Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Continuing to Follow Events in Ferguson

It's hard to completely put the events unfolding in Ferguson, MO out of my mind.  Of course, I'm very concerned with the effects of the police/highway patrol/National Guard response to the protesters, especially the lack of respect shown for Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of the Press.

Several journalists have been jailed - just for doing their jobs.  You can read the vivid account of the experience of Ryan Deveraux a reporter for The Intercept.  There is also a page that is keeping track of journalists arrested in Ferguson. 

Marcy Wheeler has written a great article on the op-ed article of Attorney Gen. Holder.

In the comments in the Intercept article you'll see I posted a poem:

On Ferguson

Unfolding, streaming before the nation, the world

The choking fog of tear gas

         revealing the shamelessness of arrogance

The blaring shrieks of sound canons

         seeking to drown the voices raised in indignation

The sobering display of armored force prowling the streets

mocking such ideals as free assembly and free press

The continuing disrespect shown

         by those who are supposed to protect and serve (not profile)

The burning wound of a mother’s anguish

which cannot so easily be anesthetized

It stays raw, demanding our attention

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Summer's Carol, Part 2

Continuing from yesterday's beginning... Our heroine Jill has been visited by the spirits of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Sen. Frank Church...

Jill's respite only lasted a few moments, however, before she was roused by the sound of an acoustic guitar.
She sat up and saw the second of the promised apparitions, a man in t-shirt and jeans, appearing on the same chair by her closet as had the spirit of Sen. Church. She knew who this was. “You’re John Lennon – er – his spirit, anyway.” she said.

“Right you are, and for that you win – a free carton of Strawberry Fields ice cream.” the ghost replied.

Jill had to laugh. She strained to hear all the notes he was playing and he began singing “Merry Xmas (War is Over).”

“You know,” he said, stopping after the first chorus, “When I wrote this, it was specifically about Viet Nam.  But maybe now, on some level it’s about –"

“All wars being over,” Jill finished.

“And us being empowered to make that happen.” Lennon added.

Jill was just about to start singing along when the former Beatle gave his guitar a strum and in an eye blink was gone.

Jill’s heart was racing.  Did smartphone cameras capture ghosts, she wondered.  Pity she hadn’t thought of that before.  Her smartphone was on her bureau and she was going to get out of bed to grab it in anticipation of spirit number three, but had just turned to get out of bed when said spirit appeared, this one standing in her bedroom doorway.  It was not someone she immediately recognized, but he seemed to be a Latino man with graying hair and a slightly lined face. He was casually dressed in plaid shirt, jeans and black nylon windbreaker jacket.

“I am the spirit of Cesar Chavez,” he explained.

Jill recognized the name of the acclaimed civil rights and union activist. “I know you must have some message for me, as Ms. Wells-Barnett said I would have more visitors. Please, what is it I should know?”

“I was a co-founder of what has become the United Farm Workers Union.  Together, we found we could make changes and fight for better working conditions. So social justice can happen, if we unite to fight for progress.
“I once told someone ‘If you want to remember me, organize!’  Community based action needs to keep happening.”  He threw his arms up in a flourish and disappeared.

Jill just sat stunned for a moment trying to make sense of the events of the night.  Then exhaustion finally took over and she fell back into a restful sleep.

When her clock radio sounded in the morning, Jill didn’t move for a moment, contemplating whether what happened was real or just a dream.  She still had to get ready for work, so she finally got out of bed to begin her morning routine. 

When she left for work that day, she had completed an extra task over her morning coffee. She had updated her mobile playlist with a song she’d heard her parents play. It was a song by one of the visiting spirits that she hoped would help her to remember their lessons.

                                                The End

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Summer's Carol, Part 1

Greetings -

I thought I'd try something a bit different.  I'm not sure how good I am at fiction, but a story can sometimes be a good way for people to really connect with issues and ideas.  That was what George Takei said in discussing his theater project about Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during WW II.

So there were some ideas kicked around at The Intercept comments that got me thinking about doing a story...this is not exactly how I started seeing the project, but hey, ya never know exactly what will come out once an idea takes hold.  So here goes.  It came out a bit longer than I'd envisioned, so I will break it up into 2 parts.  I hope you readers enjoy it.

A Summer’s Carol
With apologies to a certain 19th Century English author

Jill could barely keep her eyes open as the 11 p.m. news droned on. It was the end of a long day and the night was fittingly humid for mid-July.  “There doesn’t seem to be much good news happening.  And there just seems to be nothing we can do,” she thought as she finally turned off the tv via her remote.  Already in her ivory cotton pajamas, she replaced the remote on her night stand, fluffed her pillow and settled in for some sleep.

But just as she started to doze off, there was this light at her doorway.  Her nervous system seemed to alternate between curiosity and fear as she sat up.  The light seemed to form into something resembling a woman in a gray Victorian silk dress with high collar and leg-of-mutton sleeves. Her milk chocolate colored skin and hair that was carefully formed into a neat bun gave her a nonthreatening appearance, so Jill demanded, “Who are you?”

“I am the spirit of Ida B. Wells-Barnett.” the apparition replied.

Jill had heard of the pioneering investigative journalist, suffragist and civil rights activist, but being unaccustomed to being visited by spirits she asked, “What are you doing here?”

“I heard you thinking about all the bad news and that there is nothing to be done.  I, along with three other spirits, will show you that that is not so.
“The news was also quite bad when I was working, but investigating and exposing the horrors of lynching helped many to know of this appalling practice and to oppose it.  Along with others, I also fought for women’s suffrage and civil rights.  So even when things are dark, you and others can still shine light.
“You will be visited by three more spirits this night.  Please take heed of their lessons.  Now I must ne going; there are a few broadcasters and reporters who call themselves journalists I’d like to visit.” The spirit of Ms. Wells-Barnett then disappeared into the darkness.

Jill just sat there in stunned silence, trying to decide whether to stay awake or try to sleep a bit before the next ghostly visitor arrived.

It wasn’t long however before the next spirit appeared and sat in the chair by her closet.  She didn’t recognize this man, impeccably dressed in a blue business suit. He was wearing aviator glasses on his oval face which was framed by slightly graying brown hair.

“And who are you?”  Jill asked.

“I am the spirit of Senator Frank Church,” he stated.  Jill nodded although she only vaguely recognized his name.

“I chaired the Committee on Government Operations with respect to Intelligence Agencies back in 1975 – 1976.”

Jill nodded.  She hadn’t yet been born when this committee was working, but she now knew where she’d heard the name Church before; it sometimes came up in articles about revelations of NSA spying divulged by one Edward Snowden.

“It seemed as though our committee’s recommendations were having an effect on the conduct of the intelligence community for a while.  But things began to slide backwards over time.  At least this fellow Snowden has opened up the conversation again. 
“But it is citizens, yes, like you, who must hold not only intelligence agencies, but all branches of government accountable.  As I said on “Meet the Press” back in the day: ‘…we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.’
“It’s now time for you and your fellow citizens to step up and work for that more perfect union those founders of ours talked about.”  And with that, he took off his glasses, waved a good-bye, and vanished.

Jill could hardly keep up with her racing mind, so she tumbled back to rest her head on the pillow again. She wondered, just what spirit would appear next.

Tomorrow: Two more spirits visit Jill...

Thursday, August 14, 2014


After the latest developments from Ferguson, I had to add my voice in decrying the situation.  In going through media reports, more than one person noted we still don't know exactly what happened.  But there is an almost universal condemnation of the tactics the Ferguson police have used against protesters - and against journalists.  If you haven't read reports (and I'll share a link or two in a moment), please note that police in full riot gear, swat teams and snipers, and heavily armed vehicles have been the response to peaceful protests (yes, there has been some looting and such, but for the most part, the core of protests has been peaceful). Not only that, two journalists were arrested, totally without cause, and an Al Jazeera crew was scattered and their equipment dismantled.

In response, the Gov. of MO has replaced the police with the State Highway Patrol and the results so far have been positive.  The U. S. Attorney General has said that Federal entities will get more involved as well and stated that the previous scenes from Ferguson cannot continue.

The situation exposes on so many levels problems in our society.  There is the tendency of police to profile African-American young men.  Many have called attention to the number of fatalities they have suffered at the hands of police (there was just the incident in NYC in which the death of the young man was ruled a homicide).  There are also way too many incidents of brutality by police - often against mentally ill individuals, but women and the elderly have not been immune.  Such reports are very easy to find in a cursory search of the internet.

And there's something else.  The Ferguson situation has given wider exposure to a phenomenon that has been growing and has attracted some attention: the increasing militarization of police forces.  At The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece which gives an overview of both the situation in Ferguson and the problems fostered by the militarization that was so evident there.  In the article are several links to background and reports on this issue.  If you look at what is happening, it should be clear that this increasing militarization presents real threats to Freedoms of Speech, Assembly, and the Press.

I also found this thoughtful article at The Guardian.  It is definitely worth reading.

Finally, in thinking about the threats to our freedoms, here is one of my previous blog posts which I hope you might read - or reread, as it certainly seems a propos to current events.

Monday, August 11, 2014

We MUST Find Peace

Hello to anyone reading this.  It can be so overwhelming just trying to keep up with all the trouble spots now active around the world.  So frustrating that we're still fighting with each other.  So sad to read about even some of the loss of lives and destruction of homes and vital resources.  We humans MUST find a better way.  We MUST.  The future of our planet depends on it.

We must do what we can to call for peace, act for peace, believe in peace, and pray for peace.

Since I'm Episcopalian, I thought I might share some of the Episcopal Church's prayers for peace.  Prayers 4 and 5 on the page are quite good, as is Prayer 6, which you have to scroll down to read in its entirety.

Whatever anyone's beliefs, spiritually or otherwise, I hope (and pray) that all will see the necessity for respecting our common humanity and stopping the madness of violence and war.