Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Wheelchair Man, a new kind of superhero

I heard this amazing piece today on Public Radio International/The World, about Mo Sayed, a teen from Afghanistan who is inventing a new kind of superhero.  Check this out:

So he set out to make Wheelchair Man, an Afghan-American superhero who, upon making eye contact, shows a would-be criminal the consequences of his actions before he commits them. That’s his power. Throw in a wheelchair that can travel at warp speed with amphibious capabilities, and you’ve got yourself a pretty badass comic book hero. But what makes Wheelchair Man truly unique is that he’s based on a true story — Sayed’s story."

Read or listen to the whole story here

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

War hurts the environment

A few times over the past couple of years during our school visits, we've asked students to write down some of the environmental costs of war. Each time, I have noticed how students focus on ways that war hurts people and community structure. While the question has been aimed at what war does to the natural world, students have naturally included we humans as inseparable from our surroundings. Here are their responses from today's SOY visit to Crockett HS:

Question: What are some ways that war hurts the environment? Your thoughts:

Destruction of natural biomass
In Vietnam, napalm burned the canopies of the trees. The gunpowder from bullets is polluting our air
Destroys homes, peace and humanity
Tears families apart
It destroys the environment, our rights and endangers mankind as a whole
It causes mental fears
Breaks relations between nations/countries
Increases harmful material production
Creates conflict within society
Ruins marriages and families
People are dying and it's hurting the community

Friday, November 18, 2016

Schools must continue to be "no places for hate"

In our school visits over the course of almost 20 years, we have been encouraged by all the ways that teachers, school administrators and students in AISD have worked to stop bullying, uphold the values of respectful communication and celebrate diversity in our public schools.  Seeing these efforts undermined by the extremely disrespectful discourse of the Trump campaign has been shocking.  Our group doesn't endorse particular candidates for public office, but we surely speak out on behalf of the core values of public education:  encouragement of critical thinking, respectful dialogue, inclusiveness of all ethnic groups, religious persuasions and sexual orientation, the promise of education for every child regardless of citizenship status and a bedrock belief in nonviolence toward each other.
As this article describes, the president-elect's behavior has been the opposite of a role model for our kids.     

Published on

As Schools See Hate-Fueled Attacks Rise, Millions Demand Trump Speak Out

'The presidency is about many things,' groups declare in letter to president-elect. 'Chiefly, it is about setting an example through your leadership.'
President-elect Donald Trump "must repent, take responsibility, and challenge those who have been emboldened by his words, and he must also change the direction of his policies that undermine the cause of justice and civil rights," said Rev. William Barber. (Photo: Karla Ann Cote/flickr/cc)President-elect Donald Trump "must repent, take responsibility, and challenge those who have been emboldened by his words, and he must also change the direction of his policies that undermine the cause of justice and civil rights," said Rev. William Barber. (Photo: Karla Ann Cote/flickr/cc)
Facing increased reports of hate-fueled harassment, vandalism, property destruction, and assault in the wake of Donald Trump's election last week, more than 100 faith, labor, and civil rights groups on Friday sent a letter to the president-elect, urging him to "loudly, forcefully, unequivocally, and consistently" denounce such acts.
The organizations, which represent more than 10 million people across the United States, call particular attention to the number of incidents taking place at schools and college campuses—like in Michigan, where middle school students chanted "build the wall" at classmates, or in Pennsylvania, where parents received a letter about swastika graffiti in student bathrooms.
"There's no denying it—the election has had a profound and lasting impact on our nation's schoolchildren for the worse," said Maureen Costello, director of the Teaching Tolerance program at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which coordinated the letter along with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
"Many of these acts have been carried out in your name," reads the letter (pdf), signed by groups including the Human Rights Campaign, Badass Teachers Association, Muslim Community Network, and National Organization for Women. "Though you may not condone this behavior, your silence gives tacit permission to those who perform these acts."
And while Trump "spoke against bullying, intimidation, and hate crimes" during his "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday, his appointment of alt-right "hero" Stephen Bannon to chief strategist "sends the exact opposite message," the letter charges.
"The presidency is about many things," it concludes. "Chiefly, it is about setting an example through your leadership. You have said that you will be the president for all Americans, Mr. Trump. We ask that you keep your promise by loudly, forcefully, unequivocally, and consistently denouncing these acts and the ideology that drives them. We ask you to use your position, your considerable platform, and even your tweets to send a clear message that hate has no place in our public discourse, in our public policy, or in our society."
Added Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, architect of the Moral Monday movement and another signatory to the letter: "Mr. Trump's campaign has been one of unbounded vulgarityagainst people of color, immigrants, women, and people of different faiths. He must repent, take responsibility, and challenge those who have been emboldened by his words, and he must also change the direction of his policies that undermine the cause of justice and civil rights. Anything less than this will continue the deep distrust and apprehension we have regarding his presidency."
AFT president Randi Weingarten said her union plans to set up a support and resource hotline for people to report incidents and be directed to experts for guidance and counseling. She also said educators and others can find lessons and other materials on topics including bullying and grief, as well as the election and its meaning, for free on the AFT's Share My Lesson website.
And as Rethinking Schools noted in a recent newsletter, "racist and xenophobic celebrations were not the only response to Trump's election."
"In San Francisco, more than a thousand students walked out of class to join protest marches," Rethinking Schools editors and staff wrote. "As one student said, 'We're trying to inform people about white supremacy, racism, homophobia, everything.' And in the New York City high school where Rethinking Schools editor Adam Sanchez teaches, the art club hosted a 'No Allegiance to White Supremacy' t-shirt-making gathering, while the Feminism and Black Lives Matter clubs held a joint emergency meeting to discuss the election."
"These responses are also harbingers," the newsletter declared, "anticipating our schools and classrooms as sites of resistance to everything that Trump stands for."

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

SOY visit with Akins Eagles

 Tami, Hart, Susana and I had one of the best visits ever to Akins HS on Tuesday, October 25! Students were very interested in doing the t-shirt challenge and 54 students completed it over the two lunch periods. Penny Poll results showed 34% of the vote for Education, 26% for Health Care, 14% for the Environment, 14% for the Military and 12% for Humanitarian Aid. The reflection poster asked, “October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. When you get angry with someone, what is one way to handle your anger without hurting someone?” I think students get that some of the ways we can address conflict in our homes have parallels with how conflict can be handled on an international level. Here are their responses:

Talk it out!
Walk away
Distract yourself by doing something
Walk away and breathe and then come back and talk it out
Try to come to an agreement to not fight
Talk to them and apologize, then hug it out
I step away
Walk away and give time to cool down
Talk it over
Listen to some calming music
Distract myself with something else
Don’t let the negative people get to you. Focus on yourself.
Share ideas nicely
Just hold it in
Walk away with my life and ignore the negativity
Talk it out b/c fighting isn’t going to get you anywhere
Go to my room and calm down
Sit down and talk it out
Talk to someone you trust
Talk to them or talk to someone about the problem!
Eat food
Don’t kill people!
Talk to someone or the main source of your anger
Tell the person why you are mad, don’t hold it in
Cry to myself
Play a game of basketball
Talk about the problem
For civil equality
I think a way to handle anger is to talk it out to calm down
Solve our problems
Always use your words, never physical actions!
Go work out!
Sleep it out
Communication and patience
Talk it out or go on a walk
I try to talk it out w/them b/c I hate arguing
Hater gonna hate
Walk away, be the bigger person
Square breathing
Talk it out! It’s important to communicate
t-shirt challenge questions for the day


Hart, Iraq Veteran Against the War

One of our posters

We added Muhammad Ali to the Peace Wheel

student responses during first lunch

student responses during second lunch

We were encouraged seeing this poster in a hallway

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Monarchs and other heroes at Lanier HS

Hart, Tami and I had a great visit yesterday at Lanier HS during their lunch hour.  We were getting set up in the hallway outside the cafeteria and along came some students carrying a banner they had made about the monarch butterfly.  Monarchs are a special interest of mine, so I was thrilled to learn that Lanier's Environment Club is creating a Monarch garden and is raising awareness about the monarch's migration and importance to the ecosystem.  Excellent!

the student-made monarch hero photo booth, nicely done!

We had our usual t-shirt challenge, and the reflection poster asked, "Yesterday was Indigenous Peoples Day.  What is one of the things about your ancestors or heritage that you value most?"  Here are some of the student responses:

That we came from natives
My Mexico family
Our connection to nature
I value the rights
I value that I am different from others
I value the food
I value our culture, food and way of life
They are united
Love yourself
We all have love for whatever we do
The best boxer in the world
Black Lives Matter
Our cultures
I admire the fact I was located in East Africa
I value music the most
I value our traditions

We also, as at McCallum, asked students to write about a way that they are kind to the earth.  And, as at McCallum, most responses had to do with picking up trash or recycling.

The Penny Poll results showed a very high interest in education, with almost half the pennies put into that category.  Results were:  49% for Education, 17% for the Environment, 16% for Health Care, 13% for the Military and 5% for Humanitarian Aid.

A few more photos from the visit.  Thanks for your participation, Vikings!
Tami with the Peace Wheel of Fortune

Hart at the chin-up bar

glad to see this was happening at Lanier

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Beginning the school year with a visit to McCallum HS

We had our first school visit of the new semester at McCallum HS today, and we had a great one!  Hart was doing a presentation at Crockett HS today, so it was just two of us staffing the McCallum table.  We shortened the t-shirt challenge a bit for that reason.  We had steady interest and students had good ideas to contribute.  We appreciated their responses on the reflection posters.  We debuted another t-shirt design, and it was the most popular today!  Thanks to all Knights for welcoming us to the round table!

Here is what students wrote on the reflection poster that asked "October 2 (Gandhi's Birthday) was the International Day of Nonviolence.  What are some nonviolent strategies you can use when there is conflict?"

Use your words
Be peaceful and calm
Peaceful protest
Write a speech and protest
Come together with people going through the same things
Take a deep breath
Be respectful and mindful of yourself and others
Listen to both sides of the story and be respectful
Words can protect more than violence
Talk it out, come to an agreement
Just talk about, clarify your POV, try to find common grounds
Treat the other party with respect and patience
Have both leaders speak to each other and find a reason
Art pieces
Count to 10 and breathe
Talk about how it made you feel
Talk to local congress members
Start petitions

And students are doing a lot to be kind to the earth -- especially along the lines of recycling and gardening.


Friday, September 30, 2016

Violent Abuse by Marines and the culture of secrecy that has allowed it to continue

This important story is on the front page of today's New York Times:

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. — In Marine Corps boot camp, Thomas Weaver learned to endure punches, kicks and choking by drill instructors in the Third Recruit Training Battalion at Parris Island, S.C. When one instructor repeatedly bashed his head against a doorway, he kept quiet and acted as if it were no big deal. But what he eventually could not take was the lying that covered up the abuse.

read the rest of the story here:

Ex-Marine describes violent hazing and the lies that covered it up
by Dave Philipps
New York Times

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Manufacturing jobs on the rise

Two articles in today's Austin American-Statesman point to an uptick in manufacturing jobs in Texas and in other areas around the US as well.  One article, "Aging workforce puts strain on skilled labor," notes that some manufacturing plants are running short of younger skilled workers.  To help train an incoming workforce for a jet engine plant in New Hampshire, for example, "community colleges in New Hampshire and Vermont have also bolstered classes to train students to become computer numerical control machinists -- those who run equipment that creates machine parts  -- or learn skills like tubing that is critical to building engines."

The other article, "Toyota, GM growth turns Texas into an auto state" focuses on the increase in auto manufacturing in places like San Antonio and Plano.  Because so many trucks are sold in Texas, it makes sense to make them here, and according to the article, "Toyota's San Antonio plant has added a third shift of workers and is on track to produce 250,000 trucks this year."

Austin Community College offers many kinds of technical training programs, including training for other high-demand jobs like utility line work, solar panel installation, welding and electronics engineering.  If you like hands-on work in manufacturing or construction, there are many opportunities for you.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Feminists weigh in on draft registration for women

A good article about what women are thinking regarding extending draft registration to women:

Feminists weigh in on draft registration for women

by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy

National Catholic Reporter, June 28, 2016

Recent legislative efforts to extend draft registration to young women
have raised an old conundrum for some feminists. Does pursuit of gender
equality include support for universal conscription?

While not all feminists are anti-militarists, opposition to war and
militarism has been a strong current within the women's movement.
Prominent suffragists like Quaker Alice Paul, and Barbara Deming, a
feminist activist and thinker of the 1960s and '70s, were ardent
pacifists. Moreover, feminist critique has often regarded the military as
a hierarchical, male-dominated institution promoting destructive forms of

In late April, the House Armed Services Committee voted for an amendment
to the national defense bill that would extend draft registration --
already a requirement for men -- to women ages 18-26. The amendment was
later dropped, but in mid-June, the Senate approved a similar provision in
its version of the national defense bill.

Among the amendment's staunchest defenders was Armed Services Committee
member Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.).

"If we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated
precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated
against, then we should support a universal conscription," Speier told the
political website The Hill in April.

Not all feminists agree with Speier's path to equality. Days after the
House Armed Services Committee approved the amendment, 24-year-old Julie
Mastrine, an activist and media professional, authored an online petition
calling on Congress not to force women to register and instead dump the
draft entirely.

Mastrine, a self-described feminist libertarian, argues that draft
registration violates individual choice.

"I can't imagine a more tragic loss of liberty than forcing a citizen,
whether male or female, to fight in a war with which they may disagree.
Equality is a moot point if personal choice and bodily autonomy must first
be eliminated to achieve it," Mastrine said in a statement.

In an online editorial for Playboy, Lucy Steigerwald, a contributing
editor to Antiwar.com, acknowledged that excluding women from draft
registration was "unfair" and "sexist."

"But the solution to the decrepit notion that the young of the country are
communal property is not to remove the sexism, it's to remove the draft,"
she wrote.

Like Mastrine, Steigerwald supports equal access to the military for
women, but opposes conscription. She does not believe, as some have
argued, that the return of the draft would make the U.S. more cautious
about engaging in conflicts.

"You don't stop the runaway truck of U.S. foreign policy by throwing a man
in front of it, and you definitely don't stop it by throwing a man and a
woman, just to make things equal," Steigerwald wrote.

The linking of women's equality to universal conscription dates back to
the early 1980s. Draft registration had ended in 1975 with the conclusion
of the Vietnam War. In 1980, a nervous President Jimmy Carter, alarmed
over the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, reinstated registration
to demonstrate U.S. war readiness. Carter actually wanted universal draft
registration, but Congress limited the mandate to men.

The male-only system was quickly challenged as sex discrimination. In
1981, a group of men brought a case before the Supreme Court that argued
being singled out for compulsory registration violated their right to
equal protection. A number of women's groups, including the National
Organization for Women (NOW), filed briefs contending that exclusion from
the draft violated the constitutional rights of women.

"Compulsory universal military service is central to the concept of
citizenship in a democracy," the NOW brief asserted. It predicted
"devastating long-term psychological and political repercussions" would
result if women were excluded from "the compulsory involvement in the
community's survival that is perceived as entitling people to lead it and
to derive from it the full rights and privileges of citizenship."

A similar brief filed by 12 other women's organizations, including the
League of Women Voters, argued that exempting women from draft
registration echoed "the stereotypic notions about women's proper place in
society that in the past promoted 'protective' labor laws and the
exclusion of women from juries."

NOW had previously opposed the draft, and its apparent about-face
infuriated its members at the grassroots level, according to Cynthia
Enloe, a research professor of political science and women's studies at
Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

Enloe, who has written extensively on women and the military, said she was
just starting her research at the time, but as she recalls, "The local
chapters were really angry. They were full of women activists who
disagreed, who saw the draft as something to oppose."

So why the switch? Enloe thinks it had more to do with NOW's then-recent
defeat in getting the Equal Rights Amendment passed than it did zeal for
military service. The amendment, which pacifist Alice Paul originally
penned in 1923, simply states, "Equality under the law shall not be denied
or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." After

Congress passed it in 1972, NOW led the unsuccessful fight for its
ratification at the state level during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Eleanor Smeal, at the time president of NOW, "had just gone through a
terrible defeat," Enloe noted. "When the next thing comes up, you tend to
see it through the lens of what you were defeated by. The people in the
Washington office were terribly affected by the anti-ERA battle."

Speaking in defense of the NOW brief back in 1981, Smeal told The New York
Times that wherever she lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment, male
legislators frequently said to her, "When you women fight in a war, then
we'll talk about equal rights."

That "argument of entitlement," Smeal said, helped persuade her that
exclusion from the draft hurt the interests of women. Ever since ancient
Egypt, "the secondary class has not been given the right to serve in the
military," she told the newspaper.

Lory Manning, a retired U.S. Navy captain, echoes that thought today,
noting, "Except for taxes, women have had to fight for the right to the
assumption of the duties of citizenship, including jury duty."

A senior researcher at Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), Manning said
she remembers well the anti-war feminism of the Vietnam War era, and
agrees with its critique of the military.

"It is hierarchical," she said. "It is also very powerful. People think
that an organization with that kind of power should not be left to men.
Having women on the ground as peacekeepers has shown to improve the fate
of women on the other side."

Like many feminists, Enloe thinks it is risky to frame any military issue
around just equality. "A lot of feminists were not sure how to articulate
their support for gays in the military," she said. "Those against the ban
found themselves having to promote gay men and lesbians as the perfect

It's a dilemma Enloe said her European counterparts do not face.

"While there are many societies which are more militarized than the U.S.,
militarism has sunk its roots down so deep in U.S. popular culture, it's
made a conundrum of how you carve out a space of equality without
embracing military ideals of citizenship," she said.

"The acuteness of this political, cultural dilemma is much sharper in the
U.S. than in Europe," she said. "European feminists have been surprised at
the prevalence of the military's footprint in our civilian settings. Most
soccer games in Europe don't start with fighter jet flyovers."

In 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a male-only system for draft
registration, arguing that since women were "excluded from combat service"
they were not "similarly situated" as men for the draft or draft
registration. In this instance, the court said, Congress had the authority
to consider "military need" over "equity."

With the removal of combat restrictions for women last December, that
argument no longer applies. Maria Santelli, at the Washington, D.C.-based
Center on Conscience and War, said it is quite likely the courts could
soon strike down the current male-only system of draft registration on
grounds of discrimination. "Before Congress lets that happen, they might
vote for universal conscription," she said.

Santelli thinks improvement in equity and justice within the military is a
good thing, but these improvements are overridden by the "other justice
issue, which is our reliance on war as a means for conflict resolution,"
she said.

She pointed out that men who oppose draft registration for reasons of
conscience face numerous penalties. Under what is commonly known as "the
Solomon Amendment," these penalties include denial of federal student
loans, federal job training, and employment with federal executive
agencies, and denial of citizenship to immigrants. According to the Center
on Conscience and War, there are Solomon-like penalties in 44 states, with
some denying state employment, state student loans, a driver's license, or
photo ID to non-registrants.

"These laws penalize men for the rest of their lives," Santelli said. "Do
we want to put women in that same position?"

How soon women who oppose the draft will face the registration dilemma
remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the ERA has yet to be ratified.

[Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, a freelance writer, lives and works at the Sts.
Francis and Therese Catholic Worker of Worcester, Mass.]

Monday, June 6, 2016

Muhammad Ali and today's Conscientious Objectors to war

Muhammad Ali Photos
It's been good to see the tributes to Muhammad Ali this week including his stand of conscience during the 1960's, when he refused to fight in the Vietnam War.  He took a powerful and principled position as a Conscientious Objector, taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court and winning.  At the time, many were critical of him for that.  Now, he is more admired than criticized for staying true to his beliefs.

The Vietnam War is not the only US war that has, especially in hindsight, proven extremely ill-advised, wasteful, costly, inhumane and very difficult to end.  And Muhammad Ali was one among many men and women who have decided they would not fight in such wars.

It's important to know that, even without a draft, there have been Conscientious Objectors to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Soldiers who enlist but later have what is termed a "crystallization of belief" that leads them to decide they can no longer participate in war for reasons of religious belief or personal conscience have the legal right to apply for Conscientious Objector status and seek a CO discharge.  I have come to know a number of veterans who sought CO status after experiencing militarism and war, and our SOY colleague, Hart, is one of them.  

If you are in the military and are having a crisis of conscience, please know that there is a remedy.  Contact the good folks at the Center on Conscience and War, who can listen and discuss options with you.   They are not part of the military.  They are knowledgeable about military regulations and law.  Calls are confidential.  1-800-379-2679.  You have the right to live true to your own beliefs, just as Muhammad Ali proved.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Book ending the school year at Austin High School

Hart and I were glad to be back at Austin HS today, where we began the 2015/16 school year. Student participation was great from start to finish!  We always appreciate students' interest and curiosity about the issues raised in our materials, and the t-shirt challenge drew thoughtful responses across the board.  Here are the questions we asked today:

 Here are the student responses to the question, "What are some of the environmental costs of war?"

Less farm land and livestock
Over use of resources that make us in debt to other countries
Mass destruction of land
Broken families
Debt to other places
Left behind land mines
Destruction of many animals' habitats
Military travel in cars with produce
Land being destroyed
Lack of funding to environmental issues/no cooperation on huge issues like housing
Destruction of vegetation with chemicals (e.g. napalm and Agent Orange to kill vegetation during the Vietnam War)
Debris from buildings
Mass toxication of water sources and other vital animal resources

Penny Poll results showed 32% of the penny vote for Education, 23% for Health Care, 19% for the Military, 15% for the Environment and 11% for Humanitarian Aid.

Once again, if high school students could decide how our country's resources were spent, we might have a healthier, college-educated (without huge debt)  population.

Thanks, Maroons, for making us welcome!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Peace Panthers at Eastside Memorial HS

We had a good day today at Eastside Memorial HS with the SOY table during lunch.  Thanks to all the Panthers who came by!  As we got set up in the hallway outside the cafeteria, we saw a couple of large peace signs on their bulletin boards.  We were told that the school had held a peace rally recently -- on April 4, most likely -- the Day Without Violence.  Such good news!

Because yesterday was Tax Day, we incorporated that into our t-shirt challenge -- asking students to write down what they'd rather buy than war.  Food, clothing, books and peace were the most common responses.  We agree!  Because the peace sign was already there, we posted the students' responses around the peace sign on their bulletin board.

We asked a question about Panthers, the Eastside mascot -- and most students didn't know where panthers lived in the wild, but they readily understood that panthers are endangered mostly because of habitat loss.  Panthers in Asia and Africa are leopards, and panthers in the Americas are jaguars.  The only part of the US where sightings still are reported is in Florida.

We were thrilled to see that chickens are being raised at the school as part of an Environmental Science class!  There are gardens as well.  We saw that Eastside received an award last year for being an eco-school.  Congratulations, Panthers!

As always, Penny Poll results showed a high priority for Education (33% of the vote) and Health Care (27%), followed by 17% for the Environment, 12% for the Military and 11% for Humanitarian Aid.  And there were many things that students would rather buy than war: