February 15, 2018
Dear Senator (Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell) and Rep. Brent Guthrie
This is not a letter of request but an ultimatum as a citizen in your District. Please vote to restrict the sale of assault rifles to youth age 21 and younger, and for regulations that tighten the screening necessary to buy an “assault” rifle.
Yes, there are mental health issues, yes, we can make schools safer, but that is not at the basis of the current safety issue: kids with guns killing other kids. Change the gun ownership regulations, Sir.
I want to hear from you on how you will act to restrict gun ownership by minors (21 and younger) and your plans to write or support such legislation. This has the highest priority in my own mind. We just lost 2 youths in Kentucky, with another 16 wounded, and thousands of students, parents, families and the public traumatized by mass shootings in their community. Now, its happened again.
Tomorrow I’ll be making an appointment to meet with you in your Bowling Green office at your earliest convenience.
Very truly yours,
Last month I was privileged to be a juror for local and regional youth writers during the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. We have great budding talent as well as youth whose voice is already powerful with portent of great works to come. Poetry filled the majority of entries, short stories and essays less so yet entries were stellar. Themes varied from an essay about surviving the digital tsunami to family and personal narratives. As jurors, we listened for a distinct voice, for use of language, and other indicators of a writer’s talent and potential. See the accompanying press release about Bowling Green SKyPAC awards ceremony and reception. I hope many of our community members, teachers, and leaders can join us March 3rd at SKyPAC to celebrate our youth and the cultivation of the imagination.
Scholastic Press release 2-9-18
Wendell Berry is by far one of my favorite writers . . .
In his 2005 book of poems, Given, this one is printed on the back of the volume:
“The yellow-throated warbler, the highest remotest voice of this place, sings in the tops of the tallest sycamores, but one day he came twice to the railing on my porch where I sat at work above the river. He was too close to see with binoculars. Only the naked eye could take him in, a bird more beautiful than every picture of himself, more beautiful than himself killed and preserved by the most skilled taxidermist, more beautiful than any human mind, so small and inexact, could hope ever to remember. My mind became beautiful by the sight of him. He had the beauty only of himself alive in the only moment of his life. He had upon him like a light the whole beauty of the living world that never dies.” ~ Wendell Berry
This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom, We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.
After I moved from Tucson, Arizona, Senator Giffords and her legislative aides and staffers were gunned down by a lone shooter (2011). I knew them all. Gabby Giffords struggled on with major brain injury. We have watched as she has not only recovered best she can, but how she and her husband Mark Kelly have continued to lead the nation in the discussion about our imperfect gun laws and the promotion of a gun culture.
Now Kentucky. The folks in Benton, KY are just beginning the long road to recovery and five children are struggling to keep life and limb at Vanderbilt Hospital. Two suffered brain injury and one may lose his arm – a youth with special needs. And the confused kid who perpetrated the crime: what a mess his life is now. I can’t help but think they are all caught, we are all caught up, in a vortex.
But what is even more horrific, and longer lasting, will be the thousands of individuals in the community, region and even the nation who are traumatized by such an event. It does not leave the community; it becomes a part of its memory. It becomes a part of the national memory, all the devastating loss of innocent lives, over and over and over again. Meanwhile we dither in our moral fortitude.
We’ve arrived at a historical moment when all of us know someone affected by these brutal acts of violence, acts perpetrated by people with problems, with grudges, or tangled mental states that lead them to strike out. Most of the time they are victims too – abused, bullied, abandoned or feeling without any personal agency in their social or familial families. Somehow they find that gun or guns to carry out their plan. It’s just not hard to get a gun. Kids can kill kids.
Apparently, this is not enough to convince the National Rifle Association and all who benefit from the vast industry of gun sales, and who confuse the Bill of Rights with the basic moral imperative to do no evil, to do no harm. It is a fact that until recent history, promotion of widespread ownership of guns was uncommon.
Let’s also examine the other entrenched social and political conditions that can be drivers of violence: poverty, alienation, social repression, and so on. Kentucky has high poverty rates and over the top opioid addiction. We can talk all day about how our prayers go out to these youth but what are we really doing to help them, to provide a secure society for all kids to thrive? America needs a rigorous self-inventory. That includes all of us. If we espouse a religious affiliation might we not examine how we apply it in all aspects of our lives?
I recall Martin Luther King, Jr. when asked why he supported the end of United States participation in the Vietnam War. Why didn’t he stick to just civil rights? To paraphrase, he simply pointed out the he could not divide his moral code by the issue at hand. It is a code that demands the same rigor of understanding and right action in any area of our personal and civic lives.
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) changes the brain unless it is arrested. Let’s work with the people of Benton, KY to help them heal, to provide everything they need, including our sincere prayers. But let us not stop there. We must stop easy access to guns, and implicit or explicit support for an industry that results in a gun culture, in the U.S. once and for all. LET’S NOT MOVE ON.
Since I wrote my last post in which I expressed grave concern for the moral compass of our current administration, and indeed, our American culture, I returned to my own personal champion of an ethical basis for living: Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
Since age 12 when I discovered a short biography of Schweitzer (All Men Are My Brothers by Charlie May Simon, 1956), I’ve read and reread many Schweitzer writings about Reverence for Life, which the famous doctor, religious scholar and philosopher identified as the ethical basis for living.
Only by serving every kind of life do I enter into the service of that Creative Will whence all life emanates. ~ Albert Schweitzer, in “The Ethics for Reverence for Life” (1936)
For Schweitzer, this manifests through the striving of individuals and society to achieve the perfection of the world and humankind through the ethic of reverence for all life.
He was pragmatic about it: he wrote that thinking or writing about it doesn’t count: you have to act on it. He did so by stopping mid-career to attend medical school, and then moved to a remote jungle in Africa to serve people suffering from leprosy.
In my research I came upon the Schweitzer Fellowship which is providing the means for young leaders to emulate Schweitzer and take up the torch of that grand purpose. It is gratifying to learn how this work is unfolding around the world but how there are now 14 chapters across the U.S. where Fellows seek to empower people to create health and wellness in their family and community
Out of My Life and Thought – Autobiography
The Ethical Mysticism of Albert Schweitzer by Henry Clark
Albert Schweitzer on Prime Video Amazon an excellent new film (2009) about the man and his work; his human flaws and his genius; Barbara Hersey portrays Mrs. Schweitzer showing a much greater role in her husband’s success than in previous films.
As I’ve grown older, I have witnessed how the seeds of the future are planted in the present. Wise men, women, and visionaries make decisions by first looking back in history. What did we learn? Are there any similarities to the present challenges or opportunities. This is a time honored process of making careful decisions that will impact the future. Specifically, we looked for lessons learned.
Two examples are insightful. How we negotiated treaties at the end of WWI and at the end of WWII had very different outcomes. At the close of WWI, Germany was disabled by the imposition of brutal sanctions that disabled its ability to grow ties to the world nations through trade. That worked against securing a democratic course for Germany. President Woodrow Wilson tried to convince fellow world leaders to take the path of peace, to assist the perpetrators in creating democratic institutions and principles while building world peace in the process. He was ignored. The terrible hardships imposed on the German people became the forces that eventually led to the rise of Adolf Hitler.
Following WWII, the Marshall Plan reversed that tendency (to punish). Nations formed an alliance to provide a means of peaceful negotiation, and play a role as a watchdog for violations of human rights in member nations (the United Nations). Consequently, the world has not experienced a world conflagration since 1945, and Germany rose to take its place as a democratic nation in the world community. The leaders of the time had learned from history and corrected with purposeful actions.
The United States accepted a leadership role in the world as the seat of democracy. Granted we have not perfectly earned that great role, but we’ve done well over time in mediating among and working with fellow nations toward peaceful co-existence.
This has been accomplished by Republican and Democratic Presidents alike, building on each other’s accomplishment in foreign relations. It can sometimes be a reversal of a policy, but American policies always articulated with previous ideas and assumptions. Presidents have explained to the public why policies are changed or continued as should be done to gain public support through an understanding and awareness of the nation’s place in the world. In this manner America has advanced among nations. Presidents shape our future at home and in the world.
We need to evaluate President Trump in this light. Has he knowledge about our history and that of the world? Does he explain his policies in light of that previous body of actions and principles? Can our allies depend on him, i.e. are his ideas in line with the long history of how our nation had acted in the world community?
It is a rarity to have a President ignore who we have been, and who we are, for his own personal idea of what we should be. That is not leadership. Checking off a list of the pet projects of voter groups who supported his election by destroying decades of bipartisan work and policies is not leadership but old-time cronyism.
It is a Lesser Version of a President that we have not seen in our history. Leading a nation like ours, made of a dynamic informed public, requires the Big Leader version of the Presidency–a presidency based in the knowledge of where we came from and who we are. While I often feel sorry for Trump because he is completely overwhelmed by the job, I am more terrified of what is happening to us: the dismantling of our institutions that keep and foster democratic life, and the aimless leadership he imposes in the world community. All across the world, our allies are pulling back from us. Our enemies are gaining new confidence. We are less safe.
Where is this going?
Something to think about:
One of the best activities of my mature life has been an association with the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Land Ethic Leaders. In 2012 I traveled to Baraboo, Wisconsin to attend a training to become a Land Ethic Leader in my community.
Leopold’s now famous essay on The Land Ethic is excellent guidance for our time.
I’ve continued to learn from leaders and staff at the Foundation but mostly from my fellow Land Ethic Leaders. John Matel is one who is blogging about the restoration of the Long Leaf Pine Ecosystem on his land. He is doing the careful, long term work of bringing fire back to the land to awaken long dormant seeds for the sedges and grasses on the land, grooming the understory and the pines themselves.
Read his latest blog and explore others to appreciate that there is a man, and many others like him, who are working on the long term solutions to our environmental crises. For example, read about the Panhandle Watershed Alliance and the Bream Fisherman’s Association led by an intrepid water ecologist and friend, Barbara Albrecht in Pensacola, Florida.
So, take heart that there are these menders and planters, stewards of land and the human spirit OUT THERE working against the tide of destruction.
This post from 2016 is never more relevant. Terry Tempest Williams is one of America’s most important conservation writers.
Fish and Wildlife Photo: http://www.fws.gov
“We are living dangerously by not being able to change in a time of climate change.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams
To the Best of Our Knowledge broadcast an interview with Terry Tempest Williams. Here she talks about researching and writing her soon to be released book (The Hour of Land) on the history of our public parks, in this the centennial year of the founding of the National Parks.
For a look at how Terry relates to our public lands and actualizes her beliefs, here is a short interview with her on Democracy Now where she describes buying more than 1700 acres of public lands in a rather private sale of public land for oil leasing where an acre costs about a $1.50 for the right to drill and keep the profits. She is redefining “energy” in…
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In its As the South Grows series of reports, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) and its partner Grantmakers for Southern Progress (GSP) have begun exploring the challenges and opportunities to increase equity in Southern communities.
Foundations, as the data and others’ lived experience demonstrates, have for too long neglected funding the most promising structural change strategies in the South. As the South Grows is an attempt to examine the reasons for that neglect and to propose solutions.