It Matters

These days racism seems to have emerged more overtly  in the public consciousness both in the instance and in the outrage. It is heartbreaking but complicated.

Racism never left us in this country, it just was disguised in the name of correctness for a time. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. But in a peculiar and sad way the return of overt racism and it’s concomitant behaviors is a good thing. This comes under the category of the devil you know is easier to fight than the devil you don’t. Not that racist behavior is ever a good thing.

And while outrage is good and appropriate, social media outrage unaccompanied by action, doesn’t do anyone much good other than to shine a light. For some of us knowing what to do other than sympathize and voice our outrage is perplexing and difficult.

I just finished reading the autobiography of Albert Woodfox, a story of one of the most egregious miscarriages of our “justice” system that I know of; and I was a public defender for a good long time. Albert Woodfox was wrongly and improperly convicted, slandered and tortured and was kept in solitary confinement conditions for forty years. His memoir is full of the injustices done to him and many others, but it is also filled with grace and courage and compassion for others. Albert Woodfox is one of my personal heroes and this book should be required reading for everyone. Louisana, it’s congress people, judges, attorneys and most especially the former governor, Bobby Jindal, should forever hang their heads in shame.

Woodfox talks not only about the system and the injustices it did him,  but he talks about racism in rational and meaningful terms. He talks about the vilification of the Black Panther Party that was founded to do good, not violence. Woodfox preached constant non-violence to all those he was incarcerated with. His strong compassionate voice serves to set right many of the notions that were born in the sixties when striking workers held up signs that said “I am a Man” and continue today when movements like Black Lives Matter are vilified as themselves racist. One might ask why anyone in this country and this age should have to identify that they are human and worthy.

And if you think that inequities of race don’t continue to exist in our criminal justice system, look at the demographic statistics. Even more, read this book and see what the state invested in continuing to incarcerate an elderly innocent black man. And understand that it was not until 2016 after eighteen years of court dates, disappointments and many lawyers and supporters efforts, that he walked out of prison. And he did not walk out acknowledged as an innocent man. He pled nolo contendre prior to a third trial that would clearly again be unfair. And even as he chose freedom, he agonized that he had sacrificed his integrity by doing so.

Albert Woodfox is a man of unparalleled ntegrity, courage and grace. I wish to live with a fraction of that. And so, when you don’t know what to do when faced with racism, speak up even if it seems dangerous; take out your phone and record it; be counted; take action.

You have a voice, use it.

Stay in touch!

Peace and Justice

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

We packed a lunch, and snacks, and set off for Alabama. Why? Glad you asked. The Peace and Justice Memorial Center and Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama had been calling my name for quite some time.

From the New York Times, April 25, 2018:

“In a plain brown building sits an office run by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, a place for people who have been held accountable for their crimes and duly expressed remorse. Just a few yards up the street lies a different kind of rehabilitation center, for a country that has not been held to nearly the same standard.”

The Center, which opened in April of 2018, is a small building in the city that was the center of the slave trade in the United States and was itself a slave warehouse for those brought by river and train.

The old brick wall at the entry to the warehouse building reverberates with the chains of the imported, calling out for justice. The center is a museum that is overwhelming with the physical evidence of the cruelty and evil that is part of the American heritage. Glass jars filled with sand from the known sites of lynchings, some with names, some unknown. And so much more.

The signs collected from everywhere segregation and hatred were overt were startling but not unexpected in retrospect. One sign in particular I will never forget:

“No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs”

You will forgive the word, but it is what the sign said and it would be cowardly to edit it. As a Jew, this resonated in a more personal way. My thought was this – of the three, the dogs had experienced the least oppression.

The Memorial itself is both beautiful and grim, a field of 800 hanging metal coffin shaped boxes in a roofed area that includes fountains and quotes. The metal coffins hang at varying heights, at first at eye level, like a grave monument and finally above, as the lynched would be hanging. Each is inscribed with a county, and the names of those lynched in that place, some simply marked as unknown, most not. It is stunning and horrifying and important.

The Memorial stands in a rolling green field, quite beautiful in stark contrast. Just as the lynched might have, and did, hang from a beautiful tree in bloom in a green field. You cannot help but cry, and feel shame at what this represents, and pride that it is memorialized now in a way that cannot be ignored.

Bryan Stevenson said:

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is Justice.”

In that field, aside from the structure of the Memorial, are enormous “tables”. These are raised areas that hold duplicate metal bars, exactly like those that hang. They are not affixed, they are just lain in these beds. The point is that each and every county has been invited to take the one marked with their name and erect it as a memorial in that county.

My hope is that I will visit there again someday, and all the bars in that beautiful green field will be gone, raised against racism, bigotry and intolerance.

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Luck, and Action

Gratitude, essential and elusive.  Something I have tried very hard to instill in my son; that regardless of what we don’t have we are so much luckier than many.  I think he gets it.

There is something guilt provoking in being grateful that others’ misfortunes are not yours.  But isn’t the essence of gratitude the idea that “it” isn’t or hasn’t happened to you? Yet.

The state of the world often brings tears these days, yes crying again. The Hondurans who have lived here as productive citizens virtually all their lives, now to be sent “back” to their non-home. The violence and deaths in Gaza and Israel.  The dreamers who have never known anywhere but here. The national parks being dismantled and made less accessible.  The children who go hungry in this wealthy land. The teachers who have to strike for a living wage, knowing they are hurting the children they love. Nazis marching in our streets, openly racist and anti-Semitic; behavior that while existing, was frowned on and mostly repressed for decades.  The black men gunned down for no other reason and the women who mourn for them. And on, and on, and on.

[tweetshare tweet=”I remember the intense idealism of the sixties and seventies, I lived it. And I have always held dear the notion that love and good, coupled with action, would win the day. I dedicated my first career to that notion, and to a love of the constitution and the rights of the underdog.” username=”@trienahm”]

I remember the intense idealism of the sixties and seventies, I lived it. And I have always held dear the notion that love and good, coupled with action, would win the day.  I dedicated my first career to that notion, and to a love of the constitution and the rights of the underdog.

I fear that love is no longer enough.  But as a personal matter, I have to remain positive; about the world, about my life.  And the shortest line to positivity is gratitude.  So I practice a prayer of gratitude every day on the way to work. Radio off, spoken out loud, thanking the universe for what a good life I have and acknowledging how intensely lucky I am in so many ways.  And the antidote to negativity and especially self pity is always gratitude.  And then there’s always action, fuel for gratitude.

Stay in touch!

Things I Want My Son To Know #13 ~ Practice Tolerance

We live in a world of amazing diversity. Around the globe there are people of a vast array of ethnicities and faiths, just for starters. Our own country is a land of immigrants and races from around the world. This country was founded by immigrants fleeing religious intolerance and persecution. Your ancestors were immigrants here, fleeing religious persecution. Others of your ancestors were indigenous people of the Americas, Native Americans, who suffered terrible persecution and near extinction as the result of ignorance, hatred and intolerance.

Diversity makes our world a fascinating and complex place. Respect the diversity around you, in our country and around the globe. Learn to live with diversity and to learn from it. Other cultures have something to teach, other religions have a point of view that deserves respect.

Unfortunately we also live in a country that seems to be determined to showcase its ignorance and intolerance often and broadly. Watching the pastor intent on burning the Quran, many copies, sickened me. He truly believed that burning the Quran would somehow memorialize and sanctify the memory of those that perished on September 11, 2001. What insanity. The destruction of a holy object will never sanctify anyone’s memory. Millions of peace loving muslims did not terrorize the United States. All he did was show himself to be ignorant. But he is not alone in his beliefs, unfortunately.

It is important to practice tolerance actively, as a counterbalance to those who are mindlessly intolerant. Practicing tolerance doesn’t just mean being passively tolerant in your behavior. It means that you speak against intolerance when you see it, when you hear it. That you embrace the beliefs of others, not by believing as they do, but by respecting their right to believe as they do and to practice their beliefs in a peaceful way without persecution. As a Jew you know that we were nearly obliterated by the passivity of those who watched the holocaust unfold and did nothing to stop it, assuming others would act, or that it would just go away. Bigotry, intolerance and prejudice never “just go away”. It requires action, courage and conviction.

We used to say that when we protested we “manned the barricades” because the police would put up wooden barricades to contain where the protest was legally supposed to be. In my youth, we believed that protest matters, that it works. In Europe they still do. On my last trip to France, I saw hundreds of thousands of Parisians take to the streets with their children, parents and pets, to protest the president serving at that time. They do it because they believe that their voices will have an effect.

You should never feel superior to, or better than, someone because they are different than you. There is nothing inherently better or worse about any race, religion, gender or sexual identity. Being born Jewish or Catholic is not a choice, being born with black, brown or white skin is not a choice, being born male or female is not a choice, being born gay is not a choice. People are who they are and valuing them for their character, their principles, valus and actions is what matters. If your mind is closed to the value of difference you might miss a wonderful friend, a great teacher, the love of your life; you never know what barricades active tolerance will take you past and what you will find there.

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What I Want My Son To Know #12 ~ Stand Up And Be Counted

Having principles is a problem; whatever those principles might be. And they always sound good, until they are tested; then they are a problem. Because standing up for them, standing up because of them, doesn’t always make you a popular person. When sometime tells a racial or ethnic joke, or uses hate language “but everyone does it”, it takes courage to say “that’s not funny”. Especially when your friends are all laughing.

But principles are what give your live meaning, and truth, and something to hold on to when you are not sure what gives with the world. Remember that you have friends of color who have experienced discrimination, that you have gay friends who have experienced hatred, that your mother was treated like a servant in my early career becaause women still weren’t expected to be professionals, to be something independent of their husbands ~ a world you can’t imagine.

So something as simple as honesty… telling the cashier there is something under the cart she forgot to charge you for. The habitual practice of honesty will help you when you are really challenged. Something as simple as protecting and caring for those weaker than most; being polite; holding the door for women. Respect the elderly; remembering that they have lived things you can’t imagine and might have something to teach you if you have the patience to listen. This simple practice of respect, for the weak, for women, for the elderly, will bring you relationships you never anticipated and lessons you might be astonished to learn.

Imagine if nobody had stood with the marchers for civil rights; imagine if nobody had stood with women in their fight for property rights and the vote; imagine if nobody had stood for those that Hitler despised. The people that stood up often lost their lives doing so. But they did so because they couldn’t imagine a world in which such terrible injustices continued to exist, and it felt worth their lives to try to prevent these injustices.

I hope you are never tested in that way, I hope your principles never put your life in jeopardy. But I do hope that you have the courage to stand up for what is right in whatever ways challenge you in your life. It is important to stand up and be counted, to look back and say, I lived a life of principle, I did the right things, I did good in the world.

Stay in touch!