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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

From Banda Aceh

Posted: 04/24/05 15:40

Dateline: Banda Aceh, Indonesia: A tsunami update
by Becca Young

(Becca Young, a Presbyterian minister with a degree in public health nutrition, is working for six months with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in North Sumatra and Aceh, coordinating the tsunami and earthquake relief work of three Indonesian-based church relief agencies. She worked in Minnesota last fall for MoveOn.PAC.)

So here I am in the heart of Disaster Relief Management, the eye of the storm, so to speak -- the spectacular city of Banda Aceh, once the jewel in the crown of the Sultan of Aceh (who ruled in the 1500s) and now the site of the worst natural disaster in recent history.? In the surrounding province (of which?Banda Aceh is the capital), there are 150,000 confirmed deaths, another 100,000 unaccounted for who won't be officially declared "dead" for a year.?
Banda Aceh is the city at the northernmost tip of Sumatra and now the BINGO capital of the world:? the headquarters for multitudes of Big International Non-Governmental Organizations;? everywhere we go, our SUV has to pull over to the side of the road to let bigger and fancier SUVs?of bigger and fancier INGOs pass.
Out of all the stories that I may tell you in the course of my time in Indonesia, surely this is the hardest.
Where do I start?? Perhaps with a personal story.?
Dipa is a young Acehnese woman of?21 who is now on the staff of Church World Service - Indonesia.? Her village is about 10 miles from the beach, so her family and house didn't face any danger.? But on the morning of Dec. 26, she was at her aunt's house in Banda Aceh, in order to do her final exam before?receiving her bachelor's degree in economics.??When they first felt the earth shake under their feet,?they ran out of the house in a panic.? Because they were so near the beach, it was only?a few minutes before their heard a sound they had never heard before -- like a huge wind headed their way.? They looked to the source of the sound and saw a wall of water headed straight for them, so they began to run.? When the water hit them, Dipa grabbed on to the nearest person and they tried to hold together while the other person wrapped her free arm around a tree.? But the wave tore them apart, and Dipa felt herself lifted up and placed on top of the first story of a house.? In a weird way, the wave actually saved her by placing her there.? Before she had a chance to grab on to anything, the wave lifted her further to the second story of the same house, and left her there.? Two more huge waves came crashing through the neighborhood, but neither with the height of the first.? So Dipa was then stranded on top of the roof for seven hours, through the heat of the day, all by herself.?
She said that, as she sat there and the water receded, all she could see were dead bodies strewn throughout the neighborhood, literally hundreds of them.? She had an eerie feeling that she was the only person left alive.? She said that she had to start thinking how she was going to live out the rest of her life -- the reverse of someone who is about to die and looks back on the events of their life passing by -- Dipa realized she had survived and she now had to look to the future and to how she was going to survive completely on her own.?
But after?those long agonizing hours, she heard the welcome sound of a human voice.? The owner of the house, swept away by the wave, had returned to seek his family.? His wife?was never?seen again.? In spite of his loss, he?got some rope and climbed up to the roof to lower Dipa to the ground.? Soon after?that, her friend?who?had hugged the tree also returned, safe.? They went together back to?Dipa's aunt's house, and found?the aunt also alive.? By now it was night and they tried to sleep, as if anyone could in?those?circumstances.? It is probably more accurate to say that they?simply waited for daylight to return, to face the new and unimaginably contorted circumstances of their lives.?
In the meantime, it was inevitable that Dipa's mother and father and two brothers back home heard of the awful events.??As is typical?for word-of-mouth news, they only heard the worst -- that no one had survived, that the whole coastline was a field of death.? The father refused to believe it and went looking himself, but indeed, he too saw the hundreds -- thousands -- of corpses strewn everywhere, tangled in the midst of the rubble of a thousand houses and cars tumbled over and over in the force of the dragon-like wave.? He could not make his way to the aunt's house because of the debris and broken bridges.? But he returned home to tell his wife the worst -- there was no way their only daughter could have survived.
As Dipa told this part of the story, she had to stop as she was overcome by tears.? Her heart went out to her mother,?overcome by the loss of her precious daughter.?
Dipa, knowing that her?family would be devastated, hurried as quickly as she could the next morning to get back home.? But the way was difficult and long, and psychologically very difficult as she passed through miles of destruction.?
Finally she came?near the village, and like?the prodigal child?returned home,?was met by her brother on the road and brought back?into the family.? Never was there such rejoicing in the household.
Now Dipa works?with Church World Service's community-based psycho-social health program for the affected population -- of which she herself is a member.? The idea behind such a program is that of the true resiliency of humankind -- that most people when suffering such an immense tragedy, unless they are already psychologically or emotionally instable, have a great capacity for rebounding if given the chance to be active and work towards their future rather than dwelling on the past, and also?if they feel that they have control over their lives rather than being victims.
We asked?Dipa how she herself was coping with such a tragic experience.? She said that what kept her going was being able to help others who had been through the same thing.? It was quite remarkable to see her strength, a shining example of the very thing that CWS is doing through this program in several places in Aceh province.
No, CWS didn't pay me to tell this story.? I have just had the privilege of a four day trip through Aceh with several members of the board of CWS, all fellow Americans who?witnessed with me the joy and the sorrow of the Acehnese people, the?spectacular natural beauty of their land, and the many struggles they face.
Aceh is?one of two provinces in Indonesia?fighting for its independence from Indonesia.? Indonesia, although predominantly Muslim, is a secular country.? Aceh, a stronghold of Islam from the time of the Sultans, wishes to be "one nation under God."? But due to its?wealth of natural resources (primarily natural gas, but also apparently a preponderance of pot, which the?Indonesian soldiers traffic in, much to their profit,?while condemning?ordinary citizens?to death for its possession), the Indonesian military keeps a tight grip on the land and terrorizes the people.? It was for this type of military rule that the soldier I met in Nias (whom I described in my last entry for his dislike of Bush) was trained at Fort Benning's School of the Americas.? In the year 2002 alone, Indonesian soldiers killed over 1000 citizens for their presumed participation in the resistance movement, and terrorized countless others.
But they also get very rich in the process.? There is an oft-told story of an Indonesian soldier, assigned from another island to come to serve in Aceh.? Most soldiers don't want to be so far from home and consider it a hardship post, but this well-informed soldier was eager for the assignment.? His commanding officer asked, "Why are you so eager to go where others are not?"? The soldier answered, "I depart from here to there with an M-16.? I return to here from there with 16-M," as in 16 millyard (a billion) Rupiah,?or about $2 million.
As if such suffering was not enough, now the Acehnese people have the horrors of the tsunami from which they are just beginning to emerge.? Actually, the degree to which they have rebounded -- the markets have reopened, electricity is fairly dependable by now, public transport runs on time as much as it ever did before the tsunami -- is remarkable.?
Perhaps surprisingly, the Acehnese people are worried about what we, the U.S., think of them.? Just today, I stopped to buy a young coconut to drink its refreshing water (guaranteed sanitary, God's best soft drink in a to-go container).? The men gathered at the coconut stand quickly surrounded me to guess what country I was from -- France?? Holland?? Portugal?? No one managed to guess right, so I told them.? As soon as the word "America" was out of my mouth, they came closer to me with much concern in their faces.? They asked, "Is it true that the people of America hate us and fear us?? That they think we are all orthodox Muslims and therefore terrorists?? Because we are not.? We are people, just like you, not anti-American, not anti-anything.? We just want to live?healthy safe and happy lives, like anyone else.? We mean no one any harm."
I promised them that I would tell you all this about them.? And now you too know.? I only wish you could see their?beautiful faces as they open up their homes, lives and hearts, and yes even their tents! to me,?hospitable beyond belief in the midst of this awful tragedy.
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Howard Dean as DNC Chair

Posted: 04/21/05 12:39

By Jay H. Steele

I attended the ACLU fund-raiser last night and heard Howard Dean speak. His basic message was that Dems need to build a movement, frame their arguments better, and speak not about programs but from "the heart." Same message that is coming from everyone.

The most interesting discussion, I thought, was about abortion. No one, he said, is pro-abortion. He thinks the "pro-choice" language is a loser. He thinks we should be framing the argument in terms of who gets to make decisions about a women's healthcare. Is it the woman, or is it Tom Delay and the government? I think there could be some traction to be gained there if we can keep talking about how the religious right is trying to impose their understanding of God's will on everyone else -- and, if the right keeps going off the deep end, and the responsible wing of the Republican Party doesn't wake up soon before the GOP is destroyed.

Still, I think we really need to take back the language of pro-life. I am a pro-life Democrat. I want to improve the quality of life for every child and adult in America. That means universal healthcare for all, quality early and public education that is well funded, and a foreign policy that doesn't have us sending our children off to war to spread the Christian empire around the world and at the same time saddling them with oppressive dept. That is what it really means to be pro-life. I am not pro-abortion, but I want to see us create the kind of communities and country where children are welcomed into the world. But I am also not naive; abortions are going to happen. So I agree with Bill Clinton that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. That is the limited goal regarding abortion in an overarching pro-life agenda.

One worry I have about Dean. He wants to bring his movement-creating skills to the Democratic Party. Will he succeed, or will the establishment-based old guard cow him over time? He succeeded as much as he did as a presidential candidate by creating an anti-establishment movement on the edge of the party. I am not sure what he did on the outside can be done from the inside. Hope I am wrong.
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Troops in the Lege!

Posted: 04/01/05 12:21, Edited: 04/01/05 13:03

by Glen Marshall

I have the deepest respect for the people that protect our country. I admire their ability to put their own best interests behind them in favor of defending often ungrateful citizens. Soldiers' willingness to take an order and go with it, regardless of the personal harm that may come to them, is the stuff of true heroism.

Now, there are a couple of former soldiers that represent me in a couple of different legislative bodies. Actually, I'm sure that there are many, but there are two in particular that feel the need to crow about it...a lot:

John Kline, US Representative from Minnesota, CD2
Lynn Wardlow, State Representative of Minnesota, District 38B

To listen to these two guys, the personna of the soldier is so much a part of their identity that they can't shake it. The profession of the soldier is an honorable one of service; however, you better leave your whole idea of "chain of command" at the door when you step into the lege.

I watched in astonishment as Lynn Wardlow defended his failure to defend a potential fix for Minnesota's schools with the excuse: well, the Governor would probably have vetoed it anyway.

What? WHAT? I'm sorry, Mr. Wardlow... this ain't the Marines anymore. You don't wait for your orders to determine what battle is winnable or which one is important. You decide what your constituents want, you decide upon the honest, moral and ethical stance and you make the decision on your own.

You aren't a soldier anymore, and your party is not the brass. You are a failure as a representative if you think that anywhere NEAR the majority of the people of Eagan, Minnesota want you to drop the ball and not make a ruckus about the gutting of our schools. A true hero would have voted to protect schools regardless of his chances of victory. The nobility of championing even the most lost of causes, if it be a noble cause, is a compelling thing to a voter.

And don't you slink away anywhere, John "The Football" Kline. In order to support your party leadership, you abandoned your party's central ideal: small government. You voted to introduce the Federal Government into a family's tragedy. Time to stop following orders and to start representing your constituents.

Now, Mark Dayton voted with you on this issue. But there's an important difference. He knew that he would be savaged by his own party for doing so. I intensely disagree with him on this vote. But do you know what? I can be pretty sure that his vote was a vote of conscience. I also believe that I could discuss the issue with him and then walk away either understanding his point of view or even possibly convincing him to change his view. Either way, I believe that he would discuss the issue honestly.

So, Mr. Kline and Mr. Wardlow, it's time for you to be legislators, not soldiers for your party. Your constituents are your commanding officers. You may disagree with them and you may even vote against their wishes, but you better damn well have a better reason than wanting to be on the winning side or taking marching orders from your party.
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