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The best way to honor Dr. King is to actually practice non-violence

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We were marching in San Diego's 30th annual MLK Parade on Saturday behind a tuck where my husband's two grandchildren, who look more like their Haitian American father than their Mexican American mother, were riding with some other children. Five-year-old Dorian and another black boy were trading playful punches and Juan tried to reassure me that it was just typical boy stuff and no harm was meant. I wondered what Dr. King would have said.

Later, walking to the shuttle to go home, Dorian began striking his sister with a stick with a pom-pom on the end. I snatched the stick from him and asked him to put his finger on the end hidden in the pom-pom. "Feel that Dorian? Imagine what would happen if that hit your sister in the eye!" I scolded. Dorian is irresistibly cute and he knows it. He flashed a dimpled grim and shrugged. I sensed a rare teachable moment while he was actually paying attention to me. "We just marched in a parade honoring Dr. King. Do you remember on the way here, we talked about how Dr. King taught non-violence?" I asked him. Dorian shot me a puzzled expression and asked the question that inspired this blog, "What is non-violence?"

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Hmmm. The quick response I could give Dorian before I lost his interest, was, "Non-violence is not doing something that is mean or hurts someone else, like what you were just doing to your sister." That doesn't sound too complicated, so why is it so difficult for people to be non-violent? Is it basically unnatural for human beings to not hurt one another? Do little boys fight amongst themselves instinctively? If violence is somehow encoded in their DNA, perhaps to prepare them for survival, then asking them to play nice is just an exercise in futility.

One of the most distressing images flashed on the news yesterday, of the disaster in Haiti, was of the groups of young men/boys brandishing machetes, roaming the streets, terrorizing people already so terribly traumatized. With all the suffering Dorian's kinfolk are enduring in Haiti right now, why must the fear of marauding gangs be added to it? One would think that when human beings get to that level of misery that they would stop exacerbating it and work together to survive. If they were acting consciously, they must surely realize that they increase their chances of survival if they don't have to waste meager energy and resources defending themselves.

When we look at the incomprehensible destruction and suffering that nature has inflicted on the people of Haiti, one could argue that nature is violent and that it is, therefore, natural to be violent. But nature is also harmonious, as anyone will attest to who has savored a hike through the canyons or watched the sunset over the ocean. So we can likewise construe that it is also natural to be non-violent. Yin/Yang -- the age-old wisdom of balance of good and evil. To assume that there is any possibility of creating a world where there is only non-violence would be out of touch with reality.

On the other hand, one could argue that the violent forces of nature were only partially responsible for the recent suffering of millions of Haitian people, a good deal of the destruction is the result of human violence -- corruption, greed and economic injustice inflicted particularly by multinational corporate interests and supported by the US government.

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As I watched President Obama, bestowing Clinton and Bush with the job of getting economically stressed Americans to dig deep into their pockets to help the Haitian earthquake relief efforts, I wanted to scream. These three men have spent our hard-earned tax dollars wreaking havoc and suffering, at least as horrible as what nature has done to Haiti, to the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and others unfortunate enough to be living on precious resources that multinational corporations want.

When George W. Bush said, "I know a lot of people want to send blankets or water. Just send your cash," I cringed. I wouldn't trust that guy to spend my cash with compassion if he was standing next to Jesus Christ himself! Besides, I question that cash is what they need. Spend a short time watching the news reports of conditions in Port-au-Prince and you quickly realize that truckloads of cash are worthless if you can't buy the basic necessities with it. Without immediate water, food and medical help, thousands of Haitians are not going to see tomorrow's light of day. Here we are, six days after the earthquake, and relief is just starting to trickle in.

With every day passing, the complexity of providing relief increases proportionally to the desperation and the propensity for people to be violent in securing what they and their families need to survive. Watch carefully, we are peering through the looking-glass of our common future. Unless we radically change the direction we're going, the day when there won't be enough of the basic essentials for everyone hovers on our own horizon. How will you react when they drop a box of food into a crowd of starving people that includes you? Are you prepared to be non-violent or will you do whatever is necessary to survive?

I won't be texting $10 to Haiti. I have a better idea. I'm going to my Congressional Representative's office on Wednesday to tell her to vote NO on Obama's latest request to Congress for an additional $33 billion to continue fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (this is in addition to $708 billion for the Defense Department next year). Instead, I'm going to suggest that we take less than one-tenth of that amount ($3 million) and give it to the Haitian people to make amends for the way we've bullied and abused that country for decades.

We shouldn't send it as "cash" that will just end up in the hands of US contractors, but as genuine aid -- in building supplies and equipment and highly qualified oversight, employing Haitians to build according to strict codes for earthquakes, hurricanes and environmental protection. Yes, that would be 300 times more than the measly $100 million Obama has promised! If he thinks we can afford $33 billion for death and destruction, surely we can afford $3 billion for something far more positive.

Next, we should use our considerable clout with the IMF and World Bank to forgive Haiti's debt. And we should admit to being behind the 2004 coup that took out their democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand

Aristide, ushering in a right-wing, business-friendly replacement. And after there is some order in Port-au-Prince, we should support a fair election and abide by the will of the Haitian people, not the multinational corporations that have been raping their country.

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When Dr. King spoke out against the Vietnam War, he signed his death sentence, but that didn't stop him. If we truly want to honor his dream, let's start by being honest about our failure to practice non-violence and resolve to change, starting right now. If non-violence is not hurting people, that means we need to consider how everything we do and say affects others. And it means that we are responsible for making certain our tax dollars, and our representatives are not hurting people. Our representatives have the power to end war by cutting off the funding. They can approve $33 billion for more useless violence or $33 million for non-violence, including health care, green jobs, and doing the right thing in Haiti. Their choice will determine what kind of role models we will be for Dorian and his generation. They are supposed to be representing us let's tell want we want.

Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) is taking the stop-funding-war message to US Congressional representatives with Brown Bag Vigils across the country on the 3rd Wednesday of every month. I'll be going to Susan Davis' office at 4305 University Avenue, San Diego at 12 noon this Wednesday, Jan 20th. If you sign up to join me, I will provide the brown bag lunch (peanut butter and jelly on organic bread, apple and my special oat scones (register to attend). If you live elsewhere, see if there's a vigil in your district, or organize one yourself. Let's say NO to more money for war, and yes to getting to work on making life better for everyone!


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Jeeni Criscenzo is an entrepreneur, peace activist and author. She was 2006 Democratic candidate for Congress - 49th District. In 2003 she traveled around the country in an RV, writing her daily blog: CPR4Democracy. She is also a founder of (more...)

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