Violence: A Call to Action


We are confounded, once again.

Suppositions, stereotypes, generalizations, abstractions: these collide as we await the facts.

Apprehending  facts,  understanding shuns us.

We discern no single truth will ever revive the moment  that broke our world.

Narratives – colored by dogma; reenactments – suffused with pain; chronicles –  cold with science; reports – protective of particular interests; all emerge, and, in profusion, crowd the event itself.  Uncertainty and  shared vulnerability; guilt and shame; sorrow and loss; power and powerlessness; these are now the stuff of advancing legend and turgid conflict.

If it is a young white man with a gun, the surge to blame the bullies; invective on the doctors and the teachers who let that man-child walk unmedicated on the street.  Condemn the mothers, and the videos, and Hollywood. And, of course, the gun laws, our cowboy culture caused the crime.

If we face a  military mass murderer, our cries become less certain.  Again, the doctors, and the gun laws are to blame.  But we, also, shoulder shame:  we mistreat our “heroes.”  Those we trained to kill  for country, asserting a  just cause, conceiving war will leave no trace on the young psyche; the fragile soul  sent forth in isolation, sometimes desolation, and discarded on his return.

And if police personnel kill, our  bonds may fracture: this collusion that we all risk as much each day.  More splintered if the kill happens to be racial:  that this is not happenstance is suddenly exposed.

Certainly, not because white cops seek to kill black children.  And,  not because those of color commit more crime. But because how we deploy our civilian control resources puts those with less more at risk than those with enough.

But,  in the frenzy and the fury that follows the murder, in the necessary quest to grasp the moment, restore order, and prevent another kill, the seeds of fundamental change are never sown.

Nor is the ground prepared.

Individual justice may not  be possible.

And  the roar which follows, creates a tunnel of distortion.

Calls for basic education are silenced by talk of higher taxes. Pleas for jobs with living wages are termed disloyal and greedy. Proposals for representation of all races in government and industry  are discarded as “racist.”

We have entered a passage where shrilled voices  dissipate without communication.

Ours is a pornographic relationship with the gun.  The constitution did not guarantee private home military arsenals.  But in the days of 3D printers, the gun control lobby  cannot continue to fight the battle it did in 1985.

Violence occurs by gun. By knife, machete, fist and bean bag bullet. Drug overdoses and untreated viruses in poor communities deliver violent death.  Violence is imposed  through hunger caused by poverty, by disease, by inadequate housing.  Income inequality is violent.

Around the country, the brave are speaking loudly; some so clearly the great vacuüm of purpose may be filled.

Again, there are vigils which  mythologize the vibrant humanity of the dead.

Still, more are dying, more are killing, old refrains are repeated,  too few are listening.

If any one of us  succeeds in exiting the tunnel, perhaps change could be instigated.  Not through some major media event or  by savvy use of the internet, crowd-funding or any other modern, inspired, tactic.  Perhaps, the time has come for wholly “retro,”  and in that sense, “conservative” action:  perhaps the time has come when the only voice clearly heard is our own: the change we seek must begin within ourselves ,and, once seeded there, in our sphere.

 “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Leo Tolstoy


Suffer the Immigrants…

My father had lived half his life before emigrating permanently, making the United States his home.   Almost forty, though no longer adorned with whatever resilience and sang-froid youth had bestowed, he engaged life in America with a spirit of hope which mystifies still, these decades after he has gone.

My mind summons our first house, brick, box-like, postage-stamp cubicle play yard, neighbor atop neighbor. Though he would, in time, acquire grander, this first house, just outside the city limits, announced achievement, proclaimed him resident in that new land.

Sun shivering on  sliver buttons and badges as  men, red-faced and scowling in hot blue uniforms access the glass front door. Sneering voices forbid Sunday radio music the neighbors will not allow. The child is unseen, sweltering shame.

Sadness in the sun-aged face, wary as the local journalist photographs his shining Chevrolet sedan. Pride, too true, it seems, a deadly sin. Thick blue bruise of paint spewed on the hood, bled down the side.  No witnesses, no crime, the police had said. 

The sharp shock and sting of the stone that struck the head of the little girl walking home alone. Hateful slur followed  but not the boys who propel the now familiar call: “Go back where you came from, Go back there! We don’t want your kind here!”

I will never forget, near ecstasy on my father’s face the night a man, exuding youth and hope,  was elected President of the United States:   that man who looked like him and spoke like him, who was not afraid to say he actually was like him, he worshiped like my father. At times, it seemed to me, my father worshiped him.

Not much later, my father renounced the citizenship of the beloved land of his birth; he identified as a full American along with my older sister, who also had been born abroad.  The house he shared with my mother was filled with the young president’s photograph; his recorded speeches were played instead of the radio on Sunday afternoon, and when he was assassinated, a huge full-color bust portrait hung in their home, displacing the Pope, for the rest of their joint lives.

My parents were Irish immigrants.

The taunt was “Shanty Irish.”

The President was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It is painful to  contemplate children in oven-like buses, confused and frightened, as adults, sometimes with costumes, sometimes with signs, sometimes with weapons, hurl insults and slurs and even rocks or glass  and froth with rage.

When I tell my immigration story, today, the reaction, largely, is to question: how did my parents find such a bizarre pocket of anti-Irish feeling to settle? We no longer recognize ourselves in that tale.  We have forgotten the vitriol of the 1960 presidential campaign, the genuine anti-Catholic prejudice Kennedy faced down.   The lingering bigotry the Irish confronted  in 1960 seems impossible:  “No Irish Need Apply ” signs not yet quaint antiques for sale in the United States as  ” No Irish, No Coloured, No Dogs”  in Britain.

But the accommodation of forgetting cannot erase the dark reality of history.

Immigration policy is complex and important.It has become a throw away truism to state “we are a nation of immigrants.”

We serve ourselves well to recall that the children we revile today we may describe as “the bedrock of our society” tomorrow: as integrated and indispensable as though they always “belonged.”



Freedom’s Price? Corporate Freedom of Religious Expression Trumps A Woman’s Right of Choice

Religion without humanity is poor human stuff.

Sojourner Truth

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal (Pensees) 1670

There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.  ~Mahatma Gandhi

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
Karl Marx


Western Art, Song and Literature  elevate religious thought and feeling, canon and belief throughout centuries.  Women burning as witches, brother slaying brother, specifics of the creed determine lives.  Families fleeing intolerance and persecution, cultures reproduce in unlikely spaces across the world. The United States proclaims a refuge for the persecuted: Puritan, Quaker, Catholic, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Lutheran, Anglican. All voices may rise in free worship; the atheist song as well. Free speech, free association, freedom of religion.  Until today.

Compromised, contained, categorized, freedom of Religion, certainly.  Legal minds splitting threads of legal thought.  Fine, fine filaments. Today,  the Supreme Court  severed the strand.

A circle of owners, a private family business,  Hobby Lobby sells bric a brac, becomes wildly successful.  The family establishes a trust, then forms a ‘closely held corporation’.  Corporate law creates a shield for  individual family members.  The corporate form protects against legal liability. It bestows abundant tax benefits to the family. The  corporation donates generously, strategically to social and election campaigns, pursues  political objectives.  Hobby Lobby, one of Forbes 150 top US  closely held corporations, spends fortunes to create a political agenda.

 Hobby Lobby need not account for how it spends  money:  a corporation can be a  “person” under US law.

And, Hobby Lobby, need not be consistent in belief and behavior.

Hobby Lobby, the corporation, unfettered, free, invests workers money wisely, even into funds of other corporations which are makers of medicines and devices for birth control.(These companies’ business violates Hobby Lobby’s ethical code.  But the fund makes a profit.)  No worker sues to divest this course.  Corporate freedom of investment remains unencumbered.

 Hobby Lobby denies  female workers  access to health care options which include contraceptive care.   Corporate owners announce that their personal moral and religious beliefs oppose reproductive planning health care. They oppose this care even if used to treat a strictly medical condition. The owners assert their corporation has the same religious views.  They assert the right for free exercise of religion by their family corporation.

The Corporation is victorious once again.

The Supreme Court will not require closely held corporations to direct money into undifferentiated funds which finance a variety of health benefits under comprehensive health plans, including reproductive care. Not when the Corporation asserts that the provision of reproductive care violates a sincerely held religious value. Never mind that many workers  have different but equally important and as sincerely held religious beliefs.  Never mind that these workers financially depend on the job for health care and insurance. Do not consider that any worker whose values are offended can opt out of the insurance program or the reproductive benefits.  Why these factors do not matter is not clear.  Corporate free exercise of religion, apparently, trumps all.

Before today, a worker at Hobby Lobby who wanted access to reproductive health care whether for contraception or medical reasons had insurance coverage to obtain it.   Now, no matter the individual worker’s belief system,  she has no reproductive health care insurance coverage whether it is for family planning or it is medically necessary.

What other corporate ethical codes will trump a worker’s own?  Hobby Lobby, and countless other corporate consciences, could contrive religious exemptions to many legal mandates.  Many heard before, will they find favor if raised anew?   “It’s against my religious beliefs to allow…” blood transfusions; antidepressants; vaccinations; anesthesia; gelatin covered, pig derived or animal tested medicine!   “My religion precludes me from…”  employing women, paying minimum wages; employing integrated races; employing integrated religions, employing homosexuals, providing professional services to persons not of my religion, not of my race, not of my sexual orientation.

But, is it again about the woman, the worker, the working woman’s womb?  Is it  coincidence that the challenge which reached the court concerned women’s health?  Should we overlook that this challenge  implicates contraception?

Byzantine though the anti-birth control politicians seem, they are relentless.  A fully realized woman, empowered, employed, sexually fulfilled, a mother, healthy,  and above all happy with this life, affronts grotesque puritan values.  Values which mock us around the modern world.  Values so rooted at home we do not feel the constriction.

The sun is shining bright in Philadelphia,  merely 90 miles away from that decision.  Still, no greater darkness has manifest in the life of women from the law, in decades.