Still Trying to Imagine

John Lennon

I’m thinking about John Lennon. I’m always thinking about John Lennon. But today especially.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been a confluence of the two major issues I’ve been involved in for 20+ years: climate change and gun violence. I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed by the state of both these issues, it’s been hard to get motivated to write about them. But today is the 35th anniversary of the day John Lennon was killed, so I’m motivated.

Today is also the third night of Chanukah. There’s a natural Chanukah -environment connection. It’s a holiday about oil dependence in the same unstable region of the world that we’ve always had oil issues. It’s also about light at this, the darkest time of the year, which makes it a natural time to think about energy conservation, environmental stewardship and moving away from our unsustainable use of fossil fuels. This year it has even more meaning with the UN Climate Conference in Paris in its 9th day. About 180 countries have submitted emissons reductions plans. The goal is to reach a legally binding agreement to keep global average temperatures from continuing to rise to disastrous levels. As we know, storms with increased intensity, droughts and other catastrophic weather occurrences are impacting our planet, particularly the most vulnerable who are already suffering. This isn’t something in the future. This is happening now.

Climate change is a factor in the surge of refugees and terrorism as well. In Syria, for example there has been a drought for the past six years. As crops failed, there were food shortages. Hundreds of thousands of families who depended on farms ​poured into Syria’s cities, adding to the refugees already fleeing from the chaos in Iraq. The government was incapable of doing anything, making way for militant groups to step in.

We know all too well that intolerance and instability leads to unrest and violence. Not just terrorist acts by outsiders, but homegrown acts of violence made easier by our weak gun laws, which leads me back to John Lennon. It seemed impossible at the time that anyone would want to gun down and murder John Lennon who asked us to Imagine a better world and to give peace a chance. Who would have guessed that 35 years later in America, over 108,000 people a year would be victims of gun violence?

A few weeks ago I went to Washington DC for the 2015 Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence National Summit Lobbying Day and to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the national Million Mom March, which I was a coordinator for in 2000. Following our day of lobbying, we felt exhilirated, not knowing what lie around the corner in a few weeks. On the way back to New York, I updated my blog piece, Triggers, to encourage people to get in touch with their legislators to encourage the expansion of background checks for gun purchases. We had high hopes. But even with these recent tragedies, we’re having trouble getting any traction on legislation for gun safety laws.

If John Lennon had lived, I’m sure he would be just as perplexed as any rational person should be that our country can’t agree on commonsense approaches to both the problem of climate change and gun violence.

Being outraged isn’t #ENOUGH, we need to take action by supporting and voting for legislators and policies that will make a difference.

We learn from the Chanukah story that the little guy can be victorious over the big guy. This Chanukah as we kindle the candles, let’s hope there’s light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Like This

marchers
Seeing so many millennials show up at protests this past week got me thinking about how a common lament of their generation has been that they haven’t had the deep issues of the 1960s to connect to. They (and their boomer parents) often see the activism of that time through rose tinted granny glasses. I spend a lot of time with 20 and 30-somethings. Not only because I’m the mother of two daughters in that demographic, but because of my work as an activist in the environmental movement. Protecting the environment is an issue that many millennials have gravitated to over the past fifteen years. They grew up with a well publicized push to Save the Rainforest, photos of precious polar bears floating away on melting ice sheets, and the virtues of the three ‘R’s. Not Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic like it was for their parents, but Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. And even though the environmental movement was also inspired by the boomer generation with the first Earth Day, it has suffered from not being able to attach a human face to the issues and therefore it’s been slow to attract the same kind of passion and urgency of movements of the past. Millennials in the U.S. want their own Vietnam to protest against, their own Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements to march for. They want to care about something; a unified chant worthy cause à la: Give Peace a Chance.

Then along came the corrosive power of Wall Street and multinational corporations and banks, which led to the greatest recession we had seen in decades. This was followed by the reprehensible behavior of these industries going unpunished and the very personal concern for young people over college loans and high unemployment. There was a common enemy and the Occupy Movement was born. Millennials were motivated…for awhile. But some say the problem with Occupy was that it was more about the participants attracting attention, having their voices heard, than actually about getting results. My feeling is; what they were rallying against didn’t strike a painful enough chord. Not so with recent events, which leads me to think: be careful what you wish for.

None of us could have foreseen that decades later we’d be fighting many of the same fights. We’ve got wars galore—conflicts where there can be no winners, where peace eludes us. When it comes to injustice—women are still being discriminated against, particularly in the workplace. And from Ferguson to New York, and all points in between, while we’ve moved one step forward in addressing racial inequality, it feels like we’ve taken two steps back. Even the environmental movement is gaining more critical mass momentum as the rate of the devastating effects of climate change on humans is escalating.  The system is broken.  So young and older are once again taking to the streets to put democracy into action, to hold those in positions of power accountable, and try to affect change. But for all of us who have romanticized revolution, I think we can agree; we didn’t want it like this.

Putting a Face on Climate Change

Climate March small

Fourteen years ago I was a local coordinator for the national Million Mom March for sensible gun legislation. At an environmental conference a few months later in Washington, DC, I addressed the group saying that what we needed was a march to protect our planet.

At the Million Mom March we invited families who had lost a loved one to gun violence up to the stage on the Washington Mall. One by one they shared their stories about a parent, a brother, a child who had been killed. Over time, we’ve come to understand that gun violence is an issue of public health. Similarly, I thought at an eco march, we could have individuals whose lives and health had been impacted by environmental degradation and assaults on their air, land and water, tell their stories—all in an effort to put a face on climate change.

Over the past twenty years I’ve been speaking and writing about environmental issues, in particular about the threat of climate change. In all that time it has always been a tough sell. If you see a homeless person, a hungry person or an infirm person, you know there’s a problem. But with climate change, if you can’t see the problem or make an immediate cause and effect connection, it’s easy to pretend it doesn’t exist. Al Gore spoke about humans’ complacency when it comes to global warming in his film, An Inconvenient Truth. He compared it to the cautionary tale of tossing a frog in a pot of boiling water. The frog doesn’t jump out right away because it’s a slow boil.

Over the years I’ve presented on panels with indigenous peoples from low-lying island nations where sea levels are rising, who have lost their livelihoods and/or have been displaced from their homes—climate refugees. I’ve addressed numerous groups and spoken about at-risk people, and I could tell from the audience’s faces that they couldn’t relate to them or to the faraway places they lived. Many of them couldn’t even relate when I talked about our local neighbors: children with asthma, adults with respiratory illnesses and families living in environmental blight. But all that has changed in the past few years. Many of us are now living in vulnerable communities; we’ve become climate refugees. To those who take refuge in NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard), beware; climate change is coming to a neighborhood near you!

Ironically, even though more frequent and severe storms, flooding, drought, disease, dangerously high temperatures and wildfires as a result of extreme weather events, are creating more homeless, hungry and infirm people, and leading to catastrophic loss of life, we still haven’t taken the kind of strong action needed to combat climate change. The climate change deniers, including many U.S. politicians still don’t see the dire need to address this issue. The U.S. continues to contribute disproportionately to the world’s carbon pollution. And by not taking responsibility, our unsustainable energy consumption and wasteful use of resources is contributing to global environmental injustice.

On Sunday, September 21, tens of thousands of people of all ages and from diverse communities including: public health, scientists, faith, veterans, farmers, immigrants, workers, indigenous peoples and our neighbors whose lives have been ravaged by hurricanes and superstorms, will gather together on the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March.This will be two days before the UN Climate Summit 2014, which will convene world leaders in government, civil society, and the private sector to mobilize support for negotiating a global, legally binding treaty in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and to provide poor and vulnerable populations with significant support to build climate-resilient communities. The march is our wake-up call that climate change is real and that it needs our immediate attention because we are at the tipping point. According to the majority of the world’s scientists, we have already exceeded the safe levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and are therefore experiencing human-caused global warming right now.

There won’t be any speakers at the People’s Climate March the way there was at the Million Mom March in 2000. There won’t be any organized way for people to tell their stories as I had suggested fourteen years ago when I first began thinking about a march like this. But sadly, all these years later I realize that we don’t need to single anyone out, because if we were to put a face on climate change today, the face would be of you and me.

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Just as important as showing up for the march on September 21 is what we are going to do on September 22 and beyond. Check out the events before and beyond the march. Calculate your carbon footprint. Take action to live more sustainably. Get engaged in the issues and vote for legislators who support a healthy, clean, sustainable environment!

To combat climate change, we need to create change.

Sign up and join us at the People’s Climate March!

 

Life is What Happens…

JFK
This is a terrible analogy to use, but it’s been like watching a car crash. You just can’t look away. That’s what it’s been like for the past few weeks of continual JFK coverage on TV. How many times have we seen the Zapruder film? Each time it’s just as gut-wrenching. How many times have we seen Walter Cronkite deliver the heartbreaking news? It never gets easy. Just hearing the crack in his voice, the attempt by this veteran correspondent to hold back his emotions, brings me to tears every time. For the past few weeks many people of all walks of life have been sharing remembrances. Here’s a brief personal reflection…
My grandparents met with President Kennedy in Philadelphia a few weeks before he was killed. My grandmother had been a delegate to the convention to nominate JFK. My grandfather was a dynamic Democratic Party Leader and judge in Philadelphia who helped spearhead a fund raising dinner on October 30, 1963 in honor of Kennedy. The president was in Philly for the same reason he went on to Dallas – to raise money in support of local leaders and to warn against the political right in order to strengthen his bid for a second term. As John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
We are left with so many questions and so many what ifs…John Kennedy’s assassination certainly set into motion a series of terrible cataclysmic events that forever changed our country, but through his idealism and good works over a very short period of time, he also set into motion a vision of hope and a greater humanity.

Triggers

mmm2

In 1999, I was invited to a small informal gathering of moms in Princeton, New Jersey to meet with a fellow NJ mother, Donna Dees Thomases. A week after a shooting rampage at the North Valley JCC in Granada Hills, CA, Donna, who worked in public relations and whose own young daughters attended her local JCC, was motivated to apply for a permit for a march on Washington for gun violence prevention. She was calling it, the Million Mom March. The California shooter was a white supremacist who walked into the lobby of the JCC and opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon, firing 70 shots into the complex. The gunfire wounded five people: three young children, a teenager, and an office worker. Shortly after, he murdered another adult. This shooting occurred four months after the massacre at Columbine High School, which left 12 students, one teacher, and the two murderers dead; plus 21 injured.

I was so inspired by Donna and so appalled by the statistics on gun violence and frustrated by our government’s inability to enforce commonsense gun safety legislation, that I became a local coordinator for the movement. Being immersed in the cause,  I became very conscious of how guns not only permeate our physical culture, but the English language as well. With an interest in linguistics, I was keenly aware of what I’m calling for lack of a better word gunspeak. There have been many times when I’ve had to stop myself in mid-sentence trying to avoid using particular arms-related words or idioms, but it’s so natural, it’s nearly unavoidable.

This list will no doubt trigger more thoughts on the subject: jump the gun, loose cannon, armed with the facts, going great guns, go off half-cocked, be on target, getting loaded, shotgun wedding, shoot your wad, fire with both cylinders, straight shooter, staring down the barrel of a gun, fire back, riding shotgun, gun shy, under the gun, shooting from the hip and the smoking gun.

The Million Mom March was a true grassroots movement, organized through word of mouth. After a nine-month gestation period, on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2000, approximately three quarters of a million people showed up on Washington’s National Mall to advocate for stricter gun laws (150,000 to 200,000 people across the country held local marches). One of the founding beliefs of the Million Mom March was that, “Gun violence is a public health crisis that harms not only the physical, but also the spiritual, social, and economic health of our families and communities.” Displayed on the mall that day was a “wall of death,” which included more than 4,001 names — all people who’d been victims of gun violence. Today, approximately 30,000 people die from gun violence a year in America (it breaks down to someone every 17 minutes).

In 2000, the year of the Million Mom March, the stats were that every day 12 children are killed by gunfire in the U.S.; one out of every 17 high school students had carried a gun in the past month; a gun kept in the home was four times more likely to be involved in an unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense. Fifteen years later, statistics from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, show that every day 48 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention; seven children and teens die from gun violence a day. Overall, 297 people are shot a day; 89 of them die from gun violence. In a year on average that adds up to 17,000 children and teens and 108,000 Americans in general getting shot. These days it’s more difficult for students to bring guns to school, but when it comes to having a gun in the home, well, the numbers documenting the likelihood of those guns harming innocent people, are off the charts. And while some background checks have been instituted in the intervening years, because they aren’t comprehensive enough, they haven’t been bulletproof.

Through the Million Mom March, the power “of a few good moms” propelled the subject of gun safety into the spotlight and literally onto a national stage. President and Hilary Clinton were very supportive of the march and the mission. When the coordinators and our families met with them at the White House prior to the march, there was a great deal of hope in the air. But in all these years since Bill has been out of office, nothing significant has been done regarding this issue.

I am blown away and feeling up in arms at how our legislators have been complacent about every day people walking around with semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and about instituting background checks, which according to CNN, 93% of the American people support. We need to keep shooting off our mouths and stick to our guns, so they’ll give it their best shot and make legislative decisions to enforce sensible gun laws that represent the will of the majority of law-abiding citizens.

Let’s bite the bullet and get it done!

Will We Ever Give Peace a Chance?

Today, October 9th, would have been John Lennon’s 72nd birthday, also dubbed Peace Day. And speaking of peace…The next presidential debate on October 16th will focus on both foreign and domestic policy and then the last debate on October 22nd, will be devoted exclusively to foreign policy. Besides addressing global financial woes, much of these discussions will be directed toward policy in the Middle East. Today, the Mideast region “is in a state of flux perhaps more volatile than it has been since the end of the Ottoman empire…” (tabletmag.com)

There are so many things said along the campaign trail. The question is: What kind of sustainable action would a President Romney take regarding the unrest in the Mideast when really faced with these critical decisions? What about President Obama? He’s been in the hot seat. Does he believe there are truly viable solutions? Secure in a second term, will he attempt some bold moves?

When it comes to the seemingly endless trouble in this volatile region and the reality that it’s one step forward and two steps back, how do we move forward? Human beings are responsible for the many horrific occurrences, and we’ve witnessed that human behavior is impossible to control and predict. 

John Lennon implored us to, “Give peace a chance.” But with each passing year that quest seems to be getting tougher and tougher to imagine.

The Great Depression

Last week marked the 82nd anniversary of the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which officially began The Great Depression. There are varying thoughts on whether what we are currently experiencing is a recession or a depression. With all the bad news in the news, I thought I would share an amusing depression story…

One of my best friends growing up was Alice Beck (Dubow), now a judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. I spent a great deal of time at her house. Her father, Dr. Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist acclaimed for being the creator of “cognitive therapy,” a type of psychotherapy, had his practice in the living room of their home. It was a beautiful room lined with built-in bookcases. I was a bibliophile, and so when he wasn’t seeing patients, I enjoyed perusing the titles in his collection. I remember going home and telling my mother that Alice’s father must be an expert on “The Depression” because he had so many books on the subject. It wasn’t until years later sitting in a psychology class that I realized just what kind of depression he had an expertise in!

If you’ll indulge me, here’s hoping this Depression doesn’t lead to a more serious depression!


What’s so Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?

I have a little booklet that I put together that includes the birthdays of my family and friends as well as a few public figures who have touched my life. October 9th would have been John Lennon’s 71st birthday, also dubbed Peace Day. Christopher Columbus’s birthday (he’s not in my book) is of course celebrated on October 10th (there isn’t a definitive date for his birth, but it’s believed to be somewhere between August 25 and October 31). With the proximity of these two dates, I learned that there is a movement to change Columbus Day to John Lennon/Peace Day. Power to the peaceful! is the slogan for the movement. In their words, “Let’s honor someone who devoted their life to peace, not war!” While Columbus was instrumental in jumpstarting the age of exploration that brought about numerous advancements in Europe, we can’t deny his role in the exploitation and enslavement of the native population while he was busy “discovering” America-a place we all know had already been discovered. Kind of like in the words of Yogi Berra, “déjà vu all over again.” 
John Lennon implored us to, “Give peace a chance.” But following the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we marked the 10th anniversary of the violent conflict in Afghanistan – America’s longest war. With no end in sight, the number of lives lost continues to rise. In light of this milestone, consider these words…“We must find an alternative to war and bloodshed.” The war we are fighting “has strengthened the military-industrial complex … and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.” This war “has played havoc with our domestic destinies…” These words were spoken by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. concerning the Vietnam War more than 40 years ago! but could just as easily have been spoken today – déjà vu all over again.
When and if war is ever justified is obviously a complicated subject. In the midst of writing this blog piece, Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, was miraculously released by Hamas after his five-year nightmare in captivity. Referring to the prisoner swap, he stated, “I hope this deal will promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Based on human history and human nature, I wonder if as John Lennon had hoped for, peace will ever stand a chance.


My Fantastick(s) Memory

For me, one of the all-time gems of New York City is the show, The Fantasticks. After 42 years at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, it relocated to The Snapple Theater on Broadway in 2006, where they are happy to welcome students and groups of any age. In fact, a few months ago, we took a group of students participating in Urban Glee NYC, a project of our in-school arts education organization, Literacy Takes a Bow (LTAB), to see the show. It was thrilling for them, especially when they got to hang out with some of the actors during the Talk Back and ask questions about their acting process and the production. I have always had a special place in my heart for The Fantasticks. Here’s why…

As a college student attending NYU in the 1980s, I had an apartment over Rocco Restaurant on Thompson Street between Bleeker and Houston in Greenwich Village. In the height of the summer, the hot, stagnant air, pregnant with the pungent fragrance of roasted garlic from Rocco’s, filled my apartment. For a respite from the heat, I would sit on my windowsill, which opened out to the fire escape, to try and catch an occasional cool breeze. One night I made an incredible discovery. The back of the Sullivan Street Playhouse was directly parallel to my apartment. Seeking some relief from the sultry temperatures, they would often open the stage door resulting in the sweet sounds of the The Fantasticks flowing out the theatre door and in through my open window. As an aspiring writer and student in NYU’s School of the Arts, I was passionate about theatre. What greater gift could there have been, than to be serenaded night after night by the world’s longest running musical? It’s a memory I haven’t had to “Try to Remember,” because it has stayed with me all these years.

                                                                         

A Grand Time

Last week my family and I hiked Grand Canyon. The view and the colors were beyond extraordinary. They don’t call it one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world for nothing! And of course it was more and more incredible as we descended from 8,000 feet down into the Canyon, surrounded by 17 million year old rock formations. We’ve done a lot of hiking over the years, particularly in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, but I found this hike to be particularly challenging. From the expressions on the faces of the people we passed on our way down, I know I wasn’t alone. (Of course it may have had something to do with the fact that it’s been a few years since my last major hike and I have no regular exercise routine—btw, kudos to all those who do!) To instill fear in our hearts, there was a sign that read: Hiking down is optional. Hiking up is mandatory. The film 127 Hours came to mind as we continued to keep ourselves hydrated.

It was great to know that I had the stamina. More than once I’ve asked my doctor why it is that I can hike mountains, but I find New York subway steps exhausting. (Ladies, if you’re a subway-riding New Yorker like me, you know what I’m talkin’ about.) My doctor says she gets that question a lot from her female patients. Her answer is because it uses different muscles. I definitely employed some of those same muscles on the stairs-like climb back up Grand Canyon. Oh, and did I mention that the temperature was close to 100º? (As you hike down, it gets hotter – adds to the bragging rights.) Needless to say, we were ecstatic when we successfully made it to the top. Back in New York, I now feel empowered as I make my way up from the subway platform, quietly grinning to myself and thinking, hey, I just climbed Grand Canyon. Of course I still find the subway steps exhausting!