Be Like A Tree

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See how the trees
Reach up and outward
As if their entire existence
Were an elegant gesture of prayer.
See how they become the breath of spirit,
In all its visible and invisible forms.
See how the roots reach down and outward
Embracing the physical, the body and bones
Of its own soul of earth and stone,
Allowing half its life to be sheltered
In the most quiet and secret places.
From “To Be Like a Tree” by Carrie Newcomer

Trees are the lungs of the earth, I read recently. This is why deforestation is so deadly to the health of our planet.

Richard Ford’s novel The Overstory is about eco-activists who attempt to disrupt tree cutting. It’s a very long book, and a lot of it is devoted to the science of trees. I found that more interesting than the actual plot, to be honest. I had not known that trees communicate with each other, warning of disruptions in the eco-system. As the messages are passed on, trees are actually able to protect themselves from disease.

This is in a forest environment, to be sure. Urban trees that are cut off from the eco-system are more easily prey to blight and pest damage because they are unable to get the message.

All of which brings me to the poem by Carrie Newcomer and the spiritual significance of trees.

I just learned of this poem this morning in a contemplative prayer group. My first thought was that not only are the trees reaching out as if in prayer, but also reaching out to other trees. However, they can’t do that if they are not rooted “in secret places.”

And so I thought of human beings like myself, being rooted in the Divine in order to be able to reach up and out to other humans on Earth, our island home.

Because everything I experience seems to be connected, this brought me to an experience I had on Monday in Boston.

I had driven a friend to Mass Eye and Ear for an appointment that ended up lasting three long hours. That meant I was in and out of the hospital a few times so I could have a cigarette. (Okay, I know some people think smoking is a moral issue as well, but it’s not one I’m going to address now.) Of course, one has to make oneself as small and insignificant and hidden as possible when one smokes. I was doing that and just about to light one up when a man came around the corner to my hiding place and lit a cigarette. He said hello to me and leaned over with his lighter to light mine. After, he reached out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Michael.” I shook his head and said, “Hi, I’m Cynthia.”

He then shared with me that he was waiting for a ride home to place that sounded as if it might have been a long-term shelter or halfway house. He asked me if I knew of it. No, I admitted, I’m not from around here. I’m from Western Massachusetts,” I said. “Ah, Worcester?” he asked. I laughed because most people in Boston have no idea how far west Massachusetts goes. “Nope, farther.” “Springfield?” “Keep going,” I said. “Orange?” I relented and told him that I was from as far west as you can go, on the border of New York. He was impressed.

“Wow, you came a long way! And now you’ve gotta go all that way back!” We chatted some more and then he said, “Well, I gotta go see if my ride is here. You take care and drive carefully.”

I thanked him and finished my cigarette. Then I walked around the corner to go back in the hospital.

“Hey, Cynthia!” a man’s voice called. It was Michael. It had only been five minutes or so since we’d parted, but he sounded as if he were greeting an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. “Hey!” I said. And then his van pulled up. He told me again to be safe driving home and we waved even as his ride was pulling out.

Such encounters have been happening to me since I was in college and out in the world, chance meetings with strangers that have made me feel as if I might have met an angel unaware. They’ve happened in other countries and in places where I’ve been warned not to go such as Harlem. They’ve happened in women’s bathrooms in bars, on buses and subways and in the grocery store and the laundromat.

What does this have to do with trees? Well, it is my firm belief that we can only solve the problems of our world if we feel we have a bond with other human beings. Like the trees, we need to be rooted in our hearts in something greater than ourselves that encourages us to reach up and out. Each time I have such an encounter, I feel blessed to be making such a bond, even if one so brief. And I feel that these encounters give each of us the ability to reach out again and again.

It is also interesting to me that the majority of these encounters have been with people one might call marginalized. I used to ponder what they could see in me that was marginalized also. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a sort of loneliness and homesickness for a place I’ve never been, perhaps a place where everyone is welcomed and embraced and loved. The place where all tears are wiped away and all the storms and pains of human existence matter no longer. I call it the Kingdom.

Above all, I believe it’s all part of the plan. I am blessed.

He Was Blinded, But Justice Was Not Blind

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If you read the New York Times’ 1619 Project, you would have seen an old photograph of Sergeant Isaac Woodard and his mother taken in 1946.

The sunglasses Sergeant Woodard is wearing will lead you to believe that he is blind, even before you read the caption.

Within five hours of returning stateside from WWII, Sergeant Woodard was beaten by Police Chief Lynnwood Shull of Batesburg, SC, and then blinded by the chief’s forcing his blackjack into each of the sergeant’s eyes.

His crime? He asked the bus driver if he could get off at the next stop to use the bathroom. The bus driver cursed him and he cursed the driver back.

Sergeant Woodard never did receive judicial justice for the beating despite three trials over several years. He was, however, the match that lit the flame that would lead in a direct line to the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.

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Judge Waring

Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring focuses mainly on Judge Waring’s evolution from fair, decent federal judge in South Carolina to fiery civil rights proponent.

However, had Sergeant Woodard not told a bus driver on a fateful night in 1946, “I am a man, just like you!”, that evolution might never have happened.

Walter White, executive director of the NAACP at the time, heard about Sergeant Waring’s beating and was determined to bring it to the widest public attention possible. He enlisted the aid of Orson Welles, who did a radio show about it that drew widespread outrage in the North. Woody Guthrie wrote a song called “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard.” It was one of the few cases where a lynching victim (remember, lynching did not require ropes, but was any act of violence toward an African-American) actually survived.

A show trial had been held locally that of course exonerated Shull. President Truman learned about the beating and was concerned, but until White personally described it to the President, Truman had no idea of the outrages that were being committed in the South. He pressed his Justice Department to hold a federal trial.

Though the FBI had investigated the beating, it was J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and the local agents could have cared less. The federal prosecutors also did not want to be involved and the prosecutor in charge of the trial was half-hearted at best and negligent at worst. Politicians and elected officials in South Carolina were outraged that the federal government was getting involved and did their best to stop it.

They didn’t stop it, but with an all-white jury and a lackluster prosecution, Shull was found not guilty.

Judge Waring presided over the trial and was dismayed by its outcome. Around the same time, he divorced his wife and remarried. His second wife was a Northerner. Waring had been at best a gradualist, believing that fairer treatment of African-Americans was something to work toward in the future. By the time more cases of racial inequality came to his court, he and his wife began seriously studying the whole history and present state of civil rights, and he was soon considered an activist judge.

Among cases that came before him and brought him the wrath of his fellow South Carolinians was one that involved the state’s Democratic Party disallowing African-Americans to vote in primaries without signing a pledge that they would not thereby consider themselves equal to whites.

The country at that time was still using the SCOTUS precedent of Plessy vs. Ferguson in civil rights cases. This was the argument that schools, public accommodations, etc. were to be “separate but equal” for African-Americans. We know that in fact, everything was separate AND UNEQUAL.

Judge Waring began seeking out civil rights cases to advance on his docket that would challenge using Plessy v. Ferguson and move on to segregation itself being unequal.  His first attempt was in a case regarding the unequal pay of teachers in African-American schools compared with white schools. His second attempt was in a case regarding the poor conditions of the African-American schools. The prosecution was blindsided, however, by the school district’s raising a bond to update the African-American schools rather than integrate the students in the white schools.

It was Briggs v. Elliott that was the landmark case connected directly to Brown and was consolidated in Brown. Thurgood Marshall prosecuted the case for the NAACP before a three-judge panel that included Judge Waring. Though the case was lost, Judge Waring’s dissenting opinion established the “Per Se” argument, that segregation in and of itself was per se unequal. The case was eventually consolidated into Brown v. Board of Education.

Briggs v. Elliott also was the first time that sociologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s research was introduced for the prosecution. That research showed that African-American children’s developmental status was harmed by segregation. They used black and white dolls and asked children which doll was “good” and which doll was “bad.” The majority of black children chose the white doll as “good,”  indicating that they had internalized the oppression of segregation and racism.

All of the plaintiffs in Waring’s civil right cases faced the backlash of losing jobs, being threatened, and other reprisals. After a cross was burned on their lawn, rocks thrown through their windows, and innumerable threats, the Warings themselves left South Carolina and moved to New York City. The Warings had become social pariahs in Charleston because of their friendships with the NAACP’s  Walter White and Thurgood Marshall; in New York, they met and earned the admiration of many other civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The judge retired but edited opinions and arguments for civil rights trials.

Author Richard Gergel is also a judge and also known for his civil rights activism in South Carolina. He is best known for being the presiding judge in Dylann Roof’s trial for the murder of nine blessed souls at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston. His book is compelling and dense with facts of the state of civil rights during this period.

What happened to Sergeant Woodard? In the immediate time after he was blinded, he received no training in how to navigate life. His Army pension did not include disability payments because  he had already been demobbed. His wife left him and he was forced to move to the Bronx to live with his parents.

The NAACP did much to help him, raising funds by taking him on a speaking tour.  He received half of the proceeds. Some of that money was invested in an annuity for him and some was used, unwisely, to buy a multi-family rental property where he and his family could live and also receive an income. That property was taken by the state of New York by eminent domain in the 1950s to build new housing.

Sergeant Woodard fought for and was finally granted full disability payments from the Army. He was finally able to buy a home for his aging parents, the cousin who was his caregiver, and two sons from a relationship. He owned a business and professed in his later years that he was a happy, contented man. He died in 1992.

Let there be no mistake: This is not a story about “white saviors.” If any savior is to be found, it is Sergeant Woodard for standing up for himself, enduring grueling trials in a debilitated physical state, and being the source of Judge Waring’s and President Truman’s epiphanies that racial justice was not something that should wait for an undetermined time in the future; the time had come. Indeed, it was long overdue.

The sad realization at the end of the book is that racial justice is still overdue, and I’ve no doubt that underscoring this tragic fact was part of Judge Gergel’s motivation in writing Unexampled Courage.

Racism is a white problem, and only by white people educating themselves and putting themselves in positions where such epiphanies as Judge Waring had can be experienced will racism be overcome.

May it be so.

 

Poverty Needs to be Considered in Recession Talk

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I believe that when Jesus told his disciples, “The poor will always be with us,” he wasn’t giving a mandate, but was prophesying.

He knew that if they couldn’t understand what he had told them about his impending death, they would not have heard his constant exhortations to feed his sheep, to clothe the poor, to take care of the widows and orphans, to visit the imprisoned.

If they couldn’t spare the time to sit at his feet for the short time he had left on earth and learn from Him up until the moment of his death, how would they (read “we”) ever be able to do the more difficult things he bade them to do?

It is driving me crazy to hear talking heads prattle on about their opinion that we’re due for a recession. When they say, “That’s the way it flows,” they really mean that that is the way the stock market flows.

They don’t, however, mention that in times of either depressions or recessions, the poor are always hardest hit.

Not because they’re lazy. Not because they’re shiftless. Not because they’re stupid. Only because they live in a world whose well-being is dictated by an artificial construct called the stock market.

I’m not an economist, and I’ve never invested a cent. I think I might correctly say, however, that the stock market construct was invented by wealthy people in order to make money off of their wealth and allow them to become even wealthier. In many cases, that wealth was either unearned or created by enslaving people to do the actual work for them and by exploiting others who were paid very little to break their backs working for the wealthy.

One way or another, it is those living in poverty or low wealth who will find it even harder to pay for the very necessities of life than anyone else. So why are they not mentioned in discussions about a recession?

The talking heads also spout on about the great economy were “enjoying.” Great for whom? Certainly not for the 140 million people who live in poverty and low wealth in this country, let alone the millions more around the world who die of starvation every year. Their tone-deafness is appalling.

Since January 1917, I have noticed that prices in the grocery store have risen continually, sometimes even weekly. I do not have a fancy diet. I eat very little meat. Before 2017, my weekly budget for food, entertainment, and incidentals was about $100 a week.  It didn’t need to be, but I didn’t see any reason for it not to be. Now that I’m retired, entertainment and incidentals have gone by the wayside; food alone could cost more than $100 a week if I weren’t paring back and rationing what I buy.

If that is my situation, I can’t imagine the situations of people living in systemic poverty, and especially families. And yet, they are not mentioned in discussions about the great economy and a possible recession.

Why not? If not now, when? All the systems of our government and our economy are stacked against the poor. Yes, the poor will always be with us if we don’t start giving a damn. Jesus prophesied and greedy humankind turned it into a self-fulfilling prophecy by turning deaf ears and blind eyes to what he really meant.

@poorpeoplescampaign

I’m talking to you, @allinwithchris @chrislhayes @maddow @AriMelber @TheBeatWithAri @Lawrence

Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat?

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There are situations in the world one wishes one could un-know and pictures one wishes one could un-see.

But once known and once seen, a person becomes, in a sense, morally responsible for the situation depicted and described.

While red states rush to pass “heartbeat” bills and draconian abortion bans, there are children all over the world whose heartbeats are becoming fainter and fainter.

The child in this featured image is most likely already dead. There comes a point in the starvation process when it cannot be reversed. The Telegraph, which printed this picture, reports that more than 5,000,000,000 children in Yemen are at risk for the same fate.

Yet Republican politicians don’t seem to have any interest in holding those responsible for causing these deaths, neither the president who sells weapons to Mohammad Bin Salman  to continue making war on that benighted country nor on MbS himself, who we already know is  murdered a US journalist, one who had a heartbeat. Shrapnel raining down on schoolchildren has been directly linked to bombs made in the US.

Neither do they seem to care about the heartbeats of black and brown babies once they’re born or white babies who are born into poverty.

Or the heartbeats of rape victims who are forced to carry their rapist’s child.

Or the heartbeats of children born in any of the so-called shithole countries.

Or the heartbeats of women who could die if they go through a full-term pregnancy.

Or the heartbeats of men, women, and children fleeing violence such as we can’t imagine and seeking asylum in the US.

Or the heartbeats of the likes of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, and so, so many more.

I sometimes wish I believed in hell so I could imagine on which rung of the inferno these morally bankrupt, mostly white, men and women would receive their comeuppance.

I see and I know. Time to get to work. Pictures of this child will come to Washington, DC, with me in a couple of weeks and will be, if all goes according to plan, brought into a Congressional hearing, where they will be held up. Others will be, with luck, taped to the White House fence. Others will be distributed on the Capitol steps. I invite you to download and print out the picture and also make use of it to confront your state’s politicians with what they are ignoring, especially if you live in a state that has recently passed a so-called-heartbeat bill.

Season of Restoration and Renewal

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I take things to heart. I always have. So when in early childhood I was told in catechism classes that Jesus died for my sins, and that every sin I committed actually enforced the strength of the hammers nailing him to the cross, I took it to heart.

I grew up feeling guilty and shameful and dirty. I learned to beg God for forgiveness rather than to pray. I learned to be afraid of sudden lightning bolts striking me down for some blasphemy. I learned to feel responsible for every bad thing that had ever happened in the world. I could not watch “Jesus” movies (Barabbas, The Greatest Story Ever Told, King of Kings) without feeling that I was one of the crowd calling for His death.

I became very neurotic.

Thank God for mentors and spiritual authors and therapists who helped me start to emerge from that sick state. Thank God for the mentors (Sue, Dick, Phyllis, Gus, Charlie, Rick) who gave me the gift of reading Paul’s epistles without feminist anger. Thank God for Allan and John who introduced me to Martin Luther. Thank God for Rabbi Elias, who showed me the face of righteousness.

Thank God for Julian of Norwich and Bishop NT Wright and Hildegard of Bingen and Henry Nouwen and Howard Thurman and Richard Rohr who taught me to dare to think of Jesus the Christ and God outside of the box.

Thank God for Monroe Crossing and Voces and John Rutter and Francois Poulenc and Morton Lauridsen and Vaughan Williams and Marty Hagen and John Donne and George Herbert who gave me a way to sing my prayers of praise.

Thank God for Wynken and Blynken and Greta and Pym and Reepicheep and Columbine and Onyx and Maggie May and all the other pets who taught me how to love and be loved unconditionally.

Thank God for Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Shuttleworth and Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin and Fannie Lou Hamer and Septima Clark and John Cone and John Lewis and Bryan Stevenson and William Barber and all the other freedom fighters who taught me how to armor myself with faith to resist darkness in the world.

I’m still a bit neurotic. That kind of imprinting at such a young age doesn’t ever wholly leave. But now that I know that the world, and me with it, is restored every day, I can let go of teachings that kept me imprisoned rather than liberated, which is what I believe faith is meant to do.

I went to a Shabbat service a couple of weeks ago at a reformed Judaism congregation. The following prayer was read; it touched me so deeply that I was moved to tears of thanksgiving. I know that there could not have been Easter Sunday without Good Friday, but I resist being stuck in Good Friday mode of mourning and keening forever. It is the resurrection and the restoration of Jesus to Christ that I want to keep in my heart always, for it means that I too can be resurrected and restored.

That We Be Reborn

Source of all that exists, You create your world anew every moment.
Would You but for a moment withhold your creative force,
The whole universe would come to an end.

You pour out your blessings on your creatures every instant,
And again the stars renew their song of love to You.

And again the angels chant over their song of holiness to You.
And again the souls of mortals repeat their yearning for You;
And again the birds keep chirping their hymns of joy to You.

And again the trees wrap themselves in their tallit of leaves
And offer their worship to You.
And again the fountains in whispers murmur their prayers to you.

O God, turn on me but one ray of Your light and I rise restored;
But one wave of your life eternal and I am drenched in the dew of youth.

Do You not continually renew your creation, O Source of all life?
Take me your child and renew me.
Breathe Your spirit into me that I may live, that I may start life
Afresh with childhood’s unbounded promise.

We thank You for both day and night, for continually renewing your creation.

Hillel Zeitlin

Whatever you are celebrating this weekend, may you also find restoration and renewal.

 

 

 

Novelists Explore Internalized Racism

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I recently read two books in a row by African-American authors that address the state of internalized racism in America through deep satire.

Paul Beatty’s book, The Sellout, was written in 2015; Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s book came out earlier this year.

We often think of satire as having a humorous element, but in both of these books, I found that every time I was tempted to laugh, something pulled me back as I reflected on the reality behind the author’s words.

The Sellout is about an unnamed California man who owns a farm in a small town called Dickens on the outskirts of Los Angeles. He was home-schooled by his radical sociologist father, but it’s not your average home schooling. Hearing gun shots while having tokens of white supremacy put in your bassinet is traumatic, but certainly teaches a lesson.

Paul Beatty

Paul Beatty

Yet, as an adult, the narrator agrees to take on Hominy, Buckwheat’s understudy in The Little Rascals, as a slave. Yup, Hominy – after a youth spent being filmed portraying all the worst stereotypes of white audiences – insists on being enslaved, and the narrator obliges. He goes further and, with a little help from his friends, decides to re-create segregation in order to attract white people with money back to his hometown, which has been taken off the maps.

He winds up being arrested for violating every civil rights amendment and law and his case goes to the Supreme Court.

In his 2015 New York Times review, Dwight Garner calls the first 100 pages of the book “caustic and . . . badass.”

“What I mean,” he writes, “is that the first third of The Sellout reads like the most concussive monologues and interviews of Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle wrapped in a satirical yet surprisingly delicate literary and historical sensibility.”

We Cast a Shadow, Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s satire, is more on the order of Key and Peele at their best and also more poignant to me. Again, we meet an unnamed man in a not-too-distant New Orleans who has married a white woman. Their son is very light-skinned and could pass for white except for patches of dark skin on various parts of his body. The father is obsessed with his son having all the advantages of being white to the point of subjecting him to various “demelanization” treatments, which the boy does not want and finds painful.

Maurice Carlos Ruffin

Maurice Carlos Ruffin

The narrator himself could be called a sellout. He has separated himself from his roots to the extent that he dresses “white” and does everything he can to align himself with the white higher-ups in his law firm in order to win a promotion and the bonus that will help him pay for his son’s whitening treatments.

How much of what he does is for love of his son or hatred of himself? He has father issues himself, as his father is serving a life sentence for assaulting a police officer who assaulted the narrator’s mother. He blames his father for resisting, even though they live in a project that is being more ghettoized every day and eventually is cordoned off from the rest of the city. In the next state over, presumably Mississippi, African-Americans have to wear tracking devices, so the narrator’s fears are very real.

All of it, however, comes down to white supremacy and the expectation by even liberal whites that black people just need to “get over” slavery. Just “get over” the fact that they’re only barely American citizens now because of what their ancestors endured in the Middle Passage and on the farms and plantations and building sites of the territory that eventually became the United States of America.

I noted above that every time I was tempted to laugh while reading either of the books, something held me back. More to the point, I had to wonder whether I, as a bleeding-heart liberal white woman, had a right to laugh. In Ruffin’s book, in particular, there were more moments where I was tempted to cry.

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah ends his NYT review of Ruffin’s book this way:

“How does racism shape our ability to love?

We Cast a Shadow churns fresh beauty from old ugliness. What injustices have we as a culture come to accept as normal? What are the pitfalls of our complacency? And how can anyone survive this? These questions are essential to America’s growth, but rarely do we see them posed so sharply. Read this book, and ask yourself: Is this the world you want?”

American Imprisonment

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American journalists Shane M. Bauer and Joshua F. Fattal left a notorious Iranian prison in 2011 after two years in captivity. A third journalist, Sarah Shourd, had already been released in 2010 after the three, who were reporting from Iraq, took a suggested hike and found themselves being accused of having crossed into Iran as spies.

Bauer, who is now married to Shourd, gives a brief account of the ordeal in his book, American Prison, an account of his real undercover exploit as a guard in a for-profit prison in Louisiana.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPossibly Bauer, who works for Mother Jones Magazine, is the only person who could truly sum up the brutality of a private prison because he already knew what prison brutality could be like.

And in fact, there were factors in the American prison that he called worse than what he experienced in the Iranian prison.

American Prison,  A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment, released this fall, was named in The New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 best books of 2018.

Just when it seemed that there was hope for prison reform under President Obama, the country fell into the abyss of the Trump regime and the Sessions Justice Department. While Bauer’s experience happened in 2014, there was hope that the tide against mass incarceration and imprisonment for profit might turn.

Instead we have more imprisonment for profit, called detaining young immigrants, and rollback of sentencing laws.

Bauer’s book about one of the prisons operated by Corrections Corporation of America (since renamed CoreCivic) is a painful but, in my opinion, necessary read. One will not be surprised that many of the worst abuses are against African-American prisoners. There are no legitimate efforts made to rehabilitate prisoners, and medical attention is applied sparingly because it cuts the profits. Prisoners have died from neglect.

Perhaps the worst is the utter hopelessness that is reflected in Bauer’s voice at the situation prisoners find themselves in. He describes an inmate nicknamed Corner Store who spends a year beyond his sentence in Winn, Louisiana, because his mother lives out of state and the prison provides him with no help in finding a situation in Louisiana that he can be released to.

If possible, even more frightening is Bauer’s own reactions to being a guard. He starts out trying to be empathetic but finds himself becoming hardened as time goes on to a point where he is writing up prisoners for trivial abuses of the Draconian regulations and beginning to not care a damn about the human beings he is hurting.

Bauer underwent this transformation in only four months, before his photographer was discovered on the jail’s property and Bauer and Shroud skedaddled. The photographer was locked up in Winn; Mother Jones’s lawyer was able to get him released.

For-profit prisons operate on a state level, contracting with the state for prisoners. But we can guess that both state and federal prisons are badly in need of reform, as are mandatory sentencing and over-sentencing. Michelle Alexander began the discussion with The New Jim Crow; Bryan Stevenson continued it with Just Mercy. Paul Butler advocates for prison reform in Chokehold, and I’m sure there are other books out there that I not read that advocate the same.

The point is, these books will continue to need to be written until the United States looks at incarceration and sentencing from a true point of justice and not from a point of vengeance.

Screw You, Anonymous

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A Blog by Cynthia Pease

MSNBC was all over the soon-to-be-released book Warning by Anonymous last night.

The book is written by the same unknown Trump administration official who wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times last year to assure us that there were grown-ups in the room who were trying to rein in the orange monster’s worst impulses.

Now Anonymous is saying that it is an impossible task and the dangers to the US are greater than ever.

Can the dangers be worse than the threats on the life of the whistleblower?

Can the dangers be worse than they are for the hundreds of families separated at the border?

Can the dangers be worse than they are for Ambassador Marie Yovanovich, who feared for her life even before testifying before Congress?

Can the dangers be worse for the Latinx, Jewish, and African-American people targeted by white supremacists?

Can the dangers be worse for people living in poverty or people of low wealth who continued to be blamed for being poor though everything is being done to take away even what they do have?

You say that you were a proud supporter of the president and even when you wrote your essay, that you believed in his policies. Then you are just as dangerous as he is, and you and your ilk are certainly not the adults in the room. You are as much to blame for where we are as he is.

You apparently have as few guts and as little patriotism as he has. If you really thought things were this bad, you would have come out publicly and said so, or used the whistleblower law. Our beloved Elijah Cummings begged people to contact his office and promised to protect them. But you went the public route in a murky shadow.

I can’t believe you’re being taken so seriously that Rachel Maddow would devote much of her program to reading aloud from your book, or that Ben Rhodes would freak out about you on her show.

If you can’t be as brave as the many heroes who have testified before Congress in the last few weeks about the Ukrainian extortion attempt, then you’re a joke. Do you get some thrill out of your tell-all hidden behind the name Anonymous? Do you sit in meetings with this foul administration and pat yourself on the back because you think you’re exposing corruption?

Others are doing it much better than you, and putting their names and bodies on the line.

Go back to your dark hole where you scribble your screeds and repent for your own part in bringing us to this nightmare we are living in.

In other words, Anonymous, screw you.

William Parker and the Christiana Riot of 1851

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It is fascinating to me how the Divine conspires to lead me on a path that takes me to related interests.

I’m taking a course on Movement Theology through the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary. The Kairos Center’s director is the Rev. Liz Theoharis, who is also co-leader with the Rev. William J. Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign. I saw them both in New Hampshire recently at a march and rally.

The course is free and can be taken through Zoom, and it very obviously contains all the themes of the Poor People’s Campaign.

In this week’s reading is part of the Narrative of William Parker. He was an enslaved orphan in Maryland, frustratingly close to free states. He saw friends’ families split up by being sold away and was determined that would not happen to him. At the age of 19 or so (he never knew his exact age), William and his brother made a break for Pennsylvania. Traveling northeast, they spent many nights hiding from patrols. Even after reaching York, they and other fugitives had to beware of slaveowners and bounty hunters who, because of the federal Fugitive Slave Law, could go into a free state with impunity and kidnap back those making their way to freedom. William pushed farther northeast nearer to Philadelphia, where the Underground Railroad flourished.

William had met Frederick Douglass when both were still enslaved and now got to hear and be further inspired by the great man. William Lloyd Garretson was also influential on the young William Parker, and he formed a band of the newly free that did all it could to disrupt the kidnappings and defy the Fugitive Slave Law. They were not afraid to fight back.

He settled in Christiana, about halfway between Philadelphia and Lancaster in an area where there were Quaker allies. Still, Maryland’s nearness to Pennsylvania was always a factor in marauding slaver-takers being in the area.Christiana-History-Marker

Parker and his band were involved in many skirmishes to keep refugees, and themselves, from being kidnapped. The most notorious such took place at his home in Christiana, where he had living with him an enslaved man who had worked on the plantation of one Edward Gorsuch in Maryland.

In September 1851, Gorsuch had himself and his sons and friends deputized to be able to arrest the refugee and bring him back. The posse was given information that the man they were looking for was hiding in William’s house and surrounded the house at daybreak. Gorsuch and a ruthless kidnapper named Kline made themselves known to Parker and a parley ensued in which Parker told them that if they entered his house, they would not leave it again.

Within two hours, William’s band of men and other neighbors, including two Quakers, confronted Gorsuch’s posse and a shoot-out occurred that left Gorsuch dead and one of his sons severely wounded. It is said that the Christiana incident put an end to slaveholders trying to enact the Fugitive Slave Law in Pennsylvania.

Nevertheless, William and his wife and children made their ways separately to Toronto and thence to the Buxton Settlement near Chatham, where many other formerly enslaved people had settled.

As for Edwargorsuchd Gorsuch, there is a website called Officer Down Memorial Page. One page honors him for his “sacrifice,” i.e., getting killed while trying to kidnap a black man he had enslaved. From 2010 to 2015, seven memorial statements were left on his entry on the website thanking him for his service. All are anonymous, though one notes it was left by someone who works for the Border Patrol. Since there is no information about why he was considered an officer of the law, for two days, so it would be interesting to know whether the people who made the comments have any idea who he really was.

When I saw the name “Gorsuch,” I immediately thought of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, whose appointment to SCOTUS came after Mitch McConnell ensured that Merrick Garland’s appointment would never happen.

Neil Gorsuch grew up in Colorado, far from Maryland, and I could find no definitive connection between them. However, Libertarian blogger Will Griff posited in 2017 that the two must be connected because of the unusual name.

And while Gorsuch’s entry on the ODMP page says that his “watch” ended in 1851 (i.e. his death occurred), I think it is much important to note that William Parker’s much longer and heroic watch ended in 1891 at the apparent age of 70 at his home in Canada.

All Souls on Deck!

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One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, build signal fires . . . To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. . . When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, “You Were Made For This”

Dr. Estes was writing in 2012, but her words resonated in my innermost being as I watched Arab militias execute random, and not so random, Kurdish people, both women and children and including a prominent female politician, Havrin Khalaf.

If you watched the nightly news during the Vietnam war, you have already suffered through being a bystander in a nightmare. If you are a veteran of that war, you may still be suffering from PTSD caused by what you experienced firsthand.

If you lived through the Cuban missile crisis, had to learn to “duck and cover,” and lay awake at night wondering whether morning would come, or wondering whether the neighbors would let you in their bomb shelter, you know the secondhand trauma of an existential threat.

If you watched the World Trade Center collapse or heard the voices of people on hijacked airplanes calling their loved ones to say goodbye, your heart was most likely broken in a million little pieces

The Vietnam war has a murky and complicated history that started with French colonial rule in that beknighted country. Yet Ho Chi Minh approached the Western world to ask for help in ridding the country of its foreign rulers, but his plea was ignored.

The Bush government received a clear and concise warning that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike the US, but the warning was ignored.

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Kurdish politician Havrin Khalaf is among those murdered by Arab and Turkish militias in Kurdish territory.

It is indeed a time when all souls are needed on deck to protest the betrayal of people who have been loyal allies of the United States. Even as our corrupt president offered the excuse that he pulled US forces that were working with the Kurds because “we don’t need more wars,” he is sending American military aid to the equally corrupt Saudi regime that tortured and murdered a US-based journalist.What is happening to the Syrian Kurds now has the most explicit and transparent cause: the corrupt actions of a corrupt president bowing to the commands of his handlers in Turkey, Russia, and Saudi Arabia in order to protect his business interests in those countries and to take attention away from the impeachment inquiries that, we pray, will bring him down.

The same Saudi regime that is even now supplying militias to help murder Kurds.

The same Turkish regime that beat protestors on US soil.

The same Russian regime that murders protestors and corrupted our elections and is still working to corrupt future elections.

The definition of treason requires that war be a factor when considering giving aid and comfort to an enemy. War is being made on the Syrian Kurds, our allies, and our government is giving aid and comfort to those perpetrating it.

If you have a soul that reaches out to and yearns for the Divine, or a soul that reaches out to and yearns for a connection with the rest of humanity, then you cannot remain silent now. You must speak out in all the ways at your disposal; you must let your light flare out so that allies know they are not alone; you must stand on deck of the ship of state and say, “No, not on my watch.”

Please. PLEASE!

 

 

The Time For Moral Action is Always Now

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I’ve spent the last week talking about the unfolding impeachment drama, so I’m not going to write about whistleblowers and telephone transcripts today.

I am something that grieves me in all this, even while I am so glad that we might be seeing the end of the man in the White House and his minions.

I grieve because “high crimes and misdemeanors” has a wide definition, and ultimately, impeachment depends on finding the incumbent unfit for office. Yet our representatives, except one, didn’t take advantage of the definition.

Among all the other scandals involving the regime, the sanctioning of white supremacism and the treatment of asylum seekers at the border seemed to me to be grounds for impeachment. Donald Trump’s racism was a matter of public discussion long before he ran for office. I would add anti-Semitism to that even though his own daughter converted to Judaism and he supports the criminal Benjamin Netanyahu. You really can’t be a white supremacist and love Jews.

His very announcement of his candidacy was one long racist rant about Mexicans.

But only one lone man had the courage to stand up and call for impeachment for moral reasons rather than strictly political ones.

Rep. Al Green of Texas spoke out before anyone on the necessity of impeachment because of the moral depravity of the so-called president. He has doggedly filed articles of impeachment since 2017 and has also received many threats on his life for his moral stances.

Yes, many politicians spoke out about Charlottesville and the concentration camps at the border, but Congressman Green was the only one who stood up in the House and said the “I” word early on.

I do believe we are seeing the regime cave in on itself, both because of the whistle-blower and the transcript of the telephone call with the president of the Ukraine.

Make no mistake, however, that this is the end of white supremacy in this country or the assault on the poor, the environment, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Latinx.

We still need a moral reckoning and revival in this country. Dr. William Barber, co-leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, calls it the Third Reconstruction. We need to take a deep dive into our history and study the intersections of racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and militarism.

I have no doubt that Congressman Green will continue to fight for moral right-ness. He knows that governance is not a business. I think he knows that restoring the US to a superpower is not the goal, but making the US a moral power in the world is what is needed.

A country that cares about the most vulnerable of its citizens is more important than a country that has the biggest nuclear arsenal. We rise best when we raise those on the bottom. There is a lot of work to be done, and we can’t wait for the 2020 election to dig in and do it.

The time for moral action is always now. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year.  Now.

A Tale of the Wirloman Noongar of Australia

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When I saw that there was going to be a panel on Australian Aboriginal Authors at the recent National Book Festival, I was keen to attend it.

My mother introduced me to the Australian mysteries of Arthur Upfield back in the 1970s. They introduced me to some of the world of indigenous people down under. Bruce Chatwin’s wonderful book Songlines about indigenous creation myths further piqued my interest. I’ve seen “The Last Wave” and “Bliss” and read many other books about Australia’s history, and I guess I thought I was pretty knowledgeable.

But I never read books about indigenous people by indigenous people in that country.

I was fortunate to be able to speak with each of the authors, Kim Scott, Brent McKenna, and Jeanine Leane while getting books signed. I also had a wonderful talk with Belinda Wheeler, their US representative, though she is Australian. I put the question to her that I wondered whether Upfield’s books were considered racist by indigenous people. You see, his detective hero, Napoleon Bonaparte, is half white and half indigenous. In the books, he is portrayed as using his white heritage for logic and reason and his indigenous heritage for intuition and knowledge of tracking and of surviving in the outback. There were many times when I winced at descriptions of “blackfellas,” but I didn’t stop reading the books.

She explained that yes, many people do find them racist; others say, though, that a lot of people would never know of the situation indigenous Australians were historically, and are still to some degree, in if not for Upfield’s books.

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Kim Scott is also in the picture above, second from the left. It is the Wirloman Noongar Reference Group, which worked on promoting the indigenous language. The T-shirts reflect the fact that “Wirloman” means “curlew.”

So my self-education continues. I read first Mr. Scott’s book Taboo, written in 2017 and published in this country by Small Beer Press this year. Let me say right off that it is numinous in the sense that it takes the reader out of oneself and marks that period between ignorance and revelation that white people of all countries need to experience. Mr. Scott’s writing is beautiful and the story more than compelling. One does have to pay attention because there are time slips, but it is no chore to page back and forth to grasp the timeline. And time slips seem to be part of the indigenous experience in this story.

A Wirloman (Curlew) Noongar himself, Mr. Scott uses a real incident to write about the attempt of older Australian indigenous people to teach the young their heritage and the attempt of young indigenous people to learn their native language and to connect with the land that bore them.

John Dunn, a white colonial, was murdered in 1880 in Cocanarup in southwestern Australia. Yandawalla, a Noongar man, was arrested and charged with the crime. Though he was acquitted, reprisal killings took place. Mr. Scott quotes The Western Mail newspaper from 1935: “. . . members on the station were then granted license to shoot the natives for a period of one month, during which time the fullest advantage was taken of the privilege.”

In Taboo, several related Noongar travel to Kokanarup for the dedication of Peace Park, meant to be reconciliation for the past. The Coolman family and friends go early in order to visit ancient sites and talk with a white farmer whose descendant was the man killed in the 1800s. One of the family is a young woman Tilly, whose mother was white and whose father was Jim Coolman, a Noongar whom she only  meets where he is imprisoned. He has led a prison initiative to teach younger prisoners their language and culture.

One of those younger prisoners is Gerald Coolman, a nephew, who is soon to be released and will be Tilly’s protector on the trip. Tilly has been the victim of sexual and emotional abuse, kept imprisoned in a house by a white man who chains her up like a dog and forces her into sexual submission. It was Gerald who broke into the house and freed her.

Moreover, Tilly was fostered as an infant by Dan, the white farmer who is grieving the death of his wife and also becoming more convinced that the land his ancestors farmed should be returned to the Noongar.

The tension builds up as the Noongar visit sites and plan for how they will present themselves at the Peace Park dedication, especially since Tilly’s tormentor shows up and stalks her.

There are so many strands to the story that the reader needs to weave together to make sense of it. Above all, the land and topography plays a vital role in the story and is almost a character itself.

White American readers will see their own history of oppression of indigenous and enslaved people in Taboo. The fact that Mr. Scott’s story resonates with shameful histories around the world will either make people want to learn more or to turn away.  It is to be hoped that we will envision more about what we need to do to atone and make reparations in our own country while yet learning about how white supremacy did its damage in other parts of the world.

A note: I learned from the panel that the UN declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages. There are about 200 different indigenous languages in Australia. The Noongar language was considered “extinct” in 2009 but “living” in 2015 thanks to efforts to teach Noongar people young and old the ancient words of their ancestors.

Mr. Scott has written several books that appear to be available online as e-books. He is currently professor of writing at the School of Culture, Media, and Creative Arts at Curtin University. He lives in Fremantle, Australia.

Small Beer Press (smallbeerpress.com) is to be commended for publishing books for “independently minded readers.”