peace door

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If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.

–Lao Tzu

Rosa Parks was born one hundred years ago. For many, she is the seamstress who refused to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus in order for a white passenger to sit. For those who experienced or have studied the Civil Right’s Movement, it is understood to have been more than a spontaneous act. It was planned by a woman who made a conscious decision to make a difference.

The platform for her action could have been on a larger scale – storming the state capital or finding another way to “capture the hearts and minds of America.” But, quietly, and without fanfare, she chose to stay within her town, her neighborhood. She chose a bus in her city.

And that’s where it starts. Changes to our cities, states, nation and world start in the places closest to us. They ripple into wider open spaces occupied by the marginalized and oppressed. Martin Luther King, whose leadership role was born from Parks’ rebellion, famously said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The illusionary global community creates a seeming infinity of problems. As an invention of commerce, it is at times overwhelming – especially to younger generations who are “connected” across oceans, time zones and cultures.

Recently, I attended a forum on the history of the women’s movement in Portland, Oregon. The panelists were four women who did not necessarily know one another, but were individually pivotal within a larger collective. A twenty-something male college student stood up to comment. His tone was somewhat frazzled and defeated. “How can we make any difference when we are up against so much and there are so many problems in the world?” he asked. “I don’t know where to start.”

As the panelists recalled having similar thoughts some forty years prior, I couldn’t help but think the swath of millennial’s whose paradigm consists of information overload and non-stop technology. Yes, things are different. We cannot evoke change and reform like the tactics of our parents and grandparents in the 60s and 70s. The media is different. Politics are more complex. Taking it to the streets makes a statement, but it does not necessarily provoke sustained movements like those in the past.

Then it hit me: the singular thread woven through such movements as Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, and the Abolitionist is locale. Every movement began in a single street or city. And then it spread. Those seeds of change, like in cycles of nature, were planted and then dispersed in order to begin again. To use Web jargon, it is iteration at its best.

Neighborhoods, cities, and yes, buses, might seem mundane against the backdrop of glorified global revolution as lit up by media graphics. But, from Rosa Parks to Elizabeth Cady Stanton to William Lloyd Garrison, change has always started with a single decision; an act of conscience. Those are the miniscule sparks that have begun every revolution.



Awake at 2:48 a.m.

Dog sleeps at my feet,
Twitching and trembling
House stirs in
Rhythm with the rise and
Fall of quiet breathing
Minds move in vivid thought
Fantastic interpretation
The world shifts and sighs
I lay here in darkness
Children are born
Elders pass
Mothers mourn
Leaders decide
Citizens cry
I join in its raveling
I am awake.

White Wall

Soft light sheath pours over
Insidious rises and recesses;
Swiftly, I am absorbed into its
Hypnotic crevices. The wall is an
Oxymoron: sturdy enough to
Hold up the others, yet frail
Against angry fists. It divides,
Creates rooms and passages.
It waits with me, understanding
Weary frustrations dipped
In time. The wall stands unchanged
Through movement it patiently
Remains despite revolving minutes
And colors. Speaking through echo,
Its chamber-like stance wisely
Reduces diatribe into
Mere murmur.

Anticipating Your Arrival

The train station sits at the end of town,
Past the rescue mission, just a block from
Renovated buildings housing high-end
Boutiques and cleverly packaged foods.
We walk into the hollow terminal.
Shiny floors reflect enormous doorway
Arches. We hug and wave goodbye as the
Porter awaits your bag.
Leaving for months at a time.
For now, you will be back in a matter of days.
On your back, you carry that banjo while those
Nearby look curiously at an instrument they’ve
Seen only old country legends play.
You pay no mind. Your independence
Has preceded you most of your life.
The big city neither intimidates nor
Overwhelms, as you choose not to judge.
You have devoured succulent
Words of master poets and aging
Musicians. You walk with their wisdom.
Juxtaposed colors and sounds of the city
Make for a stunning mosaic, built upon the
Whispers of time you so acutely tune.
The rails take you to a town,
Anticipating your arrival.

Copyright © Jennifer M Ortiz. All rights reserved worldwide.

Humane Foreign Policy Is Not: A Litany

Is not kill lists.
Is not drone strikes.
Is not rendition.
Is not black sites.
Is not nation building.
Is not surges.
Is not pre-emptive war.
Is not third world debt.
Is not oil.
Is not hunger.
Is not imperialism.



The places we cherish the most: paths and streams strewn and sewn into our minds’ eyes. Exposed are the social organisms in which we insinuate our one-and-only selves into the heaving of common breath. In the hands we hold, the inflections we ponder, the pain we soothe – those are forms of portals in which we reach out; in which we are touched.

Portals are new worlds, realities, emotions, and joy born from mutually inclusive embraces and bumps. Socially, we can render our psyches filled the “humanness” of mutual experience, conversation or glance. Handshakes and nods press beyond immediate recognition and reflex; they associate, mediate, remediate. They hold and calm; conjure and create.

An electorate. A co-habitant. Do we reformulate as we ameliorate?

Common ground doesn’t ask for less; my one hundred means your one hundred.

Beyond Big Bird

Contrary to popular conservative belief, PBS is more than a entity on the dole; an extended hand in which the deficit balloons. It is part of The Commons, like public libraries, schools, town squares and national parks – just to name a few. These are all under attack by a corporate ideology that seeks privatization of our most sacred spaces.

The Commons are places, knowledge and culture where we are able meet and form a sense ourselves relative to that of one another. It is both a product and a conduit of reciprocity. It is in these places that we learn to act rather than react; that we learn see beyond differences and come to appreciate our inherent similarities. It is an acknowledgement that we are not defined by property or wealth, but by those characteristics that inform our humanity of its dignity, reverence, creativity and interdependence. It is where we recognize nature for its kinship. It is also where we see that domination is not necessary for survival, as we have been taught, but that survival depends on cooperation.

The idea of the commons in America has a history dating back to 15th and 16th centuries in England. Every English village had a common grazing area for those who did not own land, but owned animals. This legacy was brought to America by the colonists and leaders of the newly formed country. Thomas Paine declared nature’s gifts are “the common property of the human race.” In the Land Ordinance of 1785, Thomas Jefferson and others established a cooperative model for the settlement of the West by setting aside a one square mile section of every township as a common property. This land was to be used to build a public school.

From the commons comes a perception of cooperation that acts to influence general acts of compassion of empathy. Adam Smith, known for Wealth of Nations, wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759. In it he states a philosophy that encapsulates the function and benefit of the commons:
The social emotions such as generosity, humanity, kindness, compassion, mutual friendship and esteem are considered overwhelmingly with approbation by the impartial spectator. The agreeableness of the benevolent sentiments leads to full sympathy on the part of the spectator with both the person concerned and the object of these emotions and are not felt as aversive to the spectator if they are in excess.

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