When Home Won’t Let You Stay

I saw their faces at the library last week. Minnesotans born in Myanmar, Iraq, Somalia, and Laos.  The boy in a football T-shirt who played in the mud in a refugee camp and now plays soccer here. The young woman whose dream is to get a job so she can begin taking care of the parents who carried her on their backs when they fled Myanmar.

Those refugee stories are part of compelling exhibit by Winona photographer James A. Bowey. The exhibit’s title sticks in my mind.

When Home Won’t Let You Stay.

Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Our government is telling young people who were born elsewhere but have spent much of their lives here that they may not be able to stay.

When Home Won’t Let You Stay.

Today, people around country will rise up, rallying for young undocumented people going to school and working here, young people who consider this country their only home. We will defend 11 million Dreams.

I think of stories of people whose pictures I saw at the library– Mohanad, Dissel, Ahmay, Eh, Bway, Yatha, Zaina– people forced to flee their homes.

Sawlwin, forced to leave Myanmar, told photographer James A. Bowey that, “A refugee is someone who cannot depend on anyone.”

Leng, forced to leave Laos, told the photographer that, “My English is not good. I don’t have much friends. But I can get my children a better life.”

How many parents struggled to get here so their kids could have a better life? Today, our government announced plans to close the door on thousands of young people.

When Home Won’t Let You Stay.

What you can do to Let Dreamers Stay.

https://dreamacttoolkit.org/

Tell your senator to co-sponsor DACA

Robert Reich’s myths & facts about immigration

 

 

 

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Stories rise up at East Side Freedom Library

Anchored firmly on the corner of Greenbrier and Jessamine Streets, this brick and mortar Beaux Arts building looks traditional, even staid.

Step inside, and you’ll see and hear a vigorous world of faces and stories, more lefty than stuffy. I hear the urgency of ardent voices– union organizers, community activists, and immigrant neighbors– demanding their stories be heard.

Funded by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, this library, built in 1917, a year of revolution, reverberates with robust stories.

A blue sign proclaims, “Rebellion to Tyrants, Democracy for Workers.” Posters hang like fresh laundry, an open-air display of the issues of the day: “PHILANDO MATTERS,” “CLERGY STANDING WITH STANDING ROCK,” “RESISTANCE IS IMPERATIVE,” “WE STAND TOGETHER.”

IMG_20170809_155245The walls and stairwell shine with vivid murals of Minnesotans: Immigrants from Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central America, along with African Americans, building a community here on the East Side.

The library’s collection of books, art, music and other items highlight peoples whose stories and songs have often been ignored by traditional history books and libraries.

An East Sider couple, labor historian Peter Rachleff and theater and dance professor Beth Cleary, transformed the old Arlington Hills Branch Library into this theater of stories. When Saint Paul opened the new Arlington Hills branch nearby in 2014, Rachleff and Cleary’s nonprofit signed a 15-year lease for this space and launched the East Side Freedom Library. The lease is $1 a year, but it costs $1,200 a month just to maintain lights and heat.

The old building bristles with the energy and heat of activism. This library is more non-conformist than conventional. None of the 18,000 books filling the tall wood shelves can be checked out. Instead, the public are invited to use the books and other research materials here. This is a community space, with movies and weaving, meditation and meetings, including a union job fair.

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A crowded Lemonade and Listening session with elected officials at East Side Freedom Library

One recent rainy afternoon, the library was standing room only. More than 150 people wedged in for a Lemonade and Listening session with U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum and local legislators. Stories rang out.

An Iraq War veteran asked McCollum why the VA won’t provide health care for trans people. People talked about climate change, water quality, net neutrality and the healthcare marketplace. McCollum told people they had collective power about health care and other issues. “You have a voice,” she reminded the audience. “That is powerful. The fact that you showed up, spoke out, wrote out…”

An angry man interrupted the congresswoman, outshouting all other voices—disrupting the session until eventually, collective voices won out, and the listening session resumed, with talk about pipelines, broadband, Islamophobia and the need for unity.

Rep. Tim Mahoney joked, “Mr. Carnegie is rolling in his grave…”  about the pro-union, left-wing views of this Freedom space. Managers at the Carnegie Steel Corporation triggered the bloody 1892 Homestead strike. Carnegie emigrated to the U.S. from Scotland at age 13 with his family and became one of the 19th century’s richest businessmen then spent years giving away most of his wealth, launching more than 2,000 libraries, along with what’s now Carnegie-Mellon University, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

IMG_20170809_154716So perhaps it’s fitting that the immigrant tycoon’s traditional library is home to stories of other immigrants. The Freedom Library’s collections include the African diaspora and Hmong Archives. The library organizes monthly Neighbors meet Neighbors sessions. This month, Somalis shared their stories, history and culture. In September, Karen immigrants take the stage.

On summer Tuesdays, I’ve had the joy of sitting in this library of stories, finding my own words, then sharing lunch and conversation with fellow women writers. We’ve sat on the steps outside, talking about our work, families, places we’ve been and want to visit. Next week, we’ll read from our summer’s work.

One afternoon, a construction worker repairing alley potholes stopped by. His crewmates took their lunch break in the truck parked in the library’s tranquil shade. He made himself at home by us, each woman with our organic veggies and fruit packed in re-usable containers. He started talking, telling his opinions about city projects and politics. We hadn’t invited him, he just came. Needing to talk, a blue-collar worker saying what was on his mind, on the steps of a community library that embraces so many stories.

This brawny building is packed with stories of people, their voices rising up.

 

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.”