Hatred, and Lies, and Scams — Oh, my!

Today was the first of many “Resist Trump Tuesdays” to come, organized by MoveOn, Working Families, and People’s Action. At least two hundred actions took place all across the US today, with over 10,000 people showing up at their senators’ offices, whether Democrat or Republican, to “Stop the Swamp Cabinet.” Here in New York City, hundreds gathered in front of the offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand on Third Avenue IN THE POURING RAIN. We chanted all manner of energizing battle cries like “We’ll remember in November,” “Save our schools” (a direct reference to the appalling possibility of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education), and “Drain the swamp.” Doing actions like this are straight out of the Tea Party’s playbook. The Tea Party succeeded because of squeaky wheel disruptions whenever and wherever their elected representatives happened to be.

Next Tuesday we meet at 6 PM at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn to protest outside of Senator Schumer’s apartment building. A few weeks ago Schumer appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show and I was so impressed, I wrote him a letter the day after that appearance, as follows. Perhaps I put too much hope in him, but as Martin Luther King said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”:

Dear Senator Schumer,

I was thrilled to see you last night on the Rachel Maddow Show with such a fighting spirit. I have worried that you might compromise on too many of our core Democratic values as we go into a new Congressional term with a new and “unpresidented” Commander-in-Chief. But Rachel’s introduction of you, and then your own words, helped me understand the “bulldog” side of you. What a relief!

As you made clear last night, so many of us are fearful, disgusted, and ready to organize. We just need leadership, like yours, to help us figure out what needs doing and how to keep obstructionist Republican feet to the fire.

I am sure you are familiar with the Book of Esther, and the line that I hope you will remember is Esther 4:14 when Mordecai says to Esther:

“If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance… will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your position for such a time as this?”

You indicated a sense of excitement about the fights to come, and perhaps you have come to your current position for just such a crisis as this. Perhaps you are a contemporary Esther, along with our other outspoken Democratic Senators and Congresspeople. If the Democrats do not write that line in the sand with the Republicans of what is inviolable and not negotiable, I do believe it is possible that we will all “perish” — if not physically, then surely spiritually. We need hope and we need purpose.

I wish you strength, courage, and resolve in the new year ahead, and please know that so many of us New Yorkers and Americans around the country are counting on you…

If our politicians won’t do it, WE need to nonetheless stand for truth, for right, for the moral high ground as this country tilts ever more dangerously toward totalitarianism. We MUST speak up. We must ALL be Esther, placed in this time, in this place, for this tremendous task before us — to save the soul of America.

I am reminded of the four freedoms for which I walked and rallied in Pittsfield MA on January 7: Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship. This is what we stand for, what we fight for.

An easy action: Today I bought 60 postcards that I plan to give out at work tomorrow for others to write to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand so that we might express our disgust, our outrage, our fear. Go out, buy postcards, give them to your friends, make it as easy as possible for others to engage in the democratic process.

One important thing I’ve learned over the last couple of years (thanks to AJWS for sending me to the Paul Wellstone organizing training two years ago) is that signing petitions is at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of its effect in swaying opinions of our elected officials — phone calls, snail-mail letters, and actual face-to-face meetings count far more heavily in their gauge of constituent sentiment.

The books for this absurdly dystopian age are George Orwell’s 1984, Phillip Roth’s The Plot Against America, and Eugene Ionesco’s The Rhinoceros. And for a touch of terrifying reality: the must-read Dark Money by Jane Mayer, whose subtitle is “The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.” Anyone want to join me for a book group, maybe virtually, to read and discuss timely and relevant books for our time? 

 

Hundreds rallied in the rain outside NYC offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand

Hundreds rallied in the rain outside NYC offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand

Lots of rain, but we stood out there regardless

Lots of rain, but we stood out there regardless

Stop DeVos as Secretary of Education

Stop DeVos as Secretary of Education

Hatred, Lies, and Scams

Hatred, Lies, and Scams

No, No, No, No, No!

No to Tillerson, No to Sessions, No to Price, No to Carson, No to Perry, No to Pruitt, No to DeVos!

 

 

What Democracy Looks Like

It is the day after the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. But we are not united. So in all 50 states (and all around the world, as well), larger than expected crowds took to the streets, raised their voices, and stood up for women’s rights and the rights of all of those who will undoubtedly be under siege with this new administration, including protestors.

I registered to walk with the American Jewish World Service (ajws.org) with whom I had travelled to Guatemala as a rabbinic global justice fellow 1-1/2 years ago. AJWS is a tremendous advocate for women’s rights internationally.

"Act justly, walk humbly" on my hat, and wearing my ACLU t-shirt, "Dissent is patriotic."

“Act justly, walk humbly” on my hat, and wearing my ACLU t-shirt, “Dissent is patriotic”

Judy Stern, her friend Joanne, and me with AJWS sign

Judy Stern, her friend Joanne, and me with AJWS sign, “Pursuing justice for women and girls worldwide.”

As we walked, the chants would come in waves, energize us for a time before fading out, replaced then by friendly chit-chat amongst the walkers who were thrust together in tight space. The crowd in NYC was 4x expectations (400,000 rather than the expected 100,000!), and the going was slow, inch by inch. And then another chant would rise, and we’d join in, and sing. Singing as protest is a time-honored and holy tradition.

My favorite chant was the call “Show me what democracy looks like!” to which the crowd would reply, “THIS is what democracy looks like!”

There was also the call “Whose body, whose choice?” with the reply, “My body, my choice!”

And “Love, not hate — that’s what makes America great!”

Along with great chants were creative and meaningful posters. Here are some of my favorite signs and scenes.

I'm with her (version 1)

I’m with her (version 1)

I'm with her (version 2)

I’m with her (version 2)

This march is not rigged!

This march is not rigged!

They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds.

They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds.

Women are the wall, and Trump will pay.

Women are the wall, and Trump will pay.

Thanks, Trump. You turned me into an activist.

Thanks, Trump. You turned me into an activist.

Respect existence or expect resistance.

Respect existence or expect resistance.

Make America kind again.

Make America kind again.

Make empathy great again.

Make empathy great again.

Make America think again.

Make America think again.

"We won't go back" and "Vintage fashion, not vintage policies"

“We won’t go back” and “Vintage fashion, not vintage policies”

Don't make me use this.

Don’t make me use this.

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.

If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

Super-callous, fascist, racist, extra braggadocious

Super-callous, fascist, racist, extra braggadocious

I don't think so.

I don’t think so.

Speechless not voiceless

Speechless not voiceless

Appalled at Rushmore

Appalled at Rushmore

Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. (James Baldwin)

Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. (James Baldwin)

 

Along the way, I ran into my friend and teacher, Alicia Ostriker, poet extraordinaire.

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Here is one scene of the great crowd on 42nd St.

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The crowds, as I said, were HUGE, and rolled on and on for hours, peacefully, and in good spirit. It took me 6 hours to walk a total of what I estimate to be 3-1/2 miles (about 35 city blocks). That’s terrible mileage! It was dark by the time I finished, and people left their signs behind along 55th Street, which was a great photo opportunity, too.

Abandoned posters

Abandoned posters

But those slogans and sentiments must not be left behind on 55th Street. We must carry them in our hearts, continue to be inspired by them, and ACT on them. This feel-good day is a launching pad for further action.

I’ll look forward to working with you in the days ahead.

Remembering MLK, Jr. and His Optimism

FDR's grandson at 4 Freedoms rally

FDR’s grandson at 4 Freedoms rally

4Freedoms March

4 Freedoms March

The last week and a half has been filled with action, art, learning, and prayer in response to the impending Hrumph presidency and the social ills it will undoubtedly exacerbate.

On a frigid cold Shabbat afternoon on January 7, I attended the Four Freedoms March and rally in Pittsfield, MA, ending in speeches (including one particularly inspiring one by FDR’s grandson!) about FDR’s commitment to freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of speech, and freedom of worship, and how we must continue to guard those freedoms vigilantly as they come under threat.

The next day, Chaim and I visited the massive Nick Cave exhibit at Mass MOCA. Part of it is a response to the collision of gun violence and racism.

Nick Cave exhibit on racism and gun violence. See the gun?

Nick Cave exhibit on racism and gun violence. See the gun?

Two days later I was in Albany for a day of action with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and scores of other progressive organizations to speak out on behalf of issues ranging from the Dream Act to Medicare cuts to police accountability. It was not a traditional day of lobbying (which I will be doing on January 30 specifically on reproductive rights issues), but more a day of disruption to call attention to a broad range of threats. Our action at state Senator Serino’s office was a “kitchen table conversation,” complete with a fold-up kitchen table (a big piece of cardboard) and hot cocoa on the topic of health care and potential budget cuts.

The kitchen table conversation

The kitchen table conversation

End-of-day rally in Albany

End-of-day rally in Albany

Albany, NY -- children's art honoring Dr. King

Albany, NY — children’s art honoring Dr. King

The rest of the week was filled with calling US senators in opposition to repeal of the Affordable Care Act and nominations such as those of Jeff Sessions as US attorney general and Betsy deVos as education secretary. But it takes so long to get through — I hope that means that hundreds, maybe thousands, of others are calling, as well. If so, keep it up!

On Thursday evening I heard Howard Dean address Williams College students and express great optimism about this generation’s ability to see past color, gender, sexual orientation and create a truly diverse society.

Howard Dean speaking at Williams College

Howard Dean speaking at Williams College

On Shabbat, I led the community in a service in MLK’s own words, matching some of his quotes to our traditional prayers. His last public speech (the mountaintop speech)  was a remarkably optimistic statement about the time in which he lived and how, if God could place him in any place and age, he would choose the country and era in which he already lived:

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.” Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding… And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today…

I hear him lifting us up today as we face this specter of Hrumph’s presidency and reminding us that it is an opportunity to grapple and an imperative step on the road to ultimate survival.

Sadly, this was also a week in which Congressman John Lewis, MLK compatriot and civil rights hero in his own right, was attacked by Hrumph. We are compelled, like Lewis, to rise up against this demagogue and his self-serving and treacherous agenda.

Today I saw the film Hidden Figures, a great way to honor MLK Day and the evolution of civil rights for African-Americans and women in this country. See it!

For more on MLK and my visit to Atlanta to visit landmark sites associated with him, see my previous posts “MLK’s Atlanta” and “Fish and Human Rights.”

Lamentation for America

My niece Hannah had been a Hillary fan,  politicized over the course of this election season. She would get up early before school to watch the news, stayed up for televised debates, town halls, and conventions. This summer I bought her a Hillary “I’m with her” t-shirt, and tried to get her to join me to canvas in Pennsylvania, though she always had soccer games.

So yesterday on her 15th birthday, I wrote her the following message:

Happy birthday, Hannah! I wish I could have given you Hillary as president as your birthday gift, but what else would you like? Love, Aunt Pammy

Her reply stunned me:

I have no clue what I’d like for my birthday. So instead could you just donate the money that would’ve gone towards a gift and give it to an organization like Planned Parenthood or Greenpeace or any other organization that is going to take a hit in the next 2-4 years and that really need the support now.

I’m a kvelling aunt, so proud, and trying to figure out how to best honor her request. In the meantime, I wrote this poem, dedicated to her:

Lamentation for America

after Lamentations 3

For my niece Hannah who is the future

 
I am the woman who collects chamsas,
hands in many colors and mediums
that adorn my walls,
my ears,
my Shabbos tablecloth

I am the woman who holds the hands
of her clients when she prays with them,
and who opens her hand out to God
before breaking bread.

Poteiach et yadecha,
You, God, open your hand,
and so must I:
in gratitude
in compassion
in generosity
in resignation

but not lying down and taking it,
rather accepting the role into which I
and you
and you
and you
have been thrust:

to be change-makers and voices of justice
in our communities, our towns and cities,
for our nation under God,
for our nation under siege

We were made for this time,
those of us who have been shaken
from complacency,
from our smug and privileged places,
glimpsing a not-so-pretty future for
the many peoples of this land
made for you and me

I refuse to live in darkness.
I will rage against the dying
of the light

Pamela Wax 11/13/16

Hannah's t-shirt

Hannah’s t-shirt

What Will You Do for Freedom Today?

20120416-american-decline-statue-of-liberty

Though I’m disappointed that Pennsylvania — where I canvassed often — did not go blue, New Hampshire — where I canvassed twice — most likely did (the close tally is still being counted). But even if Hillary doesn’t prevail in New Hampshire, the good news out of that swing state is that Democrat Maggie Hassan defeated Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte in her bid for the US Senate. This was one of two Senate seats (the other being Tammy Duckworth’s defeat of Mark Kirk in Illinois) that flipped to Democratic hands.

Today, Senator-elect Hassan sent a thank-you note to those of us who had donated to her campaign, sharing that every morning at the breakfast table when she was a child, her father (a WWII veteran) would ask her and her siblings the poignant question, “What  are you going to do for freedom today?”

I am feeling that call even more strongly today than I did yesterday morning when I wrote and posted my poem about turning our despair into action. In the dark days to come (and I believe that they will be dark; what David Remnick in his article “An American Tragedy” from The New Yorker says “will cast the country into a period of economic, political, and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine”), we will each have to make a commitment to vigilantly do our part for the causes of freedom, peace, and justice. As Remnick concludes, “To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals — that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.”

Yesterday and today I have witnessed three variations of grief in my liberal Democratic bubble: what I will call pragmatic, delusional, and despairing permutations (please do not think that these are in any way clinical terms, they are my own).

1. There is pragmatic grief like mine that will serve to channel the rage, a recognition that there is huge work ahead of us, now let’s get to work! My old and dear friend Susan, director of a social justice organization in Boston, wrote a beautiful letter to her children (one in college, the other in high school) about that necessity:

Our young people — and that is both of you — MUST take the ball and become politically involved… My life has been focused on helping those who need assistance. The road for them looks really grim today, and yet I feel stifled as to whether my work and contributions are enough. As a parent, I need to really stress to you how important it is to find your path and use your voices… It needs to be your generation who takes the ball forward. I love you very much and hope that as you move from teens to young adults and into your next phases that you will not sit idly by. The community needs you to step in and make your voice and your time count. (excerpted)

This form of “channeling” grief was also expressed by 9-1/2 year-old Frieda, the grand-daughter of my friends Sandy and Claire, who wrote the following letter of gratitude to Hillary Clinton yesterday:

Dear Secretary Hillary Clinton,

Hello! My name is Frieda and I am a fourth grader in Westchester, New York. Thank you for running for President. You are one of my heroines. I think it was very brave of you to run to become America’s first woman President. If there is no woman President by the time I grow up, I want to be the first. My friends and I agree that you really deserve to be President.

When I woke up this morning and I figured out that you didn’t win the election, I was REALLY mad so I decided to write a letter to you. I’m not disappointed in you, I’m disappointed in the voters. I really hope you will consider running again in four years. If I was allowed to vote, I would vote for you. Again, thank you for running for President.

“We pick ourselves up and fight back…Get out there and volunteer.. We need to be ready to mobilize,” is how Senator Elizabeth Warren framed it in her interview with Rachel Maddow this evening.

2. I have also heard what I consider delusional grief expressed in statements such as “Maybe he put on an act to get votes and he’s not really that bad!” Unfortunately, Trump has riled the most racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic elements who are already feeling justified in carrying out hate crimes. Even if he moderates his rhetoric somewhat, the Pandora’s box of hate has already been unleashed. Not to mention the likely demolition of government-supported social services and safety nets, a repressive law-and-order justice system, the possible loosening of common-sense gun laws, the appointment of right-wing justices to the Supreme Court whose decisions will effect our country for generations: the overturn of Roe v. Wade and  the further devastation of the environment and civil rights. On the international front, things bode no better: from foreign aid and disaster relief, to the Syrian refugee problem, to ISIS, to Russia and Putin, to Mexican and Central American refugees, to Israel (the two-state solution was not part of the Republican platform). We may very well bring the whole world down with us. So much is at risk.

When you choose to mobilize, there will be no lack of issues to get behind in the months and years ahead.

Even President Obama participated in this delusion of a reasonable president-elect in his speech yesterday. Had he only given this imagined version, instead, courtesy of The Gothamist.

3. Finally, there is despairing grief. There is the lesbian couple (daughter and daughter-in-law of a work colleague of mine) who just applied for aliyah to Israel in fear that their marriage will be overturned here in the U.S. There is the frightened 7-year-old boy (brother to Frieda) who called my friends to ask if they would move with him and Frieda to Canada. There is the gynecologist, a student of mine, who came to our Mussar class last night totally devastated and fearful about the impending overturn of Roe v. Wade and what that will mean for his poor, immigrant patients. I could have cut the pall around him with a knife, it was so raw and palpable.

I remember vividly a scene in the frightening 1983 movie Testament about nuclear war, in which the protagonist (played by Jane Alexander) calmly went about her day, even making the bed while knowing that the bomb had fallen and that radiation poisoning and death was only hours away. I picture that scene often when I offer bereavement counseling. There are people who are, of course, thoroughly undone by their losses and pain, and there are others, equally bereft, who keep their structures in place, structures which get them up in the morning and keep them going. So the gynecologist will get through this devastation in his version of “making the bed” — by doing his job, offering dignity and good medical care to his patients, and keeping up with his spiritual practice of Mussar.

My version of “making the bed” will be to help comfort the discomfited/ to participate in the healing of the brokenness/ and with urgency, as I wrote in my poem.

Join me.

The Morning After

The sun will come up, and I will rise from my restless night,

heart heavy,

and go about my day.

There will be beauty in the world, and laughter, and music,

and heartache,

and love.

There will be a community of like-minded friends with whom to commiserate,

and a long laundry list of ways to make a difference.

Yes, there must be a sense of responsibility:

to shake off the malaise, the numbness, the shock,

to understand the forces that led us here,

to help comfort the discomfited,

to participate in the healing of the brokenness,

and with urgency.

We will act out of conviction,

knowing that democracy is not a spectator sport.

We will grieve, and rage, and wonder how and why,

but we will need to learn patience.

For like the phoenix — long-lived and regenerative —

our day will come again.

Love does trump hate,

and, though long,

the arc of the moral universe will bend towards justice.

 

(written in the wee hours of Wednesday, November 9, 2016)

May Wisdom Prevail

Putin for VP?

Putin for VP?

I pulled down this sign from a street corner

I pulled down this sign from a street corner

Amen.

Amen.

Me and Hillary

Me and Hillary

 

We have knocked on thousands of doors, made oodles of phone calls, donated millions of dollars.

We have watched countless polls, shed worried tears, and dreamed the worst nightmares.

We have commiserated with like-minded friends and even with strangers, wondering about the madness that has come to haunt America.

We are being called to awaken to the fears of the other, fears we don’t understand, can’t fathom, fundamentally don’t share.

The old man in the senior housing block I visited today told me he lives by two principles: to make someone smile every day and to help someone every day. Sounds good to me. When I asked him if he was voting for Hillary, he asked me who she was running against. I thought he might have dementia, but he was just pulling my leg. “Who else would I be voting for?” he asked.

Indeed. Who else?

When I was in junior high and high school I had a blow-up pillow in my room that read “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”

Neither is Trump healthy for children and other living things. Even GOP strategist Ana Navarro can’t vote for him (see her scathing indictment of him here.)

Voting tomorrow will be a momentous act of affirmation and hope. I invite you to do it with real intention, real prayerfulness. This time around, it is not routine. It is a sacred act, a holy act, a hopeful act, even a defiant act.

Here is a prayer to read when you do so, by Rabbi David Seidenberg, with a couple of small emendations by me:

As I vote today, I am prepared and intending
to seek peace for this country, as it is written (Jeremiah 29:7):
“Seek the peace of the city where I cause you to roam
and pray for her sake to God,
for in her peace you all will have peace.”

May it be Your will that votes will be counted faithfully,
and may You count my vote as if I had fulfilled this verse
with all my power.

May You give a wise heart to whomever we elect today
and may it be good in Your eyes to raise for us a good government
to bring justice and peace
for all the inhabitants of this land and of all the world,
and to honor the image of God in all humanity
and in Creation, for rulership is Yours.

Just as I participated in elections today,
so may I merit to do good works and to repair the world with all my efforts,
and with the act of…[fill in your pledge]…which I pledge to do today
on behalf of all living creatures,
in remembrance of the covenant of Noah’s waters
to protect and to not destroy the earth and her plenitude.

May You give to all the peoples of this country the strength and the will
to pursue righteousness and to seek peace as a unified force
in order to cause to flourish, throughout the world, good life and peace,
and may You fulfill for us the verse (Psalms 90:17):
“May the pleasure of the Eternal our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands for us;
make the work of our hands endure.”

Amen.