Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Celebrating Human Rights at Lanier HS

It was good to be with Tami and Hart at our SOY table today at Lanier HS. Because yesterday, December 10 was International Human Rights Day, we asked students to compose a Declaration of Human Rights of their own. These were the rights that they listed:
Freedom to present as the gender you are inside
The right to health care for everyone
The right to be respected and safe from bullying
The freedom to pursue happiness
The right to live in a world in which the environment is clean and safe
The freedom to speak and protest with no deaths
The right to clean water
The right to be treated as an equal and not discriminated against
The right to same gender marriage
When we asked students about their plans after graduation, a few said that they thought they might enlist in the military. We offered some alternative ideas and pointed to the rights they had just listed -- are these rights and freedoms available to persons in the military?

Penny Poll results showed, as always, that Education and Health Care were the priorities, getting 27% and 25% of the penny vote respectively, followed by 20% for the Environment, 13.5% for the Military, 8% for NASA and 6.5% for Humanitarian Aid.

We stopped by the school library to check on our literature, and we were happy to see a display of Woke books! Good stuff. And, since the school was a polling place, Hart and I were able to do our voting there in the runoff election. Thanks, Vikings!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Peacebuilding at McCallum HS

As I walked up to McCallum HS today for our SOY visit, I saw these wonderful murals painted on the side of one of their buildings. Each represents nonviolent social change makers -- exactly what we promote at our table! 

This represents the "Capitol Crawl" action on March 12, 1990 when disability rights activists literally crawled up the steps of the nation's capitol to demonstrate how inaccessability affected their lives.  This nonviolent direct action played a strong role in the ADA being passed soon after.

McCallum students were great -- very thoughtful in their responses to the reflection question, with their decisions in the Penny Poll, in telling us about ways in which they have used their First Amendment freedoms recently, pondering the people and events on the Peace Wheel, and in letting us know what they are thinking of doing after they graduate. One student said that her father is a rabbi at a local synagogue and there was a service with hundreds in attendance to mourn and remember those killed in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. She said that gathering peaceably at that service was using First Amendment freedoms. Another student told us that one of his mother's friends co-authored the children's book, "Grandfather Gandhi" along with Gandhi's grandson. Another student told us that by being an out gay man, he is expressing his First Amendment freedoms.  One 16 year-old student said that he is working on behalf of a candidate for the mid-term elections and had been politically active since he was 14 years old.  We value all the astute comments from students today.

The Penny Poll results showed the highest priority for Health Care with 29% of the vote, followed by Education at 22%, the Environment at 18%, Humanitarian Aid at 13%, 10% for NASA and 8% for the Military.
Here are the student responses to the reflection question, "The student-led #MarchForOurLives movement is trying to stop gun violence in our communities and schools. What about the gun violence of war? Are there similar ways to stop the spread of war?"
-"One of the ways to prevent war is to vote and elect officials who are willing to communicate nonviolently with other nations."
-"This is a different issue, where it's not regulating who can own weapons but rather beginning conflicts with other countries."
-"Many ways -- one is to pay for third world countries to stop civil war."
-"Perhaps the best way to combat violence is to avoid it altogether. What we need is a commander-in-chief whose goal is peace and containing violence overseas."
-"I think that protesting in an effort to stop war can work. It wasn't 100% effective when it was present in the 50's/60's, but I think looking there is certainly a good place to start."
-"Diplomatic accords that benefit both parties equally is the best way to ensure peace and cooperation and is the best road to success."
-"Pay attention on who you give guns to."
-"War is often started by disagreements or truce breaking which leads to gun violence. It's possible to stop but difficult."
-"We can foster internationalism to become better connected."
-"I believe that there are other ways to solve political problems on Earth, and on the other hand there is a possible way to change the spread of war."
-"I think political leaders often start wars too quickly without trying other solutions first. Lots of people get killed in wars that start from small things that could have been solved without killing."
-"Restrict who gets guns."
-"Gun reform laws."
-"Stricter background checks when selling guns."

Thanks to McCallum Knights for participating today!
It was moving to see this ofrenda in the hallway along with information about the cultural tradition of Dia de los Muertos

Nice to know about this club

SOY tabling at Bowie HS

 I heard a radio story on the morning of October 16 before we headed off to staff our SOY table at Bowie HS -- about that date being the 50th anniversary of the Black Power salute by Olympians, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Their visual, nonviolent protest was a signal of unified resistance to the many forms of white power, privilege and brutality faced by persons of color in the US in 1968. The peace sign and raised fist of unity are symbols we combine on our SOY t-shirts, and we were happy to see so many students earn themselves a shirt today at Bowie. Our reflection questions garnered thoughtful responses from students, as well.

Here are a few of their responses to the question, "The student-led #MarchForOurLives movement is trying to stop gun violence in our communities and schools. What about the gun violence of war? Are there similar ways to stop the spread of war?":
"I think we should see people as people."
"I would say that peaceful protesting similar to March for Our Lives would be a good one since it shows that people care."
"Gun violence in war should limit certain types of guns because they do more harm than good. Only certain guns should be allowed for use."
"People should voice their opinions! Start a conversation."
"Less military funding across the world."
"Spread peace and come together."
"Advocate for gun violence prevention."
"War is a necessary part of life unfortunately. We can limit this by being more aware of which wars we're inadvertantly funding."
And some of the responses to the question, "What are some ways that you and your friends are being good to the planet?":
"Recently, I've started volunteering for a retirement home and planting a garden."
"By not littering and being positive."
"Me and my mom plant vegetables and we reuse water bottles."
"We deliver Meals on Wheels to people in need."
"My brother and I go on walks picking up trash in the park."
"I'm a bee keeper."

Penny Poll results showed equal priority for Education and Health Care, each with 22% of the penny vote, followed by the Environment with 20%, Humanitarian Aid with 15% and NASA and the Military each with 10.5%. As always, if students could decide how our country's financial resources were allocated, we would have education and health care needs met, the planet would be better cared for, and military spending would be curbed.
Special thanks to Cat for joining us, and thanks to all Bowie Bulldogs for participating!
Here are a few more of the many student responses to the reflection questions:

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Gandhi's Birthday at Austin HS

The hallway becomes suddenly quiet after a busy and engaging lunch hour

It felt good to be with Hart and Tami today at our SOY table at Austin HS on Gandhi's Birthday. Students were eager to do the t-shirt challenge, and we had about 30 students earn themselves a shirt during the lunch period. They offered their ideas for how to "Be the Change They Want to See in the World" and the most common sentiment expressed was to be kind. 

A few of the many student responses

When we asked students how they have recently used their First Amendment freedoms, quite a few mentioned that they had taken part in the student walkout and "March for Our Lives" protest last year following the Parkland school shootings.  Students also said that they speak up and share their views during classes and in discussions with friends.  One student said that he writes for the school newspaper and plans to study journalism in college.  Gender equality was mentioned a number of times as being an important point of discussion at Austin HS, and we had noted in a recent Austin American-Statesman article that the homecoming court at Austin HS was going for 'royalty' rather than 'kings' or 'queens' as a way to express equality for gay or lesbian homecoming candidates.    

With midterm elections coming up and some students becoming eligible to vote, we heard that there have been voter registrars at the school, which was good news. 

Penny Poll results showed Education getting the highest priority at 27% of the budget, followed by Health Care at 23%, the Environment at 20%, 16% for the Military, 7% for Humanitarian Aid and 7% for NASA.

Thanks to all Maroons for participating today!

some of our materials

buttons at the table

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

International (Week!) of Peace at Akins HS

Yesterday, Hart, Tami and I made our first school visit of the new semester to Akins HS, and we had great participation from students there. We decided to ask students to tell us about ways they've practiced their First Amendment freedoms recently instead of just asking them to list the freedoms. Several students mentioned that they had participated in the school walk-out protesting gun violence. Others talked about discussing LGBTQ rights and immigrant rights in their classrooms, attending their churches of choice and helping push for legislation to stop deportations of immigrants.

 Because this coming Friday is the International Day of Peace, we also asked students to write down actions that people can take to increase the peace. There were lots of thoughtful responses, including:

"Talk it out and actually listen to the other party."
"Put each other in each other's shoes."
"More people need to be kind and genuine."
"Use words and not guns or violence."
"I think the best first solution to every problem is education. As well as understanding and then to take action."
"Be more respectful to people."

"People have to speak out for what is right, and do things based on that.  Even if peace is impossible we should still aim for it."
"Responsibility. Taking care of yourself and others. Peace, Earth, Life."

Some of the many student responses to the reflection question

We did the Penny Poll, as usual, and Health Care was the top priority at 28% of the vote, Education at 24%, the Military at 16.5 % (veterans benefits were mentioned by at least one voter as being why she put her pennies in that jar), 15.5% for the Environment, 10% for Humanitarian Aid and 6% for NASA. Thanks to all Akins Eagles who came by the table and shared their thoughts with us!
t-shirt challenge for the day

Friday, September 14, 2018

Reminder: AISD policy limiting student access by military recruiters in our schools

A reminder to all students, teachers, administrators and parents within the Austin Independent School District:  AISD has a policy of protecting student privacy by placing these restrictions on military recruiters who visit AISD campuses.  This is the policy as adopted by the AISD School Board.  Any violations should be reported to the school's Principal.

GKC (Local) Policy for Recruiters on Campus:

The following guidelines shall apply to recruiters on District campuses:

1. All recruiters shall first report to the campus main office to obtain a visitor’s badge each time they visit school property.

2. The principal shall designate specific areas on each campus for recruiting purposes. Recruiting may not occur at school athletic events or other school-sponsored events, unless specifically authorized by the principal.

3. Recruiters shall not continue ongoing contact when a student makes it clear by speech or other conduct that contact with the recruiter is unwelcome. In no event may recruiters meet with a student under the age of 18 years off campus without written consent submitted to a campus administrator by the student’s parent or guardian.

4. Evidence of a parent’s or guardian’s intent to provide directory information upon request shall be respected. [See FL]  (This refers to the form that parents and guardians fill out for their students that can opt them out of allowing their contact information to be given to military recruiters)

5. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test shall be administered according to the same terms and conditions as other aptitude tests administered within the District. District schools shall select “Option 8” on the ASVAB test prior to the administration of the ASVAB at the school to ensure consistency with the opt-out provisions for release of contact information to the military.

6. Recruiting of any kind shall not be permitted at a time, place, and manner that disrupts classroom instruction. Recruiting in a classroom or other designated space shall be acceptable if it is at the invitation of authorized school personnel and part of a school-approved program.

7. Schools shall allow information regarding recruiting, including recruiting by the military and those advocating alternatives to the military, to be made available to students in an equivalent manner and location.

8. Recruiters shall not solicit student contact information directly from a student or require such information as a condition to participate in an activity or to receive an award or gift.

If a visitor fails to comply with the general rules or guidelines set out in this policy, the principal or other campus administrator may deny the visitor access to the campus in accordance with law. If a military recruiter fails to comply with the guidelines set out in this policy, the principal or other campus administrator may contact the military recruiter's supervisor to report the failure to comply and request that such individual not return to the campus.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The best way to protect students from violence

Quote of the day -- from an article in today's issue of the Austin American-Statesman about recommendations made by the Texas Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security:

"The best way to protect students from violence is to prevent youth from considering violence as a solution to their problems in the first place." -- Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children

Monday, August 6, 2018

Vera May Shirley, Presente

I'm thinking today especially about Vera May Shirley, who was holding her first newborn son on August 6, 1945 when she heard the news about the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. She later named that moment as the beginning of her journey to pacifism, as she imagined the horror of mothers like her holding their children in Japan. She knew they were not her enemies. Vera became active in many peacemaking efforts over the years, including organizing a chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Austin, where I met her. She co-founded Sustainable Options for Youth in 1997, and her gentle, perceptive, generous spirit attracted me and others to the group that continues in her memory.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Militarism is no future

On July 13, 2018, the US Army announced that Austin was chosen as the site for its proposed new Army Futures Command Center.  We believe this marks a step backward for Austin or for any community that would choose to use its human and physical resources to design more weapons and systems of war.   This is a misdirection of Austin's creative culture and technical expertise, and we stand by our objections to it. 
We will continue to promote Sustainable Options for Youth in our high schools and raise awareness about the human costs to each other and to our planet of unchecked militarism and war. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Austin is a peace-loving city and should not be 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?