Category Archives: civil rights

WHERE’S THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT GONE THIS YEAR?

The Trump has stolen Christmas!

It’s down to the wire with sending those Christmas cards, shopping for presents and decorating the tree. But why can’t I get into the seasonal spirit this year?

Never fear, I do intend to tell you why.

For the first time since 2000, I was in the US for the election. Back then it was bad enough. I was relieved to hear, as my plane lifted off for Germany, that the winner of the popular vote, Al Gore, had been declared president. Upon arrival in Frankfurt, George W. Bush was suddenly president. We all know how well those eight years went.

This time round, I was, during the course of the primaries and the election campaign, so appalled by DJ Trump’s campaign that I took a step unprecedented for me. I registered to vote in my home state of New York, a place I hadn’t lived since 1972. Over my adult lifetime in Germany, I have never felt a need to vote in US elections. The issues were mainly American; I did not know about them, I lived in a place beyond their relevance and was content to leave the choices up to the locals.

But as this election cycle progressed,  I was reminded of the undeniable fact that US foreign policy runs the world – even though American election campaigns cannot be won on foreign affairs issues! It seem to me that a good deal of at least the Western world should have a vote in a choice far too significant to be limited to the US populace. Alas, that will never happen. So I took up the gauntlet to play the minuscule role allotted me and voted for Hillary Clinton.

Again, as the campaign rolled on, it became increasingly evident that Trump did not possess the personality, judgement or even the interest in doing the job that would qualify him to govern a county that loves to call itself the greatest on earth. The thought of his winning was just too ridiculous to seriously believe it could happen.

But happen it did. And in N Jersey I witnessed up close all the coverage following it, all the flabbergasted pundits who said it couldn’t/wouldn’t and above all shouldn’t happen. It was addicting, keeping up with the latest news on T’s atrocious appointments and nominations, on his Tweets that revealed a wild-west gun-slinger shooting from the hip with nary a thought of consequences. It was a heady feeling seeing protests across the country of Americans  peacefully (in the main), declaring that T was #NOT MY PRESIDENT.

BUT this was the man the country had chosen. Well, at least the 56 % who went to the polls. Well, of them 46.1 % who voted for him. Pitted against the 48.2 % who voted for Hillary Clinton (also-rans clocked in with 5.7 %). Clinton’s lead in the popular vote continues to rise. And now as it is almost final, she has 2.86 million more votes than he does. Doesn’t that work out to be somewhat less than a quarter of the population voting for him? Doesn’t it make you wonder what would happen if everybody voted? (BTW in Australia voting is a legal requirement. You will be fined if you don’t do your patriotic duty.)

Who knew that it really takes this long to count all the ballots. Who knew that the 50 States each has its own version of outdated polling equipment leaving them wide open for rigging the count.

Not to mention the restrictions put on the Right to Vote Act that barred millions of willing voters from casting their ballots.

T keeps calling his win a historic landslide. Hmm, lots of adjectives come to mind to describe his “win”, but not that.

With far too many anomalies to be classified as an election as usual, it is impossible to return to the routine order of the day. We now know that the Russians, led by their top KGB agent Vladimir Putin, interfered with the process via cyper-hacking. Of course, the FBI did their best to stir up the idiotic email issue – again – a few days before the election – which turned out to be unfounded as well as completely politically motivated.

I could go on till Hell freezes over about what stinks in this election. And most of you reading my post will know this already. But please bear with me while I make a few modest suggestions:

  1. Something must be done about the electoral college system. Either get rid of it or give the states the number of electors that truly represents their population. Go to http://www.nationalpopularvote.com to find out about what is already afoot to circumvent the necessity of a constitutional amendment to neutralize the college.
  2. Update your polling stations with machines that work, cannot be manipulated and can actually be examined for correct results.
  3. Improve the teaching of social studies, history and ethics in the schools so that children can learn how to be good citizens, how to respect the rights of others with disabilities and different skin colors, religions and sexual orientations. Make sure you have teachers capable of fulfilling this extremely important mission! If I recall correctly, in the US the separation of Church and State is still anchored in the constitution. Schools are not a venue for teaching creationism or white supremacy.
  4. Political correctness has had some really bad press. Rethink why this sometimes awkward principle is so vital in today’s United States and in the world as a whole. It’s all about:

    RESPECTING THE DIFFERENCES OF OTHERS!

Which brings me back to our President-Elect who shows very little regard for anyone other than Number 1. He mocks people who are different; he is actively supporting racism by his choice of staff and cabinet, elevating unqualified people who bring with them from the get-go plenty of their very own conflicts of interests. His, of course, he dismisses as his divine right.

(BTW the US President is not a deity, unlike Roman Emperors of yore.)

It would be too much to hope that tomorrow the Electoral College will be self-confident enough to stop Trump’s march to the Oval Office. That being so, I see many rocky roads before us. And I see the time, effort and resources that should be used to solve the nation’s urgent problems, being wasted in the next couple of years to impeach this travesty of a president.

He is not my President and never will be. I am ashamed to have to admit that I am an American citizen.

With all of these thoughts in my head, I just can’t muster much enthusiasm for celebrating Christmas this year.

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Filed under civil rights, Disasters, Gender Questions, human rights, Politics, US Election 2016

OUTSIDERS in London

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The past weeks have been full of travel, feeding me with new impulses and images to write about. Since I live in a cow village, it doesn’t hurt to escape natural habitat upon occasion and taste the big wide world out there, especially the kind found in a metropolis that seethes with humanity and its associated creativity. Unfortunately, travel also involves returning home to find no one has done my work. Although the weeds in my garden are still making faces at me, I’m ignoring them. I can just about peer over the mounds on my desk and see my way clear to share with you an experience I had while in London in early May.

Before we visited the exhibition “Inventing Impressionism” at the National Gallery, my husband suggested we have a look in St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a church located adjacent to the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. In all our many years, first living in and then visiting London, we had never been inside. After admiring the Greek Revival architecture of the interior, we descended to the crypt, now a café and exhibition space.

A photo exhibition by Milan Svanderlik, titled Outsiders in London, was on display and we had the incredible luck of visiting on a day when the photographer was present in the flesh. We were admiring his portraits and reading the stories about the subjects when Mr. Svanderlik approached us for a chat.

He spoke the excellent if accented English of one not native-born but long resident in Britain. Originally from Northern Bohemia, Mr Svanderlik had lived in Yugoslavia and Switzerland before settling in London forty years ago. His background alone gives him an excellent head start for studying outsiders.

Mr Svanderlik is a man who not only photographs interesting-looking subjects but is also deeply interested in their stories. Each portrait was accompanied by a brief introduction to that person. And each person had a history as an outsider, whether due to disability, race, nationality, beliefs or sexual orientation. Some had been able, early in their lives, to make a virtue of their outsider status, while others suffered greatly before owning up to it and accepting who they were.

   Margaret Dawn Pepper, formerly Maurice David Pepper

 

 

Rabbi Ahron Leib Cohen, anti-Zionist

Henry Fraser, quadriplegic, with his bother Will

In our conversation with him, Mr Svanderlik shared more information about his project in general and his subjects in particular. Some of them had been able not only to accept but also use their  situation as outsiders to excel in their fields. Indeed, often what made them outsiders was exactly what was needed to achieve excellence.

It made me think about the dichotomy of the human condition. In most cases, a person feels a need to belong, whether to a family, a tribe, a political party, a profession, etc. Not being accepted in any of these social structures because of something about us that the crowd cannot identify with, can lead to severe problems for an individual.

And yet, don’t many of us want to stand out in this densely populated world? We seek recognition for our talents and achievements. We don’t want to disappear in the masses of mankind. But of course, we desire the status of outsider, not as a stigma but as a badge of quality.

The people chosen by Milan Svanderlik have transformed their otherness into a virtue, and in many cases are affecting the lives of those around them in most positive ways. For outsiders who have yet to find a way to cope with their otherness, these life stories may just offer help.

Although Milan Svanderlik’s exhibition at St. Martin-in-the-Fields has finished, you can see his work and read the poignant stories about his Outsiders at: http://www.outsidersinlondon.org

All portraits appear with the kind permission of Milan Svanderlik, holder of the copyright.         (The photo of St. Martin’s is my very own pathetic tourist shot.)

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Filed under Cities, civil rights, Gender Questions, Great Britain

Freedom of Expression – The New Millennium’s Tightrope Act

…Carnival, Fastnacht or Fasching, whatever you call it, in German-speaking countries means a tradition of satire. And politics and religion are the favorite targets.

But this year, with the terrorist acts in Paris and now in Copenhagen so fresh in everyone’s thoughts, those responsible  in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz had to perform a veritable tightrope act when designing the parade floats. Do we stand up and deride / denounce the terrorists for what they are – (mainly) young men dispossessed from our modern affluent society, claiming to murder to defend Allah’s honor? Or in doing so, would we provoke violent responses that endanger the crowds of people – including families with children – who come out for a day of jolly celebrations? What a monumental responsibility to carry!

The reaction of the carnival club in Cologne: self censorship. They canceled the first float they created that showed the pen mightier than the sword. The outcry was great. They were bending to the terrorists, some wrote; others defended them for taking seriously the danger to the public. On the day, they did come through with another float that proclaimed the same message. Mainz and Düsseldorf also showed backbone. In Braunschweig were concrete threats of attacks were received, the organizers canceled the parade. What else could they do?

Life is becoming, for all of us, a veritable balancing act. Does criticism offend others’ beliefs? Shouldn’t we respect their beliefs and opinions? I was speaking to a teacher friend of mine who said they try to teach the kids to respect the differences in others, whether religious or political or whatever. Then terrorists acts like those in Paris come along and everyone is defending the satirists who are often way past the borderline of respectful criticism. How do you draw a line between what is an acceptable critique and satire that’s gone over the top? We do, in our western democracies, have the freedom and the right to declare our opinions. We must be perfectly clear that the terrorist perpetrators consider every one of us to be infidels and they have absolutely no respect for our freedoms, rights and beliefs.

Sorry. Unfortunately, I don’t have a final answer to this dilemma. All I can say is that Kalashnikovs versus words and cartoons is overkill! No one forces anyone to look at the cartoons or read satirical magazines. If it offends you, turn away. But shooting down the authors in cold  blood is just not a commensurate response.

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Filed under civil rights, Europe, human rights, Terror, Traditions

Old Europe Ain’t What She Used to Be…

…Isn’t that a blessing?

 

This is not the first time that the movement of migrants into her parts is changing the character of the many diverse societies on the continent. It has been happening for millions of years. So why are some people pretending that the current status quo needs defending? Of course, there are elements that must be defended at all cost. Those include the rule of law and human rights which have been hard-won from the forces who would subject us. Some things are just not up for negotiation.

We have only to look at the two world wars in the 20th century to recognize what must be fought for and how precious peace is.

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On 27th January Holocaust Memorial Day was celebrated worldwide. For the uninformed, this year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops (1944). The truth about the heinous crimes Hitler’s Germany had been committing in murdering innocent Jews, Communists, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma and anyone else who opposed the regime became a fact that could no longer be ignored or denied. This crime was the culmination of what happens in a country where basic human rights are flaunted and the rule of law replaced with jack-boot justice. In coming years the world would also find out about the genocides committed by Stalin and co. One can debate at length which of the two dictators murdered more innocent people, but that question is academic.

The nature of authoritarianism has altered in the course of those 70 years. Rather than institutionalized terrorism from pseudo-elected governments, now terrorism is diffuse, existing in cells – some sleeping until woken for duty, and supported by internet recruitment of the next suicide bombers or IS warriors. It is impossible to combat effectively.

On 7th January the long automatic rifle of terrorists’ justice reached out to Paris and murdered 17 people – some random as in the Jewish supermarket, some targeted as the journalists at Charlie Hebdo. Do they really believe that we of this western civilization will surrender our freedoms just because they kill people they consider to be committing crimes against Allah and Mohammed?

Personally, I find it extremely difficult to understand why these Islamists think they have the right to terrorize the modern world and transport it back to the Middle Ages. For them, tolerance is an unkown concept. And quite honestly, they aren’t thinking this through. Were they to succeed in destroying the West, they would lose the internet tools that serve them so well. They would also have to give up their cell phones, their SUVs and all their modern weaponry. What if the source of their bankrolling (oil?) was no longer raking in the money to finance it all? They fail to recognise that these amenities exist only because of the freedom of ideas, speech, press and a lot of capitalism.

Of course, there have been positive side-effects from the Paris attacks. Mainstream Muslims are speaking out and disowning terrorism. And indeed, we must be very careful not to judge all Muslims by the actions of a few radicals. As they have said, those terrorists are not genuine Muslims. They are instumentalizing the religion for evil ends.

As a result of the attacks, tens of thousands – in France, millions of people – took to the streets to march and express their solidarity with the victims and their families. This all comes at a time when, in Germany, some groups have appeared on the scene to defend German culture from becoming inundated by foreign influences. The high number of foreigners is supposedly endangering the country as we know it. The largest center for this is the eastern city of Dresden, a city with a comparatively low percentage of people with migration background. Is this anxiety because of the 40 years during which east German society had little contact with the outside world?

Similar groups have sprung up across Germany, but their demonstrations are comparatively small and the turnout is totally outnumbered by the demos of those opposing them and marching for a “colorful” Germany. These anti-immigrant demos were reported in the foreign press . Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to consider it newsworthy to report on the opposing demos. That is disturbing!

However, I have been heartened in my belief that Germany and a large portion of its citizens are opening their arms to receive the refugees streaming in from such diverse places as Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Serbia. Our newspapers are filled with articles on local private initiatives to find housing, furnishings and clothing for these people.  Private citizens organize get-togethers to welcome them into the communities. And for those who intend to settle, they are offering German courses. Everyone knows: language is the key to integration.

This help for the refugees is not just coming from one segment of society. Young and old are pitching in. In fact, many of the older generation who experienced being driven out of their homes in Poland or Czechoslovakia after the war and were forced to build a new life in western Germany, are especially open to helping. In the late 1940s and early 1950s they were in the same boat, arriving with nothing more than a few meager possessions. Now they are returning the favor – passing it forward, so to speak.

Europe is changing, developing. Nothing is perfect, to be sure, but to stand still would be fatal.

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Filed under civil rights, Europe, German History, Holocaust, human rights, Terror, World Wars

JE SUIS CHARLIE!!

To those few Islamists who think they can blast modern civilization back to the Dark Ages with Kalashnikovs, I’d like to send the message that without our modern values of freedom of speech, thought and religion, you would have been burned at the stake by a still existing (un)Holy Inquisition.

Why are you so determined to sabotage your fellow moderate Muslim brothers in their quest to live peacefully with people of other religions, races and belief systems?

The cartoonists and journalists at Charlie Hebdo (and at other satirical publications) are indispensable voices in our society. They are people who point out to us how foolish we as human beings can be; they make us re-think, they make us laugh at our follies. We need them now more than ever, and we always will. My heart goes out to the families and friends of these courageous men who were murdered yesterday.

Tolerance means respecting the philosophies of others at all times. Tolerance means the right to criticize and satirize at will. It means never forbidding free thought. It means promoting good relations between yourself and those of different persuasion – and respecting their right to have other opinions. Above all it means:

LIVE AND LET LIVE

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Filed under civil rights, human rights, Terror, Tribute

Madiba Rests in Peace

…and we must pray that his country will have grown strong enough to live in peace without his presence.

With the passing of Nelson Mandela last Thursday, the world lost the most iconic man of the entire 20th century. He was one of those rarest of human beings who combined intelligence with the wisdom to use it. And with it he saved his nation. The struggle in South Africa is not yet over, but that the people have come this far without a bloody civil war must be credited to this one man with the moral authority to risk love and forgiveness when others would have preferred hate and revenge.

Just think how much better a place the world we live in could be if we all emulated Madiba.

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela

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Filed under civil rights, Endings, human rights, Obituary, Remembering, Tribute

Martin Luther King Jr. Had a Dream

Beyond the breaking news that the US is close to intervening in Syria, the country is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, August 28th 1963.  Yesterday a commemorative gathering was held on the Mall, before the Lincoln Memorial, the same location as Dr King chose long ago as center-stage for his campaign of non-violent protest to the plight of black Americans 100 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation liberated them from their shackles.

JOBS AND FREEDOM

Over 200,000 people – 2/3s of them black, the rest white – arrived in Washington, not to burn down the capital but to set hearts and minds aflame for the just cause of equal rights for all. Jobs and Freedom was their cry, a modest demand in the home of the brave and land of the free. Yet it had still not materialized for the portion of the population who happened to be born with a different shade of skin.

HE HAD A DREAM

Dr Martin Luther King Jr,  a 34 year-old Baptist preacher and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, didn’t hold a speech. No, he preached a sermon that every American needed to hear. I watched a recording of it last night and it gave me goosebumps. He departed from his written speech to hold forth eloquently about his American dream. And that dream was inconceivable in 1963. Here, the relevant portion:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.

Fifty years later great progress has been achieved. However, speaking at yesterday’s gathering, the black sports star Bill Russell admonished his audience not to rest on past achievements. He told listeners not to measure progress by how far we’ve come but by how far we still need to go.

There is much truth in that, however, it seems to me so much has been achieved that it must be acknowledged as a major miracle.

RETRACTION

I feel a great need to retract a statement that I made as a reply to a comment on my last (guest) post on Italian politics. I agreed with Alison that we were powerless to have any affect on what’s going on around us on a national or international level; that yes, it probably didn’t matter much whether we knew what’s going on in the world or not.

After revisiting the events of 1963, I must retract those views. If those black and white individuals had not been determined to change their world, blacks would still be living the lives of semi-slaves and whites would be the perpetrators. I am so grateful to those people who had the courage to march and to protest non-violently despite police brutality, who weren’t satisfied to sit on their couches and live with the world as it was. Thank you for changing our perceptions. Thank you for proving that the actions of individuals do count.

Do we not owe it to them – and to ourselves – not to relinquish our responsibilities, not to disenfranchise ourselves? Because if we do not participate on some level in making our society a better place for all, we have little right to damn the Germans in the twenties and thirties for allowing a Hitler to happen.

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Filed under American history, civil rights, Remembering