Category Archives: Faith and Social Justice

items from Not in Our Town Princeton (http://niotprinceton.org) and Princeton United Methodist Church (http://princetonumc.org)

Bridgegate: Now Bordergate?

A Canadian mission team, ages 15 to 60, aiming to help rebuild homes from Superstorm Sandy was turned away at the border, according to this report.

They were to be hosted by a church whose minister, Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, has been labeled “a vocal critic of Trump’s immigration orders.” (He is also the Green Party candidate for governor.)

According to the Customs and Border Patrol, they lacked the government letter needed to prove the project is needed. But mission teams have, for years, entered the United States from Canada without such documentation.

This group of teenagers and parents was told, by the immigration officials, that there was a danger that they might take away American jobs — and that there was no more need for home rebuilding resulting from Superstorm Sandy. No more need? Four years after the storm, more than 4,000 people have not recovered. Churches in New Jersey — including my own, the United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey — are still working and collecting donations to get people back in their homes.

Does this seem like payback to you?

At the minimum, the United States loses tourist dollars. And trust. According to this report in The Guardian the Girl Guides of Canada have canceled all trips to the United States.

 

 

Book Review: Simona L. Brickers

levineSimona L. Brickers, my colleague on the board at Not in Our Town Princeton, reviewed this book by Caroline Levine. Thank you, Simona, for drawing my attention to Forms: Whole, Rhythms, Hierarchy, Networks (192 pages, $19.95, Princeton University Press).

Levine’s book is a fascinating journey through Forms, defined as the “fluid overlap of social and cultural order, patterns, and shape that open up to the “generalizable understanding of political power” (Chapter 1).  It brings together, nicely outlined, literary work by Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Jacques Derrida, and Ralph Waldo Emerson along with many others. It weaves the literary examples into accounts of lived examples of institutionalized, systemic, freedoms and constraints that influence social collaboration and chaos.

In relating the act of punishment to rhythm, Levine highlights African music as repetitive, cyclical, polyrhythmic and dialogic and expressing pleasures that produce a participatory and embodied collective singing.  Rhythms turned out to be the repressive form used against African captives by slave masters to impose solidarity, control, and subjugations through chain gang songs (Chapter 3).

Levine’s central concern, as reflected in her title (Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network), was to present a platform to explore the phenomenon called “path dependency.”  Path dependence is learned helplessness depicted as a systematic composition that constricts diversity (race and gender) with barriers that prohibit reversal because of social and organizational cost.  The mechanism of sex is a device that produces hierarchical distinction (Chapter 4). The implicit disconnect in the various forms creates constraints and differences. Various forms overlap and intersect. They travel and influence political policies in particular historical contexts (Chapter 1). 

Nevertheless, the whole theoretical concept is misleading when it is carefully examined to reveal the social advantages that differ according to the traditional rhythms of the hierarchical color-coded network . Levine quotes Derrida’s work because the desire for bounded wholeness has grave political consequences (Chapter 2). Levine addressed the underpinning of social order, pattern, and shape by examining the dysfunction of forms. She also studied how the web translates into “literature as landmarks,” depicted as advanced transgression.  “Repetitive temporal patterns impose constraints across social life…standard repetition, durations, and arcs of development organize our experiences of everything from sleep and sex to governments and the global economy (Chapter 3).

 Levine writes brilliantly. Each word captures an essence of social order, patterns, and shapes (norms) that have become invisible, taken for granted without acknowledgement of the transhistorical or macro-environmental influences on society and the policies governing our daily routines.  The reader learns that we are not authentic — but domesticated, trained to behave, believe, and act according to a socialized outline that serves some differently than others , with no regard to how overlapping forms influence injustice.

Her masterful last chapter discusses The Wire (2002-2008),  the David Simon HBO series. This conventional cop drama exploration of the ways that social experience is structured within African American communities (Chapter 5).  The Wire rendered radically unpredictable and overlapping social forms. Levine ends the book by leading readers to contemplate the unsettled, unexpected and bewildering effects of an ideologically coherent society with power lodged in the hands of a few.  The challenge is self-reflective, aiming to push the reader to seek beyond what is controlled by a few — the societal whole, rhythms, hierarchies, and networks that influence social order, patterns, and shape individual and collective Forms.

Levine asked this question on page 18: “Which form do we wish to see governing social life, then and which forms of protect or resistance actually succeed at dismantling unjust, entrenched arrangements?”

The book is a masterpiece. It offers an opportunity to read, reread, and discuss the forms that are accepted as “unchangeable.”

Simona L. Brickers

“I am not your Negro’

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I Am  Not Your Negro , an Academy Award-nominated film by Raoul Peck, is an up-to-the-minute examination of race in America through the eyes of James Baldwin. It will be in some theaters on February 3. The trailer  reveals it to be a succinct and powerful summary of a time that some of us lived through but did not experience.

The Garden Theatre notes that major cities get it first, but that it will come here “by the end of the month.” What a great resource!

 

My response to the refugee order

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This T shirt dates from 2014, when the Princeton YWCA held a town-wide outdoor demonstration for Stand Against Racism Day.

How many refugees have been arrested for plotting terrorism? According to this source, THREE.

“Two were not planning an attack on the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.”

That’s what you reply when you hear someone say “POTUS is trying to protect us.”

What Princeton connection can justify a political rant on this blog?  Today, in protest, I am wearing my T shirt purchased in 2014 for the Princeton YWCA’s Stand Against Racism demonstration. The Princeton YWCA STARTED this national trend. They hosted successful, well-supported demonstrations in 2013, and 2012, 2011 and 2010.

In recent years the YWCA has sometimes refocused its Stand Against Racism commitments, favoring breakfasts for those-in-the-know with discussions facilitated by members of Not in Our Town Princeton.  Last year it co-sponsored a demonstration.

Yes,  breakfast meetings may help individuals delve more deeply into their own feelings and this can help conquer racism. But I suggest that this is the year for the Princeton YWCA to sponsor a more visible demonstration. Here are the first words on its website:

At the YWCA Princeton, we know we must remain bold and iconic in our mission! We continue to eliminate racism…

There will be people who voted for Trump who belong to the Princeton YWCA,  but surely “standing against racism” can be a bipartisan effort.

 

 

Protect our media watchdogs

If you don’t subscribe to the Times of Trenton or the Star Ledger or the Bergen Record or any other newspaper that still has a reporter covering the statehouse, do it now. If you aren’t a member of WHYY, with its newsroom at Newsworks, join now. Support Politico’s New Jersey desk. If you can find an independent online investigative reporter in your community, like Planet Princeton, contribute or advertise. 

You can march, you can write letters to the editor, you can call your legislators, but you can also help protect our democracy by bolstering the budgets of the investigative reporters trying to combat fraud and lies. 

I knew this before but this Wednesday New York Times column italicized my impulse.  David W. Chen, who wrote “In New Jersey, Only a Few Media Watchdogs are Left,” used to be bureau chief for the statehouse desk for the New York Times.

The New York Times no longer has a staff reporter covering New Jersey. The number of reporters at the state house has dwindled from 30 to 7.

John Oliver reminds us that social media and TV news mostly just repackage newspaper stories.

McCarter Theatre has it right. McCarter is running ads on Politico’s media page  

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.NYT photo by Charles Mostoller

Poignant detail #1: The print version of Chen’s article showed two lonely news boxes in downtown Trenton. One was for the Star Ledger, which has coopted the Trenton Times state coverage. The other was for U.S. 1 Newspaper. What?? U.S. 1 covers state politics once in a while, as in this investigative piece,. We cover important issues and the boss sometimes opines in his column, but statehouse reporting — that’s not our mission.

Poignant detail #2: Chen’s ender was a salute to the 87-year-old columnist who uses a typewriter.  A colleague converts with the typed page to a PDF, using her cell phone, and emails it in.

 

 

Headlines must hold his feet to the fire

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From the Washington Post Plum Line:  The Wall Street Journal editor’s nonchalance “suggests a lack of preparedness for what we may be facing.

Here’s another from Greg Sargent’s Plum Line: If the headline does not convey the fact that Trump’s claim is in question or open to doubt, based on the known facts, then it is insufficiently informative.

For instance, the Bloomberg headline

“Trump seeks credit for 5,000 Sprint jobs already touted” is better than

the New York Times headline

“Trump Takes Credit for Sprint Plan to Add 5,000 Jobs in U.S.”

What about MY headline? In the movie “All the Way” Martin Luther King uses that idiom to describe President LBJ: “This president is going to have to deliver, or we will hold his feet to the fire.”

Start noticing headlines!

 

 

Authoritarianism expert: where is one?

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Graphic from PressThink

Joy Rosen’s Press Think blog (illustration above) explains what strategies journalists can use in a Trump administration. One idea:

Make common cause with scholars who have been there. Especially experts in authoritarianism and countries when democratic conditions have been undermined, so you know what to watch for— and report on. (Creeping authoritarianism is a beat: who do you have on it?)

So WHO at a New Jersey college is an expert on that? People who know, weigh in please!

Another idea: track Trump’s promises as here in the Washington Post and then get yourself on the radio to talk about them.

I have a suggestion for the ‘ordinary’ concerned citizen:Reporters are going to be looking for sources beyond the usual ones. If you know about a broken promise, a sullied right, a violation of civil rights — contact a reporter. If you don’t know a reporter, maybe I can help you find one. If you see something . . . say something. 

 

 

 

Morning star, o cheering sight

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a Moravian star

Three Moravian hymns touch my heart. Many know we used to belong to Redeemer Moravian Church in Philadelphia. They are:

Jesus Makes My Heart Rejoice — a simple  quatrain that I my granddaughter, Jillian Fox, sing at our 50th anniversary service.

Hosanna! — a responsive hymn for Palm Sunday which would be challenging for most congregations except that Moravians are born knowing how to sing four part harmony.

Morning Star — traditionally sung at the Christmas Eve love feast by one child, responsively with the congregation.

Morning star, o cheering sight, ere thou camst how dark earth’s light. Jesus mine, in me shine, fill my heart with light divine…

It was a memorable Christmas Eve when our nine year old daughter was the soloist as this small church celebrated a Love Feast. After this hymn sung in darkness, ushers bring in trays of lighted beeswacandlelitx candles as the congregation sings Break Forth o Beauteous Heavenly Light.

So you can imagine my delight when I learned that the Chancel Choir at my church (Princeton United Methodist) will sing Morning Star n an arrangement by Helen Kemp at a Christmas concert on Sunday, December 18 at 5 p.m.. They previewed it in morning worship the week before.

Jesus mine, in me shine, fill my heart with light divine…

A book only teens could write

Two Princeton high schoolers — Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi — have published an important book that helps classroom teachers engage students  in the often difficult to discuss subjects of race and ethnicity. They had help from experts in the field, but because it is chock full of personal stories of children, teenagers, and young adults, it’s a book that only teens could write. The Classroom Index, on sale for $20, will be discussed on Wednesday, December 14 at 6 p.mlabyrinthpanelat Labyrinth Books (122 Nassau St, Princeton)

The 220 pages, with color illustrations, are organized beautifully for teachers — with intros on how to initiate discussion and clever indexes by tags. You can look for stories by identity (Latina,   Asian, African American) or by topic (economic, interpersonal, aesthetic, residential, familial). Teachers can use this trove of stories to bring new layers of meaning for any subject from physics to phys ed.

I found it fascinating for a different reason.With so many different stories from so many different kinds of people, I can be a voyeur. I can find answers to the hard questions that I might be afraid to ask.

If I were to live in a place where everyone looks like me, it would be hard to be friends with someone different. And even those of us who live in a diverse community — maybe we can’t get up the nerve to talk about sensitive topics with someone of a different background.

Some of these stories are raw and pungent. Some poignant. Some funny. The authors put each story in a useful educational context. As here:

“My substitute teacher caught two girls talking to one another. He automatically thought the Hispanic girl was asking for help from the White girl, but it was actually the other way round.” The comment: “Racial stereotypes and prejudice go hand in hand. Disregarding the dimensionality of members of one race and placing them into constrained boxes can cause harmful psychological effects….the number of Hispanics enrolled in two- or four-year college has more than tripled since 1993.” 

The panel will be moderated by the authors,  Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi, co-founders of  CHOOSE.  They are also members of the Not in Our Town Princeton boardDr. Ruha Benjamin, Not in Our Town’s lead racial literacy presenter will be on the panel, and she wrote the introduction. The panel also includes Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane, who supported the project. Also former Princeton High School English, History  Supervisor John Anagbo, and Princeton University Associate Dean Khristina Gonzalez

If you can’t go, buy the book to read and then give to a classroom teacher. The Princeton school have purchased many, but I’m betting there aren’t enough to go round. And then ask –is it being used?