Thursday, December 2, 2010

School of the Americas Watch

Hi, All:

For those of you interested in my Human Rights activities, I spent this past weekend at Columbus, Georgia, attending the School of the Americas Annual Protest, both as a witness and observer, and also as a lawyer for the demonstrators.

This is the 21st Annual demonstration. As in the past, many people of faith and conscience gathered at the gates of Ft. Benning to call for the end to the notorious School of the Americas (SOA), now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). This year there were fewer demonstrators, probably between 4-5,000 people in all. Four people were arrested for illegal entry onto Ft. Benning property to protest the continued existence of SOA/WHINSEC. They have been arraigned and will expect trial during the next 45 - 90 days, with a likely sentence of up to six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. The protesters knew in advance of the possible penalties and voluntarily undertook their civil disobedience as an act of faith and conscience.

The more interesting events took place outside the formal demonstration area. Last year the "Puppetistas" (people who hold parts of huge puppets) marched outside the permitted zone, then returned with no incident. This year, when they marched out, they were arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Also, the people who went out with the puppetistas were themselves arrested if they stopped to watch what was going on. The charges were unlawful assembly and failure to disperse. Many innocent people were swept up in the actions. When they got to jail, they were informed that bail was set at between $4,200 and $5,200 for each arrestee. Needles to say, many of the 24 people taken to jail did not have the money to pay the bond, so they stayed in jail until the hearings on Sunday afternoon.

Those arrested included three or more journalists, including two from a Russian news service. When they got out, they had a lot to tell the Russians about freedom of the press and speech and assembly in the United States, from the perspective of one arrested for trying to exercise those rights. The article and YouTube postings are:

Another interesting development took place among those who decided to walk out into the street with their banners, disrupting traffic in acts of civil disobedience. There were 12 people who went into the street and were arrested. But there were only seven when they got to the jail. In fact, one of the undercover police officers actually testified at the trials on Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon, the arrested people appeared in Recorder's Court before Judge Michael Cielinski, who proceeded to hear the evidence and find everyone guilty. He even found guilty a local barber, who had done nothing more than step out of his shop to take a picture of some puppetistas on stilts. In fairness, we had been warned that this judge would find everyone guilty. During the proceedings we had negotiated penalties with the local police chief (yeah, I know it's strange that there was no public prosecutor, and the Judge and the police chief pretty much ran everything). We had negotiated fines of $100 -$500, and all the State charges were to be sent to State Court upon $1,000 bonds. Then the judge found everyone guilty and assessed fines and bonds as previously agreed. The fines and bonds were significantly lower than the bail amounts previously assessed.

I want to take note of something especially heartwarming and moving. During the time the people were in jail, others stepped forward and gave money to help bail the people out or pay their fines. Additionally, some of the people offered to put fines and bail on their own personal credit cards. As a result of the generosity of these people and others, SOA Watch raised more than $19,000, which was sufficient to pay the fines, bond out the people and pay appeal bonds for those contesting their City convictions. Everyone (except one Federal defendant, who chose to stay in jail) is now free.

We do not really know what will happen next. Everything is in flux, but we may expect to eventually go to trial on the Federal trespass charges, and possibly to trial on the State and City charges as well. At this writing I expect to take many more trips to Columbus before it is all over.

In closing, I ask for your thoughts and prayers for these people who were caught up, many involuntarily, in the system and have learned first-hand the price of exercising the freedoms that all of us possess.

Frank Schneider

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Islamic Center

I now join the conversation that is abuzz about the construction of an Islamic Center on 45 Park Place, New York City. The conversation around its building near (4 to 5 blocks) from where the World Trade Center towers stood reveals a much deeper conversation than the building of the Islamic Center. It exposes the use of political propaganda designed to produce the intense polarities within our political world with the goal of grinding this country’s political process to a halt, stalling any legislation that could bring relief to the suffering that comes with our weakened economy, and shaming the “other” side.
Those politicians who passionately oppose the Center are flaming the fires of hate and resentment that resides within the hearts of many people. While the conversation is about the Community Center at a deeper level, it is about the misconceptions we have as a culture about the Islamic religion as a whole. It is about the fear that lives within the hearts of many people that gets directed against people who differ from them. It is about bigotry. It is about political power… Those who oppose the building of the Center would be some of the first who would decry that Supreme Court justices are appointed to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and would challenge justices, not follow their political agendas in interpreting the law of the land. The Constitution is pretty clear about the right of Americans to freely practice their religion and that discrimination based upon religion is prohibited under the Constitution. If the Community Center is prohibited from developing in this location because it is too close to where the World Trade Centers stood, how far away is far enough? Will Manhattan be entirely off limits, or Brooklyn, or New Jersey, or Illinois or Alaska? Where does it stop?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pride Parade

Another wonderful Pride Parade. Throughout the route, voices were cheering our presence in the parade. The parade is always a hopeful time for me when I see 75 people marching to represent welcoming and affirming congregations; there is power in their demonstration to the all embracing love of God.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Annual Fundraiser

Thanks to everyone who contributed, worked and supported our fundraiser efforts during the Old Town Art Fair. I am always amazed at the energy and commitment of this congregation. We had over 55 volunteers, volunteering over 500 hours. AMAZING. Because of the weather and visible lower attendance, our fundraising efforts not up to previous years, but with rough numbers at this point it looks like our net income will be around $5,000. These funds are still a great support for our budget through our summer months.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

El Salvador

Hi, All:
For those of you interested in my Human Rights travels, I went to El Salvador March 19-27 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero on March 24, 1980.
A year ago Salvadorans elected Mauricio Funes, a member of FMLN (the former guerillas), as President. That election has made a
considerable difference in official attitudes in that country.
President Funes officially apologized on behalf of the government for the violence against the people. He declared March 24th a National holiday. He dedicated a special mural, "Homage to Monseñor Oscar Arnolfo Romero," by Rafael Varela, at the San Salvador airport on the anniversary. He is moving to take civilian control over police and the military (aware of the possibility of a Honduras-type coup if he moves too fast). Things are looking better.
Despite that, there are still major problems in El Salvador. Crime is still rampant (the Chargé at the U.S. Embassy, with whom we met, said there is no safe place in El Salvador). The latest wrinkle is private extortion, where petty criminals threaten to harm members of a person's family unless regular payments are made. Because of impunity (less than 5% of all crimes are even prosecuted), people have essentially only the choices of paying or moving, and many people cannot move all their family members.
A second problem is the continuing contentions of conservatives that Romero was a Marxist Communist who threatened to turn El Salvador into another Cuba or Venezuela. In Cinquera in the North, where the guerillas were active, a new conservative Priest insulted people at Good Friday processions last year by calling the banners containing photos and statements of Archbishop Romero "garbage." He subsequently closed the Church. On December 23, the local Bishop (who is also conservative) came to "purify" the Church. He ordered a group of nuns who had accompanied him to literally tear the photos of victims of the violence from the Church walls and burn them, which they did. The Bishop then excommunicated the congregation and again closed the Church. At a later date, the Priest showed up with 140 people from other communities to tear down the Church. Church members put their bodies in front of the Church ("If you want to put that pickaxe into the Church, you will have to put it through me first," said one woman), and after hearing from community members, the others left without harming the Church.
Even though the Bishop has now been replaced, the Catholics of Cinquera are still unable to attend and worship at the Church in their own community.
The theme of the delegation was "Romero vive! (Romero lives). In El Salvador, I witnessed that in the people.
Frank Schneider


Hi, All:
To bring you up to date on the deplorable, sad and disgraceful situation in Honduras, government encouraged killings of activists continues to take place in that country. There have been six killings in February and March alone. Since the coup last June, there have been dozens of killings of union activists and of members of the Honduran National Resistance Front (FNRP), which has called for a Constitutional convention and a peaceful change in the political system.
A textbook case occurred on March 23, when hooded gunmen invaded the high school where FNRP member Jose Manuel Flores was teaching and killed him in front of his students. It is unknown whether the gunmen were police or paramilitaries, because the Minister of Government has instituted and maintained the practice of having hooded police participate in raids. It is also known that landowners have imported right wing paramilitaries from Colombia to do their "clensing" of union and other leaders and activists.
On March 27, two investigating journalists were ambushed and murdered.
If you want to protest the situation in Honduras, or call for our government to investigate and speak out against these gross violations of human rights, the Honduras desk at the State Department can be reached at 202-647-3482. I have gone to voice mail each time, but I think it is important that they hear from as many people as possible.
And pray for the people of Honduras, that they may be delivered from this terrible time.
Frank Schneider

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Here

I walked past a barren patch of city dirt - darkened by the winter's grim. Layers and layers of winter build-up which reflected the layers upon layers of snow, when melted formed a single compacted crust of grim. I wondered when spring would come and cover the winter's mess. Then I saw it - a small white flower emerging - breaking through the grim. Hopes of spring pushed through - and a smile broke across my face and a stood there for a moment body defiant against the chill.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lenten Reflection

As Congress debates the health care reform bill - it is clear there are differences in philosophical ideologies crashing into each other on Capital Hill. These crashes, while complex are not unlike all philosophical crashes over human history where one group's ideas of how to resolve social issues clashes with others. Lent is the time to particularly spend pondering our ideas, social commitments and how those commitments stand up against the alternative views of Jesus.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation

For those of you interested in my Human Rights work, I spent two weeks this month in the Israeli Occupied Territory (West Bank/Palestine) on a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation. I went there in 2002, and I was interested in learning what, if anything, has changed in the past eight year.

My first reactions in Israel/Palestine was that it was, to use Yogi Berra's immortal words, "deja vu all over again." Palestinians are still being dehumanized, humiliated, abused and discriminated against, as they were eight years ago. Israeli settlers are still stealing even more land to build settlements and outposts and beating and harassing Palestinians who dare to interfere. The government continues to refuse building requests, then demolishes homes, electrical lines, cisterns and other things which Palestinians require and build anyway. The police continue to enforce two laws, one for Israelis and the other (not) for the Palestinians. The Army continues to act arbitrarily in humiliating and abusing Palestinians at the ever-present checkpoints, and it continues to raid homes with impunity to demonstrate their arbitrary power over civilians.

One particular item to mention is that settlers in the South Hebron Hills (around At-Tawani) have taken to attacking school children on their way to school. The humanity of people who attack six and eight year olds just because they want to go to school is beyond me. But that is happening. When it began a couple of years ago, CPT accompanied the children, but they too were attacked and beaten (sustaining substantial injuries). As a result, the Army has agreed to accompany children past the dangerous places in the road, which it has done on an erratic basis. Indeed, CPT and Operation Dove (an Italian human rights group also operating there) have frequently called the Army when it did not show up, or it did not wait for the children, or it left them at a place where they were still in danger. This is an ongoing effort.

Despite all of the above, I did detect some slight movement toward recognizing the humanity of Palestinians. B'Tselom, an Israeli human rights group, has supplied video cameras to record events (they jokingly call it "shooting back"), and it publicizes abuses. The Parents' Circle has formed to pair Israeli and Palestinian parents of the victims of violence, to share their mutual grief and see each other as human parents experiencing a mutual tragedy. Breaking the Silence is a group of more than 700 former military who have publicly described their abusive actions as a way to urge the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank. But even so, there is very little progress. I described that whereas maybe 1% of the Israelis were concerned eight years ago, the percentage is now up to 1.8%.

There is a new Human Rights initiative which is taking place: the BDS Movement. That stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. For example, people are boycotting L'Oreal and Ahava Dead Sea cosmetics, and other Israeli goods, especially those made in the settlements (which sometimes say they are made in Palestine). Divestment would include Caterpillar, which makes the armored tanks used to demolish Palestinian homes, and Motorola, which manufactures military hardware for the Israeli Army. Sanctions include the fact that high Israeli officials can no longer go to Europe, because arrest warrants are outstanding, charging war crimes in connection with the Occupation and the invasion of Gaza. This is a way for ordinary people to express their displeasure over Israel's policies and practices toward the Palestinians in their midst. For those interested in more information, the website is: or
I hope you will think about and pray for the people of Israel and Palestine, who are trapped in the stereotypes of the other side, that they might somehow recognize a way to live together without the dehumanizing conditions which now exist in that part of the world. I will be talking to my Church about this, and if you wish, I would be happy to come to your Church to talk about it, or to you and your friends, or to you. I feel that this tragedy must be addressed somehow.

Frank Schneider

Moving into 2010

We are entering a new decade. Some who are history sticklers say that actually the new decade does not begin until next year, but at any rate, we are into a new year. The decade began with us holding our breath as our computerized world clock rolled over to 2000. We breathed a sigh of relief when the world did not crash. Over the decade we have experienced the horror of September 11 and we have celebrated as we watched history being made with the election of the country's first African American president. As a nation we have entered two wars and continue to see thousands of Americans engaged in conflict – with over 3,400 Americans dead and thousands of Iraq soldiers and civilians the reality of war making haunts us. We have seen our consumer economy take a nose dive, watching helpless the impact of greed and profiteering. In this recession the exposure of the level of that greed was astounding and as a result many continue to suffer from under or unemployment. As a nation our reputation also took a nose dive as we tortured people in the name of "making America safe,” and which actually did the opposite. In the final days of 2009, we watched the Senate pass a health care reform bill that we hope will begin to address the complicated issues around the uninsured and escalating systemic cost. As we step into 2010, may our challenges be met with a new spirit of cooperation both nationally and internationally that will address the urgent issues that threaten our planet: global warming, a rise in religious fundamentalism, poverty, war and national arrogance. While enormous issues continue to face us as a people, we can hope that there will continue to be great advancements in scientific and technology discoveries and social collaboration that can lead us into a stronger global village. May the true meaning of peace (well being for all - plants and animals included) - edge us closer to our fuller selves in 2010.John Hobbs, pastor