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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



Get Involved When It’s None Of Your Business

Feb3

by: Laura Grace Weldon on February 3rd, 2016 | 1 Comment »

peace through non-violence, take a stand on violence, intervene in conflict, conflict resolution,

Working in a retail job, you think you’ve become accustomed to bad behavior on the part of children as well as parents. But you are appalled to see a mother use an umbrella to spank a small boy. Will intervening threaten the child or endanger your job?

Walking through a grocery store parking lot, you notice a crying toddler in the grocery cart and a woman screaming at the child as she loads packages in her car. She slaps the child’s face and arms as you walk pastIf you say anything will you make it worse?

Looking out your apartment window you see a young man standing next to a motorcycle, pushing and yelling at a teenaged girl from the building who seems to be his girlfriend. Would the police consider this abuse if you called?

Leaving work later than usual on a wintry evening you have the feeling you’re being followed. As you turn a corner you see an ill-dressed youth close behind you. He holds out a gun and asks for money. Are there any options that don’t leave a victim?

Driving past a cluster of youths on a city street, you realize that they are clubbing a boy with a piece of wood. It’s safer for you to continue in traffic, but you want to defend this teen from his aggressors. Can your heart and head agree on a course of action?

Violence is familiar. It’s highlighted in news, movies and video games. It erupts in our homes or homes nearby, even if few people admit it. It’s insidious and damaging. Violence at all levels, from the personal to the global, is highly ineffective in creating lasting positive change.

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The Yale Controversy

Jan28

by: Ron Hirschbein on January 28th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

Yale

Yale University (Source: Wikipedia)

Yale’s Halloween controversy raises chronic issues that won’t go away. Prior to the holiday, the University’s Intercultural Affairs Committee sent students a memo: To quote directly:

While students . . . definitely have a right to express themselves, we would hope that people would actively avoid those circumstances that threaten our sense of community or disrespects, alienates or ridicules segments of our population based on race, nationality, religious belief or gender expression.

The memo claims that some Yalies previously made “culturally unaware or insensitive” choices, choices that had a deleterious impact on various marginalized groups. Intended or not, such actions “sent a far greater message than any apology could after the fact.” (No evidence is cited nor are claims made regarding the seriousness and extent of the alleged impact.)

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Bringing Kids Back To The Commons

Jan27

by: Laura Grace Weldon on January 27th, 2016 | No Comments »

Image by mollicles420.deviantart.com

Surely my baby was as good as a dog.

I’d read that nursing home residents benefited enormously from contact with therapy dogs. During and after dog visits these elders were more alert and in better moods. So I figured, why not bring my baby to a nursing home?

I contacted a nursing home around the corner. The administrator was enthusiastic. Then I talked friends into forming a nursing home-based playgroup for our infants and toddlers. They were somewhat wary, but agreed to give it a try. Finally I got a local store to donate a carpet remnant for our little ones to crawl and play on. Between visits, the nursing home could roll it up for storage. We were ready.

We met regularly at that nursing home for several years. Our babies grew into toddlers, the elders became our friends. Residents’ families and staff members often told us that our visits stimulated memories, generated activity, even inspired people who were mostly mute to say a few words. We were awed. Something as simple as our presence, sitting on the carpet playing with our children, made a difference to people whose once full lives were now constricted. We benefited too. We learned the value of advice given by people older than our grandparents. And we noticed how completely our toddlers accepted the physical and mental differences around them with natural grace. (Here’s how to set up your own playgroup in a nursing home.)

I’m still not sure why the very old and young are kept apart from life on the commons. Vital and engaged communities are made up of all ages. And children have fewer opportunities to take an active part than almost any adult. This shortchanges everyone.

Throughout history, the young of our species have learned by getting involved. Children long to take on real responsibilities and make useful contributions. This is how they advance in skill and maturity. That is, unless we restrict them to child-centered activities.

Young people are also drawn to seek mentors. They want to see how all sorts of people handle crises, start new enterprises, settle disputes, and stay in love. But today’s young people are largely kept from meaningful engagement with the wider community. They’re segregated by age not only in day care and school but also in most spheres of recreation, religion, and enrichment. When we keep kids from purposeful and interesting involvement with people of all ages they are pushed to find satisfaction in other (often less beneficial) ways. Meanwhile, our communities are deprived of their youthful energy and innovative outlook.

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Tell Your Story Now!

Jan26

by: on January 26th, 2016 | No Comments »

It’s simple! Open a blank email, write a story from your experience that illuminates the state of our union, add your name and location, and email it to psotu2016@ctznapp.com.Read on to learn why.

The People’s State of the Union has another week to go, and we already have some amazing stories to share. All of the quotes below are excerpts from stories that have already been uploaded to the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture’s #PSOTU2016 Story Portal.

For this nine-day National Action, people around the country are forming Story Circles in their homes, schools, workplaces, places of worship, and community groups. They are telling their own stories their own ways, either in response to the #PSOTU2016 questions or questions they choose themselves:

  • Share a story you think the next President absolutely needs to hear.
  • Share a story about something you have experienced that gave you an insight into the state of our union.
  • Share a story about a time you felt a sense of belonging – or the opposite – to this nation.

Even if there’s no Story Circle planned for your own community, you can share any story that helps shine a light on the state of our union. Just type your story into a blank email, add an image if you like, and send it to psotu2016@ctznapp.com. It will automatically become part of the feed that goes to the #PSOTU2016 Story Portal.

If you add your name, location, and email, anyone who is moved by your story or wants to connect with you will be able to find you.

This woman asked me to explain to her how it was possible that Islam justifies killing so many people in the name of religion. She said all she knew of Muslims was what she saw in the media, and she wanted to know more. And I realized I had a huge opportunity to give this woman some insight, to help shift her thinking and to show at least one person some of the beauty in a religion whose capacity for beauty is so rarely discussed in this country, during this short time we had together.

And I thought: what can I do in my life to make these opportunities come up more often? It’s so rare to be able get to a safe space in the conversation where people feel they won’t be judged, where they’ll be able to engage in a way that they might otherwise be afraid to, and ask questions that allow for the possibility of growth and understanding instead of unexamined fear. (Mia Bertelli, Santa Fe, NM)

It’s not too late to host your own Story Circle either. You can sign up here to download a free Toolkit and find other resources to host a Story Circle before #PSOTU2016 ends on January 31.A Story Circle event can be a few friends around a kitchen table or a hundred people dividing into circles of folding chairs in a high-school gym. It’s an amazing experience of democratic dialogue where everyone’s story counts and every story deserves attention and respect.

It wasn’t until 1995 that I got involved in Labor organizing in Chinatown. There was a case with a restaurant paying their workers 75 cents an hour. This was 1995. I was 16 years old and thought I’d see a bunch of hippies in Birkenstocks protesting. I had no idea I was going to see people who looked just like me – Chinese immigrants, working class families. I felt, for the first time, a sense of belonging. My family got involved. The workers won that case, winning back $1.1 million for nearly 60 workers in 1997. (Betty Yu, Brooklyn, NY)

Most of us are full of opinions (myself included). When you ask about the state of our union, we quickly tell you it’s solid or in need of repair, who’s helping and who’s not. Of course, our assessments don’t always agree. Sometimes the disagreement is so profound that discussion turns into argument and friends into foes. But when we share actual stories instead of opinions – specific moments we’ve seen or experienced – several things change.

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Reagan and Trump: Tragedy and Farce

Jan24

by: on January 24th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

“History repeats itself,” wrote Karl Marx in 1852, “first as tragedy, second as farce.”He was referring to Napoleon I and his nephew Louis Napoleon. One hundred and sixty-four years later, my subject is Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.

People talk about “the Sixties” as a heyday of activism in the U.S., and they’re not wrong. I feel so grateful to have come up in a time when social imagination was encouraged, when social experimentation was rampant, when the desire to expand human liberty and human rights pervaded so many communities.

But the Sixties lasted more than a decade.Well into the Seventies, social action for justice and equity was going strong. It took a long time for the movement against the Vietnam War to succeed in stopping the war – or at least in exhausting the American people’s belief in the wisdom of our war leaders – but finally, the draft effectively ended in 1973 in response to massive protest and civil disobedience, and when Saigon fell in 1975, the war effectively ended too. There was a sizable People’s Bicentennial to counter the triumphalist official celebrations in 1976. Through the late Seventies, quite a bit of public money was still being invested in community development, including public service jobs that supported artists working in community to the tune of $200 million a year. It was by no means heaven on earth, but the enormous civil and human rights protests of the Sixties and early Seventies had made an indelible impression, creating the fervent hope and tentative expectation that justice would grow.

Back then, I lived in a world of the like-minded: San Francisco in the Seventies had not yet succumbed to the extreme gentrification brought on by high-tech corporate occupiers, and there were legions of organizers working from the micro – block-by-block politics – to the macropolitics of incipient globalization (a term that only began to take hold in the Seventies).

Here are two of the things that were widely believed in my circles at the time:

Social progress, in the form of the expansion of human rights and increasing equity, would continue. The force of history was unstoppable.

It didn’t make much difference who was elected President; we didn’t feel represented by either major party, and neither acted at all accountable to our values.

To say this was naive is drastic understatement.Within a startlingly short time following his election, Reagan had enacted a program that had been carefully planned in collaboration with the far-Right Heritage Foundation, abolishing public service employment and most community development funding, and going on to break unions, cut budgets for every type of social good, and reward his friends and supporters with tax-breaks and sweetheart deals.

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Crisscrossing Layers of Privilege

Jan15

by: on January 15th, 2016 | No Comments »

Last Saturday, while leading the first day of a yearlong program, I responded unskillfully to a participant I will call James. What happened points directly to the way that the experience of privilege or lack thereof shapes our lives. How we handled it, and what I have learned in the process give me some hope. In particular, I got an important new clue about why conversations across lines of privilege so easily break down and what we can do about that.

Here’s the dialogue, just about verbatim. It happened as we were breaking into dyads, shortly after someone brought to my attention that a female participant had been sitting quietly in the back, behind me, having arrived later than others.

James: Are you going to invite that girl to join the pairs?

Miki: She is a woman, not a girl. I am pretty sure she is older than thirteen or fourteen.

James: OK, that beautiful woman.

Miki: She doesn’t have to be beautiful, just a woman.

Recovering from Unskillfulness

Before continuing with the story of what happened, I hope you can see why I call my response “unskillful”.

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The Need for Palliative (Humane) Care

Jan14

by: Bev Alves on January 14th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

During our lifetime, many of us will face life-threatening or life altering illnesses or injuries, or perhaps we will watch those we love face them.  We all want to be loved and comforted; we all want and need to be supported when we are seriously ill and we want a gentle and dignified passing when it is our time.   Everyone is going to pass from this world (hopefully to a better place).  We need a healthcare system that can provide support, guidance and direction to those who are facing these challenges. This system is called palliative care.

Palliative care is a medical specialty, which provides coordinated, comprehensive care to reduce pain and suffering for anyone who is given a life-threatening or life altering diagnosis.  It is care to provide comfort and support for the patient and for the patient’s loved ones. This medical specialty differs from hospice in that you are not required to have a six month or less, prognosis; curative/restorative treatment, as well as complimentary treatments, are allowed and provided.  Often this care is provided by an interdisciplinary team.  It is care to help heal, if possible, and improve the quality of life for anyone who is seriously ill.  It should start as soon as someone receives a serious diagnosis.

Recently I learned there are national PCHETA (Palliative Care Hospice Education and Training Act) bills, HR 3119 and S641 that need to be passed.   Here’s a summary of HR 3119.   These PCHETA bills would help to educate medical professions and help make palliative care become the Standard of Care for healthcare everywhere.  These are some of the organizations that are supporting the PCHETA bills. www.patientqualityoflife.org   (Click on members)

Palliative care was originally going to be a covered benefit in the Affordable Care Act.  Sadly, without any understanding of this essential care, Sarah Palin called this care “death panels.”  Mrs. Palin and some others caused so much fear and concern that it was removed as a benefit before ACA went into effect.  Recently however, a bill was passed that would allow physicians to receive payment for essential conversations with seriously ill patients.   “In a proposed regulation released July 8, 2015, CMS introduced two new billing codes—previously recommended by the American Medical Association—for advance care planning provided to Medicare beneficiaries.”  This regulation would allow “physicians and other health professionals to bill Medicare for advance care planning, as a separate service, starting January 1, 2016.”  It is a good first step!

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Starting a New Year: Why I Embrace Discomfort

Jan1

by: on January 1st, 2016 | 2 Comments »

In preparation for writing this piece, I read one that I wrote five years ago called “Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions.” I wanted to remember what I wrote to see what I might want to add. I discovered that it was all there… I still don’t make resolutions, for the same reasons. First, because I still cannot and don’t want to make predictions about the future, as I see the very attempt to control the future as one of the core failures of western civilization. Also, because I still worry about resolutions turning into weapons of self-destruction.

Discomfort, watercolor monoprint

What do I do instead? For me, it’s about coming back, again and more deeply, to my choice to embrace discomfort as a path to freedom and integrity. That is what I write about below in greater detail.

Starting a new year is also a time when I think about my plans for the coming year. In just over a week, I am starting what I intend to be my last year of leading Leveraging Your Influence retreats (in Costa Rica, Chicago, and Poland this year) and the yearlong program in Oakland. These are settings specifically designed to support all present, both leaders and participants, in opening up to the task of facing what life at this time in human history means. There is definitely discomfort, and there is learning and joy and opening to life. If you are interested in inner freedom, and if you long to live with greater integrity, I hope you will join me this year.

Discomfort and Freedom

Reflecting about myself, I am still the person who knows that my freedom depends on my willingness to step outside my comfort zone – the habits and beliefs that have been ingrained in me through socialization and trauma. Any time I can do that, I have more trust that I am actually choosing rather than being run by my past and my fears. Put differently, I would say that the most reliable forms of freedom are internal: It is my choices in how I respond to life, much more than what life brings to me, that I experience as freedom.

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World So Undivided: John Trudell

Dec30

by: on December 30th, 2015 | No Comments »

I sat down to write about John Trudell’s music, thinking to write the second in a series I’m calling “A Life in Art.”Back in November, I described the blogs in this series as “turning on a work of art – painting, sculpture, music, poetry, film, maybe even cooking – that has sustained me in a moment that yearned for consolation or fulfillment or the reassurance of beauty, the presence of the sublime.”

I sat down to think about Trudell dying three weeks ago, too young at 69,and then the news came through that the police officers who killed 12 year-old Tamir Rice would not be indicted. Rice’s mother heard the news along with everyone else, via an official statement from the prosecutor’s office. Across the U.S., people are calling on the Department of Justice to prosecute Tamir Rice’s killers.

I sat down to listen to the song called “Tina Smiled,”an achingly beautiful loving lament in Trudell’s characteristic spoken-word style, backed by the yearning guitar of the late Jesse Ed Davis and the drumming and chanting of Quiltman and others who later made up the core of Trudell’s band Bad Dog. Like so much of Trudell’s work, the song layers the exquisite and the shattered, the artist’s memory of love and pleasure side-by-side with his awareness of a deep brokenness at the heart of this society.

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Normalizing The Extraordinary in Medellín, Part Two

Dec28

by: on December 28th, 2015 | No Comments »

Note: This is the second of two parts on Arlene Goldbard’s visit to cultural development projects in Medellín, Colombia, in early December; you’ll find the first here.

Ana Cecilia Restrepo, the director of La Red de Escuelas de Musica de Medellín – that Colombian city’s network of music schools that are much more than schools, as you can read in Part One – was driving me back to my hotel on the last night of my stay. Medellín is widely recognized as a city that has successfully launched its transformation from a place terrorized by drug lords and their gangs, in which going out at night was basically not an option, to one explicitly and assertively aligned with its own remaking. See Michael Kimmelman’s New York Times piece from 2012, for instance, or this account of Medellín being named Innovative City of the Year in 2013, particularly for its new transportation infrastructure.

As she drove, Ana told me one of the city’s famous rejuvenation stories. Below, I share it with you. But first I want to tell you about my visit to an amazing cultural center in Medellín.

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