They say that finishing a book is like having a baby, only the gestation period is a lot longer. Giving birth to this book was a five-year labor of love. There are many people who have contributed to bringing it into the world. I greatly appreciate and value the work of the extremely talented authors, photographers and editors who gave generously of their time and abilities. (See the book contributors page). I am especially indebted to my colleague Rebecca Janke for her content editing, book fulfillment services, and constant encouragement and guidance; and to family members and friends for their technical, financial, editorial and emotional support. I also appreciate the professional assistance of Mill City Press in bringing this book to fruition.
I want to thank Friends for a Non-Violent World for making a preview launch of this book part of their recent foreign policy event, and all of the other social change organizations that have provided information used in this book and/or have helped or will help spread the word about it.
There would not have been a second compassionate rebel book without the cooperation of the people whose stories are featured on its pages. They have shown great courage in sharing the often intimate and controversial details of their lives. They are all to be commended, not just for baring their souls, but for the work they are doing to make positive change in the world. In some cases, their family members, friends, or co-workers assisted with editing their stories, finding photos, or other valuable tasks. I owe them all a debt of gratitude.
The compelling stories you are about to read are but a snapshot of a massive movement for social change. They reflect by example a much larger picture: the innumerable efforts of millions of ordinary citizens creating and spreading the compassionate rebel revolution around the planet, and, in the process, offering cause for hope in troubled times. To all of you out there, thank you for all you have done and continue to do to bring about the change we can believe in.
Burt Berlowe is an award-winning author and journalist, radio show host, peace educator, and social change activist living in Minneapolis. He has published several books and articles on political and social issues, peace and justice, and grassroots activism. His books include: Nautilus award finalist The Compassionate Rebel: Energized by Anger, Motivated by Love; The Homegrown Generation: Building Community in Central Minneapolis; Reflections in Loring Pond, A Minneapolis Neighborhood Celebrates Its First Century; Peaceful Parenting in a Violent World, The Peaceful Parenting Handbook, and The 7 Habits of Peaceful Parents. He has been a reporter, editor and contributing writer for numerous local and national magazines and newspapers as well as the co-host of Spirit Road Radio on AM950 in Minnesota. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 612-722-1504.
Content editor Rebecca Janke is the Executive Director of Growing Communities for Peace, a non-profit organization that specializes in PreKAdult peace education. In partnership with the Human Rights Resource Center at the University of Minnesota, she has helped develop the on-line Human Rights and Peace Book Store at http://www.humanrightsandpeacestore.org. She is the co-author of Peacemakers A,B,C’s for Young Children: a conflict resolution guide with the use of peace table, and The Compassionate Rebel: Energized by Anger, Motivated by Love; and the sole author of many peacemaking articles for the Public School Montessorian. She has served as president of the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers and is an active conflict resolution coach for families and couples. She can be reached at 651-214-8282 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angela Andrist is an emerging writer in the Twin Cities working on her first novel.
Madeleine Baran is a freelance journalist specializing in work and poverty issues. She is former editor for The New Standard and Clamor magazine and has reported and written for Minnesota Public Radio, the Twin Cities Daily Planet, the Utne Reader and other publications.
Bill Wroblewski is a freelance writer, editor and videographer. A Midwesterner through and through, he currently lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Arletta Little, a Twin Cities writer, has recently served as interim managing director of the Givens Foundation for African-American literature.
Anne Ness is an emerging writer and book reviewer in the Twin Cities.
Heidi Rivers is a recent Twin Cities college graduate pursuing a writing career.
Jacque Blake is a freelance writer and former columnist for Southside Pride in Minneapolis, where she wrote about ordinary people making a difference in their communities.
Tony Simon worked for a Twin Cities publishing house and organized a Neighbors for Peace group in Minneapolis. He now lives at the Iron Knot Ranch in New Mexico where he serves Lama Shenpen.
Stacey Larsen Stafki has written for peace and justice periodicals. She recently completed graduate school at Western Washington University and now lives in Port Townsend, Washington. She runs her own business called SeedSpring and teaches in a local school.
Andrea Peterson is a freelance writer, photographer and communications specialist living in the Twin Cities.
Pat Cumbie is a Minnesota freelance writer and editor of a whole foods newspaper. Her writing has been published in many literary journals, and she was nominated for inclusion in the Best New American Voices anthology. She has recently published her first novel, Where People Like Us Live.
Jacqueline Mosio is a Minnesota writer who has lived and worked as a journalist, editor and translator in the United States and Mexico. Her work includes her latest book Getting a Jump on Life (with Aileen Frisch), editing In the South Bronx of America, photographs by Mel Rosenthal; and Loves of the Fifth Sun and Other Stories (fiction). Her writing and photographs have appeared in Architecture Minnesota, Reader’s Digest, Commonweal, Washington Journalism Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Mexico City News, La Jornada, and Proceso magazine. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. She is currently working on the book Marketing Hope: The Mercado Central’s Impact on Immigrants and Urban Life, which narrates the development of the Mercado Central on Lake Street in Minneapolis.
Michael Bayly, an Australian native now living in St. Paul, is a gay rights activist and freelance photographer specializing in peace and justice subjects. He is executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities and editor of The Progressive Catholic Voice. He authored the book Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective, published in 2007 by Haworth Press.
Chante Wolfe, whose war veteran story is featured in this book, is a well-known peace and justice photographer in the Twin Cities and recently published a book of her photographs. She is an active member of Vets for Peace and has spoken widely about her military experiences and the treatment of combat soldiers.
Dawn Vogel is a Twin Cities photographer who specializes in illuminating people and bridging worlds.
Robert Cress works as a proofreader for the Periscope ad agency in Minneapolis.
Sid Korpi is a freelance proofreader in Minneapolis who has her own company called Proof Positive. She rescues Westies and other animals in need.
Sue Ann Martinson is a Twin Cities activist who formerly worked in publishing.
Christine Anderson is a freelance proofreader living in Lino Lakes, Minnesota.
“Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, a gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say that hope lies in a nation; others in a person. I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever-threatened truth that each and every person, on the foundation of his or her own sufferings and joys, builds for all.”
Albert Camus, The Artist and His Time
By Burt Berlowe
Change has come to America
YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!
The now-famous three-word mantra rolled rhetorically from the stage at Chicago’s infamous Grant Park, reverberating through the night air, then echoing back from the multitudes gathered below. The lanky poet politician with the unusual name and brown skin that glistened and glowed in the significance of the moment had captured the attention of the world on this memorable day. As he spoke his cadence of hope and change, people cried and screamed and cheered not just for the riveting figure on the stage but for what he represented—a true coming of age for America.
Barack Obama’s ascendance to the presidency on that historic November day realigned the political and cultural landscape in the United States and set the stage for a major transformation in the way we govern. It brought millions of new people—especially youth and minorities—to the polls and potentially into the government decision-making process.
As he so often said in his compelling speeches, Obama’s election was about more than just himself. It was about a “movement,” a grassroots uprising of ordinary people who rebelled against the status quo, who channeled their anger and frustration into positive change because they care so much about the future of the country and their fellow Americans.
Barack Obama was elected by the compassionate rebel revolution.
The compassionate rebel revolution is growing, not bit by bit, but by leaps and bounds. It is everywhere you look and anywhere you go. It is a mighty energy force that lives within all of us and surrounds us with hope in troubled times. It is moving like a bullet train across the land, picking up new, diverse passengers at stop after stop, building momentum and power as it carries democracy to the masses en route to a more peaceful and caring world. And, we might add, just in the nick of time.
Grant Park, the site of so much joy and unity on inauguration day 2008, was the focal point of a different kind of gathering forty years earlier. In 1968, it was the site of an antiwar demonstration during the nearby Democratic National Convention that led to violent confrontations between protesters and police in the park and the streets around it.
That was the year that America came apart at the seams. In the aftermath of the Summer of Love, hate and violence rocked the very foundations of our country. Assassinations claimed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., then Senator Robert F. Kennedy, just a few years after his brother John had been gunned down in Dallas. Rioting and bloodshed, racism and oppression ran rampant in Deep South cities. The tumultuous demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention tore that political party and the nation as a whole into shreds and ultimately gave us Richard Nixon and a further escalation of the Vietnam War. It was like no other single year in our history.
While 1968 has its own place in history, it hardly existed in a vacuum. The rest of the century that followed was plagued by violence—a plethora of school shootings, an explosion of criminal gangs, drug-related crime, police brutality, domestic and foreign terrorism, and the first Gulf War. The 20th century as a whole was the most violent 100 years in American history.
The new century seems to be taking up where the 1900s left off. We are now nearly finished with the Decade of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence established by the United Nations in 2000. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at our world. Although there are many caring people on our planet today, we do not truly have a caring culture. There is far too much violence, hatred, intolerance and greed standing in the way. And even as America pushes democracy on other countries, our own democratic system is in danger of collapsing.
Forty years after 1968, we are once again bogged down in a seemingly endless war in a faraway land. Our traditional, top-heavy obsession with revenge, retribution and domination has once again led us down a dangerous, counterproductive path. The so-called “war on terror” has not brought us any closer to a world of peace and reconciliation. Nor has it taught us to better understand and tolerate each other’s differences, to walk for awhile in someone else’s shoes, to treat one another with more kindness and compassion.
But the lack of a caring culture is about more than waging war. It is seen in the continuing use and defense of genocide; torture and capital punishment; the prominence of guns in a so-called civil society; massacres in school yards, churches and places of work; the prevalence of domestic abuse; the rape and pillaging of Mother Earth; the lack of affordable health care and housing; the expanding gap between rich and poor; lingering racism and discrimination; encroachment on civil liberties and human rights; and the ruthlessness of empirical government and corporate greed and domination. As this is being written, we are in the midst of a severe economic recession that threatens the stability of American society. It often seems like our world has spun out of control into an unending, seemingly unstoppable cycle of violence and despair.
Yet we do not have to look far to find cause for hope. As the recent election demonstrated, there is a powerful people’s movement stirring in the land that is bent on making change. It is newly born and reborn, a hybrid of sorts, an eclectic blend of sub-movements, individuals and causes spread far and wide with a common title that holds them together: the compassionate rebel revolution.
Compassionate rebels have always been with us. Jesus may have been the first compassionate rebel. There could have been others before him, and there have been many more since: well-known and little-known people who have turned their anger at injustice into compassionate action to make a positive difference in the world.
With all of its sound and fury, the 1960s were also the Age of Aquarius, marked by the rise of a counterculture that preached love, peace and understanding, and that brought us the civil rights, antiwar, women’s rights and environmental movements, along with an emphasis on the value of public service and political and social activism. The great “peace and love” revolution promised by the hippie generation never fully materialized, but the ’60s left us with a sense of hope that even amidst “shock and awe,” a peaceful, caring world is possible.
The seeds of positive change planted during the 1960s have borne fruit. All around the world, people continue to work for peace and to do random acts of kindness and love every day. Often, they join with others to protest injustice or work for a just cause, changing society one act at a time.
Throughout history, these individuals and the causes and movements they have championed have been given many varied labels. But there had never been a phrase that would encompass them all.
That changed one day near the end of the 20th century. Rebecca Janke (founder of Growing Communities for Peace) and I had been planning to write a book of stories about peacemakers and were searching for a title. One day during a casual discussion, Rebecca and her business partner, Julie Penshorn, came up with the phrase “compassionate rebel.” We decided to make that the title of the book and set out to find people whose stories would fit the definition: ordinary citizens who were combining compassion with rebellion to promote social change.
We subsequently interviewed fifty activists we knew or discovered who were willing to tell us their stories. We were prepared to use only those stories that fit. We ended up keeping all of them. We eventually came to believe that every person has a compassionate rebel story in them impatiently waiting to be told.
In November of 2002, Growing Communities for Peace published the book The Compassionate Rebel: Energized by Anger, Motivated by Love, which included those fifty never-before-told stories. In that book, we referred to a compassionate rebel revolution that was growing worldwide. As that movement grew and we realized how many more compassionate rebel stories were yet to be shared, we wrote this sequel The Compassionate Rebel Revolution: Ordinary People Changing the World.
We are not referring here only to the traditional meaning of the word “revolution”—overthrow of a government or social system. Rather, we imply a much broader and affirmative definition. We sometimes spell it rEvolution to indicate it is a process of transformation for individuals and the world, one where common people take varied and distinct actions that disturb the status quo in peaceful, creative and compassionate ways. While it emanates from anger and frustration, our revolution is not one of despair, but rather of hope for a better world.
* * *
“Compassionate rebel. Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
I’ll never forget the quizzical look on the faces of some people who posed that question after noticing the title of our first book. That kind of assumption always seemed to me to be steeped in traditionally negative views of the word “rebel” as associated with radical insurgency, violent revolution and aimless alienation from the accepted norms of society. It also presumes that people who push against the status quo can’t have compassion.
Viewing rebels through that kind of narrow, refracted lens shows little appreciation of history. The fact is that without rebels, the world wouldn’t be what it is today. Regardless of your religious beliefs, no one can doubt the impact of the rebellious Jesus on our current culture. Without the insurgents who fomented the American Revolution, we would all still be ruled by the British. In the arts, in science, in politics and social change, indeed in all walks of life, rebels have been pioneers, prophets and pacesetters.
The compassionate rebel revolution has placed the “rebel” concept in a new framework. For one thing, it expands the definition of rebellion. The people we have profiled in our two books rebel against the status quo, against an institution or policy or way of life, but also, in some cases, against their own past, by overcoming adversity and life’s challenges en route to hope and social action.
The primary thing that compassionate rebels have in common is anger at injustice, a force that has propelled the large and small social change movements of our time. We all have experienced some injustice in our lives. We have all had times when we felt angry about something that was unfair in our personal experiences and/or in the world at large. The question is what do we do about those feelings? Anger is, above all else, a motivating force. It compels us to take action—yes, to rebel—against the injustice that is the source of our smoldering rage. Gandhi used to say that he didn’t want to get rid of or suppress his anger. He would put it on the back burner and call it up when he needed it as a way to inspire him to action. Rather than just complaining or forgetting about the injustice confronting them, or reacting against it in violent, destructive or otherwise negative ways, compassionate rebels turn their anger at injustice into positive change
As powerful as this rebellion may be, it often isn’t enough by itself to promote positive social change. But when combined with the giving force of compassion, it can become an amazingly effective tool for creating positive change.
The compassionate rebel revolution transcends race, age, faith, gender, geography, and political belief. It combines and propels the force and energy of millions of individual acts of caring and courage with existing sub-movements for peace, civil rights, environmental preservation, and other worthy causes into a bottom-up insurgency that is the largest and most diverse social change movement of our time. In the process, it transforms ordinary citizens from unrecognized bystanders into useful participants in society. Its goal is to spread the capacity to care and act as broadly as possible in order to bring about a culture where peace, compassion and generosity prevail over violence, hate and greed, where the power of love overcomes the love of power, and where ordinary citizens fashion true democracy for now and for future generations.
These architects of social change are everywhere. They live next door to you, down the block, in the community. They go about their daily business like everyone else—working at a regular job, attending school, raising a family, mowing their lawn and tending to their garden. But instead of merely complaining about or ignoring what they don’t like, they are involved in making change in any number of creative ways—protesting a perceived injustice, laboring for the common good of humanity and sparking the fire in those around them. They are carving out new vistas, plowing new ground and redefining our cultural landscape. Everywhere you turn, ordinary people can be seen taking social problems into their own hands, wrestling with them, and molding them into life-changing solutions. They are remaking America from the ground up as Barack Obama put it, “brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand.”
In this second compassionate rebel anthology, we continue to tell stories of ordinary, compassionate change-makers. But unlike the first locally focused book, the everyday heroes you are about to meet come from all over the world. And their deeply personal and previously untold stories, written by a variety of authors, cover a broad range of relevant topics, including war and peace; civil and human rights; immigration; ecology and sustainability; education; community building; spirituality, health and wellness; the new youth movement; and electoral, corporate and media reform; among others.
These stories are placed in chapters that represent sub-movements that all fall under its umbrella in an historical context. In “Ground Zero Heroes” and “Peaceful Messengers” we focus on the new peace movement through stories of caring and courage during 9/11, and from Vietnam to Iraq, on the battlefield, and in the streets of communities here and abroad. “Freedom Riders/Freedom Fighters” highlights the latest version of the civil rights movement, spotlighting the struggles and triumphs of citizens of immigrant stock working to make America a better place to live.
The “Community Builders” chapter covers a variety of grassroots efforts from urban neighborhood organizing to rural co-operatives involved in wellness, sustainability and social change. In so doing, it gives examples of the ongoing neighborhood and co-op movements, and the burgeoning emphasis on preserving the health of our planet and those who inhabit it. The section of the book called “Care Givers,” ranges far and wide: from a gallant mission in the wake of Katrina, and compassionate efforts to save families and children in Africa and Vietnam, to the compelling stories of people who have risen above personal setbacks to bring joy and healing to others.
“Speak Out Sisters” looks at the contemporary women’s movement through the lens of several female activists struggling for personal empowerment while transforming our culture. “Generation Next” features compelling examples of a newly emerging youth movement that literally holds the future of the world in its hands.
One of the reasons why so many ordinary Americans feel hopeless and betrayed is the sense that our fundamental democracy is slipping away. The compassionate rebel revolution, in all of its previously-mentioned forms, is largely about taking back that democracy through reforming the systems that threaten it. In our closing chapter that begins with a ride on the democracy caravan, we focus on efforts to reform three of our most basic and vital forms of democracy: electoral politics, the media, and corporate capitalism. The election reform, media reform and corporate reform movements are rapidly growing as key elements of the compassionate rebel revolution.
The breadth and depth of the compassionate rebel revolution are much too big and deep to cover in any number of books. There are countless numbers of compassionate rebel stories waiting to be told; innumerable social change efforts happening too frequently and too fast to keep track of. The 100-plus stories in our two books are but a sampling of the scope of this ubiquitous movement.
There are other participants in the revolution that we have only touched on in this book due to space and time limitations. One is a rapidly emerging “new spirituality” movement that is seeking to appease the gnawing hunger that so many people have for inner peace and well-being. We also did not give adequate shrift to the exploding “green movement” that is taking on the threats of global warming and encouraging change in the American way of life. There are undoubtedly other compassionate rebel movements bubbling under the surface. We honor and support all of them, as well as the countless individual efforts to change the world that do not fall under a specific movement.
Despite its many highly visible and effective efforts, much of the compassionate rebel revolution remains “under the radar,” essentially ignored or marginalized by mainstream media and the public at large. The sporadic news stories that do appear don’t do justice to what is really happening on the streets and in the backyards and living rooms of grassroots America—from big acts of protest to everyday gestures of compassion and rebellion. The best way to bring this culture into the mainstream is through the telling of stories in books, on radio and TV, and in other venues—individual, personally compelling adventures like those in this book that tug at the emotions, intertwine with relevant political and social issues, and move people to action. Those are the stories of the compassionate rebel revolution.
Everywhere I go, I find people who feel that their voices are not being heard, that their opinions and feelings don’t matter, that there is no use in bucking the system. We need to listen to these stories, promote them more widely and learn from them. It’s been said that “whoever tells the stories defines the culture.” If we want to change our culture, we have to change the stories that are defining it, and we have to provide venues for those stories to be told. Ultimately, the goal of telling these stories is to motivate readers to take action in their own lives that will address their concerns and positively change the world. That is the way a compassionate rebel revolution is built—one action, one story at a time.
In the closing lines of his election night speech, Barack Obama, referring to the famous words of Abraham Lincoln, talked about wanting “a government of the people, for the people and by the people.” The coming months will determine whether those words turn out to be prophetic; whether the movement that put him in office will have an impact on the way he governs. That is the newest challenge of the compassionate rebel revolution.
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