Politics and War

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Where there is life, there is hope.

Posted by on 29 Jan 2017 | Tagged as: editorial, Politics and War

I do not know where this post’s title comes from — it’s so old that it has entered the public domain. According to some websites it is from Cicero, translated into English in the 1500s.

Is this true?

[small digression: I distinguish between “truth” which is a useful and generalizable sensibility that perhaps not everyone shares, and “fact” which is a repeatable phenomenon, readily observed by anyone.]

Right now, the republic that I was born into, the modern democratic processes that I grew up with, are endangered. However, there are still enough people who believe in the basic principles (“truths”) laid out in the Constitution; still enough people who are speaking out and showing up; still enough laws and lawmakers that are established and supportive of the conventional mechanisms that I believe this nation may yet be saved.

Unlike the last time tyrants and fascists began their march across a continent, there continues to be sufficient media and public discussion that groups can organize and respond in positive ways to an overreach of the government.

This is my belief: It is based on my experiences, my hopes and fears, my knowledge and training. It may or may not be factual! I do believe, however, that where there are enough adults who remember their civics lessons on the importance of public action and democratic participation that this nation can retrieve its reputation and become again a welcoming, forward-looking, progress-enabling home.

Back online.

Posted by on 25 Jan 2017 | Tagged as: Politics and War

Posts will continue to be sporadic, but I feel compelled to make them.

My first reaction to the last general election was to despair. To run. To hide.

But I have not only my own children to think of, as they start their adult journeys, but the lives of my students and their families.

Not everyone is a good person — and the election and first few days of a new administration has proved it.

However, I do believe that most people are kind at heart, that we want the same things for our families: sound shelter, enough food, an education that helps us get our jobs, and jobs that fulfill not merely a paycheck but let us live as our best selves.

I am struggling to find the right way to approach what I see coming. I am struggling to know how far to go, how much to say (or write), how much I should push myself on various things like seeking to maintain my teaching certification and political action. My health prevents me many times from being physically present, but I am increasingly upset by the lack of response to my letters and other written communications.

One thing I have chosen to do is to not read articles or watch TV that features or discusses the appallingly self-serving and vulgar administration. That feeds into the narcissism — these are people who confuse notoriety for fame, and bullying for power. I shall not mention their names on this website. If our systems works (as I continue to hope it will — I still hope that the Republican party will backtrack on many of their threats against the working poor and immigrants), then the Constitution will guide us toward removal of those who threaten our posterity.

Thus, I am fearful — and also hopeful. At some point, the hatred and mistrust that is being sown by politicians and their sycophants will result in either massive devastation to our nation and the world; or the resultant backlash in the next election cycle (unless they find a way to circumvent elections…) will allow more positive change again. Possibly – and increasingly likely – there will be world-wide chaos once again. We are already seeing so much.

But I am also seeing increasing contacts being made by people who are working for positive results. I know that the Constitution provides strong guidance, and expect that our local work will yield strength. There is hope, if people of good will band together and say, with a unified voice: NO to tyrants, YES to compassion. The world has survived tyrants, war-mongering, and protectionism before. We can still restore peace and prosperity.

Politics – a long view

Posted by on 01 Oct 2016 | Tagged as: editorial, Making a Difference, politics, Politics and War, Uncategorized

I would like to know why a man who has had multiple wives and mistresses isn’t called out for trying to shame a faithful wife for her husband’s infidelities? I would like to know why the Republican party decided to nominate a man with no plan, with no demonstrated ability to interpret or even follow the law? I would like to know why any person can assert that Trump is perfect because he says what he thinks, but then doesn’t make the obvious connection between his words against religious and racial minorities (and women, and people with disabilities) and increasing hate crimes as the groups who most identify with him feel validated?

He rails against the people in power, yet wields that power for his own gain unapologetically, benefitting from his ability to hire teams of expensive legal experts, and intimidating and trampling hard-working people with no qualms. Still, he seems to be attracting the very people he despises as his “base” in this election. There is some truth to the idea that the way to keep the masses down is to tell them a Cinderella story and imply that if they support the oppressors they will work harder and accept worse treatment on the hope they might someday themselves rise to the ranks of the oppressors.

If I were to refuse to pay my taxes, declared bankruptcy to avoid paying financial obligations I had the means to meet, treated my spouse with disrespect, treated my co-workers and employees with contempt, and encouraged people to engage in violent acts against people who disagree with me I would be in jail. And rightly so. Here we are, with a person who (if not made wealthy by the labor of those he has taken advantage of) would be facing multiple prosecutions — who is potentially going to be elected president of my country.

Am I worried? Surprisingly, yes. I am a student of history. I can point to past and current events around the world and in the United States when people like Trump have held power — and the unimaginable suffering they create. I would like to know why anyone would support this man, and the party who supports him. I would appreciate insight into how a person can consider herself (or himself) a kind or thoughtful person when the candidate she or he supports demonstrates only the worst characteristics of humanity.

I used to vote almost a straight ticket from one party, but in the last 20 years have had fewer and fewer candidates I could support. This year, for the first time, I cannot find any candidate from that party, in local, state, or national elections, to support. On the national level, the party I used to support has become the party of obstructionist politics, with the legislative leaders of that party refusing to consider legislation or hold hearings on necessary appointments to keep the government operational. Meantime, the policies and politics of the “minor” parties at the local level are bizarre (which may not be true in all locations!), and the candidates those same parties are promoting on the national stage are neither articulate nor thoughtful about anything other than their few key issues. The president of the United States needs to be able to understand, make decisions about, and delegate authority to people with the intelligence and experience to help. The minor party candidates simply do not articulate coherent ideas on enough topics to make me confident in their training or intelligence.

For young people considering the minor party candidates as alternatives to the major candidates, please consider what happened when Al Gore and G.W. Bush were undermined by Ralph Nader. Because Nader took votes that might otherwise have gone to Al Gore, the election was close enough that a court decision threw the election to Bush — in the recounts later, it was determined that Gore actually had the votes to win, but by then the election had been certified. G.W. Bush and his cabinet participated in some of the more disastrous foreign policies; the world continues to reel and fall apart as the result of events set in motion by his leadership. Our world is slowly dying as a result of his party’s refusal to allow the U.S. to take a leadership role in alternatives to fossil fuels and the rape of landscapes in the pursuit of wealth.

For those who think that this is the year for a protest vote, that their vote doesn’t matter, please look toward Great Britain, where even the sponsors of “Brexit” admitted they didn’t really expect to win; where the long-term consequences of that vote will be affecting the lives of the young people, working people, for decades. They want to have a re-vote. Like people accustomed to video games, where the game can be restarted from a previously saved version and different choices made… But such opportunities, in the real world, do not exist.

I readily admit to being old — my life is on the downslope already. My bigger concern is for the world my children face, as they enter the world as adults. We have time to correct the course our nation and world are on. We can do this by being thoughtful about the actual experience and policies of the people who are running for office at all levels. There is no vote that is unimportant, there is no race or candidate that doesn’t deserve your thoughtful participation.

Yes, I will vote. I will read the voter’s pamphlets to see what the candidates took the time to write — a thoughtful, coherent articulation of important philosophies and policies, or self-aggrandizement and promotion? Or nothing at all (really — in local and state elections particularly candidates sometimes cannot figure out the deadline… do you want a person who cannot read a calendar in office?). I will look at candidate websites. I will, for races where I am unsure, look for the public record of past votes and actions (if they have held office before), or watch for publications that vetted them. I will consider what people who have worked for and with the candidates say about them.

Yes, it matters what the candidates say and do. It matters what kind of person they are.

Yes, I will vote.

Yes, it matters.

Fifteen Years

Posted by on 11 Sep 2016 | Tagged as: citizenship, editorial, loss, Politics and War, Uncategorized

For fifteen years, we have talked about, and gone to war pretending it fixes, the events of September 11, 2001. On that day, I woke suddenly from deep sleep the instant the first plane hit.

I lost a college friend that day. Other people lost so much more.

We all lost a sort of innocence that day, I think — the idea that the United States was so big, and so prosperous, that no real damage would happen outside of a war.

And suddenly we were in a war. A war with a nebulous enemy. A war with no clear targets to strike.

But we had the good will of the world behind us, a world that (for the most part) was as shocked and appalled at the targeting of civilians during a time of relative peace in the world.

And then things got muddied up by “politics” and we lost the focus. And we are still engaged in wars in a now destabilized and volatile, and expanding, region. It got very messy, very fast.

I do not think we are safer, fifteen years later, despite giving up (and having stripped from us) some of our rights. I know that the more we objectify individuals and groups the less free we are.

I also know that, historically, when a society vilifies and dehumanizes a group, stripping them of equality, requiring people to conform to a narrow band of behavior, belief and speech, that society is on the downward slope. I know that it won’t stop with one creed, one race, one person — eventually more and more people are caught up and then no one is free.

Do we wonder why it is so dangerous to speak up in some countries? It is because when those governments first said “this person/group is a security risk” and instituted small restrictions, no one spoke up. When the first group was arrested, incarcerated, eliminated, the majority stood by silently. And by the time the majority realized they were ALL in danger… that anyone at any time could accuse anyone and that the machinery that had developed no longer cared about guilt or innocence, or intent, or outcomes… only about eliminating people who “might” be a threat to the government….

It is not yet too late in the United States to speak up, to fight for the traditions that underpin the constitution — no matter how unevenly applied in some times and places, no matter that it is imperfect — that ALL are created equal, and ALL are deserving of the same protections and opportunities.

Fifteen years ago, the United States’ population allowed a handful of angry, hate-filled people to start unravelling the core of our society. We gave up our freedoms in many ways out of fear and in a desire to be “safe” which we are never going to be. In so doing, the people who planned, carried out, supported, and approved of the murder of thousands — including my friend — were allowed to win. We allowed our freedoms and optimism, the very things that make us “Americans” to be undermined. It is not too late to reverse that trend.

Are you eligible and registered to vote? If so, do you vote? Even in local elections, perhaps especially in local elections, every vote counts. We shape our nation and our future by participating in our government. This is a right and privilege still denied to many around the world. WE CAN reclaim our rights and our national pride so that those who would deny us both do not win. We can elect people who keep military “answers” as a very last resort — not weakening our defenses but being more thoughtful and intentional about when to use force, and more intentional about when not to.

We CAN make this world better. It takes WILL. It takes time. it takes heart

Don’t let the terrorists win. Don’t let hate win.

Work for love. Work for peace.

What’s Wrong World-wise… Political content (another delayed post, from 4 October 2007)

Posted by on 28 Feb 2016 | Tagged as: citizenship, editorial, Gardens and Life, hope, politics, Politics and War, Uncategorized

or world-dumb, I suppose.

disclaimer: What follows is purely my opinion, based on personal experience and reflection, but hey! it seems to work for me and mine.

  • The most important thing that may be wrong is impatience. People are impatient to grow up, to make money, to “get there” and forget to enjoy the process. My children have a relatively comfortable home, plenty to eat and lots of leisure time in between a couple of activities of their own choosing. Still, they are eager to grow up, to achieve the milestones… at their age, this youthful exuberance is appropriate. But in a parent, to be eager for them to grow faster, to finish school early, to get a high-paying job early devalues the things that make the rest important: the people, the time you spend with them, the memories you build. Gardening teaches that one cannot rush the plants — they grow and produce in their own time. Actually, parenting teaches the same thing!
  • The next problem is forgetting that what works for one person or family may not be the right thing for another. For example, whether or not we liked it, my inability to work for several years meant we survived on one income past the point we had intended. It may have been the better choice in the long run anyway, as it meant I was instantly available to the children all these years. But for another person whose career couldn’t be dropped or picked up again so easily (I am changing my focus anyway, so don’t have to worry about picking up again where I left off) that might have been devastating. Or, for a family without a spouse who was earning ‘just enough’ or who didn’t have doting grandparents to help supply a few extras, the loss of the second income (even if it had been part-time) could have meant losing the home. Gardening also teaches that the sunflowers next door will invariably bloom sooner than mine, despite my placing seeds in the best location and tending them daily. Is it my soil? The microclimate? But my blueberries are invariably sweeter than those next door…
  • A lack of charity really goes hand in hand with the above: I have heard, many times and from people in many walks of life, that anyone ought to be able to improve their lives, that other people shouldn’t have to take up the slack when people won’t “do” for themselves. But they forget, I think, that a) not everyone has the same health/strength levels; b) even in the most hard-working/successful lives sometimes things “just work out” or they are lucky… and sometimes they don’t; c) most successful people can point to someone in their past who supported them financially or otherwise to get them over rough spots; and d) it is no longer possible for many people to support themselves on their own land — most people now live in cities and hold title to neither their living spaces nor the means to be industrious. We do not all start out with the means and the ability to improve our lives without assistance. Gardening is nearly impossible without a bit of soil and the right exposure: a devoted adult in an apartment without a balcony cannot grow the same varieties and abundance as a child with muddy feet in the middle of half an acre.
  • Laughter. People take themselves too damn seriously. What is wrong with cracking a good-natured joke now and then? Laughing at a pun? Being silly in public? Our children don’t see us playing, joking around, enjoying life. Maybe they should. My garden plays its own tricks on me, sending up potatoes underneath the tomatoes though it was years since I grew taters there… and not producing potatoes at all in the proper bed! If we are too insistent on having everything “just so” and only doing things that are serious, we miss
  • The next two items are new, 28 February 2016
  • Responsibility. It is difficult to “adult” — a new concept that has been floating around the social media world. I go to school almost every day, even when I am ill — I have had only a couple of sick days in the two years I have been at my current assignment, one for my son’s emergency hand surgery, two this year for an asthma attack and the flu. Might need another one this week (tomorrow) for a virus that I seem to have acquired, but if it feels like “only” a cold of course I will go in! This is in contrast to people who don’t have sick leave and so must go in to work or lose their jobs (at best, they lose the pay for the days they don’t show up). This is in contrast to people who find ways to claim what is called “workmen’s comp” when they might otherwise be able to work. I have the option when I am ill to stay home, but out of responsibility for these precious children I teach I go in unless driving is unsafe or I am contagious! A cold virus… one that I caught at school? I go in!
  • Diversity. One could call this openness to the beauty of the differences between people and groups. As I write this, it is an election year. The outgoing president, Barack Obama, has been the first truly “minority” president of our nation. The son of an immigrant and a native-born American mother, born in what would become the state of Hawaii, he also lived outside the U.S. as a child when his mother married a new husband who came from Indonesia. He married a remarkable woman, the child of working-class parents. He and his wife both graduated from college, going on the recieve degrees in law. An amazing, wonderful example of what hard work (and some luck) can do for people in this amazing nation that is based on the rights of all to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” A land where a Bill of Rights further enumerates Freedom of Speech, of Religion and of the Press, among others. No test of faith/belief may be applied to candidates or those elected to public office (which includes teachers…). No natural born citizen may be denied their rights on the basis of anything other than a conviction. And so on.
       
    However, this year… several candidates for the presidency are doing solid imitations of Hitler in the decade or so preceeding Kristallnacht. Rhetoric is flowing freely about people who are adherents of Islam; people who come from specific nationalities; people who are different. And I ask myself: what ever happened to the idea that our nation is strong because of (rather than in spite of) the great diversity of experiences that leads to wide-ranging ideas that lead to innovations and a better world? A nation that begins to criminalize existence rather than actions is on the path to genocide. We need courage to embrace, rather than reject, our neighbors and their families. We have survived segregation, interning families in camps based on their ancestry, and hysterically denying employment to people based on (their constitutionally guaranteed right to) political opinions/affiliations and sexual history. We cannot forget these lessons.

I would finish this post today as a call for renewed commitment to service, to understanding, to doing what is necessary to improve the world; to reject the calls for secularism, for isolationism; to protect the most vulnerable among us including children, isolated elders, people with disabling conditions that require extra support; and so on.

Rather than give in to fear (and there is a lot going on in the world that is out of our control!), we can instead remember the lessons of our past, and pull ourselves together. We need to stand together in opposition to those forces that would divide us. We need to be stronger and braver than the pundits who proclaim immigrants as enemies and other religions as subversive.

I cannot solve the problems of the world, but I am just enough of an optimist to think that we can solve the problems of our nation. We can solve them through understanding, optimism, and the same spirit of ingenuity that is a hallmark of “Americans.” True patriotism will not turn its back on the proud heritage of inclusiveness. True patriotism will admit that past actions that deprived individuals of their rights in the absence of criminal activity on their part was not just wrong, it was unconstitutional and should not be repeated. True patriotism in our country recognizes that together we are stronger, braver, smarter, and better than when we isolate and cut off those who are different in selfish and cowardly attempts to protect ourselves from imagined threats. We grow when we take risks, we diminish when we don’t. Pretty simple.

Sermons and Interpretations (delayed post)

Posted by on 26 Feb 2016 | Tagged as: British Columbia, musings, Politics and War, social justice, Uncategorized

I do NOT know when I wrote this! Probably before 2008. Not before 2007. I think it was when the boys and I were visiting friends I had met online. Here is the unedited text:

The sermon was about the Martha and Mary story where Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better path… and the rector’s take on it was based in part on what society was like at THAT time (an approach that I know some people find odd) rather than on society as we know it.  At the time the story was written (and purportedly took place), women were definitely second-class citizens.  Like many arab societies today, women did not sit with men, nor speak with men who were not part of the immediate family.  Taken in that perspective, the meaning shifts slightly — not to belittle the people who do the necessary work, but to remind us all that there are some times that it is good to sit and listen and talk…  it was not a scold of Martha, but an affirmation that women also had the right to participate in the intellectual and spiritual life of the community.

This is how I have generally made sense of this passage and similar ones in the Christian New Testament.

In charge of change (another delayed post)

Posted by on 21 Feb 2016 | Tagged as: children, citizenship, climate, economy, editorial, environment, hope, Making a Difference, musings, politics, Politics and War, Uncategorized

The orginal post was almost finished in January 2009. Here is the original, and how I would finish it now:

It seems to me that a lot of the time people expect government to step in and do clean-up, not matter what the troubles, whether big or small. And it seems to me that, sometimes, government just isn’t equipped to do things especially quickly, or in small doses that might be effective before things reach a crisis state.

Now, I believe we are facing a crisis. And I don’t believe that the crisis is “not as bad as” the one we faced in the Great Depression; or the Cold War; or any of a number of Capital-Letter Events this nation and the world have faced. I believe this crisis is unique and will have far-reaching, long-ranging effects. I don’t know that there is anything particularly special or noteworthy about the crisis other than:

  • millions of people around the world are losing their jobs with little hope or prospect of finding a new one with similar (presumably livable) conditions soon.
  • the climate is changing and there are other conditions making agriculture difficult over large areas, causing crop failure and famine for millions of people, with the predictable political upheaval and conflict.
  • posturing and saber-rattling by military and para-military forces around the world, not unlike that before world war one, and world war two, the cold war… and every war and conflict.

It isn’t any one particular scruffy-looking person on a street corner that indicates homelessness is increasing. It isn’t any one particular “For Sale” sign on a street the indicates the failure of banks. It isn’t any one bank failure that indicates economic melt-down.

It isn’t any one particular event that indicates wide-spread disaster, no more than any one particular monsoon or melting glacier doesn’t indicate global warming is occuring (I hope that I don’t need to explain that global warming is happening?).

The signs of increasing homelessness were my first clue that the economy was in bad shape — and getting worse. Naively, I thought government was keeping tabs on things and would somehow have things in place to avert total disaster. Just as I, naively, expected the military to be able to effect winning campaigns.

Of course, I thought the military would have sufficient support from the bureaucrats who ordered them into battle. And I supposed that the regulatory commissions in charge of finances had the resources and rules in hand to avert the kind of disaster that followed the greedy policies prior to the Wall Street crash of 1929.

Naive. Yes. Perhaps wishful thinking as well — wanting to not have to be responsible or reactive to things not immediately under my control. Going about my own business, doing what I was supposed to do. Noticing of course that there were more people on street corners, that food banks were running low, that more houses were for sale for longer… and I noticed these things before they were on the news. Did I stick my head in the sand? Did I expect too much of my elected government? Did I fail to meet my own obligations?

Like a peasant who expected the liege lord to be sure that enough of the tithes and rents and fees were put aside in case of disaster; I have found instead that those relief supplies were long-since consumed by the departing denizens of the manor-house as they hosted others of similar means. Regardless of the origin of the crisis, the peasant children starve, people die. Though good intentions may now take hold, the new lord lacks the resources to contribute in any meaningful way to alleviate the suffering.

The government finds itself in a similar situation today. Though we have a new president, administration, and the legislative branch is also updated, there is little that remains for them to do.

So what are WE, whether peasants or higher-ranking vassals, going to do?

We can choose to //

I suspect that when I finish a post in mid-sentence that I was called away for kid-duty.

In the case of this post, perhaps it was also related to the hip issues I was having that year, or the class I was taking.

I would now alter the term “global warming” to the more accurate, and less-likely to be misinterpreted climate change. The rest pretty well represents my thinking, and, sadly, how prescient I was.

We are seeing the effects of governments’ lack of action in a world-wide, drawn-out recession that seems to stall each time some progress is made. Strange weather patterns of drought, extra precipitation, heat, cold, and winds are becoming more common. Low-lying nations are ravaged by combinations of higher tides and more violent storms. As I finish this post in February 2016 (seven years later), Fiji is recovering from a direct hit from a Category 5 cyclone. The overall U.S. Economy has recovered from the deep economic woes of the past decade, but by creating lower-wage and part-time jobs that keep the poor in their place and benefit the rich and powerful. Those of us who have been “middle class” are less and less likely to have extra for things like savings accounts, visiting relatives who live at a distance…

Politicians, this being a presidential election year, refer frequently to helping the “middle class” which increasingly, by their metrics, includes families who are barely scraping by. And families earning a quarter million dollars a year. They rarely talk about working class people, or those who live in poverty while working more than full-time hours at multiple jobs.

Finally teaching, I see the effects of twenty-plus years of misguided political directives on my students. In the failed refusal to support young families by means other than the barest minimums; by failures to fully fund education (Washington state legislators, I am pointing this finger at you); by ignoring overseas hostilities and human rights violations until the issues turn into full-fledged war; and by an increasing disregard for the realities of life on our planet, in part because of irrational fears over science (or is it self-serving economics that makes these politicians work to protect fuel sources that damage the planet and fail to promote measures that heal?).

I am angry about this. My sons, now grown into fine young adults, are starting out in a world that reeks of protectionism, isolationism, racism, and secularism. The founders of our nation would be shocked to see the petty tyrants mow fighting for supremacy in our land. They would be, I think, appalled at the careless disregard for human life, for dignity, and for giving all people a fair shot at pursuing happiness.

So here we are, seven years on from the original post, and I am still wondering if the people of the United States have the fortitude to do what is necessary to take back our nation. Do we have the wisdom to make changes in our personal lives in spending/purchasing, work/career, civic duties?

I purchased a used hybrid car to make my commute of over 30 miles each way to save on gasoline even though it is a big chunk of my take-home pay. We recycle, even though hauling it to the curb twice a month is inconvenient (our driveway is longer than most yards!). We eat mostly locally grown, mostly organic foods that are expensive, but have a lighter footprint for fuel and carbon production. My peculiar allergies mean we purchase many things that come from a great distance but, where we can, we do choose local! We vote…

What can you do? What will you do?

{edited several times for typos due to composing on an ipad… ]

Difficult Times

Posted by on 31 Aug 2013 | Tagged as: caring, citizenship, editorial, Making a Difference, musings, politics, Politics and War, Uncategorized

I generally try to avoid politics here.

I feel, however, it is important to express important things.

And right now, I want to express my sorrow at the escalation of wars in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. I am distressed and concerned about the possibility for a very serious and wide-ranging involvement.

What can we do?

What follows is “more of the same” concerning my focus on citizen participation in government and education.

Continue Reading »

Occupy the New Year: A Challenge

Posted by on 30 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: caring, citizenship, Family Matters, Gardens and Life, Giving, good things, Making a Difference, Peace Making, Politics and War, social justice, Uncategorized

This is a good time to dedicate ourselves to making the world a better place. Rather than focusing on self-centered goals at this time for resolutions (lose weight, clean out the garage, exercise more), why not choose one specific project that will help many people?

For example, this is an election year. If you are eligible to vote but aren’t registered, register! If you find yourself feeling powerless, assert your power: write to your elected officials, volunteer in a campaign (whether for a politician or a cause, you can help spread the word about something you are passionate about, even from behind the scenes and even if you are not eligible to vote), attend rallies and opportunities to meet the candidates. Do you attend your school district’s board meetings? Some things they do are mundane, others affect how the school interacts with the community. Do you know who your school board members are? Or your public (utility-port-library…) district’s board members? Do you know what budget or project issues they are discussing?

Obviously, no one person can keep track of everything or participate in everything. But every person can keep track of something, and participate in some way, whether eligible to vote or not. Not everyone can attend rallies, not everyone can write letters, not everyone can run for office. But everyone can be creative and realistic about volunteering time and talents!

In the United States, while corporations are adept at purchasing face time and favors with politicians, the people still have a great deal of influence, if they choose to wield it.

A democracy functions best when all the people make their wishes, dreams and needs known.

I have friends who volunteer at the food bank, who volunteer in schools, as firefighters, for political causes… each one of these people makes a difference in the lives of many others in the community. And in the process, their work expresses their values.

How will you choose to occupy your time in the new year?

How will you express your values in the world?

How will your life this year make things better for other people?

I am thinking over my possibilities. I will definitely continue volunteering at my local school as I have time and energy… is there one more thing I can add? I lack monetary security that would let me donate money to organizations and causes I believe in. Perhaps I can use my writing ability more productively to support them. I always vote, but I think this year I will write to one of my elected officials on a cause I am passionate about (education!). I also hope to have a productive garden this summer, and to donate some of the foods we grow to the local food bank. I want to be more consistent in keeping in touch with some of my friends who aren’t in the same spheres as my daily life. Keeping my resolutions to a reasonable list is the hardest part. But I think I will stop there so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

Passages: Sam Hinton

Posted by on 11 Sep 2009 | Tagged as: caring, citizenship, editorial, Gardens and Life, good things, hope, Making a Difference, musings, passages, Politics and War, social justice, The Fallacies of 911, Uncategorized

Sam Hinton. The world will miss you.

Though I never had the chance to meet Sam personally, I grew up looking through a book he had written and illustrated on the sea life of the coast of California. I think we all grew up knowing some of his songs.

As an adult, I rediscovered him through his granddaughter who became a penpal, and have set a goal to learn how to play the harmonica, an instrument both my grandmothers played, as well as Sam. But he was far better than any of us!

Far better, not just with the harmonica. It seems Sam was one of those bright stars who light up the lives of everyone they encounter. He brought new awareness to the beauty and fragility of the oceans. He helped re-introduce folk songs to the United States, founding a local group where he lived. He genuinely cared for people, individually and collectively.

He was a good man.

Today, there are tributes to the insanity of war. I would much rather our nation and the world focused on those people and events that heal… people like Sam. People like the public school teachers who do so much with so little for our children. People like hospice volunteers, designated drivers who take their role seriously, emergency responders. People like street performers who play the fool or bring us beauty, people who dream of better things, and those who help us unite around common causes.

Today, let’s focus on the essence of being “American” — not our beliefs, our language, our politics; let’s focus on the American willingness to stick our necks out for strangers, to stand up to injustice, to speak our minds in the face of tyranny. Let’s focus on that wide-eyed optimism coupled with hard-earned skepticism that allows us to simultaneously be enthusiastic about new prospects while spotting the flaws in time to fix them. This, more than our affluence, our laws, our governmental structures, makes Americans unique.

[Side note for my friends in other places: how do your countries’ traditions and legends inform your sense of self? What are the qualities that make your people unique and ready to set the world to rights? In other words, how would you define your positive national identity?]

Let’s look at what has gone wrong in the last decade, and the reasons for failure, and let’s do the right thing: fix the problem, and get on with our lives.

We don’t need to dwell on the horribleness of everything in order to pay tribute to the brave and innocent who lose their lives in tragedies. We can focus on the gifts they brought to the world and help realize their vision.

Rather than focusing on the gap Sam leaves behind as he exchanges one existence for another, I am going to focus on the ways he enriched the world, and how I can emulate him to the best of my ability. I think, if the world had more Sams in it, there would be fewer 9/11s.

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