Hope in 'Interesting Times'

The Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times,” is considered to be a curse. Our current times certainly are interesting, and sometimes do feel like a curse, or perhaps a time to reckon with curses, like when an airplane is shot down in the Ukraine, or when yet another young black man is shot by a cop. Sometimes though, there are blessings, like when a helicopter makes food drops and rescues refugees in the mountains of Iraq. As citizens, we have serious choices to make with regards to what happens on our planet, because caring about what happens in the world – and in our personal worlds – is part of our job as humans. That’s why this blog is called, “Don’t Just Stand There. Do Something,” and sub-titled, “A Guide for Activism in Hopeful Times.” Now, I know that given some of what appears above the fold in major newspapers and 24/7 on cable news, it’s a little hard to be hopeful. But frankly, I prefer hope to despair or indifference, which are useless. Hope keeps us keeping on in the face of war, inhumane acts, and natural disasters. These times call upon us to contribute to conversations and take actions that allow us to have an impact, be it by completely diving into a cause, by joining a march, by starting an agency or working for one, by donating money to a nonprofit, or by signing petitions. The Internet, one of the blessings of our times, allows us to take most of these actions without sacrifice. It keeps us informed and presents us with choices as to how we can respond to the big issues, and how we can enrich our lives by being part of the solution. The Kabbalah says that when we give and receive equally, we are helping to keep the world in balance. Currently, the world is out of balance, but happily, we can help to correct that. The following entries will offer you some chances to give your opinion, and to receive gratitude.

Make the Ocean Your Mission

MISSION BLUE is an original documentary film that opened on FRIDAY, AUGUST 15th, in theaters and on Netflix (in cities, countries, and territories where the service is available). MISSION BLUE is the story of legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle’s eye-opening wake-up call to save the oceans and the planet (as go the oceans, so goes the earth). MISSION BLUE is an amazing film that you can’t afford to miss. It is produced by Fisher Stevens (producer, The Cove) and Robert Nixon (producer, Gorillas in the Mist). In honor of confessional integrity: Fisher Stevens is my son. But even if he weren't, I'd feel obliged to let you know about MISSION BLUE, lest you miss an exquisite, informative, and very important experience. It is more than a film; it is a way of seeing the connectedness of everything, and of seeing how you fit into the equation. Sylvia Earle is one of a kind; an oceanographer who turned her attention and passions to championing the preservation of the seas, the importance of which most of us take for granted at our peril. Her Mission is critical to sustaining the planet and MISSION BLUE tells her moving, adventurous, and inspiring life story, which is played out against some of the most beautiful sights on earth, some of which are Hope Spots. These spots are special places that are critical to the health of the ocean ~ the earth’s blue heart. Some of these Hope Spots are already formally protected, while others still need defined protection. About 12 percent of the land around the world is now under some form of protection (as national parks, world heritage sites, monuments, etc.), while less than 3 percent of the ocean is protected in any way. Mission Blue is committed to changing this situation.

What We Can Do: 
  1. Watch the trailer: www.netflix.com
  2. Join Mission Blue – there is strength in numbers: www.mission-blue.org/join-us
  3. Meet Sylvia Earle via her TED Talk viewable here: www.mission-blue.org/join-us
  4. Learn about Hope Spots: www.mission-blue.org/hope-spots-new 
  5. Find something small or grand to do to save the oceans and make the planet fit for future generations

In Memoriam:

I have been thinking a lot about Robin Williams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. They were beautiful souls and spirits who overcame huge personal challenges, including the ones that eventually took them down. A dear friend of mine was once gripped by such a deep depression (which she dubbed “The Great Unpleasantness”), that it began to surround everything else in her life. But gratefully, she found her way out to safety. Williams' and Hoffman’s deaths by their own hands frightened her. And she was not alone. I felt a great shot to my own beliefs as CNN flashed its BREAKING NEWS logo and made the announcement about Williams’ suicide. I had barely come to terms with Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death in February. Like Hoffman and Williams, I am an alcoholic/addict and have been periodically depressed, but before their suicides I had been thinking (even though I really do know better), “I am a happy woman, and I have 22 years of sobriety, so what could go wrong?” But Hoffman, who I saw around my old neighborhood, and occasionally at meetings, had 18 years of sobriety before he overdosed. When I heard that Williams had been sober for 20 years, I suddenly felt (and continue to feel) vulnerable and, like my friend, no longer safe. Ultimately, though, it’s a good wake-up call. One of the things I want to take away from the death of these two great talents is that I cannot take my safety or sobriety for granted. I remember saying to my sponsor about two months after I stopped drinking and drugging, “No wonder I drank! Why would anybody want to feel like this?” But, eventually I discovered how grateful I was to experience a full range of emotions, even sadness, anger, and grief, because letting myself go through them, rather than wrestle with them or drown in them, I was (and, thankfully, still am) also able to experience crazy joy and long delicious stretches of peace. I wish the same for you.

What's Unfolding in Ferguson

August 9, 2014

The city of Ferguson, Missouri, has been going through its own kind of hell since 18-year-old African American Michael Brown was shot, some would say murdered, by Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white officer, and his body was left in the street for hours. What followed was not pretty, but came as no surprise. 

The Story So Far: 

Mike Brown‘s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Mike Brown, Sr., spoke with broken voices of their son, including of how he had just graduated from an alternative learning program at Normandy High School in St. Louis. He was described by teachers as, "a student who loomed large and didn't cause trouble." Because of his 6'4" stature and 292-pound frame at the time of his death, he was described by some who knew him as a gentle giant. They said the behavior he was accused of was atypical. Sometimes he assumed the role of amateur rapper Big Mike. Benjamin Crump, the Brown family’s lawyer, told the press that Brown was enrolled in a technical school, Vatterott College, where he was scheduled to start classes on August 11th, two days after he was killed. 

Witnesses at the scene provided several different versions of the shooting. At one point, there were a few who said Brown had been shot in the back while running from Wilson, a scenario which autopsies have shown to be untrue. A greater number of witnesses tell a more likely story: after a confrontation with Wilson, Brown ran, then, at a sizable distance, stopped, turned, and faced Wilson with his hands up as the shots took him down.

Brown's family, friends, and shocked community began to grieve and did what communities do. They demanded answers, they felt unsafe, and they took to the streets. Then, the Ferguson police made a miscalculation: they withheld the name of the officer who shot Brown. Even so, but for a few who took advantage of the situation by looting, demonstrators were peaceful. Yet, masses of police marched in wearing riot gear and brandishing weapons in a military manner, like a cross between SWAT and the invasion of Normandy. 

Ferguson is basically a black community, however its mayor, police chief, and six members of its seven-person city council are white (the other is Latino), and most important to this conversation, only three members of Ferguson’s 53-person police force are black. When I heard this, I wondered how likely it was that enough scrutiny would be given to Darren Wilson’s actions, and what hell the police might unleash rather than performing their sworn duty, which is to serve and protect. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. 

Watching hordes of police marching on the demonstrators took me right back to Chicago, 1968, when Mayor Richard J. Dailey sent masses of police accompanied by tanks to the Democratic Convention to handle young demonstrators from the Youth International Party (Yippies) and many of the supporters of Eugene McCarthy. Fortunately, in Ferguson, African American State Trooper Captain Ronald Johnson emerged as a voice of reason, and was targeted to communicate between the protesters and the police.

Humanitarian Drops

August 11, 2014

CNN correspondent Ivan Watson, cameraman Mark Phillips, and a CNN crew member rode along on a humanitarian Iraqi air force flight with members of the Kurdish peshmerga, as they carried out a dramatic mission to Mount Sinjar, in Iraq, to deliver supplies to desperate Yazidis and to fly a lucky few to safety. The drop included food, water, milk, and diapers. According to Watson, who has been covering Iraq, "They flew in shooting; they flew out shooting." He also revealed that he was terrified and sent messages to loved ones, just in case, adding, "We landed on several short occasions, and that's where, amid this explosion of dust and chaos, these desperate civilians came racing towards the helicopter, throwing their children on board the aircraft. Those of us on board just started to pull up as many people as possible." CNN showed the rescuees crowded together on the floor of the helicopter, some relieved, some crying, some clinging to loved ones, others grieving those left behind. They were physically saved, yet emotionally wrung out. But, for the moment at least, they felt safe. It was a moving sight. There have been other drops: the US Department of Defense actually parachuted in pallets of halal meals; Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott paid an unannounced visit to Al Minhad Air Base in the UAE as Australian forces began air-dropping aid to stranded refugees in northern Iraq. There has been help from other sources as well. But now President Obama says, “Because of the skill and professionalism of our military, and the generosity of our efforts, we broke the [ISIS] siege of Mount Sinjar, we helped vulnerable people reach safety, and we helped save many innocent lives,” which is great, but perhaps it would be a good idea to keep on dropping food and supplies. It is the one thing that we can do to win friends and respect, and God knows, the refugee camps and rural areas where ISIS has left devastation in its wake are still in need of help.

What We Can Do: 
  1. Write to President Obama to thank him for our humanitarian drops and to ask him to continue: www.whitehouse.gov
  2. Let your representatives in Congress know that you want such humanitarian aid to continue, and mention that it's an important step toward changing the hearts and minds of Iraqis
  3. Please ask your contacts to do the same

Bubble, Bubble, Double Trouble

I have put these two together because both have a pathology that allows them to absolutely justify committing abdominal acts without remorse, while at the same time displaying arrogance.

Bibi has his Gaza Debacle

July 8, 2014  

As I write, slightly more than half of Americans believe that what Israel is doing in Gaza is wrong. I am one of them. The US often stands by Israel, perhaps because it is a democracy, or because it’s a Jewish state in unfriendly territory. Maybe it's because we need a friend in the Middle East, even one that sometimes acts as a Bully State, with Netanyahu's policies alienating others in the region, leaving his country more volatile and vulnerable. The US administration believes that the Israelis have a right to protect themselves, so we help them acquire arms and other military equipment. Then, whenever they rain down horror on the people of Gaza between ceasefires, President Obama asks them to be less aggressive, cautioning Netanyahu about his country's lack of proportionality. In other words, we send them mixed messages. As Jon Stewart puts it, "We cannot be Israel's rehab sponsor and its drug dealer."

I understand that Hamas is a vicious, rogue group of terrorists that hides its soldiers and armaments in Gaza among civilians, in churches, and in UN schools and hospitals. But, the Israelis have to know in their hearts that when they attack these targets, they are bombing innocents and revving up Hamas. If the US federal government wanted to get the mafia out of New York City, they wouldn't bomb the city to do it. There has to be a better way. After all, many Gazans live at the mercy of, and in fear of, Hamas.

Rather than finding opportunities to build rapport, Bibi continues to build and expand settlements in Palestinian territories. He erects walls and creates checkpoints with long lines that prevent Palestinian villagers from moving about freely, keeping them from tending their own olive groves and cultivating their own land, and making it difficult for them to get to other jobs outside of their villages and in Israel. How do Israelis justify their assertion of the right to keep the people of Gaza from fishing the ocean off their own shores? How does Netanyahu assume the right to keep Gazans from feeding their families? What is shocking to me is that Israelis are persecuting people unlike their own, or whom they fear, in a manner unbecoming a people who have experienced the worst persecution possible. Why would they do that unto others? Yet, 82 percent of Israelis approve of the way Netanyahu is doing business. How can that be?

What We Can Do:
  1. Write to President Obama to tell him that you are unwilling for your tax dollars to be used to kill people in Gaza
  2. Check in with United for Peace and Justice for other things to call for and do: www.unitedforpeace.org
  3. If you disagree, feel free to express that opinion in the comments, below
  4. If you are unfamiliar with the details of what’s going on in the Middle East these days, it’s worth checking on
  5. Please remember that often people use the word Jews when they are actually talking about Israelis; not all Jews are fans of Israel or Israeli occupation

Putin’s Very Own Little Crime Scene

July 17, 2014


Flight 17 was shot down on July 17th, killing all 298 people aboard, most of whom were Dutch, Malaysian and Australian citizens. Though Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine claim they are not guilty, there are huge gaps left filled with doubt. Plus, Russia’s Putin has kept making his moves on Ukraine, and not just in Crimea. He, like Netanyahu, is an unethical land-grabber with no conscience about human cost. But there are really no surprises here, since the Russian-built missile launchers come from... guess where. But, whoever the hotshots involved in the downing of this and earlier flights are, the truth will eventually rear its head, that is if all the real evidence hasn’t been totally compromised after the rebels allowed – or perhaps encouraged – anyone who showed up to feel free to trample the “crime scene.” Anyone who has ever watched more than one episode of any CSI show on television could have done a better job with the site. Surely, there is some version of crime scene tape in the Ukraine, and we know there are enough munitions there to keep tramplers and looters from rendering the scene unproductive.

What We Can Do:
  1. Find out why what happens in Ukraine impacts us here at home
  2. Learn the locations of other dangerous air zones
  3. If you are called to travel near these zones, ask your airline to tell you how they navigate around the zone

Welcome to America

At a time when so many people from all walks of life, both in our country and around the world, seem to be demonstrating their worst selves, I read about a group of approximately 60 adults who stood in the blazing Texas sun between their hometown of McAllen and the Mexican border. They bore signs to welcome Central American children who have traveled wild distances to escape life-threatening poverty and continual violence. The rally, which included an interfaith prayer vigil, was mounted as a political statement to refute the hideous condemnation of these children – let me repeat that, condemnation of children – prevalent in right-wing anti-immigration groups, whose members seem to forget that if their ancestors had run into people like them when they emigrated to our soil, they’d still be wherever their ancestors came from.

The signs, in both English and in Spanish, carried messages like, “They May Not Speak English but They Understand Hate,” “Migration is the American Way,” “USA Defendo por Como Tratamos los Inmigantes,” “Don’t Send Children Back To Drug Lords,” and one which presented me with an opportunity for doubt, “All Religions Believe in Justice.” Let’s face it, the right wing’s hideous condemnation, handwritten on their signs when they demonstrate, comes even from preachers speaking to their flocks, who use God to justify their striving for a white America, or twist Jesus’ words to fit their bigoted needs, while calling themselves good Christians. I call them Godless. 

What We Can Do :
  1. Eschew bigotry
  2. Let our representatives, from national to local, know that we will not tolerate divisiveness and prejudice
  3. Welcome immigrants with open arms and welcome signs
  4. Support the President’s Immigration policies or send him your good ideas
Either that, or return the Statue of Liberty to the French. If we don’t mend our ways we will lose our right to use the words of Emma Lazarus that are emblazoned on the base of Lady Liberty: 

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” 

These two never change, and they never change their tune….

Lindsay Graham has been all over television talk shows making semi-intelligible statements about punishing Russia, telling Obama that we should make "the Russian people suffer, so they will understand that they shouldn’t support Putin, and then they’ll see who we are.” But this is idiotic. He seems not to know that the Russian people love, love, love their despot. Does Graham not know that the news media in Russia is state-run and that the people aren’t ever going to get the message the he wants them to? What starving the Russians will do is inspire them to hate us more, and allow Putin to paint us into a corner with our own paint. Occasionally Graham says other outlandish things that are just plain untrue: “Mr. President, you have never once spoke (notice the grammar) directly to the American people about the threat we face from being attacked from Syria, now Iraq. What is your strategy to stop these people from attacking the homeland?” Or how about: “His responsibility as president is to defend this nation. If he does not go on the offensive against ISIS, ISIL — whatever you want to call these guys — they are coming here!” 

Then there’s John McCain, once a maverick in the best sense of the word, who time has changed into a mad dog with a bone he can’t seem to let go of. When McCain ran against Bush in the Republican primary, he said that he would, “…reform a party corrupted by big money" and, as he later put it, “agents of intolerance.” Well, he not only failed to win the nomination, his party is still the agent of intolerance, as demonstrated by his own intense resentment of the black man who now sits in what McCain surely imagined would be his White House. 

McCain and his little buddy Graham keep waiting for opportunities to bitch about the President. For instance, President Obama’s fundraising tour for the Democrats in the run up to the mid-term elections became an excuse to rail against the President for his actions at a time when the world is in crisis. Only a modicum of research would have shown them that not only has every president done the same thing at this time of year, but that the President has at his disposal telephones, televisions and all other manner of communication possibilities, as well as a staff and briefings on every current issue. Sorry boys, no win here. 

What We Can Do:  
  1. If you are tired of their mean-spiritedness please let them know 
  2. Write and ask them what they might do constructively to move the senate Republicans to work with the President, if not do something constructive themselves 
  3. Look up Graham and McCain and let them hear from you: www.senate.gov