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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2018
December
13
Thursday
Kim Campbell
Education Editor

For almost seven weeks, a church service has been going on in the Netherlands.

Hundreds of clergy from across denominations have come together to help fill the hours, day and night, with music and sermons. Their goal: to shield an Armenian family of five from being deported.

The family is one of some 400 hoping for a difficult-to-get pardon for children who have lived in the country for more than five years. When the family’s appeals ran out, those helping them turned to a law that prohibits authorities from disrupting a church service.

That choice has brought together clergy who don't usually collaborate, but has also caused tension among some of the country’s declining number of Christians. While most support amnesty for the children (ages 15, 19, and 21), some wonder if the service “taints worship with political activism,” according to Christianity Today. Some critics have been won over after visiting Bethel Church in The Hague and witnessing the service firsthand.

Threats stemming from the father’s political activity caused the family to flee Armenia, a country that is making democratic progress, as our story today highlights. Even as the Dutch government remains unmoved, participants and onlookers comment on the compassion and kindness being shown – and on how, for some, it has brought relevancy to religion again.

“As long as it’s useful to contribute to the dialogue,” Theo Hettema, a Protestant leader, told The Associated Press, “we will continue with the church service.”

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Here are our five stories for your Thursday. 

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1. Moral authority or national interest? Senate weighs both in Saudi relations.

Both Republican and Democratic senators say at least some balance between values on one side, and security and economic interests on the other, must be restored in relations with a key Mideast ally.

Kim

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To a degree not seen in decades, senators of both parties have asserted the importance of factoring in America’s long-held values and global role as moral guide as they wrestle with two key questions: How to address the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and how involved the US should be in the Saudi intervention in the Yemen conflict. The Senate on Thursday adopted a war powers resolution that would require the Trump administration to end US support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen. The resolution is a largely symbolic rebuke of both the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia. But it likely signals just the beginning of pressure for change in US-Saudi relations. At the core is a sense that America’s moral compass has gone missing in guiding relations with Saudi Arabia. Sen. Todd Young (R) of Indiana has argued that the US reluctance to address the conflict in Yemen “has left the crown prince with the mistaken impression that the United States will turn a blind eye to his increasingly brazen atrocities.” Apparently speaking to the administration, he added that “those who suggest we must sacrifice our principles for security will have neither.”

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Moral authority or national interest? Senate weighs both in Saudi relations.

Can the United States exercise its moral authority in foreign policy without giving its vital national interests short shrift?

That question has permeated much of the debate in Congress in recent days over US relations with longtime ally Saudi Arabia.

To a degree not seen in decades, senators of both parties have asserted the importance of factoring in America’s long-held values and global role as moral guide as they wrestle with two key questions: How to address the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and how involved the US should be in the Saudi intervention in the Yemen conflict.

The United Nations has deemed war-torn Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, and indignation in the US has mounted with evidence of US-supplied munitions hitting civilian targets in Saudi Arabia’s air offensive.

The Senate on Thursday adopted a war powers resolution that would require the Trump administration to end US support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen. The resolution draws on congressional authority defined in the 1973 War Powers Act, legislation that reflected the heightened congressional activity in foreign policy matters during the Vietnam War era.

Congress had never actually used the authority granted in the act until this week.

The Senate war powers resolution is a largely symbolic rebuke of both the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia, since the House is unlikely to follow the Senate’s lead and adopt its own resolution this year.

But it likely signals just the beginning of pressure for change in US-Saudi relations. Shortly after passage of the war powers resolution, the Senate passed on a voice vote a separate resolution sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee specifically condemning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the alleged state-sponsored killing of Mr. Khashoggi. The resolution also calls on Saudi Arabia to “moderate its increasingly erratic foreign policy.”

Moreover, a bipartisan group of senators is promising a broad Saudi sanctions bill early next year.

At the core of much of this action is a sense that America’s moral compass has gone missing in guiding relations with Saudi Arabia – and that at least some balance between values on one side, and security and economic interests on the other, must be restored to those relations.

All week, both Republican and Democratic senators have referred to this need for balance and a new footing for US-Saudi relations.

“We’re not just dealing with moral imperatives here. We need to rethink our relationship with a despotic regime which murders dissidents in cold blood, which treats women as fourth-class citizens, which does not allow dissent or democracy in their country,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.) of Vermont, a sponsor of the war powers resolution, told the Monitor Tuesday. “I think the American people have serious doubts about maintaining the kind of relationship we now have with a despotic regime that has got us into a war [that] has led to the deaths of already 85,000 children from starvation.”

Touting a separate resolution he is co-sponsoring that would declare the crown prince “complicit” in Khashoggi’s murder and demand serious negotiations to end the Yemen war, Sen. Todd Young (R) of Indiana faulted US policy for giving Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler carte blanche to carry out increasingly reckless actions that have undermined US interests. The resolution was adopted as an amendment to the war powers resolution Thursday.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Jeff Flake, (R) of Arizona, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaks with reporters as senators are considering multiple pieces of legislation in an effort to formally rebuke Saudi Arabia for the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 6, 2018.

“The failure over the last year and a half to utilize all available US leverage with respect to Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen has left the crown prince with the mistaken impression that the United States will turn a blind eye to his increasingly brazen atrocities,” Senator Young said. Apparently speaking to the administration, he added that “those who suggest we must sacrifice our principles for security will have neither.”

One congressional objective is to throw US weight behind sputtering peace talks in Sweden between the embattled Yemeni government and Houthi rebels. The UN-brokered talks registered a breakthrough Thursday when the two sides agreed to a cease-fire in the key port city of Hodeidah, a move that could open the port to receiving more food and other supplies and relieve the country’s humanitarian crisis.

The Trump administration continues to reject any action that it believes could damage relations with Saudi Arabia. The US considers the kingdom a vital partner in its confrontation with Iran over what it considers Tehran’s “malign activities” across the Middle East. President Trump this week reaffirmed his faith in “the leader of Saudi Arabia” and the Saudi kingdom as “a really good ally,” while senior administration officials have cautioned members of Congress about singling out Saudi Arabia for its actions in a very difficult neighborhood.

The Khashoggi killing “is a heinous crime – the president has said that,” national security adviser John Bolton said Tuesday. “But it’s a region where a lot of heinous crimes are committed by Iran, by the Assad regime, by terrorists all around,” he said, adding that in the midst of all of it the US-Saudi relationship “is real and vital to American strategic interest, and there’s no point in blinking at that.”

Would congressional pressure work?

As the negotiations over some response to the Yemen war and the Khashoggi killing have built to a crescendo, regional analysts have carried out something of a side debate on the wisdom and effectiveness of congressional pressure on Saudi Arabia and in particular on the crown prince, known in Middle East circles as MbS.

Some say it’s high time Congress got involved and insist congressional action can influence Saudi behavior, while others caution against targeting a key ally in a way that could weaken vital US interests.

“We should not be projecting our anger about MbS onto the conflict in Yemen,” says Gerald Feierstein, former US ambassador to Yemen under President Barack Obama and former deputy assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs now at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

“If the Congress wants him to be sanctioned, I’ve no concern about that. If they want to say he’s not welcome in the United States ever again, fine,” Ambassador Feierstein adds. “But the reasons for the conflict in Yemen have nothing to do with Jamal Khashoggi.”

Not everyone agrees with that. For many analysts, the same adventurism and sense of untouchability that led the crown prince to launch the military intervention into Yemen in 2015 are what lie behind the brazen Khashoggi murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

The key for Feierstein is to find a way to message MbS without losing an indispensable ally.

“The issue is not Saudi Arabia, the issue is Mohammed bin Salman,” he says. “As long as we have an interest in a stable global economy, and as long as we have an interest in regional security, Saudi Arabia is going to be important – and we have to figure out how to preserve that.”

Yet others say Saudi Arabia’s importance to US interests should not be allowed to drag down US standing in the world. And they insist that by exercising its leverage the US can influence Saudi behavior.

“Congressional action can shape our relationship with Saudi Arabia in ways that I think are extremely valuable,” says Daniel Byman, an expert in counterterrorism and Middle East security at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“I certainly think we can change their behavior,” he adds, noting as one example the Saudi Air Force’s dependence on the US for training, spare parts, and munitions. “They’ll still have an adventurist foreign policy,” he says, “but on some of the worst of the worst we can have an influence.”

Friendly advice

Others see a difference between efforts to modify Saudi Arabia’s worst behavior and stark declarations of demands for a change in Saudi leadership.

Gregory Gause, a professor of international relations at Texas A&M University in College Station, says the US should go beyond pressing for behavioral change – while stopping short of demanding a change in leadership, which he says risks destabilizing the kingdom.

“It is not enough to push the Saudis to behave more responsibly,” Professor Gause writes in a piece for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “There needs to be a more general understanding with Riyadh about the bases for cooperation on a range of regional issues.... That understanding has to include a frank discussion of the limits on behavior that violates international norms, further destabilizes the region and makes the maintenance of the bilateral relationship more difficult than it already is.”

For starters, Gause says the US should insist privately with Riyadh that it needs “another interlocutor besides the crown prince” for the foreseeable future.

It would not be an angry ultimatum but rather “advice from one friend to another,” he says, “that new faces are needed to reassure Saudi Arabia’s international partners about Saudi reliability going forward.”

Staff writer Francine Kiefer contributed to this report.

Update: This story was updated after the vote to add Senator Young’s resolution as an amendment to the war powers resolution.

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

2. Old rivals in ascent: a new age in Europe, 30 years later

The fall of the Berlin Wall seemed to promise a more democratic and cooperative Europe. But a historical rivalry between Germany and Russia is reasserting itself – even as the US seems to retreat. 

Kim

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Nearly three decades ago, I watched the fall of the Berlin Wall and the start of a new era. Now, following the passing of one key figure in that process and the start of a political retreat by another, the post-wall era has passed. The geopolitical picture in Europe is shaping up like “Back to the Future,” dominated by two historic rivals: Germany and Russia. Without the late US President George H.W. Bush, it’s not clear German reunification would have followed the fall of the wall. Without German Chancellor Angela Merkel, tensions with Russia over Eastern Europe would have been harder to navigate. Today, the European Union is under strain. Britain is on the way out. French President Emmanuel Macron faces political upheaval. Former Soviet-bloc EU states are constraining democratic freedoms. Russia has viewed EU and NATO enlargement as a threat. Germany’s importance as a counterweight, meanwhile, is growing. With uncertainty over the US approach to Europe, it does suggest a view that Germany should prepare to assume a responsibility that once fell primarily to the Americans: to champion democracy in Europe and signal limits beyond which meddling will trigger a response.

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Old rivals in ascent: a new age in Europe, 30 years later

It was a damp, chilly November evening nearly three decades ago. Yet no other memory from my years in journalism has remained as vivid. First, because the event had seemed so toweringly unlikely just a few hours earlier, when I set out from my hotel for a government news conference a few blocks away. Then, because of the sheer outpouring of emotion that I witnessed and, inevitably, felt a part of. Finally, because the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 truly fit the definition of that most overused of reportorial clichés. It was, for the continent of Europe, the end of an era.

Now, following the state funeral of one key figure in that process and the start of a political retreat by another, it’s clear that the post-wall era, too, has passed. The geopolitical picture in Europe is shaping up a bit like “Back to the Future,” dominated by two historical rivals: Germany and Russia.

Without the steady hand of late US President George H.W. Bush, it’s not at all clear that the fall of the wall would have led to the reunification of Germany, only a few decades after a world war in which Nazi aggression had scarred the memory of Europe. And without the stewardship of German Chancellor Angela Merkel since 2005 – who last week passed on the leadership of her Christian Democratic Union party, and has confirmed this term will be her last – the tensions with Vladimir Putin’s Russia over the former Soviet-bloc countries of Eastern Europe would have been even harder to navigate.

Yet Europe’s political landscape has been undergoing dramatic changes. With Mr. Bush in office at the turn of the 1990s, it was hoped that, with the end of Communist rule, the continent might transition to a more democratic, politically cooperative, and economically integrated whole. 

For President Putin, in charge of Russia now for nearly 20 years, the subsequent enlargement of the European Union and NATO to include countries in Eastern Europe was viewed as a security threat and a political affront. He has been deploying political and economic pressure – and in Ukraine, as recently as last month, military force – in a bid to reassert Russia’s role as a major power.

Germany’s importance as a counterweight has meanwhile been growing. The Germans have long been Europe’s leading economy. And with the Trump administration showing ambivalence toward both NATO and the EU, many European leaders see the start of a US political retreat from transatlantic engagement.

The EU itself is under strain, also making Germany’s role more pivotal. Britain, barring a dramatic U-turn amid the enormous uncertainties surrounding Brexit, is on the way out. French President Emmanuel Macron, who had been pushing for a joint French-German initiative to renew and consolidate the EU, is facing political upheaval at home. The leaders of former Soviet-bloc EU states have been moving to constrain immigration, press freedom, and the rule of law.

At least for now, Germany seems to have put in place a path toward centrist continuity under Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new CDU leader and Ms. Merkel’s preferred successor. Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer has spoken of a need for Germany to take on a larger diplomatic role, and spend more money on its military. While she’s often called a “mini-Merkel” for her close relationship with the chancellor, she’s also been more forthright in urging a response to Russian assertiveness and aggression.

After the Russians’ seizure last month of Ukrainian naval vessels in the Sea of Azov, she suggested the possibility of barring Russian ships based there from European and American ports. She also raised concerns about a major new pipeline, Nord Stream 2, to carry Russian gas exports to Europe. Though no prominent German politician seems to feel it is practical to halt the project at this stage, she said that especially after the naval incident, it had to be assessed “not just as an economic project, but a political one.” She floated the possibility, for instance, of an EU limit on the amount of gas allowed through the line.

None of this means she, or Putin, would be likely to seek military confrontation if, as is widely expected, she becomes chancellor. But with uncertainty over how deep and lasting the shift in the US approach to Europe will prove, it does suggest a view that Germany should prepare to assume a responsibility that before 1989 fell primarily to the Americans: to champion stability and democracy in Europe, and signal limits beyond which meddling, aggression, or other potential threats will trigger a response.

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3. Where local residents help birth the businesses that serve them

Often new businesses rely on financing from a top-down system where bankers call the shots. For places that feel left behind, often communities of color, some new models are springing up.

Kim
Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Fresh Food Generation co-founders Jackson Renshaw and Cassandria Campbell run a food truck in Boston, providing fresh food to low-income communities. They have received financial support from the Ujima Project, which lets local residents decide how to allocate communal funding to local businesses.

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Investing in small businesses has typically been a project for banks and other financial institutions. But a grass-roots group in Boston called the Ujima Project is reshaping that model by letting residents – not wealthy financiers – decide for themselves how to invest communal resources in local companies. Their approach is named after the Kwanzaa principle of “community work and responsibility.” It’s a response to rising urban inequality and it’s reshaping how communities here think about neighborhood economics. “Small business owners are very aware that there's all this capital floating around and there is no way for them to connect to it,” says Ramón Borges-Méndez, associate professor of community development and planning at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “I think the reaction has been, ‘Let's see what we can do ourselves. Let's see what we can do in these communities in order to start mitigating that inequality.’ ” With interest in Ujima and other similar efforts growing, this equity-driven idea could take root in cities across the country.

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Where local residents help birth the businesses that serve them

The kale is from down the street. The honey came from 10 minutes away by bike. The hot sauce? It was made across the hall. For Fresh Foods Generation, local resources matter.

Founders Cassandria Campbell and Jackson Renshaw launched the company in 2015 with a mission to bring healthy food to city residents who usually couldn’t afford it. They’ve seen their business grow from a single food truck to a cafe and catering service, and their staff balloon from two to 14 during peak season.

The duo want to keep expanding their reach and to do so, they plan on seeking the help of a brand-new community initiative with some lofty goals. Named after the Kwanzaa principle of “community work and responsibility,” the Ujima Project is a group that yesterday launched what it calls the “nation’s first democratic investment fund.” The Ujima Fund will allow residents from low-income neighborhoods to decide for themselves how to allocate communal funding to local businesses.

The initiative here reflects a broader trend – growing interest nationwide in how to boost communities where residents face significant economic headwinds. Across America, a persistent challenge is not just widening rich-poor gaps but also opportunity disparities linked to geography, down to the ZIP Code level.

And although the idea of community-based investing is an old one, Ujima seeks to take it in a grass-roots direction that could serve as a model. For low-income and minority entrepreneurs, the project is building a bridge to investment funds that used to be out of reach.

“Small business owners are very aware that there's all this capital floating around and there is no way for them to connect to it,” says Ramón Borges-Méndez, associate professor of community development and planning at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “I think the reaction has been, ‘Let’s see what we can do ourselves. Let’s see what we can do in these communities in order to start mitigating that inequality.’ ”

Redlining’s legacy

In Boston, economic power has long been tied to race. A 2015 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that white households in the city have a median wealth of $247,500. That figure for black households was just $8. Racial disparities here also exist in home ownership, retirement funds, and debt.

To understand where this inequality comes from, it’s important to consider the history of banks in communities of color, Dr. Borges-Méndez says. Redlining in the 20th century placed lower value on real estate and businesses owned by people of color – especially if they were black. And with the Great Recession a decade ago, banks pulled back on loans to small businesses assuming, sometimes incorrectly, that those projects were riskier. The legacy of that disinvestment, says Borges-Méndez, is not only a lack of wealth – it’s a fundamental business disadvantage.

“If you don't fit what the bank considers as their standards for a good application, the cycle just keeps going on until you find someone who’s willing to quote unquote take a risk or make an investment,” says Ms. Campbell at the catering business. “Some of those things are like ‘Do you have collateral?’ So that’s often like ‘Do you own your own house?’ ‘What does your credit score look like?’ ”

She adds, “I think that Ujima recognizes that [with] businesses starting off particularly in the neighborhoods that are hardest hit with income disparities, those things might not be the strongest indicators of how successful a business will be.”

How democratic investing works

The Ujima Fund will pool investments from nonprofits, individuals, businesses, and civic organizations both locally and nationally. Neighborhood assemblies, composed of community members who pay a small yearly fee, vote on how to allocate those funds to local business owners.

As long as businesses meet a list of community standards (things like committing to a green energy plan and employing a minimum percentage of women and people of color) they can qualify for a loan. Some members also work with local finance experts to assess the business plans and make recommendations before the vote.

Ujima offers several levels of investment, each named after another Kwanzaa principle. The Kujchagulia Note for non-accredited investors starts with a minimum of just $50. The Nia Note for accredited investors asks for a $5,000 minimum. Depending on the contribution, investors can lend for three- or seven-year increments.

The people who distribute the fund’s resources to businesses are also potential customers – a different dynamic than the parallel trend of social-impact investing or the lending that traditional banks do under the Community Reinvestment Act. That relationship ensures that projects receiving funding have community interest. It also incentivizes members to patronize them.

“There is an increasingly growing number of people … that no longer want to plug their money into the Wall Street system,” says Kwaku Osei, chief executive of Cooperative Capital, a community investment firm with a similar mission, based in Detroit. For people investing in their neighborhoods, “there is a sense that because you’re close to it you could in some ways affect the outcome.”

Unlike the Ujima Fund, Mr. Osei’s organization is a for-profit, and once its fund opens, it expects to offer annual returns of at least 6 percent to investors. That’s about double the highest return rate the Ujima Fund expects for some investors. And at Ujima, interest rates paid by borrowers are expected to be 5 to 10 percent, slightly higher than what most banks offer. These facts cause at least some concern from participants here.

“It takes a lot of financial discipline and a lot of hard work to step outside of industry standards and create the world you want to live in. So I wouldn’t say that I'm not worried about it,” says Campbell.

But, she continues, “I think that they have definitely shown discipline and commitment and consistency, and they have definitely built a base of people who are committed to seeing that happen.”

For Borges-Méndez, the rise of impact investing from banks signals that the interest among financiers exists, and community initiatives like Ujima could find solid support.

The wisdom of crowds

So far, this new investment model has at least found solid interest, and Ujima aims to raise $5 million that can be put to use in loans. Director Nia Evans was recently in Chattanooga, Tenn., to meet with stakeholders about starting a similar fund there. And Osei, in Detroit, says he’s spoken with community leaders from Los Angeles to Baltimore about replicating his approach.

But scaling this up won’t necessarily be so simple. The Ujima Fund’s structure was designed for a Boston-specific context that links local nonprofits, companies, and governments here. Ms. Evans refers to the fund as an “ecosystem.”

“While we think it’s scalable, we also understand that there isn't going to be some some rigid cut-and-paste template, it is going to be very dependent on what the local context is,” she says.

Despite the challenges, Campbell, who received a community-allocated grant at an Ujima event earlier this year, is optimistic. To earn the funding, she and Mr. Renshaw had to convince about 150 residents that their business could make it and in the process air somewhat intimate financial details with the group. That kind of grit and transparency fuel her hopes for Ujima, too.

“People were really worried about how we were going to get local food at an affordable price point into some neighborhoods … and still be a for-profit business,” she says. “But at that time we were very steadfast. Everybody eats.”

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4. In Armenia, a democratic revolution that no one noticed

This year Armenia has seen a grass-roots, democratic revolution – one that is notable for its use of peaceful methods for bringing about change.

Kim

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In the perhaps most inspiring political story of 2018, Armenia has shown the world that revolutions do not have to be bloody. With Sunday's election, Armenians confirmed Nikol Pashinyan as their prime minister with over 70 percent of the vote, cinching a slow-moving, peaceful overthrow of the former ruling party. Armenians toppled former leader Serzh Sargsyan this spring by way of a Twitter campaign, civil disobedience, and a strategy of – literally – embracing the police. “People were unhappy for different reasons: The seniors, because they are old and cannot live on their pension, and the young people didn’t see any prospects for their future,” says Armen Sarkissian, the current president. “All that anger accumulated.” But when Mr. Sargsyan attempted to extend his reign, “these boys and girls on the street were smarter and quicker than everybody. They knew exactly what to do,” Mr. Sarkissian says. Their success was rooted in a strategy that abided by the law while protesting vigorously, but peacefully, he adds. The post-Soviet state didn’t have any prior experience with civil disobedience, and was taken by surprise.

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In Armenia, a democratic revolution that no one noticed

Young people drove Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution” – that’s the common narrative. Last Sunday’s election proved this as only half the truth.

“I’m 73 years old. This is the first time we are having free and fair elections,” says Siransush Abovyan. She lives in the capital Yerevan and came to the polling station, located in a kindergarten, with her daughter. “For the first time I feel like a citizen and not a slave,” she says.

Something has shifted in the conscience of the Armenian society in the last seven months. Young and old; rural and urban; the whole country buzzes with excited political chatter.

In the perhaps most inspiring political story of 2018, the small country in the southern Caucasus has shown the world that revolutions do not have to be bloody. With Sunday's election, Armenians confirmed revolution leader Nikol Pashinyan as their prime minister with over 70 percent of the vote, cinching a slow-moving, peaceful overthrow of former President and Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan and his party, the Republicans.

Armenians toppled Mr. Sargsyan's government this spring – by way of a Twitter campaign, civil disobedience, and a strategy of (literally) embracing the police. And on Sunday, the Republicans failed to reach the necessary 5 percent of the vote to reenter parliament after almost two decades in power.

“People [in Armenia] were unhappy for different reasons: The seniors, because they are old and cannot live on their pension, and the young people didn’t see any prospects for their future,” Armen Sarkissian says. He is the current president of Armenia and mediated between the protesters and the prime minister during the height of the demonstrations. “All that anger accumulated. Then you just need a reason and it all blows up.”

Karen Norris/Staff

‘The world's merriest apocalypse’

In this case, the reason was a brazen political maneuver by Sargsyan in an attempt to remain in power. In April this year, after he had promised not to do so, Sargsyan allowed his party to elect him prime minister. That came after he served two consecutive terms as president, during which he shifted most political power from the president's office to that of the prime minister.

Many Armenians felt that if they didn't take action, their country would irrevocably become a corrupt one-party state. Several independent groups as well as individuals started to organize marches, sleep-ins in public places, and witty Twitter and Facebook campaigns protesting Sargsyan’s power grab.

“These boys and girls on the street were smarter and quicker than everybody. They knew exactly what to do,” Mr. Sarkissian says. Their success was rooted in a strategy that abided by the law while protesting vigorously, but peacefully, he adds. The post-Soviet state didn’t have any prior experience with civil disobedience, and was taken by surprise.

Maria Karpetyan was one of the initiators of the civic protests. She says that she and her friends started planning the protests as soon as it became clear that Sargsyan didn’t intend to leave power. “This movement wasn’t spontaneous. It had been a long time coming, but it was very flexible because it was so decentralized.” The group’s battle call, #RejectSerzh, trended on Twitter for weeks, and became the unofficial slogan of the whole movement.

Thanassis Stavrakis/AP
Nikol Pashinyan (l.) shakes hands with a police officer during a rally in Yerevan, Armenia, on April 30. Mr. Pashinyan led protests that broke the Republican party's decades-long rule in Armenia, and in May was elected prime minister. Parliamentary elections on Dec. 9 cemented his overthrow of the old regime.

At the same time, opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan organized a protest walk with a few dozen supporters across central Armenia. They walked for 125 miles, from the country's second biggest city, Gyumri, to the capital of Yerevan. The night they arrived, there was already a protest of around 200 people at Freedom Square, many of whom were camped there. The two movements merged, and the rest is Armenian history.

Hundreds of thousands blocked roads all across the country – with communal picnics and demonstrations on roadways. “The protests must remain peaceful. Love and respect for all. As long as you stick to that, you can do whatever you want,” they kept on repeating in the streets and on social media, Ms. Karpetyan says. Armenians took this literally. They sang to police officers, gave them flowers, and continuously chanted, "The police belong to us! The police belong to us!” Many broke rank and joined the protests.

Two weeks after the mass protests had started, Sargsyan resigned. Two weeks after that, on May 8, Mr. Pashinyan was elected acting prime minister by the Armenian parliament amid showers of white confetti.

One Armenian described the atmosphere as the "world's merriest apocalypse.”

A new sense of self-determination

Seven months later, the enthusiasm hasn’t subsided, but another layer has emerged. The success of the revolution has given citizens more confidence, but also made them more adamant. Karpetyan quit her job as a conflict researcher and has just been elected as a member of parliament. She looks tired, more tired than after the two weeks of protests in May. She says that many people want to ban Sargsyan’s party. “This is not about a struggle for power, but about getting the country back on track,” she says.

Ruben Melikyan, a former deputy minister of justice and ombudsman, is one of the few Armenians who openly question the direction the country has taken. “Pashinyan is excellent at public speaking and leading demonstrations, but he doesn’t know how government works,” he says.

Mr. Melikyan also thinks that the new prime minister doesn’t do enough to curb hate speech toward adversaries, especially when directed at the former ruling party. He says that there is only one acceptable narrative in Armenia at the moment, and if you dare question or criticize this narrative you’re attacked from all sides.

The path ahead is littered with challenges. Addressing them will require plurality of ideas, opinions, and checks on power.

Armenia is still suffering the effects of the almost total collapse of its industry following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Unemployment is rife, and around a third of the population live below the poverty line. The borders with two of its four neighbors are permanently closed due to the ongoing conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region with Azerbaijan and recognition status of the Armenian genocide in Turkey.

Despite his criticism, Melikyan sees the positive change from the revolution. “Our population is maturing through this process, and there has been a change of generation in power. That is very important.” However, he says he is worried that the expectations of the people are too high. He thinks that the tide can turn against Pashinyan very quickly, especially now that Armenians have learned the tools to depose an unwelcome leader.

The new principal of a school in Charentsavan, a town about 25 miles outside of Yerevan, already got a taste of this novel attitude. The school board had elected her over a more popular predecessor. Inspired by the revolution in May, the students decided to go on strike. Earlier this week Pashinyan visited the school and told the students the board had acted lawfully, so they will have to go back to class, after weeks of boycott. The children refused and stated they will keep fighting “until the end.”

But it’s not only the sometimes-uncomfortable protest culture that has been awakened. For many Armenians, this is the first time they believe in their right to self-determination.

“There is a lot I disagree with, but the most positive thing that came from this revolution is that people used to think their vote wasn’t important,” Melikyan says. “Now they do, and that’s wonderful.”

Karen Norris/Staff
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5. Techno-charged street art brings climate change to life

Discussions around climate change are often mired in heated political rhetoric. In Miami, a team of artists aims to cut through the rancor with a series of augmented reality murals.

Kim
Eva Botkin-Kowacki/The Christian Science Monitor
Linda Cheung demonstrates the augmented-reality aspect of the latest mural in the 'Miami Murals: Climate Awakening' project on Dec. 6. An app plays a video about each species depicted in the mural when a smartphone or tablet is pointed at the animal or plant.

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Florida’s wildlife comes to life in artist Linda Cheung’s latest “Climate Awakening” mural – literally. As the artist aims a tablet camera at a giant painted sea turtle, a real sea turtle swims across her screen. This Miami mural is accompanied by an augmented reality app that, when the project is complete, will play videos about each animal when a viewer points a smartphone or tablet camera at it. Ms. Cheung and her teammates hope their techno-charged street art can spark discussions of climate change that cut through the political din. A growing contingent of activist artists are using art to promote a new kind of dialogue around climate change. “Science can tell us what’s happening,” says Chantal Bilodeau, a playwright and founder of Artists & Climate Change. The arts “can weave facts together in a way that elicits emotional responses, which carry huge personal meaning.... When we start to understand facts as part of a bigger story and can relate to it emotionally, it takes on a whole different meaning.”

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Techno-charged street art brings climate change to life

The panther’s face dwarfs Reinier Gamboa as the painter calmly shades the animal’s snout in the light of the setting sun. Around the corner, passersby pause to snap selfies with a painted wolf. Wrapping around the sides of the building, the mural depicts a broad variety of animals and plants that reside in south Florida, from an endangered native orchid to the invasive Burmese python.

But the artwork isn’t just what meets the eye. Linda Cheung, the creative director of the project, holds up a tablet and frames it around a sea turtle at the center of one of the walls. Suddenly, another turtle swims across her screen. The mural is accompanied by an augmented reality app that, when the project is complete, will play videos about each animal when a viewer points a smartphone or tablet camera at it.

This project isn’t just about merging traditional forms of art with more modern ones. There’s a message hidden in this mural, revealed in the videos: The sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history is upon us, and it’s our job to make it stop. This is the second mural in a broader project of Ms. Cheung’s to provide a fresh lens on climate change.

Cheung, Mr. Gamboa, and their team are part of a growing contingent of climate activist artists. The arts, they say, can offer a visceral – and more accessible – space for the public to explore the topic of climate change without becoming mired in the complexities of the science and rhetoric of political discourse.

“Art is opening up an avenue for people to have their own feelings, to form their own opinions,” says Chantal Bilodeau, a playwright and founder of Artists & Climate Change. “It’s a very unique space that the arts can offer that doesn’t exist in a lot of other places.”

Inspiring self-reflection

Cheung hopes her “Miami Murals: Climate Awakening” project can help bridge the divide between climate activists and the general public. Too much climate activism happens in an echo chamber, she says. Miami has a strong arts culture and is already feeling the heat of climate change, so the city's mural-covered Wynwood neighborhood seemed a perfect setting to find a universal entry point into the topic.

The first mural in the series depicts the Miami skyline and shore, with letters spelling out the city’s name in the foreground. When viewers hold up their smartphone over that scene, they are offered a choice: Click “No change” or “Be the change.” If they select the former, the sea level rises, the skies fill with pollution, and the letters crumble and fall into the ocean. But if they choose “Be the change,” the scene gets brighter, and it becomes a green paradise.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki/The Christian Science Monitor
Muralist Reinier Gamboa paints the snout of a panther on Dec. 6 in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, Fla.

Cheung’s goal is to inspire self-reflection. “At the end of the day, all of us play a role,” she says. “So we try to deal more with inspirational emotions versus shaming or finger-pointing.”

That sort of reflection is the essence of the arts, Ms. Bilodeau says. Art inherently invites viewers to consider their relationships to the content and see it through a unique lens.

“Science can tell us what’s happening,” she says. The arts “can weave facts together in a way that elicits emotional responses, which carry huge personal meaning.... When we start to understand facts as part of a bigger story and can relate to it emotionally, it takes on a whole different meaning.”

Democratizing discussion

Climate change is also often a politically fraught topic, which can make dialogue difficult. Some artists are embracing that, actively petitioning for change through protest art. But Cheung and her colleagues see the murals as a way to cut through the political din and remove preconceived labels.

“Art can deal with controversial issues in a more open way, in a more inclusive way,” says Dr. Paula Serafini, a research associate in the CAMEo Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies at the University of Leicester in England. In a way, she says, it takes away the rules around who can participate in discourse and how.

Street art can be particularly successful in democratizing discussion, because it can draw the attention of people who may not seek out museums, plays, or other more formal artistic venues.

The hope, Cheung explains, is to encourage a cultural shift that empowers people to make small changes in their lives to help mitigate climate change.

But on a broader scale, art can help people to envision the kind of seismic shift that scientists say is needed to eliminate carbon emissions, says T.J. Demos, who teaches art and visual culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“Art helps us reconceive terminology, ways of thinking, patterns of thought, cultural values, the fundamental bases of who we think we are, how we live in a community, how we define belonging,” he says. So images, stories, songs, and other forms of art can help people envision possible climate futures.

Art can also help humanity find emotional resilience in the face of such catastrophic change, Bilodeau adds.

“It’s scary, it’s overwhelming, and we have no choice but to accept that there are going to be huge losses. We need spaces to not only understand these feelings but also process them,” she says. “The arts can provide those spaces and perhaps, cathartic experiences that can help people grieve and get ready to embrace the work ahead.”

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The Monitor's View

An unlikely place for women to help end a tragic war

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Yemen has two notable distinctions: It is home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, and it ranks last in terms of equality between men and women. Both of these reputations took a hit on Thursday. Yemen’s warring parties agreed to a cease-fire for the port city that is the main entry for food aid and Yemeni women were involved in the talks. Rana Ghanem, a member of the government delegation, sat at the table while other women from different political sides assisted the UN envoy. Their presence may have set a precedent for peace negotiations. For several years, the voices of Yemen’s women activists have helped create momentum for the talks. Ultimately, women could influence how Yemeni leaders put their society back together. To implement Thursday’s agreement, the UN Security Council needs to pass a resolution of support for the UN’s role. It should also reinforce the effort to ensure women are involved in every peace negotiation. Yemen may be last in gender parity. But it is far ahead by the example it just set.

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An unlikely place for women to help end a tragic war

The country of Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula has two notable distinctions. It is currently home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, caused by a war raging since 2015. It also ranks the worst in its “gender gap,” or inequality between men and women. Both of these reputations took a hit on Thursday.

The first was big news. Yemen’s warring parties agreed to a cease-fire for the port city of Hodeidah, the main entry for aid to feed a country on the brink of mass famine. At talks in Sweden sponsored by the United Nations, the two sides also agreed to an exchange of prisoners and to prepare for negotiations to achieve a political settlement of the war. If the agreement holds, millions of Yemenis could be saved.

The other was that Yemeni women were involved in the talks. Rana Ghanem, who was a member of the government delegation, sat at the table while other women from different political sides assisted the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths.

In the history of Middle East conflicts, their presence may have set a precedent for peace negotiations.

For several years, the voices of Yemen’s women activists have helped create momentum for the talks. “It is Yemen’s women who during the conflict have maintained the social fabric of society and kept communities together. They are the nurturers, mediators, peacemakers, and keepers of tradition,” writes Nadia al-Sakkaf, who was the first Yemeni woman appointed as Information minister.

Women could also ultimately influence how Yemeni leaders put their society back together. Of the country’s 3 million displaced people, about three-quarters are women and children.

Critical to this female participation has been ongoing UN efforts to include women in peace negotiations everywhere. UN envoys for Yemen have made a point of consulting Yemeni women, especially at a gathering in 2015 that brought women together from all sides in Cyprus. Their work was made easier by the prominent role that women played in Yemen’s protests in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring, such as activist Tawakkol Karman. For her work in the nonviolent struggle for the safety of women, she was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

To implement Thursday’s cease-fire agreement, the UN Security Council still needs to pass a resolution of support for the UN’s role in the deal. It should also reinforce the global effort to ensure women are involved in every peace negotiation. Yemen may be last in gender parity. But it is far ahead by the example it just set.

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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.

‘No greater mission’ than loving God and man

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When we devote ourselves to loving God and our neighbor, we’ll witness more healing, find more opportunities to help others, and express more joy.

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‘No greater mission’ than loving God and man

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Love for God and man. That was the notable distinction attributed to the United States of America’s 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush, at his recent memorial service in Washington, D.C. It was clear that “41,” as he is often referred to, and his family wanted his legacy to include a message to all: Everyone can and should feel joy and make a difference through honoring God and doing good.

As we strive to do that, it is helpful to consider the example of Christ Jesus, the ultimate role model for loving God supremely and blessing mankind. Jesus taught, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And there is a second like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. The whole of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”). Above all, Jesus wanted his followers in all ages to adhere to these rules because they are paramount to us more fully expressing our true nature as God’s children – to manifesting health, harmony, and purpose.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, understood that a fruitful life, peace on earth, and the cause of Christianity itself are contingent upon following Jesus’ teachings. She included this directive as the last of six tenets of the Church of Christ, Scientist: “And we solemnly promise to watch, and pray for that Mind to be in us which was also in Christ Jesus; to do unto others as we would have them do unto us; and to be merciful, just, and pure” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 497).

I cherish this guidance. In the past several years I have been striving to do a better job of keeping that solemn promise on a daily basis, knowing that the more faithfully I reflect the Mind of Christ, the more of a healing influence I can have on the world. To me, striving each day to be more merciful, just, and pure is not just about how I treat people outwardly but also about how I think of them. If someone seems to be ill, sad, or in lack, I pray to know that divine Love would never put any of us in such a state. Should I witness dishonesty or unkindness, I mentally reach out to divine Principle to better understand that as God’s spiritual offspring we are all just and compassionate. If I detect sin I affirm the innate innocence and goodness of all of God’s, Spirit’s, creation and strive to express those qualities more myself.

The results from this sincere endeavor have been tangible: more joy, more healing, more opportunities to help others. No question, persistence is required. What I am finding, though, is the greater my commitment to doing this, the more rewarding my day.

This is a way in which any of us can make it a priority in 2019 to draw closer to God, to improve our thoughts, words, and deeds. The world could benefit from increased civility, more charitable thoughts, and kinder interactions. Our families, friends, communities, even ourselves, all need the goodness we have to share.

Our love for God is evident in our love for others. It’s what we’re here to do. In his homily, the words of the Bush family pastor, Reverend Dr. Russell Levenson Jr., say it well: “Love God, love your neighbor – there is no greater mission on planet earth.”

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Viewfinder

Squeegees and a cross-cultural nod

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
Window cleaners dressed as a dog and a wild pig to reflect the Chinese calendar for the current year and the next, wash windows during a Dec. 13 event at the Hotel Ryumeikan in Tokyo.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( December 14th, 2018 )

Kim Campbell
Education Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow when we explore the social and geopolitical reasons behind a baby boom in Israel.

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December 13, 2018
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