What is “Nonviolence”? Reflections on the Honduras Election Protests

Photo (c) Mark Coplan. Youth and police, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 

February 21, 2018 — By Thom Haines

From January 23 – January 30, I was part of an emergency delegation to Honduras in the wake of another highly controversial election in that country. Tens of thousands of Hondurans flood the streets and highways in protest of what is widely seen as a stolen election and an attack on their democracy. A heavily armed military and police presence is everywhere.

Our delegation of 50 faith leaders from around the US was present in solidarity with protesters who — like Honduran Jesuit priest Padre Melo –are under threat, and to bear witness.

Author’s Note: In my mind, and in the mind of most everyone we met and every grassroots NGO with whom I work, the 2017 election in Honduras was indeed stolen by right-wing oligarchs, with the approval of the United States — just as the 2009 coup in Honduras was conducted with the approval of the United States and involved many of the same parties. We heard zero doubt that the election would not have been stolen and the violence would not be occurring without the approval of the US government — which government is principally in support of the multinational corporations extracting minerals, agricultural products, and hydroelectric power at the lowest cost. It is a repressive relationship with a long and complicated history that precludes brief summary. The reader is of course encouraged to conduct to their own research.

Since November, dozens of protestors have been killed by the police. Protestors on the highways are often quite young, some as young as twelve or thirteen, with parents observing from a short distance away. They must worry about the risks their children take as they face a police presence armed to the teeth. They also clearly support their children’s actions and judge them worth the risk.

Militarized forces in Honduras — whatever the publicized intent — uphold an economic status quo that benefits the elite and represses anyone who dares challenge it. Dole trucks rolling past the highway protests were a potent symbol of where the riches of Honduras end up. (The drivers of the trucks, though, seemed universally supportive of the protestors.)

In the face of this violent presence, sometimes the protestors had sticks. Sometimes they would burn tires in the highway. I did not, and do not, object, just as I did not and do not object to the fires on the streets of the 4th Precinct in Minneapolis during the Jamar Clark protests, or to the sticks and stones wielded by Palestinians against the massive force of the Israeli army.

Claiming to be “nonviolent,” though, I observe my own pangs of discomfort at these token indicators of what would surely (and glibly) be characterized by Fox News as violent intent.

But what is nonviolence? What of the decades of activists claiming it in the US?

In Graham Green’s The Comedians — set in Haiti during the period of rebellion against the brutal dictator, Papa Doc (Francois Duvalier) — we read of a funeral of three ill-equipped rebels:

“The priest … preached a very short sermon on some words of St. Thomas the Apostle: ‘Let us go up to Jerusalem and die with him.’ He said, ‘The Church is in the world, it is part of the suffering in the world, and though Christ condemned the disciple who struck off the ear of the high priest’s servant, our hearts go out in sympathy to all who are moved to violence by the suffering of others. The Church condemns violence, but it condemns indifference more harshly. Violence can be the expression of love, indifference never. One is an imperfection of charity, the other the perfection of egoism. In the days of fear, doubt and confusion, the simplicity and loyalty of one apostle advocated a political solution. He was wrong, but I would rather be wrong with St Thomas than right with the cold and the craven. Let us go up to Jerusalem and die with him.’”

As US citizens, we all reside somewhere on the spectrum of oppressor and oppressed, but our experiences vary according to our privilege. So, I say the following only for myself and for those similarly situated: We live in a bubble of “peace” created and enforced by a violent empire, and we benefit from this negative peace economically and personally. This violence is evident on the streets of Minneapolis as well as the highways of Honduras.

Can those of us who live as economic beneficiaries of a violent system claim to be nonviolent merely because we are reluctant to pick up a weapon? What is our standing to critique the violence of others — however minor — who are motivated by suffering, if we ourselves are ignorant to the full extent of that suffering?

Young Hondurans see a very different Honduras than that seen by the US State Department and mass media. Yes, we are compromised by our position of privilege. That does not relieve us of our moral obligation to call for a radical change in US policy and to stand in solidarity with those who are exploited and repressed.

The mobilizations we witnessed in Honduras are components of an existential struggle for justice that connects directly to us here. A better world is possible, and it starts with each of us.

###

On January 29, I was one of the nine spokespeople at the US Embassy in Honduras on behalf of our delegation. We went to the embassy with Padre Melo to amplify the voices we heard in the community. Here is a summary of my message to Chargé d’Affaires Heide B. Fulton and members of her staff:

A couple of days ago our delegation spent hours standing by highways in and around El Progreso. I was amazed and appalled at what I saw. Dozens of young Hondurans, some possibly as young as 13, were willing to risk their lives to protest the recent election of Juan Orlando Hernandez. They faced police and army units armed to the teeth. There were chants of “Fuera JOH!” (“Juan Orlando Hernandez, OUT”) and a passing parade of supportive vehicles including Dole trucks.

I was inspired, on the one hand, and appalled, on the other, by how encouraged the young people were to see us. When our delegation arrived, the youth at first were afraid, thinking we were reinforcements for the armed forces. They were happy and relieved to see it was us. They looked to us for protection. They felt safer because we were there. It is extremely unfortunate that police and military supported by US aid that should be protecting them are, instead, potent symbols of repression.

 

Thom Haines is an Assistant Carver County Attorney in Minnesota and a member of the Mayflower United Church of Christ Global Justice Advocacy Team in Minneapolis. Thom is a regular contributor at Newspeak Review. 

Advertisements

A Bird Flitters

The moment of lonely silence when we realize what we’ve done.

A bird flitters. A dog scatters. Grey.

Lust for resolution turned to comprehension of the end.

The News According to BlackRock

Stock Ticker

Whoever controls the media, controls the mind. —
Jim Morrison

The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.Joseph Goebbels

If those in charge of our society – politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television – can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves. —
Howard Zinn

October 4, 2017, by JT Haines

On the one hand, it’s simple enough. As my friend John recently said in response to the question “Do you know who owns CNN?,” he said, “Umm, the same people who own everything else.” Fair play.

On the other hand, I observe a surprising willingness among even the most politically active among us to receive the current narrative. Is that for lack of a trusted alternative? Time to do research? General democracy fatigue? I don’t know, but in any case Jim Morrison and I don’t love the set-up.

While not exactly news, the agenda of the mainstream media seems worth bearing in mind from time to time. So let’s just get right to the point. Here is ownership information for CNN, the New York Times, and NBC:

CNN

CNN is owned by Time Warner Inc (TWX), an $80 billion mass media corporation which also owns HBO, TBS, TNT, truTV, etc. Time Warner is 81% owned by financial institutions, the top holders of which are:
Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 9.45.11 AM
 (Source Yahoo Finance)

The New York Times

The New York Times Company (NYT) is owned 69% by financial institutions and 22% by insiders (corporate officers, etc). Here are the top institutional holders:
 Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 9.45.23 AM
 (Source Yahoo Finance)

NBC

NBC is owned by Comcast, a $180 billion global company 84% owned by institutional holders:
Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 1.39.31 PM
(Source Yahoo Finance)

BlackRock, by the way, is the “world’s largest asset manager with $5.7 trillion in assets under management as of July 2017. BlackRock operates globally with 70 offices in 30 countries and clients in 100 countries. Due to its power, BlackRock has been called the world’s largest shadow bank.” Basically, it’s an investment firm for rich people, and it manages a lot of money — a third of the US GDP-type money. And, significantly, it owns the paper of record.

I won’t pretend to tell anyone what to read, but for goodness sakes, let’s start with the assumption that we receive a corporate narrative and go from there. The New York Times is not a “liberal rag,” it is a corporate rag.

As Howard Zinn and others have consistently reminded us, what we are daily subjected to is the narrative of the powerful. To understand a people’s narrative, we must steel ourselves and look for it.

###
**The Washington Post and Duluth News Tribune, by the way, are privately owned — WaPo by the Amazon guy and DNT by Forum/the Marcil-Blacks of Fargo. (Forum owns the DNT, Brainerd Dispatch, Bemidji Pioneer, several TV stations, and numerous other regional outlets.).

Diagnosis: Myopia. US Narratives about the Philippines Continue to Miss the Picture

73402c9eca41ac93d0a36fc7efa13694_f146

June 21, 2017 — By Thom Haines

When I think about the presidential election in the United States, I continue to shake my head. As with many things related to the office, Donald Trump has only increased my head shaking. He didn’t start it.

It seems that it is difficult in the US to have a policy discussion that doesn’t focus on the limited reality visible from within our borders. In the presidential debates, for example, virtually the only discussion of how the US should relate to other countries related to ISIS and (a narrow view of) how to contain it. There was no discussion of the obscene “defense” budget or why it supposedly makes sense for the US to have armed forces in every region — indeed, nearly every country — of the world.

What is the role of the US in relationship to other countries? Is it right for our corporations to steal resources and exploit labor? Points made in the debates about NAFTA or the TPP focused on the harm to US workers, rarely the devastation wreaked on our fellow human beings in other countries.

It’s past time to become aware of and take responsibility for US imperialism. The rest of the world sees the US as an imperial power. Myopia, intentional and not, prevents many in the US from seeing our country as such.

Myopia (Merriam-Webster):

1) a condition in which the visual images come to a focus in front of the retina of the eye resulting especially in defective vision of distant objects.

2) a lack of foresight or discernment: a narrow view of something.

We seem oblivious to what is happening beyond our borders except as an extension of what’s happening within them.

Mainstream media reporting on the Philippines is again an example. The city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao has been devastated by recent violence. In a recent Washington Post article, Dan Lamothe writes:

“The United States is grappling with a hardening reality: Islamic State terrorism is on the rise in Southeast Asia, and it could worsen as foreign fighters abandon the battlefields of Iraq and Syria for new regions. The issue has snapped sharply into focus in the past three weeks, as militants and Philippine security forces have been locked in a bloody fight for Marawi, a lakeside city of about 200,000 people in the southern Philippines.”

marawi-residents-3

Residents fleeing Marawi

A little bit of context would help. Washington Post readers might appreciate knowing that this story is about a whole lot more that how ISIS activity on Mindanao is challenging US hegemony in the region. Do most readers know, for example, that Marawi’s population is 99% Muslim? Do they know that virtually the entire city of 200,000 has been forced from their homes by the violence? Do they know that Muslims have lived in this region of what is now a predominately Christian country since about 200 years before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century?

Do readers know about allegations that the US is using the ISIS connection to the violence in Mindanao as a tool to destabilize and overthrow the democratically elected president of the Philippines, hardly a US favorite?

Might they be interested in Dansalan College, a United Church of Christ in the Philippines institution in Marawi attacked and burned in the recent violence where 95% of the students are Muslim and 80% of the staff are Christian?

The rest of the world would much appreciate evidence that those in charge of US foreign policy and those who report on it are beginning to, at least, acknowledge that there are many perspectives from around the world that are of actual value. Meanwhile, of course, these perspectives continue to get short shrift by myopic politicians and reporters.

Thom Haines is a regular contributor at Newspeak Review. An Assistant County Attorney in Minnesota, Thom serves on the Minnesota State Bar Association Data Practices Committee and is active in his AFSCME union. He is a member of the Mayflower United Church of Christ (Minneapolis) Global Justice Advocacy Team, the UCC Minnesota Conference Global Partnerships Team. He recently finished eight years on the UCC board of Global Ministries.

What do those of us in the United States really know about the president of the Philippines?

May 4, 2017 – By Thom Haines

I know nothing; I suspect a few things. I suspect that the U.S. media is not telling the whole story about Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. I suspect that the United States is much more concerned about Duterte’s willingness to stand up to U.S. hegemony for the sake of his own people than it is about the alleged human rights abuses in the Philippine drug war. I’m not Duterte’s guy. I know nothing. I have been observing, however, that voices from the Philippines have quite a different view of their new president that what we are seeing in the U.S. media.

An April 30, 2017, New York Times article by Mark Landler methodically beats the drum we see in most U.S. portrayals of Duterte. Landler barely disguises his shock that Duterte has been invited to the White House. The only piece of substance offered about Duterte is that he is “an authoritarian leader accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the Philippines.” The article goes on to say that Duterte’s “toxic reputation” might be grounds for denying him a visa to make his visit to the White House were he not a head of state.

I do not pretend to understand Duterte’s “drug war”; troubling accounts from respected news outlets like The Guardian, and searing critiques from trusted organizations like Amnesty International deserve close attention. That said, many in the Philippines seem to see the drug war as one piece of a complicated puzzle, rather than an issue that defines Duterte.

Cheryl Daytec is an attorney currently serving in Duterte’s Department of Justice as the Assistant Secretary of Justice, her first government appointment. Previously she was a human rights lawyer for 16 years. On Saturday, April 28, Daytec gave the commencement address, titled “A Call for a Militant Christian Ministry,” at Union Theological Seminary in the Manila metropolitan area of the Philippines.

As she put it in her address, “I went to communities, I held the hands of battered women, raped women, girls, and babies, political dissidents, the homeless, ambulant vendors, indigenous peoples, persons with disability, laborers, the LGBT community, and other marginalized sectors. I fought for environmental justice.”

Here’s what Daytec says about her boss:

“Pres. Duterte has the biggest heart for the poor among all people who became President of this country. Of course, he also has the biggest dirty, foul, uncouth mouth among them all. We hear a lot about the heaven-shaking, hell-raising statements he makes in public speeches. Frankly when he gives long speeches, I keep hoping he will not say something that will make people cringe. There is no contest that the mouth of this President is unprecedented in the history of Philippine leaders, except for Gen. Antonio Luna who was said to liberally insert expletives in his speeches. But the President has bias for the poor.

“Let us all pray that he will stop liberally spewing expletives as we continually pray that he will always remain on the side of the poor, the pariah class that the oligarchy in the current capitalist system wants to maintain to continue its supremacy. Some people may find it difficult to reconcile our strong commitment to human rights with our support for Pres. Duterte. But this support is coming from the places of poverty and wretchedness where we have been to in our human rights advocacy. It is a breath of fresh air to have a President who understands that the root cause of poverty in this country is the unequal distribution of wealth perpetuated by an unjust system that favors the rich over the poor. It is inspiring to work under a President who always stresses that we have to put the poor first, who recognizes that the poor have the right to food, the right to jobs, the right to land, the right to security in times of disaster, the right to security in times of old age, the right to housing.

“Only a President who loves the poor would appoint to the social welfare agencies in his Cabinet people who truly care for peasants, the environment, the poor and needy, the indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups, despite the opposition of a Congress dominated by the oligarchy.”

Things are complicated in the Philippines. Many in the church in the Philippines have vigorously condemned extrajudicial killings while also continuing to generally support Duterte, a nuance very much passed over by New York Times.

I know nothing, but when I consider the positions of people I trust who live this every day, there seems to be more to the Philippines and its new president than a drug war. Where’s the truth? You tell me.

Haines at UTS

The author on a visit to Union Theological Seminary in the Philippines in August, 2016.

Thom Haines is an Assistant County Attorney in Minnesota, where he serves on the Minnesota State Bar Association Data Practices Committee and is active in his AFSCME union. He is a member of the Mayflower United Church of Christ (Minneapolis) Global Justice Advocacy Team, the UCC Minnesota Conference Global Partnerships Team, and G Project, a 501(c)(3) supporting human rights story-telling in Guatemala. He recently finished eight years on the board of Global Ministries (UCC and the Disciples of Christ), a Union Theological Seminary partner.