A Dying Veteran’s (Tomas Young’s) Letter to Bush and Cheney

I became overwhelmed with emotion while watching Tomas Young’s interview on Democracy Now! I never met Mr. Young, but I went to the first D.C. screening of the documentary, Body of War, (where, incidentally I met the filmmaker, Phil Donahue, and deceased Senator Robert Byrd) which was about his life after returning from Iraq paralyzed. One of my favorite musicians, Eddie Vedder, wrote a song about him.

Those of you who know me well know that I became radicalized because of the Iraq War. I supported it while in high school, but as soon as I got to the University of Maryland and was exposed to voices of reason, including members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (of which Young is a member) I spent much of my time organizing against it. I even got fired from a newspaper I worked for in part because of my views — you may not recall how popular the war was in Bush’s first term, particularly once it began and few saw a way out. My life would have likely turned out dramatically different if not for this senseless and barbaric war against a people who did nothing to us. It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be here in Turkey studying peace and conflict if not for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The war continues to this day in the form of sectarian violence and cruel torture and murder by the U.S.-installed regime and its clients. It also continues in the form of the legal and political war against Bradley Manning, who did nothing except dare to shine a light on these atrocities.

I hope that you will read Young’s words and reflect on the last ten years and contemplate how we can end ALL war in the next ten…before it ends us:

Re-posted from Truthdig

To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

To read Chris Hedges’ recent interview with Tomas Young, click here.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

Steubenville, Rape Culture, and Solutions

I think the paper I just wrote is a good response to this writer’s denunciation of ‘forgiveness without consequences,’ which is a very appropriate characterization of the media response to these types of crimes, particularly when the perpetrators are white and privileged (think Ben Roethlisberger). While it is only one tiny drop in the bucket, my research continues, and I hope for your support and contributions.

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Teach, Learn, Act, Empower:

Education for Restorative Justice in Sexual Violence Cases

Introduction

There is hardly an offense both as pervasive and pernicious as sexual assault. Although it is commonplace in Western[1] society to label rapists and child molesters as criminals who must be held accountable, the criminal justice system rarely produces prosecutions in cases of sexual assault (Naylor, 2010, p. 662) let alone true and enduring satisfaction for the victims and their families — and it often does not consider the circumstances of perpetrators, their families, or the community that produced them to be relevant to the outcome (Hayden, 2012, p. 4). Perhaps most importantly, it has neither stopped sexual violence nor curtailed it in any reassuring way, and by relying on patriarchal hierarchies and authoritarianism in police stations, courts, and prisons, the criminal justice system effectively maintains the culture of violence that gives rise to sexual assault and rape (CARA).

Nevertheless, many survivors of sexual violence and their supporters are recognizing the futility of the status quo and are embracing alternatives, such as a number of processes collectively referred to as restorative justice. While there is far from a consensus that restorative justice is appropriate in cases of sexual violence, there is no question that it can be both effective and desirable (Hayden, 2012). Moreover, restorative justice is only the beginning: There are some grassroots activists who feel that restorative justice, which is often — but not always — performed in cooperation with legal authorities, does not go far enough in breaking from state-based justice and prefer what is referred to as “transformative justice” (generation FIVE).

While this paper, after clarifying its terminology, will focus briefly on the proven and potential effectiveness of restorative and transformative justice, its main concern will be to address how to transfer the knowledge and skills necessary to take this approach — otherwise individuals who lack the time, energy, and access to resources that a devoted scholar possesses will continue to rely on mainstream legal mechanisms or do nothing at all to seek justice for incidents of sexual violence. It is, therefore, essential to educate members of the field[2] about these issues.

Definition of Terms

            “Sexual violence,” refers to all cases of unwanted sexual contact. Although the common stereotype is that women are the victims of sexual violence and that men are the perpetrators, the definition includes violence against adult men, people who are transgender or gender-ambiguous, and children of all genders. Just as the definition includes all gender groups as potential victims, it includes all gender groups as potential perpetrators.[3] “Restorative justice” and “transformative justice,” in short, are processes and practices serving as non-violent,[4] non-punitive responses to harm committed within a community (Creative Interventions, 2012, p. 63). The terms are also used to indicate the philosophies and principles justifying those responses.

Restorative justice processes are diffuse in both number and application, but all address through dialogue — to varying degrees — the following three questions: 1) “Who has been hurt?” 2) “What are their needs?” and 3) “Who has the obligation to address the needs, to put right the harms, to restore relationships?” (Zehr, 2009). The most relevant process to address sexual violence, particularly if the offender is not incarcerated, is “restorative conferencing”[5] because it allows for healing for those harmed, reparations from those responsible for the harm, and the participation of any party deemed necessary for safety, satisfaction, and success (Naylor, 2010, p. 665).

Transformative justice is a largely unexamined grassroots phenomenon that could be considered a sub-category of restorative justice or a different approach altogether[6] (Zehr, 2011). It emphasizes not only the offense in question but the underlying societal conditions and layers of oppression that give rise to it; therefore, transformative justice not only seeks to address harm in relationships but also to challenge harmful systems (generation FIVE). Transformative justice is especially relevant to sexual violence due to the pervasive undercurrents of gender, race, class, ability, age, and sexual orientation that accompany it.

Why this approach?

Restorative justice, in particular, has been criticized in its application to sexual violence due to concerns about survivor safety and re-victimization (Hayden, 2012). While many of these criticisms are well founded, measures can be taken to address these criticisms, so they should not discourage practitioners from providing sexual assault survivors and their families an additional resource (Hayden, 2012, p. 7), especially in light of the low rates of reporting and prosecution in rape cases and the potential for re-victimization during cross examination (Naylor, 2010, p. 662). In response to critics who favor the status quo, it is worth noting that restorative justice does not necessarily have to take the place of punitive or legalistic methods but can co-exist with them — and often do (Naylor, 2010, p. 679).

All cooperation aside, restorative justice has numerous benefits unique to its principles. One of the most important and relevant to the context of sexual violence is the measure of “social safety” that dialogue provides beyond the detainment of the offender(s), which can prevent retaliatory violence and strengthen community cohesiveness in the wake of a crime (Hayden, 2012: p. 9). In the context of intimate partner violence, restorative justice allows the relationship to be emphasized over consequences for the perpetrator, and this has the potential to foster safety predicated on changing the relationship rather than forced separation through imprisonment or restraining order, which the survivor[7] does not always desire (Hayden, 2012). The assumption that a survivor would always prefer to punish the offender than attempt to repair the relationship is not grounded in reality (Hayden, 2012). Moreover, unlike the adversarial court system where offenders are advised by their attorneys and supporters to lie or remain silent, restorative processes create the proper space and incentives for offenders to take full responsibility for their actions (Naylor, 2010). And regardless of the outcome, restorative justice is far more efficient and cost-effective than the courts (Sherman & Strang, 2007).

Pedagogical Framework

            Perhaps the greatest weakness of restorative justice is that it remains largely unknown to service providers, anti-violence advocates, and survivors alike. The goal of this paper is to change that — if only on the micro level — but not before attempting to place this pedagogical effort in its proper context.

Although a gendered perspective is not the only lens with which to view sexual violence, it is indisputably the most common and arguably the most necessary because it is very difficult to conceive of a sexual assault hotline or resource center that lacks a sophisticated gender analysis and competency. Indeed, if one seeks to curtail or eliminate sexual violence, that person likely seeks to curtail or eliminate patriarchy[8] as well (Jenkins & Reardon, 2007, p. 209). Both goals have been the subject of much attention on the international level in recent decades, culminating in the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by the United Nations and, more recently, the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women (Jenkins & Reardon, 2007, p. 211). With the foundation of masculinities studies in the 1990s, more and more linkages to other forms of oppression, such as racism and militarism, were made and are continuing to be made (Jenkins & Reardon, 2007, p. 211).

In the context of training those in the field to provide restorative alternatives to willing survivors and their supporters, peace education pedagogy, described by the preeminent Jenkins & Reardon (2007, p. 216) as “enabl[ing] learners to think in terms of complexities beyond the standard curricula on controversial issues that usually teach students to consider little more than the two major opposing positions involved in the public discourse on the issues in question”[9] is most appropriate. An honest teacher cannot limit the class discussion on sexual violence to the ‘woman’s side’ vs. the ‘man’s side’ — this would be laughable — however, conversations about justice are often limited — even by the brightest and most well intentioned — to the false dichotomy of retribution vs. inaction. The chosen pedagogy must transcend this self-imposed limitation.

This consideration, coupled with the acknowledgement that the debate is still open on the causes and consequences of sexual violence — not to mention the solutions to it — renders the “problem-posing” model of the renowned adult educator Paulo Freire (1990) highly applicable. The struggle against sexual violence falls completely within the Freirean principle of education for liberation from oppression, and there are few, if any, advocates and service providers who claim neutrality in their work against sexual violence. They instead position themselves on the side of the victim, who is oppressed, and many even go so far as to exclude from services those perpetrators — oppressors — who were themselves sexually victimized or otherwise oppressed, which represents the same challenge to the Hegelian dialectic that Freire himself faced in his work[10] (Schugurensky, 1998, p. 23).

As described previously the very nature of restorative justice comprises reflection, dialogue, and social action. It does not lend itself to mainstream top-down education, or what Freire (1990) calls “the banking model,” because there are no pre-packaged solutions to be presented to the participants; the participants suggest, debate, decide, and implement their own solutions. This is fully compatible not only with the Freirean method, but also with the general approach of sexual assault service providers and advocates to their clients. In fact, most organizational policies explicitly forbid them from telling survivors what to think and what to do.[11] Although Freire (1994) was highly educated and privileged compared to the peasant farmers he worked with in his home country of Brazil and other parts of South America, he insisted on placing his students at the center of his pedagogy, allowing them unprecedented control of their own learning and humbling himself to learn from them. This is very similar to the approach of sexual assault service providers toward their clients and could apply to an in-house restorative justice training program, where the service providers’ concerns and suggestions about the new service would, in turn, be given full hearing and consideration by management; all levels of the organization would, in effect, develop the program together.[12]

Project Implementation

Despite its compatibility with pre-existing structures and guidelines, restorative justice in the context of sexual violence is not just another resource to be catalogued in the service providers’ manual. The average person does not know what it is, so it cannot be assumed that a typical service provider or survivor in crisis would know, let alone be ready to perform the necessary functions. The proposed restorative justice training program — to be named whatever is deemed appropriate to the organization that seeks to adopt it — will effectively train the service providers to both inform clients of the new service and to work with them to implement it in their respective cases. Periodic training sessions, promoted throughout the community, can be held at the organization’s offices or at other locations that are suitable and secure. Selected service providers will be asked to serve as facilitators or support people in the aforementioned restorative conferences.

The conditions of the restorative conferences — including the length, setting, and number of participants — are to be carefully discussed and agreed upon by all major stakeholders, with priority given to the survivor(s) needs. The prior mandatory training of service providers in sensitivity and competency when working with survivors of sexual violence will do much to aid them in creating and maintaining safety and equity throughout the process. A relevant model is that of the Centre for Victims of Sexual Assault in Copenhagen, although the terminology used and cultural context is somewhat different (Naylor, 2010, p. 674).

On the subject of culture, to critics who dismiss a restorative approach to sexual violence on grounds that it is incompatible with Western values and traditions, it is worth noting that women who are indigenous to North America tend to view restorative justice in a much more favorable light due traditions pre-dating the arrival of European settlers and the cruel reality of the “White man’s justice” in their communities (Naylor, 2010, p. 677). If a sexual assault resource center’s list of services is to be fully inclusive, it must take into account non-Western traditions and notions of justice.

Conclusion

            In light of recent calls for education to prevent sexual violence in response to the Steubenville, Ohio, case (Waldron, 2013) — breaking from typical responses that can be categorized as victim-blaming and/or safety-planning (Goodman, 2013) — this paper presents a relevant and complementary argument that represents but one small part of the solution. Indeed, the proposal is not primarily preventive in nature, for restorative justice is often responsive in its application, yet to apply it fully would be to change society with implications far beyond what is proposed by the brave and insightful Zerlina Maxwell[13] (Goodman, 2013). This far-reaching change will come in time, when the current justice system collapses under the weight of its own contradictions, but for those already inclined — Freirean types whose ideology and chosen profession represents a challenge to the status quo — an alternative is here and cannot be denied. Far from amounting to a retreat in the war against sexual violence, restorative justice is the “third way” between re-victimization and revenge (Wink, 2003).

 

Appendix: Resource List

            Resources relevant for both the pedagogy and implementation of this approach:

Documents and Reports

  • ·         Beautiful, difficult, powerful: ending sexual assault through transformative justice

http://www.blackandpink.org/wp-content/upLoads/Beautiful-Difficult-Powerful.pdf

Books

  • Freire, P. (1990). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
  • Ptacek, J. (2010). Restorative justice and violence against women. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Zehr, H. (2002). The little book of restorative justice. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.

Websites

References

(2012). Creative interventions toolkit: a practical guide to stop interpersonal violence. Creative Interventions. Retrieved March 15, 2013, from http://www.creative-interventions.org/tools/toolkit/

CARA / Communities against Rape and Abuse. Making connections: the anti-violence movement actively resisting the prison-industrial complex. Seattle: CARA / Communities against Rape and Abuse, n.d. Incite! Women of Color against Violence. Retrieved March 17, 2013 from http://www.incite-national.org/media/docs/9261_anti-prisonbrochure.pdf

Freire, P. (1990). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Freire, P., & Freire, A. M. (1994). Pedagogy of hope: reliving Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Generation FIVE – Home. (n.d.). Transformative Justice. Retrieved March 16, 2013, from http://www.generationfive.org/

Goodman, A. (2013, March 15). DemocracyNow! [Television broadcast]. New York: Pacifica.

Hayden, A. (2012). Safety issues associated with using restorative justice for intimate partner violence. Women’s Studies Journal, 26(2), 4-16. Retrieved November 11, 2012, from the EBSCO database.

Jenkins, T., & Reardon, B. (2007). Gender and peace: towards a gender inclusive, holistic perspective. Handbook of peace and conflict studies (pp. 209-231). London: Routledge.

Naylor, B. (2010). Effective justice for victims of sexual assault: taking up the debate on alternative pathways. UNSW Law Journal, 33(3), 662-684. Retrieved November 11, 2012, from the EBSCO database.

Schugurensky, D. (1998). The legacy of Paulo Freire: A critical review of his contributions.

Convergence 31, (1-2), 17-29.

Sherman, L., & Strang, H. (2007). Restorative justice: the evidence. The Smith Institute, 1. Retrieved March 16, 2013, from http://www.sas.upenn.edu/jerrylee/RJ_full_report.pdf

Waldron, T. (2013, March 11). As Steubenville rape trial begins, petition seeks to educate coaches about sexual assault. ThinkProgress. Retrieved March 17, 2013, from http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2013/03/11/1700711/as-steubenville-trial-begins-petition-drive-seeks-to-educate-coaches-about-sexual-assault/?mobile=nc

Wink, W. (2003). Jesus and nonviolence: a third way. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress.

Zehr, H. (2009, May 27). Howard Zehr’s “Restorative justice three’s”. Restorative Justice Online. Retrieved March 16, 2013, from http://www.restorativejustice.org/RJOB/howard-zehrs-restorative-justice-threes

Zehr, H. (2011, March 10). Restorative or transformative justice?. Restorative Justice Blog. Retrieved March 16, 2013, from http://emu.edu/now/restorative-justice/2011/03/10/restorative-or-transformative-justice/

 


[1] For the purpose of reaching its intended audience, this paper will narrow its focus to the Western context: the legal and moral status quo of the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. This is not to say that sexual violence does not occur elsewhere or that the solutions presented would not be relevant to non-Western contexts.

[2] For the purposes of this paper, “the field” and “service providers” will include staff and (trained) volunteers at sexual assault crisis and resource centers. It could be expanded to include dedicated grassroots activists, so long as there is a training requirement so that said activists understand the complex feelings and needs of survivors.

[3] Some may be put off by the terms “victim” and “perpetrator” due to their presumption of dichotomy and inflexibility — not to mention their overuse by champions of the status quo (Hayden, 2012, p. 11) — but I use them here for the sake of clarity and practicality.

[4] There are, of course, violent alternatives to the current criminal justice system, such as vigilantism or civil lawsuits, but this paper will relegate its focus to alternatives that do not seek retribution.

[5] Restorative conferencing is known by many different names, but the word “conferencing” is usually maintained.

[6] Because I am of the persuasion that transformative justice is a sub-category of restorative justice, I will from now on refer to both as restorative justice for brevity’s sake.

[7] I will tend toward the word “survivor” over “victim” because it is widely regarded as more empowering within the anti-violence community.

[8] While there are many definitions account for hierarchies within genders nor does it recognize the flexibility of gender and its accompanying roles across and understandings of patriarchy, I like to define it along the lines of “structural authoritarianism based on perceived gender roles” in order to not limit it simply to the domination of women by men because this understanding does not cultures and epochs. Jenkins & Reardon (2007) allude to a more expansive definition (p. 227).

[9] Jenkins & Reardon (2007, p. 216) go on to say that peace education “seeks to enable learners to confront and explore some highly charged social issues that have personal valence for most people in as deeply reflective

and socially responsible a manner as possible,” which is also highly relevant.

[10] The challenge, specifically, is not only how to distinguish between oppressed and oppressor, given that their relationship is often dynamic in nature, but also how to incorporate both into a liberatory practice.

[11] I personally served as a service provider with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and the DC Rape Crisis Center and both made it clear in their training programs that service providers were to provide support and options as opposed to advice and solutions. I have never heard of a service provider that differs in this respect.

[12] At the DC Rape Crisis Center, the volunteer-led community education program to facilitate discussions on “Sexual Assault Myths and Facts,” which began in late 2010-early 2011, was managed in such a manner.

[13] I do not wish to do her the injustice of paraphrasing her words: http://www.democracynow.org/2013/3/15/teaching_men_not_to_rape_survivor

 

Why Occupy Stumbled

This is a paper I submitted to my class on nonviolence, taught by the esteemed professor Jorgen Johansen. Please enjoy. It’s dedicated to Ralph Wittenberg, a friend and Occupy supporter who died in late January (although I can’t say how much of this he would have agreed with personally). Feel free to comment/criticize.

Occupy Wall St., also known as the Occupy Movement or, simply, Occupy, began as a call to action from the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters to “occupy” Wall St. on Sept. 17, 2011. What happened next is the subject of many books — most of which extol the movement — along with newspaper articles, television news segments, and public chatter from all sides of the political spectrum. Nonetheless, it is self-evident that the movement did not achieve its major, although mostly implicit, goals: to abolish corporate-elite governance and restore democracy for the so-called “99 percent.”[1] If this had been achieved, it would have been to the delight of millions of people in the United States and (perhaps) billions around the world, for there is no question that popular opinion was on the side of the movement — at least in the beginning.[2]

At some point in late fall 2011 the momentum shifted, and the movement began its decline. There are many possible explanations for this — some competing and some complementary — but for the purposes of this paper, the focus will be on explanations relating to internal problems in the movement, leaving examinations of police repression and media backlash for another paper. The focus will also be mostly limited to the Occupy Movement in Washington, D.C., which, while unique because it was once split into two separate camps, is also somewhat representative of the movement due to the number of Occupiers coming from other cities, in some cases after their home encampment was broken up by police.

The analysis will stretch from its beginning in early October 2011 (about two weeks after Occupy Wall St.) to late March 2012, when NOW D.C. was promoted as the next phase of the movement — dubbed the “American Spring” by some supporters.[3] I should disclose that I was deeply involved with the movement — contributing five to ten hours of my time each week — in D.C. during this period as an outside-insider: I viewed myself as someone who believed in the movement and wanted it to succeed, but I did not camp outside or make other noteworthy sacrifices. This was somewhat intentional because of the need to maintain a level of professional distance in order to better serve as a mediator or facilitator during conflict situations. Nonetheless, this critique is not meant to disparage Occupy from without but to improve it from within, and I believe that my particular position allowed me to view it with both empathy and acumen.

Explanation One: Rugged Individualism

            Setting aside the infamous “one cause, one objective” argument that Occupy’s external critics repeated ad nauseam,[1] if there is one thing that is clear from the literature on nonviolent activism — whether one focuses on the spiritual elements associated with Mohandas Gandhi or the pragmatic elements associated with Gene Sharp — it is that success is predicated on masses of people uniting around particular goals.[2] Occupy began as such, particularly in New York, but gradually became atomized. A good illustration of this was Occupy activists speaking for themselves when interviewed by the media and often saying things that were not representative of the movement.[3]

It is conceivable that an individual acting alone can be nonviolent and have popular and important goals, but it is far less conceivable that one individual acting alone will achieve them. As noted journalist Thomas Frank mentions in his recent critique of Occupy, the same lack of respect for rules that guided Wall St. banksters in their corruption guided at least a significant part of the Occupy Movement.[4] If the people in a movement are not moving together, it ceases to be a movement — or, at least, it loses any sense of direction or clarity of purpose.

Explanation Two: Lack of Respect for/Faith in Leadership

            Another characteristic of Occupy was its lack of distinguishable leaders and centralization. This was strategic at first, modeled on past and concurrent movements[5], but in the case of the Occupy encampments in D.C., leadership became synonymous with “usurper” or “elite.”[6] It seemed as if one of the implicit goals was to abolish all forms of authority. This, of course, contradicted other goals associated with the movement — namely the government regulation of Wall St. — and contributed to other problems, such as the holding of everyone’s ideas on nonviolent direct action (for example) as equally legitimate despite the real differences in the amount of training, experience, and commitment between activists. This led to renegade actions — those not consented to during General Assemblies[7] but carried out anyway — internal bickering, baseless accusations of co-optation or treachery, and ill-advised improvisation in many aspects of the movement.[8]

Explanation Three: Internal Divisions

            Lack of trust in leadership, in turn, led to internal divisions. While some divisions were over substantive matters such as whether to use nonviolent or violent tactics,[9] many divisions were due to minor differences of opinion or grudges pre-dating Occupy.[10] The divisions in D.C.’s Occupy at its peak could be classified based on careful observation as follows: anarchists vs. progressives, liberals vs. radicals, campers vs. non-campers, and local activists vs. outsiders.

The first two divisions are related and involve differences in political orientation. A large minority of Occupy identified as anarchists and viewed attempts at listing demands or fighting for reforms as cooperation with the state, which they consider inherently authoritarian, and therefore, evil.[11] This put them at odds with reform-minded progressives and liberals alike. Liberals, in turn, were challenged by everyone further to the left in the political spectrum within Occupy due to their support for capitalism and the Democratic Party. Some of those who camped in the “occupied” public spaces sought to bar non-campers from certain decisions and treat them as outside the movement, and a similar phenomenon occurred between local D.C. activists and those coming from elsewhere in the country to join the protests.

Explanation Four: Internal Oppression

            Internal oppression is distinguished from internal division due to the power dynamics implicit in the word “oppression.” The Occupy encampments in D.C. were often criticized for excluding people based on race, class, and gender. Some activists even argued that the word “occupy” invoked colonialism and ought to be seriously re-examined if the movement wanted to be truly inclusive and consistent with mass liberation.[12] Others, particularly white men, dismissed concerns of oppression while suggesting that any Occupier who raised the issue of race or gender was playing “identity politics” and selfishly dividing the movement.[13] Women felt particularly threatened due to sexist language and outright sexual violence from men.[14] These tensions led to various caucuses within Occupy made up exclusively of women, people of color, or members of other disadvantaged groups[15] as well as calls for “Occupy Justice.”[16]

Explanation Five: Lack of Training and Discipline

            Although the works of Gene Sharp could be found in Occupy’s libraries, the aging nonviolent theorist’s emphasis on training, preparation, and discipline (not to mention clarity of tactics and strategy) was largely not present in the D.C.-based movement.[17] As a matter of principle, the encampments welcomed virtually everyone into the movement and allowed them to participate in any and all actions without preconditions. Even when it became clear that certain individuals were intentionally provoking the police into violence or putting the movement at risk in other ways, those individuals were seldom asked to change their behavior and were almost never barred from the movement. The presence of veteran activists with ample training in nonviolent direct action and other areas of relevance allowed for impromptu learning opportunities and occasional formal trainings but did not significantly affect the general character of the movement. The consequence of this lack of training was not only the use of tactics that were violent in spirit, if not action,[18] but the failure to draw on the full potential of mass nonviolent action,[19] which inspired the world in early 2011 by bringing down the entrenched regimes of Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali in a matter of weeks.[20]

Conclusion: Why Self-Criticism is Important

                If the Occupy Movement in D.C. and elsewhere hopes to regroup and produce the results its critics and supporters have been seeking, it will have to be willing to learn from its mistakes. Honest and fair self-criticism does not condone attacks on the movement from those who seek its destruction but represents the first step toward constructive solutions that will foster its growth and prosperity. Self-criticism does not hinder progress — it ensures it.


[1] Dietz, David. “Occupy Wall Street Six Months Later: Why OWS Failed and How It Can Be Revived.” PolicyMic. N.p., Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. <http://www.policymic.com/articles/5601/occupy-wall-street-six-months-later-why-ows-failed-and-how-it-can-be-revived/122668&gt;.

[2] Johansen, Jorgen. “Nonviolence: More than the Absence of Violence.” Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies. Ed. Charles P. Webel and Johan Galtung. London: Routledge, 2007. 144-59.

[3] Frank, Thomas. “Occupy Wall Street and Its Evil Twin, the Tea Party; Yes, but What Are You For?” Le Monde Diplomatique [Paris] 01 Jan. 2013.

[4] Frank, Thomas. “Occupy Wall Street and Its Evil Twin, the Tea Party; Yes, but What Are You For?” Le Monde Diplomatique [Paris] 01 Jan. 2013.

[5] Gautney, Heather. “What Is Occupy Wall Street? The History of Leaderless Movements.”The Washington Post 10 Oct. 2011.

[6] Creighton, Scott. “Kevin Zeese: Turn the Occupy Movement into Obama’s Serve America Act – Yeah, That’ll Show the Fat Cats.” American Everyman. Willyloman, 11 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://willyloman.wordpress.com/&gt;.

[7] For an introduction to the structure of the Occupy Movement and consensus decision-making by one of the its intellectual founders:

Graeber, David. “Enacting the Impossible (On Consensus Decision Making).” Occupy Wall Street. The Occupy Movement, 29 Oct. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://occupywallst.org/article/enacting-the-impossible/&gt;.

[8] Occupy DC Resist Police Order to Take Down Structure. Perf. Occupy D.C. Activists.YouTube. N.p., 04 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggJ4P1gjKkc&gt;.

[9] O’Brien, Sean, Phil Lawson, Matthew Edwards, Kazu Haga, Melissa Merin, Josh Shepherd, Paolo, and Starhawk. “Tikkun Magazine.” Tikkun Magazine. N.p., 29 Mar. 2012. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/nonviolence-vs-diversity-of-tactics-in-the-occupy-movement&gt;.

[10] Somers, Meredith. “Occupy D.C. Camps Divided, Don’t Want to Be United.” The Washington Times 19 Jan. 2012.

[11] Graeber, David. “Occupy Wall Street’s Anarchist Roots.” Occupy Wall Street. The Occupy Movement, 30 Apr. 2012. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://occupywallst.org/article/occupy-wall-streets-anarchist-roots/&gt;.

[12] Brady, Miranda J., and Derek Antoine. “Decolonize Wall Street! Situating Indigenous Critiques of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.” American Communication Journal14.3 (2012): 1-10.

[13] Beaudreault, Therese. “People of Color Caucus.” Personal interview. Jan. 2012.

[14] Queer Femme, Clutzy. “Occupy Sexual Assault.” Web log post. Empower for Peace. Google, 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://empowerforpeace.blogspot.com/2011/12/occupysexualassault.html&gt;.

[15] Video Featuring the People of Color and White Allies Caucuses at Occupy K Street. Perf. Jamal Gray, Dany Sigwalt, Vasudha Desikan, and Zach Mason. Decolonize DC. Occupy DC, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://decolonizedc.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/video-featuring-the-people-of-color-and-white-allies-caucuses-at-occupy-k-street/&gt;.

[16] Johnson, Matt. “Occupy Justice.” Waging Nonviolence. N.p., 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/occupy-justice/&gt;.

[17] Sharp, Gene. The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Boston: P. Sargent, 1973.

[18] Occupy DC Glitter Bombs Joe Lieberman. YouTube. N.p., 28 Jan. 2012. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2giZjYuLZY&gt;.

[19] Johansen, Jorgen. “Nonviolence: More than the Absence of Violence.” Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies. Ed. Charles P. Webel and Johan Galtung. London: Routledge, 2007. 144-59.

[20] Andersen, Kurt. “Person of the Year 2011: The Protester.” Time Person of the Year. Time, 14 Dec. 2011. Web. 09 Mar. 2013.


[1] White, Deborah. “Declaration and Manifesto of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.”About.com US Liberal Politics. About.com, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. <http://usliberals.about.com/od/socialsecurity/a/Declaration-Manifesto-Of-Occupy-Wall-Street-Movement.htm&gt;.

[2] Young, Kevin. “167 Million People Support Occupy Wall Street.” ZNet Recent Items. Znet, 15 Oct. 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.

[3] Zeese, Kevin, and Margaret Flowers. “NOW DC.” NOW DC. N.p., Mar. 2012. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://www.nowdc.org/&gt;.

Bursa: The (Old) Seat of Ottoman Glory

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A Very Special (and Strange) International Women’s Day

March 8 was International Women’s Day, which, as is the case with May Day (Labor Day in the United States), began as a radical workers’ holiday but lost its focus over time. The irony of spending time watching a high-school-aged woman demonstrate how to use a loom was, in turn, lost on me until now. But I should back up a little.

The day began with an exam — a very difficult written exam requiring citations that I only barely managed to finish before time expired. Fortunately for all of us, it was as much of a test of wills as a test of content, and we all passed the former. I am confident that I not only passed, but mastered the latter as well due to my diligence over the past week. It helped that I had experience with the subject before — Peace Education — and had even been admitted to the UN-sponsored University for Peace in Costa Rica’s Peace Education Master’s program in 2008 (I did not attend because I was not given a scholarship and narrowly failed to procure one from Rotary International two years later).

Putting my thoughts on exams and teaching methods aside for a moment, we finished off the week with a visit to an all-girls vocational school in Sile, which I had passed by multiple times before but never noticed. Even though we had already read about the level of militarism present in Turkish society, I was still surprised to see posters in almost every room of the school with soldiers and military slogans on them (not to mention the giant bronze head of Ataturk in the main corridor). This is a school for girls, mind you, and girls/women are not allowed to serve in the Turkish military. Without going into a deeper discussion as to the true purpose of education in the context of the state and its citizenry, which can be summed up by Pink Floyd’s “We Don’t Need No Education,” I will explain what made the day particularly strange.

Apparently I am a celebrity in this town — at least among high school girls. That makes me a ‘teen heartthrob’ I guess. I must have posed for 20 pictures in less than two hours and was even asked to sign my autograph on a piece of paper. It probably helped that I recently shaved off my bird’s nest-like head of hair — the new ‘do brings out my eyes, they say.

And to top it all off, the girls’ English teacher e-mailed me and said she saw my interview on Turkish television. What a country!