For readers of

Becoming Open Souls

Antonio A. Feliz

topia, n. 1. the ideal made real (derived from utopia)..
2. worldview based on universal compassion

Another World is Being Blogged
by Joel Federman

Ways to Help After Hurricane Katrina
Direct Reports from Camp Casey on the Road
Letters from Fort Lewis by Kevin Benderman
Kevin Benderman: The "Real Deal"
Pro-Soldier, Anti-War

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Ways to Help After Hurricane Katrina
Reporter: "Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western civilization?"
Gandhi: "I think it would be a good idea."

HomeAid America
HomeAid is a national non-profit organization that builds and renovates shelters for America’s temporarily homeless. HomeAid has provided shelter for more than 55,000 temporarily homeless individuals including: abused children, victims of domestic violence, teens, people living with HIV/AIDS and those who are temporarily out of work.

America's Second Harvest
America's Second Harvest—The Nation’s Food Bank Network is the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the United States. America's Second Harvest feeds over 23 million hungry Americans each year, educates the public about hunger in America and advocates for public policies that positively impact hungry Americans.

Habitat for Humanity
Since 1976, Habitat has built more than 200,000 houses in nearly 100 countries, providing simple, decent and affordable shelter for one million people. Habitat for Humanity International has created a link on its Web site, www.habitat.org, where visitors may donate funds, which will be used to repair homes and lives damaged by the hurricane and to foster hurricane recovery.

Direct Reports from Camp Casey on the Road
"But war's a game which, were their subjects wise, kings would not play at."--William Cowper (English poet, 1731-1800)

Bring Them Home Now Tour
On August 31st, the last day of the Camp Casey encampment, the Bring Them Home Now Tour launched three buses from Crawford, Texas, each carrying military and Gold Star families, veterans of the Iraq War and veterans of previous wars. These buses are traveling different routes across the country, converging in Washington, DC on September 21, for the United for Peace and Justice Mobilization September 24th-26th.

cindy sheehan with martin sheen and others protest iraq war

Martin Sheen, Cindy Sheehan, and Iraq Veterans Against the War
Photo Credit: Jeff Paterson

"Cindy Sheehan: One Mother's Stand," A Blog by Scott Galindez, TruthOut.org.

"Photos from Camp Casey," and "Photos from Crawford Pro-War Rally," by Jeff Paterson, Not In Our Name, BayAreaIndyMedia.org, Camp Casey Photo Archive by Jeff Paterson here.

Letters from Fort Lewis by Kevin Benderman

Kevin Benderman is a US Army Sergeant who, after a tour of duty in Iraq, became a conscientious objector to war, only to have his claim rejected by the Army and to be subjected to a court-martial proceeding which put him in prison for 15 months. This peace hero, declared a "prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty International, posts weekly messages from prison here. More on Kevin on the main Kevin Benderman Defense Committee site--and right below.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Kevin Benderman: The "Real Deal"

On Thursday, July 28, US Army Sergeant Kevin Benderman goes on trial for refusing a second tour of duty in Iraq. The charges against him are based on the Army's recent denial of Benderman's conscientious objector claim, which he is appealing.

kevin benderman with japanese peace cranes
Kevin Benderman
Photo Credit: New York Times

Benderman has become something of a symbol over the last few months, an icon of the anti-war movement. Some within the movement have framed Benderman's position as being against the war in Iraq, which is useful to their cause. Similarly, the Army officials who made the initial determination to deny Benderman's conscientious objector status have concluded, in essence, that he must be only protesting the Iraq war, and not war itself. How could it be that he went to war in the first place, and then decided that war is wrong?

Without examining it, Benderman's position may seem confusing to both his current supporters and detractors. It is easier to just believe what you want to believe about him because it suits your political preference rather than take the time to find out just what he does mean.

I have had the privilege of getting to know Kevin Benderman--and his wife, Monica--over the last several months, helping them with their cause and spending time with them when they came to San Francisco to speak to supporters. I have come to the conclusion that they are "the real deal," as Carl Rogers, co-founder of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, wrote in February in a mass email introducing the Bendermans to potential supporters.So many people are sick of political rhetoric from both the left and the right. They know what not to trust. But, they have almost forgotten what is sounds like when they are being told the truth about something political. When people just speak the truth as it comes up from inside them, it has a different sound to it. That is the sound of Kevin Benderman speaking.

We don't often encounter the like of Kevin Benderman, so we don't quite know what to make of him. He is not your typical anti-war activist, who usually come to their conclusions based on theory or philosophy, which are also legitimate methods to come to the conclusion that war is wrong and that nonviolence is the only logical way of the future, if we are to have a future. He is not your typical military man, accepting often without substantive inquiry the orders of his superiors and the truth of their justifications for action.

Who is Kevin Benderman? He is a down home, plain spoken, salt of the earth, "good ol' boy," in the best meaning of that phrase. He is as comfortable in the company of soldiers as he is with peace activists, because he is comfortable with himself.

Benderman is a rarity: a truly independent thinker, an independent person. He enlisted in the Army and went to war in Iraq because he believed in his country and believed he could serve it best that way. Once there, as his understanding of the meaning and reality of war unfolded in the light of experience, he continued to justify his presence there in terms of protecting his fellow troops.

Over time, he came to realize that the best way to protect the troops is to get them out of Iraq, that by being a soldier he could at best save one or a few soldiers. But, by protesting war, he might save many more lives, American and Iraqi, soldier and civilian alike.

Benderman recently described his process of change to a reporter for the New York Times: "Everybody wants to put you in a little box, wants you to have some grand epiphany and bolts in the sky when it comes to this. But it's not that way. Here's what happened: I spent six months over there, and I came back and thought about it. What I know is that it's inhumane. It's turning 18-year-old men and women into soulless people."

This was not an ideological conversion. It was a practical one. There is a big difference. When Benderman says that "war is the destroyer of everything good in the world," it is not a rhetorical flourish. It is a statement of a conclusion based on experience. It is meant to be taken literally. When he calls himself a conscientious objector to war, it should also be taken literally.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Pro-Soldier, Anti-War

It was very disturbing
to watch the documentary, "A Company of Soldiers" on PBS last night. The "Frontline" program followed a group of US soldiers for thirty days in November, 2004 on duty in Southern Baghdad. It was a searing portrait of people faced with the task of doing their awful job, yet trying to retain their humanity. Along the way, one of their number is killed by insurgents, and the documentary shows the impact this has on the group.

pbs documentary company of solidiers picture
US Cavalry's Dog Company
Source: PBS

The soldiers are placed in an almost impossible situation: they are required to occupy and dominate a people, while at the same time rebuilding the country and securing the trust of the citizenry. They do what they have to do with comaraderie and bravery.

The documentary reminds those of us who are as protestors against this war that we have the obligation to maintain the greatest clarity in separating our disgust for the war itself and the decision to engage it from the soldiers who are commanded to execute it, to be pro-soldier, yet anti-war, as the bumper sticker below suggests.

pro-soldier, anti-war button

To purchase Pro-Soldier, Anti-War buttons, click here.

This point has been driven home to me like never before by the case of Kevin Benderman, an Army Sergeant who is refusing to return for a second tour of duty in Iraq (I have written in more detail about Benderman in an earlier posting below; there is an excellent profile of him available here). Just before watching the documentary, I heard the latest bad news about Kevin. Despite the fact that he has applied for conscientious objector status, and very clearly now qualifies for it, the presiding officer in his initial hearing has decided to prosecute him for desertion for his refusal to return to Iraq.

picture of kevin benderman, conscientious objector to war
Kevin Benderman and his wife Monica
Photo: CNN

Kevin Benderman is not alone. There are many people currently in the military who have been convinced by their experience in Iraq that war is too terrible a solution to be applied to any problem. There are many more people currently in the military--and veterans--who object to the logic and rationale of this war in particular. The Kevin Bendermans of the world are too few and far between. I know, for example, that I do not have the courage--yet--that he has displayed. I could--and you could-- withhold the percentage of my taxes that go toward the military (more than half). But, I don't, out of fear of being caught up in the meat grinder of the IRS, potential jail time, etc. Yet, I know that would be the right thing to do.

Thinking about this recently, I re-read Henry David Thoreau's "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience," which makes the case with greater clarity than anywhere else how we surrender our souls to social evil by our unwillingness or fear to refuse to support it. It is recommended reading for our time.In the meanwhile, while those of us not in the line of direct fire gather our courage, the least we can do is heed the call of a growing number of our soldiers who are letting us know in increasingly vocal ways that the best way to support our troops is to bring them home, the sooner the better.

January 28, 2005-February 7, 2005
Media Coverage of Davos vs. Porto Alegre Shows Elitist Bias
More News from the World Social Forum
100,000 Activists Gather to Build Another World:
fjfjfMajor Media Ignore Story

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Links to Another World:
Voices You May Not Have Heard

Katrina Information Network and Rebuild Green
The Katrina Information Network and Rebuild Green provide social justice and environmental perspectives on the Katrina relief effort.

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Wake Me Up When September Ends was recently the #1 most requested video on MTV. The seven minute video by Green Day tells the story of a young couple separated by the war in Iraq. The link above is to the Green Day website; click on the "Video" link on the bottom of the page that opens to view the video.

On the Human Rights / Global Social Justice Homepage
Links to articles on how the US government and other wealthy nations are backtracking on their recent promises for international debt relief at the 2005 UN Millennium Summit, which took place in New York on September 14, 2005.

Peaceful Societies

Peaceful societies are contemporary groups of people who effectively foster interpersonal harmony and who rarely permit violence or warfare to interfere with their lives. The Peaceful Societies website serves to introduce these societies to students, peace activists, scholars and citizens who are interested in the conditions that promote peacefulness. It includes information on the beliefs of these peoples, the ways they maintain their nonviolence, and the factors that challenge their lifestyles.

This site's sole purpose is to try to save lives by helping stop the genocide in Darfur. It empowers you to take smart, strategic actions to compel those in power to act through international petitions or local events. It provides access to the best, most relevant and most up-to-date information available. www.savedarfur.org is a similar website.

An Appeal to Global Conscience

Signed by leaders of the American peace movement, this appeal, posted on Alternet, speaks for 40 million Americans who say the United States should immediately withdraw from the war in Iraq.

(Didn't Know I Was) UnAmerican
This is a powerful song and video by musician Ian Rhett, expressing pretty much everything that topia.net is all about. A cross between John Lennon's "Imagine" and one of Bob Dylan's early protest songs.

Jesus vs. Bush in 2008: What the Campaign Would Look Like
Many liberal and progressive politicians are now considering running away from their core values in the face of a skewed interpretation of the 2004 election result. The alternative would be to stand up for those values and advocte them vigorously--though, as this mock ad shows, even Jesus, the first liberal, would have hard time running against George Bush in 2008. (Be sure to turn your computer sound on for the voiceover.)

Your Global Rich List Position
This website provides a calculator that allows you to determine your annual income relative to the rest of the world. By entering your annual income, and clicking on the calculator, it gives you the following read-out, with specific dollar figures where the xxx's are: "You are in the top xx% richest people in the world. There are x,xxx,xxx,xxx people poorer than you. How do you feel about that? A bit richer we hope. Please consider donating just a small amount to help some of the poorest people in the world."

Parliament of the World's Religions
Authoritarian religion may be on the rise politically around the world, but so is a more inclusive vision. In July 2004, more than 8,000 religious leaders and lay people from around the world gathered in Barcelona, Spain, to explore a common spiritual vision of universal compassion, justice and nonviolent social change. Click above for a link to the Parliament of the World's Religions, and click here for links to other ongoing efforts of this kind.

Idealist.org and Opportunitynocs.org
Want to make a career of changing the world? Idealist.org and Opportunitynocs.org provide thousands of prosocial job listings, mostly in nonprofit organizations, according to city/state/country and job type.

No Sweat Store
All products offered at No Sweat Store are made by non-sweatshop manufacturers. Some are union plants, others are not, but none allow what has become the typical apparel manufacturing pattern of Mexican maquilladoras or the sweatshops of Asia. (Full and proud disclosure: No Sweat Store is operated by Alan Federman, brother of Topia.net editor Joel Federman.)

Better World Handbook
The Better World Handbook is a guide for the average person wanting to make a positive difference in the world. The book provides hundreds of examples of practical, effective actions you can take to make a positive difference in the world. These actions are aimed at realizing the following values: Economic Fairness; Comprehensive Peace; Ecological Sustainability; Deep Democracy; Social Justice; Culture of Simplicity; and Revitalized Community.