Friday, March 8, 2019

On Being Ordinary in Selma

I came to Selma. Finally.


I drove the 54-mile road to Montgomery, along the path where thousands walked in 1965. I saw the campsite locations for the walkers, most of whom set out on the journey - for a piece of freedom they knew the 14th amendment to the constitution had already had promised them - in their Sunday clothes.


I saw the memorial for a brave white mother from Detroit who heard the call for everyone who believed in justice, fairness, and America to come to Selma. She did. And she died.



I arrived at Alabama's state capital - one hour...not four days - later, to the grounds of St. Jude's Catholic Hospital/School with a sense of joy and relief. I cried.



Our trip began here 2 days ago, at the Edmund Pettus bridge. A quiet, sun-drenched morning put a little shine on this otherwise crumbling, poverty plagued South-Central Alabama town:


We came to remember this cold, drizzly day...March 7, 1965:


That was the day hundreds of Americans who believed every US citizen deserved the right to vote without qualification, harassment, or intimidation showed up to make a point. They would walk 54 miles to the state's capital, Montgomery, to let Alabama's segregationist governor know they were fed up with a post Civil War/ratified-14th-amendment-to-the-Constitution system that kept them from the most basic right in this country. Voting.

Those 1965 people were greeted with this on the Edmund Pettus (too much to say about who Edmund Pettus was...click on the link) bridge:


We - my husband and I, 54 years later - threatened by nothing but shadows of ourselves:


By the time we arrived in Montgomery - unencumbered by state troopers, national guard, blisters, rain - I knew it had taken 3 separate attempts to get the march all the way to the capital. When an accumulated 10,000 marchers joined hands on the steps of Montgomery's Capitol building on March 25, 1965, more than 50 people had been hospitalized with injuries inflicted by Alabama law enforcers, and 3 people had been murdered by white supremacists.

They marched to a building to be seen and heard by an elected head of state who wouldn't come out of his office to greet them. But they were seen. They were heard. Just not by 9 year old me. Until this week.  And I am moved almost beyond words.

These people believed a bitter war had freed them 100 years before. They believed two subsequent amendments to the U.S. Constitution (13th and 14th, both ratified in 1868) had given them full rights as citizens of this country. They believed ordinary people doing extraordinary things would make a difference.

And they were right. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in August, 1965.

If I've learned anything on this Civil Rights trail of tears we've been traveling, it's that I know nothing about being tossed to the fringes of humanity. Nothing about believing in what's right. Nothing, really, about the cost of freedom. I've never had to know.

I am a white woman of great privilege, learning a history of extraordinary people.



And, I am still desperately trying to pay attention...
Thank you Selma, for the reminder that the fight of 1965 is not yet won:

There is more to do.
And more to say. Stay tuned.

Peace.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Finally in Selma

54 years ago this week, Martin Luther King, Jr. asked everyone in America who cared about justice to join him in Selma, Alabama. I was 9 years old.

The plea from Dr. King came after 600 non-violent voting rights marchers were stopped by Alabama state troopers at the end of the Edmund Pettus bridge as they walked toward Montgomery, 54 miles away. The protesters were tear-gassed and billy-clubbed and beaten back in their tracks (Bloody Sunday). A second march was scheduled three days later. In that brief re-grouping period, King appeared on TV, and he begged America to join the movement:
"If you believe in justice, come to Selma!
If you believe in fairness, come to Selma!
If you believe in America, come to Selma!"
I don't remember any of that from my 9th year of life in Nashville, Tennessee...but it hit me hard when I saw the scene depicted in the movie Selma a few years ago. I wondered then, "Why didn't we go to Selma?"

I am here now.


It's a twelve hour drive from Austin, TX to Selma, AL. We left our neighborhood at sunrise this morning and arrived just as the light hung low enough in the sky to add a touch of lovely to the front porch of the historic home where we're spending the night.


We'd been listening to the book White Rage on our drive across East Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama...so as we meandered through Selma this evening, every historical marker in front of every 1860s home looked like a giant, neon RACIST sign to me. Pity our poor host, who greeted us warmly at the door of his 1870s home, but spoke in that Alabama drawling way that reminded me, again, of people from the past I'd really like to forget. Let's say I may have shown up on his porch a little hyper-sensitive to the ancestral sins of the South.

Tomorrow we begin our self-styled/self-guided civil rights tour in earnest. The Pettus bridge is Stop #1. But tonight, we sat a bit with our gracious Southern host and heard about his hopes for his hometown of Selma, about his love for his grandmother, and about the valiantly struggling cookie business he runs in honor of both.


Trip lesson #1: You just can't judge a person by their drawl. Or the color of their skin. 

From the road to Montgomery. Peace.

PS. The cookies are delish.




Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Who Wants to Be President?

So...Bernie's back!


The 77-year old Senator from Vermont, with almost 30 years of elected service on Capitol Hill, joins a bubbly pot of Democrat Frenzy Stew that's currently boiling over with meat and potatoes like: Julian Castro (TX), Cory Booker (NJ), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Kamala Harris (CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Andrew Yang (NY), Amy Klobuchar (MI), Tulsi Gabbard (HI), John Delaney (MD), and Pete Buttigieg (IN).

Oh, and 173 other people.

Yep, that's right. As of this afternoon, 184 Democrat hopefuls have filled out a Statement of Candidacy form with the Federal Elections Commission. 69 Republicans have also made their intentions clear, along with 19 Libertarians and 14 Green Party candidates. Sprinkle in affiliates from People Over Politics, the Jewish/Christian National party, the Independence Party, The American Independent Conservative party, the Commandments Party (to name a few), and the total number of people registered with the FEC to run for President in 2020 comes to 538. We are still 623 days out, so check back often to see who else hears the call to Lead.

Surely, I thought, this is unprecedented. It must be Donald Trump has opened wide the gate for the Seymour Cats and Pig Refinos and Sexy Vegans (real names on the filed list) to believe all a candidate needs is natural-born citizenship, 35 years on the planet, two thumbs and a Twitter account to be President of the United States.

But - surprise - Presidential politics seems to have a history of begging the weird out of the woodwork. In 2016, 1,776 people filled out the FEC's Form 2 declaring candidacy for President. Among them: Ponzi Schemes Suck, Toy Testicles, and The Muslim Dictator Trump. (Pour yourself a glass of wine, and peruse at your leisure. It's entertaining.)
In 2012, 428 people were candidates.
2008 - 360 people
2004 - 219 people
2000 - 252 candidates...

You get the picture. It's America. And despite what we read online and believe when we watch House of Cards, nefarious evil-doers are not the only people in the queue with hopes and dreams for the country. This is still a place where the process includes every wacky one of us. 2008/2012 gave us Stephen Colbert for President. Roseanne Barr was a Green Party candidate in 2012. Pat Paulsen ran a funny campaign in a very unfunny year, 1968 (We Can Be Decisive, Probably). Gracie Allen "campaigned" with the help of husband George Burns as a candidate for the Surprise Party in 1940.😊 1984 and 1988 gave us Bloom County's Bill. The Cat.


It would be wrong to leave you with the impression that filling out FEC Form 2 gets anyone terribly close to the oval office. Take a look at those columns at the FEC site labeled Receipts and Disbursements. It's an unholy amount of money. Required, it seems, to woo voters from sea to shining sea.

I hear Bernie raised $1 million this morning in 3 hours.

There is no blocking an American citizen from joining a list of filers...that's nice. Go ahead, make your mark. You and your BFF start the People's Party of Peace and Love. File Form 2. Put it on your resume.

  • Candidate for President, 2020

But live with our reality: There is a $400 million (at least) pot hole in the road between filing SEC Form 2 and moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Obscene?

Sigh.

Peace.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Time Out

I think as little as I possibly can about the state of our union.
About the dirty-handedness of politics.
About Donald J. Trump.

Eliminating the SOTU address from my prime time lineup next week is a non-event. I would not watch. I'm betting plenty of Americans believe they already know the state of the union. It's not great. The grandstanding, political pandering, and theater of the house-divided that is Congress is not necessary. We should be freed to watch our regularly scheduled programs. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

I watch episodes of House of Cards to relax. (That's right. I'd rather sit with the bone-chilling/creepoid Doug Stamper than the stomach-turning/ethics-churning orange face of reality.) At least I can walk away from HofC believing it's all fiction, and that the murderous-lapdog-to-an-evil-president is really just a nice actor named Michael Kelly who probably loves puppies and his mother.


My husband argues that this is no time for good, compassionate thinkers to turn away from the pile up of stupidity, egotism, ass-kissing, and lies that seems to define the real world in Washington, DC. The hubs says ignoring the problem is not going to solve it. He reminds me that Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. He wants me to get back to work, telling stories of real people struggling in real time.

But I am mired in grief and despair, humiliation and disgust, anger and indignation. No light. No love.

I make my case regularly:  If every major newspaper, TV network, and online commentator would go to a ZDT  (Zero Donald Trump) policy, I wouldn't have to look away. The man is only in this for the attention, you know. People with EQs of a 3-year old are like that. (Apologies to the delightful 3-year olds I've known. Your attention stealing antics were adorable!) As a nation, we can't conquer a contradictory, chaotic reign of calamity by giving it air time. It simply feeds the Beast.

Trumpian philosophy is not new to me. The President has torn a page from the playbook of a long-deceased TX state representative I used to work for. This was his motto: "It doesn't matter if they say good things or bad things about you, as long as they're talking about you." (RIP R.B. McAlister)

As long as they're talking about you...let it sink in.

So, how 'bout that ZDT policy? As a former journalist, I'm a devoted fan of the First Amendment. No one believes as strongly in the necessity of a free press to a thriving democracy as I do. But how free could it possibly feel to spread the Trump Tantrum/Bully Brand day in/day out? Ugh.

I'm not advocating leaving the manchild completely unattended/unchecked while he terrorizes us all with tweets and tantrums and twits, but he has to slip below the fold, after the commercial break, into some kind of ho-hum space in the news cycle.

Don't bury the lede, dear editorial decision-makers, just bury the lies the little boy tells.

Nancy Pelosi is more than a political mastermind who could outsmart any of us on any day (before her first cup of coffee). She's the mother of 5 children. I suspect she knows exactly what to do with a misbehaving 3 year old: Tell him he can't have what he wants until he settles down, follows the rules, plays well with others.

Until then, she knows, the best thing to do is send the kid to his room.

For the love of humanity, (and the effectiveness of this parenting move), let's NOT let his pout/rant/name-calling/door kicking get our attention while he's in time out. #ZDT


Maybe we'll have room in the house for some light and love if we ignore the noise from the back room for a bit. 

Peace.