2006

Notes from 2006 Gathering, August 3-6

Our Gathering took place three weeks after the Israel-Hezbollah border skirmish escalated into a full fledged war. The peace movement was paralyzed. Organizations issued press releases calling for a ceasefire, but they fell on a quiescent public. Where's the outrage? Some people, at least in Vermont, laid it to the weather: summer is short and Vermonters just want to be in their gardens. Besides, there's too much news. We've been numbed by terror. 'I can't make sense of it so I just don't want to hear about it.' After coming out of her three month prison sentence, with very little access to news, and hoping to find a 'robust' (to use GBs word) peace movement in place, building up steam to impeachment, Robin was especially dismayed at the world situation, though she was frequently distracted by hostess issues.

In this state of tension, we gather today.


Thursday, August 3: A Localvore dinner
Our first evening was perfect. Only 16 women had arrived, so we were all able to fit at one table and eat a 'localvore' dinner (food grown or produced within a 100 mile radius of one's homE). Dorothy Tod from up the valley in Warren provided the history of the concept 'localvore' and our cook, Bayard, who as a gardener has always been into eating locally, found foods for a delicious dinner: chicken, corn on the cob, blueberries. Newly arrived Gatherers found the berry bushes and picked enough for all of us. It is not hard this time of year to eat locally. Someone mentioned that health food stores now include the distance traveled on the price tag of its fresh produce. It's amazing how little on knows of one's own bio-region, or earth place. 

Robin talked about reading the brochure Oil Depletion and the Coming Global Crisis where it is spelled out as INEVITABLE that the global human populationis going to shrink in the face of the burning away of this golden ooze from the earth (Thomas Hartmann calls it Ancient Sunlight.) It's bound to diminish, and be more expensive, soon. If not right now. And our governments and corporations who made money from the status quo are not preparing the public.

So the gathering this year, we talked about the Empire and Oil, and ways by which the Empire is maintained - ways we don't usually want to look at - such as prison, and torture - and ways in which the Empire is breaking down - such as not providing health care to its poorer citizens. And always coming back to what can we do? Following are some notes on all these and others.



Friday, August 4: 
Marilyn Clement: Single Payer Health Care

How do we get to single payer health care plan for everyone?

Marilyn Clement described the formation of HealthCare Now, a national advocacy group that she founded in 2004. The strength of the organization comes from the bringing together health, labor and faith groups. The president of the steelworkers is on the board.

She explained why she doesn't favor the word 'universal' health care. It's a word that George Bush uses to describe his plan - where everyone purchases health care from the insurance companies, in the form of health savings accounts. This is capitalist health acre has resulted in the United States being the 42nd in the world in the area of infant mortality.

Veterans have a health care plan that is single payer system that works. Basically, Marilyn advocates for a publicly funded, privately delivered health care system. Medicare is a good way to go. Less than 3% of the medicare goes to administration, as opposed to 31% through insurance companies and HMO's (health management) systems that are now in place in many states.

The best bill in the House is one sponsored by John Coyers, HR 676. 76 Congress people have signed on.

Mary Alice Bisbee of Waitsfield added a VT perspective. We have no HMO's in Vermont, which is good, but the good doctors are always booked up. OWL (Older Women's League) is making single payer national healthcare its primary issue in 2007.

Sandy Haas, a progressive state Rep from Rochester, explained the healthcare legislation that passed the. state legislature and has been signed by the Governor. Democrats felt they had to do something. What passed is called the chronic care system. Trouble is you have to be uninsured for a year to qualify for it. The votes against it came from Republicans and Progressives.

Marilyn called on everybody to get involved in this struggle because, in addition to providing desperately needed healthcare for everyone, it will impact all other issues, particularly economic ones. Possibly as many as one million people in prison would not be there except for the fact that they can't get drug treatment or mental health tratment and they must find money to help someone that is sick in their family. Defeating two of the most profitable capitalist industries in the country - the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical drug companies would have a tremendous effect on the rest of the economy. Also people from all over the world, including a WILPF vice president from Latin America, have expressed their view that winning a national healthcare system in the United States would favorably affect their own struggles for national healthcare and against privatization in their own countries. Go to www.healthcare-now to learn more.


 

Barbara Soros: The Influence of Torture

 

Barbara first went to Bosnia in 1995. She felt she could offer something useful because she was a therapist, she had worked with traumatized people, and she was invited to be a part of a European delegation to witness the extensive devastation of the Bosnian War.

 

At first, she worked on the restoration of the cultural sites that had been bombed or left untended during the war; that led to a concern with landmine removal. As time went on, she worked on projects for children and women and on a project to create an archive and garden of Remembrance for the Righteous People who risked their lives to save neighbors of differing religious backgrounds. Barbara was asked to be an advisor to 6000 people who had been tortured. There were approximately a total of 250,000 victims of torture from the Bosnian War, dating from 1991 to 1996. Only 900 victims of torture had received treatment in the Sarajevo area as of 2003.

 

She reminded us that 210 countries presently use torture regularly. Most victims of torture globally, even those who have the rare opportunity to receive both medical and psychological treatment as well as social rehabilitation such as economic opportunities, housing, education or vocational training, even those with the very best care, still display signs of psychosis. She calls the healing journey of victims of torture Return from Annihilation.

 

We are very quiet as Barbara described the Rape Hotels that proliferated in Bosnia (there were 364 rape/torture centers in Bosnia). “The shades are drawn”, she said. “Women refer to it as an endless time. One said ‘I begged them to kill me.’” Most victims of torture have no access to psychological help.

 

In an effort to get people to return to their homes, the international community said that, in order to get help, refugees would have to return home. So some returned, but live in a constant state of fear from their Serb neighbors who might have been their tormentors.

 

Those who testify in the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague receive superficial help in order to prepare for testifying: They are helped in preparing their statements, receive psychological help during their time in the Netherlands, but once they return home they are left to their own resources and feel a fear of reprisal from their assailants who may live nearby.

 

Re-traumatization can occur during testimony or during treatment; it can happen spontaneously, within the psyche of the individual who has been tortured, during moments of association.

 

Bosnians who were tortured criticize themselves for not being able to save others. Many were passive but angry. With the rise of post war nationalism into ethnic/religious groups there remains a feeling that devastation could happen again.

 

Women who were raped feel a deep sense of shame. Because of cultural strictures, women who were raped are unable to tell their families or husbands who are meant to be humiliated by the rape of their women. To reveal their experiences would bring a sense of shame on their family and the women, who could be rejected should she reveal her experiences. This saving of face, forces women to live alienated from their community which is part of the original purpose of using rape as a means of torture.

 

The other purpose is to impregnate women with the semen of their captors so that their bloodline is intruded upon; weakening the strength of the victim group.

 

Torture means that everything is tortured afterwards. Psychological torture has physical components and physical torture has psychological components: Barbara described different types of torture to define how these two aspects are intertwined. The goal of victim and therapist is to find ways to create a sense of safety. Most therapy is not really successful. But to be able to speak out is a sign of recovery.

 

In Bosnia everyone was a victim whether they only experienced three and a half years of siege – longer than the Siege of Leningrad – or were victims of torture. Few spoke about personal losses during and just after the war. There was a comradeship of despair and, also, a comradeship of living a surrealistic life with the goal of being extremely clever and instinctually alert in order to survive. That is why it is important for neutral visitors who are compassionate listeners to receive full heartedly stories of grief and suffering.

 

The former Yugoslavia as-a-whole is a male dominated culture. Bosnian/Muslim men however, seem to have more respect for women than the other ethnic groups.

 

Barbara posed the questions which as a group we attempt to address: What does torture accomplish? How do we understand the impetus of torture? How can religion teach hatred and separate body and mind? How can religion heal or destroy? We all as individuals, have the capacity to go over the edge of ethical behavior passing the instincts of non-harm into the realm of violence. What are the elements that help us refrain from harm and what are the elements that create violence? What is the difference if you’re a martyr as a soldier or a suicide bomber?

 

Barbara recommended reading Eve Ensler’s play Sarajevo. Also, Barbara Ehnrenreich’s book Blood Rites. And to look for films by Kustrica, a filmmaker from Sarajevo but now living for many years in Paris.

Saturday, August 4
Robin Lloyd & Jean Lathrop: Prison Report

You can read articles Robin has written on her three month prison experience for crossing the line into Fort Benning by googling 'Robin Lloyd prison'. Just to add: 'I see my three months as training. I've taken a step and survived. What's next? I took my step to protest torture. In doing so, I was put in an institution that creates the preconditions for torture. A prison, even a nice one like Danbury Prison Camp, keeps everyone in place by denying inmates any power over their lives, and by threatening a severe infringement of mobility if they misbehave. When does punishment become cruelty become torture? As one inmate said, the only motto for describing prison guards' justification for their behavior is 'because we can.' Prisons are set up - with laws - to hand over totalitarian power to the warden. Most states have no independent oversight committee.

A shred of hope for galvanizing a prison reform movement is a report 'Confronting Confinement' by the National Prison Commission. The study pins responsibility for our overcrowded prisons on tough-on-crime laws passed by state and federal legislators. But one critic says, "it does not look for ways to downsize America's booming prison industry that adds more than 1000 new inmates per week, costs more than $60 billion per year and employs about 750,000 workers to watch over 2.2 million inmates - almost double the 1990 prison population.

The commission never asked this question: Why pay room and board to put someone like Martha Stewart, or a pot smoker, or a car thief behind bars when modern electronic tracking devices can easily keep tabs on these non-violent criminals as a fraction of the cost?

Jean Lathrop has been active in the Vermont prison reform group called Women Evolving, composed of inmates, and women from all walks of life, they work to both prevent incarceration & Promote successful reentry. As a community volunteer, Jean said that many of the women she has worked with were kept in jail beyond their minimum sentences simply because they did not have residences outside the jail. By "going to jail, they lose whatever they have in their lives, and it takes that much longer for them to. re-establish themselves when they get out." She also pointed out that 88% of women in Vermont prisons are survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence.

Hattie Nestel & Deb Katz: Ending our Dependence on Nuclear Power and Weapons

Two powerhouse women, fueled by their concern with the dangerously toxic nature of nuclear power, spoke to us prior to beginning a Walk for a Nuclear Free Future from Rutland to Burlington, between Hiroshima and NAgasaki Day. We were galvanized by their message, and by Deb's message of hope at the end.

Hattie: Since about 1982 I have been preoccupied with ending nuclear weapons.

The recognition of global warming and severe climate change, has created controversy as to what energy sources can be used to stop carbon dioxide emissions while satisfying increasing energy demands. The U.S. has been pouring tens of millions of dollars into promoting nuclear power. Secrecy and denial have hidden the extreme dangers of this power source. Most of the U.S. population has little knowledge of nuclear power and its direct connection to nuclear weapons {ED: Though we're getting educated as we follow the dispute over Iran's nuclear capacity}.

The rest of the world knows what kind of arsenal we are sitting on. The US government has a double standard. They think it is OK to have 12,000 nuclear weapons but the rest of the world is not entitled to process uranium. Power plants are the direct link to nuclear weapons, without that you cannot make a a nuclear weapon. So nuclear power plants work to furnish the arsenal.

Deb Katz: The Citizen's Awareness Network is a grassroots volunteer organization with 7 chapters in 5 states; we began as a local group in Western Mass fighting our local nuke. I live 4 miles from Rowe, a nuke we shut down, and 16 miles from VT Yankee, a plant we are going to shut down.

9/11 really changed the basis of dealing with nuclear power. The targets in the US that are most vulnerable to whatever kind of terrorists there are, are nuclear reactors. Not the containment center, where they're running the reactor but the fuel pools. There are 35 million curies of high level waste in the fuel pool at VT Yankees. It is the most vulnerable design in America; it's a GE Mark 1: it was a shabby design when it bagan. Scientists who designed it came out after it was built and said it wouldn't work and couldn't hold up under an accident.

Maintaining these fuel pools in a post 9/11 era shows a willingness to engage in human sacrifice on a grand scale. We looked into what would happen if VT Yankee's fuel pool was drained of water. The fuel would heat up and begin to burn and make the other fuel begin to heat up and give off radiation for days. Cesium has a half life of basically 30 years, so our expert, Gordon Thompson, said an attack on VT Yankee would lead to a catastrophic event which would contaminate an area of 25,000 sq miles, leaving it uninhabitable for decades.

It is important now for people to get involved.

This is an incredibly pivotal time. You in the state of Vermont can transform your future and ours in a way that is really miraculous and it is possible. What is making it possible? License termination. The truth is that VT Yankee and other nukes in New England are really old, and their licenses are terminating. I'm sure you've read in the paper 'license renewal'. But it's really 'license termination'. And the job is to ensure that their license is terminated rather than renewed. And that's really possible.

The National Governor's Association in 2003 came out with a letter to Congress saying that nuclear power fuel pools at nuclear sites were 'pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction'. And Congress has to do something about it. And Congress has done nothing. And these Governor's are very frightened. They have no protection against the economic catastrophe that will befall the region.

In Vermont we were actually able to get the legislation to take back the power to decide whether VT Yankee will be relicensed or not. This is revolutionary. It's a very important power that the people have.

This is a moment that will not happen again. I want you to understand this. If VT Yankee is relicensed it will be 20 more years before VT Yankee's license runs out again. (Go to nukebusters.org for more info.)

Elizabeth Leonard - Declaration of Peace

This is a campaign spearheaded by peace groups to demand that Congress and the President come up with some plan for bringing the troops home soon. If no plan is in place by September 21, supporters and signers of the pledge will do Civil Disobedience at Congressional offices, and perhaps put up tents in front of homes of congresspeople. (Sept 21-28 is the last week that Congress will be in session prior to the November elections.) Civil Disobedience Training has to happen first.

Women present felt that the war in Lebanon required urgent action. But what? Support the Kucinich bill in the house - HR 450? We decided to divide all the names listed on the WILPF website and phone them ASAP to urge them to demand that their Congressperson support a ceasefire. [Editor's note: Now that a 'ceasefire' is in place, that issue is moot; but the Declaration for Peace movement continues to grow. We had a good meeting about it in Vermont. Please go to the website declarationofpeace.org to find out what you can do.]

Charlotte Dennett - It's the Pipeline Stupid!

Charlotte Dennett put the war in Iraq and the invasion of Lebanon in historical perspective. She stressed that the Great Game for Oil which seems to be underlying everything in the Middle East right now, has been going on for over a century and is as much about controlling railroad and pipeline routes as it is about the oil itself. She described how World War I was precipitated by Germany's penetration of the Middle East with the Berlin to Baghdad Railway. The Railroad provided a direct link between Germany and the Persian Gulf. It was deemed a huge threat to other great powers (the British in particular) because the railroad concession carried with it oil concessions on either side of the tracks which were granted to the Germans by the Turks (who still controlled the oil rich areas in the Middle East, all part of the Ottoman Empire).  With the Turks and Germans defeated, the great prize of World War I was the oil of Iraq and the dismantled Ottoman Empire. The seeds of the current crisis developed out of secret treaties that carved up the former Ottoman territories and allotted them to the British and French, violating earlier promises of self determination to the Arabs. Charlotte showed how the boundaries for the new British mandates of Jordan and Palestine actually followed the rights of way of a pipeline carrying oil from Iraq to the port of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast. She suggested that today, oil men are planning to reopen old oil pipelines or build new ones that will connect the oil of Iraq to to the Mediterranean via Haifa (Israel) and Sidon (southern Lebanon). However, to protect the security of the pipelines against sabotage, local insurgencies have to be eliminated. Hence, the bombing of Hezbollah and invasion of Lebanon.

Impressed with Charlotte's mastery of this complex history, we recommended that she write an abbreviated version of the magnum opus she is currently working on: called perhaps, 100 Years of Oil.

Books that Charlotte recommends: Afghanistan: On the Brink by Ahmed Rashid; and American Theocracy by Kevin Philips.

Thursday, August 3

4:00 pm: Registration

5:00 pm: Preparation of 'Localvore' meal

7:30 pm: Living Sustainably and Peak Oil

Friday, August 4

2:00 pm: Why We Need Single Payer Healthcare - Marilyn Clement

4:00 pm: The Influences of Torture - Barbara Soros & Mary Belenky

7:30 pm: International Human Rights: The Shadow Report - Laura Roskos

Saturday, August 5

9:30 am: Prison Report - Robin Lloyd, Jean Lathrop & members of Women Evolving

2:00 pm: Ending Our Dependence on Nuclear Power & Weapons - Hattie Nestel & Deb Katz

4:00 pm: The Declaration of Peace: Has the Time Come to do Civil Disobedience? - Elizabeth Leonard

7:30 pm: The Middle East: What Can We Do? - Judy Claude, Virginia Pratt & Charlotte Dennett

Sunday, August 6

9:30 am: Programs & Development of US & International WILPF - Claude & Robin Lloyd