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There are many who are getting their panties in a twist about the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin murder trial verdict announced today. I’ve got two things to say:

1) There are only 6 people who are qualified to make a judgment about what should be the consequences of what happened the night that Zimmerman shot Martin: the 6 women on the jury. They are the only ones who have heard both sides of the story and are empowered to deliver a relatively objective decision. Everyone else, everyone, has a vested interest. And nobody else, nobody, is in a position to make a judgement. The judge is there to make sure everyone plays by the rules. And, considering there’s been no mistrial asked for or granted, it appears that everyone has.

2) This is how the justice system works in the State of Florida in the United States of America. If you don’t like the verdict, then change the system for the next time.

How? you ask. How can I change what I see as an unjust legal/judicial system in Florida? I’m not a politician, legislator or voter there. You’re right: you can’t change the system there. Not directly. But you can change the system where you are.

And as far as “unjust” is concerned, instead of screaming for blood revenge for a situation you frankly know nothing about, why not channel your vicious energy towards the unjust that you’re surrounded by every single day. Instead of shouting at talking heads on TV or beating up on internet trolls, fight to end poverty, hunger, disease and homelessness exactly where you are.

What will I do? Appropriately enough, today’s reading in church is Luke 7:25-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. But until I come across a beaten and dying traveler on the side of the road, this checklist of change is one way, every day, I can change the system starting in my own backyard.

Go and do likewise.

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The following is an introduction speech for Rev. Jesse L. Jackson on the occasion of his visit to Europe during Diversity Tour 2010, organized and executed by GrapeVine Promotions International. The speech kicked off a press conference held at the Steinberger Kurhaus Hotel, the Hague (the Netherlands) on 4 February 2010. I’m reprinting it in honor of César Chávez Day, 31 March, 2012

I was born and raised in California, on the west coast of the US, in 1957. When I was coming of age in the 1960’s, the most prominent civil rights leader for us was César Chávez. As head and co-­‐founder of the United Farm Workers, señor Chávez was the embodiment of the migrant workers’ struggle for basic human rights in California and the Southwest. He was, for us, the most visible figure in the struggle for human rights in general.

During his “Fast for Life” on August 21, 1988, Chávez was visited by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson. Of course, by 1988, I had heard of Rev. Jackson and knew who he was. But Rev. Jackson was “East Coast” (according to Californians, pretty much everything east of Las Vegas is “East Coast”). He was for the blacks; he was distant. Chávez was our man, la familia, the one fighting for la raza. Until that day in August, 1988.

There is an iconic photograph from that day that for many represents putting in perspective the local and regional struggle for migrant workers’ rights in the larger global struggle for human rights everywhere. It shows Chávez, weak and thin from 36 days into his hunger strike, sitting in a simple wooden chair in the dusty sunlight. Kneeling next to him in the dirt is Rev. Jackson. Chávez is passing a simple crucifix that represents his “Fast for Life” to Rev. Jackson. The two appear to be praying together. At this moment, not only is Rev. Jackson accepting the Imagesymbolism of shouldering Chávez’ struggle, he is also accepting the practice of the fast. From this moment, he himself begins a 3-­‐day fast, going from this time forward with only water to sustain him, before passing the cause on to others. This symbolic struggle was then assumed by leaders across the country, which gave enormous attention to the workers’ struggle that Chávez advocated. After this, the plight of migrant workers in California became a national issue, thanks to the intervention of Rev. Jackson. But even more, for we “nativos” it symbolized a joining of forces. Jackson literally and figuratively offering his hand to Chávez, and to us, with a simple, “Hermano, sí se puede.

And of course that gesture has now echoed across generations and across continents, to where, finally, a man also from a disadvantaged background and of color, ascended the steps to the White House using the same words, “Sí se puede,” – “Yes we can.”

And to me, and to millions of Latinos over the world, the circle was made complete when as one of his first significant and lasting decisions as Chief Executive, President Barack Obama nominated the first Hispanic to the US Supreme Court: Her Honor Sonia Sotomayor. The hand that Rev. Jackson reached out to César Chávez was then offered to Barack Obama, and then through him to maestra Sotomayor. The circle is complete, and we are all stronger for it.

It is with great honor and humility that I introduce to you the pre-­‐eminent civil rights leader of our time, the champion of the voiceless and disenfranchised everywhere: Reverend Dr. Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr.

Leo Salazar
4 February 2010
The Hague, the Netherlands

A relevant and well-timed email from Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union, in honor of Martin Luther King, jr., the original “99%’er”:

Dear friend,
“There is something wrong with the policies, the priorities, and the purposes of our nation now. And we’ve got to say it in no uncertain terms.”

 

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said these words to a crowd of 1199 NY (now 1199 SEIU) healthcare workers in New York.

At the time, Dr. King spoke, depicting the existence of two Americas, one “flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality” and the other defined by inferior schools and people working full time jobs for part-time wages. “Most of the poor people in our country are working every day.”

Today, the gap between the rich and poor is the worst it’s ever been. The fight still goes on, and it falls to us to realize Dr. King’s vision.

What is the single most important thing all of us can do this year to further Dr. King’s vision?


Today, just like in 1968, the fights for racial equality and economic justice are inextricably linked.  Compared to 10 years ago, the average family in the U.S. makes 7% less. This trend is even worse within some of the ethnic-subgroups. In fact, the average Black household is making 14.6% less, and the average Hispanic household is making 10.1% less.

In a time when the excesses of Wall Street executives have been brought into stark relief, it behooves us to pause and reflect not just on the reasons for our outrage, but on the ways we can bring the vision of Dr. King into the world of the 99%.

I say to you that the work is not done. It will take all of us thinking, and all of us working hard to bring about Dr. King’s dream of racial and economic equality.

Tell us what you think we, as a people, can do to most effectively make that dream a reality.

For decades, working people in this country have quietly embodied King’s legacy by taking collective action in the name of justice and equality. But today, corporate greed and extreme politicians have aligned to launch an unbridled assault on this legacy, attempting to withhold opportunity from those who work hard.

The vigilance of the 99 percent movement is a contemporary tribute to King’s brilliance, and among the best ways to ensure that our leaders stop ignoring the “other” America. But it cannot end there.

Realizing King’s vision for America is about recognizing the value of the collective good, reinvigorating the belief that opportunity is a defining factor of this country and not simply a privilege for the elite. Through collective action, economic justice and racial equality are both achievable.

Thank you for all the hard work you do, and the work we will do together to make Dr. King’s vision a reality.

Mary Kay Henry
President, SEIU

 

On the face of it, the Netherlands has a lot going for it. While it’s not particularly known for its spectacular natural scenery, it has a history of wealth, stability and well-reasoned politics. Well, recently anyway.

Despite this stable and reasoned background, the Dutch government is debating, today, whether to ban the wearing of the burka. Following closely on the footsteps of France (as they also did with the rejection of the EU constitution — ‘nuf said), legislators in the Netherlands are debating whether the burka can be allowed as an expression of religious freedom or be banned as a security threat and symbol of oppression of women and further (!) converting of Europe to Islam. Given the insecure economic times and perception among the majority populace that many of society’s problems are being caused by outsiders, guess which way they’ll go?

Enter Jitske Kramer and this reasoned and balanced look at the issues (cut/paste to your http://www.translate.google.com browser if you’re having trouble with the Dutch). A part of my comment:

“I see the burka-ban in the Netherlands along the same lines as the Sharia law ban in the State of Oklahoma in the US: a thinly veiled (pardon the pun) attempt to attack Islam by rabidly exaggerating a non-existent threat under the guise of ‘security’ or ‘cultural assimilation’.”

Elmer Dixon, one of the former leaders of the Black Panther Party in the US, will be visiting the  Netherlands. He is currently the President of one of
the foremost executive training institutes in the  US, Executive Diversity Services.  Mr. Dixon will be a featured speaker at the “Freedom Festivals” on May 5th.

In addition he will engage students and managers from companies in discussions around the value of diversity. This tour  provides many opportunities to engage Mr. Dixon to gain the benefit of his many decades of working within society for change.

You can read more about Mr. Dixon’s life and visit to the Netherlands here.

I’ve been a bit disturbed by the general tenor of the conversation on the LinkedIn group ExpatWeb (members only) the past week or so. The opening question was, “Cross-cultural training: waste of time, money and efforts?” The reaction from the cultural professionals was, of course, unanimously “NO!” with a host of reasons why not. Most of these reasons I use myself, seeing as we all reference the same research materials.

That was predictable.

What was disturbing were the answers from businesspeople. The ones who eventually are, or are not as the case may be, our clients. Their responses were all, to a man: “Yes!!” that cross-cultural training is a colossal waste of time, money and effort. Some of the responses were telling:

  • “Absolutely [cross-cultural training is a waste of time]; time better invested in a nice holiday!”
  • “The most expensive consultant can give you cross-cultural coaching in Spain about communicating with Arabs, but a good Arab friend can give it to you over a nice meal and a few drinks…”. I assume he means non-alcoholic drinks.

Of course my immediate response to these businesspeople is to quote Donald Rumsfeld *, of all people, about “unknown unknowns”. In other words: they don’t know what they don’t know.

 

My co-trainer with client @deBaak, 12 October 2010

Vin Morar, Intercultural Entrepreneurship Expert Extraordinaire!

 

But much better would be to let my client from the past couple of days do the talking for me. This client sent 23 managers to De Baak to follow a 2-day training in Intercultural Communication & Negotiation. The client has managers who deal with professionals from across the EU as well as, less often, the Americas and Asia. My colleague Vin Morar and I performed a quick inventory at the beginning of the course which uncovered the following culture-related problems:

  1. Multiple cultural interpretations of meeting agreements
  2. How to relate/associate with “distant” cultures
  3. Gaining a consensus from a large number of organizations
  4. Gaining a consensus from a large number of diverse cultures
  5. Gaining a consensus from a large number of individuals
  6. Gaining commitment / involvement of all the cultural positions
  7. Overcoming language / physical / technological barriers

By the end of the course I can confidently state that the participants increased their understanding enormously, as well as being in a far better position to recognize and deal with intercultural difficulties in the future. But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is: there are very distinct problems endemic to this particular organization, and I suspect many many others, that heretofore have gone unrecognized as having a cultural origin. These problems can benefit enormously from an increase in knowledge, expertise and tools to deal with cultural conflicts. How that should be approached and what possible concrete tools the participants gained from this particular training will be addressed in a later post.

———————-

* I’m aware that “unknown unknowns” are well known postulations in epistemology and decision theory circles. But it’s more fun to quote the then-Secretary of Defense when he stated, “There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns; there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

I had a meeting with the Imam yesterday in our city. Another  major step in getting local support for my Interfaith Dialogue initiative. Even though he is clearly a busy man in an important position, he was very generous with his time. For more than an hour we sat, drank tea and had a conversation about my idea for establishing an interfaith dialogue in Almelo. He was enthusiastic about the idea because it enhances his own mission. He said that even though his primary duty is to his followers, reaching out to the non-Muslim community is also an essential part of his responsibilities. Coincidentally (or not ;-)), I arrived at the same time he was giving a presentation about Islam and the mosque to a group of about 30 bureaucrats from City Hall. He regularly does the same with schools, civic organizations, other churches and the like. He said, “Even though we don’t proselytize, we do find it important to instruct others in our faith. After all, Mohammed (PBUH) was also surrounded by non-Muslims: Jews and Christians. It was also His responsibility to tell others about His faith.”

What I found most remarkable about our conversation was how learned the Imam was about Christian beliefs. And clearly how much respect he has for other faiths. In his presentation to the city employees, I found him somewhat defensive, without prompting explaining how the Islam is a peace-loving religion and the acts of violence committed in the name of Islam were perverting the teachings. Even though it’s understandable that he would do this, considering the amount of demonizing around the faith, I found it unfortunate. During our one-on-one, however, he was nothing but gracious, generous and supportive. I’ve clearly got the Imam in my corner.

It was interesting, even though the meeting went as expected, there were some interesting surprises. The first is how young the Imam is. A young guy, maybe in his early 30’s. When he was saying prayers and later in front of the group of city hall employees he was dressed in his ceremonial robe and headwear he projected an air of religious authority. But when he met with me he was wearing a simple business suit with tie, giving him the air of a junior associate with an accounting firm. I guess the thin, scraggly mustache didn’t help (no beard, as is the custom of most Turkish men). The second surprise, though it shouldn’t have been surprising, was that he spoke little Dutch. He is relatively new in his position, having been sent by Istanbul to Almelo for this assignment relatively recently. We had an interpreter, a young guy in his early 20’s. We got by, even though we weren’t able to converse on the level I was hoping to. Whenever the sentences or ideas became complex, the kid was a bit lost. He performed admirably, nonetheless. It was interesting to hear that every time he would translate for the Imam, he would, without fail, preface his text with “The Imam says . . . “.

A most amazing blog post on Saturday, 11 September by a certain Pam Geller praising the speech Geert Wilders gave at the site of the WTC in NYC. The caption to this photo was “The Dutch Parliamentarian and freedom fighter Geert Wilders gave a magnificent speech.” My response to this caption: “Wilders is anything but a ‘freedom fighter,’ unless you mean that term to be someone who is fighting to take away the ideals that freedom, liberty and the ‘Dutch tolerance’ stand for.” I was promptly viciously, and personally, attacked by the rabid right-wingers who populate the site.

My further comments regarding this speech:

As an American who lost a dear friend at the Pentagon on 9/11, I can’t think of many things more irrelevant, inappropriate or offensive than Geert Wilders, of all people, giving a speech at Ground Zero and continuously using the inclusive pronoun ‘we.’ As in ‘We are gathered here to draw a line [against Islam].’

It reminds me of that joke:
The Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian companion Tonto are riding on horseback through a narrow canyon, when suddenly they see hundreds of enemy Apaches lined up on the ridges above them.
“It looks like we have a problem, Tonto!,” exclaims the Lone Ranger.
Tonto replies, “What do you mean ‘we’, white man?”

The point being: don’t include me in your ‘we’, Wilders. You have no right to subjugate for your own nefarious purposes my right to freedom.

This posted on the LinkedIn group site, “Creating Results From Cultural Diversity”. The question, from Leah Smiley, was: “What are the differences between diversity practices in the US and Europe?”

Hello Leah,

I’m curious to see what responses you get here. I can give my perspective, but there are two caveats: 1) it is difficult to generalize about “Europe” in terms of societal trends and business practices, and 2) it is difficult to make a direct comparison between countries in Europe and the US. Dramatic differences in historical population and societal development make it clearly a case of apples and oranges.

Having said that, however, I can make a few statements about the Netherlands, the country in Europe that I am most familiar with. As in the US (or because of the US, depending on who you talk to), all economies in Europe are suffering in varying degrees because of the economic crisis. Because diversity policy is not firmly anchored and reinforced in government or business policy, many companies have simply ignored their diversity practices the past couple of years, arguing that their “priorities are elsewhere” and “it’s a question of survival”. The fact that the companies even have this choice says a lot about the state of diversity policy in this country.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that the Netherlands is comparable to the US in the late 1950’s in terms of awareness of the importance of a culture that encourages diversity. The Dutch constitution is clear when it comes to equal rights, but there are very few laws in place that enable diversity policy to the individual level. Most companies that do have a constructive diversity policy are the same ones that are busy with sustainability and CSR: it’s the morally right thing to do and it bolsters their image. Not because there is a legal imperative that compels them to do so.

The media reflects a society that is overwhelmingly white, and there are no charismatic leaders amongst minority communities. In fact, most minority communities are strangely silent when it comes to fighting for their equal rights.There is not a strong private litigation culture in the Netherlands and there are very few who take action if they feel they’ve been discriminated against. In fact, there is an active public service campaign that is currently running on Dutch TV that explains to people what discrimination is and what to do if you feel you’ve been discriminated against (even though it’s in Dutch, the pictures say a lot: http://www.discriminatie.nl). This campaign seems to me to be clearly targeted towards those being discriminated against, rather than those doing the discriminating.

It will be interesting to watch developments in the coming months. The right wing politician Geert Wilders of the PVV party has gained significant ground by blaming minorities for the current problems in the Netherlands. Only now, after months of negotiating to form a new government, have any of the potential coalition partners said that the policies that the PVV espouses are anathematic. And then not necessarily because of the rights of minorities themselves, but more how it would look to trading partners of the Netherlands, most obviously Germany. In other words: there was an economic rationale rather than a moral or societal rationale.

And this is the key to promoting positive approaches to diversity in the Netherlands, in my opinion (and that’s why I do what I do): prove diversity as the wise economic choice. Increases in innovation, creativity, added value and increased access to diverse labor and consumer markets; decreases in personnel turnover and employee health issues. These are the drivers the Dutch understand. Don’t tell them it’s the right thing to do; tell them how it effects their bottom line.

رمضان مبارك, Joyeux Ramadan, Happy Ramadan, Selamat Berpuasa, Feliz Ramadan, ماه رمضان مبارک – To all my Muslim followers.

It’s been interesting following the “trending topics” on Twitter, especially when there is something of value (i.e. NOT “Justin Bieber” or the latest Disney film). Last night it was the beginning of Ramadan. Even though I’ve read about Ramadan, this was the first time I’ve heard in detail from those who are practicing it. It was fascinating to read that nearly every practitioner who was writing about it saw this time as an opportunity to deepen their spirituality and their relationship not only with God, but also with their families and themselves. A typical posting, this one from @NomadicEmpress, reads:

“I am in complete happiness! The beautiful month of Ramadan is here to bless and cleanse us all. May we all benefit from the month of mercy.”

Reading these filled me with such a feeling of joy and happiness for my Moslem brothers and sisters. Suddenly all the noise about the “Ground Zero mosque,” Geert Wilders and other anti-islamists appeared to me to be shallow, hateful, self-righteous and intolerant.

I also felt a small twinge of envy. As a practicing and faithful Catholic, we have our own season of self-denial and spiritual examination in the Lenten period before Easter. Feeling the depth of the experience reflected through social media made me realize how much deeper an experience it can be.

Thank you, my Moslem brothers and sisters, for sharing a glimpse into your faith. I wish you strength, health, happiness and a deeper spirituality during this time.

Ramadan Mubarak.

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