Valued People

December 8, 2016

Over the Thanksgiving Day weekend there were numerous cautions on the radio, TV, and in print media urging the avoidance of political conversations around the thanksgiving table. A significant motivation for this caution is the increasing divide between blue collar or no collar low income working people and intellectuals who benefit from higher education. The former group is cast as hard working with common sense ideas about relationships, personal freedoms, and familiar values. The latter group is perceived as a privileged elite claiming superior reasoning power. They seek to dictate values and rules for their own benefit, advocate for “political correctness,” and designate how people should relate to one another.

It’s difficult to talk about this divide because each of us belongs to one side or the other and therefore cannot claim unbiased insight. However, I find myself trying, even though I’m perceived as living on the side of the educated elite. I protest that I have labored as a farm worker, worked as a waiter, and sweated on a road construction crew. In the Army I advance only to Specialist 5th class. But I’ve also earned a masters degree and have earned my living with words, spoken and written. Therefore my education and subsequent profession leaves me isolated from a man, whose job relies on physical strength, once saying to me, “It’s not right. Just because you have the ability to write, you are able to push your bad ideas in a newspaper article. Clever words are not my way. I use plain common sense and simple language, saying it like it is. It does not make good copy for the newspaper. But it’s the truth.” Even the language we use separates us into two different worlds.

It seems this past election cycle has exacerbated this burgeoning divide in the American psyche, with the potential to split friends and family members into separate angry camps of people who voted for different candidates. People who voted for Donald Trump protest that others are branding them with unjustified labels related to Mr. Trump’s rhetoric. Many women, people of color, people of different national and cultural origins, the GLBTQI community, and people of diverse religious faith expressions are interpreting the Trump win as giving permission to threaten their integrity.

President elect, Donald Trump, continues to feed this divide. He has branded with his name the endorsement of aggressive language and crude labels against people and groups perceived as enemies or different. He has encouraged populace impulses of suspicion, bravado, and uncensored attitudes where the value of a person is determined by shirt collar color, education, physical prowess, religious belief, cultural origin or choice of beverage.

Harry Reid recently wrote, “If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump…” However, we cannot wait for president elect Trump to apologize for setting a course of words and actions that denigrates swaths of people. Nor can we wait for him to acknowledge flimflamming the people to vote for him. It is not enough to accept the defense of his followers that he only exaggerates to make valid points. It is time to reject all of the divisive labels and open a conversation across the divide.

The key to crossing this divide involves, first, the recognition that we are presently experiencing the worst of our human nature and inclinations. Then, rather than accepting this predicament as inevitable, let it lead us to shift the focus toward the integrity and value of each and every person among us. Where we’ve been complicit in devaluing another, begin to acknowledge our abuse of power. Where we’ve been silent, begin to talk to one another across the divide, nurturing the strength of spirit that does not depend upon the weakness of others but on the contributions each person makes to our society and country.

We are a people who depend upon one another. My wellbeing counts on the contributions of the store clerk, the factory worker, the elected official, health care professionals, the farmer, the migrant worker, educators, tradespeople, and so many others. We all suffer when a union is busted, familiar physical work disappears, and low-paying service jobs replace former middle class jobs. We are all impacted when some lose medical or pension benefits and opportunities for education that recognize differing learning aptitudes and skill sets. We are only weak when we let the Trump mindset pit us against each other. Then the only winners are the ultra wealthy and dictatorial despots. Our strength as Americans is measured by our determination to stand with any group of people who is depreciated or denigrated. Our nation will gain strength and integrity when no bigoted action, statement, or joke by a politician or a stranger on the street goes unchallenged.

Perhaps the Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanza / holiday table is a place to demonstrate a determination to feed the human ability for passionate reasoning, careful listening for understanding, empathy and love. This transparency can open us up to face into, name, and overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other attitudes that divide us. Open trusting conversation will create a new normal of hospitality, of understanding other cultures and religious faiths and of empathy. Now that’s a conversation with which we can live and thrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Fall

November 10, 2016

The morning after the election, my daughter who works at the coop food store in Tucson, Arizona reported that customers were coming in in tears. Women and ethnic minorities felt fear and despair. In my email box was a communication from Jewish Voice for Peace, expressing fear of a resurgence of oppression against Jews and giving thanks for people who support them. Schoolteachers across the country, including New Hampshire, are reporting fear and anxiety among students of color or from families with different national origins. A Muslim expressed grateful thanks to a friend pledging to stand with him in this threatening atmosphere. This is the first election in my memory where such despair over the results has been so openly expressed. What is different this time?

Since the results of the presidential election have been announced, essayists, op-ed contributors, TV and radio commentators, bloggers, and twitter voices have flooded our attention with assurances that the future of our country is going to be OK. We are being told we shall get through the political intrigue, the economic uncertainties, and even the controversies like abortion, climate change, and job creation. I do not remember a time after an election when so many felt it was so important to assure people that they had nothing to fear from the results.

Most of the commentary is speaking to people in privileged positions. I, myself, am a white male with family roots in America that reach back to before 1776. It is easy to seduce me with the rational idea that government leaders come and go but our democracy will endure, as it has for almost 250 years. We just need to teach civics in every school and participate in the workings of our government and our economic system. We must continue to advocate for ideas that will strengthen our country, our standard of living, and our relationship with the nations of the world.

However, these assurances have the effect of normalizing the results of the election. Yet the climate of fear that has surged among women, people of color, people of different national and cultural origins, in the GLBTQI community, and among people of diverse religious faith expressions is not normal. It is not normal for a presidential candidate to win an election by espousing bigotry and hate. The tragedy of the election results is not a change in political policy but the perception that demonizing others is a winning strategy. Healing will not be accomplished with rational assurances that the system of transfer of power can be trusted. Healing will begin when we publically reject that putting others down is an acceptable or successful way to win.

Harry Reid recently wrote, “If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump…” However, it may be that all of us must take responsibility for the tragedy of broken relationships in our country and the resulting fear. We cannot wait for President elect Trump to decide to change his rhetoric and his attitude. This is particularly true for those of us who are privileged white males. Where we have been silent we must speak out. Where we’ve been complicit we must acknowledge our abuse of power. We must say loudly and clearly that our strength does not depend upon the weakness of others. It does not depend upon the color of our shirt collar, our education, our physical prowess, or our choice of beverage. Our strength is measured by our determination to stand with any group of people who is depreciated or denigrated. Our nation will gain strength and integrity when no bigoted action, statement, or joke by a politician or a stranger on the street goes unchallenged.

With the results of this election, we’ve stumbled into a situation of fear, suspicion, bravado, and uncensored attitudes. However, if the results of this election have done anything, they have brought to light the worst of our human nature and inclinations. This visibility can open us up to face into, name, and overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other attitudes that divide us. This experience can energize us to call out these attitudes and discourage them wherever we experience them. Such actions will create a new normal of hospitality, empathy, understanding about other cultures and religious faiths, and resisting any generalizations about a particular group of people.  Now that’s a difference with which we can live and thrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FUTURE OF HUMANITY

When we read and see on television and the internet the horrible ways that human beings treat each other it makes me despair of the nature and future of humankind. What is the dynamic that makes possible the kidnapping and recruitment of 10-year-old boys to be taught to torture, kill and commit suicide? What in human nature justifies the incarceration and shooting of Palestinian children by the Israeli military. How can people in the United States tolerate 33,000 people being killed in gun violence each year.

What is the thinking of the Texas legislature with its vote to permit concealed carry of guns on the state university and college campuses or the New Hampshire legislature allowing guns to be carried into the legislature chamber? And what drives a Christian church in Texas to hire armed guards to be present at its services of worship? The television report showed men with body armor and automatic rifles standing against the walls on each side of the church sanctuary.

During this election cycle, what is the human condition that drives grown adults to insult, defame, discredit, and hate others under the guise of being strong, truthful, and a winner? In contemporary society, how is it that beliefs and actions of civility and tolerance are twisted into perceptions of weakness, gullibility, and looser mentality?

The Southern Poverty Law Center conducted a survey from March 23 – April 2, 2016 concerning the effect of the 2016 Presidential campaign on school children and classrooms. The results of the survey included, “Gains made by years of anti-bullying work in schools have been rolled back in a few short months.” Students have been emboldened to use slurs and engage in name-calling. Some have become fearful of the people in power in our country. Other children justify their language and blustery behavior as they “point to candidates and claim they are just saying what everyone is thinking.” In New Hampshire, “one high school teacher… wrote, ‘A lot of students think we should kill any and all people we do not agree with.’”

These observations invite us explore the nature of humanity, where we have been and where we are going as the human species on this earth. There are two possibilities. One, humanity may be too broken to override violence and hatred that cling to our society and world. Commitment to striving in the same historic ways of domination through coercive power and using the ways of more lethal weapons, xenophobia, gender bias, and racial constructs may be advancing the extinction of humanity.

However, there is a second possibility. Humanity may be on the verge of becoming a new kind of influence in our world. It may be that we are experiencing the last gasps of people resisting the progress and change of humanity. It may be that we are moving toward a future where the relationships among people and between people and the natural environment is exchanging violence for empathy, caring, cooperation, and the complexities of diverse cultures. It could be that we are experiencing the birth pangs of a future where the intellect and the heart join together to resolve the challenges and stresses of humanity and its relationship with creation.

You see, just as I begin to think that evil and depravity are overwhelming us, I remembered where we have been. I think about attitude changes, just in my lifetime, concerning issues of anti Semitism, racism, sexism, the rights of the GLBTQ community, care for the environment, and many others. I read accounts of people sacrificing their own wealth and wellbeing to serve the needs of others. I read about people running into burning buildings to rescue victims. I read about a person running across a university plaza under sniper fire to retrieve a fallen student.

On August 6, I witnessed a group of people demonstrating on the Concord statehouse plaza against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. A family from out of town, who happen to be walking by, joined them. Together they walked to the edge of the Merrimack River to confess and to grieve over the people killed and maimed by the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They threw flowers into the river in their memory. At the riverside, they meet a family picnicking and fishing. The woman wore a hijab. This family also threw flowers into the river.

Then I listen to the account of an educator in Tucson, Arizona who hosts a classroom of 3-5 year olds. Together, they build a caring community of children who support each other while they learn through questioning, exploring, and experimenting. They try out ways among themselves to solve conflicts, celebrate successes, and be with someone who is sad. They practice ways of hospitality as they welcome new children, parents and friends into their classroom and include them in their community. When these children move on to the first grade, their new teachers recognize the children from this pre-school classroom by the way they are energized to learn and by their skill in mediating and negotiating difficult behaviors among their peers.

Many religious faith traditions envision the progress of humanity from bearers of weapons to people armed with powers of persuasion, reason, empathy, community, love and care. The prophet, Micah, envisioned, “They (human beings) will hammer their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives.”   When Peter drew his sword against Roman occupiers seeking to arrest Jesus, Jesus said, “Put away your sword.” Muhammad urged charity toward people in need.

Governments may refuse to relate to populations with compassion and nurture. Some people may resist movement toward equality and freedom for all people in favor of the ways of domination. But some, during this season’s election cycle, will let the vision of a common humanity guide our words and our votes for candidates.   Some will give support to teachers as they provide relationship skills for children. Some will encourage gun-free suburban – urban neighborhoods and churches. Some will reject our government’s plan to fund a renewed nuclear weapons arsenal. We have the memory, the will and the imagination to define humanity’s future.

September 8, 2016

 

Published in “My Turn”, Concord Monitor, September 15, 2016

U.S. Must Push Israel on Justice for Palestinians.

August 3, 2016

On July 27, during the Democratic National Convention and a week after the Republican National Convention, it was reported that 20 single and multi-family Palestinian homes were demolished in East Jerusalem by Israeli authorities. One Palestinian, Noor, reported that he found a demolition notice tacked to his door less than twenty-four hours before the destruction of his home. He had no opportunity to dispute the order, show his papers of ownership, or remove the family possessions. His home was one of the twenty single and multi-family homes destroyed that night. There have been 76 demolitions thus far this year in the Jerusalem municipality. In 2015 there were 74 and in 2014, there were 52 demolitions.

Also on July 27 it was reported that a 52 year old woman, Miriam, living in the Gaza strip was refused a visa for the third time to enter Israel for medical treatment in the hospital where she had previously been treated for cancer with chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. She now experiences bone pain and seeks follow-up examinations in the same hospital using equipment that is not available in Gaza. This equipment is forbidden by the Israeli government to be imported into the Gaza Strip. (Noor and Miriam are not their real names).

These incidents of injustice are important to lift up because such injustices are not recognized in either the Republican or the Democratic platforms concerning the relationship of the United States to Israel. Both platforms commit to an unexamined uncritical relationship of United States with Israeli political, economic and military policies.

Israel/Palestine may not be a primary concern for the electorate choosing a new president and congressional delegation. However, in the sections on Israeli relationships with the United States, both Convention platforms are blind to the conditions of injustice toward Palestinians such as the two incidents above. This should trouble the conscience of any citizen who values equal rights and justice for all people living in a democracy.

The Republican platform reads, (Israel is) “The only country in the Middle East where freedom of speech and freedom of religion are found. Therefore, support of Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.”

Furthermore, the platform seeks to discredit and limit the freedom to non-violently act contrary to the Party’s advocacy of an uncritical relationship with Israel. It reads, “We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier and specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel. Therefore, we call for effective legislation to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”

The Democratic Platform is briefer, focusing primarily on actions perceived to “delegitimize Israel.” It reads, “A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance, and pluralism. That is why we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.”

How do common values between the U.S. and Israel and the commitment to democracy work in Israel where the Palestinians lack freedom of movement to medical facilities, schools and the workplace or where Palestinians have limited access to Palestinian water, experience home demolitions, and taking of farmland? And what does it mean for the United States with it population diversity of race, religions, cultures and ethnic origins to bind itself to a state with such injustices? Do we in the United States want to support Israel’s oppression of ethnic and religious groups of Arabs, Christians, and Muslims? Do we want to support the perception that all Arabs, Christians and Muslims are dishonest and terrorists? Do we want to support, uncritically, a country that seeks to create conditions that will force these people to leave their homeland? Is not this support inconsistent with our American efforts to learn and grow from the mistakes we’ve made in our relationships with Native Americans, African Americans, and others?

Another issue of concern in the platforms is the opposition to United Nations approach to humanitarian law, resolutions concerning the Palestinian occupation and its administration, and recognition of a Palestinian state. Blanket opposition without deliberation, understanding, and seeking a variety of solutions may delegitimize the effectiveness of this international organization.

Perhaps, for United States citizens, the most distressing concept in the platforms is the opposition to non-violent boycott and divestment actions. The Republican platform also advocates the adoption of legislation to thwart BDS activity. Attempts to restrict boycott and divestment activity is a violation of first amendment rights to use economic measures to bring change. Boycott and divestment are tools to motivate serious negotiations to end the economic, political, and military injustices against the Palestinian people. They are appropriate non-violent actions following nearly fifty years of failed negotiations between unequal powers. They are in the tradition of boycotts that have been used to influence change in South Africa, segregation in the United States, and farm workers rights. Finally, labeling boycott and divestment as anti-Semitic or delegitimizing of Israel is spurious and dangerous to people seeking non-violent change for justice. It is also inaccurate to suggest that critique of the conduct of the Israeli government is in any way a comment on the Jewish faith.

When talking to candidates for Senate, Congress, and the Presidency this election season it is important to question their understanding of our relationship with Israel expressed in these two platforms. What is their understanding of the party platform on Israel in relationship to the injustices being perpetrated on the Palestinians in the Palestinian occupied territory of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip?

This is the time to seek their support for justice and peace in Palestine/Israel. It is time to encourage candidates to pledge the use of economic, political, and military leverage to move the Israeli government toward actions of justice for all the people. It is time to use the billions of dollars in United States military aid to Israel as leverage for a more just administration of the occupied Palestinian territory and to advance credible negotiations toward a just peace for Israel and Palestine. Palestinians, such as Miriam and Noor, are counting on us to help them get their freedom back.