Archives for category: Love

Maria Popova is a voracious reader. She posts her reflections on literature, which she calls “Brain Pickings.” She reads widely and writes about whatever interests her. Her interests are broad.

In this post, she gathers the greatest love letters of all time among people of the same sex. She does this to honor what is known as Pride Month.

Here you will find love letters by Margaret Mead, Eleanor Roosevelt, Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, and more.

June has been auspicious for LGBT people. In June 2013, the U. S. Supreme Court struck down federal laws that prevented the recognition of gay marriage in a case called United States v. Windsor. Edie Windsor, a technology manager at IBM, lived with Thea Spyer for 40 years and cared for her as Thea’s health declined. They married in Canada in 2007. Thea died less than two years later.

The federal government proceeded to tax Thea’s estate, which she left to Edie, as if they were strangers. Edie owed the IRS almost $400,000. She fought the federal tax collectors to win recognition of the legitimacy of her marriage to Thea. She won in the lower courts and in the Supreme Court, clearing the way for gay marriage for others. Subsequently, she reveled in her role as a gay icon, leading parades and celebrations. Edie Windsor died in 2017 at the age of 88.

In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that discrimination in the workplace based on LGBT status was sex discrimination and therefore prohibited. Surprisingly, the decision was written by Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first appointment to the Supreme Court.

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With Edie Windsor, August 2013

This is a story of a community organizer, Monica Cannon-Grant, who has used her character, determination, and passion to create a force on behalf of the black community of Boston. She is relentless. She demonstrates the power of one person to make change. She makes real the quote attributed to Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


Monica Cannon-Grant began her day on Thursday as she begins most days: grocery shopping for 1,700 people.

Wearing a black T-shirt printed with the words “I can’t breathe,” she lifted barrels of mayonnaise and enormous tins of tuna into her Restaurant Depot cart.

“Today is the first memorial for George Floyd,” she said quietly as she rolled the cart down the aisle.

She has not had much time to grieve lately, or even to rest.

Cannon-Grant, who is 39 and lives in Roxbury, organized the Tuesday march in Franklin Park that drew tens of thousands of people to protest police brutality and demand action in Boston. Though it followed on the heels of a protest that ended in violence downtown, she made clear that her march, which started with a “die-in” at Blue Hill Avenue, would be peaceful. And it was.

Cannon-Grant, who is at turns a firecracker and a mother bear, has also been distributing about 1,750 free meals a day, through the restaurant Food for the Soul in Dorchester, to people in the neighborhood who have struggled since the coronavirus hit. She is the mother of six children, two of whom she adopted as teenagers.

“Anything that goes down in the community, positive or negative, it almost has to go through Monica,” said Chris Lewis, a fellow activist who has known Cannon-Grant since they were children.

The two threads of Cannon-Grant’s work last week—feeding hundreds of people while at the same time agitating for specific policy prescriptions to end police brutality—help illustrate her overarching vision for change in the city. She has been inspired by the legacy of the Black Panther movement, she said, which challenged police violence while running massive “survival programs,” such as free breakfasts for school children that paved the way for the government’s free breakfast program.

Cannon-Grant’s focus, she and others said, is making sure the Black community in Boston can protect and serve itself.

“I studied a lot of the work that they did and how they were able to uplift and take care of their own communities,” Cannon-Grant said, sitting outside Food for the Soul as volunteers prepared free lunches inside. “My hope is to embody the Black Panther movement.”

In that spirit, Cannon-Grant hired her own security to keep the peace during the march in Franklin Park.

“I don’t have a relationship with the police department, and honestly I can’t depend on them to protect me. So I started reaching out to men in the community,” Cannon-Grant said. She offered them $100 to look out for instigators of violence and to de-escalate interactions with the police, which they did. In the end, around 50 Black men from the neighborhoods where the march took place acted as eyes and ears during it. They declined to be paid, she said.

Large numbers of people tend to follow her lead, said Donnell Singleton, the owner of Food for the Soul, who has worked with Cannon-Grant for years.

“Here’s Monica, with a sea of people behind her,” Singleton said of seeing her at Franklin Park on Tuesday.

Cannon-Grant has long been a thorn in the side of city and state politicians, urging them to take action to prevent violence against Black and brown people in Boston. She grew up in the Franklin Hill neighborhood of Dorchester, and attended the Jeremiah E. Burke High School.

It was wrong, she thought, that some politicians celebrated an overall reduction of violence in Boston, even as it continued in poor and majority-Black neighborhoods. After her teenage son twice had a gun pulled on him outside the family’s home, she decided enough was enough. She started attending every public safety meeting the city had, insistently pressing politicians on her central concern.

“They’re like, ‘Oh we’re doing great,’” she said. “So explain to me why my street is shot up 15 times and my son had a gun pulled on him twice? Why is this normal?”

Assisted by a source she won’t divulge, she began posting almost every shooting or stabbing that took place in the city on her Facebook page with the hashtag #ViolenceinBoston in 2017. That also became the name of the nonprofit she launched that year, to provide direct resources like food and housing to Black and brown victims of violence in Boston.

If she didn’t post quickly enough, bystanders or those involved in shootings would send her Facebook messages to let her know what happened. “Shots fired outside my house … 2 shots in my driveway,” read one message she received last month.

“There’s been many a night, late at night, that I get a call from Monica and there’s a crime scene that she’s telling me to meet her at,” said former city councilor Tito Jackson, one of Cannon-Grant’s mentors and close friends.

As someone without a college degree or institutional affiliations, Cannon-Grant and her peers felt she was often dismissed by elected officials and others in power as not having much to add. And so she took to inviting herself, being so persistent and sometimes disruptive that she couldn’t really be ignored.

Beginning in 2018, she launched a nearly yearlong campaign to get Mayor Martin J. Walsh to meet with her. She called him out on Twitter and blasted him on Facebook Live videos; in a typical post from October 2018, she wrote, “Today makes 99 days since Mayor Marty Walsh called my cell phone agreeing to meet with me. Last night Boston’s 47th Homicide…He loves press conferences to give the perception he’s doing something but he’s not.” She was particularly outraged by comments he made in July 2018 addressing shooting victims in Dorchester, which she thought blamed them for the violence they suffered.

“If you want to kill each other — it’s a horrible thing and I don’t want to stand here as mayor and say, ‘You know, we’re justifying that’ — you kill each other,” Walsh said at the time.

Finally, after what Cannon-Grant described as “256 days of advocacy,” Walsh met with her. Sharing a plain bagel at Soleil, they cut right to the chase.

“Can you stop calling me a motherf*****?” Cannon-Grant recalled Walsh asking at the beginning of the meeting.

“I said, ‘Sure, I need you to also stop getting in the media, talking about Black men in the community as if you actually understand what it is to be a Black man.’”

Then the two had an honest conversation, both said in interviews, one that opened up an avenue for them to work together. Walsh said he had made comments out of frustration and concern at seeing people dying day after day.

“And I told him I feel the same way and since then, we’re aligned in our frustration,” Cannon-Grant said. “You’re supposed to disagree, you’re supposed to have conversations and then figure out how you could work together.”

The mayor has since directed funding and resources to Violence in Boston, as well as the Food for the Soul project.

“We certainly weren’t mortal enemies, but there was definitely a lot of conflict there and barriers to communication,” Walsh said in an interview. “And that hour — maybe a little longer — broke down those barriers.”

The story of her evolving relationship with Walsh over the past two years is also the story of her own changing role in the city, from that of a marginalized activist beating down the walls of those in power, into someone who wields significant power and influence on behalf of her community.

“A lot of what she was acting out on at first was her own pain,” said Thaddeus Miles, director of community services at MassHousing. Now, he said, “She’s more strategic around her thought and she’s worked with her allies in a different way.”

As a sign of her growing stature both in the city and beyond, she hosted a town hall last week that featured Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Ayanna Pressley, and Emerald Garner, a daughter of Eric Garner, a Black man who died after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer in New York. The group discussed how to pass federal legislation mirroring state legislation targeting police brutality, including a California law banning the use of deadly force by police if there is a reasonable alternative, and a New York bill requiring that police provide medical help to those in custody who request it.

Cannon-Grant ran for state representative in 2016 and lost. Then in 2017, she organized the Fight Supremacy rally on the Boston Common the week after a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va. Politicians and even other activists at the time worried that it wasn’t a good idea, Miles said — that she didn’t have the organization to pull it off. They feared it would disintegrate into a violent clash between white supremacists and protesters.

That didn’t happen. Instead, she drew tens of thousands of people to the Boston Common for a peaceful march.

“People started to take her seriously,” said Miles.

But even with increased recognition, Cannon-Grant continues to agitate when she deems it necessary.

In one notable example from 2019, she interrupted a panel featuring Governor Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. The panel was meant to assess how Massachusetts had achieved such a low rate of deaths from guns.

“I’m sorry but there are Black and brown folks sitting in this room that I brought with me who are victims of gun violence in Black communities that get ignored every day,” Cannon-Grant said from the darkened audience. “No disrespect, but we were screaming way before Parkland.”

She then brought her own chair onto the stage, filled mostly with white men in suits, and began taking questions from the audience.

Anne Grammer, the 82-year-old cofounder of Cape Cod Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, was so moved by Cannon-Grant’s words that, a few weeks afterward, she drove to Cannon-Grant’s house and offered to volunteer for her.

“Anything she asked me to do, I will do,” Grammer said.

Cannon-Grant credits her fighting spirit to her grandmother, who worked the polls and was the head of her tenant association in Boston for many years.

“My grandmother was a fighter,” Cannon-Grant said, laughing. “She would invite the city councilors to the cookout to curse them out about what they didn’t do for the community.”

That’s how onlookers describe Cannon-Grant, too.

“You’re definitely not going to control her,” said Jackson, “and you’re not going to contain her, either.”

The following assemblage of citations from Dr. King’s life was prepared by the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.


Nonviolence

As a theologian, Martin Luther King reflected often on his understanding of nonviolence. He described his own “pilgrimage to nonviolence” in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, and in subsequent books and articles. “True pacifism,” or “nonviolent resistance,” King wrote, is “a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love” (King, Stride, 80). Both “morally and practically” committed to nonviolence, King believed that “the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom” (King, Stride, 79; Papers 5:422).

King was first introduced to the concept of nonviolence when he read Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience as a freshman at Morehouse College. Having grown up in Atlanta and witnessed segregation and racism every day, King was “fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system” (King, Stride, 73).

In 1950, as a student at Crozer Theological Seminary, King heard a talk by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University. Dr. Johnson, who had recently traveled to India, spoke about the life and teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi, King later wrote, was the first person to transform Christian love into a powerful force for social change. Gandhi’s stress on love and nonviolence gave King “the method for social reform that I had been seeking” (King, Stride, 79).

While intellectually committed to nonviolence, King did not experience the power of nonviolent direct action first-hand until the start of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. During the boycott, King personally enacted Gandhian principles. With guidance from black pacifist Bayard Rustin and Glenn Smiley of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, King eventually decided not to use armed bodyguards despite threats on his life, and reacted to violent experiences, such as the bombing of his home, with compassion. Through the practical experience of leading nonviolent protest, King came to understand how nonviolence could become a way of life, applicable to all situations. King called the principle of nonviolent resistance the “guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method” (Papers 5:423).

King’s notion of nonviolence had six key principles. First, one can resist evil without resorting to violence. Second, nonviolence seeks to win the “friendship and understanding” of the opponent, not to humiliate him (King, Stride, 84). Third, evil itself, not the people committing evil acts, should be opposed. Fourth, those committed to nonviolence must be willing to suffer without retaliation as suffering itself can be redemptive. Fifth, nonviolent resistance avoids “external physical violence” and “internal violence of spirit” as well: “The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him” (King, Stride, 85). The resister should be motivated by love in the sense of the Greek word agape, which means “understanding,” or “redeeming good will for all men” (King, Stride, 86). The sixth principle is that the nonviolent resister must have a “deep faith in the future,” stemming from the conviction that “The universe is on the side of justice” (King, Stride, 88).

During the years after the bus boycott, King grew increasingly committed to nonviolence. An India trip in 1959 helped him connect more intimately with Gandhi’s legacy. King began to advocate nonviolence not just in a national sphere, but internationally as well: “the potential destructiveness of modern weapons” convinced King that “the choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence” (Papers 5:424).

After Black Power advocates such as Stokely Carmichael began to reject nonviolence, King lamented that some African Americans had lost hope, and reaffirmed his own commitment to nonviolence: “Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. This is what I have found in nonviolence” (King, Where, 63–64). He wrote in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?: “We maintained the hope while transforming the hate of traditional revolutions into positive nonviolent power. As long as the hope was fulfilled there was little questioning of nonviolence. But when the hopes were blasted, when people came to see that in spite of progress their conditions were still insufferable … despair began to set in” (King, Where, 45). Arguing that violent revolution was impractical in the context of a multiracial society, he concluded: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. The beauty of nonviolence is that in its own way and in its own time it seeks to break the chain reaction of evil” (King, Where, 62–63).

Footnotes

King, “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 13 April 1960, in Papers 5:419–425.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

King, Where Do We Go from Here, 1967.

This entry is part of the following collection

Martin Luther King, Jr. – Political and Social Views
Martin Luther King, Jr. – Travels
Montgomery Bus Boycott

Nonviolence

Related Events

King begins freshman year at Morehouse
King hears Mordecai Johnson preach on Gandhi
Montgomery bus boycott begins
Bayard Rustin visits Montgomery
King discusses nonviolence with Bayard Rustin
Glenn Smiley interviews King in Montgomery
“Stride Toward Freedom” officially released; King signs copies at Harlem’s Empire Baptist Bookstore
The Kings and Lawrence Dunbar Reddick depart for India and Middle East
King’s “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” published in Christian Century

The blog started today with an account of the paltry amounts of money that our leading edu-philanthropists are contributing to alleviate the suffering of students and families during this crisis and to help public schools through the crisis.

By contrast, some principals and teachers in the Oakland Education Association have agreed to give half or all of their stimulus checks to the families of undocumented workers, who will receive nothing. In proportion to their wealth, the teachers and principals are about a million times more generous than the billionaires.

The educators at the Oakland Unified School District launched the Stimulus Pledge campaign Thursday in response to the enormous stress and despair they say they are witnessing among immigrant parents who have lost all income under shelter-in-place orders, but are left out of unemployment insurance and many other benefits.

“We are in contact with our families every day and what we are hearing is heartbreaking,” said Anita Iverson-Comelo, a principal at Bridges Academy at Melrose, in East Oakland. “We feel like we have to do something.”

At least eight teachers at Bridges Academy, including some making less than $50,000 per year, have pledged all or part of their stimulus checks, said Iverson-Comelo. She and six other principals, whose higher salaries might disqualify them from the coronavirus federal cash aid, also plan to donate.

Many families have no income at all and rely for food on the district’s “grab and go” food program. They sure could use some help from Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or Reed Hastings or Jeff Bezos.

Speaking of billionaires, Robert Reich said on Twitter that Jeff Bezos has increased his net worth by $24 billion during the crisis but still won’t give Amazon workers paid sick leave.

Feeding the hungry is not on the billionaires’ agenda. It’s not innovative. It’s not a game-changer.

It’s an act of love.

A teacher in South Dakota writes here about her love of teaching, her love of her students, and how she is handling the current crisis.

She writes:

Let me preface this by saying that I am passionate about education. I enjoy being a student, and I love being a teacher. Of all of the things that I joke about in life, my job as a teacher is taken very seriously. Also, I love my students. LOVE THEM. Would-bring-them-all-home-with-me-without-calling-my-husband-first kind of love.

Right now, I can’t sleep at night. I have this turmoil built up inside of me that physically hurts. If you are a teacher who can say with 100% certainty that you are not worried about any of your students or their ability to do learning from a distance, then you are blessed and this isn’t about you. I am not that lucky. I didn’t really feel like going out and gathering numbers but just knowing what I know, I have to assume that there aren’t many teachers out there who can say with 100% certainty that their students are just as fine at home as they would be at school.

You have to love the zealousness of teachers across the nation right now. Admire it. Be inspired by it! Governors across the country said, “We are going to close the schools.” And teachers said, “Have no fear! We have never done anything like this and no one has any idea what they are doing, but we got this!” But, why? I haven’t heard any direction from Dept. of Ed on the national or state level which is why every single school has been left to navigate this on their own. There is no consistency between schools. The ENTIRE country is in the same exact boat, so how can anyone possibly expect us to be held to the same standard of teaching and expectation of time as if school was in session? Teachers are just supposed to naturally sacrifice themselves in a time of crisis? Do we really feel like we have to validate the paycheck that badly? Asking our families to adjust to us doing our jobs from home has been one wild experience for me, personally. Requiring teachers to report to their buildings during regular contract hours is ridiculous and kind of defeats the purpose of closing the school buildings. As far as I know, teachers are not immune to COVID. (Would be cool though, huh? Add that to our tool belt of superpowers!) Now, I am not saying we sit around and do nothing and treat this like a vacation. But lesson plans? Standards? Taking grades? It shouldn’t even be part of the discussion right now.

One little word. Equity. I can not even touch on any other topic without coming face to face with that word. Packets, online discussions, chats, phone calls, videos, all the bells and whistles… doesn’t matter. Nothing that you do outside of your classroom can be considered equitable. You can not require work to be sent back for grades and you can not expect new learning to take place. At best, you can hope that our students simply retain the things they have already learned. Distance learning in this specific situation is not an equal opportunity for every single one of our students. No one signed up for this and no one was prepared for it. (Also, side note, I am not a scientist but are we sure sending packets back and forth is really the smartest idea??)…

I am blessed to teach in a student-centered district that isn’t requiring anything outlandish, so really I could just sit down and shut up and not worry about it. But so many teachers and students that I love have unreasonable expectations strapped to their backs right now. Do what you feel you have to do to appease your administrator, but please stop stressing yourself out over something that really doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things and fight for those students that need you! This is scary. People are sick and dying. I am not worried about standards and actually teaching right now. I am worried about my fellow teachers, my students, and their families as humans! I hope they are safe and warm and being loved. The best thing that I can wish for is to see all of my students again and to see their smiling faces because their families are still intact.

Joel Westheimer has advice for parents who are at home organizing their children’s days.


FORGET THE WORKSHEETS AND TRYING TO REPLICATE SCHOOL

I am really struck by the variety of media inquiries I’ve been getting about the impacts of Covid-19 on education, what parents should be doing at home, and so on. The interest doesn’t surprise me (I am an education columnist on public radio), but the preoccupation with whether kids will “fall behind” or with how they will “catch up” has. I see hundreds of stories, websites, and YouTube videos that aim to help parents create miniature classrooms at home. Maybe some parents have folding chairs they can bring up from the basement and put in rows. Where’s that big blackboard we used to have? Is there a run on chalk at Costco?

Stop worrying about the vague and evidence-less idea of children “falling behind” or “catching up.” This is a world-wide pause in life-as-usual. We’ve spent the last 25 years over-scheduling kids, over-testing kids, putting undue pressure on them to achieve more and more and play less and less. The result? Several generations of children and young adults who are stressed-out, medicated, alienated, and depressed.

This is not a time for worksheets. This is an opportunity (for those of us lucky enough to be at home and not in hospitals or driving buses or keeping our grocery store shelves stocked) to spend meaningful time with our children to the extent it is possible in any given family. Parents shouldn’t be thinking about how to keep their kids caught up with the curriculum or about how they can recreate school at home or how many worksheets they should have their children complete. They should bake a cake together. Make soup. Grow something in the garden. Take up family music playing. And neither school personnel nor parents should be focusing on how quickly or slowly children will return to school because none of us know We should be focusing on ensuring that teachers are afforded the conditions they need to best support their students — now when school is out and later when school is back in.

Remember that ditty about the two Chinese brush-strokes that comprise the word ‘crisis’? One is the character for ‘danger’ and the other the character for ‘opportunity.’ We are more and more aware of the danger. But we’re missing out on the opportunity: to spend time as families (in whatever form that family takes in your household).

This brings me back to the questions I keep getting. What are my recommendations for what to do with your children at home when they are missing so much school? Stop the homework (unless you and your children are enjoying it).Stop the worksheets. Stop trying to turn your kitchen into Jaime Escalante’s A.P. math class. But do help your children structure their day. Help them process what is going on around them. Help them engage in activities that do not take place on a screen. Help them maintain physical activities whether that means running around the block, running up and down the stairs, or running around the kitchen.Help them be creative. Give them — to the extent possible in your household — the gift of time and attention.

And when brick-and-mortar school (hopefully) returns next Fall, let’s give teachers a great deal of latitude in what, how, and when to teach any particular subject matter. Their primary job should be to restore a sense of safety, nurture a sense of possibility, and rebuild the community lost through extended social isolation.

_________
Joel Westheimer is University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa and an education columnist for CBC’s Ottawa Morning and Ontario Today shows. His most recent book is “What Kind of Citizen: Educating Our Children for the Common Good.” You can follow him on Twitter: @joelwestheimer.

In communities across the country, teachers are organizing “teacher parades,” where they drive slowly through the neighborhoods where their students live, honking and waving as their students jump up and down with excitement.

Where did it start? This one was in Springfield, but I have heard that the first one was in Lawrence, Kansas.

Do you know?

This is a beautiful and powerful statement spoken in court by a young man on trial for “extremism” in a Russian court. It was translated by Masha Gessen and appears in The New Yorker online. it explains the power of Resistance to tyranny and the importance of individual responsibility and love.

Gessen writes:

A twenty-one-year-old university student named Yegor Zhukov stood accused of “extremism,” for posting YouTube videos in which he talked about nonviolent protest, his campaign for a seat on the Moscow City Council, and different approaches to political power. In his most recent video, recorded four months ago, he suggested that “madmen” like Vladimir Putin view power as an end in itself, while political activists view it as an instrument of common action. In many of his vlog entries, Zhukov is seated against the backdrop of the Gadsden flag—“Don’t Tread on Me”—which appears to hang in his bedroom in his parents’ apartment. The prosecutor had asked for four years of prison time for Zhukov. On Friday, a Moscow court sentenced Zhukov to three years’ probation—an unusually light punishment probably explained by the public response to Zhukov’s speech, which several Russian media outlets dared to publish. Hundreds of people gathered in front of the courthouse on the day of the sentencing. As a condition of his probation, Zhukov is banned from posting to the Internet. The judge also ordered that the flag, which was confiscated by police, be destroyed.

Instead of writing my own column, I have translated Zhukov’s final statement, delivered in court on Wednesday. I did it because it is a beautiful text that makes for instructive reading. Parts of it seem to describe American reality as accurately as the Russian one. Parts of it show what resistance can be.

Zhukov’s statement:

“This court hearing is concerned primarily with words and their meaning. We have discussed specific sentences, the subtleties of phrasing, different possible interpretations, and I hope that we have succeeded at showing to the honorable court that I am not an extremist, either from the point of view of linguistics or from the point of view of common sense. But now I would like to talk about a few things that are more basic than the meaning of words. I would like to talk about why I did the things I did, especially since the court expert offered his opinion on this. I would like to talk about my deep and true motives. The things that have motivated me to take up politics. The reasons why, among other things, I recorded videos for my blog.

“But first I want to say this. The Russian state claims to be the world’s last protector of traditional values. We are told that the state devotes a lot of resources to protecting the institution of the family, and to patriotism. We are also told that the most important traditional value is the Christian faith. Your Honor, I think this may actually be a good thing. The Christian ethic includes two values that I consider central for myself. First, responsibility. Christianity is based on the story of a person who dared to take up the burden of the world. It’s the story of a person who accepted responsibility in the greatest possible sense of that word. In essence, the central concept of the Christian religion is the concept of individual responsibility.

“The second value is love. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is the most important sentence of the Christian faith. Love is trust, empathy, humanity, mutual aid, and care. A society built on such love is a strong society—probably the strongest of all possible societies.

“To understand why I’ve done what I’ve done, all you have to do is look at how the Russian state, which proudly claims to be a defender of these values, does in reality. Before we talk about responsibility, we have to consider what the ethics of a responsible person is. What are the words that a responsible individual repeats to himself throughout his life? I think these words are, ‘Remember that your path will be difficult, at times unbearably so. All your loved ones will die. All your plans will go awry. You will be betrayed and abandoned. And you cannot escape death. Life is suffering. Accept it. But once you accept it, once you accept the inevitability of suffering, you must still accept your cross and follow your dream, because otherwise things will only get worse. Be an example, be someone on whom others can depend. Do not obey despots, fight for the freedom of body and soul, and build a country in which your children can be happy.’

“Is this really what we are taught? Is this really the ethics that children absorb at school? Are these the kinds of heroes we honor? No. Our society, as currently constituted, suppresses any possibility of human development. [Fewer than] ten per cent of Russians possess ninety per cent of the country’s wealth. Some of these wealthy individuals are, of course, perfectly decent citizens, but most of this wealth is accumulated not through honest labor that benefits humanity but, plainly, through corruption.

“An impenetrable barrier divides our society in two. All the money is concentrated at the top and no one up there is going to let it go. All that’s left at the bottom—and this is no exaggeration—is despair. Knowing that they have nothing to hope for, that, no matter how hard they try, they cannot bring happiness to themselves or their families, Russian men take their aggression out on their wives, or drink themselves to death, or hang themselves. Russia has the world’s [second] highest rate of suicide among men. As a result, a third of all Russian families are single mothers with their kids. I would like to know: Is this how we are protecting the institution of the family?

“Miron Fyodorov [a rap artist who performsunder the name Oxxxymiron], who attended many of my court hearings, has observed that alcohol is cheaper than a textbook in Russian. The state is pushing Russians to make a choice between responsibility and irresponsibility, in favor of the latter.

“Now I’d like to talk about love. Love is impossible in the absence of trust. Real trust is formed of common action. Common action is a rarity in a country where few people feel responsible. And where common action does occur, the guardians of the state immediately see it as a threat. It doesn’t matter what you do—whether you are helping prison inmates, speaking up for human rights, fighting for the environment—sooner or later you’ll either be branded a ‘foreign agent’ or just locked up. The state’s message is clear: ‘Go back to your burrow and don’t take part in common action. If we see more than two people together in the street, we’ll jail you for protesting. If you work together on social issues, we’ll assign you the status of a “foreign agent.” ’ Where can trust come from in a country like this—and where can love grow? I’m speaking not of romantic love but of the love of humanity.

“The only social policy the Russian state pursues consistently is the policy of atomization. The state dehumanizes us in one another’s eyes. In the state’s own eyes, we stopped being human a long time ago. Otherwise, why would it treat its citizens the way it does? Why does it punctuate its treatment of people through daily nightstick beatings, prison torture, inaction in the face of an H.I.V. epidemic, the closure of schools and hospitals, and so on?

“Let’s look at ourselves in the mirror. We let this be done to us, and who have we become? We have become a nation that has unlearned responsibility. We have become a nation that has unlearned love. More than two hundred years ago, Alexander Radishchev [widely regarded as the first Russian political writer], as he travelled from St. Petersburg to Moscow, wrote, ‘I gazed around myself, and my soul was wounded by human suffering. I then looked inside myself, and saw that man’s troubles come from man himself.’ Where are these kinds of people today? Where are the people whose hearts ache this much for what is happening in our country? Why are hardly any people like this left?

“It turns out that the only traditional institution that the Russian state truly respects and protects is the institution of autocracy. Autocracy aims to destroy anyone who actually wants to work for the benefit of the homeland, who isn’t scared to love and take on responsibility. As a result, our long-suffering citizens have had to learn that initiative will be punished, that the boss is always right just because he is the boss, that happiness may be within reach—but not for them. And having learned this, they gradually started to disappear. According to the state statistical authority, Russians are slowly vanishing, at the rate of four hundred thousand people a year. [Deaths exceeded births by nearly two hundred thousand in the first six months of 2019.] You can’t see the people behind the statistics. But try to see them! These are the people who are drinking themselves to death from helplessness, the people freezing to death in unheated hospitals, the people murdered by others, and those who kill themselves. These are people. People like you and me.

“By this point, it’s probably clear why I did what I did. I really want to see these two qualities—responsibility and love—in my fellow-citizens. Responsibility for one’s self, for one’s neighbors, for one’s country. This wish of mine, your honor, is another reason why I could not have called for violence. Violence breeds impunity, which breeds irresponsibility. By the same token, violence does not bear love. Still, despite all obstacles, I have no doubt that my wish will come true. I am looking ahead, beyond the horizon of years, and I see a Russia full of responsible, loving people. It will be a truly happy place. I want everyone to imagine Russia like this. And I hope this image can lead you in your work, as it has led me in mine.

“In conclusion, I would like to state that if the court decides that these words are spoken by a truly dangerous criminal, the next few years of my life will be marked by deprivation and adversity. But I look at the people [who have been jailed in the latest wave of activist arrests] and I see smiles on their faces. Two people I met briefly during pretrial detention, Lyosha Minyaylo and Danya Konon, never complained. I will try to follow their example. I will endeavor to take joy in having this chance—the chance to be tested in the name of values I hold dear. In the end, Your Honor, the more frightening my future, the broader the smile with which I look at it. Thank you.”

 

 

Shortly after I read this very provocative post by David Kristofferson, I saw a story in Education Week that suicide rates among young Americans have recently soared.  

Quoting data from federal sources, it said:

Suicide rates for teens between the ages of 15 and 19 increased by 76 percent between 2007 and 2017.  And the suicide rate for 10- to 14-year-olds nearly tripled over that same time period, according to CDC’s data.

Kristofferson writes that something is clearly wrong with the way we raise our children. His own district in California surveyed high school students and reported that nearly a third of them describe themselves as”sad.” A sizable fraction have recently used drugs or alcohol.

He then goes on to contrast two parenting styles: the wholesome Dutch approach, which produces”the happiest children in the world” and the strict Tiger Mom approach, which establishes rigid standards of behavior: all work and no play, a phenomenon that captured media attention a few years ago.

As a grandmother who was once a very loving non-Tiger Mom, I think there is something terribly wrong with the absurd pressure we put on our children today. What they need most of all, after their basic needs are met, is unconditional love, the knowledge that someone is crazy about them. That’s a line I heard many years ago from a celebrated Yale child psychologist, Dr. Alfred Solnit: Every child needs to know that someone is crazy about her or him.

 

I recently watched the PBS special about the Jewish legacy on Broadway, and I enjoyed every minute.

It is online, and I share it now with you. 

I hope it is still online.

I have always loved Broadway musicals, and many are reprised in this special.

But in addition to the entertainment and the rich cultural history, we see a very contemporary story of immigrants coming to America and becoming quintessentially American. We see Irving Berlin arriving as a five-year-old from Russia, having survived a pogrom, then becoming the composer of “God Bless America,” “Easter Parade,” and “White Christmas,” among the thousands of songs he wrote. We see stories in which composers used their music to teach lessons about racism, intolerance, and bigotry, like “South Pacific,” and the song “You Got to Be Taught to Hate.” Often they told the stories through the experiences of other groups, like “Porgy and Bess” and “West Side Story.”

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I am sending a gift to PBS for remaining a beacon of light in these dark times.