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Dear Congressional Republicans,

You’re not helping.  And you know it.

The course you are choosing through this shutdown – now the longest in history – is damaging to our country, our democracy, millions of federal workers and contractors, and millions more who depend on them.  And it’s costing the government billions.  All for the ego of Donald J. Trump.

Of course, you could stop this at any time – simply pass a funding bill and override a veto – but choose not to, perhaps for fear of being on the wrong side of a Presidential tweet, or of a primary challenge.  Satisfying your base seems to you the only way to protect your job.

It won’t, though.  The longer this shutdown drags on, the more lasting damage will be done to our country, its citizens, and our economy.  The longer you ignore your constitutional responsibility to act as a check on the President, the more the public will see and name the cowardice at the heart of your inaction.  When you are blamed for a collapsing economy, for suffering farmers, for the inevitable resuts of long term security lapses, you will find yourself discredited, out of office, and out of power.  

And for what?  A border wall?  Very few of you actually believe a wall would do much to slow illegal immigration, or that it will ever be finished if it is ever started.  So why is it?  Why are you dragging your feet?  The Senate voted to fund the government, by unanimous acclamation, before Christmas.  The House was ready to do so.  Why not do so now?

Are you waiting in the hopes that loyalty to President Trump will garner you favors?  One has only to look at the history of his “friends” to recognize that Donald Trump feels no loyalty to anyone but himself.  Are you doing it out of fear?  This situation will not end with a Presidential victory.  Sooner or later the pressures will become too great, the hungry too many, the news too awful, and you will vote to reopen the government, whatever the Presidential consequences.  Are you doing it out of principle?  You know better than most that the cost of this shutdown goes against everything you claim to stand for, and that the longer it goes on, the less secure we all are.

So I implore you – not only for the sakes of federal workers, contractors, their families, all who depend on them, our national lands, our economy, and all of us – but for your own sakes.  Stop the bleeding before it becomes fatal.  End this shutdown.  Vote to fund the government.  Stand up to a bully.  Do what you know is the right thing.

Do it for your country.  Do it for your party.  Do it for yourself.  You might even get reelected.  You’ll certainly be thanked.

Sincerely,
Dan

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As of this week, 130 migrant children taken under the cruel practice of child separation have yet to be reunited their families, and despite court orders and stated changes in policy, children continue to be taken from their families, sometimes for no reason beyond a prior immigration violation or the inability of their parents to produce a birth certificate.

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US government photo

Almost 15,000 children remain imprisoned in detention centers and camps.  Almost two dozen have died there. Others have been abused.  All have had their freedom and their childhoods stolen.  Migrant children seeking asylum have been subjected to tear gas.

But for the most part, we’ve stopped hearing about the cruel treatment of migrant children and families.  News stories have become hard to find.  It is as if, having heard it all before, the public has grown accustomed to the reality of state sponsored cruelty to children. We have stopped paying attention.  Instead, we are consumed with the ludicrous proposal to erect and maintain a wall across thousands of miles of rough terrain, and with alarmist falsehoods about terrorists coming over the southern border (they are not).

Policies that persecute migrant children are not new in the United States, but they have been taken to a new level.  We cannot allow ourselves to forget or to turn away from the pain these policies cause, or to imagine the problem is solved simply because we are not hearing about it.

This is what has been in my heart these last few weeks, and as so often happens, the words and melody of a song came to mind.  In this case it was an old song, written by Robert Lowry in 1877:

Where is my boy tonight?
Where is my boy tonight?
My heart o’er flows for I love him, he knows
Where is my boy tonight?

Over and over, those words ran through my head.  I sang them through tears, until at last I found myself adapting the old words into something quite new:

Where is my stolen child tonight
The child that I love so dear
To save his sweet life we came in flight
But they took him away in tears                                         

Chorus:
  Oh, where is my boy tonight?
  Oh where is my boy tonight?
  My heart o’er flows for I love him, he knows
  Oh, where is my boy tonight?

We came here alone, afraid and poor
My child playing at my knee
No face was as bright, no heart so pure
And none was so sweet as he

Oh, could I hold you now, my child
Six months we’ve been torn apart
Oh, could I hear your voice so mild
And heal my poor breaking heart

Bring me my stolen child tonight
Please look for him where you will
And if he should come into your sight
Tell him I love him still

  ¿Donde está mi hijo?
  ¿Donde está mi hijo?
  Se rompe mi corazón, por que lo amo
  ¿Donde está mi hijo?

On the night that President Trump declared a “crisis of the soul” at the border, I sat in my living room and recorded a simple video of this song, as a reminder to myself and others of our real crisis of the soul.

Where are the stolen children tonight?  What will we do to return them to their families? How will we change as a people because of what we have done?  How will we end the cruelty, and make sure that we are never again complicit?

Where is my boy tonight?

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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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