Reasons to Vote

Weary, so weary. Stories of injustice clog my ears. My tears turn to lead as I hang my head and wonder how we got here, to a place where beautiful souls are gunned down in a place of worship, where cries of greatness have turned into building walls and ripping children from parents. A place where protecting the life of the unborn is more important than caring for those who already breathe in the air we share, where we incarcerate African Americans at a much higher rate than “white” Americans for the same offense. Where thousands in my city are not registered to vote, convinced that their voice would not make a difference. Where women are squashed like unwanted bugs and choose to stay silent because they are not believed, where abusers are protected and victims are shamed.

So I am not going to vote in hopes that some greatness will find us. The greatness is already here; we have just shut it down and hidden it in a box or a cage or a cell. The greatness we seek is best seen in the least of these. So I am going to vote for the sake of these –

  • For the woman on the other side of the wall who ran to keep her children safe from gang-lords. For the boy who works the night shift then goes to school all day to care for his family because of what ICE has done in my city. For the families in hiding, though for years have been trying to be legal like me, whose hard working tax dollars benefit everyone but themselves and now they wonder where their next meal will come from.
  • For the families in my district who cannot own homes or borrow a dime to improve their spaces. This ensures that property values and taxes stay low, so low that not enough goes to fund the schools and their children are fought instead of taught by teachers who exhausted and under-equipped.
  • For the African Americans unjustly incarcerated who line the cells of private prisons while the owners line their pockets with billions. For the black bodies laying on the ground through no fault of their own, silently screaming for us to take note. For the daughters of the woman who remembers her uncle being tarred and feathered and hung from a tree for just being who he was. For the same woman whose last words to her daughters were, “Don’t ever stop.”

I will not stop. I will remember these and I will vote for their sake.

 

Columbus Day – To Celebrate or Lament?

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but he certainly did not discover America. Instead, he landed on one of the Bahama Islands. For months, he went from island to island, searching for the gold and riches that he had promised to the Spanish Monarchy in return for funding his journey. One of his ships was wrecked off the coast of what we now know as Haiti, forcing him to leave some of his men there when he returned to Spain with only a handful of gold and six indigenous people as slaves, who were paraded up and down the streets of Spain.

He returned to Haiti on his second voyage and discovered the makeshift settlement in ruins and all the men he had left there murdered by angry locals for raping their women. On this voyage he captured 500 Native Americans and sent them to Spain as repayment to the monarchy for their investment.  While Queen Isabella was horrified and sent many of them back to the Caribbean, insisting they were Spanish subjects and not slaves, Columbus continued to capture locals and is said to have enslaved 5,000 of them. In addition to this, he and his men forced them to convert to Catholicism or be burned at the stake. He also ate so much of their food that a famine was created, forced them to dig in mines to search for gold, and introduced European diseases that wiped many of them out. In less than 20 years, the population had decreased by more than 50%.

Guacanagari, one of the five kings of the island at the time, who had also showed kindness to Columbus when his ship had wrecked, is quoted to have said the following before escaping the genocide Columbus was responsible for –

“I’d rather eternally burn in hell, than to go to a heaven where I would find people of your kinds”

These words haunt me and I find no celebration in my heart for the destruction and carnage this man is responsible for. Today, I honor the brave men and women who were the first to discover and settle this land. Women and men who gave their lives being kind to those who came after them in greed and stole this land, nearly wiping them out and calling it a great victory. I lament on this ground stained with the blood of millions who once lived here and truly cared for her. If history teaches us anything at all, it should be that, once again, those who were taken advantage of are the true heroes.

Today, I honor them.

The Divide

Imagine you’re standing on the street corner and a young man comes running up to you with blood running down his face, screaming and crying because of some trauma he just endured. Would you sit him down and school him in the proper way of asking for help or would you call 911 and start screaming a bit yourself, trying to get help for the person in need?

Schooling someone in the proper way of asking for help shows that you care more about the way things look than about the raw and very real pain of the individual in front of you.
It is time we stop telling black people the proper way to ask for help. Do you think another way of protesting would be better? Please keep that thought to yourself. It is not helpful. You may think you have good intentions but it makes you look heartless and creates a bigger divide between us as people.

Let’s not be more concerned about appearances than about the reality.

Let’s be a part of a solution, not the divide.

In Memory

 

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. Banks, schools and government offices are closed. Parades have marched the streets of our cities. Families gather for a picnic or meet at the cemetery to leave flowers on the graves of loved ones.  For many, it is a day of honoring those who gave their lives for this country. For others, it’s just a day to sleep in and hang out with friends over juicy burgers and potato salad.

As a young girl in a long line of Conscientious Objectors who refused to pick up weapons in times of war, I  personally knew no one who had died in the line of duty. It was pretty much a day of picnics for me. As an adult, however, I’ve come to realize that today is not a picnic.

May 30, 1868 was the first official Memorial Day. It was originally called Decoration Day, and was set aside as a time to decorate the graves of those who had died in the war with flowers.

Three years after the end of the Civil War, we decided to decorate the graves of those who died in the war between us. The war between the North and the South. The war that threatened the collapse of an empire. The war that turned brother against brother, that was really about keeping the South in the Union and protecting an economy built on the backs of slaves than it was about freeing those slaves. This did not begin as a day to honor soldiers who died “over there” but, rather, the ones who died here.

But there is another version, an unofficial version, of how Memorial Day started. David W. Blight, a Yale historian, has found a list of commemorations initiated by freed Black Americans. The largest took place on May 1,1865, less than a month after the end of the war, when more than 10,000 of them gathered to dig up a mass grave of what had been hundreds of Union prisoners. These Black Americans dug up the bones that represented their freedom and lovingly gave them each a proper burial and built a fence around the new cemetery. Then they marched, lamented, honored, and sang with crosses, flowers, wreaths and anthems.

Later, the South hushed the voices of the Black Community and made the day about the reconciliation and sacrifices of White America, completely leaving out the voices of Black America. Mississippi,  South Carolina, and Alabama each have their own days to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day as State Holidays, in addition to the National Memorial Day.

153 years after the end of the Civil War and we are still fighting each other, still shushing the voices of Black America, still making things about us.

I’m going to fire up my grill soon and throw on the burgers. Then I’m going to sit my boys down and tell them about some pretty brave folks who dug up a mass grave, and honored the bones of those who had suffered for their freedom.

Isn’t it time we stop making everything about us?

Isn’t it time we stop telling Black America what patriotism looks like?

 

 

Rootless

On the other side of the world, in a space roughly 7.3 square miles of what was once a forest in the hills of Bangladesh, 700,000 Rohingya refugees huddle under tarps in makeshift homes. They have lost everything once – homes, jobs, possessions, family members, dignity, country – and now, with the storm season starting and the monsoon closing in, they risk losing all again.The tree roots that once held together the clay-like soil, preventing massive landslides, are now gone, leaving the refugees rootless in more ways than one.

While Rohingya refugees have resided in Bangladesh for many years, this group has been pouring in since the ethnic cleansing began in full force by the Burmese Military last August. Among them, an uncounted number of women are quietly preparing to give birth as a result of being raped by soldiers before they fled the country. Pramila Patten, the UN’s special envoy on Sexual Violence views these rapes as a weapon of genocide, a “calculated tool of terror”. Nearly nine months since many of these women have crossed the border, aid agencies are preparing not only for a spike in births, but also for babies abandoned by traumatized mothers who simply do not have the physical nor emotional resources to care for another child.

Last week the UN Security Council sent a delegation to observe the situation first hand and it was no surprise when the report came back that the situation was “overwhelming.” The council visited Myanmar for the first time since the genocide began and traveled to the region where the Rohingya refugees had fled from. Earlier reports from the area, as well as  satellite images show that  many of the villages have been completely burned and bulldozed; homes, cemeteries, mosques, trees, landmarks, everything wiped away. Additionally the Myanmar parliament has approved a $15m budget to build a wall along the Myanmar/Bangladesh border, where the refugees crossed over into Bangladesh.

Of the 500,000 Rohingya who stayed behind in Myanmar, at least 130,000 are being held in  camps where their freedom is greatly restricted and the conditions are appalling.

A fierce anger is stirring in me today. What is wrong with humanity that we spend millions of dollars on walls instead of acknowledging atrocities and doing the real work of healing the gaping wounds? Who do we think we are that we can confine a people group to a specific, tiny piece of volatile land, keeping the best for ourselves? What gives us the right to limit the basic human rights of others –  access to food and water, health care, education including college visits, equal pay, police protection, citizenship, and a country to call our home?

I can’t find it in me to be angry at the Burmese people today. They are simply following our footsteps. From English Colonizers to the Germans in World War II to the United States of America where we continue to live on stolen land and benefit daily from an economy built on the backs of slaves. How many villages have we bulldozed, physically or metaphorically, wiping away the history of an ethnic group and rewriting it to make ourselves look better? How many ethnic conflicts around the globe have we perpetuated because our government has funded one side or the other for our own political interests? How many bodies have bled out on the sidewalks and forests of this country because of racial hate more than anything else? Why are we so afraid of people who are different from ourselves?

I see blood on the hands of the Burmese yes, but I also see it on my own people’s hands. As a citizen of this country, I have to own it. I am part of a nation that has systematically chosen which people group should be treated the best and which others should be treated as less than human. It’s written into the founding documents of our nation and has been fleshed out in courtrooms across the nation.

The silent cries of the Rohinga women wrap around my heart like tender vines, mirroring the cries of pain caused by my own nation and my heart remembers and bleeds and spends itself because only a heart that spends itself like currency is strong enough to push back against injustice.

Prickly Privilege

Two handmade crochet fairy dolls, one black and one white.

If the word Privilege causes you to prickle, especially when combined with the word “white” here are a few things you may want to think about.

This year all three of our boys had spring break during a different week. I only took off work for one of them. I drove 425 miles with my son to see his new baby cousin and to hang out with the bigger cousins.

He had hours of alone time with mom, which he rarely gets.

…several fast food meals, which he rarely gets.

…a trip to the aquarium.

…countless basketball games with his cousin.

…late night TV with his uncle to watch his favorite team play.

His brothers had to fend for themselves over their spring breaks. No special treatment for them.

He realized it was a special.

He was grateful for it.

He did nothing more than his brothers to deserve this trip.

He didn’t rub it in their faces.

This is privilege. If his brothers would have pointed out to him that he had a week of privileges, he probably would have simply agreed with them. He wouldn’t have felt that they were insulting him or that something was wrong with him. He would have owned it.

Here are some ways I see I am privileged:

  • I can set my cruise to 9 miles over the speed limit and not worry too much about being pulled over.
  • I can take my nieces and nephew into a museum on my sister-in-law’s pass and not be asked for id or bag check.
  • I can trace my ancestry back to the shores of other countries.
  • I can walk into the movies or any store with a very large purse and not once am asked to open it for inspection, not once am I followed around.
  • I own 51% of a small business in a country where white women still make less than white men and women of color make even less. See more here.
  • I had an educational opportunity to complete high school in 3 years.
  • I have incredible credit rates and was able to take out a mortgage during a time we had virtually no income.

These are just a few examples of ways I have come to realize I am privileged. I didn’t earn them. I’m not a bad person for having them. I see, though, that the playing ground is not level and many others do not have these same privileges.

Michael Harriot breaks it down as not being an insult nor an accusation but rather a measurable gap. You can read his article here.

I own my privileges. I am very grateful for them. And where possible, I will use my privileges to work towards leveling the playing ground for all.

The Home of the Brave

The world feels heavy as the sky drops tears that drip and pool around my feet as if there is no end to the grief, no place large enough to hold it, so it sits and waits. I, too, sit and wait, grieving for seventeen lives gone too soon. All around me, I hear voices rising, arguing over the why and the what needs to happen next. What if everyone were a little bit right? What if the heart of the matter goes so much deeper? What if it’s really a heart matter that more guns, officers, and concerned citizens cannot change?

We show that we are a fragile people when we insist on more protection and build bigger walls to keep out those we see as a threat to our own happiness and security. But, what if the very actions we take to protect ourselves actually help to grow terrorists within our midst? What if by forgetting to be brave and loving to those who are “other”, we are actually giving tools to the next generation to hate those who are different from us? What if the answer to hate and fear was not walls or more guns but being brave? To be brave is to walk into fear because of love for something so much greater than being safe. Brave doesn’t make refugees sit in camps for 26 years when we have more than enough resources to create a home for them. Brave sits next to LGBTQ individuals and listens to their stories. Brave buys sandwiches and coffee instead of guns, shares blankets and coats instead of hate mail. Brave admits that we have a problem, that we collectively  benefit from an economy built on cruelty – first to the 10+ Million who walked this land long before we set foot here, taking their homes and their lives. Secondly to the sons and daughters of Africa, ripped from home, beaten, raped, and worked to death: treated as disposable people to build a thriving empire of cotton, sugar, tobacco and railways. Brave teaches what the history books omit – the horror of the Jim Crow South after the Civil War, the Great Migration and all that came thereafter.

Brave does not panic and shoot unarmed people of color. It does not relegate First Nations people to tiny corners of this wide land and strip them of dignity. Brave does not sit in a neighborhood where everyone looks the same, has the same income level and drives the same kind of cars.

Brave does not play it safe. It goes to where love is needed the most. It cannot help it because love is the magnet that pulls brave forward.

Perhaps the problem is that we forgot what it means to be brave. Perhaps we forgot those outrageous ancient words that whisper still through time and space.

If you live by a weapon, you will die by a weapon.

What if we taught the next generation to be brave by walking bravely ourselves? What if we had the courage to cross racial, religious, economic and any of those other lines we ourselves have invented?

What if we built bridges instead of walls and led the next generation across them?

What if we were that brave?

 

Love and Ashes

Today is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. We’re in the middle of Black History Month.  Rohingya refugees are still streaming across the border from Myanmar to an already-crowded Bangladesh, now totaling 900,000.  Love and bravery, death and injustice, all wrapped up in the cold and dark of winter.

For me though, it is Ash Wednesday that ties it all together.

Ashes rubbed in the shape of a cross saying:

You are dust and to dust you will return”.

Sometimes it takes the crumbling remains of death to remind me of the greatest of all loves. A love whose whisper penetrates through time and space,

The only thing I ask of you is to love me with all you have, and to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.” 

If we did that, love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, it wouldn’t be a lonely day for anyone. We wouldn’t have only a month of Black History because our history books would speak truth each day of the year. We would not have 1.19 million refugees in need of a home. According to UNHCR, less than 6% of these found home last year. I did the math and it is heart wrenching.

So my gift to you, on this day of love and ashes, during this month of remembering, is to share with you a beautiful glimpse of humanity in the moving picture Human Flow. Created by Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist and activist, who spent his childhood in refugee camp, The Human Flow beautifully documents the refugee crisis and it’s impact on the world. Ai Weiwei says:

“The refugee crisis is not about refugees, rather, it is about us. Our prioritisation of financial gain over people’s struggle for the necessities of life is the primary cause of much of this crisis.”

You can read more of his story here, as well as watch the trailer for the movie. For those of you with Amazon Prime, The Human Flow will be released on Prime on February 16.

 

 

The White Moderate

Like a laboring woman who rests momentarily between contractions, the heavy sky pauses briefly outside my window. It rests from pushing out a howling wind and gasping raindrops, taking in deep breaths of cold, cold air to turn these drops into fluffy flakes. Soon, they predict, ice and snow will fall on this city and white will cover up the gray and the mud.

Isn’t that what we want – a fresh clean layer of something sparkly to cover up the muck of a thawed out January? Anything to help us forget the long hours of darkness and the ick underneath. The kids are happy to have yet another snow day, fingers curled around the remote, reports and books forgotten while parents everywhere hurry through the grocery aisles, stocking up for who knows how long, hoping to get home safely before it hits. Yet, for now, it’s still muck and mud.

Funny how much faith we put in the weather report, how quickly entire schedules are swept aside so we can be safe, yet pay precious little attention to certain other voices that have been telling us about their own un-safety for a long, long time now. If we aren’t stuck in the muck ourselves, why is it so hard to hear those who tell us they are?

This morning I came across some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quotes that the media won’t cite. They were fascinating. The quote that struck me the most concerned King’s disappointment with the White Moderate. He says,

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

He wrote these words in a Letter from a Birmingham Jail to the clergymen of Birmingham. It is a long, letter but well worth the read and I find myself a little more in awe of this man who was willing to sit in a jail cell to prove a point.

While some things have changed in this country since then, there’s still a deep layer of muck and mud that some of us choose not to see because we still love order (for ourselves) more than justice (for all people) and the absence of tension (in our own lives) to the presence of justice (for all people). I’ve spend my share of time in White Moderate communities where we are taught to love all people but not make waves. How can this even be a thing? Moderation is held high and radicalism frowned upon. And “tension”, forget about it. In these places I’ve called home, it has always been better to sweep things under the rug than to disagree or expose a conflict. I’m speaking about entire communities committed to keeping a calm, perfect face, of striving to maintain “peace” (AKA lack of tension), looking good at all costs.

Edmond Burke said “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.”

My point is that there are a whole lot of us that feel okay about ourselves because we aren’t out there committing acts of violence. We are nice to those we meet. We do not cheat our customers or hurl racial slurs. We don’t go anywhere that would be too uncomfortable but we still do our share of kind things for others. We hear whispers of injustice but we aren’t creating the injustice so we feel okay remaining where we are at. But, being good and moderate and remaining quiet is the very thing that lets injustice continue. If we are okay allowing injustice to continue, how are we different from those who perpetrate acts of injustice?

Outside the wind is again picking up speed, throwing bits of snow and ice at anyone who dares venture out. In my warm, safe home, I ponder and pray.

May I have courage to always speak up when I see injustice.

May I have the humility to listen to the voices telling me stories so different from my own reality. May I sit in the discomfort and truly learn to listen and to weep with those who weep rather than shushing them.

May I become a radical who dares make waves because I love so deeply, across racial, gender and socioeconomic lines. May I be stubborn enough to reject labels and boxes, to see each person as reflective of the Divine.

May I be wise enough to inspire my sons and all of this next generation to be radicals who will never look at injustice and say, “It’s not my problem”. Who will uncurl their fingers readily from the remote and wrap their arms around the broken instead.

May I be bold enough to yank the rug out from under feet, to expose the lies that lay beneath. The world does not need my silence any more. My “doing nothing” only creates more souls who feel like nothing.

May I love deeply enough to stop spending my time and my money, but to change the currency and spend myself.

And may I never, ever, ever, stand in the way of justice or be a stumbling block in someone’s journey to freedom. Let me, instead, be the one clearing the road so they can run to freedom.

Pro Life?

Standing among friends and strangers at a rally in the town of my birth, I wore my heart on my sign. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say. How do you fit a journey of the heart into a tiny sign? After a night of little sleep and unsettling dreams, this is what came to me.

Pro Life? Then stand with those who fear for theirs.

Something fundamental is lost when a pro life stance is only pro birth. If I only care about preserving the life of a wee babe until it is pushed out from the safety and comfort of the womb, then I care nothing about that wee babe, only about making sure that someone else is keeping the letter of the law.

There is a pretty big difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life. Anti-abortion will do anything to make abortion illegal. It is a political stance that hopes to influence policies, without personally needing to put in any of the work needed to serve those wee babes or their mothers.

I carried this sign because I wanted people to reflect on the idea that being pro-life should change the way you do life. Living eight years in a country where abortion was illegal showed me that laws do very little to change things. Abortions happened frequently there and they were only more dangerous to the mother because of the ways in which they were done. It got me thinking a lot.

Can we say we are pro-life if we marginalize and demonize the woman who has had an abortion instead of seeking to restore her to community? Can we say we are pro-life if, when that babe is hungry and her mom can’t make it on minimum wages and applies for food stamps, we judge her and call her lazy or entitled?  What about when the babe grows up and can’t get health care because of a preexisting condition and he dies? Are we pro-life when another babe grows up and spends days running through the jungle from a genocide in her country and we close our borders because she might be a terrorist? When the babe of one skin tone grows up and ends up having his blood splattered on the sidewalk though he was unarmed and was not threatening anyone but the one who took his life walks away scot-free, whose life are we really for? What about the babe who grows up and embraces his culture and decides to kneel during the national anthem as a way to signal to the rest of us that there is a group of people who fear for their lives because of events that keep happening throughout our country?

Pro-life is for life on either side of the womb. It gets to know the moms contemplating abortion and does life with them helping to carry their load. It shares food with the hungry. It works tirelessly to ensure that lives of all races are treated with dignity and it speaks out against injustice. Pro-life does not discriminate. It listens to people of other races, socioeconomic levels, religions and beliefs. It loves. It serves. It is never only pro (rich white American) life. It is for all life.

I also wanted to signal to those who are living in fear for their lives that they are not alone. Their voices are heard. Their pain matters.  Their life has value. I’m adding my voice to the cry, putting my body on the sidewalk with them and for them.

Pro life. It’s not a political or religious stance.  It’s a way of living.