Wednesday, November 23, 2016

ACTION: A Church Congregation Stands Up To Bigotry

No doubt, taking a solitary stance against bigotry can be scary. But here is an approach that lends itself to the collective action by a religious congregation or other organization.  Consider it a model.  If you like it, share.  Maybe you can get something going in your community.   

The congregation of Silver Spring, Maryland’s Episcopal Church of Our Saviour refuses to let bigotry define their community.

Excerpted from an article By Dave Zirin in The Nation
NOVEMBER 21, 2016

The Hillandale Shopping Center in Silver Spring, Maryland is like a thousand you have seen before. Located at a highway intersection, the strip mall includes a Mattress Warehouse, a Chipotle, and of course a Starbucks. Reflecting the pockets of immigrant poverty in the immediate area, there is also a Value Village and several boarded-up storefronts. Flying above the mostly low-income commercial block is an American flag on a towering flagpole.

Across Powder Mill Road, nestled just off the highway, is an ornate brick house of worship called the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour. Like the Hillandale Shopping Center, this is a church that reflects the surrounding community. The immigrants who make up 80 percent of the congregation have come to the United States from 50 different countries.

On the morning of Sunday, November 13, Father Robert Harvey was on his way to the church to deliver a sermon about the impact of Donald Trump’s election. His goal was to soothe the nerves of his congregants. He said, “We had been hearing more and more about fear among our members about what could happen to their families if Trump was elected.”

He was going to speak to them about “Jewish exiles in Babylon, and how the prophet Jeremiah told them to pray for the good fortune of the country where they currently live. And the word in Jeremiah is ‘For in their prosperity, you will find your prosperity.’ ”

That plan was turned on its head when Father Robert, as he is called, arrived at the church:

[I] noticed a message written in what looked like a thick permanent marker on our memorial garden wall that said ‘Trump Nation/Whites Only.’ And then, when I went out to the other side of the church I saw the same message written on our banner that advertises our mass in Spanish with deep [knife] cuts into the sign.
Father Robert showed me the faintly visible markings of the message. Their efforts to blast it off the brick walls are proving to be more difficult than they anticipated.

Father Robert had to alter his sermon on the fly from one of hope in a perilous time to one speaking hard truths. He said, “This particular campaign has opened up racial scars and wounds that have been in this country for years…. Please be aware of how close to home this has hit. This is literally now, quite literally, right outside our windows.”

Father Robert was distraught but not as shocked as many in the congregation. He said to me:

Two days after the election, at the Hillandale Shopping Center, I saw an elderly Latina woman being humiliated by two big white guys. They were calling her a spic and to go back to Mexico. And I was walking through the parking lot and she was standing there shaking violently, and I put my arm around her and I said, “Guys, this is unacceptable, buzz off.” And they said with menace, “You don’t tell us what to do!” I threatened to call the police and they scattered. A couple yards away, there were two Muslim women, in full garb. They said to me, “We saw those guys too. They’d been standing there for a while. It’s almost as if they were positioned there to humiliate anyone, there, who did not look like them.”

The fear among the congregants at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour is real, but the community response to the vandalism has been remarkable. Homemade signs, chalkings, and banners now adorn the inside and the outside of the church with messages in a variety of languages such as, “You are always welcome here,” “Resist hate,” “Our community is strong,” “We are one people,” and “In God we love.”

There is also now a massive printed banner in front of the church that reads, “Silver Spring loves and welcomes all immigrants.” The banner, visible from the highway, is like a steely glare aimed at anyone who wants this church and these congregants to disappear.

“The community has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive and caring,” Father Robert told me.

We’ve had a synagogue in Washington, DC, whose rabbi and congregants were here on Monday offering prayers, an imam and members of his congregation came to offer their prayers, and an absolute outpouring from all the Christian denominations in the area…. I’m tired but I’m also very hopeful because of this outpouring…. We are now looking towards turning the church into a site for racial reconciliation, a place where those kinds of conversations can happen. I want our church to be at the forefront of that. This is supposed to be a safe place for all people and we want that to be the case.


Monday, November 21, 2016


With this blog entry, I bring together my two passions: social justice activism and the world of theater. 

This time of year, audiences at Broadway and Off Broadway shows are often asked to remain for a few moments following the performance in order to hear a request for donations to an organization known as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. 

Last Friday, however, when Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of the mega-hit musical ‘Hamilton,’ the audience heard a different end-of-show message. It was an expression of concern about the kinds of statements many find to be both offensive and threatening that have been making national news as they are aired or Tweeted from the inner circle of President-elect Donald Trump. 

Speaking from the stage, actor Brandon Victor Dixon called on the Vice President-elect to hold off on leaving. This is what Dixon said, reading from a statement prepared by the show’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, its director Thomas Kail, producer Jeffrey Seller, and Mr. Dixon:

“Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do.  We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. 

"But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us — all of us. We truly thank you for sharing this show — this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.”

Word got out immediately, of course, and Mr. Trump quickly responded by Tweeting: 

"Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!"  He later added a second Tweet: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!"

While Mr. Pence is hardly the most uncivil member of the future President’s cohort, he was the one who was there, and so he was the recipient of the message. 

He himself has said he was not offended and that he would “leave it to others whether it was the appropriate venue to say it.” 

For the record, I find nothing disrespectful about the statement. 

What I do find interesting is the silence from Mr. Trump's Twitter feed following an incident the very next evening during a performance of 'Hamilton' in Chicago. An audience member (identified as John Palmer) interrupted the performance by yelling curses aimed broadly at anyone who didn't vote for Mr. Trump. No requests for apologies have emanated from Trump Tower.  



Given that the remarks in New York were made in lieu of a plea for donations to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, perhaps the next time you are asked to donate, you could throw a buck or two into the buckets being held by members of the cast as you exit the theater. Not such a hardship, really.  And if you are not a New York theatergoer, you can always go to their website (CLICK HERE) and make a donation. 

As an FYI, the organization helps men, women and children  receive lifesaving medications, health care, nutritious meals, counseling and emergency financial assistance. It is the major supporter of essential social service programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic. 


Sunday, November 20, 2016


If "social justice is a verb," then we need to do more than have convictions; we need to act on them.

One thing we can do is offer financial support to organizations with the commitment and infrastructure already in place so that they can keep on fighting the good fight.  

How many of us make donations on some sporadic basis? 

Certainly, this would describe my financial support of organizations whose work I admire and appreciate.  

Until now.  

Putting my money where my mouth is, I've started to make my donations to organizations that are out there every day fighting for social justice. 

I am commiting my credit card to monthly repeats so I don't let it slip. So far, it's the Southern Poverty Law Center, and GLSEN. More to come.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is "dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry for the most vulnerable members of our society" through litigation, education, and advocacy.   

The organization is particularly focused on monitoring, reporting on, and battling against hate groups and other extremists, tracking and monitoring more than 1,600 such groups across the country. It publishes investigative reports, trains law enforcement officers, shares key intelligence, and offers expert analysis to the media and public.

For for information on SPLC's work, CLICK HERE

GLSEN stands for "Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network," although its mission has expanded since its founding in 1990 to work toward creating "safe and affirming schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression." If nothing else, its annual National School Climate Survey is a great source of information on school safety, valued for its ability to inform education policy makers and the public.  

For more information on GLSEN's work, CLICK HERE

As a word of caution, do your homework regarding any organization you are considering supporting with your dollars.  Make sure of its mission, and be aware of any questionable practices that might suggest the money it collects is not being sufficiently dedicated to fulfilling its avowed purpose. 

                       SOCIAL JUSTICE IS A VERB!


In the world of social justice activism, "live and let live" does not cut it, and "equal" does not mean "the same." 

It means acknowledging and acting on the understanding that some groups need additional protection and a leg up in order to compensate for an inherently unequal playing field.

In an ideal world, this would not be necessary except on an individual basis due to unique circumstances. No one would be treated as if they were inferior or undesirable or unwelcome on the basis of race, ethnicity or ancestry, religion, sexual-orientation, gender-identify, disability, or gender.  

But this is not an ideal world.  Such negative treatment is very real. When it takes the form of a denial of rights and privileges freely available to some (i. e those who pass some unspecified test tied to each of these categories), then you have a conflict.

By its nature, the conflict is not just a matter of divergent opinions. As evidenced through the many legislative and judicial battles that arise over figuring all of this out, it all is deeply entwined in politics.  

Is it possible to separate out issues of social justice from politics? 

Probably not.

Should we stand by and shrug it off as "just politics?"




I am concerned. 

Each year, the FBI puts out a Hate Crime Statistics report, with the definition of a hate crime being a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity."

Between 2014 and 2015: 

  • ·      Anti-Jewish hate crimes rose 9%.

  • ·      Anti-black hate crimes went up by almost 8%.

  • ·      Anti-LGBT hate crimes increased by nearly 5%.

I am Jewish.  My son-in-law is black.  My nephew is gay.  

So, yes, I am concerned.