Speak Truth to Power

The Quakers are pacifists. “Speak truth to power” is part of the Quaker credo for seeking and maintaining peace in a troubled world. They recognize power as those responsible for making war, the groups who place people in positions of power, and the concept of power alone. Truth, in the Quaker tradition, stems from their age-old belief that love overcomes hate.

Being a pacifist in today’s world is not always popular and not an easy position to hold. It requires diligence and challenges us to maintain our strength even while faced with grim and stark realities.  I am a pacifist. Some may call that weak, but I don’t mind telling you that I also have a fiery temper and remaining a pacifist is a challenge of my strength almost daily. I am also a realist, yet always hold out a shred of optimism, for without that tiny bit of hope I would personally fall into the depths of depression pretty quickly. That’s not a pretty place to visit and having crawled out of it a couple of times in my life I prefer to not go back there.

I am also a former journalist. I got out of the news business years ago in order to seek a more stable lifestyle for raising my children. News doesn’t sleep, but parents must be there for our children. That was my moral imperative at the time and I have no regrets, especially since they seem to have turned out to be really good people.

For many years, I wrote and read news on the radio locally and wrote for a regional newspaper. People believed what I wrote and spoke. I was not accused of fabricating the news, nor degraded for reporting it. I even won a few awards for journalism back in the day. Despite a pivot in my career into communications for non-profits, my character and integrity have not changed.

The Presidential election this past week changed a lot of things. It did not change me. Although I no longer report the local news, I remain a student of government and news. I make a point of staying in touch with real world issues whether they are in my neighborhood, my country, or across the globe. Many Americans have chosen to shelter themselves from global problems as serious as famine and genocide because they are too busy working to keep their own lives together. I don’t fault them for that. I don’t fault people for feeling like they want a better life. We all do.

The results of the election did not go as I would have liked. I am not whining or complaining or despondent over it. I have not called people names. Despite being told for months that it’s okay to be politically incorrect, that’s not my style and never will be. I believe in civility and will be both courteous and kind. I will fight for change in the mid-term elections two years from now and in the Presidential election four years from now.

I will also speak truth to power. I will continue to point out injustice when it’s warranted. I will stand up for those who are protesting this election because they have First Amendment rights in this country. Here’s a refresher on the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Here are the facts:

  1. Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, by more than 600,000 votes at the latest count.
  2. Voter turnout was incredibly low. Just 55% of eligible voters cast a ballot this year. There may be several factors for that, but one was most likely that so many Americans couldn’t stand either of the major party candidates.
  3. Just after the election, House Speaker Paul Ryan, buoyed by the fact that Republican candidates won majorities in the House and Senate and claimed the Presidency, suggested that the Republican Party has a “mandate to govern.” That is not the case (see #1.)
  4. Millions of people feel disenfranchised by the outcome of this election (again, see #1.) They have every right to voice displeasure and concern (re-read the First Amendment, above.) No, they do not have a right to turn their protests into violence and thankfully that has not been the case in most of the protests.

And here is one more very ugly fact: hate crime spiked right after the election. Suddenly, swastikas appeared. In one incident just about an hour from my home a swastika was painted in a park along with the words “Make America White Again.” Our Governor has ordered a full hate crime investigation by the New York State Police and the State Division of Human Rights.  That is a single incident among many nationwide.

Donald Trump is poised to become the next President of the United States. He spent months telling people that they didn’t need to be civil and courteous anymore, that Latinos would be deported, and that Muslims would be rounded up. He degraded women. He instilled fear in African-Americans and the LGBT community. If he said those things without meaning them, then he now needs to tell his supporters to back off – swiftly and unequivocally. If he said those things and meant them, then he needs a really good lesson in the First Amendment (above.)

I will not sit down and shut up. Just because I live way out here in my sheltered suburban community where people aren’t protesting the vote doesn’t mean I can’t lodge my own protest. I will continue to write about wrongs, show people what’s really going on, and hope to rally the righteous against injustice. I will continue to be civil and kind to others. But I will not stand by and do nothing. Once the naysayers are silenced, then we have turned over our government and relinquished our responsibilities to allow the spread of hate and fascism and that is simply un-American. My friends are free to read what I write or to scroll past it in their news feeds and that is their choice.

My voice will not be silenced. My integrity won’t allow it. I will continue to speak truth to power.  Join me.

Pantsuit Rebellion

It has been a rainy post-election day, causing additional clouds to accumulate in my head, which is never a good thing. I woke up after an all too short night’s sleep feeling like this nightmare should have ended, but it didn’t. It’s still here. It will be here for a while.

Our country has never been more divided and it is absolutely an issue of bigotry. After eight years of the first African American President of the United States, white people rose up in this country to “Make America Great Again.” What they meant was “Make America White Again.”

Guess what? America never was white. The natives who lived here first, who our European ancestors so unceremoniously murdered or rounded up and herded onto little tracts of land that we whites proudly called reservations, were not white. The African-Americans that our white European ancestors brought to their new world to do their dirty work were not white. The Mexican-Americans who settled vast parts of the Western United States before it even was the United States were not white.

But here we stand on the cusp of a new presidency as throngs of white Americans revel in the fact that their chosen one has openly condemned blacks and Latinos. He has condemned Muslims and Jews. He has condemned women.

And now we are being asked to heal. His supporters say, “He didn’t really mean it.” They tell us, “It was just campaign rhetoric.” They opine that “He really isn’t like that.” Okay then, tell me what he really is because that is exactly what he has shown us for many months now and it is the embodiment of the ugly American.

So you’re going to tell me now that you’re not a bigot and you still voted for him. You’re going to tell me that you voted for this demagogue because you are tired of government and sick of politicians and you think that being politically correct is wrong. You’re going to tell me that his opponent was not trustworthy, and you’re going to look me in the eye and tell me that you couldn’t stand her supposed lies even though you were completely unwilling to overlook his blatant lies. You so gamely bought into the decades of trash heaped upon her that you were seeking some alternative and you felt he was an unorthodox substitute.

But I am telling you that you chose brash. You chose hate speech. You chose vindictive. You chose bullying. You chose misogyny. You chose xenophobic. You chose civic illiteracy. You chose instability. And you chose racist. Even if you personally are not those things, that is still the person you chose to lead our country, and now you want the rest of us, the majority actually, since she won the popular vote but not the Electoral College vote, to drop all of our concerns and say that we’re happy to help heal this country.

I do want this country to heal and I want the division to stop. But I will never have a clear conscience when people of color, religious diversity, LGBT people, the disabled, environmentalists, scientists, and women are asked to take a back seat to bigots. We still have an obligation in this country to keep it a safe place to raise families and that includes stamping out schoolyard bullies, maintaining clean air and water, providing a safe and plentiful food supply, allowing people to worship in whatever way they choose, and protecting freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.  Stopping the division means that everyone has a place at the table, not relegating some to a different table.

You owe the rest of us an olive branch, a large one. What will this new leader do to prove that he wants our country to heal? From where I stand, civility has been dealt a crushing blow.

I will always respect the office of President of the United States. That does not mean I will always agree with the office-holder. It remains to be seen whether he can actually govern now. He will get a chance to try, and he will not have an obstructionist Congress in his way. My response to their behavior will depend entirely on what they choose to do with their newfound power. They can choose to bulldoze their opposition, or they can use it for the betterment and healing of a broken nation. We all await their decision. Either way, I can tell you for sure that the Democratic Party I have known all these years remains the party of progressives, not populists, and will still work hard to move our country forward, not backward.

I spent this gloomy day mired in depression. But it’s morphing now into righteous indignation. So I and at least 3-million like-minded women are putting the rest of you on notice now: we won’t sit still and we won’t shut up and we won’t look away when this government you have chosen for us denigrates vast numbers of proud American citizens. We also have a whole bunch of men on our side and quantities of young people. Look out. The pantsuits are still coming for you.

Musings of a Voter

After far too long a campaign, here we are just one week away from Election Day. I would make a lousy politician, but I have always, always, always been a political animal. I am pretty sure most of my feelings about political policy stem from a very strong sense of justice, ingrained from my formative years as the middle child among five. I learned early that life is unfair, but that doesn’t mean it has to be unjust. We should always strive for justice.

I learned to debate at the family dinner table, where my views of the world often conflicted with my father’s views of the world. Dad was a Republican. Actually, Dad was an Eisenhower Republican, and later a Rockefeller Republican. His views on fiscal issues always leaned a bit to the right, but his views on social issues leaned slightly more to the center, and then more to the left as he mellowed with age. I have always been a little more to the left than Dad was, or maybe more than a little. When I registered to vote at the age of eighteen, Dad was shocked that I registered as a Democrat. I said, “You know I feel more aligned with the Democratic platform.” His reply was, “You can vote for whoever you want, but you should always register as a Republican.” Over the years I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans for a variety of offices.

My Dad would not even recognize his Republican Party today. In fact, even back in the early 1990’s as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was drafting his “Contract with America,” Dad had the foresight to predict that his Republican party was being “hijacked” (his word, not mine) by the growing Conservative movement. He was concerned then that more moderate Republicans like him would be shuffled aside for the growing influence of the religious right and the ultra-Conservatives. You were right, Dad.

So as a life-long Democrat, I am asking today for the Republican Party to put up or shut up. The GOP had eight years of a Democratic administration to get its act together for this year’s election. Instead of unifying and putting forth an incredibly strong candidate with the traditional Republican values of fiscal conservatism, smaller government, and free enterprise, the Republican party candidate is nothing more than a demagogue, spouting whatever notions happen to fall into his head and out of his mouth at the same time. American politics is at its best when the competition is real and rational and focused on the crucial issues facing our country, so GOP, please either get your act together or bow out graciously and recognize that you have become irrelevant in this new realm of populism versus progressivism.

As voters, most of us look at both policy and personality in selecting a candidate. This election provides a very clear choice. Those who claim the two are equally flawed are simply not paying attention. One is qualified to the point of being able to walk into the Oval Office and begin the job immediately, while the other doesn’t have the attention span to even learn what the driving issues are, let alone focus on how to tackle them.

Full disclosure: I have long been a believer in Hillary Clinton. Many of you would disagree with me vehemently about her role in politics and even in the Democratic Party, but I can tell you that I have met the woman, shook her hand, and conversed with her. She does not have horns or cloven hooves. She is a strong woman with passionate beliefs about how to help people in our country. While many see a brazen career politician, I see a public servant who has put her country first for decades. She has faced harsh criticism and did not shrink from it; in fact it has made her even stronger. Spare me the standard “Benghazi” and “Email” stories. Benghazi was tragic, but she was Secretary of State, not a military operative, and she was not in charge of sending troops to Libya – a move, by the way, that was hampered by funding cuts from Congressional Republicans. She did err in using a private email server. Never-the-less, she has withstood more grilling than almost anyone else in the history of our government and she has come through it with not only a willingness to continue her effort to serve, but an eagerness to try to make a difference.

Her opponent prides himself on not being a public servant. That is painfully obvious. Only in recent months has he been under the same type of scrutiny that she has faced for thirty years, and he can’t take it. He is all ego and bluster packaged in an immature bully. In addition, and this gets around to my initial point: he is NOT a Republican. So if you believe you are voting for the Republican candidate by choosing Trump, you are not. He is not even a Conservative. He is, in fact, a fascist who would just as soon rule with an iron fist because that suits his narcissistic, vengeance-driven personality. If you take a moment to get beyond the rhetoric and actually listen to his words, you will hear what this election is really all about for him. His platform is not about creating jobs or even building a wall. It’s about him and about how he feels and about how the crowds make him feel like a rock star. It is not about helping our divided country. In fact, he is working every day to divide it further and inciting violence along the way.

I also need to say a few words about “truth.” We have become a very lazy nation. We have decided that it’s easy to read nothing more than our Facebook and Twitter feeds and we no longer need actual news outlets. The problem with that, and I speak here as a former journalist, is that we never get around to critical thinking. I challenge everyone to read actual newspapers and listen to and watch actual news reports from outlets that you may think are outside your realm. It is possible, and I know this because I do it. I want to know how others are feeling and thinking, because in doing so I will be better informed to make my own decision. We are hit now with so much click-bait “news” and so many far-right and far-left websites that call themselves “news” and it’s very easy to surround ourselves with our own cocoon of ignorance. Break out of that cocoon and become your own butterfly. It’s liberating to read and learn and grow in your understanding of the world. I believe strongly that competition makes us better, so I sincerely urge all serious journalistic outlets to find ways to improve in the wake of this election. To really report the news, you must set aside your personal biases, ask probing questions, and courageously tell your audience/reader/listener the facts, whether they want to hear them or not.

So here we are with just one week left to go and I am so incredibly sad for our country. We have become a nation so bitterly divided that it’s hard to even recognize us as the UNITED States of America. The hateful rhetoric surrounding this election has dealt a devastating blow to our country, which has already been rocked by some of the worst racial division we have encountered in 50 years.

Even when the election is over it won’t be over. We will feel the aftershocks from this earthquake for a very long time. It’s going to take some incredible construction skills to rebuild. Fortunately, we have a solid foundation remaining: The Constitution of the United States of America. One of the greatest documents ever written, it was a magnificent starting point 200 years ago and is still the blueprint for good government. When we pledge allegiance to our flag we note that our Republic stands “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Let’s make sure we stay indivisible, guided by those principles.

If you live in a state where early voting is allowed and have already voted, thank you. If you have not already voted, I would encourage you to do so, and to strongly consider the crucial issue of healing our country as you go to your polling place. For me, my sacred vote is always based on the principle of “justice for all,” which has been a driving force behind all of my beliefs for a lifetime. And I can tell you for sure, based on decades of arguments that turned into discussions, even my Dad would agree with me now.

Keep Moving Forward

Here’s what happens when you have an adult child who lives and works in New York City and you hear that there was an explosion. Your brain starts firing off all kinds of signals, the largest of which is silently screaming out, “Where is my child?”

We had the TV on at home Saturday night. My husband was channel surfing and happened to flip to CNN just as the first news broke that there had been a large explosion in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. They were showing a map of where the blast had occurred. It took just seconds for my brain to process that location: it was very close to where our daughter works. Uncomfortably close.

Now, this was Saturday night, and chances were good that our daughter was not at work. But chances were also good that she was out doing something on a Saturday night with friends or roommates, somewhere in New York City. I grabbed my phone immediately and sent her the following text message: “We are hearing about an explosion in Chelsea and just want to make sure you’re okay. Please text and let me know you are alright. Love you.”

Seconds later, my phone rang. “Mom, it’s me,” she said. “I am okay and we were not anywhere near there tonight.” It turns out that she was miles away. New York’s five boroughs cover many miles, so you can be “in the city” and still be very far away from Manhattan. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. But as our conversation continued, I realized that she, too, may have been shaken just a little, because Chelsea is a neighborhood where many people go out at night and she easily could have been in that vicinity. This time she wasn’t. We chatted for a few minutes, and then knowing that she was safe, we hung up with confidence that our daughter was going to be just fine. But what about everyone else’s sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles? We had the luxury of breathing a sigh of relief. Not everyone had that luxury, but fortunately there were no fatalities. It was actually the next day before I realized that the second, unexploded device was found in the very same block where our daughter works.

We have two grown daughters, both living in major east coast US cities. We talked to them about personal safety and have always urged them to be careful where they go, with whom, and when. From afar, we continue to urge them to exercise caution regularly. But how can you exercise caution against senseless acts of violence? There is no warning sign. It’s not the same as someone following you into a dark alley, which would be very scary, but our daughters should NEVER walk into a dark alley since we have drilled that into their heads. An explosion in a dumpster or on the street or sidewalk means that anyone who happens to be walking by can be injured. Any person. Any time. Any place.

We do not want our daughters to live in fear. We do not want anyone to live in fear. We want people to be able to go about their normal lives, conducting normal business, building relationships, helping others, doing their jobs, and simply living.

While it is thrilling to see our adult children pursuing their dreams and taking on great challenges, it is a struggle for us as well. Sure, we understand that just getting out of bed in the morning presents some safety concerns. We absolutely get it. You can be injured anywhere: small city, village, rural area…anywhere. But terrorist acts don’t usually happen in small, rural communities. They most frequently occur in major metropolitan areas where they can do a lot of damage: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

So here’s my message to my daughters today: keep on living your life! When scary stuff happens near you, the best way to fight back is to keep moving forward. Don’t let it disrupt your dreams or your goals. Don’t let it interfere with your work or your friendships. Sure, you should always stay alert for odd occurrences and you should absolutely report anything that looks strange or out of place. But the best revenge is living a good life, and you are both doing that in your respective cities. Please try to stay safe, and continue to humor your mother when she texts and asks if you’re alright. It takes just a moment for you to text or call back, and it comforts us to know that you are safe. We love you both so much.

We sincerely feel for the injured and their families and are relieved that at least one alleged perpetrator of these crimes has been caught.  At the same time, and I don’t mean this to sound at all flippant, we encourage everyone to keep on keeping on. Nothing can truly settle the score, but moving forward with the business of life is often humanity’s finest enterprise.

Farewell Old Friend

My husband worked there. His late father had worked there. Both of our daughters worked there. So when the Chautauqua Amphitheater was demolished, our family felt a profound sense of loss. To witness the razing of a structure that has so personally touched so many people is heartbreaking. At the same time, we understand that our emotions defy logic.

A panoramic view of the old Chautauqua Amphitheater

A panoramic view of the old Chautauqua Amphitheater

Logic tells us that the building was no longer safe, nor did it meet the demands of its current role. It was incredibly difficult to get in and out of the Amphitheater, for performers who had equipment to load in and out, and for spectators who had incredibly steep ramps to traverse just to find a seat on a rock hard wooden bench where your knees may or may not have hit the back of the bench in front of you. Countless times we rose from our seats to help catch a person (young and old alike) nearly taking a header down a ramp. We also watched as parts of the Amp struggled to keep up under the weight of rooftop snow. We heard from the Chautauqua staff about engineering studies which showed that many of the columns holding the roof over our heads had never been permanently anchored in concrete below the frost line; that they were actually just stuck into the earth, and that the building was very slowly sliding downhill towards Chautauqua Lake.

This Amphitheater was not the original at Chautauqua. An earlier flat-roofed model lasted just thirteen years before it was replaced. In addition, this Amp had been changed so many times over the years that almost none of it was original equipment: the Massey organ chamber was built, the stage was replaced, and countless other changes were made over the years.

I don’t believe that replacing the Amphitheater was ever an easy decision for any member of the Chautauqua Board of Trustees. Every person who has ever set foot under its tent-like roof has felt the weight of the historic speeches and performances there. The gravity of the loss has not been taken lightly. Yet the board is also required, as boards are, to look forward for the good of the Institution. Creating a vision and mission are the most crucial roles of any board. I do believe that the founders of Chautauqua were progressive thinkers. Having read about Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent and their vision for Chautauqua, it is clear that they were in the business of focusing on teaching others in order to create what they felt would be a brighter future. It was their vision that created the Chautauqua Institution we have all enjoyed for decades. Now, their successors, are working towards maintaining that vision and looking forward.

Ruins of the Amphitheater

Ruins of the Amphitheater

When push came to shove yesterday, quite literally, the remains of the Amphitheater fell to the ground in less than sixty seconds. It turns out the engineering studies were right, and that the structure by itself was not safe. Once it was no longer anchored to the organ chamber, the crew on site could see it shifting and felt it could fall into the organ chamber, which would have been a disaster since that structure is being saved with a new Amp to be built around it. A few pushes by backhoes and a pull by a crane claw at the other end were all it took to knock it down in just about 45 seconds, according to the videos I have seen online. To watch it come down this quickly is both affirming and heartbreaking. Progress is often painful, but safety should always come first.

The landscape at Chautauqua is suddenly dramatically different, at least temporarily. It is very hard to see the place we have loved lying in ruins. Our family has spent hours in the old Chautauqua Amphitheater, both working and watching amazing performances, hearing fascinating lectures, and worshiping with inspirational preachers. Our children have graced that very stage, participating in All County Music Festivals and the Music School Festival Orchestra. We will always have those extraordinary memories.

Now, as we wait to see the new Amphitheater rise in its place, we look forward to making new memories. After all, it is the people and the relationships we have built that make Chautauqua a special place. The Institution remains focused on art, religion, music, and education, and that has not changed. We hope you will join us there next summer as we gather under the new Amp. Come and see if you’re inspired, as we have been, by the words uttered from the Amphitheater stage by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, to “think higher, feel deeper.”

Travelogue: Washington, D. C.

I was eleven years old the first time I visited Washington, D. C. I was staying in Maryland for the week with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, and during that time we drove to Washington to see some of the sights. The greatest thing about that day trip was that I got to see the nation’s capital through the eyes of my wonderful aunt. She loved the National Cathedral and made sure we stopped there to view the gorgeous stained glass and Gothic architecture.

Over the years I have been back to Washington several times. One of my sisters lived there for quite a while, and I also spent some time in that vicinity on work-related excursions. It was a thrill to take our children for their first trip many years ago, which allowed us to see the city again through their wide-eyed, youthful innocence.

Washington-Mon-Reflection

View of the Washington Monument and reflecting pool on a beautifully sunny late Saturday afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial.

Honestly, it is impossible to see the monuments in DC too many times. We have seen them under clear blue skies and under the beautifully done artificial lights at night. We have seen them close up by walking along the National Mall from one to the other, and we have seen them from afar through car windows. We have visited several of the Smithsonian museums: the National Gallery of Art, the Air and Space Museum, and the Museum of Natural History, to name a few. We have seen the splendid rotunda at the Library of Congress, strolled along Constitution Avenue near the Ellipse in front of the White House, explored historic Georgetown, driven through Chinatown, and enjoyed lunch in Foggy Bottom and dinner at Union Station. We once waited in line for nearly two hours to visit the Capitol Building, but the children grew restless and we decided to skip the interior tour. Then, as we wandered around to the steps facing the Mall, we watched a rally (I cannot recall the cause) going on at the front of the building: a display of the First Amendment before our very eyes – the Rights of Free Speech, Assembly, and Petition.

Votes for Women! Just one of the interesting little tidbits from the Newseum.

Votes for Women! Just one of the interesting little tidbits from the Newseum.

On this most recent trip we made a point of visiting the Newseum. It was superb! Long after I gave up journalism as a career, I am still a news junkie. Watching, listening to, or reading about today’s news makes us an eyewitness to tomorrow’s history. Especially compelling were the First Amendment exhibit and the Press Freedom Map of the World, and definitely step outdoors onto the sixth floor terrace to take a look around and snap some photos. The Berlin Wall exhibit was extraordinary, featuring pieces of the actual wall and a guard tower, as well as film from both the building of the wall and its dismantling.  We watched some teenagers filming stand-up news in front of an image of the White House and paused to appreciate the enormous weight of the words used by Edward R. Murrow to describe the bombing of London in 1940. While all of the Smithsonian museums are free in Washington, the Newseum is privately run and costs about $20 per adult. It is absolutely worth the price of admission, and there’s a 15% discount available if you purchase tickets in advance online. Oh, and definitely make a point of visiting the restroom while you are there – you will leave laughing at the specialty wall tiles featuring some tremendously funny headline gaffs!  Our only disappointment was that the Pulitzer Prize photo gallery was temporarily closed during our visit, so a return trip is absolutely necessary.

Smithsonian-Castle-from-Newseum

The Smithsonian Castle as seen from the observation deck at the Newseum.

After lunch in the Food Section at the Newseum, we began to walk towards the Smithsonian Museum of American History, but Mother Nature intervened. My husband donned his light jacket with a hood and I opened my compact umbrella as the sky opened up to become a downpour in a matter of seconds. Drenched, we ducked into the nearby National Archives center. What a fortuitous opportunity! Every American should visit this remarkable place just to view the original Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Aged and difficult to read, they are kept under glass in low light and on display in the rotunda, which also features beautiful murals that depict the formation of our government. Also kept in the Archives are written records, photographs, patent submissions, maps, films, immigration records, military service records, and much more. They are all searchable, or you can simply sample what’s there by walking through their exhibits.  Photography is not allowed in the National Archives, which admittedly was hard for me.

We dried out a bit during our walk through the Archives, and when the rain stopped we made another break for the American History museum. No such luck. The rain began again as a slight shower but quickly grew heavy and we detoured into the Natural History museum which was closer. The life sized elephant and whale displays are amazing and the Evolution exhibit was fascinating.

View of the Capitol Building looking down Pennsylvania Avenue after the rain on a Sunday afternoon.

View of the Capitol Building looking down Pennsylvania Avenue after the rain on a Sunday afternoon.

By then it was nearly time to meet our daughter for dinner, and fortunately the rain had stopped, so we walked to Union Station and got some spectacular photos of the Capitol Building against the post-deluge sky along the way.

For those of us who live in small town America, one of the hardest parts of visiting major cities is the very stark economic contrasts in the population. Sadly, in our nation’s capital, homelessness is evident everywhere and panhandlers are more bold than anywhere else we have ever traveled. We sat down on a bench briefly at Union Station, and a very tall and imposing man sat down right next to me, so close that our legs nearly touched, to ask for spare change. Because opening my wallet would have been a tremendous security risk, I lied and tried to be kind when I said, “I don’t have any cash.” He said, “I understand,” and got up and walked away. Another man approached us as we sat on a park bench, and a third circled our car at a stop light while holding out a plastic cup. We watched a woman in a busy intersection heckle a pedestrian until he tucked a few dollars into her plastic cup. We routinely donate to several charities, but I always feel like it’s too risky to pull money out of my wallet in these situations. It does make me feel bad, but personal safety is more important to me and if that makes me a bad person, then so be it.

You will also see and hear people from all over the world doing the same touristy things that we Americans are doing, visiting our national monuments and museums and soaking in the culture.  They take pause at the Vietnam Wall just as we do, speaking reverently in hushed tones in foreign languages.  They stand in awe at the massive Lincoln Memorial, gazing up towards the giant statue of a giant man and out over the reflecting pool towards the Washington Monument, taking selfies to demonstrate that they are standing in the shadow of great leaders.

If you’ll be visiting DC any time soon, these would be my recommendations: wear very comfortable shoes, decide exactly what your priorities are, scope out the map ahead of time so you can see just how far it is from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial and all points in between. If walking the Mall is not your thing you might consider one of the convenient services that rents motorized bicycles to get you between all of the monuments. The museums are open during the day and the monuments are all accessible and beautiful at night, so plan your time based on your priorities.  Definitely use the Metro buses or subway system as much as possible. Driving in DC is a nightmare. The spoked wheel street layout must have looked terrific on paper in the horse and buggy days, but with millions of cars on the road now it makes very little sense and is much easier and even faster to walk from place to place. In addition, like other cities, parking is expensive. Just getting in and out on the infamous Beltway with its six lanes in each direction can be challenging, and the best times to tackle that are late at night or very early in the morning, I would say between 9pm and 6am, or on a Sunday when traffic is lighter.

Despite numerous trips, there are many things we have not done in The District. We have not visited the White House. We have not watched the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. We have not been up into the Washington Monument. We have not visited the National Zoo to see the giant pandas, and there are a number of Smithsonian museums we have yet to investigate including the American History museum which eluded us this time due to rain. While I have walked through historic Old Town Alexandria across the river in Virginia, I have never visited George Washington’s home nearby at Mount Vernon.

We have visited in spring, summer, and winter, but amazingly have never been there when the cherry blossoms were in bloom. Perhaps that will be our next visit, especially since our most compelling reason to go now is that our younger daughter lives there, right in the heart of all the government and history and beauty and education and culture; right where she wants to be.

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Dear Daughter

Dear Daughter in the District,

The little one on the left is all grown up now, and living just a few blocks from the Capitol Building.

The little one on the left is all grown up now, and living just a few blocks from the Capitol Building.

I have wonderful memories of the first time we took you to Washington, DC. You were seven and your sister was ten. You looked in the encyclopedia (in those pre-Google days) to learn all about the government and the monuments so you could help plan the trip. I know you were excited to go this time, too, but maybe not quite as exuberant as your seven-year old self.

Of course you know this, but this trip was quite different than any of our previous visits. This one has some permanence built in. You know how I got just a little teary-eyed when we hugged goodbye? I promise you, I haven’t shed any additional tears. Of course I also haven’t wandered upstairs into your empty bedroom yet, so there is still time.

There are no major words of wisdom I can provide for you and I don’t feel a need. But the long drive home after we helped you settle into your apartment did give me time to reflect on several things.

I very clearly recall that one of your elementary school teachers felt we were pushing you academically. I told her that simply was not true and that you had a very strong tendency to push yourself. She felt that wasn’t possible for a child your age, and we assured her that you had been very much in charge of your own capacity for learning ever since you decided to learn the multiplication tables at the same time your sister learned. Of course you were in preschool at the time, but that didn’t stop you.

You already know this, but Dad and I are very proud of you. Starting law school is a huge milestone! When people tell us that we must be good parents because we have raised terrific daughters, it is humbling. Mainly because we feel that we tried to set a good example and establish some reasonable expectations, but that you both have outpaced any hopes we ever had for you by setting your own goals and then charging full speed ahead to reach them. It’s so exciting to watch you work hard to fulfill your dreams.

Your determination has always been exemplary, perhaps matched only by your level of personal discipline. I really have been in awe of those qualities, which seem to come so naturally to you. The discipline is especially compelling, since those genes seem to have passed me by entirely.

As soon as you were accepted at Georgetown Law, we knew you would choose to go there. Of course you made a show of doing all the right homework, asking questions, getting all the facts, and exploring all of your law school offers before you made your choice. We are delighted that you are able to attend your dream school in a city where important decisions are made all the time. Our hope is that you will continue to feed your voracious mind and thirsty soul in this new and exciting place. Stay true to yourself and you’ll be just fine.

We remain thrilled to stand back and watch as your future unfolds before you. This is a great adventure. Enjoy the ride!

Love Always,
Mom

One World

It is seriously beyond my comprehension why we seem hell bent on shutting one another out in this contemporary world. The Brexit vote was a disappointment, and as I watch from afar what has taken place in Great Britain, I see a lot of similarities to what is dividing us politically in the United States.

In this world of instant messaging and hyper-emphasis on social media, why do we still think it is okay to focus on just ourselves? Have we become strictly nations of narcissists? Have we become a world of “me first” thinkers? More importantly, if that’s how we define ourselves as individuals and as nations, what can we do to turn that around?

How did the United Kingdom do a complete turn-around from its very long history of colonizing territories worldwide to shutting itself off from its next door neighbors? Is it going to give up all those other territories now in order to isolate itself further?  I doubt it.

Here in the US, how is it that we have gone from Ronald Reagan standing by the Brandenburg Gate imploring, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” in 1987, to “We’re gonna build a wall” in 2016?  There were many positions taken by former President Reagan with which I could not agree, but I could never argue with his ability to make a good speech and always agreed with his drive to end the Cold War and bring nations together. We all remember one line from his speech at the Berlin Wall, but it also included another great line that turned out to be prophetic: “Across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”

If we can learn anything from history, the key take-away should be that isolationism is never the answer.  Many historians believe that the US policy of isolationism after World War I was a key factor in the onset of World War II.  I’m pretty sure Great Britain does not want to repeat that, nor does the rest of Europe.  I am saddened by the British vote to separate from EU.

Here in the USA we have a long history of being a proud nation of immigrants. But take a look around the rest of the world. Isn’t that the case almost everywhere now? Since personal air travel became more accessible to individuals for both business and pleasure post World War II, the borders of many countries have been opened in an unprecedented way. It has become harder and harder to claim a single national identity, not just for Americans, but for all peoples everywhere. The advent of the Internet brought us all closer together in different ways, making it possible for people to create bonds with one another from thousands of miles away.

Like it or not, we are a global economy and there is no looking back. Anyone who tells you otherwise is seriously kidding themselves. Great Britain can never shut itself off from its European neighbors economically. The United States can never close its ties with Chinese industry. You may not know it, but even small, local, businesses are importing and exporting goods from around the world all the time now. That manufacturing plant where your father used to work is almost certainly selling its products online now, to buyers in Asia, Africa, and South America. Worldwide trade is commonplace, even among smaller companies that don’t have a multi-national presence.

I have read numerous articles about the key issues in the 2016 US presidential election, and also read numerous articles on the various rationales to “leave” or “stay” in Britain.  After all of this reading, it seems clear that the true driving force behind peoples’ votes this year is fear: fear of job loss, fear of immigrants, fear of crime, and fear of a changing social climate. Maybe what really separates us is the bigger question, “What are we afraid of?” My answer to that remains virtually unchanged: I refuse to give in to fear.

Sure, there are lots of things that trigger fear in people for different reasons. But if we become consumed by fear then eventually we won’t even get out of bed in the morning. I simply will not accept that in my life. It’s the prospect of embracing a new day, regardless of what it may bring, that keeps me going. It’s the idea that our differences make us special, that we each come with talents and inabilities, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. It’s the notion that behind the color of our skin, hair, and eyes, behind our gender, behind our economic status, we are all people. We all have families and friends and many of us choose to act in ways that make a difference for others. What separates us can also unite us. If it unites some groups for evil, it can also unite others for good.

I have seldom been accused of optimism, but still feel strongly that there is hope for people to get along with one another. There is hope for individuals and hope for nations. It takes work, and communication is the key. It’s always the key, whether you’re building personal or professional relationships between individuals or between nations. Ironic, isn’t it, that in this age of instant communication, we still can’t find the meaningful words to help us all get along?

With all of our fears, all of our poverty, all of our wealth, all of our colors, all of our faiths, all of our hearts, we are one world.  We have no one else in the entire solar system – just us on this single planet.  We are one world. We need to start acting like it.

I Am a Feminist

I am a feminist. Still.

First let me say that I am tired of having to repeat myself year after year after year. I don’t think we should have to, in 2016, still be pointing out that women are treated not just unequally, but actually with contempt in some cases. But then life as usual happens and I am reminded again that we feminists still have to speak out.

A convicted rapist is sentenced to just six months in prison because the judge feels that the young man’s life will be ruined if he faces a longer term. The rapist’s father tells the court his son can’t even enjoy eating a steak anymore. Neither of these men, privileged merely by the facts that they are white and they are men, seems to understand that the young woman was actually the victim of this rape. Rape is not an intimate act, it is a violent crime. SHE WAS THE VICTIM!

A major party candidate for President of the United States is accused of “playing the woman card.” What exactly IS the woman card? I am pretty sure I have been shuffling that deck for decades now. Her opponent can’t possibly begin to understand the intricate issues of governance and politics, so he simply attacks her for being a woman. Some of us yearn to hear a genuine airing of issues and policy statements, and instead we get sexist rants, and his supporters, many of them women, are okay with that.

Don’t even get me started on the equal pay for equal work situation. No matter how you do the math, 79 cents does not equal a dollar. It never will.

Also, don’t get me started on the horrific treatment of women in other countries. No, it doesn’t make it better that our country allows women certain privileges and doesn’t treat them like cattle. It just makes other countries worse.

So what exactly is a feminist, you wonder, and why should a woman who has been happily married for 32 years be a feminist? Because it’s not about holding doors, it’s about equality. It’s not about who is stronger physically, it’s about equality. It’s not about women’s rights, it’s about human rights. It’s not about whether a woman can still feel feminine and enjoy wearing dresses and high heels. I do, and I’m still a feminist. It’s not about which partner changes the babies diapers or mows the lawn (and the answer in our home has always been “both of us.”) It’s about women and men being treated with equal respect under the law and in the workplace. It’s about women and men collectively being welcomed at the boardroom table and the kitchen table.

Once upon a time I was a card-carrying member of NOW, the National Organization for Women. Card carrying, as in: I donated to the organization and they sent me a membership card, which I carried in my wallet. I believed in their cause in the 1970s and I believe in their cause now. I believe in equal pay for equal work. I believe we have not done enough in this country to stop violence against women or against lesbian, gay, and transgender people. We haven’t done enough to promote racial equality or religious tolerance. Oh yes…I also believe that women should have control over their own health and medical care.

And we sure haven’t overcome the stereotypes that women have certain roles in society which do not include leadership. Routinely, women who are strong, assertive, ambitious, and intelligent are still considered bitchy. Men with those same traits are considered leadership material. I know this because I have lived it.

It’s especially vexing to me when young women deny that feminism is even necessary. They treat it like some type of historical novel; something that had to be an issue for women in the old days – way back in the 1960’s and 70’s. Here’s the thing about that: those women who made a big deal about equality back in the day are the reason young women now have opportunities to play sports, legally get credit in their own name including student loans (for better or worse), purchase property, and apply for any job they may choose. Your grandmothers and great grandmothers are the reason you now get to vote. But it’s not just history at stake, it’s the present.

Feminism is not a women’s issue. It’s a human issue. Both women and men need a consciousness-raising every so often, to remind us that we are all in this life together. We all need to treat one another with respect and kindness and with an eye towards justice at every turn. Our gender alone does not define who we are as a person any more than our race or our religion. We are all the sum total of our physical, emotional, intellectual, relational, and artistic experiences. My husband and I, together, have tried to instill these values in our daughters.

Yes, I am tired of repeating these arguments. I don’t want to have to raise the continuing issues of misogyny and chauvinism. Yet there they are, still rearing their ugly heads at every turn, even in 2016. We should be above all that by now, but we are not, and the struggle continues.

So I am a feminist. Still.

Words Fail

Even for wordy people, there are moments in life when words fail us. Sometimes the words seem inadequate to the task. Sometimes the awe is too great, the sadness too profound, or the joy too immense.

As I watched my youngest receive her Bachelor’s Degree, I felt a mix of all these emotions: awe, sadness, and joy, all coupled with enormous pride. Her elder sister’s accomplishments have also been amazing and this does not take away from those moments. Those were “firsts” for us. These are closer to “lasts”; thus, the sadness.

This is our baby who walked across the stage and collected her degree. This is our younger child, who has been literally racing to catch up since the day she was born. She is a competitor in life. Never interested in living in the shadow of her gregarious and talented older sister, this one began life intent to not just keep up, but to outdo. Today, she deserves all her own accolades.

This one started out holding onto just my pinky finger when her hands were too small to grasp my whole hand. This one started to speak, hesitantly at first, and then stopped speaking for several months until she started to talk again in complete and fully formed sentences. This one hid behind me sometimes, too bashful to say hello to people on the street. This one insisted while sitting on her hands at the age of three that she couldn’t pick up her toys because she “had no hands.” This one was tentative on the playground with other children. This one was always a “joy to have in class” according to her teachers, and something of a hellion at home, where she felt completely free to reveal her inner audacity.

Now she is beautifully grown and has entirely emerged from her shell to demonstrate her level of ambition to the rest of the world. She is direct and sometimes uncompromising. She expects a lot from herself. She doesn’t just reach for what she wants in life, she works hard to earn it. No one pushes her; she pushes herself. And she does it all with compassion for others, a deep belief in justice for all, and unwavering faith.

We are delighted beyond words that she is determined to create the life she wants. Those steps across the stage to receive a handshake and diploma represent the completion of her undergraduate education where she has flourished, and the beginning of her next steps which will bring even more challenges as she heads to law school in the fall.

I am delighted that our once curly-topped, coy toddler has blossomed into a poised and savvy young woman ready to start the next phase of her life. She moves on with all of our love and pride and joy, with just a twinge of sadness that our baby is fully grown. So just pass me a tissue when these emotions begin to leak from my eyes. I have no more words. They have failed me.