Sunday, November 20, 2016

Dear Mrs. Clinton...

I had looked forward to writing you a letter of congratulations after you moved into the White House as the first woman President of the United States. I had hoped to see you in person some day and shake your hand and be just as exhilarated as I was when I shook Geraldine Ferraro’s, our first woman vice presidential candidate. As far as I’m concerned, you’re right up there with Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the countless women who stepped out of their traditional roles as women in order to make a difference to our nation and our world.

I want to thank you for your work as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State where you were intelligent, well-prepared, understood the purpose of public service and possessed the courage to sustain the terrible and strange negativity that was spewed out against you. You never backed down or cowered from your opponents. I know of few women or men who could have done that—on the national stage no less!

I also want to thank you for being gracious in defeat and conceding this election in the true spirit of our democracy after such a contentious and disappointing battle, especially after winning the popular vote.

I believe you would have been a good president America could be proud of, and I’m truly sorry more people chose not to see that in you. The misogyny that occurred during the campaign is so typical of what happens to women who dare to lead.

Some—both men and women—just can’t take the thought of a woman leader. It unsettles them. They believe something is wrong and out-of-whack, so they cook up hysterical excuses to slap you down. Any woman who has tried to assert or advance herself knows this to be true. Any woman who has an ounce of ambition has experienced what it is like to be called out and trounced. And yet, you found the strength to overcome these obstacles and persevere.

I believe you are a woman with a depth of soul and purpose. These are especially admirable qualities to have in politics, which is easily the most exciting, albeit dirtiest game around. Unfortunately, sexism took hold of the nation just as racism, homophobia and ethnic and religious discrimination are rearing their ugly heads again all over our country now. This is very disturbing, but maybe some good will come out of it. Maybe Americans will be moved to unite and fight against these injustices. Maybe more women will pursue political, institutional and community leadership. Maybe, we will become a stronger nation because women and men decided to work together to address the real issues of our time, namely, environmental degradation, economic inequality, tolerance for differences, student debt, poverty, violence and war, issues that were somehow overlooked during this campaign.

I am sorry about the election. You deserved to win. You would have been a positive, open and progressive force on our nation and our world, but we blew it. My gosh, almost 50 percent of Americans didn’t even bother to vote!

I hope you find peace in these next few months and over the years. And I hope you are comforted by the fact that although you didn’t win the presidency, you are like Susan B. Anthony who didn’t see the vote for women but cleared a path for other capable women in the future.

God bless you, Mrs. Clinton, thanks for your service--and I still hope to shake your hand someday.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Light for Aleppo

Click here for WMMT news story announcing the CSJ prayer service for Aleppo

Click here for WMMT news story on the prayer service

The Sisters of St. Joseph held a special prayer service for the people of Aleppo, Syria, who are victims of the terrible war and destruction there. This service is part of a worldwide solidarity movement for peace to let the people, aid workers, charities and victims of war in Aleppo know that they are not forgotten.

6 p.m. 
front steps of Nazareth Center 
3427 Gull Road 

Luminaries made by the sisters lit up the front steps of the building as people join together in prayer.

For those who could not attend the service, the sisters asked that they light a candle for the people of Aleppo and place it in the front windows of their homes.

A Light for Aleppo movement began in Scotland. 

A Prayer for the People of Syria

Almighty eternal God, source of all compassion,
the promise of your mercy and saving help fills our hearts with hope.

Hear the cries of the people of Syria, especially the children;
bring healing to those suffering from the violence,
and comfort to those mourning the dead.

Empower and encourage Syria's neighbors in their care and welcome for 

Convert the hearts of those who have taken u arms,
and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.

O God of hope and Father of mercy,
your Holy Spirit inspires us to look beyond ourselves and our own needs.

Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation
with enemies.

Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria,
and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the World,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Day After the Trump Victory

 Donald Trump’s victory left a lot of us numb and speechless. His rise to the presidency was inconceivable and yet throughout the 18-month campaign, he defied all odds and made it to the top.

At first I couldn’t figure out what to do with this news, but I was certain I didn’t want to be angry for the next four years. That attitude, in fact, elected Trump and I didn’t want to feed it. Instead, I decided to handle this disaster in a spiritual way. So I spent the day in prayer and consultation with octogenarian nuns who have seen it all and later attended an inter-faith prayer service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Kalamazoo. Throughout the day I seemed to encounter people who helped me formulate a plan of action for dealing with this unforeseen and potentially destructive next four years. I pass it on to you as a sincere offering of hope and action.

·      Regard this time as a special time in our country that calls us to act with love, compassion, peace and joy to all the people we encounter instead of acting rashly out of hatred, violence or disgust.

·      Focus on the local community and make it a good place to live for everyone. Take care of others by empathetic listening.

·      Support and protect people who are from minority groups, different faiths, the LGBT community, pregnant women, women vulnerable to rape and sexual harassment, international visitors, immigrants, refugees, study abroad students and anyone who may be a target for bullying, ridicule or violence.

·      Cry if you must. Be sad if you are sad. But pick yourself up again and be with people. Don’t dwell on negative feelings. Instead, hold another’s pain, fear, anger and disappointment in your hand for a while so they can re-orient themselves to take the necessary time they need to find a level of comfort and solitude that will enable them to deal with their difficulties.

·      Pray for those who voted for Trump because they felt disenfranchised and angry. They were hurting but we failed to hear them. They felt alone, betrayed and scared about their future, but we failed to go to them. Sometimes, we even mocked them. Remember that they are our fellow Americans, and some of them are from our families. We need to be there with them and with each other much like we did after the 9/11 attacks.

·      Watch less TV news and avoid too much social media. Rely less on polls and pundits—both conservative and liberal. Read more serious magazines and newspapers and watch more thoughtful media that analyze the issues and provide the facts. Then, look at the people around you and see where they are, hear what they say. Look into your own heart and use your own eyes and ears to understand what is going on. Spend more time in solitude because it grounds you, calms you, helps you see more clearly and be more receptive to the needs of others. This is an experiment in “otherness” rather then “me-ness.”

A Trump victory was definitely not what I wanted, but now that it is here, let’s regard it an opportunity for us to change ourselves, especially in the absence of genuine leadership from government—which will now include "outsider" Trump. As Detroit philosopher and activist Grace Lee Boggs said: “We are the leaders we have been waiting for.” Let's move ourselves in that direction. A Trump victory is an opportunity for us to make our communities good, safe and vital places to live. It is an opportunity for creativity. It is an opportunity to make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others if we can commit ourselves to love, gentleness, peace and joy.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Possibilities Before Us with a Hillary Clinton Win

Two days to go before the election. Nothing else has exploded in our faces—yet. There are cases of voter suppression, courtesy of the GOP, but no new information on Hillary’s e-mails or Trump’s sexual predation. The real fear looming over us is the aftermath of either a Trump win or the backlash of a Hillary presidency.

I think Hillary has played fair, although she’s never backed down from a fight. Donald is a bully, a name caller and an outright nasty, inappropriate person. My hope is that we don’t have to hear from him again, but I doubt that will happen. His thin skin will not allow him to lose graciously or quietly, and he’ll probably grumble that “the election was rigged” until the day he dies—just as he kept the birther argument alive for five years and wouldn’t quit. He is such a little man and the only thing keeping him afloat is his money and his hatred for people not like him. That he should appeal to so many people shows the downward slide in the conscience of our country and its values. What an embarrassment he would be as the leader of the most powerful country in the world!

I hope Hillary wins. The polls seem to be in her favor. Despite all the negativity toward her and the scandals surrounding her, I think she will make a great president. But that can only happen if she has some coattails in the Senate and comes close to winning 30 House seats. The FBI will be after her. Die-hard Trump supporters will be after her. Frankly, I don’t know how she finds the strength to go on. It’s not just about her ambition—and she has plenty of it. There is a biggness about her, a biggness of soul that runs through her veins and allows her to take the hits and keep on going. I couldn’t do that even at the county politics level and here she is taking it at the national level not to mention the international level with Putin’s alleged shenanigans. What strength and courage she has! That’s the kind of president I want. That’s the kind of leadership we need.

Hillary is certainly a role model for all women and girls. And, now, she is about to become president of the United States, our first woman president. She’s controversial, yes, but I think that’s mostly because she is a woman. Surprisingly, that fact didn’t really stick during the campaign. It was present through Trump’s Access Hollywood tape and his nasty comments about women, but it wasn’t directly addressed. It was as though he didn’t even acknowledge Hillary was a woman. Instead, he focused on Hillary’s e-mails, which were not clearly a crime at the time, and the Clinton Foundation, which has done a lot of good for a lot of people.

The poisonous environment we have endured over the past two years of this election cycle is likely to intensify after Hillary is elected and takes office. Misogyny will undoubtedly take on newer, more overt levels throughout the country and then it will be obvious that sexism was the central issue of this campaign. But maybe some good will come out of it. Maybe women will unite and fight sexist discrimination they still encounter and that Hillary will encounter. And if we do, maybe we will become stronger—together. Maybe we will create an undercurrent that quietly and surreptitiously changes the world, but no one notices for a while. Hillary’s presidency will not be about liberals and conservatives fighting it out to the death, but about men and women working together to shape a new world that is able to meet the real challenges ahead of us, namely, environmental degradation, tolerance for differences, student debt, poverty, war. This is the possibility before us if Hillary wins.

God bless our country. We are approaching the chance of radically changing who we are and how we will influence the world—and we will all be participants in our democracy, not spectators of reality TV.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns

Elections today are won by “nudges of turnout” with two points here and six points there that decide close races, especially in our polarized political environment.

To get these nudges, political scientists and professional campaign operatives generate and analyze thousands of bits of voter data, which is available through public record and market research. As a result, a whole new area of political science research has emerged that combines computer technology with behavioral science in order to determine who voters are and how they can be persuaded to vote.

Sasha Issenberg, author of he Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, spoke to students and faculty recently at the annual William Weber Lecture in Government and Society on how this sophisticated, data-driven system works.

The three-time author and political journalist for Bloomberg and formerly Slate and Boston Globe became aware of this new kind of campaigning during the 2008 presidential election when he covered John McCain’s campaign in Michigan.

Data-driven campaigns actually began in the 1960s with punch card computers creating databases on voters. In the 1970s, data was organized into precincts and included names of voters, their gender, age, race/ethnicity and political party affiliation. In the 1990s, campaigns copied consumer marketers’ tactics in identifying and persuading voters.

“Campaigns never interact with people individually,” said Issenberg, “but they are able to see the electorate all at once.”

Political scientists had been explaining voter behavior as a rational activity of citizenship. They also focused on measuring the effectiveness of television, radio, direct mail and phone banks.

In 1998, two Yale political scientists, Alan Gerber and Don Green, began conducting experiments that measured and analyzed voter motivations. They found that people act in the social context of their peers and can be persuaded to do something if they are thanked rather than if they are asked.

“You will probably get letters in the mail this fall thanking you for voting in 2012 and alerting you to the election on November 8,” said Issenberg.

Trump has defied the type data-driven campaign and instead plays to the mass media and Twitter.

“Trump’s campaign is not targeted,” said Issenberg. “He’s using his personality and persuasion through the logic of network television where it gets people to pay attention and hopefully come back to watch.”

The William Weber Lecture in Government and Society was founded by Bill Weber, a 1939 graduate of Kalamazoo College who until his death in 2011, traveled from California back to K College to attend these lectures.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Leaving our "Extractivist" past behind is about survival

This article appeared in on October 26, 2016

The tension between what is politically possible under the world’s current political and economic systems and what is ecologically necessary exposes the need for change, said Naomi Klein, keynote speaker for the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership's annual Without Borders conference held last weekend at Kalamazoo College. While the Paris climate change agreement looked like the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era, it is not legally binding nor can it make enough of a difference to change the course ecological disaster.

“Fossil fuel frontiers have to be closed if we have any hope of a future,” said Klein. “Politicians have absolutely no plan to do this.”

Doing something about climate change has failed since 1988 when neoliberalism emerged to promote privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending to enhance the private sector in the economy. Such policies have created in people a profound sense of hopelessness about climate change, said Klein.

“We are told that selfishness and short-sightedness is part of human nature, which prevents us acting,” said Klein. “This is not true and it steers us away from an analysis of our [capitalist] system. In fact, the fight for survival is human nature.”

Many local, grassroots groups are taking on climate change as they see its connection to an unjust economic system that is failing for a vast majority of people all over the planet, she said.
Klein challenged the audience to work for “climate justice” by reversing the “extractivist” point of view of the Earth and promoting the “caretaking” of one another, an ethos indigenous people advocate.

“It’s not just ‘energy democracy’ but ‘energy justice’ that we need,” said Klein. “This leads to clean energy projects and jobs.”

She also emphasized that service work like nursing, child care, public interest media should be redefined as climate work that sets out to create a “caring and repairing economy.”

“We need to embed justice in every aspect of our lives,” said Klein. “The people are hungry for transformational change, and we have to go for it on all fronts.”

Photo: Naomi Klein (b. May 5, 1970), Canadian journalist, author and activist. Warsaw (Poland), November 19, 2008. Photo by Mariusz Kubik. Via Wikimedia Commons. 


Friday, August 12, 2016

Transformative Travel -- from Encore Magazine

Photographer:  Melissa Zeithammel

Travel can change you, and writing about your travels can help you to see the world with new eyes and new possibilities. It was a belief in this transformative power of travel that led Sonya Bernard-Hollins to form a club allowing girls from Kalamazoo to Ann Arbor to travel and write about their travels.

The Merze Tate Explorers club — the Merze Tate Travel Writers Club until last year — was inspired by an 80-year-old photo of Merze Tate, says Bernard-Hollins.

Bernard-Hollins had been a reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette when she first learned of Tate in 2003 while researching African-American firsts of Western Michigan University. Tate, a professor, scholar and expert on U.S. diplomacy, was the first black woman to receive a bachelor's degree from Western State Teachers College — now WMU — in 1927. During her career, Tate explored the world, learned five languages and worked as a writer and photographer for the U.S. State Department.

Bernard-Hollins found a “gold mine” of information about Tate in WMU's archives, including a photo “which never left me,” she says. The photo was of a travel club for students that Tate created in 1928 when she was a history teacher at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. The club’s intent was to teach students more about U.S. history by traveling to places like Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Niagara Falls.

“This was during the Depression years of 1928, and Indianapolis was the heart of the Ku Klux Klan,” says Bernard-Hollins. “Many of the parents of the children in the club were servants and chauffeurs, a future they expected for their own children. While the parents wanted more for their children, Tate's efforts of taking African-American students on educational excursions met with critical questions from the media. However, Tate's vision was to expose young people to the world so that they could go beyond the expectations of their time.”

Inspired by Tate and thinking “a travel club for girls would be fun,” Bernard-Hollins created the Merze Tate Travel Writers Club in 2008. The club’s purpose was to provide girls with an opportunity to travel, discover women who had made an impact on their communities and write about their experiences.

Bernard-Hollins received a $2,000 grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to create the program.

The Merze Tate Travel Writers Club began with 12 girls, who had to apply, be interviewed and demonstrate their writing skills. Members met two Saturdays each month during the school year, and their first trips included visits to Detroit to see the Motown Museum, Wayne State University and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and to Tuskegee, Alabama, to see the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum. There, they met original Tuskegee airmen and a woman who stuffed parachutes for the airmen.

In the second year of the club, more than 50 girls participated. In its third year, club members created a documentary on Tate’s life, The World Through the Lens of Merze Tate. It debuted at the Grand Rapids Public Museum during Black History Month in 2012.

“We always have the girls' mothers for chaperones on the trips, and many of them had never been to the places we were going,” says Bernard-Hollins. “As we went through the years and families saw how excited the girls were, more and more volunteers came forth, including the girls' fathers and aunts.”

Bernard-Hollins also emphasizes career and leadership development to the girls. Members meet local professional women from various occupations to help them think about future careers. One of these women was Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, the former president of Kalamazoo College.

“Dr. Wilson-Oyelaran was seated in the boardroom when the girls arrived, but none of them had a clue as to who she was,” says Bernard-Hollins. “When she was introduced as the president, they all perked up. That showed me that exposing them to influential people can make a huge difference for them.”

Eight of the original 12 club members went to college, says Bernard-Hollins. One of those young women, Tori Zackery, 19, is a sophomore at Michigan State University studying photojournalism. In 2015, Zackery received a $2,000 study-abroad scholarship to visit Berlin, Munich and Paris, and she credits the travel club as her inspiration.

“I didn't realize at the time how valuable it would become to be able to look beyond the surface of a place I've lived my entire life and report on its history and secrets,” says Zackery. “Those skills separate tourists from travelers,
 and they became extremely useful during my time in Europe.”

In 2013, Bernard-Hollins established a week-long residential Travel Writers Academy on the campus of Kalamazoo College. It allows girls in grades 4-12 to experience college life and interact with women from various career fields and with world travel experiences. The academy participants then write about their experiences and publish them in the organization’s annual Girls Can! magazine, which is unveiled during Art Hop in September.

In 2015, the organization became a nonprofit and changed its name to Merze Tate Explorers. In addition to girls from Kalamazoo, it now has members from Ann Arbor, Albion, Battle Creek, Richland and Portage.

Merze Tate traveled around the world twice, and now the Merze Tate Explorers club helps facilitate international travel opportunities for its members as well. In 2015, Claire Khabeiry and Natasha Mahonie, who were both 15 at the time and members since 2009, went to France for 30 days. The Greg Jennings Foundation covered half of their travel expenses, while The Faces of America program provided additional funding. Fundraisers and the girls’ families paid the rest.

Bernard-Hollins admits she didn't have a complete plan when she decided to start the Merze Tate Explorers but says there has been a consistent philosophy behind its success.

“We eliminate all excuses not to dream big.”