September 12, 2001

7 years ago, I worked as a volunteer for an organization that worked to resettle refugees. On Wednesdays, I had a standing appointment as an ESL tutor, going to work with a refugee family in their home in a nearby city. I had been working with one family since June, who had arrived in the US in March of that year. There was a mother and a father and two kids (a four-year-old girl and a teenage boy).

On Wednesday, September 12, the world was still reeling from shock. The events of the previous day were mind-numbing. Though my own family and friends were safe, I grieved for the loss of life (then estimated at over 10,000), and for those who lost loved ones. I was shaken to my core by the images I’d seen on TV the previous day. Like millions around the country and around the world, I was in shock. Part of me wanted to hole up in my house, perhaps stay glued to the TV. At the same time, it was important to me to go to my appointment as usual.

I wanted the family to know that I was there for them, that I was their friend. I wanted to be there to explain things to them, to answer any questions I could. And if necessary, to speak up for them should they be confronted in any way.

Because, quite honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from the world. From my fellow Americans. Quite honestly, I was a bit fearful about the direction the reactions might go.

I don’t know whether they had any idea that the horrific events of the previous day could be associated with them, this quiet family of four. Why should they? They were as shocked as anyone by what they saw on the TV, horrified by the violence and the deaths.

But I knew that they were from a country in the Middle East, they were Muslim. They spoke little English. And for many ignorant people, for many people who lashed out in anger, these qualities were damning. I remembered the anti-Islamic sentiment that arose shortly after the Oklahoma City bombings, before they had been attributed to terrorists who were American nationals.

I don’t know what I expected that day. That the neighbors would come banging on their door? That an angry mob would come for them, screaming for blood? That some authorities would come by to haul them off? Or maybe that there might just be some garden variety ugly words and harrassment.

Thankfully, nothing so ugly happened. Well, there was one angry neighbor who came knocking on the door. But it was in response to the actions of the teenage boy. He had climbed out onto the roof outside his window, and was lighting matches while his mother and I sat inside talking. He seemed completely oblivious to the high tensions of the day, typical of a teenager.

But my fears were not totally unfounded. As the days passed, reports came in of hate crimes from around the country, and around the world. There were reports of attacks on Sikh men, attacks on mosques, even attacks on Hindu Indians. And there were plenty of ugly words directed against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent. I knew women, themselves refugees from Afghanistan, who stopped wearing headscarves out of fear of being harrassed or assaulted.

In these years of witch-hunting that this country has seen since that day, I have often felt I should be doing more to stand up for those whose rights have been violated. That I should speak out more against the xenophobia and bigotry that have colored the discourse in the media and the casual conversations of some people I know. But the truth is, I struggle with laziness. And I avoid confrontation.

I’m glad that I went to my appointment that day 7 years ago, in part because in my quiet way, I showed that I was willing to stand up. I was ready to speak up that day. At the very least, I demonstrated my continued friendship and support with my presence, offering a counterexample to the pervasive anti-Islamic bigotry that soon would rear its ugly head around the country.

this list goes up to 11

action_125x125.jpgToday has been declared Blog Action Day, an event in which bloggers around the world can participate in writing about a common cause on a common day. This is the inaugural year of the event, and the cause that has been chosen is to tackle issues relating to the environment. I feel strongly about the environment. It must be stopped! Down with the environment!

No, wait. I’m all for the environment. I was confused. I must have been thinking about uncomfortable shoes. Can’t stand ’em. Or overcooked pasta. Yick. That just shouldn’t even be legal.

Where was I? Oh, right. The environment. I should write about how we, as a society, can make progress in protecting the environment. But I’m afraid I don’t have time for that. I have a work deadline looming, and I shouldn’t be blogging at all. So I must be quick, quick. Like a bunny. In a threatened ecosystem. So I give you a list.

Here is list of things that I should be able to manage to improve my own impact on the environment, improve my knowledge of the issues, and to help generally support environmental causes. What’s more, I will set myself a timeline to accomplish these things. I plan to do these things by the end of the year. There are 11 full weeks of 2007 left, so 11 seemed like a good number to aim for.

11 planet-friendly resolutions for (the rest of) 2007

  1. cancel 10 catalogs or other junk mail items
  2. explore additional local food options, such as for dairy and eggs
  3. block drafts in windows in doors to reduce heat loss
  4. give holiday gifts that minimize shipping and packaging
  5. watch Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” (I’m sorry to say I haven’t yet seen it)
  6. write at least one letter (or email) to a company or politician about some action
  7. Change our electricity options to include use of renewable resources
  8. Give support to an environmental action group (whether with money or by way of petitions)
  9. line-dry 1 load of laundry a week
  10. reduce my usage of disposable products (I may try keeping a cloth handkerchief in my pocket instead of a tissue. At least if I leave it in my pocket when I wash my pants, it won’t dissolve and decorate the rest of the load.)
  11. Cook my pasta al dente. This will both fight the evils overcooked pasta and reduce the time I have my stove on. (Okay, you caught me. I ran out of time, and don’t have a good 11th item in mind. But if I manage all 10 of the above items, I think I can feel like I’ve made some personal progress.)

refueling my optimism

I have to say, yesterday’s news made me happy. I believe I have already expressed my enthusiasm for Al Gore. So it should come as no surpise that I was happy to hear that he, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Happy may even be a bit mild. I actually got goosebumps, and got choked up while reading a news stories about the award.¹ (Tears don’t come too easily for me these days, either.) I felt moved by the acknowledgment of the impact that climate change can have on human populations. I felt pleased that scientists are being honored for their research into climate change.

I don’t have time to write more tonight, but I wanted to share my excitement about this news.

And speaking of reading that gets my idealism revved up, the September Just Posts went up earlier in the week. This month’s round-up of posts on topics of activism is the biggest yet, and are once more hosted at One Plus Two, Under the Mad Hat, Creative Mother Thinking, and Truth Cycles. Have a look!


¹ I can’t find an article I thought I read from the New York Times. The NYT article I found from later yesterday had a very different tone. The one I remember was more in line with this AP article.

a post for Burma

Free Burma!

Today, October 4th, is International Bloggers’ Day for Burma.

While I still know quite little about the country of Burma (Myanmar), what I have learned recently of the events there has both moved and shocked me. I am appalled by the violence committed against the Buddhist monks and other peaceful protesters by the military regime. At the same time, I am inspired by their bravery, and that of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

She has called on people around the world to join the struggle for freedom in Burma, saying “Please use your liberty to promote ours.”

To learn more about what is going on in Burma, and what you can do, I recommend the following resources:


Today is September 11th. A Tuesday even, just like it was 6 years ago. It’s a day that can hardly go unmarked. Many will talk about what the day means, I’m sure many already have. But others will just remember in silence.

I’m sad today about the events of that awful day. That shocking, appalling, mind-numbingly terrible day. I don’t have the right words to describe the tragedy of that day, the grief of those who lost loved ones, the fear and hardship of those who died, or even of those who survived. I can mostly say that I am sad.

But I’m also sad about what’s happened to the world since then. Because even more people have suffered. More have died tragic and violent deaths. The loss continues.

In the hours and days after the news of the September 11th attacks broke, the world was a changed place. There was an outpouring of solidarity from people the world over. I was moved by the images of people in many countries displaying US flags, holding vigils, displaying signs with words of sympathy. “We are all Americans, today.” As an American by birth, I was humbled. I am humbled. There was the sense that many individuals who were critical of the US, hostile towards the US, even, overlooked our differences, and joined together in grief. More than anything, I felt the shared humanity.

Naive as it sounds, I thought that maybe that moment of shared humanity could lead towards peace. So much hostility was dropped in the face of such sadness, in the face of the horror and outrage, that I imagined the avenues of diplomacy opened.

Of course, I was wrong.

Instead, the attacks of September 11th were used by the US government as a license to wage war. The tragedy and brutality of that day have been used as a political tool, to spread fear and hatred. The result has been more tragedy and brutality. More fear and hatred.

So now my grief for the victims of September 11th is compounded. I grieve for victims in Afghanistan. I grieve for victims in Iraq. I grieve for the soldiers, American and other nationalities, who have lost their lives. I grieve for the pain and physical hardship, for the psychological traumas, that all of these people have gone through. That they continue to go through. I feel for all of their families. I feel for the refugees. I feel for the prisoners. And for the many, many others whose lives are impacted. And I am sick with worry that violence will continue to escalate. The murmurings of a war with Iran quite frankly scare the crap out of me.

There is too much to fear, too much to grieve for.

And on top of it all, I still carry grief for that lost opportunity to wage peace.

big fears and small, hopeful faces

There was a New York Times article I read a couple of weeks ago that has left me thinking. It describes the some of the education situation in Afghanistan, and the attack on schools by Taliban rebels, who have protested the education of girls. Recently, there have been incidents of attacks on the students themselves, including brutal shootings of young girls leaving schoolgrounds.

The article was accompanied by a slideshow, containing beautiful photographs of some Afghan schools, and of the people affected by the attacks on the schools. We see the mourning family of a 13-year-old girl who was shot down and killed outside of her school, and students and teachers at work in tents being used as schoolrooms.

One image in particular gripped me. It shows a classroom, a tent actually, where young girls are standing or sitting among rows of tables, holding textbooks. They wear black and white, and most wear white scarves over their hair. The girl at the center of the image is holding out her book, and looking up eagerly at an adult that is mostly out of frame, a teacher, most likely. The girl’s eyes glint brightly and her mouth curves in a small smile. Another girl’s scarf has fallen to her shoulders, and she looks off to the side, her attention apparently diverted from the book activity. Other faces look down at books, or up at the teacher. Some look confident, some look a bit more uncertain. Some look focused on their books, and some a bit distracted by other things going on in the room. I imagine that they are all a bit exicited to have the photographer in the classroom with them. All of their small beautiful faces look eager, engaged. They look, more than anything, just like children. In spite of the setting. In spite of their formal-looking style of dress. And most amazingly, in spite of the dangers they face.

In their faces I see myself as a girl, and my own eagerness for learning. I see my daughter’s face, and the future that education will bring her. I see my sister’s face, my mother’s face, my friends’ faces, and the faces of all the women I know, who were once young girls, and who have benifitted from an education that we so easily take for granted.

My heart sings for those young girls at the same time as I feel the grip of fear for their very lives. Their world is being expanded, their minds enriched, the possibilities of their future are multiplying.

I am horrified that children are paying such a high price for their education. I’m appalled and deeply saddened. I can barely imagine the choices that these children and their parents must face.

At the same time, the photo gives me some hope. The number of students attending schools, both boys and girls, is increasing in the years since the end of the Taliban’s government. Educators and parents in Afghanistan, and organizations around the world, are fighting to make schooling possible for these children.

For more information on the education crisis in Afghanistan, and the emergency situation for Afghani children in general, see the UNICEF information pages for Afghanistan. There are also many other resources on the web, such as this publication of Human Rights Watch.

putting my money where my mouse is

About a month ago, I wrote a bit about mouse-based activism, suggesting that even clicking on links can be a way to make a small difference: authors who write about issues or causes that concern them feel heartened by getting traffic, and motivated to write, and do, more.

Of course, there are more direct ways to make a difference. Volunteering. Getting involved in local politics. Or going to Africa to help children orphaned and villages devasted by the AIDS crisis. Not all of these options are equal, nor do they seem equally possible for all of us. However, one more way we can make a difference is to give. If not our time and energy, then the other stuff. You know the stuff I mean.

Here’s the story. Jen of one plus two and Mad of Under the Mad Hat are about to celebrate the 6 month mark of their online marriage. For their wedding, they asked attendees to give a gift of a post about an issue of social justice. And so the Just Posts were born. (Hey, does that mean it was a shotgun wedding?) On the 10th of each month since then, they have rounded up a collection of posts relating to social justice and all kinds of activism.

This time, they are requesting not just words as gifts, but something a little more substantial. They’ve set up a gift registry of sorts. Jen has identified a small non-profit that is doing amazing work in a village in Africa. Mad has written up information about another organization that also is dedicated to supporting grassroots projects in response to the AIDS crisis in Africa. Both women have written eloquently about the crisis, and the need for action. (Did you know that 13 million children have been orphaned due to AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, and that this number is steadily rising?)

This endeavor is also a kind of experiment. Marketers have already figured out that blogs are good real estate for ads. Spammers have figured out that they can try to hawk their cheap crap and porn through unwitting bloggers. But what about the power of bloggers themselves to make a difference about things that matter to them?

I’m planning to make a donation. If you’d like to also, you can follow the links from jen or Mad, or go right to the sources. (Open Arms or the Stephen Lewis Foundation. To help track, put “Just Post” in the “company” line of the donation form.)

Finally, at the risk of sounding like I’m trying to be a comment whore, ah, what the hell. I’m a comment whore. But I’m going to up the ante and increase my donation by $5.00 for each comment I get on this post (before Sunday, June 10th) that contains the word…pants.

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last-minute Earth Day gift ideas

Here it is, already Earth Day, and you’ve forgotten to pick out a gift for the planet. What could the Earth want that it doesn’t have already? Before you rush out to buy it a commemorative figurine, remember that there are lot of things you can do for the Earth without even leaving the house. (Or at least without making a special trip.) earth.jpg

When making your Earth Day gift-giving plans, remember “reduce, reuse, recycle.” We all know that slogan, but I think many of us associate it most strongly with “recycle.” But reduce and reuse can have the biggest impact.

During the past 35 years, the amount of waste each person creates has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.4 pounds per day. The most effective way to stop this trend is by preventing waste in the first place.

So think about some of these gift ideas:

  1. Screw in a lightbulb. The Earth loves lightbulb jokes, like:

    Q: How many flies does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
    A: Two, but how do you get them in there?

    Actually, what I’m saying is change your lightbulbs. Replace your incandescents with compact fluorescent bulbs. says:

    If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.

  2. B.Y.O.B. Party at Earth’s place! (The Earth loves a party.) But the Earth thinks you should bring your own bag next time you go shopping. The Earth would love it if you’d stop getting so many plastic bags. They add up. Reuse some old bags, or bring string, or other fashionable fabric bags.
  3. Have you thought about sending the Earth a greeting card? The Earth says please don’t bother. The Earth gets too much mail anyhow. And the Earth thinks you get too much crap in your mailbox. Consider opting out of all those damn credit card offers, either online or by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT. You can get off mailing lists for lots of places by filling out a form from DMA. For catalogs from businesses “with whom you have had a relationship,” you can call those directly. This site has more hints about reducing your junk mail.

Plus there are lots of other little waste-reducing gifts you can choose for Earth. Like avoiding disposable paper products, or using fewer of them. Opting not to print out papers, or to reprint on the backs of old documents. Or even just turning off the lights. And what’s really nice is that the Earth doesn’t mind if you’re late with the gift, or you can’t give that much. The Earth appreciates even the little gestures. The Earth is swell that way.

finding my voice

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post in response to my viewing of the movie Shut Up and Sing, the documentary about the Dixie Chicks, and the fallout that came after their lead singer made an anti-war comment during a concert in March of 2003.

In that post, I made this comment:

Those were darker times, all too recently, when public expression of dissent was equated with treason. It was chilling to see how violently people reacted to a few fairly innocuous words. It was a time when many people, including me, were uncomfortable about speaking out in public about political issues, especially criticism of the president and objection to the war.

I’ve been wanting to write more about that, because as time passes, my memory clouds. Recently, the tides of public opinion have turned and the political climate is different. It almost seems ridiculous for me to say that I had been uncomfortable expressing dissent publicly. I mean, come on. It couldn’t have been that bad, right?

Well, it was and it wasn’t. And to some extent, this was geographically based. In Boston, talking to my like-minded friends, I could express my objections to the war, my disgust with the administration, without fear. My friends and I could express our dissent in public, though I feel like we did so in fairly hushed voices when out in public.

But closer to home, only 50 miles away towards more rural Massachusetts, it was a different story. In my town, virtually every house had their American flag flying. Virtually every car had a flag decal or a bumper sticker saying something like “these colors don’t run.” Many people went the step of flying actual flags from their cars, sometimes absurdly large ones. And while the symbolism may not have been the same for every person that displayed the Stars and Stripes, for most, for me, the flag was a symbol of not only “Patriotism,” but support of the President, support of the war. It was about self-righteousness. Anger. The desire for revenge over the events of September 11th. When I went grocery shopping in a neighboring town, I was startled to see that some particularly zealous flag-waver had gone the extra step of painting their pick-up truck with clumsily executed images of the twin towers, flags, and the words “Septemeber 11th” and “never forget, never forgive.”

Most Americans at that time actually believed that the war in Iraq was a response to the events of September 11th. That Iraq had been directly responsible for those attacks. And many felt, along with the president, that those who objected to the war were supporting terrorists. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

In the weeks leading up to the start of the war in Iraq, many around the country dissented. Voiced loud (and not so loud) objections. There were TV interviews, news stories. Dissenting bumper stickers a signs. Anti-war buttons and t-shirts. (But these were also times when you heard of people getting kicked out malls for wearing such things.)

There were also protests. I proudly attended a peace march in Boston in March 2003:

March 29, 2003
In Boston, Massachusetts 50,000 people attended the largest rally in the city since the end of the Vietnam War. Thousands of people blocked Boylston Street in a die-in along the Boston Common. A handful of arrests were made.

While the Wikipedia entry talks about the large size of this protest, it actually felt surpisingly small to me. But I was still buoyed by the group voicing of dissent.

Then, just a few days later, I got an email from a friend from a nearby town. While we hadn’t really talked about politics, I knew we had differing opinions. That we’d voted differently in the last election, if indeed she voted at all. I knew she was one who proudly displayed a flag on her car. But I hadn’t realized how differently we felt. This is what I got from her by email, written by someone out there in cyberspace and apparently making the rounds by email and on blogs:

With all of this talk of war, many of us encounter “Peace Activists” who try and convince us that we must refrain from retaliating against the ones who terrorized us all on September 11, 2001, and those who support terror. These activists may be alone or in a gathering…..most of us don’t know how to react to them. When you come upon one of these people, or one of their rallies, here are the proper rules of etiquette:

1. Listen politely while this person explains their views. Strike up a conversation if necessary and look very interested in their ideas. They will tell you how revenge is immoral, and that by attacking the people who did this to us, we will only bring on more violence. They will probably use many arguments, ranging from political to religious to humanitarian.
2. In the middle of their remarks, without any warning, punch them in the nose, hard.
3. When the person gets up off of the ground, they will be very angry and they may try to hit you, so be careful.
4. Very quickly and calmly remind the person that violence only brings about more violence and remind them of their stand on this matter. Tell them if they are really committed to a nonviolent approach to undeserved attacks, they will turn the other cheek and negotiate a solution. Tell them they must lead by example if they really believe what they are saying.
5. Most of them will think for a moment and then agree that you are correct.
6. As soon as they do that, hit them again. Only this time hit them much harder. Square in the nose.
7. Repeat steps 2-5 until the desired results are obtained and the idiot realizes how stupid of an argument he/she is making.

There is no difference in an individual attacking an unsuspecting victim or a group of terrorists attacking a nation of people. It is unacceptable and must be dealt with. Perhaps at a high cost. We owe our military a huge debt for what they are about to do for us and our children.

We must support them and our leaders at times like these. We have no choice.

We either strike back, VERY HARD, or we will keep getting hit in the nose.

Lesson over, class dismissed .

I got this email from my friend on April 2nd. She also sent it to others that we knew in common. I wanted to respond to my friend, tell her the other side of the story. I didn’t really fear that she’d actually hit me in the face. I’m sure she just found the “lesson” funny, and didn’t realize that I was one of those “peace activists,” a humanitarian “idiot.” But the email did effectively knock me over. I never found my voice. I just avoided her for a while, whether consciously or not. Didn’t go back to the activities we shared for a while. I was busy anyhow.

The truth is, I didn’t have the energy to find my voice. To speak out about things I feel so strongly about. Not because I lacked conviction. But because I feared confrontation. Because I feared offending others, even when I felt deeply offended myself. And then I feared being ostracized, and making myself a target for attacks, even if only verbal ones. It sickened me to realize that my friend, and others who received that email, would take my silence as assent, agreement. But every time I tried to compose a response, plan a discussion with my friend, I would find excuses not to.

I’ve been working on speaking out about things that are important to me, writing about issues that I feel strongly about. I struggle with the fear of confrontation. I worry about the risk of offending others. Plus I struggle with the idea that others say things better than I can, so that I should leave the speaking to them. It’s hard for me to speak out so publicly, to open myself up for criticism. But I know that speaking out is an important step. That if we don’t exercise our right to free speech, we may lose it. We all need to add our voices to the discussion, or only the loudest will be heard.

If I want to play my part in making the world a better place, I need to learn to use my voice.