Category: "Encouragement"

The Ruins of Ego

September 15th, 2017

Wouldn't it be great if we could fix America's suffering of chaos and disarray? But how? The venomous president, the violent protests, and the incomprehensible injustices: these are all symptoms of a disease no one seems to able to get a handle on. And how is this country to lead the world when it has fallen so low? The only answers I have involve the only person I can control: myself. And each solution I find starts with one action: the proper care and treatment of that pesky troublemaker named ego.

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The ego tells us we are good. It tells us we are bad. It tells us we need more. It says we have too much. While it's supposed to control the floodgates of our self-centered emotions, it can overtake the dry ground on which stands individual talent. Therein is where ego inflicts its greatest harm.

Now, mastering the art of ego is not my forte'; I fail to meditate, nor do I fully grasp the teachings of the enlightened few who have the ability "be" without ego in control. However, the infection crippling America is no longer hiding elusively under the skin, where ego buries itself. It's burst into plain site. And thus, our best chance at recovery lies in the effort of each of us to at least try to care for our own egotistical sores.

Obvious is the rampant egotism we read about daily, given the mental state of the president. Favorite words such as beautiful, tremendous, incredible, great, and fantastic are not used to describe tangible objects, but rather promised intangible benefits, assured to those who follow. For everyone else, there is disaster. The ego on display here demands that any "unbelievable" outcome reflects only the "fantasticness" of the self to such degree all the world shall envy it.

Far less obvious and far more prevalent is the egotism that hinders the majority of the people I know. Called humility, it is the opposite of boastfulness. It is the squashing of our own talent with modesty. These people, like I, suppress the best of who they really are, for reasons that are hard to understand. Here the ego demands that we avoid casting an image into the mirror, fearing any reflection, negative and positive, that will surely come back, visible for all to see.

The real me is an artist. The real me appreciates creativity that flows from other people. The real me cares about the real people around me. Yet, I offer too little of this to the world. My ego blocks much of it before it gets out.

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Therefore, I submit that the majority of us subconsciously refuse to let our individual talents shine, whether they be artistic, analytical, emotional, mechanical, etc. And quite often, the greater the talent, the greater the suppression.

Why? Is it because we were taught not to brag? Is it because we don't want to intimidate those less talented? Because we don't want to be associated with the boastful lot? Or are we just plain afraid of just how good we are?

Americans judge, no doubt. A clear symptom of our ego disease is present in the popularity of television shows such as Big Brother, Top Chef, or America's Got Talent. Capitalists have tapped into an affinity to judge with entertainment such as this. They further pad profits by reducing expenditures once paid to writing talent for creating the programs, the sitcoms, the documentaries, the prime time fictional dramas these reality television shows have replaced. The result: the public owned airwaves are clogged with stages set to show a supreme winner rise above all the rest. Characters are teased into participation with the possibility of a huge payout, like a lottery, wherein all contributions are funneled to one. We judge; ego wins.

Yet, when it comes to REAL life, who among us cares to compete? How many times have you been given a positive comment that you respond to with an argument? Like the proper hero we declare, "No, it was just part of the job." How many times have you belittled your own creation after someone compliments on it favorably? "It's really not that good," we say and then go on to point out its flaws in order to enlighten the observer to all its ugly imperfections. Forget competing, we don't even remember how to accept a positive sentiment with grace. This is ego.

Further, how many times have you held back from caring about a stranger when your inner light begs you to help them? Maybe you see an elderly man struggling to load his groceries into his trunk. You know you can help, but before you offer you look around to see if anyone is watching, like weakened prey scanning for a predator. This, too, is ego.

We are each good at some things and bad at others. While pretending otherwise, America has sadly become a culture in which it is better to accentuate faults than spotlight strengths. And so it is our faults that we speak of freely, quickly, before others can point them out. What happens then to the endowments of the selfless, those leadership-worthy people I'd prefer to follow? They are observed in private. Their talents are cloaked in secrecy, so that no pin-holder can burst the tiny bubble of hope that tells them, "Hey, we are actually good at this."

This is ego. And the more it sees, the more it wants. Thus, the older we grow, the more difficult it becomes to control. For some, it latches onto lavish material things. For others, it beats down compassion, logic, and art. Meanwhile, for the few enlightened ones, it is a thing that is there, something to be both recognized and ignored.

What America needs now is for us all to strive for the freedom of being our true selves. Yes, even the ignorant. Because only when we step freely can we trip on our mistakes and learn a thing or two.

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I can't fix America's problems nor can I run away from them. All I know is that we are not who we pretend to be. We are not so harsh, so colorless, and so ugly. We are talented in a million different ways. I believe America needs us each to be our best right now. Unleash the wise. Uncover the compassion. And let the art flow.

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Why They Marched

May 2nd, 2017

I drove to work on the morning of Saturday, January 21, 2017 with a nagging sense that I should be elsewhere. How were my friends doing? What were they experiencing? Instead of joining them, I had decided to honor a prior commitment. Besides, a million women at once? I wasn’t sure I could handle that. Regardless, I was inspired by the fact that the Women’s March on Washington had reached such an enormous scale. I tried to imagine all those people, speaking out in favor of equal rights. They were representing me. My gratitude stayed with them all day.

Later, in the quiet moments after sunset, I had an idea. Maybe I could contribute after all. The news reports weren’t going tell me what I wanted to know in order to understand what it is was like to be there. To do that, I needed to talk to my friends. Media sound bites and agenda-driven slants weren’t going to cut it. And if that was true for me, that was true for others, whether they were mutual friends or far-off strangers. I decided then to organize an interview. I would record, document, and post what I learned from my friends about their experience for the benefit of others to read.

Since January, Americans have witnessed (or participated in) other Trump-administration-related marches, including marches of support for or against its policies. The media is currently scrutinizing the new president's first 100 days in office. Tensions are continuing to grow between differences of opinion, between coworkers, between friends, between lovers, family members, house chambers, political districts, and now nuclear-armed nations.

Meanwhile, I knew how fleeting the empowerment gained at an event could be. Like a day spent at an amusement park, the feeling of being lifted and carried to greater heights rarely lasts long. Once your feet spend time back on the ground, the aching weight of your troubles quickly fades the elation.

Take for instance the Sundays of my youth. In my household, no excuse short of pneumonia would get me out of going to church. My body would drag across the entrance, as I really wanted to play outside. But soon enough I would be floating across the exit, soaring with the desire to do good after listening to the inspirational stories of the gospel. The words had motivated me to be selfless and respectful and brave. However, by the time the Wonderful World of Disney came on television at seven o'clock that evening, the old feelings of frustration, unhappiness, even anger had resurfaced. Either I had to deal with my brother or my chores or some random physical or mental limitation that had come up during the day. Inspiration is perishable.

And so it was that I knew I could not haste in capturing the energy and thoughts from the women I knew who marched on Washington that Saturday. Thus, I acted quickly to capture their collective story. Here, months later, is the result. The interview below includes simple facts about basic logistics of going to such an event as well as thoughtful responses to burning questions. The transcription is rough. It’s long. And there are most certainly typos. But I still believe it serves its purpose, because most of all it tells what they marched FOR during our inevitable future of fighting AGAINST.

Two of my six friends who marched responded via email. Three were able to speak in person. We met just three days after the March, on a dark, winter, Tuesday evening, with the trace scent of my recently cleaned up dinner still in the air. I recorded our conservation, which took place as we sat around my kitchen table in a rural suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Loosely formalized ground rules were set to avoid the enthusiasm-driven consequence of speaking at once, and everyone was made aware that the interview was being taped.

Although well acquainted with each other previously, each of the three at the table had marched separately. Each had her own reasons for attending. Each was, I hope, comfortable enough to answer honestly and openly.

Here’s a brief introduction of who they are:

Brooke: An avid cyclist and craft brewery enthusiast, Brooke is involved with various community-focused groups such as the Rotary, and she serves on the board of a public library. Self-employed, she spends a great deal of time networking and communicating with regional entrepreneurs. She can often be found supporting the fundraising efforts of causes she believes in. In her early thirties, she was the youngest at the table.

Gail: With an affinity for fashion, sewing, and fun, Gail has a strong moral compass. She believes in acting responsibly and fairly and can be counted on to do the right thing, especially when it comes to supporting her friends and family. Although she may hold strong opinions, she constantly seeks out knowledge for clarity, and thus she isn’t afraid to change her mind. Sometimes her perspective borders on conservative; other times liberal. Nearing retirement age, she has worked at the same manufacturing and technology company for the majority of her career.

Paula: Possessing an encyclopedia and a dictionary in her head, Paula is a wealth of knowledge, some trivial, some critical. The oldest at the table, she has spent the majority of her career in the newspaper business, working primarily as an editor. Someday we might see her on the television game show, Jeopardy. Until then you will find her--like me--on the dance floor at a good concert, particularly if the band is playing the blues.

Brooke, Gail, and Paula, holding up messages from their day in Washington.

The following two responded via email. They had traveled to Washington together with Gail and a few other people.

Rosalie: The biggest advocate for women’s health I know, Rosalie is a women’s health nurse practitioner who works with Planned Parenthood in addition to her hours spent at a regular group practice. Fluent in Spanish, she laughs easily but takes human rights deadly seriously. She is dedicated to her daughter who now lives abroad, and Rosalie too has reached a wise age. She has seen enough to know how hardship and poor health hides behind many corners, yet she remains hopeful and grateful for life’s blessings.

Lori: A visual artist who never entered the commercial art trade, Lori does not bow to cruel people. Unafraid, she is someone who puts her trust in the odds that most people are kind and will rarely back down from an opportunity to help a person in need. After focusing for years on raising her now-twenty-something daughter (the sixth friend who attended the March), Lori re-entered the workforce in her forties, where she assists the elderly at a retirement community.

I’ve paraphrased some of the following material. I clipped out or smoothed unfinished sentences, backtracks, and the random thoughts that served as building blocks for the main point. Names have not been changed.

Question: How did you find out about the march?

Answers:

The consensus was generally, “Facebook,” with Rosalie also serving as a catalyst for information.

Brooke: “You could see it develop online." Brooke described watching the movement start as a loosely organized idea. “What, in over two-and-a-half months it grew from like a Facebook impact of 40 people to over 600 marches around the world, and I think 2 million people or more total around the world marching?

“I don’t know what the heck I signed up for initially,” she continued, describing how she first selected “interested” on Facebook in an event. “There was a Women’s March on Washington, and then there were all these regional sites like Women’s March on Washington-Philadelphia, where you were going to Washington from Philadelphia. Then there was also a Philadelphia march. All these other events grew up out of that in two months, and it was interesting to see it.”

She remembered, “If you were on this page, it said ‘go to this page,’ and ‘we’ve changed the name of it to this page, because we’re all getting confused.’ There was a lot of organizing on the fly that was happening, because they didn’t realize it was gonna’ be such a gigantic thing.”

Gail: “Things just sprang up. There’s stuff that was happening that you didn’t even know about, that people just told you about.”

Paula agreed: “A friend of mine from Nova Scotia put something on my page about a small town up there. The women couldn’t get to Halifax, the capital, so they staged a march in their little town called Sandy Bay with 12 people. [They were] marching down the road with a little bit of snow on the road, men and women, holding their signs.”

Rosalie: “Various websites had rumblings, but it was the Planned Parenthood information that prompted me into action. I had planned to attend with some folks from there and then learned that Gail, Daisy (Lori’s daughter) and Lori were interested also. I was so happy to share the day with friends.”

Lori's daughter, Gail, and Rosalie (back) and others (Lori not pictured) representing Planned Parenthood. Photo provided by Rosalie.

The Planned Parenthood group, this time with Lori. Photo provided by Gail.

Question: Was this the first protest you attended? If not, what others did you experience?

Answers:

Brooke: “I’m thinking this was my first one, which is kind of surprising to me. I’m always telling people to get out to vote more than trying to change their opinions. I’ve tried to volunteer for stuff like driving people to the polls. It turns out there’s not a whole lot of non-partisan need for that. Trust me I’m super left, but I’m uncomfortable trying to change people’s minds. I’ve tried, but I haven’t been really engaged politically for that reason.”

Gail: “I only went to one other one, a women’s march.” She stated that she definitely didn’t do any kind of campaigning work like Paula had described (below).

Paula: “I marched in the 80s for abortion rights. Then I did one about 1995 for women’s rights and Aids and a couple of different things. That was more of a gathering.” She also participated in a local prayer vigil before the war in Iraq.

Paula also noted that, concerning general political engagement, she worked on Hillary Clinton's and Obama’s campaigns, making phone calls and canvasing. She remembered back in college, while studying political science, working for Bill Green, the mayor of Philadelphia.

Ro: “March for Women’s Lives in 1989, March for Women’s Lives in 1992, March for Women’s Lives in 2004.”

Lori: “I attended some small protests against the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant after the accident. Also, I’ve attended many political rallies and find them to be very similar in their passion and presentation to the Women’s March.”

Question: Whom did you go with?

Answers:

Brooke: She went down “randomly” with a good friend’s sister, a different friend’s teenage friend, and his two friends. “It was three teenage boys and two ladies who barely knew each other. We met additional people down in the city.” She described their group, particularly the teenage boys, being the picture of white, upper class privilege.

Gail: She went with three close friends, who also brought two friends. (Daisy, Lori, Rosalie, and Rosalie’s friends, Barb and her daughter Corinne).

Paula: She drove to Washington the prior afternoon, parked at a family member’s house, then took the metro into DC and stayed at a cousin’s house Friday night. Paula, her cousin, and a cousin’s friend went to the March. She said, “It turned out that three was a good number to be with as far as trying to get through the crowd and everything.”

Although Paula and Brooke later realized they were likely standing near each other at some point, no group found another.

Gail laughed, “We could have been within four feet of each other and wouldn’t have seen each other.”

Question: What time did you leave that morning?

Note: interview subjects all live roughly 150 miles north of Washington via the Route 95 corridor

Answers:

Brooke: “I got picked up at 3:15 (am). We reserved a parking space, but we weren’t sure what the road closures would be like...and traffic...and we just kinda’ wanted to get in there. We figured once we got there we could relax.”

Gail: “Rosalie picked me up at 4:30 (am), and I got home at 11 at night.”

Paula: “Friday after around 3:30pm, but the morning of the march, we got up around 8:30 to leave around nine. It was a ten- or fifteen-minute walk to the site.”

Question: How did you get there?

Answers:

Brooke: “Somebody in our group (who didn’t end up going) researched online that there was a garage where you could reserve a parking spot in advance. If you could get there, then at least you knew you had a spot to park. We drove down, and at that point there were already cops blocking intersections at 6:15 in the morning.”

Gail: “We went down to the King of Prussia mall to get the bus, which I have to put in a plug for RallyBus, because they hired Perkiomen Tours. That’s whose busses we were on. There were like eight buses. Theirs is some crazy outfit that is capitalizing on any kind of public event that you need buses to go to and you might need, like concerts, especially rallys, because they can just keep hiring more buses as they need ’em. And the price keeps going up. Blesie paid $45, I paid $55, and then Rosalie’s friends that were with us, Barb and Corinne, paid something like $140 because they got it a month late...for the same bus.” Gail confirmed that the fee only included a ride down and back. “It took us right into Union Station. It was really perfect for us. Otherwise, we’d have to park out at JFK and go with the mass of humanity on the Metro, and that was going to be nightmare. But they told us to buy Metro passes, so now we have metro passes we didn’t use."

Brooke: “Did you see the thing online where you can give it to someone who needs one?”

Gail: “I didn’t see it, but I will be doing that.”

Paula: Drove and took the metro.

Ro: “Rallybus-very comfortable bus with energetic people-mostly in 40s-50s. Daisy (Lori’s daughter) appeared to be the youngest.”

Lori: “The day could not have gone off more perfectly. We had a last minute change of report time and drop off location in DC, which actually worked 100% in our favor!!! We were within walking distance of the Capitol and Rally location.”

Question: When did you return?

Answers:

The Rally bus got back around to the pick up spot 10:30 pm. Paula’s group got back home around 5 pm, but there was discussion about the fact that it wasn't over, that there were still people on stage talking past sunset. Brooke got home around 9 pm.

Question: Why did you choose to go?

Answers:

Brooke: “With the election, immediately after the election, I was 'what can I do?’ and 'what should I do?’ instead of sitting at home and bitching about it, which I was happy to do that, too. [laughter] What can I do to make myself feel better? What can I do to foster change or to keep bad change from happening? So, I immediately signed up with Planned Parenthood to volunteer there. When I heard about the rally, I said 'that’s something I can do. That’s an actual action I can take.’”

Gail: “I don’t remember how I heard about it, but I do remember saying to Rosalie, ‘we have to go this, right?’ It took us like a day to decide that we just needed to go. Now I’m a little more middle-of-the-road when it comes to the whole thing, but I’m going because of the things that I care about and I want the government to care about. I’m not really there against a person, I’m for something.”

“Here’s something to think about: If Donald Trump could give Flint Michigan clean water, what would you think about him then? How would you react if somebody could do something big and important like that for the county? That was one of the signs we saw down there. That’s what made it so massive, it was because everybody has something they feel very strongly about.”

Paula: “I didn’t choose it, it chose me. It was like ‘I have to be there’" Because, you know it’s women, it’s the day after the inauguration, and we have to make sure that we’re not left in his dust, him and his nominees.”

Ro: “Women’s issues are family, environmental, and global issues. As I saw on many signs, Women’s Rights are Human Rights. I have NEVER felt so threatened. There does not appear to be a separation of church and state. I have been marching with the same concerns since 1989!”

Lori: “I am deeply troubled and concerned about the agenda of this administration. I needed a way to voice the anxiety and outrage with like-minded people.”

Question: What ONE message resonated with you the most (whether on a sign, via a chant, a conversation, or an overheard statement)?

Answers:

Brooke: “In addition to Michael Moore’s speech, there was a bunch of 'well what are you going to do tomorrow? What happens the next day?’ I was there to try to do something proactive, to DO something. Just being there and marching in a way does something -- sends a message -- but what are you going to do tomorrow? What’s your next action?

Yah, we’re all here doing this and it’s almost kinda’ fun, but tomorrow’s maybe not going to as fun, and the next day’s probably going to be less fun, but you've got to keep doing stuff. And just the fact that there were so many different causes there. I know intersectionalist is a buzz word in social work and volunteerism now, but there so many people with multiple identities intersecting with the people that were there.”

Gail: “It didn’t happen ’till the end of the march when we were standing on the lawn of the white house” she then corrected herself, “actually when we were getting up to there, when we were shuffling and marching, and they were saying, ‘We won’t go away; welcome to your first day’ There were a lot of good chants; that one I really liked.”

Paula: “At the bottom of my sign, it says, 'Our power.’ It starts out our bodies, which would be reproductive rights and of course that’s a big thing to me, our minds, yes, but our power is the big thing. To show that we have the power. I started to sing, ‘Sister’s are doing it for ourselves.’ Not to say that men were excluded in my mind, I thought it was fantastic. Men looked so sexy in pink hats.”

Brooke: “Is there anything sexier than a man marching for women’s rights?” [laughter]

Paula continued: “One guy had a sign that read something like, ‘Men of substance aren’t threatened by women of character,’ or something like that.”

Gail chimed in to agree, there were people from everywhere, a lot of different people.

Ro: “I received a picture from Corinne while we were on the bus going to DC. She is in Milan [Italy], 6 hours ahead. She sent a photo of herself at the March in Milan. It dawned on me that this past election season, our president and the current house and senate has not only affected me, my daughter, community, country, but the world. Profound.”

Rosalie's daughter in Milan. Sign translation: It's our body. It's our mind. It's our power. Photo provided by Rosalie.

Lori: “Probably the most heard chant....(caller) ‘Tell me what Democracy Looks like’....(crowd) ‘This is what democracy looks like!’ Peaceful protests–and especially the causes that women have been fighting for a hundred years–are a statement of what our democracy is. It’s at the core of our belief system as a nation, it’s our constitutional right and for some, myself included, my obligation as a citizen.”

Question: Did you watch any news coverage following or during the march? If so, what did you think was covered well? What do you think was missed?

Answers:

Brooke: “I didn’t watch any normal news coverage. Once I got back in the car I was looking for how many people were there. It was interesting because then you get into all these other stories about what Trump was saying about how many people were at his inauguration. Those were all the stories, 'compared to this’ and 'how many more than that.’ It was also interesting how they get the numbers. There were some sources that went into the how of the numbers, 'these are what the resources are, this is why numbers they may or may not be accurate.’ I found good reporting on that.

“I was searching to see if there were any arrests or anything, ’cause it was such a huge group of people, if something happened on the far end you wouldn’t know. As far I know there was nothing.

“I didn’t expect any initial political news, cause seriously, Donald Trump could have tweated something nasty about us.”

Gail broke in jokingly, “I was hoping for that.”

Brooke continued, “Yah, so I wasn’t really expecting immediate change to happen like all of a sudden we get our rights guaranteed or anything.”

Gail: “Coming home on the bus, we spent practically the whole two and half hours looking at all kinds of coverage all over the internet. There were tons and tons of stuff; you couldn’t get away from it. [At home] I taped four news programs that were on Saturday night, and we [the marchers] were on every one of them. They had a lot of coverage, and it was a pretty amazing thing that you were in the midst of it.

Honestly, I know one of the programs, the way they framed what happen, it’s all about how they present...everybody’s presenting the same pictures, but it’s what they’re telling you that’s different. Like one of them said, ‘this large protest against Donald Trump on his first day in office,’ and I thought, well, 'I wasn’t at that. That’s not what this was.’ It depends on where you get your news.

“My personal opinion is that everybody’s news is told from a point-of-view, and if you continue to get your news from the same people that think like you do, you’re never really going to see the full picture of what’s going on.”

Paula: “We’ll of course I had to find the clip of me being interviewed.”

(Note: Paula was interviewed on the street by Fox News. Video clip: "Women explain why they chose to march on Washington.")

“But I thought [our interview] was going to be something on tape. I didn’t realize we were going to be live at 4 o’clock. [laughter] So we were just standing around waiting. And the reporter even said how this crowd was so much bigger and that this was going to be something they’ll compare other marches to (which he repeated on the air).

Paula being interviewed by Fox News. Photo provided by Paula.

Then when we got back to my cousin’s place, we were looking for continued solidarity (and plus we were in DC so of course their coverage was nonstop). I think if we were in some other place, some other town, it would be just a 30-second clip.

“But we did not know about all the marches all around the world. Then they showed Paris and huge throngs in New York at the Trump Tower and we couldn’t get enough of it. Then we were all on our devices talking with people ... this was just too exciting. We were just SO excited by it.

“Yes, we watched the coverage and it seemed pretty fair, except when Trump’s Spicer guy came on, and I saw that press conference right afterwards, and he was an idiot. Everything he said was idiotic, but especially when he was talking about the march not having the numbers [compared to the inauguration]. . . he didn’t know what he was talking about. They came out and did that at that point, I think, to take away from the March, to give people something else to talk about.

“It was great that all the coverage that I saw emphasized how peaceful it was. There were no arrests. We also noted there were no news helicopters. On the Fox thing that they did, they had a view from up above, but it must have been mounted on the building.”

Gail and Brooke agreed they knew of or saw cameras or camera operators taking panoramic shots from above.

Question: What did you take with you; what did you wear; how did you prepare for such a thing?

Answers:

Brooke: “So I got there really early and thought I could grab a breakfast sandwich or something, and the line at Starbucks was like a quarter-of-a-mile long. Every place–we were going blocks further and further away–still had big long lines. Even the food trucks had lines; there was just one when we got there. But, we carried snacks. I didn’t grab a bottle of water from the car, and I’m kinda’ glad I didn’t because then I’d need to pee. Although there were a lot of Porta Potties, you would have to get to them through the crowd, which would be a total pain in the butt. The Porta Potties were in good shape. I didn’t have to use my tissues. I was glad to have them ’cause my nose was running.”

Gail: “I just took water and sandwiches.”

Paula dressed warm, worrying that she might be too warm. “I didn’t wear a hat" to which the others joked, ‘You didn’t wear your pink pussy hat?’ which was a symbolic attire worn by many of the attendees. She responded, “I didn’t have one.

“We brought apples and snack bars and water. I had bought a portable, fold-up stool in a bag that I carried, because I thought I’m not going to be able to stand the whole time.”

Lori: “I took the basic necessities, tissues, wet ones, snacks, water, gloves, sign (which I nick-named a ‘soft placard’) and of course a pink pussy hat!”

I asked about stamina and comfort.

Answers:

Brooke: “My back really hurt from standing, but that’s a personal issue.”

Gail: “My hips were killing me, because we stood basically from when we got off the bus--I think we sat down for maybe 10 minutes at one spot--then we went all the way around until we got back to the bus station at about 6 o’clock. We had gotten there about 9 in morning. ”

Paula: “My knee was bothering me. I was worried about drinking water, but I never really felt like I had to go. Then, we were going to go into this one building--the Federal Building--and they closed the doors and wouldn’t let us in. My cousin’s friend said, 'I’ll just go there by those trees.’ It was pretty wide open. [laughter] We all just held our little posters in front of each other while we peed there. I didn’t really have to go, but I thought I should. All our butts were hanging out by the railroad tracks.” [laughter continued]

A conversation broke out concerning the schedule and the speakers on stage.

Paula: “It went longer than expected.”

Brooke: “A lot longer,” Brooke agreed.

Gail: “It was like 2:30, we were by the Sackler Museum. It sounded like they were winding up, but you couldn’t really tell. People were chanting, 'March. March. March.’ But they still kept announcing people for the stage. Eventually it was announced that, since there were so many people, the crowd might want to start making their way down to White House. Then it was just like a mass of humanity shuffling down the street, and another mass coming down the other road to go onto the lawn at the White House. We came down around this corner and it was just so crowded you couldn’t believe it.

“While we were doing that is when Madonna came on. [This was close to 3 pm.] We stopped and listened to her but missed the most outrageous of her remarks.”

Brooke: “She said ‘fuck you’ like five times. Well I didn’t cheer for that, I guess.”

Paula, quoting Madonna: “I feel like blowing up the White House.”

Brooke: “I don’t think she should have said that. That was wrong.”

Gail: “The one I would listen to is Gloria Steinem. She’s so well spoken.”

Paula: “And Michael Moore.”

Gail (who didn’t hear him): “I thought he would do something rude.”

Brooke: “No, he literally was just telling you how to call your congress people and how to take action.”

Question: Can someone still see coverage of the presentations?

Answers:

Everyone agreed that you could find it online, particularly YouTube.

Question: Have you seen the 15 unity principles on the Women’s March website?

Click here for Women's March Unity Principles

Answers:

Brooke: “I didn’t read them all thoroughly, but I did see them.”

Gail: “I did.”

Paula had not seen them.

Rosalie: “I agree with them all. What challenges these rights are greed and personal religious dogma.”

Lori: “The Unity Principles are far reaching and included (by design?) a wide range of issues. Many, but not all, are issues I feel more passionate about, some I would say I am more privately passionate for lack of a better word. I’m not as inclined to lend my voice to them.”

Question: Brooke or Gail, was there anything in there that gave you pause?

Answers:

“No.”

Gail: “You know how you’re reading in the paper how they’re complaining that the pro-life people weren’t asked to join this. They wanted to come, too, and they said 'no you’re not invited.’ Well this is the list of basically all the people, all the types of people and groups they wanted to include, from Native American’s to Black Lives Matter, that’s what they’re saying in all those different principles.”

Brooke: “I don’t feel like they were told they weren’t welcomed. They just almost unwelcomed themselves, because they didn’t believe in one of the principles.”

Question: Can anyone clarify this principle: We believe that all workers including domestic and farm workers must have the right to fight for a minimum wage....undocumented and migrant workers must be included in our labor protections and we stand in solidarity with the sex workers rights movement. Are they speaking of prostitution?

Answers:

Brooke: “There’s much information out there on the web basically. In a way it’s decriminalizing prostitution. One of the things that just came up more recently was in California, they were doing some kind of mandatory STD testing or registry, which required you to use your real name. Anybody that’s in an upstanding version of the pornography industry knows that you get tested all the time. Those people get tested so often that if you ever wanted to have sex with somebody unprotected, you should have sex with one of those people. Because they get tested all the time, they’re very clean and they know exactly what’s going and they know everybody that they had sex with. But they were mandating that you get registered on this thing with your first and last name. Sometimes that’s a career that you have for five years and then you want to go be an elementary school teacher or something. That was requiring people to register out in public that they were doing that. It was almost like criminalizing that kind of work. So just the rights of those people and then also sex work is a different thing where, if it’s consensual, is it....I think the fact that you can’t do it consensually also probably increases the amount of human trafficking. That creates that industry on the black market because you can’t get it on the non-black market.”

Question: While the mission statement at WomensMarch.com points to 'rhetoric of the last election cycle,’ nowhere does the site define the purpose to be a direct rejection of Trump as president. How do you feel about that? Was this actually an anti-Trump rally?

Answers:

Brooke: “So I would say that Trump hasn’t taken any action yet. It’s appalling to me that someone that speaks the way he does–the pussy grabbing and all that other awful stuff that he says about disabled people–it’s appalling to me that someone like that would get elected. But he did get elected. He’s legally elected as far as I know. I hope that they do investigate the whole Russian thing. I trust my government to handle that to a degree.

“I think for me it was a march on like ‘don’t take the rights that we have away.’ So none of those have been taken away as of the March, but we’re out there to say, ‘hey these are all the people that are going to give you hell if you try to take something away.’ It wasn’t necessarily against him. It was against things that we’re afraid are going to happen...for me that was part of it. I’m always interested in advancing rights. For sure they’ve already taken a bunch of rights away from citizens about voting rights and reproductive health rights. But that’s not Trump. That’s the existing legislature, state and national. But for me it was more like let’s dig in and say this can’t keep going in this direction, whether it’s under Trump or anybody.”

Question restated: Did you get a sense, though, that there were large contingencies of people who were there just to say, “He’s not my president?”

Answers:

Brooke: “I don’t think there were many wacky people there. There weren’t people saying it was illegitimate. Maybe they felt like it was illegitimate, like they had been robbed, but people weren’t straight out saying that he shouldn’t be president.”

Gail: “There was definitely a contingency, but I would say not large. I stated this repeatedly: it’s a very personal thing. Nobody can speak for everybody that was there or what each person’s personal values were. For me personally, it was not about him. I completely agree with Brooke, he hasn’t done anything yet other than act like an idiot. And he can’t help it. Someone I work with just told me that last night. Her sister is a psychiatric nurse. She said, ‘He’s a narcissist. He cannot help the way he’s acting because that’s just his personality.’ It’s always reflecting on him. That’s why that one sign said, ‘Your so vain; I bet you think this march is about you.’ [laughter]

“I did see one sign that said something like 2 million or some odd votes that were unable to be counted.”

Paula: “That’s supposedly about the margin that Hillary had in the popular vote," referring to the difference in the Electoral College.

“I think it was a combination. I don’t think people would have turned out if it was Marco Rubio who won, or I don’t think that it would have been a turnout like that. He’s a polarizing figure.”

Gail: “It’s the hate speech. There were a lot of signs against the hate."
Some of the signs were so creative you needed to have somebody explain it to you, or you needed to look at it awhile and say, 'what?’”

Ro: Declined to answer

Lori: “For me it ABSOLUTELY was a direct rejection to Donald Trump, his policies, his rhetoric and his lack of readiness to be POTUS. It seemed to me about 1/2 the crowd advertised their displeasure with him via their signs...the other half were more issue-driven messages. I completely understand the organizers not making this about him but about the causes and issues. But let's face it, if it WEREN’T for him this most likely would not have happened.”

Paula: “We can’t reject him as the president because he is the president. We can reject his policies and his aspirations. It was not just a rejection of what he believes but what of all the people he’s appointing to government and a rejection of the people who are already there in congress who gave Barrack Obama such a hard time. Especially the Supreme Court thing. So yah, a part of it was anti-Trump, but that was not my main reason. When we were doing that interview and my partner said something about ‘all these people who did not vote for trump,’ I thought, ‘I wasn’t there to contest the election.’”

Brooke: “We’re not dumb.”

Paula: “I wasn’t there to contest the election or whine about the results of the election, as people are accused of doing. It was like Brooke said. It was to stand up for ourselves and make them know that we’re still here.”

Question: Describe the people?

Answers:

Brooke: “The demographic was so varied. I thought it was amazing. Every race, every age, every sex.”

Question: Geographically?

Answers:


People came from everywhere.

Gail: “I saw signs with people from everywhere. We were talking with people from Colorado. I was marching with a guy who was from Austin. When we were on the White House lawn a lady had a sash that said 'Hawaii.’ There were two people carrying signs with the shape of their state. One was Wisconsin; the other was Michigan. People were from New York.”

Brooke added: “I saw Rhode Island and New Jersey.”

Paula: “On the highway coming home in the traffic jam on 95, there were rows and rows of cars with New York plates. I saw Kentucky. And Maryland, of course.”

Question: And what did it feel like being in that sea of humanity?

Answers:

Brooke: She described where she was standing on Independence in front of the Smithsonian and how fences were installed to control the crowd. “That was really scary. If something happened you could only go up or down the street; there was no way out on the side. Those guys do this stuff all the time. They handle these events all the time. I trust that there was some logic to what was going on, but there was a moment like, if something actually happened, where would I go? There would be tramplings. But I felt relatively safe, because nobody was being angry.” She described how, early on, they were taking fences from the inauguration down and putting up other fences.

Gail: “I’ve never seen a sea of humanity like that. There were a couple times, when we were packed in there, I was like, 'it’s a good thing that none of us is getting freaked out or being claustrophobic.’ Because there were at least five times that day when we were absolutely just jammed together. And by the end of the day, if you were going to go somewhere you had to make a big snake. You had to hold onto each other.” She described how one young girl with them would hold up her “I stand with Planned Parenthood” sign and they followed her. She described seeing others using tactics in which they used plastic, blowup giraffes held high above their heads.

And it was noted that the phones didn’t work. One text sent took an hour to send.

Paula: “You know I am not a fan of crowds. It’s unlike the crowd at the ballpark, where everybody has seat. My cousin has a bit of claustrophobia. So we decided to go back where it was a little less crowded. Where we were, it was relatively uncrowded. As the day went on, more and more people piled behind us. It was like a river of people. People were trying to climb over the fence where we were. We didn’t want to have everybody start a thing, where they were climbing over. I felt a little greedy that I had a spot at the fence, plus my little seat, as if I was taking up two spots.”

Question: What about the advice I heard online that said if you can’t handle crowds, stand along the edge?

Answers:

Brooke: “Where I was, there was fencing on the edge.”

Gail: “We came out from the Union Station and came down the road next to the Capital, so we came up behind the stage. We thought this would be all right, but we couldn’t hear. Then were getting jammed in there against the fence. We said, ‘We gotta’ get out of here.’ We wound up out on the mall in breathing room again. There were just people everywhere. There were guys in the trees starting a chant. Two girls with bullhorns were having a competition.

“Then we walked by the Sackler museum where we could almost hear a little bit. But then they were talking about starting the march, and the only way you could get out of this thing--this little courtyard--was this one little gate. And everybody was jammed everywhere. But we wanted to get out and get into the street because we thought they were going to start marching. So we just walked over the gardens and through these things and pushed our way out into the street.”

Brooke: “It was almost gridlock.”

Gail: “It was solid people. Then we would shuffle along. Then it would open up a little bit. We said, ‘We can’t call this a march; it’s a shuffle.’ We went all the way to the White House.”

Paula: “Our worst part was trying to join the crowd to start the march. We then climbed the fence to get down there. Then were just standing there, we weren’t really moving. When we took that break to give her some air to breathe and to pee, Ninth was pretty clear flowing back onto Independence. I did not go all the way to the White House. We went to the Washington Monument.”

Brooke: “We went to the Washington monument and stopped there.”

Question: It was projected to attract about 5 million people around the world, 1 million in Washington. How does it feel to be a part of something so intense?

Answers:

Brooke: “For us it was like a family, even though it wasn’t my family, it was this odd conglomeration of people like a family event. Four, white, middle class, local-to-me teenage boys there that were engaged and interested and listening to the speakers and cheering. That was pretty cool. I’m glad I was there, I saw a lot of cool stuff. I saw the people that I associate with. Seeing all my friends that went down on Facebook. It was what it was. It was solidarity. Positivity.”

Gail: “It was one of the happiest days. Everybody was laughing. Everybody was so happy to be there. A lot of those signs were so damn funny.”

Paula: “It felt great . . . because it was so peaceful.”

Ro: “I am not alone, which is comforting. We are all very concerned, which is frightening.”

Lori: “One word....Amazing. For the first couple of days following the march, I just wanted to stay in a cocoon and within myself to absorb what had happened. It was probably one of the most powerful days of my life. To share with Daisy especially and to see her passion and commitment was really meaningful. The mass of people was hard to even comprehend! Everywhere you looked people....women, men, children, black, white, Hispanic, gay, straight, you name it...were pouring into the city with a common cause. To say there is power in number is an understatement, but describes the experience. The friendliness, camaraderie, excitement, passion were indescribable. Social media was a really interesting tool to help us see how it was building around the country and added to the experience! Seeing Crinney in ITALY!!! Holding up her sign....talk about connected!”

Question: What have you learned from attending this about engagement and what do you wish others could know?

Answers:

Brooke: “There’s a publication that’s out called Indivisible. Legislative staffers and representative staffers put out this publication that tells you how to be an activist basically, how to be an effective activist.” She described a few recommendations such as, ‘Don’t call someone who is not your senator.’ She had heard an interview with one of the authors, but “besides the rah-rah stuff which was all great and motivational, it was about Michael Moore telling us we should call our congress people. In reality those people represent us. It all came from studies of the Tea party where this small group of people were able to turn over an entire election cycle by being vocal and effectively vocal.

“I think it just reinforced what I already knew about people and how awesome we all are. It’s frustrating to hear people on Facebook posts about why we shouldn’t have gone. I wish those people could have been down there and experienced it. They’re just totally ignorant in the definition of the word ignorant. I wish that they could know why people were there, who was there.

photo supplied by Paula.

Brooke continued: “I liked that there was constructive information about what to do. That’s what I went there for. Michael Moore gave that to me. The rest of the people made me shiver a little bit, [laughter] shed a tear or two, or cheer and raise my fist. But to be able to leave with something tangible to do, that’s what I went there for, and I left with that.

“You don’t always have to put it in to words about how you feel about things. It’s so exhausting to have to explain or convince people or whatever. A lot of times I just avoid it. But I think this election, and having to have to try to have intelligent conversations with people -- even just to tell people I’m not going to have that conversation and make people be quiet -- in order to have a conversation with likeminded people about what can we do, you need to be able to put your thoughts into words. This whole entire thing has helped me, although I know how I feel, put it into a couple of sentences in order to explain my point of view to somebody else. That’s come in helpful, to get together with people and talk about stuff.

“At breakfast, we finally found a place to eat and we were hearing other people talk about stuff. I thought, ‘Wow you put it into a sentence what I wanted to say.’ I wish I could hang out with these kind of people to discuss that kind of stuff.”

Paula: “I’ve learned that there’s a hell of a lot of people out there who believe the same things that I do -- or in general -- who are progressively minded, which I sort of know from Facebook and personal connections. But I mean we all have friends who are not progressive, we have conservative friends, but that’s all right...’cause we don’t talk politics with them. We just hang out. So what I learned is what Brooke was saying. You can get some talking points. Ideas you have in your own mind--maybe not just there but on Facebook or whatever you’ll see somebody articulate things that you never articulated and your go ‘Ahh. When I hear that I can give this response.’

“But, again I feel freer to speak out more. I’ve always–on Facebook or in other conversations I have with people–it’s never been about like trashing Republicans or trashing Trump, well maybe a little as a person [laughter], but mostly my whole thing is–I guess because I’m a journalist–to put the truth out there. You know, like Fox says, ‘We report; you decide.’ Well that’s bullshit. You put the FACTS out there. Everybody has their own truth. But there aren’t alternative facts. There are alternative truths. But put the facts out there and people can’t argue with you.

“What I put on my Facebook page about that Spicer press conference, I know for a fact that he was lying about putting down the white covering over the lawn. He said, ‘this has never been done before at the mall,’ and I know for a fact that it was done before, because I was there four years ago, and it was done. So I put that. Put the facts out there and people can argue if they want to or maybe it might make somebody think. That’s the goal, to make people think. So yah, we got some good talking points out of it. A lot of slogans, too, on the signs.”

Gail: “I think what this did for me was to make me more willing to talk about it. But since I’ve come home and had time to think and haven’t looked at Facebook, I think it’s time to take it off of Facebook and do it in person. Because I don’t think you’re really reaching the audience that you’re think you’re reaching when you’re writing on Facebook, and your friends who are not likeminded are probably just becoming offended, because it’s not really a place to have a conversation.

“So, I’ve decided for myself that I’m going to try to back away from it a little bit. Not that I’m not going to have an opinion, but I think things don’t come across right when you just put one or two words or a sentence or two on Facebook. That’s what I’ve gotten, even before I went to this, talking about it at work, which I would never do before. I talk to people I work with now. I don’t think everybody needs to agree with me, and I think the reason we are where we are at now is because we don’t talk about it. Half the country doesn’t agree with us. That doesn’t mean that we’re right and they’re wrong or they’re right and we’re wrong. This is hopefully where this is going to take us. I really do.

“My friend at work said to me twice already, and he’s very smart in saying this, he described how the Tea Party started. If people feel that way, they keep talking about the Democratic Party and that kinda’ like upsets me because I’m not even sure that they are my people. My personal hope is that something will come out of this and it won’t be Democratic or Republican; it’ll be something complete different.”

Brooke broke in: “People thinking critically about the information?”

Gail: “Like I said if Donald Trump gets clean water for Flint, Michigan in six months, who could argue with that? Why has this gone on for, what is it, two years now? I mean come on. I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of things I don’t agree with. He’s says infrastructure. You know we’re driving on these roads, you know about infrastructure.”

Brooke: “Yah, but how much crap did they give Obama when he put that shovel-ready program, a whole ton of money for infrastructure and people complained about it? Since it’s not their idea, I think it’s different.”

Paula: “They’re [Republicans] not excited about it either.”

Gail: “I think it’s going to be interesting.”

Brooke: “If he spends a ton of money on infrastructure, then that’s cool I think we need it.”

Paula agreed

Brooke: “I know my friends who were Bernie Sanders supporters are going to agree with him about abandoning the [Transpacific Partnership].”

Lori: “I would not describe myself as an activist. My feelings about issues did not change as a result of the March. Rather, for me anyway, it was more of a therapeutic experience. A release in a sense. I’ve always had my finger on the pulse in terms of politics....I’m a political junkie with a preference for news that favors my own points of view, but I do investigate what the other side has to say.”

Question: What do you hope for now?

Answers:

Brooke: “I don’t know how I feel about the whole two-party system. I just think the whole fact that when Obama was in they were like ‘We just don’t want anything he does to pass.’ I don’t think Dems will act the same way, because we’re too nice. I don’t want to be in the douche bag party, but at the same time we’re not being effective. I don’t think them going and gerrymandering the next time around will just stop anything from actually happening.

“As public servants they’re supposed to be serving the public. They’re not doing their jobs. I don’t know that that was the dialog we’re having necessarily on that level, but I think that needs to change. I still find it, as much as this was a positive and hopeful event, I’m not sure how to convince someone that I should have equal rights if they just don’t understand that we don’t have equal rights.”

Gail: “I already told you I want to see a new political party.”

Paula: “I hope for people to stay involved. And I think they will. Actually today at work my boss’s boss who was there -- she knew that I had been there and somebody else was there -- said ‘let’s go out to lunch and strategize.’ We have this organization there called the women’s employee resources, of which I am the co-chair. She invited two others who had been to the Philly March, one was a guy in his late 60s. We just went to lunch and talked about it. We were loud. We were in West Chester. The guy next to us looked like a lawyer. Who knows what he was into, but yah, it seems to me the people who were there were energized, and they’re looking for things to do. One thing I did, I have the phone numbers of my two senators in my phone, and I can just call them any time I want.”

Brooke: “You should read this indivisible thing.”

Paula: “That’s a new series they have every night at 8 pm on NPR. Yesterday was the reaction to the March. ”

Lori: “That this clown settles the fuck down and stops deceiving people....and people vote in two years when all congressional seats are up for grabs. (And some Senate seats) and change the present course.”

Question: Final thoughts?

Answers:

Paula: “The one thing we talked about today was that the Democratic party is a bunch of wusses, which is what Michael Moore was talking about. The Republicans have this group, it’s called ALEC, Americans Legislative Exchange Council. They’re a conservative, right wing group funded partly by the Koch brothers. They get together, and they look at what’s going on in the states. They come up with a template for legislation they want to get passed. That’s what happened in NC with the bathroom law. It’s cookie cutter. And they send it out to all the legislators, all the conservative legislators in all the states, and this is why you see these same bills coming up, because they have this group and it’s coordinated.

“It’s like Will Rogers said, ‘I don’t belong to any organized party; I’m a democrat.’ “I’m not a Democrat. But it’s like you said, we want to the be the party of conscience, and if you’re going to be democrat you go with that, because it’s the party of conscience, not because it’s a party of bullying. But I like the fact that Chuck Schumer is now the minority leader, because I think he’s tough and he’s out there, he’s talking. I don’t know how well he’ll do.”

Brooke: “He had a relationship in Trump. Trump donated a whole bunch of money to him as well. It will be interesting since they know each other.”

Paula: “Democrats have to get tougher.”

Brooke: “We happened to be right near Ninth Street, and there were a whole bunch of protestors who were so offensive. They were like anti-protestors.

“One of the signs was so ridiculously sexist, I couldn’t understand it. But the signs of those people, it felt really good to be in a spot ...it happens sometimes at events...where you’re in a place where everybody is cool and we weren’t all there with the same purpose, but everybody was cool with each other and working towards a positive purpose. ”

Ro: “I was thrilled to share it with friends. I was happy that a coworker from Planned Parenthood and her daughter joined us for the day. We haphazardly met on the bus from King of Prussia.”

[End Interview]
----
Just a few days after the interview, I saw Gail at a social function. She expressed continued enthusiasm for the momentum of the day, reiterating again how she saw great potential in an open dialog. When we keep quiet to avoid conflict or push away others who do not share our perspectives, we feed the political problem. We have got to change the way in which we communicate before we can expect our leaders to change the way they govern.

Thank you for reading this all the way through to the end. I hope you found this to be insightful. And thank you to the brave gals who marched and then agreed to speak out publicly via this interview.

by Ruth Heil

Fission or fussion? A look at the science of social change.

November 16th, 2016

I’ve been silent, I know. For one thing, I felt this blog would get lost in the election chatter. For another, I couldn’t come up with much to write, at least not much besides expressions of sadness or fear, and I was pretty sure you've had enough of that. But today I'm ready to challenge myself to look for the best in our current situation, despite the discomfort, pain, anger, and sacrifice that will likely come during the process. I'm ready because the future of this planet depends upon it.

Clouds can sometimes indicate change.

The fact remains that, now that the votes are in, I am even more saddened with the fear of grave danger. However, I’m also no longer forced to wait for choices of strangers. I can move back to thinking about today's reality in terms of what is or what surely will be, not what might hopefully happen. And in the vein of such knowledge, let me attempt to explain my analogy of what I see is the best, universal action for people like me by stripping it down to the atomic level.

The characteristics of any element is greatly defined by the makeup of the center of its atom. The usefulness of any one chemical element to a goal is often determined by the combination of neutrons and protons in its nucleus, its center. An example is uranium, particularly uranium-235, the stuff of nuclear energy.

The number of neutrons (neutral charge) and protons (positive charge) present determines how the element behaves during a change such as a nuclear reaction. When scientists forcefully introduce an overabundance of neutrality into U-235, nuclear fission . . . or division . . . occurs. This releases energy, but the result is also radioactive.

Meanwhile, crush enough "positivity" together (using hydrogen atoms) and the protons fuse, releasing a huge amount of energy in the process without evoking cancer. Positive charges that would typically repel each other are held close together in the presence of a super strong force such as gravity. This brings about fusion. . .or union.

What does this have to do with social change? Consider that we too are a product of our atomic makeup. And remember that the United States seems ready to split when we really need to fuse.

It is my position that individual Americans need not give up their positive, energized charges–-whatever the characteristics of their personal makeup–-in order that we come together. Neutrality, in fact, could be toxic. However, we do need a whole lot of gravity to force us to unify. Yes, apologies are required to clear the field of the relentless negative energy that keeps spinning around us. But I still believe we can unite, if for no other reason than to protect our future.

Most of us are in this emotional fight because of a positive reason. On both sides there is a quest for improvement. This might include safety, prosperity, or opportunity. Clouding our ability to see that is the curtain of negative disagreement on how to achieve those results.

Thus, fusion requires a strong force to emerge, one able to drive repellent charges to congregate. Of course not all elements are appropriate for achieving this goal. But among those willing, there are mentors and non-governmental leaders who commit to protecting the people and the planet with hope and ethical purpose. They can be that force. Or it might come from each of us adjusting our focus, our conversations, our outlooks. Whatever it takes, we don’t get our non-radioactive power back until things change.

A Massive Ceremony Coming to Philadelphia

September 25th, 2015

At the risk of beating a sensitive drum, I have to acknowledge an enormous occasion that is happening around me. I would feel foolish if I didn't write about this religious, spiritual, and ceremonial event after focusing on those same topics recently.

I've been watching with distant interest over the past year as authorities have made informative announcements in preparation. The event is so big, regular business in Philadelphia is coming to a temporary halt. Walking on American blacktop for the first time three days ago, Pope Francis, the holiest of all Catholic mortals, landed back on earth in Washington, D.C. after a flight from Cuba. His visit is stirring emotions that run from sheer joy to raging frustration. I think it's all a matter of perspective and is a perfect example of how perception can build up or tear down one's spirit.

For the most part, there are two common opinions around here when it comes to his visit: 1.) This is a life-changing opportunity to bring peace to one’s soul; or 2.) This whole thing is a total pain in the ass.

First, let's start with the reasons for pain.

A Massive Ceremony Coming to Philadelphia

• There is a disgusting amount of hype in the media, similar to the marketer's exploitation of the Christmas holiday. Many now wish the whole thing was over.

• For the past year, popular television news has been giving updates about the challenge of the Pope’s visit, including major road closures, transportation restrictions, and the towing of residents' cars from the security zone. We’ve heard about requests sent to businesses, asking them to stay open while Catholics hoped Planned Parenthood would close. Tens of thousands of special transit passes were issued by an online lottery in moments, only to be found for resale online by scalpers at ten times the original cost. Controversy. Controversy. Controversy. The words and phrases plucked from the headlines read:

“Urban Nightmare”
“Disaster.
“Security Nightmare”
“Havoc”
“Traffic Headaches”
“Excess Walking”
“No Option for Failure”
“Closures”
“Restrictions”

• Not all of us are Catholic. Many have either never been or no longer practice. For all of its history, the church has divided the world into two parts—Catholic and non-Catholic—while the melting pot of America begs for tolerance, acceptance, and respect for each other no matter what our affiliations. The scale of the event reminds those who are not part of the club that they are outcasts.

• Church rules seem hypocritical in the standards for what constitutes a family, etc. Doubt surrounds the church’s intentions when its walls are painted in gold while its followers are asked to sacrifice in Christ’s name. Even the kindest among its followers tend to question their ability to maintain a seemingly unreasonable doctrine.

• Scandal haunts the Catholic church. There has been wrongdoing so heinous its victims will never recover. It takes resolve to look at a priest without wondering if he might have had any part in breaking the spirit of a young, innocent, male child.

At a party last month, I asked some good friends what they thought was the REAL reason for the Pope’s visit. The common theme among them was, in summary, an attempt to increase the membership and financial wellbeing of the Catholic Church. “They’ve lost a lot of followers,” one person pointed out. I couldn’t argue with that.

Here are reasons for the peace

A Massive Ceremony Coming to Philadelphia

Determined to obtain the perspective of a devout Catholic, I turned to the closest source I could think of: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Posted clearly on its Website was the number one reason why the Pope was coming: families. He is here for the World Meeting of Families, an occasion that asks all Catholics to come together, in person or remotely, and pray "to strengthen the sacred bonds of family across the globe and highlight its intrinsic value to the good of society.” The Archdiocese headlines read:

“Honor”
“Gift”
“Splendors”
“Good Work”
“Artistry”
“Blessing”
“Eventful Day of Song”

My mind drifted to my experience at a part-time job I hold at a small local library, one that serves a middle class community. I see firsthand the effect of families in my short exchanges with library patrons of all ages.

For instance...

A child wanders in with a half-hearted parent who gives priority to her phone. The child is anxious, loud, disinterested, and angry.

While…

A child comes in holding hands with a parent who is attentive and present and calm. The child is respectful, curious, and happy.

Meanwhile…

A mentally challenged adult comes in to read with the compassionate and attentive caregiver assigned to him that day. He remains distant, seemingly sad, as if he wants to be happy but he cannot connect.

While…

A mentally challenged adult comes in with her caring grandmother. She is smiling. She greets us a little too loudly, “Hello ladies,” and spells out reasons to love the day.

The difference between the two is always family.

There are the thoughtful daughters who come to help their elderly mothers carry stacks of books, wise fathers who guide their young sons toward topics of interest, and the sturdy moms who teach their rambunctious toddlers how to be still. This is family on display; imagine their impact in the quiet hours before sleep or the tense moments during a storm. The Pope is here to celebrate that.

His visit comes with an additional, spiritual gift that to a follower is precious. To my knowledge, America’s mass media has never mentioned it. It's not granted lightly. It's called the Gift of Indulgences. No, it doesn’t mean everyone can eat, drink, and indulge in as much merriment as they’d like at this Meeting. Instead, it means they will be freed from the usual punishment for their sins, as long as certain conditions are met. The conditions require a commitment to the Catholic sacraments as well as the Catholic intention of building strong families. It essentially washes a follower’s purgatorial slate so that he or she can move toward peacefully living a family-focused life.

The Possibilities

As long as we continue to look with scorn, we will continue to find doubt, hatred, fear, and anger. And if we continue to look with scorn, what becomes of the good of the church? When do we, people of all beliefs dip into our spiritual treasure chest and offer a Gift of Indulgences, one that includes enough acceptance that we may see the positive aspects of the Pope's visit and how it can be beneficial to us all, even if we cannot commit to the Catholic way?

I'm not suggesting we drop to our knees and give in. I am asking that we take this opportunity to intensify the positive vibes of this massive ceremony. Can we not recognize that our DNA eternally connects us to our ancestors, descendants, and siblings? Can we not remember that love attracted us to our spouses or our adopted children? Can we not try to forgive those estranged, honor those respected, and thank those appreciated? Shouldn’t we, together, in unity, uproot our hardships and sufferings and let our families help us get through the nightmares, headaches, and failures?

The arrival of Pope Francis and the ceremony surrounding him has put us on a roller coaster ride, from anticipation to dread, excitement to frustration, and peacefulness to concern. At the end of the day, let him lead our perspectives past temptation and into a stronger connection to that which has delivered every single one of us onto this earth: our families.

The Ritual of a Spirit

July 17th, 2015

According to a Gallup pole, there continues to be a gradual increase in the number of Americans who say they have no formal religious identity. I argue that this does NOT signal an increase in debauchery or corruption among us. On the contrary, a greater number of people have recognized the perils of organized religion, including its false judgments, exclusionary principles, power struggles, and wars.

Still, the religious are afforded something the non-religious don’t get: engagement in regular, meaningful ceremony.

Of course, we all get to go to weddings, baptisms, or funerals. On holidays we have pageantry with flag waving, fireworks, costumes, or dance. To picnics we bring offerings of food for the host and hostess. At concerts we chant and sing even though we paid others to sing for us. We move about from one event to another, happy to have attended, unaware of how close we've ventured near ceremony. As a result, we miss the deeper opportunity to generate with the same degree of lasting positive energy felt among the faithful who gather for worship. And beyond silent prayer, we are not taught the life-force-communication techniques used by those who participate in a religious culture.

It's important to understand that a non-religious person can be tremendously spiritual. Spirituality is what compels one to wonder about the mystery of life. It is the spirit that guides one toward goodness. It is the spirit that rejects evil. It is the spirit that sees the unity in all things. What an independent thinker such as me lacks is not a longing for connectedness but the ability to effectively express and enrich that connection.

In fact, many non-religious people I know would make good moral leaders. They are people who, if deemed powerful, could improve our world. Sadly, they are more likely to suffer in the silence of their own deep thoughts.

Hiding from the stigma that comes from a rejection of religion, living among evangelists and martyrs and missionaries, the spiritual keep their most important thoughts to themselves. So ingrained is this conscious divide, this separation from dogmatics, we have disassociated ourselves from ourselves. Any action that offers the best chance to reconnect the two is left solely to private investigation. There could be depth to the likemindedness of others around us, but how would we know? There could be wisdom nearby, but how could we share, especially when doing so risks a label that reads "crackpot" or "possessed?" The spiritual orphan must either push his or her feelings aside or go through self development alone, because non-religious culture offers only scattered instruction on how to refuel a person's inner light.

Some of us search for wisdom on the Internet pages of new age ideals. We try to find a church near where we live, going on referrals from a friend or family member. We sign up for yoga classes and meditate. We, in essence, are in a perpetual search for ceremony.

For the desparate, the allure of connectiveness thrusts them into religions that may not represent their true selves. They mimic instead of authenticate. With a hunger for offerings of gratitude or participation in some form of consult with the ethereal life force, they are left vulnerable to corruption and manipulation.

Meanwhile, the majority simply dedicate themselves to being good, hoping that that will be enough.

The Effect of Ceremony
When I was a child, my family prayed before dinner every evening. Even if the weather was perfect for playing outside, we went to Catholic mass every Sunday. No matter how redundant the prayer or boring the service, these rituals always changed my perspective. They forced me to think of others. Starving for dinner, I suddenly became aware of the significance of the nutrition my body was about to receive and the sacrifice it took to make that happen. Fidgety during mass, I left duty bound to be a good child. I remember specifically one Christmas morning, I stopped before ripping into the presents to hug and say “thank you” to my mom and dad. I did this because, on the previous evening, the priest suggested it in his homily.

Thus, the moments after ceremony are preciously worth the time. How happy is the audience after the officiant presents man and wife? How appreciative of a life is the congregation after witnessing a coffin being lowered into the ground? How well behaved is the child after kneeling in promise to share?

There are simple elements in all ceremony--ancient and new--that exist because they attribute to that kind of outcome. They include the spoken word, an offering, and a physical action. They are the difference between a silent wish and a heard prayer. I've got tons of silent wishes and remarkably few heard prayers.

A lack of ceremony in my life was pointed out to me by Dr. James Swan, author of "Nature as Healer and Teacher.” In his book, Dr. Swan referred to many ceremonies practiced by a variety of Earth-based cultures around the globe, primarily the Native American Indians’.

The Native Americans have inherited ceremony as a way of life from their ancestors. In doing so, they learned how to apply the assets handed down as well, and they know the importance of passing this knowledge to the next generation. The Indians had ceremonies for everything: birth, death, hunting, sunshine, and rain.

My heart grew heavy as I tried to recount the amount of ceremony that still exists in my life, having left the church decades ago. I began to feel a sense of hopelessness, because the examples he described could never have meaning to me. They were not my ancestral rituals. They were “owned” by those who needed it to rain or for the buffalo to run or for the antelope to guide them. The root of ceremony has nothing to do with dressing in a shawl of feathers and dancing like a bird. The root of ceremony is the reason why you would want to communicate with the birds in the first place. You cannot steal a man’s ceremony any more than you can take his desires.

With no religion and tattered ancestral ties, what do I do now? It seems I must create my own ceremony.

The Status of Today's Walk Outside Blog

As you may know, I have a second blog called Today's Walk (www.TodaysWalkOutside.com). It's one part scientific, one-part informational, and one part motivational. Moreover, it's a personal experiment shared with the world so others know they are not alone in their desire to be informed, motivated, and connected to the natural world.

The posts have been on hold since May 2015. I stopped writing because something was missing. I wasn't reaching my intended goals. The project had become yet another loop of activity that was draining my resolve instead of filling it. I needed to fix something, yet I didn't know exactly what was wrong.

I think I now know. In promising to walk every day, I was essentially creating a ceremony without realizing it. In the next few weeks I'll be diving deeper into this realization with the hopes that I'll emerge with a better product, one that will be more satisfying to my readers and to myself.

If you can associate with the realizations I've divulged in this post, I invite you to stay tuned with an open mind. I promise to share with you the subtleties of the changes I plan to make at Today's Walk so that you might discover ways to add more meaning to one or more of your regular activities.

Together may we show that there is a gradual increase in the number of people who, with or without a particular religious identify, are walking on a path toward a greater connection to the Earth, to each other, and to ourselves.