The Right to Protest is What Makes America Great

At the rally in Elkhart, Indiana last Thursday, President Trump announced the slogan for his re-election campaign in 2020: instead of “Making America Great,” it will be “Keep America Great.” As if he has already made America great. Instead, his slogan should be: Keeping America Racist, Sexist and Homophobic which is exactly the sign I waved during the protest and held it up so he could see it for himself as the motorcade rode past on the way back to the South Bend airport.

I was with the protesters outside of Northside gymnasium last night for President Trump and Mike Pence's visit to Elkhart. The news coverage didn't show the diversity of the protestors as opposed to the homogenous crowd waiting in line to see Trump. I counted about 15 people of color out of the 7,000 waiting in line to get inside. Outside I stood with a crowd that was very diverse chanting "this is what democracy looks like" and "this is what diversity looks like." We were met with foul gestures and words -- at one point a group of obnoxious counter-protesters got a microphone and started yelling personal insults at Latinx people in particular, telling them to get a job, get off of welfare, to leave if they didn't like America. At one point a woman started asking a person near the front row whether they identified as a woman or a man because "she couldn't tell." The personal insults were horrible. I have not experienced such a display of vitrol and racism since I grew up on the south side of Chicago back in the late 70s and early 80s where race riots happened regularly on my high school grounds and the KKK march in Marquette Park.

Our crowd of about 1,000 protesters tried to yell over their racist and homophobic and anti-trans* slurs, but was not always successful. And the worst part about it all is that one of the worst racists and taunters was shown on the evening news, wearing the American flag as a cape (which according to a federal code that was put into place in 1923 is considered disrespectful) probably only giving him more incentive to be so cruel to others. The news coverage didn’t show him giving us the middle finger or his nearly constant rude hip gestures. It got really heated at one point and more and more police, some with dogs, began to show up and situate themselves between us and the Trump supporters who remained and deliberately taunted us. And as they created that barricade with their bodies and the dogs, they faced us -- the protesters -- not the racist people who were yelling personal attacks. They were protecting them and allowing them to spew their hatred while making sure we didn't step out of line.

I tried to think what I would have done if when I was waiting in line to see President Obama the two times he visited Elkhart while President I was met with peaceful protesters from the other side. I remember my own yelling and screaming at anti-choice protesters when Obama came to speak at Notre Dame, but that was because I had to hide their horrible misleading signs which depicted dead and bloody newborn babies from my children who were in my car as we made our way to church. But I did not make personal attacks at them. I did not give them the finger. However, I got lots of middle fingers flashed at me yesterday and insults were hurled at myself and the others who stood with me, many of them personal attacks. At one point, I asked the taunters why they weren't asking me whether I worked and had a job. Of course they ignored me. I have white and professional class privilege.

They felt brave spewing their racist and homophobic rhetoric at us while safely across the street with police forming a literal barricade between us, using the F-word and the p-word despite the fact that there were families with children waiting in line for the opportunity to hear the President of our country speak. But this is the kind of behavior President Trump encourages. And while I was happy to see some friends and fellow Unitarian Universalists speak articulately about why they were protesting, even the media didn't choose to interview (or air the comments of) the many people of color who were there. In fact, from the news coverage it was not clear at all how much diversity there was on the protesters' side. The whole story was how great it was to have our president visit the city of Elkhart. Trump talks about “fake news” all the time, but this was a living example of news that was presented impartially. I felt sick about the entire experience, but stood proudly with the others who protested. This is still a democracy, and we have the right to express our opinion. The First Amendment gives us the right to free speech and to peaceably assemble. Our protesting does not make us hate America or want to leave it. We protest because we care and believe our government is heading down the wrong path.

For me, it came down once again to our children. This President is teaching our children it is okay to lie and to cheat. He is discrediting scientific facts, discouraging our children from being able to separate fact from opinion and anything he does not agree with is untrue in his mind. And he is encouraging his supporters to treat any opposition as un-American. How wrong this is. In America, we can protest. That is what makes our country great. Not encouraging racism and mistreatment of people who appear to be Latinx. Not encouraging misogyny and dismissing sexual assault as inconsequential. Being an American gives us the right to speak out in protest and criticize the President. If more people understood and actually were familiar with the United States Constitution instead of wielding it as a weapon and hand-picking parts to throw in the face of dissenters, then maybe we could have a more civil America.


Mothers Day for All Who "Mother"

Like so many holidays celebrated in the United States, Mother’s Day seems designed to make parents and children alike feel guilty, overwhelmed, or just plain unhappy. The greeting card industry and the sellers of chocolates, jewelry, and trinkets seem to have convinced us that he who loves his mother the most, spends the most money.

Then into this commercialized climate comes the recognition that not everyone has a mother in their life (through choice or circumstance) and not every person who is biologically female wants to give birth or raise children. Many women struggle for years through infertility and frustration to become (or not become) mothers. As Unitarian Universalists, we value honoring diversity, but sometimes we can find ourselves at a loss as to how to celebrate some while not excluding, hurting, or offending others.

As parents, we need to recognize and teach our children that women who have adopted children are also mothers; so are women of all colors and ethnic backgrounds, along with women trapped by systemic poverty, and women who are legally separated from their children or incarcerated. Likewise, many of those who identify as transgender, gender-queer, or lesbian are also mothers.

Essentially by lifting up this idea of diversity in motherhood and extending the very idea of mothering beyond the idea of femininity or biology allows us to truly celebrate and honor all those who “mother” us in our lives. This may be an aunt who never gave birth to children (by choice or not) who serves this important role in your life, or the father who held your hand through life’s difficult moments (either in absence of a mother figure or as part of a family with two loving dads).

So, this Mother’s Day, remember that you have the awesome responsibility to help the next generation understand that in celebrating motherhood, all who mother deserve to be celebrated—including those who are lesbian, transgender, gender-queer, disabled, have adopted, are undocumented, or are incarcerated. You may even be able to find a card that perfect card in stores as the rest of the world catches up to us inclusive Unitarian Universalists.


Making Earth Day a Holy Day

           The commemoration known as Earth Day began in 1970 and marks the beginning of what was to become the modern environmental movement.  In fact, it was the Earth Day celebration in 1990 that gave way to massive recycling efforts that our children now see as commonplace in our homes and communities. Given how our seventh Principle guides us to protect our planet and the “independent web of all existence,” then it seems if ever there was a Holy Day for Unitarian Universalists, this would be it.

           From poisoning and injuring marine life to disrupting human hormones, from littering our beaches and landscapes to clogging our waste streams and landfills, the exponential growth of plastics is now threatening the survival of our planet. In response, Earth Day 2018 is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to fundamentally change human attitude and behavior about plastics. Find all about this year's campaign on the Earth Day 2018 website and think about what you and your family can do about eliminating plastic pollution in our world. The website also details what events are planned around the world this year for Earth Day which falls on April 22nd this year.

           Even if there are no official Earth Day events or activities in your area (and you are not feeling motivated to initiate them regionally), parents can still commemorate this day through intentional efforts as a family: taking time to clean up a local park, re-purposing plastic or other disposable items – or even planting a tree.  The important thing is not so much what you do, but that you do it.  While your family may regularly recycle and engage in other “green” activities, establishing this day as a holiday worth celebrating for Unitarian Universalists lifts it up and highlights its value. 

           Earth Day is a time which has been set aside to celebrate the gains we have made in the areas of conservation and environmental protection; it is also a time to recognize how far we have yet to go and to understand that we can all play a part in the process.  Earth Day can be a time for families to unite around action and our intentions to improve our natural home.  So while every day is a time for Unitarian Universalists to engage in environmental activism, recycling and being “green,” Earth Day is a time to celebrate those efforts and our connections to the Earth.  How can it get more Holy than that?

Happily Ever After

I was never particularly fond of the story of Cinderella. Not because I had a wicked stepmother (okay, so she could be mean, but some days as a teenager I swore she was downright wicked) and three stepsisters, although I wouldn’t exactly call them ugly. Or mean. No, it was because in the end Cinderella was whisked away by a handsome prince and lived happily ever after.

Some of us saw this real life fairy tale play out when the oh-so-beautiful, young and impressionable Diana married Prince Charles. Talk about a fairy tale wedding – but this tale did not have a happy ending. For those of you too young to remember, this is Prince William and Harry’s mother who died twenty years ago in a terrible car crash after being dumped by her husband for his true love Camilla whom he couldn’t marry because she was already married to someone else.

But when my now adult daughter Shannon was four years old, dear old Grandma bought her a Cinderella book, and she’d obviously already read it to her because Shannon loved the story and asked to have the book read to her over and over and over and over.

So I tried to think of the story in a new light. Cinderella worked hard and put up with the abuse of her family day after day. She had a good heart and was kind. Perhaps the moral of the story was that good people who work hard get what they deserve in the end. Nice story. Nice message.

Except that Cinderella didn’t get her reward for working hard and being a nice person. She got the prince to fall in love with her because her fairy godmother bestowed upon her a beautiful gown and those infamous glass slippers. The prince fell in love with her looks and her appearance – a false one I might add – as she didn’t look like that in her daily life. So her Happy Ending comes about through an illusion of beauty, grace and poise that really wasn’t who she was deep inside.

In fact, most of the older Disney Princess movies don’t portray the importance of intelligence or the ability to think for themselves (and ironically, often lost in the translation from the original story). Recently, we’ve seen some improvements in that area. Merida in the movie Brave rejects her suitors and saves her mother’s life -- and in Frozen, the love that saves Anna is actually the love between the sisters. But they really lost an opportunity when they created the first African-American Princess – one who is depicted as strong and independent – unfortunately, she spends most of the movie as a frog.

Mulan showed promise as the story of an Asian woman who pretends to be a man in order to go to war. She manages to end the war and save her people, but it isn’t until her love interest follows her home and asks her to marry him that she gets her happy ending. Again in all these movies, it’s magic that saves everything in the end – not hard work and perseverance. And the sexism just doesn't end.

Even in Disney's recent Moana, she sails across the ocean to restore the heart of the goddess but she still needs the help of a man -- albeit a demigod with animated tattoos. 

Besides, are we really supposed to believe that Cinderella and Snow White and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and the others found their happy endings when they married their princes? Maybe those Princes cheated on them. Maybe they were too interested in their Fantasy Football teams to pay much attention to their wives’ dreams and aspirations. Perhaps they left their dirty socks on the bedroom floor which was so irritating they had to call the servants immediately to take care of the Prince’s inability to clean up after himself.

Anyone who has been married – whether for a year or 30 years or more – knows that Happily Ever After doesn’t come with the marriage. That’s just the beginning of the story.

Happily Ever After takes work, perseverance and sometimes the recognition that the prince or princess really is a frog after all. Happily Ever After requires a special kind of magic – the kind that comes from inside of each of us and allows us to use our power to make our lives better. Whatever that means for us.