Saturday, April 25, 2015

International Exchange Brings Hope for the World

The Hungarian Club hosted Professional Fellows from Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria.  A silent auction raised funds for the Great Lakes Consortium ( and also on facebook). I bid on and came home with home-made wine from Slovakia (made by delegation member Monika Jurikova's sister's husband, Andrej Miklusicak) and a popular apricot wine from Hungary called Hiros' Barack Palinka.  
"I hope to learn new ways to help minorities and Roma in my country," said Szilvia Suri, a reporter and activist from Budapest, Hungary.  Cristinela Ionescu, a multi-talented NGO director, journalist and cultural organizer from Petrosani, Romania, and of Roma heritage, repeated this goal in eloquent fashion. Kirilka Angelova, a group dynamics and human rights trainer from Yakoruda, Bulgaria, wants to improve her work with special needs and minority groups. The three women spoke fluent English and drew us into their dreams for the future. They are here to learn about best practices in community organizing, civic participation and advocacy that supports diverse minorities in their countries.

Cristinela, Szilvia, and Kirilka are part of a talented 22-member Professional Fellows delegation from Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.  This international leadership project, "Sustaining Civic Participation in Minority Communities," is funded by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.   The Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development, GLC for short, and its dedicated program director Elizabeth Balint, are local sponsors and have organized a comprehensive training program. The delegation will be in the Toledo area, Detroit, Chicago and other cities, and end its visit in Washington, DC.  The six-week program features close collaboration between GLC and NGOs in the east European countries, as well as many US partner organizations that have developed tailored internships and follow-up mentoring activities.  This seems like the best groundwork for creating a powerful network and ensuring positive outcomes.

It's an impressive group, all the more so because each delegate is open to fresh approaches and new ideas and represents the diversity of their countries. They are professional journalists, teachers, NGO workers and volunteers, community development trainers, human rights educators, a college professor, a graphic designer and a program coordinator for LGBT organizations, lawyers and writers.   We have a lot to learn from them.

For most of the delegates, this is their first time in the US, and they are excited to be here. They are enthusiastic learners, open to exploring, adventurous, and wise beyond their years.  I learned so much from them in one evening, as did everyone who shared in this international fellowship.

I spoke with most everyone in the delegation.  They all spoke English, and delighted in doing so, so we were able to have meaningful exchanges, to ask questions, to hear about their work and their countries.  It's such a rare privilege.

I left the Hungarian Club feeling more optimistic than ever about the future of our world for having met these young, articulate and knowledgable leaders from eastern Europe. They enthused and instilled confidence that their visit to America would make a difference in their lives and in the lives of their communities.  They certainly will make a difference in our lives and in our awareness of the changing world.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Robert Reich says "No to the TPP"

Southern Mexican poverty.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal sounds like one big fat give-away to the largest corporations and banks, and a big fat loser for the American people.  I'm no expert, but I'm following Robert Reich, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and other critics who are trying to raise awareness about the issue.  They advise "No fast track" to the deal in Congress and "No to the TPP."

Reich argues that this is another boondoggle, developed in secret for the 1% worldwide.  If it is "NAFTA on steroids," as Reich puts it, then it will have tremendous adverse consequences for American workers and consumers, and also for the environment.

What confuses me is that President Obama supports the deal, with the help of Republicans in Congress. It's the same with the new US-EU trade agreement now under consideration in the Senate and making some headlines.  Sen. Sanders is holding his finger in the dyke.

Why is our president pushing these deals? He believes the free trade agreements will open markets for US exports. But there are other aspects to these agreements, as Reich, Sanders and others point out, that are more troubling, even disturbing.  Surely the President knows this.

I remember having the same qualms about NAFTA when Bill Clinton pushed through its approval.  That's why I took the opportunity to experience the consequences first-hand.  I joined a Witness for Peace group, organized by an interfaith organization, that went to southern Mexico, Oaxaca and south, to see how NAFTA was working.

yahoo map.
It was a horrendous experience. Monsanto and other huge agribusinesses were destroying the agricultural economy of small farmers, taking over the land, using fertilizers that increased pollution, and planting GMO corn. We walked through a field of this corn: huge stalks, sprouting lots of huge bright yellow kernels.

But it wasn't real corn, the corn that's sacred to the indigenous peoples of southern Mexico, who lamented that "the purity of the corn" was now threatened. Cultural traditions were being destroyed.

Monsanto is killing the corn and
 more in southern Mexico
The multinational companies were blatantly exploiting Mexican farm workers. Some even imported the poorest of the poor from nearby Guatemala in order to pay lower wages than they were paying Mexican workers. Imagine! How low can you go?

We talked with NGO leaders, indigenous cultural leaders, and factory workers, including those at a PUMA plant in Puebla who were being paid a few cents a day and threatened with the loss of their jobs and worse.  The company, facing rising discontent, said it would move to China rather than respond to their employees, who worked tirelessly but could barely keep body and soul together. We had lunch with some of these brave workers, mostly women with young children, who shared their grievances and their stories. They moved me to tears. We knew that they would soon be unemployed.  Deliberately screwed.

We stayed with families who slept on blankets on hard dirt floors and survived on rice and beans and home-made tortilla.  No plumbing. No electricity. No furniture but the basics. Hardly any food but what could be grown in the hard soil (water was scarce) surrounding poorly constructed shacks.

I bought a coke for a young boy when we passed a tiny corner store (tienda) on our walk along a dusty dirt road. You would have thought I had given him the moon. For all I know he might still be nursing that coke. We weren't supposed to give gifts or money, but I wanted to give away all I had. We witnessed so much kindness and strength in the midst of such poverty and struggle. But sadness prevailed, a stoicism, a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness.

Will the Trans-Pacific Agreement, and also the new US-EU trade agreement, be worse than this? According to Reich, Sanders, and others following these issues, the answer is "yes."

"The basic premise behind....these negotiations is the same. It’s about                 prioritizing the needs of capital over the needs of society, working people and the environment....I think it’s also worth saying both of these agreements will lead to significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions and in climate change." (

For information about NAFTA::

For some information about recent trade agreements:   This trade agreement between EU and USA sounds really bad, too, including giving corporations "nation-state" status to sue governments, deregulation of giant corporations, such as those that produce and market GMOs, loss of over a million jobs.  Moyer's interview is excellent and thought provoking.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jose Mujica: He led by Example as President of Uruguay

"I see that there are many young people, as a veteran, as an old man, a little advice... Life can give us many pitfalls, many blows, we can fail a thousand times, in life, in love, in the social struggle, but if we seek, we have the strength to get up again and start over. The most beautiful thing of the day is that it dawns. It is always dawning after the night elapsed. Do not forget it, girls and boys. The only losers are those who stop fighting."  (Jose Mujica, former president of Uruguay, quoted in WIkipedia article on Jose Mujico).

Jose Mujico's VW bug, his only possession.
He lives on a chysanthemum farm with his wife

 outside of Montevideo. He was known
 as "the poorest president in the world," 
but he thinks of his life as blessed and rich.  
He gives most of his salary to charities
that help the poor.
The popular Uruguayan leader, once a guerilla fighter against corrupt regimes, made a similar point when he addressed the Rio+20 summit in June 2011. "We've been talking all afternoon about sustainable development. To get the masses out of poverty....But what are we thinking? Do we want the model of development and consumption of the rich countries? I ask you now: what would happen to this planet if Indians would have the same proportion of cars per household as Germans? How much oxygen would we have left?....Does this planet have enough resources so seven or eight billion can have the same level of consumption and waste that today is seen in rich societies? It is this level of hyper-consumption that is harming our planet." (Vladimir Hernandez, BBX Mundo, 15 Nov. 2012)

As president, José Mujica gave up an official state palace to live in his farmhouse, and he donated the vast bulk of his salary to social projects. He flew economy class and drove an old Volkswagen Beetle.  Like Pope Francis, Mujica fought for the poor, the neglected, the environment. He decried excessive consumption  (Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, 13 December 2013).  He still does. 
Under the Constitution in Uruguay a president can only serve for one term.  I don't know who will take his place (a runoff election between two candidates will be held in November 2015), but the people of Uruguay will be fortunate if he is as authentic and compassionate as Mujica.

I wish there were more leaders like him in this sad, mad world where the wealthy rule, extremism runs rampant, and war trumps peace.   I don't think I've ever felt the presence of evil, or the need for leaders like Jose Mujica to give us hope, to lift us from despair, so strongly in my lifetime. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Grand Canyon in Trouble?

The Grand Canyon, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2015. Photography: Bill Hatcher
"You don't want to anger the Holy Beings there," says Delores Wilson. She grew up on the rim of the Grand Canyon, on the western edge of the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, and she is worred about a $500 million commercial develpment project, including a high-tech gondola, to be built from the rim to the river of this national treasure (David Roberts, "Grand Canyon on the Edge," Smithsonian Magazine, March 2015).

Smithsonian Magazine, March 2015.
I've always stood in awe at the Grand Canyon, like everyone else who has witnessed its majesty.   I can't imagine growing up there and "knowing every wrinkle of its landscape."  The Grand Canyon seems to defy intimacy. It seems too enormous, too daunting for humans to grasp, too overwhelming in its geography and mysteries.

But Delores Wilson and her extended family and kin knew it. Knew it intimately.  They herded sheep there when they were kids. They climbed the rocks and canyons down to the sacred confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. It's a holy site to them, the place from which they came and to which their spirits go when they die.  To this day, they know it, respect it, honor it.

As writer Roberts recalls in his excellent article, when Teddy Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument in 1908, he wisely noted: "Leave it as it is.  You cannot improve on it.  The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."

The $500 million Escalade project is contested for this very reason.  It claims to be improving on a magnificent work of nature.  But Wilson and others think TR was right: "Man can only mar it." 

Roberts says "the proposed project will build a recreation and transport facility featuring a 1.4 mile tramway equipped with eight-passenger gondolas that would carry as many as 10,000 people a day down to the rivers, with new roads, hotels, gift shops, restaurants and other amenities."

It's a huge project and it has divided the Navajo community. The Hopi, Zuni, Hualapai and Havasuopai are equally engaged.  Many see jobs and profits from increased tourism. Others, like Wilson, see man-made changes to the land and to ancestral holy shrines, as well as major environmental risks. The national park officials, park visitors and environmental advocates share Wilson's concern. "This fight," says Navajo activist Darlene Martin, "is for future generations.  And for my ancestors."

I wasn't aware of this fight until I read the March 2015 issue of Smithsonian Magazine at my Dentist's office.  It's how I became aware of the Arctic region and it's geopolitical and environmental complexity and dangers a few years back. I still write about the Arctic, rich in oil and gas resources, and now more highly contested and in the news than ever.

I suspect it will be the same with the Grand Canyon. Other commerical projects, in addition to this Escalade project, are also in the works, such as a huge construction project in Tusayan, the entrance to the park.  Taken together, the Tusayan and Escalade developments are "unprecedented," says Dave Uberuaga, superintendent of the park.  "These two projects constitute the greatest threat to the Grand Canyon in the 96-year history of the park."

The American public needs to pay attention to these developments. We need to think about what these man-made changes will mean to the Grand Canyon, also a World Heritage Site.  The Smithsonian has been ahead of the curve in addressing and raising public awarenes of  some of the major environmental and heritage preservation issues of our time. We need to add the preservation of the Grand Canyon to our list of environmental issues that need help from the bottom up, literally and figuratively.

David Roberts, "Grand Canyon on the Edge, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2015, pp. 59-69 and p. 92.

A Grand Canyon visit. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Open Wounds: Remembering the Roots of the Armenian Diaspora

"Eternal Flame," a memorial to Armenian genocide, one of many
memorials throughout America and the world. (yahoo/wiki image).
The photos, pictures and documents are graphic and horrifying.     
"Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it." Pope Francis  (

I don't see why anyone or any nation would be upset by the Pope's remembrance of the Armenian genocide on it's 100th anniversary.  He called it "the first genocide of the 20th century."  Why is that controversial? The term "genocide" was coined to describe this systemmactic massacre, a policy of extermination that took place during and after World War I, on the very homeland of the Armenians.  The Ottoman Empire at that time destroyed a whole people and their culture, painfully scattering the Armenians who survived the tragedy, god knows how, around the world, a diasporan experience that continues to this day.  Why does Turkey deny it?  The violence and evil of the World War I era are still with us, still affect our geopolitical relations, still remain unresolved, or so it seems.

Actually, what astonishes me when I read about World War I is how the world learned nothing, or so little, from it.  Another world war followed, another holocaust.  World War I was one of the most violent in human history.  Millions upon millions were killed, wounded and maimed--physically and psychologically.  It changed the world's geography and destiny. We even see some of the horrors--the deaths and destruction, the grisly aftermath--portrayed on popular public television shows like Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge. We see the lost and wounded.  We hear the names: Verdun, Tannenherg, Gallipoli, the Somme.  But it seems we learn nothing.

The below article on the Armenian Genocide from Wikipedia touches on some of the issues and the apparently controversial definition of "genocide" and "holocaust."  The references are worth following.

From Wikipedia article on the Armenian Genocide:
The Armenian Genocide[7] (Armenian: Հայոց Ցեղասպանություն Hayots Tseghaspanutyun),[note 3] also known as the Armenian Holocaust,[8] the Armenian Massacres and, traditionally by Armenians, as Medz Yeghern (Armenian: Մեծ Եղեռն, "Great Crime"),[9] was the Ottoman government's systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects inside their historic homeland which lies within the territory constituting the present-day Republic of Turkey. The total number of people killed as a result has been estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million. The starting date is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre.[10][11][12] Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians and theOttoman Greeks were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government, and their treatment is considered by many historians to be part of the same genocidal policy. The majority of Armenian diaspora communities around the world came into being as a direct result of the genocide.

Raphael Lemkin [a Polish Jewish lawyer who fled to America] was explicitly moved by the Armenian annihilation to coin the word genocide in 1943 and define systematic and premeditated exterminations within legal parameters.[13] The Armenian Genocide is acknowledged to have been one of the first modern genocides,[14][15][16] because scholars point to the organized manner in which the killings were carried out in order to eliminate the Armenians, and it is the second most-studied case of genocide after the Holocaust.

Man's inhumanity to man continues unabated into our time.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Web of "Strange Fruit" Connections

"Strange Fruit" Connections.
Billie Holiday's The Centennial Collection (Sony/Columbia Legacy, 2015). Jazz poster (yahoo, flickr). Abel Meeropol, who wrote Strange Fruit, and his adopted sons Michael and Richard (upper right) and the boys parents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (lower right), executed in 1953 (wikipedia article/Getty image). NAACP Anti-Lynching campaign photos: a flag in NYC and a parade in support of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill in the US Congress.  
"Did you remember that Abel Meeropol, who wrote the lyrics to "Strange Fruit," adopted the sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg after their execution for treason?"

My friend Alice asked this simple but profound question after reading my blog on Billy Holiday's 100th birthday and the iconic protest song "Strange Fruit." The Rosenbergs' sons were Robert and Michael. They took Meeropol's name in part to avoid the sensationalism associated with the Rosenbergs' trial and execution, and also because Abel and Anne Meeropol were loving parents to these sons (Elizabeth Blair, "The Story Behind Strange Fruit," NPR

Michael Meeropol, Alice reminded me, was a graduate student in Madison when we were there.  I vaguely remembered something about that, talking about the Rosenbergs with other graduate students, maybe an encounter.  I had to dig deep, but some memory is there. Those Madison, Wisconsin, days remain as intellectually challenging and astonishing as ever!

Michael got his PhD in Economics at UW, then taught at a college in western Massachusetts.  Richard majored in Anthropology at the University of Michigan and then went to law school and practiced law. Both sons continued their parents' activism and compassionate efforts in social justice reform. Richard founded The Rosenberg Fund for Children, which provides support for children of targeted liberals and young people who are targeted activist.  The nonprofit is doing good work to this day (  They also wrote about their parents and their own experiences in "We are your Sons: The Legacy of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg" (1985) and in other books. Michael's daughter Ivy has produced a documentary film, "Heir to an Execution: A Granddaughter's Story," which premiered at Sundance in 2014. The legacy lives on through the generations.

"That's why the link between Abel Meeropol, the Rosenbergs, and Billie Holiday is so powerful," Alice added.

Alice is brilliant, well-read, the best public high school English teacher ever, right up there with Abel Meeropol himself, and she got that right. It's a powerful link. Alice recommended the Meeropol sons' autobiographies and E,L. Doctorow's The Book of Daniel (1971), based on the story of the Rosenberg case as seen through the eyes of a (fictionalized) son. The wikipedia article on the Rosenbergs, which I think is excellent, noted other literary references. For example, the main character in Sylvia Plath's novel, The Bell Jar, is "morbidly interested" in the Rosenberg case. The novel begins: "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York." I read the book many years ago, but didn't remember this at all. (

With these books on my "to read" list, and now some others, and after a little research to satisfy my curiosity, I see it.  The powerful link. The 30-years-long Anti-Lynching Campaign of the NAACP.  Its impact on ordinary people in a time of rampant racism.  The caring people who became Socialists or members of the Communist party, mostly to work for social justice in America. The involvement of many Jewish immigrants and their children in these struggles, particularly in New York, especially in the Civil Rights movement. The NYC jazz scene and the social activists who were part of it.  The relationship between culture and politics and change  And then the rise of the hysterical anti-Communism of the Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn era.

Roy Cohn, the virulent anti-communist? Yes, he was a lawyer in New York and he was on the U.S. government's prosecution team that hammered the Rosenbergs and sought their execution.  The same Roy Cohn who went on to join Joe McCarthy in destroying hundreds of other lives as well in their overzealous quest to ferret out Communists in our midst. It's interesting to recall that Ethel Rosenberg is a major supporting character in Tony Kushner's acclaimed play "Angels in America" (1993), in which her ghost haunts a dying Roy Cohn. Very clever, brilliant. My theater friends will know this.

How did the Rosenbergs' young sons, ages 6 and 10 in 1953 when their parents were executed, meet the Meeropols? That happened at a holiday party given by none other than W.E.B. Dubois. DuBois was the brilliant scholar and pioneering reformer who helped pave the way for the modern Civil Rights Movement.  He was a founder of the NAACP and edited the Crisis magazine until the mid-1930s. The Meeropols were strong social justice reformers. These circles overlapped.  Abel graduated from the Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in a 1921 class that included James Baldwin, Stan Lee, Neil Simon, Burt Lancaster, Richard Avedon, Ralph Lauren. Can you imagine the chemisty and creativity of this circle of  young students?

How did Abel come to write '"Strange Fruit"?  Abel taught high school in the Bronx where he had grown up, the American-born child of Jewish Russian immigrants, and he also wrote poetry, both professions highly valued and respected in those days.  He was a social reformer, a fighter against the virulent racism of the time, along with his wife Anne. They both played the guitar. They knew lots of jazz musicians, loved the music, played it, valued their many friendships.

Abel Meeropol wrote the lyrics of "Strange Fruit," and then the music, after seeing a photo, in 1937, of a lynching.  It was a photo I had seen in the Library of Congress collection (I cannot bring myself to post these photos): a gruesome picture of the lynching of Thomas Shipps and Abram Smith in August 1930. A disturbing photo.  It haunted Abel Meeropol for days. It inspired his song.

How did the song get to Billie Holiday? Abel played it around various clubs, at union meetings, at a labor meeting in Madison Square Garden, and for a New York club owner, who eventually gave it to Billie Holiday. When she sang it, the world heard.  Many other singers and musicians also recorded it. Time magazine, in 1999, called it the "song of the century."   Marcus Miller, the famed jazz clarinetist, said he was surprised to learn that the song was written "by a white Jewish guy from the Bronx."   Miller went on: "It took extraordinary courage for Meeropol to write and for Holiday to sing."

The juxtaposition and inter-connection of these stories create an almost magical circle in the 20th century chapter of American history. They bring back Chief Seneca's saying that "All things are connected."  More than that, this web of connections reminds us that ordinary people often do extraordinary things.  That the son of immigrants, a school teacher, can rise to the status of compassionate hero.  That a song can stir the imagination and promote social change. That a singer who rose from poverty and a difficult childhood can become its voice. That the sons of persecuted parents can survive such trauma and continue the legacy of social change in positive ways. That the anti-lynching campaign finally stirred Americans to protest, write songs, march in the streets, change the laws. That jazz, America's gift to the world, came from the souls of Black folks, grew out of the African-American experience, and can move us to respond, to think, to speak out against injustice and inequality.  What a great American story! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Strange Fruit"

Billy Holiday, Download magazine,
by Willaim P. Gottlieb, from US Library
of Congress, Music Division, online.
From Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, which
I saw at an exhibit at the Philips Collection in Washington, DC.  African-Americans fled the South, its terrors,and lynching, to find jobs and new opportunities up North. Their struggle continued. 

From a book by Ida B. Wells-Burnett,
a pioneer in the anti-lynching campaign.

I just learned that April 7 marks the 100th birthday of jazz singer and legend Billie Holiday ("Billie Holiday, Protest Singer: The Story and Staying Power of Strange Fruit, by Shawn Amos, Yahoo news, April 7, 2015).  Billie got her start in DC, singing in lots of historic venues like the Howard Theater, the Lincoln Theater, and the Bohemian Cafe, the latter two buildings restored with the resurgence of U Street, NW.  The story on "Strange Fruit" took me back to my Washington days.

When I first moved to the DC area I worked briefly on a research project at the University of Maryland called the Freedom History Project, about the transition from slavery to freedom.  I was a rusty historian and had too much catching up to do, and the transition from an old to a new chapter in my life was rocky, but what I liked best was working at the National Archives in the Civil War Army records.  These records, with thanks to expert archivist Sara Jackson, document the experiences of Southern slaves during and after the war. They give voice to the slaves themselves in their struggle for freedom, revealing how pivitol they were to the cause and course of the war and Reconstruction. The project collected and published these records in an award-winning, multi-volume documentary history that is still churning out records.

I moved on to another interesting project that involved microfilming (this was the pre-digital era) the NAACP's Anti-Lynching Campaign records at the Library of Congress.

The NAACP Anti-Lynching records are powerful and shattering. File after file of gruesome photographs, correspondence, and newspaper clippings document the more than 6,000 lynchings of men, women and children in the Southern states after the Civil war and well into the 20th century. File after file elaborate the tragic stories behind the photos and the sordid activities of the KKK and its lynch mobs.  File after file unveil the incredible 30-year NAACP campaign to outlaw lynching and the arduous and devoted work of pioneers such as Walter White, Charles Houston, Thurgood Marshall, WEB DuBois, Ida Wells, Mary Church Terrell, and hundreds more.  

The Bohemian Cavern,which featured all of the Jazz greats,
including Billie Holiday,still stands at 11th and U St. NW in
Washington, A rich heritage,
Reading about Billie Holiday and her rendition of "Strange Fruit" brought back these memories. Unfortunately, I think most Americans do not know this history, and I fear the younger generations, my grandkids among them, know even less.  They are leaving our history in the past, if history is taught at all, rather than using it to instruct our present and future. I think all Americans, to become truly informed citizens, need to know about, understand, and remember these times. They should know also about the resistance to slavery and injustice, the stories of pioneers and reformers who made our country greater and better. "Southern trees bear strange fruit/Blood on the leaves and blood at the root."
Lawrence, Migration Series, panel 11, yahoo images. 
Strange Fruit, sung by Billie Holliday
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Published byLyrics © EMI Music Publishing;_ylt=Akb5FYaX9Es2ImApkCrud26bvZx4?fr=yfp-t-302-s&toggle=1&fp=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8&p=strange%20fruit%20lyrics
Lyrics by Abel Meerpol (a fascinating story in itself, as my friend Alice reminded me). 


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Ukrainian Easter (Пасха) Traditions

Luba's Paska bread and colored eggs and with friends at one of her many outdoor meals (center and lower right). A church (lower left) in Yvepretoria,"Christ is Risen," one of many churches of many faiths in that beautiful Crimean city. Upper row: Luba's oft-used tea set; her New Year's Eve dinner table (she's the best cook); Luba, Luda and Iryna at Berdyansk beach near Mariupol. 
Pysanky, yahoo image, a wax-resist
process and painted.
It's Easter 2015 and I'm remembering my host mom Luba in Starobelsk and Orthodox Easter (I think it's called Velykden, loosely transliterated). Luba lives in a lovely house surrounded by gardens on Panfelova street. Luba introduced me to my first Ukrainian Orthodox Easter (it's usually a week or two later than the Christian holiday). She baked a special Easter bread, "Paska" (Паска), and colored in bright red the fresh eggs she had gathered from her chickens (who clucked happily outside my bedroom window).  No time for pysanky, those colorful Ukrainian Easter eggs. Fortunately, when my group of PCVs was in training in Chernigov, a host mom invited us to join her and her kids in painting some eggs. It's harder than it looks! Not my talent, but it was a new experience, and fun.

Luba took out a pretty straw basket and filled it with her cakes and eggs, added a few icons and a bottle of vodka, and covered it all with a pretty embroided cloth. We then went to the big Cathedral near downtown, which was crowded with people from all over the region who had done the same thing.  The priest, using twigs of pussy willow, a first sign of spring, sprayed water on us and the baskets. Some people brought their own willow branches to be blessed.  There was a tradition about tapping people on the head with these branches afterward, but I don't remember the details. I think it was for good luck. Does someone else remember? There was no service, no speaking. Just the spray of water. Then we went back home, blessed, and had a great meal.

Happy spring and glorious rebirth to all.
Luba out in the garden, doing what she loves best. Her garden in spring.
Some buildings in Starobelsk, beautifiul architecture that most people take for granted, including Luba's house, upper right. Pictured are the university, Lenin Park, the Cultural Center, a smaller church, the historical society, the Biblioteca, various statues, a relief at St. Nicholas, Children's House of Culture, some pretty homes. These inspired the Starobelsk calendar I did with the help of English Club friends and Nik (designer) and Maria.
St. Nicholas Church, in center of Starobelsk,
 taken by Dima, an English Club member. So lovely.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A "Reign of Terror:" Russia in Ukraine

Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland called a spade a spade.  It's refreshing.  She labeled Russia's invasion and occupation of Ukraine a "reign of terror."

My friends in eastern Ukraine, not far from the city of Lugansk, have been saying this for a while.  "We live in constant fear."   Almost all the NGO directors and workers I knew have fled Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts; they're living in Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa, Khargiv, and other places.  "I was on a list of 'fascists' targeted for extinction," one friend told me simply.  
I lived in a house similar to this in Starobelsk, a larger version with large kitchen,
extra bedroom, beautiful built-ins, a patio for outdoor meals.  It was surrounded
by veggie and flower gardens and beautiful trees, apricot and plum and apple. 
Stealth and lies.  Putin has admitted what most folks have known for a long time, that he planned the takeover of Crimea.  He continues his ferocious military and propaganda campaign to destroy and destabilize Ukraine. The Sea of Azov region is threatened. The proxies are being armed and trained. They want more "trophies," as they call the Donetsk airport, Debaltseve, and other decimated towns.
Donetsk airport, yahoo news image. 
The only way to end this war is for Russia to get out of Ukraine.  But Putin has no intention of withdrawing his troops and weapons. Never did.  He has already broken international laws. It began when he invaded and occupied Crimea. It continues as he aggresses against the territorial integrity and soverignity of a foreign country.  His word means nothing.

This is why Minsk 2 is a joke.  Think about it.   How dare Russia demand that Ukraine change its Constitution to "accommodate" the so-called "autonomy" of the Donbas, ravaged and occupied by Putin's proxies, orechestrated from Moscow.  Why should Ukraine have to make constitutional changes under the circumstances? Why should they follow Putin's dictates, precisely his ploy at Minsk? Certainly a country that's the victim of aggression should not have to change its constitution in the interests of the aggressors.

It's been a year, and Crimea has succumbed to Stalinist-like terror campaigns of Russification, militarization, and rampant human rights abuses.  Anyone who is opposed to the Russian takeover is a target of threats, attacks by thugs, and murder.  The abuses against the Tatars and anyone who opposes Putin are relentless--homes, NGOs, cultural institutions, media outlets destroyed, shut down. This is what lies in store for the occupied Donbas. And frankly, until Crimeans and Donbas citizens rise up and oppose the occupation of Ukrainian land, those who welcomed and still welcome Russian rule deserve what they wished for. They fell for the super hyped-up propaganda, were paid to storm public buildings and wave flags, were promised larger pensions and other things that Russia can't deliver on, were whipped into a frenzy of blind nationalist hysteria. Now they are being paid to post Russian propaganda replies on social media, a whole army of sheep on Russia's payroll.  I've received several, accusing me of "fascist lies."

It's powerful: ramped-up propaganda in concert with military force.  Brutal and brutish.

I think the President and his administration and the EU understand this.  No one believes Putin. Nuland is not alone. Few accept the legality or legitimacy of the Russian invasion and occupation of  Ukraine.  But it's a tough call. No one wants war with Russia. Putin is reckless. A dangerous trickster.

"Are we next?"  my friends in Starobelsk ask, anticipating an attack, wondering what they should do, thinking about leaving their homes, thinking of the safety of their children.  "It's constant stress, day in and day out. We survive as best we can.  We work in our gardens.  We preserve.  We share. We help each other."  

I don't know if there is a realistic way to secure Ukraine's borders.  A multi-million dollar Wall is not the answer. Other economic and social needs are so great.  Maybe UN peacekeepers?  There's been a notable silence on this issue. Maybe nothing will work. Maybe the "reign of terror" will go on and on.  Right now, that's how it feels.  I can't imagine living in such fear, day in and day out.

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