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My Dear Friends,

We live in an era of hatred and intolerance directed against those who do not conform to an increasingly archaic set of “norms” – White, cisgender, male, ethnically and economically privileged. This hatred is stoked by those who would elevate their own power at the expense of another human being’s dignity.
Anti-Transgender “bathroom bills” and the incredibly cruel announcement from President Trump (which could potentially start a purge from the military of well over 5000 openly transgender troops currently serving our country) serve no legitimate purpose. They protect nobody, save nothing, accomplish nothing beyond the undermining of our national security, credibility and moral authority. They exist entirely to bolster the status of politicians who view bigotry as a convenient path to power.
It is an old story, and an intolerable one. It is the story of Dixiecrats, the “Southern Strategy,” “Defense of Marriage” acts, anti-immigrant racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, continued legal discrimination against the lgbtq community, and much more; the list stretches far too long. Always the method is the same – find a vulnerable group in society, paint them as less deserving of human rights, and therefore less than human, and use them as objects to create societal division. Always the consequences are the same – violence, discord and despair – and in the extreme, genocide.
To my transgender family, friends and neighbors who are suffering today, I give you my support and my solidarity. You have been victimized, not because of who you are, but because of what you are – an easy target. It is wrong on every level, and I pledge myself to your struggle.
I am far from the only one.  I only hope you know, in this moment of suffering, the love that is yours, the support you have, and the determination with which we will continue on behalf of your dignity, your freedom, and your rights.

Please do not be silent. Tell us what you need, and we will listen. We must listen. At stake is the soul of humanity.

In faith,
Rev. Dan Schatz
and human being
photo by Tim Evanson, used with permission
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Pete Seeger once said about Woody Guthrie’s music, “Any damn fool can get complicated. It takes genius to attain simplicity.”

Saro Lynch-Thomason has written a simple song, and it’s genius.

I first heard the young Appalachian folklorist, ballad singer and songwriter last Fall at a Washington, DC area folk music retreat. In a mini-concert which featured a number of traditional and older songs, she ended with one of her own, leading the packed room in harmony.

There are more waters rising,
This I know, this I know,
There are more waters rising,
This I know.
There are more waters rising –
They will find their way to me,
There are more waters rising,
This I know, this I know,
There are more waters rising,
This I know.

As she led the crowd through verses about fires burning and mountains falling, I began to hear echoes of voices past – Jean Ritchie and others whose deeply rooted music documented the devastation brought by mountaintop removal mining, often falsely referred to as “clean coal technology.”

Then the song took a turn.
I will wade through the waters,
This I know, this I know,
I will wade through the waters,
This I know.
I will wade through the waters
When they find their way to me,
I will wade through the waters,
This I know, this I know,
I will wade through the waters,
This I know.

Saro Lynch-Thomason had not written a lament, as I originally thought, or even a warning. Hers is a song of resistance and hope. It stayed with me for a long time, and after the election last Fall, the song began to take on new meaning.

I will walk through the fires
When they find their way to me,
I will walk through the fires,
this I know….

When I finally asked Saro if she could send me a recording of her song, she did one better, creating a video for everyone to share. I thought of this song when I marched through the streets of Philadelphia the day after Inauguration, with my child beside me holding a sign that read: “March today and work everyday for justice, equality and compassion.” I remembered its words when airports filled with demonstrators, and immigration lawyers became the new heroes of the age. I heard its melody as I worked with my Unitarian Universalist congregation to reach out to immigrant communities made vulnerable by the government’s actions. Its echoes came to me as I watched the fires burn at Standing Rock. I sing it again today as we face the very real impacts of climate denial and environmental policies that place profit over responsibility.

We are all walking through fire.

There will be damage, it’s true. Many of us are learning what the people of Appalachia have known for decades – that we can’t stop all the harm done by those who act without regard for the land, the water and the people. It would be easy – too easy – to fall to hopelessness. But there is another lesson here – when the people stand strong, holding on to what is important, we can begin to repair what has been broken. We begin to make a difference simply by letting our voices be heard, and we are only beginning.

I will rebuild the mountains,
This I know, this I know,
I will rebuild the mountains,
This I know.

Saro Lynch-Thomason’s song ends as it begins –

There are more waters rising –
They will find their way to me….

– but somehow, having crossed waters and fires and rebuilt mountains, these words no longer feel like a cry of despair. Instead they are a call for resistance and resilience, an affirmation of what is possible when communities from across a country and a world come together in support of human decency. This we can and will do, although the task will be difficult. It always has been, but we will wade through these waters. We will walk through these fires. We will rebuild these mountains.

There are more waters rising!

This I know.

(This article has also been posted at The Huffington Post.)

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school-926213_1920During his victory speech following the Nevada caucuses, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump raised eyebrows and chuckles when he recounted the groups which had voted in his favor.  “We won with poorly educated,” he said.  “I love the poorly educated.”  Within twenty minutes, television pundits had picked up on this.  References started appearing on social media.  Even National Public Radio got in on the joke.

Finding humor in a candidate appearing proud of supporters’ lack of education might be understandable, but the reaction also exposed something ugly in our society.  This laughter wasn’t really directed at the candidate; it was directed at the people, revealing a grain of truth behind stereotypes of liberal intellectual elites as snobs who don’t care about ordinary folks.

Our culture conflates formal education with human worth far too often.  Degrees, especially from elite universities, become symbols of status and privilege, while people labeled “poorly educated” become targets for derision. Many fall into the trap of assuming that all education takes place in schools, or become condescending to people they believe to be “less educated.” Formal education gets confused with intelligence, leading to a worldview in which people become problems to be solved or burdens to be dealt with rather than human beings who deserve respect. However unintentional such disregard is, its effects are real, lasting, and harmful.  Whatever our political leanings, we can and should be better than this.

Of course, it is one thing to talk about love and another to show it.  A politician’s highest expression of esteem becomes patronizing and cynical when it isn’t backed up with policy. Real love requires action.

In policy terms, love in action means giving all working people a living wage, so that the kinds of jobs typically taken by people with less schooling don’t result in a lifetime of poverty. It means funding public schools fairly, so that less affluent communities aren’t victimized by generations of educational neglect. Love means increasing access to college, but it also means honoring the needs and accomplishments of those who follow other paths.

On a personal level, love means treating all people with equal regard, whatever our education and theirs. It means finding the courage to connect as equals across educational lines, gaining wisdom and insight from all kinds of life experiences. Love means letting go of the assumptions and stereotypes our culture too often promotes, along with all remnants of condescension and judgment. Love means being able to value education without undervaluing any group of people. At its most basic, love means eye contact.

We should all love one another, whatever our respective levels of education, and our love should lead us to work for a more just and equitable society.  If that can happen, we will have taken a step closer to creating the genuine community our world needs.  Perhaps the “better educated” among us might even learn a thing or two.

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