President's Blogs: 2006
December 27, 2006
As an insomniac, I often get news in the middle of the night. Last night, at approximately 1:30am, I heard the news that President Gerald Ford had passed away. I spent most of the remainder of the night, at times awake and at times asleep, transported back to my sophomore year of college, to my first opportunity to vote for President of the United States. The vote, as some of you remember and the rest of you have heard, was between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
As we all know by now, Gerald Ford was not elected to the office of president. Rather, in the wake of Spiro Agnew's disgraced departure and the subsequent resignation of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford became president. I liked Ford in spite of his pardoning of Nixon. I am reminded now of the truth and reconciliation tribunals in post-Apartheid South Africa and in Rwanda. Maybe Nixon shouldn't have been pardoned, maybe he should have been imprisoned, but equally important in my eighteen-year old eyes was that the nation needed to heal.
Gerald Ford was a man of integrity. I have told my son that ever since we started talking about politics. I may not have always agreed with him but I do think he was a caring man, an honest man. There are not a whole lot of those in politics today—not even those from Ford's former administration. In 2006, soon to be 2007, with the U.S. so deeply divided over so many issues, it would be great if more of today's politicians truly worked together for the good of all.
So, who did I vote for back in 1976? It was a difficult decision, but I voted for Gerald Ford. I don't like to talk on this website about political affiliation but rather about critical thinking. One of the most important things to me, each and every time I pull that lever (no hanging chads in Connecticut or New York) or mail in an absentee ballot (when I was living in Germany), is that I want to be as certain as I can that the person I am voting for is not a panderer but a person of integrity who truly cares about all of the country's citizens (especially those with limited means) and the world's inhabitants and has a firm grasp of the issues. Back in 1976, I was convinced that both Ford and Carter had the honesty, but I wasn't convinced Carter had a grasp on global issues.
Now, as then, I look for a person who is not so much of an ideologue that their opinion is the only "right" one and his/her political persuasion does not lean to extremes. I have taught my son and my students to look at people's records, at what they stand for and what they have accomplished, not their political affiliation, as there are good people across the political spectrum. Just do the research for yourself.
President Ford was not, in my opinion, the best president this country has ever had, but by no means was he the worst. One of the quotes attributed to him which I think is still relevant today, is, "Truth is the glue that holds government together." Would that those in power today would hone this simple task: to tell the truth. I wonder how much better off we would be in 2007.
Rest in Peace, President Ford and say hello to James Brown. That'll make for some interesting music. . .
November 21, 2006
It is amazing how quickly a year passes. . .a week from Friday is the 51st Anniversary of Rosa Park's refusal to give up her seat on the bus. There were a great many activities last year throughout the U.S. commemorating that day. But there are many of us who believe that each anniversary should serve to kindle a spark in us, that each and every day Ms. Parks should inspire us to keep up the fight for equity and justice for all.
Last year, I was honored to participate in and to speak at the press conference held in New Haven, CT—a commemoration organized by TAP member extraordinaire Dottie Green. This year, Dottie has organized another event. On a personal note, I will be unable to join Dottie on December 1 as I will be at PoCC in Seattle. Yet, Dottie, Rosa and countless others whose names are known and unknown will be with Ida Malloy and me as we go about our business that day and facilitate our workshop.
For those of you in the New Haven, CT area, I encourage you to join Dottie on Friday evening. For those of you in other locations, take the initiative and organize a commemoration on that day. Bring in books, films (recommendations on the TAP website), recollections from those who knew her (downloadable from the net), and then, ask yourself and your students what can you, have you, learned from her? What would you do / have you done when faced with the same / similar circumstances? Would you stand up? Should you stand up? (The latter two questions have more than one meaning.)
If you can't organize something on December 1, go ahead and organize it for the following week—as Ms. Parks' life was not simply about just one day or one action, neither should her legacy be relegated to one day alone.
Sitting down when you are tired is a natural impulse. . .and a luxury. Not standing up is an act of courage when laws say otherwise. . .standing up for what you believe in, for what is right, well, when and if you sit down on Thursday to reflect on all that you are thankful for, remember the debt that we all owe Ms. Parks and others and that it is not yet paid in full.
Never forget. . .
November 17, 2006
Yesterday, Al-Jazeera launched its English-language newscast. In the U.S. it is only accessible via the net: http://english.aljazeera.net/news Interestingly enough, correspondents include the BBC's David Frost and former ABC correspondent Dave Marash.
Now, why I am telling you all this? Well, I think it is important to be informed of what informs others in this world. (I do wonder if the English-language broadcast will mirror the Arabic-language broadcast. . .) Up until now, many of us did not have the ability to access this newscast, which has in turn been vilified and vindicated, depending on perspective. As always, I say let individuals form their own opinions. . .Equally important is to view something for yourself before you form an opinion.
If any of you have watched or do watch, please share your thoughts. Would you bring this into your classrooms or homes? Why or why not?
November 10, 2006
Yesterday and today mark the 68th anniversary of Kristallnacht or, translated, night of broken glass, which took place over November 9-10, 1938, all over Germany, Austria and what was then known as the Sudetenland (the former Czechoslovakia). Hundreds of Jewish businesses were damaged and looted and homes were broken into. Synagogues were destroyed. This was also the time of the first arrest of Jews in great numbers—between 20,000 and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to the first concentration camps in Dachau and Sachsenhausen.
Why is this still important today to the world at large? Many historians believe that the almost total lack of action by the free world indicated to the Nazis that they could, in fact, get away with murder let alone annihilation. (Of course, the latter would come a bit later when, perhaps, the world was a bit more inured.)
In recent history, in places as diverse as Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and, today, in Darfur, and in other regions of the world, much of the so-called "free world" still does little to stand up for those who are victims of genocide. Yes, the U.S. government is trying to exert some pressure on Darfur— this, I believe, is because of the pressure being brought by all of us—regular people who believe that we cannot just allow this to happen. However, not enough is being done—not in the U.S., not by the U.N. and not by other countries, leaders and citizens alike.
On the afternoon of December 1, 2006, at the People of Color Conference sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools, in Seattle, Washington, Ida Malloy (TAP board member) and TAP's president (me), will try to do more than just raise awareness. We will be presenting "Creating Resisters and Activists: Working for Social Change and Ending Genocide." Our workshop will look at the past—the Holocaust—and the present—Darfur—to examine how genocide is perpetuated and is allowed to be perpetuated in countries throughout the world. Our intention is that educators gain a better understanding of how they and their students, through curriculum enhancement, can become agents of positive change acting to end all forms of hate.
We can never forget what hate and apathy created in the past and what the same emotions or lack of empathy is allowing to happen now.
To those of you who are heading to Seattle, please join us at the workshop - and bring your colleagues. To those of you who cannot attend. know that we are actively working to create change. To everyone, please take a moment today to reflect on the horrors of the past and the present—you too, can be an agent for change if only you are willing.
If this information reaches you after class/school today, it is never too late to bring this information into your classroom. Monday, November 13 is soon enough. Developing sensitivity, collective memory, and an active consciousness in our students and in ourselves is just as important today as it was 68 years ago.
November 9, 2006
Today, a man of integrity passed away. Ed Bradley, a correspondent for CBS news for the past 35 years and specifically, with 60 Minutes for the past 26 years, is gone. I sit here trying to figure out what to write. It is difficult. Do I write about my memories of watching him reporting from Vietnam so many years ago? Do I share my recollections of the many news stories that nobody else reported on except for him? Do I google and find out if the in-depth interviews he shared with us on Emmett Till and others are available for purchase?
I was watching an interview with one of the anchors from CNN whose name escapes me. I was watching CNN when the news broke. It was this anchorman who said that as a young man growing up in Baltimore, he knew that he too could become a journalist because Ed Bradley had done so. In his words he said that Ed Bradley was important to African-Americans in general and even more so to African-American young men. Ed Bradley inspired many.
Not having had the honor to meet him in person, I only know him from having watched him on the news. Recently, I read an article on Walter Cronkite who just turned 90 if memory serves me. The author of the article gave many reasons as to why we will not see the likes of Walter Cronkite, again. I remember this now when I think of the impact Ed Bradley had on me - and honestly, my viewing choices. One person can never replace another. I know that we will never see him again, but I hope that many, many present and future journalists have learned from him and will continue to do so.
Personally, 60 Minutes will not be the same. I looked forward to whatever story he was covering. . .Thank you Ed, for the information you gave us, the battles you fought, the person you were. It is hard to say good-bye. . .
Rest in peace
PS To all of you out there, I urge you to bring articles on Ed Bradley to your classrooms. Talk about him with your students. Let them know why many, many people honor him and will mourn his passing. Let him inspire your students as well.
November 4, 2006
I do not know how many of you are old enough to remember the song from days gone by, referenced above (thank you to Gilbert O'Sullivan) but, after hearing about the Arms Trade Treaty on BBC International, this particular song quickly came to mind.
The UN has voted by a vote of 139 for, 24 abstentions, and 1 count 'em, 1 veto, to begin work on drawing up an international arms trade agreement. It is only a first step, and there are obstacles, but at least much of the world is stepping, in my opinion, in the right direction. I don't know about the rest of you, but I watch enough news to know that weapons in the arms of children anywhere in the world, most notably in poor countries, is not a good thing, to put it very, very mildly.
Who vetoed? The U.S. Now, I know here in the U.S. we are coming down to the wire, moving towards election day. I know TAP members come from a wide variety of backgrounds and political affiliations. I also believe, in my heart of hearts, perhaps naively, as someone recently said to me, that stopping the trade in conventional arms is not, should not be, political! I am mystified as to how any country could veto this resolution. Yes, a number of countries abstained—it is any country's right to abstain or veto. But, to out and out veto, horrifies me. In addition, we should never fall back on, "well, they abstained we just vetoed instead." Reminds me of the school yard/playground (for those communities that still have them) where one child says, "Why do I have to listen? He/she did it, too!" What would be our answer? Something along the lines of, "That may be true but right now we're talking about you and your behavior."
Below, you will find a link to the article in full from BBC News International. I encourage you to copy this and bring it into your classrooms. No, middle school is not too young—think of the ages of children who are armed and who are dying throughout the world—they are middle school age (if they are even attending or have attended school) and younger! All children who are armed or who are killed as a result of arms are victims. Talking about this is a great way to develop awareness and empathy in your students. Ask your students what their opinions are on this issue—bring in other articles or news sources or have them investigate. A great follow-up activity, if they want to, is to write to local and national news outlets, asking them why this issue does not get/hasn't gotten coverage.
In closing, I just want to point out that nowhere on cable or broadcast U.S. news programs did I hear even one mention of this issue. If anyone else did, please let me know. I would love to be wrong. This is just one example of a major issue which has gotten little (optimistically) or no coverage in the United States. To me, just saying it is up to other governments to prevent this is abdicating our own, personal, responsibility.
October 26, 2006
First things first: the documentary which I told you about, "The World According to Sesame Street", was oh so different from my expectations—it was much, much more! The film, which runs approx. 1 hour and 25 minutes, focuses on the inception and creation of new co-productions in three locations: Kosovo, South Africa and Bangladesh This film is about countries in various states of crisis, dreaming up their own Sesame Street (or Sisimpur as it is known in Bangladesh), their own puppets, and their own lessons. Dealing with real-world "intrusions"—political interference, floods, AIDS, illiteracy, hate—all these productions are lessons for the world. I cannot convey strongly enough how much is at stake in all three production locales and what you and your students can learn from this film.
Originally, I had thought it would be of interest to elementary school teachers and their students. Now, having seen it, I highly recommend it for middle school, high school, and adult ed. classrooms, as well. I have received five phone calls/e-mails in the past day—reactions from some of our members. Some watched with their own children, some watched alone. Not one wasn't moved and educated by what they saw. Personally, it took me almost four hours to get through as I recorded it and then replayed it, pausing and taking notes throughout.
One of the goals of Sesame Street is to reach kids before they learn how to hate each other. Certainly, one can see how Sesame Street can help achieve this. I also want to say that it is a great way to introduce the concept of cultural imperialism—what its implications are and how to discuss this with young people. In this day and age of globalization, it is to the credit of Sesame Street, and everyone involved in its conception and production, that they do not shy away from this topic but rather, lay it out for all to see.
I strongly urge you to see it if you can and purchase a copy of it. It will give you enough material for lesson plans and discussions for a long time to come.
Thank you Jim Henson and to the creative forces behind this film, all over the world!
October 26, 2006
What welcome news came in from New Jersey today! The New Jersey Supreme Court, by a vote of 7-0, "agreed that the state's Constitution demands full legal rights for same-sex partners." It also split on a 4-3 vote, in how to proceed. "The majority said that lawmakers, not the court, should decide whether to call those arrangements a marriage, a civil union or something else. The three dissenters went further, asserting that gay couples, like their heterosexual counterparts, must be allowed to wed."
(The full article is in the New York Times. Please read it—it is a fascinating glimpse into how the decision was made. In addition, it also examines the 4-3 split—think politics "as usual" were involved? Think again!)
As a Justice of the Peace in Connecticut, having now performed 14 Civil Unions, I look forward to the day when I can pronounce a couple "wedded" as opposed to more or less "unionized." Many people have asked, "What is the difference?" While Civil Unions grant many benefits, they do not grant all. Further, federal law, in many instances, trumps state law. Just yesterday, in the October 30 edition of TIME Magazine, I found this (on what I think is page 22—the page is not numbered):
"$62,000—Estimated yearly pension to which the spouse of former Massachusetts Congressman Gerry Studds, who retired in 1997 and died two weeks ago, is entitled.
$0—Amount Studds' spouse Dean Hara will get. The men wed in 2004 after Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, but the Defense of Marriage Act bars the Federal Government from recognizing gay unions."
Now, one can debate the amount of a pension that any former congressman or congresswoman, or their survivor, gets—especially in these economic times. However, if this is, in fact, the pension that a spouse gets on the death of their partner, then how can Mr. Hara be denied?
No, this is not all about money—there are many, many rights (including pensions and inheritance) that are denied with and without civil unions. This is about rights!
On November 7, as those of you who are eligible to vote head to the polls (or are in the process of sending in absentee ballots), there are initiatives, once again, on many state ballots for amendments barring both civil unions and same-sex marriage. As teachers against prejudice, equality in each other's eyes and in the eyes of the law should be of great concern. Think about this as you head to the polls on the 7th.
Congratulations to the state of New Jersey and to its residents.
October 24, 2006
"Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street!" These words, and countless variations, have helped raise generations of kids (and their parents) since Sesame Street's premiere in 1969. Currently, Sesame Street is on the air in 130 countries and almost as many languages, including Egypt (Arabic), Israel (Hebrew), and China (Mandarin), with new productions set to air in Indonesia and Bangladesh. Tonight, airing on PBS' Independent Lens, is a new documentary "The World According to Sesame Street." More information on this production can be found at www.pbs.org/independentlens/worldaccordingtosesamestreet
It can also be purchased for $14.96 at www.sonymusicstore.com
One of the most beloved members of the U.S.A.'s Sesame Street cast is Maria. She has been with the production since 1972—in her own words, this is what she has to say today on CNN of Sesame Street: "Every child has the right to an education, every child has the right to be loved and every child has the right to be secure." Her words remind me of the fifty-four principles that make up the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. So simple, one wonders at the need for articulating these rights until one realizes that for far too many children they are, in fact, only words. (See: For Every Child ISBN: 0-8037-2650-3)
Sesame Street, through its cultural awareness and sensitivity, demonstrated by the different characters and situations (no Big Bird is not a global figure) is a leader in teaching for equality and against prejudice and discrimination. Here is a quote from one of the filmmakers:
There are several things that we hope that people take from the film. Number one is reflected in a quote that Anu Gupta of Sesame Workshop said: "Children are not born haters, they are taught to hate." We were so surprised to find three- and four-year-old Serbians and Albanians in Kosovo talking about each other with distrust and hatred. We hope that people understand that our actions and speech have repercussions.
—Co-Director/Producer Linda Hawkins Costigan
I will be watching tonight. If the production lives up to its promise, it would seem to be a great addition to elementary school classrooms, both ESL and mainstream, as wherever we come from, it seems there is a production of Sesame Street currently on the air. What a great way to talk about diversity and similarities, comparing characters and content, creating a level playing field for all! As we all agree, yes, our actions and words have repercussions - ensuring that we have vehicles to discuss and combat prejudice and hatred, and utilizing them, is not only our right but our responsibility.
October 18, 2006
The Nobel Peace Prize. . .in this day and age it is even more important to remember and learn from those who spend their lives promoting peace. Before talking about the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, I would like to turn your attention to the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Matthai, of Kenya. Her autobiography, Unbowed, has just been published and is available on Amazon.com for $16.47. In her book, Ms. Matthai recounts her life from her birth in 1940 through her life today. In an interview this morning on CNN, she said that one of the reasons that she wrote this book was for young people, for young people to know that you don't have to come from a life of privilege to effect change. She stated that her movement, while starting out about a group of women who needed the basics—food and water—morphed into a movement focusing on the degradation of the environment and a lack of good governance; it was the beginning of a democracy movement from within. Ms. Matthai talks of the need to work for social equity and to manage resources better, the need to practice sustainability and good governance. She says, and one can well imagine, that her story is not just the story of a woman from Kenya, but resonates, and is applicable, for all people throughout the world. It seems a welcome addition to a school library.
The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammed Yunus of Bangladesh, who believes that peace can only be achieved by breaking the cycle of poverty. To that end, beginning in 1983, Mr. Yunus has worked via the bank that he started, Grameen Bank, on small loans, or microcredit, to help countless numbers of individuals raise themselves out of poverty.
Many Nobel Prize winners have been seen as controversial choices. Mr. Yunus is no exception. He has been criticized for his high interest rates on loans—20%—higher than commercial banks. Of course, commercial banks will not loan money to the people that Mr. Yunus works with. Exploring this controversy would make a great assignment in your classrooms; you can focus on economics or global disparity. Is Mr. Yunus helping or taking advantage? Do the ends justify the means? What would happen to these individuals (and we should never lose sight of this) if Mr. Yunus and Grameen Bank did not exist?
In the end, with all the death and violence which are a part of today's world in every corner of the globe, or so it seems, it is important to realize/remember and to let our students know that there are those throughout the world trying to break the cycle of poverty and trying to instill good governance. They are the ones who are working within their own countries because, after all, firsthand knowledge and insight can never be replaced by an "outsiders" good intentions; one can only truly help if one acknowledges and understands that there is no such thing as a "one size fits all" solution. Solutions come from knowledge, empathy, and commitment; there are no quick fixes. Hopefully, we can all, in our own ways, learn from the examples of others and instill in our own students, children, people young and old, a dedication to improving the lives of all the inhabitants of this planet, locally and globally.
October 6, 2006
As many of us know, November 7 is Election Day in the United States. In many "off years", meaning when the U.S. is not voting for president, many people, too many people, young and old, are unconcerned and unaware, and, hence, do not vote or do not have the tools to make an informed decision.
For our students, we may think: they're too young and this doesn't concern them, or they can't vote anyway so how does this concern them, or they don't have the language skills, or they're apathetic as it is.
Well, the only way to change apathy is to become proactive.
One is never to young to be aware of how decisions are made and votes are cast. Language skills can be learned—who gets elected and what subsequently happens can and does affect each and every one of us whether your students reside in the U.S. or not, whether they are citizens or not, whether they are 5, 15, 25, or 55 years old.
The article which is linked below was originally written for use prior to the 2004 Presidential Election and was first published in our Journal. I have revised it for use in 2006. All website links have been checked, and, in some cases, new ones have been included.
I do hope each and every one of you will find a way to weave this into your curriculum in the coming weeks. I started doing this with my ESL students many, many years ago. They were fascinated by the process and glad that they had the opportunity to learn and to question. Since that time, whether these former students are residing in the U.S. or back home in their countries, many of them have told me that they are more involved in the electoral process.
June 25, 2006
A couple of weeks ago, a number of TAP members went to a preview showing of a new film, An Inconvenient Truth. I cannot encourage you enough to go see this film when it is available at a theater near you. As an environmental science major way back in the late 1970s, I was inundated with doomsday models, including the effects of impending overpopulation and the lack of renewable resources. Did I learn a lot after seeing this movie? Personally, not a lot was new to me but, then again, I have been an environmentalist for many, many moons. Why then am I so strongly recommending that you and your students see this film? Because, in all my years, I have never seen a film which so clearly, in layman's terms, and so graphically, for all of us, demonstrates, displays, shows, the effects of global warming and the correlation between it and our energy consumption on the future of our world.
Why did I entitle this the way I did? When I was younger, and again more recently, I saw the Gregory Peck film based on the Ernest Hemingway book, The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Back then, there were indeed "snows." Now, almost none. Did any of you see the beautiful film The March of the Penguins? Well, the way things are going, there won't be anywhere left for them to march. Ever go to the zoo and see those cute polar bears (and depending on where you live maybe wonder how much fun they were having "frolicking" in local temperatures)? Well, they're drowning up north as the polar ice caps melt. Think Katrina was just a blip? Probably not.
This should not be a political issue. Our actions, or inaction, threaten the world we live in and threaten the globe as a whole. Our actions, in the northern hemisphere, the cars we drive, the lights we use, our energy consumption and the type of energy we use puts all peoples at risk. Nature does not discriminate. No, we are not alone. Many countries also consume vast amounts of energy (none so much yet as the U.S.), but that does not absolve us of responsibility. Nor does it absolve us of the need to look and question what we each can do, and there is plenty!
The next time you see a cute polar bear on the news, in the zoo, or even in the toy store, ask yourselves if you'd like them to be around awhile longer. Planning a trip to Alaska or Glacier National Park? You should still go—they're beautiful—but the ice "ain't" want it used to be and the word "Glacier" in front of National Park is becoming a misnomer. I've seen the actual changes up close and personal.
See this film while it plays in theaters this summer. Start thinking of lesson plans to bring this film into classrooms this fall—middle school on up. It's only too late if we do nothing. Oh yes, look for a place called Kyoto on the map and do a little research. Why is that name so important and what can we do to make sure that our friends, neighbors and students give it the power (in this form power being a renewable resource) required?
Oops, I left a light on in the other room—at least it's a compact fluorescent—got to go!
June 4, 2006
Yesterday, I was at a meeting with the couple for whom I will be officiating at their union on September 2. We met at the club where the ceremony and reception will take place. We checked the room layout, the gardens where the cocktail hour will take place, talked about seating arrangements for the 120+ guests they will be having, discussed when in the ceremony the two readers, one being "Joe's" father, a very religious man of the Catholic faith, should do their readings. We looked over their color scheme, discussed who would be wearing what, etc.
On the way home yesterday, I stopped and bought my "niece' a gift. She is four year's old; her momma was always so thoughtful towards my own now 18-year old son that I, with honor, now try to fulfill that role for my "niece"—a role that I am honored to fill. If anything ever happened to her two loving parents, I would sadly (nothing should ever happen to her parents) but lovingly (with all my heart) be there for her. If that were ever to happen I suppose that would make me a single mother all over again—guess I wouldn't be the right choice either to raise her and certainly being "single" I probably shouldn't have raised my son, either.
Where is this all going? "Joe" and his partner "John" will be having their civil union on September 2. I, being a Justice of the Peace, have been asked to officiate. I wish I could say I was marrying them, but the law will not allow me to do that although Joe, John and I do feel that the same love and care which gives one the "right" to enter into a marriage is the same love and care that they have, and I have witnessed, in them and in the many other couples that I have been honored to unite in Connecticut since October 1, 2005.
My niece's moms are so full of love for each other and their daughter. They are nurturers and providers. They just both happen to be women. In having a grown child myself, and in seeing through my interactions as both a teacher and a parent, children from all over the country and their parents, I know my niece is darned lucky to have two such caring, committed parents.
As President Bush recently announced, he is calling for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The senate will vote on this this week. In the President's own words,
"Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society," Bush said in his Saturday radio address. "Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening this good influence on society."
The link to the full article is below:
Bush Backs Federal Marriage Amendment
I take some—but only some—comfort in reports that say that there is little chance that the senate will vote for this amendment. I do not want to be complacent and "assume" that it will not pass. Further, a number of states will have referendums on their ballots banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions this fall. I do not want to be complacent about this, either.
I know all the arguments rooted in religious interpretation of the Bible but I also know of many religions and religious denominations that will willingly perform ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. (Some denominations will only perform a ceremony if both members of the couple are of the same religious faith but that discussion is for another missive.)
I hope that, one day, I will never have to write another missive such as the one I am writing today. I hope that all those out there see that in countries where same-sex marriage is legal, and in states in the U.S. where marriage is legal (Massachusetts) and civil unions legal (Vermont and Connecticut) there has been no "detrimental" effect on society or individuals. The only one I can think of is when a couple splits—which would cause the same pain and a range of other emotions that a male/female couple has when they split. In countries and states where gay and lesbian marriage is accepted (and also in Vermont and Connecticut) those of us that live in these states see that, if anything, legalizing loving relationships is strengthening for society not detrimental. It "promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society."
I want my niece and her moms, and Joe and John (and future children should they decide to have any) to know that they are welcomed the same way any other family is, single parent, traditional nuclear, as well as those grandparents out their raising their grandchildren. I know that this conversation potentially stirs up thoughts and emotions. If any of you would like to discuss this, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are an organization against prejudice and discrimination and for respect, acceptance and ultimately appreciation for all. The proposed amendment would certainly discriminate and certainly doesn't demonstrate, at minimum, acceptance. I urge you not to listen to rhetoric, but to truly look at what this ban would do to your friends, neighbors, and relatives. I also ask you to ask yourselves this question: In the history of the U.S. the Constitution has never restricted rights. Why in the world would we want to start now?
April 25, 2006
Beginning last night and running through today, there have been countless ceremonies throughout the world to commemorate the Holocaust. It is known as Yom Hashoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Below, I have copied information from the Knesset, or Parliament, of Israel on Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is important, essential to recall that, during the Second World War, 6 million Jews, 250,000 of the Roma people, and 12,000 homosexuals were killed simply because of who they were, simply because of hate and, not so simply, because of apathy—people watched, knew, and still allowed it to happen.
Besides what I have reprinted below, I want to share with you a poem that a 10th grader in Stamford, Connecticut, wrote and which he shared with his temple members last night. He was kind enough to share it with me, and so now I share it with you:
There were many people in the holocaust, but the children had it tougher than most. They were not big or strong, they were not smart or fast. They were all but helpless in a giant world. They faced such evils as starvation, overwork, disease, and even the dreaded gas chambers. Many died, but they got through in the end, just like everyone else.
This candle we light for the children.
those who were truly brave, and faced all odds.
those who had barely understood the world, and yet had to experience its horrors.
to those children who were lost, and to those who survived,
the children who so horribly had to experience the Holocaust,
for they will forever be committed to our loving memories.
Even as we attempt to help those in Darfur and in other parts of the world who are being killed simply because of who they are, simply because of hate, simply because of genocide, let us not be apathetic. It is all our responsibility to do everything humanly possible and not stand idly by while genocide is being committed. And as we strive to help those whom we still can help, let us not forget the voices of those who were stilled because too, too few, helped them.
April 22, 2006
One of my majors in college, way back when, was Environmental Science. For me, camping, hiking, nature in general, has been part of my life since I was born—or maybe before. My parents used to say that I was weaned on canvas (some of you may recall that canvas Coleman tents were the only way to go way back when—heaven forbid they got wet and you had to pack them up). Well, I try to live everyday as if it were Earth Day. (Note to all children—along a similar vein, every day is Mother's Day.) If you ever wondered why TAP offers "Nature and Human Nature" hikes, now you know!
Today, however, is the "official" Earth Day. I encourage you to read articles and get yourselves out there some time this weekend, later this week, this month and give thanks to the earth—gently experience her—pick up a rock, a shell, touch a blade of grass (but don't pull it out), listen to a bird, look at a tree, feel the sand—we'd be nothing without her! We also owe her a bit more respect than we've been showing: that little old thing called global warming and our dependency on nonrenewable fuels. Yes, I know, we probably are all a bit more "aware" due to the rising price of oil around the world, but we shouldn't only remember mother earth when we are getting "pinched" by rising prices.
Here are some practices which I urge you to incorporate into your daily lives. Please feel free to write in and add others. Here we go:
1.Switch your light bulbs. CFLs or compact fluorescent lights are the way to go. Check out www.thegreenguide.com for links that let you order CFL bulbs online.
2.If you use air conditioners, make sure they are energy star air conditioners. They use one-third less energy, on average, than older models. Also, make sure that again, if you use an air conditioner that it is the right capacity for the room you are trying to cool. Shades of Goldilocks and the Three Bears—make sure it's the right size! Great comparison for kids!
3.Use cleaning products that don't pollute the air. This is not as difficult, nor as costly, as it might appear. Nowadays, there are plenty of companies that sell reasonably priced alternatives for your every need. Of course, there is always good old vinegar and water to clean with if you can't find a reasonably priced alternative!
4.Carry a canvas or string bag—hey, carry your TAP bag! If you can, just say no to plastic bags. If you can't say no, then reuse and recycle!
5. If your dining hall and school in general is not already part of a recycling program, well, get them involved! A wonderful school/class project is investigating different potential recycling methods and doing a cost/benefit analysis. Most of the time, the $ cost is minimal compared to savings. The truth is, even if you have to spend a little, isn't the earth worth it?
Six years ago I took my son up to Alaska—where I had been 15 years earlier. I had wanted him to see the glaciers—see Denali—experience what, for me, was absolutely the most beautiful, awe-inspiring place I had ever been. He loved the trip—hiking, exploring—but on numerous occasions, I was gripped by such severe sadness—caused by what? The receding glaciers. You didn't need a sign to know that in just 15 years the glaciers had seen significant melting.
It is now six years later; if you care about animals, think about the polar bears who are drowning and starving, drowning because they are caught unawares by melting where once there had been ice, starving because their historical food sources have either moved or are no more. If you care about people, think about what the wear and tear on our planet is doing to it; it will 100% get worse before it gets better if we all don't do our parts. Yes, governments and corporations have a large role to play in this, but think also about supply and demand—if we didn't demand it, they wouldn't produce it. (CFCs in spray cans and refrigerators, anyone?)
We are visitors to this earth. My dream is that it will still be here, for all its inhabitants, in the years to come.
Remember, droughts, hurricanes, famines, so-called "natural disasters"; it is said that nature wreaks havoc, but herein lies the reality: we cannot control nature. We build where we shouldn't, drain water from water tables, inhabit deserts (and most of us are not nomads), etc. How in the world can we be angry at nature? Instead of being angry or blaming nature, why aren't we working on our own "human nature" and controlling that which we can and do, realistically, have some power over.
Make a difference, today and every day, and don't forget to involve the kids—it is their world, as well.
February 8, 2006
Haiti. . .Coretta Scott King. . .Church Burnings in Alabama. . .Cartoons
In the course of a week, we have seen both peace and violence.
I would like to share with you some of the comments that I wrote down from the funeral service for Coretta Scott King. I apologize for not noting who said what but I do know that there were four speakers in particular whose words moved me:
Dorothy Height, National Council of Negro Women
Rev. Joseph Lowery, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
President Bill Clinton
President Jimmy Carter
"The difficulty of success does not relieve us of the obligation to try."
"To promote civil liberties in our country is to promote human rights throughout the world."
". . .a society where we have not only law and order but equality and justice."
"Let us not just think about history, let us make history."
"We need each other: The black man needs the white man to free him of his spear. The white man needs the black man to free him of his guilt."
"We don't seek the absence of war but the presence of peace." MLK, Jr.
These words have echoed through my mind over the past twenty-four hours. Echoed through the relative peace of Haiti's first election in almost six years. . . echoed through the violence of the church burnings in Alabama, so close and yet so far from the speakers at Mrs. King's funeral. . .echoed through the protests and the fires in different places of the world from the cartoons which have made news throughout our globe.
We, as parents, educators, and concerned citizens, are not relieved of the obligation to try, to try and reach out to each other and to teach our children and young people, to teach and hear each other. Teach them what? The importance of freedom. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press, among many others.
We, as human beings, should be free to express ourselves but always, always nonviolently. If we have learned nothing else from Dr. and Mrs. King, who are in illustrious company with Rosa Parks and Gandhi, to name but a few, to burn churches, to burn embassies, to wish death and destruction on any people or peoples, this is the violence which we should all have learned to abhor and to raise our voices against.
All of us are influenced by the events which have taken place, whether we know it or not. All of us have choices to make: do we bring these events into our classrooms, do we talk about these events around the dinner table? Do we open our eyes or close our eyes?
In the country in which I was born and currently live, the U.S.A., there is much work that still needs to be done. It is not now and never has been a panacea. Yet, I do recall that I was free to read Mein Kampf and completely free to discuss it and disagree with it. I was free, even to this day, although there may be consequences, to criticize my government. I was free to speak out against cartoons or caricatures which offend me. I am free to vote. Not all of us had these freedoms—they were hard-won—but they were won nonviolently.
I applaud Haiti and tell you that we need to get behind her. I applaud Mrs. King and say we still need to follow her example. I abhor the arson and the church burnings in Alabama and stand with the congregations of these churches. I support the right to protest and defend that right but also abhor the violence resulting from the publication of the cartoons/caricatures which are seen as blasphemy by some citizens of this world. I also believe and know that those who burn and call for death and destruction are often the perpetrators of other actions and deeds for which no religion should be home.
But also, let us be clear. Many of us have read about the thugs/criminals who have kidnapped innocent people in Haiti. They do not represent Haiti—they are a small minority and not representative of the Haitian people. Those who call for death and destruction be it of property or of people as a result of the exercise of free speech by the journalist in Denmark, are a minority of the Muslim community; they are thugs. Whoever burned the churches in Alabama is a criminal. There can be no justification; there may be reasons, but nothing justifies the violence. But do not stereotype—people, individuals are still responsible for their actions (and inactions). (Nuremberg courts, anyone?)
Those who believe that all human beings have inherent rights and freedoms need to take a stand, a stand against violence and for peace.
"The difficulty of success does not relieve us of the obligation to try."
Let these words turn our thoughts into nonviolent action, reaching out across races, religions, cities, and countries.
"Let us not just think about history, let us make history."
It is our choice.
PS In my heart, there are at least ten more pages but it's a start. Ultimately, what we all need to do is think, think for ourselves. You don't need my words to do that - I was just trying to share some of my thoughts, in this week full of ironies.
January 31, 2006
And now, another great leader of the Civil Rights Movement has passed on. For all those who believe there is a heaven, it sure is getting crowded there. For those of us left here on earth, our work continues.
Like Rosa Parks and countless others, Mrs. King's work did not begin or end with one event, the passing of Martin Luther King, Jr. She was instrumental in the Movement both before her husband's death and later, as his widow and in her own person. I, and many others, believe there would have been no national holiday this past January 16 without her pushing for it. In 1969, she founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta and used it to confront hunger, unemployment, voting rights violations and racism. "The center enables us to go out and struggle against the evils in our society," she often said.
In addition to everything written and known about this woman, I want to share with you something from the AP wireless: "She also accused movie and TV companies, video arcades, gun manufacturers and toy makers of promoting violence." In other words, Mrs. King knew and understood the power of the media.
Yes, it is the passing of another part of an era. All the more reason for those of us involved in the continuing work for human rights, civil rights and equality for all, to keep on moving and keep on working. Nothing happens in a vacuum—openness and change only occur when we lift our voices and, nonviolently, stand up and be heard.
The Media is reporting on her passing. Would that they also had reported on what she struggled for, not just on these days surrounding her death, but every day. Out of respect for ourselves, our children and all who have struggled and continue to struggle, let's keep reminding them (the media) and pointing them in that direction.
Rest in peace, Mrs. King.