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Personal Reflections after Charlottesville

I wrote this post for Small Stones last month. -E

 

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Resist! Protesting the Ku Klux Klan. Photo by Ézé Amos.

In another part of my life, I help run a newsletter of social justice events. There’s a joint Jewish-Muslim event coming, and yesterday I received an email that read, in part, “The Palo Alto Police Department recommends not putting it on social media, so we are refraining from that.” And I’m, like, “Let’s advertise it! Bring on the white supremacists! Let them show their faces.” I’m not going to do that, but a substantial part of me wants to.

Folks should know: Jewish people (me. my family.) attend synagogue under armed guard in California. I grew up attending a Bay Area synagogue burnt down by white supremacists two years before my birth. Our Holocaust-survivor Cantor was injured trying to rescue the Torahs. The texts are considered holy, so they are buried and memorialized in the synagogue courtyard, for everyone to see. When I was 10, the synagogue was grafitti’d with swastikas. I never liked going to temple very much, and still don’t. I carry around the feeling, “Really? You want me to deal with this sh*t in the name of something I’m not sure I believe?” with the competing feeling of, “I’ll be damned if some bigoted jerks are going to change my behavior.”

I’m not scared, I’m angry. Incandescent, actually. Black, brown, Muslim, and immigrant lives matter. Yes, all lives matter, but especially the ones that face daily targeting and could use some extra moral support and physical protection.

All of the denigration of human worth we see happening is related. My mother’s family escaped Nazi Germany. Most of my husband’s family on his dad’s side perished, and his Polish grandmother spent World War II hiding in a basement. My nieces and nephews get evacuated from their JCCs annually due to bomb threats. Hell, so do the Christian babies of friends who use JCC preschools. I can “pass” on the street if I don’t wear a Star of David, because I’m white, but a couple weeks ago, my friend of Indian descent was told to “go home” in the Safeway parking lot in Mountain View, with his infant daughter in the car. This man is more Californian than I will ever be, and he has the flat, native California accent to prove it. A college friend’s Nigerian-American husband risked his life to photograph the supremacists in Charlottesville this past weekend. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at their family’s bravery.

I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I want to add my voice. You should care about these problems because they are immoral. You should also care because it costs taxpayer money for police to respond to racist garbage, to patrol past threatened houses of worship and community centers, to over-police largely black neighborhoods.

The things happening right now in the US are wrong. They aren’t new, but the volume is louder and it would be sinful not to respond. People needing to fear the government’s action (or inaction) is wrong. The hatefulness, whether by commission or omission, is in our systems and in our streets and we cannot accept it.

I don’t have neat answers, but I encourage you to do a little more than you’ve been doing. I’m an introvert, but I’ve found it powerful to attend solidarity rallies (I’ve only started doing this in the last few months.) It’s not always because they’re directly impactful, but because it seems to help folks feel less alone—both those participating and those who pass by and smile at us. Give money to places like CAIR, Cville Solidarity, the SPLC, or any other causes that move you. Ask your friends what they’re doing and tag along. Get together with friends or your faith community and invite a speaker to teach you about Black Lives Matter. Try to stretch a little past your comfort zone, as a demonstration of the fact that you care.

Sending love to you.

* The photo at the top of this post is by Ézé Amos. Read more about Ézé and his work in Charlottesville here.

The Run-Up to Kenya’s 2017 Election

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Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Director, Chris Msando, addresses a news conference at the commission’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, July 6, 2017. Msando was murdered a few days ago.  Photo by Thomas Mukoya. Original here.

Kenya votes for a new President next week.[1] Elections are contentious in Kenya. My abrupt departure from field research in December 2008, after a scary evening listening to gunshots, was related to the presidential election later in the month.

The 2008 election was followed by 1,000+ deaths and an ethnic “unmixing” of the country, in which ~600,000 people move more or less permanently to areas where their own ethnic group is in the majority. Basically, when ethnic identity becomes salient (in this case, via the move to murder folks simply for being the “wrong” ethnicity), people feel they have to be with “their own kind” in order to be physically safe.

Three days ago, this happened:

Kenya election official tortured, murdered before vote, officials say: A senior Kenyan election official was found murdered on Monday, three days after he went missing, poll officials said.

Another article about the killing, from VOA, notes that “the nationwide vote is one week away, and the organization of the elections has been a source of tension during the past year. Msando was to oversee the use of biometric voter technology.”

Another related set of events has been happening over the last year as well. The run-up to an election is a time that politicians and citizens make “moves” to grab new benefits, in hopes that after the election, newly-elected leaders will allow them to keep what they grabbed. This article uses the area where I did my dissertation research, Laikipia, to illustrate a larger point about conflict associated with land pressure:

Loss of Fertile Land Fuels ‘Looming Crisis’ Across Africa — Climate change, soil degradation and rising wealth are shrinking the amount of usable land in Africa. But the number of people who need it is rising fast.

I’ve met some of the pastoralist families (herders) and white landowners mentioned in the article. (N.B. I’m not usually a fan of Jeffrey Gettleman’s articles and don’t generally recommend him as a resource. I think this article is reasonable, though.)

Laikip-in-Kenya_map

 

It gives a sense of the “stew” of problems in the area–and in various other parts of the continent–all of which are difficult and inter-related. Among them: colonialism, bad policy, land degradation, greed, and on and on (e.g. weak property rights, climate-change-exacerbated drought, population growth, collective action problems, election-year politics).

It’s heartbreaking and infuriating—and it goes without saying that the most vulnerable suffer the most (kids, impoverished families, etc.).

[1] I’ve previously written about Kenyan elections, including the 2008 presidential election when things got really violent (here, here, here, here, and here); in 2010 when they amended their constitution; and in the 2013 presidential election (here and here).

Election 2016 and My Grandmother

“Institutions are just habits. They’re nothing. When they’re broken, they’re broken.”

[This post originally appeared on July 14, 2017 on the Small Stones blog.] Eva Kaye-Zwiebel is a co-founder of Small Stones. In June she attended a Voice of Witness oral history workshop, where she talked about the 2016 presidential election against the background of her grandmother’s life. She told this story in an interview, which we’ve edited to create a first person narrative.

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Eva on Nov. 8, 2016 after casting her vote.

My brother was at my house on Election Day, November 8, 2016, when a giant box arrived from my Cousin Nancy. I looked at it and thought, “What the heck is this?” As we were opening it, I remembered Nancy had told me she had the steamer trunk Manna used to move from Germany to the United States. I’d said Nancy could send it to me. Manna was my grandmother. Her name was Marianne, German for Mary Ann. When she was little she called herself ‘Manna’ because she couldn’t pronounce her own name, and that became the family variation on grandma.

Before the election my brother and I talked a little. My reputation is as the professional worrier in the family and I didn’t want to dump too much of that on him. He knew I was worried and that I had gone to Nevada to knock on doors because I didn’t have a good feeling about the election. I wanted to be able to say I’d done what I reasonably could.

The box was absolutely empty. It’s an empty wooden crate. I guess I expected a more finished trunk. The wood is raw, like, ‘be careful when you touch it, you might get a splinter.’ It has metal hinges and a place to put a lock on it. It’s maybe three feet by eighteen inches by twenty inches. It’s sturdy. It has Hamburg Line stickers on it and the address she was going to in Harrison, New York.

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Manna’s trunk on Nov. 8, 2016.

I laughed when we opened the box because it was too ‘neat’ for it to arrive the day of the election. Manna left Germany in 1935, and this is the trunk. If it happened in a story, you’d get mad and throw the book because it’s too neat.

Manna was a force of nature, and she was grumpy. I think she was like that before her country fell apart and the whole family left. But she left early; she was one of those people. She was in medical school in Switzerland and, if I remember my history right, the Nuremburg laws or some of Hitler’s legislation went into effect in Switzerland before it did in Germany. She had to leave school because she was Jewish. As a result, she looked around and said, “This is not the place for me. This is not going to go well.” And she up and left before the family. She ended up getting her US citizenship the week before Pearl Harbor. Of course then Germans couldn’t get it and my grandfather was an enemy alien in Los Angeles during World War II.

Continue reading “Election 2016 and My Grandmother”

New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, and Acknowledging History

Original image at https://www.nps.gov/jela/images-barataria-preserve.htm
Baldcypress trees can be found along the Bayou Coquille Trail at the Barataria Preserve. Credit: National Park Service.

On Friday, May 19, Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans gave a speech marking the removal of Confederate leaders’ statues from prominent city sites. His words strike me as the sort of thoughtful, nuanced words of persuasion and loving critique that the United States needs. I’m not a Southerner, but I hope I could ‘take in’ analogous words on the issues where I have blind spots. The text of Mayor Landrieu’s speech, below, is from the Times-Picayune newspaper’s website.

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“Thank you for coming.

The soul of our beloved City is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way — for both good and for ill. It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans — the Choctaw , Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando de Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Colorix, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese and so many more.

You see, New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum—out of many, we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were

Continue reading “New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, and Acknowledging History”

Waltzing Mathilda

Making memories with some favorite kids

Tomorrow, I’m leaving on a 2-plus week vacation. I’ll visit my brother and his wife in London and then meet my second cousins at Heathrow for a trip to Australia. I’m accompanying them as a ‘mother’s helper’—because they have four little girls aged 10, 7, and twins who are 3. The eldest was my first baby: she was a toddler in Cambridge when my now-husband had a postdoc there. Now, her baby sisters are older than she was at the time! I’m looking forward to making memories with these four young people.

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Me and little Hazel

.smallstones. repost: Migra Watch

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ICE

This is a personal post. Yesterday, I, Eva, participated in the first post-election event that made me feel potentially useful — beyond marching, phoning, or attending a meeting. I am sharing in case you want to look for similar opportunities. The event was a 2-hour training to be a witness to ICE immigration raids.

Community groups in Santa Clara County, California, are setting up a rapid response network that will have its soft launch this week: a hotline for undocumented immigrants, and their family and friends, to call if ICE shows up at the door. A dispatcher will answer the phone, guide the caller through his/her rights, and text a network of citizen-witnesses who will come to the site of the raid to document it.

Here’s how my event was advertised:

Come learn how you can be a rapid responder so that we can respond to calls from community members…

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.smallstones. repost: About the Rage You May Feel

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Fridays are good days to cut yourself some slack and enjoy the approach of the weekend. In that spirit, we thought you might enjoy this easy read, “Embrace Authenticity: How to Break Free from the Tyranny of Positivity.

The article is a conversation between psychologist Susan David and Maria Shriver. We urge you not to get hung up on the participants or the jargony language of “authenticity” and “resilience”. Just be reminded that feelings can’t be wrong.

Instead of struggling with whether we should or shouldn’t feel something, it’s important for us to say, “What is the function of this emotion? What is the value [it represents]? What is this emotion trying to tell me?”

Within that, it’s important for us to recognize that our emotions are data, not directions. Because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you need to feel guilty. Because you feel angry doesn’t mean you…

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.smallstones. repost: Moderating the Internet

I’m contributing to a nascent website called .smallstones., which curates teacher resources to foster engaged citizenship. I plan to repost some of my contributions here. First repost below.

.smallstones. Moderating the Internet: Who regulates online speech? Is there a digital public square?

 

Say It Ain’t So, Joe

Economic and political instability as Congo’s Kabila overstays his term

Joseph Kabila, the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is supposed to leave office today, but he has refused to hold elections and seems intent on staying put. This article in African Arguments, by two researchers at The International Crisis Group, looks at the country’s difficult economic state, which is both a cause and consequence of political instability. (My dissertation advisor would yell at me for putting the same variable on both sides of the equation).