Nazis, Trump, Confederate Statues…Don’t Blink

Nashville-Suffragettes

During spring break my family traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, where we were struck by the variety of monuments. Accustomed to the Land of Lincoln, we now saw presidents Andrew Jackson and James K Polk revered by their home state. We also saw confederate statues and symbolism (check out this monstrosity) and learned that Eastern Tennessee supported the Union during the Civil War, while the rest of Tennessee went with the Confederacy. We also saw several statues of women, like the one pictured above commemorating the “Perfect 36” that gave women the right to vote, as well as a bust of the pioneering Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown. And most impressive was the giant Athena statue in the full-scale Parthenon replica in Centennial Park.

I almost blogged then about the feelings these statues aroused. Now that the controversy over removing confederate statues has risen to the national consciousness…the time seems ripe to talk about statues and what they mean to us.

First of all, I was inspired and gratified by the images of Athena, suffragettes, and Dr. Brown. As a woman, these made me feel especially empowered and inspired to strive and contribute. That is good. Also they made me realize and lament the dearth of female statues back home. Not so good. (BTW – It shouldn’t be hard to erect statues of women or even girls, but remember the uproar  over the little “fearless girl” on Wall Street?)

Second, I was a little mystified and intimidated by the existence of confederate statues. I did not consider then how I might feel if I were a person of color, but I could imagine now that I would feel pretty awful: resentful, threatened, abandoned, invisible. On a positive note, it did make me curious to learn more about local history.

Fast forward to this weekend in Charlottesville…Our country suffered a series of moral blows when Neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville, Va., ostensibly to protest the towns’ decision to remove a statue of Robert E Lee, but more notably to “Unite the Right” and conjure up the biggest white supremacist rally for the past several decades. See the Vice News 22-minute video depicting the Neo-Nazi perspective.

The white supremacists armed themselves (guns, helmets, sticks, chemical irritants, shields) and marched in a Friday night surprise, carrying torches and chanting Nazi slogans (“Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and Soil”). By the next day the towns people came out to bravely protest what was obviously a pro-Nazi rally. Some time after the rally was broken up by police as an unlawful assembly, a white supremacist sympathizer murdered the valiant Heather Heyer and injured at least 19 others by driving his car across a pedestrian mall into a group of people, terrorist style. (See the similarities between white nationalists and jihadists)

Then the moral blows kept coming as our President failed to condemn the hate groups by name on Saturday, and tried to make people believe that blame lies on “many sides”, relying on the proven Conservative tactic of False Equivalence (more recently referred to as “both-siderism”) that confused and misinformed voters last year. He waffled in his tone and purpose over the course of four days, giving an “insane press conference” on Tuesday. Many feel he has given comfort and hope to white supremacists. Meanwhile, the most powerful man in the world has proven once again that he gets his talking points directly from Fox News.  Together they have perpetrated the idea of an alt-left (What alt-left?,  there is no left equivalent to ethnic cleansing groups, not even Antifa), and suggest that it justifies the poisonous alt-right. The moral blows have turned into gut punches delivered by our very own President as America attempts to vomit on itself.

Now more people are seeing Donald Trump for who he really is, the paranoid, divisive  and racist leader who Hillary Clinton warned us he would be over a year ago.  Prominent Republicans are starting to voice it out loud, like Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee who questions Trump’s stability and ability to understand “the character of this nation” and “what makes this country great”.

People are starting to realize that Trump and his White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, represent a tangible and dangerous link to the Alt-Right, that Trump’s numerous anti-semitic campaign tweets and racist retweets were intentional to stir his hateful political base. And some people may also know that Russia has intentionally allied with and infiltrated white nationalist groups and used cyber techniques to push Breitbart and Alex Jones conspiracy platforms into the path of Republican voters, carrying the hatred and paranoia of white nationalism into the mainstream.

So what about confederate statues? It might be helpful to first understand that a large number of confederate statues were erected during times in our American history–Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras–when people were attempting to keep black people in their place. These statues loom over citizens on their way to courthouses and civic centers. Meanwhile, if we are actually commemorating Civil War heros rather than glorifying its transgressors, then why not depict emancipated black people? Why not show the bravery of everyday people who fought and died and suffered to make change happen?

Mayors are now acting swiftly to remove or cover the confederate statues for the sake of safety. My suggestion for these confederate statues? Move them to museums for context, or to graveyards that have a high proportion of confederate soldiers. Otherwise move them away from the center of town and provide historical context.

Many people feel the Charlottesville tragedy is a pivotal moment in this Presidency and perhaps this Nation’s history.  The Neo-Nazi’s feel it is their equivalent of the Beer Hall Putsch which will reinvigorate their cause. Others hope it is the dawning of an understanding that we need moral and political leadership to end systemic racism.

If we were to memorialize this pivotal moment with a statue, who would we depict? The Neo-Nazi leader who came with guns? The white male organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally? The ACLU leader who litigated the group’s First Amendment right to protest? President Trump with his words in quotes, though they were deemed inadequate at best and harmful at worst?

Well, I nominate Heather Heyer. She went to the rally even though she feared for her own safety and  didn’t want to die. She overcame her fear so that she could stand up against hatred, to defend us, to defend America. Heather also advocated for others to do the same. She did not blink in face of evil. She would not let a statue, or its violent proponents, send us backwards in time on progress that has already been hard fought and won through blood and sacrifice, love and bravery. She is a hero who deserves to be remembered.

History has its eyes on you… Hamilton, Candide, and Wonder Woman

The last couple months were packed with entertainments and philosophical exchanges with family and friends. The upshot is that we cannot escape from politics right now, even when we are enjoying ourselves. Here are some highlights.

We enjoyed an excellent musical production of Candide produced by the Musical Theater Works company in Evanston. Yet there was a nagging something that tarnished enjoyment, for me at least. This story reminds us that good art is timeless. Voltaire could not have predicted Trumpians any better. How impossible it was not to picture Trump in the vain brother, Melania in the shallow jewelry-loving Cunegonde, etc. Ultimately the main characters were revolting, even Candide whose professed innocence belied his murdering selfishness.

Similarly, we finally got our family to Hamilton in Chicago. This was so well done and anticipated that people were laughing at jokes before they finished, and singing along in certain spots. Yet, my experience of it was filtered through my awareness of current political events. You are supposed to weep at the loss of a character toward the end. I did, a little. But my sobbing moment was when Washington revealed his haunting awareness that, “History has its eyes on me”. I took this to heart. I took it personally. This is the moment we will answer to later in our lives.

We have choices in what we believe and what ideas we surround ourselves with, even what ideas we entertain ourselves with.

Do we entertain ourselves by reading dystopian Atlas Shrugged as Paul Ryan recommends to inform our world view? Or do we read Steve Bannon’s apocalyptic obsessions?

Or do we choose the messaging that typifies us as Americans, uplifting, promising, liberating and empowering?

My top pick this summer is Wonder Woman  (a must see movie, though you will cringe at Steve Mnuchin’s name in the credits) which captured the essence of our modern-day conflicts in our quest to save humanity, “It’s not about what they deserve, it’s about what you believe”.  And also, “If you see something in the world that isn’t right, you can either do nothing, or you can do something about it.”

Greed, Fear and Racism, or Something Worse

bald_eagle_watching_in_pa_ci_2

National Republicans, and the national conversation during the 2016 Presidential Election, have already led me to the conclusion that greed, fear and racism were driving principles in the new Republicanism (and old conservatism).

These driving principles fuel things like white flight that create self-fulfilling prophecies in now hurting neighborhoods. After having experienced that myself in Chicagoland, I was interested to learn about old Louisville in Kentucky from a resident when we traveled for spring break. These principles allow white people to pull the ladder up behind themselves on immigration under the guise that “I just want them to obey the laws of entering our country” while ignoring our own history. Also, these driving principles allowed people to be easily cowed and manipulated by lies and misleading information and regime-toppling propaganda (enter Russian internet trolls retweeted by Trump).

Bill Maher expressed the same exact thing–greed, fear and racism–so it caught my attention. But he goes further to explain the otherwise inexplicable behavior of the current White House leadership. Would be funnier if it weren’t true.

  • Click Here (late night language)  My teen tells me this is trending on YouTube. Maher doesn’t even mention all the examples he could, like rolling back clean water rules, but he sums it up with the simple truth.

Let’s break free of the ugly instincts driving current politics and foreign influencers, I prefer rhetoric and policies that stand for generosity, bravery, and love. Let’s rise above our base instincts so we can be the Americans we are supposed to be and “Fly like an Eagle…”

Karaoke, Community, and April Action Items

Gloria_Gaynor_2003

Life is busy, especially when layering on political action to our routines. So squeaking out a full weekend for the annual Temple retreat this weekend was a little more stressful than usual, knowing weekend chores awaited our return home. But true to the purpose of a retreat, and the express purpose of this one, I emerged refreshed and with a renewed commitment to community. We discussed unity, compassion fatigue, implicit bias (read Blind Spot), and Jewish spiritual teaching. I even had the cathartic experience of belting out “I Will Survive” in a karaoke improv moment. (See my suggested lyrics further below)

So with a renewed energy, let me share a few action items on the horizon. Check your energy level and then check your calendar. Let me know if you want to join me for any of it. Life is contagious, let’s catch it together:

  1. April 5 (Wednesday) – Advocate for women in Springfield, Illinois. Register (free) to join the first Illinois Women Moving Forward (IWMF) advocacy event.
  2. April 15 (Saturday) – Tax March in DC and other cities Learn more. (And I also suggest we carry signs that ask for independent investigation of Russian interference)
  3. April 22Science March on Earth Day in Chicago,  Washington, D.C. or check elsewhere. Please make this one huge! I think of this as more of a Facts Matter March and frankly I think the week-later Climate March  (April 29) should be combined with this one.

Seriously, try this at home

I Will Survive” sung by Gloria Gaynor, written by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris. Lyrics parodied by citizenstacy.

Once I was afraid, I was petrified
When I woke up to a president who cheated and who lied
I spent oh so many nights just thinking how he’d done us wrong
And I grew strong, we must all learn to get along

And how he acts, from outer space
Trying to divide and make us fight because of race
I should have checked that voting box, 
I should have locked it with a key
If I had known for just one second he’d be four years bugging me

All right now go, walk out the door, don’t stay around now, you’re not welcome any more
Weren’t you the one who tried to break me with your lies, you’d think I’d crumble, submit to all those Russian spies? Oh no not I. I will survive. For as long as I know how to love I know I’ll be alive. I’ve got all my life to live and I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive. We will survive. 

I took all the strength I had not to fall apart, just trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart. And I spent oh so many nights reading news to make you cry, but now I hold my head up high.

I March with Women! (pause) I go to meetings! (pause) I talk to strangers, (pause) Bring happy greetings. (add your own awesome actions) (Repeat chorus). (March in place)

PHOTO OF GLORIA GAYNOR ATTRIBUTED TO: Docklandsboyhttp://flickr.com/photos/mogwai_83/335530580/

“Look, A New Day Has Begun”! Ben Vereen, Credit Unions and the ACLU

sunrise

This weekend I had the extreme pleasure of enjoying Ben Vereen’s performance at Dominican University’s Annual Gala for student scholarships. The University’s mission is to “…prepare students to pursue truth, to give compassionate service, and to participate in the creation of a more just and humane world.” This coupled with Vereen’s “vibration of love” as he put it, left a lasting impression of positivity and hopefulness.

I love his music, but many of you may most fondly remember him, as my husband does, for his role as Chicken George in the classic TV mini-series Roots (If you have not seen this, make the time!). As Vereen inevitably walked us through years of American history with his musical revue of Broadway hits (“Memory”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Aquarius”) and other classics, (“Chicago”, “Summertime“, “Standby Me”, “What a Wonderful World”), the moments were poignant with recollections of hardship, social change, and triumph of America and Americans.

Other events this weekend buoyed spirits. Consider the ACLU’s PeoplePower.org debuting online (Must see). Even Democrats got it together last Wednesday with the first Democrats Live virtual Town Hall meeting (Subscribe for future meetings). And the best part of this weekend was celebrating a local Credit Union who supports hardworking people every day, unlike the “foreclosure king” who now serves in Trump’s cabinet as Secretary of Treasury.

Immersed in this positivity, perhaps I can stomach Trump’s cabinet member Ben Carson, who recently and ridiculously equated slaves with immigrants. Perhaps I can handle the fact that kids at my son’s school are making Hail Hitler gestures and calling him and others “the Jew”. Perhaps I can see Trump’s audacious wiretapping lie for what it really is, which is a reckless effort to distract news from his corrupt Russian ties. See Russian ties visual or (incomplete) Russian Video Timeline. Perhaps.

The hatred stirred up, amplified, and downright created from whole cloth in Right-Wing political rhetoric and strategy, is ugly. But we have seen uglier. And think how far we have come.

So I will try to let Ben Vereen’s voice resonate stronger and linger longer. I could feel his belief in “What a Wonderful World” and hear his haunting conclusion to “Memory“, which seemed to usher in the resistance as a dawning of enlightenment, “Look, a new day… has begun”.

 

It Takes a Woman. To Save a Village.

HullHouse-WageMap

Today, in honor of International Women’s Day and a call for action following the Women’s March, a group of women (and my father and ten-year old son) took off for the day and toured Jane Addams Hull House Museum in Chicago.

I was humbled by the sheer breadth and depth of what Hull House accomplished in its many decades of service to our city and our nation. Also what women accomplished at a time when they did not yet have the right to vote. And most notably, how so much of what they accomplished persists today, to the benefit of all Americans, such as the eight-hour work day, child labor laws, occupational health and safety laws, the NAACP and ACLU.

A remarkable aspect of the settlement house was its commitment to serving the needs of the whole community, which meant dining halls, reading rooms, classes in citizenship and skill-building, child care for women who worked, new concepts like kindergarten, the first city playground for children, etc. This was not a single-issue settlement. It was about improving lives and community as a whole.

Also worth noting was both the neighborly and scientific approach taken by Hull House social workers. The map pictured above was developed by their study and intimate knowledge of the surrounding area and helped them understand the extreme poverty that existed. They deduced that families were making so little money weekly that children were forced to work, and work inordinate numbers of hours. Their studies and persistence led to child labor reforms we take for granted today.

Hull House workers settled in and served a neighborhood community, affording them a holistic view of a variety of community needs and solutions to those needs. This work is complex and issues are intertwined. Solving one problem might mean several solutions are simultaneously needed. Conversely, solving multiple needs can sometimes point to one powerful solution. Knowing the difference is critical, and it takes careful study and intimate knowledge and understanding of the needs. We are tempted today to treat Poverty, Child Care, Health Care, Equal Pay and Women’s Rights as separate issues. But they are inextricably intertwined. For example, equal pay for women will lift whole swathes of children out of poverty. Our modern-day politics either relies on statistics, or scoffs at them. Can we plant powerful people from both major parties on the frontlines–of poverty, rust belt, or immigrant communities–so they can get an up close and personal view?

Jane Addams’ example is an inspiration to us all. Interestingly, a woman from Finland joined part of our tour and she told us that she was very eager to visit the museum because in her country they are very aware of Jane Addams and her contributions to social work. In contrast, some women in our group who live in Chicagoland had never been to the museum and were not fully aware of her accomplishments, let alone her lessor known talented and dedicated female colleagues.

After learning more about Jane Addams and the residents at Hull House, who were mainly women of wealth and privilege intent on doing social good, I am more convinced than ever that women must take up the cause to heal and lead this nation. We are not fully empowered, so that helps us understand what it means to be a minority, and the good that is lost by marginalizing people. But meanwhile, women are not a minority, so that means we have the power of numbers, and many of us have the power of privilege and resources of being white and wealthy. We can and should step up to bridge the gap in our nation’s politics that would otherwise divide and weaken us all.

While it takes a village to raise a child, it may very well take a woman to save a village.

 

Love American Style: Two videos for the week of Valentine’s Day

I have been enjoying talking with fellow Americans lately, and I am falling in love again.

Yes, national Republicans make me angry for allowing President Trump to bring authoritarianism and bigotry to the White House. Yes, my local Democrats drive me crazy with machine politics, and party patronage. But the March for Women in Washington DC sparked our deep love for this country, for our freedoms, and for each other, as we marched from our hearts and waved at police officers as if they were on parade.

Anger also sparks and spreads. In fact the internet can speed this process. WATCH:This Video Will Make you Angry“(7 min.)  It explains why it was so easy for lies and fake news to spread, for Russia to wage a disinformation campaign, and for the Alt-Right to stir the pot of hatred.

So let’s reset with a little Love American Style. Let’s find what we can agree on, so we can stop the symbiotic relationship of angry thought germs. Let’s call a time out whenever someone uses personal insults, and let’s learn how to argue constructively about real issues.

Everyone who has ever fallen in love (with a person, a hobby, a job) knows that it gives you superpowers, and radiates around you. So let’s all fall in love right now. Find something about this country you absolutely adore (I love George Washington for handing back control to Congress when they might have made him king) and wear it as a talisman against the angry thought germs.

Then, for good measure, settle in for this romance video, a personal favorite; WATCH: “The Dot and the Line“(9 min.).  Perhaps we can all learn to bend a little to become a better us.