Let’s Demand Homeland Security Help Protect Our Children From Being Slaughtered in Their Schools.

IMG_0227In the aftermath of the shooting deaths of fourteen students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida,  is it finally time we ask what our federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is doing to keep our children and grandchildren “secure” from being shot in the schools we send them to every day?

These are the names and ages of our fellow Americans, the real people shot and killed at their Florida high school: Alyssa Alhadeff (14), Scott Beigel (35), Martin Duque Anguiano (14), Nicholas Dworet (17), Aaron Feis (37), Jamie Gutenberg (14), Chris Hixon (49), Luke Hayer (15), Cara Loughran (14), Gina Montallo (14), Joaquin Oliver (17), Alaina Petty (14), Meadow Pollack (18), Helena Ramsay (17), Alex Schachter (14), Carmen Schentrup (16), and Peter Wang (15).

Our own DHS website touts its “vital mission” as being “to secure the nation from the many threats we face.” Earlier on its website the agency state’s “[t]he vision of homeland security is to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards.” It seems clear  to me that we face the real threat of young white guys with AR-15 assault rifles shooting our children and grandchildren.  If we still want to have an argument whether such madness constitutes “terrorism,” then let’s at least agree it’s “other hazards.”

In 2017, DHS was allocated  a discretionary budget of $40.6 billion. With 240,000 employees, DHS is the third largest cabinet department after the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. The shooting of our children  with assault rifles by home grown terrorists warrants DHS’s attention and funding. What “other hazards” does the evidence show as any greater?

Republican representatives now in charge of all branches of government need  to think more creatively and realistically about where we actually need “homeland security.” Almost 17 years after 9-11,  with the Trump administration’s flagrant racist attacks on Muslims and people of color, poorly disguised to keep us safe, we are again being told we need to fear Muslims and people of color. Our national security is at stake, we are told. We need to be “vigilant.”

Juxtapose that message of fearing Muslims and people of color with all the senseless slaughtering of our children and grandchildren in the “safety” of their own schools that we continue to allow to happen – without any change in gun laws. All the senseless terrorism being perpetrated by non-Muslim white guys.  The 19 year old confessed shooter who slaughtered 17 people had legally bought an assault rifle (when he was 18). This, as we continue to be vigilant about having a law in place that prevents him from buying alcohol until he’s 21. Other hazards.

The Washington Post recently wrote about misinformation being circulated by Everytown  for Gun Safety, a group working for gun safety that tweeted that there have already been 18 school shootings only 6 weeks into 2018. Everytown for Gun Safety tweeted “[t]his is the 18th school shooting in U.S. in 2018.” The article then lifted up how often that tweet was “liked” or retweeted.

I found it sad and ironic that this needs to be clarified. Some of the shootings allegedly being falsely claimed as school shootings included a 31 year old man reportedly armed and suicidal who shot himself in a school parking lot, where the school had been closed for seven months, and accidental discharges of firearms in schools. The Post article did state that some groups say the correct number of school shootings so far in 2018 is more like eight,  but everyone can agree on, well, six. That’s one school shooting per week. One too many.

The Post suggested that the statistics being touted by Everytown for Gun Safety were problematic because gun rights supporters would  use such misinformation to beat gun safety advocates over the head when they try, yet again, to secure common sense gun control legislation. Maybe. But having such a conversation about the “correct” number of school shootings in 2018  seems both haunting and tragic to me.

The Post article highlighted “that trends are growing more dire.”  That includes a study by the World Health Organization published in the American Journal of Medicine “that found that, among high-income nations, 91 percent of children younger than 15 who were killed by bullets lived in the United States.” The Post article reported that “[o]n average, two dozen children are shot every day in the United States, and in 2016 more youths were killed by gunfire – 1,637 – than during any other year this millennium.”

Whether  it’s six or eight shootings that’s “correct” does not  matter at all to the victims or their loved ones,  whose lives were ripped apart, forever. Let’s comfort victims and their families by telling them, yet again, . . . they’re in our thoughts and prayers. I am crying as I try not to throw up. We’re not just failing our children, our lack of will in passing common sense gun legislation is literally  killing them.

This morning I watched as parents of the Florida high school students murdered in their school, and students who “survived,” literally begged lawmakers to take action by enacting common sense gun control legislation. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, however, was  not going to be rushed into action, stating that gun restrictions would not have prevented the mass shooting and slaughter of children at a high school in his own state. Except, they would have. Preventing the purchase of assault rifles and preventing those under age 21 from purchasing firearms would have saved lives in Florida.

Rubio’s measured response might be influenced by the $3.3 million in contributions he’s received (so far) from the National Rifle Association (NRA).  Of course it was. The NRA and its money doesn’t just talk with politicians, it screams. And Jesus weeps. And we weep. . . again. . .and again. I hope all who call themselves Evangelical  Christians, hyper vigilant in protecting  their man made Second Amendment rights, will ask themselves where the higher commandment of “[t]hou shall not kill” fits into their hearts.

When I was a candidate for the state Senate in North Dakota, and later when I was running for reelection, I received a questionnaire from the NRA regarding my views on gun control and the Second Amendment. In no uncertain terms, the NRA made it clear to me that if I did not return their questionnaire that they would let voters in my legislative district know I was anti Second Amendment rights and I would be given an “F” rating. I received an “F” rating. We need more legislators willing to not care about NRA ratings and say “F” the NRA ratings.

When will our fellow Americans, of all creeds and colors, have seen enough carnage?  When will our hearts let us see that our neighbors’ children and grandchildren being slaughtered in our public schools are all of our children shamelessly being slaughtered?  When will we, as parents and grandparents, as voters, Republican, Democrat or Independent, rise up and use our massive and powerful collective voice and power at the polls to unelect politicians unwilling to pass common sense gun legislation? My hope is in 2018.

It was telling this morning as one of the networks showed footage, “highlights,” of its upcoming Sunday public affairs show. They touted their special guests, members of Congress not running for reelection, who were now voicing their strong concern about the dire need for something to be done to effectuate common sense gun control legislation. Their concern is too little, too late.

Paul Ryan, House Republican Speaker, rejected a call to create a special congressional committee to study gun violence in the aftermath of the Florida shooting that left 17 dead and many others wounded. Ryan noted the House was to observe a moment of silence and flags at the Capitol were at half staff.

Silence. That’s  what’s being offered by Republicans who control the House and Senate. It’s time we end that silence with the noise of fed up Americans actively and intentionally voting such tone deaf politicians out of office when we have the opportunity to do just that in November 2018. Whose in?

Some things have to be worth standing up for and risking a reelection loss, like the lives of our children and grandchildren . . .and our country’s soul.

 

 

 

The President? Congress? America? Is Anybody Listening?

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The White House touted the State of the Union address as an opportunity the President would use to bring the country together. What did that mean? There had been a year of actions and Tweets by this President that had served to undermine such messaging, so I was more than a bit skeptical of what we might hear. Doesn’t bringing a country or any group together require listening? Understanding?

Unfortunately, this was yet another missed opportunity for this President. The message I heard was one of fear and blaming and not one of listening to others and bringing people together. Fear of immigrants, linking them unfairly as a group with  gangs and violence, and all but ignoring the positive contributions immigrants have made and continue to make to America. How quickly this administration forgets our own immigrant roots. But when your own fear drives the message, it’s convenient and consistent with our country’s history of blaming  people of color.

Our church is doing a “season of listening” this Lenten season. The idea is to have many of us visit our fellow church members and engage in a 45 minute conversation for the purpose of getting to know the other person better. To be able to “go deeper” in our conversations. To actually “see” the other person. Our training intrigued me because there was an emphasis on listening to understand. . . and not just listening to let the other person finish so we can then share our own views and beliefs. How often do any of us listen, generously? We were instructed that we should listen at least 70 percent of the time during these conversations. How often do we do that? How often do our elected leaders do that? Imagine what they could learn.

I was intrigued by the invitation our facilitator (a pastor with years of training) gave to each of us. We were invited to ask “courageous” questions. For example, if someone mentions that after their divorce they started doing a great deal of gardening. Do you take the easy way out and ask them if they were gardening flowers of vegetables? Or, do you seize on the invitation the intentional mentioning of the divorce gave you to go “deeper?” Perhaps you acknowledge how difficult their divorce must have been and ask them how they were able to move forward after that difficult time.

As I reflected on this evening of training to be a more thoughtful listener and courageous questioner, I found myself thinking of the recent government two day shut down, and the conversation about the “brave” U.S. Senators who had gathered in the office of Senator Susan Collins, where they were able to negotiate a path forward (although for just 3 weeks). Many of the Senators involved  in the bipartisan conversation spoke glowingly about the Native American talking stick (apparently a gift from North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp) in Senator Collins’s office that was required to be held by the person talking, requiring others to be quiet. It was designed to create order, deter interruptions, and foster listening.

Rather than shaking my head at how this Senate story highlighted, yet again,  how dysfunctional our House and Senate have become,  it struck me as a wake up call, an opportunity, for each of us to realize and acknowledge how much work everyone has to do, to be a generous listener, to listen to understand. How else do you bring people together? The House and Senate are no different. The talking stick scenario brings that front and center.

While part of me wants to applaud the Senate’s ingenuity to borrow from Native Americans to figure out a practical way to listen to each other and get something done, the other part of me sees a sad irony in the use of a Native American talking stick, used to bring needed order and an opportunity to be listened to,  heard and seen, by an overwhelmingly body of older white men that has, historically,  ignored Native American voices and the voices of those in this country who are not white.

But talk is cheap. Until the actions of the President  and Republican members of the House and Senate, who find themselves in the majority, show a willingness to truly listen, to understand, America is destined to be mired in more of the same dysfunction. We all lose as a result of such dysfunction. The President ostensibly reaching out to the Senate Democrats to unite  a divided country seemed positive on its face. Yet, this must be followed by actual listening and dialogue. That needs to include not only a willingness to listen to understand, but a willingness to actually change one’s mind and modify one’s position as a result of such dialogue.

Fast forward a couple weeks to where President Trump praised the work done by his now former staffer Rob Porter, who was forced to resign after allegations of abuse by Porter’s two ex wives. There were pictures of Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye she said she received from his punching her. Holderness reportedly provided these pictures to the FBI during their investigation as part of Porter’s pending security clearance. . . a security clearance he never received. Was the White House or the President listening? Did they even ask why Rob Porter had not been given a security clearance?

Porter’s first wife, Jennie Willoughby,  had filed an emergency protective  order against Porter. CNN has reported White House officials were apparently aware of the allegations made against Porter as early as January of 2017. Did White House officials hear the allegations? Did the men in charge not want to hear them?

How does this President bring people together? He publicly praises Rob Porter, a man on his staff who abuses women. The President said:” We wish him well.. . . He worked very hard. I found out about it recently and was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It’s obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad. Now he also as you probably know, he says he’s innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent. So you’ll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White House.”

Nothing about the women victims from this President. What does the President wish for the victims of Porter’s abuse, Jennie Willoughby and Colbie Holderness? Does he wish them well? Does he even think about them? Do you suppose he knows they are also “very sad.” The President’s statement tells me he’s not listening. He does not understand. The President does not “get it.” The President stresses Mr. Porter’s denials. The President has a disturbing history of stressing the denials of male abusers, whether Rob Porter, Roy Moore, or himself. What lies ahead for our country,  whose leader lacks the moral integrity and/or skill set necessary to condemn an abuser’s actions and rightly focus his concern on the well being of the real victims?

This is a President who has perpetuated a culture of abusing women and not believing women when they bravely come forward and shine the light on the abusers – whether physically, sexually or psychologically. We don’t just wish our president could and would do the right thing by calling out abusers, we expect them to do it. Those Republican lawmakers who continue to excuse this President’s moral bankruptcy, for any reason, are complicit in the dire consequences and real life carnage that is left in its wake.

This is not what bringing people together looks like. It’s the opposite. Yet this is the President. There is nothing normal about either this White House or this President.

Another wrinkle to this story is that the White House initially sought to circle the wagons and defend Mr. Porter. As part of that process,  the President’s communications director, 29 year old Hope Hicks, helped draft the press release in defense of Mr. Porter. The allegations of abuse made against Mr. Porter by his ex-wives were initially called “vile” by Hicks and the White House.  Oh, did I mention that Ms. Hicks was dating Mr. Porter at the time? Is anybody listening? MeToo?  What’s “vile” is how this was handled by the White House. Ms. Hicks and her boss should be fired –  if anybody was truly listening to understand, to see Jennie Willoughby, Colbie Holderness, and all the women in this country who continue to be abused, not heard, and not seen.

When will we, as Americans who struggle to still claim a country with a moral compass, tell Jennie Willoughby, Colbie Holderness, and all the other brave women in this country who continue to be subjected to tone deaf male dominated systemic abuse,  that we see them, we hear them, we believe them and we understand? When and how do we finally and loudly tell our mostly male elected political leaders that we’re going to hold  the male abusers, and those who support them, accountable come Election Day? How about right now, in 2018, by intentionally electing more women leaders who “get it?”

America, are you listening?

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Shithole Countries” and Being Present in Trump’s Chaotic World

Haiti Jan 2012 167Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue can’t recall if the President called Haiti, El Salvador and Africa “shithole countries.” I’m not kidding. But I do hope the President knows Africa is not a country.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, also at that Oval Office meeting, basically confirmed the comments were made in a private conversation he had with his South Carolina colleague. Graham insists he spoke his mind to the President, in private, while going underground and for some reason refusing to speak publicly to the racist comments by the Republican President.

Did I mention that Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, the only Democrat present at this meeting, ostensibly on immigration, confirmed  that the President used the term “shithole countries,” actually multiple times?

It gets worse. The White House, in chronic damage control with this President, trotted out spokesperson Raj Shah, who did not deny that  the President made the “shithole” remark. Then, the next day, the President actually denied that he had called Haiti, El Salvador and African countries “shithole countries.” Because that’s Trump’s pattern. Deny you made the racist comments you made, and somehow they disappear. Again, that’s what racists do. They lie. But this is the President of the United States.

When do we finally care more about human dignity than party politics? When do we demand it of our elected officials? How about now? It feels from the outside looking in that the bar cannot get any lower for this President, who you will remember started his road to the White House with his racist birther allegations against then President Obama. This behavior isn’t new folks. In fact, it’s getting old, fast.

There was no small irony in the President pivoting from his racist comments to  “honoring” Dr. Martin Luther King  at a ceremony, saying all the right words that someone else wrote for him, about how we’re all equal and the color of our skin doesn’t matter. Except,  it does to Trump. (If we could just only keep those colored Haitians out and get more white Norwegians to come here). At the King event reporters were shouting at the President, trying to get him to confirm he made the “shithole countries” comment. One reporter yelled out “[a]re you a racist?” Not surprisingly, the President ignored the questions. Ironic. Pitiful. Disgusting. All of the above.

I’m thinking Republican Senators Cotton and Perdue should be unelected, or perhaps impeached,  because they clearly have memory issues preventing them from fulfillling their sworn duties as Senators to uphold the Constitution. Their silence speaks volumes. They have intentionally aligned themselves with this racist President. Democrats, Republicans, and all Americans need to hang this silence around their necks and make them own it come reelection time. If we do not, the future is on us.

What would Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday and legacy we are celebrating this next week, say about all this? Dr. King got it right when he said “[o]ur lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Will we be silent and allow this to continue? Our Republican elected officials choose to be silent when the President made racist comments right in front of them. They should have called him out. Not only that, they then lied about whether the President actually said such racist and vulgar statements in their presence. Cowards.

Are there any lines of morality at all for Republican congressional leaders who support a racist President, again and again? What does that say about an electorate that continues to elect such representatives without a moral compass, other than claiming to be Christian? Do they think about how Jesus would respond? Where is loving thy neighbor or welcoming of the stranger in all this? I don’t remember that being limited to those from non shithole countries. . .specifically, Norway. At this point, you really do laugh or you cry.

At this point I cry. My heart aches as I listen to the music my wife is playing tonight. Haitian artists, today, marking the eight year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti that changed that country forever. For over 20 years my wife has led medical teams to Pignon, Haiti, bringing medical supplies and spending a week performing operations and teaching. In fact, she was in Haiti in 2010 when the earthquake hit.  What my wife is most clear about is not what the medical team brought to the people of Haiti, but just how much the medical team learned from their Haitian friends – about being in relationship, about resilience, perseverance, faith, love, and the importance of showing up.

Recently, I read Pema Chodron’s book, “When Things Fall Apart.” Chodron talks of things being in constant transition. She writes that “[c]haos is part of our home ground. Instead of looking for something higher or purer, work with it just as it is.” She urges us to first “[s]low down enough to just be present, let go of the multitude of judgments and schemes, and stop struggling.” We need to live in these moments of discomfort, owning them, without rushing to make the discomfort go away.

What exactly does living in the chaos of a Trump presidency look like? We’re getting an up close look at chaos as part of our home ground. Working with it as it is and owning what this country has created is essential to the process of eventually being able to move beyond it. In the meantime, many of us find being present and trying to let go of judgments and schemes frustrating and exhausting. Letting go of my own judgments of myself, and my need to change things and fix what to me is so horribly broken in an America with Trump as president, is a way to be present and curb my own frustration and exhaustion.

Making hopeful and wishful comments about a new day and a brighter future is where my heart wants me to go. But living in the present chaos and discomfort is where I find myself, today, when  I stop struggling. And that’s okay.

 

Al Franken Chose to Resign. He Was Not a Victim.

IMG_0221I initially thought how conflicted I was that my Senator, Al Franken, was “forced” to resign. Damn all those women Senators who came forward and demanded Franken give up his Senate seat. Who did they think they were? Where’s his “due process” people cried. He’d been an effective Senator. He fought the good fights. He was someone who might be President.

Then I became incensed.  Senator Franken’s  grabbing women constituents’ butts while having his picture taken with them, trying to forcibly kiss women, groping a woman who was asleep for a “laugh,” is simply not excusable behavior.

Some might say, well, some of these things happened before he was a Senator.  I mean, give him a break. . . after all, he was a “comedian.” Does that matter?

No, it does not matter.

It disgusts me, as someone who served in elected office, to hear what Franken did, multiple times.  My thought when he said he did not remember grabbing his  women constituents’ butts while having his picture taken with them at the state fair was – are you freakin’ kidding me? He either grabbed so many butts he can’t remember, or. . . maybe it was not a big deal to him, so he forgot. Either one is unbelievable to me. I suppose there is a possibility that these multiple women accusers all made up their stories because they wanted their 15 minutes of fame or were part of some Republican conspiracy to get Franken. Sorry, I’m not buying that.

There are many of my fellow Democrats  who, like me, were Franken  supporters, but now continue to  defend Franken  by saying we have a Republican President who has well over a dozen women who have accused him of sexual harassment or sexual assault, and yet he continues to deny it and remains in office, so why should Franken be “sacrificed” by the Democrats. The answer is – because it’s the right thing to do.

There are many of my fellow Democrats who also say there is a Republican Senate candidate in Alabama who is a pedophile, accused of sexually assaulting and harassing teenage girls while he was an Assistant District Attorney in his 30’s, who continues to deny these credible allegations and refuses to leave the race. They cling to the argument that because what Franken did was nowhere near as bad as what Moore has allegedly done, he should not resign. Let me repeat myself. Franken needed to resign – because it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe, it really can be that simple, even at a time when our country appears to have lost its moral compass. Especially at such a time. I think in many ways our country’s future demands a return to it being about doing the right thing. Ethics. Morals. Values. Do we really need to ask “who starts?”

I know. I know. President Trump and Senator Roy Moore are serial sexual assaulters and sexual harassers, they have no moral compass, are creepy and should resign (or in Moore’s case withdraw from the race). I agree. No argument. Call me naive? Think how the Republicans benefit and Democrats lose when Franken steps up and does the right thing, you say? Has that become our only moral compass? How will it help “my party?”

But Al Franken screwed up. He knew it. He resigned. He was not forced out. He could have chosen  to stay in the Senate and see how the Ethics Committee investigation and things played out. But he chose to resign. This was not about “due process” for Al Franken. Al Franken will be alright.

Franken’s  behavior should be considered disqualifying from public office. Are we really willing to say because “our” guy is not a serial sexual assaulter or pedophile, he should not resign? Is that where Democrats are prepared to lower their bar of acceptable behavior to?  I hope not.

Thank God for the women Senators who came forward and demanded Franken resign. They were in many ways not unlike that strong and wise moral voice of all our mothers,  who would tell us what we already knew in our hearts, that “this behavior is just plain wrong,” The other male Democratic Senators listened. Al Franken listened. They all knew. We all knew, that this behavior by a U.S. Senator was not acceptable. Even if we liked Al Franken.

Will we, as a country,  listen? Will we not only listen to and believe the large numbers of real victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment, but will we truly hear and see them, through our own biases and limitations? Will we as a country finally begin to act in the same courageous way as the women who have come forward to share their stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and those women still unable to?

Why am I being so hard on Franken you might ask? Perhaps consider asking yourself why you’re asking that question. Maybe it’s because Franken is a metaphor for the men in power in this country. Privileged. Entitled. It’s the narrative we have been conditioned to accept. Let’s change that narrative. What we really need to be asking is why do we continue to accept and allow such horrible behavior by men in power.

I found it both curious and disappointing that in Franken’s speech on the Senate  floor announcing his intention to resign that he did not admit any wrongdoing. In fact, he specifically denied certain allegations and stated he had a different recollection of events. Hmm. I’m shocked. What happened to “believing” women who were harassed? Acceptance and acknowledgement of Franken’s own responsibility did not fit his narrative of how he needed his legacy in the Senate to be remembered.

Al Franken, in his resignation speech, intentionally acknowledged the irony of his own fate, where you have a man remaining in the Oval Office facing multiple more egregious allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment and the opposing party openly supporting a Senate candidate with sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations. No, that irony was not lost on any of us. But there’s also another irony. In Franken’s Senate speech,  he did not acknowledge and accept responsibility for his own sexual misconduct, as if somehow what he did wasn’t really all that bad. That’s a sad irony. Al Franken, you were not a victim.

Yet this is really not about Al Franken. He’s replaceable. It’s about taking a small step forward as a country of morals and an understanding of right and wrong. It’s a step towards an overdue acknowledgement of the harm done to victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment and demanding some tangible accountability for the demeaning, humiliating and long tolerated and ignored sexual harassment and sexual assaults that women continue to face in our society. I think of the women who are harassed in subtle, outrageous and disgusting ways every day in the work force, by men. Right now. Today. This is about them.

Men must proactively engage and be a part of the solution. It’s about standing up, finally, for what’s right. It’s about changing behaviors and calling out bad behaviors, even when it might make you feel uncomfortable. Another irony. We can no longer stay quiet and remain seated. To do so is to continue to be complicit and part of the problem.

So now what? More women in elected office?  Hopefully. That would be a thoughtful start, assisting us all in making much needed progress towards a dismantling of the underlying culture that still chooses to permit the scourge of sexual harassment and sexual assault to fester and live in our country’s ugly and messy reality.

We have much work to do, together.

 

 

Senator Franken, President Trump and Roy Moore – Why Facts and Context Must Matter.

IMG_0217I have recently been on social media railing, as more courageous women share how they were sexually assaulted and harassed by Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate in Alabama. I think the number is now at eight women, many of whom were teenagers when he assaulted and harassed them while he was a licensed attorney working for the District Attorney’s office and in his 30’s.

One of the allegations of sexual assault involves  a 14 year old child. Moore also dated teenage girls while employed as an officer of the court. Think about that. He reportedly was so taken by a high school girl that he actually called the principal’s office and had them call her out of her math class to talk to him. He then asked her out on a date. Creepy with a capital “C.” Oh, he also was said to have been banned from a local mall for hassling young women. Really? Who does that? Not anyone who should serve in public office, much less the United States Senate.

Roy Moore has called the allegations “fake news,” whatever the hell that is. To me this has now come to mean something reported that casts someone in a bad or compromising light. Moore also did make sure people knew he did not date these girls – without their parent’s consent. Like that made it alright? It did not. Clearly, Moore still does not get it. Then,  Moore turned to his bullying style and threatened his accusers with legal action. I’m guessing he may have learned that bullying bravado from President Trump, who had threatened to sue the dozen or more women who have accused him of sexual assault and sexual harassment after he was elected.

Apparently, the President has been too busy banning Muslims and trying to build a wall on the Mexico border to keep the rapists and drug dealers out that he has not yet found time to sue these women yet. Don’t hold your breath.

There is no small irony to be lost in the President’s inability to chastise Moore’s illegal pedophile behavior or call for him to withdraw from the Alabama Senate race as the President faces  allegations he raped a 13 year old girl, attempted to rape his ex wife and a former business associate and over a dozen claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment. The President, you’ll remember, had been caught on tape bragging about his own sexually assaulting of  women by grabbing them by their genitals. Even so, he has denied all of these women’s claims. Think about that. The President, who has proven to the country during his 10 months in office to be a serial liar, is calling these dozen plus women who have accused him of sexual assault or sexual harassment,  liars. My money’s on his accusers.

The President tries to point out the difference between his situation and Al Franken is that well, Senator Franken has admitted the harassing behavior and he has not. That’s Trump illogic at its finest. Except we have heard the President brag about grabbing women by their genitals. But then later he said he really did not do such things, and said it was just locker room talk. He’s a liar. That’s a character flaw he and Roy Moore share.

An article in the New York Times quotes Bill Willard, a longtime lawyer from the community and a professional colleague familiar with Mr. Moore’s history. Mr. Willard is quoted as saying that Mr. Moore “was really immature socially” and “so it might kind of make sense,” in referring to Mr. Moore’s reputed attraction to teenagers.  It might well explain it, but it does not excuse it. It also adds credibility to the claims of Moore’s accusers, many of whom were teenage girls at the time of the sexual abuse and harassment.

Does anyone honestly think that all of the 20 or more women who have now come forward and  accused President Trump and Roy Moore of sexual assault or sexual harassment are lying? Of course not. They are all lying because? Because they want their 15 minutes of fame. . . which consists of being shamed and humiliated . . . all over again? This kind of specious argument deserves to be called out over and over again until the President is finally held accountable for his behavior. This is how woman who are courageous enough to come forward and confront their accusers have often treated in this country. Remember the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991?  Anita Hill was vilified by an all male Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing her of lying or inviting now Justice Thomas’s sexual harassment. It’s about power, white male power. It must stop.

Believe it or not,  these brave women coming forward and telling their stories of how they have been sexually assaulted or harassed by President Trump or Senator Moore is actual evidence that the assaults or harassment took place. It’s not “fake news.” The hollow denials by Trump and Moore do not make these detailed allegations non evidence as Trump and Moore and their blind supporters seem to pretend in their fairy tale worlds. But that fairy tale is truly a nightmare for the women (and children) victims.

The President was brazen enough to try and call out Senator Al Franken for his sexually harassing behavior that recently came to light. Franken was accused of forcing a kiss on Leann Tweeden, a woman  he was performing with as part of a USO tour he was part of as a professional comedian back in 2006, as well as orchestrating a picture of him where he appears to grope Ms. Tweeden’s  breasts while she was asleep on the plane during their return trip. Creepy? Absolutely. Wrong? No doubt.

Yet,  I will also refer you to the President’s brazen Tweet, calling Senator Franken “Senator Frankenstien [sic]” and wondering “where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?” Again, the President’s questions in his Tweet go down the creepy Trump road that apparently now our country just accepts from this morally bankrupt President who routinely lies and lacks a much needed moral compass. We cannot allow such behavior to go unchallenged or become acceptable.

The President tries to point out the difference between his situation and Al Franken is that well, Senator Franken has admitted the harassing behavior and he has not. That’s Trump illogic at its finest. Except we have heard the President brag about grabbing women by their genitals. But then later he said he really did not do such things, and said it was just locker room talk. He’s a liar. That’s a character flaw he and Roy Moore share.

What was Senator Franken’s response to the accusations? He apologized for his behavior. He sent a personal letter of apology to Ms. Tweeden. She has accepted his apology and his invitation to meet with him about it. Senator Franken has requested a Senate Ethics investigation of his behavior. Ms. Tweeden is not demanding Senator Franken resign. Does that make what Al Franken did alright? Of course not; yet he does acknowledge the harm and wrongdoing and take responsibility for his actions. That matters. It has to.

Should Senator Franken resign?  Maybe. I’m inclined to say let’s see what the Senate Ethics Committee recommends. I am a Minnesota resident and had been proud to call Senator Franken my Senator. His actions are inexcusable and disappointing and will undoubtedly hurt his effectiveness for causes important to women, my Minnesota neighbors, and Democrats should he remain in the Senate. But he is replaceable.

To my fellow Democrats who say that since the sexual harassment occurred before Franken was a U.S. Senator it should therefore be looked at in a different and more forgiving light, the same can be said of President Trump. The allegations made against him took place while he was a businessman. Do we give President Trump a pass? Is it relevant at all that Franken has two incidents of sexual harassment with one woman and Trump has 15 plus incidents with multiple victims, including much more serious allegations? It may have to be, unless we are willing to have a no tolerance bar for any male elected official who sexually harasses a women. Good luck getting male dominated government bodies to adopt such a standard. Maybe that’s yet another reason why we need more women in elected office?

The President is quick to suggest that somehow the difference between his situation and Senator Franken’s  is that well, Senator Franken has admitted the harassing behavior and he has not. That’s the Trump illogic at its finest.  Except Trump conveniently forgets he bragged about grabbing women by their genitals. That sounds like an admission to me. But then later Trump tries to take it all back, saying he really did not do such things and said it was just “locker room talk.” I think what this proves is that the President is a liar.  That’s a character flaw he and Roy Moore  appear to share.

The President and Roy Moore, unlike Franken, are unable or unwilling to accept responsibility and apologize.  We need and want our elected leaders to have the integrity to own their mistakes, apologize, and learn from them.

The President lamely suggests that somehow Al Franken’s admission and his and Roy Moore’s shameless hollow denials should explain why he thinks Al Franken should resign and why he and Roy Moore should not. Both Trump and Moore are each facing multiple allegations of sexual abuse or sexual harassment and they have continued their baseless denials. This does not prove their innocence. Rather, it only serves to provide more evidence of a President and wayward judge that are both unable to accept responsibility for their own moral and human failings and shows their continued white male privilege and power that facilitates and permits their blaming of their female victims.

At some point,  this is on us for allowing such abuses to continue and not demanding, as a society of moral and responsible adult citizens, their resignations or removal. We have now reached that point. At a time when women and our entire country need men to step up and do the right thing, what they get is a continuing disgusting display of boorish and outrageous behavior at the highest levels of our political leadership that insults and demeans not only all the women in this country, but also the men that love them. Our silence makes us complicit.

Senators and Congressmen are now demanding Roy Moore withdraw from the Alabama Senate race because, they now say,  they believe his accusers and that he is morally unfit to serve in the Senate. I agree. Yet those same Republican leaders owe it to the American people to explain why they don’t also believe the President’s accusers, find him morally unfit to serve, and demand that the President, a member of their own party, resign the presidency.  Hypocrisy needs to be called out regardless of party affiliation. Will we have the moral courage necessary to demand that our leaders have a moral compass? What happens if we don’t?

This should not be about politics. It’s about what’s right and what’s wrong. The facts matter. An employer rightfully takes a different course of disciplinary action against one of its employees who their investigations have shown to be a serial harasser  than they do against someone who has committed a single act. The seriousness of the harassment matters. Under the law, employers are required to take prompt and appropriate action to meaningfully address the sexual harassment, up to and including termination. Under the law, our society has determined  it is a crime for a 32 year old man to engage in sexual activity with a 14 year old girl. And that’s the way it should be. Anyone who does that should not be a United States Senator, they should be in jail.

We must be able to say some things are worse than others and require a different penalty, even in what’s demanded of our elected officials who screw up. Because that’s the human condition and it will continue to happen. We need to be capable of navigating nuance.. Hopefully, we are able to learn from it as voters and our own moral compasses will compel us to replace offenders with folks with a better moral compass. Our track record does not lead me to be optimistic. . . as long as men continue to be in control.

Alabama’s female Governor, Kay Ivey, who said she has no reason to disbelieve the women who have accused Roy Moore, has said she will vote for Moore, because Alabama needs a Republican in the United States Senate to keep their majority and to vote on Supreme Court justices and other matters. She’s picking a pedophile to serve over the Democratic candidate. And therein lies a lot of what continues to be wrong with America, picking party over politics and an inability or refusal to come together and do what’s right.

I still am yearning for that day where we demand  our politicians follow the sage  life advice provided by author and arm chair theologian, Anne Lamott, which is to “follow the rules and don’t be an asshole.”

 

“Me Too,” Harvey Weinstein, President Trump, and Changing the Narrative.

IMG_0211Having spent 25 years  as an attorney representing women (and some men) who were sexually harassed, I was inspired by the hundreds of thousands of brave women who have been sexually harassed and came forward to publicly say “Me Too.” But as I saw my social media feed fill up with women, relatives and friends of mine, proclaiming “Me Too,” I wanted to be sick. I know I was not alone.

But “alone” is  often what these brave women who come forward to name their harasser find themselves.  Having sued businesses, colleges, the government and the church on behalf of clients who were sexually harassed, I was continually appalled at how these courageous women were often not believed or re victimized by their employers, who tried to suggest they were “asking for it,” that it was consensual, or that they were bad employees with performance issues. It’s often difficult to find co-workers to support their version of the facts and substantiate the harassment  because co-workers fear they may lose their jobs if they speak out.

There are laws on the books that ostensibly protect people who report sexual harassment or participate in the investigative process from retaliation. But employers have the power and  often nuanced ways to negatively change employees working conditions and avoid liability for their illegal retaliation. Victims of sexual harassment, women, are often ostracized and eventually forced out. This is the reality of the world of a woman courageous enough to complain. We need to change this.

Much of the discussion that has flowed from the “Me Too” proclamations has focused on our misogynistic society, and what men can do, and not do, to improve and lessen this ongoing destructive  sexual harassment and abuse. That’s an essential conversation and I agree with most of the suggestions and encourage men to call out inappropriate behavior and harassment.

But I also want to call out a broken legal system and employers. Employers, start believing your women employees who are sexually harassed by your male employees. Don’t smear these victims because you think their complaining is somehow a declaration of war against the company. Fire the harassers. If and when you end up in litigation, please don’t try and “destroy” the victim of harassment who was just trying to do the job you hired them to do when they were illegally sexually harassed by your employees.

Defense attorneys representing employers, please think about how you would feel if the woman in front of you, the plaintiff,  was your wife, daughter or friend. She is somebody’s wife, daughter and friend. Does zealously representing your client mean you must shame and humiliate the plaintiff, the victim, during her deposition and at trial? You may say that a woman brings this type of scrutiny and hard ball tactics on herself when she elects to go to court. No, she does not. We attorneys and the judges condone it and allow it in the name of “justice.” The broken legal system and process we use is what we currently have available for victims to use to try and find “justice.” Attorneys have choices as to how they use their humanity in defense of their employer clients. Sometimes, wise counsel means having difficult conversations with clients and challenging them to be better than they are wanting to be.

If you want to bring a claim under federal law (in federal court) for sexual harassment, it’s made as a claim of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. Did you know that before you can even sue in federal court for sexual harassment you must first file an administrative claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)?  You have no choice. The thinking behind that longstanding requirement is to give the employer an opportunity to correct things before having to go to court. While conceptually  this is a healthy idea,  but in practice it typically sucks for victims.

Why? There is a backlog with the EEOC and it often takes them a year or more for their short staffed offices to get to claims and “investigate” and issue their findings. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Employers know this. Some drag the process out. At the end of the administrative process the EEOC issues a Right to Sue letter if no resolution is reached. I had a women come to me 2 1/2 years after she filed her EEOC complaint when she finally received  her Right to Sue letter and ask me if I could represent her in court and sue her former employer. But many of the witnesses were no longer around; a couple had died. Where’s the justice for victims of sexual harassment in such a broken system?

One practical solution would be to eliminate the mandatory requirement of victims of sexual harassment filing administratively with the EEOC if they want to bring a claim in federal court under federal law. Currently, you can bring a claim for sexual harassment to state court in Minnesota and North Dakota and many other states without going through the administrative process. We should urge our federal lawmakers to support such changes.

But remember, the Commander in Chief is a known sexual harasser. We should remind our lawmakers of that fact when we contact them to try and make it easier for victims to bring claims in federal court. President Trump has had numerous women accuse him of sexual harassment and, while a presidential candidate, a tape came out where the President had previously bragged of being able to, basically,  do what he wanted to women, including grabbing them by their genitals. America responded as you would expect to such revolting behavior, with over 60 million people voting  for him and electing  him president.  Feel like vomiting again? Me too.

Over the years, I had professional women come to my office with sexual harassment claims and decline to move forward and file lawsuits against their employers. Why? Because they knew that filing suit against their employer, even with a claim that the law gives them the right to bring, would be professional suicide. They believed they would forever be seen by prospective employers as a troublemaker. Our system is broken to the point that a women who is sexually harassed, the victim, is victimized again, career wise,  for standing up for her rights.

One thing I noticed over the years of representing women who had been sexually harassed was that there were not as many bold acts of harassment as people in the workplace became more familiar with the laws and protections afforded to victims of sexual harassment. However, the harassment became more nuanced and subtle. That was disturbing and creepy and made it even harder for victims to prove their harassment claims.

The Harvey Weinstein debacle recently lifted up the serial sexual harassment in the movie industry and the reluctance of people in the industry to share these well known secrets. That’s true in every industry.  We heard how Bill O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox paid millions of dollars to women O’Reilly sexually harassed  over the years to settle claims these women had. The most recent revelation was that O’Reilly paid $32 million to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit. Paying that amount in settlement, without going to trial and being ordered to pay, is unheard of and shows the power of old white men with money.

The outrageousness continued. 21st Century Fox, O’Reilly’s employer, knew of these multiple past settlements of sexual harassment claims against O’Reilly,  and the facts behind the $32 million dollar settlement that allegedly included non consensual sex (and all the awful conclusions that leads to). This amount is unprecedented. Nobody pays that amount if they did nothing wrong.

And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. 21st Century Fox  rewarded O’Reilly’s serial sexual harassment of their female employees by giving him a new four year contract extension worth $25 million a year, a raise from the $18 million a year he had been making. Because, you guessed it, his ratings were so high. Oh, you will be pleased to know Fox News supposedly included provisions in O’Reilly’s new contract that allows them to terminate his contract if they received any new claims of sexual harassment against him. Did you just throw up a little bit, again?

While O’Reilly is now gone from Fox News, what will Americans do to hold 21st Century Fox and Fox News accountable for their outlandish, sexist, profits at all cost behavior? Probably nothing. Will they boycott Fox News and stop watching them to hit them in the pocket book? Will they boycott companies still advertising on Fox? That’s unlikely. That’s not only too bad, but it speaks to our lack of moral courage and our own selfishness. We’re outraged, unless there’s something we want to watch. Unfortunately, that speaks more about Americans than Fox News. So stop watching Fox News and don’t buy the products of those who still advertise on Fox News.

What should women who are sexually harassed do? I encourage them to talk to an attorney knowledgeable in employment law as soon as the harassment starts so they can get counsel throughout the process and know their rights and filing deadlines. While some might suggest immediately reporting the sexual harassment to your company’s Human Resources department (assuming they have one), my experience over the years has been that it’s critical to remember that those folks in Human Resources are also paid by the company that pays the harasser, and at the end of the day, their loyalty is to the company, not the victim of the harassment. Get independent legal advice. Often attorneys will meet with you initially without charge.

The hundreds of thousands of women brave enough to say “Me Too,” on social media is only the tip of the iceberg. That should break our hearts and piss us off. Thank you to all the women for your courage and speaking out. My heart also breaks  for the even  larger number of women out there who we know have been sexually harassed, but who were not able to say “Me Too.” We see you and we believe you.

We men can and must do better. We can and must change our broken legal system. Speak up. Act. Now.

 

Sorry, Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski Are My Heroes, Not Senator John McCain

IMG_0203IMG_0204With the defeat of what Republican Senators had laughingly called a “skinny” repeal of the Affordable Care Act, we were again shown more evidence of the overwhelming hypocrisy that has defined the Trump administration and the Republican controlled Congress. To call their inhumane legislation “skinny” when it would have resulted in millions of people losing their health insurance, hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid cuts, and tax cuts for the wealthy, is the definition of hypocrisy.

I  have been critical of Senator John McCain in the past for his strong rhetoric and inability to bring any of his fellow Republican Senators along with him to a more moderate, common sense and bipartisan place. And it appears he is still struggling to bring other Republican senators to that place of common sense and willingness to work across the aisle with other senators to actually get stuff done.

All the thoughtful and heartfelt comments made about Senator McCain by his fellow Republican colleagues only after it was revealed Senator McCain has a terminal illness (and most likely about a year to live) felt both heartwarming and hypocritical to me. Perhaps that hypocrisy was magnified by Senator McCain’s own seemingly hypocritical actions.

Who, you ask, gets their life saved with health care paid for by the American people and then flies to D.C. to be sure there are enough Senate Republican votes to debate a health care bill he has condemned and that will take away health insurance from millions of those Americans who pay for your health care and salary? Senator McCain, that’s who.

Yes, I listened to Senator McCain’s speech where he poked his colleagues in the eye for their part in the broken legislative process and the Senate not getting anything done, along with the need to return to an orderly process and working together. I saw Senator McCain enter his “historic” and “heroic” vote against the horrible skinny repeal bill. But in the end, despite his words, and literally being a dead Senator walking, he again brought none of his colleagues with him.

There were 48 of Senator McCain’s supposedly beloved Republican colleagues that followed their fearful leader, Senator McConnell. The same man who spent the past 8 years focused on not letting the country’s first black president get anything done. The same “leader” who thought it made sense to have 12 old white men Senators, with no women, meet secretively behind closed doors, without any hearings, to craft the history making health care bill to finally rid America of the scourge called “Obamacare.”

But not all the other Republican Senators followed Majority Leader McConnell. Two brave WOMEN Senators did not. In fact, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also had both previously voted “no” to even move the skinny repeal bill forward in the first place, unlike Senator McCain. Their no votes came despite the Trump White House trying its best to bullying them, unsuccessfully, into falling in line to vote for an ill conceived, horrible bill that takes away folks’ health insurance, cuts hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid, gives the wealthy more money in tax cuts – all without offering fearful Americans any idea whatsoever what the hell would happen next. The hypocrisy of this Trump White House trying to bully strong women Senators should not be lost on anyone.

Think about that. That’s not leadership. That’s immoral.

The morning after these two heroic women Senators cast their no votes, along with Senator McCain and all Senate Democrats, we were immediately inundated with news reports of the maverick, war hero, Senator from Arizona flying all the way to D.C. to cast his heroic vote to help Americans and give his colleagues hell for, basically, being idiots and not doing the jobs they were sworn to do.

Would Senator McCain have been this bold had he not been diagnosed only eleven days earlier with a terminal illness? Is that too harsh or insensitive a question to ask, or really the only question to ask? Did the diagnosis finally get Senator McCain to the tipping point of being able to vote the way he did and be a truth teller on the Senate floor? I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing it played a large part. Equally as curious and troubling to me is that Senator McCain’s truth telling as a now beloved and dying Senator brought zero of his Republican colleagues with him.. There are no words for that.

Recently, after the Senate vote, I have seen some articles and social media postings of how both Senators Collins and  Murkowski were being unfairly relegated to the background while Sentor McCain was being lifted up as the true hero and maverick. Again, this should serve as a stark reminder of how poorly the men who control things in this country continue to treat women. Sexist.  Discriminatory. Paying women 78 cents on the dollar of what we pay men. The systemic list goes on. I would include the last presidential election as a part of that list.

For a country so determined to be great again, we do not seem  curious to search for the truth in this dynamic. Maybe Senator McCain’s actions calling for a return to bipartisanship, seeing compromise as necessary and not a dirty word, really was a major take away from this vote. I won’t disagree with that.

But to me, what underlies all of that, and demands a more nuanced and critical lens, is how we continue to treat, or more accurately, mistreat, women, especially strong women leaders whose actions can  intimidate weak and insecure men leaders. My hope is that we have the honesty, integrity and courage to learn more about ourselves and why we continue to treat women so poorly – and develop the needed will to change. Perhaps the realization that our country’s success depends on it will motivate the powers that be to change. Perhaps being “unelected” might help facilitate such real change.

This entire conversation seems paradoxical to me, considering the President’s own disturbing history of disrespectful and discriminatory treatment of women. He is part of the problem and culture that fosters this systemic problem. His behavior during the first six months of his term do not give me confidence that he has the tools to change.

We must proudly call Senators Collins and Murkowski the heroes that they truly are. These two strong women Senate leaders said “no” from the get go and put their sworn oath to this country above party politics. It was Senator McCain who followed the lead of Senators Collins and Murkowski, the true Senate heroes.

Americans need to pay attention to and recognize the women who actually led in this health care debate debacle. . . and the 49 Republican Senators who intentionally put party politics, tax cuts for the wealthy, and their own political power before the health of our families, their constituents. We need to do more than just “pay attention,” but actively work to elect more women legislators to serve us all. They have proven to be more generous listeners and better problem solvers.

We need more heroes.

 

 

Justice for Philando Castile After Not Guilty Verdicts: Will White Christians Follow Jesus or Their Privilege?

imageI was not surprised by the three not guilty verdicts in the recent trial of police officer Jeronimo Yanez for the shooting death of a young black man, Philando Castile. Saddened and disappointed, but not surprised. So now what? More prayers from faith leaders? Marching? Calls for calm?

One question I hear being asked is “when will this end?” When will young black men stop being shot by police? When the limited human condition does not offer up answers, I turn to my faith.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6: 8.  And Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us with words from 1963 that are as pertinent today in 2017 when he says “[T]he ultimate measure of  a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.”

Every Sunday and the other six days of the week I am challenged to follow a radical Jesus in this messy world.  While my faith in God continues to be  strong, there is an urgency of action that we as white Christians in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) struggle to open our hearts to. We continue to be an almost all white denomination and have spoken for years about our desire to become more “diverse.” But that change does not come. When will this end?

We get to choose, as white Christians, how, or even if, we engage. We don’t have to fear driving while black. That’s our white privilege. Philando Castile and the other young black men that have been shot and killed by police, and those other young black men that will be shot and killed in the future, do not have that choice, or enjoy that privilege that we as white Christians take for granted every day. We pray, and make statements of support  for racial justice and equity and healing, and  sometimes even gather  in support, but actually risk  little to practice loving our black neighbors as ourselves . . . and follow Jesus.

Recently, many ELCA synods held their annual synod assemblies.  I saw in those gatherings an interest in the 500 year celebration of the Reformation, racial justice, and a lifting up of how risky it can be to be a Lutheran (from Martin Luther to Reinhold Niebuhr). But I challenge my fellow white Christians to prayerfully ask what are we, as white Christians in Minneapolis, St. Paul and this country, actually “risking,” as young black men continue to be shot and killed by police in a series of systems run by white Christians and choked by racism.

Are we risking our prestige? Our jobs? Our lives? Or, is our “risk” merely our own discomfort other white Lutherans might not like or perhaps even be made to feel uncomfortable by what we say or do? That does not feel risky to me. That feels like white privilege.

I recently attended a gathering of Lutherans in my own Minneapolis Synod to talk of how we can do more work to address racism. This is important and meaningful work.  Our Synod had adopted a resolution in 2016 that spoke out against racism and one of the things we were talking about that night was how congregations might adopt such a statement and what that process might look like in our individual congregations.

Yet, after the recent Yanez verdicts, I find myself asking what is the “risk” in adopting such a statement?  Maybe it’s an important step forward. Will adopting such a statement lead to tangible action on the part of white Christians, which is certainly the intent, or will the statements  help us feel like we have acted and then sit in a binder on a shelf? Adopting a statement may be a good start, but it also feels pretty safe to me, not risky.

Following this itinerant person of color, Jesus, is risky. White Christian  leadership continues to  politely nudge, gently prod, and invite our fellow white Christians to enter this “difficult”  and “hard” conversation about racism  however  their own white privileged comfort level allows them to engage. In other words, we as white Christians continue to facilitate our own white privilege in this process. The challenge and controversy of now, and following a radical Jesus, does not have space any more for our privilege, politeness or complacency. It is a complacency that becomes complicity,  as the next Philando Castile is shot by police.

Will we somehow miraculously get braver, as white Christians, the more often we see our country’s young black men shot by police? I truly want to know. Where is our line in the sand? Where is that place in our heart? If we are blind to how far over that line we are now, I am worried that we might never see.

St. Paul ELCA Bishop Patricia Lull issued a statement following the not guilty  verdicts in the Yanez case.  She said, in part, that  “. . . one jury has spoken. Another jury is still out. That second jury weighs our own response as people of faith. . . The power of a Living God is strong enough to lead us where we need to go as people of faith. We are not there yet. We are on the way together.”

I see the “one jury” as humans working within the confines of a broken and racist criminal justice system. We have to change that system. The other jury, that’s out,  seems to include Jesus. That’s where I look, beyond our limited and broken human construct of racist systems, to the divine. We are being asked to trust in the power of something beyond the broken human system, the divine, a Living God. Are we, as white Christians, listening? What will our “response” be as people of faith? To be “on the way,” it seems to me we must have open hearts willing to follow – to move us, to change us, to act. . . together.

What if the congregations working on racial justice statements for their congregations in our Synod all put up Black Lives Matter signs at their church? What if the St. Paul and Minneapolis Synods sent out requests that asked congregations to immediately take such action, to move forward, together. Too controversial? Too risky? Don’t we agree as white Christians that Black Lives Matter? We probably don’t all agree, and that’s also part of the problem. Remember, we’re following Jesus. . .or we aren’t. Are we worried, as an almost entirely white Lutheran church, that white members who disagree, or feel uncomfortable with such action, might leave the church and take their treasure with them if we push this too fast? Probably. Is that really what we are risking?

The congregation where I was confirmed (a thousand years ago) and where my parents were members for over thirty years, Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church, in south Minneapolis, is one of the largest Lutheran churches in America. It’s also almost all white. My understanding is that it has been the practice in the past of having only Mt. Olivet pastors preach at Mt. Olivet. Maybe that has changed, but apparently nobody from outside Mt. Olivet preaches. Why is that?

What if Mt. Olivet invited Jason Sole, President of the Minneapolis NAACP, to preach? Or, perhaps former Minneapolis NAACP  President, civil rights activist and current Minneapolis mayoral candidate, Nekima Levy-Pounds? They could even ask our church’s pastor, Kelly Chatman, to preach. Sole, Levy-Pounds, and Chatman are all black. What if they did this several times a year?

What is the risk to Mt. Olivet if they invite a black leader in the community to preach? Not controlling what’s said or heard? Church members may be uncomfortable or not agree with the sermon content? Maybe we need to be asking  what the risk is if they do not take such action.

But members also would have an opportunity to generously listen and perhaps hear what it’s like “driving while black” in Minneapolis. They might learn about the “talk” black parents have with their young sons to help them not get shot by police. Hearts may be opened. New conversations and relationships may emerge. That seems like a healthy risk.

These are times of great challenge and controversy. Are we, as white Christians, willing to be true neighbors to our black neighbors and risk our position, prestige or even our life for their welfare? Are we willing to start by risking being uncomfortable and listening, together?

God help us if we are not.

 

 

 

What if We Followed the Dalai Lama By Practicing Warmheartedness in Our Politics?

imageThe American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is described as a conservative think tank.  Recently AEI President,  Arthur Brooks, shared a message about how the problem with politics is really about how we talk to each other. He says we don’t have an anger problem in American politics, we have a contempt problem.

Brooks says contempt is defined by social psychologists  as “the utter conviction of the worthlessness of another human being.” According to Brooks, if you listen to people talk to each other today in political life, they talk to each other with pure contempt. We never totally get over it if someone talks to us with contempt, according to Brooks. Brooks postulates that if we really want to solve the problem with political polarization today, we need to solve the contempt problem. He related his conversations with the Dalai  Lama (with whom he sometimes writes) and how he asked the Dalai Lama for advice on how he can deal with this problem when he feels contempt. The Dalai Lama suggested Brooks answer somebody’s contempt “by practicing warmheartedness.”

Brooks thinks this is true and that practicing warmheartedness can be “utterly world changing,” asking us to  imagine if we had our leaders practicing warmheartedness, and if all of us choose to answer contempt with warm heartedness. Brooks asks if we are going to do the right thing and show true strength and answer somebody’s contempt with warmheartedness.

Having served as a Democratic state Senator, and being admittedly politically wired, I admit that my first instinct upon surveying our country’s broken political landscape is to trot out my Democratic talking points and accusations to blame Republicans for creating the political brokenness of today. And then Republicans would perhaps respond in kind because, well, that’s what we continue to do in today’s broken America. We appear to be tentative or even afraid of trying new ways of engaging each other in our broken politics.

Maybe the marches I have attended, and the millions who turned out to protest the path this country is headed down since President Trump took office,  is the catalyst required to motivate and propel us all to start practicing warmheartedness. What if the millions of folks who participated in the marches pledged to move forward practicing warmheartedness? Maybe that’s what is finally needed to be able to get anything done, to live together, and because at the end of the day it might just be the right thing for each of us to do as human beings.

Imagine Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, elected by us to represent us, sitting down together over a meal, regularly, with a commitment to practice warmheartedness.  To many this idea sounds  painfully naive, unrealistic and out of touch with today’s real world. Remember, a key to this is “practice.” We all need practice at doing things in our life to get better at doing them.

The older I get the more I struggle to intentionally push myself to practice those things I am not good at.  We seem wired to want to do things we have a competence at or comfort level doing. Practicing warmheartedness will push our comfort boundaries. We will screw it up and clumsily make our way forward. That’s how we learn, by practicing. Hopefully, by practicing we will become  more proficient. . . and warmer hearted.

I ask you in good faith to consider what is our workable alternative to “practicing”  warmheartedness to start the process of mending America’s  brokenness, before it can no longer be mended. More of the same? More marches? Uniting Democrats to change things? More demonizing of our neighbors who are a different color, religion, rich, poor or a host of other divisive and cold hearted practices we are used to following? More Tweets?

We should also be asking how we are educating the next generation, our children, with respect to the need and value of their practicing warmheartedness in the world. The Dalai Lama has said “I have always had this view about the modern education system: we pay attention to brain development, but the development of warmheartedness we take for granted.” The Dalai Lama believes a wam heart is teachable. Are we currently teaching our children how to practice warmheartedness? If not, why not?

It seems America is laser focused on trying to ensure that its children are educated in ways that allow them to “compete” globally,  taking great pains to emphasize the need to be more than just competitive in math and science. We can’t fall behind the rest of the world. I agree with the need for our children to be able to compete in the global work force and not be left behind. I wonder if we paid as much attention to teaching our children about the importance, the humanity, of practicing warmheartedness, if we might be preparing them to be more thoughtful global citizens, neighbors and even political adversaries.

I look to my Christian faith for guidance as to how I am called to practice warmheartedness. Where is our willingness as Christians to practice warmheartedness in our political interactions with our neighbors? Are self professed Christians intentionally ignoring the call in Mark 12:31 to love their neighbor as themselves? Did Jesus mean he was expecting us to love our neighbors as ourselves in our every day life, except for how we practice our party politics, because that’s really hard so we are somehow free to do whatever we please? I’m guessing not.

Following Jesus with a warm heart is hard.

Practicing warmheartedness will be be immediately tested. Reimagining how we meet the contempt that crosses our path in social media and our interactions with folks in the world by practicing warmheartedness will likely reveal our own human shortcomings and limitations. But it may also reveal and help us cultivate strengths we did not even  know we possessed. And that is both wonderful and terrifying.

Perhaps those strengths might include listening generously to understand and respect another’s contrary position and our need to be in relationship to get anything done. Perhaps it might lead us to the self discovery of new strengths and weaknesses we have not yet imagined.

Let the practicing begin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Migration of Six Million Black Americans From the South to the North and West – How Far Have We Come?

imageIsabel Wilkerson, in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” tells the epic story of America”s great migration. She shares the untold story of the decades long (1915 – 1970) migration of black citizens, searching for a better way of life for themselves and their families, who fled the South for cities in the North  and West.

Did you know the South resorted to blockades and arrests to try and keep black people from leaving? I didn’t.  The South tried to stem the flow of information to blacks in the South so they would not leave town  and Wilkerson notes how at one point the chief of police in Meridian, Mississippi “ordered copies of the Chicago Defender confiscated before they could be sold, fearing it was putting ideas into colored people’s heads.”

None of this actual “history” was in any of the history books white America  was using to “educate” me in Minneapolis in the 1960’s and 1970’s or my children in high school or college in the 1990’s and into this new century. My educated guess is we are still providing  an incomplete and inaccurate history to our next generation. We continue to provide a white, sanitized,  and false  history because. . . we can’t handle the truth? As white Americans, we are afraid of what systemic change might look like for us personally and that limits, if not paralyzes, our desire to be curious, truth tellers on ourselves, or take action.

I am reading  only small parts of these stories at a time because they detail the blatant and systemic racism, violence and dehumanization that black Americans were subjected to during these decades of “migration.” It’s a painful and disturbing journey that, in many ways, continues to this day. Wilkerson interviewed some 1200 people for her book and my guess is that these stories represent but the  tip of the ugly iceberg that was part of the larger real American history that we did not want told. It makes white America, us, look bad, racist.

Now, in 2017, Republicans in five states have quietly introduced a number of legislative proposals to criminalize and discourage peaceful protest. In Minnesota, where I live, this comes in response to a string of high profile highway and road closures following the police shooting of a black man, Philando Castille, and led by Black Lives Matter and other activists. In Minnesota, the bill would dramatically increase fines and allow prosecutors to seek a year in jail for protesters blocking a highway.

In addition to the highway protest bill, Republican lawmakers introduced a separate bill that greatly increases penalties for nonviolent cases dealing with “obstructing the legal process.” Nonviolent obstruction of authorities would carry “imprisonment of not less than 12 months” and a fine of up to $10.000.

As a former North Dakota State Senator, I am embarrassed by the bill a Republican in the North Dakota House introduced this legislative session  that essentially made it legal for a motorist to drive over a protester with their car – if it was done “negligently” or “accidentally.”  Really. This bill was introduced in response to and frustration with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests by and in support of Native folks.

Jordan Kushner, a civil rights lawyer in Minneapolis, said the Republican motivation to penalize protests was likely in response to the general public hostility towards Black Lives Matter in the “overwhelmingly white suburban and rural districts they represent.” Maybe folks in suburban and rural districts will cry foul and say just give it a rest, stop trying to make everything about race. I’ve heard that before. Please don’t tell me all lives matter.

What I continue to experience is my fellow white citizens being offended by Black Lives Matter lifting up our white privilege (that most white citizens take for granted) as being a big part of the problem. When was the last time these white Republican lawmakers in Minnesota were inconvenienced because of their race? That is something people of color deal with daily. This is not the “Minnesota nice” that  those of us who are white like to imagine is everyone’s reality,  because it’s the version that’s more comfortable for us to accept.  But it’s not the reality of people of color, our neighbors, our fellow Americans. Their reality is “Minnesota passive-aggressive.”

One interesting side note. When these bills were being debated in the Minnesota House, the argument was being made by supporters of these bills that they were needed because Black Lives Matter protesters were not letting ambulances through on the highways, and lives were at risk. Yet Representative Ilhan Omar, America’s first Somali-American lawmaker, during her floor speech in opposition to such free speech and minority unfriendly legislation, showed a picture taken reflecting the protesters actually moving out of the way to let an ambulance through. Do facts still matter to the white Minnesota legislators who introduce such fear based and racist legislation?

The legislation still passed.

How far have we really come since the great migration? We may not be physically  keeping black people from leaving the South for the North in 2017, but these types of bills our white elected leaders pass unfairly penalize and target people of color for speaking out and protesting the shootings of young men of color  by police. Recently a Texas police officer was charged with murder after he repeatedly fired a rifle into a moving car and killed  15 year old Jordan Edwards, who is black, and was leaving a party (with his two brothers).

This all comes at a time when President Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has not just started to walk back, but run back, the Department of Justice’s commitment to federal oversight of police departments with discriminatory patterns and practices, a priority of the previous Obama administration. A coincidence?

A few weeks ago, Sessions ordered a review of all consent decrees between police departments and the Department of Justice. Most recently, a Federal Judge rejected Sessions’ after the fact attempt to intervene and locked in place a consent decree already agreed to between the city of Baltimor’s police department and the Department of Justice. The Baltimore police department wanted the decree. Despite that reality, Sessions expressed his grave concerns on how he thought some of the provisions of the decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and make the city less safe.

Less safe for who? An old white guy of privilege from Alabama who has  a checkered civil rights record?  Jordan Edwards, or his brothers who watched the teen murdered by a Texas police officer?

Jeff Sessions  is the man President Trump picked to head the Department of Justice, to be our country’s top law enforcement official. It starts at the top. The President is the “top,” and his words and actions have clearly emboldened white state legislators to bring legislation that has a discriminatory effect on people of color.

Like it or not, it does continue to be about race. Perhaps what history is still desperately trying to teach us is that when white Americans see a way for them in to benefit from an end to systemic racism, only then might real and substantive change begin to occur. We need to want to try and change.

What can I do as just one person you might ask? You can: listen; learn; read; ask questions; participate in Black Lives Matter marches and other protests; run for elected office; talk honestly with your white friends about their white privilege; make new friends; develop friendships and relationships with people of color; write letters to the editor; pray; repent; help organize forums addressing systemic racism in the community; join the ACLU; start a blog; volunteer with social justice based organizations; campaign for candidates that share your values; donate money to organizations and candidates that actively oppose and  fight racism; find new and creative ways to become engaged; don’t ever give up; and, above all, VOTE.

If I can do these things, you can too. Because if not us, than who?