Thursday, April 30, 2015

The One Where I Vent My Frustration With People's Perception of the Baltimore Protests - Warning, it's this title.

For the past week I have watched quietly as Baltimore has gone through some very difficult times. This has been hard for me to do as I live only 45 minutes from Charm City and, at one point in my 20s, thought I might move there. I did not, but it was a close call. Los Angeles with it's beaches, mountains, and jobs in the Entertainment industry won that particular battle. But I still love Baltimore with it's crab cakes, amazing ball park, fantastic aquarium, and amazing diversity. What I don't love about the city is it's extreme dichotomy. 

You see, there are actually two Baltimores with mere blocks standing between them. There is the Baltimore filled with good food, quaint buildings, museums and stores. Then there's the Baltimore that we're seeing today - boarded up buildings, few stores, food deserts, and lots, and lots of frustration. That these two Baltimores have existed standing next to each other for so long is truly difficult to understand. Perhaps it's just me, but I do not understand how the Baltimore that was so inviting to me in my 20s can sit with it's eyes closed and not work tirelessly to help the Baltimore just around the corner. But, I did not move there so I don't know what is really happening in the city - only what I have seen from afar - so I have not felt as though I could speak out just yet. Until today.

I'm Jewish. I don't hide this fact, but it's not always easy to tell if someone is or isn't just by looking at them unless they tell you. Part of being Jewish is the mitzvah (good deed) of Tikkun Olam, or Repairing the World. Today I read an article in a Jewish online magazine called Kveller. For the most part it's a pretty good magazine. It's a bit more conservative than I am, I tend to lean to the far middle left, but it has some pretty good articles. Then there was the one about what to tell your children about the "Baltimore Freddie Gray Riots." I read it and was appalled. It was basically an article about how not to be afraid of people of color because look - some of them brought brooms the day after! Nothing about why the people of Baltimore are angry nor about our responsibilities to our neighbors. I finally got to the point where I could not be silent any longer. 

Below is my response to the article. I don't often comment for a variety of reasons, but this time I felt I had to. It doesn't help that I have been aching to say something since the protests started and I learned why they erupted. In case you are wondering - I fully support the protests, and while I prefer peaceful protests to violent riots, I understand why there are some who needed to vent their anger in a more aggressive way. If you wish to read the article first, you can find it here:

Rivki, this is a beautifully written post, but it only tells half the story. I've lived near Baltimore for most of my life and I have seen it's two sides. The side where children feel safe every day and have enough food to eat, where homes are warm and filled. I have also seen the side where every third house stands empty, non-boarded windows, yawning caverns of darkness, standing open to the elements. I was once a teacher in my state and I would hear "At least we don't teach in Baltimore. We at least have most of what we need here."

Then there are the rules every person of color must tell their child - don't talk back to the police, never look them in the eye, and don't wonder if you are going to be pulled over - you are. 

Yes, as Jews we are different. Yes, I remember having pennies thrown at me in the hallways to see if I would "Jew" them (pick them up) and at least one carving on my locker I wish I could forget, but unless I wear a Mogan David, or a Chi, or something else around my neck that screams "I'M JEWISH!" then the only thing outing me is myself. People of color don't have the option to hide what makes them different - they just are - and because of that they are targets every single day.

You also aren't suggesting that we talk about the peaceful protests, the requests for civil rights to be upheld, the requests for investigations into suspect arrests, the men and women of G-d who linked arms and walked through the streets of Baltimore to meet with the police and came to an agreement with them then walked them back into the parts of the city that were burning and stood in front of the police to protect them - in front of the police who were the target of so much anger, potentially rightly so.

Nor are you giving advice of what we, as Jews, should do. Remember how much emphasis we, as Jews, place on Tikkun Olam - repairing the world. Look at those streets in Baltimore. Not one of them looked much better than they do now just five days ago. And they've looked like that for decades. Just telling your children "Oh, but not every person of color is like that. Look - some of them brought brooms!" doesn't fix the underlying issues of education, employment, shelter and food.

None of us is perfect. If this were us, if we were being arrested for no reason and thrown in jail without cause...if one of our own died because of it - would we sit still and take it or would we protest? Would we riot? Anyone who has studied what happened in Warsaw from April 19, 1943 through May 16, 1943 should know that answer. The answer is yes, we would and we have. I would prefer that protests be peaceful, but I would also prefer that the people of this side of Baltimore have what they need to feel safe and secure in their homes. So would my son.

Unlike you, we have been discussing Freddie Gray and what is happening in Baltimore with our son. It is very possible that our son is older than your children - he is 8 and in 2nd grade which does make a difference. If this was two years ago I would be avoiding this conversation with him. Actually I did avoid the conversation last year when protests broke out in Albuquerque, NM for very similar reasons and again eight months ago when there were protests in Ferguson. But now, this week, we are not avoiding it. He's asked a lot of amazing questions about Freddie Gray, what happened to him, why Baltimore looks so poor, what does it mean to be poor, etc. He has also asked "What can I do to help?" This question, more than any other he has asked this week, made me incredibly proud. He then took it one step further and told me he wanted to write a letter to the President with some ideas of what we can do to help the people of Baltimore. That letter went into the mailbox today.

This comment has become far longer than I originally intended. I obviously feel very strongly that something needs to be done in cities where people are too quickly judged by circumstance or appearance and therefore do not feel safe. But before I sign off, there is one more quote we should heed. Martin Niemöller, a German Protestant pastor during the 1940s, is famous for standing up to Nazi rule when not many people did. While I am in no way comparing anything that is happening in our nation's police departments to the Nazi's, Niemöller's famous quotation is a reminder that we all must look out for our neighbors regardless of circumstance.

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

Yes, we should teach our children not to judge others, but we cannot stop there. We also need to teach them to stand up for those who may need the help of our voices to be heard.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why #closeFCPS Is Important

Yes, it's been awhile. In fact, the last time I wrote a blog it was about 60 degrees warmer than it is right now. Sixty degrees warmer, definitely sunnier, and most importantly - summertime. The last time I wrote, my son and I were eagerly awaiting the school year to start. OK, I was eagerly awaiting the new school year. My son was more than a bit nervous.

Oh, how much things have changed in just 4 or so months!

In case you missed it, today was the day my county screwed up royally. Or, as we say today - EPIC fail. To be honest, Fairfax County wasn't the only county to have it's collective heads up their asses. All the Northern VA counties as well as one or two Maryland counties and the District of Columbia (aka Washington, DC) chose to ignore some very smart people and pretend that the snowstorm barreling down on us would present with what we call a doughnut hole in these parts. Well, that's what happened last year, right? So it had to happen again this year!

How wrong can so many supposedly smart people be? It turns out they can be very, very, very wrong.

Here's a little background.

Last school year, 2013-2014, Fairfax County cancelled school a lot. They cancelled for the threat of snow (note - doughnuts, aka snow falling all around us but not falling in the DMV). They cancelled because it was cold. Granted, it was colder than I have ever experienced here in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia area), but still - canceling for cold was a bit odd. They canceled school so often that school went on through the first session of camps, and camps started in the middle of June. The official last day of school for 2013-2014 was June 25, 2014. We had a total of 11 canceled school days - more than I can remember in the 30+ years I have been involved with FCPS as a student, a teacher or a parent. That was more than a little frustrating. 

Fast forward to this school year. Fairfax County has changed the callendar so we won't have make up days. We also lose our 1/2 day Mondays for Elementery students. Don't get me wrong - there weren't many people who wanted to lose the 1/2 day Mondays for the Elementary kids, but if doing so meant we had more snow days then hey! 

Today was the perfect day to test the new theory. Nathional Weather Service, all the DMV TV weather personalities, and all online and radio weather reports said the same things. First it would get really cold, then there would be snow smack in the middle of rush hour that wouldn't stop until after 12 noon. The first report said 1"-2", but at about 4AM or so, NWS and all the weather reporters in the DC area changed from basically a dusting to a much more significant event. 

You see, around here whre we don't travel with chains in the back of our cars, or have standard snow kits including ice scrappers, anti-freeze, window washer fluid, blankets and extra food stored for the just in case day when you might just need it because youre sitting with your two left wheels in a ditch. The most we might do is hit the grocery store to get Milk, Eggs and OJ the night before the snow hits. That's what winter prep means here. 

But Fairfax County had other ideas. I was not in the room so I don't know what was said to make so very many smart people think that all those other really smart people didn't know what they were talking about. I can only think that they decided to have the meeting at, say, 2AM or 3AM, listen to VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation) tell them that the roads had been pretreated and that it was just going to be a dusting anyway so why bother. They made the call, then they went to bed. 

Wow, were they wrong!

By the time I took my son to school, noting that we are one of the last schools to start in the morning, the roads were a mess. Big snow flakes were coming down on a diagonal, quickly, and sticking to every flat surface. I drove from my house to the next street, from drive way to the other road it's about 1/8 of a mile if that, mostly because I am still in a boot for my poor, maligned ankle. That drive didn't take very long, I have a car that's great in snow, but it was not an easy drive. We then got out of the car and walked the rest of the way. I can honestly say that the 5 minutes it took to walk from the car to the school were some of the most difficult I have done in years. Half mile visibility, snow falling fast and furious, tempurature dropping quickly. And once we got there, we found out that teachers were having just as much trouble getting to school as we were. But at least we got there, right? Our trip didn't sound so bad.

Around the DMV that is not the case. Between accidents caused by busses, other accidents caused by people driving to the schools, and walkers falling hard on the ice because streets weren't plowed and sidewalks/paths weren't salted or shoveled there are enough children who suffered injuries today to start a pretty big club. 

Then some engineering teen created the hashtag #closeFCPS and it took off. By the time the teens were in school, it was too late to turn too many people around and I am sure they didn't want to put everyone back on the roads who had just come off - but they could have closed down schools that hadn't started receiving students yet and slowly gotten the rest of the students home over time. So, #closeFCPS would never work in any way other than letting people know what was going on. 

I would have preferred #FCPSFail, because that's what happened. Fairfax County Failed. The schools opened, sure, but the number of students, staff, teachers, and administrators who were put in danger because someone in Fairfax County didn't want to listen to the forecasters and believe them is a complete failure, one I am beyond surprised they made. 

There good news from this, believe it or not. Good news does exist. Tomorrow, the day after the snow storm, is our first day of Artic weather. It is currently 16 degrees outside, a good 6 degrees below forecasted temps for this time of night, This tells me we may or may not actually make it to 20 degrees tomorrow. So, it's a good thing that Fairfax County has decided to delay opening for 2 hours. That's a good first step. Hopefully, as we have more Artic air this week, Fairfax County decides to be smart and either delays or closes school as warrented. 

They just have to remember that the Northern VA area is not used to winters as wintery as this. We don't keep chains in the car, but I'm beginning to think we might have to. But if we have to start carrying chains, then VDOT needs to start behaving appropriately and the County needs to start taking care of all the sidewalks and paths leading to school. 

But to be honest, right now I'd settle for good calls at least 90% of the time when it comes to deciding if we need school or not. 

As most of the country is gripped in this lovely Alberta Clipper like we are down here, I hope you are stayiing dry and warm wherever you are!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hug the one's you're with

It seems appropriate that the last entry to this on again, off again blog was written at Balticon. That's where I first met P.G. Holyfield (back in 2009? 2010?). It's also the last place I saw him. This year somewhere between one of the panels and Heather's graduation party Sunday night, I caught a glimpse of P.G. It was a blur, it was the first year I read at Balticon, the second or third time I've presented but the first time in more than 20 years. Yeah, I'm a long term geek. And, well, this year's Balticon was just so packed for me. So packed that I don't remember if I even said "Hello" to P.G. or if I nodded towards him or if I waved. There is a photo that we're both in from the Meat and Greet, in line for our meat.

As I said in the first paragraph, I first met P.G. Holyfield at Balticon at least four years ago. I purchased a book from the Dragon Moon Press table called "Chasing the Bard" mostly because it was a story about one of my favorite subjects - William Shakespeare. The guy behind the table first introduced me to the author, Pip Ballantine, as she wandered up. I asked her to sign the book, which she did before saying "Well, you should get Tee's signature too. He's in the podiobook." So, Tee, the guy behind the table, signed it as well. Then this guy with a quirky smile sauntered up to the table. Tee thrust the book into his hands and said something like "Sign." PG said "Why?" So Tee and Pip explained that she was having the cast sign the book for me as well. So he shrugged his shoulders and signed the book, along with his character name. 

I'm not someone who listens to podcasts, podiobooks or audiobooks of any kind. I've been on a podcast or two and I've also read a short story for a podcast, but I don't listen to them. It's hard for me to follow the story when there isn't a visual, so I prefer things written on pages. But, I think, this week I will make an exception. I'm going to go searching for "Chasing the Bard" on PodioBooks or wherever it is these days and give it a listen for as long as I can. Just to hear P.G.'s voice and smile as I remember the first time I met him. 

If this memory made you smile at all, please consider giving a gift to P.G. and his family. As with any medical situation, costs are astronomical. P.G. also has three children he is leaving behind. You can find information about giving a gift and P.G.'s condition on the GoFundMe site created by some of his closest friends who are with him in his final days. You can find it here:


And now an appropriate goodbye to Auberon as voiced by Patrick "P.G." Holyfield with slight apologies to Shakespeare for jumping into the text where I do.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Act V Sc. 1 Line 415


With this field-dew consecrate
Every fairy take his gait;
And each several chamber bless,
Through this palace with sweet peace;
And the owner of it blest
Ever shall in safety rest.
Trip away; make no stay;
Meet me all by break of day.

Exeunt   [OBERON, TITANIA, and train]

Rest peacefully, Patrick. You will be missed by all, even those of us who knew you only slightly, but were touched by your kindness, generousity and love of what you did.