A Transatlantic Dialogue

 

When you look out at the ocean, do you ever wonder who is on the other side?  I do! So when we were at the beach in South Carolina, I felt compelled to look it up.  Turns out that Morocco is directly across the Atlantic from South Carolina.  I had recently been to Morocco, so I could vividly picture what was on the ocean as I walked along the shore.

For this week’s Photo Challenge: Dialogue, we are asked to bring  two photos into dialogue.  The first photo, taken on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, looks directly east across the Atlantic Ocean towards Morocco.  The second photo, taken in Rabat, looks directly west towards South Carolina.  The photographic dialogue even reflects the time difference; the first photo was taken in the early morning, which is afternoon in Morocco.

Sometimes we need a reminder that our beautiful world is really not so big after all. And that often our connections can be greater than our differences.

 

What to find out what’s on the other side of the ocean from where you are?  The Washington Post published a quick reference – check it out here!

Advertisements

Pete Seeger & Rise Up Singing!

I can’t remember a time before I knew his voice.  Pete Seeger’s songs are part of the soundtrack of my childhood.  When my own children were young, we sang together his songs “Goodnight, Irene” and “We Shall Overcome” and  “If I Had a Hammer.  Yet, in spite of the fact that Pete Seeger gave thousands of performances, I only saw him in person one time.   He was not on a stage.  He was not with a crowd.  Pete Seeger was standing alone in the rain on the side of the highway near his home in New York’s Hudson River Valley.   Pete Seeger was holding neither a banjo nor a guitar, but instead a large sign protesting the Iraq War.   As we drove by, I noticed that his mouth was open and moving.  “Hey, I think that’s Pete Seeger!”  I said, turning in my seat to continue watching him through the foggy car window.

And I realized that his mouth was moving because – alone in the rain, on the side of a highway – Pete Seeger was singing.  He was singing his heart out for peace in our world.

What I saw that day made me especially thankful to Pete Seeger, not only for his music and his activism, but for his courage and conviction. Pete Seeger is someone who really does make me believe, deep in my heart, that we SHALL  overcome one day.

For Pete Seeger (May 13, 1919 – January 27, 2014)

Rise Up Singing!

(Originally published on October 14, 2011 and updated on January 28, 2014)

History shows the incredible power of music to inspire and influence, to energize and heal.  The power of song can be seen in its impact on movement-building,  from the anti-slavery and  labor union movements in the 1800s to the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s.  Liberation music has been important throughout the world, including songs of resistance during the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.  Most recently, music has been part of this year’s Arab Spring.  In protests against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, for example, music was a powerful way to convey the voice of the people.  (NPR story did a great story on The Songs of The Egyptian Protest)

I absolutely love Rise Up Singing, the folk music group singing songbook.  The book contains the chords and lyrics to more than the 1200 songs.  When you flip through it, you get a sense of how many songs there are out there that speak to such a wide variety of social justice issues.  Rise Up Singing grew out of Peoples Songs, Inc., Sing Out! The Folk Song Magazine and the post-World War II American folk song movement led by Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, and many others who sought to combine political activism with music.

But music that inspires me to stand up for human rights is not just about protest songs or folk music.  Music speaks to the individual. Inspiration is personal.   In 2006, I was in Geneva with representatives from dozens of U.S. human rights groups to participate in the UN’s review of  US compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  We were all working on different issues and we came from all over the country, from Florida to Hawaii.

As an icebreaker at our first meeting, we were asked, “What is your favorite human rights song?”  I remember being amazed as we went around the room at the tremendous variety in terms of songs, genres, languages, meanings that had inspired this group of activists.   I told the group that my song was “If I Had a Hammer”.  (My kids were still quite young at the time and we were listening to a lot of Pete Seeger, who is my own personal antidote to Barney.)

Since then, I’ve been making a mental playlist of the songs that have inspired me over the years.   My list of songs is actually long enough for several playlists, but I decided to pull out just a few songs from each of the eras of my life so far.  This was a real challenge and there are a lot of obvious omissions.  Maybe I’ll just have to do another playlist someday.  In the meantime, I’ve got the HUMAN RIGHTS WARRIOR PLAYLIST for you on YouTube.  You can also link to each song individually below.   Enjoy!

From My Childhood

  1. If I Had a HammerPete Seeger      (See above. Pete >Barney.)
  2. Free to Be You and Me   – Marlo Thomas & Friends     In my opinion, one of the best things about being a kid in the 70s.
  3. The PreambleSchoolhouse Rock      Did you know that the U.S. Constitution is one of the first documents to establish universal principles of human rights?
  4. Star Wars Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner – John Williams   People say Star Wars was a Western set in space, but I saw the Empire for the police state that it was. Extrajudicial execution of Luke’s family,  arbitrary detention of Han Solo et al. Not to mention the genocide on Alderaan.
  5. FreedomRichie Havens         My parents had the Woodstock album.  I think I know this and every other song on it by heart.
From My Youth 
  1.  Sunday Bloody SundayU2       I first heard this on my high school radio station WBRH. I went right to the library and looked up the 1972 Bloody Sunday Massacre in Northern Ireland. (Yes, I’m a nerd. I know.)
  2. Holiday in CambodiaDead Kennedys      I went through a big DK phase in high school.  Also, I knew a family that had fled the Pol Pot regime.  I still think of them when I hear this song.
  3. Talkin’ Bout a Revolution Tracy Chapman    Growing up in Louisiana, I had seen poverty.   But it didn’t prepare me for the mid-80s urban poverty I saw when I went to college in New Haven.  This song still rings true 25 years later.
  4. Tell Me Why  – Bronski Beat      I remember this as the first song I heard that directly addressed prejudice against homosexuals. Rock on!
  5. Waiting for the Great Leap ForwardBilly Bragg     The lyrics have changed since I first bought Worker’s Playtime (on cassette!) in college, but I think it is possible that I have listened it to 1,000,000 times.
From My Adulthood
  1. All You Facists (Are Going to Lose) – Lyrics by Woody Guthrie, Music by Billy Bragg & Wilco     From the Mermaid Avenue album.  Yes, the Facists are bound to lose some day.
  2. HurricaneBob Dylan       Rubin “Hurricane” Carter did an event for us to help raise money for our Death Penalty project.   If anyone ever wants to make a movie about your life, he highly recommends that you ask that they get Denzel Washington to play you.
  3. Living Like a Refugee –  Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Star Band                     I spent the first 5 years of my career working with asylum seekers.   This song captures many of the things I heard about their experiences.
  4. Face Down  – Red Jumpsuit Apparatus     Violence against women is the most common human rights violation in the world – 1 in 3 women will experience abuse in her lifetime.   In the US, a woman is beaten or assaulted every 9 seconds.  Kudos to these guys for singing about it.
  5. MinorityGreen Day      Sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone thinks the way I do about human rights – yet.
  6. Sons & DaughtersThe Decemberists        This is kind of where I am right now.  With sons and daughter.  Hoping to “Hear all the bombs fade away.”

The Thankful Turkey

It is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States.  This uniquely American holiday is supposed to remind us of all that we have to be thankful for, both as individuals and as a nation, but I fear that this sometimes gets lost in our collective national appetite for overindulgence (we don’t stop eating until we feel remorse) and entertainment (Macy’s Parade, football, holiday TV specials).  That we carry out these traditions in the company of our closest friends and family members is important and perhaps even the saving grace of the day, but have we lost the true spirit of Thanksgiving?

I was at my daughter’s school last week for Turkey Bingo. At this event, 25 lucky families won a turkey.  We did not, although we came within a B11 of winning.   As we were leaving, she grabbed my hand and said, “I want to show you something.” She led me out into the hall to a giant, colorful turkey on the wall.  She explained that each of the students had written what they were thankful for on a feather.

The thoughts expressed on the feathers give a picture of the typical things for which the average American kid is thankful.  I saw feathers that said things like:

“I am thankful for friends and family.”  “I am thankful for my mom.” “I am thankful for my sisters.”

“I am thankful for my grandma and grandpa.” “I’m thankful for my daddy.”

Other feathers said things like:

“I’m thankful for my cat” and “I am thankful for my xBox.”

I noticed a couple of feathers, though, that said things like:

“I’m thankful to be here”  and “I am thankful for America.”

“I am thankful to live in a place with no war.”

My daughter goes to a school that has a large number of English Language Learner students.  Many came to this country as refugees from Somalia or other countries in East Africa, but she also has friends who came to this country as refugees from Tibet or were adopted from orphanages in China.  There are also kids at her school from Central and South America.

Sometimes we forget that the Pilgrims were refugees.  In England, they were persecuted on account of their religious beliefs.  They took the tremendous risk of coming to this new land in order to be free to practice their own religion.  And giving thanks for their freedom was a big part of the first Thanksgiving.

As I looked at that turkey on the wall of my daughter’s school, I had a moment of inspiration. When all of those individual feathers, childishly and colorfully decorated, are put together, you get a lovely image.  But you also get much more.  When all of those truthful and thankful thoughts are put together, you feel the true spirit of Thanksgiving.

And that is the inspiration and the spirit in which I hope to celebrate this holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, from me and (one of) mine!

A Photo Tribute to George Winston’s December

This time of year always reminds me of George Winston’s December.  I used to listen to it in college, when I was studying for finals.  I’d play it on my cassette deck, rewind, then press play again.  But the music often made me visualize things that weren’t on the pages I was supposed to be reading.

George Winston’s December set the perfect tone for studying.  Calm and clear, but with the slight urgency of Night: Part II Midnight.  It also carried a hopeful hint of the excitement of the holidays to come.  The album actually came out several years before I went to college, but I discovered it my freshman year.  Snow was new to me, too.  I grew up in Louisiana, where once or twice I remember them calling off school because the temperature was below freezing.

The first time I really experienced snow was in December of 1985.  It started snowing late one night during Reading Period and Yale’s entire freshman class seemed to erupt onto Old Campus.  Huge, wet snowflakes drifted down and coated the lawn or swirled sideways and up, as if in a snowglobe.  Someone put their speakers in an open common room window, Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons blasting from the stereo. I still think of that night and the laughing, shadowy figures dancing  in the softly falling snow. It was magical – the kind of night where you would kiss a stranger out of sheer joy and beauty.

A massive snowball fight erupted before long.  Having never made a snowball before, I was at a distinct disadvantage.  I took a direct hit eventually and had to go inside to melt the packed snow from my ear canal.  “Probably for the best,” I thought. “Finals are starting soon.”

So, as musical commentary on the seasons, I think George Winston wins hands down over Vivaldi.  When I listen to George Winston’s December, I’ve always pictured scenes from nature and – oddly enough – happy children. This year, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the release of George Winston’s December, I decided to document the waning of autumn and waxing of winter with photographs.  In some ways, George Winston’s December is also a theme for me in doing human rights work.  We are moving forward, calm and clear, with a slight sense of urgency but with hopeful hints of the future.

Thanksgiving

Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head

Joy

Prelude

Carol of the Bells

Part I. Snow

Part II.  Midnight

Part III. Minstrels

Variations on the Kanon by Pachebel

The Holly & The Ivy

Some Children See Him

Peace

A Christmas Song

Sleep Baby Mine

The Sharing Table

I first heard about “The Sharing Table” when my son came home from kindergarten and exclaimed, “No snack for me today!  I had three hot dogs – plus my home lunch.” I pictured the Oscar Wienermobile pulling up at his school, tossing hot dogs like Mardi Gras beads.  “Where did you get three hot dogs?” “The Sharing Table, of course.”

The concept is simple.  If there is something in your school lunch that you don’t like, you leave it on the table.  If there is something in the school lunch that you want more of, or – if you are like my children –  you would like to supplement to your home lunch, well, you can just help yourself.  I couldn’t find any official Minneapolis Public Schools food policy, so I quizzed the kids.

Me:  “So, how did you find out about The Sharing Table?”

  • Oldest son (age 12):  “Duh!  It is right next to the Allergy Aware Table. You can’t miss it.” (This one has a peanut allergy.)
  • Youngest son (age 9):  “I didn’t really know about it, but then I think the Lunchroom Teacher told us at some point. The Lunchroom Teacher is kind of mean. If you forget your lunch, you go to The Sharing Table.”
  • Daughter (age 6 1/2):  “It’s right there! Kids put their grapes there.  I like it when I can get the ‘mandrigan’ oranges.  Sometimes I take something and put it in my lunchbox for a snack later.”

All three agreed that the only real rules were that the items on the Sharing Table had to be from the school lunch, i.e. pre-packaged. Sometimes the pre-packaged school lunches bum me out.  When I was growing up in Louisiana, the lunches were not pre-packaged.  They were made in the cafeteria kitchen by large African-American women who always seemed to be stirring giant stainless steel pots and having a grand old time.  The East Baton Rouge Parish schools offered up jambalaya, shrimp creole, crawfish etouffee, cornbread, buttery rolls, yams, succotash, John Marzetti casserole, iced spice cake – for only 90 cents a lunch. My high school cafeteria had both a “hot lunch” side and a gumbo/salad bar/milkshake side.

Those East Baton Rouge Parish school lunches were some of the best in the world.  The melamine compartment lunch trays (which I recall as being pastel green, orange, yellow, and blue) came back to the kitchen clean as a whistle – except when greens were served.  Nobody  EVER touched the greens.  The greens remained on the trays in the perfect ice cream scooper-formed mounds in which they were served.   The rumor was that the greens were actually grass and, in fact, there was some circumstantial evidence to support the hypothesis.   Not only did they look exactly like grass, but I myself observed over years – at Magnolia Woods Elementary, at Wildwood Elementary, at Glasgow Middle Magnet – that greens were always on the menu THE DAY AFTER the janitors mowed.  At Baton Rouge Magnet High, where students came from all over the parish, we did an informal survey and discovered that this was happening in all the school cafeterias.  Harbinger of the locovore movement? Or just coincidence?  You be the judge.  All I know is that nobody EVER touched the greens.

One greens day when I was a sophomore in high school, I brought my lunch tray back to the kitchen.  My tray was clean, except for the greens.  On the conveyor belt, there was a long line of trays with ice cream scoop mounds of greens waiting to be dumped.  The cafeteria lady who was spraying down the trays looked me in the eye and said,

“Y’all is wasting perfectly good greens. Y’all must not know what it’s like not having enough to eat.”

Y’all, in case you don’t know, can be used both in the singular as well as the plural.  I understood exactly what she was saying that day – she meant both.  The only possible response to this was, “Yes, ma’am.”

By which I meant, “I’m sorry.”

Last year 65% of kids in grades K-8 qualified for free and reduced lunch.  I think The Sharing Table is a fine way to make sure that all of these kids get enough to eat.  At my kids’ schools they also have R.O.T., where the kids have to sort the remains of their lunches into recycling, organics, and trash.  I think that’s a good idea, too.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the many blessings in my life: for my family, my health, the opportunity to do good work.  I rediscovered my love of writing this year and I’m grateful for that, too.  I’m thankful to that long-ago Baton Rouge High School lunchlady.  And I’m also thankful for The Sharing Table.  My children are learning lessons at school that are not in any curriculum.  They are learning a lifestyle of avoiding waste and paying attention to what happens to their garbage.  They are learning, by giving and taking equally, that if you have more than you need, you should share it.  If you need more than you have, you can take it without questions or shame.  It’s not political, it’s just about being together in a community.  Today I am thankful that I am not alone in raising these children to be good citizens of their community.

Throwdown* Crawfish Etouffe

1 lb. crawfish tail meat (can also use shrimp or catfish)

2-3 teaspoons Tony Cacherie’s Creole seasoning (if you don’t have that, use 2 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. garlic powder and 1/2 tsp. cayenne)

1/2 stick of butter

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 bunches scallions (green onions), chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 can Rotel Tomatoes (diced tomatoes with green chiles)

1 can Campell’s Cream of Mushroom soup (the TRUE secret of Cajun cooking!)

Mix seasoning with crawfish and put in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Over medium-high heat, melt the butter in a heavy pot.  Add the chopped onions, celery and garlic and saute until the yellow onion is translucent.  Add the seasoned crawfish and mix real good.  After about a minue, add the can of soup (no water) and stir.  Then add the Rotel tomatoes and mix.  Lower the heat, cover the pot, and cook the rice.  Stir the etoufee often and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.  Season to taste with more Tony’s.

*The lazy version

JOHN MARZETTI CASSEROLE

Not my recipe, but I ate a whole lot of it and make it for my family now.  I do wonder how a dish from Ohio became such a mainstay on the EBRP public school lunch menu. Here is the source for this version of the recipe.

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

¾ lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2 lbs. lean ground beef

3 ½ cups tomato sauce

1 ½ lbs. cheddar cheese, shredded

1 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked and drained

In skillet, saute onion in oil until limp, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and fry until juices are released, about 5 minutes. Add beef and cook, stirring, breaking up clumps, until no longer red. Remove from heat and mix in tomato sauce and all but 1 cup of cheese. Transfer to greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish and add macaroni. Toss gently to mix. Scatter remaining cheese on top. Bake, uncovered, in 350-degree oven until browned and bubbling (35 to 40 minutes). Serves 10 to 12.

Rise Up Singing!

Pete Seeger died yesterday at the age of 94.  I can’t remember a time before I knew his voice; his songs are part of the soundtrack of my childhood.  I began listening to Pete Seeger’s music again more recently, when my own children were young.  Together, we sang his songs “Goodnight, Irene” and “We Shall Overcome” and  “If I Had a Hammer.  Yet, in spite of the fact that Pete Seeger gave thousands of performances during my lifetime, I only saw him in person once.   He was not on a stage.   Pete Seeger was standing alone in the rain on the side of the highway near his home in New York’s Hudson Valley.  He was holding not a banjo or guitar, but a sign protesting the Iraq War.   As we drove by, I noticed that his mouth was open and moving.  “Hey, I think that’s Pete Seeger!”  I said, turning in my seat to continue watching him.

And I realized that his mouth was moving because – alone in the rain, on the side of a highway- Pete Seeger was singing his heart out for peace.

I’m thankful to Pete Seeger for his music and his activism – and for being someone who who really does make me believe, deep in my heart, that “We Shall Overcome” one day.

Rise Up Singing!

(Originally published on October 14, 2011 and updated on January 28, 2014)

History shows the incredible power of music to inspire and influence, to energize and heal.  The power of song can be seen in its impact on movement-building,  from the anti-slavery and  labor union movements in the 1800s to the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s.  Liberation music has been important throughout the world, including songs of resistance during the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.  Most recently, music has been part of this year’s Arab Spring.  In protests against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, for example, music was a powerful way to convey the voice of the people.  (NPR story did a great story on The Songs of The Egyptian Protest)

I absolutely love Rise Up Singing, the folk music group singing songbook.  The book contains the chords and lyrics to more than the 1200 songs.  When you flip through it, you get a sense of how many songs there are out there that speak to such a wide variety of social justice issues.  Rise Up Singing grew out of Peoples Songs, Inc., Sing Out! The Folk Song Magazine and the post-World War II American folk song movement led by Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, and many others who sought to combine political activism with music.

But music that inspires me to stand up for human rights is not just about protest songs or folk music.  Music speaks to the individual. Inspiration is personal.   In 2006, I was in Geneva with representatives from dozens of U.S. human rights groups to participate in the UN’s review of  US compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  We were all working on different issues and we came from all over the country, from Florida to Hawaii.

As an icebreaker at our first meeting, we were asked, “What is your favorite human rights song?”  I remember being amazed as we went around the room at the tremendous variety in terms of songs, genres, languages, meanings that had inspired this group of activists.   I told the group that my song was “If I Had a Hammer”.  (My kids were still quite young at the time and we were listening to a lot of Pete Seeger, who is my own personal antidote to Barney.)

Since then, I’ve been making a mental playlist of the songs that have inspired me over the years.   My list of songs is actually long enough for several playlists, but I decided to pull out just a few songs from each of the eras of my life so far.  This was a real challenge and there are a lot of obvious omissions.  Maybe I’ll just have to do another playlist someday.

In the meantime, I’ve got the HUMAN RIGHTS WARRIOR PLAYLIST for you on YouTube.  You can also link to each song individually below.   Enjoy!

From My Childhood

  1. If I Had a HammerPete Seeger      (See above. Pete >Barney.)
  2. Free to Be You and Me   – Marlo Thomas & Friends     In my opinion, one of the best things about being a kid in the 70s.
  3. The PreambleSchoolhouse Rock      Did you know that the U.S. Constitution is one of the first documents to establish universal principles of human rights?
  4. Star Wars Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner – John Williams   People say Star Wars was a Western set in space, but I saw the Empire for the police state that it was. Extrajudicial execution of Luke’s family,  arbitrary detention of Han Solo et al. Not to mention the genocide on Alderaan.
  5. FreedomRichie Havens         My parents had the Woodstock album.  I think I know this and every other song on it by heart.
From My Youth 
  1.  Sunday Bloody SundayU2       I first heard this on my high school radio station WBRH. I went right to the library and looked up the 1972 Bloody Sunday Massacre in Northern Ireland. (Yes, I’m a nerd. I know.)
  2. Holiday in CambodiaDead Kennedys      I went through a big DK phase in high school.  Also, I knew a family that had fled the Pol Pot regime.  I still think of them when I hear this song.
  3. Talkin’ Bout a Revolution Tracy Chapman    Growing up in Louisiana, I had seen poverty.   But it didn’t prepare me for the mid-80s urban poverty I saw when I went to college in New Haven.  This song still rings true 25 years later.
  4. Tell Me Why  – Bronski Beat      I remember this as the first song I heard that directly addressed prejudice against LGBT persons. Rock on!
  5. Waiting for the Great Leap ForwardBilly Bragg     The lyrics have changed since I first bought Worker’s Playtime (on cassette!) in college, but I think it is possible that I have listened it to 1,000,000 times.
From My Adulthood
  1. All You Facists (Are Going to Lose) – Lyrics by Woody Guthrie, Music by Billy Bragg & Wilco     From the Mermaid Avenue album.  Yes, the Facists are bound to lose some day.
  2. HurricaneBob Dylan       Rubin “Hurricane” Carter did an event for us to help raise money for our Death Penalty project.   If anyone ever wants to make a movie about your life, he highly recommends that you ask that they get Denzel Washington to play you.
  3. Living Like a Refugee –  Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Star Band                     I spent the first 5 years of my career working with asylum seekers.   This song captures many of the things I heard about their experiences.
  4. Face Down  – Red Jumpsuit Apparatus     Violence against women is the most common human rights violation in the world – 1 in 3 women will experience abuse in her lifetime.   In the US, a woman is beaten or assaulted every 9 seconds.  Kudos to these guys for singing about it.
  5. MinorityGreen Day      Sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone thinks the way I do about human rights – yet.
  6. Sons & DaughtersThe Decemberists        This is kind of where I am right now.  With sons and daughter.  Hoping to “Hear all the bombs fade away.”