June 28, 2008

On the death penalty, I’m an abolitionist; on education and health care, a universalist; on economic growth, a minimalist, while on economic policy, a socialist; on military power deployed in the service of occupation and conquest, a pacifist; on the possibility of progressive political change, a pessimist of the head and an optimist of the heart.

I’m just sayin’…

One of the Most Mind-Boggling and Significant Events

June 28, 2008

( Apologies to m.l.)

One of the most mind-altering and significant events of the last century took place on a makeshift creaking bed in a small cabin in an isolated stretch of a sun-scorched California valley as dawn was breaking many, many years ago. To this day no one has ever revealed to those not present what actually took place.

Questions and more Questions

June 26, 2008

  1. If you had the power to bestow on all human beings on earth three qualities (not religious affiliations nor physical attributes nor material goods) what would they be? Why?
  2. Are these qualities embodied in your life? Your home? Your work place? Your community?
  3. What are five things you could do right now to bring those qualities more fully to life in each of these settings?
  4. What prevents you from doing those things?

One World

June 26, 2008

—Besides the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which government permitted the execution of juvenile offenders until last year ( when the highest court in the land rendered a split verdict on the matter) ? (Hint: Recently, China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bengladash, and Nigeria banned the practice).

—Now that Somalia has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, what nation stands alone in refusing to sign?

—Which government stands against 106 other nations in opposing the treaty that developed an International Criminal Court whose mission is to prosecute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity?

—With over half the nations of the world committed to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which major country has not signed?

—Which nuclear power withdrew from the treaty barring nuclear testing in space? (Hint: The same power recently scuttled a nuclear disarmament agreement, “unsigned” a global warming treaty, and walked away from a world conference on racism).

Another Quiz

June 26, 2008


  1. Name the six countries bordering Afghanistan?
  2. Which country shares the shortest border?
  3. Which the longest?
  4. Where, when, and under what circumstances did Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ associate, sustain his shoulder wound?
  5. How many Afghans were involved in the September 11 attacks?
  6. What percentage of the world’s people live in the United States? In Asia?
  7. What percentage of the world’s finished products are consumed by people in the US?
  8. What percentage of the world’s energy resources are consumed in the US?
  9. How large are the undeveloped oil reserves in Afghanistan? In Central Asia?
  10. Of the world’s six billion people, how many lack the basics to survive? How many own a computer? How many have a bank account?
  11. If the world were a village of 100 people, how many would be: a) literate? b) Muslims, Christians, Jews? c) hungry? d) homeless?
  12. When President Bush says the US will never reconcile with an unpopular despot who oppresses his own people, is he referring to: a) Saudi Arabia? b) China? c) Iraq? d) Uzbekistan? e)None of the above?
  13. When President Bush attacks the lack of truly democratic practices and institutions is he aiming his rhetoric at: a) Pakistan? b) Cuba? c) Saudi Arabia? d) Kuwait? e) The US? f) All of the above?

Fill in the Blanks

June 26, 2008

1. One percent of American households control as much wealth as the combined wealth of % of ____ American households.

2. ____ Americans made over $2 million a day from 1997-2000.

3. ____ people in the world can’t read.

4. If you own a refrigerator, have a bed and clothes in a closet you’re richer than ____ % of the world’s people.

5. ____% of the world’s people are non-white.

6. If you’ve never been tortured, been a slave, or seen a relative die in war, you’re luckier than ____% of people in the world.

7. ____ % of humanity owns a computer and has a bank account.

8. Less than 5% of the world’s people own ____% of the world’s wealth.

9. ____ % of the population of the world is Asian.

10. ____ % of the world’s population is non-Christian.

Teaching Malcolm X

June 18, 2008

Karen Salazar, an LA teacher, was fired for being “too Afro-centric,” notably teaching The Autobiography of Malcolm X. At a time when banning books is back in style in many quarters, and the right to think at all is under steady and screaming attack, Salazar deserves the support of all citizens, teachers, students and parents. Find her students’ protest on You Tube. Speak up for free thinking and open dialog.

Commencement Address, June 2008

June 16, 2008

Greetings, thanks, and congratulations ‘08!

Happy graduation!

I’m honored to speak to you on this special occasion, humbled to share this platform with your two dazzling classmates, each of whom articulated the deeper meaning of this moment in terms that are achingly real. What struck me most was the intensity of their stories, the joy, the struggle, the sense that today represents a community triumph, the collective effort of teachers and parents and loved ones and children and sisters and brothers. Everyone in this room is part of the accomplishment of these fine young people because everyone is connected in the intricate web of relationships and struggles and shared hopes. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it this way: “In a real sense all life is interrelated, all humanity is caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, united in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” This is the reality, and so we applaud the graduates, and, at the same time, we appropriately applaud everyone else in the room.


The New City High School has been a special home for you in these last years, and it is worth noting that it is a place powered by a particularly precious ideal—the belief that education, at its best, is an enterprise geared to helping all human beings reach the full measure of their humanity, inviting you to become more engaged, more thoughtful and powerful, more fully human in your pursuits and your projects. That ideal—always fragile, never easy nor simple, always, always revolutionary and never more so than today—is central to achieving an open and democratic society. And like democracy itself it is an ideal that is never finished, never finally summed up—it is an aspiration that must be defended vigilantly, fought for ceaselessly, and achieved anew by every individual and each successive generation.

A school like this one wants you to grapple—both now and in the future—with a question central to the spirit and heart of democracy, a question both simple and profound, straight-forward and twisty: what’s your story?

All human life, of course, is in part a story of suffering and loss and pain. When that pain is preventable, that suffering undeserved, we resist, and in that resistance is another common-place in our human story.

Sometimes our stories are ignored or diminished by others, sometimes we are seen through the lenses of stereotypes and labels, our undeniable and indispensable three-dimensionality suffocated and diminished, our hopes handcuffed and our possibilities flattened and policed.

It’s here that you draw on your education, on our own mind and your own spirit, to lift yourself up and beyond the negative and the controlling. What’s your story? Who are you in the world? What in the world are your chances and your choices?

Telling our stories, trusting our stories, and listening carefully and empathically to the stories of others is part of the work of democracy. Everyone counts, and nobody counts more than any one else. In a real democracy the full development of each is the necessary condition for the full development of all.

What’s your story? How is it like or unlike other stories? Of course, you’ve now written your high school story—the good and the not-so-good, the beautiful and the weird—and that story is in the books.

But what’s next? What will you do now, as the poet Mary Oliver urges, with your one wild and precious life? What is the next chapter going to be, and the chapter after that, and after that? No one knows for sure, for only you can write those next chapters—and even so, only partially, for every life is also a dance of the dialectic, a sometimes difficult negotiation between chance and choice.

Stuff happens, and some of that stuff we can’t control. Still, education urges journeys—voyages of creativity and construction. So let’s focus on choice, the things you can decide to do or not to do here and now. And let’s keep it simple, again channeling Oliver, and lets call this three simple steps to the next chapter in your story.

Step 1. Pay attention! You cannot be free if you are living in a bunker— a barricaded space of your own or any one else’s creation. Open your eyes. Get out more. Your family, your faith community, your neighborhood, the United States—these are all fine starting points, but they are not the end of it. Reach further. Get in dialogue with different people, people with unpopular ideas, get in touch with a world outside your own beneficent (but limited and limiting) dogma. See how things look from another perspective. Take risks to see more and know more—the payoff is your own freedom. As Bob Marley sang: Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.

Step 2. Be astonished! There’s so much beauty in the world, some days it will make you ache. There’s so much unnecessary suffering and undeserved pain in the world, some days it will make you weep. Love the earth and the sun and the animals. Embrace the humanity of others. Despise riches and hate tyrants. Walk freely with the downcast and the despised. Love life. Be astonished.

Step 3. Trust your story! Intentionally, deliberately, with devotion and discipline. Act on what the known demands of you. Write it up, write it down. In a culture that seems to worship celebrity, always choose accomplishment instead; in a society that settles for stereotype, always choose to see yourself and others as an infinite universe of possibility.

That’s it—three simple steps—and it adds up to this: Love everybody! James Baldwin insists that love can take off the masks that we hide behind, love asks us to see beyond ourselves. I use the word love here to mean more than a superficial and personal sense of being “made happy.” No, I mean love in the way Baldwin used the term: love as a state of being or a state of grace, love in the tough and universal sense of quest and challenge and daring and growth.

Care about other people—really care—and be willing to sacrifice something of yourself in the tiny, unsung, unsexy ways every day that make life bearable. Give assistance and advice to everyone who asks, no exceptions. Devote your income and labor to others.

So in this election year, and in the years to come: VOTE LOVE!

For all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances.

Embrace a new world in the making, and dare to taste it with a kiss.

Just Vote Love!

—-Bill Ayers

Vote Love: A Quest

June 16, 2008

A word from the brilliant American writer James Baldwin:

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word ‘love’ here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.