Tag Archives: service

This Is What We Do. Be Responsible. Vote.

Jimmie Lee Jackson: December 16, 1938–February 26, 1965

Ensuring our freedom in a democracy. This is what we do.

Selma 2

Selma 4

On June 26, 2013 in a 5 to 4 decision, United States Supreme Court justices ruled that nine states with a history of racial discrimination no longer have to obtain federal approval for changes to voting rules.

Our work never, ever stops.  For every citizen — a vote.

Rev James Reeb: January 1, 1927, March 11, 1965

Viola Liuzzo: April 11, 1925, : March 25, 1965

Truth. Apathy.

Truth-ApathyThe other day I contributed comments to a political blog. It’s kind of out of character for me and something I rarely do. I prefer story telling. But I was moved to address the apathy, yes apathy, of some Americans and  the lack of participation in our political process. Of course, being a Democrat, I was addressing my disappointment in the last election. But it’s so much deeper than any particular political party and so much bigger than money.

 

Now. (Yes, “now” with a period. It’s a complete statement. I learned it from my mother and it has infinite meaning. More on that another time.)

Now. (again) These are the things I am passionate about.

Optimism. Compassion and loving kindness. Service. Food (always.) And — owning the political process. Speaking truth to power. WE are the power.

I can’t help but wonder how an astonishingly astute population can languish in such an astoundingly apathetic civic consciousness (Nope. that was not a two syllable sentence). Not until the current demonstrations — extraordinary in the tens of thousands — about police shootings of unarmed black men have I seen such a conscious unified movement. Folks are actually protesting for human rights issues in the United States. It reminds me of my own coming of age in the 60’s and, by God, it makes my heart glad!

Now let’s see…

Apathy: Indifference. Lack of concern. Lack of interest.

Truth: Webster defines it as a case or idea accepted as true or a statement of fact.

Well. Here is a statement of fact. We have become a nation filled with pitifully apathetic people who do not or cannot understand that our participation in the political process is as necessary as breath is for life. Eating, sleeping or, er um, copulating is not required for political freedom; showing up is the requirement. We vote. We try to educate other voters. We help build a free and democratic society brick by intentional brick.

All this talk — blah, blah, blah — about speaking truth to power can be so much wasted oxygen. We help speak truth to power by being a part of the process.

Sigh.

City Council, Mayor, and elected local leadership; County leadership; State leadership; national representation; president. Brick by effing brick. It’s not enough just to vote for the president.

What we have to understand is that folks are ignorant of how democracy works. Over decades, folks have come to believe that all they need to do is vote for the top.

Sigh. The presidential vote is not the sum total of our responsibility for living in a democracy. No matter what barriers are erected (district redistribution, voter ID laws, etc. –and folks will try to stop you) to negatively impact potential nonwhite and non wealthy voters, we who care about the quality of the political process and how that process affects our lives on a daily basis cannot underestimate the importance of participating in local to national elections of our legislators.

But folks don’t know how our political process works. I love this website: https://www.icivics.org/

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is the chairperson of the board of this organization that helps folks understand the way our system works. Please pass it on.

“Speak truth to power” is a great principle. But a great principle is only great when the folks living by that principle make it so. Speak truth to power. We are the power, folks.  The truth shall set us free.

That’s my story and I’m stickin to it.

 

 

Fecund

The word means fertile, fruitful, abundant. Ours is a fecund world of 7 billion — old, young, and all in between — giving birth to new life in all forms: a child, a poem, a work of fiction or history, music. Somewhere, someone is giving birth to secular or spiritual knowledge. More often than not— no matter the opinions of the chicken little doom and gloomers — our experiences, even the negative ones, and productivity serve to enrich and enliven the heart.

Take the writers who choose to birth memoir for example. Forged from a lot of work and soul searching, good memoir is rich with life experiences that, with any luck and grace, make our paths in this world a little bit — or a lot — brighter. How do they do it, these writers? How do they dip so deeply into the well of their own fertility to transform lives?

As I continue to reach for that lofty goal, I find that, in the heat of daily life, it’s easy to overlook or miss the fertility of experience— ensuring that it will be forgotten.

Bluefield, West Virginia

In 1967 I enrolled in a small college in the picturesque town of Bluefield, West Virginia. In retrospect, my application to the school wasn’t so much about academics as it was about leaving home. My high school grades were abysmal at best, but I was young, curious, and enthusiastic with a high school counselor who worked on my behalf. Lucky to get in is an understatement. I looked forward with gratitude to my new life.

Bordered by Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia, with Bluefield at its southernmost tip, West Virginia is definitely, most definitely the south. Bluefield is less than 70 miles from North Carolina. Having spent my childhood summers in South Carolina, I was familiar, to say the least, with the South and its culture. Remember, this was 1967.

But I wasn’t really thinking about that.

I was thrilled to be attending a school that was an historically black college. Once named Bluefield Colored Institute, the college became Bluefield State Teachers College—now Bluefield State College. I did not know that, at the time, it was in the throes of a designed shift in racial demographics.  (http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/10/18/236345546/the-whitest-historically-black-college-in-america) National Public Radio.)

(I also did not know that a nemesis from high school was a student at the college, that she would steal my full-length red suede coat that I had sweated at the phone company to buy, and that I would have yet another lesson in standing up to a bully and getting my possessions back. My name was even written inside the coat. Seriously Sharon? All the way in West Virginia?)
 

Pastoral scenery. An all-black campus. These were my desires. I’d spent so much time in rural countryside that I deeply looked forward to the nature of things. I love this country landscape. But this is what I do not understand: with all of my love for the rural, how have I always resided so close to the city? More on that another time, but the fruit of my fertilization by both cultures cannot be underestimated.

 

John Denver’s Country Roads only begins to lionize the West Virginia landscape that greeted me. The hearts of the people I encountered planted within me a seed of service and understanding that continues to grow in my life.

 

On my arrival, the campus had changed. Community tension was high as black students protested, and fears were heightened by rumors of Klan activity. My alliances with community activists complicated things for me in the ultraconservative, religious African-American home where I rented a room. God bless the fate of the naïve. I had not counted on the fear-based hostility from some of the local blacks as being a part of the mix. The fear was understandable. In an historic coal mining town where, even today, the black population is only 23%, I had a lot to learn. I was asked to leave, but received a reprieve after a community action leader that the family respected approached them on my behalf.

Judaism. I knew nothing. The Diary of Anne Frank, which I read in high school, was the extent of my knowledge about the Jewish faith and culture. but when I met a young Orthodox couple who invited me to my first Seder, I began to understand things. I learned that the Klan didn’t like them either. And I remember the reverence with which they celebrated the Sabbath. They lovingly shared why and how they separated the silverware. They were not community activists, but my understanding of community expanded.

Hill people. I hate stereotypes. And although the Beverly Hillbillies was a hit on television, it did not picture the simple, heavyset white woman in the hills who stopped the bleeding after I ripped my knee on a barbed wire fence in waist deep snow. I can’t remember why we were in the hills; it wasn’t a particularly safe place to be. But she fed us buttermilk biscuits, chicken with gravy, mashed potatoes, and called the doctor — who gave me a tetanus shot, but would not stitch the wound because he didn’t want to touch black skin. I have the scar to this day.

She was a woman with an open mind and a loving heart. I cannot remember the racist doctor’s face, but I remember hers. I remember the fields surrounding her small home, the snow up to our knees, the cows in the frozen pastures, and the comfort of her living room as she asked about our intentions.

I met students and volunteers committed to making America a better place. My activities got me expelled from school at the end of my first semester, a year before the anger exploded — literally — with the bomb in the gym. But the world had become richer, a more fecund place to be. One in which I would never turn my back on service.

Note: Thank you to the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau for the lovely landscapes!

On Service: Today’s Reflection

Why would a poor person go to work for nothing to help other poor people?”

I was the hapless prey cornered by an angry tiger. I had no answer, and Mom wouldn’t budge.

Poverty and racism had made her bitter. She’d watched her dreams of a Northern safety net turn to smoke. I’d decided to move west and serve as a volunteer with a government organization dedicated to helping those in poverty. It would be my first trip on a plane; I would meet people from places I’d hardly heard of in America.  It was one of the things I had to do to find my way.

“Are you getting paid?”

“A stipend.”

They say silence is the better part of valor. No one could give a demeaning snort like my mother. But I continued on my path to service anyway because…service is in my DNA. My father served: in the armed forces, in the community, in church. He was committed, in spite of his faults, to making the world a better place. On the subject of committing time and action to help others, however, my mother and he did not agree.

I have never understood how someone could watch another suffer and not feel the need to serve. Today, watching the news of children crossing the border from Central America, that memory came up for me. Perhaps it’s because I recognized within me that same desire to make things better for others. Perhaps it’s because after all these years I still wanted to see that we, as a country, would come forward with compassion, integrity, and dignity.

I was glued to the television, disappointed with the images of people carrying signs and spitting at buses. They held their fists in the air, and their mouths were little anuses with the feces of hate pouring forth.  Had we gone back in time to the 60s? Seriously? These were the folks that had the media’s attention? Later, I learned that there were only about 50 of them.  How could so few burn up so much oxygen?

I once heard a television news editor express his disappointment that, in today’s news room, he could find as many sales as news people. Broadcast news is bought news. My take away was that sponsors, not people, choose what we will hear and see. So, here I was watching a bunch of ignoramuses supported by commercial interests.

The truth.

People of all faiths and people of no faith are coming forward to serve. Hundreds are are opening their hearts and their arms to help. From all over the country, in Dallas, Texas and San Diego, people are offering shelter, food, clothing, money, time and prayers for these children and their parents.

I suppose, the haters will never go away; they have existed throughout history. They appear in some form in every millennium, taking up precious oxygen that’s needed to do the work. Blessedly, it seems that the Lovers are in charge, if less visible.

Back to my mother. Back to me.

I got on the plane and arrived on the West Coast. I was filled with courage, enthusiasm, and curiosity. We received training, cleaned streets, fed preschoolers, assisted with adult literacy classes, and met the most dynamic group of Catholic activists ever. I sent her letters and made phone calls, but Mom could never understand. Not then; not now.

One thing I came to understand, however, is that her resistance did not come from hate. Even if she didn’t know it; even if I didn’t know it, the gap between her and haters was wide. I learned in later years that she sent money that she didn’t have to organizations making life better for others. Although she would never tell me then and cannot tell me now, I think that her resistance was one of coming from the legacy of southern violence. Violence, as I know well, leaves the worst of scars in our cellular memory.

Will the children and families coming to our borders see us as allies or friends 10,  20, 30, or 40 years from now? If we choose to serve, the answer is clear.