Latest Posts

Recognizing our inherent oneness

While recovering from my recent bout with Covid, I spent hours in bed or lying on the couch. In hopes of avoiding all the bad punditry about the election, I watched more sports television than is normal or healthy. There I came up against the sad saga of Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving tweeting support for an antisemitic movie and the resulting fallout.*

Antisemitism is on the rise in America and around the world, as it often is during periods of disruption and hardship. Too many times this hatred comes from people who claim to be religious. It is part of the work to find a scapegoat for the devastation that results when we forget our inherent oneness. Too much of what is deemed religious in today’s world disregards our relationships and our responsibilities for caring for others. In response to recent actions by political figures who claim to be good Catholics, evangelical leader Jim Wallis has written that “there is nothing faithful, and certainly nothing Catholic, about using people as political props.”

This is why a recent meditation from Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation struck a nerve. The post was written almost twenty years ago by Jesuit peace activist Father John Dear on the nonviolent impact that interfaith cooperation can make. In noting that at the heart of each major religion is a “vision of peace, the ideal of a reconciled humanity, the way of compassion and love and justice, the fundamental truth of nonviolence,” Dear spoke to the groundbreaking work of Mahatma Gandhi.

When he moved to India, and saw again the deep hostility between Hindus and Muslims, he made interfaith nonviolence the core of his daily worship. Each day when his community gathered for prayer, they read excerpts from the Hindu and Muslim scriptures, from the Sermon on the Mount and the Hebrew Bible. Then, they sat in silence for forty-five minutes. They concluded usually with a hymn about the all-inclusive love that reconciles everyone, the love even for one’s enemies. Forty years of interfaith, contemplative prayer transformed him into a universal spirit, as all the major religious scriptures hope for all of us. . . .

Father Dear wrote that as we learn from each other’s religion, we will discover, as Gandhi did, how we can help each other deepen in the faith of our own personal tradition. Gandhi’s critique of organized Christianity — that it rejected the nonviolence of Jesus and has become an imperial religion based on the Roman empire — has helped innumerable Christians return to the core teachings of Jesus, beginning with the Sermon on the Mount. The American Civil Rights leader The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist who testified that the Hindu Gandhi helped him more than anyone else to follow Christ.

This past election showed a strong rejection of the imperial religion of the Christian right that wants to impose its beliefs on the rest of the country. People of many faiths and people of no faith came together to say that a minority should not be allowed, in a democratic society, to impose its will and beliefs on the country as a whole. Our founders were very wise in this regard, and we forget their admonitions at our peril.

Any serious consideration of life in America realizes how quickly the persecuted become the persecutors in this country. Puritans, who fled religious harassment in Europe, quickly moved to hang Quakers. Evangelical Christians who led the way for religious freedom early in our history have seen many of their leaders turn against it in our own time. Conservative Catholics, long vilified in America, are now working through the courts to place their religious views on a majority who disagree with their theology.

The powerful effort to demonize, marginalize, and persecute others who are not Christians “represents a disintegration of the basic compact that sustains religious freedom for everyone,” religious scholar Steven Waldman maintains. The lines of attack today against Muslims and Jews are strikingly similar to those used in the past against Baptists, Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Native Americans.

Father Dear end his meditation with the following:

This interfaith peacemaking sprang from the Civil Rights Movement, when Dr. King called religious leaders to march with him to Selma. The friendship modeled between Dr. King, Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Thich Nhat Hanh still bears good fruit in our world and exemplifies the journey we must all make.

As the world hangs on the brink of nuclear and environmental destruction, as we wage war in the name of religion, we need to explore the religious roots of nonviolence, just as Gandhi did. Perhaps then, we will hear the call to disarm, to embrace one another as sisters and brothers, and welcome the gift of peace that has been already given.

I keep returning to another meditation from Richard Rohr. “What could happen,” he asks, “if we embraced the idea of God as relationship — with ourselves, each other, and the world? Is salvation simply the willingness to remain in loving relationship with all creation?”

It is a compelling thought in a world struggling to come to grips with our oneness.

More to come…

DJB


For further reading on More to Come, check out:


*For those who have better things to do with their lives than follow the “free thinking” commentary of a multi-millionaire basketball player, click on the New York Times story for the details and read Kevin Blackistone‘s thoughtful column in the Washington Post on appropriate responses.


Image of the grave of Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi by DJB.

An attitude of gratitude

Thanksgiving arrived two years ago during a particularly difficult time in which to give thanks. Turmoil, hate, distrust, discord, suffering, loss, and much more was staring us in the face every single day. The pain seemed to be exacerbated that year well beyond what was normal for our lives.

It is easy to give thanks when everything is going well. It is in the most challenging of times, however, when it is so very important to be open to gratefulness and to remember to be thankful. Thanksgiving itself came from a time of violence. Abraham Lincoln’s famous Thanksgiving proclamation was issued in the midst of some of the worst times of the Civil War.

So, the question arises: how can we be thankful in difficult times?


From their own unique perspectives, several spiritual leaders have addressed that question through the years. Thomas Merton wrote that gratitude “takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder.” Lakota author and activist Doug Good Feather notes that “each and every morning offers us a chance to start anew, fresh, and to begin again. Each morning when we wake — should we choose to listen — is a message from the Creator to remember the privilege we were given of waking up.” Richard Rohr suggests that a pre-existent attitude of gratitude is necessary, a deliberate choice of love over fear, a desire to be positive instead of negative.

If we are not “radically grateful” every day, Rohr writes, resentment always takes over. That has been my experience. Fighting the power to blame others and see the worst in the world takes effort. Every single day.


We often use the terms gratitude, gratefulness, thankfulness, and generosity more or less interchangeably, and there’s nothing wrong with that approach. However, David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, makes the case that there is a difference between gratefulness and thankfulness which is worth knowing.

He describes the two in this fashion:

“Remember a night when you stood outdoors looking up at the stars, countless in the high, silent dome of the sky, and saw them as if for the first time. What happened? Eugene O’Neill puts it this way: ‘For a moment I lost myself – actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the…high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life…to Life itself!’…”

Our thoughts may quickly turn to thankfulness for the opportunity to witness this beauty, but in the first few seconds Steindl-Rast notes we are in some other state.

Why do I call that wild joy of belonging “gratefulness”? Because it is our full appreciation of something altogether unearned, utterly gratuitous — life, existence, ultimate belonging – and this is the literal meaning of grate-full-ness. In a moment of gratefulness, you do not discriminate. You fully accept the whole of this given universe, as you are fully one with the whole.

In the very next moment, when the fullness of gratitude overflows into thanksgiving, the oneness you were experiencing is breaking up. Now you are beginning to think in terms of giver, gift, and receiver. Gratefulness turns into thankfulness. This is a different fullness. A moment ago you were fully aware; now you are thoughtful. Gratefulness is full awareness; thankfulness is thoughtfulness.

I like that distinction.  If we are fully aware, fully mindful, we will often be grateful when we see something that connects us to things beyond ourselves, to a sense of belonging.

Along similar lines, Good Feather notes that gratitude and generosity are similar virtues, “but they differ in that gratitude is an internal characteristic and generosity is our external expression of our sense of gratitude. Basically, gratitude is how we feel, and generosity is how we express that feeling out in the world.”

When we turn our minds to how to respond to those internal and external connections, then thoughtfulness becomes thankfulness. Gratitude can lead to generosity. In giving thanks we act out our kindness to others, notes Steindl-Rast. “Barter is an exchange in kind; thankfulness is an exchange in kindness.”


Helping hands (photo credit: James Chan from Pixabay)

We all count on the kindness of others: friends and strangers alike. The richness of the blessings surrounding us did not come about because of work that we initiated. Nonetheless, we can have an ongoing attitude of gratitude towards those blessings and extend them in a spirit of generosity to others. Rohr states it well when he suggests that “humility, gratitude, and loving service to others are probably the most appropriate responses we can make.” 

No one got to where they are by themselves, and that’s especially true in a year like 2020 and again here in 2022, as we continue to grapple with the violence and hatred that is all around us. Recognizing this basic fact of life is key to a deeper understanding of grace.


I am thankful for all I have to celebrate on this Thanksgiving and for all the wonder and joy in my life every day. Thank you to the many family members, friends, colleagues, and even strangers who have been there for me over the years. I am so appreciative of how you help me navigate each year with whatever grace I’m able to muster.

I count myself lucky to have crossed paths with so many people who have, in the words of Fred Rogers, loved me into being. You may, or may not, remember what you did to lift me up. But I remember.

Thank you all. Let’s continue to work to be radically grateful every day. And have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

More to come…

DJB


NOTE: Much of this blog post was originally written for Thanksgiving Day 2020. During a much more hopeful Thanksgiving season, I’ve brought that post together with other thoughts into a new post as a reminder of the importance of being grateful and giving thanks at all times.


Image of the initial JWST Deep Field Image from the James Webb telescope.

Thanksgiving and sports

For many Americans, the Thanksgiving holidays conjure up two memories: food and sports. We all know about the food. And the opportunities to watch sports this weekend are never-ending, with college and professional football, college and pro hoops, hockey, and this year, for the cherry on top, the World Cup. I always felt that one of the master strokes of those who invented baseball was the fact that it wasn’t played on Thanksgiving.

These days I don’t spend Thanksgiving watching sports contests on television, but something in the deep, dark recesses of my memory was jolted when I came across the following sentence, which included a link that I had to follow.

Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene must have Kevin McCarthy in a “double chickenwing camel clutch” wrestling hold.

What in the world is a Double Chickenwing Camel Clutch wrestling hold, you ask? A Thanksgiving pseudo-sports memory from my childhood gave me a clue, so I followed the link to the website for professional wrestling holds (yes, such a thing exists) and found that answer. Along with a whole lot more.

A wrestler stands behind an opponent and applies a double chickenwing. The wrestler then forces the opponent face-down to the mat, sits on his back, and pulls backwards, stretching the opponent’s neck and upper body backwards.

Let’s be clear. Professional wrestling is not a sport. It is more cartoon performance art. And yes, people take the time to not only come up with these names, but then to apply them to the scripted moves that make professional wrestling what it is. There is the Leg Hook Camel Clutch and the Deathlock Octopus. Plus the Ring Rope Chinlock. Not to mention the Chickenwing over the Shoulder Crossface.

It is a whole ‘nother culture out there, folks.

As I wrote in a 2017 post that, to this day, explains the Trump presidency better than anything else I’ve seen, I grew up on the fringes of that pro wrestling culture in the South of the 1960s. I watched Tojo Yamamoto, Jackie Fargo, and other professional ‘rassling heels and stars on local television with my grandfather and cousins long before there was a WWE. Since we usually gathered at Mamaw and Papaw’s house for Thanksgiving, this holiday brings back those memories.

And this is, frankly, just another excuse to repeat my favorite pro wrestling story of all time.

Tojo Yamamoto
Tojo Yamamoto (credit: Wikipedia)

Tojo Yamamoto took his name from two World War II enemies and played up the evil foreigner to the hilt, especially throughout the South.

“Wrestling in Boaz, Alabama, Yamamoto gave one of the great performances in pro wrestling. Before the start of the matches, he asked to give a statement to the crowd, which booed and hissed and threw things. In broken English he said, “I wish make aporogy. Very sorry my country bomb Pear-uh Harbor.” And the crowd quiets, as he wipes away tears, and they awwww in sympathy. “It wrong thing to do, I wish not happen.” They begin to applaud. “Yes, I wish not happen, because instead I wish they BOMB BOAZ!!!” Needless to say, the arena erupted.”

Wikipedia

Maybe someone should use the Tilt-a-Whirl Headscissors Takedown on these crazy MAGA-types in Congress. I’d pay to see that!

More to come…

DJB

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

With Willie at ATT Park

Giving thanks for childhood heroes

I’ve never hidden my admiration for the greatest player to ever play baseball, the Say Hey Kid Willie Mays. Don’t believe my assessment? Well, read a bit of what the great Joe Posnanski wrote about the #1 player in his magnum opus The Baseball 100.

First, Joe sets it up by talking about memories, such as the first time you are at a ballpark. “The smells overwhelm you — what is that? Beer? Hot dogs? Funnel cakes? Sweat? Yes. All of it. Baseball smells like an amusement park and a backyard barbecue and an afternoon at a movie theatre and recess at the playground all at once.” Then, at the end of a book highlighting 100 greats of the game where he says, perhaps, that we cannot know who the greatest player of all time is, Joe catches himself.

But wait! Of course we can know. More than that: We do know. We know the answers to all these questions and more because … well, because we know. See, all along, this journey has not been just about the greatest players in baseball history. It has been about us too: fans. It’s about the things we believe in, the myths we hold dear, the statistics we embrace, the memories we carry.

Who is the greatest player of all time? You know. Maybe your father told you. Maybe you read about him when you were young. Maybe you sat in the stands and saw him play. Maybe you bask in his statistics. The greatest baseball player is the one who lifts you higher and makes you feel exactly like you did when you fell in love with this crazy game in the first place.

The greatest player of all time is Willie Mays.

I say all of this to let you know why I bought yet another book on Willie Mays in October when I was at Books, Inc. in the Bay Area (naturally). And why you should not take anything I say about it too seriously.

24: Life Stories and Lesson from the Say Hey Kid (2020) by Willie Mays and John Shea is a great memoir from a true sports hero. My childhood and adult sports hero. Broken into 24 chapters (to correspond with Willie’s uniform number), Mays recounts stories about his father, “Cat” Mays in Play Catch with Your Dad; recalls his days in the Negro Leagues in Remember your History about the Birmingham Black Barons; explains why he had a unique and elegant style in Act Like You’ve Been There Before; and much more. Mays, who grew up in segregated Alabama during Jim Crow and the Depression, was no naive fool as he tells us in Why Life and Baseball Aren’t Fair. Yet, Willie’s life lesson was to Have Fun on the Job. Did anyone bring more joy to the game than the young Willie Mays? Did anyone provide fans with more joy his entire career? No.

Willie made impossible plays on the baseball diamond, none more impossible than the famous catch (the best in baseball history) and throw off a ball hit by Cleveland’s Vic Wertz in the 8th inning of Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, as recounted in the lesson Keep your Eye on the Ball. When that particular ball was hit, no one thought he would catch it. But Mays knew he would. And then the throw, which most people forget or treat as an afterthought, really made it sublime. Had Larry Dolby come around to score from second on that ball — a real possibility in the cavernous Polo Grounds — Cleveland would have taken the lead, likely won that first game, and could have won the series. Because of the throw, Dolby stopped at third, never scored, the Giants won in extra innings and proceeded to sweep the heavily favored Indians in four games.

My friend Ed Quattlebaum wrote to tell me that he’s “old enough to have seen, live on Bobby Beckenbaugh’s Sylvania TV down the street, Vic Wertz’s long, long drive, and Willie Mays’s jaw-dropping catch AND THROW.”

One story has it that Durocher had brought Don Liddle in to pitch to just one hitter, Vic Wertz.

And when Liddle came back to the dugout after Mays’s play, Liddle threw his glove down on the bench and said, “Well, I got my guy!”

People — famous people — seemed to know their place in the pecking order when it came to Willie Mays.

  • “There have only been two authentic geniuses in the world,” the actress Tallulah Bankhead said. “William Shakespeare and Willie Mays.”
  • Woody Allen, in the movie Manhattan, said Willie Mays was one of the things that made life worth living, right after Groucho Marx but before “those incredible apples and pears by Cezanne.” I don’t know that I’d put Groucho before Willie.
  • “If he could cook,” his first (and most beloved manager) Leo Durocher said, “I’d marry him.”
  • “Isn’t Willie Mays wonderful?” the first lady of American theater, Ethel Barrymore, asked.
  • Sportswriter Bob Stevens penned a classic line after Mays hit a game-winning triple in the eighth inning of the 1959 All-Star Game, which went, “Harvey Kuenn gave it honest pursuit, but the only center fielder in baseball who could have caught it hit it.”  

Some players are full of grace when they play. Joe DiMaggio comes to mind. But not Mays, as Posnanski reminds us. “No, Willie Mays going after a fly ball was cotton candy and a carousel and fireworks and a big band playing all at once. His athletic genius was in how every movement expressed sheer delight.”

Childhood heroes have a way of disappointing. But not so much with Mays. When you were young, you seemed to know that this was someone you should watch. Sportscaster Bob Costas, in the entertaining foreword to 24 writes of the first time his father took him to a Giants game at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Costas was five years old (it was 1957). The Giants are in the field, and his father says,

Look, Bobby, look at the player standing way out there in center field. No, not that guy, the one in the middle. That’s Willie Mays.” It was if he were pointing out the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. As if he were saying, “Take note, son, that’s Willie Mays, you won’t forget the first time you saw him.” More than sixty years later, it’s still true.

Willie wasn’t perfect, as Posnanski wrote,

And then, for me, there’s the biggest part of all. There was the joy. It is true that as the years went on, Mays grew tired and occasionally cranky. The fans didn’t treat him too well when the Giants moved out to San Francisco. Candlestick Park, where he played 889 games, was a cold and windy and desolate place. He, like every black man of his day, endured nastiness and racism. He went through a hard divorce. He had money problems. People tried to take advantage of him.

And he finished his career with the Mets, to the horror of all, by falling down in the outfield.

The only thing Willie Mays could not do on a baseball diamond was stay young forever.

But he could play and build memories like no one else. Posnanski finishes his tribute with this gem:

But even to the end, he sparked joy. What do you love most about baseball? Mays did that. To watch him play, to read the stories about how he played, to look at his glorious statistics, to hear what people say about him is to be reminded why we love this odd and ancient game in the first place.

Yes, Willie Mays has always made kids feel like grown-ups and grown-ups feel like kids.

In the end, isn’t that the whole point of baseball?

Say Hey! The greatest ever.

More to come…

DJB


Of course I have written several stories about Mays over the years on More to Come. Check out:


This Weekly Reader features links to recent articles, blog posts, or books that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry. 


Image: DJB outside Giants Stadium in San Francisco by the statue of Willie Mays (photo by Claire Brown)

Our year in photos – 2022

During this season of Thanksgiving, when so many are thinking of the love of family and friends, I continue my annual tradition of posting family photographs on More to Come. This practice began back in 2008* but has grown through the years so that the entire family now participates in the creation and curation of this particular entry.

As is often the case, we start with Andrew and Claire’s birthday celebration, when they began their final year as twentysomethings. We celebrated at one of our favorite area restaurants, Charleston.

Celebrating our 29th birthdays at Charleston

This winter was cold in the Washington region, but I still tried to get in that daily walk. Candice found this Maryland state flag-themed cap and scarf combination, which helped keep me warm and stylish. We also celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary as winter turned to spring with brunch at Washington’s Blue Duck Tavern. That was only the beginning as the celebration extended into June and a trip to Paris.

January in Silver Spring – sporting my new Maryland flag-designed scarf and cap
Celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary on March 20, 2022. It has been a wonderful adventure together.

Candice and I had a chance to hear Andrew sing some important new roles in his developing professional career. In March we traveled to Providence, Rhode Island, to hear him in his first Evangelist role in Bach’s St. John Passion, a magnificent performance. Then in April, Andrew — who began his career as a treble at the Washington National Cathedral (WNC) in Canon Michael McCarthy’s very first class in 2003 — sang tenor solos in WNC’s production of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, where three of the soloists (Christine Buras, Max Potter, and Andrew) were alumni of the boy/girl chorister program of the cathedral.

The soloists take a bow after the WNC performance of Elijah
Christine Buras, Max Potter, and Andrew (l to r) are alumni of the boy/girl chorister program of the cathedral under Canon Michael McCarthy (r). The group celebrates following the WNC production of Elijah

We made our first post-pandemic trip to Alameda to visit with Claire this spring. It was a gratifying time of exploration and catch-up. Our visit to hike through Muir Woods National Monument brought back memories of a 7th grade father-daughter spring break trip, where Claire and I visited the beautiful old-growth forests along the California coast.


For our initial National Trust Tours trip of 2022, I served as a study tour leader on a terrific May visit to Glasgow, the Scottish Highlands and islands, and the fiords of Norway. Candice and I visited a number of wonderful historic places, spent two weeks with some interesting and delightful fellow travelers, and felt we had rejoined the world after the pandemic shutdowns.

We were eager to see first-hand the places in Glasgow where architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, the artist Margaret Macdonald, did some of their most important work for tearoom entrepreneur Kate Cranston. We found one of his earliest works at the Glasgow Art Club, and thanks to the kind doorman we were given the run of the gallery to explore.

In Glasgow we looked for the work of architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The fjords of Norway were spectacular, and among the many highlights was a trip on the Flam Railroad, a small, single-track train, to the top of one of the nearby mountains.

Candice and DJB alongside the majestic Kjosfossen
At Myrdal’s mountaintop station (credit: Christine Berwyn)

Since we were already in Europe (!), we had made plans after Scotland and Norway to travel on to Paris to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary with Andrew and Claire. Because it was Paris, we filled our phones with pictures (see here, here, here, and here), ate terrific food and drank a good amount of wine, explored the city and surroundings, and generally had a spectacular 10 days together.

Candice and DJB in the City of Light celebrating 40 years together
Andrew and Claire enjoy their first toast together after arrival at Le Christine in Paris
The family in the famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles
What’s Paris without a night at the opera? Andrew chose Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for his adventure in the city, and we thoroughly enjoyed the delightful, slapstick of Count Almaviva, Rosina, Bertha, and Figaro.
Curtain call for The Barber of Seville
Andrew in Paris

We used a visit to the gardens at Monet’s Giverny to capture some wonderful family photographs.

One evening, Andrew, Claire, and I walked from our apartment down to the Eifel Tower to capture this terrific image in nighttime Paris.


Celebrations and road trips seem to be in the family bloodstream. Claire is always up to celebrate with good friends, so her summer — in addition to the trip to Paris — included two weddings and several other adventures. Yes, our wonderful friend Ella Taranto once again makes our year in photos review!

Claire (r) at her good friend Hannah’s wedding this spring
Claire with Ella Taranto at Filoli
Birthday party road trip with Pomona friends Susan (l) and Ali (r)
Pomona friends at Ali’s wedding: Ali, Kyra, Jackie, Claire, Susan, and Jason (l to r)

It was a tough year to be a Nationals fan, but the family still enjoyed getting to the ballpark for a few games.

Andrew and Keegan take in a Nats game over the July 4th weekend
Andrew’s version of a road trip: Sipping an iced Rooibos at Mercado San Miguel in Madrid while on a work gig (yes, seriously) singing through Portugal and Spain!

2022 was also a year of transitions. Of course, at the national level we had a midterm election, so I used the opportunity to encourage everyone to vote.

Vote in every election…even the primaries! DJB after voting in the July primary in Montgomery County, Maryland

On the professional front, after working for three years in two settings in the Bay Area, Claire passed her licensure test as a social worker. Here’s to one of California’s newest Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Claire Holsey Brown, LCSW!

California’s newest Licensed Clinical Social Worker: Claire Holsey Brown, LCSW

A consulting job took me to Dundee, Scotland, in early October. The city was a real surprise.

Outside the V&A Dundee Museum
A panel I moderated at INTO Dundee 2022. We had terrific presentations and insightful comments from (left to right in the picture above) DJB, Qin Zhang of the Ruan Yisan Heritage Foundation in China, Miquel Rafa of the Fundacio Catalunya La Pedrera in Spain, Ranald MacInnes of Historic Environment Scotland, and Evelyn Thompson of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.

A fall trip to Alameda to visit with Claire included a day trip to the National Trust Historic Site Filoli.

Outside the main house at Filoli
Candice and DJB in the gardens at Filoli

Andrew’s first major opera production came in October, when he was cast in the role of the Stage Manager in the Boston University Opera Institute production of Ned Rorem’s Our Town. He made the promotional pieces, and then received strong reviews for the production.

A promotional piece for the production of Our Town.
Andrew as the Stage Manager in the Boston University Opera Institute production of Ned Rorem’s opera Our Town (photo credit: Jacob Chang-Rascle)
Andrew in the Boston University Opera Institute production of Our Town (photo credit: Jacob Chang-Rascle)

Our second National Trust Tours trip of the year came in October, as I served as a study tour leader while we cruised the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was a life-enriching experience in so many ways.

Returning from our Tuk-Tuk ride in Phnom Penh
Candice and DJB in the early morning light at the late 9th century Phnom Bakheng Temple in Greater Angkor.
Sunrise over Greater Angkor
Candice listening to a student practice her English at the English language school in Angkor Ban, Cambodia
Traveling around the moat at Angkor Thom via gondola (credit Sylvia Griffin)
Candice enjoying a Three Elephants drink at the Three Elephants Bar in the historic Greater Angkor Hotel
Dinner on our last evening in Cambodia with some of our traveling companions
With travelers on the Cruising the Mekong River trip in front of Angkor Wat
Settling in for our 15-hour flight from Singapore to Los Angeles. We found ourselves on a surprising number of planes in 2022

October turned into November, and the family remained busy.

Claire and Chai celebrate Halloween
We gather with the Hollywood Gang — Candice’s grade-school friends from Hollywood, FL and their spouses — for a dinner at an Annapolis crab shack.
Eating great seafood and enjoying even better company in Annapolis

We remain grateful for each of you and the friendships we share. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

More to come…

DJB

*For previous year’s posts, click here for: 2021, 202020192018201720162015201420132012201120102009, and 2008.

Songs and solidarity

I have always loved the acapella quartet. Four voices blending, chasing each other, coming together for a special moment of unity only to quickly depart to go their separate ways, and then to find their way back together to a special chord modulation that you just know has the singers silently smiling inside.

So, it stands to reason that New England’s Windborne is one of my new favorite groups. Comprised of singers Lauren Breunig, Jeremy Carter-Gordon, Lynn Rowan, and Will Rowan from Vermont and Massachusetts, the ensemble has been described as a “group of vocal chameleons.” Each grew up in musical families, “going to Shape Note singing parties, taking classical voice and instrumental lessons, and seeking out folk music in their communities and schools.” They clearly found their passion.

While a folk instrument makes an occasional entrance into their music, the acapella arrangements are where they really shine. La Vièlha, recorded earlier this year at Ear Trumpet Labs, gives the group a chance to showcase those vocal chops.

The group is coming to the Washington area on Friday, December 2nd, as part of the Institute of Musical Traditions fall showcase.

Windborne’s captivating show draws on the singers’ deep roots in traditions of vocal harmony, while the absolute uniqueness of their artistic approach brings old songs into the present. Known for the innovation of their arrangements, their harmonies are bold and anything but predictable. 

Some oldtimers know the Ewan MacColl tune The Terror Time from the Tannahill Weavers. Windborne’s arrangement is both traditional and refreshingly new, filmed in the refectory of Mont-Saint-Michel in France. As the video notes relay,

The political seeps in around the edges in this Ewan MacColl song about the coming of winter, or the “Terror Time,” as it was known by the Scottish Travelers he worked with while writing his 1964 album, The Traveling People. For us, it brings to mind for us all those who go without a permanent home.”

The lyrics are so evocative.

The heather will fade and the bracken will die | Streams will run cold and clear. | And the small birds will be going, | And it’s then that you will be knowing | That the Terror Time is near.

As one commentator noted, check out the gorgeous vocal slides by Lynn at 2:47 and 2:51.

The political is overt in much of their music. In The Chartist Anthem, they write about an early voting rights group in the U.K. and the group is joined mid-song in this live version from 2018 by other musicians to give it that true political-anthem feel.

In the 1830-40s in England, the Chartists rose up as a working class, grassroots movement calling for voting rights. The demands in The People’s Charter include tenets we now consider to be the foundation of modern democracy, such as the right to a secret ballot, and in a time before cars, telephones, and the internet, the Chartists delivered over a million signatures in support of their demands to Parliament in giant wagons. Their movement, however, was unsuccessful in its own time and most of the leaders died never having seen the things they fought for come to pass. Almost two centuries later, however, we take for granted that these rights are part of democracy.

The Song of the Lower Classes is “a timeless anthem for the lower classes: a living breathing resistance to injustice. Its messages today are as impactful and revolutionary as they were when Ernest Jones spent two years in solitary confinement for publicly expressing them in the 1840s.”

In January of 2017, Windborne took a video of the last verse in front of Trump Tower, and over a million people saw it on Facebook and YouTube. Windborne noted that it was the response to this video that took the group from touring a few weeks out of every year to a full-time occupation.

Here Windborne sings a powerful traditional setting of the Stabat Mater from the village of Nebbiu in southern Corsica. Listen to the bells ringing at the 3:00 mark at the end, as if building is adding an appropriate coda.

Two more tunes from Windborne, the first the beautiful Songs Stay Sung about how love stays loved and songs stay sung until the end of time. They are joined here by the U.K. folk singer Zoe Mulford. Listen for one of those gorgeous chords at the 1:45 mark. The second is the Quebecois folk song Les Tisserands.

With a 20-year background studying polyphonic music around the world, (the group) shares a vibrant energy onstage with a blending of voices that can only come from decades of friendship alongside dedicated practice. The ensemble shifts effortlessly between drastically different styles of music, drawing their audience along on a journey that spans continents and centuries, illuminating and expanding on the profound power and variation of the human voice. The singers educate as they entertain, sharing stories about their songs and explaining the context and characteristics of the styles in which they sing.

Because we are nearing the winter solstice, we’ll end with Windborne’s arrangement of John Renbourn’s Traveller’s Prayer.

Praise to the moon, bright queen of the skies, | Jewel of the black night, the light of our eyes, | Brighter than starlight, whiter than snow, | Look down on us in the darkness below.

The group performs Friday, December 2nd at IMT presents Windborne. The concert will be held at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church, 10701 Old Georgetown Rd, Rockville, MD 20852. It begins at 7.30pm and tickets are $20 in advance (+$2 service fee), $25 at the door (children and students w ID $15 / 20).

Enjoy!

More to come…

DJB

Photo of Windborne credit Windbornesingers.com

Laughter is the best medicine

Over the past twelve days, I’ve aggregated material from a variety of sources into five different posts in order to consider the midterm elections and their impact on our democracy. I won’t apologize for the fact that I have called out the authoritarianism of one of our political parties, the Republicans, in these pieces. Their leaders have made their goals abundantly clear.

  • As I said in the post For those still living in the reality-based world (November 4th) we have a party — and party leaders — that, in order to maintain the pretense that they are relentlessly persecuted by progressives, will lie and then laugh about an attack on an 82-year-old grandfather that almost killed him. When one looks at all the accomplishments of the Democrats and the Biden administration in the face of this unrelenting disinformation campaign, it is truly remarkable.
  • Monday’s post dove deeper into the will of the electorate. In The people speak (November 14th), I surveyed a number of ballot initiatives that passed in support of progressive priorities, even in deep-red states.
  • That was followed on Tuesday by Consider the source (November 15th), a look at how a number of respected media critics and historians see the failure of our political press as being part of the problem in the threats to democracy. Veteran journalist James Fallows calls for a time out for our political press while they find their way.

This morning’s post is the fifth and final piece in this series. The midterms are (mostly) behind us, but the political cartoonists are still having a field day, especially in highlighting how the red wave (or red tsunami as Ted “Cancun” Cruz predicted) crashed and burned. And now, with Trump’s “big announcement”, there is even more to satirize.

I have featured a series of posts highlighting political cartoons during this midterm election season. It seems appropriate to give the cartoonists (and a few other wags) the last word in considering what to make of the voters’ choices.

If you want to see the earlier editions of ‘toons from this political season, visit herehereherehere, and here.

Other than to point out that the political cartoonists seemed to be much more on top of the mood of the electorate than the political press, which fumbled badly during this season, not a lot of editorial commentary is necessary.


The missing red wave

By ignoring court orders and breaking the law in at least four states, the Republicans probably won just enough seats to take the House. Had those four states followed judges’ orders, the Democrats’ evening would have been even more historic.*


Veteran’s Day


The art of (no) self-reflection


The “historic” announcement (or, as Andy Borowitz framed it, Trump to Try for Historic Third Impeachment).

And takes from a few non-cartoonists


She might pull through


Let’s end with a non-political post (although it does include an elephant) just to make you laugh

Stay all the way to the end. AND NOTE: One family member laughed so hard they almost hurt themselves, so be careful!


Laughter is the best medicine. Have a good day.

More to come…

DJB


*Many factors made the difference for what’s guaranteed to be a very narrow GOP majority, but among the most consequential for democracy is that Republicans almost certainly owe their majority to gerrymandering.

In a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2019, every GOP-appointed justice voted over the opposition of every Democratic appointee to prohibit federal courts from curtailing partisan gerrymandering. Chief Justice John Roberts disingenuously argued that judicial intervention wasn’t needed partly because Congress itself could end gerrymandering, at least federally. But following the 2020 elections, every Republican in Congress voted to block a bill supported by every Democrat to ban congressional gerrymandering nationwide, which failed when Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin refused to also curtail the GOP’s filibuster to pass the measure.

Consequently, Republicans were able to draw roughly four out of every 10 congressional districts after the 2020 census—three times as many as Democrats drew.

After Republicans blocked Democrats from ending gerrymandering nationally, Democrats largely refused to disarm unilaterally and gerrymandered where they could, just as the GOP did. Republicans, however, had ma​​​​​​ny more opportunities, in large part because state courts struck down a map passed by New York Democrats and replaced it with a nonpartisan map.

By contrast, the Supreme Court and judges in Florida allowed GOP gerrymanders to remain in place for 2022 in four states even though lower courts found that they discriminated against Black voters as litigation continues. Had Republicans been required to redraw these maps to remedy their discrimination, Black Democrats would have been all but assured of winning four more seats, possibly enough to cost the GOP its majority on their own. And in Ohio, Republicans were able to keep using their map for 2022 even though the state Supreme Court ruled it was an illegal partisan gerrymander, potentially costing Democrats another two seats.

Stephen Wolf for Daily Kos elections, November 16, 2022

The image of the cartoonist’s desk is from The Comics Journal, which posted an essay excerpted from the introduction to Jeff Danziger’s book, The Conscience of a Cartoonist: Instructions, Observations, Criticisms, Enthusiasms

Race, faith, and food justice

While our food production system has been broken for a long time, many of us have only touched the surface of the problem and seldom in ways that reach across racial and class lines to address systemic issues. My understanding of food justice efforts falls woefully short of where it should be. Thankfully, this lack of comprehension about an ethical response to food injustice and the impact of our broken production system on communities of color was brought home to me in a recent book with an unlikely name.

The Spirit of Soul Food: Race, faith, and food justice (2021), by The Rev. Christopher Carter, PhD was a revelation. Carter, an ordained Methodist minister with a doctorate in Religion from Claremont School of Theology, has thought deeply about race, food, and nonhuman animals. Out of that soul searching he has written a book that covers a lot of ground but never loses the point. Focused on Black Christians but encompassing all of us, Carter’s work speaks to the clear, Christian ethical basis for a new system of food justice.

In a personal preface, Carter explains why he did not want to write this book. “Our foodways are an expression of our identity, a way of maintaining connections to our ancestors and our ancestral homelands; our foodways are personal and communal, emotional and habitual.” Carter notes that in order to be taken seriously, he needed “to wrestle the culinary deity that soul food has become.” Central to his struggle is the question, “Given the harm that our food production system inflicts upon Black people, what should soul food look like today?”

Many of us who grew up in the 70s explosion of Black American awareness probably understand some aspect of the centrality of soul food to the African American community, but I suspect that most whites have an understanding of its importance that approximates the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Carter helps enlighten us as he considers how people of color can find new ways of eating that reflect their cultural identities while remaining true to the principles of compassion, love, justice, and solidarity with the marginalized. It is a question with larger ramifications.

“Black churches and Black Christians especially, but all Christians in general,” he argues, “should view food justice as an essential aspect of Christian social justice practice.” We do this, in part, by how we go about practicing being human.

Carter’s work owes a debt to the pioneering theologian Howard Thurman, who wrote in the landmark Jesus and the Disinherited that the religion of Jesus is often at odds with the ways Christianity is practiced today. Following Thurman, Carter suggests that the “religion of Jesus” is best understood as a spiritual path of radical compassion.

Whitney Plantation

Carter first takes the reader on an agricultural and culinary history from Africa to America that expands our knowledge of food, oppression, and justice. Visting Whitney Plantation in southern Louisiana, Carter explains how what became known as soul food has a long history that began in Africa and came over with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He wants the reader to understand that what the dominant culture has taught about food, from its Eurocentric point of view, requires critical examination.

That leads to a chapter on our oppressive and broken food system. Carter reminds the reader that food and farmworker justice are relevant to Black foodways and food justice because Black Americans are in this country due to a system of enslavement for forced agricultural labor. Anyone who has thought about our food systems knows some of what Carter covers as he examines how the New Deal shifted away from concerns for the small farmer to support for larger farm businesses, especially those controlled by whites. That U.S. farm policy move was later cemented in the 1950s and 1970s with shifts of focus by the USDA toward agribusinesses. Today, communities of color continue to bear the burden of maintaining our food supply, but it isn’t a system designed to help them in significant ways.

Carter suggests that how we practice being human is the way toward a more equitable food system and society. He draws upon feminist and liberation theologians to note that “decolonizing Western Christianity’s assumptions of the human requires us to view ‘being human’ as praxis, a process of learning, unlearning, applying, and realizing our humanness in antioppressive ways.” That practice for Carter, a vegan, involves soulfull eating — where “African American Christians reflect upon their past and the collective culinary wisdom of our ancestors in order to forge a new future of soul food.” Being human also involves a practice of seeking justice for food workers as one way of addressing racialized economic exploitation. Finally, Carter calls for a practice of caring for the earth — cultivating a better relationship with the land. Each practice is focused towards African Americans but speaks to all Christians and in fact all humans who care about food justice.

Christopher Carter has written an important book that is part history lesson, part spiritual meditation, and part call to action. As we enter a season of culinary excess in many homes across America, it is also a timely reminder of the often-oppressive underpinnings of our broken food system.

More to come…

DJB

This Weekly Reader features links to recent articles, blog posts, or books that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry. 

Photo by Anya Bell on Unsplash

Consider the source

Friday’s Washington Post showed up on our doorstep (well, technically, by the garage door) with this front-page headline:

GOP hopes stymied by infighting, Trump, flawed candidates.

No one asked me, but even while dealing with a lack of energy because of a recent bout with Covid, I could quickly come up with more compelling reasons that GOP hopes were stymied.* Such as:

  • The Republicans stripped more than 50 percent of Americans of their hard-earned rights, promised to do more if elected, and Americans believed them.
  • The Republicans supported a coup on January 6th in an attempt to overthrow a free-and-fair election, promised more-of-the-same if elected, and Americans believed them.

Americans aren’t buying what Republicans are selling.

  • The Republicans campaigned on the evils of inflation even though they had no plan to deal with it other than lowering taxes on the rich (which would cause inflation to increase). Many of the candidates and party leaders said their real platform was to simply hold onto power.
  • The Republicans ran a fear campaign around crime when major crime is down overall and it is highest in states run by Republicans. Many saw through the charade that the party’s messaging on crime is a proxy for “black.”
  • The Republicans have turned their party over to a lifelong grifter and con man who kills everything he touches and tried to convince us he was “The Chosen One” of God. Americans are tired of having the former president constantly in their thoughts 24/7.

Even without the assistance of the political press, Americans rejected extremism.

The Post story is an example of how Americans are not getting the facts that help set the context for, and the consequences of, their political decisions. Instead, they get reports on tactics and horserace updates. Commentator Robert Hubbell urged his readers not to “fall into the media trap of reducing our most sacred political tradition into a ‘horse race’ where the only question is, ‘Who is the frontrunner?’ The real question is, ‘Who is most qualified to lead our nation?’” 

Grandmother Brown used to say, “Don’t believe what you hear and only half of what you read.”  Were she alive today with the internet, Grandmother might have to adjust the ratio of how much to trust what you read. Another favorite saying of hers, “Consider the source,” went hand-in-glove with the first.


Considering the source, I can confidently predict that the political press will fail us again today, and tomorrow, and so forth through 2024.

The political press failed the country miserably in reporting on the midterms. Donald Trump is likely to announce today that he’s running again for president, setting up a nomination battle with Florida governor Ron DeSantis. The political press will be all over it like white on rice.

What they won’t be covering is what matters.

  • When polled independently, Americans overwhelmingly approve of the agenda that President Joe Biden and the Democrats are pursuing, from sensible gun laws to support for climate change legislation, to expanded rights for women and minorities, to the overall economic plans of the Democrats (supported by two-thirds of Americans). As I wrote yesterday, when given a chance to vote on these and other issues, Americans support the agenda put forward by Democrats.
  • The Republican economic model is broken and doesn’t work for the American people. Regardless of the economic measure used — economic growth, employment, job creation, income and productivity — the U.S. economy performs better under Democratic presidents than under Republican administrations. This has been true since the Great Depression. This is true even though many Democratic administrations come into office having to clean up Republican messes, as was the case with Joe Biden.
  • The outcome of the election had huge implications for foreign policy. As yesterday’s column by conservative columnist Max Boot of the Washington Post notes, “Republicans lost the election — and so did [Russian president Vladimir] Putin, MBS [Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman], and [former/incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.” Autocrats liked Trump. Biden advances a foreign policy based on democratic values. As Heather Cox Richardson noted yesterday, that foreign policy is having major and positive implications around the world.

These are three of many important facts that help set the context on the ground for voters.

Yet how often do you hear of these facts in political journalism? The disinformation that dominates much of the rightwing media and political talking points often overwhelms the truth. Disinformation is designed to obstruct and restrict constructive conversations between citizens with different points of view, conversations which should be the basis for democracy. The challenge in sorting through all we hear in our dangerously divided times to winnow out the bad and misleading information is more difficult — and more important — than ever.

As Robert Hubbell notes,

The story is not that the GOP has two “frontrunners” for the 2024 nomination. The real story is that the leading GOP contenders include a twice-impeached, coup-plotting ex-president who stole defense secrets and a governor whose reckless policies during the pandemic killed tens of thousands of Floridians. Neither man is fit to hold any public office, much less the presidency. 

In this atmosphere, the job of winnowing out the bad and misleading information is a primary job for our national political press. Yet as the Revolving Door Project noted, many of them fell into the traps of

(P)resumed savviness, too much faith in conventional wisdom — desperation, as John Maynard Keynes would tell us, for some certainty in a terrifyingly uncertain world. Let it be a welcome lesson to us about the dangers of being too certain about prognostications.”


More and more commentators are calling out the failure of the political journalists to move beyond horserace reporting into more substantive discussions of the policies that affect people’s lives. Veteran journalist James Fallows called for a time-out for the political press, writing in his Breaking the News newsletter:

There is so much to explore, learn about, and share in our world. Speculating about what’s going to happen in the next election is about the least useful insight to add.

I thought of this when I saw the first stories about “why Biden faces trouble in the midterms” stories 18 months ago. I will think about it tomorrow when I read the next “How this shapes the 2024 field” speculation-fest.

No one knows what is going to happen. Least of all — it seems — the political “experts.” So let’s waste less time pretending to know, and invest more in looking into, sharing, and learning from what is actually going on.

Former Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan has just written a new memoir which looks at how the press should be covering openly anti-democratic politicians. Hint: it isn’t the way they are doing it now.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote a scathing column last week about how the media was the biggest loser in Tuesday’s election. He points to column-after-column trumpeting a big GOP win. And then he notes that after the election, some columnists might deign to write a modest mini-correction to their wildly off-track predictions.

As you might expect, Dan Froomkin at Press Watch: An intervention for political journalism is relentless in his criticism of the coverage and the overall direction of today’s corporate media.

By treating a major Republican victory in 2022 as a foregone conclusion, the media didn’t just get it wrong, it created a permission structure allowing normal people to seriously consider voting for an extremist, nativist, anti-governance party. It’s kind of a miracle we survived.

…this was not some sort of fluke. This was not just a function of the political media’s predilection to predict results rather than write about voters and policy.

This laid bare the rot of the current political-media industry.


History tells us what happens when a free press turns a blind eye to the people it is supposed to serve, focusing instead on corporate or political masters. In his book On Tyranny, historian of the Holocaust Timothy Snyder writes about the need to “believe in truth” which is the responsibility of journalists in a free society. He adds the chilling reminder that “post-truth is pre-fascism.”

Historian Heather Cox Richardson has written about the four-decade effort to undermine democracy in America, often with either an unengaged, or worse, a complicit press. Free market capitalism became conflated with democracy, and the press bought into that corporate Republican framing. This has stacked our political system in favor of Republicans so that the vast majority of Americans cannot get the actions from their government they so desperately want.


If today’s journalists do not state the obvious truth about the Republican Party as it has devolved under Trump — and tell readers and viewers that the problem won’t be resolved when Trump finally exists the stage — then they have moved into post-truth territory.

We should keep pushing for our press to step back from choosing the winner in the horse race, look at the impact of the policies of those running, and say the obvious.

More to come…

DJB


*Yes, Covid finally caught up with me. I’ve said that I survived the wet market in Phnom Penh only to catch the virus in a crab shack in Annapolis! Thankfully, I’ve had both vaccines and all three boosters, so my symptoms — while uncomfortable — are tolerable. I’m on the mend.


Image of newspaper and computer by usa from Pixabay.

The people speak

You probably recall some of the history of direct democracy from your middle-school history class. New England villages in the 17th century passed their laws in annual town hall meetings but, as populations grew across the country, that type of direct democracy gave way to representative democracy. In time, control of the levers of power fell to fewer and fewer wealthy white men. American politics became more democratic in the 19th and 20th centuries, however, and initiatives and referendums became increasingly common tools used by citizens in exercising their political voice.

Ballot initiatives continue to thrive today, and they can tell us a great deal about what’s on the minds of our fellow citizens.


How does today’s political system work against representative democracy?

Political commentators and historians alike express concern over the impacts to democracy by the gaming of the system to select our representatives. With fewer competitive seats due to gerrymandering and voter suppression, politicians tend to become more extreme rather than represent a broader range of the public.

Awash in money from special interests, too many politicians focus on the needs of their wealthy donors. For instance, NPR reported in late October that outside groups had spent almost a billion dollars on the campaigns of Republican Senate candidates, hoping to take control of that body and therefore, the judiciary, “where the right wing has entrenched itself as it has become increasingly extreme and unpopular.” 

Thankfully, the Democrats will continue control of the Senate for the remainder of Joe Biden’s first term, allowing him to continue to shape the judiciary in ways that will help the American people. But as the views of corporations and the wealthy continue to be prioritized by politicians, members of the public are increasingly turning to ballot initiatives to make their voices heard.


Initiatives can help identify the general support for a political agenda.

Ballot initiatives are interesting but imperfect tools. Initiatives are generally placed on a ballot when enough voters sign a petition of support. When well-crafted and fully explained, they give voters a chance to take a stand on specific issues that may have proven difficult for legislators to address in deeply partisan or divided states.

In certain instances — such as with the requirement voted in by the people of Michigan that a nonpartisan commission handle the congressional districting process — these initiatives are often strongly opposed by politicians who fear losing power.* They can also be problematic. One of the difficulties in our Citizens United world is that many are supported or challenged by powerful special interests whose involvement and financial interests are often hidden. This is especially true in a state like California, where ballot initiatives have grown like wildfire since the success in 1978 of Proposition 13.

Nonetheless, ballot initiatives give us a snapshot of how much the voters actually support the agendas of the two political parties. Many commentators have said that the policies of President Joe Biden and the Democrats are very popular nationally, although that is not reflected in the current climate of political reporting.


What did we learn in 2022?

In looking through election data from the midterms, some interesting examples surfaced where we had a chance to test the hypothesis of the popularity of the Democrats agenda in states that range from deep blue progressive to deep red conservative.**

Here’s a short list of issues and places where the people had a direct say on a policy issue. Pay special attention to where these ballot initiatives took place, for that’s instructive.

  • Americans support a woman’s right to choose and make decisions about her own body and health care.
    • Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, Americans have had six chances to vote directly on laws that would affect their access to abortion — once last summer in Kansas (deep red) and five in this year’s midterm elections. Every single time, voters have pushed for abortion rights. Abortion measures were on the midterm ballots in five states: California (blue), Kentucky (red), Michigan (swing state turned blue), Montana (deep red), and Vermont (deep blue). Preliminary results show that, in all five, voters sought to either maintain or strengthen abortion access in their state.
  • Americans don’t want politicians and far-right zealots making decisions about — and criminalizing — their gender identity.
    • By popular vote, Nevada (swing state that trends blue) added protections for sexual orientation and gender identity into its constitution.
  • Americans want to expand Medicaid to provide more affordable health care to the poorest among us.
    • Voters in South Dakota (deep red) approved an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, providing tens of thousands of impoverished people with access to health care, dismissing state GOP attempts to sink the effort.
  • Americans want to give the least among us a helping hand and ensure that the rich pay their fair share in taxes to support the common good.
    • Voters in Colorado (blue) approved a ballot measure to provide free meals for all public school students. The measure will help schools pay for the meals by raising $100 million a year by increasing taxes on the state’s richest residents.
    • In addition to the Colorado initiative, voters in Massachusetts (blue) approved an amendment to the state constitution to increase taxes on those earning over $1 million a year.
  • Americans support public education.
    • After a political fight that stretches back more than a decade, voters in New Mexico (blue) approved a ballot measure that would make the Southwestern state the first in the country to guarantee a constitutional right to early childhood education.
  • Americans want businesses and corporations to pay a fair and living wage.
    • Voters in Nebraska (deep red) approved a ballot measure raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.
  • Americans want easy and fair elections.
    • In Michigan (swing state that has trended blue), sixty percent of the voters approved Proposal 2, which establishes nine days of early in-person voting, creates new mandates for townships to set up ballot drop boxes, and supplies state-funded postage to vote by mail. 
    • Nevada voters (swing state that trends blue) approved a measure that will have the state join Alaska and Maine in ramping down the partisanship through ranked-choice voting in statewide and congressional races.
    • When given a choice, at least six swing states that decided 2020 won’t have election-denying governors or secretaries of state. Though not a ballot initiative, election deniers were defeated at the polls in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (all swing states by definition).

I’m no professional analyst, but when I look at this sample of how voters in states all across the political spectrum spoke when they had a specific choice and a clear opportunity, I see an America that increasingly

  • is tired of extremism,
  • wants fair elections that are run in a nonpartisan manner,
  • believes that all of us should be able to make decisions about our body and our future,
  • wants to treat those who are less fortunate fairly and give them a hand-up,
  • understands that education is a key to growing an active and engaged citizenry,
  • is ready to deal on some level with our long history of racial discord, and
  • wants everyone — especially the rich — to pay their fair share. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. phrased it, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”

That list, plus sensible gun control and climate action, summarizes the Democratic platform, an agenda that is popular across the political spectrum when addressed outside the rightwing disinformation network.

Much to think about for the next two years.

More to come…

DJB


*For decades the Republicans who controlled the Michigan legislature had drawn heavily gerrymandered districts, the most recent so extreme that in 2019, federal judges called them a “political gerrymander of historical proportions.” Voters amended the state constitution to require an independent, nonpartisan panel of 13 citizens to redraw the maps. While political competitiveness was not central to the criteria they used, it was the result. 

Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, November 9, 2022

**In looking at this data, it is helpful to note that defying the political narrative, the Democratic coalition remains broad, much more reflective of the nation as a whole than their counterparts across the aisle. Black voters (about 85 percent), a majority of Asian (about 63 percent), and a majority of Latino voters (60 percent) backed Democrats in 2022. The party also won sizable numbers of white voters (40 percent) and even white voters without college degrees (32 percent). Liberal voters (90 percent), of course, preferred Democrats, but so did moderates (55 percent)


Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay