Let Us Choose Peace

fullsizeoutput_f64Grainy shot from my trip to China–an incredible experience!

Today is the International Day of Peace.  I was excited weeks ago when I read it in my calendar, especially because the healing writing group I am involved with meets today.

The concept of “international peace” is simultaneously a fantasy that seems attainable, while also being something we can never touch.  Over the past week, peace has been in my face—or rather, the lack of it.  My heart is filled with sorrow at the hardness of humans against other humans, for differences that should bring us together.  Instead our governments, many media sources, propaganda, and our own prejudices divide us.

Two days ago I listened to a podcast by The Corbett Report about the lies that started the war in Afghanistan.  Last night, my husband and I watched some more of a documentary we’ve been viewing about Israel and how the United States gives carte blanche loyalty to a country committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.  9/11 recently passed, and I was again reminded of the millions of people affected by the United States choosing (even possibly orchestrating the events) to go to war for geopolitical reasons (i.e. greed).

This week you may have seen a woman from CodePink interrupting a presentation on the Iran Missile Program.  She spoke clearly, even while they tried to deter her from speaking out in support of the citizens of Iran who are constantly being hurt by decisions made by the United States government.

Peace.  We all seek it.  We all desire it.  We want it…for ourselves.  However, how many of us want it for the people we perceive as our enemies?  I say perceive, because statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be stung by a bee and die than die from a terrorist attack.  I say perceive, because if you follow social media accounts of travelers in the Middle East (where so many westerners base their fear) you would see incredible hospitality, people having fun, the most delicious food you can imagine, and a culture that cares.

That is the difference between people and governments.

When will we, as humans, stand up to the partisan politics that continue to wreak havoc on our WORLD?  My citizenship does not make me blind to the beauty and the atrocities around the globe.  I consider myself a citizen of the world.  I cherish what I have learned from my travels abroad and my chance meetings with internationals in the countries where I have resided.

Peace requires a change in our mentalities.  It requires us to remember and acknowledge the humanity in each one of us.  It forces me to remember the love I have for the person who says hateful things about other people I love.  It teaches me that through education peace has a greater chance of attainability because when people know something it can change their perspective.

Today, and every day, let’s choose peace—a peace that comes with well reasoned ideologies and process to create something better than we have ever experienced.  Something that goes beyond what we can fathom.  Think outside the box.  Imagine what can happen if we fight for peace and stop creating war!

Let us choose peace.

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How Low Will Some Stoop To Make A Buck? #Cancer

 

 

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I awoke this morning to a Facebook message from a friend sharing a story about a woman who discovered photographs of her deceased son on a child cancer awareness Instagram account (@chillhoodcancer229).  The problems are: the photos were posted without permission, the photos implied the child is still alive, and the entire account uses photos of sick children to market their cancer support swag.

If you visit the Instagram account and click on this photo, comments like this one from his mother are posted everywhere, teamdamian1: I’m his mom. He died November 5, 2016. His birthday was March 21 and this is how this sick, disgusting, pathetic person shares my amazing child’s legacy. I’m disgusted and I wish she would show her face. Must be nice sitting behind a computer….. I HATE this person.”

Understandably, this mother is having an intensely emotional response to someone using her beloved son’s image of his fight against a terrible disease.  She is not the only one.  If you spend time clicking through the various photos, many have comments from people asking that the photos be taken down due to posting without permission—in fact, some are posted as current pictures, despite the images being old.  Individuals are reporting the page to Instagram, but it is still active, making a profit off of the grief of families.  There is even a Change.org petition requesting Instagram remove the account.

As we all know, sickness doesn’t play favorites.  Popular singer Michael Bublé and wife Luisana Lopilato faced the news of their oldest son’s cancer diagnosis in 2016.  The owner of the @chillhoodcancer229 posted an image of Bublé and son, Noah, on March 25, 2018, including an incorrect age and implying the child was recently diagnosed.  Of course, the singer was not tagged, so it’s entirely likely he is clueless to the exploitation happening to his and other families with sick, dying, and dead children.

It is immoral and unethical to profit off of the hardship and pain of others.  People like the owner of the Instagram account in question lack empathy and understanding for other people, and instead want to find a way to make a buck.  As a cancer fighter (in fact, I just completed stage one of my recovery from a stem cell transplant) I know how quickly people want to support and give to causes that affect those they love.  I’ve had friends and family make donations to leukemia and cancer research charities in my honor.  However, due to the generosity of so many people, it is easy for con artists to take advantage of that giving spirit to line their own pockets.

I encourage you all to take a moment and report the Instagram account.  Also, please make your donations and purchases wisely.  Know where your money is going—to the CEOs bank account or to grants for real research?

 

Recovering and Growing

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For the past year and a half I’ve been battling and recovering from cancer/cancer treatments.  Over that time, I’ve striven to continue posting about things I care about.  However, I want to restart, sporadic or not as it may be, because I have this inner drive to write.  It helps me process issues and this blog gives me a platform to choose what I want to write about.

The inspiration for this blog has not changed: my passion for social justice, journalism, and championing change in my own way.  What has changed is the way I’m approaching this blog.  As I recover from my stem cell transplant, I want to continue to grow as a person, not simply recover my physical abilities.  Therefore, I am still going to write about issues that are important, but with a different tone—probably a personal one.  This is not a newspaper, it’s a space where I can explore, write, and share about topics that matter to me.

My hope is, if you read what I write and it impacts you, that you’ll talk about it with people around you and share the conversation—or talk with me.

 

A Lifelong Journey Meets Today

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Different people have asked me when I became passionate about social justice issues.  Pondering this question, I realized this fire has always been in me, but when I was growing up, it looked more “normal” because I was still developing my own views while largely parroting what I heard and filtering it through my own thoughts.  Today, many people in my sphere of influence do not agree with my views and perspective, but I am trying to learn how to interact and communicate in a non-alienating way (not something I’ve always done) while not compromising my stance.

It dawned on me that these facets of my personality and self are a combination of a fire in the core of my being and my mom conscientiously educating me about politics and processes, even placing me in observational situations, at a very young age.  Below, I attempt to articulate: when it all began, why I am passionate about social justice issues, and why politics energize me.

When I was young (maybe 4 or 5) my mom took me to a nearby city where former President George H. W. Bush was speaking.  It turned out the date was wrong, so we got breakfast instead, but she wanted me to have exposure to a recent former president speaking.

At age 5-6, flipping through a child’s book of different countries and cultures, I saw children sleeping/living in cardboard boxes.  It was the first time I knew that not all kids had safe and warm homes to live in.  I cried.

During the voting process of whether or not to impeach/remove (can’t remember which) former President Clinton from office, where was I?  You guessed it: sitting in front of the television watching a rare government process take place.  I was 7/8 years old—and, if I recall, I really wanted to play outside instead.  Now, I’m grateful.

When I was nine, my school handed us weekly copies of one of Scholastic Magazine’s student editions.  It was during the final months of the 2000 election campaign–the first one of which I have vivid memories.  We read and discussed it in school, the lady I carpooled with talked about it driving home, and my opinions were forming–obviously, at the time, in support of former President George W. Bush.  That year my mom made scones and tea and we watched the inauguration together.

Since then, I’ve aspired to be the first woman president, debated issues with teachers, scoured candidate’s websites to read their views on important topics, watched presidential debates, attended Virginia’s Model General Assembly statewide gathering for high school students, written for my university’s student newspaper, watched (with pride) the USA’s first black president take the oath of office, served on my university’s student government, studied journalism, worked as a journalist, opened my eyes to look for the deeper issues than what the news reports on the 24-hour cycle, and planned and attended activism and political events.

Social justice has always been a passion of mine—but I didn’t know to call it that.  However, it wasn’t until three years ago that I began to realize there were whole realms I didn’t know existed as problems.  I didn’t know people of color were still targeted by police.  Hate crimes against LGBTQIA seemed almost outside my comprehension—unless the action was specifically done as such.  And the “conspiracies” about the motivation behind politicians was still a little much for this young woman who wanted to believe that people were mostly good.

I started dating a guy.  He pushed me to see what I hadn’t yet seen.  It’s one of the things I love about him—that he wanted my awareness and consciousness to grow.  Since then, we’ve shared a passion for many areas: some are more his and others mine.  We’ve each supported the other one attending a massive social justice/political event.

I am passionate about social justice issues because all humans are not treated equally.  The earth is our home, our life source, and we treat it like the parent who never says no, but who one day decides enough is enough and no longer enables his/her children.  Governments of the world are controlled by greedy people, very few of whom genuinely care about the well being of their people, their country, and individuals around the globe.  We wage war on strangers in distant lands and justify it in the name of “national security”, while making other borders anything but secure.  We kill innocent bystanders and label them “collateral damage” so that we don’t have to dwell on the thousands, perhaps millions, who have died living their lives, hoping to survive.

Politics energize me because it is one way that people (supposedly) have the power to make a difference.  However, at this point, powerful families and corporations have control over much of the world’s governments, resources, and other systems.  It is important that we conscientiously put people in leadership who will fight for what is best, will critique and make changes, and take down what is not working.  The people have a responsibility to make known what they want for their region, country, and world.  More than anything, we have to engage in whatever ways possible: in person, by email/phone, social media, writing, speaking, etc.  We must make it known what we want and not step down, even when it happens, to ensure it continues.  Also, protests are not bad.

Finally, I firmly believe the biblical Proverb that says:
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a sharp word stirs up anger.”

I firmly believe all humans are deserving of dignity.

If we all, government officials from the bottom to the top and citizens, applied these principles to our thoughts, words, and actions, our world would look drastically different—and war with N. Korea might not feel so imminent.

We Must Choose Unity

IMG_3551Photo taken at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, ME

A few weeks ago I received the exciting news that I am one of the recipients of the Heather Heyer Scholarship to attend the Women’s Convention in Detroit, MI next weekend!  It is such an honor to be awarded this opportunity—especially as it is in the name of a woman who died tragically while fighting against the hatred and terrorism of white supremacy and nationalism.

However, over the past week I’ve experienced great frustration with many women who have spoken out in anger and pulled their support for this movement because they did not like the decision to invite Senator Sanders to the Women’s Convention.  (It seemed) Most outrage came from Hillary Clinton supporters (who, the Women’s March has stated, was invited but cannot attend) who simply do not consider Senator Sanders an ally.  Others thought it was a poor decision to invite an older, white man to speak at an event for female equality.

The first complaint makes me angry because they are choosing to stonewall an ally, who also started a progressive movement among people who are looking for more than the establishment has to offer, on the basis that their female candidate of choice lost the race (I was never a Clinton supporter).  This is ignoring the fact that the DNC (in my opinion, supported by the evidence of how the mainstream media chose to cover Clinton versus Sanders) never intended to allow anyone else a shot at the party nomination, and that Senator Sanders surprised many within the Democratic Party with the mass support he garnered.

The second complaint holds more clout: was it wise to advertise Senator Sanders, a white, older man, as a key speaker for the Women’s Convention?  Probably not.  Initially, there was not a lot of specificity in what his role would be, and if I recall, it originally appeared that he was opening the event.  However, the feminist movement is not about excluding male supporters and team members.  For many of us, Senator Sanders was our candidate of choice.  He represented the changes that we wanted to see take place in this country.  Truthfully, I was thrilled when I saw that he was going to be at the event.

The bottom line: we do not have the luxury to divide over such a small issue.  Feminism is a broad term that encompasses many people (I wrote about this in March) with many views, united by the fact that we believe women deserve equality.  However, this movement goes beyond simple equality of women, it focuses on equality for ALL people, regardless of gender, religion, race, culture, etc.

I am attending this event to learn and connect with other people who are in this fight to raise awareness about equality.  I am attending as a journalist who wants to learn how to do a better job of reporting and writing about issues that matter.  I am attending as a white woman who wants to better understand women of color and the additional challenges they face and who wants to better understand my own privilege as a white woman and how I can use it positively.  I am attending as a relational person seeking a community of people who “get it.”  Lastly, I am attending for all the women who can’t or won’t—for all the women, young and old, I know who don’t think they need feminism.

I am political—it’s in my blood.  I am a passionate person, and I am learning how to channel that into issues of truth and justice, advocating for change.  I am excited and ready for this, my first large-scale social justice event, and all it encompasses.

Are you going to be there?

The Religion of Nationalism Poses As Christianity And Trump Runs With It

Nationalism is a type of religion.  How do I know?  Because growing up, during my Wednesday night kids class at church (and, I think at my Christian school), we would pledge to the American flag, the Christian flag, and, I think, the Bible.  This tells me that the adults in charge put each of these items on the same level of importance.

Fast-forward to today, and what do we see?  (Many) Christian and/or Conservative Americans becoming upset when people of other religions come into their country and ask for equal and respectful treatment.  These same (Christian and/or Conservative) people are choosing political positions and supporting candidates on the sole basis that they have claimed to share the same faith and ideologies, despite many examples indicating the opposite.  Conservative Americans are upset when anyone questions something ingrained in America’s way of life.

I paid attention in school.  I know that the Constitution of the United States of America protects certain rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The right to freedom of religion means all religions are welcome and should experience no infringement of rights for when, where, and how they worship.  The right to free speech/expression means people can speak out about issues they face without fear of repercussions from the “powers that be” who may disagree.  The “right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievance” means people can protest when there is oppression and other unethical practices occurring that harm any part of the population.  However, with each day that passes, the more people (especially the president) forget that these rights are protected.  We do not live in a (recognized) dictatorship, therefore, anyone who has an issue can act in such a way, as protected by law, to bring attention to it.

Regarding the recent issue of football players not responding as expected to the national anthem and pledge of allegiance by taking a knee, raising a fist, or simply not putting one’s hand over one’s heart as a peaceful protest to communicate to those watching that there are major equality and racial issues in the United States, and that the country does not protect all of its people equally, is a justified and constitutionally protected action.  To condemn or attack those who exercise their constitutional rights with the ferocity that many are showing is to say these individuals’ perspectives, opinions, and beliefs are invalid simply because others disagree.

This brings me to the issue of Donald Trump’s speech yesterday, during which he said, regarding NFL players who “disrespect” the flag, that team owners should respond with, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!”  One, that is an unethical response from the President of the United States of America, who has sworn to uphold the Constitution—therefore, he has broken his oath.  Furthermore, what he is suggesting is illegal.  You cannot constitutionally fire somebody because they choose, as an independent human being, to not say or do something voluntary regarding their place of citizenship.

Therefore, to everyone who is up in arms if they feel their country is disrespected, consider the many ways the country (from the top down) is disrespecting millions of its residents and citizens.  It is profiting from the fear, pain, and death of minority people.  You may not, personally, feel the oppression, inequality, and injustice, but if you step outside of your bubble of comfort, you will see things that you can’t unsee.  Once that happens, you have a decision to make: knowingly stand by while people are abused and oppressed by the system you blindly support, or knowingly step up to advocate for change to make this place truly a safe country for all who are born here, immigrate here, or visit here.

P.S. Join thousands (maybe millions) and boycott the NFL.

The Importance of Engaging Even When You Don’t Agree

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When I am in the car, I love listening to NPR.  Sometimes, like during one business trip, I listen to the news for so long I start to go a little crazy with all the awful and frustrating things happening (that I want to change) and have to turn it off in order to process.  Other times, there are interviews and stories that keep me flipping the radio to keep up with the changing NPR station as I travel through different regions.  The latter was me on Monday.

As you’ve probably heard, Hillary Clinton’s book “What Happened” released last week.  I’ll be honest: I wasn’t planning on reading it.  I’m not interested in reading 512 pages of blaming and explaining…how, what, where, when, and why (especially when she and the DNC made it impossible for Bernie to get the nomination).  However, after seeing this post on Grok Nation, I’m more open.  Maybe not for all of the reasons listed, but because, despite all the reasons Hillary Clinton did not deserve the White House (issues for another post I may or may not write), she made history becoming the first woman nominated for president in a major party, has pushed through stereotypes and gender inequality during her career, and has inspired women to do more than they otherwise might have believed possible.  I can at least skim it to see where she is coming from (and try and figure out what’s genuine versus political bullsh*t).

**Before you all freak out on me, I am a feminist, I can’t wait for a woman to sit in the White House, but HRC did not deserve to make that particular piece of history.  Jill Stein on the other hand…she’s good.  But, in America we don’t believe in Green Parties.

Anyway, NPR released the interview they did with her (full transcript here) and it was amazing, because it covered many topics in a conversation style of speaking, rather than a speech.  My two favorite topics were (1) when she addressed Donald Trumps patriarchal misogyny towards her bathroom break during a debate and the implications that has for women everywhere and (2) the corporation allegedly pulling-the-strings behind several huge votes and elections in the world.

Hillary Clinton first addressed the time that Donald Trump ridiculed that she was late returning to stage during a debate for using the restroom.  She called out his misogynistic and objectifying view of women and that he did not hold back using degrading language, and implications, when speaking of her in similar terms that he spoke of Megyn Kelly.

We have to keep talking about and bringing attention to the issues of gender inequality and the harassment and abuse that women face.  As we all know, the powerful are often the ones who get away with the most (shall we talk about Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly, not to mention Bill Clinton), but it happens everywhere, and we need to start  making changes (shout out to The Bold Type for using their platform with intention last week).

Clinton had this to say about Trump’s reactionary statement: “He sexualizes women. He objectifies women. He’s more than happy to comment on what women look like and whether they’re too thin or too fat or whatever his particular obsession might be.

But what about women who use restrooms? (Which is all of us.) What about women who give birth? (Which is many of us?) What about women who have all kinds of physical parts of their life? It said to me, ‘No, I can’t be bothered. I can’t even think about that. I want to see you in a low-cut dress. I want to see you in a bathing suit. I want to see whether you fit my standards.’ And I thought it was incredibly weird.”

Another issue that Clinton discussed was corporate backing by Cambridge Analytica and the Mercer family (who are directly connected with Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway), including possible interference into various elections and votes around the globe (Kenya, Brexit, and even the USA). Now, granted, there are some statements in the following quote that make different red flags go off (like, how long have you really thought we needed to get rid of the electoral college?), but she draws attention to some situations that, I believe, require attention.  (Also, I love the French commentator’s remark, because I’ve had issues with the Electoral College since it was explained to me when I was nine years old.)

“You know, the Kenya election was just overturned and really what’s interesting about that — and I hope somebody writes about it, Terry — the Kenyan election was also a project of Cambridge Analytica, the data company owned by the Mercer family that was instrumental in the Brexit vote.

There’s now an investigation going on in the U.K., because of the use of data and the weaponization of information. They were involved in the Trump campaign after he got the nomination, and I think that part of what happened is Mercer said to Trump, ‘We’ll help you, but you have to take Bannon as your campaign chief. You’ve got to take Kellyanne Conway and these other people who are basically Mercer protégés.’

And so we know that there was this connection. So what happened in Kenya, which I’m only beginning to delve into, is that the Supreme Court there said there are so many really unanswered and problematic questions, we’re going to throw the election out and redo it. We have no such provision in our country. And usually we don’t need it.

Now, I do believe we should abolish the Electoral College, because I was sitting listening to a report on the French election and the French political analyst said, ‘You know in our country the person with the most votes wins, unlike in yours.’ And I think that’s an anachronism. I’ve said that since 2000.”

A simple Google search reveals many details that should cause concern about these allegations.  As a journalist, the interview gave me names to research to find out who is benefiting from whom, and what negative impacts will happen as a result. These are important issues, because, as we all know, money talks.  The rich are the ones who make things happen by donating to people and groups who they want favor from at a later date.  It is unethical, and we must raise a voice.

As citizens of a country and the world, it is our responsibility to investigate, educate ourselves, and critically think so that we can tell the “shit from the shinola.”  Yes, there are many people in places of leadership that are not qualified or have done things to disqualify themselves.  However, we have a responsibility to provide qualified candidates so that people don’t find themselves faced with the (fallacy) of choosing between “the better of two evils.”  We also have to open ourselves to the idea of radical change…and choosing to not be afraid of words that we’ve been taught are scary (i.e. socialized/socialism).  If we allow fear to control us and keep us from new ideas in an ever-evolving world, we won’t get very far.

Have you ever wanted to make a change?  Here are a few ways to get involved:

  • Start attending your local council meetings;
  • Find out who the leaders are, what the issues are, and educate yourself;
  • If you think, “I could do that,” run for office;
  • If you have a passion for leadership in government and want to help people, start looking bigger;
  • Consider parties that are not Republican and Democrat;
  • Get out there and volunteer (I’m hoping to find a way to register people to vote);
  • Oh, and make sure you register to vote—and don’t just wait for national elections.