I haven’t quite fallen off the face of the earth and I’ll try to do a substantive post soon, but today we are trying to clear out after a nor’easter targeted the Binghamton NY area with almost three feet (0.9 meters) of snow.
Friday, September 27th was the last day of the Climate Action Week that featured youth-led marches, rallies, and work/school strikes around the world. As happened around the world, there was an opening event last Friday in Binghamton, with a larger event scheduled for the closing day.
This event was held at the Peacemaker’s Stage near the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers. We began with a welcome from the University student-organizers, who recalled that we were on land of the Onondoga Nation, who have endured centuries of broken treaties and environmental assault. This continued the emphasis on social/environmental justice as an integral component of climate action.
The climate movement in the United States is being energized by youth and indigenous leadership. At the Binghamton rally on Friday, there were speakers from the local high school and university, as well as young adults from Citizen Action and local government, either as city council members or candidates. There were people on hand to register new voters or process address changes for those who have moved to be ready for the local elections coming up in November.
Some of the speakers were people of color. Amber, from Citizen Action, reminded us that we bring our personal and community heritage with us, as well as our efforts toward treating everyone with equal dignity. It reminded me of what Pope Francis in the encyclical Laudato Si’ calls “integral ecology” and what I personally experience.
While I am following the science on climate change, I am also taking into account the ethics involved. Because of my Catholic faith, I see the situation in terms of social justice doctrine, which calls for care of creation and of others, especially the most vulnerable. People of color, people of lower socioeconomic standing, indigenous peoples, women, the elderly, babies and children, and people with illnesses are more affected by environmental degradation and climate change, so they merit special support in our efforts.
Amber and other speakers reminded us that all our efforts are connected. You don’t leave your efforts toward combating racism, sexism, poverty, violence, etc. when you are talking about climate and other environmental problems. All of these are justice issues; they are interconnected and the solutions need to take the whole spectrum of humanity and nature into account.
Besides the speakers, the event featured tables set up by different organizations. It was good to have a space for the youth organizations to meet up with the older, established local organizations. It will make it easier to coordinate efforts and initiatives. Next Sunday, there will be a planning meeting open to everyone to keep the momentum going.
There is a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it!
The day after I wrote this post lamenting the lack of a local climate strike action, I got an email from a local climate champion saying that there would be an event in Binghamton on Friday, the day that millions of people took part in thousands of actions around the world.
We met in front of the building that houses Senator Schumer’s office. As Senate minority leader, he is our most influential representative in Washington. In keeping with the youth leadership of climate strikes, this was organized by local university students, with lots of energy coming from the students who gathered. There were also a number of allies, many of whom were veterans of the fight against fracking in New York State.
I was pleased to be able to attend and lend support and happy to be part of three generations in my family there. Daughters E and T were both there; granddaughter ABC, at two years old, was the youngest attendee. Several people commented that we were gathered there for climate action for her and her generation, so that they will have a livable planet.
Our climate strike event on Friday was very grassroots, with the co-organizers speaking and then offering the mike to anyone that wanted to speak. Next Friday, September 27th, will be a larger and more formal event with several local organizations as sponsors, featuring speakers, music, tabling, and food. I hope to be able to attend that, too.
There is a lot of work to do in order to keep global temperature rise in check, so much that it often seems impossible, but I am more hopeful than I have been for a while. With young people around the world rallying and demanding action, maybe national leaders will finally find the political will to make a rapid and just transition to a sustainable, though still damaged, world.
Being in the United States gives me many more opportunities than I would like to write about guns.
This morning, I have already heard at least three stories involving guns.
First, the New York red flag law finally went into effect over the weekend. This allows for family or other people with knowledge of the situation to go to court to temporarily take away firearm access and block the sale of guns to a person who is a risk to themselves or others. It’s good that this law is finally in operation. When there was a mass shooting in my county in ten years ago, the father of the gunman, knowing his son was unstable, had tried to prevent him from getting a gun license, but there was no mechanism at the time to do it. While New York had passed other gun laws, in particular after the Newtown CT shooting, it didn’t pass a red flag law until this year, which is disappointing in that it might have prevented the shooting here, had it been in effect.
Second, a friend’s birthday is today and she is doing a Facebook fundraiser for Everytown for Gun Safety. This organization works to combat gun violence of all kinds. While mass shootings get the most headlines, many more people in the United States are killed in individual circumstances. Sadly, the largest group of gun deaths is suicides. (The suicide prevention lifeline can be reached at any time at 1-800-273-8255; the website link also offers online chat and other information.)
Third, on CBS This Morning, they are starting an interview series with surviving family members of those killed in mass shootings. One of the comments made was that life in those cities will never be the same, which may be true for Newfield and Charleston and El Paso. I haven’t found that to be the case for Binghamton, which, other than a memorial near the site of the American Civic Association, seems to be carrying on as before.
I think there are a number of reasons for this. The shooting happened ten years ago, when there was media coverage, but not the weeks of reporting that we see now. Even though it was, at the time, one of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States, it was before presidential visits and massive memorial vigils and services were as common as they are now. Lastly, as I have written about before, most of those who died were immigrants or foreign visitors who had come to a class to improve their English skills, when a deranged immigrant, who was now a US citizen, opened fire. In other mass shootings, the public tends to think that it could have been them at that store or church or movie theater, it could have been their children at that school, but their sense of public safety was not shaken as much by a shooting of mostly immigrants in a private non-profit’s building.
I do think that more and more people in the United States are appalled by the level of gun violence and want to enact more laws that keep guns out of the hands of people who kill or wound others. Congress will be back in session soon. Let your representatives know how you feel about this issue.
Remembering those killed or wounded in the shooting at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, New York ten years ago today.
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Last night, for the first time in over a year, I went to a (Binghamton) University Chorus rehearsal.
I have written posts before on the changes in the choral program* and the University which necessitated the transformation of what had for decades been a large chorus of community members, students, and staff which sang a major concert every semester into a much smaller ensemble that sings when needed to help the student groups perform larger works.
This semester, we are preparing to sing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, which I performed once before with University Chorus in 2003. This piece is being programmed a lot this year because of the bicentennial of the birth of Walt Whitman, whose poems comprise most of the text of the work. As luck would have it, the Smith College Alumnae Chorus is also singing the work this year; I will be joining our July tour to Slovenia, where we will sing two performances.
Most of my singing for the past year has been either in church services or with ABC, whom I can sometimes sing to sleep. Not exactly the caliber of singing required for Vaughn Williams. Fortunately, our director, Bill Culverhouse, is very good at getting our bodies and brains engaged, so I actually managed to acquit myself quite well, helped by the fact that we worked on the third movement, “Reconciliation”, in which we second sopranos get to sing a lovely, lyrical passage twice. It’s also one of the movements that stayed with me over the last decade and a half since I learned it. Some of the other sections are going to be a bit harder to get back in my head.
It is also hard to get used to rehearsing with a much smaller group. I was used to University Chorus being 80-100 voices and being one of about fifteen second sopranos. It’s somewhat more daunting to be one of five seconds in a group of about thirty. I anticipate doing a significant amount of preparation at home, as I did when we sang music related to St. Mark’s in Venice in December 2017.
I was very happy to see some of my singing friends again. And even happier to be singing together again.
* In looking back at this post, which explains a lot of my experience with the transition itself, there are several things that didn’t happen in the way I had anticipated. My mom, who had then been in hospice care, was decertified in October of 2018, and, while continuing to suffer from congestive heart failure, is happily still with us. The visa process for daughter E has been a much longer slog than we had thought. She and ABC are still living with us, probably until August of 2019. Lastly, the University Chorus hiatus was longer, as this academic year we are singing in the second semester rather than the first.
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The Binghamton NY area lost one of its stars. Literally. Patricia Donohue, an actor and activist, who has a star on the Binghamton Walk of Fame, died in September. Pat had a long career on the stage, as a young woman with Tri-Cities Opera and then many decades as an actor in our local area and beyond.
The first time I saw Pat perform was as Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, but I will remember her most fondly playing Jeannette Picard in Solo Flight, a one-woman play about the balloonist and wife/mother who was ordained an Episcopal priest before it was officially approved.
I knew Pat because we were both members of Sarah’s Circle, a small group of (mostly) women grounded in the Catholic faith tradition who supported women’s ordination and full participation in the life of the church. A number of members felt called to ordination themselves. We met for prayer, discussion, and mutual support but sometimes did public events, such as prayer services.
For the twentieth anniversary of the ordination of Jeannette Picard and the rest of the Philadelphia Eleven, Sarah’s Circle sponsored Pat performing Solo Flight in Columbus Circle in Syracuse, in front of the Catholic cathedral. We were met by a raucous group of counter-protesters. Pat, the consummate professional, performed spectacularly, despite protesters marching within arm’s length, at times. Toward the end of the performance, we were finally able to get the police to clear the public area in the Circle for which we had a permit and the protesters did not. Instead, they shouted the Rosary from the Cathedral steps, which is a misuse of a lovely, contemplative prayer. It was a shame that they never bothered to listen to Pat recreating the remarkable life of Jeannette Picard.
Although I marveled at Pat’s abilities as an actor, it was her passion for people that shone most brightly. She was often seen, sporting one of her favorite hats and leopard print scarves, at rallies with Citizen Action for a variety of progressive causes, such as civil rights, access to affordable health care, and environmental protection. She performed with and wrote songs for the Citizen Action “Raging Grannies” – although she preferred the moniker “Swinging Seniors.” She also performed with the Mental Health Players, bringing attention and support to those with mental health issues.
She was always ready to share her time and support with others. Because both my daughters were interested in theater, Pat would attend their performances. She even let T borrow from her beloved hat collection for her role in Damn Yankees. Many of Pat’s hats were lost when the storage room of her senior apartment building flooded, but T was happy to see that the hats she had borrowed had survived and were part of a display at Pat’s memorial.
I was also touched that, draped over the end of Pat’s casket, were an Irish-themed quilt – Pat was proud of her Irish ancestry – and the stole she had worn when performing Solo Flight, which featured hot-air balloons, because Rev. Jeanette Picard had, in her younger years, been a stratospheric balloonist.
I’m sure that Pat would have approved of the memorial. The friends and family members who spoke all had wonderful stories to tell recalling her flair, passions, and wit. Our Sarah’s Circle friend Pat Raube sang a hymn that she had sung as a prelude to Pat’s performances of Solo Flight; I admit it was hard not to cry at that point. Another friend, Father Tim, was the presider for the service.
While we will all miss Pat, I am grateful that she was granted so many years among us and that she was active into all but her final days. We will each need to give a bit more of our energies to causes she cared about, although no one can truly replace her in our personal and community lives.
I’m sure her spirit will live on.
I am a veteran of the fight against shale gas development in New York State, and, more broadly, against unconventional fossil fuel development and for a rapid increase in renewable energy in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming as low as possible.
I am fortunate to live in the Binghamton area, not that far from Ithaca, where several prominent scientists and professors work. They often came to speak at events in Binghamton and I sometimes would travel to Ithaca for lectures. I learned a lot from them and would use their research in commenting on news articles and in writing blog posts.
One of my favorite speakers is Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University. His specialty is rock fracture mechanics and he had done hydraulic fracturing research for many years, putting him in a unique position to anticipate the dangers of combining high-volume slick-water hydrofracking with long laterals in shale. He teamed with Dr. Robert Howarth, an environmental scientist at Cornell, in the first major paper raising an alarm about methane leakage from shale oil/gas development; the paper was controversial, but prescient, with subsequent research affirming levels of methane leakage much higher than industry and government projections.
This newly released twelve minute video with Dr. Ingraffea shows the climate consequences of the decision to develop shale gas. This blog post by Sharon Kelly gives some further background and also has a link to the video, in case the embedded one below isn’t working.
As part of my continuing reflection on the Parkland shooting, I wanted to share this moving video of a Parkland student speaking in a listening session with the president, who was holding notes to help him respond with seeming empathy. I continue to react with awe to the voices and activism of the Parkland students and the other teens who have mobilized to demand that lawmakers and other authorities take steps to help protect students and the general public from gun violence.
While many people are advancing serious strategies, others have responded with suggestions that are problematic. The president and some others are promoting the idea of arming teachers, which is opposed by teachers’ organizations and many individual teachers, parents, school board and community members. There was an armed police officer on duty at the high school in Parkland, but he, despite his training and experience, did not intervene in the shooting and has since resigned. How could teachers, with much lower levels of training and experience, ever hope to wound or kill an armed intruder without shooting bystanders? How many accidental discharges or mistakes would there be if 20% of all teachers were armed? In other countries that have suffered a mass shooting and taken effective action, the solution has always been to reduce the firepower in civilian hands, not increase it.
I am also appalled to report that the member of the House of Representatives from my district, Claudia Tenney, has made a number of reprehensible remarks after Parkland, most notably that “so many of these people that commit the mass murders wind up being Democrats.” (There is no data to back up this claim.)
I find this particularly offensive to those of us who live in the Binghamton area. When the mass shooting at the American Civic Association here occurred in 2009, it did not matter whether the shooter was a Republican, Democrat, independent, or not a voter at all. What mattered was that people were killed and wounded, families and communities shattered, and a beloved civic institution damaged. That Representative Tenney could be so dismissive of those of us in the southern part of her district as she vociferously supports a gun manufacturer nearer to where she lives is ye another reason that many of us have already mobilized to hold her to account for her views and votes and to back strong candidates to oppose her in the November election. We deserve a representative who is thoughtful, honest, and committed to the common good.
I went to the Binghamton NY Women’s March yesterday. Last year, we had about 3,000 participants, but we expected this year would be smaller and it was, although our numbers far exceeded the 500 that were expected. I have seen estimates of 2,300-2,500.
Last year, we were only permitted to walk on the sidewalk, but this year the police blocked the side streets so we could march down the main street. I was lucky to find some poet friends in the crowd as well as some other friends and acquaintances.
We marched to the United Presbyterian Church, where, due to our numbers, the speakers and crowd were moved from a downstairs community room into the sanctuary with overflow gathering in the community room with an audio feed.
The theme of our local march was “Be heard” in order to hear more clearly from some underrepresented groups. One of the most moving speeches was from a sexual assault survivor who moved us all to a standing ovation because of her courage and message.
I was pleased to have daughter T beside me, as she had been at the march last year. We wore our matching Women’s March shirts and had a good discussion on our way home.
I will keep up my activism on women’s issues and other social justice/civil rights issues as well as supporting candidates who uphold those ideals. While things are challenging right now, we will continue to listen to each other and work hard for the good of all.
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