Introducing her, Rabbi Lerner pointed out how effective the media and the political leadership of both parties have been in transforming the public image of Ms. Sheehan from an outraged mother whose son had been killed in Iraq to a "shrill" and "irresponsible" leftie whose voice should be ignored. And this parallels the treatment of Move-On, and the millions of Americans who have demonstrated against the war--so that the media and the political leadership of both parties are able to shift the public discussion from moral outrage at the war to outrage at those who challenge the war. To counter this tendency, Rabbi Lerner had invited Ms. Sheehan to talk. He also invited Nancy Pelosi, the Congressperson representing the district in which Beyt Tikkun holds its services in San Francisco, but she declined. in questions and answers after this talk, Ms. Sheehan announced that she was in fact running for Congress against Nancy Pelosi as an independent in November, 2008 in order to give anti-war voters a clear opportunity to vote for a candidate who would not equivocate.
When asked what could Nancy Pelosi do, Ms. Sheehan reminded the congregants that the Speaker of the House has the power--frequently used throughout history and especially in the last thirty years--to decline to put on the agenda of the House any appropriations bill or any other bill that s/he does not think ought to be considered. Indeed, many of the peace proposals, for example those of Dennis Kucinich and other peace advocates, have never faced a vote because the Speaker can decide not to bring the issues to the floor. If Congresswoman Pelosi were to use that power to refuse to bring any authorization for more spending on the war onto the Floor of the House for a vote until the President make a firm commitment to begin withdrawal of troops now and completed by Spring of 2008, she could force an end to the war. If she did that, and if she brought to the floor the impeachment resolutions already introduced by several Congresspeople, Ms. Sheehan would withdraw from the political campaign.
Rabbi Lerner pointed out that as a non-profit, Beyt Tikkun synagogue, like Tikkun magazine and the Network of Spiritual Progressives, could not and was not endorsing any candidate or any political party.}
Day of Atonement
My remarks to Rabbi Michael Lerner's Beyt Tikkun
In San Francisco on Yom Kippur 5758 (Sept.22, 2007)
Atonement is something that is so foreign to our experience as Americans. We are taught by our culture, the media, our government leaders (if not by our families) that we are to attain success at whatever cost to whomever and even to our own souls.
We see countless examples of this in our elected officials. If you want to win an election, you just steal it at any price. You disenfranchise voters, most of them people of color; you put emotionally manipulative measures on ballots regarding same-sex marriage and you convince the easily fooled voters that if you win you will end abortion and to ensure success, in case all of the above measures fail, you have supporters of your campaign write the programs for the machines that count the votes. In your mind, it's okay because the fake ends justify the criminal means.
Then, when you twice attain the highest office of the land, and indeed the highest office on the planet, you use a national tragedy to justify invasions of two countries that had nothing to do with an attack on our soil. To satisfy personal vendettas, ambitions and greed, hundreds of thousands of people are dead, and you do not have to say "sorry" and indeed, you continue to manipulate simple people by telling them that millions of people have been "liberated" from a dictator and our country is safer and freer now, never mind that you have imposed a more severe dictatorship on the people of the lands.
Corporations are now free to pollute our skies and waters and send our jobs overseas and reap profits globally off the backs of people all over the world and to the detriment of workers here in the United States. Many free-trade agreements have the effect of harming the citizens of all the countries involved for the benefit of a few Many people have lost their savings and retirement while the CEO's of these companies still "rape and pillage" like Blackbeards and receive their enormously immoral bonuses. Atonement is not even possible in these situations because the wealthiest in our country are looked up to as people who are really living the "American Dream."
Never mind that the American Dream is a nightmare to so many people all over the world, even people here in America. Unions have been busted; 45 million of us have no health insurance; (including me) the No Child Left Behind Act is designed as a recruitment tool for the military to funnel our children right into the jaws of the war machine. Even after signing the "opt out" of military recruitment, schools are still handing student's directory information to military recruiters and if schools refuse to turn their students into human cannon fodder for the unscrupulous Bush regime, they don't receive desperately needed federal funding.
Our freedoms here at home have been eroded while spreading phony freedom and false democracy to the Middle East, we have no more rights to Habeas Corpus; we can have our phone calls listened to and our emails read and slimy BushCo doesn't even have to get warrants for their voyeuristic thrills; and Congress not only refuses to hold BushCo accountable, but it has been busy legalizing the crimes of George and Dick while making itself less legitimate.
But no matter how bad we have it here, our brothers and sisters around the world, but especially in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering beyond what most of us can imagine. While my family and thousands of others here in America are feeling the pain and devastation of war, (sometimes I wonder how the body can produce so much moisture without drying up and blowing away) it is a small drop in the bucket of pain that Middle Easteners are feeling because of the illegal and immoral occupations. I met a Sunni Sheik the last time I was in Amman, Jordan who had brought a Shi'a Sheik who had survived an assassination attempt, although badly wounded, to a hospital in Amman (most of Iraqi doctors have had to flee the country). The Sunni Sheik told me that he was sorry for my loss, but eight members of his family and dozens of members of his tribe had been killed. I met another Sheik the first time I was in Amman who was sitting at home with his wife and son when American soldiers broke into his home and beat him and raped his wife in front of their son. I hate to tell General Betray-Us and the rest of the neocon crooks, events like these and raping a 14 year old girl and then burning her body after killing her entire family; massacring innocent citizens in Haditha, Falluja, Samarra, and on and on does not win hearts and minds. These horrible crimes only increase feelings of desperate hatred to the occupiers all over the Muslim world. Not just in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Other peoples in Asia, Africa and South America particularly are feeling the oppression of American imperialism and populist governments are arising in these places that are hostile to America. In Africa our brothers and sisters are dying to make diamond and other mining companies profits so Americans can have a diamond engagement ring or the minerals to power our cell phones and computers. Our brothers and sisters are dying, being torn apart and families uprooted so we can fill our gas tanks. Our brothers and sisters in Asia are slaving away for American companies so we can buy cheap (and oftentimes dangerous) crap from Wal-Mart. South America has been used as a corporate dumping ground and dumping ground for our military dictators since the Monroe Doctrine of the early 19th Century. We are less than 5% of the world population, but we consume between 25-40 percent of the world's resources.
How can we as a nation atone for these sins? Do we believe in some kind of collective responsibility for everyone who lives all over the world? Do we even believe that we can make our next door neighbors' life better when we don't even know them, or we spend 40-60 hours a week working as wage slaves so we can be better than them? How can we present ourselves as moral beings when our own nation is still torn by racism?
What are the solutions to violence and do we want to solve these problems or do we want to allow our governments to commit state sanctioned murder so we don't have to take personal responsibility for what our nation does?
We are Americans by accident of our births, or voluntary immigration and naturalization. You are Jewish because of your births, or voluntary conversion. I am agnostic because of choice. Muslims are Muslims because of birth or choice. Christians are Christians by birth or conversion. We can identify ourselves by so many ways: Mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter; Christian, Jew, Muslim, nothing; straight, gay; American, Iraqi, Israeli, Palestinian, etc; Young, old; Black, brown, yellow, or white; but there is one thing that we all are. We are all human and we all, whether we like it or not, have hearts that beat as one and come from the same mother and father and the same Universal Creator that loves us all equally and without condition.
There will come a time in the not too distant future when we here in America will be forced out of our comfort zones by violence or economic ruin if we don't voluntarily give up some of our materialism, nationalism, or just plain creature comforts to help our brothers and sisters all over the world. Everyone on this planet deserves by the bare fact of being human, the rights to security, clean water, healthy and plentiful food, education and shelter. These are the bare necessities that so many go without as we have an over abundance.
The problems are daunting, but the solutions are simple.
First of all, do not allow our children to be consumed by the military industrial complex so the war profiteers can be enriched. This is the biggest sin of my life that I will be atoning for until I die. To do this, we must repeal the No Child Left Behind Act and make education good and free for all from Kindergarten to University.
Secondly, we must repeal all free trade agreements that oppress the citizens of all countries. We must ensure that worker safety and pay are commensurate and fair wherever our corporations do business.
Thirdly, all US military bases all over the world and occupying forces must be withdrawn and brought home to the US. We have over 800 military bases all over the world, mostly with the consent of the governments, but under strong protestation of civil society.
We must demand that the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan be brought to a swift and safe close and the mercenary soldiers and other US war profiteers be expelled from these countries so the citizens in those two countries can reclaim their jobs and their lives.
We must apologize to the world for our creeping corporate military imperialism and for our mistake of historic and horrific proportions in Iraq and Afghanistan and we must make atonement to those people in the form of reparations and any other kind of material, diplomatic or political help they need.
All torture camps must be closed and reparations should be made to the innocent and fair trials and due process should be given to others.
Our liberties must be restored at home by repealing the Military Commissions Act, The Patriot Act, and the abuse of FISA laws and the right to Habeas Corpus must be restored. We must recognize the latent racism that still exists as evidenced by Katrina and Jena, we must face that fact that we still do not have true-equality and battle to reform our own hearts and national attitudes.
To show our brothers and sisters that we care about them and justice, George Bush and Dick Cheney must be forced to withstand the constitutional remedy to such blatant abuse of office by impeachment and they must be tried in the Senate for their high crimes and misdemeanors and then be tried in international courts for their crimes against humanity.
Then when America is restored to the moral authority of a strong nation that uses its power for peace and not constant war-making we can help in other war-torn places and challenge other regimes that commit human rights' violations.
It is urgent for the sake of my children and unborn grandchildren, your children and grandchildren, and all of our children all over the planet Earth. that we lead our world to peace and environmental sustainability and not continue to drag everyone down with us in our greed and arrogance. I am positive that we can do this, but only when we recognize our individual and collective failings and work diligently to overcome them. Not only for our own souls, but for the one soul that binds all of us together as one.
There is much to atone for today, but the biggest thing I think we all must atone for is believing that we have nothing to atone for.
Recognizing ones failings and mistakes is the first step to wholeness, but asking for forgiveness and being forgiven is sacred and the way to healing and peace.