The Silence of Our Friends

I’ve had the belief for a long time that there are more people willing to pick up a hoe than a gun. In other words, there are more people wanting to live in peace and harmony rather than in violent discord. 

Living in the United States tends to make us doubt that possibility. Another school shooting, another pipeline breach, more felony arrests of nonviolent activists, and fear of LGBTQ+ keeps getting in the way of “live and let live”.

Recently as I participated in Vernon Electric Cooperative’s annual meeting and witnessed the majority of members voting against their own interests and willing to sacrifice democratic control, even I had to ponder the notion that more people want peace than not. I suppose it can be argued that authoritarian rule and control by a few is preferred because then no one has to think too much.  

But the question remains: How does it feel?

How does it feel when you read about another school shooting yet continue to offer thoughts and prayers instead of applying pressure on legislators to change the course of things? How does it feel to know that queer people are being subjected to sub-human treatment? How does it feel to know this country was founded on the deliberate subjugation of People for wealth and pretend it isn’t so? 

I’m not willing to give up my understanding that more people want peace. But I will admit to this: too few are willing to say and to do the necessary things to make living in a peaceful way a reality. 

Martin Luther King spoke great wisdom when he said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. “

Find your voice friends. Before it’s too late.

Worth the Fight

So you might have heard Wisconsin has an election coming up on April 4th.

Besides the very significant Supreme Court election, which determines the direction of the court for the next decade, Wisconsin voters will be offered two resolutions and one advisory resolution. Two of the resolutions, if passed, will indicate our desire to maintain our high ratios of Black and low-income individuals in prison. The other is a call out to people stuck in the 70’s, when then President Reagan erroneously labeled a Black woman a “welfare queen”.

This label set in motion some of the most racist tropes still haunting us and is being used to drive a certain segment of our populace to the polls. 

So why are Wisconsinites being fractured by such blatant ignorance? Simply put: because we can be. Christian radio blasts Justice Janet Protasiewicz as not tough enough on crime and it’s chomping at the bit to ensure taxpayer benefits do not go to the “un-deserving”. Love thy neighbor no longer applies. We opt for high cost prisons and overworked prison guards instead of doing the Christian thing and helping underserved communities get a leg up. Which is well within our reach to do. 

It’s a sad state of affairs when ridiculous amounts of out of state monies come into a nonpartisan election and steer our thinking. The puppeteers are pulling strings and not only do we not notice, we don’t seem to really care. We wait for the buzzwords to hook us and then get reeled in. Fish fight harder for their independence than some of us are willing to do.

Three cheers for the fighters, for the thinkers, for the lovers. 

However hard, it’s worth it.

Top photo: Replica of Forward an 1893 bronze statue by American sculptor Jean Pond Miner Coburn depicting an embodiment of Wisconsin’s “Forward” motto.

We Are The Majority

For me International Women’s Day, Earth Day and Human Rights Day all merge together as one. And we might as well add World Water Day and International Workers’ Day to the mix, because it’s getting harder to see where one leaves off and another begins. 

And that is the meaning of intersectionality, isn’t it?  It is the interconnected, overlapping and interdependent nature of the disadvantaged. 

It’s great to have a day to champion our singular causes, and we could add many more honorary days to celebrate and move forward with bold agendas and transformative ideals. 

Or we can take this notion of being disadvantaged and turn it upside down. When we realize our combined efforts towards equity and peace are the norms, not the defaults, and that in fact we are the majority, we can all win.

International Women’s Day began over 112 years ago, forgotten by many countries and then twisted into a kind of Mother’s Day by others, and now we witness what has besieged the girls and women of Afghanistan in less than two years.

A nightmare has been allowed to run rampant in humanity for far too long. It is based in competition and the accumulation of wealth at all costs.  It’s the accumulation of wealth that promotes slavery and continues in its various forms today. It is the ridiculous competition among leaders that continues to send soldiers and civilians to their graves. And it is the degradation of women, children and the earth that has brought us to this moment of un-civilization.

Thinking, peace driven people must shun the failures of the past. These individuals, who can take the yokes from their own necks, and create new paths forward, can and will ignite the change we know is possible. 

Please sign the petition to champion Peace Education

Facing Our Demons

Let’s call it what it is: illegal and inhuman. More than 2.4 million migrants have been turned away under Title 42 since 2020. According to US Customs and Border Patrol these individuals are seeking humanitarian protection.  The recent Supreme Court decision to allow the continuance of Title 42 is in blatant disregard of human rights and a violation of International Law.

In the guise of a public health measure we have once again turned our backs on migrants fleeing poverty and violence. And we have allowed a right leaning court to uphold a pandemic health excuse to keep human beings in dire situations and in freezing weather at our border. Judges Gorsuch and Jackson articulated their dissent and in clear terms explained that this should not be in the courts domain; rather it is up to legislators to create avenues that support migrants seeking asylum. 

That’s the rub, isn’t it? To get legislators to agree on a subject that will force them to unravel the racial biases that still dominate. There are legal and just ways to bring migrants seeking asylum into this country. Ukraine and Afghan refugees can attest to this.  But let us not forget the photos of immigration enforcement on horseback rounding up Haitians to be deported. There were 20,000 Haitians deported in five months, and all under Biden’s watch. 

Title 42 is an immigration enforcement tool. And we, as a country, should be ashamed.  Instead, we make a wish for peace and celebrate the glories of a new year while in our name horrible racist and inhuman acts continue. 

We pride ourselves on an exceptionalism that we have never earned.

May we become the humans that we are capable of being.

photo: creative commons licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0

Workers Rights Are Human Rights

On December 10th we acknowledge Human Rights Day. Established by the United Nations in 1948, the Declaration chronicled fundamental human rights to be protected throughout the world.  Article 23 addresses the right to work and to unionize, to have fair pay and safe working conditions and as it is written: “ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity”. 

On Friday December 2cd, President Biden signed a bill into law that blocked a railroad-workers strike. The House had passed a second bill, which would have given the workers the paid sick leave they requested, but the Senate did not approve that concession. 

Clearly the passage of the bill was a win for corporate profit and dealt a blow to railroad workers and to our workforce in general. It set a dangerous precedent that Congress may strip workers of their right to strike. By ignoring the requests for seven days of paid sick leave and safer working conditions, we continue to rob workers of basic human dignity.

We must also acknowledge workers who are misclassified as independent contractors by employers seeking to cut costs. These workers lose much of the social safety net granted to those classified as employees and are among the most disadvantaged workers in our country. They are shut out of minimum wage, overtime pay, workplace health and safety requirements, and are ineligible for unemployment insurance. They are also not eligible for organizing rights or anti-discrimination protections.

The Declaration of Human Rights is a proclamation of what can be if we have the will to do so. Workers are not expendable assets to be used for capital gain. Work must be reciprocated in fair and just ways. Human beings deserve dignity. 

Not Far Enough

We’ve come far but not far enough. It pays to know history, even a bit of it. During the Great Depression, the struggle for a living wage and dignity in the workplace culminated in 1930’s Labor Laws. The imbalance of power of desperate workers and company greed forced the government to support the right to unionize and created social security. A forty-hour workweek was mandated, child labor was banned and a federal minimum wage was instituted.

Sounds good, right? While a step in the right direction, companies took to the courts for decades and successfully struck down minimum wage laws. One claim was that companies’ constitutional right to freely contract with workers was taken away.

Caveats to the law became the norm. There were minimum wages for women. There were word games like “they’re not employees, they’re independent contractors”. And there were the Southern Democrats holding on to the racial divide. There was no way they could accept an equal playing field. So the expansively written minimum wage law was whittled down by exclusions. These exclusions omitted occupations held disproportionally by Blacks, Latinos, women and poor. 

The 1963 March on Washington brought another turning point towards human dignity. The Civil Rights Act ended legal segregation in public places and prohibited employment discrimination.

Yet industries still exclude workers from fair pay and decent working conditions. If you are a farm or domestic worker, you know what I mean. If you process maple syrup or work in the motion picture industry, you know what I mean. (For a great podcast on this visit Reveal).

We’ve come far but not far enough. The value of human dignity must exceed the drive of greed. And each of us must ensure it. 

Books Unite Us…

In recognition of Banned Books Week, September 18 through 24, I took a deep dive into the list of Classics that are banned or challenged. Unsurprisingly I found some of my favorite authors: Faulkner, Hemingway, Morrison, Steinbeck, Alice Walker, and James Baldwin. Seeing Richard Wright’s Native Son on the list took me back to a high school English class and the horror I felt at the shocking truth it taught me about race. 

I’m forever grateful to the teachers who encouraged us to step out of our parochial view of the world. Through books they opened the door of our mutual humanity, in all of its complexities, glory, and ugliness.

I learned I had nothing to fear in words or ideas. I learned that the free will to choose is a powerful tool and that the ability to discern right from wrong is an inherited strength. In reading about diverse people, empathy grew. In understanding history from those who lived through wars and the Depression, I recognized the wisdom of not allowing ignorance to rule. 

Those who fear books and the ideas expressed within them cling to a worldview as skewed as the ones they fear. Those who would ban books are afraid to open minds and hearts to a broader humanity. They curtail understanding and are a curse to upcoming generations.

Fear is not what we need to propagate. Censorship is not a game to be played. Self-reflection is a worthy art and when we understand we are a fraction of the human kaleidoscope, life becomes a wondrous journey.

No one should have the right to clip the wings of freedom. In truth no one can. Ideas are born within the breath of every unique individual.

And that cannot be banned.

You can Support the Right to Read by signing the petition from the American Booksellers Association.


Where Are We Headed?

The blatant takeover of the Supreme Court and the bold and reckless words of Clarence Thomas are telling us what’s at stake. When Thomas declares war on anything he deems Constitutionally challengeable, like abortion, gay marriage and contraception, he and the rest of his ilk are forgetting the most unchallengeable – the separation of church and state.

As Jefferson penned in 1814, “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law”.

So when local folks running for local office tell us they are going to bring back Christian values, its time to say, hold on partner, lets review history, not re-write it.

It ‘s time for all clear thinking people to step out of the red and blue boxes designed to divide so that we can see the current power grab as it is. We’re being played. We have been for the past fifty years. We’ve been divided by ignorance, our own and that which is thrust upon us.

Abortion will not end because of a law. Women of lessor means will suffer greatly as will their families, as will our society. The hypocrisy of this moment is only lost on those who blindly follow and those who corruptly lead.

So when I see a candidate running for the sheriff’s office proudly posing with a man who was unapologetically part of the January 6th coup attempt on our government, I have to ask, “Where are we headed?”

We’re fortunate to have some very fine people running for office, principled people putting their necks on the line and challenging us to make history again, to become the people we have believed we could be. 

We have the opportunity to mend the divide, to come together. 

And please do your homework, for all our sakes.

Here are a few worthy candidates of consideration, running in Vernon County, Wisconsin and the greater Wisconsin area: Turben for Sheriff; Swiggum for the 96th; and Cooke for Congress (WI 3rd District)

Find Better Ways

The world has been upended again. This time by a leak of something that has not and may not happen. Reactionaries on both sides are swift to lay blame, while caring people are scrambling to salvage what bit of sanity may still prevail. 

The issue is abortion. It’s successfully divided people for fifty years. And while nearly 60 % of us favor legality, those of religious dogma and political control use it as a power grab. And people who oppose making abortion illegal have yet to garner the clarity, unity and focus to make the issue go away.

Abortions will happen. Safely and legally or unsafely and illegally should be the most important consideration. Women suffer through patriarchal dominance and prohibitive laws will add to the suffering.

What is needed is not a battle. What is needed is a change in behavior and a revival of consciousness. Ensuring human rights would be a good starting point.

There are doctors, social workers, ministers and the like scrambling to find ways to help women who are caught in states criminalizing abortion and removing health-care facilities. These state laws are creating a health crisis that is unnecessary and inhuman.

Women with difficult pregnancies; ones who miscarry and are held suspect; those raped by family or friend; and those who did not know the rapist will all be harmed. Mothers who cannot afford to have another child will suffer, as will their families.

We need to stop the battle and deal with reality. Abortion may again become illegal in some states. Abusing women with antiquated laws is not the solution. Teaching respect and providing adequate free health care including birth control would be a better way. Caring for one another might actually be the key.

Image is Creative Commons. Author is Becharaia.

Being Queer

Besides the slap, the Oscars gave us the first openly Queer Latino Actor of color to win. This sent many of older generations scrambling to understand how the word Queer got injected into the Oscars. After all isn’t “Queer” a pejorative? A word not mentioned in polite company and only spoken in hushed voices behind peoples’ backs or screamed accusingly to make a point. 

Yes, until the 80’s the association of the word queer was meant to do harm. I remember being called queer and homosexual for the first time when I was barely a teen. When I looked up the word “homosexual”, I learned it was considered a disease. 

It wasn’t until 1973 that homosexuality was delisted as a disease, by that time I was graduating high school and the damage was done. When you’re different you learn very quickly that consequences are dire and unrelenting, especially in small towns in this Puritanical country.

So most young people escaped to the cities, hoping to find some semblance of community, of family, of welcome. There they were often met with police who targeted cross-dressing and drag with violence and arrest. If you’re ready for a bit of Queer history, I recommend reading about the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Often considered a turning point in human liberation, those “queers” demanded dignity and respect.

The 80’s brought a whole new relationship to the word Queer as people of color and transgender people reclaimed the word as a source of strength. Indigenous people shared their understanding of multiple genders, and the nature of Two-Spirit. 

The binary illusion is cracking. Patriarchy and Christianity are forced to self-examine. Times are tough on them.

I say evolution is a good thing. As someone who is comfortable with gender fluidity, I proudly welcome the word Queer.