We started by building an 8′ X 2′ box in our three-season room, and (with help of good persons at Growing Power and some worms) grew, with mixed results, salad greens and seedlings for the first summer’s garden. As the seasons change, our focus shifts back and forth between the sun-room and its evolving Growing Power Home Garden Project Box, and our Growing Power backyard garden, where we use the rich soil, worm castings and worms from the indoor box outdoors. Same system yet different.
Digging in the earth can uncover all kinds of things, and so can digging deep in ourselves. In my online journal, I have been recording daily reflections on the progress of our efforts in adapting the Growing Power model to our home and garden, mixed with my observations about life, peace, justice, faith, family, community and friends. Enjoy. Thank you! — Bob Graf
I have been quiet on posting on this Diary of the Worm for a few days for a variety of reasons. Today I received one more reason for not posting or for posting, depending how you take the experience.
Today I was on a conference call with four Vincentians from around the country. It was an appeal of my suspension from Society of St. Vincent de Paul by the US President of the Society. I had asked if I could know who my accusers were and see what the accusations were. I was told it would not matter.
Someone from the US Central office was on the phone with members from New Jersey, Chicago and Cincinnati. The charges from the national president, very vague, were presented and I denied them. The ‘Cease and Desist’ email from the National CEO, who I did not know was charging me, were brought up and I said I did not do what he falsely accuse me of doing. However, than one of the national members brought to my attention a file of 81 pages he had received. He asked me what was www.nonviolentcow.org and the Diary of the Worm, this posting. I told him and asked what this had to do with the hearing. He then gave me a statement taken out of context how I was calling St. Vincent de Paul Society racist. I explained to him that after 15 years I have come to conclusion that the Society in Milwaukee in its actions, like spending millions of dollars on a Thrift store in an all white area where the poor in minority neighborhoods were not being served by the Society was wrong and a sign of an action, what some would call “institutional or structural” racism. It may be unconscious to small group of white suburban people running the Society in Milwaukee, but it is very harmful to the poor.
But like the lady said from the National Office and like the small group of elite whites who run the local Society practice, facts and poor people do not matter. As one friend told me today “Truth hurts” and people do not want to hear it. If my suspension is upheld, which it seems likely, I will continue to cry out for the poor and marginalized. If I am suspended I do not need to worry about being kicked out of the Society for being a voice of voiceless and go as public as I can. My suspension will be a victory for the powers of ‘exceptionalism’ and ‘racism’ but only a very small one. If my message is true it will still rise up. The truth will prevail.
This is the season we sing “Joy to the World” for Jesus in born. God became incarnate and walked amidst us showing us the Way.
I have been accused, probably rightly so, as being negative. I am sensitive to injustice and am not afraid to speak about it. However, how much this stereotype of me being negative is partially justified, it went too far when a friend wrote me back scolding me for being so negative toward our US Representative. Yes, I have held her accountable for votes on war and war spending but the email he was referring to I was actually praising and thanking her for having the courage to vote No on the recent budget bill that had perks for Walls Street, rich and military manufactures’. I reread my email and it was clear I was thanking her for her courage not criticizing her. I wrote back to my friend point this out but have not heard back.
Stereotypes and stigmas, can be based on some partial truths, but are harmful for putting people in boxes and categories. Liberal Democrats are always blaming conservative Republicans for all that is wrong and conservative Republicans are blaming liberal Democrats.
I have been thinking of some way to get out of some of the stereotypes and stigmas place on me. Perhaps the best way is not to defend oneself but show person in words and actions the other side of oneself. For example, I can show more joy in life toward others and be less negative.
Also part of the problem is that more and more people have a hard time separating words and actions from the actual person. I can love someone but condemn what they do. Human beings are a lot more than what they seem to be.
I have noticed that good friends are people I can laugh with without fear of being offensive. I can just be. If I do or say something that is wrong I can also apologize and they will forgive me.
Today when I got to my 86 year old friend’s house to complete a small task I found her waiting by her phone from a call about her 114 year old mother, living in Florida, that had been taken this morning to the ER of a local hospital. After I finished my task we sat around waiting for the phone to ring for an update from, nieces, daughters, nephews and grandchildren. While we waited she told me stories of her family and of the lifelong civil rights struggle her life has been. When she tells me stories there is always a lot of humor in them, although the subject matter might be serious. We laughed while waiting.
I am not talking about small talk or meaningless comments or empty jokes. Real humor, like joy, comes from the heart and we all need joy in our struggles.
If you are finding “Love Your Enemy” of the Gospel hard to do, here is an alternative: “Have No Enemies”
Demonstrators march during a
protest against the government
of President Michel Martelly in
Port-au-Prince, on December
Someone sent me today an article called Haiti: Anti-government demo turns violent I a little taken back. Haitians are very kind, spiritual and peaceful people. When I read the article I realized the violence was on the part of the government police and UN Occupying Powers on people demonstrating against the attempt of the US elected and supported government to return the country to dictatorship.
Before I went to Haiti with a SOAWatch delegation in October of 2011, ten months after the devastating earthquake, I was warned that I would fall in love with people of Haiti and I did. Despite living in extreme poverty they were kind, loving and spiritual persons. I saw no signs of the millions and millions of dollars given to Haiti after the earthquake. The money had not made it way down to rebuilding new roads or new housing in Port-au-Prince where we visited. The money had gone to US military, NGO’s (Non Government Organizations) and US contractors. (See Where Earthquake money for Haiti did and did not go. People were still living in makeshift camps although the NGO’s had pulled out of helping them survive. When the UN military forces, soon after our visit, brought in cholera to the country spirits of the people were still high.
However, you can only persecute and suppress peoples in their own country when they will finally break out and demand freedom. That could be with violence against the oppressor or, as in Haiti, with nonviolence against the oppressors. You cannot defeat a people in their own country, be it Vietnam, Iraq or Haiti, a lesson the USA seems to have not learned.
So the present violence is by the puppet government that will not allow free and democratic elections and is prompt up by US, Canadian, UN and other governing bodies as well as NGO’s. If anyone can keep the struggle for freedom nonviolent it is the Haitian people. They have suffering so much since they won their independence from France I think there is no going back now. I pray and hope that Haiti will soon become another example of how the spiritual power of nonviolence overcomes the violent powers of tyranny.
A popular chant on protest marches and rallies is for one person to say: “What does democracy look like” and the whole group to reply “This is what democracy looks like.”
Last night on CBS news there was a interview with four police chiefs from around the country, two African Americans, one woman and our own white Milwaukee Police Chief in Milwaukee.
One of the African American police chiefs remarked how if a policeman worked in certain neighborhoods and encounter particular persons committing crime it was easy to start to form stereotypes. The interviewer said that he was surprised to hear that since what the police chief was saying amounted to profiling. Our Milwaukee Police chief interrupted him and started to talk about how in his city, Milwaukee, 80- 85% of homicide victims are African Americans, two thirds of my robbery victims are African American, 80% of my aggravated assault victims are African Americans and the profile of the offenders is identical if not more so. He says this is the environment we are working.
I do not take fault with his numbers, be they true or not, but am offended that he is talking about our city of Milwaukee and not admitting, as the police chief who talked about stereotyping, was talking about certain neighborhoods.
Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the USA and North Central Milwaukee is 85% plus African American has the highest unemployment, lowest income, worst schools, and is the most improvised of any neighborhood in Milwaukee. It also has the highest concentration of police, since our police chief believes in ‘data driven policing’, policing the neighborhood that has the most crimes; and it has the highest incarceration rate of African Americans in Wisconsin which has the highest in the USA, which has the highest percentage of population incarcerated in the world.
In my opinion just taking numbers for the city out of context is what “racism looks like”. We have known for years that you put high numbers of poor people in one neighborhood and cut them off from other parts of the city and government and business, treat them poorly and give them little opportunity to get out of situation, you are bound to have more crime and violence in this neighborhood. It happened long ago in Irish or other cultural ghettos in the USA. Now those barriers to equal opportunity to jobs, education, transportation, housing, treatment with respect have been torn down for all cultures except African Americans, especially those who are poor.
As a white person I can drive through an African American neighborhood without fear of being stopped by a police officer for no good reason or for something petty like a taillight burned out. I do not have to worry about police inspecting my car or padding me down for no apparent good reason.
Milwaukee continues to isolate African American, especially those are poor, not serve them as other neighbors get serve, except for intense policing, and blame them, as our Police Chief does, for violent crime. This is the self fulfilling prophecy that makes Milwaukee the most racially segregated city in the USA, the most racist. (See M.A.P.S.) This is what racism looks like.
Before a colonoscopy procedure today I had to fast from food. Going into the procedure and afterwards my body felt less tired and better than it has in days. Since the procedure I have had two meals and some of the aches and pains are coming back. Lesson learned, I hope, fasting is good for healing of the body. Less food can make more energy for the body?
Jesus tells his apostles when casting out a demon they were not able to cast out that some demons are removed only by ‘prayer and fasting’. I am thinking that we if we get people wearing hoods praying and fasting all over the Marquette campus we may be able to exorcise the demons of ROTC, teaching killing without conscience.
When I was in Guatemala last February I got an idea for a brief video saying in pictures and words that Marquette and Notre Dame are the only two Catholic Universities in the country that teach reflexive killing, killing without conscience. To talk about this subject is one thing, to see and hear it being taught is another thing. Brief videos are a new tactic using modern communications.
A tactic of the White Rose Community in Nazi Germany was to write pamphlets exposing Hitler and drop them from balconies on campus. We can do that and probably not be beheaded as they were.
Perhaps it is time to use new tactics to touch people’s hearts with message justice and peace, tactics from the past like prayer and fasting and tactics from the present like brief, explosive videos and tactics from history, like dropping leaflets from buildings might be the way to go to communicate our same old message in a new way.
With the garden at rest for the winter, I find myself spending a lot more time inside the house. Actually this is good since I have some reading and writing to catch up with. But not being outside much and not seeing much of the sun has left me tired and somewhat unmotivated. The shadow of death hanging over me is more felt but that might be good because it slows me down and helps to see what is important and not in my life. However, it also makes me more susceptible to wasting of time watching endless sports and news on TV.
So the choice is my slow down and escape or slow down, read, reflect and write. Escaping is easy these days with so many means of entertainment and information.
I have been listening to an audio book, the classic science fiction book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The story is how over the “course of several decades, people embraced new media, sports, and a quickening pace of life.” We can add cell phones, tweeter, Facebook, Tablets and computers to the media and ‘quickening pace of life.’ Books became shorter and more abridged so the government took advantage of this and hires ‘firemen’ to burn books.
I do not think this will happen anytime soon and book sales seem to be up. However, the fact that I am listening to this book borrowed from the library on my cell phone makes somewhat of a comment. The ‘quickening pace of life’ might not be leading us to burning books but it does have a serious and profound effects on our human lives and communications. The many means of communication, in one sense, brings everyone in the world closer together. On the other hand, it can bring less compassion for people, suffering, ill, poor and those uprooted by war.
I read an article today by a Catholic Worker friend, Kathy, that was written about an hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan run by an Italian based charity, which has hospitals all over this worn torn country. The hospital is supported primarily by Italian families. A staff member told her “Pensioners and retirees take from that have. They believe in this work, want to be part of it.”
When Kathy learned that the total budget of the hospital was six million dollars a year she told the staff person that US now spends 2.1 million dollars per soldier, per year in Afghanistan. The U.S. spends more keeping three soldiers there than the entire hospital budget. The staff person could not help from laughing when he told her how the US built a modern hospital in another province, but because the province lacks electricity it cannot possibly function. Even if there was electricity the new US hospital would take over eight times more electricity than his hospital to operate. The fuel cost of the US hospital would be about 3. 2 million dollars, which also means it, will never open. Yet the new US hospital makes for good media coverage.
We have a lot of information from media on the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but, as a people, we are desensitized to the death, pain and suffering we are causing.
Books leave a lot to the imagination while TV and other media leave little to the imagination. War becomes another video game.
In the book ‘Fahrenheit 451’ all the government wants people to do is work and be entertained. The thinking, books may bring along, is not allowed. Maybe it is not books we are burning but are we lying waste to our imaginations and our human feelings by the ‘quickening pace of life’.
The long blue line
protecting the stairs and elevator
Not feeling very motivated to do anything today I thought I would go to the rally for Dontre Hamilton, the young man shot 14 times by a police officer for sleeping in a public park, something very legal. He was killed April 30, 2014 but over seven months later the District Attorney still has not decided to charge the police office or not.
We marched the short distance from Red Arrow Park, where he was killed, to city hall to visit with the mayor. When we got there we found all the elevators and stairs were blocked off by a line of police officers. Despite our pleas, chants and songs they would not bulge. Some went outside to march around only to find they were not allowed back into city hall. So a group of us inside decided to stay and wait for the Mayor.
We waited and waited and police came and went but the doors were blocked for people coming in and no Mayor. While we were waiting the family went over some of the autopsy results in the case. Dontre was shot 14 times, seven times in the back. Dontre’s body had bruises form a beating all over it while the police office had just a minor scratch.
Dontre’s family was present and I got to talk with his mother and two of his brothers plus one of the community organizers for the family. They have persistently in demanding justice for Dontre and engaging in peaceful nonviolent action to obtain it. The Mayor, District Attorney, Police Chief have been, when they can, very diligent in ignoring the case.
The people left at the end were most young persons, a mix of white and African American plus the family and some friends. After five hours it was clear the protesters inside were not going to leave without a meeting with Mayor and so a meeting, third one with Mayor, was arranged. If we had known we were going to be locked out from going in Mayor’s office I think the group would have been better prepared to stay the night or till they were forced to leave.
This case and ones like it, all across the country, is a sign that people are waking up to racism against African American males and ignoring protestors just does not work anymore. At least, let us hope so.
As someone who has been and is being ignored from acting on my conscience be it struggling against racism in the St. Vincent de Paul Society or the nearby country park or struggling against militarism, teaching killing without conscience at local Catholic university, Marquette, I can understand how being ignored on something so important can make you give up or fighting with anger. To be like this family community members to be persistent in struggling for justice but nonviolently not allowing any peace until there is justice is courageous. I will proud to be present. Without Justice there will be Peace.
Joseph, Mary (with Jesus)
rejected at the Inn
This is something I felt the need to write and have sent to a few friends so far. Feel free to share.
December 8, Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Mother of God
Dear Friends, Members of the Society, Pastors and Media,
As we wait and watch for Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, it is a good time to be aware of the poor, marginalized and rejected. Jesus’ first rejection came when he was still in his mother’s womb, when there was no room for them in the inn. In the Gospel we learn how Jesus dealt with rejection and how we can follow his Way, like in the Beatitudes and Matthew 25. The Way is simple, Do the Works of Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.
Some criticize the works of mercy as band aids and not making real systematic change. However, Jesus, Dorothy Day, Gandhi, St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King Jr., St. Ignatius of Loyola have proven that works of mercy and resistance can spark structural change.
Here in Milwaukee a few of us have been trying to effect structural change in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP), since over the years we believe it has lost track of the main Mission of the Society, person to person encounters with those in need doing the works of mercy. Whereas 99.9% of local SVDP conference budgets go to needs of poor only .03% of the Central Council budget, operated by central staff, goes to direct services, works of mercy by the conferences. In fact, the local conference need to pay Central Council store 100% of retail price for donated clothing and household items and new beds, a much greater amount than they receive back from council. The Central Council now owns five properties with only one, Thrift Store on South Side, serving the conferences and main mission and bringing in revenue to the Central Council. Now with the multi-million dollar development of Thrift store in the suburbs the Central Council budget is projecting a greater deficit than ever, money which will come from trust funds for the poor, as all money in SVDP is owned by the poor.
When some of us who have been speaking up for years against this structure that hurts the poor build unsustainable bureaucracy we were marginalized by the few staff and members in control and recently two of us were suspended without any hearing from the Society.
A certified letter I just received from a lawyer who claims to “represent the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Milwaukee (Milwaukee Society)” says the “Milwaukee Society will use all means available to it” to prevent me from participating any activities of the Milwaukee Society, attending meetings, trespassing property of central office or making home visits for conference to people in need.” The suspensions and certified letters were not talked about at any board or council meeting and copies were sent only to the President whose recently election is being challenged, the Executive Director, appointed by the Present and the Finance Director who is appointed by Executive Director.
In a day and age when we are becoming more aware of cultural and institutional racism the ‘Milwaukee Society’ stands out as a white controlled organization who claims to know what is best for Latinos and African Americans in poverty stricken neighborhoods. The million dollar investment in a thrift store in a suburb, even if it does eventually produce a profit, to be used for poor, will just be band aid for problems of poverty and race. A much smaller investment for a ‘sustainable’ thrift store doing the works of mercy’ in North Central Milwaukee could have a structural impact on the community.
Do not be afraid of rejects or marginalized, the poor, black and Latinos. Call for structural change in the Milwaukee Society, change President, Executive Director and Finance Director and a full and independent audit of the Society which is long overdue.
Above all, I ask you to be generous in giving time, talent and money to present St. Vincent de Paul conferences in Milwaukee, not to Central Council or office. A list of structural flaws in the present Milwaukee Society are attached with this letter.
For more information or a needy SVDP conference near you contact me. I speak as an individual and hopefully a Cry for the Poor and you.
May you share in the graces and blessings God only gives to the poor and marginalized,
Enough! - Sunday, December 07, 2014
Native Americans struggling
against mining interest
Today I read how Congress is poised to give a foreign mining company 2,400 acres of national forest in Arizona that is cherished ancestral homeland to Apache natives in a measure “attached to annual legislation that funds the US Defense Department.” This is just one more of many injustices going on in the USA against the poor and marginalized.
One Native American leader told the media he was saddened by news of the proposal, yet not all that surprised. The Native American leader was not surprised is the same as the African American young adult not being surprised as he is stopped by police for no good reason? The new order of rich getting richer, and with more power and more people getting poor with less power seems to be accepted by many.
However, there are a growing number of people saying No: No to killing of African American males by white police, No to militarization of our education system, No to removal of human rights to poor and marginalized, No to money being free speech or corporations being persons, no to destruction of our environment, No to endless wars and no to privatization of education. Each day there are more and more injustices that we can be silent about or say No.
In my opinion the rich and powerful, powers that be, throw so much at else that is negative that all we can say is No or that is just the way it is. As more and more people break the silence and say No, that is “Enough”, we can start making the connection between what we see as immoral.
We cannot as individual change anyone but ourselves, but we changed individuals can stand together and say No, and better yet, say Yes to positive new ways of doing things. For my limited part I am trying to connect the cultural and institutional racism we see around us with the militarization of our education system, like at Marquette Jesuit Catholic University. When people come aware of injustices and immorality around them they can come together to say “Enough” and yes to working together.
The sources of evil and injustices, money, power and glory are very universal. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of Society of Jesus, Jesuits, spoke about these same evils when he wrote the “Spiritual Exercises in the 16th century. We do not need to know more information or hear more talks or read more to understand the evils around us. We just need to open our eyes and ears and follow our conscience. When we stop and say “Enough” we may suffer rejections and be marginalized, but non-cooperation with evil is one of the best way to overcome it.
Good, old St. Nick came and went leaving my wife an I Tunes Card and me nothing. It is just as well since I have been given many blessings this year and now only need to realize and be aware of more of them.
Advent is a time of Waking Up and Getting Ready. Waking up to Word of God, Jesus, who despite being rejected, even in his mother’s womb, is still coming and getting ready to see the graces and blessings God gives only to the poor and marginalized but allows us to share in. So my Advent Prayer is:
Open my heart, ears and eyes so I can better feel, hear and see the presence of our God in all things.
My heart may be broken from what I see and hear but know the healing power of Jesus will be there for me.
With ears to hear I may hear what I do not want to hear but know I will be given the courage to hear these words.
With eyes to see I may see some troubling events and acts that offend my conscience but I know I will be given the power to forgive and be forgiven myself.
Opening of my heart, ears and eyes may make me weak and vulnerable but I know that in my weakness and dependence will be my strength.
With work I can till the soil and produce a good crop. With grace of God I can hear, see and feel the Word of God and live the Gospel.
In hurting there is healing, in sorrow there is joy, in sadness there is happiness for those with an open heart, ears and eyes.
I pray this Advent to become awake and ready.
Revolutionary Way of Jesus
It is the night before St. Nicholas day and I almost forgot to hand our stockings on the mantle on the fireplace. I would have forgotten about it except for sign in the drugstore window letting everyone know its Dec. 5th, the eve of St. Nicholas, the predecessor to Santa Clause.
In one of the folklore stores about him he throws three bags of money in a home for a poor father to have a dowry for his three daughters’ so they get married rather than be prostitutes. Some say he dropped the three purses down the chimney. In this story and his life his works of mercy has significant changes in the lives of the people around him.
Many critics of works of mercy, spiritual and corporal, like feeding the poor, visiting those in prison, say such works on only band aids and we really need to work for systematic change in society. Looking at the Gospel I can only find Jesus telling his followers that the poor, dependent, are blessed and doing works of mercy is the Way. He clearly states that nations and groups will be judged on how they perform works of mercy, like giving shelter to homeless. “Truly, I say to you what you did for the least you did for me.”
Now one can ask how works of mercy, like the spiritual works of mercy, ‘to bear wrongs patiently’, really made structural changes. Take a look at the civil rights movement and what Dr. King says in the letter from Birmingham Jail about this spiritual work of mercy can lead to structural change. The spiritual works of mercy are at the heart of nonviolence.
When I was trying to get the money from sale of our closed Catholic Church for the works of mercy in Milwaukee I had a hard time explaining how doing works of mercy, like providing beds and appliances to people in need, could lead to revolutionary change. So I wrote a parable, Thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven, showing how having a bed, refrigerator and stove can radically affect a young boy’s life and make a significant change in his environment.
But people, for the most part, did not get it, as they do not get the Parable of the “Judgment of Nations” in the Gospel, Matthew 25. They interrupt the parable about the works of mercy as saying what individuals should do not what nations, societies or groups should do. (In the Mediterranean culture of Jesus’ time there was not such thing as ‘individualism’, everyone was part of a group.) I agree that you can always judge a society by how it treats its poor and marginalized.
This is at the heart of my complaint about the Milwaukee Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Building a million dollar thrift store in the suburbs might someday bring some revenue to help the poor in North Center Milwaukee. However, building a successful and sustainable thrift store, for much less money, in the heart of the North Central Milwaukee would results in structural change and speaks louder than a few alms of the love of the Society and Catholic Church for poor and marginalized. Blessings and donations would follow.
Good old St. Nick, like many saints and heroes, from Gandhi to Dorothy Day, tells us how to make revolutionary and systematic change simple by doing the works of mercy.
Tonight I went to a public hearing at my old high school, Marquette University High School. It was a hearing held by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation about two proposals to widen Hwy 94 between 70th and 16th street in Milwaukee. All but one person spoke against the two proposals, many arguing for public transit system instead. The expensive new freeway would serve people coming in or getting out of city during drive times by cutting their drive time by a few minutes. However, for the vast number of people in North Central Milwaukee and South Central it would be of no service and would not able to them to get to and from jobs in the suburbs. Milwaukee has a terrible transit system, locking the poor in boundaries, African Americans in North Side and Latinos on South Side. A few people have the courage to call the proposals, what they are, ‘institutional racism.’
After the hearing I had this strange feeling that on one hand the people have spoken and the freeway would not be built but on the other hand all this was said was for naught since the State Government and the Big Highway lobby had already made up their minds. I told my negative feelings, of waste of time, to my long time friend who is a mass transit activist. He was more positive and mentioned the hearing was recorded and copy would be going to Federal Department of Transportation who might take note and stop it. I hope he is right.
The expanded highway would serve the interest of the few while the mass transit system, at much less a cost, would serve the interest of all. Transit is for all while highway expansion isfor the few.
Many people I know, including myself, are sick or just very tired. I do not know what it is, maybe just the weather or people I know getting older or busier, but it seems to be.
One friend I know is not so old, perhaps in her 50’s, but she is tired from being poor. She lives in a small house with her daughter, granddaughters and great granddaughter. She is going to school full time trying to earn her degree; she works full time at a very hard job and is active in her church and social justice activities. No matter how hard she tries or hard she works she never seems to get ahead in life and stays trapped in the web of poverty. When she sees injustice, like that of the Milwaukee St. Vincent de Paul, she seeks to change it and is often frustrated with the indifference of others. She does not know how we got here but knows there has been a basic structural change in society that hurts the poor and marginalized.
A good example is that the few controlling the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Milwaukee say they are interested in structural change in society but then spend millions of dollars on a thrift store in the suburbs saying it will make money to help the poor. Putting a store in the midst of neighborhood of the poor would be making a structural change; putting in the suburbs to make money for the poor is, at best if it works, just a band aid.
A model for structural change in society is in Matthew 25 in the Gospel. Jesus is talking of how nations, governments and groups will be judged. Those institutions that individually and collectively that are structured to feed the hungry, clothe persons, provide basic house will be welcome in to the kingdom of God. Those who do not do “for the least of people” will be cast aside. When individuals, groups like St. Vincent de Paul, governments like City of Milwaukee, nations like the USA learn and practice there will be a true revolution.
Tonight on TV news I heard that two after school programs that are proven to help teenage African Americans excel in school are being cut, “due to lack of funding.” One of the staff of the centers said that we could spend a few hundred dollars to help a teen at the front end of his life or spend $30,000 to house that person in prison at the other end. When will we learn that given opportunity, good paying jobs, affordable health insurance, excellent schools, money for basic needs like food and shelter to everyone who needs it, like my friend, we will reenergize our county and perhaps not be so tired.
Boiled Peanuts - Tuesday, December 02, 2014
A friend observed that my recent postings, like on racism, sounded like I am down in spirits. I have to admit that has been somewhat true recently, just feeling unmotivated. But I did know something that would pick up my spirits, visiting my 86 year old friend, veteran of civil rights movement.
When I got there she asked me about how to get over to ATT & T building. I asked why, since we had got her phone line reestablished. She said she needed another phone, which is true, since the ringer and sound on her present phone are low. I informed her that these days’ people purchased phones in retail stores not at the ATT & T. So we took a trip to “you know who” (Wal-Mart) to find a phone. We found a simple phone and it was ATT & T. After paying for the phone she asked one of the employees where some kind of peanuts were. I did not catch what kind of peanuts she was talking about but we were directed to the can goods section of the store. I thought we were in the wrong area for peanuts when she asked another staff person for ‘boiled peanuts’. Right there on the shelf were cans of boiled peanuts. I guess it is true that Wal-Mart has everything in it. She explained to me that her mother, who is still alive at 114 years old, in southern Florida used to boil peanuts for the family.
We went back to her house, set up the new phone, which had a stronger ring and a clearer sound. As I was ready to leave she asked me to open the can of boiled peanuts which I did. She offered me one and I had it. It was just a regular looking peanut that had been boiled. The taste was okay but I prefer the ones salted not boiled. She gave me a few for the road and I came home, refreshed from the boiled peanuts visit.
When I used the word ‘racism’ to describe taking down the basketball courts at local County Park or the activities of the Milwaukee St. Vincent de Paul Society people seem to take it personally and are offended. I certainly do not mean it that way.
I just finishing listening to an audio book about lynchings in the South in early 20th century, although it was illegal. Now I am now reading Father Bryan Massingale’s book on Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. These two books, as other experiences and reading, have helped me better to understand what people are hearing when they hear the word ‘racism’. People tend to look at racism through the eyes of early 20th century, when one person or group, usually white, does something negative to another person or group, usually Black or Latino.
Yet what I am talking about is a “cultural phenomenon, that is, a way of interpreting human color differences that pervades the collective convictions, conventions, and practices of American life.” (Massingale p. 15) Often it is an ‘unconscious racism’ operating as a negative – “yet not conscious, deliberate, or intentional – decisions making factor, due to the pervasive cultural stigma attached to dark skin color in Western culture.” (Massingale p. 23).
I believe this explains what happened in 1967–1968 during the school year at Marquette when students accused the University of “Institutional Racism”. The reaction of administrators and Jesuits was ‘we are not racist’, we allow anyone into Marquette who qualifies, despite race. However, Marquette did make institutional changes that allow blacks, many local, to attend the University, despite being black and poor. It was called the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and allowed many African American males and females from Milwaukee to attend Marquette University, one, a single mother on welfare, now is our congresswoman from our district.
However, I do not believe Marquette University really understood ‘institutional racism’ or made a real structural change. At a recent panel forum on the 25th anniversary of EOP program I was hoping to ask how any African Americans from Milwaukee are in the EOP today? I was not given the chance since there were no questions, dialog or comments allowed. From observation there are very few local blacks in the program today. There are many Asians, Palestinians and other low income people from over the USA in the program but it seems the barriers, institutional racism for Blacks in Milwaukee are back in place.
When I say that Milwaukee St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVDP) is “racist” I am not talking about not allowing black members or serving blacks. I am taking about structural issues that have been going on since the early 90’s where now only .03% of the 3 and half million dollar of Central Office and Council budget is going toward direct person to person home visits to people in need, the main mission of the Society. The people getting the .03% of the budget for home visits from local conferences are mostly Black and Latino. This is racism, pure and simple. Perhaps the people doing it are not even conscious of what they are doing and are not doing it deliberately or intentionally but nevertheless it is racism, and good “intentions”, like “we are going to make money for poor by serving whites in suburbs” cannot cover it up.
Racism is not segregation, necessarily. Milwaukee being the most racially segregated city in the USA, according to US census, accounts for some racism but it is not the reason why Milwaukee is rampart with cultural racism. Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed African American male, sleeping on a bench in a Public Park, committing no crime, was shot 15 times, once in the back, by a police officer over 7 months ago and yet no decision about charging or justification of the police officer has been made. The lawyer for Dontre Hamilton’s family asked why this case and many others in Milwaukee, does not get national attention like the Ferguson case. Can it be that cultural racism in Milwaukee is the norm?
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Modern Warfare 3 Video game
Watching TV sports this holiday, I noticed there were a large number of ads for video games, very violent video games. I guess this is the season for giving and receiving and what is more American than violence.
This morning in Church someone prayed for the people of Honduras who have suffered terrible violence, especially since the USA led military coup in 2009 of the democratic elected government by SOA offices trained at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. Honduras has the highest murder rate of any country in the world, – “in 2012, it registered 90.4 murders per 100 000 population, more than twice that of neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala – most victims are poor and nameless.”
Although the USA has the highest incarceration rate in the World, our country is known for purveyors of violence in the world, from Killer drones to military budget larger than the 9 other top ten budgets in the world, to being largest exporter of weapons in the world.
I have been exploring in my mind the connection between ‘racism’ and ‘militarism’. I believe they are connected when one class of people, one race or one country believe they are exceptional and do not need to “conform to normal rules or general principles.” We see it in our political figures, like our President, who proclaims and praises “exceptionalism”, in our staff and leadership of local St. Vincent de Paul Society who know what is best for the poor, in our police chief and mayor who believe they can stop “thugs”, as they call them, with increased police patrol in certain neighborhoods.
Violence is the big brother and sister of Exceptionalism, whene one group believes they are more equal and know what is good for others.
Old Sign on Trail Going to
The story of Resurrect the Rims at Doyne County Park begins in 2009 when a good part of the park, outside the 9 hole golf course was closed for some major renovations. When the park was reopened in 2010 the playing field for soccer players was flattened, there was a new playground and new basketball courts, with 4 rims. Most of the people in the neighborhood did not know why the park was closed and reconstructed. But soon after it opened an individual called a meeting in his home about taking down the rims on the new basketball court. The than pastor of the Church on the Park called a public meeting in the Church hall to see what people really were concerned about. Although the few persons wanting to take down the rims tried to dominate the meeting a few other concerns of homes boarding the park were expressed. One of them was that parents of a local private high school were now driving cars on the bike trail to get to soccer field. There is a parking lot in the park but the girls from the private high school soccer team would have to go on trial next to young men playing basketball, including many African Americans and by the playground.
New Sign on Trail going to
Also during the course of public meetings it was disclosed that the County Supervisor at that time with a small group of individuals thought they had a promise from County Park System not to put back the basketball courts. It turns out that many full court basketball places in mostly white neighborhoods at been taken down by the County when African American males started to play basketball there. This was one of full courts left outside of North Central Milwaukee, 85% African American, only a few full court basketball playing areas, in the very far nearly all white Southside and the 85% white suburbs. Now thanks to someone firing a shot in the park and a WE Energies truck hitting one of the poles there are two of the four basketball boards left and no full court basketball playing.
While working to keep the rims up I learned the major portion of the park renovation has been paid for by a private high school and thus the county felt obliged to put signs up that the new level soccer field could only be used by private permit. One of the other concerns, besides taking down the rims was accomplished, the placing of a sign on the bike/walk sign saying “No Motorized Vehicles Allowed.” This sign was same as one off the road in the park going the other way on the bike/walk trail.
I used to drive into the parking lot to check out basketball players. After two of the rims were taken down I noticed cars again driving on the bike trail to get to shelter for golf course or soccer fields. When I could easily do it, I would point out the violator, there was no vehicles allowed on the bike path. A few weeks ago I pulled into the parking lot by the rims and by chance noticed that sign going into the park had been changed. The new sign now reads “No Motorized Vehicle Parking.” The city ordinance quoted is the same but the big change was ‘Vehicles Allowed’ to ‘Vehicle Parking’.
So it seems now that people can drive cars on the bike/walking trail path past the courts, playground to get children playing soccer but they cannot ‘park’ on the bike path.
These days where we see the life of a young adult African American is not valued very much in society but money speaks and is ‘free speech’ this story speaks of the racism rampant in Milwaukee. African Americans playing full court basketball is a ‘danger’ but cars driven by white person on well used walk/bike trail is safe?
Lynching Past & Present
Fighting the big corporate ATT&T to get Ms. Lucille’s, 86, phone back in operation, despite all the time he took, seems easy compared the struggle to get the landlord to fix her heating system. When I was over at her house working on restoring the phone I noticed she was using her gas stove to heat her house. She told me the heating system was broke and the landlord had promised to fix it. He never did and a week and half later she still has no heat in her house outside leaving the gas stove on. I called the person who manages the houses for landlord many times, she has called more times and another friend has called. Someone did come to look at it but said a new part was needed the person did not have but that person never returned.
She is careful about complaining to the landlord since at her age and condition it would be difficult to find another landlord to rent to her. She like many seniors wants to keep her independence and having her own place is part of it.
While making home visits I noticed that the housing conditions of the poor have drastically dropped. People are poorer more than ever and the housing stock has dropped in quality. I blame bed bugs and greedy landlords for the deteriorating situation but it is really many other factors, including all of us and the racism in American we cannot face.
I am now listening to an audio book, historical fiction novel, about the lynchings of African Americans in the South during the beginning of 20th century. It is horrible and would not be tolerated in our times. But today, under the ‘new Jim Crow’, “the rate of police killings of black Americans is nearly the same as the rate of lynchings in the early decades of the 20th century.”. Naturally the lynching of past days and the killing by police of today are very different. However, the lynchings of 100 years ago and modern day policemen killings of African-Americans are often for no good reasons and are very seldom prosecuted.
The racism of lynching was mostly in the South while police killings of blacks is all over the USA. How can we have gone so far in civil rights in the last 100 years and land up in the same place, African Americans, mostly male, being killed by whites, mostly policeman. Today when we hear about policeman killing persons unarmed African American males like Michael Brown, Dontre Hamilton or the 12 year boys playing with fake gun we say shame and life goes on. The government officials, not even the President, do not call it racism but rather tell us to vote and work hard and the system will change. Racism of old, lynchings, as racism of today, police killings, was not changed in the ballot box but only when people of all racist stood up and said in one clear voice in word and action: “Enough”, we will not take it anymore. I am not talking about violence, although I can understand that response, but am talking about risking our lives, insults, reputations, careers to say stop. If a young black man, with a legal gun, shot and killed a white police officer who he felt was endangering his life, would he be charged and held accountable in the justice system?
Attitude of Graditute
Gratitude come naturally when one fast or eats a little but it is hard to conjure up when one is full and feels fat.
Scripture scholars tell us that the uniqueness of “Love Your Enemies”, found in the Gospels, probably means it is something Jesus really said and meant. When you see deeply into people, friends, enemies and those in between it is easier to love everyone and see them as a unique being and not judge them by actions but who they are.
Often what we are looking for to feel gratitude is right when we are, we just cannot see it. As the saying goes “We are the ones we are looking for.”
Gratitude flows from deep within the soul so when we are cluttered with all kinds of things it is hard to feel gratitude.
When we feel the presence of God, gratitude flows.
When we see God in other persons, life or nature gratitude flows.
Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude but with family and friends busy with TV sports and movies, playing games on I Pad or smart phone, it is hard to find time for gratitude.
Gratitude lives in silence, something that many of us fear.
When we have a sense of our death it is easier to find gratitude for the moments we are living.
Nature evokes gratitude as does a friend with a helping hand.
When we are ignored it is hard to find gratitude, since the one doing the ignoring or showing the indifference is not recognizing our being and existence. It is easier to be rejected than ignored.
An attitude of gratitude goes a long way in making friends or melting the hearts of enemies.
Gratitude grows naturally as a rose does on a cultivated rose bush.
Being grateful is hard in a times of war, violence and injustice.
Our present Thanksgiving has roots in the Puritan tradition of Days of Fasting or Days or Days of Thanksgiving in response to events that the Puritans viewed as acts of special providence.
So if today is a Day of Thanksgiving when is the National Day of Fasting? Will we have football games on TV on the Day of Fasting?