s birth. A political killing of infants was Herod’s preferred option given the restive and rebellious nature of public opinion. There was precedent for the use of infanticide as an instrument of national security in the history of the Jewish life in Egypt and in other nations.

This sequence of stories in Matthew’s first two chapters includes five dreams and a message from the stars. In times like these when life and death nudge one another, access to all the insights available to people seeking to do the right thing is urgently required. The break through of wisdom from the unconscious were gifts that illuminated the journey of escape to Egypt and provide the prologue for Matthew’s story of the community of liberation.

Politicians caught in dilemmas that threaten their regime resort to brutality. The killings of all children under the age of 2 was a fear based warning to the population, no regime change, not now, not ever. Looking tough in the midst of unpopularity is essential . Despite the collateral damage, death to mostly innocent children meant that the gains from a limited massacre, only the area of Bethlehem, outweighed the risks. There was no time to consider the long term effects on political culture.

Behind this story recorded in Matthew but not mentioned was the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. Every nation and principality in the Empire understood the nonnegotiable demands made of vassals, demands for stability, reliability, ideological harmony and access to material or human resources when the need arose. The empire had financial and military limits and local rulers were left to their own devices including secret police to create at least the fiction of security and prosperity. The empire preferred to have its local strong man to carry out the heavy lifting of domination and cruelty to manufacture order. The interrogation, torture, and killing of enemies, often called terrorists is the work for lesser tetrarchs. The empire’s troops were only sent in as a last resort. The imperial heartland was reserved for pomp and endless repeating of the myths of its glory.

But there is another thread in this story of empire, client states, vassals, intrigue, and massacre. It involved the parents of the King baby, who listened the their dreams. It involved unexpected partners who offered protection and generous help along the way. The story of escape, return and new life is happening today too for those who have eyes to see, ears to hear and wise instincts to recognize the signs of the times.