Politics

Utica Students Will Be Counted In The March For Our Lives This Weekend

 

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

On March 24, the kids and families of March For Our Lives will take to the streets to demand that their lives and safety become a priority, and that we end gun violence in our schools and communities. Here in Utica, NY, students are heeding the national call to action. Many of them will be marching from Proctor High School to Oneida Square on Saturday. The march kicks-off at Noon.

 

March for Our Lives is a demonstration created and organized by #NeverAgain, a group of students who survived the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Every town for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, is helping the students plan and coordinate the event. Organizers are calling on lawmakers to address the issue of gun violence in American schools by implementing comprehensive gun control legislation.

 

 

March for Our Lives has three primary demands:

  • Pass a law to ban the assault weapons frequently used to carry out mass shootings
  • Stop the sale of high-capacity magazines, restricting the amount of ammunition
  • Close loopholes in America’s background checks and implement laws that require background checks on every gun purchase, including those that occur online or at gun shows

For more information about this national event, click here.

 

Letter From A Birmingham Jail, King, Jr.

 

16 April 1963

My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Resistance 2018: Women’s March In Utica

 

BY JEN DEWEERTH

 

Greetings Resisters and Progressive Activists,

Almost one year ago, many of us traveled to Washington, Boston, Syracuse or Seneca Falls, and many of stayed and rallied here in Utica.  From that point on, our shared desire to Resist the Trump-Tenney agenda and to fight for human rights, justice and dignity for all led to huddles, the creation and growth of Indivisible Mohawk Valley (originally Forward Mohawk Valley), and widespread volunteering for local Democratic committees, non-profits such as the Refugee Center, and other local resistance groups in Camden, (CAAM), Madison County, and elsewhere.
The Utica Women’s March, is going to take those efforts to a whole new level.  The organizing committee led by CNY Citizen Action convened earlier this week and brought together many resistance, labor, faith, and community groups.  Like the 2017 Women’s March in DC, this one has women of color at the forefront.  The goal of the Utica Women’s March on Jan. 20 is to mark the anniversary of the Resistance movement and build community and solidarity as we head into 2018.
We need many volunteers to make this event successful.
Week before the event:
  • help paint banners and make signs
  • pass out flyers around Utica
  • provide transportation to and front event for those who have no transport
  • drive people who are unable to walk the route
  • walk around event with clipboards and get people to sign in
  • act as marshals for crowd control and safety
  • help clean up after the event
Whether or not you can be at the event on the 20th, can you help us with the Utica Women’s March?  Please let me know what you are able to do. I will put you on the respective volunteer list, and a volunteer coordinator will call you about that job. 
Also, please don’t forget the very important Indivisible Mohawk Valley meeting we have this Sunday, 2-5 pm at Schuyler Commons (1776 Independence Square, Utica).  We will hear more about the Precinct Program, which is how IMV is going to help win the 2018 congressional election by electing Anthony Brindisi to replace @OneTermTenney.  We will be signing up for the roles, and getting organized with next steps.  We will hear more about Citizen Action and also the Puerto Rican families arriving in Utica and how we can help them (a collection will be taken).  
I am so excited to see how far we have come in the past year, and also where we are headed in our work together for social, economic, and racial justice, women’s rights, immigrant right, and human rights.  We are determined to change the public narrative in our own community, influence our elected representatives, and elect representatives who share our values around justice and human rights.  
See you this Sunday, Jan. 14 at the IMV meeting, and on Saturday, Jan. 20 at the Utica Women’s March!
Breathe, then push!
Contact & Additional Information:
Jen DeWeerth
Always check out the calendars at indivisiblemv.com and cnycia.org

*Friday, January 12th @ 3:30pm-4:30pm @ 555 French Rd, New Hartford — Weekly picket outside of Tenney’s office. Bring your signs!

*Sunday, January 14th @ 2-5pm @ Schuyler Commons, 1776 Independence Square, Utica — IMV monthly meeting. Agenda includes: guest speaker Kristina Andreotta about CNY Citizen Action; Sonia Martinez (MVLA update on what we can do for families arriving from Puerto Rico), precinct program; 2017 election data results; and, strategizing timeline for 2018 victories. 2-2:30pm is social time!

*Tuesday, January 16th @ 6pm @ Waterville Public Library — Waterville’s Women in Action grassroots group meeting. Come learn about the grassroots precinct program and strategize how to build progressive support in the southern towns in Oneida county. 

*Friday, January 19th @ 3:30pm @ 555 French Rd, New Hartford — Weekly picket outside of Tenney’s office. Bring your signs!

*Saturday, January 20th, 10:30 am-1:00 pm @ 7 Rutger Place (YWCA) is the starting point, and the destination is City Hall, Utica Women’s March. Marks the anniversary of the birth of the Resistance movement, build community and solidarity as head into   We need MANY volunteers before, during and after.

 

*Wednesday, January 24th @10am-3:30pm @ First Presbyterian Church of Little Falls,  Social Justice with Politically Diverse Communities Workshop.  Great opportunity to learn about state and federal budget issues related to poverty and homelessness. Sign up HERE.

*Friday, January 26th, @ 3:30pm @ 555 French Rd, New Hartford — Weekly picket outside of Tenney’s office. Bring your signs!

Saturday, February 24th, SAVE THE DATE for CNY Citizen Action fundraiser at Wakely’s On Varick.  “Turn Up the HEAT: Citizen Action Kickoff Party for Justice.”

DACA Dreamers: From Promise To Peril

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

 

The deadline was met. It was Sept. 5. President Trump followed through on another nation shifting promise to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, (DACA) program. In a widely reported 2016 immigration policy speech in Phoenix, AZ—where Trump rolled out his plan to build a wall along our southern border and have Mexico pay for it—the president boastfully stated, “We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants.” This, after blaming Sanctuary Cities, Obama, Clinton and “out of touch politicians” for the many lives lost at the hands of illegal immigrants.

 

 

In this same speech, he declared “Zero tolerance for criminal aliens,” an inflammatory terminology many immigration advocates reject as dehumanizing. Angel Ramirez is a DACA recipient and agrees. He joined about 30 other protesters and local activists to voice opposition to the president’s decision at a rally in Utica, NY, and says “I don’t think there’s any illegal person in the world anyway because we are just limited and bound by policies and political actions that, if you think about it, doesn’t make any sense.” Nevertheless, President Trump asserted, “We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate. It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish here.” Accordingly, wouldn’t the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients be the ones more likely to thrive and flourish having benefitted from living in America most of their lives? Dreamers, as DACA recipients are often called, grew up in America’s school system, have been enculturated in this country, embrace America as their only home, fight wars and die in her name, and love her equally as those here on legal grounds. In other words, it contradicts the very message of this administration, especially if finding a solution to the country’s immigration problem is still the outcome all sides are aiming for.

After taking office, President Trump told David Muir with ABC News in a February interview that DACA recipients need not worry because, “I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody.” He followed his rhetoric with actions; pardoning Joe Arpaio and ending DACA. And, throwing his support behind tougher immigration legislation like Kate’s Law and The Davis-Oliver Bill. Sonia Martinez, President of Mohawk Valley Latino Association says she hopes former President Obama steps in to help those under threat of deportation. “He gave the approval for this program, for the Dreamers to stay in the United States of America. I think it would be very important.” The former president did chime in via social media in a lengthy statement essentially condemning the move as making “no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know.”

Ramirez says the move to end DACA is devastating. “I’m married, I have two kids, we just don’t know what’s in the future, what’s going to happen. He goes on to say, “I was here my whole life. My parents are from Mexico and I didn’t know anything. And, if I go back to Mexico, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” He says the uncertainty is weighing on him because he may have to uproot his family from the only home they’ve known. “I have to start thinking about what other options we have in case this completely ends and there is no other way for us.”

 

 

The first time Ramirez realized he was in the country without legal documents was when he applied for a job after high school and was asked for his social security number. “I’m like, ‘what is that?’ because even when you go to school they don’t ask you for that, they just give you your ID to go to school, they don’t tell you, oh, you’re illegal.” He adds, “Then you find out all these things that you cannot qualify.” Ramirez says since gaining employment he has steadily paid his taxes and even became a homeowner. “I always pay my taxes, I always pay everything that I needed to because my hope is one day that I will become a citizen because this is all I know. This is home for us.”

Even so, the decision to end DACA was the writing on the wall in the president’s speech when he said, “While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they will ever pay in.” Perhaps, but as it pertains to DACA recipients, a 2016 survey by the Center for American Progress found that after taking part in the program, 63 percent of recipients moved to better paying jobs, 49-percent gained greater access to employment that matches their education and skill sets and 48 percent gained jobs with better working conditions. If we want to close the gap between who we are and who we want to be as Americans, we must keep working towards the principles that set us apart from all other people on earth, and those against a pathway to citizenship for these young people must also considering the spirit of the laws that bound us as one to form the ideals of E Pluribus Unum.

 

 

In the State of New York, DACA recipients have greatly benefited from the amnesty program. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services nearly 42,000 young people came forward, passed background checks, and live and work legally in the country since implementation of the program. And, according to research conducted by Washington: Center for American Progress Ending, DACA would cost New York nearly $2.6 billion in annual GDP losses if it’s phased out. “Right now, some people are saying go back to your country but what would Native People say about you now that you’re here and settled,” Ramirez asked with a quizzical look on his face of those who oppose the Dreamer’s pathway to citizenship. He says being called “Illegal” or “Alien” by his own president is disturbing. “What does that word even mean? Like, we are outside of this world? A lot of things don’t make sense anymore. We feel like we’re being excluded, we have no value…that’s how we feel right now,” he says.

Ramirez says although his faith in God is strong, it’s going to take real action to keep DACA in place. “We need to let them know that this is not okay.” If he could talk to President Trump directly, Ramirez says he would remind him of his own immigrant roots and family ties and our collective humanity, “We are all immigrants. Nobody is better than anyone else, we are all the same, we are all humans. There is no races, there is only one kind and we are all humans.” Regardless if his words reach the president, Trump has punted the issue to Congress almost superficially reassuring DACA recipients and the thousands who spoke out against his decision in an audio clip provided by The Washington Post that, “We’ll see what happens in Congress. I have a feeling that’s not going to be necessary, I think they’re gonna make a deal. I think Congress really wants to do this.” He goes on to say that he wants to see in the legislation some “good border security” measures and a “great DACA transaction where everybody is happy and now they don’t have to worry about it anymore.” If history is any indication of how Trump’s promises play out, Dreamers and immigration advocates should definitely worry until the proof is in the pudding. And, that proof will come in the form of firm, realistic and enforceable immigration policies that embodies the spirit and culture of America.

 

 

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh Is Leading The Charm City By Example In A Climate Of Transition

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore police officers in April 2015 unquestionably had an impact on the city’s image. Nonetheless, Catherine E. Pugh, the Charm City’s 50th mayor and 3rd consecutive female at the helm, says there’s much more than what meets the eye and enough spirit to debunk any perceptions one may have of Baltimore. “We’re the 9th city in America considered by millennials to be the great city that people should move to. I think Freddie Gray had its impact but certainly not the greatest impact in terms of what Baltimore is today.”

Pugh is proud of her role as the city’s leader, a place she’s very comfortable occupying as a highly successful business owner herself. “It was something I desired but it was certainly not something I thought was in my reach at this particular point in history in my own life because I was Majority Leader of the Senate and doing an important job on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore. So, I was very focused on making sure that I created and passed legislation that would have a tremendous impact on our city and in the state, and hopefully lead in terms of some of the innovative legislation that would pass in the nation.”

During her first State of the City Address, Pugh made her mission to continue improving the quality of life for Baltimore citizens clear by rolling out her plan on five major areas her administration will pay close attention to; Education, Youth Development, Public Safety, Economic and Workforce Development, and Expansion. And, the mayor leads by example. A rare form to see in modern day American politics. However, taking into account her own life’s journey, healthy lifestyle and the work she’s done for her community during her years in public service, it’s not hard to surmise that Mayor Pugh’s heart, along with her vision, expertise and blueprint to bring Baltimore out of the shadows of Freddie Gray and beyond, is a welcome trajectory for a city desperately in need of reconditioning.

 

 

“When I think of my entire vision for Baltimore, it’s not centered around Freddie Gray. It’s centered on a city that’s been neglected for decades in certain parts of the city. It’s also centered around the vision for being more inclusive and diverse in a city that has so many opportunities and has created opportunities for so many, but had neglected others. And, my vision is about housing and homelessness, and how do you reduce violence but at the same time, create public schools that everyone would want to come to, and so we see that happening in our city.” Even so, Pugh says Freddie Gray played an important role in terms of how the city looks at its police department. “I see it as something that occurred in our history that made us pay attention to community policing and how we go about the business of reforming our police and creating relationships between the police and community that would bode well for how we move forward and resolve our criminal activity in our communities.”

Pugh says her work to help reform the criminal justice system—a system marred by vast racial disparities—happened before Freddie Gray. “For me it began back in the Legislature when the Ferguson situation occurred and when you think about New Orleans and the issues that they face and other cities faced around the country…I think it made all of us pay attention to criminal justice reform. Pointing to former President Obama’s work to reform police departments and improve community policing, Pugh says, “Those things occurred before Freddie Gray. Freddie Gray was a wake-up call for our own police department but certainly not the wake-up call for the entire city in terms of all the issues that the city faces.”

Criminal justice reform is “absolutely necessary” she emphasizes, adding that the city is currently under a Department of Justice consent decree following a resolution adopted by the city, aimed at controlling the rapid growth in gun violence and to get guns of the streets. Pugh along with Police Commissioner Kevin Davis are behind the new city ordinance that would impose a one-year minimum sentence for carrying an illegal firearm in Baltimore, essentially treating illegal guns like a public health crisis. “I thought it was important to get that done because of the situation that happened with Freddie Gray.”

Nevertheless, and despite the city’s crime rate—Forbes Magazine ranks Baltimore #7 on The 10 Most Dangerous U.S. Cities list—Attorney General Jeff Sessions objected to the city adopting the consent decree that also seeks to address rampant racial discrimination and constitutional violations among police officers against residents. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar overruled his attempt to block the agreement. Pugh says, “We thought it was important that we move forward with the consent decree and so we’re just about finished with that process. The Federal Judge did sign the consent decree so, we’re well on our way of doing what’s important for the City of Baltimore.”

Pugh says despite Sessions suggestions and agenda for Baltimore and the rest of the country, DOJ has been helpful in facilitating the consent decree process. “In terms of providing us with consultants to review our own police department, providing us with resources…every federal agency is engaged here.” In addition to the assistance the city is receiving, a new ATF site is being designated to help enforce the agreement. “Our federal partners have been very helpful to us.”

Another positive and measurable move for the city deals with its beleaguered school system. The mayor says the city has worked out a deal to repay the $1 billion in bonds the school system needs to improve its crumbling schools and build 23 new ones, (the state, city and school system each pledged $20 million a year over 30 years). “We just opened up another one recently and built the first new school in the public school system in 30 years. So, I know the possibilities, I know of some of the pitfalls but at the same time, I see through all of this as an opportunity to change the trajectory of the city based on its people, its population and its opportunities.” She says government does two things, “it provides services and it creates opportunities.” Pugh goes on to explain that the difference with her administration is inclusion. “What we’ve done is not included everybody in the process in the past.”

 

 

Baltimore’s economy and the $15 minimum wage increase proposal, a focus point for Pugh’s administration, came up for a vote back in March but was vetoed by the mayor. The minimum wage hike was a bill she supported at the state level before taking control as Baltimore’s Mayor. And, naturally, the mayor’s veto was met with some opposition from critics who accused her of breaking her promise to support the bill, to which she says, “I was a big proponent at the state level. We raised the minimum wage in 2014, we raised the minimum wage in 2015, we raised the minimum wage in 2016, we raised the minimum wage in 2017, we’ll raise the minimum wage again in 2018. So, the next time the minimum wage should be taken up is in this General Assembly session.”

She adds the bill was moving along the same lines as previous wage increases, “and, so it really picked up from where we already were and went to 2027. I would hope that anybody who is living today, making less than minimum wage, would make more than $15 an hour in 2027. So, to have a bill that projects to 2027 was to me inappropriate for the citizens of Baltimore, especially when the surrounding jurisdictions weren’t pushing that because it made Baltimore the hole in the donut. And, we got to be competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions.” Pugh says her decision to veto the bill was based on the best interest of all the people of Baltimore, adding that she will follow the state’s lead in a gradual and sustainable increase of wages. Her supporters, according to local media outlets, credit her for making the tough decision, saying that it showed real leadership in a time of transition, growth and future jobs.

Another social strife impacting Baltimore and the nation, and budding an all too familiar climate across the country centers on the take down of Confederate monuments and an uptick in neo-Nazi, KKK and alt-Right led demonstrations. Following the violent unrest in Charlottesville, VA the mayor took immediate action to circumvent any possible violence in her own city by taking down four Confederate monuments. A move the previous administration had taken up but didn’t complete. Pugh says the monuments were taken down under the cover of darkness and in the best interest of the city. “We had four statues that needed to be removed, three of them Confederate statues, and one of the judge who presided over the case that said that African Americans specifically were not full human-beings, and so we thought that his statue should be removed as well, (Chief Justice, Roger Brooke Taney, who oversaw the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision). My plan and meeting with my contractor was that we should move them as quickly and as quietly as possible.”

Pugh says her decision to act quickly and under the cover of darkness was intentional and based on sound information. After meeting with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu about the process he followed to remove his city’s four Confederate monuments back in May, Pugh decided to take a different route. “He told me about all the hate mail and everything that he had received, how contentious it was and what a painful experience it was for his staff, and I decided then that we would not do it that way.” Pugh says her experience working in news rooms and being in the news business for a long time allowed her to act strategically to avoid any media coverage. “I knew that news rooms closed up at 11:30…people would not be around and so it would be very difficult for people to begin reporting as we began moving.” Pugh says the process to take down all the monuments was estimated to take between midnight and 5:00 a.m. “We were finished at 4:57 a.m. and the media caught up with us around 3:30 when we were on our 3rd statue.”

What becomes of the statues is yet to be determined however, Pugh says her administration has appointed a commission to look at the issue and even taking suggestions from citizens. She says the monuments could be placed at Confederate cemeteries and museums across the country. “This is the United States of America and according to the Constitution we are all equal. And, in the Bible we’re all equal in the eyes of God and we should be treated as such. And so, any symbolism of hate I think should be removed but I think at the same time we shouldn’t rewrite history. I think that they should be contextualized in such a way that we remember who they are and why they existed because they are part of our history, but we’re not the Confederacy. We are the United States of America.”

She says her advice to everyone, especially young people is, “We have to learn how to love and respect each other, and that we work together, we learn to be more inclusive and diverse because that’s what this country is becoming; more inclusive and more diverse.”

 

An avid runner and healthy lifestyle advocate, Pugh stresses the importance of taking responsibility of your health and incorporating a healthy diet as part of a well-balanced life; a message she consistently shares with young people. Referencing another Bible scripture, Pugh says, “Moses lived to be 120 years old and it says you couldn’t tell how old he was by his face or his energy and that’s because he lived a purposeful life. If you want to live a purposeful life than you have to take care of yourself. You got to make sure you’re exercising and eating right.” If it wasn’t for public records, one would be hard pressed to guess the mayor’s age as well.

Pugh founded The Baltimore Marathon 17 years ago with 6,600 registered runners, “today its 25,000 plus,” she says. “It’s a very hard marathon to get into but we just encourage people to exercise and eat right. Do what’s best for you because without your health, there’s nothing.”

How does she do it all during a tumultuous time in the country’s history when race relations, police brutality, living wage concerns and numerous other social woes are rolling down a steep hill towards her and picking up speed? She says, “You lead by example, and that’s what we try to do every day.” Pugh says, despite the uphill battle she faces as she leads Baltimore out from the stigma of the Freddie Gray incident, she still pinches herself every day that she gets to do this work. “It’s a lot of work but at the same time; with challenges, we get opportunities.”

It’s clear to see—from the construction projects, new restaurant openings and community investments and enrichment programs—Baltimore is ready for some much-needed opportunities, particularly on the heels of its many surfaced challenges partly exposed by a tragic police brutality incident.

 

The Charlottesville Monster March Is A Stark Reminder Of America’s Shameful Past And Fragile Future

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Did you think the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., marching for freedom and equality were over? And, when you listen to old civil rights movement stories of Medgar Evers, James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and even still living civil rights era leaders and social activists like Rep. John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Cornell West and Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., were you relatively comfortable in your existence as an American until the Nazis, the KKK and Alt-Right group took their revolting message to Charlottesville, VA? You’re not alone. And, you should be uncomfortable if you’ve taken comfort on the sidelines of history by not participating in the greatest democracy ever known to man. Simply minding your own business, keeping you head down and your mouth shut can no longer be an option. Not when the days of Hitler and Mussolini are once again upon us like a bad reoccurring nightmare, or a street packed with walkers from The Walking Dead. Yes, that’s how bad it feels when racism is in full bloom.

Despite several attempts to put out the racial fires taking place across the country, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is playing games with American lives and flushing our common values down the toilet. When nearly every major nightly show host like, Jimmy Kimmel, Steven Colbert, John Oliver, Seth Myers and even Jimmy Fallon—who decided to play footsie with Trump during his appearance on his show rather than hold him accountable for his boorish actions and behavior—take a stand against the president’s latest attack on basic human decency…one can’t help but surmise that we are a nation at war with ourselves. We are a nation held hostage by a mad man supported by the most hateful Americans among us. If you don’t believe America is in crisis, you’re not paying attention, you’re not invested in our common ideology that all men are created equal, and your silence equates to support or blatant disregard of the Kraken that’s been released by Trump and the people that support his destructive behavior and administration.

When former Klan leader and white supremacist David Duke, who didn’t miss a chance showing his face at the racist rally in Charlottesville, thanks our president for his support by saying the group’s staunch discriminatory stance represents a turning point in the country, adding, “We’re going to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believe in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump because he says he’s going to take our country back and that’s what he’s gotta do.” …it’s as clear as a cloudless sky, that America is suffering some major social indigestion. So, something has to give, or someone has to go.

 

ITALY – CIRCA 1941: mail stamp printed in Italy showing Hitler and Mussolini, circa 1941

 

A staunch Republican and frequent vocal critic of the president said it best. Ana Navarro didn’t mince her words when she boldly addressed Trump directly on CNN, saying, “Let me talk to Donald Trump and explain to him that as President of the United States, he represents Blacks and Jewish people and Hispanic people and people of every color and every creed. And, it is his job as President of the United States to stand up for each and every American, to stand up vertically against racism and bigotry. Peddling to racism is just as bad as being a racist. So, Donald Trump is either a racists, or he’s peddling to it. And, both are frankly unacceptable and make him unfit to be President of the United States. If you can’t be President, if you cannot stand up and represent Americans, you should not be President.” She also addressed the few Republicans speaking out against Trump’s latest deplorable conduct by asking, “What the hell took you so long? When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.”

And, she’s right. Where are the collective voices of the president’s own party members and leaders? How can they be silent at this crucial moment in our history? How can these so called American patriots remain silent when our president steadily blows his dog whistle, encouraging the spread of the hatefulness we are witnessing in Charlottesville and elsewhere? Trump can’t help but be Trump. He’s an expert at being who he is; a proven and dangerous liar, bigot and sexist individual. This behavior has worked in his favor his entire life and since making his debut on the world’s stage. This is a man who boldly claims that he can commit a heinous crime and still be comfortable on his perch. So, why do we expect him to be anything other than what he’s successfully been? Albert Einstein is credited for the quote: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s a quote we Americans frequently use to describe something or someone we want to lecture, judge or advice. So, why aren’t we as a nation of decent people taking our own advice? Why are we allowing this sore that is Trump to fester?

When South Koreans demanded change after their president, Park Geun-hye—the country’s first democratically elected leader to be forced out of office—was caught embroiled in a cult-like scandal, and accused of abusing her authority, the people took to the streets in massive numbers to demand her ouster. And, it worked. The difference between our two countries lies at the heart of Unity as we know it. We are struggling to remain united, thanks to a single but powerful mad man who refuses to lead our country as a nation of one people beholden to our Constitution and Bill of Rights that has governed and shaped us throughout our relatively young democracy. America is only 241 years old. And, in that time, we have risen from the depths of shame by abolishing Slavery, advancing Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Workers Rights, Voters Rights, and even the LGBTQ movement. We did it together. Hand in hand. We took to the streets and marched on Washington. We crossed the bridge in Selma. We sang songs to stop the lynching of black bodies hanging from poplar trees. We prayed over the bodies of young girls bombed in the most sacred of places; the church. We wept over the sight of Emmett Till. We fought to end segregation. We demanded equality in our schools and elsewhere. We even took our determination to love who we want to love all the way to the Supreme Court in support of Mildred and Richard Love. We hold onto hope for a better tomorrow, singing songs of overcoming…and yet, here we are facing the biggest threat to our precious democracy; President Donald J. Trump, and find ourselves paralyzed.

New York Daily News Columnist and social activist Shaun King didn’t mince his words either when he called upon all Americans united on common goals to take to the streets like the South Koreans did, to oust our destructive and dangerous president. However, it seems that fear of another civil war traps us in our trepidation, like a deer staring blankly into oncoming traffic lights and not moving until it’s too late. If Fox News and the Daily Caller aren’t afraid to post a video basically instructing their followers on how to mow down people that have bravely taken to the streets to fight for our country, we can’t be afraid to meet that message head on. And, even demanding that Laura Ingraham who gave a clear Nazi salute and dog whistle like nod to these bigoted creatures, not be allowed to have her own show on Fox News, as it’s been reported. We have to fight for our beautiful and diverse country. Let’s not get run over. America is our country. America does not belong to Donald Trump, the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, or the Alt-Right Middle Earth-like creatures and haters of humanity. America belongs to all of us that call it home, value who we are and what we stand for and against. The time to stand up for our nobility and virtues is always now. That’s what makes us uniquely Americans. We fight for the rights of all people.

 

Searching For America On Independence Day

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

If you’ve seen the movie Idiocracy, chances are you’ve been experiencing life these past couple of years with a slack jaw, owing to the conduct across the country and especially from the white house and its new inhabitants. From Spicer to Conway, Manigault, Bannon and President Trump, the performances we’ve all witnessed equates to something concocted in a Hollywood studio. Disheartening poll numbers consistently drive home the realization that on her 241st birthday, America is in desperate need of some soul searching and healing.

America is going through a serious identity crisis, and questions addressing and reevaluating our core values and beliefs are certainly warranted now that the shift in civility and governing has taken a specific tone. What kind of people are Americans? Does Trump represent Americans adequately? Have we morphed into an anti-immigrants, anti-refugees and anti-Muslim nation now that Trump is president? Is the “Fake News” label a sign of things to come? Is it open season on journalists, and factual information? Even racism, a long standing social problem in the U.S. that has improved with time, has seen an uptick in discriminatory activities, leaving many wondering if we’re approaching an era of blatant bigotry and intolerance aimed at each other; American against American.

Unfortunately, America is still in the eye of the storm Democrats and Republicans have churned up and thus far, even on the eve of its independence from Britain, can’t seem to calm for the sake of her people. Putting a hideous stamp on this dysfunction that has built up like pond scum is Governor Chris Christie’s recent stunt concerning New Jersey beaches and parks. As if Bridgegate and his boorish behavior wasn’t enough, thanks to a budget standoff, Christie got to flaunt his special kind of audacity for the world to see by brazenly and shamefully going to one of the beaches he closed off for millions of other Americans on this special 4th of July weekend. Christie got to flippantly enjoy the beach while others suffered the consequences associated with the closings, and that’s exactly what his character in this real life unfolding of Idiocrazy does.

A recent NPR, PBS News Hour/Marist poll revealed how far down the spiral we’ve fallen when it comes to trust for politicians, the news media, our justice system and even our intelligence agencies. Some of the questions posed to likely voters concerned the rights Americans deeply value, and those numbers confirm the state of our relatively young country and democracy. The recently released poll by these reputable and respected organizations will undoubtedly be labeled as “Fake News” thanks to a president marching to a beat majority of the country can’t hear or follow. And yet somehow, his staunch supporters, or enablers as some pundits have described them, are behaving like certain guests on the Maury Povich show that swear up and down, “He’s the father!” right before Maury opens his envelope to reveal what’s really going on in the case of Trump and his backers. Regardless, they’re sticking with their man despite the static and skipping CD noise the president’s special beat is blaring in their ears.

When it comes to the president’s job approval ratings, only 37 percent of the population say he’s doing a good job while 51-percent disapprove of his performance. And, 41 percent say they don’t trust the Trump white house. Also, the year when the U.S. gained her independence, only 69 percent of the people answered this question correctly. And, as it pertains to our Intelligence Community, a mere 23 percent say they fully trust agencies like the CIA and FBI. Trump has done his own bashing of our Intelligence Community that has served as a rallying cry for his followers. Trust for America’s courts didn’t fare better during the poll conducted from June 21 to July 25, 2017. Since March, trust in our courts went from 23 to 22 percent. Rightfully, Congress is seeing terrible approval numbers too, with only 6 percent of support tallied. And, only 17 percent of Americans say they wholeheartedly trust that our elections are fairly carried out. Sentiments of an unfair election that put Trump in the white house can still be heard like wind chimes on windy days. The media, like Congress, didn’t do well in the polls either, showing only 8-percent say they trust the media, while 37-percent say they have zero trust in the media.

Many would argue that the negative rhetoric coming out of the white house against the media didn’t help their numbers, as the poll shows a clear mistrust of those responsible for disseminating information. However, when the sitting president is constantly tweeting insults and delegitimizing the news business these numbers shouldn’t come as a shock. Additionally, neither should the poll showing a mere 8-percent of Americans fully trust opinion polls. And, when it comes to the nation’s tone and level of civility in Washington, and comparing Trump and Obama’s ratings, 6-percent of people say civility has improved under the current administration, while the poll conducted in 2009 by USA Today and Gallop during the previous president’s administration, shows that 21 percent of the population thought civility amongst politicians on both sides of the isle had improved. President Trump’s unprofessional and disturbing behavior, during his short time in office, has already taken the twenty-one percent number to a 6… A number more fitting of his female rating system.

The numbers aren’t favorable. They expose a deeply dysfunctional system of governance that has side-stepped normal political operations and discourse. Operations, like the Constitution, that have been shaped and amended along the way by Americans yearning to live with liberties that make us unique among other earth inhabitants. It is these very same systems—which includes a collective belief system—that has kept us united as a nation of one people, despite the pitfalls of wars and civil strives along the way. Even with the bleak outlook these poll numbers divulge, we can’t keep our heads under water like geese in search of underwater snacks, hoping the tide will eventually turn in our favor. The time to bring about positive change is always upon us. As we celebrate this 241st milestone, it’s comforting knowing that America will find her way again if her people continue working towards a common goal for humanity and our culture, and a common love for our great nation.

 

Independence Day

Habitat For Humanity Plows Ahead In The Shadows Of Looming Budget Cuts

Habitat for Humanity

 

 

 

 

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

This may be hard to believe but affordable housing is a reality for many families across New York City. Since its inception in 1976, Habitat for Humanity has transformed the lives of numerous families across the country. And, since its separate grouping in 1984, Habitat NYC has done the same in all five boroughs of NYC. In a partnership with New York City Housing Authority, (NYCHA) Karen Haycox, CEO, Habitat NYC is helping families achieve the dream of homeownership in one of the wealthiest places on the planet. “While we do that, we are also busily building multifamily homes in and around the city and we’re very close to what will effectively be the largest multifamily homes, a series of homes ever constructed under one roof across the habitat universe.”

That project is called Sydney House; a 57-unit co-op in the Bronx. Haycox says, “For me that’s really one of the most compelling things about Habitat for Humanity. It’s that how we do what we do, is very much in context with the city that we call home.” Haycox says the construction of the co-op differs significantly from Habitat for Humanity’s typical construction of single family housing and it’s this very evolution that allows Habitat NYC to make affordable housing a reality for many in the city, which in turn helps to slow and perhaps reverse the process of gentrification, and also preserving a unique culture.

A major barrier to homeownership in NYC according to Haycox lies within the prospective homeowners themselves. “The first time you go through that process it can be frightening.” She explains her own experience as a first-time homeowner and the fear that came along with it. “When I bought my first home I honestly, practically and intellectually knew that everything was fine but for the first year I lived as if somebody was going to knock on my door and tell me there’s been a huge mistake.” She says many families don’t apply for the program because they don’t think they’ll qualify for reasons like credit indiscretions, criminal history or they may think the program is for those in worse economic conditions than what they find themselves in. “They will self select out of the process,” she says. Nonetheless, Haycox explains that although the organization works like any other conventional lender would, Habitat for Humanity is mission, not business driven. “It is our mission to find an opportunity for these families and we don’t just look at the numbers, we look at the whole package.” As far as legal issues are concerned, Haycox says the organization believes in “leaving the past in the past.” On the other hand, she says, “As long as there are no pending legal issues that could be problematic for the neighbors… because in effect we’re building families and their success in the future, but we’re also building neighborhoods and communities.” She says the organization does its best to ensure there are no pending charges with a family that would put their neighbors and other members of their community in any danger. “We believe in social justice and restorative justice so if they have committed a crime in their past and paid their due then that is none of our business. We look forward not backwards.”

Those interested in a Habitat NYC home can fill out an application on line. They will then be contacted by Habitats’ Housing Services Department for a review of their application. “They ask a couple of clarifying questions around the standard elements that you might expect like income, debts, challenges, and who will be in the household and we also look at credit history.” Haycox adds that if families don’t clear the initial hurdles the organization can still work with them to overcome them through various programs. “So that they can actually work on those things if they’re willing and come back and reapply.” Pathways To Partnership, (P2P) is one such program that can keep a family on track to achieving homeownership in NYC.

Haycox explains that achieving homeownership is possible through partnership with a prospective family. She says it’s similar to a self-help housing model. “Meaning that the families must be involved in our organization. They must dedicate 250-hours of sweat equity toward the construction of our homes or other programs.” She says families can volunteer at different build sites, work in the office licking envelopes or doing other volunteer jobs. “And that time is logged toward their willingness to partner.” Thus, it’s need, willingness to partner, and the ability to pay a low interest mortgage Haycox says are the essential elements to achieving homeownership in the city.

Despite all these efforts gentrification is real and taking shape across all 5 boroughs of NYC, making the possibility of homeownership for struggling families an optical illusion. Unless you’re a member of the wealthy elites flocking to the Big Apple, the mere combination of the two words, NYC and homeownership, is an oxymoron. And, Haycox says the problem is an extremely serious one because the city is in danger of becoming the largest moated community in the nation. She says homeownership in NYC is at 31-percent, which is less than the national average and the demand for affordable housing stock isn’t keeping up, “We’ve lost more than 330-thousand affordable rental units to the open market and we know that more than a third of families pay over 50-percent of their monthly income towards rent… homeownership must play a role in the city and although homeownership can’t be available for everybody, it’s strictly a numbers game; it really needs to have a place at the table. She says Habitat NYC sees that as a core function of the organization, “To leverage and to strengthen the voice for affordable homeownership as part of the city’s plan and the state’s plan going forward.”

Leveling the playing field is made possible through partnerships with organizations like NYCHA, Housing Preservation and Development, (HPD) and other state and city programs that help the group with subsidies and other affordable mortgage products. However, proposed budget cuts under the administration of President Trump is threatening to slash much of the funding that has been possible through the various partnerships Habitat NYC relies on for its mission driven work. “Those kinds of programs are important to our ability to thrive. To get these units built we depend on the pre-unit subsidies that we receive from the city and the state, and we also depend on the proceeds of the sale because families get an affordable mortgage and we sell the units and get the proceeds from the sale.”

Another element of affordable homeownership is keeping the homes affordable in perpetuity and Haycox says Habitat is looking at the community land trust model and currently responding to a land trust offer from the city, which would effectively keep the units of housing Habitat NYC develops affordable for the next generations of homeowners. “There are mechanisms that extend the affordability of the units in place but many times after the first sale those protections burn off, so what we’re looking to do is extend the length of time that the units remain affordable.” Preservation is another piece to the low income housing puzzle. Haycox says her group is developing a new preservation program that will intervene with the existing low-income co-ops to update and strengthen the buildings and bring them into compliance. Additionally, Habitat is also forming a Community Development Financial Institution, (CDFI) to keep mortgages affordable for Habitat for Humanity families, “Which would allow us to lend them money to be able to complete some needed repairs, etc.” She says it makes sense to preserve existing units as needed, rather than build new ones. Albeit, the proposed program is facing an uncertain future if Trump’s budget is adopted.

With so much on the line for the future of affordable housing in NYC, Haycox says the proposed budget cuts and tax reforms lurking like a frightening shadow and anticipated this October have them on “pins and needles” about the outlook of Habitat for Humanity. “We are focused on being poised to react and act depending on how the federal budget comes down. I think there’s a great deal of unrest and uncertainty about how that might impact us directly or indirectly.”  She says what her group can control is philanthropy. “Philanthropy always and forever will be at our core and trying to change the hearts and minds of volunteers and funders to value and prioritize housing and the important role it can play in the community we serve.” Haycox also acknowledges that a significant tax reform to the current system could negatively impact how non-profits operate in the future if donors loose tax breaks that encourages giving. “We are in a very uncertain time…so, we’re all scanning the news sources vigorously looking for some sign or indication of what the future might hold.”

Habitat NYC raises about $5-million a year Haycox says. One fund raising avenue beneficial to the group is through its ReStore, “It’s like a thrift store for building materials,” she says. The ReStore is located on Northern Blvd in Queens. “You can buy donated or gently used furniture and furnishing… you can also buy building materials and contracting materials and high-priced items like appliances at a greatly discounted price.” The supplementary to the ReStore is the environmental component that diverts material that would otherwise go to a landfill.

Homeownership is a commitment and not for everybody. The application process can be somewhat intimidating and it can take about 24-months from filling out the application to moving in to your new home. Nonetheless, Haycox says housing is fundamental to the long-term success of a family and despite the challenges ahead Habitat NYC will continue to do what it has done since its inception; helping families achieve a fundamental American dream; homeownership.

From Immigration Status, Green Card To Passport; The Real Costs Of Becoming An American Citizen

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The American dream, to many, is increasingly symbolizing the old Irish folktale about the Leprechaun and his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And unluckily, refugees and new immigrants under the administration of President Donald J. Trump are losing their way trying to find that elusive pot of gold in the maze of America’s immigration and refugee resettlement system. Gauging the national discourse, no wishes will be granted if it was solely up to the Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives.

The chaotic role-out of the first executive order barring immigration from majority Muslim countries sent shock waves across the country and the world, signaling a clear attempt to set the tone of a new era of American politics and her role in the free world. The ripple effects of the first so called “Muslim ban” is still stirring up fears, and forcing agency-wide adjustments, as well as, increasing costs for refugee and new immigrant service providers. Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees is not immune to the shifts underfoot. The agency’s sole mission is to resettle refugees and help usher in new immigrants to America with the promise of a better life and a chance to achieve the American dream.

MVRCR, Executive Director, Shelly Callahan says, “The number of refugees that we receive in a year is down. We were hoping that there would be some recovery but it looks like our numbers are just going to be down. Typically we resettle about 400, or a little over 400 [refugees] a year. We’re now around 130, or 140 and I’m not sure if it’s going to go up much from there.” Callahan says it’s because of the way the two executive orders have been handed down, “The chaos and just the constantly shifting grounds for refugee resettlement agencies has been really, really damaging,” she said. Southern Poverty Law Center agrees and filed its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the ban last week. The suit brought by SPLC on behalf of a Yemeni couple essentially charges that Trump’s order is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Following the roll out of the first executive order Callahan says there was some confusion about who could and couldn’t travel. “There was a short window of time where certain refugees could travel, but what happened, the overseas processing centers where refugees typically go before they travel to their resettlement country, the chaos had refugees leaving the overseas processing centers thinking that they couldn’t leave to the U.S. and then it turned out that some of them could.” She says flights were booked and rebooked many times with people still missing them. And, workers traveling to airports to pick up refugees that didn’t make their flights were costly. Toting up to the confusion is the real agony witnessed when families get separated due to the lack of clear communications and understanding of the new immigration and resettlement policy.  “When these travel bans happen, there’s real concern that these families aren’t going to be able to reunite,” she said. The lawsuit filed by SPLC is to assist the Yemeni couple reunite with their two children that are currently unable to travel to the U.S. due to the executive orders.

Callahan says the agency operates with, “not a lot of fat” to begin with and the increase in costs for refugee resettlement is hitting them hard. Add to that depiction, the decrease in refugee resettlement numbers impacts the work being done to help displaced people around the world that in turn help to improve economically depressed regions like Utica, NY. If Republicans and President Trump’s position and rhetoric on immigration continue to advance on its current path, the impact of losing refugee and new immigrant resettlement programs will undoubtedly be felt by the communities that benefit from their contributions. Refugee resettlement programs bring people and dollars to communities that open their doors to them. For starters, MVRCR gets $950 to resettle each refugee, and an additional $1,150 to be spent on their behalf. The money goes to finding and setting up their housing. “So, for each case, a combination of that $950 that goes to the agency and the $1,150, for a single case, we’re getting them housing, getting their lights turned on, furnishing it all for $1,150, which can be challenging, but for families of 3, 4, 5, 6…that’s a little bit easier and they may actually get money back when we close their case because we wouldn’t have spent down all those dollars,” Callahan explains.

Each refugee also equates to other federal and state dollars for the county through other avenues like grant funding for different programs to help advance the resettlement process. From learning how to drive and understand American driving rules, to language, job training and placement. Nevertheless, Callahan says the U.S. resettlement programs encourage self sufficiency. She said, “So, it’s a hand-up. The refugees come here owing their airfare back to the federal government 6-months post arrival. They’re expected to start paying that down. I think it’s a misconception to think that refugees come here and are given all sorts of resources. They’re definitely given some but it really is a program that expects them to work very hard to be successful.”

Callahan also touts the healthy relationship that’s been cultivated with local and out of area businesses that credit the employment program, and the work undertaken by MVRCR with the rebirth of a dying city. “I think this city would be a ghost town without refugee resettlement,” Callahan said. Refugees and new immigrants bring value to the region that surpasses those aforementioned returns, as their impact can be felt and seen economically, culturally, and socially. Not to mention Utica’s evolving culinary scene. “We have definitely, as a community, benefited enormously from the 36-year history of welcoming these folks in to our community. Our community is absolutely richer for it. I can’t think of anything over those decades that have had a bigger impact, economically and socially, than the population added,” she said.

Long established locals still remember and commiserate about a time when large numbers of employers were leaving the area, properties sitting abandoned for years, until the first major wave of resettlement efforts that started with the Bosnian’s in the 1990s, ushered in a new energy. “There was a time when the population was in danger of dropping below 50-thousand, which would have had some really horrific impacts in terms of federal dollars that the city was able to access for any of its recovery work, but if you just think about the numbers; 16-thousand refugees, just through this center alone, and that doesn’t count secondary migrants, which are refugees that come from other places in the U.S., but if you think about the population number and what its impact for the positive, having these folks resettle in Utica has been, in terms of the economic impact, cannot be overstated,” she said.

But the winds of change are shifting and refugees and other new immigrants fear the worst. Azira Tabucic, Manager, Immigration & Citizenship at MVRCR says the number of people looking to change their immigration status to avoid being deported has increased significantly. “The numbers are really, really large this time. Not only for green card seekers but for many folks that never thought about the importance of being citizens are applying for citizenship. My schedule is booked till May,” she said.

Tabucic explained that the actual cost of becoming a citizen ranges from zero to $5,000, or more, depending on the circumstances of the person being resettled. Refugees and Asylum seekers go through a different process than new immigrants. And economic status, along with a host of other  measures determine how much an individual or a family has to pay for legal status in the U.S. Additionally, the cost to go through the immigration process with assistance from a federally designated agency like MVRCR, separate from other application and medical testing fees, increased in December of 2016. And, from start to finish the process can take about 6-years if individuals follow the rules and timeline set forth by U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS). Adding to an already difficult and lengthy process, Tabucic says the increased cost can be waved or decreased depending on the person’s economic or immigration status. More information, including worksheets, forms, applications, a list of changes and new costs can be found on the USCIS website. Click Here for a direct link to the USCIS fee schedule used by MVRCR.

The U.S. immigration process is a complicated one, with many shifts and turns depending on criteria, status and a host of other measures, making the work of MVRCR crucial for folks looking or forced to call the U.S. home. Callahan says locally there have been people picked-up by immigration officials, including some refugees that had some criminal aspects to their background, and sent to deportation centers. She says there is this undercurrent of fear and confusion about what is going to happen next and who it’s going to impact.  “What this means for us is…one of the things we do through the Office of New Americans and our Immigration and Citizenship office is have our attorney’s here, pro bono, twice a month to work with people who might have some complications with regards to their resident status,” she said.

Another way the agency is preparing refugees and new immigrants for an uncertain future as they make their way through the U.S. immigration process is via education on immigrant’s rights and emergency planning. She said, “This is pretty heart-breaking…we help people go over what to do if you are scooped up in a raid and essentially disappear from your family and community. We’re having parents work on Power of Attorney with their children; we’re having them get all sorts of things in place so that if they get scooped up in one of these situations they know what to do.” Callahan says when someone gets picked up by immigration officials they don’t get a phone call or due process one may expect, by informing other agencies or even their family members about a detainees’ whereabouts. “You just get picked up and you essentially disappear,” she says.

Although Utica is not considered a sanctuary city, the local police department is in step with other police departments across the country, like in Boston, NYC and Los Angeles. According to Callahan, Utica Police have made it clear that they are not going to act as agents of immigration. “Our Utica Police Department have been great. They’ve come here; they’ve talked to staff and clients and assured us that that isn’t their role. They’re not looking to get people in trouble with immigration,” she says. She adds it would be a detrimental position to take considering the work that’s been done to foster and build relationships with the refugee population and other immigrant groups. In spite of the anti-refugee and anti-immigration sentiments across the country, Callahan says she remains hopeful in an uncertain world enforcing boundaries, while adhering to humanitarian standards and coping with displaced people yearning for salvation, “I think that most people believe what is written on the Statue of Liberty. This country has always prided itself on its moral leadership, and I think that’s still who we are.”

America’s Role In The Manifestation of Donald J. Trump

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The Women’s March on Washington by all account, except perhaps President Donald J. Trump’s, was enormously successful. The event drew crowds from across the country and the world in solidarity against arguably the most controversial and despised figure on the planet right now; President Trump. Across the spectrum, outrage usually followed by ridicule over his rhetoric, views, policy positions and vision for the country has plagued the 45th president of the United States since the start of his campaign for the highest office and leader of the free world. Despite promising to make the country great again, draining the political swamp in DC and putting America first on everything—promises that any sound American would welcome with open arms, especially when considering the public’s view on politicians in general—Trump is still failing miserably to win the hearts and minds of most Americans. And the Women’s March on Washington was a clear indication of these shared sentiments.

Out of the gate, the new administration is feeling the heat from the media and the public following the two press conferences held by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who managed to make things worse by presenting the public with what, Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway dubbed “alternative facts” about the inauguration numbers and other petty Trumpisms.  Trump’s recent executive orders to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, (TPP), reinstating the Global Gag Rule, like former president George W. Bush did back in 2001, and imposing a federal hiring freeze similar to another president; Ronald Reagan, are campaign promises being kept. Whether his actions will lead to his “bigly” vision of making America great again has yet to be seen, nonetheless, Americans of all walks of life, including the international community, is anxiously bracing for the next four years of a Trump presidency.

All the same, the American public’s outrage over Trump’s election is baffling considering the evolution of American culture, values, and moral compass. Considering our modern culture, one would have to accept that as a nation, we are exactly where we put ourselves. From our fascinations and obsessions with scandals of all kinds, the sexualisation of women, our inability to not glorify violence in any form we see fit, including our appetite for all things plastic, easy and immediate, collectively we must all take responsibility for our role in the manifestation of Trump’s America. If you buy into the cheapening of our culture, you support—willingly or not—the creation of Trump.

Considering our very short memory of history and diminishing attention span, it will suffice to only mention a handful of our new cultural norms and objects of worship and value. Kim Kardashian becomes an object of sexual worship following the release of her sex tape. Former NY Governor Elliot Spitzer gets caught up in a prostitution scandal and is rewarded with his own show on CNN. The prostitute he paid for sexual favors also benefitted from the scandal. Ashley Alexandra Dupré was rewarded for assisting in the destruction of a marriage and family with her own column in the New York Post called “Ask Ashley.” Also, let’s not forget that Rolling Stone magazine honored the second Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaevwith a sexualized cover photo and article that will forever represent our state of mindfulness and object of worship. The young man and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, terrorized a city and he’s on the cover of a magazine projecting the look of a typical and innocent American college kid. Forget aiming for fame when infamy is arguably equally valued now days. Lately, it seems that the more celebrity figures behave badly, the more attention we laud upon them, essentially turning them into gold statues to worship as false gods. And, if the video of Ray Rice knocking out his then girlfriend didn’t make its way to the surface, can one honestly say that the outcome of his football career would stand as it does?

Ever since Trump started making a name for himself, the media and others in powerful positions, like former Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush, encouraged his outrageous antics and behavior. Trump was made in America. He was permitted to grope, grab and force himself on us while we grinned, clapped and begged him for more. Trump didn’t sneak up on us. As a society we helped to create him.

Resting on our evolving values as a society, culturally, we all own a piece of what Trump represents. To quote the late Michael Jackson, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.” With any luck, as we continue to evolve as a nation, for the better, Americans will take Trump along for a cultural ride on the roller coaster of our beautiful diverse society.