Issues and Ideas

October 19, 2018

Begin the conversation…

 

June 30, 2018

We have to talk about this…

Those of you who know me know that, in my 40-year career as an early childhood educator, I have been a fierce advocate for children and families and community. I have worked with many children who have experienced the trauma of an unstable family life, and with many parents and grandparents who have fought and struggled to keep their families together in the face of daily challenges.

There is no hierarchy of trauma when it comes to children. The stress of separation is not better or worse for families in Butler County than it is elsewhere. However, the inherent racism reflected in our current immigration policy along the southwest border, the lack of community supports, the violation of basic human rights, and the disregard for fundamental constitutional process and protections adds a unique layer of devastation to the lives of the children and families caught in this web of oppression, ignorance, and fear. We have to talk about that.

We have to talk about how this has been allowed to happen because of the fact that ignoring the most marginalized or voiceless among us has become a shamefully common occurrence. And let’s be clear that this is as much an issue here as it is in Arizona or Texas or New Mexico, because, there is, in the essence of who we are as a nation, little distance between southwest Ohio and the southwest border.  My heart has broken repeatedly over the last several weeks as so many children have been ruthlessly separated from families who are desperately seeking safety, economic security, and asylum, and those children have been used as hostages in a horrific game of political blackmail. Even though the specific order was reversed in response to pressure, the attitudes that allowed that to happen in the first place and to continue for far too long still remain and are being redirected into equally heinous policy proposals. We have to talk about that.

We have to talk about the racism, the lies, the misinformation, the fear, and the false equivalencies that are circulating through our communities and across social media. I’m going to briefly address three of these that have been particularly noticeable, and which represent the attitudes that made this situation possible:

Image result for 765K children separated from military parents

~ “765K children separated from their military parents,” which is clearly intended to imply that such separations are routine for military families, and therefore more deserving of our attention. While my heart goes out to any child who is separated from a parent, the children of military parents have not been ripped away. They are almost always fully supported by family members; they know where that parent is (generally if not specifically in a geographic sense); and their fears about that parent’s return, while genuine and traumatic, are alleviated to some degree by the certainty of a caring family.

Image result for arrested parents have children taken away immigrant children meme

~ “People who are arrested here for crimes have their children taken from them.” This is often paired with some statement about parents making the choice to engage in criminal activity, and that it is appropriate for them to suffer the consequences. Yes, some parents who are U.S. citizens and are arrested do have their children removed by Children’s Services. Most, however, already have family members to care for those children, and the children know where the parents are. The ones who don’t have relatives are not placed in warehouses and tents with no knowledge of where their parents have been sent, and with an indefinite status that makes it uncertain when, if ever, they will be reunited or even simply able to visit.

Image result for care more about children in poverty meme

~ “Why don’t you care more about the millions of children in poverty here.” I do, in fact; because I am capable of holding more than one complex idea in my head at a time, and my compassion for children traumatically separated from their families at the border does not diminish the ongoing pain I feel for children right here in this district who don’t have enough to eat or access to adequate health care or a stable home in which to feel safe. Because genuine compassion is not selective, and is not a zero-sum game—I can care about ALL children and I can strive to do everything in my power to make sure children are cared about, cared for, and respected.

Any elected official or candidate who supported or defends this horrific practice, who fails to speak out against it, or who does not remain diligent about such policies, is complicit. So today, I am going to ask, if you are able, to contact those elected officials to register your opposition. I am going to ask, if you are able, to keep marching and protesting and standing up to these attitudes. And I am going to ask every one of you to talk to neighbors, friends, family members, coworkers….do not let this issue fade, do not let these attitudes become normalized…we have to talk about it until all children are reunited with their parents, and separation and detention are no longer a profit-making enterprise. Do not let hatred, fear, and ignorance override compassion and become the policy that determines the fate of anyone who is different, who is overlooked, who is “other.”

#resist #vote #change

 

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May 31, 2018

A Memorial Day story about Fathers and Flags.

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I was that odd child who, by the age of 8, knew how to properly fold the flag of the United States; how (and when) to correctly display a flag; the history and evolution of the U.S. flag; and how to treat the flag with respect. This wasn’t just a quirky interest—it was because my father was a WWII veteran, a firefighter, and something of an expert on the flag. He would appear before scout troops, civic groups, and school children throughout Butler County and demonstrate flag etiquette. He made a wooden carrying case, about a foot wide and maybe two feet long, that contained small flags on sticks (the U.S. flag as well as the Ohio state flag and flags from other countries), along with wooden stands to hold them, a smallish U.S. flag that he would use to teach how to fold one correctly, and brochures that had information about the official “Flag Code of Etiquette” and the history of the U.S. flag.

I spent countless hours tagging along with him to these presentations, and playing with the flags in the case. And I assisted him almost every day as he raised the flag on the pole in front of our house, and every evening when he brought it down and we folded it and put it away for the night.

My father was a patriot, in the truest sense of the word, and he taught me what that means. Were he alive today, he would be horrified at how that word has been twisted and warped into a political bludgeon, and he would be deeply saddened and angered at the way some people have turned the flag into a superficial symbol of sunshine patriotism.

My father taught me that being a patriot means loving your country, and also recognizing that the people who run the country are fallible and are sometimes more invested in their own power and ego than in doing what is right. He taught me that the flag should be displayed to demonstrate that love of country, but that it should never be used to intimidate or justify hatred.

My father was proud of his service—his Bronze Star, and his two Purple Hearts, the first of which he received during his first deployment in the Aleutians at the Battle of Attu, and the last during his last deployment at the Battle of Okinawa. He brought those medals home with him, and he also brought the trauma and heartache of watching his friends die next to him; watching Japanese soldiers kill themselves rather than be captured; and watching reports of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and questioning whether the war was worth the cost to both sides.

My father’s ambivalence about war was deepened as he watched the U.S. muddle through the Korean conflict, then embark on the disastrous path to Vietnam. And he was simultaneously angry and relieved when my brother came of draft age at the height of the Vietnam War, but had both a very high draft number and a heart murmur that would keep him out of the service. His relief was knowing that he wouldn’t lose a son to a questionable war; his anger grew from his ambivalence about my brother’s anti-war activism.

I was raised as a “Kennedy Democrat”: Catholic and committed to racial equality and social justice, and patriotism that embraced the good, the bad, and the ugly that is the history of America. I was raised watching the brutality of the Vietnam War and the violence and perseverance of the Civil Rights movement on the news, along with footage of the protests of students, the strikes of garbage workers, the passion and tragedy of Freedom Riders, the violent confrontations of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the murder of innocents at Kent State.

And visible in most of these reports was the flag. It formed the backdrop at conventions and rallies and press conferences; it draped the coffins of soldiers; it was carried and worn and burned by protesters. It was also on display nearly everywhere you looked in daily life. It could be seen on government buildings, fire and police stations, and schools, as well as on clothing, on bumper stickers, on lapel pins, and even on the motorcycle and helmet of Dennis Hoppers’ character in Easy Rider. Veterans carried them in parades, and children drew them on textbook covers

And homeowners flew them in the front yard.

I was raised to love the flag and to love my country, and to respect them both.

I was also raised to ask questions and challenge people when they acted hatefully or unfairly.

But like many others of my generation, I ultimately reached a point where my love of the flag came into conflict with the way my country (or, more accurately, the leadership of my country) turned the flag into a symbol of colonialism, aggression, and moral self-righteousness. My father died when I was 16, and my display of the flag died with him.

Over the years, I watched as the idea of “patriotism” and the image of the flag has been claimed as the moral property of those who would define our country in very narrow terms that preferences their view of America as predominantly white, evangelical Christian, and committed to the values and policies of the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. I have also watched as many of these so-called “patriots” have failed to demonstrate even the most basic guidelines of flag etiquette: they fly it at night without illumination, they fly it in inclement weather, and, what my father taught me to be the most egregious disrespect of all—they fly it mindlessly, even after it has become tattered and faded.

And I became fed up with that state of affairs. And I have returned to my father’s devotion to the flag and to the reclamation of “patriotism” as being about standing up for the rights of every inhabitant of this country. This path of introspection and reconciliation was aided by, of all things, a song. First produced in 1999, SONiA, the lead singer of the band Disappear Fear, released her song titled, “Me, Too,” which was included on the compilation album “Being Out Rocks.” While some of the details are different, so much of the lyrics to this work reflected my relationship to the flag, and to my father. After you have read these lyrics, please take time to follow this link to hear SONiA sing this song live:

 

 

Her daddy was a soldier in the Vietnam War.
She was proud to see her father in a fresh pressed uniform.

He came home on a stretcher in 1966,
Welcomed by fellow Americans throwing tomatoes and sticks.

He said, “darling don’t you worry, there are two sides to everything,
And I did what I believed in and I want you to do the same.
I stood up for my country and that’s a solid bet.
And I’ll stand up for freedom every chance I get…

‘Cause America shines in front of me
All the world could see if it wanted to.
I raise this flag for you… me, too.”

She grew up on the bible and she grew up on love,
She grew up thinking she could change the world,
If she only worked hard enough.

So she became a lawyer, hoped to marry a good looking man,
Then she fell in love with the girl next door.
So that wasn’t part of the plan.

But America shines in front of me
All the world could see if it wanted to.
I raise this flag for you… me, too.

The years spin by while the corn grows high,
For every train you catch you miss one.
So much of life just races by, it was time to tell daddy this one.

She sat down in the corner, she could still see the door.
She said, “Daddy, I gotta tell you something I’ve never said before…”
And he said, “shhhhhhhh… everybody has a war.
See it’s not about oil and it’s not about guns,
and it’s not about rainbows—it’s about daughters and sons.
If you believe in tomorrow then I have taught you well.
‘Cause if you don’t believe in yourself
Your life’s a living hell.

And you’ll always shine in front of me
All the world could see if it wanted to.
I raise this flag for you… me, too.”

 

A week ago, I bought a flag and pole and bracket and placed it on the front porch, with memories of my father and rules of the Flag Code competing with the tears that were tempting my eyes.

Dad… I raise this flag for you… me, too.

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