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PART II - FRONTLINeS of American fundamentalism  (2006)

To read Part I about Witnessing the Grassroots in Palestine READ HERE

I want to share another story. This is part of my story. A couple years prior to my travels to Israel and Palestine, still in my late teens/young adult years, I ended up moving hundreds of miles from home and became indoctrinated into a nationalist, militant, theocratic christian community. To some this was a cult, to me it was the precursor to a growing movement more dominant in American today. This group I ended up in sought to fight a culture war in America by "raising an army of christians" and sending them into the powerhouses of American culture - government, business, military, Hollywood and mission fields around the world. 

 

Coming from Canada and spending two years in this remote Texas community I experienced a culture shock but I was slow to find my restiance and opposition to what I was experiencing. I know first hand the intoxicating power of religion and nationalism and what it can do to a person, let alone an entire community of people, let alone a nation of people. This is a longer story for another time. But what I really want to say, is that it took trusting my own curiosity and questions, along with reaching out to people who could speak their truth in love with me and be willing to engage in sincere dialogue. It took returning to core principles I was raised with about loving your neighbour and your enemy. This I would say was helpful to pull me away from this fundamentalist ideology and movement that sadly appears to flourish more then ever in America today. Another gift came from my brother Darryl, a social worker in Chicago at the time, and the regular phone calls we had and his encouragement to start listening to and reading some alternative voices.

 

One night I went to a book store and I started looking at some of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s writings. Living in the American south while reading his work became profoundly influential! I started underlining and highlighting what I was reading. I kept a journal while I read. And eventually I found myself in conversations about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time. I eventually made a few anti-Iraq war videos that I shared with my peers and even the organization leaders - let's just say, there were not a lot of fans.

When I left Texas, I began taking steps on a different path in my life. In the spirit of wanting to play a small part in building on Dr. Kings vision of a "beloved community" I wanted to also learn more about nonviolent direct action. A disclaimer, I do so with humility knowing that in my advantage and comfort I have never really had my nonviolent resistance tested in the way Black people in America or Palestinians in the Occupied territories do - all the more reason I find myself drawn to that leadership and example. To this day I still admiration for and a calling to work alongside and support others as we address Dr. King's warning about "the triple threats of racism, militarism and poverty" in our world.

 

At the age of 37. With my own eyes, ears and camera, I have in my life witnessed and documented first hand the brutal "triple threat" come down on communities across Turtle Island, Palestine, Israel, Northern Iraq/Kurdistan, Kenya and Zambia. I have seen this with my own eyes. I can testify to it. It cannot be unseen. I have also witnessed the power of nonviolent grassroots action, radical hospitality, dialogue and diplomacy, international accompaniment and violence reduction, nonviolent direct action and decolonization. All this too cannot be unseen. 

 

As individuals we can sometimes feel small and ineffectual. But one by one I know your voice matters as part of collective uprising of voices. Your small actions matter in the collective uprising of action for justice and peace. Together we can use our skills, our gifts, our privileges, our webs of connections, to amplify stories of justice and change. May we continue to take courage and inspiration from peacemakers living and deceased, from Palestine and Israel to my childhood hometown in Southern Ontario on the traditional lands of Hatiwendaronk, the Haudenosaunee, and the Anishinaabe.

To meet some many amazing peacemakers changing this world, you can watch some of the films I've made to learn more about who these "ordinary" grassroots people are, changing the world, one step at a time. 

East-Texas, initiation bootcamp run with organization leaders and former US Navy Seals - 2006. Event kicked off with Navy Seals entering building and fire blanks. Boot camp activities includes night marches, waking us up every 30 minutes and dunking in cold ice water, and constant non-stop physical, emotional and psychological challenges.

Participants were free to leave this bootcamp but in prior months of 5am training leading up to the event we were often pressured or "strongly encouraged" under intense situations to go further and consider whether God would want us to quit. To ring out you would need to stand before everyone and ring a bell.

Quickly eating a cow tongue before being sent to roll down "vomit hill". Another day deprived food, then fed pizza then sent back down vomit hill. Other fun events included getting shot with paintballs, sleep deprivation and regular interrogation of intentions, motives and beliefs. We slept in fields and forest at night. This particular camp went on for I believe 93 hours. 

Still in Texas, my life changed by reading about the life and work of Dr. King and others  (2007)

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Protesting Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Toronto 2007

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Kurdistan / Northern Iraq (2010). Accompanying Kurdish communities displaced by ongoing bombings and filming stories on mass atrocities with survivors in Halabja where an all too common story of weapons from the west were being used to slaughter Iraqi and Kurdish civilians.

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Treaty 6 Stoney Knoll, Saskatchewan (2014) -  Two Mennonite and Cree women lead us day one of our 500KM walk to the Truth and Reconciliation event in Edmonton. Purpose of the pilgrimage walk was to listen, learn and honour the stories of Residential School Survivors and educate ourselves about church complicity with government in colonization and genocide across Turtle Island.

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Completing our walk to the Edmonton TRC to listen to and honour the stories of residential school survivals and educate ourselves and church communities about the legacy of ongoing colonization and genocide in Canada. (2014)

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Treaty 6 (2017-2021) Continuing the good fight (witnessing again radical hospitality and nonviolence work) for social, political, systemic and economic truth and justice across Turtle Island; continuing the learning journey with Indigenous leadership like educator Dr. Patricia Makokis, Diana Steinhauer and Vincent Steinhauer of Saddle Lake Cree Nation. Visit www.treatytalk.com to watch our films and journey work together. 

PART III - NONVIOLENCE IN OUR BLOOD - ALEIDA VOORTMAN's reSISTANCE (1926-2023)

My grandmother Aleida passed away in December 2023. At her memorial I remembered back to fifteen years ago. It was only a few months after returning from Israel/Palestine and the pretty sudden and surprising death of my mom. I decided to sit down with my grandma Aleida to interview her about our family history. I went into the interview wanting to know more about her daughter, my late-mother and her childhood; what really shocked me though was learning about my Grandma and her own childhood during the war. I listened to her life under occupation. Stories I had never heard growing up. I heard for the first time about her involvement and radical courage in the Dutch Underground Resistance during WWII. As a young girl she participated in a nonviolent resistance movement to the German occupation. With her father taken to prison, her siblings in hiding, Aleida literally had Germans occupy the house and farm that her and her mother were living on. From this farm she fed these occupying men, all while she was secretly working with local churches that protected and supported fellow Dutch citizens, international allies and local Jewish members of the community. As a young teenage girl Aleida was willing to put her own life at risk for people she did not know including for people who did not pray or worship as she did. When i asked her where she found the courage to do what she did, she replied with a smile "we were young". To this day I take courage from young people like Aleida and the work of next generation who challenge us all to be bold and brave. Grandma embodied the best of our spiritual traditional and what it means to love your neighbour and overcome evil with good. In their 80s and their remaining years in their last home, my Grandpa John and Grandma Aleida organized volunteers and grew a1acre garden to provide food for those who were homeless or facing food insecurity. Committed to the end. What beautiful examples and role models to have in this life.

My hope and prayer is that we carry some of Aleida's courage in doing what we can to be a part of ending poverty, militarism and racism, so that individually and collectively we can build a more just and peaceable world with cooperation and mutual aid.

 

Of course there is more to say about each of these stories, but I will leave it at that for now. 

 

Thank-you for reading.


With deep gratitude,

BL

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Aleida Speaks in this 2009 interview (2 Min Clip)

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