Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Some concluding thoughts on my trip

Wednesday evening 5th of June in Tucson, Arizona. St Mark’s church is full of people. The fans are on high to take the edge off the heat. A wonderful potluck dinner is served. We are gathered this evening for a “Festival of Hope” dedicated to a nonviolence action by Father Louie Vitale and Father Steve Kelly. They went to Fort Huachuca, close to Tucson, on the 19th of November 2006 to act out their resistance to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School which has strong connections to Guantanomo and the prison of Abu Ghraib. The two Jesuit priests tried to get into the base to hand over a letter to the staff in which they had written down their objections to the torture methods which are taught in this center. They knelt down in prayer when they were refused entry. Soon they were arrested.
Father Louie and Father Kelly were just two of many peace activists that I had the privilege to meet during the summer of 2007. So what makes a Swede, coming from a temperate country, come to the desert of Arizona in the sweltering heat of the summer? Well, I have been a facilitator of nonviolence workshops for six years in SweFOR (the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation) and I felt that I wanted to expand my knowledge of nonviolence. I was simply looking for the best nonviolence training in the world. I looked around and asked people in the nonviolence movement. The answer I got was CPT, Christian Peacemaker Teams. I found out that they had a month long nonviolence training; it was supposedly radically nonviolent, Christian and focused on direct action – just they way I like it. I had three months of vacation (we have ridiculously long vacations in Sweden) saved for the trip. There were just two little snags; you had to have the intention of joining CPT out in the field and you had to join a CPT delegation, before to be accepted to the training. After some thinking I really liked the idea of joining CPT and I found out that they had a CPT delegation on the US/Mexican border in the ending of May and it started out in Tucson, Arizona. In between the delegation and the training in Chicago I had almost two months – a great opportunity for me to travel in the US to get to know the American peace movement.
With great help from local peacemakers in Tucson I was going to political vigils within days of my arrival to the US. I was very impressed by the frequency and the persistence of the vigils in Tucson. They have three different vigils each week and one of them have gone on for more than 25 years. You certainly would not find that in Sweden! I got a one month Amtrak pass that took me everywhere I wanted to go on the east half of the US for 460 $. I felt satisfied with the fact that my domestic trips would not produce much more carbon dioxide, since my flight from Sweden had already increased my burden for the climate. In Sweden the train companies make a point of being the best environmental choice for the traveler but in the US I never heard about the huge impact flights have on the climate.

The train took me eastward, through deserts, tropics, through woods and cities. I went to New Orleans; had French donuts and listened to music in the streets. Next stop was Atlanta where Martin Luther King’s birth house was my main target; in Washington D.C. I stayed at a Catholic worker community. In Baltimore I stayed a couple of days with Jonah House; a community with the most radical older peace ladies I have ever met; many of them having spent long times in prison for their peace actions. Next stop was New York where I got to see the FOR headquarters in Nyack. FOR editor Ethan Vesely-Flad was kind enough to invite me to Atlanta where five staff members from FOR gathered for the first national Social Forum. It was great to spend five days together with my FOR colleagues and the other 15 000 (!) activists who gathered for a common purpose. The last stop on my American nonviolence tour was Chicago where I spent one month attending an incredible nonviolence training with Christian Peacemaker Teams. The training included two civil disobedience actions for peace which resulted in the added experiences of seeing the inside of an American police cell (the room service is much better in the British police cells!).

I have to confess that I had a lot of prejudices against Americans before I came to your country this summer. I was wondering if I would stand three months of egoistic, self-centered, arrogant, loud and shallow people…Yes, I confess it was stupid of me, because I have seldom met so many humble, critical towards their government, loving, caring, listening and radically nonviolent people in any country. Okay, I did not meet the average Joe, but if the people in the peace movement are as fantastic as the people I met you should be proud of it. Living in the most powerful militaristic empire in the world history you have a mighty challenge ahead of you, which I am sure you are all too well aware of. But don’t forget that you also have probably the best access to nonviolence in the world. I have not found any other country where you can study nonviolence at university. You have a mighty tradition of nonviolence in your history, everything from nonviolence actions in the independence movement to the civil rights movement and today’s Iraq war resistance. I think that you probably have to use the whole spectrum of nonviolence methods to be able to challenge the powers of war. But it is not only up to you Americans to change the US. We on the outskirts of the empire also have a chunk of the responsibility. Sweden could for starters stop selling weapons to the US which are used in Iraq (the Swedish antitank AT4 and the antitank Carl Gustav weapon are especially popular in the American army). Many Americans were surprised when I told them the fact that the supposedly peaceful country Sweden was one of the largest weapon exporters in the world. You Americans surprised me over the fact that the US, in spite of having a strong economy and highly advanced technology, does not have things that any other advanced democracy take for granted, like a decent healthcare system available for all, a well functioning rail way system, a multi party parliamentarian system and free university education. When I heard how big percentage of the US national budget that is spent on the military I could hardly believe it! I would have believed it if it was a dictatorship like North Korea but the US!? Sweden spends about 3 % of the national budget on the military and I think that is way too much.

I feel so grateful for everything I have learned and received from the American peace movement. I look forward to work with you all with the end goal in clear site: the abolition of war and God’s kingdom on earth. I really believe we can reach it if we all work together with the powerful tool of nonviolence.

peace, Martin

Friday, August 10, 2007

A transformative training

I am in my third week of nonviolence training with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). Even though I have been doing nonviolence trainings in my work for SweFOR for about six years, I still learn a lot every day of this training. The training is intensive in numerous ways. The number of hours of work every day is heavy in itself. We go from 8.15 a.m. to around 9.00 p.m. most days with (nearly) one day off each week. It is also intense thematically, especially this week when we have practiced how to dodge bullets and avoid kidnappings, and reflected on risking death on our CPT work in other countries. Yesterday we talked about sexism and about the privilege that I take for granted as a man, and what it takes to let go of those privileges. Today we talked about undoing racism and again I realized even more the unfair privileges I have as young white Swedish educated heterosexual man. It was rather difficult to realize how much responsibility that gives me to change. I have my work cut out for me! What adds extra spice to the training is also that we don’t just talk about nonviolence, we actually do nonviolence actions during the training. We have performed two direct actions in the training, both of them involving civil disobedience. I have never included actual nonviolent actions in the training, so that was a new and exciting thing for me. You can find two CPTNet (CPT’s e-mail service to which you can subscribe via www.cpt.org) reports on our two actions below. I wish that I would have had more time to be able to update you on all the fantastic people I have met this summer and all that I have learned. If I have the opportunity to meet you, I will tell you more if you’re interested. If you want to see some of my trip I invite you to go to:

or to my friend Joshua’s pictures from the CPT training:


August 8, 2007

EDINA, MN: Eight Arrested for Delivering Roses to Alliant Tech Headquarters on Hiroshima Day
On Monday, August 6, approximately 40 people gathered at the headquarters of Alliant Techsystems, Inc. (ATK) in Edina, MN to prayerfully commemorate all who died in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 62 years ago, and those who have suffered the effects of Depleted Uranium (DU) poisoning in recent years.
ATK is the world’s largest producer of DU weapons. The United States has used DU weapons in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Health effects linked to DU’s radioactive particles include increased instances of cancers, leukemia, birth defects, miscarriages, and infant mortality among civilians and soldiers alike. In addition, ATK produces motors for launching nuclear missiles.
Vigil participants representing Christian Peacemaker Teams, Alliant Action, and other Minnesota peace groups, dressed in black and carried white roses to represent healing and remembrance for those who have suffered from nuclear weapons and DU. Instead of missiles and bombs raining down destruction and horror, participants prayed for a new day – for the raining down of love on all God’s people.

CPT training participant, Jean Fallon, a Maryknoll Sister who lived in Japan for 50 years, spoke of the horror of the atomic bomb on the people who survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings: "There was residual radiation after the bomb exploded and it was very potent. First the people would get leukemia and thyroid cancer, and other cancers would follow. Depleted Uranium works in the same way. Particles are taken in by the body and they go off at different times. Many of the children get leukemia right away. They have the same kind of birth defect – bone cancer."

Holding signs that said "Hiroshima: Never Again," vigilers passed white roses to others bearing signs representing victims of DU – Iraqi civilians, Soldiers, Children, Afghanistan, etc. As the crowd sang out the words, "None can stop the Spirit, burning now inside us. We will shape the future. We will not be silent," eight participants carried their white roses towards the front door of ATK, hoping to deliver their message of peace to executives inside. When stopped by several ATK employees and Edina police, the eight attempted to engage in dialogue and negotiate entrance to the building. Police warned the group to leave or they would be arrested. The eight then knelt down in prayer. Each person received a citation for trespassing which carries a $142 fine.

Arrested were Tarek Abuata (Bethesda, MD), Sally Ann Brickner (Green Bay, WI), Kryss Chupp (Chicago, IL), Steve Clemens (Minneapolis, MN), Delycia Fuestel (Lebanon, NH), Cliff Kindy (N. Manchester, IN), Martin Smedjeback (Sundbyberg, Sweden), and Colin Stuart (Ottawa, ON).

28 July 2007

CHICAGO: CPTers call for end to Iraq war funding; eight arrested
On Monday, 23 July 2007 members of CPT's summer training group and supporters held a mock trial, indicting Senator Dick Durbin's (D-IL) Iraq war voting record. With "History" as the judge, participants called the "Court of Public Opinion" to order at the Federal Building in downtown Chicago.

Inside both the Senator's 38th floor office and the Federal Building lobby, witnesses offered testimony regarding the Senator's votes for LIFE and for WAR. Entering as evidence large photographs representing LIFE, witnesses affirmed the Senator's stand against the use of force in Iraq in 2002 and against the recent troop surge. However, images of the Iraq WAR's death and destruction accompanied testimony that Senator Durbin has consistently voted in favor of funding the war.

With President Bush's request for another $142 billion in supplemental war funding coming before Congress, Judge "History" declared that court would remain in session until all the evidence was heard. The Court agreed that a signed statement by the Senator pledging to vote against further funding for the war could be admitted. Participants waited but the evidence never came.

Meanwhile, in the plaza outside the Federal Building, supporters held banners, distributed leaflets, and invited passersby to cast their own votes. Out of fifty-eight ballots received, fifty-seven urged Senator Durbin to vote against more money for war.

Participants appealed to Senator Durbin to use his leadership as Senate Majority Whip and member of the Senate Appropriations Committee more effectively to end the war. "If we stop the funding we will stop the war," said CPT trainee Rachel Cloud. "Then people like my brother won't have to return to Iraq, to death and destruction. Senator Durbin has the power to save U.S. and Iraqi lives."

After forty minutes, Chicago police arrived on the scene and arrested eight CPT trainees carrying out their witness inside the building. They charged the eight with criminal trespass (a misdemeanor) and transported them to jail. All were released by 3:30 a.m. and will appear in court on 13 August 2007

CPT training participants who planned and participated in the witness were Tarek Abuata (Bethesda, MD), Sally Ann Brickner (Green Bay, WI), Rachel Cloud (Lawrence, KS), Charletta Erb (Chicago, IL), Jean Fallon (Maryknoll, NY), Delycia Feustel (Lebanon, NH), Jessica Frederick (Jamestown, NY), Joshua Hough (Talent, OR), Paulette Schroeder (Tiffin, OH), Martin Smedjeback (Sundbyberg, Sweden), Fred Snyder (Lincoln, NB), Colin Stuart(Ottawa, ON), and Jonathan Stucky (Bogotá, Colombia).

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

A child lost and just coffee being found

I spotted her when she was making a call on the public phone close to the tent where I was standing. She had three kids, all less than five years old, clinging to her legs. She spoke on the phone with desperation in her voice and tears streaming down her cheeks. It was the 31st of June at the Migrant Support Center in Nogales, Mexico, just across the American-Mexican border. The CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) delegation, which I was a part of, had come to the support center to volunteer for half a day. Some of us went over to her to hear what was wrong. After receiving a cup of water she began to tell her story. Her name was Erica and she was from Mexico. She had tried to cross the desert to come to the US in search of work and for a better life for her kids. She and her children traveled with her mother-in-law and brother-in-law. When the US Border Patrol closed in on them they scattered in fear of being caught. Erica and three of her children were caught by the Border Patrol. She had no idea what happened to her mother-in-law, brother-in-law and most importantly, her forth child, Eric, eight years old. Rick, our delegation leader, made a few phone calls to see if the Border Patrol or the Mexican consulate had any information about them, while Rae, of our delegation, played with two of Erica’s wonderful children. No one had heard about Erica’s son or the other relatives. We feared the worst, that Eric had been separated from the group and was walking alone in the desert. An eight year old won’t survive many hours in the desert without food and water. The next day we got the call and the good news that we were all waiting for. Erica’s son and her mother-in-law and brother-in-law had been found, all well and alive. We all rejoiced with her.

Four hours work for some coffee
Unfortunately, this is not at all a unique story. From the few days we were in Mexico I could tell you a number of terrible stories. Of women who have to sell their bodies, over and over again, to get across the border. Of men who jump on trains in the middle of the night to sit on the outside of the train car, risking their lives in the process. Of men and women who again and again take the deadly walk in the desert to find a new life in the US, only to be thrown back to Mexico by the US Border Patrol. And many never make it across or return. 5000 persons have died crossing the border during the last 10 years. So why do they do it, you ask. It’s insane! What mother would risk the lives of her small children in the desert? I asked myself those very questions.

Some of my questions were answered when we were invited to Pola, Elisa and Carolina´s home in Aqua Prieta, Mexico. They are all working in a factory on the border. They earn $ 65 with all bonuses included for a 48 hour working week. And that is more than most factory workers make. The average is about $ 1/hour. Farmers in southern Mexico make even less. But it must be much cheaper to live in Mexico, right!? We went into a regular grocery store in Santa Ana, Mexico to check out the prices. They were actually quite similar to what you would have to pay in Sweden or the US. 1 gallon of milk for 44 pesos (which is a bit more than 4 dollars), a loaf of bread for 19 pesos (almost two dollars), one small package of ground coffee for 38 pesos. To get some understanding of how difficult it can be to survive on the average pay in Mexico we did a little calculation. A factory worker in Mexico has to work more than four hours to buy a gallon of milk, around two hours for a loaf of bread and almost four hours for a package of coffee. I would have to work for about 20 minutes to be able to earn that same package of coffee. When I asked about unions, they just laughed, saying that if you risked your job by being “difficult” there would be thousands of people willing to take your place in the factory. They made it clear to us that Mexicans and people from Central America (who often make even less), would much rather stay in their home countries but they go out of desperation, to be able to survive and support their families. NAFTA, the free trade agreement between USA, Canada and Mexico, has devastated the Southern Mexican economy. This is especially true for Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, where more than half of the population is dependent on the production of coffee. The price that a coffee grower can get for a sack of coffee has dropped dramatically since the 1970s, which is why we bumped into so many from this very state on our trip along the border.

The alternative to NAFTA
It does not have to be like this. We saw one example of this when we visited “Just Coffee”, in Agua Prieta, close to the border in northern Mexico. It started five years ago when coffee producers got together in Chiapas and formed a cooperative. They had known for a long time that while they were getting less and less for their coffee, the roasters and exporters of the coffee made huge profits. So why not roast and export ourselves, they thought? That is what they are doing today with Just Coffee (www.justcoffee.org) – you can order directly from their homepage) where they produce just and organic coffee. They are calling it Fair Trade Plus because all profits from the entire coffee production process go back to the cooperative, making it possible for them to make a decent living in their own country.

Outsourcing the dirty work
Thinking about Erica, her four children and countless others who suffer on the border each year, our delegation wanted to do a nonviolence action that showed our solidarity with the migrants and our resistance to the cruel border control system the US authorities have set up. One particularly disturbing part of the system is that the transport of migrants who have been caught by the Border Patrol has been outsourced to a private company called Wackenhut, one of the world’s largest security companies. This means less transparency about what happens to the migrants and less accountability for how they are treated. So at the end of our delegation we headed out in search of a Wackenhut bus, and surely we found one. We took out our posters with messages - in English and Spanish - like “No human being is illegal”, “Love needs no passport” and “The U.S.A…..made by immigrants”. We got cheerful waves of support from the migrants inside the bus. We went over and spoke to the Border Patrol and the driver and asked if we could provide water and food for the passengers in the bus, but they said that they had already taken care of it (Wackenhut has a reputation for mistreating their passengers). We stood with our signs for three hours until the bus left. Then we drove a bit further in our van and planted three white crosses by the road in remembrance of all who have died trying to cross the border.

The nonviolence trek continues eastwards
The delegation is over and tonight I am leaving Tucson, Arizona. After 36 hours on the train I will arrive to New Orleans. For an updated itinerary, see the bottom of the page. I expect that one of the highlights of the trip will be the US Social Forum in Atlanta, the first national Social Forum in the US, where thousands of activists will gather for workshops and talks on how to change this world for the better. I will travel with a van from NYC to Atlanta (for a second time!) with US FOR (www.forusa.org) which is a sister organization to the organization I am working for in Sweden. Looking forward to hear from you along the way!

Peace, Martin Smedjeback

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Coming back to the US

The month after I finished my military service in 1994 in the Protection against Submarines unit in Blekinge archipelago in the south of Sweden I moved to the United States. During one year I worked as an au pair in an enormous house in New Jersey on the American east coast. Then I was basically unaware of the great American influence on world politics and pretty much unaware about international issues in general. I had only a vague idea about the fact that the US has been a warrior nation during all of its history and has today military bases all around the world. I knew even less about America’s strong nonviolence tradition. Because the paradoxical fact is that parallel with USA’s giant army and deep militaristic traditions it also has one of the world’s strongest nonviolence movements and strong historical roots in nonviolence.

This realization has grown stronger and stronger in me since I began to work at SweFOR (Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation) as secretary of nonviolence in 2001, only a few days after 9/11 and the terrorist attack that crushed the two towers which I had visited during my trip in 1994. One of the things I have done in my work is to deepen my understanding of my namesake, Martin Luther King, and the inspiring civil rights movement. In my studies of Dr. King my longing to return to the USA grew increasingly stronger. I am curious to see in what way the methods of nonviolence which were developed by the civil rights movement are used today by the peace movement.

Last Sunday I took my first steps on my return to American soil. During almost three months I will travel in the footsteps of nonviolence and examine the peace/nonviolence movement in this country. I have arrived in Tucson, Arizona where I will join a delegation organized by CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams). The delegation will study and raise awareness about the situation for those who try to emigrate from Latin America to the US. After the week-long trip I will begin to move eastwards and northbound when I get to the coast, trying to meet as many nonviolence activists and friends as possible along the way. I end my stay in the US with a month long nonviolence training in Chicago, also organized by CPT. I hope you will plan to join me on my nonviolence tour in this warrior nation! Look forward to hear from you along the way.

yours sincerely, Martin Smedjeback

Updated preliminary itinerary for the summer of nonviolence 2007
Places and organizations/people I hope to be able to visit.

Tucson/Mexico – 20th of May - 10th of June
New Orleans – 12 - 14th of June
Atlanta – 14 - 17th of June
Washington DC/Baltimore – 17 - 24th of June
Jonah House, Dorothy Day Catholic worker, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Sojourners, AFSC, Vigil at the Pentagon.
New York/Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Atlanta – 24th of June to the 8th of July
War Resisters League, United for peace and justice, Walter Wink, Center for Nonviolence and Peace, FOR USA (go to US Social Forum in Atlanta with them), Richard Deats, Muslim Peace Fellowship.
Chicago – 9th of July – 17th of August
Voices for Creative nonviolence, CPT nonviolence training.
– 18th of August