Friday, June 22, 2018

Austin is a peace-loving city, not a weapons producer

Upon learning last Saturday from an article in the Austin American-Statesman that Austin is one of 5 cities being considered as the site of a proposed "Army Futures Command Center,"  I wrote a letter to the editor, which was published in today's edition, to express opposition to this.  I wrote also to our Austin City Council members and the following letter to members of the Economic Development staff at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce:

Dear member of the Economic Development staff, Austin Chamber of Commerce,

I write to you as a concerned, longtime Austin resident in response to the article in the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday, June 16, “City 1 of 5 finalists for Army site.”  The article indicated that the Austin Chamber of Commerce supports the idea of having a proposed Army Futures Command Center placed in Austin.
Reading this article was the first I learned of the Army’s selection of Austin as a possible location for this center.   The article also indicated that the final city selection may be made by the end of this month.  This offers very little time for any community input.
I do not agree that Austin would be a suitable location for this Army site.  The primary purpose of the Army center, as described in the Statesman article, apparently would be to enhance the Army’s arsenal, “including improvement to its tactical missile system, combat vehicles and helicopters, defense teams and weapons.”  Is that really what we want in Austin?  The Army says it wants a “creative culture” in which to place its facility, but weapons are not creative, they are destructive.
I have worked along with many military veterans over the years and have witnessed what the weaponry and tactical systems of war kill in a person even when the person survives.  There is too much life-long trauma, too much physical and moral injury, too much suicide.  I’ve also witnessed the trauma borne by refugees who have fled US wars.   
Please, let’s use our high-tech, creative genius in Austin for what really enhances life: excellent health care, fine education, green energy development, efficient communications and transportation systems, good maintenance of our infrastructure and wise stewardship of our natural resources.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Discussing gun control at Austin HS

Hart, Tami, Susana and I were happy to be able to table a second time this year at Austin HS. As we waited at the entrance desk for our ID badges, we looked over copies of the school newspaper, "The Maroon" and were pleased to see several articles that related to the themes of our SOY table. For example, there was a great piece about the #MarchForOurLives, in which a number of Austin HS students had participated.  Austin HS students also were part of the #Nationalschoolwalkout on April 20.

excellent commentary piece by an Austin HS student in their paper, "The Maroon"

Our reflection question for today asked students if they felt gun control should also be made at the Pentagon level. 
We got some puzzled looks about our question. A few students said they weren't sure how to answer it. Most students are not aware of the extent of our military budget or that the US is the biggest arms dealer in the world, and we wanted to spur some thought about that. One of the student responses, pictured here, reflected what another student said as she put all her pennies into the Education jar during the Penny Poll: "If we had more education, all the other problems could be solved."

Some of the other written responses:  

"Yes, stay neutral.  Don't get involved with chemical warfare.  Mitigate arms race."

"Yes, not getting as involved in foreign affairs that really don't concern us."

"There are some booths that pay you money for your guns, then those guns could also be melted and turned into something cool or helpful."

"Stop Selling."

"I don't think that the weapons have a big problem, it's the people who use them wrong."

"Have the UN enforce gun sanctions."

"We can restrict sales to ally countries and only a certain amount per year."

Some students responded with measures they would support for individual gun owners, such as "stricter tests to pass before you can legally obtain and operate a gun," "gun regulation and stricter access to limit purchases," and "less loopholes." All these could also apply to ways that weapons of war are sold to other countries.  The US arms trade leads to black market sales that put US weapons into the hands of child soldiers and adversaries of the US.

Penny Poll results showed the Education category as top priority with 30% of the penny vote, Health Care with 24%, the Environment with 22%, the Military with 13%, Humanitarian Aid at 7% and 4% for NASA.

Thanks to all Maroons for your interest today!



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tax Day at Travis HS

Tami, Hart and I had a really good visit to Travis HS today. Since it is Tax Day, our reflection question focused on that, and the Penny Poll was especially relevant. The Education category came out way on top with 35% of the penny vote, followed by 27% for Health Care, 20% for the Environment, 11% for the Military, 7% for NASA and 0% for Humanitarian Aid. Sometimes students ask us what "Humanitarian Aid" means.
One student said he'd already enlisted in the military. We are sure to tell students that if they have enlisted through the Delayed Entry Program, they can change their minds at any time prior to their report date for basic training. The Center on Conscience and War has good info about it online.

several of the student responses

student responses

some of the student responses

We're always impressed with the student art we see on campus

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Gun Violence (of all kinds) is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things

The Austin #MarchForOurLives yesterday was a major march in our city, attracting some 20,000 participants, according to estimates by organizers as reported in the Austin American-Statesman.  The march organizers, as was the case in the extraordinary DC march, were primarily high school students.  It was so inspiring to march from our City Hall, up Congress Avenue to the Capitol and to hear all the speakers, including a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS in Parkland, Fla. and students from LASA and LBJ High Schools in Austin.

I hope that students will continue to think critically about all aspects of gun violence, including the terrible gun violence of US war and militarism.  Enlistees as young as 17 are issued assault rifles and trained to think of their weapon as their most valuable companion.  What does this kind of training do to young people?  Why are the mass shootings in war considered acceptable?  As the US continues to increase military spending in its federal budget, what effect does this have on the young people in our country and around the world?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

SOY visit to McCallum HS

Hart, Tami and I were happy to have a SOY table today at McCallum HS. We added the #MarchForOurLives to our Peace Wheel, and the reflection question was, "What legislation would you support to reduce gun violence in the US?" Students gave a variety of written responses, which I will include here. The Penny Poll results showed the largest percentage vote for Health Care at 21% of the budget, followed by 19% each for the Environment and NASA, 17% for Education, 12% for Humanitarian Aid and 12% for the military. We had our full range of t-shirts and also buttons for students to earn doing the t-shirt challenge. Thank you to all Knights! Here are the student responses:
"Strict background checks because everyone doesn't deserve or need to have a gun. Guns are a weapon that should be strictly used to protect yourself."
"I would like a yearly psych evaluation on all gun owners, much harsher restrictions placed on semi-automatic rifles, and a raise of the age for gun owners to 21. People should require a license for the manufacturing of guns."
"A legislation that makes it harder to get guns, ex: more background checks, checks for mental disorders, checks for any extremely violent tendency."
"To teach people gun safety and how to properly use them."
"Support of Social Darwinism"
"1. We need to have a better way of people getting their gun license. 2. Try to make schools more secure."
"All the members of the government should support and come together to end gun violence."
"More background checks. No Fly No Buy. Age restriction to 21."
"Mental Health"
"Background checks"
"Raise age requirement for purchasing a gun."
"Background check. Automatic rifles limited. Invest in safety devices on guns, such as print (finger) lock. Age limit on buying guns."

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Books, Not Bullets -- students walk out and speak out

photo by Carolyn Kaster, AP
March 14, 2018 -- What an inspiring day of nonviolent student protest across the US and also by students in solidarity around the world.  Here is a report from NBC News along with a couple of the thousands of photos being posted from these moving demonstrations organized by students. 

PARKLAND, Fla. — They solemnly spilled onto the high school football field, holding signs protesting gun violence and wearing shirts that read "March for our lives." They waved at a crowd of onlookers who had gathered to show support.
Exactly one month after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, survivors of the massacre joined tens of thousands of students across the U.S. by walking out of school on Wednesday morning.
The mass protests were held at 10 a.m. local time in each time zone and lasted 17 minutes, one for each of the Parkland victims. Organizers said the purpose was to highlight "Congress’ inaction against the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods."

An estimated 185,000 people in 50 states were expected to join the walkout, with around 3,100 schools planning to participate, an organizer with the Women's March told NBC News.
The marches ranged in size. At Terre Haute North Vigo High School in Terre Haute, Indiana, organizer Elisabeth Downing said over 60 students stood in silence, many wearing orange — the color representing support for tighter gun laws.
"No matter what you decide the action to be, we just want action," said Downing, a senior. "We’re tired of thoughts and prayers, and we’re ready to finally do something."
In Rhode Island, where a nor'easter on Tuesday dumped up to a foot of snow in some places, students weren't able to march outside. About 250 students at Pilgrim High School in Warwick instead walked from their classrooms to the auditorium.

"That could have been us. We were the same age as the Parkland kids," said a co-organizer, Karly Evans, a senior. "It was a very emotionally moving experience to be part of."
Emily Lower, a senior from Central High School in St. Joseph, Missouri, said a few hundred students showed up to the walkout — "way better than we expected."
“I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face," she said. "To see that many kids engaged and what their voices could accomplish and seeing the masses, it was an incredible feeling."
At Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, the walkout lasted 30 minutes — 17 minutes for the Parkland victims, and 13 for each victim of the massacre at the high school in 1999. During the half-hour of silence, students released red, white or blue balloons, one at a time, in memory of those killed.
In New York, some protesters gathered outside Trump Tower, including Cinthia Sierra, a 16-year-old from the Leadership and Public Service High School in downtown Manhattan.
"It literally can happen to any school, anywhere in the country. School should be a place that's safe. It felt like we're all using the voices that we have," she said.

Not every school was supportive of people leaving class. In Clayton, Missouri, students were warned they would be given detentions for walking out — but they came out in the hundreds anyway.
In Washington, a crowd in the thousands gathered, holding signs toward the White House reading "Books Not Bullets" and "Fire Politicians, Not Guns."
At the stroke of 10 a.m., the crowd sat down en masse, their backs to the White House, and then stayed silent for 17 minutes. Afterward, some marched to Capitol Hill to meet with legislators.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was among a handful of Democratic lawmakers to greet student speakers.
"The NRA has held Congress hostage for so many years now," Warren told MSNBC. "These young people are here to set us free."

In Parkland, the crowd cheered as students exited the high school and gathered in the center of the football field. Some onlookers yelled "We love you!" to the students.
Harrison Sanclemente, 42, of Parkland, held up a white sign with black letters saying "Support our kids."
"All they’re asking for is safety. It should be a no-brainer,” he said.
After the walkout, a 17-minute prayer service was held at a local park.
Anahelena Natera brought her 9-year-old daughter, Ella, who knows Stoneman Douglas students from her drama camp, where many are counselors.
Natera said she sees the student-counselors "as friends and I see them as role models — and what role models to have. They're amazing."
Heather Taylor, 15, a freshman at Stoneman Douglas who was in the building during the shooting, said Wednesday that she was glad the community had been galvanized by the tragedy.
"I just hope we can get better gun control. I hope that happens," she said. "I hope people see we’re really trying and we’re not going to stop."
Kalhan Rosenblatt reported from Parkland, and Elizabeth Chuck, Ethan Sacks and Jonathan Sperling from New York.
The hashtags #NationalSchoolWalkout and #Enough for Wednesday's protest and gun reform have thousands of tags on Instagram, with users uploading by the minute.
photo by Andrew Harnik, AP

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Protect Kids, Not Guns -- Worldwide student walk-out, March 14, 2018

Reports are coming in from the widespread student walk-outs today calling for firm gun control legislation that would value the lives of kids over the protection of guns.  Even in other countries as disparate as Tanzania, Israel and Iceland, students are taking time out from school to recognize the importance of this issue to students in the US and to recognize the organizing done by so many students on this issue.  Nonviolence is powerful!  More power to the students!

students gather to speak out at the US Capitol building, AP photo by Carolyn Kaster