Category Archives: Peaceful

Living Resistance from the U.S. to Palestine

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Wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the Oak Hill Community Center (a very cool place) in Baltimore. There were only a handful of people, and I feared the worst. It always seems to be a battle to fill a room when “Palestine” is on the agenda, especially in Maryland where the Zionists have the ear of Senator Cardin in DC, and Legislators in Annapolis are pushing an anti-BDS bill again.

I decided to attend to show my support for the organizers, not expecting to learn anything new. Wow!  Was I wrong . . . on both counts.

The space quickly filled up to standing room only, perhaps 50-60 people. And the speakers were extraordinary, both in passion and information.Palestinian children locked up in Israeli jails is a horrible reality. The school-to-prison pipeline in the U.S. (ensnaring predominantly brown and black children) is a reality too. Thanks to Norma Hashim, Yousef Aljamal and others, Palestinians are finally being heard in The Prisoners’ Diaries and Dreaming of Freedom.

Thanks to the sponsors of the multi-city tour for No Child Behind Bars, the connection between the Palestinian injustices and the US juvenile criminal system is also being heard. See list of the cities and the sponsors here.

There are clearly parallels between the two criminal justice systems for juveniles in Israel/Palestine and the U.S. but I learned at this presentation that they are far more insidious than I imagined, and far more interconnected.

Thanks to Ahed Tamimi from Nabi Saleh in the Occupied West Bank, and Amanda Weatherspoon & Nadya Tannous from California, we learned facts that stirred many in the audience to engage in a robust Q & A after the presentation.

Ahed Tamimi (15 yrs old) was not given a Visa to travel to the U.S. (highlighting the travel restrictions that nearly all Palestinians face). The organizers creatively resisted by sending a videographer to record Ahed in her community.

The evening began with a short video of Ahed speaking in January 2017. Here’s another short video clip of Ahed speaking a year ago.

 

Some facts I learned!

Did you know that Israel is the only country in the world that has a juvenile military court?

A Palestinian child and an Israeli settler child who live merely feet from each other in the West Bank will face very different criminal justice systems and laws for the very same offense (throwing rocks for example).

Did you know that the tear gas used in the City of Ferguson was likely field tested in the occupied West Bank and Gaza? People in Ferguson quickly learned that water doesn’t ease the pain of the tear gas, it exacerbates the pain. On social media, they posted a question “What’s this new type of tear gas?” Palestinians knew immediately and advised them to use milk and coca cola as an antidote for the tear gas.

Do you know which cities have the highest number of drone-testing? Gaza is #1.The Lakota Nation in the US is #2.

Amanda, a Unitarian Universalist minister, shared a helpful framework to think about the entrenched violence and imprisonment of our children in Palestine and the U.S.brick-wallConsider 3 bricks in that wall of violence.

Brick #1 – The foundation of the wall is built on structural racism, such as redlining in our communities which established borders to provide opportunities for building for some people and restricted opportunities to build or buy homes to other people. There are many other examples.

Brick #2State violence is obvious and clearly in the public discourse now. Think about the examples of police brutality, and the school to prison pipeline. We all know that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rates in the world. Did you know that 2.3 million Americans were imprisoned in 2009, and the highest % of them were women of color?school-to-prison-pipelineBrick #3Profit is the third brick. Profit provides the motive, and our private prisons need prisoners to make a profit.  See the ABA publication Prisons for Profit: Incarceration for Sale.  Israel and the U.S. are marching in lockstep together creating this wall with these 3 bricks.

Towards the end of the evening, Amanda asked a provocative question. What race are we? she asked. The answer — we’re the human race. This construct about “race” was created specifically for profit. Think about it. She’s right.

I left with my head buzzing, thinking about these 3 bricks and how the injustices perpetrated on Palestinian children and American children are so interconnected. We can’t fight one without acknowledging and fighting against both.

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Palestine in the DC Women’s March

The crowds in DC on Saturday were “yuge,” as Donald would say, but he was probably hiding somewhere creating his own “alternativefacts” to explain the outpouring of protest.

We know Donald and his team didn’t like the unfavorable comparisons between the size of the crowd at Obama’s inauguration in 2008 and Donald’s inauguration on Friday. Size seems to be a big issue for the Donald — nope, I won’t go there — but take a look at the Earthcam feed (here) of the National Mall on both days and draw your own conclusion.march-crowd-10I attended the Womens March in DC because I wanted to give voice to the outrage and despair I’ve felt since the election. How could my fellow Americans elect this idiot?

This isn’t an issue of Party politics for me. Democrats, Republicans, Greens, etc. are equally capable of making horrendous policy decisions. Donald’s campaign and election exposed the underbelly of hatred in America that I naively thought was buried. loraEveryone had signs, many with big words that might stump Donald’s limited vocabulary. My sign was the only Arabic sign that I saw. “Build Bridges, Not Walls”.  A friend in Barcelona came up with the idea (in Spanish of course) and I asked my friends in Gaza to help me write the message in Arabic.

A handful of people at the March understood my sign, many more were curious about it, and gave me the thumbs up when I translated it. Some wanted to take pictures of the sign, but this man in the yellow jacket came up to me and asked his companion to take our picture together with the sign. He told me that my message was the reason he decided to attend the March. Then I asked his companion to take a photo for me.many-issuesThis March was unlike any other that I’ve participated in because it brought together so many different people and issues. Our common struggle makes us stronger and much more powerful. Donald won’t know what hit him. untrumpableThere were many speeches (and it was difficult for this short person to stand squeezed between so many shoulders, unable to see much beyond my neighbors’ backs) but I heard many inspiring speakers. Angela Davis and Van Jones shared the best messages.

“FREEDOM & JUSTICE FOR PALESTINE” — Angela Davis

“The #LoveArmy isn’t gonna let Trump mess with Muslims.” — Van Jones

I read there wasn’t a single arrest at the Women’s March in DC. The love and energy I felt there proved that people can be super angry without being violent. That was a very positive message in itself.

Where do we go from here?  The marchers have returned home, but they sure aren’t going to be quiet. Just as the world watches the new president to see what he can accomplish in his first hundred days in office, we know there is a clear path for The First Hundred Days of Resistance, posted by Robert Reich but originally drafted by a fellow New Mexican, Alan Webber.  Every day, in every way, Donald and his cronies will face a resistance greater than anything they’ve imagined.

 

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Why I’m Marching in DC on Saturday

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Public Garden in Boston – Photo via Allie Kroner

My PussyHat is knitted, my sign is drying, and I’m ready to hop on the bus Saturday morning in Baltimore for the short ride to DC.

I struggled with the message I want to share at the Women’s March, and decided my friend’s sign in Barcelona, Spain was the perfect message. Gracias Barbara. In Spanish, she wrote “Build Bridges, Not Walls”.  The message is positive, simple and complex all in one. I asked my friends in Gaza to help me write the message in Arabic.

Palestinians know better than anyone the evil associated with walls, as Israel has perfected the process of division, humiliation, and death with the erection of “security” walls and fences. I don’t want America building walls — literally or figuratively. We must expand our spirit of generosity, build bridges at home and abroad, and grow our understanding and appreciation of each other.

Donald wants to build a physical wall, but he’s already succeeded in dividing Americans. I will do my part to resist Donald and shed the light on a different path.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

We Were Made For These Times by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves

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The path not chosen after 9/11

This message popped up on my Facebook feed this morning, the 15th anniversary of 9/11.

This is a fight between good and evil….which side do you think Hillary is on? This Zionist Jesuit Luciferian Khazarian Bush/Clinton Cabal is responsible for 9/11 of which the people had no clue about. Not radical ideologies. America has been plundering the world and committing genocide blaming a made up boogie man for their resources. The veil is lifting and Americans are beginning to awaken.

Quickly, I absolutely disagree with this sentiment and have no clue who the person is, certainly not a “friend” of mine. But it makes the point that I was hoping to make better than I could.

Fifteen years since 9/11 and what have we (Americans) learned from that fateful day? I fear many of us have learned the wrong lessons.

Wrong Lesson #1: President George W. Bush epitomized the binary thinking with his infamous “fight between good and evil” rhetoric.  Remember, “you’re either with us or against us!”

Correct Lesson #1:  I wish we had learned a greater appreciation for compassion and loving our neighbor. Following 9/11, we should have been asking “how can we help those less fortunate than us in other parts of the world?”  “How can we show our strength and resolve through love and compassion, rather than by violence and fear?”

Wrong Lesson #2: Synthesizing complex issues and relationships into simple taglines and labels is so much easier than using our critical thinking skills.  “Zionist Jesuit Luciferian Khazarian Bush/Clinton Cabal” is the mother of all labels. LOL. Unfortunately, President Bush was masterful at putting complex ideas into simple boxes.  Or maybe he was just a simpleton.

Correct Lesson #2:  I wish we could have developed a new organ in our brain after 9/11.  An organ capable of holding conflicting ideas at the same time, of suspending disbelief and really listening to the other. The tragic events of 9/11, followed by the countless tragic events in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Paktika, Aleppo, and on and on, seem to have divided us into the home team vs. all those others. Instead, we should have learned that we’re all one.WeAreOne-Med

Wrong Lesson #3: “Radical ideologies” = them, not us. Terrorists are them, not us. Our drone kills are legitimate; their suicide bombers and beheadings are illegitimate.  Many Americans (including both major party candidates for President) blame radical ideologues abroad for the 9/11 attack and the war on terror we are fighting today. While others (as exemplified by the quote above) blame the U.S. or Israel or the Zionists.  

Correct Lesson #3: Truth be told, there are radical ideologues on both sides of the ocean, in every corner of the planet, including in Congress and the Executive Branch. “Radical ideologue = an adherent of an extreme or drastic ideology, especially one who is uncompromising and dogmatic.” 

While we need to be cautious, especially with radical ideologues who wish to perpetrate violence, 9/11 should have taught us how to recognize the danger signs of radical ideologues within our midst. Instead, it appears that we’ve learned how to nurture them.  

I believe the U.S. government and many Americans have learned the wrong lessons from 9/11 and are following the wrong path fifteen years later as a result.  I wonder if we could choose another path.

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Can our brains evolve in time?

I seem incapable of coating my thoughts and opinions on this blog and Facebook with a sheen of political correctness.

Who have I disturbed with my writings?

  • Jews of all persuasions (but primarily Zionists).
  • Palestinians who object to the mirror I hold up.
  • Democratic Party bosses who find me “disgusting” for my opposition to Hillary’s candidacy.
  • Democratic Party loyalists who find me misguided.
  • Republicans, Libertarians and probably every political party could take exception to what I have written at one time or another.
  • Family members have taken offense, labeling me anti-Semitic in one case, and insensitive in another.
  • Long-time friends in “real life” have scolded me for the opinions I have shared on Facebook.
  • Professional colleagues have shunned me for my advocacy on the Israel/Palestine issue.
  • Palestinian activists have “unfriended” me for failing to follow the party line in their version of “standing in solidarity” with Palestinians.

When did “unfriend” become a verb? When did I stop caring?

In every case, it came down to a disagreement over our different worldviews. I touched a nerve and disagreed with their position, whether it was politics, religion or something else. (Except in one case that I can recall where my criticisms of the American lifestyle was taken as a personal criticism.)

BUSH

The predicament we humans find ourselves in at this stage of our evolution might be summed up in George W. Bush’s infamous words.

We want to see a world where reality is black and white. We are right, the “other” is wrong. We are good. They are bad.

Our human brains are hardwired to see the world this way. The evolution of human thinking has failed to keep up with the complex challenges we are facing today, many of our own making, which demand more complex thinking.

Survival skills are no longer limited to building a fire for warmth in the cave, hunting and gathering food for our family’s sustenance, and protecting ourselves from those who wish to do us harm, although each remains vitally important.

Today, survival requires that we understand and empathize with the “other.” Why is this different from centuries past?  Three reasons come to mind.

  • There are many more people bumping into each other on this planet today, competing for a finite and diminishing resource base.  Eons ago when our brains were learning and adapting, we had plenty of space to call our own and everyone else had their space. We could easily avoid each other if we chose.
  • Technology has overtaken us in many cases. We can create, design and build amazing things but we don’t have the brains to adjust to the new reality we’ve created with this technology.
  • The physical challenges confronting us today, primarily as a result of climate change, are not limited to discrete parts of the planet, but are impacting us all wherever we might call home. There’s no escape.

sinking boat

Let me explain how our brains are not working consistent with today’s reality.

There are countless examples, but I’ll begin with the Muslim Brotherhood. I’ve talked with many Egyptians over the past five years about the Muslim Brotherhood. These Egyptians come from all walks of life — urban, rural, formally educated, uneducated, professionals, laborers, women and men, young and old. One even acknowledged that he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood!

Unsurprisingly, there is a considerable diversity of opinion.

On the one hand, some believe the Muslim Brotherhood are peace-loving people who have been persecuted for many, many years, and imprisoned and killed for their beliefs.

On the other hand, others believe the Muslim Brotherhood has been a cancer on Arab society since its founding in 1928. They must be excised from the body politic before they create chaos and harm in the country.

Some Egyptians believe President El-Sisi’s government (which overthrew President Morsi – a member of the Muslim Brotherhood) is illegitimate. El-Sisi is rounding up 1000s of Egyptians from the universities, their homes and off the streets, and torturing them and “disappearing” many. Their families will never know what happened to them. Other Egyptians support El-Sisi and believe he is taking necessary measures to safeguard the nation, and it will take time.

Where is the truth?

Maybe the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t as evil and as dangerous as some think, but neither perhaps are they the innocent victims of persecution as others assert. I don’t know, and I’m in no position to know, but my point is that we must suspend our disbelief and our certainty to allow a more complex picture to emerge.

The human brain doesn’t seem capable of doing that.

These two very different discriptions of the Muslim Brotherhood are as true to the believers as the sun rising in the East is true to you and me. These two versions of the truth about the Muslim Brotherhood are mutually exclusive and can’t coexist, and so it’s unlikely that the people who hold these different versions of the truth can coexist, at least not easily, without conflict, tension or fear of the other.

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Permanent art exhibits at the Library of Alexandria

Another example.  Hamas.

If you’re a consumer of the mainstream Western media, you likely share the official line that Hamas is a foreign terrorist organization. The U.S. government formally designated it as such in October 1997. Israel’s Netanyahu takes every opportunity to remind us of this “fact.”

On the other hand, if you talk with some Palestinians themselves and with some pro-Palestinian activists, you’ll hear that Hamas is a legitimate resistance and political organization duly elected by the Palestinians 10+ years ago. They are using every means available, including weapons, to resist an internationally-recognized illegal occupation. Some people seem to believe that Hamas can do no wrong.

Where is the reality? Is Hamas evil and the embodiment of the devil himself? Or is Hamas wearing the white hat of a noble resistance movement? Or maybe it’s not as simple as that. If our response and actions towards Hamas are based on a flawed analysis, shouldn’t we expect the results of our actions and responses to Hamas to be flawed as well? Of course, we should.

Most people seem incapable of holding contradictory notions in their minds at the same time. It’s either black or white, no shades of gray.

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Scanning of a human brain by X-rays

There’s alot of color in this world — beautiful people sharing all sorts of ideas and holding many different beliefs that make this an amazing time to be alive on planet Earth.

I’m not suggesting that we all must agree with one another, but we must be willing to suspend our disbelief, listen to the “other” with an open mind and an open heart, and process all of the information we receive respectfully. We must challenge ourselves and each other to “think outside of the box” and to question, question question all assumptions.

Our future survival as a species on this planet really depends on it.

Returning full circle to my original point — that I’ve disturbed many people with my writing on Facebook and this blog. My intention is to challenge belief systems, and to question assumptions and the “common wisdom.” Yours and mine.

This may be disturbing but it should always be respectful.  If my writing crosses the line into disrespect and demagoguery, I want to hear about it. If my writing challenges your comfort zone and makes you feel uncomfortable, well, that’s the goal.

A friend shared the following poem with me. It speaks to me, maybe it will speak to you.

We and They
Rudyard Kipling
FATHER, Mother, and Me
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And every one else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But – would you believe it? – They look upon We
As only a sort of They !We eat pork and beef
With cow-horn-handled knives.
They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,
Are horrified out of Their lives;
And They who live up a tree,
And feast on grubs and clay,
(Isn’t it scandalous?) look upon We
As a simply disgusting They!

We shoot birds with a gun.
They stick lions with spears.
Their full-dress is un-.
We dress up to Our ears.
They like Their friends for tea.
We like Our friends to stay;
And, after all that, They look upon We
As an utterly ignorant They!

We eat kitcheny food.
We have doors that latch.
They drink milk or blood,
Under an open thatch.
We have Doctors to fee.
They have Wizards to pay.
And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We
As a quite impossible They!

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They !

 

 

 

 

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Knowledge is power!

Following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, I traveled from Greece to Egypt this month (July 2016) and visited the magnificent library in Alexandria, the city which he founded.  More than 2300 years ago, the ancient library on this site was the world’s largest repository of ancient knowledge. By 400 A.D. the library had vanished. The new library opened in 2002.

The idea of a universal library, like that of Alexandria, arose only after the Greek mind had begun to envisage and encompass a larger worldview. The Greeks were impressed by the achievements of their neighbours, and many Greek intellectuals sought to explore the resources of “Oriental” knowledge.

The cruise ships have stopped coming to Alexandria, citing concerns about violence, and so I suspect that this port city is suffering under the same economic woes as Cairo and the Red Sea resorts from the lack of tourism. There were many Egyptians visiting the library on the day I was there, but I saw only a handful of foreigners.

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Egyptians taking their selfies in front of the Library of Alexandria

Knowledge is power; making knowledge univerally accessible to anyone with a computer is a powerful act of generosity and love.

I learned from our tour guide that the Library of Alexandria is part of the World Digital Library started by the US Library of Congress. The library has a very active project to digitize resources from many countries, and our guide asked us which country we would like to search in the library’s database as an example. I said “Palestine.” She smiled and typed in Palestine, and up came the list of books and manuscripts that have been digitized to date.

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Permanent art exhibits at the Library of Alexandria

Libraries and librarians have always been special in my heart, and that might explain why I think the CPDS Library in Gaza is so extraordinarily important. Israel can stop the flow of people, concrete and sugar, but it can’t stop the flow of information. Israel’s 20th century strategies — occupation, siege, blockade and humiliation — will backfire in the 21st century.  Now anyone in Gaza connected to the Internet will be able to access:

The Digital Assets Repository, the Wellcome Arabic Manuscripts Online, the Institut du Monde Arabe Book Collection, the Digital Library of Inscriptions and Calligraphies, the President Mohamed Naguib Digital Archives, the President Gamal Abdel Nasser Digital Archives, the Science Supercourse Project, the Encyclopedia of Life, the Universal Networking Language Project (my favorite), and much more.

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World’s largest public reading room.

I can imagine space aliens from the future uncovering this library in Alexandria one day, very much as we’ve uncovered the archaeological treasures from the past, and thinking “a society that valued books and knowledge must have been very enlightened.”

Unfortunately, Israel’s occupation and siege of the Gaza Strip prove otherwise. An enlightened society does not treat Palestinians as inhumanely as Israel does. Israel is building a legacy of a very different sort.

I bought a postcard at the library’s gift store, addressed it to the orphanage in Gaza, and then stepped outside into the blazing heat of the afternoon sun to mail it. Maybe Israel will allow my postcard to enter Gaza, maybe not, but that won’t stop the Postcard Brigade.

 

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The Virtual Iftar Project

The most insightful and meaningful conversations I’ve had with strangers have usually occurred over a meal. Some of the most memorable include:

  • The Russians I met in the Trans-Siberian Railway’s dining car.
  • The Cubans I met in a restaurant in Pinar del Rio.
  • The Israelis I met in the Kibbutz’s dining hall.
  • The Palestinians I met in their homes who always treated me to a delicious meal.
  • The Germans I shared a “second breakfast” with on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.
  • The Egyptians in Cairo with whom I shared my Thanksgiving tradition last November.

The list is endless, but what stands out in my memory are the conversations we had on each occasion. While breaking bread together, we shared, we listened, and we learned from each other.

In this cynical and highly polarized world, I believe there’s a critical need for people-to-people communication and understanding. Eric Maddox, an American I first met in 2012 over a meal at Cafe Riche in downtown Cairo has set the gold standard for how to make this happen with his Virtual Dinner Guest Project.

VDG project Gaza

Palestinians in Gaza share a meal and conversation with Native Americans in Oakland in 2013.

In 2013, I watched Eric connect Palestinians in Gaza with Native Americans in Oakland by using 21st century technology to recreate an ancient tradition of sharing a meal and conversation with members of our tribe. Now we can share with the “other” on the other side of the planet. Not just a Skype chat but a structured conversation over a meal with the goal of learning about each other directly, not through the mainstream media or social media that often do a better job of playing to our fears and superstition about the “other.” Imagine the possibilities!

Eric explains his latest project.

The Virtual Iftar Project Episode 4: Gaza-Amsterdam

In our final episode we connected youth in Amsterdam and the Gaza Strip for an online dialogue over Iftar (July, 2015) and a collaborative film project between their two communities.

Each vox pop film address a question that each side asked of the other. For the Amsterdam film, our Dutch team seeks an answer to Gaza’s question: “What would you do if you found your community under military occupation?” While the Palestinian side posed the following question to the people of Gaza: “How can the international community best support the people of Gaza?”

The views expressed in each film represent the unfiltered opinions from the streets of each community, and do not necessarily represent the views of our producers. We are a nonpartisan and nonsectarian initiative focussed on breaking facile media and political narratives with truly grassroots collaborative media projects.

The Virtual Iftar Project Gaza-Amsterdam is the last of 4 episodes documenting our road trip across the Balkan Routes and central Europe during Ramadan 2015. Filmmaker Katie Cook, and Producer and project founder Eric Maddox, embarked up this #RamadanRoadtrip, just as the EU refugee crisis was beginning in early summer in order to connect Europeans with young people in Muslim-majority countries for focussed online discussions and collaborative film projects. The aim of the project is to demystify the distorted or sensationalized image of “other” that is so often presented in media narratives and political rhetoric around the world.

Participants on both sides connected for a videoconference call, a discussion of thematic topics, and then parted with one final question posed to each side. And that’s where these films begin.

Watch our previous videos featuring Kosovo, Palestine (Gaza), Germany, and Pakistan on our Facebook page, and please share and support our community-funded project today!

facebook.com/virtualiftarproject/

Please watch, listen, and feel the message that young people from Gaza and Amsterdam are sharing with each other and with us. THIS GIVES ME HOPE! And after watching, if you believe this project can make a global shift in how we view the “other” and want to become involved, check it out here.

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