Monthly Archives: November 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Today is a gray, gloomy day in northern California and even though we need the rain, it is hard to welcome the damp and chill. Last year at this time, there was plenty of trouble in the world, but the mood was hopeful. This year, it appears to many of us, that the country has taken a wrong turn from which it may never recover.

In high schools, students are expressing their fear by harassing fellow students; in the streets, people are demonstrating against the government with a fury that hasn’t been seen in fifty years; hate groups are springing to life again apparently feeling they have won the right to turn back the clock and resume their old habits of tormenting anyone they disagree with.

In times like this, it is easy to agree with Matthew Arnold’s bitter assessment of the state of the world.

the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night. 

But the holiday is upon us and we will be expected to produce the usual holiday dinner along with good cheer. There is always much to be thankful for—friends and family; a chance to live and work in a (mostly) peaceful country free of war. And even in the wider world, many people still act with generosity. On Thursday, thousands of volunteers will serve Thanksgiving dinners to people who cannot buy their own. Doctors and nurses and all the others who help the sick and dying will continue to work during the holiday and make life more endurable. People will scrub the cruel graffiti off walls and sidewalks and will make friends with the targets of scorn.

Somehow human nature has survived the assault of other periods of unrest and attack. We will survive this one too. The spirit of hatred and exclusion has threatened the country many times before. Native Americans were harried and driven from the lands they had nurtured; slaves were brought from their own countries and forced to work in ours; people of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned for no reason except baseless fear during World War II. But somehow the tide turns and evil has been recognized for what it is. Slowly and imperfectly Americans have recognized their mistakes and tried to undo them. Wrong choices and cruel actions are never completely erased. They have to be fought by every generation and by every individual. But people are strong.

The most important thing to be thankful for is that we won’t be conquered by new mistakes. Bad choices may be made but they can be reversed. Remember the old W. E. Henley poem we came across in school? No defeat has to be permanent. People are strong and will resist. We shall overcome!

Out of the night that covers me, 

      Black as the pit from pole to pole, 

I thank whatever gods may be 

      For my unconquerable soul. 

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance 

      I have not winced nor cried aloud. 

Under the bludgeonings of chance 

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

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November 21, 2016 · 8:33 am

Another Election and the Loss of Another Chance

Many women today feel as though they have been slapped in the face again. After years of struggle, hard work, and service, another woman has failed to win the presidency. Despite being clearly the best candidate in a field of four, Hillary Clinton hillary_clintonwas once more sent back to spend more years working for the public good but not enjoying the glory of our highest office. Instead, a minority of voters (although a majority of the electoral college) chose a candidate who bluffed his way to the top with insults and braggadocio like a high school bully. This has been a sad election for the forces of hope and of rationality.

The history of women’s fight to gain the presidency reminds me of a line from a poem by the Irish-American freedom fighter, Shaemas O’Sheel, They went forth to battle, but they always fell. But we should remember that the Irish finally got their freedom and a woman will eventually be elected president, although the struggle has been long and difficult. We had hoped it was over, but it continues.

Only three women have come even close to being seen as serious contenders to become president of the United States. The first was Victoria Woodhull, who ran a spirited but spectacularly unsuccessful campaign in 1872. After all, women weren’t even allowed to vote at that time, much less run the country. I wrote a few posts about Woodhull on this blog during the 2012 presidential race.

A hundred years after Victoria Woodhull’s attempt, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm began her campaign to get the nomination of the Democratic Party. In 1972, she was well-known as the first Black woman to be elected to Congress. That had happened in 1968 and Chisholm had made her mark by refusing to be quiet and follow the dictates of politicians in her party. She fought to serve her constituents by supporting bills to provide federal Shirley Chisholmfunds for child care facilities, and she opposed the Vietnam War saying “Unless we start to fight and defeat the enemies in our own country, poverty and racism, and make our talk of equality and opportunity ring true, we are exposed in the eyes of the world as hypocrites when we talk about making people free.”  (Unbossed and Unbought, p. 97)

Chisholm’s 1972 campaign for the presidency was never taken seriously by political leaders. She spent very little money on the campaign and was not able to hire strong staff for her efforts. The country was not ready for an African American president and especially not for one who was a woman. Throughout her career, Chisholm noted that being a woman had put more obstacles in her path than being black. Despite her failure to gain support for her nomination, (Senator George McGovern became the Democratic candidate.) Chisholm continued to be an active member of Congress until 1982 when she retired. After her retirement from politics,  she taught for several years at Mount Holyoke College. Her experience continues to inspire liberal politicians and especially women and African Americans who are still struggling to be fully represented in government. And her book Unbossed and Unbought, which she published in 1970,  remains a valuable document about a politician who fought for her constituents and was never swayed by money or political power during those halcyon days before the invention of  PACS or the ravages of corporate funding for campaigns.

And now in 2016, it seems the theme remains the same for Hillary Clinton as it did for her predecessors: women are excellent accessories to a successful candidate, but not to be trusted with the tough job of running the country. Americans decided to take a chance on someone who wants to shut the country off from the world and huddle in a sinking swamp of resentment and anger. Do young people really want a chance to return to dirty, dangerous coal mining and mind-numbing assembly lines? To watch smokestacks billow black, sooty smoke that makes our children ill while our coastal areas are being flooded by warming ocean waters? Does anyone remember how miserable the 1950s were for most Americans—for minorities and women who struggled to survive in a world where all the good jobs were reserved for white men? Is this what we really want?

So, the struggle continues. All battles to build a better society take a long, long time. I’ll quote a verse written by the Chartists, a group who appear in my recent Charlotte Edgerton mystery stories Death Calls at the Palace. They bring us a hope of a better future. Someday that glass ceiling will shatter. The battle continues!

The time shall come when earth shall be

A garden of joy from sea to sea,

When the slaughterous sword is drawn no more

And Goodness exults from shore to shore.

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