2021
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Monitor Daily Podcast

May 17, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

How an Uber ride led to a bachelor’s degree

Yvonne Zipp
Daily Editor

After being canceled in 2020, graduation ceremonies are taking on new meaning this year. 

Each one offers recognition for hard work, challenges overcome, and hopes for new beginnings. But Latonya Young’s story frankly brought me to tears.

Ms. Young is a mom of three who worked as a hairdresser and drove for Uber to take care of her boys. Since she was a girl she'd dreamed of becoming a lawyer, she explained to a passenger she picked up one evening. She had been working toward her associate degree when a serious car accident derailed her plans, and about $700 in unpaid fees kept her from returning to Georgia State University. 

The passenger, Ken Esch, gave her a $150 tip and urged her not to give up. The next Monday, he paid off the $693, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2020. His generosity and faith in her were the catalyst she needed, she told the AJC. Ms. Young earned her associate degree before the pandemic hit, with Mr. Esch there to cheer her on.

“It’s not how you start but how you finish in life,” she said then. A pandemic and two hospitalizations didn’t stop her from persevering.

This month, she received her bachelor’s degree from GSU, in criminal justice, and Mr. Esch was there to celebrate with her.

He now sits on the board of a nonprofit that offers scholarships to older women to return to college – an invitation that came from his generosity to Ms. Young, who received a scholarship from the group. “She’s kind of a shining example of being able to push through and do it,” he told the AJC

Next up for Ms. Young: a new job. Then law school.

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For Hamas, the war is in Gaza, but Jerusalem is the prize

For the Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, war with Israel offered an opportunity to claim the mantle of Palestinian defenders of Jerusalem. It’s a political victory, but with a cost.

Yvonne

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Jerusalem, a focal point of the Palestinian struggle, holds significance for the wider Arab and Muslim world as home to one of Islam’s three holy sites. So when Hamas escalated a crisis in Jerusalem that saw Palestinians there clashing with Israeli police and settlers into a war of rockets and airstrikes, it was also seizing on a way to reverse its political fortunes.

Despite the high human cost and physical destruction of the Gaza war, analysts say Hamas is building an image as the defender of Jerusalem and expanding its support base beyond the Gaza Strip. And it’s rendering its rival, Fatah, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas mere spectators who are increasingly politically irrelevant.

For the first time in many years, Hamas is using its rockets for a non-Gaza related issue, Jerusalem, says Khaled al-Hroub, a Hamas expert and professor of Middle Eastern studies at Northwestern University/Qatar, in an email interview.  

“Symbolically, nationally, and religiously, such a connection is massive,” he says. “Hamas is coming out of its Gaza cocoon to say, ‘I speak in the name of the Palestinians, and I’m the defender of the most sensitive issue of all, Jerusalem.’”

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For Hamas, the war is in Gaza, but Jerusalem is the prize

Mahmoud Illean/AP
A banner depicting Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is on display as Muslims gather for Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, May 13, 2021. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

When Hamas escalated a crisis in Jerusalem rooted in forced evictions and an Israeli raid of Al-Aqsa Mosque into a war of missiles, it tapped into Palestinian feelings of helplessness and frustration – and seized a political lifeline.

Since then, the militant Islamist movement has appeared as the only Palestinian faction willing to stand up to Israel, and leapfrogged its rival Fatah, the dominant power in the Palestinian Authority (PA).

As of Monday, the ensuing fighting has killed 200 Palestinians and 10 Israelis and displaced 40,000 Gazans. But it has galvanized much of the Palestinian public behind Hamas, which only a month ago was heading toward elections amid declining popularity, struggling for relevance.

Despite the high human cost and the physical destruction of Gaza, analysts say Hamas is building an image as the defender of Jerusalem and expanding its support base beyond the Gaza Strip. And it’s rendering Fatah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas mere spectators who are increasingly politically irrelevant.

For the first time in many years, Hamas is using its rockets for a non-Gaza related issue, Jerusalem, says Khaled al-Hroub, a Hamas expert and professor of Middle Eastern studies at Northwestern University/Qatar, in an email interview.  

“Symbolically, nationally, and religiously, such a connection is massive,” he says. “Hamas is coming out of its Gaza cocoon to say, ‘I speak in the name of the Palestinians, and I’m the defender of the most sensitive issue of all, Jerusalem.’”

Mr. Abbas delayed this month’s parliamentary elections – the first Palestinian elections in 15 years – in a controversial move April 29. Yet observers say the current crisis offered Hamas another path to build its popularity and credibility among the Palestinian public.

“Hamas is a political party and is certainly more interested in winning elections,” says Mukhaimar Abu Saadah, a professor of political science at Gaza’s Azhar University.

“It seized the opportunity to discredit Mahmoud Abbas after he decided to effectively cancel elections, and to reposition itself as the representative and legitimate defender of the Palestinian people.”

Turnaround in fortunes

Hamas is also leveraging the crisis to end its isolation in the Gaza Strip, which it has ruled since infighting between Hamas and Fatah relegated the movement to the enclave in 2007, and to turn around what had been flagging political fortunes.

It had hoped for a repeat of the 2006 elections, which saw the movement capture a majority of the seats in the Palestinian parliament, by tapping into frustrations over the PA’s corruption and failure to secure Palestinian rights or statehood.

“Hamas was very much hoping it could change its reality in Gaza through democratic elections that would extend its presence into the West Bank,” says Tareq Baconi, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.  

“With elections delayed, Hamas is now falling back on its tried and tested approach of pressuring Israel to improve access to the Strip and to economically ease the situation in the Gaza Strip.”

Yet, despite its hopes, in recent months Hamas had seen its popularity erode in the West Bank and in Gaza, where frustrations have risen over the lack of services and its repressive rule.

In a March 15-19 poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas came in third with 24.3%. Rival Fatah came in first with 34.3% and “none of the above” was second at 29.6% in the poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

A separate April poll, by the East Jerusalem-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, saw Palestinian trust in Hamas dip to 7.3% from 10% the previous year. Even within the Gaza Strip Fatah scored a higher level of trust among respondents than did Hamas – 43.9% to 11.8%.

Suhaib Salem/Reuters
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in Gaza City, May 17, 2021.

Former PA official and Fatah member Nabil Amr says Hamas has turned the situation around.

He says Hamas successfully filled the leadership void over Jerusalem left by the PA and Fatah, which had frustrated the residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and mostly peaceful protesters on the front lines.

Without a decision from leadership, Fatah members protested on their own the past week, Mr. Amr says, no longer “waiting for orders.”

And Palestinians, who say they feel increasingly under siege by Israeli legal actions, emboldened settlers, and far-right mobs acting largely with impunity, are increasingly turning to Hamas for “protection.” 

Jerusalem-bound?

Jerusalem, a focal point of the Palestinian struggle, holds significance for the wider Arab and Muslim world as home to one of Islam’s three holy sites. It’s also home to a Palestinian population that in recent years has felt abandoned by the Ramallah-based PA.

At a mass rally in Doha, Qatar, Saturday evening, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh stressed the importance of Jerusalem as the reason for the escalations as Israeli warplanes continued to pound Gaza.

“We have repeatedly warned the enemy not to touch Al-Aqsa Mosque which is our qibla, our identity, our belief, and the trigger of our revolutions,” Mr. Haniyeh said. “Resistance is the shortest road to Jerusalem.”

“Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque form the basis of the struggle,” he said.

This focus on Jerusalem, experts say, is designed to put Hamas at the “heart of the Palestinian struggle.”

“It is very important for Hamas to position itself as committed to Jerusalem in order to project itself as a movement for the liberation of all Palestinians,” Mr. Baconi says.

The message is resonating.

Sara, an unemployed resident of East Jerusalem, says she had long been suspicious of the Islamist movement’s conservative ideology, but now supports them.

“We may not agree with them, but they are the only entity in the entire world right now that is coming to our defense,” she says. “By firing rockets at least they are doing something to show there is a repercussion to the stealing of our homes, to violence, and racist laws.”

Khaled Ajawi, a baker from Ramallah who is also unemployed, says he was “revved up” to see Hamas’ rockets in the skies. “They are the only ones who are championing the cause of Al-Aqsa and responding to Israel’s crimes,” he says.

Jenin resident Mariam Abu Baker says she has been won over by Hamas’ armed resistance.

“I can’t wait to get into Jerusalem, without checkpoints or permits. I know that this time we are closer than ever,” Ms. Abu Baker says.

International “recognition”

After spending years on the sidelines and margins of Arab and regional politics, Hamas is once again being courted by Egypt, Qatar, and Jordan in attempts to secure a cease-fire and defuse the crisis – suggesting a legitimacy the movement craves.

Meanwhile, senior Fatah leaders have lamented that not a single Arab leader has called Mr. Abbas as the crisis spread from Jerusalem to Gaza and Israel.

“Most states only deal with Abbas and the PLO because they do not recognize Hamas due to ideological differences or pressure from the Americans,” says an Arab diplomat unauthorized to speak on the record.

“At the end of the day Hamas wants to be treated like a legitimate Palestinian representative or government on the level of the PA and Abbas. Right now, they are being treated at a level even higher than Abbas.”

Hamas is now well positioned for concessions from Egypt, which controls Gaza’s only border with the Arab world and whose president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has a combative relationship with the group.

In return for a cease-fire and a halt to its rocket fire, Hamas is also looking to receive financial aid from its lone Arab ally, Qatar, which would enable it to pay long-delayed public sector salaries and provide services to increasingly frustrated Gazans.

In theory, that could help Hamas maintain its restored stature.

But Gaza-based writer and political analyst Reham Owda says that while unprecedented Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket fire serve both far-right Israeli and Hamas political aims, it has been “psychologically destructive” for Gaza civilians.

Despite their bold proclamations, she says, neither Hamas nor Israel will emerge as “victors.”

“This war is taking a toll on the civilians like nothing before,” says Mrs. Owda.

“The only true victors or losers are the civilians,” she says, “and they are defeated.”

Yet whether a cease-fire is reached today or weeks from now, many observers agree Hamas can already claim a victory.

“Hamas will emerge with stronger political … standing, internally and regionally. Inside Palestine (and Israel) people and politicians wait to hear what Hamas’ next move will be,” says Professor Hroub, adding that even without a photo-op victory, “Hamas is gaining more ground.”

Indigenous people find voice in Chile’s constitution rewrite

Chile’s current constitution does not recognize the nation’s Indigenous groups, but their representation at the table where the country’s charter will be rewritten may signal hope for a new model of governance across Latin America.

Yvonne
Juan Gonzalez/Reuters
Mapuche spiritual authority and constituent candidate Francisca Linconao signs a document before casting her vote in the election for governors, mayors, councilors, and constitutional assembly members to draft a new constitution to replace Chile's charter, in Temuco, Chile, May 16, 2021.

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Chile has begun a historic process of writing a new constitution following the election of a 155-person constitutional assembly over the weekend. The rewrite is already hailed as a democratic victory by activists, with the assembly made up of record numbers of women and a majority of independent members. That includes 17 seats filled by Indigenous people. 

Chile’s current constitution was written and passed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, something many citizens say delegitimizes the document. The idea to reform the constitution emerged during 2019 anti-government protests that swept the nation, demanding greater respect for human rights. But in a region where environmental defenders – very often members of Indigenous communities – were killed in record numbers in 2020 alone, the strong presence of Indigenous voices in rewriting Chile’s Constitution serves as a beacon of hope. Many are optimistic it will go beyond that to become a model for Latin American governance.

“It means we are involved in high-level politics and we believe we can make a difference in how political parties treat our communities,” in Chile and around the world, says Ingrid Conejeros, an educator who ran as a candidate for one of the seven seats reserved for the Mapuche community.

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Indigenous people find voice in Chile’s constitution rewrite

When Margarita Virginia Vargas Lopez thinks back on her childhood, she recalls boating with her family to patches of land shrouded by deep forests. It was a “nomadic life connected to nature” in Jetarktétqal, her remote community accessible only by water in southern Patagonia.

That is, until the dictatorship of Augosto Pinochet in the late 1970s, when authorities sent her community packing to nearby cities.

“They harmed us. They broke our traditions,” says Ms. Vargas. “We were inserted into a Western world that didn’t understand us.”

Now, she’s hoping to strengthen those traditions – and have a say in how the Chilean government governs not only her ancestral territories, but also the future of the entire country. Over the weekend, Ms. Vargas was elected to represent her Kawésqar Indigenous community in Chile’s historic process to rewrite its constitution. She’s one of 17 Indigenous representatives in the 155-person-strong assembly that will convene to write a new constitution from scratch over the next nine months. These representatives, who make up part of the nearly 13% of Chileans who identify as Indigenous, are going from no recognition under the current constitution to getting a seat at the table to draft the new governing document.

Chile’s current charter, written and passed in the midst of the Pinochet dictatorship, is one of the only constitutions in Latin America that doesn’t acknowledge Indigenous people. Calls for a new constitution emerged after Chile was rocked by anti-government protests in October 2019, sparked by rising costs of living and widespread inequality. The May 16 election results were historic in the makeup of the Chileans who will draft the new fundamental principles that will guide the government:  77 women, 17 Indigenous people, and six constituents who identify as LGBTQ. Some activists hail this diversity in representation as a democratic victory.

In a region where record numbers of land defenders – nearly a third of whom were Indigenous – were killed in 2020 alone, the strong presence of Indigenous voices in rewriting Chile’s Constitution serves as a beacon of hope. Many are optimistic it will go beyond that to become a model for Latin American governance.

“It means we are involved in high-level politics,” says Ingrid Conejeros, an educator who ran as a candidate for one of the seven seats reserved for the Mapuche community. “We believe we can make a difference in how political parties treat our communities” in Chile and around the world.

Land protector or “enemy of the state”?

Latin America is the most dangerous region in the world for environmental activists, according to the London-based nongovernmental organization Global Witness. Many defenders of the land who are murdered for their work protecting the environment in Latin America are Indigenous. The fact that this population is excluded from Chile’s Constitution has allowed the non-Indigenous majority in Chile to “oppress and dominate,” says Salvador Millaleo, a member of the Mapuche people and a law professor at the University of Chile.

While the elected Indigenous representatives in the constitutional assembly will each bring their own respective demands to the rewrite process, they share a vision to create a plurinational, multicultural document, Mr. Millaleo says. As a result, the new charter will enshrine values of equality, he says.

Courtesy of Erick Valenzuela Bello
Academic Elisa Loncon (center), pictured here with her family, is one of seven Mapuche constituents who will write Chile's new constitution.

For many of the protesters who took to the streets back in 2019, the nation’s constitution was a target because of its perceived illegitimacy. Created during a dictatorship, the document failed to adequately protect basic human and environmental rights, while guaranteeing protections for businesses and markets, critics say. While citizens have struggled in recent decades, the private sector has thrived, lining the pockets of a wealthy minority.

“The dignity of all Chileans was violated by the neoliberal model [written into Chile’s 1980 constitution]. The Indigenous were able to understand and engage with this fight,” says Elisa Loncon, who is an academic in Indigenous languages and an elected Mapuche constitutional candidate.

From industrialized salmon farms harming traditional Kawésqar fishing communities to deforestation wiping out Mapuche lands, Indigenous groups hope their voices will aid in protecting the environment – and their communities’ rights to protest – in the new constitution.

In La Araucanía, home to the Mapuche, Chile’s largest Indigenous group, deep forests are covered by century-old araucaria trees. The sky-scraping foliage is identifiable by towering trunks that resist the lava flow of the region’s numerous active volcanoes. It’s a place of sacred importance to the Mapuche.

Over the past 30 years, Chile’s forestry industry has boomed, growing from 400,000 hectares (988,000 acres) in 1974 to 3 million (7.4 million acres) in 2019, usurping Mapuche land.

“Chilean democracy ... does not defend the rights of the Chilean people; rather, it defends economic interests of transnational companies,” says Ms. Loncon.

The Mapuche have long denounced private companies for appropriating their ancestral lands, and accuse the state of repression and discrimination.

As a result, “we’re branded as internal enemies of the state,” says Ms. Conejeros.

Gram Slattery/Reuters/File
A logging truck passes by a sign reading, "Area monitored 24 hours," on the main highway in Chile's Araucania region on June 7, 2016. Many Indigenous environmental activists in Chile have been accused of terrorism or had their protests repressed by the government. Many hope that having Indigenous voices in the rewriting of the constitution will prevent that kind of attitude in the future.

In 2014, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the Chilean state guilty of criminalizing social protest by misusing terrorism laws to justify the repression of the Mapuche.

In recent years, the broader population has come to recognize this mistreatment, Ms. Conejeros says, supporting the Mapuche – and the broader Indigenous community’s – fight for recognition and equal treatment by the government.

When the 2019 anti-government protests erupted, the Mapuche Wenufoye flag was waved among crowds of city-dwelling Chileans. “It was a symbol of [the broader] fight,” Ms. Conejeros says.

A “living culture”

Yet, not all of Chile’s Indigenous people see the constitutional rewrite as an opportunity.

“It’s an instrument the state can use to domesticate the Indigenous people,” says Alberto Curamil, a prominent Mapuche leader.

In 2019, Mr. Curamil won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize after organizing a series of protests to halt a large hydroelectric dam project in Mapuche territory. He was arrested shortly after the protests for alleged criminal activity and spent over a year in jail before being released without charges.

“The [state] lacks compromise and doesn’t value human rights,” Mr. Curamil says.

Ms. Conejeros understands his perspective – distrust of the government is expected among Indigenous communities, she says. It’s “the same state that has tried to exterminate us, robbed us, and impoverishes us.”

Nevertheless, the constitutional assembly is an opportunity to create alliances between Indigenous communities and the wider Chilean public.

“We are a living culture,” says Ms. Vargas, referring to the 3,448-strong population of the Kawésqar community. “Despite our small numbers, we are alive with our own rights and duties – and it is my duty to teach others about my people.”  

Editor's note: A previous version of the story misstated Margarita Virginia Vargas Lopez's last name.

The Respect Project

Bridging the conflicts that divide us

Racism in schools, and a battle for respect

Black mothers in Toronto have gained ground in fighting racism in schools. Their hard-won battles have underscored how exploring what respect truly means to different people has been essential to progress.

Yvonne

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Charline Grant remembers the dismissiveness toward her claims of racism over many years in her children’s school district north of Toronto. But she also takes pride in what’s emerged: the group Parents of Black Children.

PoBC was founded in 2019 after a casual gathering of Black parents. “We were all professionals with jobs, multiple degrees,” says co-founder Kearie Daniel. “And so many of us have had that experience of saying, ‘Oh, yeah, the school thought I should be in a special class or they thought there was something wrong with me.”

The group has seen significant gains, including accountability for teachers and a support structure for parents. But as the group members have sought respect for their perspectives, they have sometimes found their fight being called disrespectful and divisive. 

The challenge, says Robert Danisch, co-author of “Beyond Civility,” is for people to engage in a forthright exchange of views when the status quo is rocked. “It’s so common for people to just attack and defend instead of practicing ‘radical civility.’”

Ms. Grant says she is careful with her own language in this fight, despite what language has been used against her.

She calls this moment “the awakening.” “I get to see the change... . I know when I’m talking to educators they might necessarily not like me, but they do respect me.”

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Racism in schools, and a battle for respect

Courtesy of Charline Grant
On the left, a birthday card shows Charline Grant and her son Ziphion. She joined with other Black mothers in Toronto to address unequal treatment in the school system. Ziphion appears in his soccer uniform on the right.

Charline Grant was used to the disrespect. 

At first it was subtle. Her oldest son, Ziphion, a second grader, was coming home with notes about his disruptive behavior, about too much fidgeting or showing off. Initially, she didn’t suspect racism. She sat him down and says she came down hard.

But the microaggressions mounted. She now knows to call them “macroaggressions,” she says, because they might be imperceivable to some, yet punch the target hard. They followed him through elementary and middle school. There was the time he spilled his grapes and a teacher lashed out so strongly that spit flew into his face. There were complaints he didn’t put away the basketball, or spent too long in the bathroom – the same things other kids did but didn’t get in trouble for. During his first year in high school, Ziphion, at that point a lanky teenager, called his mother from a bathroom stall, sobbing. “He said he was overwhelmed. It was just constant. Everything was just him, him, him,” she says.

That year was a turning point – when she realized her battle was bigger than “him,” bigger than a single boy not fitting in or falling into line. In 2016, she filed a formal complaint of discrimination against three of his high school teachers, starting what became a long and difficult fight against anti-Black racism in her school board, or district, north of Toronto, where Black students are a minority of the student body. 

Dismissiveness – and change

Ms. Grant remembers the dismissive comments and the demands to “prove” her claims of racism. She was once called the worst racial slur possible by a school board trustee. But she also takes pride in what has emerged from the battle: a new nonprofit called Parents of Black Children (PoBC) that is mobilizing against anti-Black racism in schools across Ontario. 

The past year has seen significant change, which carries particular import at a time when the death of George Floyd has sparked a larger global reckoning over racial inequality. But the group’s persistent efforts have shined a harsh spotlight on how difficult such change can be. As they rock the status quo, members of the PoBC have come up against those who don’t believe them or don’t want to, those who demand evidence because they don’t see it, those who are well meaning and want to understand, but don’t. As they have sought respect for their perspectives, they have sometimes found their fight being called disrespectful – uncivil and unnecessarily divisive. 

“Ideals and values like respect are not neutral,” says Vidya Shah, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at York University in Toronto. “For families whose children are experiencing harm and violence in schools, the most respectful thing to do is to stand up,” she says. “To somebody else who doesn’t want to admit that families are experiencing racism, respect might be to stay quiet. Respect might be, ‘Don’t hurt my feelings … by saying this is racist.’”

“But that doesn’t hold the same weight as a family saying, ‘My child doesn’t want to come to school because they know that the teacher treats them differently,’” she continues. “Those are two radically different ways of experiencing ‘disrespect.’”

A societal shift

In many ways, Ms. Grant’s fight is a microcosm of the larger societal shift on race playing out well beyond a single school yard.

Global protests in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s murder under the knee of a white police officer in the United States have focused attention on institutional racism more than at any other time since the civil rights movement. That’s led to top-down direction from corporations to schools on new anti-racism policies, training, and strategies across North America.

Last summer, the Ontario government ended practices that have disproportionately affected Black students, including suspensions in early elementary school and academic tracking, even if optional, in high school. The Toronto District School Board followed up with a first-of-its-kind human rights report that sought to quantify discrimination, and found incidents citing anti-Black racism exceeded all others by a wide margin. They accounted for 39% of all hate activity reported in the 2018 school year, and 41% in the 2019 school year. Black children make up about 10% of the student body in that district.

But advocates say change from the top must be twinned with a bottom-up approach to make sure whatever is done becomes more than just image protection. 

Getting out of silos

PoBC was founded in 2019 – the result of parents, mostly mothers from the York region north of Toronto, coming together to talk after having spent years in silos fighting their own battles on behalf of their children.  

Kearie Daniel, a PoBC co-founder and mother of two, says it started as a casual gathering. “It was just a group of us,” she says. But their experiences were so similar, both as parents and as Black children once in the school system, that they quickly realized they needed to pivot and fight for change across Ontario.

“In that room, we were all professionals with jobs, multiple degrees. And so many of us have had that experience of saying, ‘Oh, yeah, the school thought I should be in a special class or they thought there was something wrong with me,’” she says. “There’s no Black person that you can speak to that doesn’t have a story about either [tracking] or something. … Some of this stuff is so traumatizing for my mom that she doesn’t even like to talk about it.”

In the past year, the nonprofit advocacy group has marked some significant wins. One of their top demands was accountability for teachers who discriminate. In November, the Ontario College of Teachers announced an amended regulation that explicitly states that discrimination will be disciplined as professional misconduct, although Ms. Daniel says there is still “gray” around consequences. They created a “system navigator” project, which Ms. Grant is currently leading, to support other parents with their concerns and complaints. The Ontario provincial government recently announced a similar advocacy program for minority families. PoBC also launched an anonymous reporting tool this year that allows teachers and school staff to bring to light incidents they felt were racist and discriminatory.

Ms. Grant calls these initiatives game changers, setting clear guidelines and closing opportunities for the kinds of “misunderstanding” that she so often experienced with Ziphion and his teachers or principals.

In her case, sharing her experience with school personnel got her nowhere, and she and her husband eventually decided they had to file a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Their decision came right after a gym teacher in Grade 9 told his class that Ziphion might be in the locker room stealing their belongings.

The teacher admitted saying it, she says, but said he was within his rights because he believed he was protecting the other children.

“But I asked: Who was protecting my Black son? Because if one of those kids said they lost money or a phone or whatever, they would have called the police and had him arrested. I realized in that moment they could do anything,” she says. 

Too often, she says, Black families face a double standard.

“One of the things we go through as Black folks is that every time a situation happens, we are put in the position to prove it, prove it, prove it, which is another way of saying you’re just playing the ‘race card,’” she says. “Whenever we raise concerns, we get excuses. But when we are the perpetrator, the punishment is swift.”

The importance of data

Dr. Shah, at York University, points to data as crucial in this fight – if it’s viewed with a critical eye. For example, if there’s no immediate improvement in well-being or academic achievement after an initiative launches, that could give people an excuse to blame the individual or family, and not the system. Yet when the data becomes indisputable – much like the video of Mr. Floyd’s death – the conversation starts at a different point. 

“Parents seeing Charline’s story publicly, what it did is made so many other parents look to this and say, ‘Wait a minute, that’s me, too.’ It moved it out of a place of an isolated story or one singular incident, which often generates a lot of shame for people because they think they’re the only one,” says Dr. Shah. “Now they can see, maybe there is something systematically that’s happening here that’s harming my children.” 

Challenging the status quo

The fight against systemic racism, and its challenging of the status quo, has been fraught, whether over such things as the removal of statues of controversial figures or the adoption of new policies and standards around bias. Schools have taken center stage in the evolving ethos on racial injustice.

For Robert Danisch, co-author of the book “Beyond Civility” and a communication arts associate professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, systemic racism should be fought with what he calls “radical civility.” 

The idea is to avoid demonizing or belittling the other side, he says. “Persuasion and change don’t work by people just pushing their ideas and their reasons on someone else,” he says. Instead, “You have to form a connection with someone else based on both honesty and respect so that you can hold the relationship in place even if you might have a different opinion or a different belief system or a different set of values.”

But that is difficult, grounded as it is in learning to have a civil – but very honest and forthright – exchange of views. “It’s really hard to practice radical civility, and really easy to fall into the kinds of practices of defensiveness,” he says. “It’s so common for people to just attack and defend instead of practicing radical civility. And it gets harder the more charged the environment is.”

He notes, too, that the very notion of “civility” in fighting racial injustice is controversial, as it has been used as a tool to suppress minority voices.

Within school systems, Ms. Daniel says PoBC finds many parents who are not Black who want to be supportive. She says that support is key – taking pressure, both emotional and economic, off Black parents. But PoBC advocacy has also faced backlash. The group issued a press release on May 12 calling on the provincial government to investigate a series of threats made against Black educators and advocates, including one of their founders, in Ontario. They say threats made against those attempting to dismantle anti-Black racism are not treated with the urgency they deserve.

Ms. Grant says that, given the polarized situation, she is careful with her own language in this fight, despite what language has been used against her. “People’s backs go up when you say white supremacist,” she says. Instead, she uses “white supremacy,” trying to depersonalize it and talk in terms of systems, not individuals. 

She calls the moment “the awakening,” part of a long fight that continues. Her eldest is now in university, and she has two children still in the public system in York. She says she is proud of all of them for being able to identify any racism they experience and to call it out calmly.
 
“I get to see the change. I’m pushing the change so I get to be in it,” she says. “So I know when I’m talking to educators they might necessarily not like me, but they do respect me.”

An oysterman’s new worry: Will state’s coastal plan wash out his business?

Coastal wetlands are a vital buffer in Louisiana against storms and rising sea levels. But a state plan to restore them is provoking responses as complex as the marshy ecosystems themselves.

Yvonne

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Terry Shelley has dealt with plenty of adversity in his long career in commercial fishing and oyster farming. But now, after devastating storms last year and the pandemic’s toll on restaurant demand, he sees another big problem ahead. 

A state proposal would divert silt-laden Mississippi River water into the marshlands where he works, aiming to restore fast-eroding coastal wetlands. But it also would change the blend of salt and fresh water on which his oysters depend. 

“They know the oyster business is going to be the worst hit,” he says of state project managers. 

Local governments in this fishing-oriented area are opposing the project, which is now in a public comment phase. The mayor of New Orleans is among the vocal supporters.

“If you don’t do the project, my guess is you won’t have any recognizable fisheries within 25 years,” says Mark Davis, founding director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy. He acknowledges the near-term challenges for people like Mr. Shelley, but he adds, “If you’re not reintroducing river water, you’re continuing to introduce Gulf water. Productively grown oysters, they exist in a band of brackish water – and we’re losing it.”

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An oysterman’s new worry: Will state’s coastal plan wash out his business?

Xander Peters
Shelley Farms employee Steven Acy checks potential damage to the company's oyster cages near Port Sulphur after Hurricane Laura made landfall on the Louisiana coast at the end of August 2020.

Sun-kissed lines frame Terry Shelley’s face like high tide stains a fishing dock. Today, those creases seem deepened by anger, but it’s the tone of his voice that gives it away. 

Mr. Shelley has spent his entire working life as a commercial fisherman. Before he was a full-time oyster farmer and harvester, he spent the first part of his career harvesting shrimp and reef fish. He’s seen a lot, but not a pileup of challenges like now. 

Back in September, Hurricane Zeta rumbled over small-town Port Sulphur, Louisiana, where the family’s oyster farm and processing center are based. The Shelleys lost half their cages, and they only managed to retrieve about half of that. Already by then, the COVID-19 pandemic had temporarily halted the supply lines Shelley Farms uses to sell its oysters. 

Now, after losing most of his oyster crop last year, Mr. Shelley has another worry on his mind. 

Louisiana coastal planners are pushing a $2 billion project proposal designed to fight back against the trend of persistent coastal erosion. 

Few argue with the motive behind the plan, at a time of rising waters, increasingly intense storms, and projections that annual losses of coastal land will quicken. But Mr. Shelley sees the proposed answer – letting silt-laden river water flow again into the backwaters of Port Sulphur and other coastal communities – as a looming catastrophe for his oyster beds that depend on the current brackish blend in these waters. 

“They know the oyster business is going to be the worst hit,” he says of state project managers. 

His concerns, shared by many here, signal the complexities ahead as humans prepare to calibrate anew their own engineering of America’s mightiest river. The question is not just whether plans to divert water from the Mississippi into coastal wetlands will work. It’s also whether it can be done with adequate steps to address the distrust and economic hardship felt by many local residents.  

“If you don’t do the project, my guess is you won’t have any recognizable fisheries within 25 years,” says Mark Davis, founding director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy. He acknowledges the near-term challenges for people like Mr. Shelley, but he adds, “If you’re not reintroducing river water, you’re continuing to introduce Gulf water. Productively grown oysters, they exist in a band of brackish water – and we’re losing it.” 

Coastal lands disappearing 

The general idea behind the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project is simple: By carving out a hole in a nearby levee, it will allow sediment-laden Mississippi River water to reach and rebuild wetlands. This mimicking of age-old natural processes could restore some of the more than 2,000 square miles of coast the state has lost – roughly the size of Delaware – since the 1930s.

The resulting wetlands would act as a barrier to protect both the coast and cities like New Orleans from future storm surges, a safeguard against another catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The project, which would be paid for with remaining fines and settlements from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, is a key part of the state’s Coastal Master Plan, a 50-year, $50 billion crusade that the Louisiana Legislature revisits every five years. 

By 2050, officials say the project would build up to 28 square miles of marsh in Barataria Bay. 

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

The problem with the Mid-Barataria project, however, is that commercial fisherfolk and recreational charter guides alike fear that an increase in fresh water to their local ecosystems would devastate their important piece of the state’s $4 billion fishing industry. 

Mr. Shelley laces his fingers across the chest, leans back, and mumbles under his breath. His deep Cajun accent has a way of lingering in your ear like a growl. “They know they’re going to destroy the business,” he says. “Literally destroy it. It’s going to turn this area into [another] Lake Pontchartrain,” whose nearby waters are too fresh for oystering.  

Seagrass-roots opposition 

The debate reflects America’s urban-rural divide.  

Among environmentalists and state officials, the sediment diversion project is popular. So popular, in fact, that New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell took to the pages of the state’s highest circulating newspaper last month voicing her support for the project and master plan. 

“This is the time to support innovation, ingenuity and climate adaptation. This is the time to embrace living with water and to make it our great asset. It’s time to get involved and protect our coast and the future of our delta city,” Ms. Cantrell wrote in The Advocate, referring to how the Mid-Barataria project’s public comment period is currently underway. 

Even so, opinions in fishing communities associated most closely with the project differ. 

In Plaquemines Parish, home to Shelley Farms, the council voted unanimously (8-0) against the project in April. Later that month, neighboring St. Bernard Parish’s council also voted unanimously against the project. 

Plaquemines Parish Council member Mark Cognevich says his concerns center around the fishing industry, increasingly the community’s economic backbone as the local oil and petroleum industry is in a lull.  

“Each fisherman is a small business of himself,” Mr. Cognevich says. “It’s the trickle-down effect. He’s doing good. He’s going to the store. He buys stuff and keeps the stores open, and they hire people. It just keeps trickling down in the community.” 

The local-rule opposition was a resounding message to the state. But it’s unclear if the opposition will matter. When it comes to coastal restoration efforts, fishermen say, the state has the last say. 

In 2013, recreational fishing charter guide Capt. George Ricks helped form the Save Louisiana Coalition in response to the state’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, which included several larger diversion projects. 

“The state ... can override parish governments,” Mr. Ricks says. “That’s the sad thing. These projects are going to devastate the economies of these coastal communities, and they have nothing to say about it.” 

The countering view from state officials: Doing nothing about coastal erosion won’t help those flood-prone communities. And action needs to involve the natural sedimentation process as well as steps like depositing dredged sand in strategic locations. 

Brad Barth, operations assistant administrator for Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), says the agency’s concern is for the overall health of the Barataria Basin as an ecosystem and a place that communities will be able to call home. 

“For all the creatures and critters and so forth,” he says. “We continue to lose that land, and you won’t have that resource.” 

The state, coastal managers stress, does not make these decisions lightly. 

“Unfortunately, the state has the burden to take the longer look at this to keep the place on the map, so to speak,” says Brian Lezina, chief of planning for the CPRA. “I absolutely understand their viewpoints. It’s the same viewpoint I would have if I was in their position. But if you don’t make these hard choices, then we know with certainty the outcome in the future if we don’t put these projects on the landscape.” 

In coordination with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the CPRA is looking at various means of providing aid to the industry. Mr. Lezina says it would come in the form of either helping oyster farmers move their operation or providing farmers with an oyster seed source.  

Louisiana coastal managers are also strongly encouraging community members, fisherfolk included, to participate in the project’s public comment period, which is open until June 3. 

Comments will be reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which will then decide whether the CPRA will be issued a permit to begin construction on the project. Under the Corps’ guidance, the CPRA would then be forced to “avoid, minimize, or mitigate” negative impacts noted in the environmental impact statement or noted during the public comment process. 

Time is of the essence – for everyone 

Mr. Davis at the Tulane Institute doubts the various parties will find harmony on the issue. But he likens Louisiana’s coastal erosion crisis to a person deciding whether to use water or chemical foam to keep his or her house from burning down. Debate too long, and the house is gone. 

“You have to make a decision, and then you have to live with the decision,” says Mr. Davis, a former executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. “That’s where we are. For some places in Louisiana, we’ve already run out of time.” 

Mr. Shelley has fought the sea for most of his life – fought the harsh weather and the unpredictability of the oyster business. Now, the threat, it seems, is coming from people on the shore. 

A large portion of Louisiana’s farmed oysters come from reefs the state owns and leases to farmers. But the Shelley family’s operation is different. It’s among the few privately operated oyster farms in Louisiana, and likely the largest. In all, the Shelley family leases 800 acres of water space from the petroleum industry.

Brandi Shelley, who manages the farm and processing plant for her father, says they’d be forced to move their entire operation to the west if the sediment diversion project is approved. Or to watch their crop of oysters increasingly dwindle.  

“Nine out of 10 fishermen are uneducated. They can’t just pick up and find a new business to go into,” she says. “This is all they know. This is their livelihood. They’ve been doing it since the beginning of time, generation after generation after generation. Even my son.” 

Mr. Shelley doesn’t see any signs yet of the state looking out for the oyster industry’s future, such as by reserving off-bottom acreage for operations of his company’s scale, or by offering to buy their operation out. 

The project expects to break ground in 2023, though that’ll largely depend on the CPRA’s follow-up environmental impact statement. By the time the project is complete, Mr. Shelley will be further along in the twilight of his career. But it’s the people he brought into the industry – his children, including Brandi, and a grandson – whom he worries about for the future. 

“I’m lucky I’m at the end of my career,” Mr. Shelley says. “What,” he wonders, “are they going to do when they get older? Start over? That’s scary.” 

For the state, the goal of saving coastal Louisiana is clear, even if the outcome for the state’s fisherfolk is murky. 

“I think the real issue here is: Can we decide to do something bold but uncertain? Can we find a way to treat those people who are going to bear a disproportionate burden in some fair way?” says Mr. Davis. “But bearing in mind that if you do nothing and they take a hit, there will be no compensation of any sort for sea level rise.” 

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

As COVID-19 wanes, Americans are ready for fun. Booking it is the problem.

As capacity restrictions are lifted, the pandemic’s end stage is resetting supply and demand. Americans looking to go on vacation are finding hotels are booked solid and rental cars can’t be found.

Yvonne
Rick Bowmer/AP
Travelers walk through the Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah. The Transportation Security Administration said its agents screened more than 1.7 million people on May 9 – the highest number since March 2020, when travel was collapsing because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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After spending the past year essentially housebound, many Americans are eager to travel. But that newfound yearning is presenting its own challenges: Tourist destinations that not long ago were ghost towns are suddenly facing an onslaught of visitors. Indeed, now that it seems safe to go on vacation, many Americans are wondering if they’ll actually be able to – given that everyone else is trying to, as well.

AirDNA, a site that analyzes data from home rental sites such as Airbnb and Vrbo, says reservations made during March 2021 reached an all-time high. Rental car prices are up 30%, with some destinations seeing a 50% increase. The shortage of rental cars in Hawaii has been so acute that vacationers have resorted to renting U-Hauls

Julia Righetti booked a house for a week in Cape Charles, Virginia, for her family. But then the homeowners sold the house, taking advantage of a booming housing market. 

“We started looking for a place again – and there was nothing anywhere,” says Ms. Righetti, a school photographer. “We just wanted a house with a pool, and we couldn’t find anything.” 

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As COVID-19 wanes, Americans are ready for fun. Booking it is the problem.

Julia Righetti needs a vacation from planning her vacation.

Last summer, she had planned to visit Brazil, where she was born, with her husband and two young sons. But as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, upending all aspects of American life, their trip – along with the vacation plans of millions of Americans – was canceled. Their flights were rebooked for this summer, but as the date got nearer, Brazil’s ongoing challenges with the pandemic led them to postpone once more. 

Instead, they booked a house for a week in Cape Charles, Virginia, a two-hour drive from where they live in Richmond. But then the homeowners canceled the reservation because they had sold the house, taking advantage of a booming housing market. 

“We started looking for a place again – and there was nothing anywhere,” says Ms. Righetti, a school photographer. “We just wanted a house with a pool, and we couldn’t find anything.” 

As COVID-19 case counts recede dramatically in the United States, Americans’ fear of the disease has dropped to an all-time low. And after spending the past year essentially housebound, many are eager for a break. But the newfound yearning to travel is presenting its own challenges: Hotels and home rentals are booked solid, the cost of flights has skyrocketed, and rental cars can’t be found.

With states and localities ending mask mandates and capacity restrictions, the pandemic’s end stage is reordering supply and demand once again, with tourist destinations that not long ago were ghost towns suddenly facing an onslaught of visitors. Indeed, now that it finally seems safe to go on vacation, many Americans are wondering if they’ll actually be able to – given that everyone else is trying to, as well.

AirDNA, a site that analyzes data from home rental sites such as Airbnb and Vrbo, says reservations made during March 2021 reached an all-time high. Bookings on Vrbo have exceeded pre-pandemic levels, with the site seeing the best-ever start to a year in the U.S. Travelers are 75% more likely to book at least a seven-night stay, says Vrbo, as opposed to the typical three-night getaway. 

Rental car prices are up 30%, with some beach destinations like Hawaii and Florida seeing a 50% increase. The shortage of rental cars in Hawaii has been so acute that some vacationers have resorted to renting U-Hauls

Some of the high flight and car prices are due to pandemic-induced contractions: Airlines decreased the number of routes and car rental companies sold fleets to compensate for the dramatic dip in travelers. 

“And now, demand went from 0 to 60,” says Mike Dominguez, president of Associated Luxury Hotels International and a member of the U.S. Travel Association’s board of directors.

Another factor, Mr. Dominguez says, is that Americans are mostly not traveling abroad – with the pandemic still raging in many other countries that would otherwise be luring vacationers. “One of the reasons that everything is so compressed right now is that international destinations that would relieve some of this pressure are closed off to us.” 

Mary Altaffer/AP
Visitors take photos after boarding the Statue of Liberty ferry, April 27, 2021, in New York. In recent weeks, tourism indicators for New York City like hotel occupancy and museum attendance that had fallen off a pandemic cliff have ticked up.

Vaccinated Americans may be permitted in several European countries by midsummer. But many are still hesitant to travel far from home, choosing to drive instead of fly and prioritizing outdoor adventures where it is easier to practice social distancing. With national parks expecting to top last summer’s record-setting visitation numbers, some – such as Yosemite – are requiring reservations

Prior to 2020, luxury travel adviser Hutton Beckcom was used to booking high-end summer vacations for her clients on the Mediterranean Sea. This year, her clients have been mostly opting for simple beach getaways.

“We’ve all had to become Florida Keys experts,” she says of herself and other luxury travel advisers. “It’s not a destination that I was ever booking prior to the pandemic.”

Luray Caverns, a popular destination that’s a short drive from Washington, D.C., closed for three months in 2020 – the first time the cave had shut its doors since it was discovered in 1878. But now, visitors are up 9% from this point in 2019.

“There is difficulty booking flights and accommodations, and from the research we’ve seen people would rather travel by car and stay close to home,” says John Shaffer, the caverns’ director of public relations. “We are checking a lot of boxes of what people are looking for.”

After Ms. Righetti’s rental in Cape Charles was canceled, she eventually booked a trip for her family in Costa Rica. But she held off on securing flights, hoping that prices might come down. So far, unfortunately not. 

“We thought they were going to get better – but they just keep getting worse,” she says. 

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What matters in writing a new constitution

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Since the late 1980s nearly every Latin American country has sought in some measure to become more democratic. Several have adopted entirely new constitutions. Now Chile is poised to bend the arc of democracy in Latin America further.

Over the last two days, it held elections for a new assembly tasked with replacing a constitution drafted under former military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. That 1980 constitution provided a foundation for Chile’s return to democracy in 1990. In the three decades since, Chile has become one of the wealthiest, stablest, and least corrupt countries in the region.

That growth, however, also resulted in accelerating economic inequality. Yielding to mass demonstrations nationwide, the government called for a referendum last October on whether to draft a new constitution. It garnered the support of 78% of Chileans.

As a region watches, the people of Chile have set a new course toward an ageless idea: government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is a project compelled neither by the result of war nor by an attempt to perpetuate political advantage, but by an insistence that power derives legitimacy through each individual’s expectation of the common good.

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What matters in writing a new constitution

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Poll workers in Valparaiso, Chile, sort votes for candidates to draft a new constitution, May 16.

Since the late 1980s nearly every Latin American country has sought in some measure to become more democratic. Several have adopted entirely new constitutions. Others have introduced significant constitutional reforms. These changes reflect a deepening embrace of common principles: religious and cultural diversity, gender equality, respect for property rights, and recognition of civic rights for all. Progress has been halting and uneven, but as two former White House officials, Richard Feinberg and Benjamin Gedan, wrote last month in World Politics Review, “the region’s democracies have proved surprisingly robust time and time again.”

Now Chile is poised to bend the arc of democracy in Latin America further. Over the last two days, it held elections for a new assembly tasked with replacing a constitution drafted under former military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. That 1980 constitution provided a foundation for Chile’s return to democracy in 1990. In the three decades since, Chile has become one of the wealthiest, stablest, and least corrupt countries in the region.

That growth, however, also resulted in accelerating economic inequality. According to the latest survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 53% of Chilean households are financially vulnerable: The poorest 20% earn just 5% of total national income. Popular discontent has erupted repeatedly during the past decade, first in student protests over university tuition and then, in 2019, a modest hike in public transportation fares in Santiago, the capital. The latter sparked what came to be called “the awakening.” Yielding to mass demonstrations nationwide, the government called for a referendum last October on whether to draft a new constitution. It garnered the support of 78% of Chileans.

The plebiscite’s second question was even more significant. Voters were asked to decide who would draft a new constitution – elected officials or a new constitutional assembly chosen by the people. Seventy-nine percent opted for the latter. That set the stage for the ballot held over the weekend.

The design of the new constitutional assembly reflects shifts already taking place in Latin America toward greater recognition of the rights of women and minorities. Unlike other countries that have adopted quotas – it took 15 years, for instance, for Mexico to achieve its gender parity goals in the national parliament – Chile built in guarantees. Of the 155 seats in the constitutional assembly, half must be filled by women, 17 for Indigenous candidates, and seven for people with disabilities.

That distribution reflects a key lesson taken from constitutional reforms worldwide: A 2019 study by scholars at American University in Washington and Loyola University in Chicago of 195 new constitutions over the past 40 years found that “inclusion is what matters.”

The assembly has until August 2022 to draft a constitution that strikes a new balance of power between the executive and legislative branches, and between individual empowerment and the common good. Expectations are high. As Maribel Mora Curriao, a Mapuche poet, told Al Jazeera outside a polling station in Santiago, “We are voting with pride and identity for the first time. We take this process very seriously and we are very much aware that this is a unique opportunity not only for us but for the Chilean people as a whole.”

A campaign slogan from the community of disabled Chileans put it more succinctly: “Nothing about us without us.” As a region watches, the people of Chile have set a new course toward an ageless idea: government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is a project compelled neither by the result of war nor an attempt to perpetuate political advantage, but by an insistence that power derives legitimacy through each individual’s expectation of the common good. 

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Helping to stop tyranny, intolerance, and bloodshed

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The ongoing situation between Israelis and Palestinians may make us wonder, Can peace truly be achieved? This article from the column’s archives, written in 2014, highlights a spiritual basis for lasting peace that remains very relevant today.

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Helping to stop tyranny, intolerance, and bloodshed

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

When tensions between political and/or religious groups flare up in hot spots around the globe, as in the current escalating crisis between Israelis and Palestinians, it’s tempting to think that what’s needed is to change people’s thinking about each other. We may think that one side needs to stop seeing the other as an enemy, or as unworthy, untrustworthy, unjust, aggressive, oppressive, unforgiving, or hateful, in order for a crisis to be resolved and a peace process to gain traction.

And perhaps that’s true. But the root of the problem may go much deeper. It may be that what’s primarily needed is a change in people’s thinking about God – about the nature of the divine power or intelligence that governs the universe.

In her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy writes: “Tyranny, intolerance, and bloodshed, wherever found, arise from the belief that the infinite is formed after the pattern of mortal personality, passion, and impulse” (p. 94). An anthropomorphic concept of God, portraying the Supreme Ruler as sometimes unjust or arbitrary in His power-wielding, would logically imply that man, made in God’s image, tends to act tyrannically, too. Believing that God favors one people over another would make intolerance and bloodshed logical and legitimate. And holding an image of God as emotional and impulsive would sanction human actions devoid of reasoned consequence.

Inspired Scriptures show us a very different concept of the Divine, however. The prophet Balaam declared, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19, English Standard Version). Balaam also stated that God had given him a commandment to bless, not curse, His children. And while some Old Testament writers did suggest that God plays favorites, others glimpsed His all-inclusiveness and impartiality. “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?” asked the prophet Malachi (2:10).

Christ Jesus set the standard of prayer with the words “Our Father,” and noted that our divine Parent “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45, ESV). Isaiah prophesied, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it” (Isaiah 2:2). And he added that the recognition of this all-embracing power would bring peace: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (2:4).

The New Testament defines God as Love, and Christian Science teaches that this divine Love is Principle – infinite, universal, impartial, and all-inclusive. This concept of God deprives tyranny, intolerance, and bloodshed of all sanction, for divine Love could never cause or justify or permit such evil or harm for its own creation. Knowing the supremacy of Love as the Principle or intelligence that causes, upholds, and governs all life in the universe, one could never permit oneself – or even have any desire – to indulge in impulsive, passionate sectarian violence or revenge.

But how can we bring this concept of God to light in a world that seems rife with violence? We can pray to know that underneath the surface appearance of things, God is revealing Himself to His whole family through the unstoppable, irreversible activity of the Christ, the divine influence in human consciousness. No individual, nation, or group of people can be left out of that divine embrace and truth-knowing. As we become convinced of this in prayer motivated by love, we can expect to see evidence of it in our global community, including an abatement of tyranny, intolerance, and bloodshed.

Originally published on July 14, 2014.

Viewfinder

Rescued corals replanted

Peter Nicholls/Reuters
Marcelo Noone-Taylor watches aquarist Jeremy Simmons plant corals, rescued from illegal trading, in a 7-meter-long reef tank ahead of ZSL London Zoo's reopening of indoor exhibits, May 16, 2021.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Yvonne Zipp
Daily Editor

Thank you for starting your week with us. If you haven’t signed up yet, please join us for an online event tomorrow, Tuesday, May 18: a master class in building respect across deep divides.

This Respect Project event features two Monitor writers and is hosted by Amelia Newcomb, our managing editor.

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