Four days after, 168 days before

It’s been four days after Sante Fe, Texas, the latest school shooting. Ninety-seven days after Parkland. We’ve had so many mass shootings, we rely on a Joe Friday, staccato shorthand to describe the indescribable.

Sante Fe, May 2018, 10 killed, 13 injured

Parkland, Feb 2018, 17 killed, 17 injured

Sutherland Springs, Nov 2017, 26 killed, 20 injured

Las Vegas, Oct 2017, 58 killed, 851 injured

Pulse nightclub, June 2016, 49 killed, 53 injured

Sandy Hook, Dec. 2012, 26 killed, 2 injured

Since Sandy Hook, we’ve had 1,686 mass shootings in the U.S., with 1,941 deaths and 7,104 people injured, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The Archive notes that the three days after the Sante Fe shooting were among this year’s most violent. Gunfire killed 88 people and injured another 222.

It’s numbing.

At least one Sante Fe student said she expected shootings to happen at her school; gun violence has become that commonplace.

We do have one power to prevent the next mass shooting.

We can vote.

It’s four days after Sante Fe, 168 days before November 6, the midterm elections. The first Tuesday in November is our chance to save lives.

wethepeopleWe can vote out officials who have refused to pass common-sense gun laws. Electeds who won’t pass gun reform don’t deserve re-election. After all the deaths, still, too many lawmakers aren’t listening. On Friday, hours after the Sante Fe killings, Maryland high school students staged a die-in outside House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Capitol office. Four students were arrested because they demanded Congress vote on common-sense gun laws. Congress ignored their plea.

On November 6, voters have the power to make lawmakers listen. We the people will decide who gets all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, plus 35 of the Senate’s 100 seats. Minnesota voters will elect a new governor, both U.S. Senators, 8 U.S. representatives  plus all 134 seats in the MN House, where Republicans now hold majority.

It’s been two days since the Minnesota Legislature adjourned. In four months, legislators accomplished– well, almost nothing. They refused to consider any common-sense gun bills, including background checks and red flag bills. They couldn’t even pass a hands-free cell phone driving bill, which had broad bipartisan support and no organized opposition.

November 6 is when the people can shape the future, creating a wave that washes out the do-nothings and brings in a surge of actual leaders.

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Washington Post

Of course, one election can’t fix everything. This midterm won’t change who sits in the White House. Still, voters can send a warning that we’re paying attention. In 2020, voters can remember that both the president and vice president spoke at this month’s N.R.A. Convention, promising the gun industry that no sensible gun laws would happen as long they they were in the White House.

November’s election is about more than preventing gun violence; it’s the day Americans can begin remedying so many tragedies, so many wrongs. After yet another mass shooting, after yet another Muslim travel ban, after yet another attack on the environment, on immigrants rights, workers rights, women’s rights…

After the relentless battering of  civil liberties and human decency, citizens can use our super power, the ballot box.

With 168 days before polls open, now’s the time to register voters, doorknock and phonebank, donate to candidates and causes who will represent us and protect us, instead of gun manufacturers.

After Friday’s mass shooting, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo made the case for the urgency of voting:

“We need to start using the ballot box and ballot initiatives to take the matters out of the hands of people that are doing nothing, that are elected, into the hands of the people to see that the will of the people of this country is actually carried out.” 

On November 6, when I stand in the voting booth, I’ll pause to remember the students and teachers of Sante Fe and Parkland, Red Lake and Columbine.

The dead can’t vote.

We the living, we the people, we can vote.


Challenge Islamophobia, meet neighbors

The mother looked sad, remembering how her teenaged son broke down in tears when she picked him up from school, where classmates had scrawled a picture of a bomb and the words, “You Die,” on his locker.

Zarina Baber was one of several speakers at Thursday’s Challenging Islamophobia conference who could pinpoint the moment when they were targeted for being Muslim. During the daylong conference, sponsored by CAIR-MN, the Council on American Islamic Relations, I learned:

  • Two Minnesota legislators—Rep. Cindy Pugh, R-Chanhassen, and Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater—refuse to meet in their Capitol offices with any Muslim constituents.
  • Three quarters of victims of Islamophobic attacks are female. And in most cases, the attacker is male.
  • There’s an app, Report Islamophobia, so researchers can track all incidents against Muslims and use data to influence policy.
  • One Twin Cities woman’s repeated anti-Muslim screeds likely inspired three men to drive hundreds of miles to bomb the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington.
  • Anti-Muslim sentiments rise more in relation to political campaign cycles than in reaction to incidents of Muslim violence.
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Report Islamophobia app

One of the conference’s biggest messages was this: Islamophobia has nothing to do with Muslims, in the same way that racism is not about people of color. Discrimination is more about the person projecting anti-black or anti-Muslim sentiments. The people who are discriminated against are just — people.

More than 200 people attended the Challenging Islamophobia conference; the lead sponsor was the Twin Cities Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. Japanese-Americans, whose families were incarcerated during WWII, know firsthand why it’s necessary to stand up for people who are being targeted. More of us need to join in, speak out and support Muslim people who are under attack. We can donate to CAIR, or attend a Ramadan iftar, where Muslim and non-Muslim people share a meal and conversation. It’s a good way to get to know our Minnesota neighbors.

I keep thinking of a scene CAIR-MN director Jaylani Hussein described, of a placid cul-de-sac, where five kids come out of their houses to play. Five kids whose families came from different countries, whose families may practice different religions. The kids run to their bikes, and ride around the neighborhood, just Minnesota kids, playing together, living in peace.

Get involved and donate to CAIR-MN



Listening to art & activism

This weekend, you can close your eyes at East Side Freedom Library and not miss a beat. Friday and Saturday nights, composers and musicians take center stage at the library, performing muscular works about social activism and artistic creativity.

Both nights also feature immigrant perspectives: Reinaldo Moyo grew up in Venezuela. Douglas R. Ewart is a native of Jamaica. Ewart will perform with his multi-disciplinary ensemble, Quasar, which mixes dance and poetry with music using instruments ranging from a didgeridoo, mbira, bells, gongs, and a laptop. Quasar  includes poet/vocalist/spoken word artist Mankwe Ndosi; dancer/choreographer/musician Lela Pierce; cellist Jacqueline Ulton; pianist Carei Thomas; computer musician Stephen Goldstein; reedist Donald Washington; and flutist/cellist/vocalist Faye Washington.

So come to the library this first weekend of May, and wake up your senses, tuning in to the energizing sounds of art and activism.

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 8.45.36 AMFRI, May 4, 7:00 – 9:00 PM  The Artist as Activist with Composer Reinaldo Moyo The Schubert Club composer-in-residence will talk about his role blending art and activism. A graduate of Venezuela’s El Sistema music education, as well The Juilliard School, Moyo will be joined by pianist Matthew McCright.

SATURDAY, May 5, 8:00 – 11:00 PM  Sonic-Kinetic Paradise, A Performance by Douglas R. Ewart and Quasar This multi-disciplinary performance fuses poetry, dance, and eclectic music. A suggestion donation of $20 for the performers.

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Douglas Ewart photo by Glen Stubbe

Both performances at East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul, 55106. Free and open to all. 651-230-3294   



Powerful art

This weekend’s Saint Paul Art Crawl offers a bonanza of beauty and cool crafts, including powerful works rooted in solidarity and social justice at East Side Freedom Library.

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The vibrant purples and hot pinks textiles at the Library are more than pretty pieces of cloth. This art has a story, woven by Karen women who meet weekly at the East Side Freedom Library. Weavers will demonstrate their skills and sell their handcrafts at the Library, throughout the Art Crawl, which starts Friday, April 27, 6-10 pm, and continues Saturday, noon-8 pm, and Sunday, noon-5 pm.

Other East Side Freedom Library artists include musicians The Langer’s Ball, jewelry and leather artists plus several potters.

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 12.50.36 PMVeteran potter Claire O’Connor’s commitment to social justice shows up in the work she’s done helping battered women, at-risk young people, and people with chronic mental health issues, as well as in her artwork. Photos of civil rights icons and a burning bus, part of the Freedom Ride, cover the sides of a potent work, Fill the Jails 1961.

O’Connor takes a long view on history. In her blog, she notes that most of the although archeologists don’t emphasize it, most of the pottery artifacts come from women. O’Connor and the Karen weavers are part of a tradition of women making art– be it pottery or textiles– embedded with meaning.



Listen up to Luke LeBlanc

Guitar. Check. Harmonica. Check. Voice. Check. College degree. Almost. This Macalester senior has the talent to make a name for himself.

Guitar. Check. Harmonica. Check. Voice. Check. College degree. Almost.

This Macalester senior has the talent to make a name for himself.

Luke LeBlanc has been playing music for almost half his life. At age 13, he won the 2009 Dylan Days singer songwriter contest, with his Song for Bob.”

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 10.33.40 AMSince that precocious start, he’s played at South By Southwest, opened for big acts, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Delbert McClinton, and Phil Solem of the Rembrandts. He’s released two CDs, First Rail and New Orleans Bound, plus a new EP out this month.

LeBlanc is young and has learned more about what works and what flops. He’s ditched the turkey feather in his cap. Dropped his Little Diamonds stage name. Those theatrical touches distracted from LeBlanc’s strength, his voice, which Star Tribune music critic Jon Bream and others have compared to a young John Prine. The 22-year-old musician is wisely moving ahead using his own name, a simpler, more appealing brand.

Luke LeBlanc and John Richardson at the Hat Trick Bar

These days, the Economics major squeezes in gigs around school work, performing with keyboardist John Richardson, violinist Laurie Melting, and blues harmonica player Stacy Bowen at local coffeeshops, brewpubs, and bars, along with non-traditional venues– a church, Greek restaurant and library.

At the East Side Freedom Library, LeBlanc is part of a April 21st Music and Movements program tracing the roots of protest folk music from 1960s to today.

Folk music comes naturally to LeBlanc, who grew up in North Minneapolis listening to Johnny Cash and Hank Snow with his dad, Duke Sopiwnik. At age 11, LeBlanc inherited an old guitar from his grandfather, then taught himself to play. He’s been writing his own songs since he started playing, using his talented voice to tell his own stories. Listen to Luke LeBlanc and you’ll hear the sound of potential, tunes worth tracking.

As college graduation nears, LeBlanc knows he’ll continue pursuing music. For now, he’s focused on his April 29th EP release, Time on My Hands.








Do Minnesota women have equal rights?

It’s been decades since the Equal Rights Amendment almost became law. Now, there’s a new push to pass the ERA.

Are women equal? The question seems ludicrous. Of course we are equal. Except, we aren’t. Women don’t have equal rights under the law. Not in our state. Not in our country. We still haven’t passed the Equal Rights Amendment, a clear and simple statement, first introduced in Congress in 1923, then re-introduced in 1971.

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

By 1972, the ERA, that simple statement of equality, had passed both the House and Senate. Once 38 states ratified the amendment, it would become the law of the land. So why isn’t ERA the law? Thirty-five states ratified it, three states short. What went wrong?

An anti-feminist named Phyllis Schlafly churned up fears about the ERA’s supposed dangers. She insisted that the amendment giving women equality would diminish housewives, force women to be drafted, wreck employment law, and lead to co-ed bathrooms.

A clear-eyed lawyer dismantled what she called the four “horribles,” the four fears that Schlafly and others opponents spewed. That lawyer, Columbia University’s first tenured woman law professor, was Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her 1973 article for the American Bar Association Journal, “The Need for the Equal Rights Amendment” points out that horrible fears Schlafly spread in the 70s had already been answered in the 1920s, when Congress first introduced the ERA.

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RBG, in the Sept 1973 American Bar Association Journal

It’s been 25 since Ginsburg presented her cogent arguments for the ERA. As a fearless Supreme Court justice, RBG has risen as a role model and champion for countless women and men. So, if women like Ginsburg can achieve the Supreme Court, aren’t we already equal? Consider the words of one of Ginsburg’s colleagues, now-deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. Asked why he voted against Lily Ledbetter’s petition for fair pay, Scalia said, “The Constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex, thus I was under no constitutional obligation to do so.”

Scalia said it plainly enough. “The Constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex.” The Constitution and amendments specifically mention male citizens, race, religion and country of origin, for example. So all those specifically named groups and characteristics get strict scrutiny in courts;. Gender discrimination doesn’t get the same level of legal protection. We need the ERA.

Now, almost fifty years since the 1970’s oh-so-close ERA drive, there’s a renewed push to pass the amendment. Here in Minnesota, Heather Allison leads ERA-MN, which is lobbying to get the Equal Rights Amendment on our state ballot as well as continuing to push for final ratification nationally. She’ll be at East Side Freedom Library on Monday, April 16, for Equal Means Equal, a documentary on the status of women in America, and conversation about what’s happening with Minnesota’s ERA campaign. Minnesota ratified the ERA in 1973. Allison and others hope Minnesotans will vote yes for the ERA again. This time, Minnesota’s ERA has updated language:

Equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender.”

Fourteen simple words that say so much, making equality for all the law. Fourteen words that would make it easy to answer a basic question, Are women equal?

Let’s give Ruth Bader Ginsburg the final word:

The equal rights amendment, in sum, would dedicate the nation to a new view of the rights and responsibilities of men and women. It firmly rejects sharp legislative lines between the sexes as constitutionally tolerable. Instead, it looks toward a legal system in which each person will be judged on the basis of individual merit and not on the basis of an unalterable trait of birth that bears no necessary relationship to need or ability.”

MONDAY, April 16, 7:00 PM  Equal Means Equal: Do MN women have equal rights? View Equal Means Equal, a documentary about women’s status in America, and hear Heather Allison, president of ERA-MN, about efforts to get the Equal Rights Amendment to Minnesota’s Constitution and nationally at East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul, 55106. Free and open to all. 651-230-3294   


Hiroshima’s window to history

This week, a Los Alamos museum blocked a traveling exhibit from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. The U.S. museum rejected the Japanese exhibit because it advocated abolishing nuclear weapons. (U.S. museum stalls Hiroshima exhibit.)

Last fall, I visited Hiroshima, and looked through the  somber windows of history. I stood by the bombed remains of the Atomic Dome, a brick building located almost directly at ground zero, that somehow remained standing when every person in that domed building died instantly, and every nearby structure was destroyed.


I stared at the gaping windows and airy dome. Birds flitted about, landing easily atop the exposed roof. How could this skeletal structure, built in 1915, have withstood a nuclear bomb?

The two atomic bombs our country dropped on Japan ended World War II and saved the lives of countless American troops.  It’s impossible to know the precise death toll, but updated reports estimate that 190,000 people died at Hiroshima, including 80,000 people who died immediately. Another 70,000 people died in Nagasaki.

After Nagasaki, the U.S. has never used nuclear weapons. Now, though, our president and some of his advisors threaten to unleash pre-emptive nuclear war against North Korea. Loose words from people who don’t seem to understand the horror of atomic bombs.

The traveling exhibit that the Los Alamos museum rejected would have brought clothes, broken plates and other personal items from victims. Those mundane items help tell the story of what nuclear war means.

In the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, I and other visitors stood silently, staring at scorched and frayed objects. A rusted tricycle a toddler had been riding when the bomb hit. Shinichi Tetsutani was three years, eleven months old on August 6, 1945. His father buried Shinichi with his tricycle in their backyard. Later, when the toddler was reburied in the family grave, his father donated the tricycle to the peace park.

The exhibits tell about a third grade boy who died, wearing this faded tan jacket with the upright collar. A girl who didn’t recognize her badly burned father and brother crawling past her on the street. It’s hard to look at ordinary items, reminders of the world’s most potent weapons. Seeing a tricycle, a schoolboy’s frayed jacket, makes history real.


I didn’t take photos inside the museum. Instead, I wiped away tears,  took notes, drawing rough sketches, a simple attempt to remember history. I wanted to remember what I saw, what nuclear weapons can do. I heard the choked sobs and sniffling of other adults. I noticed school groups, some students looking uncomfortable, others, trying to tune out, looking at their phones.

I read how Japanese high school students lobbied to save the Atomic Dome building. Adults wanted to demolish the damaged Dome, to hide a scar from the painful past. Students prevailed. Since 1996, the Dome has been listed as a World Heritage site. It’s a place people from around the world can see history.  

Students at Hiroshima Peace Park

Japanese people know the history and power of atomic warfare. Does our president understand that history? Do enough Americans know what nuclear war means? I had the chance to look into the windows of history at Hiroshima, thinking  about the past and worrying about the future.

If the Los Alamos museum won’t accept the Hiroshima and Nagasaki traveling exhibit, I hope another U.S. museum will rise to the occasion and welcome the traveling exhibit. You don’t need to travel to learn history, but all of us– school kids, ordinary citizens, and even presidents– do need to read, listen, and learn about the past. We need to look into the windows of history.