I am an AmeriCorps VISTA. My job is to build capacity for an organization, to create and maintain sustainable infrastructures for an organization in order for them to achieve their goals and combat poverty. I did not apply to the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence directly but after attending one of their events, it was the reason why I decided to apply to AmeriCorps VISTA. Needless to say, when I found out that my sponsoring organization matched me with the Gandhi Institute, I was ecstatic.
And now my first week and a half has passed. I can summarize it in one word: whirlwind. Although some people may think “whirlwind” has negative connotations, I subscribe to the belief that it is a word filled with dynamic energy that has the ability to excite and renew.
On my first day of work, I had the privilege to attend a trip to the Seneca Art and Culture Center at Ganondagan with our Summer Youth Facilitation Institute (SYFI) students. Not everyone gets to have as quite a memorable first day. But then each day was filled with new, exciting experiences. I participated in a three-day nonviolence intensive, cooked and hosted donor breakfasts, began new relationships with partnering nonprofits, danced with neighborhood guests at a dance party, and began to full understand the uniqueness of this space. (I would like to add that I did do my other work too.)
I understand that I’m entering the Gandhi Institute during a time of transition–our SYFI program and intensive have finished, we are gaining new employees while other beloved ones are finishing their time with us. Transitions cause a frenzy of activity and it can appear overwhelming to be thrown into the middle of it. However, I never felt overwhelmed, just inspired. Instead feeling anxious about the chaos of a new job and juggling various events, I find myself being excited to wake up and tackle each challenge.
When people visit the Gandhi house, they are overjoyed and gracious for this space in the middle of Rochester. I’ve heard time and time how grateful they are not just for the institute but for the people who populate it. I am a witness to their joy whenever they step onto the property or interact with its staff. There are smiles abound.
Whether the institute is serving the Rochester City School District youth with conflict management, their local neighborhood with a dance party, or people from around the globe with a nonviolent intensive workshop, they are making a positive difference in their local and global community. I feel more than grateful to have the opportunity as an AmeriCorps VISTA to devote my next year here.
Dear Prospective Intern,
I hope my letter finds you well. When you told me that you’re interested in interning at the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, my first reaction was: “What do I have to do to get you there?” I recognize that although I am partial to Rochester as my hometown, it can be out of the way and carries somewhat of a negative reputation. I also recognize that there are a number of positions at universities, governments, and nonprofits that are near-perfect fits for your goals after college. Finally, I am aware that we are unable to pay summer interns any kind of compensation and taking a summer without pay is quite a burden: had it not been for the generosity of Whitman College to allocate the grant I applied for, this experience would not have been possible for me. These are serious reservations that I won’t dismiss; however, this is perhaps one of the most empowering undertakings I’ve done. After ten short weeks, I feel confident that I can carry out the work of the Gandhi Institute when I return to Walla Walla for my final year of school. Work that I think can be best summarized by a beat-up Gandhi quote taped to the institute fridge: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
There are picture-perfect moments of this internship that I will share during the Whitman College internship grant gala this fall. There was the time I attended a dialogue about community safety, forgiveness, and humanity at Groveland State Prison with four of my co-workers and Arun Gandhi, institute founder and grandson of Mohandas Gandhi. There was the stimulation of planning and teaching my very own lesson on #BlackLivesMatter and the Civil Rights Movement at a local Freedom School. There was the opportunity to attend Justice Works conference for progressive New York in Albany, where I spend two days learning from some of the most incredible activists in my home state. The amount of confidence placed in me as a summer intern allowed me to create or take advantage of all of these opportunities and I can assure you that the same confidence will be placed in you.
I will add a caveat that the Gandhi Institute isn’t for everyone. Although the position of summer intern comes with considerable range and freedom to pursue the kind of work you enjoy and are excel at in a number of fields, you might be uncomfortable and restless without the regimentation of other internships. Your experience will be as meaningful as you choose to make it and I ended up working twice as many hours as I originally planned in order to get what I wanted of the experience and achieve the goals I set for myself coming home to Rochester. If you prefer structure, well-defined responsibilities, and close supervision this isn’t the place for you. In a sense, the summer intern position at the Gandhi Institute is best for people with a vision of exactly what they hope to do for the benefit of the Rochester community, as well as the willingness to take initiative and chase that goal. The Gandhi Institute is a small organization and Kit Miller, the institute director, is very resourceful: for just about every interest, talent, and educational background there is a project she will be able to think of where you can contribute.
I can’t do my experience or the Gandhi Institute justice in a short letter. Perhaps what I shared doesn’t resonate with you, either by the shortcomings of my own writing ability or the incompatibility of the aspects I especially enjoyed and your own personal needs for a fulfilling summer internship; however, if you’re even a little interested by anything don’t hesitate to contact me or Kit Miller (email@example.com). Though my time at Gandhi Institute as a summer intern will end around 5:00 today, I want to stay involved with this organization moving forward since it changed my life. One of the easiest ways to do that is simply to direct people towards everything that happens at 929 South Plymouth Avenue.
By Kit Miller
You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Gandhi
I was moved in recent months to read about hate as a feeling, as an energy and as a force in the world. On June 16, I led a workshop on hatred and was grateful to be joined by eight others representing a variety of religious, cultural and political perspectives. In advance of the gathering, we read an excerpt from Dr. Howard Thurman’s book The Growing Edge. We discussed one paragraph as particularly relevant to the US today, given our changing global position and distressing political situation:
“Hatred becomes one of the sources of pride when all other sources of our pride have disappeared. It becomes a source of self-respect when no amount of projection can locate any other spot upon which self-respect may land and be nurtured and sustained. This is an important act in the drama of human life. What can we do about it?”
After exploring hate from a couple of religious and cultural perspectives, we broke into groups to look at it as a phenomenon in more detail. Lots of rich discussion ensued. Finally, we brainstormed ways to concretely reduce hate in our communities. The list is below.
If you are interested in hosting a similar event or would like to attend one at Gandhi, please let me know. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ideas for reducing hate:
-Love/embrace your community
-Create more deliberately multi-cultural events/festivals
-Offer spaces/opportunities for deep understanding of addiction
-Look for common ground during disagreements
-Lead by example
-Teach conflict resolution to young and all
-Be respectful when disagreeing
-Remember that everyone wants love and respect
-Get to know your own anger so it may be more useful
-Let go of ego and the need to be right
-Create more opportunities for people to gather /community spaces
-Move beyond rhetoric- encourage people
-Make sure there is reciprocity in any volunteerism or service
-Move beyond the polarities in any discussion
-Find people who see things differently and listen
-Stop shaming troubles so they are easier for people to share
by Kit Miller
No matter how bad you think your life is now remember there is always more to lose. Some person, some security, some aspect of mental or physical health.
A pet, a tree, the reliability of weather.
A book, your favorite mug, scarf or child.
A friendship you thought couldn’t go away, or a dream.
This isn’t cruelty but kindness, a nudge to do that very hard thing of living from present moment gratitude. Everything that matters to us will dissolve, leave, die or break.
Those were words I wrote yesterday while flying to San Francisco, sad to be missing the wedding of two special women at home. I landed to hear that fifty people had been killed in Orlando.
There is extra grief when people of oppressed backgrounds harm each other – this is a grievous burden for Latino communities, LBGT communities, and Muslim brothers and sisters to bear.
At a vigil last night for the shooting in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, LBGT speakers stressed the need not to let this occurrence excuse additional persecution of Muslim Americans. It was beautiful to witness one persecuted population standing in solidarity with another, even in the midst of shock and grief.
The first week of my summer internship with the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence has come and gone. During this period, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time tending to the garden and feel that it is appropriate to reflect on this space for my first blog; to begin to answer the question posed in the title. My own personal love of gardening stems from a benign, meditative boredom conducive to hours of uninterrupted thought; however, my appreciation for tending to a garden in the context of the Gandhi House has transcended the experience which initially drew me towards this activity.
Food production in the United States has become increasingly consolidated to large-scale, mechanized farms. According to the US Census, between 1945 and 2000 the number of Americans employed in agriculture fell from 16% to 2%. During this period total agricultural output has more than doubled; however, there is little to suggest that meaningful improvement has occurred: more than one-third of Americans are obese, as many as 27% of are coping with diabetes, and over 15 million children lack access to adequate nutrition. Furthermore, knowledge of farming practices, especially among urban communities, is becoming increasingly scarce.
Mahatma Gandhi saw a similar problem at work in the manufacture of cloth in India, writing “It is difficult to measure the harm that Manchester has done to us. It is due to Manchester that Indian handicraft has all but disappeared. But I make a mistake. How can Manchester be blamed? We wore Manchester cloth, and that is why Manchester wove it.” For this reason, he celebrated when the people of Bengal boycotted British cloth and returned to hand-making textiles on traditional looms.
Farming and weaving textiles are both time-consuming, unglamorous, and labor-intensive processes that offer little allure when compared with the seemingly convenient alternative of purchasing these necessities made elsewhere. Even for those interested in producing their own food and cloth, knowledge can be a barrier. This is why it is important that we at the Gandhi House garden. What we grow is free from problematic agroecosystems that depend on machines, chemical inputs, exploited labor, and dubious distribution networks. We draw on the help of volunteers and staff to practice traditions of growing that are ethical for people and the land. We believe that eating for sustenance is equally important to how we grow these things.
Yet there is more to gardening at the Gandhi House than cultivating sustainable produce; the garden serves as an educational space. It’s a place where the democratization of food production can take form. It educates community members on how they can be cognizant and active in their sustenance. It valorizes the production of something that’s easy to take for granted.
Every dollar spent is a vote and not everyone in the Rochester community has the awareness or ability to cast monetary ballots on conscious food. We garden to share the knowledge necessary to give the community agency. We garden because no one is too small to make a difference to a seemingly insurmountable problem.
Why garden? Well, there’s a few reasons….
For the first time, I’ve decided to do war tax resistance by withholding a percentage of the money I owe the Federal government. Below is the letter I wrote and sent to the IRS along with the taxes I did pay. More information about war tax resistance can be found on NWTRCC’s website. If you feel upset that our government spends billions of tax payer dollars on war each year, I hope you’ll research alternatives: you can resist by withholding a symbolic amount (even $1!), a percentage, or withhold all that you owe. You can also pay your taxes and send a letter voicing your dissent, if that is what works for you. There is not a wrong way to be a war tax resister. I hope my letter may inspire you to consider and explore this powerful and historic method of nonviolent resistance.
Dear friends at the IRS,
Concerning the Federal taxes I owe for 2015, I cannot in good conscience agree to pay this amount to my government which will use 45% of tax dollars to support current and past military expenses. As a conscientious objector to war, I do not support the violence of war, which includes the harm and killing of human beings and decimation of the earth and other living beings.
I am withholding 45% of what is due. I have redirected the money to the Peace Tax Escrow Fund, under the care of the Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. This fund will be released to the government as soon as the Peace Tax Fund bill (Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act of 2015, H.R. 2377, Congressman John Lewis) is approved.
I have come to know that all life is sacred, and I am heartbroken that our government continues to use violence as a strategy for safety and peace in this world. The violence of war appears to work in the short term. Yet it has high long-term costs on people, relationships, and the one planet we share. There are many methods of using nonviolence instead, even on the international level. Our failure is a lack of invested energy in the study and practice of nonviolence, not a lack in the capacity of nonviolence.
I am not opposed to paying taxes. However, I feel anguish to know that in 2015, $1,307 billion dollars were spent on war when there are so many needs in our communities.
What role does each of us have in perpetuation of war? My role has been silent compliance of paying my taxes. I am choosing to speak now: I will not consent to my money paying for the destruction of land or living beings. I cannot support the use of drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, or Iraq. I have friends in these places; I do not need to know their names or faces to know they are friends. I know they are human beings with dreams, aspirations, and families. I know that while they may differ in religion and culture, these differences are not the cause of violence. Violence is not inevitable; it is a choice we make when we are desperate and do not know how to choose anything else.
I feel heaviness to know of the struggle of our veterans to return to civilian life after serving in the military. Addiction, PTSD, suicide, unemployment, and imprisonment are common realities. Our wars have destroyed the lives of many of our own citizens, of many of our own brothers and sisters.
I appeal to you, at the IRS, to remember the humanity of those abroad who our government is attacking and killing, to remember the humanity of our soldiers, to remember my humanity as a conscientious objector to paying for war, and to remember your own humanity. We can do better. It is time we ask our government to do better.
In solidarity for a peaceful world,
As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
There is more to life than increasing its speed. -Gandhi
“Were the people friendly?”
“Was the culture shocking?”
“How bad was the poverty?”
When friends and relatives inquired about my recent trip to India, their questions often placed me on a romanticized plot line common in white American culture: the challenging-yet-transformative adventure to an “exotic” destination. While I appreciated the curiosity and excitement behind people’s requests for details, I struggled to describe the beauty of my experience in a way that was both satisfying for them and authentic for me.
I went to Mumbai to visit one of my best friends from college, an international student from India who moved back to work as a French teacher after graduation. For four and a half years, she witnessed me lurch and fumble through the never-ending process of becoming myself. While she listened with care to my hopes, woes, and existential ramblings, she also wasn’t afraid to administer an emergency dose of Perspective when I needed it.
When I left to see her, I had been living in Rochester for a little over five months. I was settled, but no one around me was someone I had the privilege of knowing for years. Drifting in and out of sleep on my transatlantic flight, the internalized adventure narrative told me I was going somewhere new. By the time I was sitting on my best friend’s bed in her Mumbai apartment, I realized my trip was actually a return to the familiar.
When her father walked into the room, he greeted me with a hearty and definitive “Welcome home.” We took a rickshaw to Starbucks to talk about books and boys. Despite warnings about food poisoning, the digestion issues I struggle with in the U.S. actually improved on a diet of all Indian food.
This isn’t to say we didn’t do our share of exciting tourism activities. We visited Mani Bhavan, the house-turned-museum where Gandhi lived and organized during his Quit India campaign. We saw the Gateway of India and explored caves of ancient stone carvings on Elephanta Island. They were once-in-a-lifetime outings and I was lucky to have them. But the element that stuck out the most was not the newness of the country or culture. Rather, it was the startling ease I felt in an environment I hadn’t experienced before.
On one of my last days, we went to “International Night” at my friend’s school. Each grade was assigned a UN development goal. While a small army of feisty primary schoolers rattled off their perspectives on sustainable energy and climate change, I smiled at the way we are constantly, quietly, and often unwittingly tending to the future of others. I felt a surge of gratitude for the family, city, and culture that nurtured my friend long before she found her way into my life.
The true gift of my trip wasn’t the adventure. It was the opportunity to appreciate the people in my life who allow me to relax into their presence and feel at home wherever my feet are planted. Rather than gaining new relationships and perspectives, India allowed me to slowly and lovingly inventory everything I already had.
Two weeks ago, twenty-two community members from Monroe County traveled to join the men at Groveland Correctional Facility for a dialogue surrounding safety and prosperity. The dialogue occurred with roughly twelve men from Groveland, the majority of which are scheduled to be released to Monroe County within the next few months.
When reflecting on the few hours spent with the men at Groveland, numerous ideas, thoughts, and emotions were bouncing around in my head. The dialogue included several opportunities to speak in both small and large groups. The triads allowed for a more intimate setting, and also gave space for each person to share their views without monopolizing the conversation – their voices were heard, encouraged, and appreciated. Some of the men shared concerns about how Monroe County would respond to their release, opportunity to find jobs, and also if they would feel a sense of community. From community members, I heard mostly a loss of knowing how to help and to break the school-to-prison pipeline, and also a desire to support men returning to our community in a wholesome manner. And when I paused, when I could remind myself to take a breath and listen closely, I kept hearing the same two emotions beneath the myriad of messages: hope and fear.
What dissolves fear? What keeps hope alive? These emotions are two sides of the same coin. A significant factor in the success of our dialogue was continuing to connect with our humanity. The men at Groveland were appreciative of the voluntary nature in which the community showed up. The community group included one police officer and a few DOCCS members. To have these positions of power in attendance for this dialogue on a voluntary basis resonated with the entire dialogue group. As a community member, I was appreciative of the raw honesty in which the men shared about their personal lives, hopes and fears about their future. By creating a bridge of understanding where both parties were able to be honest about their fears, hopes, and worries, I am sanguine about our community growing closer and deeper through honest communication. It starts at the individual level, to personally share our experiences and interactions with the men at Groveland to debunk myths and redirect the conversation so often reported by the media. There is a lot of necessary work to push through in order to shift the paradigm around mass incarceration, but now I found a group of individuals who are also motivated in making that effort.
**My sincerest gratitude for the care and attention put into facilitating this dialogue, which was led by Arun Gandhi, founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute and grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Shannon Richmond, a talented facilitator who also serves as our Associate Director.
**If you are interested in joining our next dialogue at Groveland, please contact Maria at Maria@gandhiinstitute.org so you can start the volunteer paperwork.
Ultimately, ‘history’ is, as many things are, a power struggle. A struggle over airtime and validation. Whether or not a particular narrative has basis in reality is irrelevant; the most profitable and seductive constructions of the past are meticulously chosen, culled into easily digestible pieces, and spoon fed to the masses. Sadly, and with cold-blooded intention from the upper echelons, most individuals constituting the masses are too preoccupied with surviving poverty, racism, wanton violence, and a web of other gauntlets to thoroughly regurgitate the venom we have all been nursed on.
The histories of people who were forced to act as a society’s soil often receive particularly vicious dismemberments. In the United States, Indigenous people and African-Americans have served as the nation’s soil; trampled upon, used as dumping grounds, riddled with venom and forced to sprout cane and cotton from blood-drenched land—these actions were an unjustifiably pyrrhic necessity for this nation’s fruition. Founded on the dual tragedies of enslavement and genocide; a historical examination of the United States containing a thimbleful of integrity must consider these realities unflinchingly—devoid of mock horror and sentimentality.
In this era, with our increasingly advanced and sophisticated communication technologies, access to knowledge discrediting popularly accepted narrations of history is more readily available than ever. Communities, organizations, and vast networks have been established to hasten the proliferation of revisionist histories.
Despite some people’s unwillingness to accept it, Black history is American history. While it is important to locate and differentiate the particular realities of Black people from those of others, this must be done in a manner which incorporates Black history into this land’s broader historical oeuvre. While never having been that syrupy ‘melting pot’ it is often assumed to be, making light of the cultural amalgamations that are the United States’ backbone would be, to speak with restraint, equally insensible.
Regarding Black History Month specifically, it has never shocked me that Black people in the United States have officially been given the shortest month of the year to celebrate our history. This fact, in tandem with narrations of Black history which expunge the long history of Black people’s painstakingly organized rebellions against remarkable injustices, have been the source of a private corrosive bitterness.
Seeing Black history characterized as little more than the accomplishments of a small smattering of charismatic, typically male, leaders from the Civil Rights era enrages me. As it currently stands, and has stood for centuries, an incautious parroting of celebrated articulations of the past are capable of rendering the contributions of legions, and geniuses, invisible. What of Fannie Lou Hamer? Dr. Dorothy Height? Bayard Rustin? Why are so many of our brilliant allowed to fade into oblivion?
As I grow out of my juvenile years, and mentality, however, bitterness and rage consume decreasing amounts of my interior wanderings; rather, these days, I am more enamored with creation, excavation of historical archives, and the dissemination of information. Honestly, spending my personal time perusing the vast archives of Black history, of Black artistic and cultural production especially, is exhilarating. The sheer depth and range of Black people’s participation in our nation’s every sphere is simply breathtaking; militaristic endeavors, affiliations with the Communist Party, communities of formerly enslaved people who fled bondage and erected homeplace in the wilds—the range of Black people’s involvement in every sphere of our society is nearly unfathomable.
If Black history were to be taken seriously by educational institutions and communities in the United States, the myth of Black inferiority would no longer have basis to exist. In my personal explorations of history, time and again, I continually find evidence of Black people’s ability to endure, and even, at times, blossom, in a society dependent upon our living in a state of ignorance and servitude—akin to lotus flowers blooming from basins of poisoned mud. Extraordinarily durable; yet dazzling.
In September of 2015 I started Working on this 8 week project that I titled “The Community Peace Dialogue” basically to get the community to discuss and come to a conclusion on what we can do to decrease the violence rate in our neighborhood. I went door to door from Plymouth & Bartlett to Plymouth & magnolia interviewing residents on exactly what there ideas were regarding there knowledge of the amount of safety around them. the purpose of me interviewing 20+ different people with the same questions was to have them meet at the Gandhi institute and discuss. on the day of my presentation many people felt like they didn’t trust that there appearance would make a change therefore they did not come at all. there differences and simulates was something that I personally was fascinated in sort of like a hunger for change so therefore I didn’t give up , I presented this project to the board of the Gandhi institute in November of 2015 . it turned out that the board and I just happened to be working on the same project at the same time. me and some of the board members decided to partner which we came Together as the C.E.P team (Community engagement project)which included Kristin Hooker, Barb van Kerkhove, Veronica Howard and Audrey Sample . for about 3 months we have been meeting and doing homework on conflict I really wanted to see what caused violence in the community from there perspective. I grew up here and I know from experience that fear causes violence and in many other situations retaliation. this 8 week project has grown to what is still in the process now i cant wait until the real final Conclusion !!! HOPE IT LOOKS LIKE THIS.
- September 13, 2016 6:00 pmConversations on Race
- September 20, 2016 6:00 pmConversations on Race with Poverty
- September 21, 2016 6:00 pmConversations on Race
- September 28, 2016 6:00 pmConversations on Race with Poverty
- October 2, 2016 2:00 pmOpen House