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September 21 – World Peace
The flag outside my window folds into itself.
The pole falls over and becomes a hitching post.
The road winds down the hill and fades
into the distance, carrying no one, nothing to a cadence.
The fences surrounding the fields disappear,
the grasses and wildflowers returning, growing shoulder-high,
the grasses and wildflowers spreading across the horizon,
all borders and boundaries lost, all watches dropped,
all guards replaced by nightcrawlers who tunnel
through dirt, rich black dirt, never knowing sides.
Mary Swander is the Poet Laureate of Iowa and a Professor of English at Iowa State University. Her most recent book of poetry is called The Girls on the Roof.
September 20 – The Power of Global Trade
Tina Newton, Manager of Worldly Goods
Our food did not come from a grocery store shelf. Our clothes did not come from the rack at the major department store. Everything we consume travels miles and miles, or even across the world, to get to us. This may seem simple and obvious, but how often do we really stop to think about the sourcing of our goods? Or what implications our purchases have on people around the world?
You know that little label in your new pair of shoes that says ‘Made in China?’ Have you ever stopped to ask yourself where in China it was made? In which city? At which factory (or even maybe ‘Gasp’ which sweatshop)? To take things one step further, have you ever asked yourself “Who made your shoes?”
Who made your shoes? It is an extremely important question that most of us don’t ask. Whoever it was is probably a lot like you and me. They work hard, want to put a roof over their heads, and food on the table, and raise happy, educated children. Unfortunately, the reality is that people working in overseas factories often struggle to meet the most basic of needs.
As consumers we are trained to look for the lowest prices. Unfortunately by paying low, low prices for our goods, that translates to low, low wages for those who produce our goods. Human rights aren’t factored into the equation of price, and factory workers’ quality of life, work safety, and happiness are sacrificed so we can buy cheap goods.
The producers of our goods are on the other side of the globe and we don’t think about who they are or what their lives are like. I challenge us all to start to think about them and how to improve their lives. I don’t think most of us want to be in a position of power over other people. If we become conscious consumers, we can start making purchases that improve the lives of others. Organizations like Green America, Ten Thousand Villages and the Fair Trade Federation are great resources for raising our awareness as consumers.
Fair Trade is a very good option for shopping ethically. Fair Trade allows us to shop with our hearts, not just our wallets. Instead of stores maximizing profits while consumers minimize cost, Fair Trade looks at cost differently. The price of Fair Trade goods may be a little higher than larger retail stores, but this price reflects what is necessary to ensure human rights and dignity to the developing countries where our goods come from. Fair Trade pays fair wages to people and makes sure people and the environment are put first, ahead of making a profit.
We can help bring about true change and true peace by making the choice to shop Fair Trade. Next time you buy coffee, make sure it’s Fair Trade. Next time you’re out shopping or browsing the internet, look for Fair Trade goods. You’ll make a positive difference in the world if you do.
Tina Newton is the Manager of Worldly Goods, Ames’ only Fair Trade store, where she has worked, educated and made a difference toward building a peaceful, global community for nine years.
September 19 – A Place of Peace and Justice for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People
Paul Johnson, Pastor of United Church of Christ Congregational, Ames
When I was a child, I didn’t know any gay or lesbian people. In our small town/rural community it was assumed that everyone was heterosexual. I recognize now that at least three of my public school teachers were gay, but they were very careful and closeted.
The assumption that everyone was heterosexual, the lack of awareness in society, and the negative judgments of church and community made it difficult for me to even consider the possibility that I might not be straight. I was in my thirties (I am now 62) before I accepted my sexuality as a gay man.
Attitudes toward people of various sexual orientations have changed dramatically in the past couple of decades. But conflict and controversy about sexual orientation has also increased.
I am privileged to serve as a Christian minister in a congregation that accepts and affirms me as an openly gay man. The April 3 decision of the Iowa Supreme Court made legal, civil marriage possible for my partner, David and me. We were married at the church I serve, the United Church of Christ-Congregational, in Ames, on May 31, 2009.
Many folks long for a society like that of my youth, where homosexuality was seldom talked about and rarely acknowledged. Those days when gay people were mostly silent and hidden seemed more peaceful to most folks. However it was not a peaceful time for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Such folks often lived their lives with great struggle, hurt and inner turmoil.
A sustainable, peaceful future for our society includes acknowledging the existence of people with different sexual orientations and the affirmation of basic civil rights, including the right of civil marriage, for all people.
That doesn’t mean churches have to accept and welcome gay and lesbian people. It doesn’t mean that churches have to bless marriages like mine. I defend the right of churches to disagree. Some churches do not accept and support homosexual people. The guarantee of religious liberty supports their right to hold such a position. At the same time, there are many churches that do not see homosexuality as sinful and fully support their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members. Their point of view is also protected by our constitution.
In a pluralistic society, which values separation of church and state, basic civil rights should not be withheld from any group even if they are in conflict with the doctrine and principles of a religious majority.
The conversation will continue. It will not always be peaceful. However, I believe the attitudes of young people are much more accepting of diverse sexual identity than previous generations. If we succeed in creating a culture of peace and a sustainable future, such a society will include and affirm all people.
September 18 – Connections
Walking along the beaten path to the worksite, we always attracted attention, from families, from schoolchildren, and from other kids wandering around the Ugandan village. We were foreigners. Being from America, we were viewed as strange, almost extra-terrestrial beings by the Ugandan children. But despite this, we made connections on many levels with them, connections independent of the two very contrasting cultures that differentiated us.
On the first day walking from the worksite, a little boy ran up from behind me and grabbed my hand. I was told that hand-holding is a common sign of friendship in Uganda, and I was happy to have made a new friend early on in the trip. I asked his name; he responded, “Atukeben.” I asked his age; He responded, “Yes.” For every subsequent question I asked him, he responded, “Yes.”
As time passed, we made more connections with the Ugandan children. Despite my limited ability to speak Swahili, and his limited ability to speak English, Atukeben became my close friend. Every day, he and I would walk to and from the worksite, hand in hand. I would try to teach him some English phrases, and he reciprocated by trying to teach me some Swahili. A friend and I would occasionally count to three and swing him up over potholes in the road or broken glass, but mostly just for fun. I, along with the other “Bazungu,” or white men, learned more Swahili phrases from the other children and tried to communicate with them. We sounded awful. They laughed, and we laughed with them. They were fascinated with our cameras, and, after we taught them how, were thrilled to take pictures of their friends, including us.
How could these two groups of people so dissimilar eventually get along so well? Although skin color, language, clothes, facial features, religion, etc. all create a façade that defines us, beneath it lies a trait common to all peoples. We are humans. As such, we share common interests—interests that no specific culture can define. It is this human factor that creates unity among the most diverse peoples.
Chris Xin is a senior at Ames High School and traveled to Uganda with a school work group in June of 2009.
September 17 – Making Peace by Slowing Down
Lois Joy Smidt
For 13 years I have worked with Beyond Welfare (BW), a community building organization that seeks to facilitate change through building community across our differences. We started with the intent of addressing poverty. We believed when people make friends across class and race lines, the lives of those in poverty and others are enriched. And those with sufficient resources come to see the systemic conditions that hold poverty in place and will want to do something to create a more just and equal community.
Indeed over the years, we have made a difference. BW has facilitated significant change in the lives of individuals, in systems, and in the community.
We have come to define poverty as a lack of “Money, Friends, and Meaning.” We have come to understand that all of us need all of these to be ok. We have figured out that everyone—no matter how “poor” in money or resources—has great gifts. That all of us—no matter how “rich”—have needs.
Our focus on poverty and welfare reform has grown to a commitment to inclusion—an open door of community for everyone regardless of race, class, age, ability, orientation, and the other interesting differences among us as people. We gather for food and friendship. People exchange “wants, needs and offers,” developing an economy of caring reciprocity that meets tangible and intangible needs for all involved.
Many people I know who care a lot about justice and peace tell me they only wish they had time to be involved in the community building work of BW. It has me thinking about how our busy-ness keeps us separated from people who are different from us—holding isolation, difference, divisiveness, and injustice in place. We work so hard and move so fast.
I was blessed to connect with the Inclusion movement around folks with disabilities in the UK. Here I met an amazing young woman named Marissa who lives with cerebral palsy. Her communication style is different from mine. She communicates with an alphabet board. An assistant helps her point to letters, spelling what she has to say. While getting to know Marissa, I was being my busy self. She wheeled herself over and got my attention. She spelled, “Lois! You are going to have to slow down if you want to be my friend!”
I count this admonition as one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I, like most, was raised with a model of charity that would place me as a generous helpful person in relationship to Marissa. In reality, I needed her. For years I had been looking for a good enough reason to slow down. In one simple moment, she gave it to me—“Be my friend.”
So—slow down. Give yourself a gift. Smile. Say hello to a person who is different from you. Attend a BW community dinner any Thursday, 5:30pm, Collegiate Presbyterian Church. Make peace and justice by slowing down and making friends.
Lois Joy Smidt is past Director of Beyond Welfare where she is now a volunteer member. She teaches and consults in inclusive community building around the world. She invites you to dinner at BW, Thursdays 5:30 p.m. at Collegiate Presbyterian Church, 159 N. Sheldon Ave., Ames. BW thanks the people of CPC for generously sharing their space.
September 16 – The Legacy of Aldo Leopold and the 11 Days of Global Unity
Erwin Klaas, Professor Emeritus of Animal Ecology at Iowa State University
The renowned conservationist, Aldo Leopold, began his essay The Land Ethic with the story of the Greek god Odysseus who hanged all of the slave-girls of his household because he suspected them of misbehavior during his absence in the Trojan Wars. This hanging involved no ethical question because the girls were merely property. Leopold wrote, “The disposal of property was then, as now, a matter of expediency, not of right and wrong.”
The Land Ethic appeared in a now famous book titled A Sand County Almanac, first published in 1949. The book has had over two million copies printed and has been translated into nine languages. It continues to inform and inspire the environmental movement. I first read A Sand County Almanac in 1953 as a freshman in college; it has guided my thinking throughout my career as a wildlife research biologist.
Aldo Leopold was one of the first to distinguish between the concept of land as a community and land as a commodity. His concept of land includes soils, waters, plants and animals. Land viewed merely as a commodity is something to be bought and sold, like the slave girls owned by Odysseus. A land ethic, according to Leopold, “…changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.”
Although five decades have passed since Leopold’s essay was published, we are not much closer to the ideal of viewing land as a community and caring for it in a sustainable way. Land owners still sell their land to the highest bidder without regard to how that land will be used. Thus, thousands of acres of Iowa farmland, the richest farmland in the world, is covered over with concrete, roads, houses and shopping malls every year.
Politicians and most citizens believe this is good because such conversion is considered economic development.
The mission of We, The World is to maximize social change on a global scale and to awaken a spirit of caring and involvement in the public so that millions of people begin to see themselves as part of one global interdependent community – and to actively take part in creating a world that works for all. Leopold too was advocating for social change and a major shift in how we think about land. I am sure that if Leopold were alive today, he would be one of the supporters of this newly-framed message of peace, justice, and environmental stewardship.
Through the power of the internet, we can now reach 10 times more people in 11 days than Leopold has been able to reach in 50 years. Let us hope that 11 Days of Global Unity can maximize awareness of humanity’s major challenges, and inspire, inform and involve the public in visionary solutions. Nothing could please me more than to see Leopold’s legacy live on in this renewal of hope for the earth and all of creation.
Replacing Domination with Cooperation
The sun has just sunk behind the trees and as the darkness increases and the air cools, I find myself surrounded by the nighttime sounds of insects and frogs. I have feasted on a dinner of home-grown sweet corn, potatoes, zucchini, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and grass-fed beef. We have been blessed with 2 inches of rain and every plant and amphibian is rejoicing. In this moment I feel as if the world is perfect.
Yet clearly, it isn’t. I have been asked to write about global unity, and a thousand questions trouble my mind. While I can imagine a world where, in the midst of our differences, we could still have respect and compassion for each person and creature, I can also see a reality close at hand where there are farmers not cooperating, neighbors not speaking, families divided. I am especially troubled by thoughts of war and violence and hatred.
Violence is real, violence is terrible and it can lead down a rational path to an irrational place. There are millions of victims of violence, of war, of abuse, of horrible injustice and many of them are justifiably angry. Feelings of anger, especially combined with frustration can result in resentment, desperation, a desire for vengeance. These forces, or sometimes even nobler motivations of struggling for justice can lead us to more acts of violence. There comes a point at which a person is willing to sacrifice their life to kill large numbers of complete strangers. A human being should never reach that point, but it happens every day.
It is not enough to just stop violence; what can we do to heal the wounds of violence and undo its roots? Some roots of violence are hunger, injustice, oppression, greed, and fear, but basically, violence is a tool used to exert power over another. We can’t just wait and see. We are consuming and destroying the abundance of our planet and our current path leads to more scarcity and hardship. How can we react to violence with compassion? To scarcity or greed with generosity? To fear with courage? Can we recall in our hearts that another human being is as deserving of compassion as we are ourselves? For myself, it requires completely turning my mind, heart, and world inside out and believing in a different possibility, that cooperation can replace domination. How do we do it—where do we find the courage? By not worrying about if it will work, but doing what is right anyway. Being abundantly generous when we are not sure we have enough. By speaking kind words to someone who has wronged us. By believing in my heart that I am part of a worldwide team or family, and acting accordingly, whether or not others want to join. In sharing food I am undoing hunger, not with a small band-aid, but by creating friendships, making a sacrifice, and speaking to the world,
“It is not right that I should eat while you go hungry.”
Alice McGary is a farmer, musician, and Catholic Worker who lives and works at Mustard Seed Community Farm, an all volunteer run project that works to serve the land and the hungry.
September 13 – Power and Justice
Mary Sawyer, Religious Studies and African American Studies at Iowa State University
For many, the word “peace” speaks of the absence of violence, of harmonious relations, of good will toward all the earth’s inhabitants. Others of us remember the admonition that “there is no peace without justice.” Indeed, trying to move to peace without first doing the hard work of justice typically is a set up for failure.
Who was not moved by Rodney King’s plea, “Can’t we all just get along?” How many soldiers have looked into the eyes of an enemy combatant only to recognize their human self in the face of the other? How many of the world’s children have handed a fistful of handpicked flowers to the parent who the night before had beaten or molested them?
Rarely do such actions bring about peace. They may lead to a temporary suspension of violence. They may produce a veneer of niceness. But any person who has experienced abuse knows that niceness too often obscures evil.
It is no different for ethnic or religious or political groups. It is no different among tribes and nations.
Social systems and institutions, if unchecked, invariably generate social inequalities of hierarchy, dominance, and exclusion. Inherent in this inequality are unequal power relations that lead to the exploitation of cheap labor, denial of access to critical information, the theft of natural resources, war against people of color, and suppression of women.
In none of these situations will justice be obtained merely by putting one’s arm around the enemy. Achieving peace and a sustainable world are far more complex than that.
Civility and the seeking of common ground are important elements in securing peace, but neither is in itself sufficient. Intense focus on identifying areas of common concern may at the same time deflect attention from practices that continue to generate injustice and that need to be challenged.
Civility is a desirable thing, as the recent specter of uncivil town hall meetings reminds us, but civility is not synonymous with either justice or peace and ought not preclude respectful but steadfast confrontation. If we give weight to the goal of justice, then just “getting along” and “being nice” will not suffice.
Historically, the leaders of every significant social justice movement—be it concerned with labor, or civil rights, or the environment—have understood this. What is required is a redistribution of power and resources so that all parties can come to the table as equals. This, in turn, as Martin Luther King tried to tell us, requires a thorough transformation of our values and priorities.
Real justice also requires acknowledgment of the trauma to which people have been subjected, and the means to heal that trauma. It requires openness to and skills for resolving conflicts. And it requires that the means we use to bring about change be consistent with the ends we seek.
Violence cannot produce peace. And the valuing of profits above people cannot create a world where all have true quality of life.
Sept. 13 – City-based Initiative, Community-based Action
Adam Cotton, AmeriCorps VISTA – Iowa Civil Rights Commission
Ames strives to be a welcoming community, not a community of fear. And most of the residents of Ames were accustomed to the “diversity” inherent in a college town that hosts many international students—people from all over the world subsequently raising their children within the school system and sharing in the experience of strong neighborhoods and an embracing community. But in recent years, the understanding of “diversity” in Ames has become a different matter all together. Ames has seen an influx of new residents mainly due to migrations from major Midwestern cities (e.g. Chicago), which was followed by increased criminal activity, socioeconomic and racial tensions, and a certain level of fear of such “diversity.”
In 2008, with the support of the City Council and the Mayor’s Inclusive Community Task Force, the Ames community created the Community Conversations on Diversity. From these conversations, four current “action teams” have been focusing on various social issues (e.g. education, strengthening neighborhoods, and welcoming new residents). They have been successful in addressing key elements of a truly healthy, thriving, diverse community: engaging youth and parents, strengthening neighborhoods through self-empowerment, and creating a welcoming environment for all residents of Ames.
Through City-based initiative and grassroots community-based action, an energetic momentum has carried the Ames community through a dynamic summer. Community members hosted a welcome booth at the Annual July 4th Pancake Breakfast, offering information from City departments and local nonprofits, as well as name tags for all 1200 residents in attendance. This event allowed citizens, especially newcomers, to connect with one another on a first name basis and access needed human service and community information.
The Street’N’Greet block party trailer was fundraised for, purchased and introduced over the course of the summer. Collaborating with AmeZone, a new youth service learning organization, the first block party took place on Tripp St., which is part of a neighborhood known for its socio-economically and racially diverse residents. With over 200 people in attendance, two police officers on Segways, and a fire engine, rescue vehicle and staff for children to interact with, this event allowed for relationship building between apartment renters and house owners, as well as neighborhood residents and police and fire staff.
Looking to the future, the One Community action team has been implementing a youth logo and motto competition to rebrand the Community Conversations on Diversity under the new name “United Ames.” The education focused action team will be hosting an information booth about Ames schools for new families at Ames High School’s parent night.
Ames is working to transform fear into something else—a sense of inclusiveness and appreciation for the growing diversity the City is experiencing. By allowing the citizens of Ames to discover their own capacity for unity, their own creative ability to find peace that transcends fear, we have become a stronger community, with unique neighborhoods and exceptional potential for a diverse future worth celebrating. I look forward to seeing where such a motivated community can go from here.
September 12 – We All Are One!
I came from China, one of the most ancient countries, to pursue the most advanced education in United States, like hundreds of thousands of other young people from all over the world. US has always attracted plenty of young talent, because we all believe this is a land of freedom, diversity, modernization and dreams.
Today people talk about global unity. What is so-called global unity? Does it mean one political system for a world government, under which everyone speaks one language, adopts the same regulations, all the barriers of free economic trade are eliminated, and a diversity of ethnicities and cultures are dissolved? No! It is an attitude about how you treat other people. I am now 10,000 miles away from my hometown. Even though I am very clear where I am rooted, I never feel like a foreigner in the US. My nationality is Chinese, but I define myself as a world being.
I always believe we all are one – we live in ONE world, we experience the same happiness or sadness. We all cherish those most valuable things, like family and friendship. Therefore, when I meet a person, all I think about is to know them more, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality and wealth. I never set up a wall until I feel offended. I believe everybody has an intriguing story. If they would like to open themselves up to me, I would feel very much honored and blessed to listen to them and try to understand their life journey.
Luckily, I have been able to meet a huge diversity of people. However, sometimes I go through hardships when people are close-minded or define themselves as a certain group. It may make me feel frustrated, but I never lose hope. I am very appreciative about my experiences, which make my life more fulfilled. And I have met so many nice and intelligent people, whom I learned a lot from. Thanks to this, I became who I am now. I try to be humble, curious and accepting.
Sometimes I am thinking that people shut the door to others because they don’t know what it is like outside the door or how to open the door. For example, I was in charge of a program named “Friendship International.” We matched an international student with a local American family. I vividly remember how curious and excited they were when they participated in the program, how expectant and exhilarated they were when they met each other. They approached each other and cautiously explored each other’s world, and then a brand-new world was opened for them. What a nice moment! Actually I was one of those international students too. My husband and I connected with our host family very well. We care about our relationship and will carry it on. The program is a venue which connects people. This example, together with lots of other things, makes me feel that most people are very genuine and lovely, which proves me right— we are all one.
Xiaowen Guo is an international student at ISU from China. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Accounting and a Master of Business Administration degree. Before she came to the States, she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering and a Master’s Degree of Science in Shanghai, China. She also works part time at the International Students and Scholars Office, ISU.