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Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - July 2016


Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - July 2016

On the evening of June 16, a vigil was held at the Sonoma Methodist Church to commemorate the loss of 50 lives at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, an event that now joins the lengthening list of shocking, incomprehensible massacres perpetrated by one or two persons, mostly male, using automatic weapons. 

People say that the guns are not to blame, but those who use them; but it’s not easy to stop people possessed by the need to use weapons so long as they can obtain them. We can’t seem to come together to make military assault weapons unavailable to individuals possessed by a mission of hatred. We become the victims of our own creations. 

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, during the same week in June, a Forum was held in support of the credo of deterrence – a made-up idea – that continues to justify the production of more useable nuclear weapons, fattening the portfolios of the companies that produce them, in this case Northrup Grumman of Albuquerque, one of the sponsors. Despite a growing movement for nuclear disarmament, we can’t seem to come together to get rid of these cruel, genocidal weapons capable of eliminating huge numbers of people in hell fires such as Hiroshima experienced over 70 years ago. 

The conversation at the Methodist Church was touchingly sweet, mostly about overcoming hatred of those who are different, especially gays. It’s extraordinary that here in a Christian church in a small California town people have come together to honor the very people whose behavior is excoriated in other churches, who not so long ago were considered rotten, immoral, and inferior. Here where the Pastor, Matt Pearson, is himself openly gay, congregants gay and straight felt comfortable expressing their acceptance of the sexual preferences that so freaked out the young killer who entered that nightclub on the night of Gay Pride to exterminate as many gay and Latino people as possible. In this era of what we had thought to be one of awakening consciousness, the extreme darkness of such abhorrent action brings forth the light in our souls, and we are asked, on Pastor Pearson’s urging, to act as God’s hands and hearts to work for change. Never knowing the total picture, never sure that the next incident will be prevented, we try to become changemakers in whatever sphere of life we feel we can manage; and the world keeps moving forward in the direction of acceptance and love, and backward in sudden thrusts of cruelty and hatred, its progress impossible to assess.

The small things we can do to foster understanding and love are sure to have a cumulative impact. But without recognizing the political moves at play, we will always be puzzled by the incredible inertia at work at the highest levels of government and industry, and the inexplicable confusion of homicidal individuals.

In an article in Counterpunch, Phyllis Bennis, of the Institute for Policy Studies, writes that before Orlando, Omar Mateen worked for G4S Security, a company “that contracts with the U.S. and Israeli governments for work that often violates human rights on a massive scale.” G4S Security provides Israel with the instruments of torture used against Palestinians in Israeli prisons. In its contracts with the United States, it details and deports Mexican people trying to cross the border, and it also runs private youth detention facilities.

It was G4S that trained Omar Mateen as a security guard and licensed him to carry and use these weapons despite his frequent homophobic and racist comments heard and reported by other staff.

Turns out there’s a healthy divestment movement against this company by organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, numerous European universities, important charities in South Africa and the Netherlands, UN agencies in the Middle East – and the largest Protestant church in this country: the Methodists.

Small steps matter. Divestment may not have been enough to prevent Omar Mateen’s murder of 50 young people at the Orlando nightclub he himself had frequented many times, but at least we know where Mateen got the training to inflame his psychotic hatred of his own preferences.

It’s not about homophobia. It’s not about the children in Newton, Connecticut. It’s not the blacks in a church in Charleston. It’s not about Russia and China. It’s not even about the Islamic state. It’s about systemic violence so entrenched in the core of our global society that it mirrors and condones itself everywhere – on television, in the hands of the police, in the products of Northrup Grumman – so that we’ve become enslaved to it, our own creation. 

Tonight in a Methodist church we saw that we can make ourselves free, one gentle step at a time.

On a personal note: I’m now teaching life story classes in the SRJC Older Adults program, one in Brookdale Sonoma and another at Oakmont Gardens. This wonderful program is FREE. If you’re interested in attending this summer or fall, please get in touch with me right away at 707 939-8272.

So between that and starting a new personal history business called LifeStory Publishing, I’m just too busy to keep up with the deluge of events and activities in our frothy community. If you’re feeling the pulse of Sonoma and would like to write about it, please contact the Gazette’s publisher, Vesta Copestakes.