Breaking Stone – A Poem

Written by Irma Ilustre, Manheim Township. This piece was first published on June 17, 2019 in Irma’s Blog. Reprinted here with permission from the author.

I looked at you

With your short hair and black square glasses

An 80s band t-shirt tucked into slim waist, denim shorts that fell a tad below your knees

I could see the curved outline of your breast when you turned to look at me

Appreciatively

Like I was looking at you.

.

Hey, you said

The simple greeting caused my skin to pucker

While you moistened, then bit your full bottom lip

And readjusted your glasses with slender, honey colored fingers topped with dark purple nail polish

Hey, I said

Because that’s the best pick up line.

.

And so We started

Asking and answering

Feeling out yet avoiding the urge to touch

Softness against softness.

Then the hard truth came around the corner

Time to go, babe, he said

The sadness in your eyes

As my face fell in my hands and

My fear of the truth hardening

Until I turned to stone.

.

Immobilized

Stuck in the life carved out for me

Since birth

Since before birth

The expectations hewn into a 5 foot 4 inch alcove.

Then your touch on my hand, soft like the kiss of a butterfly

Strong like the arch of a rainbow

Pressing a paper against my calloused skin

.

I look at you and brave a smile.

©️2020 Lancaster Speaks Up. All rights reserved.

This website is maintained by the founding members of Lancaster SPEAKS Up. All writing and art contained on this blog post represent the thoughts and opinions of its author only.

COVID-19 Testing in Lancaster County

Written by Eric Kearsley, Willow Street. This piece was first published on June 8, 2020 in LNP/Lancaster Online. Reprinted here with permission from the author.

Last week the politically polarized Lancaster County Commissioners came together and unanimously approved a plan to use some of the funds provided by the CARES Act passed by Congress to monitor and manage COVID-19 in our community.  Their plan included a provision for providing free, one-time testing for COVID-19 for all residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities in our county as well as a rapid increase in the availability of testing (an initial goal of 1000 tests per day) complemented by contact tracing for the rest of us.  This is a good start.

However, skilled care facilities have the option to decline to participate.  Given the limited availability and cost for testing as well as the vulnerability of this population, it would be unconscionable for a skilled care facility to decline this opportunity.  The LNP should monitor this program and report the participation of our skilled nursing facilities. 

©️2020 Lancaster Speaks Up. All rights reserved.

This website is maintained by the founding members of Lancaster SPEAKS Up. All writing and art contained on this blog post represent the thoughts and opinions of its author only.

A Christian-Veteran-Doctor-Father’s Thoughts about the Death of Breonna Taylor

Written by Justin Wilson, MD, Manheim Township. This piece was first posted on Sept. 24, 2020 on Facebook. Reprinted here with permission from the author.

I don’t often post much, and I definitely never post anything political or about current events.  But now, I have been moved in such a manner that not posting my thoughts would be soul crushing and a serious error in judgment, given what’s at stake.  This is going to be long, so bear with me.  

First, I want to get something out of the way before questions arise about my feelings for my community and country.  I served in the United States Army and was discharged honorably with the rank of Major. 

I love my country

Furthermore, even though I am getting a little “long in the tooth” for military service, the skillset I provide would make them happily accept me again for service, should the dire need arise. I meet all the weight and PT requirements they would require to join again, and I would do exactly that. 

I say again, I love my country. 

My family has given love to this country for many generations with military service – including my dad, uncles, and cousins – dating back to the Civil War, at least.  Enough said?

I am a Christian man who gives to the church.  I love my Lord and Savior. 

I give monetarily to the community and volunteer my time.  I love my community. 

Lastly, anyone who has met me for more than a minute knows I am a kind individual.  I provide healthcare to many. Anyone who walks through the front door and is under my care is treated no less than I would treat my own mother, regardless of whom they are.  There are no race, creed, religious or sexual orientation requirements for that love, it is freely given. 

I love people. 

So, before anyone wants to criticize my right to vocalize criticism or say that I’m attacking/don’t love the country, I would hope that they have done ALL of those things, and would again step-up to the plate with service to the nation, as I would, before they speak.  That being said, I would not personally criticize another’s right to express their beliefs in a lawful and respectful manner, even without having done the above.  The only requirement I would have, if any, is to be a decent person.

Now, to the matter at hand. 

My heart had been limping along for the last couple of months, but when that devastating grand jury verdict was released, it was completely shattered.  I am not a man who cries easily (ask my wife) but I was brought to tears over the decision not to charge the police who killed Breonna Taylor with any serious crimes. 

All the memories of Halloween costumes, Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas presents, they all come to mind.  And to know that the person who I love so dearly in those memories could be gone in the blink of an eye without a sign of public outcry over this atrocity is, to me, both baffling and infuriating at the same time. 

As I have stated, I love my country, but in a loving relationship there must be MUTUAL love and respect. 

After today’s events, how can I possibly say that my country loves me as much I have shown it love? 

When I look at pictures of Breonna, I see my own daughters.  By a twist of fate, one of their lives could have easily been the one that was taken. I will not always be able to control where they spend their time.  If they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, should I expect that they could be killed, and sit back and watch as their killers get to walk free without any ramifications. 

This is NOT like being killed by some criminal. 

Criminals are apprehended, or at least an attempt is made, and they face the criminal justice system.  Hopefully, they will face it in a fair manner. 

But, to have police kill a sleeping woman, and by all accounts, let her bleed out, is beyond my comprehension. 

During my training at Brooke Army Medical Center, it was made clear to me by my instructors that if I did not take full measures to save an opposing combatant that sustained life-threatening injuries, if I didn’t fully service him – even if my intention was to help one of my soldiers who may have suffered a less serious injury – I was looking at a court martial and possibly even jail time.  So, I am led to believe that enemy combatants across the world are entitled to better treatment than “citizens” in this very country.

Those police officers were given special treatment from the very beginning.  The decision not to indict was a foregone conclusion, and for those of us waiting for the day that justice will be impartial, we already knew what it was going to be.  I ask you, how can a justice system expect to operate in such a manner? 

I also ask those who may think that they are unaffected by disgraceful acts of injustice, do you think that you’re immune?  I have memorized all the episodes of Forensic Files, and those that get railroaded by the justice system are not only people of color.  It is perhaps more common, and certainly in the spotlight, at the moment.  But you simply need to watch that show to know that it happens to White individuals as well, almost exclusively ones without resources. 

I think people mistakenly think that Black individuals want justice for us only.  That could not be further from the truth.  We just want justice – impartial justice for everyone. 

For in a country, with a track record of denying rights and justice to a social group such as lower income White people who lack resources – combined with an indifferent attitude from those with more income, more resources – we know that Blacks cannot possibly be far behind.

So, what is my point?  It is simply that it will take us all, and I do mean all (not including blatantly racist scum-bags) to achieve this. 

Viewing color with blinders on is so easy, I do not think most people even know they are doing it.  I have been told that I don’t tan. I have heard that Blacks don’t blush. My father has been told that even though he was dirty from a hard day of work, along with his White counterparts, that he could not wash the filth away because he was Black.  And that was from someone close to the family. 

I have had two young girls say they didn’t want to get on a swing after my friend and I were on it. “Don’t get on those,” one girl said to her younger sister, “those Black kids were on it.” 

I have also heard that because someone is “big and black” that if that person comes up to give a friendly “Hello”, it is okay for you to pick up your child and run for your life.  That was an actual event. 

My wife was singled out, twice no less, in a church setting because of the color of her skin.  “Oh, we need a dark person for our video,” was one event.  And, from a White lady she had never met, and being the only Black person at a Bible study, the lady said “I see we share the same last names, but I know we’re not related.”  How the hell does she know that?! 

My “favorite” one is when I heard someone say that our pigment washes off in the shower.  I’m an aspiring fictional writer, and I would have a tough time making that one up! 

I went to a predominantly White elementary school where the “N” word was used behind my back, at first, told to me by a good friend, and then eventually in front of me.  That kind of thing sticks with you.  I could go on, and on and on, I have a virtual plethora of stories.

What does this all lead to?  Dehumanization. 

Therefore, it is very easy to simply dismiss the lost life of someone who has been dehumanized, and perhaps, take that same life in certain settings.  You, of course, should know what I am referring to. 

Those views are more ubiquitous than one may want to believe. If harbored by an officer of the law, does it take a great leap to think that this individual may have a very low threshold in deciding to turn a situation deadly, when the other party may not have been doing anything wrong, criminal, or certainly, anything worth a summary execution. 

It will take reflection from everyone to come to terms with those feelings before we can move forward. 

I often wonder if we were transported back 60 years, what side of the fight for equality people would fall on, with all other variables, like current race, kept the same. I think most would say, “Oh, yeah, I would certainly fight on the side of equal rights and desegregation.” 

But following people’s comments now, I’m not so sure who would and wouldn’t.

I can’t say, of course, because I can’t see into their hearts, but I would want to ask them why they think they would have supported the Civil Rights Movement.  It is quite possible they would follow the predominant belief system of the time, which was not that of equality.  It takes effort, actual effort, to look upon, not just a familiar individual, but an entire group of people, with the same love that you would give the group that you’re a part of.

I say that because there will always be those that are thought of as, “Oh, you’re different from the rest of them.  You’re ok, more like me.”  That is not some crackpot theoretical thing.  “My dad is racist against blacks, like Mayor Goode (the mayor of Philadelphia at the time), but he is okay with people like you.” 

I have been told exactly that. 

I cannot and will not be used as “that black person” who, because I am thought of as okay, or passing some metric in the person’s mind, they cannot possibly be racist because they have “a Black friend”. 

We are said to be the ones hung up on race all the time. But, I can guarantee you that every time race has been brought up to my wife and I, it was from the other party.  It’s almost like we have to exclaim, “Yes!  We’re Black!  We are aware!”  If Black people are told not to be so sensitive and to just “get over it,” why can’t those who harbor these antiquated beliefs “get over it”, and stop first judging people by superficial factors.  Stop judging period.  You have no authority, and you will often be wrong if meaningless characteristics like the color of one’s skin is your primary guide as to the quality of the person’s character.  This has proven in the past to be a deadly mistake for some.  

What does this boil down to?  This is not just a “Black” issue, and it does not matter what side of the aisle you are on, or who you vote for in November.  You do not have to put out a “BLM” sign on your lawn – we don’t have one. 

What anyone – and everyone – can do is make clear to your politicians and local law enforcement that you want fair treatment for everyone, not just the privileged or “x” group of people. Skin color does not even have to be mentioned, but of course implied.  Is protecting the people (ALL people) and protecting the police mutually exclusive by design?

I think if you can look at a young woman, like Breonna Taylor, and feel nothing about her death, and simply feel happy that the officer got to go home and gets to live out the rest of his life care-free, then I believe soul-searching would first be in order.

In her, I see my two daughters and all the promise they offer the world. But given the wrong place and time, their lives could be snuffed out and my wife and I would be left without ever having the hope of an impartial course through the justice system. We would watch their killers walk free. And not only that, but we would know that there is a significant portion of the country that believes that their killers should NOT be charged, that they were justified. 

I want to give thanks to all of those who have walked with us hand-in-hard from the very beginning.  Yesterday, going into Target, I saw a White young lady walking in with a BLM shirt on.  This was before the verdict was announced.  I just said, that clothes and signs are not necessary for you to give your support, but seeing that just helped me to think that I- and more importantly, my girls – are not alone in this struggle. I don’t even have a shirt like that, and I didn’t know her, but I was really touched.  Another young White lady I saw in Starbucks had a shirt that read on the back, “no justice, no peace”. 

So, to those out there willing to stand with us, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

For those who hear my respectful tone, and still have a problem with what I said, you can comment, hopefully respectfully, explaining your position.  But, I am honestly at the point where if you could say, “Oh well” or “Get over it” or “Her life was meaningless anyway” about Breonna’s death and resulting fallacy of justice, I would think, “Could you say that about me, or my daughters?”  I

f that is how you feel, you might as well save us both time, forget the comments, and simply “unfriend” me.  I will always be cordial and professional, but I honestly do not know how we could have a meaningful relationship, other than on a professional level, knowing that you don’t care if we die. 

Do you? 

If your belief system is such that you think I should put another person’s life above that of my daughter’s, that my love for them should take a backseat, because someone has a difficult or dangerous job, I don’t see how we can reach a mutual understanding. 

I do want to say I hope no one dares say I am anti-police.  I honor their sacrifices, and when an officer is lost in the line of duty, I grieve for them and their family to the same degree.  In that situation, however, the perpetrator, once apprehended, will get his due punishment. 

Should not everyone have that right? 

I still do not think that officers of the law should be immune to the very laws they are tasked with upholding, under any circumstance.  No one should be immune; not a police officer, prosecutor, defense attorney, judge or politician.  And if the laws favor them in this way, they cannot possibly be considered impartial and just. 

The narrative that is being established is that a Black person or family does not even have the right to feel safe in their own home.  If the police, even under the circumstances of a mistake or botched raid, need to kill you, then that’s just how it is. 

I believe we are a very small step, given current events, from having even those that aren’t in law enforcement having the right to kill a Black person in their own home, “if need arise”.  Can you see how the story will be presented as “a good citizen” thinking some criminal action was taking place.  So, in the process of acting for the “good of the community”, as any “good citizen” would, he entered a home, which was defended by the homeowner, but had to return fire for his own self-preservation.  It was unfortunate that the homeowner was killed in the process, but the “good citizen” was well within his rights to defend himself and should not face criminal charges.  Then people would say, “This is just a tragedy all the way around, with no winners.  But, no criminal charges should be levied.  That person feels bad enough, and for you, THAT should be enough.” 

As a Christian, I pray to God for justice, for all.  But, when reading people’s comments, and I know many are those from people who would consider themselves Christ followers, I am honestly brought to a place where I have to wonder if we are praying to the same God.  Or is it that Blacks can only pray to this God under certain circumstances established by “those who know him better.”  In other words, by certain someones who serve as our gateway to salvation?

I am not asking for you to choose one life over another, such as an officer’s life over a citizen’s life, or the reverse.  I am simply asking you to regard their lives in the same manner – as equals – both deserving of the life that God has granted, and that no one has the right to remove. 

I quote The Lord of The Rings, when Frodo said that Bilbo should have killed Gollum.  Gandolf’s response was, “Many who live deserve death.  And some that die deserve life.  Can you give it to them?  Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”  

I am a geek so I would like to quote another phrase.  You can learn so much from children’s shows.  On the first episode, and likely the last, of the Power Rangers that I saw, their mentor told them that one of their responsibilities was to never escalate a battle unnecessarily.  I honestly believe that is what is happening today in many instances. Snap judgments are no less immoral and criminal. 

I believe Christ’s teachings compel us to value and respect everyone’s life.  Another philosophical question I would like pose to you is, “Do I even have a soul or spirit to save?”  According to Dog The Bounty Hunter, I don’t.  I do not believe that his explicitly expressed belief is unique only to him.  Then the question becomes, if a person who has the legal right to kill, without potential repercussions, would they even hesitate killing a Black person if nothing thereafter for this person even exists?  That person is simply being sent to the everlasting void, “where they belong!”  

An important step, in my humble opinion is to go beyond self-realization.  Those that harbor hate should be marginalized.  And no, I’m not talking about controlling their thoughts.  Everyone is free to believe what they want, and express those in a lawful manner.  I just know from the short time I spent in Germany, and through the explanation of a friend who was living there, that those views would not be tolerated. 

How would that apply here?  In this country, those with racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic or homophobic views are still thought of as “salt of the earth, decent, church-going, red-blooded Americans.” 

“Oh, they just dislike fill in the blank but they are otherwise great people.”  Those individuals need to be challenged, educated, and told that those views are free to keep, but that social isolation is the recourse.  I myself have had to reflect on a view which was not kosher.  Loved ones have challenged that belief of mine (no one is perfect) and I was forced to change my thinking. 

I think the best example of that was when I first started Medical School, and I mean on the very first day.  The Hippocratic Oath was explained to us at some point that day.  And at the end at the day when everyone was heading out, I happened to be standing with a guy who I just met, a Black man who was to become my best friend in Med School, and the topic came up about helping everyone. In my youthful ignorance, I heatedly asked him, “Even if it was a guy in the KKK?” 

He turned to me and coolly stated, “If you have respect for this profession, you will.” 

I was flabbergasted.  My disgraceful sentiment was exposed and had nowhere to hide.  I was a changed person from that day forward knowing that everyone deserves the very best I can give them every second of every day that I provide the care for which I was trained.  I have no right to decide who gets my care and who doesn’t, potentially making an irrevocable decision about whether they live or not, which is not an exaggeration. 

But, I know of some who would not bring the same type of integrity to their job.  There is a firefighter in Ohio, perhaps volunteer, who expressed that he would rather save a dog from a burning house than a Black person.  And, that is how people actually feel; he is far from alone in that belief.  Without a doubt, there are those who would put the lives of animals above that of certain people.  Can he, or someone in another profession where lives are at stake, perform their job effectively, FOR ALL, with those beliefs?  Could I be an effective physician if I was willing to only treat certain patients who fell under my care? 

I would hope all would realize that it would be impossible. 

I want to remind those people that God created people, and yes, we are people, in His likeness.  The solution that is most in order for those that stubbornly refuse to let go of that which is immoral, unethical and hateful will have to be to live on the fringes of society. 

To simply accept their views – though, you may think that they are not your views – is being complicit with them.  They, in essence, ARE your views. 

I would like to relate a failure of mine which I would like to take back.  I was in early high school and a friend and I were talking about giving up a seat on the bus to an elderly White woman.  I was not thinking of it so much as a race issue at the time, I was just told to respect my elders, so I said I would give her the seat.  My friend who was raised on the same principles, but, I guess, he harbored some resentment said, “But what if she was one of the ones who made Blacks move to the back of the bus in her day.” I know for a fact he would not do that now,. At the time I didn’t really say anything. 

But, looking back with a much more mature and developed mind, I would say, “Yes, she could have been one of those, but we don’t know anything about her story.  What if she walked with Civil Rights marchers and participated in sit-ins?  What if one of her sons was one of the college students killed in Mississippi in ’64?  How are we honoring her contribution or her sacrifice?  We just don’t know.  And, besides, it’s the right thing to do.” 

No one said it was going to be easy, and people may want to cut ties along the way for taking a moral stand against bigotry.  The lead pastor in the aforementioned church addressed race to his assembly and some actually left the church stating that race should not be addressed in church!  I believe it was a tough choice to talk about it, but he made the right one, even though he probably knew it would cost some of his congregation.  I applaud him for his love, spirit and dedication to just one of many moral issues facing our society.      

This is not just a “Black” issue. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you are on or who you vote for in November.  But, ask yourself, “Would I be ok if this happened to a family member?” If the answer is, “No,” then it shouldn’t be acceptable for this to happen to anyone else, even if they are not related to you, even if they are different from you. 

After coming to this conclusion, the next step is to clearly voice to those in power (politicians, law enforcement, judges, etc.) that everyone deserves fair treatment, not just the privileged or certain groups. 

The killing of an unarmed, sleeping person is unacceptable and deserves justice. 

I am writing this wordy monologue in effort to express my concerns over the state of this nation, from my point of view. 

I am a veteran who is very disturbed by the current course of the nation and I would like to reach those who have shared my same experiences and those who may not have an understanding of the different treatments people who fall out of the “mainstream” receive. 

I want those that live on the same land as I, with all the freedoms and liberties that the American flag flies for, to know that you can love and be proud of your country, but at the same time be very unhappy about injustices that a great many still face.  

I hope my writing gave you some “food for thought”.  I know for myself, I feel like a broken person who cannot go on at times.  But, one look at my daughter’s faces and I gain the strength of “ten Grinches plus two!” 

There is no room for defeat or capitulation when their futures are in jeopardy. 

People may wonder, “What gifts do I have for the cause of justice?”  I found myself wondering the same thing.  I am not pounding the pavement on the peaceful protest front; they are far braver than I am.  I am not organizing events; they are far smarter than I. 

What I do have is a computer, a printer with paper, and a brain, however limited.  I can write my beliefs and concerns to those in the position of power.  And, the lovely part of this is that anyone can do it. 

What can others do?  I think a beautiful example is from the dance studio that our daughters attend.  They have always shown us love, but they closed their studio for a time and made it clear that they did so for the cause of racial justice.  That act, that one act, just touched us SO MUCH.  They have our everlasting love and gratitude.  They used that which was in their power to send a message.  Any and everyone should do the same if they believe in the cause.  I think Dolly Parton, the beautiful person that she is, is an excellent example of what steps a person can take in their business and personal life to show people that they have value.

I appreciate the opportunity to add my voice to the chorus of voices calling for the United States to confront a very ugly and uncomfortable side of our society and to move forward together with caring and understanding.  As is evident in my essay, I want to build a better world not just for my children, but for children everywhere, of every color, creed and culture.

I refuse to simply sit silently and watch things happen without speaking up. 

As Edmund Burke says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 

Please stand with me in an effort to help change the course of our great nation for the better.  

Finally, for those that still choose to unfriend me, know that I still love you.  That love is freely given, and not something that I would be free to take away, even if I wanted, which I don’t.  I am called by Christ to love my neighbor – not just those I love in close interpersonal relationships – but my neighbor, all of them.  And that is exactly what I am going to do.   It is there for the taking, whether or not you accept it.  Thank you.     

©️2020 Lancaster Speaks Up. All rights reserved.

This website is maintained by the founding members of Lancaster SPEAKS Up. All writing and art contained on this blog post represent the thoughts and opinions of its author only.

                            

A Global Perspective on American Greatness

Written by Kathy Becker, East Cocalico Township. An abbreviated version of this article was published on Sept. 26, 2020 in LNP/Lancaster Online. This longer version was first published on Nov. 1, 2020 in the Lancaster SPEAKS Up Blog with permission from the author.

I went to bed on the night of Nov. 8, 2016, still numb from the results of the election. When we told our boys the next morning, we tried to reassure them that even though we didn’t agree with Trump’s platform, our government has systems that would keep his power in check. As Americans living abroad in Ireland, we would be “ambassadors” and show people through our words and actions that Trump did not represent the attitudes of all Americans.

The reality of the situation hit me in the gym parking lot and I started to cry. A woman knocked on my car window and asked me what was wrong.

“I’m just sad about the American election.”

“Ah, now, don’t worry, pet. America’s a great country, so it is. Everything will be alright.”

I wanted to believe her, but over the past four years, I have seen my fears come true: inhumane immigration policies implemented, environmental protections overturned, alliances threatened, racial divisions and economic disparities magnified, white supremacists emboldened, and more.

All of this in the name of making America “great” again. Having lived overseas, I can tell you that in the eyes of the world, America has fallen from greatness. I asked my international friends to send me their thoughts about American politics and our status in the world, and I received several lengthy, thoughtful and passionate responses. I will attempt to summarize some of their opinions, though each of their emails could easily stand alone as its own op-ed.

America’s Standing in the World

In the past, other countries have looked up to the United States. An Irish friend shared her perspective on how that has changed:

“The US was the biggest power in the West. When I was a kid in the 80s, America was idealized – you wanted to live there, you wanted to be there. A lot of people went to America for jobs during the Irish recession. But now we feel sorry for you. We’re a small country, and not a major player on the world stage, but we have pity on the situation you’re in. It must be similar to what it was like watching Nazi Germany come to power. We wonder, ‘How could this happen? Why are people letting this happen?’ Was it always the case that there were so many racist people and they now just feel emboldened since there is a leader who refuses to condemn white supremacy?” 

A Canadian friend echoed a similar point of view.

“Once upon a time there was a country that was the envy of the world, a country everyone wanted to immigrate to…a country where it was possible to live the “American dream”.  These days it’s different.  Much different.”  

He expressed concern about what the fall of America means for Canadians.

“The United States of America used to be considered a super power, and it made Canadians feel safe having such a great neighbor on the other side of the border.  We knew that no one would ever attack Canada with big brother USA next door to help protect us and help us retaliate should something happen.  Now we worry that the current leaders to the South are going to cause a war, and we are going to be caught up in it, due to our close proximity.” 

Our neighbors to the North have strong feelings about what they see going on just over their border. Another Canadian friend commented on the myth of American exceptionalism.

“It’s like America spent so much time telling itself and others that they were the greatest country on earth and they never noticed their obvious failures. So when something big happens that threatens their entire democracy and way of life, they refuse to believe it could happen. Being this close and having the US as our largest trading partner it’s terrifying. I’m watching the toxic tribalism of US politics seep into Canada and, while it’s not completely mainstream yet, it’s coming.”

She went on to say that many people she knows now look at America with pity.

“You have lost your place in the world and the rest of us are filling the gap. No one expected that we weren’t going to be able to rely on America but we’ve come to realize that we can’t and we’re figuring it out without them. American isolationism isn’t good for America but if Americans don’t realize that, the rest of the world will move on and America will be left behind. It doesn’t really matter how big your military is if you can’t be counted on to fight the good fight or stand with supposed allies.”

Trump, the Man

Across the pond, English and Irish friends weighed in on Trump himself. 

“It is hard to believe that someone who is actively engaged in spreading hate and fear is President of the USA,” says a friend from the UK. “Trump is like a spoilt self-centered kid who is not capable of seeing the bigger picture and does not care about anyone but himself. He would go to any lengths for his own personal benefit. What sort of example is that to the future generations of America and to the rest of the world.” 

While we were living in Ireland, people always wanted to talk politics with me after they found out I was American. They are very intrigued by and informed about American politics. Older Irish gentlemen would shake their fists at me upon hearing my accent and say, “Ye didn’t vote for Trump, did ye?”

One of my Irish friends had this to say: “We are living in strange times, truth, honesty and integrity appear to have been replaced by bluster, spoof and bravado. There is no accountability anymore. You can say something today and retract it tomorrow or maybe claim you never said it or that’s not what you meant! The President of America has set the bar so low for himself that he can get away with just about anything.”

American Election Process

When reflecting on the election process in America, foreign friends express concern and confusion. 

“Canadians don’t understand how a President can be elected, when they lost the popular vote.  How is that even a thing, when if someone else won the popular vote, they are obviously who the American people wanted as a President?”

Many Americans also wonder if the Electoral College should be abolished for that very reason. 

The same friend observed that, “in 2016, Canadians found it unfortunate that a president could only sit two terms, and would have loved to see things carry on status quo at that time.  Now, we’ve done a 180, and most of us worry that in the future, that may be amended and will allow a president to sit for more than two terms.”

We’ve heard Trump allude to the fact that he might refuse to leave office if he doesn’t win. It’s hard to imagine how other countries would react to us having a dictator instead of an elected head of state, let alone how Americans would deal with such a situation. 

Another Canadian friend called out the issue of gerrymandering, and also voter suppression tactics like complicated procedures and long lines at polling places. She illustrated the contrast in Canada, by sharing, “I’m 43 years old and voted in every municipal, provincial and federal election since I was 18 and I’ve never waited more than 15 minutes. Voting isn’t supposed to be hard!! The minute it’s hard, your system is broken.”

As for the results of the upcoming election, my Irish friend says that the prevailing opinion in Ireland seems to be that Biden will win, but that Trump will challenge the results, and the decision will go to the Supreme court (which he’s stacked with conservatives). If the Supreme Court doesn’t rule in his favor, the fear is that there will be civil war and violence the streets.

Conclusion

My British friend expressed her feelings about the upcoming election this way: “We all make mistakes but I sincerely hope that come November, the American public are going to rectify the mistake they made four years ago.”

With two days left until the election, I look back at what I’ve done – postcard writing, phone banking for Biden, yard signs, letters to the editor, social media posts, talking to friends and neighbors about their voting plans – and I hope it’s enough to have made a difference. I need to be able to say to my children and grandchildren that I did everything I could to be on the right side of history.  I hope that Americans show the rest of the world through the results of the election that they will no longer tolerate a leader who sows division and spreads hate and fear. Electing Joe Biden will be a step toward restoring our international reputation, and strengthening our connections with the global community – especially important as we fight to end this global pandemic. The eyes of the world are certainly upon us.

©️2020 Lancaster Speaks Up. All rights reserved.

This website is maintained by the founding members of Lancaster SPEAKS Up. All writing and art contained on this blog post represent the thoughts and opinions of its author only.

You Forgot the Guys

Written by Rebecca Branle, Ephrata Township. This piece was first published on Oct 12, 2020 on Rebecca’s blog, basicallybeckyblogs. Reprinted here with permission from the author.

If we just got rid of men, we could eliminate abortion.

Sounds crazy, right? But it’s true. Men are a part of this equation, yet when so many pro-life men call out abortion, they point directly to “baby killing” women. They spit their sanctimony at women who have the nerve to want rights, but they never mention the men.

And guys, we wouldn’t be here without you. 

In a year that’s full of examination, I think we need to reexamine the narrative surrounding abortion. I think we need to recognize that there’s a man at the heart of every one.

Sometimes, the man is a rapist. Sometimes he’s an abuser. Sometimes he was the love of her life, but when he found out, he walked out. Sometimes he demands the abortion. Sometimes, he’s a loving and supportive partner. Sometimes he’s a heartbroken husband, holding her hand, as they both mourn a child with health issues too devastating to be compatible with life. 

Always, he’s there, whether in the shadows or in the room.

This truth hit home for me in a hard way, decades ago. As a young pro-lifer, I met a girl. She was a devout Catholic and she was endlessly kind and adorably quirky. She became a cherished friend, and she told me the story of her first love. She fell for him the way teen girls do, head over heels, heart over mind. She would have done anything for him and in her quest to please him, she become pregnant. Her Catholic faith and her love for him made her decision easy, keep the baby. But he, enrolled in private Catholic school, wanted to forego faith in favor of his already planned future. 

They lived in the city and, one day, a week or so after discovering her pregnancy, she was walking home from high school and was jumped by a crew of boys. Their aggression was aimed at her belly. Her first love, the holder of her heart, had ordered them (kids themselves) to do this. He wanted the baby gone. 

Decades later, my memory is fuzzy, but my impression is that the boys were too scared to do real damage. Still, the damage was done. She was pregnant, and scared. Soon after, she legally ended her pregnancy.

I think we can all listen to this story and understand that there wasn’t some grandstanding girl here, beating her chest and proclaiming her rights. There was a terrified teenager whose heart was broken, trying to survive, and there was a boy who was willing to break her, quite literally, to avoid consequences. It’s lot more complicated than “women are baby killers.”

I’m not trying to change your minds about abortion, but for heaven’s sake, please change your words. If you’re against abortion, understand that abortions occur because of men’s actions, just as much as because of women’s decisions.

We all want less abortions. We all want less trauma. Men are an important part of achieving that goal. We need to raise our boys to appreciate their role in unplanned pregnancies. The only way to protect from STDs and pregnancies is for the man, or the boy, to wear a condom. And yet we don’t hold men and boys accountable. We shrug our shoulders and say, “but he says it doesn’t feel good.” We excuse them of their responsibility and make it the woman’s alone. 

STOP. 

We need to raise our boys to to respect women, and all beings. We need to model kind behavior and call out the inexcusable. We need to hold them accountable.

If there were no men, there’d be no more abortions. It’s true, but as a woman who is married to a strong, supportive, secure, sensitive, silly at the right times (and often at the wrong times) man, and as a woman who is raising her boys to be the same for their future partners (minus the silly at the wrong times part), I wanna keep the guys. I just want to tell them the truth about their role in our lives. 

I wrote a few weeks ago about the role affordable healthcare plays in preventing abortions, and it’s still such a valid point, but I missed this vital message – if you want to create a world with less abortions, men are going to have to “man up.” Because if men wore condoms, and if men didn’t commit rape or abuse…imagine the abortions we could prevent. Imagine the trauma we could eliminate. 

So next time you hear someone talk about women killing their babies, remind them it takes two to tango. Call them out for wrapping this issue in misogyny.

©️2020 Lancaster Speaks Up. All rights reserved.

This website is maintained by the founding members of Lancaster SPEAKS Up. All writing and art contained on this blog post represent the thoughts and opinions of its author only.

It’s All White and All Wrong

Written by Rebecca Branle, Ephrata Township. This piece was first published on Oct. 26, 2020 on Rebecca’s blog, basicallybeckyblogs. Reprinted here with permission from the author.

Thoughts Penned After Ahmaud

It’s a white people problem.

And yet that’s not how most white people talk about it. They speak in lots of “he should haves,” or “but she saids.” They point out imperfections. They pick out excuses.

We don’t own the problem, and yet it’s ours alone. Ours to fix. White hands pull the trigger. White hands choke, punch, kill. White guys wearing fancy ties make sure the white ones with their murdering guns don’t go to jail.

The problem is all white and yet it’s black mothers and fathers, and babies and teenagers and grandparents; it’s black people that carry the weight of our white mess. We put the onus on them to navigate our unfair world, where declarations of independence and equality only apply in certain circumstances. And we grill them. Them. Like it’s their job to justify why we shouldn’t kill them.

Ahmaud stopped to look at a house under construction, something I’ve done about a bazillion times in my life. This, they say, justifies an armed citizens arrest. “He fought back!” They say, aghast, gripping their chests. But do they ever wonder what they would do? How would they respond if two bearded inbreds followed them on a run. Demanded they answer to them. Do they obey all out of shape, armed strangers barking orders at them? They never ask such questions because to do so would be to draw an equitable line between their life and Ahmaud’s, would be to see Ahmaud as a person with a life worth living.

Video of the construction site shows several white folks doing exactly what Ahmaud did, white grownups and white kids, and yet they’re still alive. They were never hunted down. Never suspected. When asked why they suspect this is so, racists respond in either of two ways: those who don’t identify as racist, but certainly are, become uncomfortable, so they avoid conversation. Those who stand proud in their hate laugh in the face of the facts. Because they just. don’t. care.

How do we make them care? WE, the awake white people, the tired and angry and sick-of-being-so-damn-disappointed, white people, have to make them care. We have to engage them. We have to pry their eyes open. We have to close the door, nah, slam the door, to hate speech. And make them afraid to open that door ever again. Those white people are the problem. WE white people need to be the answer. It’s not good enough to be quietly enraged behind closed doors. We’ve been trying that for years now. Now we have to step up, step out, and start to demand change.

When I was 14, I had a go-cart. It was a zippy little thing and I was a full-on terror on wheels. I had all the confidence and entitlement of a young teenager and I ripped like mad through my quiet neighborhood. One day, not even a mile from home, I found a newly paved road. Sure, it was blocked with road closed signs, but that new blacktop looked fast. And I loved fast. So around the blockades I went and fast it was…until the police came. I was scared, thought about trying to outrun them, but my go-cart was for kids and it topped out at 25. The heat had me beat. They also had a blast asking me if I wanted to go to jail, and then following me, lights swirling, back to my house, where I was sent inside while they chatted with my dad.

It’s one of my epic childhood stories. One we tell often. My dad said he and the cop had a good laugh over the whole ordeal. Sure, I was told sternly not to ride my go-cart on public roads. I learned a necessary lesson, one that every teenager needs to learn because lord have mercy, imagine if all adults walked around with the entitlement of a teen. But we tell the story, and we slap our legs in laughter. There are no scars, only smiles.

But young black boys, playing with guns that are toys, not up to half the trouble I was up to, they’re underground, in caskets. Their mother’s are left to grieve and wait. Wait for white America to care. Young black boys, smoking cigars, are thrown to the ground, punched, and hit. When I was 14, I stole my father’s cigarettes and tried smoking them. Should I have been thrown to the ground and smacked around by an armed stranger? Should your child be?

But they don’t bat an eye, those white people. They refuse to look because the child they’d see isn’t white, so there’s no need for rage and maybe that doesn’t sit well with them, their lack of care. Maybe they don’t own their racism, they don’t look it, or the child, in the eye. But they feel it creep up on them, and it doesn’t sit well, it squirms and claws at them from the inside. So they look away. The chid is invisible. The brutality is never digested. Instead, they deflect. They grab one of those talking points the NRA has dangled above them like carrots.

“What about Chicago?” they whine. “Black people kill black people.” “Guns!” “Gangs!” Blah, blah, blah. But do they know the story of Chicago? Of Baltimore? Of America? I listened to a Story Slam by a young girl from Chicago, from one of those neighborhoods, and her words carried me far beyond the statistics, far beyond cold numbers and easy discrimination. She explained how you can dial 911, but no one comes. No police. No ambulance. And if they do come, sometimes it’s 40 minutes after you make the call. There are no trauma hospitals near her neighborhood. That’s why this young girl, this teenager, taught kids in her neighborhood how to triage gunshot wounds. Because when she calls for help no one comes.

So if no one is coming, what do you do? If you’re a parent, what do you do to protect your babies? If you’re a teenager and the only way to survive school (actually survive as in LIVE, not survive as in “Jimmy doesn’t like me back, whatever will I do?”) is to join a gang, what do you do? You do what you have to do to LIVE. That’s what you do. And the cycle continues. Because the help doesn’t come. It doesn’t come when you call 911 and it doesn’t come from the powers-that-be that love citing statistics but never dig deep enough to actually understand the struggle.

And how did we get here? It starts with the original sin: slavery. Oh, the holy roller white folks are panting hard now. Because they love to dismiss with their, “I had nothing to do with slavery. Get over it already.” But it isn’t over already. It won’t be over until Karen stops clutching her pearls and starts owning her role in it all. Because it didn’t end with the Civil War and it didn’t end with Brown Vs. The Board of Education and it didn’t end with Emmitt Till or The Freedom Riders or The March on Washington. It didn’t end with the Voting Rights Act. Because suppression didn’t end, segregation didn’t end, redlining was just warming up, and the Klan was still growing. Black tradespeople couldn’t join unions and couldn’t get ahead. The innocent and accused couldn’t get a fair trial. Wealth couldn’t grow, couldn’t flow, couldn’t be passed down to future generations. But those white folks, they shrug their shoulders. Saying they didn’t know…

And, really, isn’t that what this whole thing is all about? About not knowing? Never growing? Never letting go of our own white what-about-me-isms for long enough to GET IT. White privilege isn’t a cut on white people. It’s a social truth. It’s a responsibility. None of the above happened to us, therefore we have a head start. A head start in homeownership and familial wealth growth, and, you know, not being murdered for the color of our skin. But white privilege doesn’t have to be akin to white guilt. Not if we’re willing to surrender it. Not if we really believe in equality. Not if we’re unthreatened by building a bigger table, one with seats, and equal representation, for everyone.

Like James Baldwin said, like he so wisely said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Change has been a long time coming. But it’s time.

It’s long past time.

©️2020 Lancaster Speaks Up. All rights reserved.

This website is maintained by the founding members of Lancaster SPEAKS Up. All writing and art contained on this blog post represent the thoughts and opinions of its author only.

About Perry Hazeltine, Lancaster City

Twenty-five years ago, my wife and I moved with our two young children to Lancaster County and have come to love this place we now call home. I became politically active during these years. But my first call to social action came from the Catholicism in which I grew up. When I was a teen, the Church began a campaign to address poverty, violence, and the systemic inequities that cause these problems. The Church’s message— “If you want Peace, work for Justice”—has been a guiding motif in my life. While I no longer find a home in any religion, I still believe that love is the cornerstone of morality. To be loving in a world where the most vulnerable bear the brunt of injustice means that we must do the hard work of fighting injustice. Lancaster SPEAKS Up, and Lancaster Stands Up are the communities I need to sustain me in these efforts.

Braver Angels – Holding the Divided Country Together

Written by Dr. Mary Theresa (Terry) Webb, West Lampeter. This LTE was first published on October 18, 2020 in LNP/LancasterOnline. Reprinted here with permission from the author.

In her Op-Ed on Sept 27th, Jess King pleaded with Lancastrians to find what we have in common for the good of the community. Currently, we are a community and a nation divided.  Whoever wins the presidency on or around November 3rd,  the other side will be upset – some may be upset enough to become destructive to themselves and others. As a member of Braver Angels, a national organization of volunteers, we have been attempting to bridge the divide between Reds (Republicans) and Blues (Democrats) with structured dialogues on a variety of controversial topics. We have prepared this statement and, if you agree, please go to the BraverAngels.org website and sign this letter.  

“At a moment of danger in this era of divisiveness, We the American People come together to speak for the Union. Some of us will vote for President Trump and others for Vice President Biden. But in this season of intense and legitimate partisanship, we the undersigned commit ourselves also to a higher partisanship – for the maintenance of our Union; for the importance of our shared civic life; and for those feelings of goodwill that Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.

For ourselves and for all Americans, we appeal for the complete disavowal of election-related violence, calls for such violence, or excuse-making for anyone on either side who would commit or tolerate violence as a means of influencing an election.

In a time of growing separation, we pledge ourselves to words and deeds intended to help us find each other as citizens. We start with this commitment: We will not demonize or question the decency of Americans who vote differently from us. When we oppose their political views, we will say so with vigor, but we won’t castigate them as persons.

If in the near future we face a constitutional crisis in which our institutions cannot produce consensus on who is the legitimately elected president, we resolve to work together across this chasm for solutions grounded in the Constitution and guided by our democratic and non-violent traditions and our sense of shared destiny.

At stake in this contest is democracy’s North Star – peaceful political transition. It’s a time for opponents, but not for enemies. We the undersigned will work separately for what each of us believes is right, but we will also work together to protect the land we all love – to lift up American citizenship and the American promise in a time of peril and to find in ourselves the understanding that our differences don’t simply divide us, but also can strengthen and complete us.”

©️2020 Lancaster Speaks Up. All rights reserved.

This website is maintained by the founding members of Lancaster SPEAKS Up. All writing and photos/pictures contained on this blog post represent the thoughts and opinions of its author only.

The Black Box – Nuclear War Danger

Written by Dr. Mary Theresa (Terry) Webb, West Lampeter. This article was first published on November 1, 2020 on the Lancaster SPEAKS Up Blog.

Have we forgotten about the black box that is carried by a special envoy accompanying President Trump wherever he goes so he can push a button to trigger the launch of a nuclear weapon? How scary is that? On a recent visit to a PPE factory Trump did push a button on another black box by mistake. Glad it was the wrong black box.  

The Trump administration has proposed a budget of 494 billion dollars to revamp our nuclear arsenal, including building a W76-2 new warhead. Also under consideration is starting up nuclear weapons testing, prohibited by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  What ever happened to the Start Treaty Obama signed with Russia ten years ago to reduce the stockpile of nuclear weapons? Macron of France has reduced their nuclear weapons stockpile to 300.  Ours is 6500!

In addition to violating nonproliferation agreements, the Trump administration requests a 19% increase in our military budget, planning to pay for it by scaling back budgets for the CDC, NIH, and the World Health Organization.  

Who is our new enemy? Can’t be Russia, must be China. Whatever happened to the global war to defeat the Novel Coronavirus? So far, we’re losing that battle and the battle to arrest devastating climate change. 

I was frightened enough in the 80s to help Teresa Heinz Kerry start Peace Links in Pennsylvania, raising awareness. We women did it then. We can do it again in November, making sure Trump no longer has access to that black box. 

©️2020 Lancaster Speaks Up. All rights reserved.

This website is maintained by the founding members of Lancaster SPEAKS Up. All writing and art contained on this blog post represent the thoughts and opinions of its author only.

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