“Be A Nuisance Where It Counts”April 23, 2018
Pope Francis never met Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the intrepid environmentalist and defender of the Everglades in Florida, but if they had a chance to converse, they surely would have found much common ground in their fierce advocacy for Mother Earth. Unfortunately, the world came to know Douglas through the terrible tragedy of gun violence at the high school in Parkland, Florida that bears her name. In a sadly ironic way, the great loss of life in the Parkland shooting is the appalling consequence of what the Pope calls our “throw-away culture” in which everything, including human life, seems easily disposable because of selfish interests that defy the essential morality of care for the common good.
Political attitudes that think nothing of selling off the wilderness for corporate gain also defend the mindless acquisition of assault rifles as some kind of weird manifestation of freedom. It’s not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Governance in a free society should be all about protecting everyone’s right to life, since without that first and most fundamental protection, we cannot enjoy our freedom. Freedom does not mean that I have the right to acquire as much as I want at the expense of everyone else. Rather, freedom means that we all work together cooperatively and with a shared vision to build a society rooted in fairness and justice for all, and in that kind of Good Society we can enjoy great freedom.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas urged her students to, “Be a nuisance where it counts.” Pope Francis seems to take that good advice to a new level, particularly on topics that truly irritate politicians who wish he would just be quiet, like the rights of immigrants, care for the poor, and environmental justice.
In the opening paragraphs of his magnificent 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis states the moral case for environmental justice quite clearly:
“Our Sister, Mother Earth, …. cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.”
Scott Pruitt, the chief administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, obviously has not read, or does not care about, the words of Pope Francis and the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church on “care for God’s creation,” one of the seven tenets of Catholic social teaching. While Secretary Pruitt is not Catholic, he does profess to be “pro-life” but his policies and political positions on environmental protection are a direct affront to the preservation of human life and all life on this planet. While Pruitt has been embroiled in a breathtaking array of scandals, any one of which would nullify his appointment in any other administration, the real scandal of Pruitt’s continuing appointment is not his excessive greed and self-dealing, but rather, the many ways in which he is systematically destroying environmental protections.
Pruitt is a notorious climate change denier, has made “climate science” a dirty phrase at the EPA, and scientists are leaving the agency in record numbers. He has replaced scientists on advisory boards with industry representatives. Among the many damaging reversals of environmental protections he is leading at the behest of President Trump, some of the most damning include relaxation of rules requiring companies (oil, gas, power,automobile manufacturers, e.g.) to act to protect the environment by controlling the flow of harmful toxins from their products into the air and water; permitting offshore drilling and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, reduction of protected lands at Bears Ears in Utah to allow more development, and perhaps worst of all, withdrawal from the Paris Accords that are the global community’s most important commitment to saving this planet. He appointed Susan Combs, a vocal opponent of the Endangered Species Act, as the Interior Department Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. How can somebody who opposes protection for fish and wildlife even agree to take such a position? The moral vacuum of such decisions is appalling.
“We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, play the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.” (Laudato Si #36)
Law and policy forcing actions to protect the environment have actually proven effective over the last half century. Bald eagles are one example of a species restored after coming close to extinction. The Potomac River is getting closer to being safe for swimming. The Chesapeake Bay is showing signs of restoration after years of decline. And yet, with all the signs of progress, the current administration would return this nation and our planet to a time when the rivers and bays were more polluted, the air less breathable, the forests destroyed to build more shopping plazas and condos. Rolling back the clock on environmental protection will never make America great again, and in fact, it will hasten the destruction of the entire planet. Global climate change is real, and the consequences in droughts, wildfires, floods, increasingly violent hurricanes and destructive weather patterns are all a harbinger of a grim future if we allow climate science deniers to continue to hold office.
“I urgently appeal…for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all…We require a new and universal solidarity…All of us can cooperate as instruments of god for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.” — Pope Francis, #14 in the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home
Let’s make sure that every day is Earth Day. Be that nuisance for what is right. Insist that our government officials act with moral sensibility in doing what is necessary and essential to ensure environmental protection as a matter of justice not only for ourselves, but to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the fullness of human life and all life on our small planet.
TRINITY STUDENT GOVERNMENT IS HOSTING A SCREENING OF “RIVER BLUE” ON THURSDAY AT 6:30 PM
SGA President Gabrielle Clary writes: River Blue is a film about the fashion industry’s impact on our water resources. We are working with Fashion Revolution and Free the Slaves, two non-profit organizations that focus on human rights and environmental sustainability. After the film, there will be a panel discussion. The panel includes two reps from the World Bank, a DC government rep , and an Anacostia River historian. If you have time in your day on Thursday feel free to come to Social Hall to join the event. The flyer is below. If you know of any other guests that would like to come, the link to RSVP is also attached below.
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Earth Day 2018April 22, 2018
In celebration of Earth Day 2018, I am sharing some of my favorite photos of “wild things” with you! Enjoy…
Watch this space for an essay on the urgent issues of environmental justice next….Continue reading →Read comments (0) Add Comment
Celebrating a Free PressApril 16, 2018
(Image of sides of the Pulitzer Prize medal, Pulitzer website)
“These days journalists need a soul and a spine, and the journalists who worked on these had both. They had a soul in seeking and finding the truth, and they had a spine in that they overcame deceit, denial, obstruction and threats. They stood strong throughout that.” (Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post at the announcement of two Pulitzer Prizes for Washington Post reporters, one for investigative reporting on the sexual assault allegations against Roy Moore during the 2017 Alabama Senate race, and one for investigative reporting on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.)
Congratulations to all of the journalists, writers, poets, photographers and musicians who won Pulitzer Prizes this year, and all who were nominated as well. The body of work of these remarkable intellects sustains our freedom as a nation, lifts up excellence in the face of threats and disrespect, demonstrates that persistence in service of truth ultimately wins the day.
At a time when the president of the United States and his acolytes routinely express the most venomous contempt for newspapers and journalists in all media — resorting to taunts like “the failing New York Times” or “fake news” to denigrate true stories about corrupt official misconduct — celebrating and honoring the courageous work of journalists is an important expression of our reverence for, and need for, a robust free press to sustain our way of life.
The New York Times took three Pulitzers today, including one for reporting on the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal that gave rise to the #MeToo movement, one also on the 2016 Russian interference in the U.S. election, and one on the plight of Syrian refugees. The full list of all winners is here.
The work of Pulitzer Prize winners is worthy of study not only by students of journalism but all who want to understand the importance of excellence and resilience in the craft of investigation, research and writing to inform the world about the conditions that afflict our society. Courageous journalism has exposed to public scrutiny constant stories of official lies and cover-ups — Woodward and Bernstein reporting on Nixon’s cover-up of the Watergate scandal leading to Nixon’s ultimate resignation; Kay Graham’s courage in deciding to publish the Pentagon Papers exposing the truth of the Vietnam War and hastening the end of the war; Marty Baron and the Boston Globe’s relentless pursuit of the truth about priests abusing children in the Boston Archdiocese; and countless other stories not quite so famous but equally important for rooting out official corruption and sustaining the balance of power in society between those in office and the people they are supposed to serve.
A healthy free press challenges conventional wisdom, looks under rocks for dirt others may not even think about, and yes, sometimes gets it wrong or acts in completely annoying and even irresponsible ways. Like all professions, journalists and media professionals have to work constantly to maintain trust and to weed out the bad actors. But it would be a far worse abuse of trust for journalists to hold back, to look the other way for fear of incurring official wrath, to choose a less vigorous path on an investigation to protect the powerful at the expense of everyone else.
Jefferson was right about this: a free press is far more important than the government itself, and any government that tries to stifle the free press is unworthy of the trust and confidence of the people.
The Pulitzer Prizes remind us of the best of journalism, and all reporters and media professionals should rightfully take pride in these achievements while redoubling commitments to do even more to preserve our precious freedoms.Continue reading →Read comments (1) Add Comment
If King Had Lived…April 2, 2018
Langston Hughes posed the question long before the zenith of the Civil Rights Movement.
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
The history of the United States is a history of racial pain and subjugation, slavery and segregation, political power games calculating the value of votes on black bodies from the evil and immoral 3/5 compromise in the original Constitution to the gerrymandering and manipulation of voting rights that’s going on this very minute.
In that long history, a very few leaders stand out as not only bold and courageous, but in fact, essential for social change and reconciliation across centuries of the original sin of slavery and ongoing racism. No, don’t look to the Founders, they are the ones who could have stopped the madness at the start — not George Washington nor Thomas Jefferson nor James Madison, all southern slave owners, all men who knew it was wrong but who could not quit slavery because of their economic interests and their desire to have power. John Adams from the north knew it was wrong, but in the compromises that forged the nation, the moral view lost, badly and to our great sorrow even today.
Abraham Lincoln stands out as one of the essential leaders for racial justice and social change, though he, too, had limits imposed by time and place and culture and political constraints. But he achieved the Emancipation Proclamation and led the Union to victory in the Civil War — a war that’s still being fought in too many places today. See: Charlottesville.
Thurgood Marshall was one of the absolutely essential leaders for racial justice and social change. We know his achievement as the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court, but even more important, he was the lawyer who led the legal team to victory in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation case. Without Brown, the progress of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement might have slowed, dissipated, dissolved in more anger and despair.
Let’s pause to remember Linda Brown who died on March 25 — she was the child whose name is on the most important civil rights case in the history of our nation.
So many other names in the pantheon of great civil rights leaders: Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X …the list is long.
But one name rises above all others, the most essential leader in the movement for civil rights: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Or does it explode?
50 years ago this week, Dr. King was assassinated on the hotel balcony in Memphis. April 4, 1968. So many articles, videos, tv shows, commentaries, marches, memorials and memories will flow in abundance for a few days. Then once more, a certain kind of silence will creep back into our national psyche on the topic of civil rights.
Silence, really? Yes. Oh, sure, there are and will continue to be loud voices, demands, programs, eloquent and profane, all in the name of advancing civil rights and Dr. King’s legacy. But something terrible has been happening in our nation, in case you haven’t noticed: a certain ebbing of willpower, a sense of frustration and feeling overwhelmed by a news cycle that is too fast and too ugly and too wicked to confront every day. Silence is a defense mechanism, let’s just go about our business and hope that the next election will fix things back to where they “used to be” — but what was that?
On the occasion of Dr. King’s birthday in January, I reflected in this blog on what might have happened had Dr. King lived. Of course, asking “what if” questions of history can be a fairly pointless exercise unless we understand the point that must be made. This is the point: Since Dr. King’s death, this nation has not had a leader for civil rights and human rights of his stature, his grace, his eloquence and his power. Yes, various politicians and leaders have had their moments, but no one has come close.
The national agenda for racial justice, civil and human rights is urgent and compelling this very minute, and it cannot subsist on memories alone. We long for a leader who can truly pick up King’s mantle and continue the march to justice.
What if King had lived?
He might have challenged in profound ways the manner in which Brown v. Board of Education was implemented in the later years, in the late 1960′ and 1970’s led to school busing and legal challenges on school funding and the eventual resegregation of schools in inner cities because of housing patterns driven by a sociology that was relentless, also known as “white flight.” He might have been a clearer voice for the moral good of integration, calling other leaders to be bolder and more urgent in their insistence on justice, not just parsing legal niceties but pushing the law to new places.
He surely would have raised his mighty voice against the forces that started to mis-appropriate the language of civil rights in the 1980’s and 1990’s and on to today to claim some kind of grievance against African Americans, to demand a retreat from progress in favor of some kind of watered-down “same-same” notion of equality that perpetrates injustice. See: all the cases around universities and affirmative action in admissions.
He would have raised a new generation of strong and visionary leaders to succeed him. He would have galvanized the emerging generation of black corporate leaders to do more than enjoy their wealth and status, to be true spokespersons for advancing civil rights. He would have pushed cities and states to address the fundamental problems of poverty and illiteracy and under-employment and violence that disproportionately affect black communities, still. He would have insisted that President Obama’s election was not some kind of deceptive “post-racial” moment, but simply a stop along the way to justice. He would have strengthened Obama’s willingness to speak of civil rights issues as more urgent than ever. He would surely have made common cause with those who are suffering discrimination and oppression at this very moment — the black men who live with increasing fear of police violence and, the immigrants and refugees who are treated with official contempt and threats, Muslims and LGBTQ persons and all those mocked and ridiculed by those now in power.
Is this too much? Could any one human being do this? Probably not, but inspiration is a powerful thing. What our current moment in American history lacks is coherent, forceful, urgent inspiration — perhaps save for the children who marched down Pennsylvania avenue two weeks ago demanding a rebalancing of this society in favor of justice, peace, safety and security that are essential for freedom to flourish.
Where are the leaders in his image?
This week, instead of watching newsreels of Washington burning, why not think about how we take the inspiration of his leadership forward. The only way this nation is going to find its way out of the current darkness is through collective and urgent and relentless leadership for the moral value of justice. We have no time to waste, let’s remember Dr. King by moving ahead with his agenda. Now.Continue reading →Read comments (0) Add Comment
Trinity in Solidarity with the March For Our LivesMarch 25, 2018
Many thanks to all students, faculty, staff and friends from the community who participated in the Trinity Teach-in on Gun Violence on Friday, March 23, 2018. I will post more about the program presentations and next steps through the week. For now, the short slideshow above reminds us of the energy and intensity of the Trinity community on this topic and the ways in which we express solidarity with others who are seeking an end to gun violence.
See also: Article on the Teach-in in Catholic News Service: Keep Spirit of March Going
Also this CNS video on the Teach-in
Sophomore Tola Walker ’20 shared these photos of her poster and being out at the march:
Pamela Johnson shared these photos:
Titania Best sent these photos:
Shandeliha Walker sent these photos:
Do you have more photos and comments about the march? You can send them to me via email email@example.com or post comments in the box below.
Follow me on Twitter @TrinityPrez
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