Hearing the sirens

Talking about the weather, and race

Next Wednesday, July 5th, at noon, sirens will blare, piercing Minnesota skies with sharp warnings of impending danger, severe storms and all manner of natural and unnatural disasters, from toxic leaks to power plant failures.

Minnesotans know the drill, literally, about extreme weather. We can handle droughts, floods, straight-line winds, sub-zero and triple-digit temps. We’ve got basements for shelter from tornadoes, cold weather rules blocking utilities from shutting off heat and community cooling centers so people won’t overheat. Our phones beep updates about volatile storms.

We know what to do about weather.

We don’t know what to do about race.

Philando shrineNext Thursday, July 6th, marks one year since Philando Castile was killed. To many white people like me, the killing seemed shockingly out of the blue, a sudden squall that couldn’t be predicted. The jury’s verdict almost two weeks ago seemed nearly as stunning. The dash cam video shows Saint Anthony Park Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez shooting seven shots into a parked car with a 4-year-old in the backseat. Diamond Reynolds’ livestreamed Facebook video shows her boyfriend, Philando Castile, bleeding out. We watched a man dying in his car, and the man who shot him walked free.

Philando’s killing and the jury’s verdict weren’t fluke eruptions that came out of nowhere. Police killings and police not-guilty findings are as commonplace as summer rains. A day before Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando, two cops in Baton Rouge shot and killed Alton Sterling while they were holding him down. The day after a Minnesota jury found Officer Yanez not guilty in Philando’s killing, a Wisconsin jury found an ex-cop not guilty of killing Sylville Smith, a black man who was seen on video throwing his gun away, with his hands near his head.

How can we ignore the torrents of racism that have drenched our country? We knew about Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and so many others. The casualties mount, still many people—white people– refuse to hear the alarms. People of color can’t ignore the warnings. They live buffeted by sometimes deadly cyclones of racism while whites carry on comfortably in our bubble, shielded by invisible umbrellas, an unacknowledged wall of whiteness between us and reality.

The fact is, we own racism just as surely as we own climate change. Humans have spread greenhouse gasses along with far more toxic waves of hate and fear. Yet many of us just duck our heads, ignoring the inconvenient truth of racism. Continue reading “Hearing the sirens”

Thank you, Mrs. Larzelere

A belated thank-you to teachers

In the shadow of downtown, as I walked toward an urban park, a Great Blue Heron flew past me. I stopped on the sidewalk overpass, mesmerized. Once again, I had seen a big gray bird, the talisman I’ve looked up to for most of my life.

I thank Mrs. Judy Larzelere for that. Every heron I see carries me back to junior high.

IMG_20170607_101249During a unit of regional New England writers, Mrs. Larzelere assigned our eighth grade American Studies class The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories, by Sarah Orne Jewett. We read bigger names, including Thoreau, yet it’s Jewett’s modest characters that have stayed with me for decades. In “The White Heron,” a 10-page story, I met Sylvia, a shy girl who safeguards a heron’s nest, forgoing a bounty that would have benefited her poor family. Every heron reminds me of that lonely country child and the teacher who introduced us.

In this season of high school graduations, with Pomp and Circumstance wafting through the air, I figure it’s time to say a proper thank you to Mrs. Larzelere and the many the teachers whose lessons I carry.

Teachers teach and sometimes, students learn, yet neither teachers nor students can know which lessons will take hold, shaping lives. Sometimes, the lessons sink in long after the final grades are entered, the graduation robes returned.

It’s been forty-three years since I sat in Mrs. Larzelere’s Haverford Junior High class, reading regional New England writers, stories that seemed a world apart from my suburban Philadelphia life. Yet Mrs. Larzelere and Sylvia made me want to see the herons in this world. Continue reading “Thank you, Mrs. Larzelere”

Good government fantasies: Where have you gone, Jed Bartlet?

 

Sixty days into a turbulent presidency, I’ve found solace in re-runs.

The West Wing offers respite from chaos. Many nights, I shield myself from my phone— banishing Facebook and breaking news—then indulge in old odes to good government.

When the series premiered in 1999, after President Clinton’s ugly impeachment and acquittal, the show presented a reassuring portrait of White House staffers, who were passionate about politics and public service.

Some episodes help me sleep. Some make me gasp.

My mind replays an episode about secrets and truth, and what happens when a president misleads the public. Continue reading “Good government fantasies: Where have you gone, Jed Bartlet?”

Four Ways to Prevent a Tainted Presidency

In five days, December 19th, the Electoral College is expected to elect Donald Trump president.

The Russians hacked our election. Putin shouldn’t decide who gets the White House. The Electoral College was created to safeguard the presidency from dangerous and unqualified candidates, including those who are  not independent from foreign powers. Newsweek Trump’s foreign business deals jeopardize US

Unless you are among the 538 electors who will cast a ballot on Monday, you may feel powerless to stop Trump’s tainted presidency. Think again.

Here are four things we can do, right now.

  1. CALL President Obama, Congress and governors to demand that electors get the information they need. Ask Obama to declassify the CIA report about Russian hacking so electors can get intelligence briefings. Over 50 Dem electors call for intelligence briefing  White House 202-456-1111; Sen. Franken 202-224-5641; Sen. Klobuchar 202-224-3244; Gov. Dayton 651-201-3400
  2. ASK our state and national Attorneys General  to postpone the Electoral College vote until there’s a complete investigation about Russia’s role in our election and Trump’s ties to Russia and other countries. U.S. Attorney General 202-514-2000, comment line is press 4; MN Attorney General 651-296-3353.
  3. SHOW Electors we are watching. Groups including  Hamilton Electors and Stop Trump + Defend Democracy are planning vigils and statehouse events nationwide for December 18 and 19.
  4. BELIEVE in democracy. Believe that we, the people, have the right and the responsibility to shape our country we want. From the Boston Tea Party to Black Lives Matter, Americans have shown amazing fortitude to stand up against intense powers, be they a British king or homegrown white supremacists. Already, more electors are standing up to protect our country against an unfit leader. More electors will vote against Trump

Whatever the outcome of the Electoral College, I will stand up for what our country should be. I’ll continue to listen, read and be informed; to make phone calls, write letters, stand up and speak out for what is right, and protest what is wrong. We, the people, have power. Now is the time to use it. Now.

“The Founding Fathers intended the Electoral College to stop an unfit man from becoming President. The Constitution they crafted gave us this tool. Conscience demands that we use it.”  — The Hamilton Electors

Can the Electoral College save America?

3 big reasons why electors should reject Trump

Today, class, let’s talk about the Electoral College– this election may not be a done deal.  At least ten Electoral College electors have said they’ll use their votes to prevent a Donald Trump presidency.

Here’s a few numbers you need to know about this bizarre and rancorous presidential election:

538 Electoral College electors will cast their votes on December 19th

270 Electoral votes are needed to become president

306: Trump’s expected electoral vote count, based on the Nov 8 election

232 : Clinton’s expected electoral vote count, based on the Nov 8 election (Clinton leads the popular vote by 2.6 million votes, but in this election, the popular vote doesn’t determine who becomes president.)

So, it looks like Trump’s got the numbers to win, right? Probably, but, here’s a few more numbers:

37 Republican electors would have to reject Trump for him to drop below the 270 needed votes.

1 Electoral College elector, Art Sisneros, resigned, saying Trump is “not biblically qualified to serve in the office of the Presidency.”

9 Electoral College electors have publicly said they’ll vote for a compromise candidate, although today, Gov. John Kasich said he doesn’t want electors to write in his name.

This week, Christopher Suprun, a Texas Republican elector, wrote a New York Times op-ed explaining why he won’t vote for Trump. Suprun notes that Electoral College electors need to determine if candidates are:

  1. Independent from foreign influence
  2. Not engaged in demagogy
  3. Qualified

Suprun and others, including eight Democratic electors who say they’ll vote for a compromise candidate, say Trump fails all three criteria. More about the big three reasons electors should not vote for Trump:

  1. FOREIGN INFLUENCE?

Trump himself mentioned what he called  “a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul.”

Check out The Atlantic’s comprehensive list of Trump’s foreign conflicts.

  1. DEMOGOGUE?

The dictionary defines a demagogue “a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power”

Prejudices? Check. “Mexicans are rapists.”

False claims? Check. “Climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.”

False promises? Check. “I’m going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.”

  1. QUALIFIED?

Trump’s foreign conflicts and blatant demagogy should disqualify him from leading our country. Add to that his thin-skinned temper which could trigger a war. More than four dozen Republican former national security and foreign policy officials signed a letter warning that Trump would be a “dangerous” president.  Check out Kathleen Parker’s op-ed today.

I’ll give the last words to the Hamilton Electors, a group of Democratic electors from Colorado and Washington state who are urging their fellow electors to use the power of the Electoral College as it was designed—as a safeguard against danger: “The Founding Fathers intended the Electoral College to stop an unfit man from becoming President. The Constitution they crafted gave us this tool. Conscience demands that we use it.”  

 

 

Fireside story time, the secrets of the trees

Winter’s here, time to curl up by the fire and listen to a guy who spent his life looking up at trees.

tree-book-coverRobert Penn’s quirky and personal book, The Man Who Made Things out of Trees, tells the story of one ash tree, felled and turned into arrows, bowls, spoons, tent pegs, canoe paddles, catapults, dominoes, axe handles, a desk, and paneling. This isn’t a quaint catalogue of wooden goods. It’s a crackerjack story of the world, as seen through one kind of tree.

Penn’s life-long love affair with trees animates his stories, which are chockful of deft details, such as:

  • “Ash is pinkish white and disturbingly like human skin when freshly sawn.”
  • Irish mythology includes ash in a trilogy of sacred trees believed to have healing powers. During the Potato Famine, before setting sail for America, emigrants whittled chips from an ash tree in County Cork as protection against drowning.
  • Ash was known as the ‘sportsmen’s wood,’ and used for everything from cricket stumps, hockey and lacrosse sticks, tennis racquets, croquet mallets, baseball bats, skis, snowshoe frames and gymnastic parallel bars.

Penn introduces readers to craftspeople, broadening his saga, like the rings of a tree. Starting from his home in South Wales, he visits various English woods and woodshops, an Austrian Alps toboggan maker, then onward to Ireland to see an epic hurling game and a $2500 bicycle frame made of ash, and eventually to a Pennsylvania sawmill that’s produced more than 100 million baseball bats.

tom-mareschall-4
Tom Mareschall checks one of his handcrafted arrows

Each chapter frames a new woodworker, from the lumberjack who fells Penn’s ash to a fourth-generation wheelwright, making wooden wheel rims just as his mother, father, grandfather and great grandfather did, to an eccentric fletcher, the traditional term for an arrow maker. Arrows, Penn writes, were known as the Devil’s Finger. Reading his crackling chronicles of medieval longbowmen and archery battles, I can hear arrows zinging.

Along the way, Penn sprinkles little asides, seeds that may take root in a reader’s imagination, like the mention of shinrin-yoku, what Japanese people call forest-bathing, going for a walk in ancient woods

Penn’s engaging anecdotes got me thinking about trees I’ve loved. From a neighbor’s walnut tree that Uncle John transformed into a wall of rich dark paneling in my childhood bedroom, to a pretty fringed paper birch that caught my eye the first time I saw my house in Saint Paul. Copper birch borers killed that tree, just as emerald ash borers are decimating tens of millions of ashes, like the weakened specimens shedding branches and limbs on my block.

img_20161129_130442Soon, my street, Ashland Avenue, will be ash free. In time, all the ash trees may be history. Seeds of new trees will spring up, spreading canopies that some child will gaze up at in wonder, daydreaming about the secrets of nature and our world.

Robert Penn grew up playing under an ash tree that he remembers as “the gatekeeper to my dreams.” His book has spurred me to look at trees and see more.

Find out more about Rob Penn

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a 55-year-old kindergartner

Donald Trump’s election and Philando Castile’s death have made me realize how little I know.

I’m 55 years old, and I feel like a kindergartener, just beginning to learn about the world I live in. So, what am I doing now? I’m starting to learn, just like a kindergartener, about the world I live in and what I can do about it.

I need to learn how to work with others, those who aren’t like me, who are a different race, ethnicity, religion, country of origin, or gender identity. The first thing I need to learn about is my own bias and racism. I’ve got a lot to learn, a lot to do.

WHAT TO DO:

Tonight, I’m going to hear about a new coalition in Minneapolis, United in Love & Action: A Response to Hate, Bigotry and Misogyny

Tomorrow, I’m going to an Immigrant Solidarity March March! United vs Trump, Solidarity w/Immigrants)

I’ll keep going to the periodic conversations started by community group, Falcon Heights We Can Do Better, that began after Philando Castile was fatally by a police officer in Falcon Heights. At last week’s conversation about implicit bias, moderator Dr. Nadarajan (Raj) Sethuraju got the mostly white audience to talk about our own bias.

I still haven’t gotten to a Standing Up for Racial Justice meeting, but they’re on my list.  SURJ

SURJ resources include how to talk about race at Thanksgiving

Thinking and talking to other whites about race may be the most important thing we whites can do. Whites were the single biggest group to vote for Trump. We need to talk.

Scared about talking about race? Check out Jay Smooth’s TEDX Hampshire College talk, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race.

What else can you do? Be intentional about how you spend your money.

I’m joining the December 5th Injustice Boycott. Organized by New York Daily News senior justice writer Shaun King, this will be a nationwide consumer protest against police brutality, racial violence and systemic injustice in America.

Some people are also boycotting the Trumps’ businesses.

I’m trying to go to expand my world, to go more places where I am not in the majority, to see and understand more of the world we live in.

Check out the Somali Museum in Minneapolis, which may be the world’s only museum devoted to Somali culture.

Stop for coffee at Golden Thyme Coffee in Saint Paul

Eat lunch or dinner or order holiday catering at Breaking Bread in North Minneapolis, Afro Deli in Minneapolis or Saint Paul. CHeck out some of the many great Asian or Mexican restaurants along University Avenue in Saint Paul and Lake Street  and Eat Street in Minneapolis.

TO READ:

A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota This compilation, edited by Sun Yung Shin

MARCH, this graphic novel trilogy by Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell is absolutely worth reading. A National Book Award winner.

The Warmth of Other Suns, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner by Isabel Wilkinson

Green Card Youth Voices won a Gold Medal Award for Best Multicultural Nonfiction Chapter Book, from the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards

Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine (I’m reading this award-winning book now)

The Latecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, Kao Kalia Yang (on my list)

Anishinaabe Syndicated: A View From the Rez, Jim Northrup

Rez Life David Treuer (on my list)

Intent vs. Impact: Why Your Intentions Don’t Really Matter, Jamie Utt, Everyday Feminism

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, The National Seed Project

The Case for Reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

Standing Rock Syllabus

Movement for Black Lives platform

I know I’m just starting to learn to see the world as it is. I’m learning.

And I’m taking to heart what Jay Smooth said in his TEDX Hampshire College talk. Prejudice isn’t like tonsils — you can’t get your prejudice taken out once and be done with it. Instead, prejudice is like little pockets of plaque that need daily brushing and flossing. I brush my teeth every day, it’s habit, and I need to get in the habit of thinking about prejudice every day.

Want more?

TO WATCH:

13th, Ava DuVernay documentary about the 13th Amendment. Watch it!

We Should All be Feminists TEDX, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I also loved her  The Danger of the Single Story)

Silence Isn’t Always Golden TEDX, Kat Morgan

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Loved Discussing Race TEDX , Jay Smooth

Black History Mini Docs these 90-second mini docs, will whet your appetite for more depth.

TO SUPPORT:

Starting with local groups–

MicroGrants offers strategic $1,000 loans to low-income people of potential in Minneapolis.

Support Louis Hunter.  More than 200 people have been arrested in the Twin Cities protesting the killing of Philando Castile. Philando’s cousin, Louis Hunter, is the only protester who has been charged with a felony. Louis is facing up to ten years in jail.

International Institute of Minnesota works with refugees and immigrants, helping them get resettled and launch their new lives in Minnesota

Green Card Voices uses digital storytelling to share immigrants’ first-hand stories

Behind the Blue Line is an interview and photography project that shares real stories of police brutality, abuse and misuse of power in Minnesota.

Standing Rock Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

ACLU and MN-ACLU

Southern Poverty Law Center

TO FOLLOW:

Shaun King, senior justice writer, New York Daily News

Movement for Black Lives

(Photo credit for the crayon photo:  Aaron Burden)