Applying the past to 2020

While it has been flying under the radar a bit in this cataclysmic year, 2020 is the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution, recognizing women’s right to vote.

B, T, and I recently watched a four-hour documentary on PBS, entitled The Vote. (At the moment, you can stream it for free by following the link.) It was a reminder to me of the long struggle to secure the vote for all women in the US and how interwoven it was with issues of religion, abolition, temperance, racism, property rights, wealth, war, and social mores. The derisive and/or violent reaction to the nearly always peaceful demonstrations that the women undertook seems frighteningly current.

T and I also saw Gloria: A Life, a docu-play based on the life of Gloria Steinem. The performance was filmed with the audience there, the first act as a play and the second act a discussion with the audience featuring Gloria Steinem herself. Like Steinem and Betty Friedan, I am an alumna of Smith College; while there I had taken an early women’s studies course, before the formation of an academic department of women/gender studies. By the time I was a teen, the Second Wave of feminism was well underway, so I recognized many of the names of Steinem’s feminist activist-colleagues. Early on in the play, there is a tribute to the many women of color who were leaders in the movement. One of the strange phenomenon that happened was that, even early on, the press would disproportionately cover and feature Steinem, marginalizing other leaders, especially those of color. This has led to the enduring false impression that Second Wave feminism was a white middle-class movement, when it was in reality what would now be termed “intersectional.” It drew together women’s rights with issues of race, immigration, sexual orientation, gender expression, union/labor rights, violence, medical care, and more.

This was particularly striking at this time when we see activists who had been working on issues in isolation now drawing together in this time of pandemic and outcry for social and racial justice. We see them supporting each other and crafting policy proposals to address the common good. I am so encouraged to see the #BuildBackBetter movement put forward plans that take into account historic racism, marginalization, discrimination, oppression, environmental degradation, unfair wages, etc. and take steps to redress the wrongs and put in place an equitable, fair, safe, and comprehensive system.

2020 has been immeasurably difficult, but we all have the opportunity to make a better future. Let’s go! The United States needs to live up to its highest ideals and join with the world community to heal the planet and all its inhabitants.

a pandemic paradox

Over the past several years of spending a lot of time as a caregiver, I’ve valiantly tried to cut down the size of my email inbox, which is often overflowing with news, newsletters, and calls to action from various charitable, social justice, and environmental causes, along with personal and poetry-related emails. Even with my diligent attempts, I routinely handle over a hundred emails a day, which is still a lot, so I am unsubscribing from even more email lists and trying to avoid signing too many petitions which lead to my being on even more lists.

Paradoxically, as we have been avoiding in-person meetings over these last months, my inbox is full of invitations to connect via Zoom or Go to Webinar or some other platform. Instead of having fewer demands on my time, there seem to be more.

I can’t keep up.

In order to create some semblance of order, I’ve decided to narrow the selection of online events that I will accept. Of course, I will continue with my local poetry circle, which I call the Grapevine Group after the cafe where we used to meet pre-pandemic. I am also looking forward to the five-week summer session of the Binghamton Poetry Project, which, for the first time, is breaking into a beginner and a more experienced section. I am also signed up for six summer sessions with a local spirituality center that has had to re-convene virtually rather than offering in-person programs and retreats.

Beyond that, I plan to accept a very limited number of educational/advocacy meetings on social/environmental justice to keep informed and to take directed action. I am heartened by the increasing convergence of climate/environmental justice with racial/economic justice and want to advocate for effective change.

Beyond that, I hope to say “No” and continue to unsubscribe so that I have more time to accomplish what I need to and respond to ever-shifting circumstances.

(She writes, hoping she can actually manage to do so.)

JC’s Confession #13

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

I haven’t gone to a march or demonstration against racism since the murder of George Floyd.

This is something I absolutely would have done pre-pandemic. I know many at-risk people have chosen to participate because of the importance of the cause and the present moment’s possibilities for progress on human rights, trying to fulfill the call for justice that has been so long denied.

Still, I can’t bring myself to attend a public gathering, knowing that I will be seeing my 95-year-old dad and possibly some of his senior-community neighbors in the coming days. I always wear a mask, but I’m not comfortable having any more exposure to people than I absolutely must in order to function as a household.

On the day of George Floyd’s funeral, there was a brief ecumenical gathering to kneel for 8 minutes, 46 seconds in his memory. While I stayed at home, T attended, so our household was represented. The gathering was outdoors, it was sunny and windy, T wore her mask, and people spread out as best they could, so it’s unlikely she was exposed.

Still, it feels odd to not have a physical presence myself at this crucial time. I will try to be content with my efforts to educate myself and keep updated online and through the media, as well as to pursue lobbying and advocacy opportunities with the social justice organizations with whom I have relationships.

I also have my platform, however small, here at Top of JC’s Mind. Every voice, every action, adds something to what must, finally, this time, be permanent changes in the US and the world.

time slips by

I know some people who are under shelter in place or stay home orders are struggling with finding ways to fill time, but I am having the opposite problem. There always seems to be more to do than time/energy/brainpower permits.

Part of this is the continuation of dealing with grief. A year ago at this time, we were in the last few weeks of my mother’s life, so there is sadness with the coming of spring. My heart goes out to all those who are currently in nursing homes and hospitals who are not allowed to have visitors. While those last weeks with Nana were difficult, it would have been even more difficult not being there to bring her ice water and chat between naps.

This personal grief is enveloped by the global grief of dealing with the pandemic, its toll on people, and its laying bare all the inequities of society. The pandemic is bringing out the selfishness and greed of some, the suffering of most, and the generosity and community spirit of many. While some just want to “get back to normal” and are willing to risk public health to do it, more and more are talking about “building back better.”

The #BuildBackBetter movement is encouraging. It calls on us to examine the past and present so that we can build a better future. Here in the United States, the problem of lack of access to quality, affordable health care has been made even more apparent, especially for black and brown folks, immigrants, people living in poverty, those without homes, and elders. So many losing their jobs and their health insurance along with it also illustrates the inherent weakness in our current healthcare system.

Many of our essential workers, including caregivers and transit, food service, janitorial, grocery, and agricultural workers, are also our lowest-paid. These people are risking their lives to keep basic services going for less money than they would make if they were collecting enhanced unemployment and too many have contracted, or even succumbed to, COVID-19. My hope is that the new-found appreciation many feel for these essential workers will lead to living wages for all jobs, benefits for those who are without paid work that reflect human dignity and care, and a realization that wealth is created by the society, not just the business owners.

While grief and fear can be mind-numbing, it is a comfort to hear about all those who are serving others, dispensing accurate information, and planning for a responsible path forward. I admit that I watch or listen to a lot of coronavirus coverage. I want to stay up to date with the science and the demographics, which is especially important here in New York State, which has the largest number of cases in the country. I listen to our governor, Andrew Cuomo, give his daily briefings because he is very truthful, forthright, and compassionate. It is comforting to know where we are, even when the statistics are unnerving, because there are plans unfolding that are modified as the circumstances change. As our caseload in the state starts to come down, Governor Cuomo is talking more about how we will move into the next phase. He is a big proponent of building back better, socially, economically, justly, and in accord with the best science available for human, environmental, and climate health. This gives me hope that some good will come out of a horrifying situation. Most of the time, I see the Governor through Facebook Live, so there are comments coming in; it’s amazing how many in other states and countries tune in to his briefings for the facts and for a practical, compassionate response to our current challenges. Sadly, the same cannot be said for White House briefings, which I avoid.

I am fortunate that things in my household are on an even keel. I am sad, though, to have family and friends who are suffering because of the lockdown or the virus itself. It’s hard not to be able to go to them and help, though I try to do what I can by phone or online.

I am not struggling with staying at home, though. I am pretty high on the introversion scale, so I am content to be at home with my family. I don’t know how I would react, though, if I lived alone, which is something I have never done.

I do spend more time on shopping and meal planning/preparation than I used to. We are still having significant shortages in our area, so weekly shopping has turned into several hours in several stores to find basic items. There are more meals to plan for because we can’t go out to dinner and because everyone is here for all their meals every day. We do sometimes get takeout from a local restaurant, but there is definitely more cooking going on at home.

I’ve been trying to keep up with my social and environmental justice activities online and have taken the opportunity to attend some webinars. The Binghamton Poetry Project and my local poetry-workshop group have been meeting via Zoom. I’ve also finished revisions of my chapbook and have been slogging through the time-consuming and anxiety-producing process of finding contests to enter. Seven and counting…

I do write blog posts now and then…

I wish I could say that I was reading more. I admit that, most days, I don’t even get through my email. By evening, I find that my brain can only handle watching television while playing not-too-taxing computer games. As I’ve been saying for years now, it’s often not so much about time as brainpower.

How are you all doing wherever you find yourselves during this pandemic?

 

SoCS: looking for meaning

I, along with millions of others, am searching for a deep, inner meaning in these troubled times.

I’m fortunate to be affiliated with a number of organizations that center on social and environmental justice. While these organizations are working on ways to help in the immediate circumstances, they are also looking forward toward lessons to take away from these times and ideas to transform our social systems to better support people and the planet in the future.

Here in the United States, it is easier than ever to see the impacts of income inequality. So many people don’t earn enough to have any savings cushion at all that the sudden loss of work immediately puts them at risk of hunger and/or homelessness. As we rebuild our economy in the coming months/years, I hope the US will finally institute some kind of living wage protocol so workers can afford to live a dignified life and support their families, with some ability to save for future needs. We also need a stronger social safety net to help people who, due to age, health status, location, caregiving responsibilities, etc., are not able to have paid work.

At the moment – and for decades before now – the United States has had economic policies that have favored business owners and stockholders over the rest of the population. Money is taken to be a form of free speech and politicians have been showered in money by the powerful. Many of them are representing these monied interests more so than their human constituents. As we take stock of the pandemic and post-this-particular-pandemic world, we need to return to the founding principle that government exists to “promote the general welfare.” (That’s from the preamble of the US Constitution, for those not familiar with the phrase.)  It’s also often called working for the common good.

Scientists have noted how much clearer the air is, especially in major cities. With people in many countries staying at home and with a large number of businesses shut down, there are a lot fewer emissions that cause air pollution and that add to the climate crisis. Those of us who have been working on climate issues have been hearing for years that there isn’t political will to change our lifestyles to cut carbon for the sake of the planet, but the pandemic shows that our world can mobilize on a large scale – and quickly – to change business as usual. Obviously, emissions will rise when more businesses are able to re-open, but, perhaps, the pandemic will lead to some permanent changes that will keep emissions lower than what had been the status quo. Perhaps some employees will work from home most days of the week, coming together physically only on certain days to better work out solutions to problems. Maybe there will be less business travel in favor of teleconferencing. Maybe the reorganizing of the economy will include more local/domestic manufacturing and food production to cut down on shipping and boost supplies. Maybe the US will follow the lead of Europe and use this juncture to institute a “green deal” that promotes both climate/environmental and social justice causes.

So many possibilities.

There is a lot of work that many are doing to meet the immediate needs of people in this time of pandemic and I commend all of them for their deep sense of duty and service. I also appreciate those who are able to analyze the past and the present and use those insights to help us prepare for the future. If we are wise and brave, we will build a safer, better, sustainable, and dignified life for all living beings and our planet.
*****
Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday/A to Z prompt is “deep.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/04/03/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-april-4-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!
https://www.quaintrevival.com/

a new civic/religious hymn

Since the Jubilee of 2000, I have belonged to NETWORK, a lobbying and educational organization dedicated to the principles of Catholic social justice and how they can be expressed through our democracy in the United States.

Their Lenten program this year is “Becoming Faith-Filled Voters.” In the introduction, the prayer segment was this new hymn. I was very moved by it and wanted to share it. While it is written in a religious context, I find that it invokes many principles that are shared by all people of good will.

A Hymn for a Time of National Crisis

O God of All the Nations
LLANGLOFFAN 7.6.7.6 D (“Lead On, O King Eternal”; “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”)

O God of all the nations, your ancient prophets saw
that kings and institutions are not above the law.
Integrity is precious, and truth will one day stand;
Your way is peace and justice, and love is your command.

O God, when times are troubled, when lies are seen as truth,
When power-hungry people draw praise and not reproof,
When greed is seen as greatness, when justice is abused,
We pray that those who lead us will know what they must choose.

We pray they’ll gather wisdom and lift up high ideals,
To guide our struggling nation along a path that heals.
We pray they’ll have the vision to value each good law,
To put aside ambition, to seek the best for all.

O God of all the nations, may those who lead us see
that justice is your blessing, that truth will set us free.
Give all of us the courage to seek the nobler way,
So in this land we cherish, the good will win the day.

Tune: Traditional Welsh melody, from Daniel Evans’ Hymnau a Thonau (Hymns and Tunes), 1865 (“Lead On, O King Eternal”; “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”)

Text: Copyright © December 19, 2019 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Permission is given for free use of this hymn.

SoCS: Just Mercy

(I reviewed Just Mercy earlier this week, in case you want to check it out.)

When I hear the phrase “just mercy”, I think of Pope Francis. Pope Francis called a Jubilee year dedicated to mercy a few years ago and the spirituality study group that I facilitate was learning about and discussing mercy. Many people think of “mercy” in relationship to forgiveness. For example, many Christian churches say, “Lord, have mercy.” as part of their penitential rite. Francis, though, includes a broader understanding – mercy in the sense of lovingkindness. (For Catholics, this is more the sense of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which includes actions like feeding the hungry and burying the dead and acts of compassion like offering consolation.) I appreciate the sense of mercy as lovingkindness, as a counterweight to forgiveness in that mercy is expanded to everyone, not just those who have done something wrong.

This, to me, ties into the way we use the word justice currently in the United States. Many people equate justice with vengeance. We use phrases like “criminal justice” in a context of punishment. I think of justice as the restoration of right relationship. This is the sense of justice in phrases like “social justice” and “environmental justice.” In this context, justice is tied to care and concern for people and for all created things. This is also evident in the term “economic justice”, recognizing that it is wrong for employers to enrich themselves at the expense of their employees who are not paid a living wage.

I will end this homilette before everyone’s eyes glaze over, although I may be too late…

It’s what can happen when I am writing off the top of my mind.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to base the post on the title of the last movie that we saw. If you would like to join in with Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January, you can get all the details here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/17/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2020-daily-prompt-jan-18th/

Let’s be serious

I am sometimes accused of gravity.

No, that doesn’t mean that things are attracted to me.

Rather, some people think I am too serious.

It’s true that I am a serious person and have been for a long time. When I was a student, I was very serious about my schoolwork. I wanted to understand everything thoroughly and expand my knowledge. I played the organ at my small, country church, first as a substitute and, starting in my sophomore year of high school, as the only organist. Catholic mass is a serious undertaking and, with the organ in the front of the church, I had to be careful to stay attentive.

B and I were high school sweethearts. We were friends first and then fell in love. Even as teens, we had a serious relationship. Neither of us were into the social scene, which led to some interesting discussions with our friends. For example, some of them were pressuring B to ask me to his senior prom, saying that I wanted to go, which I assuredly did not. B and I talked about it and, because neither of us wanted to go, we didn’t attend either of our senior proms.

Being serious does not mean that we don’t have fun. Well, things that we consider fun. We spent part of our honeymoon at a living history museum, which was fun for us; we wouldn’t have known what to do with ourselves on a cruise or at a fancy resort or, God forbid, a casino.

We married in our early twenties after we had both graduated from college and set about doing serious, adult things, like buying a house and starting a family. Challenges with careers and medical issues and spiritual issues and educational issues followed, often one atop the other.

There were a lot of things that called for gravity – and, by then, I was very experienced with it.

I feel that there are many grave issues facing us at the current time, among them, climate change, war, inequality, discrimination, and lack of civility and commitment to the common good. I consider it a personal obligation to help care for people and the planet, even though I know that my personal impact is limited. I do trust, though, that all people of good will acting together can move things in a positive direction.

If that means that people accuse me of gravity, I gladly and gravely plead guilty.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Using the prompts is optional and most days I do my own thing, but today I decided to use the prompt “gravity.” Find out more about Just Jot It January and the prompts here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/12/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-12th-2020/

 

SoCS: social justice

During the struggle against fracking in New York, one of my roles was writing comments on related articles. I was part of the rapid response team, so I spent a lot of time doing it, so much so that if I was at an in-person event that drew people from around the state, people recognized my name if we were introduced. I had done a lot of research, so I was able to present my point of view on many different aspects of the effects.

What I seldom wrote of was the personal basis of my views, which was Catholic social justice doctrine, which was always in my heart, even as my mind was filled with science and statistics and personal stories from our neighbors in Pennsylvania.

As time has gone on and my public role has lessened, I have more often spoken of the role of social justice in my life. This became easier when Pope Francis published his encyclical Laudato’ Si. While people knew that it would be about climate change, they didn’t realize how much of it would center around human relationships with each other. Francis calls this approach “integral ecology” and it demonstrates one of the basic tenets of social justice doctrine, care for creation, and another, care for other people, especially those most vulnerable. These are viewpoints that many people of good will hold and there are many routes to them; I just want to acknowledge the impact of Catholic social doctrine for me, which combined with other influences to bring me to this point.

(The link above has the entire text of the encyclical with the option to read it in about a dozen languages. It was written prior to the Paris climate change meetings which led to the accord signed by over 190 nations. Francis addressed it to “all people of good will” because climate change affects everyone on earth.)
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “social.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/06/14/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-15-19/

SoCS badge by Pamela, at https://achronicalofhope.com/

Moses Hogan concert

Amazingly enough, I got to attend another concert this past weekend with my daughter T at Trinity Church where we heard the St. John Passion in April. This was also a concert with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton and Trinity Church Choir, along with Tabernacle United Methodist Choir and members of the Binghamton High School Choir. They were joined by countertenor Derek Lee Ragin and pianist Pej Reitz for “A Moses Hogan Celebration.”

Moses Hogan (1957-2003) was a multifaceted musician who is most well known for his stunning arrangements of Negro spirituals and most of the program was given to performances of these arrangements. Derek Lee Ragin met Moses Hogan at Oberlin College Conservatory and, while pursuing a career in opera, also performed and recorded with the Moses Hogan Chorale and Moses Hogan Singers. Also, Moses’ younger sister, Dr. Ava Hogan-Chapman, and her daughter were in attendance. It was wonderful to have people who knew him so well there to tell us more about him, and, of course, to hear Derek Lee Ragin sing.

I had sung a couple of Moses Hogan arrangements and had heard a number of them when E and T were singing in high school and college choirs. These tended to be the more up-tempo songs such as “Elijah Rock” and “Ride on, King Jesus”. While I loved hearing these familiar arrangements in the concert, I was especially moved by some of the pieces that were unfamiliar to me.

Among these was “His Light Still Shines”, a choral medley in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The piece is a blend of narrative and spirituals. Sharon Ball offered very powerful narration in alternation with the choral pieces. I knew Sharon Ball as the retired director of the Broome County Arts Council and as a candidate for New York State Senate in our district. I hadn’t realized that earlier in her career she had been a broadcast journalist, professional singer, and White House staffer in the Carter administration. She brought all of these skills together to speak so clearly and movingly about Dr. King’s work and legacy. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination; it saddens me that we still have so far to go in social justice and peacemaking in the United States all these decades later.

The piece, though, that had both T and me on the verge of tears was “There’s a Man Goin’ Round”, which is a piece about the death of a parent. With my mom in hospice care and the recent death of my college roommate’s mother, that piece was especially meaningful and heart-rending.

It’s a testament to the power of the spirituals, born as they were under the weight of slavery, oppression, and suffering, that they transcend and bring hope, even in difficult times centuries later.