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.


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.



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.







Russian dolls, doping and dirty secrets

I watched a documentary about sports doping last night and am still scared.

icarus_282017_film29Like a Russian nesting doll, Icarus is stuffed with more than it first appears. This year’s Oscar documentary winner starts as a simple story of an amateur bicyclist, Bryan Fogel, documenting his experiment with doping. It seems like a sporty version of Supersize Me, but instead of eating McDonalds every day, Fogel  injects himself with performance enhancing drugs. He gets advice on how to cheat from a master, the head of Russia’s anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov.

As the action moves to Russia, Icarus turns dark. It’s not one cyclist’s tale of scamming urine tests. Instead, the documentary delves into how Russia masterfully subverted Olympic sports, stealing victories and medals.

Watching the layers of intrigue about Russia’s sports doping, I tensed up, my mind spinning from sports to politics. The nesting doll of sports doping revealed Russia’s intricate maneuvers to get what it wants. Putin wanted a weak man, not a strong woman, in the White House.

Consider a few layers of our electoral Russian nesting doll:

  • Trump’s dependence on Russian money
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair, earned millions of dollars lobbying for a Russian-friendly political party in the Ukraine, and supposedly got more than $12 million dollars in secret cash payments from Ukrainian politician
  • New reports reveal that the one of Manafort’s key business associates, whom the New York Times calls, “his right hand man in Kiev,” had ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, including during the 2016 election when that former spy was in close communication with Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates
  • Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm that sucked up 50 million Facebook users’ profiles while working for the Trump campaign, also had ties to Russia, and by the way, was launched in part by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief political strategist.

It’s no wonder that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still digging into the nested layers between Russia, Trump’s campaign, and this administration. Mueller already charged Manafort and Gates with conspiracy, money laundering and other crimes for hiding money they got for their Ukraine lobbying.

Delving into Russia’s secrets is dangerous. Icarus shows Rodchenko fleeing his country and spilling doping secrets to the New York Times, in a calculated bid to save his own life. Meanwhile, one of Rodchenko’s colleagues back in Russia dies mysteriously. The documentary notes that Russians are supposedly still searching for Rodchenkov. His future seems grim. I think of the former Russian spy and his daughter in England, poisoned with a toxic nerve agent that only Russia controls.

Putin injected poisons into our body politic, funneling money to the NRA, spreading lies, distortion and dissent with help from Facebook and  Cambridge Analytica, aided also by our own country’s toxic stew of sexism, racism and cynical political campaigning.

Russia doesn’t want its secrets revealed, be they sports doping or election tampering. Still, we  have enough evidence to know: Russia doped its athletes. Russia interfered with our election. Russia also likely meddled in the Brexit vote.  It’s as if Russia has doped the world, just as it doped its athletes.

U.S. intelligence leaders warn that Russia will again try to hack upcoming elections. Our weak president, seemingly in awe or fear of Putin, refuses to acknowledge Russia’s interference. 

Icarus chillingly showed how far Russia will go to win gold medals. We’re still learning what Russia might have done to grab the most coveted gold medal, our White House. Will our democracy be strong enough to recover from Russia’s political poisoning?

Seeing shadows of history

I stand still, counting footprints. I’m staring at a black and white photograph, footprints planted in concrete, some firm, others faded to scant shadows.

The footprints and photograph are from Manzanar, one of ten remote western U.S. sites where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. Under Franklin Roosevelt, our government forcibly removed some 120,000 Americans because of their heritage, not their actions.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-veIn 2014, Minneapolis artist John Matsunaga went to Manzanar to see where his grandfather had been locked up. Everyone in Matsunaga’s family– his mother, father, aunts and uncles– had been incarcerated. For years afterwards, the family didn’t talk about what happened. Within two years, Matsunaga visited all ten incarceration camps. “It started out as personal, and then expanded out,” he said. The 46-year-old artist began thinking about “What do people know and what do they not know about what was happening.” The trips became a kind of pilgrimage, allowing him to absorb history not just through books, but by breathing in dust in arid desert camps, bakingly hot in summer, bitingly cold in winter.

It was often a solitary exercise, “ kind of meditative, kind of sad.”  Although all the incarceration sites have some kind of federal recognition, Matsunaga said he was often the only person at a camp. “I’d think, how many people really come to see this?” Matsunaga shifted from reflecting on the past to thinking about what’s happening in the U.S. now, with government efforts to ban Muslims and other people based on their nationality. “I don’t think it’s my place to speak for Muslim Americans,” Matsunaga said, “but the restriction of civil rights has parallels in the past.”

At East Side Freedom Library, where Matsunaga’s photo exhibit is on display through February 24, he points to the footprints photograph and says, “For me, it’s about this trace, I’m showing you a presence, but it’s really showing what’s not there.”

What’s also not there are labels. Matsunaga admits he wants to frustrate viewers by not explaining his artwork with easy-to-digest labels by each photo so viewers can scan the caption and walk on. Matsunaga points out that the photos are a fine art project, his thesis at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, not a public history class. His stark photographs don’t tell any one person’s story, instead, they’re designed make people feel something– dissatisfaction, anxiety, the loss of not knowing.

The photos challenge visitors to think about what’s seen and unseen, what they know or have forgotten about a shameful period of American history. What had once made a deep impression, a solid footprint in history is worn smooth with time.

One photo shows a dilapidated wordless sign strewn on the hard-baked dirt, no clues about what the sign was meant. Another photo focuses on  the hollow shell of a collapsed baseball, stitching frayed, curled into itself, holding nothing more substantial than crumbles of dirt and gravel. The ball’s shadow is bigger than the physical object. Many of Matsunaga’s black and white images include shadows, the remains of what had been.

Matsunaga knows that in time, no one will remain who had lived in these camps. The first-hand knowledge of what happened in the incarceration will be gone, just as his grandfather, and more recently an aunt and uncle, have died. What remains will be physical remnants, shreds of signs signifying little– and our knowledge, our memories of seeing, reading, hearing, knowing how our government locked up more than 110,000 Americans not because they had committed any crime, but because of who they were.

In 1988, Congress formally acknowledged  that the incarceration was “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Given today’s political leadership, decades of wars, and ongoing racial prejudice, this sobering exhibit and three upcoming programs are  necessary viewing. The exhibit’s title bears remembering as well: Nidoto Nai Yoni, Let It Not Happen Again.

Nidoto Nai Yoni: Forgetting and Remembering the Wartime Incarceration of Japanese Americans, on display through February 24 at the East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul.

All are welcome to these upcoming East Side Freedom Library events about this exhibit:

Saturday, February 10, 1 – 3 pm, Discussion Panel, Experiences of Wartime Displacement, Dispossession, and Confinement: The Japanese American Incarceration and Beyond

Saturday, February 17, 1 – 3 pm, Artists Panel, Representing and Resisting Historical Injustices through Art

Monday, February 19, 7 – 9 pm, Film Screening and Discussion, And Then They Came for Us (2017), a film by Abby Ginzberg and Ken Schneider                               

No More Moments of Silence

Five years ago today, 20 first graders and six teachers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

So, what’s happened since Newtown? We’ve seen mass shootings in churches, movie theaters, an outdoor concert, a nightclub, a county social service office.* We’ve had a lot of moments of silence.

We don’t silence. We need change.

Tonight, I’ll go to a Protect MN workshop, No More Moments of Silence, to learn about ways people can work to prevent gun violence. The only way we can prevent gun violence is if more people demand change. So I will keep showing up at the State Legislature, keep calling and writing elected officials, keep protesting and donating.

We can’t keep ignoring gun violence, hoping it will go away, hoping our families will never be touched by gun violence.

Today, five years after Sandy Hook, we need to do something to stop gun violence. Please, please, do something. Donate. Get involved. Don’t be silent.

If we stay silent, get ready for  Tomorrow’s News, the next shooting,

Protect Minnesota

Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence

Everytown for Gun Safety

Sandy Hook Promise

*Las Vegas, 58 dead, 546 wounded at an outdoor music festival, what’s now the nation’s deadliest mass shooting, 2017

Sutherland Springs, TX, 25 dead, 20 wounded in a church shooting, 2017

Orlando, 49 dead, 58 wounded in a nightclub shooting, 2016

San Bernardino, 14 killed, 22 wounded in a county office, 2015

Charleston, SC, 9 killed in a church shooting, 2015