The Checkered Past of Public Libraries in America

Well, my goodness. I just read a fascinating and highly recommended article entitled A History of the American Public Library by Ariel Aberg-Riger, and I learned a great deal about libraries that I didn’t know previously. Some of the facts below are profoundly disappointing, but in an odd way, they give me hope. Because if our libraries can emerge from their dark past to become the amazing institutions that they are now, then perhaps there is hope for our government as well. Fingers crossed.

I’ve always known that one of the very first libraries in America was started by Ben Franklin in 1731. What I didn’t know was that this could hardly have been considered a public library. You had to pay an annual fee, so it was basically a collection for Franklin and his rich white male cronies. Women and African Americans weren’t welcome, and the working poor couldn’t afford a membership. This makes me think rather less of Ben. As enlightened as we’d like to think he is, without a doubt he was a product of his times.

In the wake of Ben’s library, I was pleased to see that women’s clubs cropped up as well, until I discovered that these, too, were exclusively for rich white women. They claimed to believe in the importance of having access to books, but they kept out Jewish, black, and working-class women.

So other libraries were established, each one every bit as exclusionary as the first. There were libraries for people of color, for example, and Jewish libraries. But women did seem to advocate public access to libraries long before men did. Funding was an issue, though, until Andrew Carnegie took up the torch and donated 60 million toward library construction.

It wasn’t really until the turn of the last century that libraries became truly public, but they still had to contend with segregation to a shocking degree. Many civil rights sit ins took place in libraries for that very reason.

Now libraries are a source of reliable information, internet access, education, and community gathering places, and all these services are basically free to all. That’s why I love libraries so much. Knowledge is power.

So naturally, Trump is trying to cut federal funding for libraries. Because he’s a man of the people. Sigh. Please support your public libraries, folks. They’re the last truly democratic institutions that we have, and it was a long and winding road to get them to that place.

Carnegie Library Dallas Oregon

Read any good books lately? Try mine! And ask your library to put it on its shelves! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Blanket Apology to Everyone on Earth

This post is for all of you who read my blog outside of the U.S. I am an American. I can’t speak for all Americans. No one can. Or at least no one should. But I can certainly speak for myself.

It breaks my heart that my country as a whole is being judged by the rest of the world based on what they see in the news. Most of us are not like the insane people who grab the headlines these days. Many of us are as appalled by what we read as you are. I don’t know if that will be a source of comfort or of increased anxiety for you, but there you have it: for many of us, that feeling of disgust does not stop outside our borders.

So let me tell you a little about who I am, so you can see that not all of us fit that stereotype that has been created by Washington D.C., our nation’s capitol, where you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting someone who is morally bankrupt, unforgivably selfish, and rotting from the inside by the sheer weight of his or her greed. Such blatant abuse of power is unconscionable.

First of all, I am horrified at my government’s total disdain for the environment. We are one of the most environmentally selfish nations on earth, and the least likely to do anything to turn this global warming situation around before it destroys us all. I’m so sorry for that. I wish I felt like I could do something about it. I mean, I vote. I speak out. I do the best I can to reduce my carbon footprint. But I feel like I’m not making an impact, and I know this negatively impacts you as well.

I also happen to think that my country’s stance on guns is absurd and dangerous. We have more mass shootings than anywhere else, and we can’t even agree that the average citizen has no legitimate need for semi-automatic weapons. It makes no sense.

And this damned border wall that Trump is so in love with? I don’t want it. No one I know really wants it. All this political maneuvering is an embarrassment. Honestly, how do these people even look themselves in the mirror?

I don’t think immigrants are a threat. In fact, I’m a second generation American myself. This country would be lost without immigrants. I’m not so greedy that I’m not willing to share the wealth. I actually like you unless you give me some personal reason to feel otherwise. I don’t believe in kidnapping your children at the border. I think the day we stop granting asylum to people in danger is the day when we lose the most vital part of what makes us decent human beings. Jesus wouldn’t turn you away, so how can a country that considers itself mainly Christian do so? I don’t understand this attitude of xenophobia. It makes me sick.

I am also profoundly sorry that we don’t step in to help nearly as often as we butt in to serve our own best interests. We have no right to do this. Clearly, we struggle to get ourselves right, so it’s the height of arrogance to think we can fix anyone else.

And we imprison people to a much higher degree than any other country. I can’t blame you if you think twice about visiting us. I’d be afraid to, if I were you. But I genuinely believe that we need you to come visit. We need our horizons expanded. It’s hard to think of someone as an enemy once we’ve broken bread with that person. Please, come break bread with us.

I guess I do sit squarely in one stereotype. I tend to forget the world doesn’t revolve around us. Perhaps you could care less about what my country says or does. Perhaps you have more important things on your mind than my pompous country. That’s a legitimate response, too, and I can hardly blame you for it.

I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry about all the destruction we cause. I just wanted you to know that somewhere here, in this unbelievable circus of a country, sits a woman in a bridge tower who is every bit as outraged as many of you are. And I know for a fact that I’m not alone. So, please forgive us, individually, even if you cannot bring yourselves to forgive us collectively.

American Flag

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that? http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Facts about the Caravan

There is so much panic and false information floating around social media about the migrant caravan that’s making its way northward through Mexico that I thought I should weigh in, here. People are using these migrants as political pawns. Fine. But if you’re going to base your mid term votes on this issue, please at least get your facts straight. Then feel free to make your own decisions.

First of all, lets look at the raw numbers. Seven thousand people sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Enough for an invasion. Actually, given that the population of the US is now well over 328,800,000, well, this caravan comprises less than 0.002 percent of our population.

That’s a tiny little number. Think about it. If you had acne on 0.002 percent of your face, you wouldn’t even have bothered asking the photographer to airbrush your high school yearbook photo.

And of that tiny little percentage of humanity, many of them are women and children. So no need to lock up your daughters. You’re safe. (Also, from the looks of them, they haven’t even crossed the bulk of Mexico yet, and they are already exhausted, thirsty, hungry, and hardly in any shape to mount an invasion. Could you walk 2000 miles with toddlers and then kick the butt of the most militarized nation on the planet? I don’t think so.)

Even if all 7,000 were given asylum in the US, that would come to 140 people per state. Surely we could absorb that number. Especially since they are fleeing violence and/or seeking a better life for their families, just as my grandparents did (and yours as well, most likely).

But here’s the thing. 7,000 will never be given asylum in this country, even in a more politically friendly atmosphere. More like a couple hundred at most. If that. You know how I know? Because these caravans have been happening FOR THE PAST 20 YEARS.

Yup. Years. Matter of fact, the last one happened just last April. There was also one in April of 2017. You know why you’ve forgotten about it, even though Trump predictably freaked out back then as well? Because, of the over a thousand people who participated that time, only 108 sought asylum in the US, and of those, more than half were immediately denied. So the world did not come to an end.

This particular caravan just happened to be timed badly enough to be twisted into a conservative talking point prior to the mid term elections, at a time when the republicans are terrified that they will lose congressional power.

Here are some other things you need to know, according to Politifact.

  • Trump tweeted that “unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with this group, but even he had to finally admit that there is ZERO evidence of that. The fact that he would even say that should show you what his motivations are. He wants you to be afraid. And that will probably work, if you are the type that thinks that all Middle Easterners are terrorists.

  • This caravan is not using trains or buses. The photos you are probably seeing floating around Facebook are from previous caravans. Most of these people are walking, and many have toddlers in tow. They’re lucky to make 10 miles a day.

  • These immigrants are not burning the American flag, nor are they carrying the Honduran flag. They also haven’t painted any swastikas on the American flag, or defaced one in any way. (It would be rather counterproductive if they did, wouldn’t it? Think about it.)

And here’s a good point from Snopes. It’s not the Mexican government’s responsibility to make immigrant decisions for the United States. They are not our servants or our lackeys. They are their own country and can do whatever they want therein. So stop being pissed off at Mexico for not turning these people around before they become “our problem”.

Another point. And I’m drawing from an article in Wired for this personal conclusion: While many conspiracies out there are trying to say that this is some grand liberal agenda, get a grip. Why would liberals want to fire up the conservative base in such a fashion? What on earth would liberals gain?

Please use some common sense, people. Breathe. Think.

And please vote.

Migrant Caravan

Check out my refreshingly positive book for these depressingly negative times. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Flags Scare Me

The first flags were battle standards used during conflict. In times like those, especially when battles were bloody and fought face to face and you were usually slaughtering your neighbors who looked just like you, it was rather important to indicate whose side you were on.

Think about that for a minute. We have to be able to tell each other apart in order to kill the right people. Because if we were all running around naked and flagless, we would all essentially be the same. In which case, what the hell are we fighting for?

Good freakin’ question. What are we fighting for? I think the last war that was waged even tangentially for moral purposes (rather than purely for greed or racism or religious zealotry or the quest for the control of oil) was World War II. So, yeah, we need those flags, man, or we can’t separate ourselves. Us vs. Them.

Flags are the ultimate symbol of polarization. Either you’re on our team or you’re not. And if you aren’t willing to play by the flag flyers’ rules, then get the hell out. Love it or leave it.

It’s very comforting to be a member of a group. You’re accepted. You’re part of the norm. You’re just like us.

But in order to form a group, you have to be willing to believe that all of your members feel the same way about things. And, hey, you’re a good person, right? So if everyone in your group is just like you, then you must be the good guys.

What does that say about those who are excluded from that group? They must be bad. That only makes sense.

And we (“we”) wonder why we can’t all just get along.

On the anniversary of 9/11, I saw a Facebook post that waxed nostalgic for 9/12. It talked about stores running out of flags to sell because they were being flown everywhere. It talked about us all being Americans before anything else. It talked about us being united.

I remember it quite differently. I remember fear and paranoia and confusion and anger. Yes, I remember flags everywhere. Flags defiantly flown. I remember people getting beat up if they looked the slightest bit Muslim. I remember my employer trying to force me to wear a flag pin, and feeling as though my livelihood would be threatened if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon. I remember not knowing what this angry, enormous mass of “we” was going to do.

That scared the hell out of me. It still does.

I don’t even like rooting for sports teams. I don’t like turning anyone into a them. The only “thems” in my life at the moment are Trump supporters. I don’t understand them. The level of hate they demonstrate terrifies me, because I know that to them, I’m the them.

http _orig06.deviantart.net_404b_f_2008_153_1_5_flags_of_the_world_by_condottiero
So many thems.

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that? http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

What I Thought America Meant

When I was little, I was taught that I lived in the greatest country in the entire world. I thought we set the best example, and that based on that example, other countries would aspire to be better, and someday the whole world would be just as wonderful as we were.

Everyone would be free. There would be no war. Every individual would have equal opportunities. The world would be one big safe, happy, teddy bear of a place. I was so proud. I felt so lucky to be an American.

To me, America meant generosity, compassion, justice, safety, equality, freedom, dedication, love, and integrity.

If you had told me back then that I’d become increasingly ashamed over time, I’d have been pretty darned disappointed. Disgusted is the word, actually. And even horrified every once in a while. (Simply because I can’t work up the energy to maintain horror for long periods.)

How must the rest of the planet view us when we say things like domestic and gang violence are no longer valid reasons for asylum? What happened to “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”?

And when did we become okay with children being yanked away from their parents? Do we think those traumatized children will grow up admiring us for that? Do we think those children deserve punishment? Guilt by association?

We were supposed to be the poster child for human rights. Are we? When our president shakes hands with Kim Jong-Un, the worst human rights abuser currently alive, and says he’ll “probably have a very good relationship” with him, it doesn’t do much for that image.

I also thought we’d be the saviors of the world. But we are one of its worst polluters, biggest consumers, and we live in a culture of selfishness and waste. We can’t even hold on to our national parks, which is an embarrassment, because we were the first country to even conceive of them. The planet cries out for us to take climate change seriously, even as some of them are sinking into the sea, and instead of setting an example, we back out of the Paris Accord.

Apparently we value the profits of gun manufacturers more than the lives of our children. We allow the very worst of our law enforcement officers to become murderers without any real consequences. We step over our homeless veterans in the streets. And we don’t seem to think anyone has a right to health care.

We elected a man who brags about grabbing pussies, thinks that white supremacy is acceptable, and uses Twitter to lie without remorse. We take great strides to make it difficult to vote, but that’s probably a waste of energy when no one can seem to be bothered to do so anyway. We spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do with the real current events that actually impact our day to day lives.

We have become fat and bloated by our laziness and greed. We flaunt our hate. We exaggerate our fear. We demonize education and journalism. We are not who we said we would be.

I once told a cousin that America is an experiment. You’d think I had peed in his Post Toasties. How dare I say that?

Well, Cuz, do you still think we are solid as a rock, unchanging, and will last forever? Do you really think that this thing we have become has staying power, above all other regimes that have come and gone throughout history? Are we a shining example of the best of humanity? Have we reached some bright pinnacle? Should everyone want to be just like us?

I wish I could be that little girl again, with the star spangled banner eyes. I wish I was full of optimism and hope for this country’s future. I wish I still thought I was one of the good guys.

But I have to ask: Are we becoming our best selves? Because if we can’t do better than this, if we don’t want to do better than this, then there’s really no hope. And that scares me.

Flag

Check out my refreshingly positive book for these depressingly negative times. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Civil Trade War

So now Trump thinks Canada is a security risk? Oh, come on. Those people won’t even jaywalk at an intersection. Seriously. There could be no cars for miles, and they’d still patiently wait for the crossing signal.

Trump imposing tariffs on Mexico, Canada, and the European Union is like walking up to your three best friends in the school yard and punching them each in the throat. Just ‘cuz.

As if we weren’t already convinced that this man is an idiot, he now decides to do something that has absolutely no upside, even for him. But oh, yeah, it certainly has taken our focus off of Russia, hasn’t it? He does like to stir shit up.

Smoke and mirrors. It’s all smoke and mirrors. The next election can’t come fast enough.

For some reason, though, a lot of people don’t quite get (yet) what a global pissing match Trump has just set off. So let’s scale it down a bit for easier comprehension.

Let’s say the Governor of Maine doesn’t like the Governor of Georgia. So Maine decides to impose a tariff on all peaches. This means that it gets a lot more expensive for Georgia to get their peaches to consumers in Maine. This causes the Governor of Georgia’s head to explode, and he says, “Fine! We are now putting a tariff on Lobsters! Take that!”

Well, messing with Lobsters in Maine is like touching the third rail. This cannot be borne! So Maine says, okay, now we’re going to put a tariff on airplanes. (You may not know this, but Georgia’s top export is airplanes.)

But hold on. Airplanes are also the top export in California, Arizona, Washington, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, and Connecticut. So they all sit up tensely and blink, too. What’s going to happen next? They all start looking around to see how they can hurt other states who might hurt them. Everyone is poised for battle.

That’s really how the civil war started. Only back then, the commodity was slaves. Not only won’t we buy your slaves, but you can’t have them either. And before we knew it, hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead.

This trade war? Worst idea ever. Thanks, Trump. Way to go.

https _edts523naz.wikispaces.com_file_view_boybullying.gif_419259468_304x288_boybullying

I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that? http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Historical Statues: One Solution

At a time when the US seems to be struggling with what to do with its Confederate statues and memorials, I can’t help but remember my trip to Budapest back in 2006. What an amazing city, with a lot of very tragic history. They were occupied by German forces in WWII, forcing them to embrace Fascism even as the Nazis were applying internal terror to control the people. So it’s understandable that the Soviets might have seemed like liberators to them at first.

The Soviet Red Army occupied the city in 1945. During the peace talks, Great Britain and the US basically gave the country over to Stalin. After much torture, spying, interrogations and fear brought down upon the citizenry for years on end, in 1956, a student-inspired revolution took place, and while it relieved some of the societal pressure, it ultimately failed. The control finally started crumbling in 1989, but it wasn’t until 1991 that the last Soviet occupying soldier left Budapest. By then, all the soviet era statues had been joyfully pulled down.

And lo and behold, despite the absence of these statues in the public squares, Hungary’s dark history has not been erased any more than ours would be without Robert E. Lee gazing at us in our city parks. In fact, the people of Budapest handled their statues in a brilliant way. They dragged them all to one location, and turned that into an opportunity to teach about their past oppression in the hopes that it will never, ever happen again. They created Memento Park.

I remember standing among these monuments, and thinking how intimidating they must have been in their heyday. Some of them are 20 feet tall. All of them make the men look strong, the women look hard-working and dedicated, and for the most part, the people all look like anonymous and mindless machines. It must have been terrifying to pass them every day, knowing that’s what your government expected you to see, feel, and believe.

Now, gathered in an educational park, lined up like so many dominoes of long-dead subjugation, they seem rather pathetic and powerless. Children climb on them. People take pictures in front of them while they make funny faces. But mostly, they learn that none of us should go backward, into an era of the exaltation of hate and control.

History shouldn’t be forgotten. That’s what books and teachers are for. Monuments are not history. They are for glorification, and should be removed from our public spaces as our society becomes older and hopefully wiser. Learn from these silent statues, taken down from their shining pedestals. Learn, but don’t deify.

I hope we follow suit in the US. The time is long overdue. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with some photos of me in Memento Park in Budapest.

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5