Thursday, June 8, 2017

True Normal New York City Conversations




Yesterday Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey asserted that the conversation Donald Trump had with James Comey was just a normal New York City conversation.  It is fair to say that most saw that conversation as assertive at best, bullying and nearly mafioso at worst.  After living here since 1994, I can now call New York City home.  And during that time I have had some memorable conversations that sounded nothing like the one characterized as "normal" by Chris Christie.  In fact the only time I ever had a conversation like that was with a misogynistic bully of a man that I refused to work for and at great risk walked away.  For I too was asked to to do something that would risk my integrity and would risk the career of an esteemed colleague.   




So, I take exception to a Governor from another state trying defend and define how New Yorkers talk to each other.  Yes, we are opinionated and aggressive.  But there is a reason why nearly every tourist purchases some souvenir with a big read heart that proclaims I Love New York.  New Yorkers have heart. To help you further understand what I'm trying to say I wanted to share with you some truly normal conversations that happen with great frequency in my daily life.  




Yesterday
On the R train with my girls after a long day of fun the train approached Roosevelt Ave and on came one of my local CVS pharmacists, a 60 or so year old woman.  She sat next to me and for the rest of the ride we spoke about her day at the Bronx Zoo. That conversations included sharing photos, talking about her work schedule and the fact hat she hit her 10,000 steps for the day.  

Last Friday Morning
Working on some writing at Starbucks that morning, two older Jewish women told me that they thought my laptop looked really nice. She proceeded to share with me how her laptop was so heavy she never moves it. Except this one time, when she went to her sisters because she was sick. Then it wouldn't work, so she used her sisters.  The other woman then helped her realize, by telling her 3 times in 3 different ways,  that she just wasn't connected to the Wi-fi.  (FYI - My laptop is a low end Lenovo) 

Starbucks, 2016
One of my baristas shared with me how he never worked on Sundays because no matter what he does on Saturday night his abuela (grandmother) wants him in church and he goes.  Then he shared how much his life will change when she and his parents move to Florida the next year.  He is both excited and anxious.

Uber Driver, 2015
Heading to my local mall on a random errand run with my girls, my driver shared with me about how grateful he was to be here.  When I inquired as to why, he explained it was because he could practice and observe his Christianity with much more freedom than back in his home country.

NYSC, 2014
One day as I came into the gym the receptionist shared with me her worries about her son - his struggles with school, their upcoming move to Michigan etc.  The only thing that gave her peace was that her church the Jehovah Witness Hall was helping her get set up.   

Waiting Room at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Early 2011
In 2010 and 2011 I would accompany my dear friend to chemo and on one occasion I got there early.  As I waited I met Despina.  She was a women in late 70's waiting for her chemo appointment all by herself. She had children but she was always there alone.  At the end of our conversation, she handed me a change wallet with a dollar in it.  It was a thank you for merely visiting with her for 15 minutes. I still have the wallet and the dollar. I'll never spend it.



 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Dissent - A Tenet of Democracy



Dissent according to Google means "to hold or express opinions that are at variance with those previously, commonly, or officially expressed." Dissension in its truest form is a tenet of democracy. It is one of the sweetest fruits of freedom.  Starting on on December 19, 1773, when the most important act of dissension took place in the Boston Harbor.  The Sons of Liberty, revolting against the previously accepted practice of paying taxes to England, threw chests of tea overboard into the Boston Harbor.   Dissension was the only way.  They didn't necessarily know what was coming next.  But what they did know, without a doubt, was that taxation without representation was just wrong.  This was a pivotal moment of dissension for our country, and there were many more to follow.


Now, 244 years later that country can't seem to disagree without having a nervous breakdown.  Any act of dissension is deemed unpatriotic. There is an expectation to get in line.  There are those who are quick to remind you of the soldiers who died for what - for you to spit on the country.  These days online it is like the age of McCarthyism.  Friends argue incessantly, un-friend each other,  and hide each others posts if opinions don't align with their own.  To be clear arguing is not the same as ideological sparring. Sparring does not evoke name calling. All of this madness is simply confounding. Edward R. Murrow made it clear when he said, "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."


The nation we call home, right now was built on the backs of dissenters.  We have not descended from a line that merely gets in line. Dwight D. Eisenhower reminded us that, "Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels - men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion." There were two pivotal workers strikes in Pennsylvania - one in 1889 the other in 1909.  Both strikes were to protect workers wages and in one instance to protect the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers union.  In both cases there was violence. Yet, both cases resulted in the preservation of workers rights and the continued existence of the steelworkers union. These workers had to dissent. In one instance the railway car builders were being paid via a pool system that changed daily at the whim of the foreman.  They had to eat, they had families and wages that weren't set were prohibitive.  What these workers did was in perfect alignment with the dissension that founded this nation.



Yet today, whenever an act of dissension turns even remotely uncivil there is a high brow clearing of the throat elitism that reveals our collective ignorance of what real dissension and nation building looks like.  We are still a nation under construction.  Yet we act like any act of disturbance is beneath us as a nation.  Instead of understanding that discord brings about a new day. We find proof of that in music - harmonic resolution can only occur with discord.  We find additional proof in science  - with the smooth finish of a stone that only happens when friction takes place.  Yet, we treat the state of the nation as if it were as fragile as a fresh egg.


This is a nation that has endured one movement after the other.  Each movement found its footing in the act of dissension. Dissension can be a petition, a letter to a leader, a blog, a strike, a walk, a boycott, and according to google dissension can be merely "holding" an opinion. If your daughter participates on a schools sports team she can thank Bernice Sandler and the 269 letters of complaint she filed that eventually led to Title ix.  The simple act of boycotting grapes grew to a boycott that included 14 million Americans in 1969, causing the Delano growers to sign with UFW - which brought much relief to the farmers and workers that were paid poorly and treated unfairly. Each act has led to a necessary change.  In the words of Antonin Scalia  "A good, hard-hitting dissent keeps you honest."


As we move through this time of true national division - we have to stop pretending that dissension is unpatriotic. Just the opposite. In order for our union to remain strong we must dissent when the situation calls for it.  We need to be able to sit around a table with eight seats and eight different opinions.    If you can't do that, if you can't support the ideal of dissension, then I fear that it isn't democracy you love. Simply put, democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members..... Democracy represents the whole, not the faction, not the squeaky wheel, not the richest, not the poorest, not the most religious, not those who have been here longer, not the newest of us, but all of the above.  And from time to time, dissension must occur, ensuring and proving the durability of a free and strong nation full of the truest of patriots.


Monday, January 30, 2017

My Outrage


This time last year as the Presidential Primary process was just beginning in all of my imagination I could never believe that today we would be where we are right now.  Seriously, of all the outcomes - this was dead last on my list.  Now, on this side of history I understand it and hate it all in one breathe.  The electoral process as designed I have deep respect for.  Politics and the nuisanced dances it takes to make a country and the world work have long captured my attention.  But this - this bastardized process, the permanent case of amnesia that seems to plague both sides of the electorate, and the persistent intolerance of exercised freedoms that are so sacrificially fought for is at the core of my outrage.

As snow fell last Winter, rumors fell like snowflakes that Debbie Wasserman Schultz was repeatedly interfering with both the caucus system and debate scheduling.  Despite the inability to substantiate these claims - the conservative media ran with the story calling Hillary Clintons ascension a coronation.  It would become clear in the heat of Summer, as the DNC Convention was about to begin, that these claims had legs and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, would soon find those legs cut off.  But it was too late.  Bernie Sanders was forced to get in line and his supporters were bullied into doing likewise. And yet after all that, there was an air of arrogance, a sort of counting your chickens before they hatch, that allowed the campaign of Hillary Clinton to overlook and under-address real voter concerns.



Meanwhile over on the RNC side a more complexing story was unfolding.  As the snow melted away and the Republican candidates withdrew one by one. It became very clear that both the party and the media were out of touch with deep issues that were plaguing the very constituents they were trying to woo. They (Republicans) were loyal through 8 years of George W Bush and still ended up with nothing to show for it. Then after eight years of President Obama, a man who they villianized and refused to legitimize, they were ready for a real Maverick.  Before we knew it, all the other candidates were gone and Donald Trump remained victorious.



In years past, the religious right would played the role of Scrutinizer In Chief. Mitt Romney's failure to secure the GOP's full support rested solely in his Mormon faith.  Despite the alignment in values - the division that doctrine created made Mitt Romney the wrong man for the job. But this time around - the church was done with loosing. They were willing to look past Donald Trumps failed marriages, rumored romps, foul language, massive ego, and policies that fail to align to Christian values in order to secure the White House. The end goal is the overturn of Roe V. Wade at all cost. And if you ask some, this will cost the church current members and the ability to reach future members. 



 Now in this bleak mid-winter we are buried in a blizzard of hypocrisy.  At times it feels like we the citizens are stuck between two first graders that are screaming  - He Did It  - No She Did It.  The GOP wants everyone to move on when their current Commander in Chief didn't move on until about a year ago.  The Dems are outraged at being lied to out-rightly. Lest they forget how the media was misled about a certain videotape and country called Libya.  The party that elected a Commander in Chief who at the onset of his campaign was so fouled mouthed is now feigning offense at a foul mouthed Pop Star for protesting doesn't reconcile.  What neither side is willing to admit is that they both use the same methods and they both characterize those methods as audacious.  



As this process has moved along, it has become increasingly clear to me that we don't understand how freedom works.  We have soldiers dying for our freedom to practice or not practice a religion, to speak or not to speak, to protest or abstain, to vote or not to vote, etc.  Yet, when anyone exercises a freedom that offends us, or ones expression doesn't match our own we call them unpatriotic.  And realize that if you loose an opportunity because of a freedom you participated in - understand they are free to do so.  This is freedom, plain and simple.

So currently I sit here outraged. As some would describe it, I live in an urban liberal bubble, Yet most of my huge (not bigly) extended family are proud passengers on the Trump train.  I know, that my family has been devastatingly impacted by trade decisions and I also know that they are lawful highly responsible gun owners.





My family has a long long and respected tradition of military service- my Grandfather fought in WW I, 4 uncles fought in WW 2, 2 Uncles fought in the Korean Conflict, 1 Uncle was in the service in Germany during Vietnam, and a wide variety of cousins have served and still serve.  I may not always meet them eye to eye ideologically, but understand their concerns and respect them dearly.


All the while I live in a city surrounded by people that are being dramatically affected by the new Presidents policies. Issues that if you don't live it, you may not fully appreciate it.  The older I get, and the more I learn, the more I understand that there is no black and white.  There are varying shades of grey that require contemplation.  So, here I sit outraged.  

The only way forward I see is to let the process as laid out by our forefathers play out. We must exercise the freedoms we have with the wit and wisdom that keeps us civilized.  We must remain diligent; reading always, deciphering always, empathizing always, and dissenting as required. And most of all, let's restore our respect for each other.  Because when all the dust settles, and this presidency has run its course, we have to move forward with each other.