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Flag-waving in Iran and the U.S.

Today's news from Capitol Hill highlights an issue of deep concern to those who seek to build stronger relationships between the United States and Iran. Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) submitted a proposed amendment to a bill on an omnibus appopriations bill in the Senate. The amendment would prohibit all U.S. agencies from doing business with companies with any business ties to Iran's energy sector. The Friends Committee on National Legislation argued in a summary of a letter that FCNL faxed to every U.S. senator last night:

"Taking action to further cripple Iran's already taxed energy sector punishes the Iranian people. More hostile and draconian sanctions undermine the potential for a diplomatic solution to Iran's contested nuclear program and other peace and security concerns."

Meeting with Iranian Vets and People from Hiroshima

Here's an update from our delegation leader David Hartsough

Father Louie Vitale and I met with a group of Iranian war veterans from the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) and a delegation from Hiroshima, Japan. Some of the vets had lost their legs; many had been attacked by the chemical weapons used by Saddam Hussein against the Iranians and have been suffering the consequences ever since.

There were widows who had lost their husbands, men who could barely see with one eye, people who could not breathe when someone started to smoke, and many from Hiroshima who had lost so many of their relatives and loved ones.

Latest reports from FOR's 9th Iran delegation

Several more reports have arrived in the past 48 hours from the Fellowship of Reconciliation's 9th civilian diplomacy delegation to Iran. Earlier this week, the group flew south from Iran to Shiraz, and they have since traveled to the ancient, mighty ruins of Persepolis as well as the gorgeous city of Esfahan. Delegation leader David Hartsough wrote two short reflections from this city of rivers, known to all Iranians as "half the world." His first, "Don't Bring Your Guns," is both a humorous and political commentary:

National groups to Pres. Obama: End Plan Colombia; Change drug policy

Human Rights & Faith-Based Organizations Call on President Obama:
End “Plan Colombia” and Change U.S. Drug Policy

Media Contacts:
* Mark Johnson, FOR Executive Director
* John Lindsay-Poland, FOR Colombia Program

The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and more than 45 other national and regional human rights organizations and faith-based institutions today released a letter to President Barack Obama calling for a major change in U.S. policy toward Colombia. Responding to the President’s first address to a joint session of Congress — in which he stated the need to “go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs” and to “act boldly and wisely” — the groups urged the President to end a failed drug policy in Colombia and to invest in drug treatment for U.S. citizens and aid for the millions of Colombians displaced by war.

Two steps forward to ending gun violence

Yesterday, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence celebrated a major decision by the U.S. Supreme Court with the following announcement:

In its first gun case since the landmark Heller decision, the Supreme Court wisely upheld a "reasonable restriction" ”” namely, keeping guns out of the hands of convicted misdemeanor domestic violence abusers. ...

In addition, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking for the 7-2 majority, cited the Brady Center brief when she wrote that "firearms and domestic strife are a potentially deadly combination nationwide."

This good news for ending gun violence is of small comfort to those who have lost family members to gunfire, as my friend Gloria Cruz did several years ago. Gloria is the Bronx chapter leader of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, and sent me a message today saying:

Patron Saints: Howard Thurman & W. E. B. DuBois

One of FOR's most stalwart local members is Wendy Geiger, a peace activist in Jacksonville, Florida. Wendy regularly contacts the national office of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, seeking materials for workshops, nonviolence trainings, conferences, and other regional events where she can help spread the word about FOR's work.

Wendy is also passionate about poetry, and often sends favorite poems to friends in the peace community to help inspire and enrich our work. This week, Wendy shared a touching personal reflection that included two poems by Howard Thurman, the legendary African-American educator and nonviolence advocate of the early 20th century, who was a mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

FOR and Black History (or "We need you like Fred needs Ginger")

A letter from the Chair of FOR’s National Council.

February 25, 2009

Dear friend,

Journey of Reconciliation Commemoration

[the first freedom riders]

This week, we are participating in the installation of a historic marker at the site where the first freedom riders, led by FOR’s Bayard Rustin and George Houser, were beaten and arrested by a racist mob in Chapel Hill, N.C. in 1947.

Learn more about the events this Thursday through Saturday, or consider making a contribution if you can’t join us in person.

Between September 1965 and May 1967, I was a student at Colgate Rochester Divinity School in upstate New York. Gene Bartlett was the Seminary’s President. I did not know then of Dr. Bartlett’s involvement with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, or that he was involved in creating a Baptist Pacifist Fellowship during World War II. He encouraged me, as he did others, working against the Vietnam War.

[King speaks]On April 4, 1967 in a now famous speech A Time to Break Silence delivered at Riverside Church in New York City, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., urged ministers to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. Thus confirmed in the direction my newly formed pacifist beliefs were taking me, I finalized a decision. With needed support from the FOR, my future wife Nancy, and others, I took leave from seminary, appealed my draft board status, and did alternative service.

As much as any single twentieth-century figure, Dr. King has shaped my life and the lives of many FOR members. Inspired to seek peace in a war-wearied, war-worried world, we have not elevated Dr. King to iconic status. Dr. King’s ideas and words still matter. It matters that we continue his unfinished work, building a culture of peace.

Thinking of joining a delegation to Iran? A one-year reflection.

Caroline Chinlund is a psychologist in New York City who has been involved in the Peace movement since the Viet Nam era. Caroline participated in the February-March 2008 civilian diplomacy delegation to Iran with the Fellowship of Reconciliation as part of her peace activities.

More reports from Iran: Awe, reverence, and building an axis of friendship

Roger Cohen, a columnist for The New York Times, wrote an excellent Op-Ed that was published two days ago in the Sunday edition of the Times. Titled "What Iran's Jews Say," it has been one of the top two "most e-mailed" articles on nytimes.com for the past couple days. Cohen's depiction of the Iranian Jewish community as both historic and ongoing reflects the witness and engagement that the Fellowship of Reconciliation's Iran delegations have experienced — especially the two delegations in 2008 which sent a number of U.S. Jewish peace activists to Iran.

Several more reports have been received in the past 24 hours from FOR's 9th civilian diplomacy delegation to Iran. Father Louie Vitale writes:

FOR 9th Iran delegation reports from Tehran

The Fellowship of Reconciliation's ninth peace and civilian diplomacy delegation to Iran arrived safely in Tehran on Thursday, February 19th. There are six members of this delegation, making it the smallest one to date, as two-thirds of the group were denied visas. FOR is deeply concerned about what we are experiencing as an increasing series of challenges to an already difficult process of obtaining visas for U.S. citizens.

The six members of the current delegation come from New York and California. They are: