Rest in Power, John Lewis

“Too many of us still believe our differences define us, instead of the divine spark that runs through all of human creation”John Robert Lewis

I bawled when I saw the news alert on my phone this morning – to learn the passing of John Lewis late Friday evening. This on the same day as the passing of Rev. C.T. Vivian. Too many of the Freedom Riders are leaving us, as the work enters this critical juncture in our history. Although, I know how proud he has been of a new generation of protestors and freedom fighters, they/we will continue to need guidance from our elders – and we are losing the greats of a generation. 😭 Rest in Power, dear brother. Thank you for your service to this country and your dedication to humanity. May Peace be with you on this journey, and may your lessons in love and humility guide us forward as we continue to be lifted by your legacy.

We who believe in freedom cannot rest….We have much more “good trouble” to get into.

Friendship Lost

©2011 Laura Riggs, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA

“If you’re fighting with someone you really love, find your way back to them because life is short, even on its longest days” – Oprah

I recently discovered a dear friend of mine, someone I have known for nearly 30 years, blocked me on Facebook. This was a person I grew up with, spent many formidable years with, and considered her more like a sister than a friend.  She was my maid of honor, knew all of my best and worst secrets and I in turn knew hers. We talked to one another nearly every day, I was there when her daughter was born, and she was there during my darkest hours.  Although it’s been nearly a decade ago, I am eternally grateful that she and my mother were there to save my life.

In recent years, however, our relationship strained under the pressure of opposing political views. We’d had some bumps in the road before, as many long-standing relationships often do – we’d grow tired and weary of the other person’s bullshit – but we’d quickly find our way back to one another. While some friendships can weather the storm, and ours had been through a few, most have never encountered a Category 8 shit-storm like the one our world is currently in the midst of today. Suddenly, without a word, she wiped what was left of our memories of one another off the map.

It occurred to me while I was cooking dinner a nights ago, that maybe she felt as though she didn’t have a voice, that I hadn’t given her space to express her thoughts/beliefs. About a year ago, her mother had posted some vile comment on one of my posts, in which I was mocking the absurdity of journalists reporting on the “scandalous” fashion choice Obama made when he conducted a press briefing in a tan suit. I told her in so many words how wholly unnecessary it was to make nasty comments on my page when she could just unfollow me and move about her day instead (she chose to unfriend me). I do have a way of aggressively getting my point across, and none of us have time/space for biased, fear-based, reactionary bullshit (or name calling, which is what her mother had resorted to).

While I know that my friend and I did not vote for the same team in 2016, and it’s likely we never voted for the same team throughout our friendship, I naively thought that our political beliefs would not be the demise of our accord. Yet, the current administration is responsible for creating irreconcilable differences between family members, friends, loved ones, partners, races, religions, businesses, and countries. So, why would I believe our friendship be any different? Nor should it come as a surprise that the more vocal I have become about the indignities that minority populations have endured, the farther she retreated from me.

Although white, her family has no doubt experienced their own challenges as farmers/ranchers in the Midwest. They struggle to make ends meet every day, and are one health care crisis away from complete financial obliteration. They’ve suffered through addictions, suicides, cancers, and gross mistrust of the government and Californians. They haven’t received a bailout, so ‘why should anyone else’? Yet, they help their neighbors, love their kids, and try to do right by their spouses. Like many others in their situation, they STILL continue to vote against their own economic interests: every. single. time.

For the most part, I have accepted her decision to walk away.  She tends to avoid conflict, while I often walk into the burning building.  Grief comes in waves, though, and this morning I woke up angry….angry that she didn’t give our friendship more credit, angry that she stole my heart, angry that I didn’t do more to stay in contact.  She needed space, she had said she was working through her own stuff, but maybe I gave her too much, and it was too easy to let go?  Or maybe it was just time for the era to come to an end?

The anger doesn’t last, as sadness returns, along with bouts of utter disappointment.  Although I know that I could text her, or call, to let her know that the door remains open, should she ever want to talk things through, I am not sure I’m ready to hear what she has to say.  I’m not ready to listen to all of the bigotry or bias, yet I’m afraid the longer she stays in Kansas, the farther down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories her family will take her.  I hope that she will find her way back one day, I hope that she will let reason back into her life, and I hope that she will raise her daughter to love all people, not just the ones that think/look like she does.

Grief, in this moment, shifts to acceptance of her decision, as the tides of change drift back to the larger task at hand….the shit-storm.  We are in an epic struggle to save humanity from ourselves, and my energy must be rededicated to fighting the fires that her so-called leader continues to set…white America gave a toddler a box of matches and some gasoline to occupy his time because we were too busy posting selfies, flaunting wealth we stole from Black Americans and Indigenous People.

I want the US to share that wealth equally, and I know it’s part of the reason she buried the axe in the middle of this friendship, but in the longest of days I truly believe it can only be altruism that not only saves this country.  Is it naive of me to hope that one day she will see it is that very altruism that has/will continue to save her family’s farm, and not the silver they’re buried beneath it?  If we are to ever find our way back, may we all leave the door open in the hopes that one day our friends will return to us from the brink of indoctrination into authoritarianism.  For if they do, their psyches will be wounded and scarred, and it will take all of our love to heal them.

A love letter…in the time of quarantine

Demonstrators kneel in a moment of silence outside the Long Beach Police Department on Sunday, May 31, 2020, in Long Beach during a protest over the death of George Floyd. Protests were held in U.S. cities over the death of Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

“It’s in the great tradition of the best of Black people, of people who have been hated chronically systemically for 400 years but have taught the world so much about love and how to love. “Dr. Cornel West, Interview with Anderson Cooper; CNN June 10, 2020

This past month has been a time of great reckoning for our country, for the white community, and for those of us who believe in the ideals of democracy, justice and equal treatment under the law.  We enter the month of July, four months into a pandemic, and a time of great upheaval in America.  I have tried to think of what to say, or how to address the pain inflicted upon Black and Brown communities, over and over again…and I can’t come up with anything meaningful.  I blame some of that on brain decay, due to the extraordinary levels of cortisol pumping through my body ever since the pandemic began.  In all honesty though, there is nothing more to say…the time for apologies has past, nor can the brutality be excused any longer.  If we are to truly make amends, to begin to heal wounds or alleviate trauma, we must move to meaningful action.

The upside of being quarantined?  The pent up anger over a wholly inadequate government response has coalesced with the righteous anger towards systemic racism and police brutality.   News of innocent souls lost may have likely never made the news in the first place, have now flooded our social media feeds.  If we hadn’t remained vigilant and voyeuristic, all while longing for the days when we were free to move about as we pleased, unrestricted, untethered, unmasked, white America may have missed the news of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Robert Fuller, Riah Milton, and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells.  The outrage over Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and many others, fizzled quickly as people quickly moved on to the next distraction in their lives, and in their work.  Now, with more than 40 million people out of work and the jobless rate hovering near to Depression Era levels, people have nothing to “escape” to/from.  We have been afforded the rare opportunity to cease all distractions, and truly bear witness to the suffering that our Black and Brown communities have long endured.  Rather than misdirecting our grief over what semblance of normal we once had pre-pandemic, we have protested, and continually flooded elected officials with demands for investigations and rightful arrests…demands for justice.

You are seeing more involvement, more outrage, from the white community for the first time since I can remember, maybe for the first time since the 1960s.  This pent up anger from being on lockdown, co-mingled with the rage over repeated police brutality is shaking this nation to its core.  For many in the white community, they are  just “seeing” this truth that the Black Community has been living since being stolen from their homes 400+ years ago.  People on the left side of the political spectrum are angry that the government hasn’t done enough to intervene on behalf of those who did not benefit equally from what we believed to be the democratic process.  People on the “right” side of the political spectrum are angry that the government is overly involved in the equality fight, because of “states’ rights” and all.  As I always say, follow the money…

The more that people awaken to the suffering of the oppressed, the more they will begin to see it is the love of money which flows from the center of the US’ social construct.  The American Revolutionary War was fought over excessive taxation, and without proper representation in the King’ court, we wanted freedom from Britain’s exploitative colonial rule, and Parliament’s greed.  The Civil War was also fought on the premise that the economy would be destroyed if enslaved Black people were freed.  At the time, the southern states were raking in millions of dollars on the backs of free labor, while the northern states benefited from the tariffs collected on those millions.  Economists have calculated that the cost of the Civil War, estimated at over $10 billion in 1860 dollars, would have been more than enough to buy the freedom of every slave, purchase them land, and even pay reparations. Yet, the south did not accept the deal Lincoln offered, in order to avoid the war…why?  Greed.  And Greed is the worst of all the sins…we have since the continual exploitation of labor throughout history, in the name of economic prosperity.  Yet, the prosperity only benefited the slave owners….the wealthy few…never the enslaved.

That is not economic prosperity.  When all individuals, as well as the country, have and maintain their own wealth, along with a good quality of life, that is economic prosperity.  We have allowed racism to handcuff this nation’s ability to grow the GDP in a meaningful and sustainable way, because we have cut off nearly 40% of our population from building intergenerational wealth.  Income inequality is at an all time high, with the wage gap between whites and blacks even more expansive.  Lack of universal healthcare and access to quality education has decreased our competitiveness in the global marketplace.  Further gaps in community policing, legal representation, social representation, voting rights, business owner rights, travel, health care…rights in nearly every corner of life equates to trillions of dollars in lost economic prosperity.  Job opportunities lost as the corporate welfare system continue to relocate factories to countries that allow them the opportunity to exploit workers abroad.  The rich, white community, who have exerted dominance over marginalized communities for hundreds of years, is solely responsible for creating this void.

How do we ever begin to apologize for 400+ years of the oppression, and often sadistic treatment of the Black and Brown communities, when this treatment continues into present day?  How do we move forward in a way to create meaningful changes that will end the systemic injustices, which have occurred since the 1600s?  There just don’t seem to be an adequate amount of words to begin to describe the feelings of remorse and sadness that I (and many others in the white community) feel as we reflect both upon our history, and current day disparities between class and race.  This does not mean that apologies are not owed, nor that reparations shouldn’t be paid.  Rather, we cannot let this “white guilt” prevent us from taking necessary action to begin to right the wrongs that have been done.

The path towards change is slow, grind up a steep hill, but I believe Lady Liberty has finally grown tired of the bullshit and this nation must, once and for all, atone for its sins.  There is a bright light is shining into back alleys of implicit bias, but if we don’t move quickly the sun will set, and this time we have been given for reflection and soul-searching will pass.  The pandemic will end, and what lessons will we have learned?  Dr. West was right…we must learn what our Black brothers and sisters are here to teach us.  Not only learn about their struggles, we must learn how to move forward from a place of love.  In a time of atonement, we must make amends for the hatred, the vitriol, the anger that was never ours to hold onto anyway.  The hatred for “other” belongs to the billionaire class, it belongs to our ancestors, and it can no longer be our burden to carry.  It is their way of sowing the seeds of fear between us, to keep their wealth, and maintain the status quo.

For generations, we have allowed greed to have its way with our social hierarchy, as we put money ahead of love, valued capitalism over humanity, and protected commercial elites by use of force to make the rich richer.  All while we watch the poor die in the streets with knees on their necks, whispering “I can’t breathe”.  Yet, Brother West, Martin Luther King, Jr., Diane Nash, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, James Bevel, Annie Lee Cooper, John Lewis, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Whitney Young, and so many more, did not seek vengeance.  They sought righteousness.  “Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races…It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other” (2Pac).  We are a critical juncture in our nation’s history, but if we don’t remain vigilant, if we move too quickly to the next distraction….what will come of this movement?  The love we feel for our fellow humans must not die in vain.  Seeking a skillful path carved from a place of love seemed like the only logical way forward to defeat the hate enshrined by greed.  You want to pay reparations?  Start with relieving the enormous cost of health care, and then close the income/wealth gap.  If we get rid of the Corporate Welfare system, we can afford to do both at the same time.

Quote of the Day: Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou — ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’

I watched the Netflix documentary recently, featuring stories from Michelle Obama’s tour to promote her book Becoming.  Both times I’ve read the book, I cried.  Of course, I cried watching the documentary, as well.  I believe her intention for writing the book was meant to be inspirational…to motivate people (especially young people) to be the owners and writers of their stories…that we should each captain our own ship when navigating life’s journey…and that we should help others when their voyages have gone awry, or whose ships may be taking on water, and sinking.  So why cry when reading a book, or watching a documentary, that features so much good?

Over and over both the book and in the documentary, Mrs. Obama emphasizes to young people to stop thinking of themselves as statistics, they are not invisible.  We don’t build friendships over our statistics, we build them through recounting our past, sharing knowledge, finding commonalities, uttering anecdotes, sharing laugher, and confessing our pain.  Communities are formed in a similar way.  In truth, Becoming makes me nostalgic for a time when I believed America was on its way to becoming better.  The turmoil of the 9/11 attacks, then entering into a war none of us wanted/believed in, and the start of the recession, had brought the spirt of the country to a low point.  Bush’s 2nd term was ending, and we were all eager for the country to find its way back to the light.  Even through the ugliness of the 2008 election, I distinctly remember how Obama continued to inspire the kind of hope that we needed, that made us proud to say we were Americans again.

His presidency sent a clear message to (what I like to call) the good ol’ boy regime, that the tides were finally turning.  During the film, Michelle made mention of what a proud moment it was for the black community, but with that comes the immense pressure of being the “first black anything”.  Admittedly, I have no idea what this must feel like, but I do appreciate the weight these words carry.  While the black community felt pride in this historical moment, I know so many of us in the white community were equally overjoyed. America’s past is stained with racism and oppression.  While oppression happens all across the world, which seems to be a uniquely human affliction, it isn’t something that many of us want to talk about.  It’s certainly not something that evokes a sense of patriotic nobility, but it is something we should acknowledge and make reparations for, if we ever hope to become a more equitable nation.

Throughout his campaign and years in the White House, this aspiration for true equality – regardless of the color of their race, creed, or color – seemed to finally be burgeoning forward, after years of laying groundwork by all of those who have fought for freedom.  Yet, this legacy of racism runs deep like the roots of a Banyan tree, with “white privilege” deeply engrained into our society, beginning with the constitution, on down to segregated schools and neighborhoods, to most notably the criminal ‘justice’ system, and we have learned those roots are hard to cut out. Immediately after Obama took office, the pervasive ugliness of this unworthy endowment, reared its nasty head on TV, in newspapers, and every day communities, exposing our collective naivety of hope, dashing the idea that real change had finally arrived.   Many in the white community were just waking up to suffering experienced by our black and brown brothers and sisters over centuries, signaling it was time we dig deeper into the past, to learn what we are rarely taught in school.

Although many of us in white society are not racist, there is no doubt we have wholly benefited from the systemic biases built into our culture.  Just because slavery was abolished, does not mean that we haven’t allowed the architecture of slavery to create the framework of current day society.  Maybe “white guilt” has accelerated this denial, or political partisanship prevented us from seeing those who have been left behind, relegated to statistics.  Speaking for myself, I can’t remember a time growing up when I ever felt fully aware of how I benefited from systemic racism.  It wasn’t until I was old enough to vote, that I began to see the disparity.  For many of us, I think it took Obama’s presidency to pull the veil from our eyes to truly see even the simplest of inequities.  Why else would we allow a white man to a tan suit in the White House, and think nothing of it, but contrive a false scandal when a black does the same?

If you didn’t see this brazen hypocrisy before/during his presidency, you most certainly have to acknowledge it exists now.  Physics states that when the pendulum swings hard in one direction, it comes back in the opposite way with equal force, but eventually the amplitude of their swing declines until it eventually rests somewhere in the middle.  The current administration represents that recoil effect of having our first black president,  and he will by no means be the last. Whether the white people in “power” want to believe it not, evolution does happen, and throughout history we have seen the narrative change. This is the common theme amongst the fall of the British Empire, the Ottomans, the Han Dynasty, or the Roman Empire: oppressing people leads to depressed economies, imbalances in trade, the overthrow of governments, and greater turmoil.  Economies work well when you have a healthy, educated labor force, people are extended their freedoms, and there are high levels of research and development.

That is not the state of our country today.  Pandemic aside, income inequality comes at a high price, not just for the poor, but the wealthy alike….just ask the people who lived through the Great Depression.  Yet, nearly 100 years later, we have forgotten those lessons as well…too much infighting has severely weakened us as a nation.  We are now incapable of learning from one another, in order to strengthen our economy, and fortify our nation against all enemies (foreign and domestic)…there are rats living in the White House, my friends.   The separatists of the south wanted to keep people enslaved, long after it was proven to put them at a disadvantage for long-term economic prosperity.  They lost the Civil War because of their inability to modernize, to allow people to walk free.  More than 150 years later, our system is still reinventing “new” ways to keep people marginalized, but history rings true time and time again…oppression shreds an empire.

When a black woman dies by the hands of the police, for nothing more than pretextual traffic stop, while a white woman can freely run stop lights and only get a minor scolding, that is oppression.  When a black man is strangled by the authorities for selling cigarettes on a street corner, while a white man is calmly arrested after murdering 9 black parishioners in cold blood, that is oppression.  When a white person can leave their home to go for a run, or sit in a park, or have a BBQ without fear of having the police called because you were “laughing too loudly”, or having your body chained and drug behind a pick up truck, or hunted down and shot dead, that is oppression.  While these stories are not the ones we want to tell, they are the ones that must be told, until the narrative changes.

If we do not learn from our past, if we do not get to know the “other”, we allow the empires to keep us fearful, relegating us to nothing  more than a statistic…history will repeat itself and we will fail.  We see it happening already from the dysfunctional response to the pandemic, to the dismantling of an organized government, our economy has experienced a greater negative impact than those societies with highly functioning governments.  Those who believe in investing in education and science, in investing in their people, and development, have not experienced as traumatic economic fallout as Americans. Education has been called the great equalizer, so if we are to change the narrative, we must not be afraid to share our stories.  We must not be afraid to listen to the stories of people who may not look like us, or think like us, or pray like us.  For if we put those fears aside, we will learn that we all have more in common than what we were raised to think, or the current administration would have us believe.

Michelle ends her documentary by reminding us of this…no matter what Tangerine Toddler (my description, not hers) says, no matter what some in the “news” media reports about, there are a lot of good people out there.  She has met them along the way – from her time campaigning for her husband, to the her time in the East Wing, and all along her recent book tour, there are so many people who want to do right by one another.  It is time that for our stories to be heard.



LOCKDOWN by Richard Hendrick

© 2016, Laura Riggs

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.

They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.

Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome and shelter the homeless,
the sick, the weary.

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality

To how big we really are. To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.

To Love. So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.

But there does not have to be hate. Yes there is isolation. But there does not have to be loneliness.

Yes there is panic buying. But there does not have to be meanness. Yes there is sickness. But there does not have to be disease of the soulYes there is even death. But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now. Today, breathe. Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic

The birds are singing again. The sky is clearing, Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love. Open the windows of your soul.

And though you may not be able to touch across the empty square,

– Richard Hendrick, an Irish Capuchin Franciscan (March 13th, 2020)