I am having a difficult time wrapping my head around all the state legislatures restricting our blood soaked liberty to vote. I don’t care your color, creed, gender or country of origin voting has always been one of the freedoms we cherish and brag about to the rest of the world. Having lived my years I can remember when we shook our heads about unfair elections in other countries — people being denied the right to choose their leader in a fair election. The United Nations would send soldiers to protect the people, men and women who risked their lives to come to the polls and vote. I used to thank God we had free, fair and open elections when I watched what other people in other countries went through to vote.
Now I am beginning to wonder about the element in this country who is attempting to gerrymander districts and limit access to voting rights just because they control state legislatures and they have the power. You can’t hand out water to people who are standing in line in the heat for six hours because they treasure their right to vote?
It used to be we shuddered at the restrictions on literacy and poll tax forced on Black American voters in the South. Now wherever governors and legislators have the power, many of our freedoms are being whittled away from us.
Of course we get weary of the news that blasts us every day of corruption and political battles. It is so bad you wish some days to crawl in a hole and pull it in after you, but as true citizens of a still free and democratic republic we cannot do that. We must face our legislators and hold them to account for what they are doing in limiting our rights to elect the candidates we choose.
In Russia, Putin allows some names to appear on the ballot other than his, but elections are a joke. The people in many of the Balkan countries are limited in fair elections. Latin America is facing dictators, fascism, organized crime and corrupt officials. The same is true in various countries in Africa. The recent January 6th attack on the nation’s capitol was attempting to interrupt a two hundred year old process of electing a leader for this nation. The people’s choice was clear. Even the military was fearing a coup and there was talk of brown-shirts in the streets. Historians say we came very close to losing our democracy that day.
I used to believe that fair elections in this country were a given. Not any more. Thomas Jefferson said that the tree of liberty must occasionally be watered by the blood of martyrs. Willing to die for free elections where everyone can vote? May it never come to that in this country.
July the fourth, 2021. It has been 245 years since the Declaration of Independence which separated us from England and King George III. As Benjamin Franklin was coming out of the Constitutional Convention some years later, a woman asked him, “Mr Franklin, what kind of government have you given us?” “A Republic, madam,” he answered. “If you can keep it.” And since those days we have been involved in a struggle to live up to the words, a more perfect union, establish justice, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity. The United States was born under a dream of a better life for everyone. But over the years we have had to redefine “everyone”?? And what liberty, i.e. freedom, means, and taking care of ALL the people, and ensuring a JUST society. And the whole world has watched us down through ages and copied us and come here to make their home. Because this was America and this was better. There are multitudes of stories of what these people found when they arrived — the struggles, the prejudice, the poverty. It seems before they could really call this home, everybody had to shed a little of their blood in some form to make this dream a reality.
I have been reading the wartime sermons of Peter Marshall, the pastor of Riverside Presbyterian church in New York City and also chaplain of the US Senate during World War II. His sermons were legendary as he called to the American people that the country was struggling. The war was a last resort for the hopes and dreams of humanity everywhere. We said we were fighting for liberty, but Dr. Marshall noted in our own country people of color and indigenous people were not free to vote or experience economic opportunity. Dr. Marshall said that God was calling his people to accept the gospel message of loving God and loving your neighbor to create a world where everyone could live without fear. His sermons from those pivotal years in our history ring out loudly today. “Our Government is in danger of control by corrupt party machines — cynical, ruthless, self-seeking, lovers of power and authority, which should challenge every true patriot.” We are fighting the same battles today as political parties lash out at each other in a stream of hate-filled words trying to undo any good the other party has done. Humanity cannot advance when this is the path that is taken. This is not what the founding fathers and mothers intended.
It is worth thinking about on this July 4th and asking the question, “Will we turn from our rebellious and stubborn ways?” Could there be a rededication to the ideals that the original signers imagined when they put their names to the Declaration of Independence? They pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to get the dream moving toward reality. We are not there yet, but there is a spirit in the American dream which holds to the promises of “liberty and justice for all.” May it happen soon.
My cousin sent me an op-ed from her local newspaper. The author was writing about racism, how it is practiced all around us and has been since the founding of the country. But the turn of the editorial is that we are finally recognizing it and starting to push for the changes necessary to right these wrongs. My sense is the whole world is watching how we deal with what our history was and how we move forward in making our country and world a better place.
As a student of history, I don’t want to dwell on the past — I want to understand it and then apply what we have learned to improve. I have always known George Washington was a slave owner and that was not a good thing, but he was raised in an era when it was accepted. He was the first president of the United States. He turned down the offer to become king. One source tells us: “Despite having been an active slave holder for 56 years, George Washington struggled with the institution of slavery and spoke frequently of his desire to end the practice. At the end of his life, Washington made the decision to free all his slaves in his 1799 will - the only slave-holding Founding Father to do so.” Through our history we struggle with the balance of good and evil. The importance of recognizing slavery was wrong had to come first. The ensuing struggle to continue that move forward was nasty throughout the Jim Crow years following the Civil War. It still isn’t what it should be and some people are still trying to keep people of color from voting and pursuing economic equality. It is a slow process, but I hope with the addition of the words “systemic racism” into our vocabulary we are learning to examine ourselves, our own prejudices and right some wrongs a little faster.
I have been a “Trekkie” ever since I was a kid and I always appreciated the great diversity of the program from its very beginning, not only within the crew but the inclusion of people from other planets. When the Federation began to make peace overtures with the Klingons, it was a battle on both sides to get acceptance and peace. Another early episode found the crew interacting with a race at war — the color of the people was half white and half black — the struggle was over which side you were black on — the right side or the left side.
There is a saying, “The only constant in life is change.” And then we hear people say and I say it myself, “I don’t want things to change. I want them to stay just as they are.” Sorry, not going to happen. We can look back on our own lives with pride for the good things we have accomplished, but to finish the picture we also have to remember the “not-so-good” things we have done. History operates in the same way. When Galileo was attempting to convince people the earth revolved around the sun, when people believed the earth was the center of the solar system, that meant he was condemned by most of Europe including the Church which was the most powerful institution at that time. If the earth was only one planet among many, then suddenly we were not that important. We can teach about the cruelties of slavery but we can also teach about the improvements of working conditions and the ending of child labor laws. There is much we have to improve, but we also have much to be proud of.
We can move forward and we can teach history as it really was — the good and the bad. It is evident we are going to have to de-mythologize some of our history — “No, the pioneers did not open the West.” It was already populated and open and lived on by people with an important culture and history in this country. The greed of the railroads was a principal reason the buffalo were nearly exterminated to take away the food source of the Native peoples. Education for all of us is key to understanding. We may not like it, but it was the reality of that time and place. How do we now work toward changing the reality and moving forward with eyes open, with awareness to the sensibilities of all the people around us, and making a society where no one is excluded for any reason. We live with good and bad, how the balance tips is up to us.
The fact that we’ve been living in a kind of bubble the past year was apparent to me the other day. The isolation of Co-vid and a broken bone has given me the privacy that comes with being alone. Of course we need people (or as my mother used to say, “Without people, we get funny in the head”). But after a little time has gone by I find myself focusing more easily and I am able to see something “more” or “deeper” in my quiet surroundings. So there are some pluses to all that has happened.
The other day I was at the Dawson County Cemetery adding some flowers to my folks’ graves. It was a perfect Spring day — beautiful blue sky with fluffy clouds, little to no wind, and the temperature was just right. As I looked around I noticed the gravestones, many with names of people I have known; many already decorated with flowers; cars coming and going and people visiting quietly in family groups as they fixed flowers and walked around just looking at the graves. It was a small town Memorial Day weekend. And I wished everyone had this opportunity and every moment could have this kind of perfection.
The cemetery was beautiful and green. Visiting a cemetery is a quiet moment of remembrance. Death has a way of stripping back the layers we put on as the years go by. When facing the memorials to long dead family and friends there is no pretending. These days of people traveling the world, living in faraway places is the way it is. Humanity has always been on the move to “another place”. Sociologists say the migration of people today is greater than anytime in human history. That is pretty staggering — war, famine, disease, poverty — all contribute to the search for something better. Children have to try their wings and push themselves away from the “tie that binds”. And I get all that.
But on that day, there was a sense of returning to the soil from which we come; of remembering at our most basic level who we are. The funeral service reminds us “from dust you are and to dust you shall return.” And it is not a bad thought. At the end of life we all become part of the common soil of which the earth is made and we are blended with all the colors and creeds of humanity in a peaceful finality that is common to all.
Even with the activity around me the day was so quiet. It was as if we were all in suspended remembrance. I am a firm believer that everyone needs to return on occasion to where your family came from. Even with dysfunctional relationships, going home can be healing, looking at people with more honesty. People change; there is strength and courage rising from those stones with those familiar names.
Lately I have been reading a lot of history. I am overwhelmed by the bravery of the people of Britain at the time of the blitz and the people of France during occupation by the Nazis, the quiet courage today of people under great stress like Belarus. I have read about the changing mores of American society and the long road to a better understanding of how we are to live together in peace. And the courage of those who fight for democratic government today, for the right to free elections and voting. And the people who walk to the podium in the face of great personal danger and speak about the things that matter like equal justice for all and an end to violence and hatred. And the people who carved a life from a difficult land and people of color and indigenous peoples who have endured centuries of punishing treatment from people with no soul. But these people are rising and are demanding their right to equal and just treatment under the law.
Sitting in the quietness aof a cemetery all those things take on new importance. Life is very short and the purpose of our lives is to live with integrity and in peace and prepare this earth for the next generation that it may be better for them.
The major religions of human kind are Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. These three came out of the Middle East, have one God, and Abraham is basic to the history of each one. The other two are Buddhism and Hinduism which come out of the subcontinent of India. Buddhism is not recognized as much in India but has moved on to be major in Southeast Asia and Japan and actually a great deal of Western Society.
Gandhi, one of the leaders of independence in India (1930, 40s), was a follower of the Hindu philosophy known as “satyagraha”. The term describes a major movement in the area of conflict resolution. It is not aimed at just a one time action, but rather a complete cultural transformation including political, social, and economic transformation. The uniqueness of this way is the primary importance of morality over power politics and rejects the western tradition of the ends justifying the means. Purity of ends is an essential ingredient. Another term in this philosophy important to the Hindu culture as well as the Jain (another major religion in India) is Ahimsa, a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself.
Much of what Dr. Martin Luther King studied was the Gandhian way of disobedience. Gandhi gained much of what he learned from Christianity. If you “google” the terms you will find many different directions to go in understanding and living this philosophy.
What always amazed me was the concept that self-suffering is part of the mind-set of ahimsa. When civil rights marchers were training for sit-ins and bus boycotts and other acts of civil disobedience they were told “you do not strike back.” And the pictures are many of people attacked by dogs, facing fire hoses, being beaten and jailed. No wonder the powers in these places — be it British colonialism in India or white supremacy in Selma, Alabama, were fearful. When fear no longer holds control over people and their lives, much of the control of the powerful is negated. Much of this thinking is tied into the voter suppression actions in our country recently.
It is interesting to see how people settle on various ways of dealing with social and cultural issues. Not long ago I mentioned Ayn Rand (author) and her philosophy of capitalism and individualism. The idea is that the end justifies the means and every person has to “look out for number one”. No one way holds all the answers to how we are to live in this world, but the philosophy that allows for kindness, an end to violence and conflict is worth thinking about.
We see the conflict between Israel and Palestine; China and Burma between the ruling elite and a minority ethnic group, the Taliban and Afghanis; within our society between people of color and whites and within and between political parties between liberals and conservatives. Polarization is moving into culture wars. Our society will come to a standstill if we cannot resolve our differences peacefully and learn how to compromise rather than hold to stubbornness and arrogance, violence and hatred.
(Father Richard Rohr) Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.
Birds are singing up a storm today! And I am the recepient of food!! Always wonderful at any time. My neighbor Marge brought over a small meat loaf, 3 deviled eggs and a potato to bake. Now that was a meal fit for a king/queen. I have lost about 7 pounds since I started on eating differently. My Type 2 diabetes was getting worse until I told myself -- "Avis. you can do this!" So things have been going pretty well overall. I have gotten my sugars down to a doable number and I can tell I am eating less.
Once before I tried this and it was hard work and I "fell off the wagon" in a manner of speaking. But this time I seem to have a better mental attitude!!
Friend just stopped by and we had a nice chat about refrigerators. Her just stopped so she and husband are refrigerator-shopping today. That isn't easy when you are in a small town with a limited market. The big suppliers find it isn't worth their while to see things out here.
This business of being tied down with my knee really is a patience builder. Thank goodness for things like underground sprinkler systems! Couldn't pull horses around right now.
Been spending the day sitting at my kitchen table facing the picture window. Front door is open to let in fresh air. When I can’t be out and about this is the next best thing. I always have odds and ends around to work on. Pictures today from Snapfish. I take the ones I really like and make note cards out of them to give to friends. Usually flowers, prairie, badlands, something that speaks to me. So those arrived and I have them sorted to give as thank yous for the friends who have taken such good care of me these past weeks.
On April 5th, the day after Easter I was out for a walk, caught my toe in a crack in the sidewalk and down I went. Broke my kneecap. When I spoke to the orthopedic surgeon she said, “Well, if you were younger I would probably do surgery. You would have more years of stress on it, but since you are older. . .” I tuned her out right there! Ok, I get it! I am old. So I have had 4 weeks of keeping my knee stiff, no pressure. X-rays show it is healing so two more weeks of being housebound and then more freedom!
I moaned that after 18 months of rehab from hip replacement and Co-vid quarantine and now knee rehab I am getting to be like a hermit. In the Middle Ages there was a saint Julian who was the abbess of Norwich in England. She was an anchoress which meant she was shut into a small cottage and stayed there praying and writing. It was said she had visions. While I would not doubt her visions, if I stay cooped up much longer I will start to see things as well!! Patience, patience!!
I did limp around outside a little today and still holding on to things I did pretty well. Always a tendency to push it when you get close to the end.
The prairies are so dry this year. We had no fall rains, no snow and now no Spring rains. A cousin in South Dakota has sold his cattle because he doesn’t have feed for them — grass. He sold them further away in the hopes of getting a better price in places where people have moisture and grass to feed. Worrisome times.
The State Legislature has ended their session. It was a tough year for a lot of important issues that relate to people and their welfare. Voting rights is a big one. I know that is the same all over. I am not sure what people think they are protecting themselves from — just protection from Democrats, maybe? Of course what I see is that people are afraid they are losing their culture — white, guns, Christian conservative. The liberals have been demonized to the point I don’t know how to even use the term anymore when I describe myself.
Been looking at the green and growing stuff around the house. I have lots of perennials. I think last winter was really hard on them. The weather would warm up and then freeze. My rose bushes are really not doing anything and usually my Winnipeg Parks red rose is the first of the bloomers. The bushes look a little sad as well. Last year I lost several things to blight. My remaining lilac bush looks pretty good so I am hoping that is a keeper.
River is way down. Some of the pipes that draw from the river are now exposed because the water level is so low and just a couple of years ago there was flooding when the ice went out. This year — nothing.
One of the things I enjoy doing is poking around in musty, dusty old records. The local museum gave me some things to work on while I was laid up. When all you can do is sit that is the time for sifting through old papers and letters. One box came from a lady who came to Glendive with her parents in 1881 when the railroad was built. Hers is a wonderful story of dedication to the community in many different ways. One story she related in these files was when she was married to a rancher. Indians were still wandering off the reservation from time to time. One incident she told was how her husband and all the cowhands assured her that if the Indians broke into the house rather than see her kidnapped they would shoot her! My first thought was, “Doesn’t she get anything to say in this matter?” I would have said, “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen but don’t get in too big a hurry to shoot me.”
Another woman with strong ties to the Democratic Party had a pass in her papers to Fort Peck Dam when Franklin Roosevelt traveled to Montana to see the dam. That allowed her to get close to the president. A real piece of history.