Come Together: Planetary Crossroads and a Letter From Afghanistan

On Saturday morning, Sept. 11, 2021, the names of Mary Moore, Fred Ptucha, Adrienne Lauby and Rep. Barbara Lee were added to the Living Peace Wall in Sebastopol as examples of living, non-violent advocates for peace and justice.

The names of two dozen Bay Area activists are inscribed on the granite wall, including iconic protest-singer Holly Near and former-Congressperson Lynn Woolsey.

At the ceremony, a largely gray-haired audience of 200 sat in lawn chairs quietly listening to often tearful speeches about, well, the losing battle for peace, until a political protest broke out, led from the stage by Moore, 86.

Rep. Lee is, in Moore’s words, a “PEP, progressive on everything but Palestine,” and, therefore, not eligible for Sebastopol’s peace award, she claims. Cued by Moore, a dozen protestors stood up, waving signs reading “End the Occupation, Stop U.S. Aid to Israel” and “Barbara Lee Speak Truth to AIPAC!” But the object of their scorn was not there.

Two days before the ceremony, Lee got wind of Moore’s highly publicized plan to criticize her in public and canceled her planned appearance. That is probably just as well, because the optics of white activists in an 85% white city calling out a beloved African American leader with a stellar record on domestic civil rights and decades of anti-war votes might have been a bit disconcerting at a peace celebration advocating for the unity of all peoples.

While it is true that Lee consistently votes to approve U.S. arms sales to the apartheid Israeli state which bombs and shoots Palestinian people in Gaza and West Bank, Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against permanently greenlighting the failed War on Terror 20 years ago. For the rare politician who possesses a morsel of moral conscience, as Lee clearly does, voting to defund Israeli militarism is political suicide.

Lee chooses to keep her job.

Sebastopol Peace Wall - Peter Byrne

The next day, Sunday Sept. 12, a much younger crowd of 300 gathered in a field near the National Park Service headquarters at Point Reyes National Seashore to call attention to the lethal mistreatment of Tule elk, and the Biden administration’s pending plan to grant permanent commercial cattle-ranching rights inside the ecologically damaged park.

The event was headlined by Theresa Harlan, who advocates for Indigenous access to homelands on public lands, and members of the Coast Miwok Tribal Council.

Harlan eloquently summed up the situation, saying, “We’re at a crossroads. Do we choose the status quo that has led to hundreds of miles of fencing and the acrid smell of cow manure and to freshwater creeks destroyed by cattle and bulldozers? To fecal bacteria contaminating our waters? To our sacred sites trampled by cattle? To a place where our relatives, the Tule elk, suffer?

“Or, do we choose a path that acknowledges the First People of this land and invites native resource managers to teach and share indigenous ecological practices? A path that requires us to give of ourselves for the sake of others, human and non-human, to listen to others, and to forge partnerships that do not yet exist. This is the path of indigenous principles, principles of generosity, principles of respect, principles of reciprocity, principles of responsibility.”

The next day, Monday, Secretary of Interior Deborah Haaland discarded thousands of years of Indigenous knowledge, as well as the science of climate change, and approved the Park Service’s unpopular plan to expand cattle ranching with the resultant pollution of regional waters, to shoot scores of Tule elk without scientific justification and to extirpate endemic species.

But on the night of the elk protest, our political problems in the North Bay, serious as they are, were placed in horrifying perspective. I talked via WhatsApp with a 39-year-old Hazara man who is trapped in Afghanistan at the border with Pakistan. The man, whom we shall know as Abbas, served for many years as an interpreter for U.S. forces. Since the U.S.-backed government collapsed in early August, Abbas has tried in vain to get a Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, from the U.S. government.

A few weeks ago, Abbas fled his home with his wife and three children and the clothes on their backs. They are hiding from Taliban forces while he reaches out on his difficult-to-recharge cell phone to American friends, including Elizabeth Sailer of Community Acupuncture in Petaluma.

For the past month, Sailer has talked to Abbas on a daily basis. She keeps trying to connect with federal officials by email and telephone in an effort to break the bureaucratic blockade on his visa, which he is owed due to his years of service. A bewildering thicket of U.S. regulations and official documents are required for a SIV in the best of times. Sailer reports that Senator Diane Feinstein’s office is utterly non-responsive, but Rep. Jared Huffman’s aides are attempting to help Abbas, who is but one of thousands of Afghanis in a similar plight. Unfortunately, Abbas lacks the most essential item: a current Afghani passport, as his expired before he could get it renewed before Kabul fell to the Taliban.

United Nations officials have told Abbas and Sailer that he can receive protection as a refugee if he gets to Pakistan, but that they can do nothing for him in Afghanistan.

A relative of Abbas’ is paying a smuggler to spirit the family across the border to a safe house and possible UN protection, but Abbas can be instantly deported by the Pakistani Army if detained. Late Sunday night, Abbas sent Sailer and this reporter a voice recording as transcribed and partially edited here:

“Dear Joe Biden: don’t talk about Afghanistan. Talk about good things. The holidays are soon. Hold them close to your vaccinated heart. Forget the cries of an Afghan child on the blazing carcass that was his mother a few minutes ago. Talk about good things. Fortunately, your soldiers have arrived home. Celebrate with two glasses of red wine in the color of the fresh blood of our slain students, and do not think of our wounded soldier. He will bandage his wounds with leaves and continue fighting against terrorists who have signed a peace agreement with you. Talk about good things. Afghanistan is a bad thing.

The Taliban are good for you now, because they don’t kill Americans anymore, it seems. They turn the cradles of our children into small coffins. Stop talking about Afghanistan. This is our land. We carve our bones into swords. We do not need you to talk about our land. American citizens who believe in humanity and know that the world is a home of humanity will force your conscience to recognize the difference between good and bad.

Sincerely,

A Hazara interpreter who was left behind by U.S. forces.

Bye bye”

Abbas and his family are at a literal and dangerous crossroads, as is the planet. Let the voices of the peace advocates, pure or imperfect, and the Indigenous fighters for land and justice, and the vegan advocates for the Tule elk, and the lawyers and ecologists who strive to restore our seashores, and the many communities of the North Bay and beyond be raised in a prayer for the safety of Abbas and his family—as we all set about the work of healing the planet.

The Bohemian will publish updates on Abbas online.

NOTE: Paragraph four previously stated that protesters were chanting. They did not chant, but did wave signs.

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