SoCS: John Lewis

When I read Linda’s prompt yesterday, I thought I would be writing about Link, a flight simulator company that B worked for early in his career, and how it went from its proud origins in the Binghamton area through various hostile takeovers, sales, downsizings, and other calamities to its current existence in our area as a shadow of its former self.

But, overnight, we got the sad news that John Lewis passed away. He was one of the last living links to the historic March on Washington for civil rights. He had been the only speaker that day who was still alive. He helped to organize the march as a young man who was the head of the Student Non-violence Organizing Committee. (My apologies if I don’t have the name completely accurate. Stream of consciousness and all that.) [Should have been Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.]

He was one of the leaders alongside Martin Luther King, Junior, in the first attempt at the the march from Selma, Alabama, to their state capital on what became known as Bloody Sunday. [Another correction. MLK was not at the first march, but joined the second march that was completed, thanks to federal protection.] As they were trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers came under attack from law enforcement. John Lewis was the first person that they brought down, fracturing his skull. He bore scars from that attack for the rest of his life.

He continued the fight for civil rights for black Americans and for all Americans through the decades, including seventeen terms in the House of Representatives from the Atlanta, Georgia area. His dedication to justice, peace, and non-violent protest is widely admired and respected.

There is a hope that the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which still bears the name of a racist as it did on Bloody Sunday, will be re-named in honor and memory of John Lewis soon.

May it be so.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “link.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/17/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-18-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

#BuildBackBetter

I know that I am privileged. I’m white and well-educated. I grew up in rural New England with great parents and was sheltered from a lot of the temptations that get young people into trouble. My spouse B and I have been happily married for almost 38 years. We live in an area in the northeastern US that is affordable enough to live comfortably on one salary, so I could raise our family, help care for elders, volunteer, and pursue artistic work without the added pressure of needing to earn income. I have never lived in a big city with a high crime rate, so I can move about without worry, other than the usual caution that all women employ. I can speak freely and follow my religion, although that comes with some built-in sex discrimination. I am relatively healthy and have access to good-quality, affordable health care. When B retires, we have retirement savings and our house to live in. While not rich by US standards, I am aware that I have more wealth than the vast majority of people in the world.

Yes, I am privileged in so many ways.

Because I grew up in a tiny town, only about 200 people when I lived there and even smaller now, there was not a lot of racial diversity. My parents, though, were diligent about exposing us to the wider world and modeled the dignity and equality of all people, as did Catholic social justice doctrine. As a young child in the 1960’s, I watched as the civil rights movement was translated into law and hoped and, perhaps took for granted, that progress was being made toward the equality that the United States had so long touted.

While acknowledging that some progress has been made, there is still so, so much wrong, which is why the death of George Floyd at the hands of police – on top of so many other deaths of black and brown people in police custody; decades of inequality in education, housing, employment opportunities, and pay scale; violence; the higher rate of illness and death from COVID-19 among people of color and those living in poverty; unequal laws and enforcement resulting in large numbers of black men in prison; obstacles to voting; the recognition that many of our essential workers are poorly paid people of color; discrimination; and personal attacks of all kinds – has caused such anguish, outrage, and action across the country, not just among the black community, but among people of all races. People in other countries are demonstrating not only in support of the US civil rights and Black Lives Matter movement but also to highlight discrimination in their own countries against indigenous and black and brown people.

The vast majority of these protests have been peaceful, which made the recent clearing of the park near the White House all the more appalling. There have been other instances of violence against peaceful protesters and the press, which are totally unacceptable and against the US Constitution and laws. I also oppose any violence against the police or other protesters, arson, theft, and the destruction of property.

Because of my age and the need to protect myself and my family against COVID-19, I have not been to any protests in person. There have been several peaceful protests locally, including some directed against our county jail, which has a percentage of inmates who are people of color much higher than our population and a distressingly high number of inmates who have not been treated sufficiently for medical conditions and/or who have died. We have not had the kind of looting here that has happened in larger cities. There has been a very sad case of arson, the destruction of the premier accessible playground in our area, although no one knows whether or not the person/s involved were motivated by the murder of George Floyd. There has been an outpouring of donations to re-build this special place as soon as possible.

As a white person, I can’t know what it is like to be a person of color, but I do have a window into it from members of my family. Two of my brothers-in-law and my son-in-law, as well as their children, are people of color with personal or family roots in Asia and Africa. They have shared stories with me about fear when being stopped by police, about being followed and asked to leave a store while shopping, and about loss of educational opportunities. They hear derogatory language based on their race. Sometimes, their status as a family is questioned because they are bi- or multi-racial.

Our Declaration of Independence says that all “are created equal” and entitled to the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We need to carry this out, however belatedly, and maintain it for generations to come. As the late Rep. Barbara Jordan said, “What the people want is very simple – they want an America as good as its promise.”

How do we accomplish this? When I wrote this post a week ago, I did not have concrete ideas, but I have since heard a number of proposals, some around policing and legal practices and some that attempt to rectify consequences of racism in the areas of health care, housing, education, and employment. This gives us an opportunity to advocate with our local, state, and national representatives to enact new laws and policies to move us toward equality. It also means that we can use their positions on these proposals to evaluate candidates in upcoming elections.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to attend several webinars about the path toward greater environmental and social justice. Hearing leaders articulate needed actions and policies gives me hope. Another very hopeful thing for me is seeing the two youngest generations, often called Millennials and Generation Z, stepping forward with ideas and action to shape our future. These young people are more diverse and generally more accepting of personal differences than their elders. Much of the recent energy behind environmental justice, gun reform, and racial/ethnic/gender equality has come from these younger people. I know that I am a better advocate for these causes because of what I have learned from my daughters and their peers.

To me, all of this work is about respect for the dignity of each person and a moral obligation to care for others and for our global environment. There is so much work to do, but, together, we can #BuildBackBetter.

continued response to Parkland

Since my first post touching on the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, I have continued to be impressed by the response of the students at the school and other teens. They have been speaking out strongly in traditional and social media, at rallies and public gatherings, calling on local, state, and national authorities and elected officials to protect them and the rest of the public by banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, strengthening background checks and licensing, and improving mental health services.

They are making plans for a march in Washington, DC and other cities on March 24. There are also plans for a nationwide student walkout on April 20th, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, the first mass shooting at a high school that sent shockwaves across the country.

There are some early indications that their message is having an impact on politicians. While long-time gun-control advocates are adding their voices to those of the students, some additional people are speaking out. Just this morning, I saw an interview with a wealthy long-time donor to Republican candidates, stating that he will no longer give to politicians who oppose common-sense gun control measures, such as an assault weapon ban. During a previous time when the United States did have an assault weapons ban, the rate of mass shootings was significantly lower.

The United States also has the examples of many other nations who protect their citizens from gun violence with stricter gun regulations. These countries also have better health care access, which means that fewer people in their communities have the sorts of untreated mental health problems that lead them to harm themselves and others. (I realize that most mental health diagnoses do not involve violence, but society is also served when each member has access to the full range of health and preventive services.)

Yesterday at church, we had a minute of silent prayer for the victims of the Parkland shooting. While my mind went first to those who were killed or wounded, it also went to the teen-aged gunman. Our society failed him as well. Despite numerous encounters with school authorities, police, and social services, he was left to fend for himself after the death of his adoptive mother without access to continuing mental health services. Proper treatment and enhanced background checks might have prevented him from killing and wounding so many people.

Mass shootings should not be the price the United States has to pay because of the Second Amendment. Contrary to the interpretation that some now hold, the intent of the Second Amendment was to protect the public from attack. There was no standing army at that time, so the “well-regulated militia” of which the amendment speaks was the defense against foreign invasion. Guns in more rural areas would also have been needed for hunting and for protection from bears, cougars, etc., but the right to bear arms was not intended as a blanket right for any kind of weaponry to be owned by anyone anytime. The United States already does restrict many kinds of military weapons from civilian ownership; it would not be unconstitutional to add more types of guns and ammunition to this list.

After other mass shootings, particularly Sandy Hook, it seemed that the country might have reached a tipping point where public opinion was strong enough to overcome the National Rifle Association and other anti-gun control groups.  Sadly, while there were some changes in some states, such as New York, the overall policies in the country either remained the same or became even more lax regarding gun access.

Will Parkland, with the strong voices of the teens ringing out, finally lead to societal change, the passage of gun control legislation, and better mental health care?

There is hope.

 

Women’s March 2018

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.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:
 https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/21/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-21st-2018/

 

 

 

Charlottesville

On Saturday, my son-in-law L headed back to the UK to comply with the terms of his visa which only allowed 90 days to be here for ABC’s birth and early weeks. We all miss him and have been adjusting to the household without him, while, of course, responding to the changing needs and sleep patterns of a two-month-old. That and helping out my parents are quite enough to occupy me, but I felt that I had to post about the current state of affairs in the US, which is adding stress, fear, and sadness to our lives.

Donald Trump is exposing our country to danger with his saber-rattling. I hope that Congress will make clear that war declarations are their province, not the president’s. There should be no first strike against North Korea, Venezuela, or any other country without action from Congress, as the US Constitution requires.

I have long believed that Donald Trump has neither the intellect nor the temperament nor the judgment to be an effective, just, and moral president. Sadly, his reactions to Charlottesville have only reinforced this. His press conference yesterday was wrong on the facts and unconscionably upheld the alt-right/neo-nazi/white supremacist lies about their own history, motivations, and current aspirations. (I do not intend to go over this in detail or to engage in comment exchanges about this, but check out the reporting from Vice to hear the alt-right views directly from their leaders.)

This is a time when all members of Congress should clearly denounce the president for his statements and redouble their efforts to uphold civil rights and religious freedom. (The footage of torch-bearing men chanting against Jews was especially chilling.) They should also offer support to the family and friends of Heather Heyer, to all those who were injured, and to Charlottesville, which is not forthcoming from the White House as we expect in times of tragedy.

Vice-president Pence and the Cabinet should convene to discuss invoking the 25th Amendment, which was added to the Constitution to defend against an unfit president.

I do want to remind people that this is not just about some Confederate statues. These statues were not erected in the 1860s to commemorate those who fought and died. They are not battlefield monuments or historic sites. Most were placed in the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan was so strong that it staged marches in Washington, DC, or during the 1950s-60s, at the height of the civil rights marches. They were put in public places in order to intimidate African-Americans and anyone who supported civil rights for all. No one is proposing that we forget about the Civil War, but we need to learn about the complexities of its causes and aftermath, an endeavor which is not served by a statue of a general on a horse at a courthouse or pubic square that was erected to scare people of color.

Violence and bigotry are unacceptable. Love trumps hate.

As Nelson Mandela wrote in Long Walk to Freedom,  “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Another Congressional office visit goes awry

On February 21st, I wrote about going to Representative Claudia Tenney’s new Binghamton office to deliver my message about health care, which involved my sliding my message under her locked door.

Representative Tenney has refused repeated invitations to meet with constituents and to attend town hall meetings on this topic, so there was a planned event near her office this morning to try again to get our message to her.

I arrived early and met up with several people in the hall outside her office. The office door was locked, but there was a doorbell and people, presumably staff, were arriving and being let in.

To our surprise, Rep. Tenney herself appeared, hurried past us, and tried to open the locked door, before a staffer arrived to let her in. She did not acknowledge that there were constituents of hers standing there with our signs about saving our health care.

Word got to us that a larger group had gathered down in the first floor atrium, so we went to join them, just as they were being re-located to the outdoors, with temperatures in the teens Fahrenheit.

But, we, the people, are intrepid and would not be silenced!  We had our signs, some media coverage, leadership from Citizen Action, and a portable sound system. People were sharing stories about how the Affordable Care Act had helped them and what it would mean to their health and their lives to lose the health insurance and medical care access they had gained through the ACA, detailing specific problems with the current House Republican bills dealing with health care, and writing messages to deliver to Tenney’s office (despite it being so cold that our pens weren’t working). We were supposed to be able to deliver messages to the office in groups no larger than three people.

When I went back into the building to warm up, one of the longtime leaders in the Catholic social justice community was on her way to the office, so I joined her. While we were still in the hallway, a woman who was with the management of the building met us, saying that Representative Tenney was no longer accepting visitors to her office, that she did not want us there, and that she was calling the police so that we could not gather outside the building, either. (She also told us that Representative Tenney was in Washington, which was odd as it certainly looked like her entering the office an hour earlier and we had thought that the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the office was scheduled for today.)

We went back outside and stood our ground. We thought that the entrance plaza where we were gathered was public property and we were not blocking the entrance to the building, so we were within our rights of assembly, freedom of speech, and petition. Two police officers arrived, spoke to a couple of people from our group, and confirmed that we were fine to continue as we were.

Rep. Tenney is apparently not very familiar with the law.

By trying to silence us, she actually gave us an even stronger voice for our message as the rally went on longer than anticipated and will draw more media attention.

She also did not endear herself to the other tenants in the building because she had the management lock the main doors into the building, presumably to keep her constituents at bay. I’m sure the other offices, including the Chamber of Commerce, were not amused about the inconvenience to their clients.

So, Representative Tenney, I ask you once again to vote against any repeal of the Affordable Care Act and to take action to enhance the ACA by permanently securing Medicaid expansion in all states, by making a public option available to everyone, and by negotiating drug prices for Medicare and other public programs so that medications become more affordable.

My thanks to my fellow protesters, the great people of Citizen Action, the Binghamton police officers, and the kind people of Bistro 163, the new coffee shop and boutique that is tucked next to Metrocenter who gave us free coffee and a place to warm up.

And Representative Tenney, you will be hearing more from us, your constituents, on health care and many other vital issues.

doomed to repeat history – or just doomed?

I haven’t been using most of the (optional) prompts that have been provided for Just Jot It January, but I will start off using today’s, which is history.

It begs the question, “Does DT know/understand any history?”

If he did, would he be spouting the slogan “America First” which has disturbing connotations from the World War II era?

Would he have signed an order to ban Syrian refugees on Holocaust Remembrance Day, inviting comparisons to the shameful and cruel turning away of Jewish refugees trying to flee Hitler?

Does he understand the separation of powers in the United States Constitution? In some instances at the airports, executive branch personnel refused to carry out the order of federal judges. There will be numerous lawsuits filed challenging the legality of the executive order. US immigration law prohibits discrimination due to national origin, which this executive order clearly violates.

It also disturbs me that DT reneged on the promises made to visa, refugee, and green card applicants. A local example: A staff member at my parents’ retirement community is a long-time US resident and green card holder. He planned to leave in a few days to visit family in Iraq. Now, he won’t be able to go. Even if he can get to the Consulate, which is several hours away, and is granted a waiver, he may be leery of leaving the country because the administration has already shown that they are not honoring his green card as equal to that of someone from France or China – or Saudi Arabia, the country from which most of the 9/11 terrorists originated.

I have written often about my fear of Trump, which I am trying to mobilize into energy to fight for social and environmental justice in the face of his threats and actions.  These last two days make it even more difficult to not be afraid. Does DT think that he is above the laws of the United States? Does he think he makes the laws? The legislative and judicial branches need to assert their independent authority, as our system is designed. Sadly, only a few Congressional Republicans have spoken out against the executive orders on immigration.

Again, people power has been a source of hope. Protesters appeared at the airports where travellers were being detained despite their having valid visas and passports. Lawyers skilled in civil rights, Constitutional law, and immigration law rushed to help the affected people and filed emergency suits to keep them from being deported.

And this is only the second week of the administration.

I feel like a firefighter who is being summoned to multiple locations at the same time.

So much work to be done. So many people to try to protect.

Not knowing whence the next alarm comes.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/01/29/jusjojan-daily-prompt-jan-29th17/

jjj-2017

 

The House’s Turn

Following up on Senator Murphy’s almost 15-hour Senate marathon. There were four amendments on various aspects of gun control in the Senate on Monday, all of which failed. There is a bipartisan group of Senators trying to craft something that might pass.

Today, the House of Representatives is having an old-fashioned sit-in to force a vote in the House, vowing that they will not go on a planned break next week unless there is a vote on gun issues. Some Democratic senators have come over to support the House members.

It is great that Rep. John Lewis is leading the sit-in. A veteran of many civil rights sit-ins and protests, he is the perfect voice to lead this action.