The South is full of surprises, part 1

Growing up in New England, the South was the bad guy. Those bad, bad slaveholders, which they were, who pilfered the lives of other human beings.

I never thought about my historic New England neighbors who made the masts and built the ships for snatching slaves from African shores (I’ve learned that the term enslaved people is preferable to slaves).

That’s what a Southern author went on about in a book I bought on my first trip south, to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, more than twenty years ago. Sharing that modicum of slave-holding responsibility was eye-opening to my high school students (I liked to make them think).

Earlier this month I spent more than a week in Savannah, Georgia, with Maine friends, and in Charleston, South Carolina, with my daughter. It was time to visit southern history.

Spreading the responsibility for the inhumane, greed-induced economic institution of slavery doesn’t make it any less wrong.

And no group is homogenous, as we tend to label with ease. Not even slaveholders.

Take the Grimke sisters, whose story inspires and terrifies in the historical novel, “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd.

Last Saturday, my daughter and I took a Grimke Sisters tour around Charleston, South Carolina. Our excellent guide grew up in Charleston, but until adulthood hadn’t heard of the sisters who grew up in a slaveholding family and at a young age disdained the South’s “peculiar institution.”

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The Charleston house where the Grimke sisters sometimes lived as children. Urban slaves served them here while plantation slaves slaved in the fields.

I knew very little about the South, except that eating at Mrs. Wilke’s Boarding House in Savannah was a must.

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The woman in the white shirt is waiting to get into the dining room, where eight people are seated at round tables and eat the best Southern food family style.

I didn’t know that the first Underground Railroad “station” prior to the Civil War was in St. Augustine, Florida, a Spanish-Catholic colony.

I didn’t know that Georgia’s founder Gen. James Oglethorpe prohibited rum, Catholics, lawyers, and slavery until 1750, when he returned to England following his silk plantation’s failure.

I didn’t know that Savannah’s First African Baptist Church was built by freed African-Americans and slaves, who were given permission by their plantation owners to walk three miles, helping to erect the original church in 1773.

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I didn’t know that more historical plaques exist in Savannah and Charleston than in New England, or for that matter, anywhere else I’ve been.

I didn’t know that I would witness throngs of folks getting their photo taken in front of a Confederate statue or flocking into the Daughters of the Confederacy building.

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Brook checking out the Confederate statue

And so much more…to be continued.

One thing I do know, now I’ve visited all fifty states!

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Destroying AZ Public Schools: NYET!

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey hobnobs with the billionaire ultra-right-wing Koch brothers, his biggest fans.

 

Destroying public education is one of their foremost goals. They thought Arizona would be an easy mark.

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The state — hanging by a thread at the bottom of per capita student funding and teacher salaries — so why not? The governor and Republican Legislature have gotten away with stealing funds designated for education since 2008.

“We continue to highlight there was $1.1 billion more in education[al] funding in 2008 than there is today…That’s $10 billion that should have gone into education[al] funding that didn’t,” says Jason Freed, president of the Tucson Education Association  (Tucson Weekly, April 26).

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What did Ducey and the Republican legislature do with that money? You may ask, especially since the Arizona Supreme Court directed the legislature to restore education funding.

Individual Tucson teachers broke it down at today’s “Red for ED” downtown Congress Street rally, which drew more than 3,000 people, following yesterday’s 75,000 in attendance at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix.

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In Tucson, a retired Marana elementary school teacher told me her salary was higher in 2007-2008 than it was in 2015-2016. A former special education teacher at Robison Elementary started receiving pay cuts in 2008. In 2016, after seven years teaching, her salary rose to what newly hired teachers were making, $37,000. The Sunnyside High School art teacher said her annual supply budget is $400, with 35 to 40 kids in her classroom.

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Who believes him, the liar who calls himself the “education governor?”

WE CALL BULLSHIT on Ducey, the anti-education Arizona legislature, and the Koch Brothers!

“Their cause, they say, is liberty. But by that they mean the insulation of private property rights from the reach of government — and the takeover of what was long public (schools, prisons, western lands, and much more) by corporations, a system that would radically reduce the freedom of the many.” —  footnote from The Triumph of Politics by David A. Stockman, in Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean.

Mass free public education stands as one of America’s greatest achievements. With thousands of educators taking to the streets — speaking the truth — let’s hope it will be again.

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A possible haiku, mostly flowers

Sunny yellow Tucson hides shadows. IMG_1282

Darkness exists but mustn’t dominate.

A tangled web of desert lavender.

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Inhale beauty, for peace sake.

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U.S. Causes Trouble in Mexico!

Driving to Nogales, Arizona, to see my dentist in Nogales, Sonora, I chuckle at giant signs near the U.S.-Mexico border: No weapons or munitions allowed.

In Mexico, nearly 70 percent of the 106,000 guns recovered from 2011 to 2016 by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were traced to the United States.

Stop all those dangerous criminals coming across the border to “rape and rob us?” What a “Catch-22” when most weapons in Mexico originate from our NRA playground.

I want to see the best dentist I’ve found in years, since the ’70s when Dr. Jane Witner in Hanover, New Hampshire, who had shiny lavender equipment and gave me organic fruit juice while I waited.

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I’m about to cross to the other side, past the ugly old wall into Mexico. It’s a two-minute walk to Dental Laser through this parking lot. No National Guard in sight.

Dr. Sanchez is a polite young man who doesn’t mess around. He and his able assistant Lupita are so efficient yet laid-back. I don’t mind going to the dentist, after being traumatized last year by the Tucson guy who charged nearly four times as much.

Lupita gets a lavender paper bib for me. She translates for Dr. Sanchez who speaks some English. They both like my hair color, a darker purple than the bib. Lupita chats in Spanish to Dr. Sanchez.

“Uh-huh,” he usually responds.

I complain to Lupita about the trump nightmare, how he needs to be gone. She says, “First they have to catch him!”

“I love refried beans,” she tells me. “I don’t think Americans like them so much.”

“Are you kidding? I hope this doesn’t take long. I can’t wait for La Roca’s refried beans. They’re the best!”

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La Roca in Nogales, Sonora, housed in the 1890s hacienda Casa Margot

Connecting with human beings in other parts of the world, well, makes us more human.

 

 

 

 

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Noam Chomsky: The 89-year-old Rock Star of smarts!

More than five hundred students, old folks, scruffy types, and members of the Tucson intelligentsia listened intently to Noam Chomsky. Sitting on folding chairs in front of the downtown Joel Valdez main library, you could hear a pin drop.

Speaking of “American Exceptionalism, Reconsidered” Chomsky treated audience members as smart people. I liked that. He never missed a beat in his thought-provoking teaching, constantly referring to evidence.

Building the foundation to his talk, he first returned to the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629. History. We need to know it.

Since this country’s formation, “humanitarian intervention,” has been the impetus to killing off Native Americans and seeping the US in slavery.  We meant to do good…”Our mistakes are always with [supposed] benign intent,” said Chomsky.

The same has been true of colonial stakes planted by various European countries around the world.

How is this 89-year-old man so smart? How does he remember so many dates and cite sources as nonchalantly as sipping a glass of water? How does he stay on topic so succinctly? How does he retain so much history?

The truth is that American Exceptionalism doesn’t exist. Nope, this bullshit concept spouted by presidents and politicians is “universal.”

Two components of American Exceptionalism do exist — the dramatic effect of “WE the people…” the first words in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which had never been uttered in Europe, and our free public education system that began in the late 19th century.

“That great achievement is under attack,” Chomsky warned the audience. Arizonans understand the danger. We’re experiencing it, perched at the bottom of per-pupil spending and teacher salaries.

“There are always some scattered people who know what’s happening,” said Chomsky. Not knowing is more likely, or twisting the truth. Until 1947, the U.S. War Department became the Defense Department. How Orwellian is that?

Truth didn’t break out in the public domain until civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activism took hold in the 1960s. I believe that huge anti-war protests, which I participated in, stopped that war.

In 2013, the Gallup Poll took an international survey, asking, “Who’s the biggest threat to world peace?” By a large majority, respondents pointed to the United States.

We’ve been engaged in endless war, from the time of our revolution to Iraq, our longest, most misguided war.

We’re currently experiencing our most precipitous decline ever, in so many fields, but especially in any semblance of moral judgment.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who recently quit his post. “He accomplished what he set out to do,” said Chomsky. The Republican “lavished gifts on the rich and destroyed social justice for the rest of us.”

Still, progress is possible. Popular mobilization can bring about change, he said.

If we care about the future, the United States wouldn’t be the only non-participant in the effort to reduce climate change, an existential threat to the entire planet.

“The Republican Party is dedicated to the destruction of the species,” affirmed Chomsky.

Misrepresentation and lies besmirch truth. They’re not solutions.

For example, how can members of the Tucson Jewish community complain that Chomsky is anti-Semitic? That’s right, when he lost so many family members in the Holocaust. It’s stupid and disgusting. But that’s a story for another time…

Many Americans hide behind outrageous distractions and untruths. Why, to avoid change? Out of fear?

I don’t know. There’s a lot I don’t know. As I grow older, I want to read more, learn more, see more. It’s all thrilling. Thank you, Professor Chomsky.

 

 

 

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Is silence ever golden? Probably.

Core class, weight lifting, lounging in the hot tub and shvitzing in the steam room, that’s why I go to the Tucson Jewish Community Center twice a week. Usually, after working out I feel good. Not today.

A man in blood red spandex shorts (he turned 61 today) blocks the entrance to the hot tub, jabbering loudly with a bald-headed man wearing a white bone necklace (he’s 68, a musician who retired when he was 49, now a millionaire).

“It all started with Adam and Eve, there were no Neanderthals or anything like that,” asserts birthday boy. “What church do you go to?” he asks the other loud talker.

 Keep my mouth shut. But they’re so damn loud. I tried already. The blocker didn’t move when as I entered the hot tub. I walked around him.

In the hot tub for ten minutes, I attempt to luxuriate in the rushing hot water. The jets cease (the guys didn’t). “Excuse me,” I say. “I would like to get out.” He moves.

Into the steam room, where I hope it will be quieter, the whoosh, whoosh of steam concealing their voices. No such luck.

I last a few minutes before exiting near the hot tub. A quiet man leaves, too.

“Why don’t you guys  get a cup of coffee? You’re so loud.”

“You don’t have to stay,” says the blocker. Now I’m really pissed.

“This is supposed to be the place where we relax. It’s a SPA,” I remind him.

To his credit, the older guy says, “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

Birthday boy pegs me for the bleeding-heart liberal I am. I love the First Amendment. Still, why does everyone need to hear their conversation?

 “Next we’re going to talk about guns,” he blurts.

“Great,” I blurt back, “Kill all the kids!”

Quickly opening the door to the women’s locker room, I avoid hearing his reply.

Leaving a “Kvetch” card for the CEO of the JCC at the front desk, I request they put up a sign in the Spa area, saying something like: Please be considerate of other JCC members and keep your voices down.

I’m done. Off to Green Things I go to snap up a dignified pink Foxglove plant, tiny pots of palatable chocolate mint and English thyme, a fragrant dazzle-me lilac, potting soil, and a few inconspicuous but sturdy terra cotta pots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Protect kids, not guns!

For the first time in years, I wish I were back in a high school classroom, working together with teenagers who are taking a stand against gun violence, understanding the heinous misinterpretation of the 2nd Amendment.

Here’s what I can’t fathom: Why do conservatives, often strict constructionists of the Constitution, believe that assault weapons of war should be allowed in present day America? (Yeah, thanks Obama, wasn’t he supposed to take away their guns? Never happened).

Why do we require licenses to drive, even to bake cookies for sale at farmers markets, but not for guns?

IMG_1203Around 8,000 people took part in Tucson’s “March for Our Lives” yesterday, starting at the Joel Valdez Main Library downtown,  marching to the University of Arizona campus. A day of hope. An emotional day.

 

 

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Another day of hope 10 years ago…I was invited to a “Meet and Greet” for a young woman running for Congress, an Arizona state senator. I went. How inspiring to interact with such a smart, warm, down-to-earth and honest political candidate!

Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords could have won the 2016 presidential election, that is, if a bullet hadn’t ripped through her brain in an attempted assassination on Jan. 8, 2011, in front of a Safeway grocery store.

When I see Gabby walking around our neighborhood, balancing her left side on a cane, I feel sad.  She responds to my “Hey Gabby” with a smile, and “How are you doing?”

Her interminable courage is contagious.

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A now dear friend who was also shot on that horrendous day, Suzi Hileman held the hand of nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green at the moment a bullet struck her, silencing an innocent girl forever. I can only imagine Christina’s potential for activism if she had lived to be a teenager. That day, she excitedly wanted to meet her Congresswoman.

Suzi was struck by bullets, too. She and I sometimes meet for breakfast, enjoying smashed avocado toast together. Suzi will forever walk with a limp, her life smashed by incomprehensible loss.

Wearing her orange “I am a survivor” shirt, here’s the sign she displayed yesterday on the UA campus.

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When will this carnage stop? “Vote them Out,” a battlecry frequently heard yesterday, is a first step. Don’t vote for anyone who receives money from the NRA.

Our most competent leaders are teenagers.

The hope, the energy of being with like-minded people of all ages and backgrounds cannot be underestimated.

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Last night we saw “A Brief History of Time,” a thought-provoking documentary about Stephen Hawking. Struck by his mother’s comments about Hawking’s ALS diagnosis at a young age, I realized that trauma can focus action.

Let’s hope that Gabby’s courage and the Parkland students’ activism will do more than inspire. Let’s Vote Out the do-nothing, no-good so-called leaders in our nation’s capitol, in our state houses and legislatures this November!

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