Monday, April 30, 2012

Afterthought #4 - Pilgrimage to Manzanar

The main Manzanar Pilgrimage event in 2011 | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET
Last month I blogged about the 70th anniversary of the opening of Manzanar, a concentration camp in southern California.  Grace Ito Coan, a member of Sacramento Friends Meeting, was among the U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry imprisoned there from 1942-1945. Her story in Western Friend put a personal face on disgraceful actions of the U.S. government.

This weekend, while I gathered with Quakers at Pacific Northwest Quarterly Meeting, I thought of the people  participating in the 43rd Annual Pilgrimage to the site of the camp, designated twenty years ago as Manzanar National Historic Site.  Zach Behrens, Editor-in-Chief, Blogs at KCET, wrote about his plans to attend:  The Importance of Visiting Manzanar. A video from the 2011 pilgrimage ( Manzanar Pilgrimage)  as well as Twitter posts from this year’s event (!/manzanarcomm), gave me a sense of what happened there this weekend.  And it reminded me again of the cruelty of fear. Remembering is an important step toward making sure such discrimination never happens again.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Living Below the Line

 "Poverty is the worst form of violence"   ~ Gandhi

Have you ever wondered what it's like to live on $1.50 a day? That question was in the message line of a recent e-mail from a friend. There I found a link to a poverty awareness project called Live Below the Line.

From May 7-11, CARE, a humanitarian organization working to end global poverty, is partnering with Live Below the Line – a campaign to change the way people in the U.S. think about extreme poverty. Live Below the Line is an initiative of the Global Poverty Project started in 2009 in Australia. It’s an education and campaigning organization whose mission is to increase the number and effectiveness of people taking action against extreme poverty.
The campaign’s strategy is to give a glimpse into the lives of the 1.4 billion people who live in extreme poverty by challenging individuals to live on $1.50 a day for food and drink for five days. The challenge is set at $1.50 a day because this is the current equivalent of the World Bank’s International Extreme Poverty Line. And for people who live in extreme poverty, that $1.50 has to cover far more than food and drink. That’s the U.S. equivalent of the money they have daily to pay for everything – health care, housing, transportation, clothing, education and more.

I won’t be accepting the Live Below the Line challenge the first week of May, but I’m aware of the power of such efforts. The stories and statistics on the websites of participating organizations are sobering. They’re far from my reality, so different from the abundance and comfort of my life. I’ve carried the images in my mind ever since receiving my friend’s e-mail, and they’ve reminded me of other times I’ve had heightened awareness of the violence of poverty.  
One memory is from my first trip to Nicaragua, chaperoning a group of high school students on a service/learning trip.  One day as we dug a hole for an incinerator at a medical clinic, an airplane flew overhead. The Nicaraguan man we were working with looked up at the plane and asked, “How much did it cost you to fly here?” We told him our tickets were about $600 each.
“That’s how much I make in a year,” he said, simply.
That evening, I listened to the students debrief their day. I knew how hard they all had worked to raise money for their trip expenses and what a stretch it was for many of their families to cover the costs.  Until then, none of them saw themselves as wealthy. Discovering that their plane tickets alone would use up an entire year of income for a man they’d worked with all day was a powerful economics lesson.
I don’t have to go to Nicaragua to find poverty, though. Even in my prosperous county, it’s evident that many here struggle financially. Paper grocery bags line the hall outside my school nurse office. During the week, staff fill them with boxes of dry cereal, canned soup, and pasta. On Friday, kids on the free lunch program cart the bags home to avoid hunger on the weekend. Many gardeners in my community participate in a  “Grow-a-Row” program to share produce with people in need, and many others depend on the local food bank and fresh food pantry to feed their families.  
For me, the Live Below the Line awareness campaign is a signal to discern anew what more I might do toward ending poverty. One Quaker organization doing good work to alleviate poverty in India, Kenya, and Sierra Leone is Right Sharing of World Resources. I’m grateful to those who are called to this work and remain open to ways I might serve.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tax Day Blues

Flyer prepared by
 Friends Committee on
National Legislation

Today’s deadline to file federal income tax has me in a foul mood.  Not because I’m sweating getting the return in the mail by midnight tonight; my spouse and I filled out everything weeks ago and are even awaiting a small refund.  What’s bothering me today, as it does every time I hear about the federal budget, is how my government spends those dollars withheld from my paycheck each month. 
Since 2001, military expenditures have more than doubled, now up to $1.6 trillion. That’s a number I can’t imagine, and maybe you can’t either. Organizers of today’s Second Annual Global Day of Action on Military Spending ( helped me visualize it in their video Go Figure - What Would It Cost to Save the World?. The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) helps put these figures in perspective, too, with their breakdown in Where Do Our Income Tax Dollars Go? Here’s how our nation spent each dollar of federal income tax we paid in 2011:

                39¢: Pentagon spending for current & past wars
                20¢: Health care
                16¢: Responding to poverty
                12¢: General government
                9¢: Supporting the economy
                3¢: Energy, science and environment
                2¢: Diplomacy, development and war prevention.

I’ve fretted and fumed about this for years, watching the percentage of the federal budget spent on war rise. The Quaker Peace Testimony calls me to oppose and refuse to engage in war and violence. Although I strive for peace in my daily interactions, I’m complicit with these preparations for war by all of those 39¢ payments I’ve paid.  They add up to lots of death, destruction, and diversion of resources.

According to the National Priorities Project, taxpayers in my county paid $4.9 million for Afghanistan war spending this year. The Project’s Cost of War Tradeoffs website calculates a few things that money could have bought in 2011 here in my community:
·        67 elementary school teachers
·        527 Head Start slots
·        1775 households converted to all solar energy
·        631 scholarships for university students
·        1044 people receiving low-income health care.

For some years I acted on the Peace Testimony by withholding a percentage of my taxes owed comparable to the portion spent on war, or by refusing to pay the phone tax (previously used to fund military costs). This year, as last (thanks to guidance from the Pay Under Protest Campaign organized by Quaker war tax resisters in California), I’ll send a letter to my congressman and senators letting them know I’ve paid my taxes under protest.

And this year, I took action through the FCNL website to urge my senators to stay diligent in decreasing the Pentagon budget (FCNL Action Alert). I hope you’ll do the same.

I have a hard enough time juggling my household finances; imagining changing federal spending can make me feel helpless. Today, I’m remembering that many voices are calling for reform, for expenditures that nurture rather than destroy. If you feel the Tax Day Blues too, join the chorus for change.  Here are a few more sources of strength and hope:

Former Costa Rica President and 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias speaks about how Costa Rica, without an army, has invested public resources in the public interest -