Category Archives: Social Justice

What’s In a Name (Change)??

A pre-revolutionary Washington, with William Lee, one of his enslaved servants. In his will, Washington freed Lee and a hundred other enslaved people. Not good enough to keep his name on a public school?

“May I be boiled in oil,
And fried in Crisco,
If I ever call
San Francisco, Frisco.”

–Ogden Nash

All right, let’s stipulate that some of those San Francisco schools SHOULD be renamed. But some other cases are, well, complicated.

I mean, if living in an independent country has any value for us, the bad news that George Washington was a slaveowner can’t be the end of discussion about him; dammit, he and his ragtag army did win the revolution.

Then he declined to celebrate by taking on the crown his victory had displaced.

That’s a gesture which some of us have just re-learned is definitely not chopped liver. (Tho some of us evidently just haven’t.)

Ditto for the fact that Lincoln was a stone segregationist who hoped slaves would be freed so they could all be shipped to Central America.

Terrible “optics, in politico-speak. And a completely  cockamamie idea; but then Abe still got woke enough to end legal slavery. And he gave some boffo speeches, huuugely better than, say, “The carnage stops here.” There’s a whole lot of reckoning yet to be done there.

Two Roosevelts. Toss a coin to toss one?

Instead, tho, according to numerous press reports, the  SF renaming process turned into a contender for the worst imitation of a bad SNL cold open that ever made comedy writers spew their coffee.

The renamers even voted to toss Roosevelt Middle School, tho they couldn’t seem to be bothered to figure out which Roosevelt it was, FDR or Teddy, to whom they were giving the boot. (But who cares? They were both dead white males.)

Well, anyway. Looks like becoming a laughingstock finally got under somebody’s skin there, and the renaming is now toast.

But it really ought not to be. Some of the names probably should go. Plus there are definitely new names that need recognition. (Looking at you, Harriet Tubman. And my sentimental Sixties favorite, Wavy Gravy.)

Besides, the reexamination of all 44 could be a Golden Gate into substantive educational experiences involving the students too. (Students? What a concept.)

Well, Frisco school folks, you gave yourselves a big load of lemons.

So now get busy, catch up on that history homework you skipped, and make your city some serious educational lemonade, meringue pies and (gluten free) pound cake already.

Sacramento Bee: Plan to rename 44 San Francisco schools during pandemic on hold.

‘Mistakes were made’
BY DON SWEENEY — FEBRUARY 22, 2021
Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco will be among 44 schools which was to have their names changed following a 6-1 vote by the school board. Those plans are now on hold, school officials say.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s disappearance has also been stayed.

Gabriela Lopez

Gabriela Lopez, newly elected as president of the school board, said in a statement Sunday that school officials must focus on reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Reopening will be our only focus until our children and young people are back in school,” Lopez wrote. She canceled further hearings by a renaming committee.

Lopez called the school renaming issue “one of many distracting debates,” noting the process began before anyone anticipated a pandemic shutting down in-person schooling.

“I acknowledge and take responsibility that mistakes were made in the renaming process,” Lopez wrote.

When the renaming project reopens, district leaders will seek a “more deliberative” process involving historians along with parents and educators, Lopez wrote.

The school board voted 6-1 Jan. 26 to strip the names, now considered offensive, from 44 San Francisco schools, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“It’s a message to our families, our students and our community,” said trustee Mark Sanchez at the time, according to the publication. “It’s not just symbolic. It’s a moral message.”

Parents and teachers at each school would have had until April to propose new names to be approved by the board, Courthouse News reported. The renaming project was expected to cost $440,000.

School names honoring Paul Revere, Francis Scott Key, Thomas Jefferson, Herbert Hoover, Father Junipero Serra and Robert Louis Stevenson were also among those scheduled to be changed, according to a district list.

The renaming committee faulted Washington for owning slaves, Lincoln for the hangings of Native Americans and Feinstein for reports she once ordered the replacement of a Confederate flag torn down by protesters.

Other names to be changed include those of conquistadors who explored California and notable San Francisco residents, including a former superintendent, who held racist views.

The board also voted to rename Roosevelt Middle School despite confusion over whether it was originally named for Theodore or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Fox News reported.

A committee studied the proposed name changes for two years before the decision was made, according to a presentation from the San Francisco Unified School District.

The presentation says involvement in colonization, slavery, genocide, exploitation of workers, oppression, racism and other human rights abuses are reasons to remove someone’s name from a school.

Some of the criteria for possible replacement names included a grounding in social or economic justice, local rather than national figures and those who bring “joy and healing to the world.”

The proposed name changes generated national commentary, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed criticized the proposals in October, KGO reported.

“The fact that our kids aren’t in school is what’s driving inequity in our city, not the name of a school,” Breed said, according to the station.

Another personal favorite for a new school monicker: political whiz Stacey Abrams. Okay, so she’s not from California. Well, lots of the others weren’t either.

Former President Donald Trump posted to Twitter about the proposal in December, calling it “so ridiculous and unfair,” The Hill reported.

Critics of the name changes argued that historical figures should be judged in historical context of all their efforts, not dismissed for individual questionable actions, Courthouse News reported.

Coping with General PTSD

Just about every day, Facebook pops up on my personal page a post & photo from this date some year in the past, as a memory.

What happens in Vegas–piling on a napping Grandpa February 2020. Happy anniversary?

The other day, a photo came up on FB of me,  taking nap recliner, while mischievous granddaughter, seven, piling stuffed animals and stuff on my torso to see how much she could  stack up on me before the weight woke me up.

This happened one year ago during a family reunion over an extended weekend in Las Vegas, where my daughter works as a nurse. It was silly scene, but showed we were having a fine time, so it was worth a passing remembrance.

Then I realized something else about it. That trip and gathering marked the end of the world.

Well, not the end of THE world, but surely the end of A world: the pre-pandemic world, the demise of what can be called the Good Old Days. And so that silly photo of me asleep with odds and ends piled on my belly in late February 2020, also marked the anniversary – better say the first anniversary — of the era of Covid.

After that family weekend, within just a few weeks, schools were closed, unemployment swept through us like a tornado, markets crashed, toilet paper disappeared and lockdowns were coming, and the last time I was able to worship in person at our meetinghouse until – when?

And on this unwelcome anniversary, I realized a couple other things: one is that it’s not over; far from it. The other is a strong suspicion, that even when it’s declared to be over, it may be impossible to go “back to normal.”  At least not entirely.

Surely there’s no going back for the 484,000 Americans dead from it as of the third weekend in February, 2021; or for many of their families. Continue reading Coping with General PTSD

Going Public, in The New Yorker & Facebook Live

Apropos of Dr. King’s birthday, and looking toward Black History Month, an email came In Monday telling me the New Yorker magazine had posted on its website an article from the April 10, 1965 issue called, “Letter from Selma,” about the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

And I was mentioned  in it.

Sure enough; it’s the only time I have appeared in the magazine.

I barely remember what was in that “Letter,” though  I can still see the writer, Renata Adler, appearing by the edge of U.S. Highway 80.

Renata Adler

I do recall how strikingly out of place she seemed, on its rough and rocky shoulder, crowded with disheveled marchers, and lined with armed troops eyeing the nearby scrub forests for snipers.

Adler looked as if she had been plucked from a stroll on Fifth Avenue and teleported to Alabama, in a colorful and almost slinky sheath dress, with a broad voguish hat bending under the stray breezes, notebook in hand.
We talked for just a few minutes. It’s a good article. Only time my name ever appeared in the New Yorker, as far as I know.
I think you can read it for free.

And there’s more: on Jan. 18 I was asked to speak to the good people of Life’s Journey UCC Church in Burlington NC, and tell them the title story from my memoir, “Eating Dr. King’s Dinner.

Telling a story that’s 56 years old — and as up to the minute as the latest headlines.
Of course, I didn’t get to go to Burl-Ing ton, which is about 40 miles west of Durham.  Instead, I ZOOMed in from home in Durham; that’s This American (Pandemic) Life, 2021.
but we had a good time. I did my best to tell my Selma story,
and explain how for a long time after that year in Selma, it had a happy ending. But then, in 2013, that ending was erased, and the story of fighting for voting resumed.
Only this time, the wear and tear of age had me on the sidelines, but still connected, reminding the young that this continuing story is now theirs too, and it was their turn, not yet to tell it but to write the decisive next chapters with their lives.

The video of the talk is there, for free.

Dr. King on White People & Racism

This red-baiting billboard popped up beside many highways in the South during the civil rights years.

This seldom-cited passage is from “The Three Evils of Society,” Dr. King’s speech to the National Conference on New Politics, in Chicago, August 31, 1967. It is highly relevant to much current discussion about work for racial justice and equity. Continue reading Dr. King on White People & Racism

“Merry Christmas. Now, Get Out!” Quaker David & Goliath Update: Goliath Wins

Christian churches all over the world are having Christmas services this weekend, and into the coming weeks. It’s a tradition almost two millennia old. But for some churches, it’s a pretty bittersweet occasion.

The Friends Church of Midway City, in Orange County California is one such. After 85 years, this Christmas weekend is to be their last in the church they built and paid for, and pursued their vision of evangelical Quakerism.

[Note: more about Midway’s GoFundMe campaign, to help pay off their $50,000 debt for lawsuit legal expenses, is here: https://gf.me/u/ykw8s8 ]
Many readers have asked about the outcome of the dispute between Midway City Friends and their evangelical overlords, reported here in widely-read blog posts almost a year ago, here and here.

The overlords announced in May 2018 that they were going to shut down the congregation, take the church and its property, and fire the pastors. The Midway City Friends filed a lawsuit in 2018 to stop their expropriation.

It didn’t work out. As the church announced on its Facebook page above, they lost their case. The defendants, leaders of Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW; neé California Yearly Meeting), argued that changes in Faith & Practice they had engineered a decade earlier made the EFCSW Board of Elders the supreme rulers, with ultimate ownership over all their member churches’ property. After months of mainly Covid-forced delay, last summer the judge agreed.

Cara and Joe Pfeiffer, now looking for a new gig, and home, for their family of six.

Midway City’s deposed pastor Joe Pfeiffer put it this way in a September Facebook post:

What we have discovered through the legal process in the last two years is that a small group who want to adopt a megachurch-satellite model with a centralized corporate structure basically circumvented our denominations governing bylaws to orchestrate a take-over. Though a lot of pious and spiritual language is being used (as often in church settings) it really comes down to power and money.

Early on, I started to publicly question this trend, as well as some of the ways our denominational budgets and nominations were being handled, and basically became a target, and then our church as a whole.

Our hope above all in this, is to continue to speak truth to power, and testify to our experience. Our aim is that truth will lead to conviction and ultimately reconciliation and healing in our broader body of Friends in Southwest.

But a third goal of their EFCSW antagonists went beyond grabbing the Midway City property and terminating Joe and his wife, co-pastor Cara Pfeiffer. They also want to make the whole episode disappear into oblivion down the legal memory hole. When a “settlement” was reached in November, it included nondisclosure clauses which forced the Pfeiffers to clam up, and relieved the EFCSW rulers from having to make any comment.

So no one has actually told me any of the settlement details. But key parts of it, e.g., the evictions, are outcomes that can’t actually be entirely concealed. After all, your basic big closing-down-and moving-the-church rummage sale announce-ment is pretty much a dead giveaway.

Their forced move is also a public reminder of how this whole affair started, when the Pfeiffers yielded to the quinte-ssentially Christian impulse to help a few homeless people who showed up on their doorstep in early 2018. That, and Joe’s record of daring to question EFCSW’s dedication to secretive top-down rule which brooked no questions or protest — that is, acting as if Friends were supposed to be a community of equals, was simply beyond the pale. They had to be stopped. The support the Pfeiffers had from the church was intolerable;  all had to be stopped, and the memory expunged.

Now EFCSW has sort of got their way: they’ll get the property, which if the economy rebounds could be worth a bundle, and the Pfeiffers and their four foster children, are now mum about the lawsuit, and face an uncertain pandemic-haunted future.

Yet there are a few loose ends. For one, the church, while small, has refused to die. Yes, it will be homeless a few days from now; but this is the year of worship-by-Zoom, so they will still meet, as they have done since the pandemic arrived, until they figure out where they can land next. There are, after all, Friends meetings in their area which are not under the hegemony of EFCSW.

Further, last spring, well before the gag rule was drafted, Joe Pfeiffer published “Engaging Homelessness Behind the “Orange Curtain,” a detailed, searing and trenchant critique of the entire “church growth” theology that has driven EFCSW  for more than fifty years. The piece exposed its deep-seated roots in defensive white normativity and the preservation of class privilege.

The essay and a detailed Preface were published in Quaker Theology #34, which is available online at no charge here. EFCSW’s legal victory and its aftermath are unlikely to put an end to the searching conversations that article started.

For its part, EFCSW issued a short letter addressed to pastors in its 45 churches, noting the settlement, and underlining its  confidentiality. In a possible bow to criticism that may have been evoked by wide attention to the Midway City property grab, Rick Darden, who signed the missive for the Elders, said of EFCSW’s leaders that

“we commit to improving our efforts in communications and relationships among our pastors and churches.

We believe that EFCSW has acted graciously toward the people of FCC Midway City and Joe and Cara Pfeiffer and their foster children in this settlement . . . .”

I couldn’t help it. The cluelessness here forced a laugh.

Here’s the leader of a so-called Christian church, parading his “graciousness” while marking the occasion of the birth of his church’s acclaimed messiah, whose infancy was spent as a homeless refugee, and one of whose commands for salvation was taking in the homeless, by having it coincide with making homeless refugees of one of their own congregations.

Further, Darden & Co. are expelling them from a church which the mostly non-affluent members of built, paid for, and maintained. Their only “crime” (besides wanting to think and speak freely) was trying to help a few of the thousands of homeless people with which Darden’s home county abounds.

(The last homeless count in Orange County was over 7000 in 2019, up from 4800 when this whole fiasco began. A 2020 count was canceled by Covid, but homelessness is widely assumed to have ballooned with the associated economic crash and its joblessness.)

An Orange County homeless shelter, 2019.

Darden and EFCSW’s flagship church in upscale Yorba Linda (self-styled as “The Land of Gracious living”) include on their megachurch staff eight staffers assigned to “Marketing,” and a dozen more to a “Creative Team.”

Evidently none of these twenty noticed that both the timing and what political pundits called “the optics” of this expulsion event are, to put it mildly, beyond terrible.  After such a move, any EFCSW efforts at “improving [their] efforts in communications and relationships” as Darden’s letter pledged, would seem to be, as the pundits also say, “due for a reset.”

Darden’s letter closed by assuring that EFCSW’s leaders were offering the Pfeiffers and the Midway City Friends their thoughts and prayers.

Of course. As Christians today, it was the least they could do.

Cheer Up, Fer Pity Sake!

Reading this morning’s comments from my Facebook friends, you’d think the election was a landslide win for the other guy: so much gloom, doom, depression & lament.

To which I feel obliged to reply sternly:

Friends — GET A GRIP.

Sure, I didn’t get everything I wanted from the election results; not even close.

But there was one thing, one BIG goal that was reached — or is about to be.

What’s that? It’s summed up in a poster that was attached to a podium from which Obama preached us the word a week or so ago; and some other places before that.

It’s this:  Behind all the hoopla and hype, we’ve been in a dead-serious battle that goes way beyond politics. What  battle? (See below.)

“Keep your eyes on the prize, and hold on!”

I first saw such a motto in the office of Dr. King, in 1964 when I signed up as a rookie civil rights worker. I was then secular-minded and anti-religious, but I soon figured out that Dr. King and his crew, with all their shortcomings, were dead-serious about it.

And before too long, I realized that they were also dead-right. There is such a thing as “the soul of the nation” (but don’t go all metaphysical and ask me to define it).  And that soul was and is poisoned and imperiled by racism (and poverty and war and other evils Dr. King preached about).

But they believed it could be saved, or redeemed. And they knew something else that took me a long time to get: that “saving” this soul wasn’t a one-and-done thing. America had been saved before, and would likely need to be saved again.

Like now, for instance.

Sam Cooke

I  wasn’t sure what they were talking about, though soon, in the unforgettable song:“A Change Is Gonna Come,” by Sam Cooke, I started  to get the beginning of a clue.  White readers, listen to it; and if you still don’t get it, listen again.

“Soul” music, brought it home with more potency than any philosophy book I’d tried to read in college. With that and the movement, I ended up a peacenik Quaker. (Your mileage may vary.)

Dr. King and the crew are almost all gone now. And their “battle,” while it won some big skirmishes, was far from a total success. In fact, we’ve just come through another big round of the struggle. And it isn’t over.

So when this motto reappeared last spring, I resonated to it at once: there was more than an election underway in the USA in 2020, and one candidate knew it. Despite not being a great orator, he closed in on the essence.

And speaking of closing in, that’s  what’s happening this morning. Like the headline says, the soul candidate is closing in. He could even cross the electoral college finish line today. (Or tomorrow.)

T: WHAT?!?!?! J: I said, “Time to go, Dude.”

Which also means, that the door is closing on the other guy, the Nemesis who has trashed so much, and corrupted so much.

Mr T, have you met my idol, Letitia James? Her middle initials are A. G. NY, and I hear she is A. eager to meet YOU, and B. she gives great lessons in gnashing of teeth.

Oh yeah, there will be plenty of desperate bombast and last-ditch bullsh*t before he’s escorted out of the oval office and off the grounds into 14th Street’s “outer darkness,” where much “much weeping and gnashing of teeth” awaits. I confess, that aftermath will be fun to watch.

But before that, when his rival crosses the finish line, maybe today, I don’t want to hear any more moaning and groaning. Take a break, and give yourself some credit.

For at least fifteen minutes.

In fact, if you can read the signs of the times with even a little insight, that will be a time to celebrate. Do something that pleases and nourishes you.

I know I’m going to.

Hmmm. Celebrate. How will I do it?

If I was a drinker, I’d get drunk.

If I was a doper, I’d get stoned.

If there wasn’t a pandemic, maybe I’d party.

But as I’m old and boring, not to mention sleep-deprived after the longest freekin Tuesday of my nearly 80 years, I’m more likely to take a nap.

But mind you, it will be a VICTORY nap. One from which I can expect to wake up and find that the Orange menace is still on the way out.

Or if I get really wild and crazy, I might even write a poem. A VICTORY poem.

In fact, I feel one coming on right now. So stand back, and stand by:

To 270: A Concise Ode on the Rescue of the Soul of the Nation

Battered,
tattered,
nearly shattered.

But it’s still here,
While the Superspreader’s
Scattered.

And THAT my friends
Is what really mattered.

 

Thank, you, thank you.

Have a great day.

 

Meditation/Remembrance for the Day: 200,000

Meditation/Remembrance for the Day:
The National Cathedral in DC tolled its big booming bell 200 times yesterday as sound track for the U.S. reaching 200 THOUSAND Covid deaths. Click here to see it on YouTube.
It’s on YouTube. No sermon, no choir, no ads, no collection.
It lasts almost 20 minutes.
Suggestion: click the link, and let it roll.
Use it as background; keep on doing what you’re doing.
Just remember whenever the bell catches your ear, and maybe pause.
None of us living in the USA have ever been here before.
And most of it didn’t have to happen.
We can change it. It’s Time. Click here.

Michael Cohen Thursday: Beginning Portrait of the Greatest Con Artist

Note: I have not read Woodward’s book. This post refers to it based on news reports, including excerpts of the taped interviews that Woodward conducted for it.

One of Cohen’s observations in his book Disloyal about Trump & his early political maneuvers was corroborated by today’s reports of Trump’s taped conversations with Bob Woodward:

Cohen: In those early manifestations of Trump’s aspirations, he revealed an uncanny knack for channeling the fears and resentments of the age . . . .

Just one example was Trump’s call in 1989 for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, a group of black kids convicted of the rape of a white female jogger in Manhattan’s famous park.

The fact that the kids were exonerated years later, when it was proven beyond doubt that they were not guilty, didn’t prompt Trump to back down or admit a mistake; he’d understood instinctively that the racial anxiety and resentments then gripping New York City would provide a potent symbol that he hoped to ride to power.

That was always Trump’s way, learned at the feet of Roy Cohn, his first attack-dog attorney: Never apologize, and never admit to error or weakness. Never. Ever. Not even in the time of Coronavirus, as the world would discover.

Continue reading Michael Cohen Thursday: Beginning Portrait of the Greatest Con Artist

Karmic Collision IV: Like a (Kidney) Stone

< one >

Chekhov: “Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out.”

Sometime around the late 1980s, I started having two recurring nightmares:

One, I’m maybe at home, or out somewhere, when the sky darkens and a dull roar starts up. It’s a tornado, bearing down on right where I am. I look for shelter, and either there isn’t any, or it’s not enough, and the tornado gets bigger and louder and then its roaring over me;  I  wake up trembling a with night sweats. Or

Two, I wake up, or at least I think I do, but when I try to move, I can’t. I’m paralyzed, and can’t speak either. Much later I read somewhere that this is a twilight, in-between state, no big deal, which goes away quickly. But I didn’t know that then; I would lie there in growing panic until, miraculously, a hand or a foot responds with a wiggle and then I was okay. But I still worried about if, next time, it could be permanent.

Let’s  review: from the outside, in those years I was earning more money than ever; I had job security, good health insurance, and a burgeoning retirement savings plan. Continue reading Karmic Collision IV: Like a (Kidney) Stone

Ongoing: The Everyday Work of Facing a Racist History

In my experience, the work of overcoming racism and its sordid history has many aspects, and can be pursued in many ways. Some are loud and disruptive. Others are calmly persuasive. Different strokes for different folks.

Here I want to pay tribute to a current worker, a friend of mine, and fellow  Quaker, Ron Osborne. On August 17, he appeared at the meeting of the Alamance County board of Commissioners, to do one small piece of this work, namely moving the tall Confederate monument from its longtime site in front of the old county courthouse in downtown Graham, the county seat.

Outside the building there were some noisy protesters, who could be heard in the background. Ron spoke quietly but clearly,  The Commission sets aside up to 30 minutes for general public comments, in 3-minute segments. Ron made his three minutes count.

The Commission at this point has taken no steps toward moving the monument. But this work continues.


Ron Osborne, at the podium, speaking to the Alamance County Commission, August 17, 2020.

Ronald Osborne: I have lived in North Carolina all my life and in Alamance County for over 35 years.

My family first settled in North Carolina in the 1660s. Part of my property has been continuously owned by my family since the 1750s. My direct ancestor was a neighbor and acquaintance of the Regulator Herman Husband. Their names even appear together on some deeds. Another ancestor made muskets used at [the 1781 Revolutionary War Battle of] Guilford Courthouse [in Greensboro].

Confederate monument, Graham, Alamance County, NC

My grandfather’s grandfather fought for the Confederacy, was captured at the Battle of Chancellorsville and wounded at Spotsylvania. My grandmother’s great grandfather fought at the Battles of New Bern and Kinston.

My wife’s grandmother’s great uncle was killed at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg. Our ancestors were also involved in other battles, including Gettysburg.

I share these scraps of family background to convey to you that I have a deep appreciation and awareness of History. My sons and I are Civil War reenactors, and I’m familiar with the inscription on the Court Square monument which appears to pay homage to those, like my ancestors, who served in the Confederacy.

A yard sign that has appeared in several places in Alamance County.

I must tell you that the simple presence of this statue in the courthouse square, a place which should promote and guarantee justice for all, which should be a place which represents all citizens equally, is as much a divisive symbol of the injustices inflicted on many of our citizens, as it is a reminder of any gallantry and sacrifices of my, and perhaps your, ancestors.

History tells us that those who dedicated this monument were the very citizens who lynched Officer Wyatt Outlaw in the same square. They enshrined this statue not just as a memorial, but as a veiled threat, set in stone, to all people of color to know and keep their places as second-class citizens.

You, our elected leaders have been confronted with a choice: Do you accept as your legacy the defense of a symbol of our checkered history, where both you and our county are known for refusing to acknowledge our known shortcomings of the past? Or do you embrace this opportunity to seek our community’s redemption, to improve our reputation, improve our economy, and demonstrate that we are a county welcoming and fair to all?

Move the statue away from our house that aspires to Justice. Demonstrate that “blue lives as well as black lives matter by memorializing the travesty our community visited upon Officer Wyatt Outlaw and other citizens of color. Be known through posterity as the leaders who embraced an opportunity for positive change. For if you don’t, future leaders surely will, robbing you of this momentous honor that could have been yours.

Seen not far from downtown Graham.