Category Archives: War & Peace

Patrick O’Neill – A Letter from the Hole

Patrick O’Neill, i happier times.

My friend Patrick O’Neill is serving a year in a federal prison, for attacking a replica of a nuclear missile at a south Georgia navy base in April of 2018. (A post with more about that protest is here.) It’s part of his peace witness as a member of the Catholic Worker movement.

Most of us don’t think about the missiles a lot. But there are enough just at that one Georgia base to kill pretty much everyone in the world, on fifteen minutes’ notice.

Yeah, the risk of nuclear Armageddon  did not disappear with the fall of Soviet communism.

Patrick and several others did think about the missiles, tho, and it led to Patrick reporting to the federal prison in Elkton, Ohio just about when Joe Biden was being inaugurated.

Doing time is tough. And nobody can do it for him. Patrick has a good deal of jail experience; and one lesson is that it doesn’t get much easier. There are a few ways to be supportive from outside. Mine is to send Patrick reading matter. Reading can dull some moments in the overwhelming tedium of confinement. So I have sent him a few of my books. (Hey — a captive audience; the best kind.)

Patrick’s solitary note.

It can help a little. Patrick said so, in a note that arrived this week:

‘Let all you do be done in love’— St. Paul

Good Friday [04/02/2021] Day 18 in the SHU (solitary)

Hi Chuck— My Lenten Journey will take me past Easter — I’ve done a lot of time (20+ jails, 6 prisons), but this has been the worst. Before the SHU [NOTE: SHU = Special Housing Unit] I spent 4 days in a hospital with 2 armed guards with me at all times who kept me in leg irons, and my left hand attached by chains to the bed, one chain attaching my leg irons to the bed . . . .
I had to pee in a plastic bottle while chained.

When I asked one guard to use the bathroom he said, “Do you have to do Number Two?” He would not have unchained me otherwise. And the leg irons never came off except for 15 minutes when I took a stress test on a treadmill. And now I’m in the hole for Covid quarantine.

[Note: It’s no surprise that Patrick came down with Covid. Since March 2020, The New York Times has tracked every known coronavirus case in every correctional setting in the United States. . . .

A year later, reporters found that one in three inmates in state prisons are known to have had the virus. In federal facilities, at least 39 percent of prisoners are known to have been infected. The true count is most likely higher because of a dearth of testing, but the findings align with reports from The Marshall Project, The Associated Press, U.C.L.A. Law and The Covid Prison Project that track Covid-19 in prisons.

The virus has killed prisoners at higher rates than the general population, the data shows, and at least 2,700 people have died in custody, where access to quality health care is poor.

The deaths, and many of the more than 525,000 reported infections so far among the incarcerated, could have been prevented, public health and criminal justice experts say.] Back to Patrick:

I was reading your book and really enjoying it (Eating Dr. King’s Dinner) before I got sick. I hope the book is still there when I get back to my unit. We’ll see. . . . Continue reading Patrick O’Neill – A Letter from the Hole

David Zarembka’s Memorable Writings: A Sampler

Besides his work and example, Friend David Zarembka also left a valuable and underestimated resource of writings for Friends and others.  We’ll sample that legacy here, and point to where more can be found.Zarembka -Book Cover

Besides some personal contact, I learned most about Dave from his book A Peace of Africa. Here’s part of that context from my review: Continue reading David Zarembka’s Memorable Writings: A Sampler

Breaking! OMG — Friends David Zarembka & Wife Gladys Kamonya Dead of Covid

This is a developing story. Watch for Updates.

I’m stunned.

I just learned that David Zarembka, aged 77,  a very distinguished Friend from Baltimore Yearly meeting, who lived for more than a decade among Friends in Kenya, and his wife Gladys Kamonya, 73 have both succumbed to Covid. Both passed in Eldoret Kenya. Gladys Kamonya died on March  23, 2021;  David  died on April 1.

Below is his autobiographical sketch published in the book Passing The Torch. More to follow:

David Zarembka, in his own words: From Passing the Torch

I find the world an extremely interesting place and I participate in as many aspects of it that I can. Conversely, I don’t find myself very interesting at all and therefore don’t often write much about my life’s 76 year journey. This article therefore is a major exception.

In order to understand where I ended up, I have to explain where I came from. Although it might seem that my life has been unconventional, it really hasn’t been when one considers where I came from and how I grew up.

My paternal great-grandfather, Mathias Zarembka, came from then Russian-occupied Poland to the United States to work. Those were the good, ole days in the late 19th century when people could just come and go. He stayed in the US for seven years and then went back. He had seven children, six of whom immigrated to the US, while only one remained in Poland. My grandfather, Frank Zarembka, immigrated to the US in March/April 1914.

If he had waited a few months longer, the guns of August which started World War I would have begun, and he probably would have been drafted into the Russian army where the ill-equipped and untrained Polish soldiers were mowed down by the Germans. He left behind my grandmother, Lotti Wilant (notice the German name although she knew of no connection to Germany), and my one-year old father, Richard Zarembka. They were not able to immigrate to the US until 1921 when the family reunification act was passed in the United States. They lived in St. Louis in the Polish section of town. My grandfather worked for St. Louis Coal and Ice and pulled ice from the ground to be cut up in blocks to be put in iceboxes. Even when I knew him as a child, he was physically very strong.

My maternal grandfather was Ernest Elmer Colvin. He was a newspaper man. My Mom, Helen Jane Colvin Zarembka, was a great family storyteller so I have lots of old stories. My grandmother was so worried about my grandfather when the Associated Press in St. Louis assigned him to cover the 1919 so-called “race riots” in East St. Louis – it was actually just a massacre of what were then called Negroes. When he retired around 1954, he was copy editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. My maternal grandmother, Flora Scott Colvin, died even before my parents were married. She had grown up in Kansas City where my grandparents met. She and her sister, Fanny, started the first kindergarten in Kansas City. Each morning they would hitch up the horse and pick up the kids for school – something that women were not supposed in those old days. So, my roots run deep. Continue reading Breaking! OMG — Friends David Zarembka & Wife Gladys Kamonya Dead of Covid

Patrick O’Neill Just Went to Jail. Again. “By the Grace of God,” he says.

In other news, besides the pandemic, insurrection, the economic crash, climate degradation, systemic racism and a few other “challenges,” did you stop to think this week about how most of the USA and much of the rest of the world could be destroyed with not much more than 15 minutes warning?

Me neither. Except that I did think about it briefly on Sunday, because of Patrick O’Neill.

Then he went to jail on Thursday for reminding me.

See what it gets you, Patrick? Continue reading Patrick O’Neill Just Went to Jail. Again. “By the Grace of God,” he says.

Quakers: From Peace to Civil War (Again?)

This week, while many American Quakers (& others) wait anxiously to see whether a new civil war is about to break out, the question of what Quakers can or should do in response to such events continues to linger.

I don’t have answers to that question; or rather, there is a surplus of answers, and sorting them out is “above my pay grade.” But I have studied how Quakers faced the (first?) U. S. Civil War. And these studies have been both reassuring and challenging, Perhaps they are worth reviewing briefly.

With the coming of the Civil War, a great many young Quakers felt themselves faced with a dilemma that was stated as well by Abraham Lincoln as by anyone:

“Your people–the Friends” he wrote to a Quaker minister, “–have had, and are having, a very great trial. On principle, and faith, opposed to both war and oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war. In this hard dilemma, some have chosen one horn, and some the other.”

To be sure, Lincoln was a politician, skillfully framing the choice in a way biased toward the war he was waging as the “only” way to “practically” end slavery.

But even Friends who declined to join accepted the binary formulation. And once fighting began, pro-war propaganda was relentless. Here’s a sample I just discovered. It’s a popular song, “A Quaker Letter to Lincoln,” from 1863: Continue reading Quakers: From Peace to Civil War (Again?)

Insurrection, Civil War & Quaker Dilemmas

A few days ago, a post on a Quaker Facebook group asked what the Quaker position was on dealing with insurrection.

An excellent and, er, disturbingly timely question. To which, of course, there is not a single Quaker answer.

To my mind, the best way to approach it is to look at live examples in our history. And here is one:

In the decade before the U.S. Civil War, many of the strong abolitionist Quakers (who were, we must note for the sake of truth, were then the radical fringe, loudly despised and marginalized by the Quaker Establishment) formed groups under the banner of Progressive Friends.

The Longwood Progressive Friends meetinghouse. It now serves as a visitors information office for the region.

The largest of these groups gathered in Longwood in Chester County, southwest of Philadelphia, in an area now known as the “Mushroom Capital.” There they soon built a meetinghouse which still stands.

Once underway, the Longwood Progressives quickly got down to business, launching a many-pronged assault on the recalcitrant status quo: on one side, they sent out volunteer “missionaries” to spread the Progressive gospel by organizing meetings wherever way opened.

On another, they adopted stirring resolutions, called “Testimonies,” denouncing a catalog of evils and calling for government and other action to end slavery  at once; grant equal rights to women; challenge the disparities of wealth; abolish the sale of alcoholic drinks; reform the prison system.

And not least, they called for an end to war & war preparations. Twice they urgently petitioned to the federal government about this, noting that:

“. . . impressed with the awful sinfulness of War, and its demoralizing tendencies upon the human race, we are impelled, by the spirit of our religion, to propose to you, the legislators of our beloved country, that in accordance with the progress of the spirit of the age, an arrangement be entered into to settle all disputations with Foreign Powers, by reference to an Arbitration of Nations.
We also earnestly desire the abandonment of all fortifications and preparations for war, the abolition of the army and navy, and of all military schools, over which the Government of the United States has jurisdiction.” (1853; 1855)

A mere six years later, on April 12, 1861, the newly-formed Confederate artillery opened fire on the federal Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.

That bombardment in South Carolina did more than breach the outpost’s defenses. Its fallout also landed hundreds of miles away: In particular, the war it started blasted holes in the “walled garden” of a then-Quietist and separatist American Quakerism.

It most thoroughly scrambled the thought and actions of the Progressive Friends, and if history has may lessons, perhaps we can find some here for our current plight. Continue reading Insurrection, Civil War & Quaker Dilemmas

How I Got so lucky: A True Christmas Story

One: Brooklyn, December 1967

I knew it was going to be another tough day at the Welfare Department when I saw the woman having an epileptic seizure in the Intake room. She was on her back, eyes rolling, jerking and thrashing, head thumping on the cement floor.

A security guard ran over and straddled her, trying to hold her down. Her arm whipped up and knocked off his black billed hat. Reaching back, he pulled out his billy club.

God, I thought, I hope he’s not going to hit her!

He wasn’t, but it was almost as bad. He tried to push the club between her teeth, to keep her from biting off her tongue, which could kill her. The jerking and thumping of her head made this almost impossible, though, and the club whacked repeatedly against her chin and face. Finally he got the club between her lips, and her movements seemed to slow down.

I couldn’t watch anymore. I turned back to the doorway and headed upstairs to the unit, where my desk sat in the second row from the back, the fourth desk over.

It was a freezing cold December in 1967, and there was no doubt about what I wanted for Christmas: Two things: a revolution; and then, a telephone for Mrs. Lee.

Actually, the telephone would probably have to come first, but that’s not how I felt–and I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading How I Got so lucky: A True Christmas Story

Karmic Collision IV: Like a (Kidney) Stone

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Chekhov: “Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out.”

Sometime around the late 1980s, I started having two recurring nightmares:

One, I’m maybe at home, or out somewhere, when the sky darkens and a dull roar starts up. It’s a tornado, bearing down on right where I am. I look for shelter, and either there isn’t any, or it’s not enough, and the tornado gets bigger and louder and then its roaring over me;  I  wake up trembling a with night sweats. Or

Two, I wake up, or at least I think I do, but when I try to move, I can’t. I’m paralyzed, and can’t speak either. Much later I read somewhere that this is a twilight, in-between state, no big deal, which goes away quickly. But I didn’t know that then; I would lie there in growing panic until, miraculously, a hand or a foot responds with a wiggle and then I was okay. But I still worried about if, next time, it could be permanent.

Let’s  review: from the outside, in those years I was earning more money than ever; I had job security, good health insurance, and a burgeoning retirement savings plan. Continue reading Karmic Collision IV: Like a (Kidney) Stone

Ongoing: The Everyday Work of Facing a Racist History

In my experience, the work of overcoming racism and its sordid history has many aspects, and can be pursued in many ways. Some are loud and disruptive. Others are calmly persuasive. Different strokes for different folks.

Here I want to pay tribute to a current worker, a friend of mine, and fellow  Quaker, Ron Osborne. On August 17, he appeared at the meeting of the Alamance County board of Commissioners, to do one small piece of this work, namely moving the tall Confederate monument from its longtime site in front of the old county courthouse in downtown Graham, the county seat.

Outside the building there were some noisy protesters, who could be heard in the background. Ron spoke quietly but clearly,  The Commission sets aside up to 30 minutes for general public comments, in 3-minute segments. Ron made his three minutes count.

The Commission at this point has taken no steps toward moving the monument. But this work continues.


Ron Osborne, at the podium, speaking to the Alamance County Commission, August 17, 2020.

Ronald Osborne: I have lived in North Carolina all my life and in Alamance County for over 35 years.

My family first settled in North Carolina in the 1660s. Part of my property has been continuously owned by my family since the 1750s. My direct ancestor was a neighbor and acquaintance of the Regulator Herman Husband. Their names even appear together on some deeds. Another ancestor made muskets used at [the 1781 Revolutionary War Battle of] Guilford Courthouse [in Greensboro].

Confederate monument, Graham, Alamance County, NC

My grandfather’s grandfather fought for the Confederacy, was captured at the Battle of Chancellorsville and wounded at Spotsylvania. My grandmother’s great grandfather fought at the Battles of New Bern and Kinston.

My wife’s grandmother’s great uncle was killed at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg. Our ancestors were also involved in other battles, including Gettysburg.

I share these scraps of family background to convey to you that I have a deep appreciation and awareness of History. My sons and I are Civil War reenactors, and I’m familiar with the inscription on the Court Square monument which appears to pay homage to those, like my ancestors, who served in the Confederacy.

A yard sign that has appeared in several places in Alamance County.

I must tell you that the simple presence of this statue in the courthouse square, a place which should promote and guarantee justice for all, which should be a place which represents all citizens equally, is as much a divisive symbol of the injustices inflicted on many of our citizens, as it is a reminder of any gallantry and sacrifices of my, and perhaps your, ancestors.

History tells us that those who dedicated this monument were the very citizens who lynched Officer Wyatt Outlaw in the same square. They enshrined this statue not just as a memorial, but as a veiled threat, set in stone, to all people of color to know and keep their places as second-class citizens.

You, our elected leaders have been confronted with a choice: Do you accept as your legacy the defense of a symbol of our checkered history, where both you and our county are known for refusing to acknowledge our known shortcomings of the past? Or do you embrace this opportunity to seek our community’s redemption, to improve our reputation, improve our economy, and demonstrate that we are a county welcoming and fair to all?

Move the statue away from our house that aspires to Justice. Demonstrate that “blue lives as well as black lives matter by memorializing the travesty our community visited upon Officer Wyatt Outlaw and other citizens of color. Be known through posterity as the leaders who embraced an opportunity for positive change. For if you don’t, future leaders surely will, robbing you of this momentous honor that could have been yours.

Seen not far from downtown Graham.