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Thoughts on This Fateful Year

house-divided

This year’s jolting events should make us stop and think. All of us, right and left. It has jolted me enough that this blog has gone silent these last weeks, and perhaps that’s a good thing. It’s time to put down the drums we’ve been beating and take a good hard look at where they’ve taken us. Here’s my hard look, and I invite others to share theirs.

I came of age in the Fifties, when Joe McCarthy used the fear of communism to make his opponents “enemies,” “a danger to the American red-scareway of life” and lead an inquisition that destroyed careers. That change in language from “opponents” to “enemies” has shaped the politics ever since. Words matter. We may fight opponents, try to persuade them, or ignore them. We destroy enemies. The language of war is not the language of argument or civil discourse; hatred of enemies is called “patriotism,” dissent is called “treason,” “selling out.” Thinking becomes “waffling.” We are united by fear and its near cousin, hatred.

I was raising children during the Sixties when the young, angry and betrayed, rebelled with a revolution of their own. Through unity and numbers they have created great change for the good, especially for minorities and marginalized, but their language was, and is, the language of sixties-war-protestwar. Calls for revolution are calls for violence—the overthrow of entire systems of order.  Liberals insisted they meant peaceful change, but the word matters, and the reaction to it was fear, solidifying of the other side and increasing bitterness and hatred. Rather than persuading others, the language of civil argument, they created their own closed community, an ever more rigid ideology, silencing thought, rejecting all dissent as “selling out” or “racism”—the new word for “enemy.”

If you are one of the silenced ones, I join you—and I am a moderate liberal, not a conservative. I am not proud of my silence, but in the ever increasing bitterness, to disagree was to be dismissed as “an establishment patsy.” When Obama’s election came simultaneously with the crash of 2008, I told my fellow Democrats it was time to start conversations with Republicans. I was told they didn’t know how to talk to Republicans. So they went on, bringing in speakers that only increased their dogmatic rigidity while Republicans did the same, splitting into dogmatic, rigid, isolated groups.

The more people isolate themselves into camps, the more they identify themselves by that camp and denigrate “those others,” the less they know through interaction, the more they reinforce each other’s hatred. Many complained about the polarization and gridlock, but we seemed helpless to change our ways.

Trump

And so now a leader has risen to give voice to the hatred of the silenced, and our very institutions are threatened. Demonstrations, protests, and movements will only add fuel to the fire, but the young, who have grown up in the war climate, know no other way. We did this.

 

th (Pogo, Earth Day, 1971)

 

An Ode for Today from Toni Fuhrman

 

Orlando Shooting

Every time we awake to another mass shooting, we grow a little more numb, a little less alive. What will it take to shake us out of this ever more detached state of being? Toni Fuhrman’s poem, While I Slept,  did that for me, and I would like to share it with you. Please do take a moment and click here. You will not be sorry, I promise you.

My hat’s off to Toni (and not for the first time) for taking the time to translate her own state of being into poetry as well as for the poem itself. While I Slept does what poetry is supposed to do–bring  alive the incongruous state in which we are living these days.

Chattanooga TN shootingColorado Springs shootingFerguson

 

 

 

 

 

In our helplessness, we forget our greatest power–taking up our pens. For language is power and poetry distills that power, preserves the reality of our existence. We can do something! Thank you, Toni, for reminding us, and for While I Slept. Please, everyone, GO READ IT and SHARE it.

Election Day: a New Story?

 election day

 

This week we voted. Not really. Washington State now has mail in- ballots, so the sense of community action is lost—among other things. I found the picture above, labeled, “Presidential Election, 2016,” in the midst of hundreds exploding in the red, white, and blue celebration of the day. Grim and gray, it expressed my feelings about the state of politics today–what we’ve come to.  Now the election is over. Can we hope for something different?

Once upon a time, I went to a college that believed exposure to contrary opinions was a necessary step to adulthood and citizenship. Starting with the Constitutional Convention of 1787, we read the debates that shaped the nation. Nothing was more basic to American citizenship than debate. After Obama’s election in 2004, at a Democrat meeting, I suggested talking with local Republicans, but the idea bombed. They confessed they didn’t know how to talk to them about politics. Last week, a column in our local paper asks readers how long it had been since they exposed themselves to any opinion that did not agree with theirs. Where did it go? When did we start treating each other as enemies instead of opponents?

cockfight

 

For me, it began when President Truman proposed National Health Care (no, not Obamacare) and my classmates called me a “commie” because my father, a physician, was on salary, not in private practice. I was twelve. I was seventeen when Senator Joe McCarthy sent his investigators to campus because the University of Chicago refused to make its faculty sign loyalty oaths and because we studied the Communist Manifesto. Reading it made us traitors.

It’s all in the language and language shapes the way we think. If “opponent” becomes “enemy,” disagreement becomes a “threat to our way of life,” agreeing with the opponent about anything becomes “selling out,” Closing your mind to all ideas other than those of your group becomes “loyalty,” “sticking to your guns,” “standing up for principals.”

When the Sixties came along, the Left picked up the war lingo they’d inherited. They talked of “revolution,” declared “war” on the establishment, and anyone liberal whose ideas differed in any way became “patsies of the establishment,” or “sellouts.”

Those were tumultuous times, filled with violence and multiple assassinations. Again language was inflamed—the glory of battle on the one hand, the fear of disintegration on the other. We survived changed. Split by fear and anger created in large part by our own inflammatory rhetoric. In the universities where I taught, there was no debate between theories of politics or anything else. One school supported one theory and another another. Those crossing the line were stigmatized and isolated. On both left and right solidifying of opinion became “unifying,” silencing the middle—“wishy-washy patsies” who don’t know their own mind.

To me, as a Democrat, this change in university life was bitter. I’d been active in politics before the Sixties, working for candidates, even running campaigns, but found myself silenced because I held view other liberals deemed “incorrect.” My heritage—both family and schooling—has taught me to doubt anyone who claimed their views were Truth. But the Sixties had left liberals in closed ranks and for me closed ranks make closed minds.

We blame Washington for it all, but let’s face it, the language of war is exciting, the glory of battle exhilarating, unifying, powerful. Our politicians tell us what we want to hear, and we’ve used the rhetoric of war rather than the language of debate for so long we’ve forgotten what talking with an opponent, much less, opening our minds to another way of thinking is like. Almost seventy years have passed since that schoolmate called me a “commie,” and every year exchanges debate disintegrate further into name-calling. Perhaps we’ve gotten what we deserve. Closed-minded rants that cycle over and over in their own little world until the rest of us clap our hands over our ears and stick our heads in the sand.

We need James Madison—the man who brought bitter factions together sufficiently to give us a Constitution. He wasn’t on the ballot, but the talk on the media was all about “working together,” and everything I’ve read about the mood of the nation tells me we are all sick of the battle that goes nowhere. Let us hope his brains, talent, and perspective will appear in the new group that leads the nation. And let’s hope the people will rediscover their citizenship.

Racial USA and The Inheritors

 

Fifty years after the Civil Rights movement, race has once again hit the first page in the form of riots and police violence. But this time the Wall Street Journal of August 25th,”In Ferguson, Multiracial Neighborhoods Defy Image of Strife.”  stressed the multiracial peace that characterizes many neighborhoods in Ferguson Missouri. And today, multiracial people as well as neighborhoods are becoming a significant group in the US.
Our President, of course, drew attention to this group of citizens, but until 2010 our census gave no way of counting them. Now, according to the Latin Post, August 25th 2104, “Multiracial USA,” if you add this group to those who identify themselves as 100% non-Caucasian, our non-Caucasian percent comes out a whopping 49.9. One third of the grandparents in the US have a grandchild of a different race.
“American” is always in the process of coming to be. The term “multiracial” has replaced “melting pot” in descriptions of this process in order to stress that people preserve their home cultures rather than simply striving to adopt the mainstream. I applaud that distinction, but unfortunately, the word excludes nationality and religion. If you add nationality and religion to racial difference, the melding of groups has been going on since the birth of the country. That we no longer look on those other categories as “differences” may be due to that melding process itself. Many if not most of us, if we look at our own family history, see ourselves or our children as the product of such conflicts and their eventual resolution, the pain of becoming now forgotten. I was born and raised in Chicago, a city created by the successive floods of immigrants, and I believe that it is those of mixed nationality, race, or religion who carry this growth forward. If we look at today’s conflicts as a part of the process that created us we will the road to resolution and, as a result, re-see our own identity as “American”.

The Inheritors

It is in this mode, I’d like to reintroduce THE INHERITORS the story of Alicia Baron, Chilean/Caucasian woman raised as Hispanic who discovers her heritage in an abandoned mansion in Chicago. Here are some excerpts from its reviews.
Chanticleer Reviews
“Kirscht deftly tackles the sensitive issues of racism, cultural bias, and discrimination from, what may be considered by some, a new and different perspective. She shows through The Inheritors timeline the ever changing nature of ethnicity, culture, and belonging. Readers are instantly dropped into the changing culture of Chicago under the prism of the 1960s through the 1980s …”

Maria Beltran, Readers Favorite
“The Inheritors” by Judith Kirscht’s powerful novel centers on the conflict between races and nationalities in Chicago. It explores the character of a woman who is subjected to racial, class and family conflicts. Above all, “The Inheritors” is the story of love, the great love of a mother who is willing to sacrifice even her past to protect her unborn daughter as well as Alicia’s love for Ricardo.”

Kristin Nathan, Chicago Literati

Home Fires has multiple reasons to be admired as a novel. It steps into the territory of the taboo and brings to light topics often easily and quietly swept under the rug by igniting them with a relatable plot and cast, a typical all-American family. Too often these crimes go ignored and unjustified due to the shame of coming forward and lack of proof. Whether this story encourages someone to speak out with their own, or feel less shame because they realized this can happen in even the most “normal” appearing situations, Judith Kirscht wrote a story worth sharing.

 

 

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Tornado Thoughts

Oklahoma Tornado

 

Once again a killer storm has swiped across the nation , killing many and leaving thousands to view the rubble that was their lives. Tornadoes this time. Last week it was the California wildfires, last month Midwestern floods. Over and over we’ll hear, “We have nothing, but we’re alive.”

But you’ve heard the words so often they’ve lost their punch, become almost trite. And it isn’t you. You’re too busy to tarry long in front of the television screen, anyway. Or to think. Or even to read a sentence of more than ten words. So you turn back to whirling through your overburdened days—until it’s your turn..

You’re standing in the middle of the street, rain soaking through your sweatshirt, staring at the rubble that was your house. It’s gone. Your son is holding onto you weeping. The soccer game he’s dressed for is no more. The building on fire downtown was you job. The house across town you were buying with the granite counter tops and five piece master bath is rubble. The dentist your daughter was to see today is lying beneath the bricks of his office. So is your neighbor and his barking dogs that woke you at five this morning. Across the street rescue workers dig out the body of Bob Stone, whose political beliefs you derided daily.

What’s left?

Another Day of Terror

An eight year old boy was blown to bits, yesterday, as he waited for his father to finish the Boston marathon. Two othersBoston Marathon exzplosion 4/15/13 Boston Marathon died and a hundred more were injured in the explosions that littered the sidewalk with dismembered legs.

Who would, could, do such a thing? Foreign or domestic, political or deranged? We want answers, preferably answers that will distance the horror. We are warmed by the reactions of the crowd, as President Obama said this morning—by those who ran to the hospitals to give blood, comforted the heartbroken, and gave aid to the injured. We need to feel a part of that species of human. We rebel against the notion that there are those among us whose humanity is so twisted.

Inevitably we will look for blame. Who let those bombs through the security nets? Who ignored a warning? Who? Who? Who? We need a target to vent our horror, our anger, and our grief. And over and over security chiefs will tell us there is no one. No one who can prevent the human impuse to destroy. And it may be well that we are deprived of a target while our blood runs so hot. Vengeance is as dangerous an emotion as the destructive rage that exploded in Boston.

For centuries we lived protected and isolated by two oceans from the wars and genocides that tore apart the rest of the world, so it is no wonder the 9/11/01 attacks filled us with such disbelief. We joined the world that day. Lost our sense of immortality, our innocence, our immunity from the ills that beset other continents. We were cast into our adulthood. Now it’s time to give up our belief that there is some Great Father in Washington who should protect us from such evil.

Maybe yesterday’s disaster was perpetrated by foreign terrorists, maybe not. In either case it is one of a string of such disasters that is rapidly becoming our weekly fare. We can become numb, cynical, bitter, vengeful, or we can face up.

I remember being in Berlin on Oct 3, 2007, Reunification Day, which looks very much like the Fourth of July here. That celebration of the day the Berlin Wall came down marked the end of a very long black night in German history. Our guides pointed out the steps Germany took to face up. To look deep into their national character and discover the source of the violence they let loose on the world and on their own Jewish population. They then took steps to insure it would never happen again. Hitler’s bunker is unmarked so it cannot become a symbol for neo-Nazi groups. The dome of the Reichstag is of glass, symbolizing the transparency of government. The memorial to the Holocaust is a field of black marble blocks that sits beside the Brandenburg Gate, an ever-present reminder of the blotch on the nation’s past. Everywhere was the impressive act of self-examination and the determination to remember the results.

I’m not suggesting our past is similar to Germany’s, but they give an impressive role-model for the act of facing up—examining the violence in our national character and changing course.

My Thought for Today

This is not the post I was going to publish today. Holiday cheer feels out of place and offensive while twenty children lie dead on a Connecticut schoolroom floor. I am crying, like everyone else, “This has to stop!”

On the television we hear our commentators turn to  Congress and the President, as though they are our Big Daddies who will fix everything. Sure, we need to control weapons, but controlling weapons isn’t going to fix us. Neither is Big Daddy. If you are old enough to remember Pogo, you’ll remember his most famous line. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

But we know this already. We know we live if a culture of violence. We know our young are weaned on movies, television, and mobile phone where the fare is violence followed by more violence. Like everyone else, I know it but feel too small to do anything about it. Commentators wonder why we are numb, why we aren’t angrier.

I feel as helpless as anyone, but then I remember. Thirty years ago my daughter was killed on a mountain highway by two drunken boys who decided to race each other. In the months that followed, rage was my most dangerous enemy—rage at a culture that tacitly okayed boys driving drunk as a sign of emerging manhood. “Oh, well, boys will be boys,” was a phrase likely to make me run screaming to some place where no one would hear my language.

Then another mother—not me—decided to do something about it. She and others who had lost children at the hands of drunk drivers started Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I joined. It was a place to put my rage. Today, as one commentator said last night, “It isn’t cool to drive drunk.”

So today I want to tell those parents whose children are lying dead that I know their grief and their insupportable pain. And I urge them to transform their rage—and, oh, yes, it will come—into action. To demand we stop raising our children on violence.

Big Daddy can and must stand up and take responsibility for the weapons, but he can’t change the culture our children breathe. Only parents can.

“What is under your Christmas tree?”

Woo Themes, Canvas - Designer, Kate L Williams

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