When is enough enough?

Turquoise and lemon, lilac and orange, rose and gold. From across the room, the pretty painted circles and shimmery ribbons bejeweled with rhinestones look sweet.

part of Melanie Bethke’s When is Enough installation

I walk closer, checking out Melanie Bethke’s vibrant art. Then I spot the shell casings. Dozens and dozens of dull brass spent shells strewn on the carpet, sprawled amid the dainty ribbons. Each casing once held a bullet. Each colorful circle holds a name and age. Benjamin Wheeler 6 yrs. Angel Luis Candelario Pedro 28 yrs. G.V. Loganathan 51 yrs. Steve Berger 44 yrs.  Alyssa Alhadeff 15 yrs.

The artwork’s  Sensible Gun Reform banner reads like a timeline of pain: Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (SC) 6-17-2015, Inland Regional Center (CA) 12-2-2015, Pulse (FL) 6-12-2016, Harvest Music Festival (NV) 10-1-2017, First Baptist Church (TX) 11-5-2017, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 2-14-2018.

Bethke’s pretty and pointed installation is on exhibit at East Side Freedom Library through October 17th, along with other political art.

Nikki McComb has been using art as a catalyst for change for almost two decades. Her black and white photos challenge viewers to think about other people’s pain. By a chain link fence puffy with Mylar balloons, stand a somber man and child. The man holds a sign, DANA WAS MY WIFE. Another photo shows four children, elementary school aged. No smiles. Each child wears a T-shirt with a big red X over a gun. Two girls hold a sign, LET ME LIVE

IMG_20181003_104123 (1)
Nikki McComb photograph

The messages in this political art show are straightforward, not subtle. When it comes to gun violence, there’s no point in being coy. As Bethke’s colorful installation proclaims, When is enough enough? NOW

Panel Discussion on Gun Violence and the Possibilities of Reform, Monday, October 15, 2018, 7:00 – 8:30 PM, East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul 55106 651-230-32946 Free and open to all.


Men in power; women will rise

Once again, the Senate is choosing to ignore a credible woman and reward an angry man.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford quietly told her painful truth, just as Anita Hill had twenty-seven years earlier. And just as Clarence Thomas lashed out in fury, so too did Brett Kavanaugh. The Senate, then and now, shrugged its shoulders, and let the bullying men have their way.

It’s likely that by Saturday, two of the six male justices on our country’s highest court will have faced credible accusations of sex harassment or assault. How supreme is that?

The Senate is siding with Kavanaugh to cement Republican judicial power for decades. This morning’s vote to move Kavanaugh one step closer to his dream job is the Senate’s way of telling women we don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if a man tries to rape us. It doesn’t matter if a man exposes himself to us. It doesn’t matter if a man lies to Congress. He matters. We don’t.

But women will remember.

Next month, we will remember this craven Senate when we vote in the midterms. Two years from now, we will remember this shoddy Senate and the wretched president who mocked Dr. Ford when we vote in the presidential election. The 2020 election will mark the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. The vote is our voice. Men in power, in the Senate and in the White House, have chosen to ignore our voices now. Kavanaugh’s victory will be Pyrrhic.

The men who hold power now, the men try to mute and mock women’s voices, they will hear our vote.

And women will rise.

Dear Judge Kavanaugh, about my abortion

Dear Judge Kavanaugh,

Like you, I am a parent of two. I saw your wife and daughters at your confirmation hearing, and I thought about my husband and sons.

Sixteen years ago, when our boys were young, I chose to have an abortion, I’m going public about what had been a private family decision because of you.

I’m driven by a sober sense of urgency, fearing that your impending confirmation will tip the Supreme Court and lead to restrictions or a ban on abortion. I worry some states will severely curtail abortion. I’m writing you because I believe every woman, regardless of what state she lives in or how much money she has, should be able to decide whether to continue or end her pregnancy.

Too often, we who choose abortion keep our decision quiet. I want you to hear stories of ordinary women like me who have had abortions. My story isn’t dramatic. I wasn’t at risk of death. I hadn’t been raped. I chose abortion because I didn’t want to have another child.

When I got pregnant at age 41, I knew immediately I would abort. I’d had two miscarriages before our sons were born. I understood pregnancy and parenthood.

For years, I had wanted a bigger family, a daughter. Now, I — the third of five children– didn’t want a third child. I told my husband I wanted an abortion.

He paused. “Are you sure?”

“I’ll support whatever you want to do, and I know it’s your choice, but are you sure?”  he asked.

Even now, sixteen years later, I remember the conversation, the two of us, a stable middle-class, white married couple, getting ready for bed, talking. Our sons asleep in the bedroom next door.

“Yes,” I said, “I’m certain.”

I did not want this fifth pregnancy. My mind flashed through scenes of diapers, high chairs, potty-training, playgrounds, preschool, all the stages we’d walk with another child. I would be 47 years old with a kindergartner; 59 years old at high school graduation. It wasn’t the family I wanted. I knew what being a mother means, and knew I didn’t want to do the work of parenting a third child.

The next day, we booked an appointment at Planned Parenthood.

At our local Saint Paul clinic, by the library we frequented with our sons, my husband and I sat quietly in a modest waiting room. I went through the initial check-up and tests. We scheduled the abortion before we left.

The same month, we went back to the clinic. Men aren’t allowed in the medical rooms, so my husband stayed in the waiting room. I don’t remember the actual abortion. The clinic visit went quickly, smoothly. Afterwards, we spent a peaceful afternoon playing and reading with our sons when they came home from school. I remember looking at our boys, thankful for our family. Two parents, two kids.

Over the years, my husband and I embraced the family we have. We are complete. I began volunteering for Planned Parenthood, outside the clinic where I had my abortion. With fellow volunteers, I greeted and escorted patients, buffering them from protesters, just as others had done for me.

This year, once again I stood outside Planned Parenthood, a more modern facility that replaced the small clinic that helped me. On a brisk winter Saturday, I marched amid hundreds of other pro-choice women, men, and their children, many clad in pink, a cheery and vocal counter to a much smaller, muted anti-abortion protest.

Amid the multitude of pinks, I spotted my 25-year-old niece, smiling and bright-eyed, walking with her boyfriend and other friends. I thought about her, wondering if in a few years, she and other women will still have the right to choose when and whether to have a family.

I don’t know if any of my nieces would ever need or want an abortion. Who knows if someday, someone you know, perhaps even one of your daughters, would need or want an abortion. Will a future Supreme Court prevent women from getting what is now a safe and legal procedure?

Your nomination compels me to speak. I can’t stay silent, just hoping that other women will still be free to choose what happens with their bodies. By going public, I’m exposing myself to potential criticism, and perhaps, worse. At 41, I trusted myself to make the right choice. At 57, I trust myself to share this story, hoping it might help others– my nieces, maybe women my sons will love– to have the choice I had.

Becoming a parent is an immense responsibility, too significant to leave to chance. Parenthood should be an intentional decision. I had a choice. Every woman should have that choice. Abortion is not a political football, it’s a personal decision that women need to be able to make for themselves.

The next time you consider a case involving abortion, perhaps you will think of me, a married mother who loves her children, and chose not to have another.


Kate Havelin

The saddest nine words

Losing Earth is more than a magazine story. It’s our story, the story of what’s happening to our home. We can’t ignore it.

The cover was black, with a barely visible dark gray masthead. All that stood out were nine simple words.

“Thirty years ago, we could have saved the planet.”

That sentence sums up the cover story– the only story– in the August 1st issue of The New York Times Magazine.

I didn’t read Nathaniel Rich’s Losing Earth when it was first published. I thought I knew about climate change.

Weeks later, on a westbound flight to LA, I started reading. There’s no one shocking revelation; instead, like a thorough detective, Rich spent 18 months doing more than 100 interviews, documenting a worldwide tragedy.

Losing Earth focuses on a decisive decade, 1979 to 1989, when people could have controlled global warming. It’s a riveting whodunnit, only it’s a who didn’t do it. Who didn’t act to prevent our world from getting too hot. It’s not an expose of one party or one politician. There’s enough blame for all of us.

Presidents as far back as LBJ knew about climate change. Exxon knew. Even four decades ago, the key facts of global warming were out there. We knew that the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer our planet becomes.

Rich’s narrative reads like a horror story. If it was a movie, we in the audience would shout warnings, “Run, get out of the house, save yourself.”

Scientist James Hansen, one of the people Rich profiles, tried to warn us what climate change could do. He testified to Congress, used simple props to make his case to the public, and advised top government officials about the looming danger. Hansen told us that even a two degree Celsius rise in global temperatures would be a long-term disaster.

Most of us didn’t listen. We didn’t demand our leaders act. The epilogue notes that economics, “prices the future at a discount: the farther out you project, the cheaper the consequences.” Climate change always seemed to be down the road, not right in front of us.

And so it seems like humanity flunked the marshmallow test, the experiment where little kids got to pick whether they wanted one treat right away, or two treats if they could wait, say fifteen minutes. That famous Stanford experiment found that kids who could delay gratification, who could wait 15 minutes for two marshmallows rather than getting one marshmallow right away, tended to had better lives, higher SATs, and education levels, etc.

When it comes to climate change, we humans couldn’t look ahead. We held tight to the one marshmallow we had– our comfortable way of life, filling our cars with gas, heating our homes with coal, instead of being patient and working toward a future with better outcomes– two marshmallows of a livable world in the future.

“Thirty years ago, we could have saved the planet.”

We didn’t act. Now, we are seeing the damage. We’re seeing more extreme weather, more floods, more droughts, more wildfires. George Steinmetz’s Losing Earth photos are disaster panoramas. They could be Exhibit A, documenting the crime scenes of climate change.

A new draft U.N. report suggests that Earth’s temperatures will almost certainly exceed 1.5 Celsius by the 2040s.

It’s hard to ignore the evidence that climate change is here. We can’t escape what’s happening in front of us. Losing Earth is the biography of our home. It’s our story.

Standing with Muslims against hate

Last year at this time, I was standing on a Bloomington football field with 800 other Minnesotans, after our state’s largest mosque, Dar Al Farooq Community Center, had been firebombed. Minnesotans showed up en masse, sending a clear message that we stand with our Muslim neighbors and won’t tolerate violence against them.

Last week, another mosque was hit. Vandals spray-painted the Islamic Institute of Minnesota’s Al-Salam mosque with hateful graffiti. As far as I know, no crowds rallied outside the Maplewood mosque. I didn’t show up.

Muslims — in Minnesota and around the U.S.– need to know we stand with them. So what can we do? We can help CAIR-MN, the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Continue reading “Standing with Muslims against hate”

After Philando: Have protests changed?

Two years after a police officer fatally shot Philando Castile, the protests, pain, anger and backlash continue to reverberate.

A quick recap:

IMAG4725Within hours of Castile’s killing, Gov. Mark Dayton told a crowd outside the Governor’s Mansion he didn’t think Castile would have been shot at a traffic stop if he had been white. Police union officials and some Republican lawmakers assailed Dayton for what they called his rush to judgement.

Within days, protesters blocked Interstate 94; more than a hundred were arrested; dozens charged with misdemeanor riot. Later in July, another 70 protesters were arrested for continuing to occupy space outside the Governor’s Mansion.

The Science Museum posted a small sign honoring Philando Castile by its “RACE: Are We So Different” exhibit, and critics slammed the museum for “taking sides.” The museum promptly removed the sign.

For the past two years, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed bills increasing penalties on protesters with fines of up to $1,000 and a year in jail. Governor Dayton vetoed those bills, which the ACLU-MN testified would have chilled Minnesotans’ rights to protest.

Now, the ACLU-MN is appealing one protester’s misdemeanor public nuisance conviction. Some protesters arrested outside the Governor’s Mansion are still awaiting trial.

Minneapolis Institute of Art Philando exhibit

In the two years since Diamond Reynolds live-streamed Philando’s last moments, many community members have worked to learn and heal. This month, the Minneapolis Institute of Art is showcasing an exhibit, “Art and Healing: In the Moment,” featuring posters, paintings, sculpture, video and a mural focused on Philando Castile and how his killing has touched people.

While the community works to heal, protests about racial injustice and many other issues have swelled — as have the angry reactions to those protesting. From the controversy over crowd size at the anti-inaugural protests to this month’s Families Belong Together, each demonstration seems to trigger a counter-protest, a continuing volley of action and then re-action.

Recently, after Rep. Maxine Waters encouraged protesters to challenge Cabinet officials anytime they show up at restaurants, shops or other public places, Waters faced a torrent of opposition. The president insulted her; conservatives alleged she was inciting mob violence. Leaders of her own party refused to back her up, and op-eds and calls for ‘civility’ have mushroomed.

What does civility mean in an era of repeated attacks on civil rights, and our country’s Constitution? Since Philando’s killing and this divisive president, have people become more or less tolerant of protest? More or lessing willing to take to the street in protest?

East Side Freedom Library will host a discussion with civil rights activists on how Philando’s killing has influenced protesters, police, courts, and Minnesota. All welcome to hear and talk with ACLU-MN’s Legal Director Teresa Nelson and Saint Paul and Saint Paul’s Community-First Public Safety Initiatives Director Jason Sole.

After Philando: Have Protests Changed?

​Tuesday, July 10, 2018, 7:00 – 8:30 PM

East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, Saint Paul 55106

In defense of dirt: Keep river bottom trails unpaved

Perched by a megamall, light rail station and airport, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge lives up to its name, a refuge from the made world of cars, trains, planes and buildings.

On a slow Sunday afternoon, I meandered for hours on natural trails along the refuge’s river bottomlands. Gravel crunched underfoot. My sneakers landed softly on the padding of dirt and mud. Beyond expanses of wetlands and tall grass, I spied gleaming high rises and heard planes thrumming overhead. On the dirt trails, I felt at home in the world of nature.

For now, at least.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plans to add paved trails, constructing a 10-foot-wide swath of concrete that will eventually snake from the refuge visitor center to the Bloomington Ferry Bridge. Other parts of the refuge, from Shakopee to Chaska, are already paved.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YNot every place in the world should be paved. Take, for example, river bottoms. They’re naturally absorbent, soaking up excess water from high rivers and heavy rains. Paving river bottom trails is akin to paving a sponge. It’s June, and the DNR website notes that several sections of the trail –paved and unpaved– are still closed due to spring flooding. The unpaved sections can dry out, naturally. The paved sections, after repeated flooding, will need repaving.

I went to the river bottoms to walk in nature, on natural trail. The wide dirt and gravel trail accommodated walkers, bikers and runners. I passed signs for a disabled hunter area. Just ahead of me, I saw a young boy, jumping across the trail in muddy boots. On this sunny day, he didn’t need those boots back home on paved sidewalks. Here in the refuge, those boots outfitted him for adventure.

In seven-plus miles of walking, my sneakers barely got muddy. Instead of jumping in puddles, I enjoyed the puddles while staying dry, appreciating their mirror-like sheen, and the splash of a robin, taking a dip mid-trail.  

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YAs I walked, I noticed animal tracks on the trail — deer, frog, turkey and, hmm, are those raccoon prints? Along unpaved trail, it’s easy to see signs of nature. A hoof print caught my eye, and only then did I notice that a few inches away, a frog hunched, camouflaged, in a shallow divot in the dirt. The brown and gray of the trail blended with the frog, just as the dirt trail complemented the murky Minnesota River flowing alongside. Wildlife, trail and river fit together, naturally.

Walking on, I spotted a deer in the glade just north of the trail, eying me, just as I had observed the frog. The deer and I stood and watched one another, then I meandered on, moving easily, stepping on dirt, pebbles, twigs and leaves. I felt nature underfoot. Every step I took connected me to nature; my sneaker landing on and pushing off of dirt.

This refuge in Bloomington offers a retreat from the developed world. While some Minnesotans head north, fleeing the city for cabins, many others, including me, find respite from sidewalks and the paved world at this refuge. We seek out natural places because they are natural, not paved. The dirt underfoot is as essential as air, as necessary as rain.

We need a place to walk and run, bike and play, away from the paved world. The river is a refuge. Natural trails are a refuge.

Please, please, don’t pave this refuge.

The DNR is hosting two open houses for the public to hear and talk about the paved trail plans on:

Thursday, June 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bloomington Public Works Building , 1700 W. 98th St., Bloomington;

Wednesday, July 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bloomington Civic Plaza , City Council Chambers, 1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington.