Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Poetry: Patchwork

“We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength."
—Barack Obama, January 20, 2009
Wrap me in that patchwork.
Let me smell its many aromas
And drink in its delicious warmth.
Delight my eye in its glorious kaleidoscope.

We used to be three-piece suits,
Aprons and housecoats,
robes and pajamas and ball gowns,
business professional and casual Friday,
play clothes and power suits.
We used to clothe the homeless,
the elite and the erudite,
the cynic and the optimist.

We have been cherished and spat on,
Loved and nurtured and shunned,
Hung out to dry and rained on.
But here we are, all sewn together,
Stronger and more stunning
than ever we were,
Ready to wrap the cold, cold world
In our new warmth.

©Mary Ray Worley
January 22, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

¡Sí, se puede! Now Is the Time!

In a Mercury News article about Wednesday's marches for immigration reform, Juliana Barbassa quotes a scholar from the Foreign Policy Research Institute: "Go down to the unemployment office and ask what people lined up think of immigration reform—you'll get an earful. . . . It's the wrong time, at the wrong place, and the wrong issue to invest your political capital now." Bull hockey (ahem). I heartily disagree. Al contrario, this is exactly the right moment. Exactly.

Ah, well, consider the source: According to, the FPRI is a conservative think tank, "an activist organization driven by its own ideology." It describes itself as being "devoted to bringing the insights of scholarship to bear on the development of policies that advance U.S. national interests" and lists as one of its goals to "shape the national debate on foreign policy through frequent appearances in the national news media."

So what we have here is the FPRI seeking to "shape the national debate." That has been much of our problem: not that we are widely opposed, but that we are noisily opposed. In other words, we are being bullied. Can I please hear a loud "Stop that!" from all good people of common decency and good sense?! Thank you.

In fact, while the most recent attempt at immigration reform was still before Congress in 2007, according to a CBS poll, "most Americans surveyed support measures contained in the bill, including a guest worker program and the possibility of permanent residency for illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the U.S." Granted that our economy is in much worse shape now than it was then, but there is no indication that vast numbers of the American people have changed their minds about this issue as a result of the economic downturn.

Decent, good-hearted American people—that is, the majority of Americans—understand that immigration is a very complex issue and that unauthorized immigrants don't come here on a whim or because they were bored down south.

But there are some bullies in our midst, and unfortunately they're very noisy. They would like you to think that they're in the majority, that the American people will not tolerate immigration reform while the economy is in such terrible shape. This is the reality that they are actively trying to bring into being just by repeating it over and over again. Please, do not let them.

In an article posted on the Rockridge Institute website, George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson make some excellent suggestions for how we can be the ones to shape the national debate:
  • Address the issue as one of globalization. "If capital is going to freely cross borders, should people and labor be able to do so as well, going where globalization takes the jobs?"
  • Address the issue as a humanitarian crisis involving "mass migration and displacement of people from their homelands at a rate of 800,000 people a year. . . . As a humanitarian crisis, the solution could involve the UN or the Organization of American States."
  • Address immigration as a civil rights issue. "For the most part, [the 12 million immigrants living in the U.S. without authorization] are assimilated into the American system, but are forced to live underground and in the shadows because of their legal status. They are denied ordinary civil rights."
  • Address immigration as a "cheap labor issue." "Undocumented immigrants allow employers to pay low wages, which in turn provide the cheap consumer goods we find at WalMart and McDonald's. They are part of a move towards the cheap lifestyle, where employers and consumers find any way they can to save a dollar, regardless of the human cost."
Activating these frames rather than the old "they're eating our pie" frame will help us to reshape the national debate and enable lawmakers to enact just, compassionate, and pragmatic immigration reform.

One of the primary reasons that now is the time to push for a just and humane immigration policy is that the Democrats would not have had such a sweeping victory in November had it not been for Latino voters, for whom immigration reform is an especially high priority. In other words, we have some political capital right this instant. We mustn't let it slip away.

The FPRI and myriad nativist hate groups recognize that political capital, and they're afraid. So they are using their well-practiced tactics to try to convince us and everyone else that now is not the time and that we have no political capital. They know that the momentum is with us. They know that our time is now.

The following quotation, as big as life, appears on the page describing the Obama administration's agenda regarding immigration:
The time to fix our broken immigration system is now. … We need stronger enforcement on the border and at the workplace. … But for reform to work, we also must respond to what pulls people to America. … Where we can reunite families, we should. Where we can bring in more foreign-born workers with the skills our economy needs, we should.
—Barack Obama, Statement on U.S. Senate Floor, May 23, 2007
I could do without the bit about "stronger enforcement," but remember this was before the launch of the horrendous ICE raids. I'm heartened by Obama's pragmatism as well as his refreshing willingness to see the complexities involved: "For reform to work, we must also respond to what pulls people to America."

And of course, our president will never forget that he himself is the son of an immigrant. The Day of the Immigrant in America is indeed at hand. The time is now. Now! That's what he said. Well, actually, he said "now" way back in 2007. In which case, the time is past due.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stop the ICE Raids

Fair, equitable, and comprehensive immigration reform should be a high priority for the new administration and the new Congress. First and foremost the raids must stop. This should be right up there with stopping the military commissions at Guantanamo, which President Obama did even before his first full day in office.
  • The horrific Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids have terrorized communities all over the United States. The terrorizing isn't (and couldn't be) limited to unauthorized immigrants; it affects whole communities, children and families, many of whom are U.S. citizens.
  • The raids leave devastated communities in their wake and ruin local economies. For proof of how much immigrants do to strengthen our local economies, look at what happened in the small community of Postville, Iowa. Before the May 12, 2008, ICE raid, this was a thriving paragon of integration and cross-cultural cooperation with a population of more than 2,200. The community of Postville is now a ghost town, a shadow of its former self, having lost approximately a quarter of its population. Every single member of the community has been deeply affected by the raid. (Go here for more information about the Postville raid.)
  • Families are torn apart by the raids, and fear runs rampant throughout the community, not only among Latinos and immigrants, but especially among children, who fear that their parents will be taken away from them as the parents of their friends and classmates have been. The raids establish a climate of fear for everyone in the affected communities.
  • Workers caught up in the ICE raids have been denied due process. The cases involving the workers from Postville were not reviewed individually, nor were individual circumstances taken into account. All the cases were treated exactly alike and were railroaded through court ten at a time. The system was designed for the wholesale imposition of guilt. It is unlikely that the workers understood the charges against them.
  • Enforcement-only policies encourage profiling. Many Latinos, regardless of their immigration status, are harassed and frightened. Friends and relatives occasionally just disappear, presumably picked up by ICE, but no one knows for sure. For many, this experience is eerily familiar, as they come from countries where friends and family were once regularly "disappeared" by regional death squads.
The ICE raids have made the United States resemble an autocratic police state with no regard for individual rights or the well-being of children, families, and communities. They must stop so that we as a nation can focus instead on creating reasonable, equitable immigration reform.

Today our friends from the Fair Immigration Reform Movement are demonstrating in Washington, DC, to ask the new administration to work for fair and comprehensive immigration reform. If you would like to support their work, please join the Fair Immigration Reform Movement cause on Facebook, support the New Day for Immigration, and sign the pledge at Building America Together:

I commit to stand for America's finest ideals and core community values and publicly reject the politics of division and isolation that fan anger and hate against any person or community. I will work towards just, workable and humane immigration reform.

We can do this. Yes we can! ¡Sí, se puede!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Aretha's "America" for a Patchwork America

It was amazing to see and hear Aretha Franklin, the 66-year-old Queen of Soul, the woman who sang "Respect" and "Chain of Fools," sing "America" during the inauguration ceremony today. As I watched and listened, I thought of how my mother might have reacted to Aretha's performance. I think quite possibly, as a classically trained musician, my mother would not have approved. I do not mean to cast aspersions on my mother, only to mark the change between generations, and the change I am relishing today.

My parents' America was most definitely a white America. Regardless of how open-minded and progressive and supportive they strove to be, they viewed colored people (the term we used then) as "other," and along with "other" were unspoken, powerful undertones: "less refined," "less well educated," "less advanced," "less capable," just less.

That was the America I grew up in. But the America I saw on the Washington mall today is a multi-America, a "patchwork" America, in which there are many varieties, all of us with so much to offer, all of us a gift, all of us precious and bright and capable and strong. A shift took place in the deep recesses of my mind and heart, a shift that has been in the works for many years: the "other" became "us," not assimilated into a melting pot, not an extension of white America. It was as if I could feel the patchwork being stitched together.

President Obama said in his speech today, "we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness." He himself embodies that patchwork heritage: the son of an African immigrant and a white woman from Kansas, he lived for a while in Indonesia when he was a child. He knows what it is to be an outsider, and yet he has benefited from some of the greatest advantages and privileges this country has to offer.

As I listened and looked around at what once would have been white America, I saw and loved the patchwork in all of its delicious diversity. Oooh, this is ever, ever, ever so much better. I don't feel embarrassed or tentative or apologetic to embrace Aretha as one of my own. She's not just an artist I have loved and admired all my life from afar. She is one of us, and I am one of her people, just as she is one of mine.

We are still distinct, each with her own heritage, his own flavor. There is much we have yet to learn from each other, many stories that still need to be told. But all the same, we are one people, we are one nation, we are brothers and sisters with a common vision and a common purpose, more closely allied with each other than we have ever been before.

I think the idea I am grasping at is bigger than my ability to express. I feel like I'm getting at only a shade of what's really happening. But I can feel it; I can feel the shift. It's big and it's important, and it's worth struggling to put it into words.

Much of my awareness of the shift is no doubt because of our new president. Our new sense of oneness is certainly a result of the message he has been driving home today.
What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility—a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task. . . .

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
Barack Obama is our first black president; he is a joy and a treasure to black America. We rejoice today with our black brothers and sisters; we share their delight and their awe at what it took to bring us to this day. Seeing their reaction to this great day drives home to us how long and hard and painful a journey this has been. And we rejoice that Barack Obama is a president to every American of every skin tone, every culture, every language.

I felt so proud of Aretha today as she sang "America." She is not only a black artist, not only the Queen of Soul and a source of pride for black Americans. She isn't just their Aretha; she's our Aretha. She is a national treasure for all of us.

The wounds and weapons of racism are still with us. The weapons have not yet been utterly vanquished; the wounds not completely healed. We have overcome much, but we still have a long way to go. Nevertheless, progress has been made—real, tangible progress. Our hearts are being knit together, more deeply and more surely than ever before. The patchwork is being stitched together, and all the great treasures who in the past would not have been allowed to shine will grow and flourish and nurture the divine spark that lives in all of us.

Forward in That Light

I have never watched an inauguration with the eagerness or rapt attention I felt today, so comparisons are difficult to make, but I rejoice at the inclusion of such moving and powerful music and poetry during the ceremony. I am delighted with Elizabeth Alexander's delicious poem "Praise Song for the Day."

Jay Parini wrote last week in the Guardian, "The choice of Alexander to read is brilliant. She represents black American culture, but she says to the audience: 'We're here, and we're very smart and well-educated, fully aware of western European culture in all its complexity; yet we retain an allegiance to our own past, our roots, our needs, our vision.'"

We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.

Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of. . . .

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love? . . .

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.

We are indeed walking forward in that light, hopeful, nervous, cautious, and jubilant. I have never in my life seen us so overjoyed or so united. If we can hold fast this new sense of ourselves and our potential, then maybe we really can remake America while reclaiming the best heritage of the founders.

Alexander's poem perfectly catches the juxtaposition of everydayness and history, of the ordinary and extraordinary, commonality and diversity—all that has gone into the making of this amazing day.

The beauty and diversity of our extraordinary national moment was further enhanced by the performance of "Air and Simple Gifts," arranged for the inauguration by John Williams and performed by Itzhak Perlman on the violin, Anthony McGill on the clarinet, Yo-Yo Ma on the cello, and Gabriela Montero on the piano. The diversity of the musicians represented here is so amazing all by itself, and the music was extraordinarily beautiful, exquisite in form and execution and resonating perfectly with the tone of the day. As I listened, I imagined music teachers all across the country rejoicing in their hearts.

(Aretha Franklin's extraordinary performance of "America" was so thrilling that I have to post about it separately.)

And finally, one of the many lines that gave me goosebumps during President Obama's speech was this one: "We will restore science to its rightful place." Wow. Knock me over with a feather. Science is back in vogue. Now I'm imagining science teachers across the country breathing a great collective sigh of relief.

I expect many of us were breathing various individual and collective sighs of relief throughout the day all over the country, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one crying, bawling, sniffling. This is a day we will long remember, a precious, joyous day. May all that we actually accomplish in the next four years bear out the hope burning in our hearts. May there be a new flourishing of poetry, music, and science that points back to this day, this day in which we walk "forward in that light."

Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery's Inaugural Benediction

Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, icon of the civil rights movement and cofounder together with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, gave the inaugural benediction today. It was the best prayer I ever heard, and maybe one of the best prayers ever prayed. I couldn't find a transcript of it fast enough, so I transcribed it myself. The first few lines are a verse from the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by James Weldon Johnson.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far along the way,
Thou who has by thy might led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray,
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.
Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to thee, oh God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day. We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant, Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration. He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national and indeed the global fiscal climate. But because we know you've got the whole world in your hand, we pray for not only our nation but for the community of nations.

Our faith does not shrink, though pressed by the flood of mortal ills. For we know that, Lord, you're able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness, and we come in the spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance. And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, wherever we seek your will. Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle; look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together, children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone, with your hands of power and your heart of love. Help us, then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen! Say Amen! And Amen!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Most Durable Power in the World

When I was a little girl, my father sat the family down one night to watch the Chicago Sunday Evening Club, a weekly religious broadcast from Orchestra Hall in downtown Chicago. My parents often watched that program on Sunday nights, but this was the only time they insisted that we watch it with them. I remember my dad said it was important; there was an earnestness in his voice. That was the first time I ever saw Martin Luther King Jr. on television.

My sister, six years my senior, still remembers what Dr. King spoke about that day and actually found the text of his sermon online: "Paul's Letter to American Christians," what he called "an imaginary letter from the pen of the Apostle Paul." Here are a few excerpts:
There is another thing that disturbs me to no end about the American church. You have a white church and you have a Negro church. You have allowed segregation to creep into the doors of the church. How can such a division exist in the true Body of Christ? You must face the tragic fact that when you stand at 11:00 on Sunday morning to sing "All Hail the Power of Jesus Name" and "Dear Lord and Father of all Mankind," you stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America. They tell me that there is more integration in the entertaining world and other secular agencies than there is in the Christian church. How appalling that is. . . .

As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself. Let him know that the festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. . . .

I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world.
No wonder my sister remembers Dr. King's sermon, and no wonder it was so important to my father that we listen. I was 11 years old when Dr. King was shot, so I could have been anywhere between, oh, say, five and ten or so the night we watched that program. If not for my sister's memory, I wouldn't have the faintest notion of what he spoke about. But I think I still got the message my father was hoping for. It was my dad's sense of urgency that made me pay attention and remember how important it was to him that we listen.

Today my husband, Tom, and I went to the state capitol in downtown Madison to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Observance at noon. My sister was there, sitting among the VIPs, right next to Mayor Dave. We had lunch together afterward, and we talked about the night we watched the Chicago Sunday Evening Club.

I'm so proud of my father for knowing how important it was—and is—to listen to the words of Dr. King. I'm proud of my sister for remembering the sermon we listened to together those many years ago.

Tom and I went to show our support for the Soles (pronounced "So-lays"), a Mexican mariachi trio whose members attend our service in Spanish at Grace Episcopal Church and who were part of the program lineup. We got there early because the Soles told us 11 a.m. instead of noon, which was good, because we had great seats and time to greet my sister beforehand. I hope we go early again next year.

It was a beautiful gathering and celebration, a wonderfully mixed crowd of young and old, of many races and cultures. We sat in the capitol rotunda, under the the portrait of Lady Justice.

We sang "We Shall Overcome" together and did a brief community greeting, during which I met Geraldine Reed, who was sitting in the row in front of me. When she greeted me, she gave me a hug and told me that she had come here from New Orleans three years ago. I could tell that being there meant so much to her. She proudly introduced her grandson and his fiancee (or was it her granddaughter and her fiance?).

It didn't even occur to me until later that Geraldine is black and the young couple she introduced me to are white. I love that it didn't seem strange to me at the time. I'm grateful to Geraldine for her kindness and for her enthusiasm for the occasion. It felt like we were all family, all of us with Katrinas in our past, all of us with a lot to celebrate and a lot to be grateful for.

So now at the end of this beautiful day of remembrance, I'm thinking of how far we have come and how far we have to go. I'm thinking about my father and my sister and Geraldine and the Soles. I'm thinking about Dr. King and St. Paul and what they would say to us today if they could.

I think Dr. King would tell us to continue pressing on for justice with dignity and discipline, to shun segregation and violence, and he would reassure us that love is still the most durable power in the world.

Bishop Gene Robinson's Inauguration Prayer

January 18, 2009, Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire gives the invocation for the "We Are One" concert at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

This makes me so happy, to have the very first prayer of the inauguration festivities given by Bishop Robinson. He doesn't just ask God's blessing; he is a blessing. He makes me proud to be an Episcopalian.

Listening to him, I am reminded of the feeling that having a woman priest gives me. It's an affirmation of the value of a group of oppressed and disdained people, who may then be empowered and mobilized because of that priest's extraordinary courage and leadership. I'm so thrilled that Robinson was given this honor and responsibility and visibility.

Bishop Robinson appeared last Wednesday (January 14, 2009) on the Rachel Maddow Show. I confess to grinning like an idiot through the whole interview.

I echo Bishop Robinson's sentiments: "I long for a government that respects the dignity of every human being, especially those who are less fortunate." And I love the notion of Jesus having a "big tent." That should make us all happy campers, eh?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thank you, Dubya

There is one thing, and only one thing, that I'm grateful to George W. Bush for: my new sense of political engagement.

For most of my adult life, I have not been especially politically inclined. I thought politics was boring and that it didn't really affect me, and that nothing was as certain or as enduring as the pretty-much-okay status quo. I thought that American freedom was just a fact of life. I thought civil rights were a part of the scenery and as enduring as Mount McKinley. I never thought about the "Rule of Law" and thought the Constitution was an important historical document.

It wasn't until the 2000 election that I began really paying attention to the political arena. I was appalled at how the electoral college and the Supreme Court handed the presidency to the candidate who lost the election, at how the Florida recount was subverted. I felt an enormous sense of betrayal and a longing to live in a democracy where the will of the people was honored and respected.

On September 11, 2001, I was in a bookstore when I heard people talking the way they do when a great horror is unfolding. I decided I didn't want to hear about it from a stranger, so I dropped everything and went home to watch the news. All the way home, I kept saying to myself, over and over again: "Not while that guy is in office, not while that guy is in office." I didn't know yet what had happened, but I knew that Dubya would make whatever it was much worse. Talk about a prescient moment.

I had read enough to be firm in the belief that Dubya and the neocons would exploit the situation to accrue more power, to advance their antigovernment ideology, to twist the very foundations of the republic. I can't imagine a more horrific response to that national tragedy than the one we have witnessed these past seven years.

Under this president we were deceived into a preemptive war that many knew would turn into an unwinnable quagmire. We've seen the abandonment of habeas corpus, the introduction of torture and extraordinary rendition, unprecedented government secrecy, unwarranted surveillance of American citizens, the undermining of our government's checks and balances, and a "unitary president" who clearly considered himself to be above the law. The list goes on and on. The disasters that have befallen us during Dubya's term in office—9/11, Katrina, the collapse of the economy—are nothing compared to the disaster that his reign has been.

Thanks to Dubya, I now know the importance of the Rule of Law. I know that tyrants count on people not paying attention. I know what the founders of this country knew: that tryanny is always a threat and must always be guarded against.

Thanks to Dubya, I know that the Constitution is a precious gift, not only to the people of the United States but to the people of the world, and that it must be defended by all people who want future generations and people around the world to enjoy the rights and freedoms I used to take for granted.

Dubya taught me that what the ACLU says is true: freedom can't protect itself. U.S. citizens who love truth, justice, freedom, and peace have an obligation to pay attention, to engage, and to actively defend the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Rule of Law.

Thanks to Dubya, I've learned that we can't afford to just leave this up to the people who like politics.

My hopefulness about the incoming administration is tempered by my understanding of how horribly our government has been mangled in the last eight years.

I know that the office of the presidency now holds far more power than the wise founders of this country ever intended. I know that power like that is too much for any one human being to safely wield, regardless of how good or noble that person's intentions.

I still fear for the life and well-being of my beleaguered country. We're a long, long way from restoring the republic that I so foolishly thought would endure without my ever having to exert any effort to defend it.

I feel a lot like we're picking through the rubble of the last eight years, that the great virtues extolled and established and written into the Constitution by our revolutionary founders have suffered terribly from a sustained all-out assault. We're covered in dust and debris, wounded and disoriented, with only a vague sense of who we are and who we are meant to be.

I will celebrate this week along with everyone else. This is a great moment in our history. But it will take way more than one person, one inauguration, however historic, to put this country right. It will take the clear-eyed, fierce determination of all those who love freedom and justice to come to the aid of their country.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Kind of Revolution

In his recent In These Times editorial, "The Interactive Presidency," Joel Bleifuss recounts how Barack Obama's online supporters could be changing America's political landscape. We have met the revolution, and it is us.

No doubt about it, this is my kind of revolution. I'm an introvert, and I express myself in writing much better than in talking. I like staying home. I'm happy to rouse the rabble and viva the revolution especially when I can do it from my kitchen with my cat curled up beside me.

Bleifuss begins by asking a lot of questions about how the landscape is changing. The questions are good, because I don't think we've begun to fully realize the many ways that social networking is changing the political landscape. More people sign up for Facebook and Twitter every day, and more and more people are using those sites and others like them to find like-minded individuals and groups. Talk about the ultimate in community organizing resources!

Somewhere along the line last fall, I realized how easy Facebook made it to find more or less like-minded people. I started sending friend requests to anyone with an Obama photo as their profile pic or "Hussein" as their middle name. I was a little hesitant at first to send friend requests to strangers, but nearly everybody accepted my requests, and I didn't really care that much if they didn't. Having accumulated a modicum of allies, I found the excitement of the upcoming election all the more palpable. And there my new life as an online rabble-rouser began.

According to Bleifuss, "Obama’s 13 million supporters hope their new president will take his cues from them—that their voices will be heard above those of status quo Democrats and corporate flacks, and, perhaps, even sway Obama’s centrist inclinations." Uh, that would indeed be me. I'm doing my best to send him cues like crazy, and I'm encouraging my friends and acquaintances to do likewise.

It was discouraging that the answer to the most-asked question in Round 2 on didn't get a more direct answer, but the more I think about Eric Holder being the people's attorney, the more I like the idea. I'm not throwing my hands up in despair just yet anyway. I'm going to keep pushing and watching what happens very carefully.

Bleifuss concludes: "The limitation of Obama’s online operation is that, since he owns it, it can’t challenge him should he backslide. Yet to the extent that it circumvents the propaganda of the right, Obama’s online army could make the difference in realizing a progressive agenda."

Well, I for one am most definitely going to challenge him should he "backslide." Obama doesn't own my corner of the Internet any more than he owns my kitchen table. I have found here a lovely little spot in cyberspace from which I can raise my voice, push like hell, laugh uproariously, and rouse the rabble until I'm virtually hoarse. And that's just what I'm going to do and keep on doing it until I run out of virtual steam, which isn't going to be any time soon.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Don't Underestimate Your Power

As it turns out, Barack Obama did indeed answer our question on Sunday, on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

Obama's answer is similar, but not identical, to the response posted on, the Dec. 21 quotation from Joe Biden, which leaves the door open a tiny little bit for an investigation of crimes committed by the Bush administration.

The notion of avoiding this question by looking "forward as opposed to looking backwards" is patently ludicrous. As Biden said in the vice-presidential debates, "past is prologue." We cannot go forward effectively, in the direction we want to go, without paying close attention to what has gone before.

You can't possibly go from point A to point B unless you know where both points are. Knowing the location of point B won't do you any good at all unless you know where you're starting from, the location of point A.

And the concern about CIA operatives "looking over their shoulders"? All government employees should be looking over their shoulders to some extent. They're working for us, aren't they? They must always pursue their work in ways that uphold the Constitution and the Rule of Law. If that means "looking over their shoulders," then fine. Let them look.

A vindictive witch-hunt designed to satisfy partisan bloodlust could very well engender paranoia, not to mention doing more harm than good. But that is not at all what we're advocating. We're advocating a nonpartisan, measured, thorough investigation to find clear breaches of the law on the part of policy makers, especially those at the highest levels.

We're not looking for "a few bad apples"; we're looking for a few big kahunas. Given their bigness, they shouldn't be too hard to find, especially since a couple of them have already gone on national television and essentially boasted about having condoned torture.

Here's what Obama said on Sunday that I find most encouraging:
[The] attorney general ... is the people's lawyer. Eric Holder's been nominated. His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not to be swayed by my day-to-day politics.
I think what Obama is saying here is that he's going to leave this question up to Eric Holder, who will not be as constrained by politics as Obama himself is. But he's also saying that, given that the attorney general is "the people's lawyer," it's up to the people to make their demands known to their lawyer.

He's talking about us, folks. "We the people" and all that. If we don't push for this, and push hard, it just isn't going to happen. But if we do push, it may very well happen. What Barack Obama did in that interview was to leave the door open—for us.

In the January issue of the Progressive, John Nichols tells an apt story about Franklin Roosevelt.
After his election in 1932, FDR met with Sidney Hillman and other labor leaders, many of them active Socialists with whom he had worked over the past decade or more. Hillman and his allies arrived with plans they wanted the new President to implement. Roosevelt told them: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."
As then, so now. We have to make Obama do what I believe he wants to do. He's facing enormous political pressure from those who just want to let it all go, to let bygones be bygones and other such claptrap. But if he can point to the pressure coming from us, it will give him the political impetus he needs to do exactly what he wants to do. This is the nature of politics. The noisier the clamor, the more likely it is to have the desired effect.

In October of last year, Robert Borosage wrote, "If Obama is elected, he will have the moment, mandate, momentum, and moral armament to launch a new era of bold progressive reform." And I wrote in response that the mandate, momentum, and moral armament were not only for Obama, but for us. Obama cannot possibly effect bold progressive reform without noisy, clamorous, bold progressives pushing for that reform. Here's what I said in October:
The work that needs to be done to recover from the devastation wrought by the neocons is much too much for just one guy. ... To restore the Constitution, the balance of power, our civil liberties, a just and fair immigration system, a tortured economy, our standing in the world -- just to name a few -- we need to continue to be as engaged after the election as we are now.
I would add that actually we have to be more engaged now than we were during the election. We must not give in to the temptation to rest on our laurels. It's not enough to have elected Obama. We have to push now for what we know is right. We have to make use of the many avenues available to us to make our demands known. And after we've pushed, we need to push some more. This isn't going to be easy. That doesn't mean that it's not worth doing.

The support Obama needs from us is not our silent admiration but our noisy clamor for what is needed to move forward, from point A to point B. He's counting on our noisy goading. Some may say that we should just wait and see what he does before we voice our "criticisms." Don't think for a minute, though, that Obama isn't already experiencing plenty of pressure to maintain the status quo. To accomplish all that he wants to accomplish, he needs us to rouse the rabble and push like hell.

He cannot possibly accomplish all that needs doing on his own or with a bunch of half-baked politicians in Washington. Politicians are indeed constrained by politics. How could they be otherwise? But we are constrained only by the number of hours in the day and our convictions and passion for peace and justice and equity and the Rule of Law.

We are the ones who will make it happen. We really are the ones we've been waiting for. It would be a terrible mistake for us to underestimate our power at this critical juncture.

* * *
With that in mind, I want to encourage you, please, if you haven't already done so, vote for your top ten ideas for change in America at I am especially urging you to vote for these two: (1) Appoint a Special Prosecutor for the Crimes of the Bush Administration, which is currently in 18th place and needs another 2,689 votes to make it to the top ten. (2) Get FISA right, repeal the PATRIOT act, and restore our civil liberties, which is currently in 8th place. Voting ends at 5 pm Eastern Time on Thursday, January 15. After you've voted, please encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Not All the News Is Bad

On the first day of the 111th Congress, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) introduced H.R. 104:
HR 104, National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties
Will establish a Blue Ribbon Commission comprised of experts outside government service to investigate the broad range of policies of the Bush administration that were undertaken by the Bush administration under claims of unreviewable war powers.
You can read the complete text of the bill here. According to the Free Dictionary, a "blue ribbon commission" is "an independent and exclusive commission of nonpartisan statesmen and experts formed to investigate some important governmental issue." Sounds good to me.

Although having a special prosecutor appointed by the attorney general would be optimal, work on this issue from any quarter is most welcome. We can't afford to wait ten or twenty or thirty years before the truth comes out. We need to reclaim our identity as a nation that upholds the Rule of Law as quickly as possible.

According to the Library of Congress Thomas website, the following representatives co-sponsored the bill:
  • Jerrold Nadler (D-NY),
  • Hank Johnson (D-GA),
  • Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX),
  • Steve Cohen (D-TN), and
  • Bill Delahunt (D-MA),
  • Luis Gutierrez (D-IL)
  • Bobby Scott (D-VA)
  • Rick Boucher (D-VA)
  • Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL)
The bill has been referred to committee.

Please write to your representative and ask her or him to support this bill.

An interesting resource I discovered while researching this bill is, a wiki site that gives information about legislation in the Senate and the House of Representatives, gives users a chance to vote on bills, comment on them, and track them. I added a widget on the right so that you can give HR 104 the thumbs up from here (please do!). You can also go here to comment on the bill and add it to your own watch list.

Update: The co-sponsors of the bill have been updated above. Apparently some of the co-sponsors didn't sign on until Jan. 7 (the bill was introduced on Jan. 6).

Friday, January 9, 2009

"It's Our Job to Push"

Many thanks to the kind person who, recognizing that I was feeling discouraged, pointed me toward this video.

I have said before that Dubya did nothing if not lower our expectations. However much I share Mr. Coyote's dismay at not seeing any progressives appointed to the Obama cabinet, I agree that "a cattle thief would be better than what we've had." Dodges Top Question

Today responded to the second round of voting in Open for Questions. The question we've been following and endorsing, “Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor — ideally Patrick Fitzgerald — to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping,” posted by Bob Fertik of New York, who runs the website, garnered the most votes but was not addressed in the video response.

Our question is listed below the video response under the heading "Previously Addressed Questions."
These popular questions have been answered previously by top officials or in the prior edition of “Open for Questions.”
Vice President-elect Biden, 12/21/08: “[T]he questions of whether or not a criminal act has been committed or a very, very, very bad judgment has been engaged in is—is something the Justice Department decides. Barack Obama and I are—President-elect Obama and I are not sitting thinking about the past. We’re focusing on the future… I’m not ruling [prosecution] in and not ruling it out. I just think we should look forward. I think we should be looking forward, not backwards.”
Not very satisfying, is it? Pretty well skirts the issue. Not ruling it in or out.

Ari Melber wrote yesterday in The Nation that "ignoring the question that came in first out of 74,000 would turn this exercise into a farce. A terse, evasive answer would be similarly unacceptable." The answer that has been given seems pretty darned terse and evasive to me, and the number one question has been all but ignored, so far anyway. We're definitely skirting the edges of farce territory.

"[This is] something the justice department decides" sounds a lot like, "Hey! It's not up to us! It's up to those other guys over there!" The other guys in this case are what Obama has referred to as "my justice department and my attorney general." Doesn't sound very other to me. It's more like a pretty feeble attempt to pass the buck.

And "looking forward, not backwards" is eerily reminiscent of what Sarah Palin said to Biden in the vice presidential debate: "For a ticket that wants to talk about change and looking into the future, there's just too much finger-pointing backwards to ever make us believe that that's where you're going." (I can't believe I'm actually quoting Sarah Palin.) Biden's response? "Past is prologue."

Vice President-elect Biden, if past is prologue, as you so correctly stated in the vice-presidential debate, what would a failure to investigate the crimes of the previous administration say about the incoming one? To what future is that past prologue? How would not addressing the crimes of the Bush administration signal a break from the past?

Note that Biden's statement, which is given as the response to our question, was made after Dick Cheney admitted on national television on December 15, 2008, that he sanctioned torture (waterboarding).

In April 2008, Philadelphia journalist Will Bunch asked Obama "whether an Obama administration would seek to prosecute officials of a former Bush administration on the revelations that they greenlighted torture, or for other potential crimes that took place in the White House."
Obama said that as president he would indeed ask his new Attorney General and his deputies to "immediately review the information that's already there" and determine if an inquiry is warranted -- but he also tread carefully on the issue, in line with his reputation for seeking to bridge the partisan divide. He worried that such a probe could be spun as "a partisan witch hunt." However, he said that equation changes if there was willful criminality, because "nobody is above the law." (emphasis mine)
Here there appears to be more of a connection between the administration and the justice department. And since then, during an interview with Jonathan Karl of ABC News, Dick Cheney said, "I supported it," referring to waterboarding, which is widely considered to be torture. There you have it, Mr. President-elect; if that's not willful criminality, I don't know what is.

Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Rachel Maddow of MSNBC that this amounted to Cheney condoning torture. This is hardly "very, very, very bad judgment." This is a baldfaced admission, on national television no less, to having committed a war crime.

Although President-elect Obama may consider a pursuit of justice on this scale to be politically inexpedient, not pursuing this will signal that his administration does not have the political will to break with the past as we were encouraged to hope during the course of the campaign. And if members of the Obama administration don't give us accountability where the Bushies are concerned, how accountable will they themselves be?

Now is the time for principle, courage, and conviction, Mr. Obama. Now is not the time to be guided by political expediency and a desire to pursue "post-partisan politics" rather than the Rule of Law. This is way bigger than politics, and if you don't believe that, then you're not the man you told us you were when we elected you.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Update on the Teaspoon Brigade

Our big question that we've been tracking along with the folks at, "Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor--ideally Patrick Fitzgerald--to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?" still has the most votes (22,656), with no indication of when the voting will end, other than "We’ll close this round of questions and put together our responses in the new year."

But don't get complacent. The folks asking about ending the war on drugs and legalizing marijuana have been doing a great job of soliciting votes for their questions. So if you haven't already done so, please ask your friends and family to vote for the special prosecutor question (under "Additional Issues").

In the quarter-teaspoon category, Tom's question, "Will you appoint postal policy makers who will restore USPS' financial ability to serve people, rather than to profit big mailers and private postal companies? Limit discounts to costs avoided? Fully use idle USPS resources before contracting out?" now has three votes in favor and one vote against (harrumph)! Many thanks to the good soul who voted for it. It's comforting to know we're not alone.

The first question I submitted, "What will you do to restore the checks and balances in the U.S. government?" now has a walloping ten votes, and my second, "Will you repudiate any claims for the legal force of presidential signing statements and affirm the executive branch's obligation to enforce the law and uphold the Constitution of the United States?" now has eight. Ah, well, one teaspoon (or in this case, quarter-teaspoon) at a time.

In the voting for the top ten ideas for change in America, now in round 2 at (no relation to, the special prosecutor question isn't even in the top twenty! It's in 21st place and needs 1,967 more votes to make it into the top ten. So please get over there and add your vote and ask your friends and family to do the same. Voting ends at 5pm Eastern Time on Thursday, January 15.

The more Obama and his administration hear about this from us, the more likely it is that they will act on it. Without a big push from us, I don't think anything will come of it, at least not from that quarter.

Please don't forget how critically important this issue is. I've said it before:
This is not just one issue among many. Yes, there are many, many pressing issues confronting us. But if we cannot uphold the Constitution and the Rule of Law, then we may as well just throw in the towel. This is ground zero, the foundation, the core of our being. Without it, we are not ourselves, we are not the United States of America. We are a third-rate autocracy, a powerful global thug.
The folks at let each person vote for up to ten ideas for change. "The top 10 rated ideas from the final round will be presented to the Obama administration on January 16 at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, co-hosted by the Case Foundation. At the event [] will also announce the launch of a national advocacy campaign behind each idea in collaboration with [its] nonprofit partners to turn each idea into actual policy."

Here are my ten picks:
  1. Appoint a Special Prosecutor for the Crimes of the Bush Administration (1897 votes)
  2. Get FISA Right, repeal the PATRIOT Act, and restore our civil liberties (5314 votes)
  3. Pass the DREAM Act - Support Higher Education for All Students (2930 votes)
  4. Free Single Payer Health Care (6566 votes)
  5. Appoint Secretary of Peace in Department of Peace and Nonviolence (3838 votes)
  6. Make the grid green in 10 years (5664 votes)
  7. Make FREE Trade FAIR Trade For Them AND for US (1257 votes)
  8. Pass Marriage Equality Rights for LGBT Couple Nationwide (5823 votes)
  9. End Corporate "personhood" (3394 votes)
  10. Bridging the Empathy Gap - Yes We Can! (2983 votes)
Many thanks for your commitment to all that's right and good in this country and in the world. Keep working those teaspoons!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Teaspoon Brigade

I'm a complete Pete Seeger geek, which is why I like to refer to myself as a singalong goddess. Sure it's nice to stand up in front of everybody and sing your heart out, but there's nothing on earth like standing up in front of everybody while you all sing your hearts out together. That is one of the greatest highs on earth. I learned that from watching Pete Seeger.

Pete knows that a song is way more than a song and that music is the best way to make peace and progress in the world. He doesn't underestimate the power of a small group of people to effect change, especially if they are singing. He doesn't just sing songs, he believes in what he's singing and in the power of song to build bridges and communities, to heal broken hearts, and to open closed minds.

Photo by Anthony Pepitone

Pete is 89 years old now, and he's still singing and rabble-rousing, just as he has since the 1940s. Many a Saturday afternoon he can be found at the intersection of Routes 9 and 9D in Wappingers Falls, New York, protesting the war in Iraq with another ten or so compatriots. You might not expect someone who has received a Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award to stand on a corner with a handful of other people and sing his discontent. But Pete's not your average performer.

A June New York Times article reports that when asked whether protesting at the side of the road would help end the war, Pete responded, "I don’t think that big things are as effective as people think they are. The last time there was an antiwar demonstration in New York City I said, 'Why not have a hundred little ones?' "

Another "small" effort Pete champions is picking up trash. “This is my religion now," he is quoted as saying in the same article. "Picking up trash. You do a little bit wherever you are.” What a lovely, tidy world it would be if we all did that.

He said that working for peace was like adding sand to a basket on one side of a large scale, trying to tip it one way despite enormous weight on the opposite side.

“Some of us try to add more sand by teaspoons,” he explained. “It’s leaking out as fast as it goes in and they’re all laughing at us. But we’re still getting people with teaspoons. I get letters from people saying, ‘I’m still on the teaspoon brigade.’ ”
The teaspoon brigade. That's about my speed. Some day this summer, I'd love to take my husband and my guitar on a pilgrimage to Wappingers Falls, New York. I'd love nothing better than to sing along with Pete. Of course, I have in fact been doing that for many years now. He's inspired so many of us to take up our guitars, banjos, and teaspoons and get busy.

If Pete is your hero too, go here to sign a petition to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize. You can also join a Facebook group with the same goal here. But of course what Pete would most want you to do is keep singing, and keep those teaspoons coming.

In the spirit of the teaspoon brigade, Tom (my husband) and I have added a couple of teaspoons over at "Open for Questions" at Tom works for the U.S. Post Office as an electronics technician, and he's a steward for the American Postal Workers Union. His question:
Will you appoint postal policy makers who will restore USPS' financial ability to serve people, rather than to profit big mailers and private postal companies? Limit discounts to costs avoided? Fully use idle USPS resources before contracting out?
His question has two votes, one of them mine and one his (so maybe these count as quarter teaspoons). If you want to vote yes for Tom's question, search for "USPS financial" and you'll find it.

My two teaspoon questions are as follows:
What will you do to restore the checks and balances in the U.S. government?
(Search for "restore the checks and balances") and
Will you repudiate any claims for the legal force of presidential signing statements and affirm the executive branch's obligation to enforce the law and uphold the Constitution of the United States?
(Search for "repudiate any claims.") My questions each have six votes, and of course there are numerous other questions along the same lines as mine. I have no idea whether the questions will be aggregated to come up with the final count. But anyway, it is nice to make your voice heard. Let's hope the Obama folks really are listening.

Our BIG question, the one from, which we've been tracking for days (see here and here) now is the question with the most votes: 20,357 as of 9:17pm Central Time on Sunday.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


On's "Open for Questions" voting, the question from Bob Fertik, "Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor—ideally Patrick Fitzgerald—to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?" has 13,838 votes. It ranks first in its category and second overall, surpassed only by "I'm concerned about the banks who received taxpayer money and have had no accountability. Will this be corrected after President-elect Obama is in office?" with 14,206 votes.

The way this works is that Obama's team answers the top five questions, so we can look forward to a response to our question. Here's hoping that President-elect Obama gets the message that accountability is on the minds of the American people.

In the first round of voting on's "Ideas for Change in America," "Appoint a Special Prosecutor for the Crimes of the Bush Administration" came in second in its category (government reform), which qualifies it for the final round of voting, which begins on January 5.

We are making progress, we are getting others involved, we are fighting the good fight. Many, many thanks to all of you who are taking a stand and making your voices heard!

Update: Apparently the voting on is continuing. Our question is now #1 overall, with 15,079 votes. If you haven't already done so, please encourage your friends to vote. Thank you!

Update 2: Please join the the cause "Americans for Holding Bush Accountable" on Facebook.

Update 3: Our question is still in the lead on; we have 16,504 votes so far and the voting is still open.