What Kind Of Week Has It Been*?

This last week has hammered home that being a responsible, engaged, American citizen is hard work, and we all just got signed up for a second (or third or fourth) shift. I’ve got to filter and fact check every single flipping thing I see or read or hear. My longstanding skimming skills are not serving me well here. The details — and the hidden nuances — all matter very much.

Apparently, I need a checklist when I read the news now. And I resent that deeply.

Is it offered as fact, or as opinion or speculation? Where did it come from? How was the information verified? How differently is it reported across the left-right spectrum of news sources? There’s no such thing as casual news reading anymore. I’m even looking closely to see if the videos about kittens are faked.

RELATED: News spectrum a glance in this excellent infographic by Vanessa Otero.

So much has happened this week, while I’ve been trying to run a business, that I was alternately torn by the distracting desire to keep up, and swamped by wave of overwhelmed feeling all the things I’m concerned about are out of my control until I can cast a ballot in the mid terms (NOT. Yow! Who hijacked my brain?).

As the oldest of four kids, I would pick my battles. Those battles were few and far between, because I am a great big conflict avoider. I decided which specific things were really worth the discomfort of conflict, and the risk that I might lose, in order to step into the fray and fight for it.

This week, everything looked like a battle that needed a champion. I’m an oldest child. I feel very RESPONSIBLE for things. I’m pretty sure my friends in Canada secretly hold me personally responsible for all the consequences they don’t like about  how America voted. As the days ticked by, the President signed so many executive orders, and there were so many other actions, changing so many things that I realized I could no longer keep up with everything going on.

It was cold comfort to run across a post in my Facebook feed of a consolidated list of the new Administration’s actions of the week. I admit I shared, it but I didn’t fact-check it, so my bad. If you have a source for an ongoing list you consider reliable, would you let me know?

I know I have to keep up, I want to be a responsible citizen…and before last week I was already running at 120% of capacity just trying to run a business, stay healthy, and show kindness and caring and compassion for the people in my life.

That is paralyzing. It is exhausting. And it’s not sustainable. Nobody can stay in high dudgeon indefinitely. Even my friends who are the most passionate advocates for justice are limiting their social media feeds simply to stay healthy.

It is really challenging to let go of the idea that any one of us can advocate for all the things we care about every minute of every day. We can’t.

RELATED: Mirah Curzer (“Lawyer. Feminist. Photographer. Slurper of noodles and drinker of scotch”) shared practical steps to stay engaged  in these Days of Distraction.

The basic strategy survival of my childhood will work, if I adapt it: it’s okay — and essential — for my to pick my battle(s), so long as I also know who’s fighting the others I care about.

I haven’t had time to start the blog post about the immigration ban from predominantly Muslim countries, which suddenly jumped the queue yesterday while I was researching a post on the art of conversation with a friend to seek common ground. Before I do either of those things, I need to make a donation to the ACLU.

(*Aaron Sorkin fans unite. No apologies. ALSO: See 1/29/17 MSNBC commentary by Lawrence O’Donnell on how effectively Donald Trump has demonstrated his skill as Negotiator for America. O’Donnell, not a career actor, stepped in to play the role of President Bartlet’s  father in the West Wing episode Two Cathedrals, )

 

What I Learned From The March

 

Yesterday I watched and learned.  I freely admit my fear and skepticism was unfounded. I want to begin by thanking my teachers.

I learned from my friends Leah and her mom, Natalie and her mom, my niece Sarah and her mom; my friend Tim and his ManKind project tribe; my friend Ellen, all at the D.C. march. I learned from my friends Chris and his daughter in DC; Laurel and her daughter in Victoria. I learned from my friends Angie marching in Denver, Betsy and her infant son in Toronto, Dale and her daughter in Halifax, Fiona in New York, Beverly in Philadelphia.

I feared that the message would be too fuzzy to be meaningful. Yet, I saw passionate proponents of diverse issues walking together. My friends wrote and read and shared images of clever and defiant signs.

I was afraid of violence and arrests. Instead, marchers endured lines and crowds, moved peacefully and with joy. The Women’s March on Washington didn’t yield a single arrest, according to D.C. Homeland Security Director https://t.co/zcChdT0hJ0

 

 

My biggest beef had been with what message was being delivered, to whom, and whether it would be heard. I had questioned the purpose of the march and wrestled with whether to go. I didn’t understand what the march would accomplish. I thought that the major purpose of a march was to “deliver a message” to the President and incoming Administration.

I was skeptical of that purpose because the people I thought were the intended audience wasn’t remotely interested in listening. The Trump team and supporting members of Congress already knows what I thought were the marches’ main messages: that the majority of voters, who did not support the President, intend to block Trump’s agenda on every issue, and they want their members of Congress to oppose the President, too.

The biggest accomplishments were things I didn’t anticipate. All my marching friends agreed that they left full of hope and solidarity and renewed resolve. Even as a non-marcher, I was unexpectedly moved by the power of solidarity. I did not expect the D.C. march to inspire marches totaling millions, in cities and towns and even on ships, on every continent. Women’s Marches Go Global: Postcards From Protests Around The World.  Organizers compiled numbers, because numbers talk.  Onsite estimates from march cities

For every million who marched, there are more, like me, who watched thoughtfully. Marchers, I heard you. I’ve got your backs. Don’t assume I’m not with you just because I didn’t march. We’re going to disagree about many things. (Heck, Barack Obama admitted that he and Joe Biden disagreed about a lot.) But we’re going to need to stand up for each other, because the tough work is about to start.

If you marched yesterday, then yes, rest today, and then plan. Whether you marched or not, what’s your pledge to support your vision for this country, moving forward?

How Do We Re-Fire?

The space race, the movie Hidden Figures, and the Women’s March collided for me this week and threw off new sparks and fired up fresh insight for me.
Fire has many purposes: It can light, heat, cook, cleanse, transform, propel, and destroy. The fire of a compelling mission can also be the beacon that guides our way.
The space race, including the giant rockets that sent men to the moon, has brought light and transformation to much of my life. The people, teams, technology and achievements of those who reach for the heavens, who travel there, and who get them there, have inspire me often to this day.
The movie “Hidden Figures” brought that to mind again. It was on one level a sentimental reminder of loved ones.
I’m a trailing edge Boomer, and a child of the Space Age: Sputnik made its appearance a couple of years before I did. My late (and formidable) mother-in-law and my late father would have enjoyed the movie very much. They were both engineers. Susan Gertler, like the women in the movie, was a pioneering woman in computer science. I remembered her spirited, earthy, no-nonsense, chuckle as the story unfolded.
My dad was a telecom guy second, and a space nut first. He was captivated by everything about the space program. He subscribed to National Geographic just so we could get the latest, most beautiful, photos of humankind’s greatest adventure. Our family pored over them eagerly. Like millions of others, we knew the space race first through those pictures, the carefully-curated stories in LIFE magazine, narrated by Walter Cronkite and Jules Bergman.
Related: VIDEO Jules Bergman

Sentimentality aside, Hidden Figures was a compelling reminder of why the space race captivated the American spirit. I remember nothing of the Cold War first-hand. Not only was I too young to have experienced “duck and cover” drills at school. I was in the wrong country: it was literally happening somewhere else.

Growing up, I was oblivious to the space race with Russia as a giant surrogate for the kind of battles that had been fought for centuries in mud and trenches with men and women and mud and gas and horses and horrors. I didn’t grasp that the space race was deeply troubling and very real for the millions who “…believed that whoever controlled the heavens would control life on earth.”

I came face to nozzle with the meaning of the space race in the context of the Cold War in 1996.

My first visit to the Kennedy Space Center was twenty years before that, in 1976, just four years after lunar missions ended, as a teenager on a family vacation. It was a lot like Disney World (the trip’s major destination): surreal and overwhelming to see things in person that I had only watched on TV for my whole life.
Thinking about it today, the 1976 trip was a faint reflection of NASA’s meticulously-planned epic journeys. My parents put everything they had so we could boldly go where our whole family had not gone before. They did the calculations to make sure that the family’s resources, from financial and automotive to emotional, were enough to take a family of six (kids 12, 13, 15, and 16) on a two-thousand-plus mile car trip in the Olds Vista Cruiser from Oshawa to Orlando and return safely to our house.
My return trip to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) twenty years later was also its own epic and meticulously-planned adventure. I had become a pilot myself, in 1987, inspired by my Dad’s own love of air and space.
In 1996, as a newly-rated instrument pilot, I took my first long instrument cross-country flight from Gaithersburg, Maryland, to Florida. That type and length of flight is a big deal for a newly-qualified instrument pilot: planning and preparation and troubleshooting (a malfunctioning transponder delayed us and had to get fixed) mixed in equal measure with the delight and beauty of the trip.
While we were there, my two co-pilots and I dropped into NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitors’ Center. I had lived a few miles from the National Air and Space Museum for almost a decade and visited many times. But it wasn’t until that 1996 trip, looking at an exhibit of the business end of the giant Saturn V engine that propelled the Apollo launch, that I stopped cold. The emotional impact of the space race hit me in the gut.
I had forgotten until then that these rockets were the literal technological children of Werner von Braun, designer of WWII’s deadly V2’s. This successor American technology rose from a capability designed to kill people, and could easily be adapted to do so again with nuclear warheads.
(Another twenty years after that, in 2016, I was watching an HBO documentary about the Russian side of the space race. They charged ahead with many global firsts, despite well-hidden explosive failures. They ultimately lost not just because of politics that funded two rival programs and split scarce resources…but because their principal scientist, Sergei Korolev, died in 1966.)
No wonder winning the space race was such a big deal. It wasn’t really about a flag on the moon at all. It WAS about something much bigger, much more profound, for the whole planet: survival in the face of technology that could take us all out.

Here’s where I connect the dots.
The space race was imperative to win because the technological victor gained moral superiority, too: the ability to REFUSE to use that technology as an offensive weapon, and the ability to have it in reserve, or threat, as a defensive one.
Was the space race a battle was so important in the 1950’s and ’60’s that it shoved issues of racial and sexual equality aside? The world portrayed in Hidden Figures suggests that that might have happened in some places. The imperative of winning WWII and the space race didn’t magically evaporate racial and sexual inequality in Langley, Virginia, either before or after NASA was created.
But such a powerful common mission meant that people were able to set aside differences that, without compelling common mission, might have mattered more.
As a nation, America might be more deeply divided, and along more lines and splintered factions, than ever before. I hope that the biggest lesson that people take away from this past election cycle is that the cost of a polarized polity is too high. We need to rise above the fractious noise and reporting and private conversations to explore what a new common vision for America might look like.

A Woman To Light The Way

What’s next? Today’s marches around the world leave me looking for guidance from those who have already marched for civil rights, for human rights. What do we need to know now, moving forward? I sought inspiration from an extraordinary woman: Dr. Pocahontas Gertler.

She is a fierce warrior: as thoughtful, gentle and articulate as she is determined.  Poco has been patient with me as I sort out my views on America’s way forward. She graciously agreed to let me share her thoughts with you.

“I suspect that at the dawn of the Donald Trump presidency, many of us are reflecting more profoundly than ever on what the future holds and how to heal the deep wounds that divide our nation. Uncertainty and fear loom as dark times, fueled by the hate and prejudice that the president-elect and his supporters have stirred up, threaten to rip our nation apart.

“How do we brace ourselves to withstand what this fractured future may hold? How do we preserve the freedoms and gains we have made in the past and build a stronger nation going forward? The responsibility that each of us has is crucial. I ask myself what I have done with my moments and my days, which now seem shorter as the sands of time run through the hourglass with increasing speed. Have I used my time wisely and unselfishly? Have I faltered in service to my neighbor?

“ All of God’s children are equal in His sight and deserving of liberty and justice regardless of race, color or creed. The dignity and dreams of all of God’s children matter. This has been my guiding principle and motivation for working for Social Justice throughout my life.

“The dreams of black and brown and red and yellow people dry up like prunes and perish ‘like raisins in the sun’. Ignored are their anguished voices crying in the wilderness, begging America for a place at the table. 

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth can only make us blind and toothless. Already we stumble in blindness and hate, ignoring your edict to love one another as God has loved us. 

“Your instructions, Divine Source of Strength, are so clear about how to create a peaceable kingdom: simply to love God and love our neighbor. Yet, greed and avarice prevail and the hunger for power over one’s fellow human beings makes ravenous monsters of the strong, who devour the weak and oppressed.

“We must continue to work tirelessly to create the Beloved Community as did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others. In our imaginations, we can picture the celestial realm where brilliant souls unloose the surly bonds of creed and race and embrace peace and justice face to face. 

“I implore the God of my weary years, the God of my silent tears, to grant us peace and let peace and forgiveness begin with me. May my remaining days be a testament to His loving kindness as I surrender to His holy will.

“May God use the broken places in my life to let His light shine through. I paraphrase what an unknown, perceptive person once said, ‘Life is not a smooth journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty, well preserved body, but rather a rugged race to skid in broadside, thoroughly bruised up and used up, totally worn out from fighting for justice and loudly proclaiming, “Wow, what a ride!!!”’”

Pocohontas Gertler is my stepmother-in-law. She just turned 84.

I have been struggling with where protest marches fit into American political life and expression, and what value and role they have in defining, articulating, and accomplishing change in the face of adversity, unity in an environment of poisonous division.

When I asked her thoughts, she wrote,

“Judy, Dear, I would never presume to present myself as any kind of an expert on these matters.  I have only my eight decades of life experience and observations to rely upon and what I have learned along the way. I don’t believe that there is only one approach when it comes to standing up for justice. Some may be quite spontaneous while others are well planned.  I do believe that all must be non-violent.  Violence begets more violence and that, of course, is counterproductive.”

Her memoir, While I Run This Race, is filled with the amazing grace of a lifetime warrior against racism and injustice. Of all the people in my life, she holds the brightest torch lighting the way of determination against struggle, despite the astonishing hardships and indignities that life dished up.

She is living proof that while we cannot control what happens to us, we choose how we will respond and who we will become.

Does “Women’s March” Measure Up?

The January 21st, 2017 Women’s March is a lot more complicated, and messy, than the Inaugural Parade.

That’s not surprising.

The January 21st march grew in a matter of hours from one woman’s facebook post overnight to tens of thousands of people crying out to be heard. In days, signups hit a hundred thousand or more. The initiators must have scrambled to absorb an instant  self-study crash-course in public advocacy, coalition-building, public relations, communications, finance and heaven knows what else. My heart goes out to them. They went to sleep cuddling a kitten, and woke up holding onto a tiger by the tail!

By contrast, the inauguration parade team has been working on January 2oth’s event for over six months. They have decades of experience and binders full of briefing books. They will pull off apparently flawlessly-executed events. And they’ll debrief and figure out what they’d have done better, and add another binder to the shelf when they’re done.

 

Am I unreasonable to think that the precious energy and resources of hundreds of thousands of people is squandered when they gather for a public demonstrations without a clearly-articulated message for a specific audience?

Yes, a mass public gathering has powerful potential for participants to bond with like-minded people, discover new allies and strengthen common cause for the next four years. It’s an opportunity to join hands across the divide and heal with hope for a vision of America we can share.  That’s the positive.

The more focus, the more of all those positive things happen.

This set of rallies doesn’t have any such focus.

I’m concerned that demonstrations next week in one or more cities have the potential to flip in the blink of an eye from freedom of expression to an explosion of rage and fear. If that happens, in even one city, people will be discouraged rather than energized to join forces and voices at a time when unity is vital. That’s the negative.

“Protests are successful and effective when they have a clear message, a clear mission. That’s part of what made the 1913 march by the suffragettes seeking the right to vote so memorable and the 1963 Martin Luther King Jr.-led March on Washington so powerful.

“They are unsuccessful when they are simply a stage for venting.”

The Women’s March Needs Passion and Purpose, Petula Dvorak, Washington Post, 1/13/17

All concerned citizens —of all genders, across the political spectrum and myriad issues —need to get our act together. Mass demonstrations need a well-defined purpose, both to achieve the goal they have, and avoid outcomes they don’t want.

 

 

The only thing I know for sure about the rallies is that there will be dozens of lessons learned across the country. There is a new generation of activists being launched right this moment.

That generation desperately needs to know, and fast, how to organize themselves and speak with clarity and purpose. People who want to build a stronger country together have no time to waste. Congress is burning the midnight oil. Apparently everyone’s going to need to do that. More than ever, we need the wise advice of those who have been this road before. We need the lessons of the last 50 or 60 years and more.

It’ll come together. We are going to see people re-learn some lessons in civil activism in their entirety, just as parents cannot protect children from the pain and scrapes that come from growing up and the lessons that come from mistakes We are going to adapt some lessons of the past for this new millennium. And we’re going to learn some new things that we can’t possibly imagine right now.

Yes, amazing things happen because people push through and accept the inevitable messiness of inspiration and accept and grapple with all the gifts of imperfection.

Accept that and embrace it up front. If you’re going to a march (or organizing or supporting one) do you have your debriefing booked?

Am I going? Nope. I’m sitting this one out on the sidelines to see what happens. ‘Cause this is just round one.

The 1/21 marches don’t measure up. But the next ones will. As President Obama said, “If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing.” There’s a lot to work on, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on or who you’re standing with. SO let’s come together and get to work.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this isn’t the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Whether you are marching or not, I welcome your thoughts. Thank you for always understanding that my heart is with you and in the right place even if my words don’t catch up.

Michael Eric Bérubé 

I’m not sure how you can make that claim [“The 1/21 marches don’t measure up.”] from a week before they even happen and from being just across the street and still ‘sitting this one out.’ My wife and 19yo daughter are flying down from Maine to take their stand with HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of others. That’s huge if you ask me. What is the ruler that you are using to declare that the efforts ‘don’t measure up?’

Judy BradtJudy Bradt Hi, Michael! And thanks for writing. Your perspective as someone who is planning to march with your family is important to me! I definitely want to support you. For me, the thing that is missing is singularity of focus on an issue. There is a lot to be accomplished, and the March has value as a starting point for a long journey. The organizers are doing an extraordinary thing beyond anything they expected to attempt. My choice is to participate in something when I am satisfied that my own priorities are strongly aligned with the stated intentions of the event organizers. For me, there is not enough clarity to merit going out to march in this particular event.

I applaud those who are willing and eager to step up at this early stage despite all of those unknowns. I’m not ready yet. I will be watching and cheering for a good outcome for everyone and lots of positive developments, both anticipated and surprising
Laurel BowmanLaurel Bowman Oh come on, Judy. You’re right there in Washington. Get out there! I’ll be marching in Victoria. Sure, it doesn’t have a clearly defined focus and message, but the basic message is still clear: “NOT ON OUR WATCH YOU BASTARD.” I think that’s clear enough.

Judy BradtJudy Bradt There is that. Otoh, this may be the first march but it is far from the last.
Laurel BowmanLaurel Bowman Get in on the ground floor! if there is another march you can be in on that one too.

Judy BradtJudy BradtThere are many ways to “show up” and marching is certainly one of them. 

My mother used to tell me, “we read to learn, we write to learn.” Writing this blog, and reading and responding to you, is part of how I am learning something that is new to me: I am discovering exactly how I want to participate in civil activism.

I recognize that I have an emotional response and I want to understand what’s underneath there. If my first response to The idea of taking part in a march is caution, and then I feel ashamed for setting myself apart from others who instantly leave at the chance and buy plane tickets and bus tickets and arrange accommodations, then that tells me I need to stop and sort out what’s happening for me. That is what I have learned.

Until I figure that out, I am not the marcher you want today. But I am the Marcher you absolutely want next time.

Horton heard a who. (Now that I recall, something pink and fluffy was also involved.)

I am struggling with what it means to be one dot on the screen. Maybe that IS the point: to fully absorb that change and progress happen because everybody is willing to be one small dot and understand that change, is because millions are willing to stand together. When I show up in person for something, I want to be all in, aligned in head as well as heart.

Marchers next week will include people who voted for Donald Trump. Sofa-sitters will include people who voted otherwise.

I will not let my inherent perfectionism stand in the way of standing up. There may very well be elements I want to see in place before I show up for certain kinds of public event. There may be things I have simply not researched, like what I might do if I were to get arrested, and what my rights are if that happens. I’m not prepared for that right now.

If I show up for something, whether that is making a presentation or flying an airplane or climbing a wall, I want to be as ready as I can be, not just for my own sake but also to support those people around me. I do adventure some things, but I’m not a risk seeker. That’s me.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has a wonderful book called, “an astronaut’s guide to life on earth.” I found it absolutely fantastic. He also has an important thought for this situation. One of the marvelous tenets is the principle “Be a zero.” By that, he means when you are joining a team, you can end up making a negative contribution by showing up trying to be the winning positive contributor. Understanding the flow of whatever it is that you’re joining, and starting out by working in harmony with what is happening ultimately lets you contribute beyond your wildest dreams and bring everything you have to the combined effort.

If a two-year-old does not know how to read, one does not call her simple. One teaches her to read. Come, teach me.

Natalie CornellNatalie Cornell I’ll be marching on Saturday and here’s why: to say I’m watching you and I will hold you to account; I will not stand by and let you and a Republican Congress roll back 50 years of progress for minorities and women without making a scene and forcing you to explain why it’s OK for the rest of us to live with the tyranny of a culture that overvalues straight white men and undervalues everyone else; and I hope that some percentage of the people marching get inspired to run for office in their school districts, towns cities or states. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t one theme. It matters that he and Congress know we’ll be watching them.
Judy BradtJudy Bradt Yes, Natalie! And hold me accountable, too. The one thing I know for certain is that we will look back and see that this will not have been the biggest rally of the next four years, not by a long shot. 

It takes courage to go out when things are not well defined, when they are messy and in the primordial ooze of the creative process, and to be there when the spark of life ignites into a full flame.

You know me: you know that when I commit to something I am all in. For that to happen, my head and my heart need to be in the same place for me to show up and be in integrity. Nobody needs me to show up mumbling and criticizing. And all of us need to be patient with those whose views are not 100% the same as our own. If I show up, I need to show up whole hearted and able to embrace in my heart as well as in my head an enormous diversity views and be OK with the related inevitable messiness. I need to be unafraid of the idea that someone might make all kinds of unfounded conclusions about me simply because I showed up.

For that matter, people are very likely making their own conclusions about me simply because this time I am choosing not to March. I am not alone. For every Marcher on the mall and in dozens of cities, there are many more who are also watching.
If you have patience with them and me while we sort out our own thinking, we will join you next time. If you decry us with the accusation that “Those who are not with us are against us,” then we lose the opportunity for unity within as well as across what might seem like borders.
There are many WAYS to join forces and succeed together, whether we call Congress,  knit hats, make soup, give rides, pack lunches, or put our boots on the street. I deeply hope that no rolling of bandages will be required.
Oh, and there is NO acceptable explanation for “living with the tyranny of a culture that overvalues straight white men and undervalues everyone else.”
Jennifer CooneyJennifer Cooney Let’s be optimistic and see how it goes. I, for one, already have “outrage fatigue” and cannot sustain this worry about what might happen for the next four years. And face it, a negative headline is going to get a lot more clicks than a positive one.
Patti LatinoPatti Latino “We have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined…nonviolent pressure.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Hidden Figures Made America Great Again

I woke up at 4:30 AM with five new blog posts battling for position in my head. I drifted off to sleep bringing together five sentence fragments that I really wanted to remember, and I didn’t want to fully wake up and write them down because I needed to sleep. When the sound of rain on the roof roused me, I tried to get back to sleep, but the descending blog bits chased me, and it was clear that sleep was done. So I got up and launched my day, eager to discover which blog post was going to bust out of the dam first. This is the post that wanted to get written first.
This week, JJ and I went to see “Hidden Figures”, America’s latest blockbuster movie. This compelling, hitherto-little-known backstory of the space race, resonated strongly with millions of moviegoers in 2017, filled with powerful messages for these days.
The space race was about more than a triumphant journey for humankind, more than the payoff of the work of thousands of people and billions of dollars, more than a pinnacle achievement of two teams each determined to be first.
The bigger deal was the implication of the power and technology. Sure, that engine boosted men to the moon. But the first nation that could build and harness and accurately aim that kind of power was also saying to the world, “…and we could aim something this big and powerful, armed with massive destructive capacity, at YOU. So mind your manners.”
Thus, July 21st, 1969, when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, was the beginning of the end of the Cold War. But it would still be another twenty years before the Berlin Wall would fall.
When I read the book, I learned that the story of the black women computers of NASA Langley began a quarter century earlier. Starting in the early 1940’s, hundreds of qualified women were invited to step into technical jobs for which they’d otherwise never have been considered  because the men were fighting in uniform. One’s sex and skin color were less important if you had something America desperately needed to win a war: masses of raw computing power.
The first wave of women computers arrived to calculate the designs of aircraft that would win WWII. Many stayed on, or were invited back, in the fifties and sixties, when NASA was created, to help design and plot America’s first spacecraft and flight trajectories.
 Once America entered WWII, the nation mobilized like never before. The American aircraft industry grew from being the 38th-largest in the country to being the largest in the world.
In WWII, and again during the space race, people, good people, in challenging times and at great personal cost, struggled on two fronts: war with an outside enemy, and battle with changes that profoundly disturbed many people’s ideas of how their own society was structured.
Black and white, men and women, their common creed bound them together in relentless pursuit of victory. There was no magical disappearance of differences of color or religion or political beliefs. But the turbulence of the times brought opportunities to shift the way things had always been.
The NASA computers and engineers put together every human and technical resource they had. Despite turbulent times and everyday battles on the basics of everyday living, the black women at NASA Langley persevered. No matter how much of a personal struggle against racism that they experienced every day, they never gave up — either on that, or on their professional mission.  They put together everything they had, and pushed through the boundaries of earth and the mysteries of mathematics as well as the politics of personnel and human relationships to Find A Way to a place that none had gone before. The effort needed brains, regardless of the bodies that carried them.
If they did, so can we. No matter what our differences.  THAT for me is just one of the lessons of the past week.
I continue to reach out to people of all political stripes who are eager to talk about their hopes and fears and visions of America under the new Administration. And every single person I speak with, regardless of their beliefs, is galvanized to work HARD for America over the next four years.  No one I’ve talked to thinks that November 9th, 2016 was a slam dunk that flipped a switch and lit up a sign that made America instantly great.
Even if millions of people are a long way from a common vision for America, millions of people are much more eager than I have seen in almost three decades of living in America to engage and actively shape that vision.
Again.
There will be plenty of battles and disagreements. Even outgoing President Obama acknowledges that these struggles are also very much a part of what actually DOES make America great.
Hang in there, America. Keep talking to each other…and keep LISTENING to each other, too.

To March or Not to March?

I have been struggling with many questions about marches in general, as well as about the “women’s march” in particular. I’ll have more thoughts in the days ahead. Here’s the latest set.

“I just don’t feel safe,” a friend confided, telling me her top of mind reason for not attending the Jan 21st Women’s March on Washington.

That got me thinking about several threads at once.

Is staying “safe” a good enough reason to stay away? Historically, thousands of protest marchers have risked life and limb to stand up and be seen and heard in opposition to things they think are simply wrong and need to be changed. Maybe part of the point is to set aside personal safety and inconvenience take part despite personal risks of injury, arrest, and uncertain outcomes.

It’s been decades since I took part in any kind of public demonstration, and never in one likely to be as highly-charged as the January 21st one. There are a lot of reasons why I’m not going to this one, and I’m still sorting them out.

I’m working at getting over feeling guilty for not standing physically there in solidarity with longtime friends, and some family members, who signed up weeks ago. I mean, I’m a woman, and, yes, I have, um, concerns. Precisely what basket of concerns do the marchers represent?

“The march has become a catch-all for a host of liberal causes, from immigrant rights to police killings of African Americans. But at its heart is the demand for equal rights for women,” said Post reporters Perry Stein and Sandhya Somashekhar.

If I’m going to march for something, I want to be absolutely clear about what it is, what I want to accomplish, and who’s supposed to be getting what message. As best I’ve been able to tell so far, that’s a long diffuse list of things that marchers might be concerned about. It’s hard to imagine that everybody who’s marching is going to be for or against all the same things.

“Organizers insist the march is not anti-Trump…”

~ Washington Post, 1/3/17

Although the march may be a focal point for people who oppose the agenda of the incoming administration, there’s no political litmus test required from participants. Many people who voted for the President-elect will be marching alongside many more who did not.

I’m also feeling guilty for a far more picayune justification than “safety”: um, convenience.  For over a decade, I’ve left town, or even left the country, for inaugurations in 2001 and 2005. To be fair, I’m an equal opportunity sofa surfer: I watched the 2009 and 2013 ceremonies from the warm comfort of my couch. I don’t get caught up in the excitement of having attended an event in person if “in person” means “part of the throngs a mile back with obstructed view of the JumboTron, oversimplified audio, squeezed into a crowd I can’t get out of, far from restrooms, and facing long delays to get home.”

My contribution to “delivering a message” (exactly what message and to whom, unknown) would be simply as one more dot on the screen, assuming the people I might want to communicate with are watching at all, rather than finding themselves stuck in consequently disrupted traffic. I’m not thinking that whether I march or watch on TV or follow friends live casting will make almost any difference.

Which is to say, there is a lot I don’t know about the mechanics of large public protests.

Someone, educate me. How do leaders somehow channel the energy of participants in some way that reaches and connects with the parties they want to engage? Or is the goal to communicate something that will get picked up by reporters — who will write what they write, not necessarily what the marchers hope.

Calling people a “basket of deplorables” is unlikely to persuade those people to vote for you. Similarly, convening a gathering of a couple hundred thousand people is almost guaranteed not to attract anyone from the incoming Administration to stand up on the big stage and get yelled at. Is it?

Where does dialog and engagement take place?

Emotions will run high, that’s for sure. Which emotions do you think are going to drive the event? Hope, love, and solidarity? Or fear, anger, and outrage? Honestly, there will be plenty of both.

On to practicalities.

Are you going? If this would be your first big protest march, how will you know what to do, what to expect?

A fast search showed no “Guide to Modern Civil Disobedience In America.” This march might be a novel experience for one or even two generations of marchers, but it will not be America’s first rodeo. The last hundred years are filled with lessons of triumph and tragedy. Marches do matter.

Related: One of my family members, who has lived over 80 years as a warrior for justice, shared this link with me: http://www.upworthy.com/7-times-in-us-history-when-people-p…

I’m always focused on the practical. I wondered what guidance or resources the organizers have suggested, or marchers are finding, to prepare.

What’s different now from the civil rights protests of the sixties, the AIDS protests of the nineties? What are things to know about using social media as a marcher? What are the most important things to bring, and not to bring? What to do in case of conflict? I’ve never been arrested. Is that a good thing? What rights does one have? How does one behave disobediently but civilly?

Here’s one resource from ACT-UP that might offer some food for thought, especially with regard to “legal rights, why get arrested, and what to do next” – all things I had never thought about but clearly thousands before me have. Why not learn from that experience, see what new questions arise, and get answers?

http://www.actupny.org/documents/CDdocuments/CDindex.html

To wrap for tonight, maybe positive outcome of a large protest march might be for Administration and/or Congressional representatives to agree to meet with representatives of the organizers afterward and, well, talk and listen to each other. That would be easier or maybe more likely if there were a focused issue.

 

This Is A Test

I’m reminded of an old maxim, “When you’re up to your a** in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your first objective was to drain the swamp.” Here’s what I found interesting over the past 48 hours on Capitol Hill.

First, I wonder when was the last time a Congressional Committee proposal got as much attention, media backlash, and citizens lighting up the phone lines, as quickly as the House Republicans’ proposed changes yesterday to the Office of Congressional Ethics. I am curious; I truly don’t know the answer, and would like to know.

Related: The story as of 1/3 @6:38 pm reported by CNN

Second, when has a President-elect ever publicly chided lawmakers for their judgment   concerning an action taken before he’s even sworn in? Donald Trump decried House Republicans who targeted Congressional Ethics for their first move of 2017, rather than” …tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS”

Again, I am curious; I truly don’t know the answer, and would like to know.

Related: Slate’s lexicographers explain #DTS “Drain the swamp”

Third, I’m fascinated by the emergence of not just campaigning but now perhaps also governance via Twitter. The President-elect has no constitutional power connected to his forthcoming office before he’s sworn in. Today, we saw someone with no official power scold and perhaps even humiliate House Republicans on social media. How embarrassing for them. That’s not…(Canadian word, I can’t help it) nice.

Let’s use the more formal word for “nice”: Civility.

Fourth, I expect civility from all elected representatives, from President to dog-catcher, working within as well as across party lines.  I regret that these days “expect” often doesn’t mean “anticipate.”  This is where my political naïveté leaves me at a disadvantage. Couldn’t a civil conversation with a few key players have accomplished the same thing? Sigh. A bullhorn makes a terrifying noise that wipes out stuns one’s ability to think, and rather impedes conversation, to say nothing of negotiation or the development of mutual understanding.

I’m going to proceed for a moment in a spirit of open-mindedness. Let us think the best of the House Republicans and grant that they spent considerable time studying this matter and developing their proposal. Is it possible that the current rules under which the Office of Congressional Ethics operates can create undue hardship for members of Congress who are falsely, or even frivolously, accused of wrongdoing? Sure. The base 2016 salary of rank-and-file members of Congress was $174,000. Legal fees could decimate that in a hurry.

So, what was so urgent about this problem that it needed to be attached to the first package of rules proposed for the new year?  Had it come up for public debate or discussion last year?  If so, then please explain to me why the proposed changes were a perfectly routine matter of good governance and would not have hampered independent oversight. If it was delayed or not supported then, why not?

Once more, I am curious; I truly don’t know the answer, and would like to know.

This was the first item on the news at 6 am when I woke up. I have a day job and I’m not a full time researcher. If I’m a responsible citizen, part of my job is to be well-informed on civic issues. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it true. I didn’t drop everything and look into all sides of the issue.

But I did notice that certain influential social media mavens and media lit up the web this morning, urging citizens to contact their legislators to stop the proposed changes. Thousands of them did just that.

Between the President-elect’s tweet, the flooded phone lines, and heaven knows what else that went on, I saw the first example in what isn’t even yet the new Administration of mobilized public response to a congressional proposal. Pretty impressive for a first go-round.

Finally, today the President-elect just might have been on common ground with a whole lot of people who didn’t vote for him (however briefly, and maybe not for the same reasons). Fascinating.

Fascinating Conversations

Just What Was Said

In the days since the election, and because of the election, two things have happened. Some people have stopped talking to each other. And others have started.

People rarely develop deeper understanding when they stop communicating. That’s why I decided to invite a lot more conversations with people, no matter how they voted, and listen to understand rather than to argue.

When I was at a business event last night, I knew that the social talk would inevitably turn to how people were feeling in the wake of the election.

Sure enough, while many were elated, others were deeply disappointed and disturbed by the outcome. I was heartened by widespread agreement that Americans  now needed to give the president-elect a chance to govern, no matter what else. I heard far more thoughtful opinions than outright alarm. I heard expressions of patience and faith in the political system, albeit tempered with tones of uncertainty.

This event appeared to be the perfect opportunity to make good on my pledge I wanted to get people on all sides thinking more about each other without sparking more friction. But where to begin? How?

Here’s how I figured that out: two days after the election, I went to Canada. (No, not for good. I’d booked the trip months before, to go and see my sister in a community theatre production.)

While I was there, my friends and family had many questions for me, and a lot of concern about the election. I was curious to know their thoughts, too. After many rounds of informal post-election quizzing, I was excited: I’d found a solid all-purpose post-election conversation-starter question, one that would give even the most disappointed person pause for thought.

What is the one thing you can know for certain about every single person who voted for Donald Trump — and ONLY about people who voted for Donald Trump?

When I started asking my question, I’d give anyone three chances to answer. I heard a fascinating broad brush of generalizations. “They wanted change,” was the kindest, or maybe the mildest, answer. “They’re racist.” “They’re deluded.” “They want jobs back that aren’t ever coming back.” “They feel threatened by gay people.”

All of them? Every single one? Are SURE? Nope. Naw. Uh-uh. That’s not it. Nosiree. Last chance? Okay. Here’s the answer I gave them:

The only thing you can know for sure and certain about every person who voted for Donald Trump is that—wait for itthey voted for Donald Trump.*

Virtually no one chose that answer. But everyone who took my quiz agreed that it was true. More than a few looked a bit uncomfortable to realize that they’d made some pretty big assumptions about millions of people they’d never met (or had actively avoided bothering to talk to).

I then plunged into my new quest, and began conversations with people who told me they had voted for Donald Trump.

All three were female. Two were women of color. One was Muslim. Educated women, owners of what America calls “small” businesses with multiple employees. I asked them why they voted the way they did.

The top reason the first woman cited was the emails. Her company managed information technology and security. “I have to abide by complex rules related to information security and proper handling of classified information, thousands of rules, every day, to keep our country secure. I absolutely could not support a candidate who did not take those laws and rules seriously.’

The second woman was elated by the election results, and proud that Trump had a female campaign chief who had guided that campaign to success. “I’m not worried. I think God is taking care of us all.” What did she think of the women who had come forward with allegations of sexual assault  by the president-elect? “I think they were all lying.” Trump’s sexist remarks? “Oh, he wasn’t serious.” This white woman felt that there was simply too much attention placed on incidents related to policing and racism, and that “people just need to get over it and move on.” Then I watched her face transform into an expression of utter distaste as she said about Hillary, “She’s so crooked!

Two women both said with confidence that they felt a Trump presidency will be good for business. In their view, many people had not felt confident about the direction of the post-recession economy. Now, they felt that the economy was set to bloom under the new President. They gave no specific reason why.

Neither the Muslim woman nor the woman of color expressed any concerns about the president-elect with respect to sexism, racism, or misogyny.

All three women were urban, not rural, dwellers; none mentioned any sense of having not been listened to for eight years.

The black woman and the white woman both felt that Obama had not done enough for African-American communities, especially those in dire circumstances in cities.

But here’s the thing: Not one of them said she agreed with everything the president-elect said or promised. All of them had concerns about whether the things they’d hoped for might actually come to pass as the Trump Administration shows what it’s made of.

Those concerns open the door to more conversation. The good news is, we’ve got four years to re-learn how to talk to each other. And how to listen.

At the end of the night, I took a deep breath. I’d done it: fostered genuine conversation, listened deeply and thoughtfully, learned a lot about my fellow humans, and quite possibly given them new things to think about. And maybe even made some new friends. I can do this. And I’ll keep doing it. I hope you do the same.

 * Strictly speaking, I acknowledge to readers familiar with logical fallacies that this is in fact a tautology (the definition of a thing in terms of simply being itself).

How The Light Gets In

Keep writing to me. I write much better and think more deeply when I am not in a vacuum.

One of my most powerful Muses in these early post-election days, one of my deepest tributaries feeding the torrent of thinking, is a longtime friend who expresses her fear and anger and concern for America to me.

For every person who is saying or writing “give the president elect a chance and let’s keep a close watch and be ready to act” there is another declaring that “history has already given us all the information we need to know that we are now at DEF con one”.

I’m listening, and I’m thinking. I’m trying to think about where I will choose to be most vigilant and active besides writing a blog.

The thought coming out this morning as I walk the trail is this.  I’m looking for examples in reality or fiction of a peaceful resolution of a conflict between a force driven by elation and vengeance and a force fueled by fear and anger.

This is not a trick question. I am looking for models and examples that can give me some insight.

You are smart, thoughtful, educated people. On both sides of the line, I might add.What do you think?

In musing about the outcome, I was wondering when in history or fiction there were any example of a peaceful resolution of an encounter between forces driven on one side by elation and revenge, and on the other by anger and fear. I have only been thinking about it for a few minutes, but so far I didn’t come up with any examples that did not have cataclysmically destructive consequences .

Then a smart, passionate friend with a soul full of social justice who has been sending me Posts and articles full of fear and anger about the results of the election in a country where she doesn’t live, this morning sent me an article written in 2004 by Maya Angelou, who was distraught and fearful after George W Bush was elected.

Here’s the link.

https://www.thenation.com/article/no-place-self-pity-no-room-fear/

It’s worth reading, and isn’t that long.

Reading it reminded me of an interview with Brene Brown that I heard in the summertime. It seemed to point in the direction of an answer.

 

Compassion is not a relationship between the wounded and the healed. It’s a relationship between equals.

You have to know your darkness well enough to sit in the dark with others.

We are divided as people because we are not integrated as individuals. I have to understand my darkness in my life. I have to understand how both of those work. It’s this integration in our world of what’s perfect and what’s broken.

There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. And we spend our lives spackling the cracks. We spackle it with money, with achievement. We spackle up places where we need to like to come in.

The bravest among us will always be the most brokenhearted. Because if you have the courage to love, you’re going to get your heart broken.if you have the courage to care and be engaged, you will be disappointed.

If you have the Courage to be innovative and creative, you’re going to fail.

I’m not less afraid of the dark. I just know that when I go in, there is beauty in it. When you’re not afraid of the dark anymore, it’s actually not the dark anymore.

I’m afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of uncertainty. I’m afraid of vulnerability. I have just been in there before. And I know it can be beautiful in there. And I know that the choice of going in there and finding beauty or staying outside of the dark my whole life, that I’m not willing to do.

How do you grow courage to be on the other side again, to be in the dark? Grace.Grace is the whisper that says when you’re standing in front of the door, “I can’t make this less scary for you, but I can remind you that you’ve been there before.”

~ Brene Brown

 

Whether my struggle is with someone else, or myself, or possibly what I might think could be half of the population of a country, what would happen by starting with compassion?

Compassion isn’t concession. And I’m still coming Ing my mental archives of history and fiction to find an answer to my question, so don’t give up on me there. But this morning, that quotation was a little bit of light through the cracks.

In other words, we as a nation have been here before. let us allow the voice of grace to give us the courage we need to join forces and rise again.