Registering people to vote

Yesterday was a long, tiring day at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.  Watching lines of young swimmers smiling by our table, severely disabled kids in wheelchairs, and exercisers of all ages, my book club pals and I registered only three voters.

Reporting from the JCC microcosm of prospective voters was eye-opening.

Results of our little study:

— At least seven or eight people said they couldn’t speak English or weren’t able to vote.

One young women gleefully told us, “I’m a resident. I’ll be voting as soon as I’m a citizen!”

An older Anglo woman simply said, “I can’t” (perhaps she’s a convicted felon, but I make up stories).

— Another young woman asked, “For what?” I responded, “For everything.”

— The great majority of people said, “I’m registered.” There were two or three men who ignored us. Many passers-by stopped to share a desire to vote as soon as possible, or their unhappiness with the ongoing demise of the United States as we know it [my take].

“I wish I could register more,” lamented one fellow baby boomer with wild gray hair , wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt.

Ahh…the Sixties. “They say you want a revolution…” I believed it was happening.

Never in my scariest post-sixties nightmares did I imagine such federal degradation. Nixon’s fear-mongering racism (he was bad enough), Carter’s unpopular truth-telling, Wild Bill’s striving toward the law and order center.

Reagan spiraled the country into a divisive veneration of the rich, while instituting “benign neglect” of everyone else. Unequal protection of the laws, a travesty of the 14th Amendment.

For the full background of the mess we’re now in: Read Democracy in Chains . The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean, a Duke history professor. Perhaps I’ve mentioned it before. It’s worth a reminder.

I feel so bad for my kids, my grandson, whose U.S. is being forever, detrimentally, changed. I feel bad for Ruth Bader Ginsberg, looking at her sullen face when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor read her appropriately angry dissent regarding the outrageous Muslim travel ban.

I can only do what I can do. So…we registered three voters yesterday. What’s next?

Like RBG, I refuse to give up.

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A little knowledge can’t hurt…

Wyoming and the deep South are home to the most ardent DT supporters (check out  Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com chart, state by state.

What do they put in their drinking water?

I’m happy to report that Hawaii’s residents are the most opposed. Who’s surprised? Lush islands with perfect weather must help.

I visited the Big Island for the first time last December. I’ll return to kind “Alohas” this year.

Meanwhile,  many Americans — including this mean-spirited, incompetent president — listen to Fox News, a make-believe news network.

The 2017 annual Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey (University of Pennsylvania) points out how “poorly informed” we are about the supreme law of the land.

It’s cruelly ironic that “more than half of Americans (53 percent) incorrectly think it is accurate to say that immigrants who are here illegally do not have any rights under the U.S. Constitution.”

“More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment?”

Uh, where are they getting their information?

Did you hear that Fox & Friends host purport, “These aren’t OUR kids. They don’t live in Idaho or Texas.” So we inject them with psychiatric drugs?  Detain them in cages?

What’s happened to empathy? Fortunately for my psyche, I still believe that the great majority of humans can put themselves in another person’s shoes.

I’m glad that more Americans — shown by the state by state graph above — are rejecting this worst president’s path. At the same time, his road to destruction forges ahead.

Yoga class, here I come!

 

 

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Best Sabino Canyon walk ever! Balancing encroaching fascism!

I made it to the top and back, 7.4 miles. Overcast. Lovely. Cool raindrops. A salve to the constant news of America going down, down, down.

Assigning myself the end-of-birthday week challenge to make it to the top did me good. Okay, my legs were a bit stiff afterward but my brain felt sharper than usual. For hours, I focused on my writing project. I was happy, invigorated.

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This morning — with the first real rain falling in Tucson in more than 100 days — I headed east to Farmer Joe’s and to my weekly Douglas Spring Trail walk.

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Rarely do we see puddles in the desert!

I wondered if a three-mile walk would bring as much clarity as my two recent five+ mile successes.

***

Challenging the horrendous policy of children separated from their parents, 50 miles from Tucson at the Mexican border, is a must.

I’ve called and emailed senators, urging them to support the @FamiliesBelongTogether  Senate bill S.3036. I’ve organized my book club members to register people to vote prior to Arizona’s Aug. 28 primary elections.

Walking in nature helps. Gazing at flowers helps. Movies, TV, good books distract. Some of my friends don’t pay attention to the news, or have removed themselves from all social media. I don’t watch the news. But I read, read, read (attempting to limit myself to one scary opinion piece at a time).

I’m curious: What do you do to balance life’s joys with encroaching fascism?

Meanwhile…

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Synonym for the n-word: criminal

Hating is the in-thing. Hell, the hater-in-chief roams the White House, tweeting his daily venom across the globe.

How much hatred is codified into law? “Three strikes and you’re out,” a signature part of  the 1994 Crime Act touted by President Bill Clinton, has considerably raised mass incarceration. 

Last night I saw the stunning documentary 13th, produced by Netflix. As an old U.S. History teacher I’ve thought a lot about the aftermath of slavery, how it took one hundred years for the Voting Rights Act to become law in 1965.

Supposedly, all black men could then enter a voting booth without getting shot or lynched.  Reconstruction’s failure denied African American men 15th Amendment’s voting rights of 1870. Passage of the 13th Amendment “ended” slavery in 1865, except as punishment for a crime.

Guess who became criminals?

Next came segregation, Jim Crow laws, the hyping of “law & order,” the War on Drugs (mostly on blacks), the fantasy of President Barack Obama’s election inaugurating post-racism instead of an outed racist backlash, and the growing obscenity of mass incarceration for bucks (mostly targeting blacks).

Fact: The United States comprises 5 percent of the world’s population, with more than 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated.

The film 13th reminded me of my New England upbringing (you know, up north). I was taught to fear black men. My mother never used the word “nigger” but she bought the dominant mythology: Black men raped white women. Be wary of black boys in hoodies.

*A higher percentage of white men have been locked up since 2009. It’s about class,

Thanks to the University of Arizona Poetry Center for their free showing of 13th at the Loft Cinema, part of its Art for Justice Film Series (poetry.arizona.edu).

As I left the Loft last night I heard a woman lamenting, “Yeah, but once again, we’re preaching to the choir.”

Exploring history increases awareness. In my view, that can only help. Watch 13th. Or read the YA bestseller The hate u give by Angela Thomas, Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson, or if you have more reading time, The Warmth of Other Suns. The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, or Stamped from the Beginning. The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi.

I know of at least one scary white man I hope to see locked up. The sooner the better.

 

 

 

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The South is full of Surprises, part 2

I can’t help it. I think of the Deep South as backward. I’ve driven across southern Mississippi without an Easy Rider moment. I’ve munched on fried pickles. I love shrimp and grits. I try to not to wear my bias on my sleeve. I’m making progress.

In early May, I loved being a history nerd in Savannah and Charleston. Perhaps the magnificent architecture and cuisine helped. Strolling through gorgeous parks and squares, lush live oaks formed natural archways.

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Careful not to mention that my children were direct descendants of General William Tecumseh Sherman, his name was mentioned plenty. Not in a good way.

On my first day hanging out amid Southern accents, sitting at a bar waiting for my Maine pals to arrive in Savannah, I ordered a mint julep.

“Oh that’s a Southern drink but y’all should have a Savannah Peach,” the bartender suggested. So I did.

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A retired teacher, whom I mostly couldn’t understand, started chatting me up. An odd-looking young man wearing a big bow tie sidled over to order a drink. Turns out he was a Conservative radio talk show host who currently lived in Anchorage, Alaska.

“Yeah, but I voted for Obama,” he admitted. In Savannah for an old friend’s wedding, he recalled visiting their small Missouri hometown prior to the 2008 election.

“Who you voting for white boy?” someone called out as they drove by. He didn’t tell us whether or not he replied.

“See, we’re not so different,” the retired teacher said as he paid his bill and left.

Racism is everywhere. Whether it’s police pushing a black Yale freshman to the ground, suspecting he didn’t belong on campus, or  members of the 2018 Georgia State Legislature promoting the teaching of U.S. History from 1865 to the present, uh, leaving out the Civil War and slavery (it didn’t pass).

I prefer conversations that disregard color. Walking to the Sentient Bean cafe one morning, we met a heavy-set African American woman, sweating, struggling down the stairs of the former Telfair Hospital, now a senior-living residence. We asked if she needed help.

“Oh, I’ll make it,” she said. “You should see the circular wooden staircases inside. Used to be a hospital only for women giving birth. Mothers with girl babies could stay as long as they wanted, be taken care of. Boy babies had to leave in three days. Babies who died became angels. Just outside my window once I saw hundreds of butterflies. Maybe they were the angels of those babies.”

Her story still floats inside my head.

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Forsyth Park

Accents, racism, prejudice, hatred, hypocrisy are still with us. Spontaneous conversations may help us crawl away from rigid patterns.

As for our hurting nation, Vote for Democrats, wherever they’re from or whatever color they are!

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RBG takes precedence over the South!

A serious person with a great sense of humor. A powerful advocate for women’s rights. A stalwart believer in the 14th Amendment. A tenacious and focused speaker with a strong bullshit detector.

Who else could this be but Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

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Depicted in the newly released documentary, RBG, this diminutive 85-year-old powerhouse Supreme Court Justice has inspired me more than ever.

When she reads Sarah Grimke’s quote aloud, “All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” I felt verklempt (Yiddish for too emotional to speak).

Just yesterday, RBG dissented in her written Supreme Court opinion: “The majority was ‘egregiously wrong,’ retrenching on 80 years of federal law that sought ‘to place employers and employees on more equal footing.'”

(Check out the wonderful picture book for kids I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes her Mark by Debbie Levy.)

Throughout my teaching career I asked students, if they ran into me walking down the street thirty years hence I hoped they would call out, “Fourteenth Amendment, Equal protection of the laws.”

It’s never happened but RBG has called it out for me, in front of millions more Americans than I could ever influence.

When the filmmakers first asked Ginsburg about making a movie, she replied, “Not yet.” 

It seems pretty obvious why she changed her mind.

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I’ll see RBG later today for the second time this week. It’s rare that a documentary makes the Top Ten movies for attendance, and rarer still that I see a movie for a second time. Go see it!

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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 to gorge ourselves on the Southern cuisine, 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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