In the course of reading the various articles about the need to vote for Hillary Clinton, I came across this piece by Morgana Visser. She’s a Transgender woman of color from Chicago who gave her reasons she is not voting for Secretary Clinton. A knockout piece or writing and witness as I’ve ever read, I felt the need to share it on this blog. Read it to understand where some people are coming from in their objection to another Clinton Presidency. It’s a MUST read.
Last week I was part of a lay led service at our Unitarian Church. This past year, the church has been delving a little deeper into all 7 UU principles, and this service was the culmination of all that reflecting and meditating. Seven of us from the congregation were chosen to reflect on one of the principles each. I was given the sixth UU principle, and the following is what I said to the congregation.
6th UU Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
A few years ago, I gave a sermon in which I said I believe God is a verb, an action; not simply a noun or a thing. So it’s funny to me that I get one of the few principles without a verb in it.
The key word of the sixth principle isn’t “peace,” or “liberty” or “justice”; it’s not even “community.” The key word is “goal.” This isn’t an action, but a benchmark, something to aim for. It’s a lofty aim for sure, yet any vision worth persuing needs to be big and inspirational. Ultimate ends and envisioning those goals are not meant to be pragmatic. They are, in some ways, seemingly unattainable tothose with no imagination; possibly unattainable to anyone other than the dreamer themselves. However between the distance from our starting point to that ultimate place lie actions and efforts—some everyday, some longer-term—that bring us closer to that place putting that goal within reach. These efforts go by many names—right action, loving kindness, the golden rule, social justice work, and so on. But they have something in common: they look outward at our present time and try to bridge the gap between where we are and where we need to be. It is these actions where the vision to see a world community o peace, liberty, and justice, and the will and courage to move the community toward that goal meet.
It’s also within these actions that the necessary steps are mapped out. If we as a community—first locally, then globally—are to get to this seemingly unattainable place, we all have to do our parts. Each of us can shape our society by working on our own small part of it—maintaining a food pantry, planting a communal garden, putting up a banner. Fron there we connect outward with other like minded people to help shape a larger area—signing petitions or letters, marching for our democratic rights and the rigths of others, protesting against war. The more we reach people who share our vision and want that achievement, the larger we make our community, and with that growth and consistency of our actions we make the goal of a world of peace, liberty, and justice a reality for us all.
Dear Michael Bloomberg,
Hello. My name is David Concepcion, and while I was never one of your constituents, I am a New Yorker now living in New England. I admit I’ve never been a fan of your policies as Mayor of New York City, but I am impressed by your efforts to deal with gun violence in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, CT. Your organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns (founded with the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino), which is now Everytown for Gun Safety, has been particularly good in promoting “common sense” gun laws and putting it into the public debate in a positive way. It is because of this stance and Everytown for Gun Safety’s analytical work why I write you for help.
Right to the point: America is in trouble. You know this because you’ve seen the statistics: we’ve have more mass shootings in 2015 than we’ve had days (356 shootings as of 12/8/15, the 342nd day of 2015); that the numbers of Americans people killed by firearms since 2001 is equal to the number of all American soldiers killed in WWII (400,000); and this year alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects the gun death total this year to be 33,000—or 3,200 people per week. The numbers are horrifying, yet our elected representatives are too afraid or beholden (or both) to do anything to stem the tide. While 80% of National Rifle Association (NRA) members support the almost 90% of Americans who want some common sense gun control measures in place, we seem to be at the mercy of that minority of gun owners and all gun lobbyists who feel any gun law is a slippery slope to losing our Second Amendment rights. What you and Everytown for Gun Safety are doing to counter the NRA is admirable and which is why this open letter is mainly directed towards you and your group.
I know that serious gun control laws will not happen until 2017, when a new Congress convenes that may have the political will and ability to do anything helpful for America. Personally, I don’t like guns at all, but I’m happy to accept what my NRA member buddies have suggested—expanded background checks, listing of all private gun sales, closing the terrorist and gun show loopholes, and a ban on high capacity magazines. Unfortunately too many innocent Americans will die by gunfire until that time. So I have a proposal that will fill the gap and prepare the public and other advocates for the future legislative fight.
The best tool that public safety officials have right now is health statistics. From smoking deaths to deaths by car accidents, comprehensive statistics illustrating the dangers of behaviors and/or items or substances have been indispensable to informing public opinion and policy. However for the last 20 years, the CDC has been barred by Congress from conducting ANY studies into gun violence and/or gun deaths whatsoever. Even the statistics from the Everytown for Gun Safety website had to by culled and extrapolated from FBI, police, hospital, and other databases. The CDC is one of the best organizations to study the issue of gun violence and a public health issue, but are unable to proceed due to the loss of federal funding the Centers need to keep operating. My proposal is this: since the CDC is barred from pursuing an accurate health study and this Congress will not lift the funding ban, I ask you to use a small portion of your considerable wealth to fund a national public health study in to gun deaths and gun violence in America, as well as the real life impacts—physical, emotional, and economic—these have on Americans.
In 1995, the CDC was prepared to spend $2.6 million on such a study, which is what is what public research funds are available today for firearms study. Adjusted for inflation, that $2.6 million would equal $4.1 million today. I suggest using $5 million to fund that important national study that was planned, and use the same CDC protocols to ensure accuracy and proper peer review. The results of the study would be of great use to the 2017 Congress and our next president, who may then fully act upon the results. While many call this “advocacy research,” it can serve as a study on how guns impact the daily lives of Americans, especially if done within correct protocols. It is a step in the right direction for all parties on either side of the debate as it will educate the public and policymakers alike, and can enhance the debate for “common sense” control laws. At the very least, the conversation can be faced honestly and without interference.
We all know why nothing has been done about guns and gun violence even after the death of 20 children in one school. It’s because a group like the NRA has an iron fisted hold on those who could do something. The NRA keeps the pressure on lawmakers to sustain the ban on studying gun violence not as a way to protect gun owners, but as a way of protecting the gun manufacturers that they really represent. Money has seeped into the process and corrupted the workings of policy to hold us all hostage, and America loses as a result. Until such a time that money is driven out of politics, it seems the only thing that can stop a bad lobbyist group with money and power is a good lobbyist group with money and power. Mr. Bloomberg, please use a tiny portion of your considerable wealth to fund a national public health study into the full extent of damage to people and society by gun violence. This is a giant opportunity to help America in the middle of a deadly epidemic. I plead with you as a patriotic American to answer the call.
Thank you for your attention.
cc: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, George Soros, Warren Buffet, and any philanthropist who recognizes that “ensuring domestic tranquility” and “promoting the general welfare” are equally important parts of the Constitution as the 2nd Amendment.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, MA will be putting up a Black Lives Matter banner in the next couple of days. Part of the service today was dedicated to blessing the banner. As one who asked for the banner, I was asked to lead the blessing and say a few words about needing to raise this banner.
Earlier this fall, I asked Rev. Tess if we could put up a Black Lives Matter banner at the church. I didn’t ask because of any one particular death of a Black person at the hands of the police—despite the many that can be named: Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland; and the list goes on. I asked about a banner after what happened to a Unitarian church in Reno, NV. Their minister, Rev. Neal Anderson, is a friend of mine and I heard that they dedicated their third Black Lives Matter banner after their first two banners were vandalized and stolen respectively. Despite each time this majority White church had their banner ruined or taken, they put up another one with the same blessings and commitment as they put up their first one, because it was part of the commitment that church made to support social justive. I felt as we at this church believe in working for social justice, a banner is the least we could do.
In 1930s occupied Europe, the Unitarian flaming chalice had become an underground symbol for assistance to help Unitarians, Jews and otheers to escape Nazi persecution. We currentlly have a rainbow flag signifyingus as allies to the LGBT communities, and at one point we had a sign on the post that read “all welcome.” The question is not why don’t we have a Black Lives Matters banner, but why have we not put one up sooner?
As I said in a sermon this summer, ours is a covenental religion, meaning we practice our faith in the promise of how we treat each other. We have always shone a light on injustice and as a beacon of hope. At the rate that Black people are killed at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve the public, they are inneed of hope. By hanging this banner for all to see, we give hope because we stand in solidarity with those oppressed until such oppression is held accountable.
The banner is unfurled and the congregation is asked to lay hands on it as these words are read in blessing the banner:
There is a community out there that is hurting
While we cannot alleviate this pain
We can stand with those in pain and help support their struggle
As a faith community we hold in our second principle
Justice, equity, ad compassion in human relations
This should be the norm
But we recognize often it is the exception
We are called to action yet again
And as a faith community we answer that call
May we recommit ourselves to justice, equity, and compassion
And with this banner may we say
To the local community and society at large
That we light the beacon of hope again
That we are allies in their struggle
In January 1992, I had the honor of hearing Elie Wiesel speak at my undergraduate commencement ceremony at Hunter College. It was thrilling to hear him speak and I know most of what he said got lost in the moment of seeing Wiesel 20 feet away, but one thing he said rang so true it stuck with me all these years: ignorance is a form of fascism and it must be countered at every turn. I think he later changed it to “indifference” especially in a speech in front of then President Bill Clinton. In front of Clinton, Wiesel spoke of indifference as a state—“a strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil… Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.” (Wiesel “The Perrils of Indifference” 4/12/99) To me if indifference is a state, ignorance is a willful act; consideration of people as of no consequence and meaningless is now a conscious act. When you look at the tenets of fascism itself, the verb “disdain” appears often which means there is a conscious decision about intellectuals or human rights. Because of this, and after holding back for the last week, I cannot stay silent anymore about the Trump Presidential campaign, the GOP non-reaction to it, and the pitch of rage taking over our country.
We see and know how Trump acts on the campaign trail: he’s a malignant narcissist bragging he can “make America great again” if elected. He started his campaign saying the Mexican immigrants are rapists and killers, and has now called for a database of all Muslims in America. He demeans all of his opponents and anyone who criticizes him publicly. He’s seems to be going through the 14 characteristics of fascism pretty quickly and for him there seems to be little going back—at least no apologies for his statements or actions, another way to maintain strength and power. And even with all of that, he’s only down 14 points but still leading the pack, and that is the scariest part of all of this.
It seems no matter what Trump says, his supporters eat it up and he stays on top of the GOP polls. His fans and base keep coming back for more and worse. In Boston, two Trump supporters assaulted a man they thought was a Mexican immigrant. Earlier in the summer when Univision journalist Jorge Ramos tried to confront Trump on his immigration stance—force all 11 milliion Latino immigrants out and build a wall bodering Mexico—he was thrown out of the room by Trump’s bodyguards who told him to “get out of my country.” And last week, a Black Lives Matters protestor was beaten up at a Trump rally before being removed. In each instance, Trump stood up for his supporters/assailants and later further escallated his rhetoric about making America great. This is what can no longer be tolerated.
What made America great is that we are a place where we can have civil discourse that doesn’t lead to violence. We have serious issues with supremacy and racism/sexism/etc., but not every political discussion must lead to demonizing others and violently disagreeing. Now it is more commonplace and worse it is spurred on ,or at least sanctioned, by those who are vying for the top leader position in the country. Some conservative critics have finally started to call Trump’s actions fascist and only presidential candidate John Kasich has been hounding his actions and positions as eventually leading to fascism. One would hope that can solve things but I doubt it. Over he last 8 years, the GOP has made it acceptable to openly spurn a top leader for doing his job, resort to name calling and denigrating them as an “other” unworthy of such a position. We in the public have not pushed back enough maybe out of our own belief that we would never go down the route of totalitarianism or uprising. But now we are partway down that slope and facing people who are unapologetic in their rancor towards anyone who disagrees with them. This is where we have o stand up and say no more. Our indifference is on the verge of becoming willful ignorance and there is no going back from there.
If you are a supporter of Trump, please reconsider. He has promised nothing except a vision with his own ego in charge and no other way but violent means to get there. If he is spurring violence towards reporters and people who have the constitutional right to speak up for matters thay believe in, he is not fit to be a leader and you need not follow him. The “throw the bums out” mentality has taken a dark turn and the actions of others has shown this. Making America great again only happens if we have great Americans upholding our values; right now Trump and his followers are displaying the worst of us. We need to be better than Mr. Trump (which isn’t hard) and we need to not fall for pie in the sky promises that have no hope of fruition and all the markings of ruining who we are as a nation.
We know Trump will never apologize for his actions or who he is, but we can make sure that he never gets to office he seeks. We can also make sure that whenever the brand of Trump is uttered, it brings to mind fascism in bad hair. The best punnishment for Trump is not only losing the nomination, but to lose his businesses and fall into obscurity like some discarded misguided philosophy we never needed. It would be the best thing to happen to him and America.
Thanksgiving is the holiday where we get together with family to share a meal and time among loved ones. We get to remember and celebrate the day the Pilgrims came to this land and shared a feast with the Wampanoag Indians, and ignore the death, dispacement and genocide the Europeans settlers laid out on the American Indian nations afterwards. It seems even more appropriate this year that we are reminded of how we are to treat the stranger with an international refugee crisis out of Syria. So appropriately we honor that Christian sentiment of helping the lesser in our society by throwing up even more roadblocks in an already long (2-3 year) wait to possibly get into this land of the free. What better way to get us into the spirit of community and helping each other than moving quickly towards a totolitarian state as promised by many of the popular hopeful GOP presidential candidates.
I’m not sure exactly when the culture of denial and amnesia took over the holiday itself and threw a monkey wrench into this holiday, but it has. Like a drowsy tryptophan dream, seem to focus only on how good we are only to ignore how we normally treat our people and the others in the world daily on the other 364 days of the year. I would like to be more upbeat about this day, but with the reaction to all the horrific news this last week seeming more and more unAmerican, it’s very hard. I am glad to be with my daughter for Thanksgiving and spending time with her, but I worry about the society she grows up in more and more each day. I have hope she will be okay, but I wonder if the country I knew will be.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
I think we are all reeling from the late night attacks on Paris that have only recently been claimed by ISIL. When these attacks happen, I’m not sure what people think. I know I feel numb at how senseless all this violence can be, the damage it causes and the recriminations and violence it can spur from then on. While I know this blog talks about spirituality and theology, at times like these it feels like prayers are not enough. Keeping Parisians in our hearts are good, but I feel like I want to donate blood and mail it overseas. The situation is compounded with the refugee crisis in Europe. We need to hold all of Europe in our hearts, and take a long range look to see how we may tackle the root causes of terror and war.
In the first few years after the 9/11 attacks, I wrote reflections about the day things happened and what it meant to me. I think everyone did for a while. I stopped after a while. Part of the reason was that my memories of the day is colored with anger. I I woke up that day after everything was over, and in searching around trying to get some sense of what was going I found too much wrath surrounding it. From a woman radio caller saying “Bomb them!” along with the radio host not even knowing who “they” were. The images of policemen running–not into the Towers, but towards a mosque that was about to be overrun by an angry mob. Harsh words from friends who were in the area when I tried to argue for calm heads and peace. Jingoism wrapped in patriotism. It bothered me to this day; and it never fully occurred to me until today. A Unitarian friend of mine wrote his own reflection of 9/11 on Facebook today as he has often done, but this one struck me; it said everything I’ve been feeling for a while. I asked if I could repost it on my blog, and he agreed. What he wrote is below. Very moving, very potent and very necessary.
So today I am told to remember. But remember what?
Spending a morning being told my hometown was in flames, destroyed, buildings family had worked in in the past, that I had hiked around as a Cub Scout or biked around as a kid, in ruins? Or the politicians, pundits, people in small towns and here in the Midwest that I’ve met, both before or after that day, who have told me how horrible my hometown and New York City were. How they were worthless, full of the worst of humanity. How they never gave a damn about my hometown, my family, my neighbors, my friends, even laughed as we bled and died in the streets during the crack wars, and still in general will shit talk my city; right up until it becomes politically advantageous to laud it.
Do I remember when they told us that after that day fourteen years ago, it was the “death of insincerity?” Or how it came back, worse than ever, in jaded sarcasm, disdain, mocking of those wronged or hurt, a culture that devalues compassion.
Do I remember George W. Bush standing next to a local D.C. Imam, a couple days after the attack, telling us that Muslims were our friends, our neighbors and our fellow Americans? Or do I remember the attacks that continue on Muslims to this day, along with Hindus and Sikhs, because “they’re the terrorists,” while folks like Dylann Roof continue to go on internet hate boards and advocate for killing American citizens?
Do I remember when cops, firefighters and first-responders were heroes? Or that we now will defund them at every turn, because taxes are bad, and they’re “greedy moochers” like my and other governors want me to believe? That we expect them to do their jobs, under-funded, under-staffed, poorly equipped, some even living with PTSD, and yell at them if they want to unionize?
Do I remember that we used what happened fourteen years ago today as a pretext to wage “preemptive” war on Iraq? That there were no WMDs found in the end? That George H. W. Bush had warned years earlier that invading that country would unleash an insurgency, destabilize the region and open a Pandora’s box of trouble? Or when hearing the sabre-rattling, my conservative, Army veteran father opining that these were the exact same type of bastards who got us into ‘Nam? Do I remember “you’re either with us or against us,” and vilifying the country of my godmother’s birth for thinking invading Iraq was a bad idea. Even renaming French fries “freedom fries.” Do I remember that using as pretext wanting to end a brutal state that suppresses dissent, especially from its minorities, even killing innocent civilians, was all fine and good as a reason to go to war; but the same tactics we deplored to much we had to invade another country for, are fine in places like Baltimore and Ferguson?
Do I remember how we “love freedom,” or how the same people who told us that said we needed the Patriot Act?
Do I remember that the number of civilians killed in Iraq dwarfs the number of civilians who died in the World Trade Center towers?
Do I remember that at this point, we’ve had more of our veterans who went and fought in both wars like we asked them to have committed suicide in numbers that also dwarf the civilians we lost fourteen years ago today?
Do I remember how many veterans live homeless now, or are on food stamps? Or do I remember how we, who lived comfortable and cushy while we asked them to go through hell, call them “lazy” and “moochers” now. Or perhaps I remember how many times a certain group of politicians have voted against helping veterans – even when a former lion of their party and WWII veteran came to the Senate floor in a wheel chair to implore them to do so?
Do I remember that some of the same people who were hell bent for leather to have us go into Iraq, are now advocating for us to go into Iran, a country three times Iraq’s geographic size? And create more veterans, that they’ll ignore when they come back.
Do I remember that “the terrorists hate us for our freedom?” Or that when women exercise that freedom, they’re called sluts; when non-violent black protesters exercise that freedom, they’re called thugs; that trans people who have no interest in hurting anyone and just want to live their lives are to be demonized; that gay couples wanting to get married is somehow a threat to other folks’ marriages; when atheist or pagan friends say they’re not Christian, they’re somehow threatening someone else’s faith?
Do I remember that “we are a nation of many faiths, governed by laws, not one particular religion?” Or that if I believe something and you don’t, I get to force you to act in accordance with my beliefs, especially if I serve you in a restaurant or as a public clerk, and cry “religious discrimination!” if you have a problem with it?
So you want me to remember.
Ok. I do.
After Bernie Sanders was interrupted by two activists on behalf of Black Lives Matter, I was stunned by it. A lot of it had to do with that he was the candidate I truly support; other had to do with the fact that he would be targeted. I wasn’t sure what to think, so of course I started to read more accounts and responses to the event (other than people angry at the Black Lives Matter movement). First I have to commend Mr. Sanders who was able to express how he felt yet still be an ally to the movement by stating in a statement that he was “disappointed that two people disrupted a rally by thousands”; by mentioning the two women activists rather than the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole, he takes issue with the tactics of two people rather than the issues behind the movement. Second, of the articles I’ve read so far, the one linked to below is my favorite. It was written by Pramila Jayapal, who is a female person of color State Senator in Washington state and was at the rally that was interrupted (she was the speaker just before Mr. Sanders). It’s good to get an eyewitness piece that is as thoughtful and cogent as what she wrote concerning the event. Please click on the link below to check it out.–it’s a very important red.
About 20-24 hours ago, George Takei posted a thank you to those who boycotted Indiana for passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because Governor Mike Pence signed a “fix” that corrected the RFRA to prevent potential discrimination against the LGBT community. With the amendment that stated the RFRA “does NOT authorize anyone to refuse to provide services, facilities, public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to anyone on the basis of certain characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity,” Takei said he would replace #BoycottIndiana with #IndianaForAll (the quotes are from Takei’s Facebook posting, not the actual amendment). Mr. Takei deserves a lot of credit for being the public face on the pressure to take the state of Indiana to task for a very troubling law and gaining this victory. However even he concedes that this is only part of the problem.
Fixing the RFRA to not allow discrimination does not prevent such discrimination from happening. If you look on the Human Rights Campaign website, you can see an interactive map showing which states do and don’t protect the LGBT community in terms of hate crimes, housing and job discrimination, and accommodation laws. For example, right now there are 20 states that don’t have ANY laws to protect the LGBT community in such measures—even hate crimes. Of those states that do have such laws, 15 of those states only apply to those crimes based on sexual orientation; not gender. While Indiana’s (and also Arkansas’ law) have made adjustment to the RFRA laws to prevent businesses from hiding behind “religious grounds” when discriminating, they do not make such discrimination a criminal act. In other words you can legally refuse to sell a gay couple cake for their wedding, you just can’t claim to do it for religious reasons.
The bigger problem here is the civil rights issues surrounding the LGBT community, especially concerning transgender issues. There are too many states that fail to provide basic protection for the LGBT community; in some states, the “blue laws” still on the books are a de facto criminalization of homosexuality. This cannot stand and should not be overlooked. We cannot be allowed anyone in this country to be reduced to second-class citizenship no matter what rationale you base it on. We’re either all free or none of us are. That is the true fight against the RFRA in Indiana and they should not be let off the hook just yet.
He band Wilco, in reinstating its concert in Indiana over the controversy, has called the amendment a good first step. Mr. Takei has called on Indiana to take up the fight for providing the LGBT community protection from discrimination. Luckily they are looking past the celebration of a winning battle ahead to the larger civil rights war ahead.
Please take a look at the Human Rights Campaign “civil rights map” here.