Friday, April 18, 2008

Global food crisis quotes -- read 'em and weep

These were gleaned from one NY Times article today. They deserve to be seen and reflected upon without the distractions of the reporters' text . Here's a global phenomenon, a catastrophe in the making, and it exists outside the range of our political discourse. No candidate makes the connection that here's a common cause for all humanity, located where climate change, tight oil supplies, water shortages, and food shortages intersect and interact. Talk about a Moral Equivalent to War. What a replacement for the Global War on Terror. What an opportunity to approach our "enemies" in peace.

If we only had "the will and vision". The problem is that many people do -- it's the institutional dominance of money and its will to power that keeps humans' political will and vision limited to a narrow range of "realistic" options.

I read these quoted words and think of all the Biblical texts about widows and orphans, the feeding of the multitudes, and what are treated, in effect and ineffectually, as just the platitudes of the Beatitudes. Read 'em and weep:

Haitian consumer of mud-cooking oil-and-sugar patties sold at street stalls: “It’s salty and it has butter and you don’t know you’re eating dirt. It makes your stomach quiet down.”

Haitian father, talking about his children who hadn't eaten the day before: "They look at me and say, 'Papa, I'm hungry' and I have to look away. It's humiliating and it makes you angry."

Haitian 29-year-old mother of five: "Take one. You pick. Just feed them."

Haitian political activist on rioting in Port-au-Prince: “Why were we surprised? When something is coming your way all the way from Burkina Faso you should see it coming. What we had was like a can of gasoline that the government left for someone to light a match to it.”

25-year-old Egyptian tomato vendor: “We can’t even find food. May God take the guy I have in mind” (said with hands raised toward the sky, referring to President Mubarak).

Egyptian pensioner: “If all the people rise, then the government will resolve this. But everyone has to rise together. People get scared. But we will all have to rise together.”

Indonesian agricultural advisor: "The biggest concern is food riots. It has happened in the past and can happen again.”

World Food Program analyst, talking about riots in Senegal: "Why are these riots happening? The human instinct is to survive, and people are going to do no matter what to survive. And if you’re hungry you get angry quicker.”

Activist in Niger, who had helped organized protests in 2005: "As a result of that experience the government created a cabinet-level ministry to deal with the high cost of living. So when prices went up this year the government acted quickly to remove tariffs on rice, which everyone eats. That quick action has kept people from taking to the streets.”

El Salvador's President Elias Antonio Saca: “This is a perfect storm. How long can we withstand the situation? We have to feed our people, and commodities are becoming scarce. This scandalous storm might become a hurricane that could upset not only our economies but also the stability of our countries."

US economist/UN adviser Jeffrey Sachs: "It's the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years. It’s a big deal and it’s obviously threatening a lot of governments. There are a number of governments on the ropes, and I think there’s more political fallout to come.”

Source: New York Times, "Across Globe, Empty Bellies Bring Rising Anger": April 18, 2008

Friday, April 04, 2008

Two Speeches

This has been a day for reading and thinking about two speeches given a year apart, 40 and 41 years ago.

On this day in 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the Riverside Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The title was "Beyond Vietnam: a time to break silence".

The storm of criticism that followed was prefigured by this passage early in the speech: "Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: "Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?" "Why are you joining the voices of dissent?" "Peace and civil rights don't mix," they say. "Aren't you hurting the cause of your people," they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live."

A little later in the speech came a phrase that was a particular target of criticism: "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government." Time Magazine called the speech "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi". The Washington Post said that he had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."

The critics generally ripped that accurate and inconvenient phrase about our government's violence out of its social and spiritual context. This is the paragraph in which it appeared:

"My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years -- especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."

Read on and compare his description of the violence being done against the Vietnamese land and people with what has been in Iraq. Think about the reaction if he spoke today, particularly if he were the pastor of a presidential candidate.

Exactly one year after delivering that speech, he was shot dead. The killer probably wasn't thinking of the symbolism of his timing. Still, that speech, that anniversary, and that death feel spiritually linked.

The second speech, given the night before the assassination, is noted for its foreshadowing of his death: "I've been to the mountain top".

Read 'em and weep, as is said in another context. Would that we will all be able to say something, religious or not, in the elevated spirit of  what MLK Jr. said that last night as he finished his last speech:

"And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

"And I don't mind.

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

"And so I'm happy, tonight.

"I'm not worried about anything.

"I'm not fearing any man!

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!"

And those were his last public words.