We Can Be…Extraordinary!


November has been a tough month. I lost my brother Eric, who died from a massive stroke on November 1. A week later, on election day, his son turned ten. With a little time to sort through what felt like too much to process in a short time, a few things became crystal clear.

The extraordinary listening and kindness extended to me has made all the difference as I grapple with this great loss. So many people are hurting.  To heal our deep divisions, we need to do the same things: listen far better and be kind. We are so segregated in this country. It’s hard for people who live in cities to understand people in rural areas—and vice versa. Huge misunderstandings and misinformation exist between racial and religious groups. Men and women struggle to understand each other, falling short so much of the time. Young people and older people often fail to understand each other’s realities.

We cannot expect the politicians to do the necessary healing. People are different—in how they live, what they experience and in the ways they see the world. Much as we may want to totally understand each other, we cannot walk in anyone else’s shoes. What we can do is trust what people say, believe their experiences—and validate them. It doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t speak our truth. It requires open-mindedness and better communication.  All of it: being present, listening more carefully, speaking our truth requires extraordinary effort and courage. We are all capable, however. It is what we want from other people. We want to be listened to, understood and treated with respect and kindness. If we started with the Golden Rule, that would be a huge step forward.

The politics of fear and anger are more potent after this election, but Americans have always been capable of extraordinary things. People from both sides of the political divide can do this— listen with bigger hearts and more kindness. These efforts make all the difference. We have extraordinary skills and together we can summon our courage and resolve. Our very democracy depends on it.

Voting is…Falling in Love!


Voting is…Falling in Love!

“When people asked me what it felt like to vote for the first time, I answered, “What does it feel like to fall in love?” said Desmond Tutu, social rights activist and retired Episcopal archbishop of South Africa. America is supposed to be the world’s beacon of democracy, so we should never take voting for granted—nor should we deny it to anyone who can legally vote.  It is no small thing—nor is voting responsibly easy.

2016 is a year filled with chatter about both rigged elections and voter suppression. Any search of voter fraud issues brings up lots of fact checks about how rare it is: Trump’s Bogus Fraud Claims.

Voter suppression is the other far more important story. People of color and women have endured all kinds of tactics since our beginnings. Abigail Adams cried to husband John, “Remember the ladies!” Though black men were given the vote after the Civil War, all kinds of tactics from poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses ensured they could not vote. (Black grandfathers had been enslaved, therefore black people could not vote, but the grandfather clause protected poor whites from literacy tests and poll taxes.) More modern kinds of intimidation continue from purging voter rolls; from flyers, billboards and robocalls that give false information; from tactics that make voting more difficult like ID laws, difficult procedures to register, cutting back on early voting and polling places that favor people of color.

I am interested in the disenfranchisement of many of our returning citizens coming out of prison, who face huge obstacles in voting in many states. The chart is this article: State Felon Voting Laws shows current laws and regulations: 20% of states may take people’s right to vote away permanently, once again saying, “We will never stop punishing you if you’ve served time in prison.” Only two states, Maine and Vermont, have unrestricted laws allowing people behind bars to vote.

I have fond memories of my students in prison organizing and carrying out presidential elections. As an election inspector in Michigan, I had access to the authentic forms and procedures needed to register, to vote and to count the votes. My students elected two co-chairmen each time, who took everything very seriously and followed the rules to the letter. It was painful to talk to my students about the importance of voting, because some of them were people going home to states that would make it very hard for them to vote—if ever. As an election inspector, I watched people voting for the first time look very nervous. Those of us who have voted comfortably need to recognize how intimidating it can be. I was moved by this man’s story from the Marshall Project and how much pride he takes in voting after being in prison.

A Former Prisoner on Voting for the First Time in his Life

Voting is no small thing. It says so much about taking charge of our lives in concert with other citizens. It says, “I count too.” It’s like falling in love to know you have a stake and a voice in your future and the future of your family and community. All of that makes it sacred. To make it difficult to vote, to make such a fundamental part of our democracy intimidating or to take it away completely is to deny someone their humanity. It should never happen.