Tag Archives: social justice

The Cost of Our Current Conveniences

kinzua-damHere just before Thanksgiving, a national holiday that encourages gratitude for the gifts of plenty most citizens enjoy, I’m reminded of the First Peoples who lived here before European refugees, settlers, and immigrants arrived.

This past fall representatives of over 300 tribes have been gathering in prayerful demonstrations in North Dakota at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Their aim is to prevent an oil pipeline from crossing their land, threatening their water and the sanctity of their sacred lands. My grade school images of the first Thanksgiving where white and native peoples supposedly sat down together did not foretell the environmental racism that still continues 300 years since.  

All this and the fact that I now have a granddaughter who is Native American has caused me to look closely at where I stand and what I am willing to stand up for. The following piece is the result of what these experiences are making of me.

Floods No More

“Aren’t you afraid of flooding?” people ask

when they visit our home on the Allegheny River.

Floods can be monsters claiming everything you own and hold dear.

But our safety is insured by the Kinzua dam constructed upriver in 1965 on

Seneca tribal lands. 10,000 acres were flooded including ancestral burial grounds.

This broke the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty, signed by President George Washington.

The lake behind the dam is known as Lake Perfidy (treachery and betrayal).

Unaware of this cost, from the edge of our newly expanded deck

I’m convinced we have the best backyard in all of Pittsburgh.

That’s White Privilege.


To Women and the Men Who Love Them

It was 1985 and a woman college professor and I needed to move some boxes from an office we shared to the Women and Work Research and Resource Center, which we founded. I had asked my 19 year-old son to help and we three went about our business, carrying boxes, books, and stacks of folders. All the while, two male faculty members were closely observing us. Rather than pitching in to help, or moving out of the way, they stationed themselves in the doorway through which we needed to continually pass. They amused themselves by wisecracking with one another about what we women were wearing as we struggled to balance our burdens and move the objects from one office to another.

My son, who was witnessing this rude behavior, told me later, “Mom, you can’t image the raunchy comments they made about you and Margie after you passed. They acted like they were in a singles bar, trying to impress a future sex partner. What’s the matter with those guys?

Seems a strange memory to emerge on this 102st International Women’s Day, something that happened over a quarter of a century ago. But recent events and conversations in the media have reminded me that the most tried and true method of disempowering women is to relate to women as sex objects. And there are still guys who use their power to put down, and keep down, half the members of the human race

Perhaps the role we older women need to play is to remind people how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. As the African symbol, the Sankofa bird reminds us, it is often necessary to reclaim and remember our past in order to see clearly a way to put it behind us.

Celebrating this day, which is a national holiday in many countries, can take many forms. Make a donation of time and money to an organization that supports the empowerment of women, (micro-lending, scholarships, internships,) mentor a younger woman, (through your local school, or internationally through one of my favorite programs, Infinite Family ) write an email to your congressperson about what you will no longer tolerate, make sure businesses that sponsor misogyny  know they will never have you as a customer. I’ll be playing with my InterPlay troupe, dancing on behalf of all the women in the world, and the men who love them.  Happy International Women’s Day! Let me know how you are celebrating.

Who Speaks for Thee?

There I was, talking back to the television again. Waving my hands and raising my voice as though I could get the newscaster’s attention. My husband walked into the room and I attempted to enlist him in my incredulous reaction.

“Look at this. It’s a roomful of men, testifying before congress about contraception.”

My husband looks down at the floor and nods his head. This fuels the energy of my reaction further.

“Some of the men are priests, celibate priests. What do they know about contraception?”

My husband scoops up our dog Clancy, sits down on the sofa and begins petting him. As my enthusiasm elevates the tone of my voice, I say, “Clancy knows more about contraception than those men. Where are the women?”

As if to demonstrate my point that this topic needs a woman’s touch, my husband smiles softly, continues petting the dog, and nods his head in agreement.

The next day the front page of the newspaper sported, above the fold, a large picture of this group of mostly elder white men. They must have interrupted their discussion of contraception for this photo opportunity. I looked closely into their faces.“Do any of these guys have any awareness of how bizarre this is.? Did anyone think to invite a couple of women, if for no other reason than to give this group a modicum of credibility?

Finally yesterday, I got an email from Emily’s List, the organization dedicated to helping women run for public office. Thank heaven, somebody else noticed besides me.

“Yesterday morning, an all-male panel of religious leaders testified in front of a Congressional committee about birth control coverage. That’s right, only men — who are not doctors, by the way — were allowed to testify by the GOP leadership about critical women’s health coverage. No women.”

Thanks to whoever organized that group of men. They’ve provided a kick in the pants to those of us who have been expecting the 445 men and 93 women in congress to effectively represent the nearly 51 per cent of U. S citizens who are female. Get thee to Emily’s List or another organization that can help us fix this. http://emilyslist.org/splash/speakout/splash01/

United We Stand

Last weekend InterPlay Pittsburgh participated in the Building Change Conference: a convergence for social change. This three-day conference included skill-building workshops, panel discussions, community dialogues, a film festival, an art show, and an evening of performance art.

Our improvisational troupe, Wing & A Prayer Pittsburgh Players performed Friday night on the theme, Changing the World 101.  Two hundred or so conference participants, award honorees, and friends witnessed our 20-minute performance that occurred in the center of an evening of short performances by singers, drummers, dancers, actors, rappers, and musicians – all who use their art as a tool to change the world.

Since our performances are made up in the moment and on the spot, it’s always a bit confusing when we say we practice InterPlay on a weekly basis. But how it works is that a week or two before a performance, we each meditate on the topic or theme, and practice accessing and telling our stories that seem related to it, or to words that people associate with the topic.

The words, “domination” and “fear,” were suggested by audience members when we asked what gets in the way of creating a world that works for all. This brought out a troupe member’s story of how her young son had solved the bullying problem at his school. She had told some version of this story before at one of our practices. But in the presence of witnesses, people passionate about social justice, this simple story became something much more.  As company members joined her, the message her son gave to the bully, (after he had rounded up enough kids for support), became amplified in movement and song. “Whatever you do to one of us – you do to all of us.”

And then, with support from our keyboard musician, the entire company formed a straight line, shoulder to shoulder in solidarity and began moving towards the audience. The song morphed into,“We’re standing together, we’re standing together.” None of this had been rehearsed. It came from the grand goal of the conference, of the Occupy Pittsburgh event that was to take place the following day, and of hundreds of events taking place around the globe last weekend.  I felt in my own body, the connection to my fellow performers, the support from the audience, and the power of standing together. We became, on behalf of everyone in the room, in the nation, and throughout the world, a metaphor and a mantra, for the Power that Unity brings.