Once upon a time in America, drunkenness was cute. We smiled at the loveable town drunk. In Mayberry, USA – the fictional town of The Andy Griffith Show – Otis Campbell, the town drunk, would stumble into the jail, voluntarily enter a jail cell, and sleep off his inebriation. There was the period of the Rat Pack cool boozers where Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others had a Las Vegas good time with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. And then, there was George Carlin’s Hippy Dippy Weatherman who gave the impression that he had smoked just a little too much marijuana.
All the while in the real world, mothers were losing their children to automobile accidents caused by people driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) started to change the culture. When Cindy Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver in May of 1980, she decided to channel her grief into activism, and she turned Cari’s bedroom into an office.
Others joined her and the organization is now one of the most successful charities and social change organizations in the country. The history of MADD shows the kind of persistence it takes not only to change laws but to change a culture. Through the years MADD has worked for stronger laws against drunk driving, to raise the legal drinking age to 21, and for a federal .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) standard. It faced strong opposition from the liquor and hospitality lobbies. The organization was accused of wanting a return to Prohibition. Yet, while MADD continued to work on the legislative front, it also became a support network for families who had lost loved ones to drunk driving. Now, its mission has expanded to stop underage drinking. Its mission statement reads: “The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking.” (http://www.madd.org/)
Ella Baker, community organizer and mother of SNCC
Ms. Juanita teaches three year-olds at the Head Start program downtown. She stays just a few doors down from us in Walltown, but I never see her in the morning. She catches a bus to work long before I come downstairs, put the kettle on for tea, and walk down to the sidewalk to get the newspaper. A room full of three year-olds is no walk in the park. (I know; mine usually wakes up before the tea is done.) But when Ms. Juanita sends the last kid home with her parents at the end of the day, she catches another bus to night school. She’s been keeping this schedule for over three years now.
Most nights after dinner is done and the dishes are washed-about the time we’re getting ready to start the bedtime routine with our kids-Ms. Juanita comes walking down from the bus stop. She’s tired, of course, which she’ll tell you. But she always has time to ask how our kids are doing, to tell a story from her day, to talk about the most recent neighborhood news. For the past couple of years, she and I have coached a 7-8 year-olds basketball team together. One night a week thru the winter, we head off for practice about this time in the evening. I’m always amazed that Ms. Juanita is still standing.
When we moved to Walltown ten years ago, we got to know Ms. Juanita’s kids. They’d come by our house in the afternoons and often stayed for dinner. They were middle school kids with sweet smiles. In their early twenties now, they both still live with mom. One is in school, the other has been in and out of jail for the past two years.
David Azerrad in a recent post at the Heritage Foundation’s site, “What the Left Misunderstands about Poverty and Dependency” offers a long list of right wing assumptions: that housing, food, and medical assistance prevent people from marrying and working, that government assistance “erodes the virtues that allow people to flourish,” and most astonishingly, that “all Americans – conservative and liberal alike – believe in a strong safety net.” I sent him an email with several questions (if he answers, I’ll provide that in an update). Here is the first:
When you mention, “the virtues that allow people to flourish,” which virtues do you mean and what would be “flourishing”?
by: Thad Williamson on March 15th, 2013 | 3 Comments »
After graduating college, many students lose sight of civic engagement as they focus on moneymaking.
Many college students today feel themselves to be under immense pressure to secure their own professional futures – to be able to repay loans and to avoid falling on the wrong side of the deepening economic divide. Others want to acquire money and comfort, or power, because this is how a successful life has generally been portrayed to them. But many also have a concern with community and social problems and have experience doing various kinds of volunteer work; others are interested in politics and public service.
However, the ideas that getting serious about social change requires more than just volunteer work, and that democratic action is not simply about campaigns, elections, and the deeds of politicians, remain relatively novel to college students. As a college teacher, it is easy to get frustrated when confronted with students who are clueless, disengaged, or unwilling to see beyond the moneymaking definition of success. But in my experience many students are in fact eager for an alternative definition of a good life, and eager to learn more about social movements and social change. This is true whatever the self-described political leanings (if any) of students.
After dinner the other night, a friend who’d recounted the rather impressive incompetence of the powers-that-be at his workplace said that he tried not to think about how messed up things are in the larger world beyond his 9 to 5, because when he got in touch with all that could go wrong, it terrified him.
I see his point, of course. If the course of events on a global scale were actually determined by the blind-spots and shortsightedness of individuals who – like those running my friend’s workplace – had been promoted to their level of incompetence, I doubt a single train would run on time.
Last night, Brooklyn College hosted a forum on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – a non-violent initiative targeting Israel’s suppression of basic political rights for Palestinians, particularly those occupied in the West Bank.
In the weeks preceding the forum, Brooklyn College was under intense pressure to cancel the event, pressure spearheaded by Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who curiously chose to argue against the concept of academic freedom by claiming the forum would be a “propaganda hate orgy” and should not be allowed.
New York City Council members soon followed, threatening to cut off funding to the college if the event proceeded, with Assemblyman Alan Maisel stating, “We’re talking about the potential for a Second Holocaust here.”
Thankfully, champions of academic freedom stepped in to push back against such bombastic claims, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who bluntly told the City Council:
“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”
I have long maintained that when it comes to Israel, the distinction between right and left disappears in this country.
Check out this letter from Congressman Jerry Nadler, a West Side Manhattan Democrat, demanding that Brooklyn College not permit a campus group to discuss strategies for boycotting Israel to meet on campus. Nadler is joined by virtually every major “progressive” New York politician. Nadler and his cohorts make the case that they don’t mind the boycott group meeting but object to the political science department sponsoring an event that presents “only one side.” Of course, anyone who attended college knows that academic departments do that all the time because sponsoring a discussion does not mean the department is endorsing it, only that it favors airing of all sides.
If you stick around long enough writing books and essays and giving talks, people come to you for advice. Very often, the requests I get turn on choices between alternate futures. Graduating students, youngish artists and activists, members of an older generation considering “encore” careers or avocations – sometimes, people seek me out for advice on what they should do. The presenting question tends to focus on impact: what’s most needed now? What will be most effective in terms of effort and impact?
No matter what the field – regardless of whether the seeker is an artist, activist, or falls into another category altogether – I always offer the same response. “Do what gives you pleasure,” I say. “When do you feel most aligned? When do you feel that your gifts are being used most fully? Imagine yourself as a musical instrument: when do you know you are playing the music you were created to make?”
If I had captured them with a camera, I could make a really cool little art piece out of the microexpressions this elicits: delight, puzzlement, renewed delight, skepticism, thrill, anxiety, a perpetually renewing cascade of conflicting feelings. Here’s how I read them: Really? I can be happy? Wait! That sounds selfish! But it would feel so great…just imagine! But why should my feelings matter: don’t I have to listen to those who know best? Can I really have this? I hope so! And so on.
It’s a mini-treatise on our common culture, isn’t it?
Intense and terrible, I think, must be the loneliness
- Edna St. Vincent Millay (untitled)
…by the time [the infant] is taken to his [sic] mother’s home (surely it cannot be called his) he is well versed in the character of life. On the preconscious level plane that will qualify all his further impressions, as it is qualified by them, he knows life to be unspeakably lonely, unresponsive to his signals, and full of pain.
- Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept
I am not a parent, and I cannot speak with the authority of a parent. I closely followed one child’s upbringing, which has been one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had, convincing me, despite being a sample of one, of what’s possible. Sadly, I am limited in my ability to talk about the glorious vision of that possibility of parenting without alienating at least some parents. I am quite concerned that this piece, in which I talk about my own pain about how children are raised, can do exactly this instead of inviting reflection, dialogue, and mutual exploration to find ways of supporting both parents and children to find meaning, peace, and joy in their shared lives.
Before completing this piece, I spoke with a few people, including two parents, about this limitation of mine. I deeply long to find full, vibrant compassion for the extraordinary challenges that parents face, especially in today’s world, where the support systems for parents are so limited, where the harshness of the life we have created is reaching intense proportions, where the entire future of our species is uncertain. I hope very much that these conversations helped me move closer to embodying this understanding, and am explicitly inviting you, the readers of this piece, to give me feedback, especially if you disagree with me.
by: Craig Wiesner on January 12th, 2013 | Comments Off
Wonder – A Book That Transforms the World
Written by R.J. Paclacio
Review by Craig Wiesner / Reach And Teach
It’s okay, I know I’m weird-looking, take a look, I don’t bite. Hey, the truth is, if a wookie started going to school all of a sudden, I’d be curious, I’d probably stare a bit!
When he walked into the room, I couldn’t help myself. I stared, just for a moment. He looked so different from all the other kids in the auditorium. Then, a few teen girls sitting behind me started whispering to each other. “Oh My God… Look at him!” One of them said.