By Kelly Curry, Local Peace Economy Campaigner
“The great problem and the great challenge facing mankind today is to get rid of war…we have left ourselves as a nation morally and politically isolated in the world. We have greatly strengthened the forces of reaction in America, and inciting violence and hatred among our own people. We have diverted attention from civil rights. During a period of war, when a nation becomes obsessed with the guns of war, social programs inevitably suffer. People become insensitive to pain and agony in their own midst …” —Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., 1967
There is a garden where the fragrance of chamomile, spearmint, pineapple sage... lemon verbena and kale, passion fruit and cherimoya grow in an oasis of magic. It is life sustained by a little bit of water, California sun, love and intention, in the heart of an urban crime zone in West Oakland, deeply pocked by the ravages of what Peace activists call the “War Economy.”
Working and living in this community I get a chance, every day, to see, close up what has been pilfered from education, infrastructure, health care and witness the impact on children and teenagers in an American city where so many...so many, are newly homeless every day, while billions and billions of dollars flow out of local communities to support endless wars, occupations and the US global campaign of bullying and terrorizing sovereign nations in order to commandeer myriad natural resources.
This garden resides on the grounds of an Oakland high school in a community that feels like an occupied war zone. The raggedy, busted up streets and sparse green spaces put you in mind of those left behind by the bombs and ammunitions destroying the once beautiful cities and towns of Lebanon, Yemen, Palestine...Afghanistan. The dense security, high walls and barbed wire fences, scarcity of living foods in the cafeteria, water that is contaminated with lead...God knows what else and systems of plantation-style administration, keep staff and other personnel moving through a revolving door throughout the year so that students and staff struggle to maintain and build relationships.
When leaders emerge from this environment, it is because of the fierce tenacity of community, not the governmental systems that work to ensnare kids in an endless cycle of poverty, miseducation and failure. The youth here, like youth in many parts of America are being prepared to play their part in the War Economy. They are being activated and programmed for participation in the prison industrial complex...neo-slavery, where everyone from Wendy’s to Whole Foods to Starbucks to American Airlines benefit from the contribution of human-life energy of people from communities like this one in Oakland.
Corporation’s forecasts and hopes are that their contribution will be labor.
Not cheap labor, but free Labor.
Though the system of chattel slavery ended over one hundred years ago, the thirteenth amendment makes it legal when people are incarcerated.
Slave labor provides a welcome boost not only to the aforementioned corporations, but also adds to the astronomical dividends and options that are enjoyed annually by a handful of top stockholders and CEO’s of Arms manufacturers Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Corp, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman. These companies are the direct recipients of the energy of the youth whose futures are being held at gunpoint by the failing, militarized schools, with budgets that have been plundered by the War Economy.
According to the Center for Research on Globalization “Prison labor — with no union protection, overtime pay, vacation days, pensions, benefits, health and safety protection, or Social Security withholding — also makes complex components for McDonnell Douglas/Boeing’s F-15 fighter aircraft, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, and Bell/Textron’s Cobra helicopter. Prison labor produces night-vision goggles, body armor, camouflage uniforms, radio and communication devices, and lighting systems and components for 30-mm to 300-mm battleship anti-aircraft guns, along with land mine sweepers and electro-optical equipment for the BAE Systems Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s laser rangefinder. Prisoners recycle toxic electronic equipment and overhaul military vehicles.”
“We’re living in a system that is designed to absorb and consume energy.” —John Trudell
The garden, however, is different.
When I meet the woman who built the garden with students and teachers at the high school in West Oakland, she tells me three things; she is a feminist, an anti-war activist and gardens can end war.
Honestly, everything clicks except the gardens can end war thing.
Even so, I listen to the sister.
“Well, when you think about most of our so-called wars... occupations really... they’re about oil. Taking land and destabilizing governments, people, communities and culture clearing the way to take fossil fuel. If people grow their own food, a lot of this can be eradicated and we can also chip away at the phenomenon of food deserts. Do you know how much oil it takes to haul food around the country and the amount of oil used to make the plastic to pack the food?”
So I hang around and begin to see a new world emerging around me. It is a powerfully quiet, living world, that starts with seed and blooms hope, opportunity and engagement demonstrated and held by the magic fostered by the living energy that grows there. Working with students and teachers as they tend to herbs, greens, fragrant exotic fruits, harvesting...participating in workshops that teach health and nutrition, smoothie making, plants as medicine...kids taking bundles of greens home and moms and grammas coming to help after school and just seeing hummingbirds suckling at the dew from sage bushes surrounded by the rubble outside the cyclone fencing...is dazzling.
This garden is a place where the kids and their families can get some of the only fresh, organic food available in their community and have an opportunity to heal from the stresses of raging, toxic war economy that chokes the air outside of this natural oasis.
I was introduced to all of this seven years ago... in that first conversation, I didn’t get it
Now I do.
My eyes are open.
Today as I return from the US/Mexico border after organizing resources for people seeking asylum and refuge from the destabilizing forces of American Imperialism and witnessing the deep impact these forces are having on folks from Latin and Central America, I also see,very clearly, that there is no difference between what is happening in Honduras and Venezuela and Haiti and Puerto Rico, San Paolo, Brazil and West Oakland.
I have seen the same traumas and destruction in the eyes of the children, the respiratory illnesses, PTSD, and ravages of hunger as mothers and caregivers seek to maintain whatever bit of refuge and safety they can organize for their families; the tents they climb out of in the streets of Tijuana looking just like the ones folks are climbing out of on the streets of Santa Monica, California; Skid Row in LA; Philadelphia; Washington DC and Chicago.
The folks of this forced diaspora who I meet at the border moving through this American made “refugee crisis” are exactly like us...they’re just at a different moment...a few paces beyond where we are going, if we are not mindful of the current trajectory.
Like feminist and Black Panther alum Angela Davis says of Palestinian people “when I see them, I see us.”
I head back across to the US with a heavy heart, after doing my part to support the mother and her children who were among those tear gassed at the border, cooking for them and watching Maria, the mother of the five profiled in the iconic Reuter’s photo, sit at the beach staring out at the ocean wondering what would come next as they hid out in safety, tucked away from the right wing zealots who were lurking, looking for opportunity to finish the job that border patrol did not...destiny and fate in the hands of well meaning strangers...my mind gently whirring with the realities that I witnessed...the desperation and frustration and pride of the families traveling in the Caravan, their children either dying mysteriously in the custody of border patrol officers and the makeshift laws and policies illegally drawn up with haste and enforced with brutality by henchmen backed by the US death project and Americans back home who are unaware, underwhelmed and overwhelmed...as I process again and again the imperiled futures of tens of thousands of children separated from their parents in detention centers across the US, and kids in Yemen dying every minute because of bombs, drone attacks complicated by Saudi imposed famine, I am taken aback when I am met with this headline: How women took over the military-industrial complex.
In this bizarre article, there is a quote by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson as she presents to the House Armed Services Committee; “If I ask everyone in this room to think about the most protective person you know in your life, someone who would do anything to keep you safe, half the people in this room would think about their moms. We are the protectors; that’s what the military does. We serve to protect the rest of you, and that’s a very natural place for a woman to be.”
I’m unable to organize the meaning of the words I’m reading because I am on my way home from a hell, fabricated by US policies that have driven people from their homelands, on my way home to my own community that has been ravaged by the same racist, classist, greedy anti-planetary, anti-life policies and the words on the paper are crafting a narrative that says that these women who are working for the CIA, torturing human beings, and the CEO’s supporting the technology that is responsible for the deaths of so many, including children...are protecting the planet and her citizens?
They have put a woman’s face on the mask of death.
And they are calling it life. Motherhood...feminism.
I have to put down the article down.
I can’t look at it or read anymore because my heart and mind have are overwhelmed by the memories of Maria’s eyes on that beach at the edge of US and Mexico, grabbing her children, running with them, protecting them as they are hit with tear gas and the photo of young Jakelin in her coffin. Jakelin Amei Rosemary Caal, who died in the custody of border patrol officers...dehydration. Her mother, too distraught to attend the funeral.
In moments of grief like this, when I feel I can’t process any more evil, I have trained my mind to go to the safest place possible, these days it’s that small plot of land in Oakland, with 20 or so raised beds, that sustains life for a whole community organized by a feminist who believed that a garden could help end the endless wars.
I have thought of it many, many times during my travels to Mexico and yearned not only for the hummingbirds and the dew, but for the freedom and power of being able to reach into the Earth and pull up some kale to feed the hungry, or mint and mullein for a tea to soothe the respiratory conditions of the cold, damp Mexican night air and the illnesses born of stress...marigold or white sage to burn and cleanse the air and pray with the folks I met along my path.
And it is in this moment that I understand fully the power of the woman, who not only creates life, but nourishes life from her body, with milk from her breasts...makes food to sustain life. It is in this moment that I understand the power of womanhood. It is in this moment that I understand the obsession that crafters of war and its tools have with controlling and raping and killing the Earth and her children who can see and understand...who are still connected to their hearts and can love and have not given away the true love or understanding of her power and magic for the desire, the lust of materialism. It is in this moment that I am no longer angry or defensive about the article or the many others foolish proclamations citing feminists at the helm of a death machine.
Again I am reminded that our society is confused about power.
True power is not simply to exist in equity with men but to be able to exist fully, freely as women with the full liberation of creating life, sustaining and nurturing it... like the Earth... like the garden... consistently and often quietly, with love and reverence for being an intricate part of the natural systems that hold together the web of life.
It is in this moment that I sense a sort of wild conflagration will come of plans to distort and control the narrative around life and love and abundance. Feminists united are moving with this energy and stand and speak and act and will be known as the sustainers and protectors of life.
If they were not before, they will be now.
They will not be mistaken by what the planners and executors of the killing fields perpetrate. Motherhood, womanhood, feminism is not playgrounds surrounded by barbed wire, soil that is diseased with toxic chemicals where nothing will grow and desolate fields of rubble scattered with limbs, dried blood and hunks and bits of flesh severed and pocked by hot, flying metal.
“Only the liberation of the natural capacity for love in human beings can master their sadistic destructiveness” —Wilhelm Reich
On the evening on December 17th, I get a text message from the border of Mexico at San Diego.
It is a young activist who took us to Maria at the border “please blast on social media,we are trying to get mother and many children across. We have been here for hours, no toilet, no food, waiting for border patrol to let us through and they have us waiting, seven hours now.”
“Is it Maria?” I ask.
“Yes it’s Maria and her children...and others. The Congresspeople are here...the children are cold and hungry, please let everyone know!!!”
In this moment I feel the rumblings of great change. The wild conflagration is here. On December 18, 2018 Maria Meza and her children, with the support of attorneys, hundreds of volunteers, several American Congresspeople, boosts from social media and the mainstream media, make it across onto US soil in the wee hours of the morning.
That morning, The President of the United States and his Director of Homeland Security immediately respond to news of Maria’s crossing by creating a new policy that states that asylum seekers will have to wait behind the Mexican border for processing.
A Judge promptly denies the request. The President is informed that he may not rewrite immigration law.
In the first week 2019, as Human Rights activist Angela Davis looks forward to accepting The Fred Shuttlesworth Award for her lifetime of activism, the award is rescinded on January 8th from pressure by Jewish community groups that support the organization that has intended to give the award. They cite her active support of human rights for the People of Palestine. On the 24th of January, the group announces that they have changed their mind and she will receive the award, citing clerical errors. An insider suggests that outrage from the worldwide community supported the reversal of the reversal to give Angela Davis the award after all.
On January 17th 2019 a young American hip-hop superstar posts her personal feelings about the Government of the United States being shut down and that she believes it’s time for action to be taken. Her post via social media makes its way around the world in a matter of seconds. With a 25-second video and a click - “post” the movement for equity and peace has the opportunity to welcome in a powerful and provocative new international ambassador for Peace.
On January 19th, 2019 at the Women’s March in Washington DC, a young, wildly famous Democratic Socialist Congresswoman is photographed with a sign that reads “Feminism not Militarism.” For the first time in the Contemporary Movement for Peace, the broad political radio silence around militarism and the War Economy has been broken and the stage is set for education around the feasibility of Local Peace Economy and how it may nourish communities across the nation.
On Thursday, January 24th 2019 an American Peace Activist and Feminist unfurls a banner in a packed meeting hall in Washington DC, where the US Secretary of State is addressing a convening for the Organization for American States (OAS). The banner warns participants and the world that the US is staging a coup, right then in that moment, in Venezuela. The image of the banner and the activist are picked up and carried by media outlets globally.
Early the next morning, The President of Venezuela thanks the Peace Activist in his comments to his country and asks the activist to remind Americans that no matter what they think of his leadership they should not meddle in the affairs of democratically elected government officials of other countries.
September 21, 2019, will mark 10 years since the feminist, anti-war activist started her Local Peace Economy Project, building gardens in Oakland Public schools. Thousands and thousands of pounds of organic, locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs have been distributed from the garden and fed thousands of young people and their families impacted by the War Economy. These young people have also been educated about the connection between food and war and how their lives are in lockstep with many around the world suffering in the stranglehold of war economy globally. Several of these youth have graduated and work at the nursery she and her community have acquired which boasts the widest variety of organic fruit and nut trees in North America, just across town in East Oakland.
Today I understand what Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he talked about seeing from the mountaintop, and not being afraid.