In the Presence of John Lewis…

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President Obama presents Congressman John Lewis with Presidential Medal of Freedom. Image commons.wikimedia.org

Last night, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, one of my personal heroes, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 80.

It was four years ago that I attended a political rally in a church in a neighboring community. Congressman Lewis had come to town to try to help a younger candidate win a seat to join him in the House of Representatives.

The church was packed with a heartwarmingly diverse crowd: all variations on the color spectrum, differing faiths or no faith, young and old, men and women.

I was thrilled to be so close to Lewis. Ever since seeing the video of the brutal beating he’d received on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, which left him with a fractured skull but a resilient spirit, he’s been my ideal of the finest and bravest of Americans. He adhered to his belief and practice of nonviolence throughout his lifetime. 

That beating by state troopers in riot gear became known as “Bloody Sunday.” The images of the attacks led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law shortly thereafter. 

Lewis’s long and storied history as a leader in the civil rights movement began with lunch counter sit-ins that ultimately succeeded in desegregating public facilities in Nashville. That was the beginning. But the first time he was arrested, his family was ashamed, as they’d taught him “don’t get into trouble.”

However, once he’d met with Dr Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, he knew what he had to do. He had to “get into trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.” He paid a high personal price for that trouble, but his impact was huge.

It wasn’t just his bravery. It was his humility and generosity of spirit. To some, his willingness to forgive was unfathomable. 

Writes Michael Fletcher in The Undefeated:

“My apprehension was rooted in the mistaken notion that Lewis was not angry enough. Why did he not demand revenge for the unspeakable racism he fearlessly confronted? How could he accept an apology from former Alabama governor George Wallace, a longtime segregationist who ordered the infamous Bloody Sunday attack on the bridge? Or forgive the pathological Bull Connor, the former public safety commissioner in Birmingham, Alabama? 

“Why would he forge a relationship with former Klansman Elwin Wilson, who was part of a mob that in 1961 beat down Lewis and other Freedom Riders outside the whites-only waiting room at the Rock Hill, South Carolina, bus station?

“But over the years my ambivalence melted into reverence as I came to better appreciate the power of Lewis’ grace. It armed him with undeniable moral authority that allowed him to change minds, and hearts. His willingness to forgive, along with his bravery and contempt for injustice were among the sturdiest pillars of his greatness.

“Wilson apologized to Lewis years after his crimes and sought to atone for them. Lewis accepted his apology, went on television with the former Klansman and even hosted him at his congressional office. After Wilson died in 2013, Lewis reflected kindly on his example.

‘Elwin Wilson shows us that people can change,’ Lewis said. ‘And when they put down the mechanisms of division and separation to pick up the tools of reconciliation, they can help build a greater sense of community in our society, even between the most unlikely people.”

Lewis had received similar vindication when he’d returned to Selma on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in 1998, as he had every year. Selma’s mayor, Joseph T. Smitherman, who had been mayor when the attack occurred in 1965, gave Lewis a key to the city. 

Said Smitherman:

“Back then, I called him an outside rabble-rouser. Today I call him one of the most courageous people I’ve ever met.”

In his years in Congress, Lewis became known as the “conscience of the Congress.” He worked to create what Dr Martin Luther King had called “a beloved community”—a world free of racism, poverty, and war. He was identified with healthcare reform, justice, voting rights, immigration, and gun control.  

Another indelible image I have of him followed the mass shooting in an Orlando, Florida night club in 2016. To protest Congressional inaction after yet another gun massacre, he led a sit-in among Democratic members of Congress on the floor of the House of Representatives.

When we eventually do get the sensible gun legislation that the majority of Americans want, I hope it will bear his name. And I’m fairly sure that the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma will soon be renamed in his honor.

Lewis was gratified by the global demonstrations that followed the killing of George Floyd in May. He viewed the diverse actions against systemic racism as “a continuation of his life’s work,” reported The New York Times (which is the source of several items in this post).

He told an interviewer from CBS This Morning that:

“It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds of thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets—to speak up, to speak out, to get into what I call ‘good trouble.’ This feels and looks so different. It is so much more massive and all inclusive. There will be no turning back.”

In President Obama’s remarks on Lewis’s death, he wrote that when they’d last spoken after the demonstrations,

“I told him that all those young people — of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — they were his children. They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books. 

“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”

In the church where I heard him speak four years ago, Lewis described his early life as the son of sharecroppers. He told us he’d gotten his start preaching to the chickens outside his modest home. He minced no words in describing the horrors he’d been subjected to as a young peaceful demonstrator. He made us smile, he made us laugh, he made us weep, and he inspired us. And his magic helped his candidate, who won in a largely Republican district.

I had brought with me a copy of March, the autobiographical graphic novel trilogy about the Civil Rights movement that he had written for young people with Andrew Aydin, which was illustrated by Nate Powell. I had bought it for my grandson and was hoping I could get Lewis to autograph it. I came close.

As he made his way out the side door, mobbed by well-wishers, I was one person away from shaking his hand and handing him the book. And then he was gone. 

Here is a video of John Lewis receiving The National Book Award for March–one of several awards it garnered.

Annie

Note: A documentary, “John Lewis; Good Trouble,” has just been released. 

Continue reading “In the Presence of John Lewis…”

JUNETEENTH: CELEBRATING EMANCIPATION FROM SLAVERY

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Image courtesy of flickr.com

JUNETEENTH

Justifiable outrage coalesces into
U
nity as we recoil from blue knee on black
N
eck in this repetitive horror to which we cry
Enough!
T
his freedom anniversary should be one of
E
lation in a land revitalizing its promised
E
quality despite the backward steps—
N
ever forgetting Tulsa or Jim Crow or
T
he Klansmen et al stalking among us—we’ll
Hope/march/work/vote til we’re…

ALL FREE, PROUD, TOGETHER.

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Emancipation Day Celebration. Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

MAKE JUNETEENTH A NATIONAL HOLIDAY!

Annie

Continue reading “JUNETEENTH: CELEBRATING EMANCIPATION FROM SLAVERY”

Dealing With My Anger In The Age of Trump And The Pandemic

Here’s how I would reallyreallyreally like to feel when I think about Donald Trump, his Senate Republican enablers, and the thugs who are using the pandemic to terrorize and strut around with their AR-15s and shotguns:

“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your neighbors.”

“Do not allow your anger to control your reason, but rather your reason to control your anger.”

“As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave the anger, hatred, and bitterness behind me, I would still be in prison.”

In other words, I would like to have the heart and patience and wisdom of Nelson Mandela.

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Image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

I am—or have been—a conciliator by nature. I’ve never tried to paper over people’s differences of opinion—and how those differences play out in their actions. But I’ve always sought to search for the commonalities among us. 

(This blog began with the goal of finding common ground, and I wrote a post early on explaining why I wouldn’t deal with the Elephant in our national living room. But when babies were put into cages and other offenses defying human decency became evident, I found that orientation unsustainable. I’d love to get back to it at some point.)

Through practicing the lovingkindness aspect of meditation, I still try to wish us all well—everyone and every living thing. Even…this President and his enablers. But I repeatedly fall short. Extremely short. Earth to Saturn kind of short.

What to make of all this? I just listened to another tenpercenthappier.com meditation (I’d written about these helpful sessions previously) in which Sebene Selassie, a meditation teacher, explored the various ramifications of anger in our current bizarre environment. 

“Anger can be an intelligent emotion,” she said. “It shows us what’s wrong with the world and is a motivation for action.” 

I like that assessment. I’d just finished hand-writing a bunch of postcards to Democrats living in a state that will be important to the November election outcome.

These are folks who have spotty voting records, and our purpose is to urge them to sign up for vote-by-mail ballots so they can vote safely and comfortably from their homes. 

It was an annoying task that left me with a neck ache and cramped fingers, but I’ll be doing it every week because—as I wrote repeatedly on those cards—“the stakes are very high; protect our democracy.” 

That concrete action, multiplied by all the volunteers doing it, could have an impact. So perhaps when I’m so engaged, my reason controls my anger.

Some months ago, I printed on this blog the contact info for all the Class of 2018 Democratic members of Congress who had won in swing districts and then bravely voted for impeachment, knowing they could be jeopardizing their reelection. 

These courageous souls are now being targeted for defeat by the Republican National Committee. I was encouraging people to send them donations and/or volunteer with their campaigns. (If you’re interested, you can find the list here.)

.One of my friends from across the aisle let me know he thinks there’s something underhanded about dabbling in politics beyond one’s own district.

But since the voters in the targeted state will play a significant role in a decision that will ultimately affect my family and me directly, I have zero qualms about such efforts. 

Selassie also talks about “taking action without taking sides.”  That brought me up short. How do we do that? A viewer at the end of her session asked that very question:

How can we not take sides when our politics are so polarizing?

Selassie’s answer was that this is a perfect time for us to recognize our interconnection. “One thread over here can unravel on the other side of the world,” she said. 

Pondering our interconnection, which I do from time to time, provides a welcome respite from ranting. It happens when I disagree with my friend from across the aisle. I get angry, but I know he’s a good person with strong values who just happens to view the world differently.

When I get angry–furious, really–at the terrible toll this pandemic is taking because of our dreadful national leadership, I also think about all the generosity and kindness shown by individuals helping others—solid evidence of our interconnections.

I just read an article that I think exemplifies Selassie’s point about interconnections. A 13-year-old Israeli Jewish boy was gravely wounded in 2002 when he stepped on a land mine. Until last year, he was in agony, his foot constantly feeling as though it was on fire. 

Then, at age 31, after years of harboring hatred for the Arabs for what they’d done to him, he was operated on by a Palestinian Arab surgeon, an expert in the intricate nerve pathways involved in his injury. 

The surgery was a complete success, and a bond has formed between surgeon and patient. (This story is considerably more complicated; if you want to read the details, click here.)

Selassie points out that if we look beneath our anger, we see the fear, anxiety, and grief that’s there. And I know that’s true too.

But we needn’t banish our anger, she says; we can accept it, checking in with our bodies to make sure we’re not permitting the anger to turn into the constant stress that we know can be so damaging.

(A quick inventory would involve relaxing tense shoulders, clenched jaws, tight stomach, and the like.)

So I realize I can hold two concepts simultaneously. One is that it’s important to focus on all the people who have chosen to demonstrate their better selves at this critical time for all humanity. 

The other is that I am channeling my anger into actions that I hope will ultimately result in the removal of the forces I find so terribly destructive. Anger leading to action: that feels just right.

Donald Trump and his enablers won’t be with us forever. I remain hopeful that in the near future, the lessons of this pandemic will lead to competent government delivering a much stronger safety net. 

We’ll always have our differences, but they’ll be less raw if people are less fearful and anxious about their economic insecurity and lack of healthcare. I believe we can reduce the tensions that have been worsening our political polarity.

It seems appropriate to end with another nod to Nelson Mandela:

“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”

Annie

Continue reading “Dealing With My Anger In The Age of Trump And The Pandemic”

Some Positive Thoughts…and Actions to Save the House of Representatives

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Image courtesy of pikrepo.com

After watching the pre-Nevada caucus Democratic debate, I began writing this post with feelings of frustration approaching despair. There were many things to criticize, and I was emptying my angst onto this page, and thus preparing to send it on to you. 

With the latest evidence—which we already knew—from the Intelligence briefing to the House that reiterated Russian meddling in the 2020 election, which was followed by the President’s replacement of the acting intelligence chief with someone with less than zero qualifications for the job, I cannot and will not deny that we are living in increasingly perilous times. See The New York Times article here.

The question I’ve been pondering is this: as we search for someone who is best able to defeat Donald Trump, how do we handle ourselves? And that question makes me feel more closely attuned to my more optimistic, better self—the one that really believes we can find common ground. 

What brought me to this more positive place? Meditation helps, but my “recovery” was nurtured by a very calming, cogent newsletter that a friend who had just subscribed to forwarded to me. Its author, RB Hubbell, is based in California. The daily newsletter is free and can be obtained by sending your email address to rbhubbell@gmail.com.

A Voice of Reason

I don’t know how large Hubbell’s subscriber list is, but he began his discussion of the aftermath of the debate by saying his inbox had “exploded” with emails that “exhibited a level of angst, anger, and disgust I have not seen before.” 

He then said he wanted to share readers’ reactions, because he’s been told that hearing from others helps his readers “ground their feelings and test their own reactions to this crazy mess in which we find ourselves.”

There’s nothing wildly original about Hubbell’s message or his readers’ reactions. Maybe I was just ready to hear his words, but they hit me exactly right. Here’s a sampling:

“Before we get to the details, let’s say the important things first: We must stick together. We are on the same side. If we do not stand together, we will fall together. Whatever passion or disappointment or anger you feel, it cannot cause you to withdraw from the process or give in to feelings of hopelessness or lash out in anger at fellow Democrats. We are facing a grave threat to democracy. Our personal preferences for president are subordinate to the need to ensure the election of the Democratic nominee—whoever he or she is.

“A secondary point is the need to focus on the long-term. Yesterday’s debate was freighted with expectations and led to disappointment. Accept that fact and move on. We can’t freak out every time something bad happens; otherwise, we won’t make it to the Democratic convention in July, much less the general election in November. If ever there was a time in our history when we needed to toughen-up, hunker-down, and keep our eyes on the horizon, now is that moment.”

It’s Okay to Withdraw, But Not for Long

Hubbell’s readers include many people who told him they’d withdrawn from the fray for the sake of their mental health. I can relate to that feeling. My last three posts were about goldfinches and squirrels; solar railways and my carbon BigFootprint, and guidance on comforting the sick and dying. 

But I knew I had to return to politics because this is an “all hands on deck” moment. 

Interestingly, although Hubbell probably wouldn’t reveal his preferred candidate under any circumstances, he notes that he’s mostly filled out his own ballot for the California primary but has not yet determined which candidate he’ll support.

He concludes in a way that ties in with my primary objective with this post, referencing a Twitter thread by Walter Shaub, the former Director of the Office of Government Ethics (when there was such a working institution in our government!). A “snippet”: 

“ Take Action. Any action. It’s not big things that will save us. It’s persistent small actions carried out by one individual, and another, and another and another across the nation…Make a very small donation, even just a dollar, to something, sign up to volunteer for one hour, go learn how to register voters.”

I wish I could include the entire thread because there’s lots of wisdom there. If you’re on Twitter, go to @waltshaub and you can read through it.

A Valuable Way to Make a Difference

Many of us have been repeatedly sending money to the Presidential candidate(s) of our choice. That’s important. But my action at the moment is to focus our attention on the House of Representatives. We must, must, must maintain the Democratic majority in the House. 

All the members of the Class of 2018, those moderates in either swing districts or districts that Trump won, have been targeted for extinction—in good measure because they flipped formerly Republican seats AND had the courage to vote for impeachment. Many won by a single vote.

They are among the more than 50 House members being targeted for defeat by the National Republican Campaign Committee. According to Roll Call, the NRCC Chairman, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, enunciated the slogan the Congressional Republicans plan to run on:

“Freedom or socialism—that’s the choice in 2020.”

These targeted Democrats need our help, as their opposition is often flooded with cash and a revved up base. I’m listing their names, districts, and web sites in the hope that if you feel strongly that it is imperative to retain a Democratic-controlled House, you’ll be able to support their reelections in whatever way you can, including volunteering and importantly by contributing, no matter how small the amount.

In addition to donating to them directly, in most cases you can also go through ActBlue. I’m planning to work my way down the list, eventually giving modest donations to all of them.

Remember: each one of these individuals did what he or she believed was right for this country and upheld that oath—knowing that vote might well end their careers.

Let’s begin with the seven brave souls—all with national security backgrounds—whose OpEd in the Washington Post was instrumental in changing Nancy Pelosi’s mind about the need for an impeachment inquiry. They are:

*Gil Cisneros (CA-39): cisnerosforcongress.com

*Jason Crow (CO-06): jasoncrowforcongress.com

*Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06): chrissyhoulahanforcongress.com

*Elaine Luria (VA-02): elaineforcongress.com

*Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11): mikiesherrill.com

*Elissa Slotkin (MI-08): elissaforcongress.com

*Abigail Spanberger (VA-02): abigailspanberger.com

Here are the others:

*Cheri Bustos (IL-17): cheribustos.com [NOTE: the current Democratic Congressional Committee Chair]

*Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01): tomohalleran.com

*Anne Kirkpatrick (AZ-02): kirkpatrickforcongress.com

*Josh Harder (CA-10): harderforcongress.com

*TJ Cox (CA-21): tjcoxforcongress.com

*Katie Porter (CA-45): KatiePorter.com (I’ll explain my bolding below.)

*Harley Rouda (CA-48): harleyforcongress.com

*Mike Levin (CA-49): mikelevin.org

*Stephanie Murphy (FL-07): stephaniemurphyforcongress.com

*Charlie Crist (FL-13): charliecrist.com

*Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26): debbiemucarselpowell.com

*Donna E. Shalala (Fl-27): donnashalala.com

*Lucy McBath (GA-06): lucyforcongress.com 

*Lauren Underwood (IL-14): underwoodforcongress.com

*Sean Casten (IL-06): castenforcongress.com

*Dave Loebsack (IA-02): loebsackforcongress.com

*Cindy Axne (IA-03): cindyaxneforcongress.com

*Abby Finkenauer (IA-01): abbyfinkenauer.com

*Sharice Davids (KS-03): shariceforcongress.com

*Haley Stevens (MI-11): HaleyStevensForCongress.com

*Angie Craig (MN-02): angiecraig.com

*Dean Phillips (MN-03): phillipsforcongress.org

*Susie Lee (NV-03): susieleeforcongress.com

*Steven Horsford (NV-04): stevenhorsford.com

*Chris Pappas (NH-01): chrispappas.org

*Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05): josh4congress.com

*Andy Kim (NJ-03): andykimforcongress.com

*Tom Malinowski (NJ-07): malinowskifornj.com

*Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02): xochforcongress.com

*Anthony Brindisi (NY-09): brindisiforcongress.com

*Max Rose (NY-11): maxroseforcongress.com

*Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18): seanmaloney.com

*Antonio Delgado (NY-19): delgadoforcongress.com

*Kendra Horn (OK-05): kendrahornforcongress.com

*Peter A. DeFazio (OR-04): defazioforcongress.org 

*Susan Wild (PA-07): wildforcongress.com

*Matt Cartwright (PA-08): cartwrightforcongress.com

*Conor Lamb (PA-17): conorlamb.com

*Joe Cunningham: (SC): joecunninghamforcongress.com

*Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07): lizziefletcher.com

*Ben McAdams (UT): benmcadams.com

*Jennifer Wexton (VA-10): jenniferwexton.com

*Kim Schrier (WA-08): drkimschrier.com

*Ron Kind (WI): ronkind.org

*Christy Smith (CA-25): christyforcongress.org

[update: Christy Smith is running for the seat vacated by Katie Hill. Though she wasn’t in Congress for the impeachment vote, she is being targeted–hard. This is a hard-fought effort to retain a Democratic seat that needs money and votes immediately–before May 14th!] 

__________________

Note: Jared Golden (ME-02): jaredgoldenforcongress.com has also been targeted by the Republicans, but the Democrats aren’t happy with him either: He voted to impeach the President on Article 1, but not for obstruction of Congress.

Missing from my version of the list is Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02), who switched his party affiliation and is now a Republican.

On this list of valuable legislators, one who has impressed me deeply is Katie Porter of California, who asks the tough questions and seems fearless in speaking truth to power. She is under particularly strong attack. I believe it is extremely important that her voice continues to be heard in Congress; thus, I’ve highlighted her information.

I’ll conclude with RB Hubbell’s closing remarks in the newsletter issue I referred to above:

We are in the fight of our lives, but we are in it together. That should give us all comfort.”

That fight demands that we act positively and don’t despair. And make sure you’re  registered to vote!

Annie

Continue reading “Some Positive Thoughts…and Actions to Save the House of Representatives”

A Thanksgiving-ish Story

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City Landscape in the Night Courtesy of Publicdomainvectors.org

Three women, strangers, seats 23D (aisle), 23E (center), 23F (window).
One soybean farmer, one blogger, one psychotherapist.
Flight delayed by weather at destination.
10,000 feet above ground, swiftly nearing landing.

23D and E heading for home.
23F preparing for romantic rendezvous with second husband.
Twenty years married, only one previous holiday sans kids—hers/his.
He’d joined his kids for one lap of their year sailing ‘round the world.

I have to pass through Portugal on my way home, he’d said.
Why don’t you meet me there? She was thrilled.
Meet in Lisbon, tour the countryside.

But…

Time was 7:40 PM. Connecting flight gates to close at 8:15.
Why don’t we change seats now? suggested 23D.
The change was made. Traveler-in-motion now seated on the aisle. Precious minutes saved.
Maybe tell the flight staff to call ahead? offered 23E.
The call was made. Anxiety easing.

I can’t find my boarding pass, lamented the traveler-in-motion.
Here it is, her companion said, picking it up from the floor.
A spontaneous warm hug from the traveler-in-motion.

Shared moments, caring among strangers. Empathy in action.
A week before Thanksgiving, but appropriate for the season.
Any season…

Annie