Thanksgiving 2015: A Collective Amnesia

23 Nov

Turkey DayAs we swing into full gear around another Presidential election year, I have to say I have not only been sad but I have been mortified by the lies and ignorance being spewed forth by the right wing, who completely own the GOP. There is too much to unpack here to address all of the bigotry, racism, homophobia, and misogyny from ALL of the GOP candidates, but I do need to address their stand on immigration and how it pertains specifically to the Thanksgiving holiday. This past week has been particularly hard given the comments from presidential hopeful Ben Carson, who compared refugees from Syria to rabid dogs, and Donald Trump endorsing a national registry of all Muslims — Nazi much?

I often wonder, do we collectively, as Americans, conveniently choose to forget the genocide of the native peoples living in North America – the use of bio-warfare?  Yes, multi-generations of white folk have benefitted from the slaughtering of indigenous populations in North America and stealing land. It is ironic that the early survival of the Plymouth colony depended so heavily on the agricultural and fishing advice of the Wampanoag. To all the GOP governors who say “no” to Syrian refugees, I remind you that you wouldn’t have states to defend in bellicose, racist, and — yes — unconstitutional rants, if a certain set of religious refugees had been treated similarly 500 years ago.

The whole idea of a “first Thanksgiving” is historically murky at best, with both religious and civil harvest festivals easily traceable to the Spanish in St. Augustine and British colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth. The native populations also had histories of harvest festivals, thus rendering a colonizer’s claim of “first” another in a series of misappropriations. Regular Thanksgiving celebrations as fixed civil events became common much later, dating to the 1660s.

As with so much of early colonial American history, most of what we “remember” is filtered through centuries of creative reconstruction: bucolic paintings, myths of noble savages and honest oppressed British outcasts, grade school songs and pageants. It is understandable that we prefer not to dwell on our collective responsibility for the decimation of whole populations, but it is an important part of our nation’s history. The colonizers’ relationship with the native populations was complex (and occassionally grateful) but seldom benefitted the natives and almost certainly did not involve everybody sharing a lovely meal around a table in peace.

Let us not forget this was no mere land grab but a decimation of Holocaust proportions. Our mistreatment of the indigenous peoples in North America went on well into the 20th Century with the Termination Act, Allotment, and the creation of Boarding Schools where white people thought their job was to “kill the Indian to save the man.”

The root idea of Thanksgiving — shared by the Europeans and the indigenous peoples — as a celebration is a good one. Be thankful for what you have; celebrate the cherished loved ones in your life; take time to remember what is good and bountiful with no expectations of gain other than shared love and thanks. Let us move forward as a nation, correctly learning, remembering, and growing from our history. Let us work hard to return to this spirit of Thanksgiving. It need not be buried in any trivia: upcoming shopping orgies (conspicuous consumption), 437 sporting events, overindulgence for its own sake, or cute “historical” imagery that overlooks a complex history.

We all have people and events in our lives worthy of celebration; that is what we should use today to be truly thankful for. I hope everyone reading this blog will be able to spend time with cherished loved ones, be it families of origin or families and communities we create.  I leave you with Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Would You Harbor Me

Happy Birthday, Bonnie Raitt

8 Nov

Bonnie RaittToday Bonnie Raitt turns a very youthful 66 years old. I would like to honor and pay tribute to Bonnie Raitt and thank her for all of her energy in making the world a better place.

Bonnie Raitt is a lifelong activist. Born in California in 1949, Raitt’s parents were both musicians and performers and provided a home full of diverse musical influences. She also developed a strong social conscience early, enrolling in Radcliffe College’s African Studies program.

My plan was to travel to Tanzania, where President Julius Nyerere was creating a government based on democracy and socialism. I wanted to help undo the damage that Western colonialism had done to native cultures around the world. Cambridge was a hotbed of this kind of thinking, and I was thrilled.

I love that she talks about her own privilege and about colonization. While in school, she met and befriended legendary blues promoter Dick Waterman. This sparked her childhood fondness for performing and she quickly found herself enmeshed in the local blues and folk scene. Although she had planned to finish her college education, she had a chance to move to Philadelphia to work with a number of her musical heroes and took it.

While most people are familiar with her Grammy-winning work since 1989’s brilliant Nick Of Time, she had a celebrated muscial career and began releasing critically acclaimed albums in 1971. Her bluesy sound and musical excellence dazzled critics and her core of fans but found little in the way of commercial success. She was eventually dropped by her label, Warner Bros., in a purge that also cost Van Morrison and Arlo Guthrie their contracts. She took the time to regroup and work with her idols, eventually working on a project produced by Don Was. That connection led to the resurgence of her career. Eight albums, nine Grammy’s and a 2000 induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame later, she’s still going strong.

Throughout it all, she has been a dedicated activist. Her second album featured a dedication “To the people of North Vietnam…” recognizing the human cost of war. She helped found Musicians United for Safe Energy and has campaigned for numerous causes. It’s quite telling that her website features a prominent ACTIVISM button with numerous links and opportunities for her fans to help make the world a better place.

She also pushes for fairness and equality in her profession. Recognizing that most of the original blues performers were victims of exploitative contracts, she works tirelessly to establish funds for the generation that inspired her. She also recognizes the gender inequities in the music business and has been a vocal part of the Women Who Rock movement. An engaging speaker with a genuine heart, a passionate advocate for social justice, and an amazing musician, I wish you a very happy Birthday! Raitt is another woman I think I could cross the road for; her talent and sense of social justice  make me fall in love with her.

Paul Ryan: Beware

2 Nov

Paul RyanI’m not even sure how to begin to unpack this colossal lying, hypocritical,  racist, misogynistic, ignorant, self-serving piece of hell whom we now call the Speaker of the House. I think I will start with the miseducation of Paul Ryan. I heard him say that this is not a national position. What? Did you really just say that out loud? Where did you go to school Speaker Ryan? The Speaker of the House is second in line to become the President of the United States, should something untoward happen to the President and Vice-President. How is that not a national position?

I think it would behoove all of us living in the United States to fully understand what we have with Ryan as he now holds such emormous power.  This is the man who said in his acceptance speech that:

I never thought I’d be the speaker. But early in my life, I wanted to serve in the House. I thought the place was exhilarating—because here, you could make a difference. If you had a good idea and worked hard, you could make it happen. You could improve people’s lives. To me, the House represented the best of America: the boundless opportunity to do good.

But let’s be frank: The House is broken. We are not solving problems. We are adding to them. And I am not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean. Neither the members nor the people are satisfied with how things are going. We need to make some changes, starting with how the House does business.

We need to let every member contribute…

Wow! Clearly, this is a man who has zero capacity for self-reflection. When he said, “improve people’s lives,” about whom was he talking? His career is built on keeping many targeted populations from having better lives. For example, Ryan proposed to cut social programs such as Medicare and Food Stamps and gutting Planned Parenthood. I will use his own words here: “I support the rights of the unborn child. Personally, I believe that life begins at conception, and it is for that reason that I feel we need to protect that life as we would protect other children.”  Sadly, he does not support family leave for women or families to take care of children — more than ironic given he demanded he be allowed time to spend time with his family before accepting the job of Speaker of the House. What a perfect example of “I want mine and I don’t care if you get  yours.”

Yes, Mr. Ryan, the House is broken. When were you planning an apology here? Let us remember that you are one of the architects who helped to break the House with your obstructionist agenda.  Of course you are not “interested in laying blame,” because that would mean you would have to apologize to the people of the United States, specifically all targeted populations and all people experiencing poverty. Perhaps we could “wipe the slate clean” by putting you and the other tea party members in check.

You continue to obstruct the Affordable Health Care Act and offer to repeal it. How does that “improve people’s lives”?  Easy for you to propose because you have a Cadillac health insurance policy paid for by the citizens you are working against.  In fact, you continue to work AGAINST women, people of color, the poor, and the LGBTQ community. (You champion promoting workplace discrimination against the LGBT community.)  From my perspective, you seem to be only concerned with white, heterosexual, Christian, wealthy men.

You also seem to be a big fan of wars, having supported going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Have you been to war? What do you propose to do to support veterans after they serve? You have consistently voted to cut veterans’s benefits, which seems both ironic and hypocritical if you are sending troops to war.

I can only hope your tenure as Speaker of the House is exceedingly short lived and that more intelligent voices will prevail and replace you with due speed.  I do wonder what your mentor Ayn Rand would think of your current position, or the fact that even former Speaker Bohener (not a friend to anyone) thought your budget proposal was too harsh.

Sadly, I am not encouraged or excited to see how you will perform in what is most certainly a national role.  Let us hope you prove me wrong.

Saturday Night Live Hosting Hate: Donald Trump

19 Oct

TrumpI used to think of Saturday Night Live (SNL) as a piece of pop culture that made an attempt at being progressive — to provide humor by shining a light on systemic oppression and the laughter was found in the irony/parody.  While SNL has had its great triumphs and failures in the past 40 years, they have reached a new low by giving the racist, bigoted, misogynistic, homophobe Donald Trump a platform for hate.

One can only assume that NBC and SNL do not care that they continue to push away targeted communities, such as the Latino community, the African-American community, and the LGBTQ community, not to mention people who have shared identities in all of these communities. Of course Trump is an equal-opportunity hater, well-known for his rabid Islamophobia. He revels in perpetuating fear-mongering myths propped up by old white men. If SNL was doing a remount of 9 to 5 and cast Trump as Franklin Hart, I would get that and I could see how that would be funny, albeit type casting.

Trump’s appearance is a remarkable, disgusting reversal of NBC’s earlier actions. When The Hair That Roared made his infamous comments about Mexican immigrants in late June, the network severed all ties with him, stating:

At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values.

I guess the greedy quest for ratings/MONEY is more foundational even than that cornerstone.

Sadly, by giving Trump a platform and so much airtime, I can only assert that NBC and SNL are now colluding with a dominant white, male, heteronormative, discourse that shows nothing but disdain for people outside of that identity. How disappointing. I can only encourage people not to watch SNL and send a message that hosting and promoting HATE just isn’t funny.

National Coming Out Day 2015: The Power of Visibility

11 Oct

Coming OutGrab your smelling salts, clutch your pearls: I have big news. I am gay, queer, a homosexual. Yes, it is true. October 11 is National Coming Out Day. Why do we need this day? Why do we need to celebrate this day?

I cannot underscore enough the importance of being out and visible.  The more visible we are as a community, the more difficult it is to target us and treat us as sub-human or second class citizens.

Currently there are 29 states — over half of the US — where it is still legal to actively discriminate against LGBT folk.  Look at this map provided by the ACLU to see where your state stands on protecting rights of LGBTQ people. Yes, in 29 states one can be fired for being gay. Not a big surprise that no state in the South has the slightest protection for the LGBT community. (There do exist individual cities that provide limited protection.)  I guess that wacky Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision from 2003 meant nothing.

Sadly, in this election year, we have only seen venom coming from each GOP candidate regarding LGBTQ rights. Such asinine statements such as, “we will put them in camps,” coming from Mike Huckabee. My, I am having a deja vu moment here–almost as though Huckabee has no recollection of history. We have  Ted Cruz who rushed to the side of the bigot Kim Davis to canonize her. And of course, Rick (The P is Silent) Santorum, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Bobby Jindal have all signed the antiquated and now obsolete the NOM Marriage Pledge of Hate. And Carly (I hate women and gays) Fiorina opposes ENDA promoting discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Marco Rubio also opposes ENDA and has gone so far as to say he will deny any rights for LGBTQ immigrants — my this group is charm free!

It is imperative that people see this as political! In 2014 we saw at least 16 LGBTQ people murdered because of their identities, and 11 of those 16 were people who are trans identified and of those 11, 10 were transwomen of color. Sadly, the numbers have only increased in 2015, and we know these numbers are not accurate because people are too fearful to identify, or authorities misidentify people.  We need to vote for people who will support LGBTQ rights.

And I  hold out great hope for the future. I have trans identified students in all of my classes who are embraced and cherished. I had the honor of meeting a transgender man who just turned 18. All I could think about what what strength and courage. Now, I ask everyone to think about how important it is for all of us to be visible and to support one another.

Happy Birthday, Olivia Newton John

26 Sep


Today is Olivia Newton John’s 67th birthday!  I want to say Happy Birthday and I would like to celebrate a woman whose music has brought me endless joy and whose dedication to social justice inspires me. Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England in 1948. Her father was a Welsh-born professor and her mother a German Jew whose family fled Germany as the Nazis came to power. (Her mother’s father was Nobel-winning physicist Max Born.) The family moved to Melbourne, Australia when Olivia was six, and it is that country that she considers her home.

A talented singer, she began performing in her teens and took part in a number of Australian TV programs. She met future collaborator and producer John Farrar, who encouraged her to take part in a contest on Sing Sing Sing. She won a trip to England, initially planning to stay for a year to explore the country and her career. She built up slow, steady momentum and released her first album in 1971.

That launched real international success, including an invitation to perform the U.K. entry in the 1974 Eurovision contest. (She came in 4th; the winner that year was Sweden, with ABBA’s Waterloo.) She was still struggling to get a foothold in the U.S., but won a Grammy for best Country Female Performance. That award raised anger in Country purist circles, in part because she was still based in England. (The ever-wonderful Dolly Parton, however, supported her.) Taking advice from fellow Aussie Helen Reddy, Olivia moved to the U.S. In short order she launched a massively successful career.

I remember getting beaten up in the bathroom when I was a little kid at summer camp.  I was singing You’re the One That I Want from Grease, when a couple of bullies came in and beat the tar out of me.  How I hated those kids and how I loved Olivia and how did I not know I was gay back in the 7th grade?  Of course, even today I sing to Xanadu and all of the classic Olivia songs.  There is another song that holds a very special place in my heart, Tutta La Vita.  This song came out when my friend Kent was sick in the hospital and I loved this song for both the lyrics and for the music.  Sadly, my friend Kent passed away from HIV, but I think about him when I hear this song.  How wonderful that our Olivia stands in solidarity with the LGBT community.

Besides her beautiful music, Olivia has been a tireless advocate for many causes. She is an outspoken environmentalist and animal rights advocate. (She has cancelled Japanese tours over the slaughter of dolphins in tuna nets.) A breast cancer survivor, she also devotes a great deal of energy to cancer education, diagnosis, research, and treatment. She has also worked closely with UNICEF and been an advocate for LGBT rights.

A great singer, actress, activist, and all-around decent human being, I love our Olivia! (And who can forget her amazing performance in Sordid Lives?) Thank you for bringing your joy and passion into so many lives.

Labor Day 2015: Much Despised by the GOP

7 Sep

Labor Day 2015Labor Day was started in 1882 by labor unions, but it would be many more years before it would be recognized as a Federal Holiday. Oregon was the first state to recognize and honor Labor Day in 1887.  Finally in 1894, it became a national holiday on the first Monday in September under the Cleveland Administration.  Congress passed it unanimously, a very rare event indeed. Today we have an opportunity to reflect on why we need to celebrate the laborer and to look at the maldistribution of wealth in the United States. It’s particularly important to note how all of the GOP presidential candidates show nothing but contempt, disdain, and even disgust for the laborer.

Reflecting back, the United States can proudly celebrate the influence of its labor unions and how they have helped to protect the too often marginalized and voiceless.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire proved there was still a great deal of work to be accomplished by the labor movement.  Labor Unions also worked to protect children and helped to establish an eight hour work day, fair wage laws, and breaks for safety and meals — that whole notion of having a weekend.

Sadly, America seems to be losing its appreciation of Labor Unions while privileging profit over people.  President Clinton left a nasty legacy called NAFTA and perpetuated a culture of vilifying those in poverty.

Many of us have been working in movements to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. This would be just a very small movement forward and still does not address a living wage. Sadly, the common theme from all of the GOP candidates has been nothing less than hostile, as they all seem to subscribe to the false notion of a meritocracy.

We hear Republicans bleat about jobs and the economy but do nothing, while at the state level we see a nefarious and dangerous Scott Walker are dismantling unions and isolating workers from the political process.  We have seen Walker, Christie, Kasich, and Jindal bash and target teachers and unions, rather than looking at how do we redistribute wealth in an equitable way that helps to lift people out of poverty. Please take a look at this short video on the distribution of wealth; this is what we should desperately focus on and how every GOP candidate is on the wrong side of history here.

Labor Day isn’t just an excuse for a long weekend or a chance to grill an extra hot dog before autumn sets in. It’s a chance to reflect on the work that is done at all levels of our society and the value of all that labor. It’s a chance to celebrate the collaboration that makes work better and working conditions safer. In the words of the great Joe Hill (as sung by Billy Bragg, thanks to my husband for the choice of Bragg):

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child

There is power in a Union.

Happy Labor Day to all of our brothers and sisters that have to work today and that have no pension, no health benefits, and are at the poverty line.


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