Ceasing fire

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Twenty-two days after the deadly outbreak of violence in the Middle East began between Israel and the militant Palestinian group, Hamas, a “fragile cease-fire” has finally been pronounced. Most of the Israeli troops on the ground in the Gaza Strip have left and civilians in the war-torn land are left putting the pieces back together from the path of destruction while world leaders renew peace talks. All that’s missing is a “happily ever after” and a ride on a horse-drawn carriage into the sunset and we’d have quite a nice fairytale on our hands.

Palestinian women grieve for a killed family member. (Getty Images)
Palestinian women grieve for a killed family member. (Getty Images)

Obviously, that’s not how war works. All told, over 1300 Palestinians died over the course of the conflict, many of whom were civilians – children, parents, lovers, brothers, sisters – caught in the crossfire of hatred. As men in suits head into their offices to sit around tables and discuss potential paths to peace, I have to wonder what their realistic expectations could be. I have to wonder what a solution to this age-old conflict of faith, life and devotion would look like. And frankly, I draw a blank, a reaction which, judging by the poor media coverage of the region’s past and present conflicts delivered by American mainstream sources, is not too uncommon for my compatriots.

That’s not to say that I’m going to stand by and ignore the fact that the lives of thousands of human beings have been left forever shattered by an arm of American imperialism – Israel. Hamas, obviously, is not without fault in this conflict. But when I look at the extreme one-sidedness of the death-toll and the American response (or lack thereof) to the international outcry against Israel’s continued targeting of civilian locales, I am embarrassed for my country and its continued ability to selectively ignore grave human rights violations by its allies.

No, I am not Muslim, nor am I of Middle Eastern origin. I am not a particularly politically-minded individual and I am as white as the Partridge Family. And perhaps all of this is why, despite criticism from my peers, I feel it is my duty to speak out against willful destruction of humanity. For me, it’s not a question of right vs. wrong, or Israel vs. the Palestinians or any other all-too-simple dichotomy usually summarized by The Bad Guy vs. The Good Guy. It’s simply a question a human decency and respect.

It is with all of this in mind on today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, that I am cautious with my feelings of optimism accompanying the arrival of human Beacon of Change – President Barack Obama. Optimism and hope are wonderful, but what about equality and justice for all, even those who stand at odds with the status quo of decades of hit-or-miss foreign policy? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Looking for ways to help? Thanks to a friend of a friend, Ameer Kian, below is a list of Palestinian aid and relief organizations that do not have a political affiliation with Hamas or any other organization:

Meet me at the rally

On the morning of Wednesday, November 5, I awoke with feelings of hope, renewal and pride unlike anything I’d experienced in.. well, at least eight years. On the heels of four days spent knocking on doors; reminding voters in Madison, Wisconsin, to get out the vote; I remained physically and emotionally exhausted, but knowing that our nation had elected its first ever African American president quickly made the pain of aching feet dissipate.

My elation at Barack Obama’s victory was quickly squelched by the news from California that a slim majority of that state’s voters had chosen to reverse the state supreme court’s decision to legalize gay marriage by approving Proposition 8.

How could it be, I wondered in disbelief, that the lefty land of Hollywood, fruits and nuts [as aptly described by my right-leaning — Understatement of the Century — father] had just written inequality into their state law book? How could barely half of a state’s people take away marriage rights from our community? What was to happen to the thousands of lesbians and gay men whom had already wedded in the state? And why, I wondered, did it matter so much to those who had said ‘yes’ to overruling marriage equality? Who exactly are these people, and what do they want from us?

I’m sure that many of you reading this blog have wondered many of the same questions regarding the latest injustice to face our community. And as bothersome as these questions are, I think we need to save finger-pointing and self-deprecation in the past and look forward to the next questions: Where does our movement go from here? How do we spark a revolution?

Our answer can be found in the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” We must, as a community, take each others’ hands, hit to the streets and make our voices heard.

Alongside my fellow happy, chilly protesters du jour.
Alongside my fellow happy, chilly protesters du jour.

dscn5044This is precisely what happened yesterday, Saturday, November 15, as tens of thousands of protesters simultaneously gathered in cities across the United States and world to protest the continued denial of marriage and other civil rights to the LGBT community. I was lucky enough to be present at the Chicago rally (click for video clips) which began at Federal Plaza and continued through the streets of the busy downtown loop area, blocking traffic and raising hell, just as intended. Though an accurate number would be near impossible to quote, the amount of protesters was awe-inspiring. Certainly at least 3000 gay men, lesbians and their friends and family were present, making our chants of “Yes we can!” echo against the walls of high-rise office buildings and shopping meccas.

dscn5062I was amazed as I walked alongside people from all backgrounds and of all ages, as a community united in uproar against the disgusting decision. We were greeted with thumbs up, peace signs, smiles, car honks and; in the case of one older man I observed; slow, steady applause accompanied by trembling tears of joy. Not everyone was having it, though. One woman passing by screamed at a demonstrator: “Why do you think you’re so damn special that you can shut down the streets?”

dscn5051This issue is not about being special. It’s about being equal. It’s about spreading love; and as Keith Olbermann so nobly articulated in a magical, must-see special report; treating your neighbors as you would like to be treated. I, like so many others, dream of a day when I can stand before my family, friends and community to proclaim undying love to the person that I want to grow old with. And it’s going to be to a man. It’s going to be a marriage — not anything else going by any other name — and it’s going to come complete with every other right that heterosexual marriages are granted. I believe that everyone deserves the chance to make this dream come true.

dscn5057Saturday’s protest was preceeded the previous weekend by another demonstration against the induction of right-wing-nutzo James Dobson (of Focus on the Family fame) into the Radio Hall of Fame — a demonstration which I was able to report from. Both protests were peaceful but the message was clear: We’re not going to take this lying down. I could not have been more proud of my community for getting out and demanding equality. I have renewed confidence that it is dscn5049going to happen, because — gay, straight, white, black — together we are going to make it happen.

Below are a number of pictures from Saturday’s protest. Want to get involved? Check out JoinTheImpact.com, open your hearts and minds and help to create a better and more equal world for everyone.

Download: Phoenix ‘Rally’

Download: Nina Simone ‘Here Comes the Sun’

Download: Ben Sollee ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ (Sam Cooke cover)

We cannot walk alone…

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, honoring the birthday of one of the leading proponents of nonviolence and spokespeople of the civil rights movement. In addition to providing a day off from school, work, etc., the holiday gives us all an opportunity to look around us and ask whether the world we currently live in lives up to Dr. King’s dream of freedom, equality and justice.

Are we there yet? That depends who you ask. George W. Bush would probably say we’re doing pretty well, judging by a statement made earlier today. In Bush’s words, “by simply living a life of kindness and compassion, you can make America a better place and fulfil the dream of [King].”

But what about the nearly 36 million Americans living under the poverty line? Or the family and loved ones of the many transgender people murdered annually around the world because of their gender identity? Or the legions of gay, lesbian and other queer citizens who cannot legally get married, serve openly in the military or adopt children (in some states)? What would they say? Do the powers-that-be even care?

martin-luther-king2.jpg

Happy birthday, MLK.

Download: Patty Griffin ‘Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)’