Alive in the Moment

—Naomi Baltuck

It was only last summer, but it seems a lifetime ago that we visited Iceland…

…a country very different from ours, but one of stark beauty.


A land of fire…

(Photo from Eldheimer Museum, Westman Islands.)

…and ice.


IMG_4475 3


…and wit.

My mom used to say, “You can find something in common with everyone you meet, even if it’s only that your feet hurt.”  

A global pandemic should qualify.

At the Adalstraeti Museum, we saw old photographs of the inhabitants of Reykjavik.

An interpretive sign read, “Women in traditional costumes, boys from the Reykjavik Football Club…a professor in a coat with an opulent fur collar, several generations of a family, parents with their firstborn, Little Miss Reykjavik, a girl with a lamb, a boy in a sailor suit. It’s tempting to speculate on where they might have gone after the photographs were taken. Home to Lindargarta, or for a coffee at Hotel Island? Down to the shore to watch the lumpfish catch being landed? Or back to work after returning borrowed clothes?

All the portraits in this exhibition were taken in the first nine months of 1918…Some of the people we see in these pictures may well have perished in the epidemic: all will have lost friends or relatives. The only thing we can know for sure about these past inhabitants of Reykjavik is that in the instant the shutter opened, they were there—facing the camera—alive in the moment.”

On October 19, 1918, the Spanish flu hit Iceland like a tsunami when three infected ships made port in Reykjavik.  The first death followed twelve days later.  Ten thousand people, two thirds of Iceland’s capital city, fell ill.  The hospitals were overwhelmed.  A field hospital was set up to accommodate the overflow, and a center was created to care for children orphaned by the pandemic.  Shops closed, newspapers went dark, and when telephone operators took ill, Iceland lost contact with the outside world.

While the West and South of Iceland suffered, guards were posted to prevent travel from infected areas. They contained the spread, sparing the North and the East of the island. After a month, the infection peaked, and the dead were buried in mass graves.

The exhibit commemorated the centennial of the 1918 pandemic and celebrated the Icelanders’ laudable response. Many donated funds to feed the sick. Others brought meals to friends and strangers. Everyone in Reykjavik was assigned an official to check on them and procure help, if needed.

We were there in the summer of 2019, never suspecting that the exhibit foreshadowed the novel coronavirus that would strike the following winter, and rapidly intensify into a global pandemic. We still languish in the first wave of CoVid-19, recalling with apprehension that the Spanish flu came in four waves, infected 500 million people, and left 50 million dead.

An older story harkens back to The Black Death, that raged across Asia and Europe in the 14th century, spread by sailors and rats along trade routes.  Within five years, it too had killed 50 million people.

(public domain)

At that time, an Icelandic merchant ship was preparing to sail homeward from Bergen, Norway, hoping to outrun the plague.  But before they could weigh anchor, several crew members developed symptoms.  All their instincts must have cried out for home…

…but the crew elected to remain in Bergen, knowing they would never see their home or loved ones again.

Thanks to their sacrifice in 1347, Iceland was spared the ravages of that deadly plague.

As the Adalstraeti Museum stated, the only thing we can know for certain about these people from the past is that they were there, alive in the moment. But it’s tempting to speculate.  Had you been on that ship, with buboes swelling in your groin, would you have resigned yourself to death in a foreign land to spare your countrymen a similar fate?  What if you were one of the crew with, as yet, no symptoms?  Would you still remain in Norway, surrendering any slim hope of survival, in order to contain the infection for the greater good?

I met my sister’s friend Rachel, a retired nurse, and her husband while visiting in Alaska. I was surprised last spring, when she left Juneau to fly to New York, which was suffering 600 deaths daily, as hospitals were slammed by CoVid-19 patients. Rachel joined thousands of healthcare volunteers working 12 and 16 hour shifts, collapsing into bed each night, and waking to start all over again.

A friend of mine volunteers at a shelter for homeless youth. Why risk it? I speculate that in each youth she sees a person plagued by fears and sorrows, yet clinging to hopes and dreams.  Like the girl with the lamb, these kids are alive in the moment, but their world was rife with hardship, danger, and isolation even before the pandemic struck. A pandemic shines a harsh light on society’s economic and racial disparities, and those kids are a tiny fraction of the people who’ve slipped through holes in our social safety net.

We don’t know what the next five years, or even five months will bring, but it will get worse before it gets better. Like the people of Reykjavik, we must care for each other. Some people are in no position to donate funds or volunteer outside of their place of shelter. But almost everyone can wash their hands and wear a mask when going out, if not to protect themselves, then to protect the vulnerable among us. Like those who were here–facing the camera–very much alive in the moment…

Everyone is someone’s child, parent, sibling or grandparent.

 Many have underlying conditions or circumstances you know nothing about.

Wearing a mask is inconvenient, but well worth it, if it can save even one life.

If you can’t do this one small thing for friends, family, neighbors, and community, it’s tempting to speculate…

…what kind of person are you?

Except where noted, ©2020 Naomi Baltuck
All rights reserved.

Bringing Back the Silent Minute

What is the most powerful force we can align with to heal the soul of a nation?

In the United States, these are deeply troubled times. Our population is more polarized than it has been at any time since the Civil War.

Trust—for our fellow Americans, our government, and our institutions—seems to be breaking down. Things become increasingly confusing and chaotic.

Mental health and other medical professionals in the U.S. have reported increased numbers of patients seeking relief from stress, anxiety, and depression. An unprecedented number of Americans lie awake at night wondering what the future of our country will be. I have been one of them.

Like many others, I’ve become more politically active than ever before in my life—working to educate myself and others about issues, writing and calling my elected representatives, supporting voter-registration efforts, collecting signatures on petitions, donating to political campaigns. But as the disorder in our nation deepened, it didn’t feel like I was doing enough.

Of course, action on a material level is necessary—but I began to feel that we needed to work powerfully on another level—by gathering our collective spiritual forces and reaching out to a higher power—for the best possible outcome and the healing of our Nation.

Many of us have been praying privately for help in this situation, and some have been praying together in places of worship—but again, it didn’t seem to be enough.

Photo by John Anstie
all rights reserved
used by permission

Years ago, British Spiritual Healer Malcolm Smith told me about the SILENT MINUTE that was kept each night in the United Kingdom during World War II. Many Britons, he said, credited the winning of WWII to this collective effort—a minute of silence observed throughout the UK each night, at 9 pm. Each participant kept the time in whatever way felt right—through prayer, meditation, or whatever—but with a shared intention of securing freedom and a just peace. For those who lived in London, the Silent Minute was observed during the 9 pm chiming of Big Ben.

The current turmoil in the U.S. seemed to me to require the same kind of concentrated spiritual response that turned the tide in WWII.

I wanted to share the idea of the Silent Minute—but mundane concerns caused me to try to set it aside for later. We had family coming to visit, my house badly needed cleaning—and I kept trying to put off the Silent Minute effort to another time. Somehow, though, I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything but sharing the Minute. The need to “do it now” became irresistible—as if some force compelled me and wouldn’t let me accomplish anything else until I did what I could to spread the idea.

It was soon made clear to me that bringing back the Silent Minute was not “my idea.” I started sharing about the Silent Minute in Facebook groups in mid-July. One of the first to respond was Amber Napier Bozeman. Amazingly, Amber and her mother had had the same inspiration and had started observing the Silent Minute together two weeks earlier!

Although we live in neighboring towns, I didn’t know Amber or her mother, Connie Utpaul. But they had decided on 9 pm as the time to observe the Minute, just as I had. And they had created a Facebook page to spread the concept. (I had started a Facebook group.) Because of this experience, I believe this idea was “seeded” within us by a Higher Power.

A growing group of participants are now committed to observing the Silent Minute. We have no idea how many people are involved. We do know, from those who have chosen to join the Facebook group, that there are now people observing the Silent Minute simultaneously all over the U.S. and in England, France, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, and India.

The focus of this Silent Minute is on Peace, Justice and the Highest Good—for the U.S. and the world.

Participants in the group include people of many faiths and none. Non-believers are welcome to participate and just hold an intention for peace and justice. We encourage participants to keep their prayer or intention non-partisan during the Silent Minute—just focusing on Justice, Peace, and the Highest Good, and having faith that Spirit, the Universe, or whatever we believe in, knows best how to bring that about. [Editor’s note: The Peace Pole message, “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” could work as a collective focus for those seeking a message to focus on, as the peace poles are also worldwide. Read more here.]

The Commitment

If you choose to participate in this effort, the commitment to “keeping the Minute” consistently is important. BUT we’re all human—so if you miss the time or forget and then remember later, do your Silent Minute when you remember, if you can.

If you miss a night—or several—don’t beat yourself up about it. Just get back into the flow as soon as you can.

The U.K. is all in one time zone, but in the U.S. we have several. In order keep the Silent Minute simultaneously as much as possible, here is the plan:

  • On the U.S. East Coast, we have committed to keeping the Silent Minute at 9 pm
  • In Central Daylight time, that’s 8 pm
  • Mountain Daylight time: 7 pm
  • Pacific Daylight Time: 6 pm
  • Hawaiian Time: 3 pm
  • In the U.K and France, the time is 2 am. (A challenging but excellent time for meditation and prayer.)

When observing your Silent Minute, it helps to be aware of all the others doing it, too—and join your intention with theirs. However, if you cannot possibly observe the time when the rest of the collective is tuned in, pick a time that works for you! The most important thing is the shared intention for Justice, Peace and the Highest Good. Science tells us that once ten-percent of a population holds an unshakeable belief, that belief will spread to the whole population. Why shouldn’t the same be true for a strongly held intention?

Since this is an effort to create an energy field or group consciousness, we offer the Silent Minute Facebook group as a venue for sharing about your experience with the Silent Minute or anything related. It is, of course, completely optional.

Keeping the Silent Minute with all my unseen, and mostly unknown—but strongly felt—co-creators is helping me to be more hopeful, and far less anxious, about events in our world. That doesn’t mean I’ve become less active in the outside world. It means that I can be active in a calmer and more effective way.

What is the most powerful force we can align with to heal the soul of a nation—or a world?

The power of our own engaged spiritual forces multiplied by the highest intentions of our fellow beings in oneness with a Higher Power.

Read about the history of the Silent Minute in our other feature on the Silent Minute.

—Lynne Salomon Miceli ©2018

When there has been in the earth those groups that have sufficiently desired and sought peace, peace will begin. It must be within… ”

—Edgar Cayce Reading 3976-28


The Silent Minute—a Brief History

Photo by John Anstie
all rights reserved
used by permission

It was an unexpected intermission in the middle of performing various parts in a day long reproduction, on 1st July this year, of Trevor Wishart’s and Mick Banks’ contemporary musical installation, “Landscape.” First performed in 1970 in Hebden Bridge, the production concluded with the singing of the finale, in quartet through massive speakers, half way up a hillside, in the darkness of 10:45 pm, echoing across the amphitheater that is Hebden Bridge, in West Yorkshire, in the UK. It felt like the most haunting thing I’ve ever been a part of…except perhaps for one thing.

At some point in the afternoon on that day we had a chance to steal ourselves away up steep-sided hills above Hebden at a place, which rejoices in the very interesting but, as it turns out quite appropriate name of ‘Hellhole Rocks.’ For half an hour we sat in utter silence, shrouded by trees, with distant background echoes of life far away down in the town. To complete this scene, and designed to be a part of the ‘Landscape’ production, the only other sound we could hear, that left its footprint in the memory of this already memorable day, was a sound that stood out far above the background hum of life that acted as its accompaniment. It was the poignant ringing of a single church bell that tolled its message slowly but insistently for half an hour.

It brought back the feeling that descends on us every November 11th, at 11 o’clock, when we remember the fallen on Armistice Day with two minutes silence, commemorated throughout the Commonwealth of Nations and Allied Countries, since November 1919. This year’s Armistice Day commemoration will be the 100th.

Silent Moments

This silence is always very moving, not only because of the powerful effects of the silence itself on our own personal reflections, thoughts and prayers, but also, and principally because it helps us all feel at one with so many people at exactly the same time. This is a hugely powerful force of humanitarian collaboration. It is this two minutes of silence, which commemorates the ending of that ‘War to end wars,’ the Great War of 1914-18, that I have observed most regularly. It starts with a bugler playing the Last Post, which is followed by a measured two minutes silence. The silence is broken by the bugler, who plays the Reveille. Between the Last Post and the silence, the exhortation is read; the fourth verse from Robert Laurence Binyon’s memorable poem, “For The Fallen”:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

—Robert Laurence Binyon

These silent moments are a well established means of communal meditation; for remembering past lives, lost souls, healing the immediate effects of tragedies. Silent prayer, included during participation in other group activities, has been practiced by faith communities for centuries. These include, of course, Monasteries and Convents, but also it is reported that Quakers have done this for a few hundred years. I am certain there will be many and varied groups all over the World observing the same practice in their own way under their own faith system.

However, silent moments are also practiced in plural, multi-faith societies, which has the powerful effect of bringing people of different creeds together to think, pray, contemplate and grieve for lost souls. This is typified by the Armistice Day two minutes of silence, which spans the Commonwealth of Nations and Allied Countries, who celebrate it on 11th November. How gratifying it would be, as a result of such widespread humanitarian collaboration and cooperation, to have lasting peace in the World…

The Silent Minute

An address by W. Tudor Pole
June 7, 1942

A very particular ‘Silent Minute’ was reportedly conceived and introduced into British life in 1940, early in the second world war, during the worst of the London Blitz that the Luftwaffe rained on us in 1940-41. It was the brain child of Major Wellesley Tudor Pole. As conceived, people were asked to observe one minute’s silence each evening at 9 pm, Greenwich Mean Time. Tudor Pole carried his idea to the King and to the Prime Minister, both of whose favor he won and so it was begun. Tudor Pole was quoted long after the war as saying:

“There is no power on earth that can withstand the united cooperation on spiritual levels of men and women of goodwill everywhere. It is for this reason that the continued and widespread observance of the Silent Minute is of such vital importance in the interest of human welfare.”

He was a man with some vision and a strong sense of the human spiritual effects of such cooperation and collaboration. He saw this Silent Minute as having been inspired from something beyond himself, from a Greater Power.

From 1941 through the end of the war, at 9 pm, when Big Ben rang the hour and the BBC broadcast its sound before its evening news report, people stopped to meditate, pray, or otherwise hope for an end to the war, victory, and peace.


HC Deb 09 April 1941 vol 370 cc1560-1

§  1560

46. Sir W. Davison asked the Prime Minister whether he is now prepared to commend the Big Ben silent-minute observance to British citizens, so that, wherever possible, they should unite together in silent prayer for the speedy victory of our fight for freedom and justice?

§  1561

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Attlee) Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would be glad to think that those of us who wish to join in silent prayer for victory are combining to use the opportunity with which the B.B.C. has provided them.

U.K. Parliament Website


It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that several notable people—amongst whom were the woman credited as its reviver, Dorothy H Forster, and Edward Tudor Pole, Wellesley Tudor Pole’s grandson—became the first Trustees of a charity that named itself The Silent Minute or the ‘Big Ben Silent Minute’…back to that tolling bell again.

Later on in its life, Trustees included the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It now reaches out across all the continents of the world and, reportedly, there are more than 200 Million people who participate in the silence at 9pm each day, reciting this pithy little prayer:

Source of my being
Help me to live in peace and
Save my home the planet Earth

Read about a more recent U.S. revival as a response to Trump, in our other feature on the Silent minute.

—John Anstie ©2018

August 2018

Sources and interesting links

Wikipedia –


Armistice Day –

Wellesley Tudor Pole –

The Silent Minute charity –

A recording of the Last Post – silence and Reveille is here:

Wellesley Tudor-Pole biography :

Coming Back: Franco not here no more, 1988


I go blind from then I go
here now so into Franco-free light
where I don’t know
how to turn my eyes,
spent scars of second skin,
years of no and fury,
now the clean air breaking in
to be real in this to breathe it
all in and then to die in Madrid.
Tempt it not—I surely do not
Not too. No Franco and his cops
Nor his tiny stamps, unwritten laws
And truncheons at the ready.

I did not come here to die
but to be home here
where I can get lost again free
in a landscape of
words drifting oh words!
Hombre que te pasa
la Republica Zaragoza libertad.

Find the bridge, the path,
to cross over to some-
where the verdict words cannot.
Qué bonitas son
Son las flores
No, not just pretty. Knot not.

When I go blind,
“good I cannot see them”
(as the words once were cords
even to touch their fury)
The pain of sound.
Clackety clack.
Let the air out
of this flat tire.

I’m breaking in
to be real again—
the Guadarrama mountain range
splendid low about the horizon
white-scarred muses
women scarring Fascism.
Late afternoon glory with them in Madrid.
The air so pure it stings to settle.

—Linda E. Chown ©2018

What they said


At the beginning of before.
Here it is: are we in the right
spindle bobbing away?
Are you a fable resting in the sun and wanting?
Tell me how your dreams are.
Tell me what you might mean to yourself in their fury,

Now, skirts forever in a night wind
Yesterday spins yellows around tomorrow
Whatever did your mother tell you about
late at night when you put your book down
on the bed and she came in soundless
with a tight face to sit in the dark with you
while you wheezed and you waited.
Violence in the coal mines.

They always told me
La Pasionaría was brave
no pasarán, she said. With her vision
she was defending Madrid’s mountains
they told me and I heard her when
she spoke with that spike of passion
indomitable: she said no pasarán
and in the foothills there were cheers all dressed in black.

Your father I learned took a gun with him
there at the beginning of before
to protect himself at midnight
on the picket lines in the dark
to protect himself from hit men
who hated his vision out west
in the fog in those long flat parking lots .

Low in his left cheek a muscle quivered
within, at the end of a smile that wasn’t.
He took a gun and she went kitten silent on your bed.
The quiet of her heavy sitting
at the beginning of before
reminds me of an old dream,
her telling you of crossing the street
because of the scar on her skin
because she wanted to hide it from all eyes

Was this a mingled message
to fight with all the passion the rains pour
or to scurry away from feeling?
To hold the front line or to flee into a hole?
Camus who believed in solitude as his struggle
And Aragon whose masses were transcendental
Tell, tell me more please before the end is over.

—Linda E. Chown ©2018

Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, aka “La Pasionaria,” a Spanish Republican leader of the Spanish Civil War

News from the Front: Guernica Is Draped

“Shortly before Colin Powell’s February 5th 2003 UN Security Council fraudulent power point presentation – where he made the case for invading Iraq – UN officials, at US request, placed a curtain over the tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica, located at the entrance to the Security Council’s chambers. As a TV backdrop, the anti-war mural would contradict the Secretary of State’s case for war in Iraq.” Saul Landau, from “Fallujah, the 21st Century Guernica”

in the formal glass & steel palace
of power, Guernica is infamously
draped so power and its plans will not be embarrassed
by all those inconvenient very famous screams
or by that equally famous walleyed pall of death, suspended
in the air like a steel claw
over Guernica

the wild-eyed horse’s famous scream is draped, his long
teeth are draped, the famous one-eyed man looking wide-
eyed up into his own tiny but also very famous
death is draped, and the big wheel of pain
is draped, and the shame we ought to carry like
a ball and chain is draped and the god of unintended
consequences who steady dogs the gods of war with bad
dreams of futures, unforeseen, is draped, is draped
is also draped

and who or what will carry that scream, always,
already further into our memory because
our memory is now draped and our memory alone
is the true habitation and the secret name
of that horse, his teeth, that one-eyed
man, that claw diving down on us from
a sky, torn and dark, and that long, and for-now,
very famous scream

(This poem was formerly published by the Sonoma County Peace Press (Feb/Mar 2014, Vol29 #1)

© 2018, John Sullivan

Song of Kashmir

The Mughal Emperor Akbar is depicted training an elephant; public domain

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela

Everyone feels the need to belong to someone or somewhere. Everyone has a history and needs a teacher to receive knowledge as ‘fear can be overcome by knowing.’  Hence the saying ‘knowledge is power’, but power for the cause of good and peace.

All Families have a history, some are historical themselves like the Kings, Rulers, Emperors and Leaders. There have been families in the History of Religion where we find the exemplary lives of the Messengers, their strength of character and the lessons they taught to their people. Histories have been written in royal courts and in this part of Asia, a good example is in the time of the Mughal Kings.

In the court of Emperor Akbar there were three scribes sitting with their quills, inkpots and papers writing all that happened in the court each day, what orders were issued what cases were heard and decisions taken. They recorded events, wars, births and deaths and weird happenings …worth remembering. So what is worth remembering in a kingdom a country and a family…a family history would include the same a family story. Stranger are the personal stories that happen all over the world. Many remain untold and unheard. By a stranger chance I was ordained to write one…

I too loved to have a family home town. A place I could say was my ‘village’, an old wooden house, a rough garden, a small yard and a cooking space smelling of freshly kneaded wheat and the sweet aroma of tea, cool evenings and summers under the shade of the trees or by a small stream. I was always asking questions about my birth place, our real home, what was the place like, where was it, who lived with us, how come we were there, from where did we get the fresh veges and how. So many questions kept troubling my mind but I got very few answers and so limited information. There was no record in any book or diary form. I wanted to know more about my ancestors but more so about what happened to bring us to another place?

I had strong reasons to take up my pen and trace words on paper, which were consolidated by the following guiding inspiring and most encouraging message I received:

If you really believe that what you’re writing is important, that what you’re writing right now could change someone ‘s life, then do it.

My need to belong made me ask questions of my father and mother but I never got a real chance to sit with my Grandfather Maulvi Mohammed Hasan, a prominent educationist, who I remember smoked the traditional Indian hookah’…had good command over the English language, knew a large body of Shakespeare’s plays by heart and loved to solve the crossword puzzles in one of the best English daily, The Statesman. The newspapers reflected English dominance.

“You were born in a dominion,” said my aunt one day. “We are Kashmiris. We left everything there.” Everything? “Yes. We had to save our lives as war had broken out and we had been blessed with a new country, Pakistan. We were extremely excited but events were not so grand nor safe, people were being killed.”  My family had dreamed, hoped, desired and prayed for the new green land to become our homeland but he would endlessly talk about Kashmir: the food, the rice, the tea, the cherries, the fresh weather … but all in memories some things remembered, some forgotten.

It really doesn’t matter whether the narrative is factually accurate or not. After all, memory distorts events from the past. Rather, the narrative becomes part of the family theme that takes on almost mythical dimensions. The oral tradition is the way stories, tales, myths and adventures have been handed from generation to generation from the beginning of time. Do you know your family narrative? If not, why not find out if family members can relate them to you now? It’s never too late. The fact is, remembered or not, we add to the narrative in the present to hand down to our children and grandchildren. And so a story of family life reflecting manners cultural traditions habits social customs and a mixture of Punjabi Kashmiri living routines…

Keeping my own high interest and spirit of inquiry, one day I sat down. My father was resting holding a paper and pen ready. I said quietly “Father please tell us about your journey to this newly created country?”

“Why do you want to know. It is not easy to talk about it now’

You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” Mary Tyler Moore

Grandfather Maulvi Mohammed Hasan was born in 1892 in Jammu Kashmir. Migrated from Kashmir due to famine.


Here I have brought in information about the Great Famine that caused many Kashmiris to leave their land. Many shifted to Amritsar Gujranwala in Punjab and to Sialkot near the border. Dr. Ernest Neve’ writes in his book Beyond the Pir Panjal Famine 1877-1879.

In some parts of the valley including Srinagar it is said that population reduced by more than half. Heavy rain fell in Autumn before the crops were gathered in. The rice and maize which are the staple foods, rotted.During the Winter the rains continued.The cattle died from want of food.”

Spring harvest failed due to bad weather. The authorities made a fatal mistake and ordered a house to house search for seed grain. People hid the seed grains for their own eating, this aggravated the situation. Famine continued until October 1879.

There is a Kashmiri saying

‘Haki’mas ta hakimas nishh- tachhtan khodayo’ O God save me from physicians and rulers’. 

The rulers heavily taxed the local people taking from their produce, earnings and wheat, etc., which left hardly anything for the peasant worker or the agriculturist. In the famine, people ate oil-cake, rice, chaff, bark of elm and yew and even grasses and roots. They became absolutely demoralized like ravenous beasts.  Those who died could be seen as corpses lying in the streets and open spaces, or pulled and dragged into holes where dogs kept wandering sniffing and eating.

Pestilence and cholera broke out and whatever edible stuff was available was extremely expensive, prices were sky high.”

1888-1892 Srinagar was a City of Dreadful Death it was previously known as the Venice of the East but now small pox spread all over killing many childre, thus child population became the most affected.

Father continued the historical story and I kept writing for long, till I realized that he was tired. “Yes, the Famine affected large areas of India.”

Pakistan it was afterwards, peaceful, till war broke out again…and so the story of migration kept moving through pain suffering with gaps of joy and peace and the solace of being together again, though in difficult times.

War broke out and all life changed again…there is so much more to share but for the moment here is my …

Song of Kashmir
Born in Freedom Chained
In Pure Dust, on Pure Earth she stands,
She never saw her Land;
The land where she was born
Heaven on Earth she was told
Pardise Lost! She realized
Cries of Freedom, freedom
She heard; coffins covered in black
She saw; no smiles on faces forlorn,
Clothes all tattered and torn
Hills and mountains, of greenery shorn;
Gone was the beauty of dewdrops
shining in the morn,
She brought the blood and the birth
She brought the life and the soul
And Hope, and the Unseen Dream
She never saw her Land
Why she was here, where she was
She could never own the name KASHMIR

© 2018, Anjum Wasim Dar

~ Scraggly Dandelion in a Concrete Crack ~

Image from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License Source author: Kleuske
Image from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License Source author: Kleuske

It begins, with one brave enough to appear.
One idea, one voice in an asphalt void.
Oligarchs try to crush all dissension with fear.
Undaunted, the idea will not be destroyed,
Shares roots with others; reassures, “I’m still here.”

One soft heartbeat, then two, then ten.
It becomes a thrumming pulse of multitudes.
Hundreds turn to thousands, to millions and then
It can’t be paved over with false platitudes.
Like defiant dandelions, reaffirm, “We’re still here.”

While those in power, on their golden thrones,
Bloated and squinty-eyed from swallowing so much hate,
Full of flatulent, hot air and pompous-pride groans,
Fail to recognize that their hour groweth late.
The masses are gathering; reassert, “No more fear!”

History paints rebels and martyrs the same:
Trading their lives for belief in their causes.
The greater the oppression, the brighter the flame
Of kindled resistance in lieu of such losses.
The full bloom of awakening, “We won’t disappear!”

To the tyrants, the haters, the xenophobes, too,
The racists, misogynists, who spew toxic bile:
No matter your claims for your self-righteous views,
You must understand: our resistance is fertile.
Love conquers hate, and it will always persevere.

© Corina Ravenscraft

Boots on the Ground

Last month concerned citizens rallied in Olympia in solidarity with protestors in fifty state capitals.  We had hoped to convince electors to vote their conscience. In light of all that has passed since then, it seems naïve to have hoped they might step out of the party line.


Those who lived through the rise of Hitler see history repeating itself. As a student of history, I looked back even further. When Trump bragged, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” I thought of the Latin phrase, agere et pati, ‘to act and to endure,’ a perfect description of medieval society.


Bodiam Castle, East Sussex.

There’s a striking parallel between our current social order and that of the Middle Ages, in which the wealthy ruling class acted and peasants endured. Peasants made up ninety percent of the population. Lords squeezed serfs for taxes plus three days of unpaid work per week. The church exacted two more unpaid workdays, and a compulsory tithe, 10% of their income, forcing peasants to live hand to mouth. Nobility had the power of life and death over them, while the church tortured and executed dissenters.  Protest was not an option.


Traitors Gate, Tower of London. They go in, but they don’t come out.

Like Trump and the GOP, the nobility and the church had their snits, but mostly they scratched each other’s back. Nobles gave financial support to the church, and the church justified the social order by declaring it God’s will that nobles should possess all the wealth and power, and God’s will that peasants and serfs should live to serve them.


To cement the pact, the church placed highborn second sons into powerful positions in its own hierarchy. This artful deal resulted in feudal nobility with an iron grip on peasants, and peasants who were taught from birth to endure their sorry lot and wait obediently for their reward in Heaven. Nothing changed for centuries.

Burying plague victims.

It took the Black Death to upset the fruit basket. The plague hit Europe in 1347, killing half the population over the next five years.  With the workforce so reduced, nobles hadn’t the manpower to till their fields or chase down runaway serfs. Surviving peasants finally had some choice about whom to work for, and could demand decent wages or leave, maybe even to learn a trade in the city. At last upward mobility was possible, and the middle class got a toehold in society.


Thirty-five years later, in 1381, to pay for its pricey Hundred Years War with France, the English government imposed its fourth Poll (per head) Tax in four years. It was a regressive tax, hardest on peasants, who shouldered as much of the Poll Tax burden as the wealthiest landowners.  Just when the peasants thought it couldn’t get worse…

King Richard II

…King Richard II issued The Statute of Laborers, capping wages and forcing workers to accept the same miserable conditions they had labored under before the plague struck. The new law threatened severe punishment to serfs and peasants who dared seek better conditions or higher wages.  It also forbad merchants and tradesmen to charge the market price for goods and services, and ordered a return to pre-plague prices. King Richard even tried to cut the only social security the poor had by forbidding beggars to beg.  In other words, he wanted to make England great again.


In an unprecedented protest, 60,000 peasants marched to London to demand an audience with the king. 2000 protestors died in the ensuing violence, and others did too, including the archbishop, the king’s treasurer, and a number of tax collectors. The peasants dispersed after the king made promises, which he broke, and granted pardons for the rebels, which he revoked. Rebels were hunted down and executed.


Richard II meets with rebels by Jean Froissant.

After the dust settled, it might’ve seemed like nothing had changed, but historian Michael Postan says the revolt made history, “as a landmark in social development and a typical instance of working-class revolt against oppression.” If only for fear of another uprising, peasants were treated with more respect, the hated Poll Tax was never again raised, and it marked the end of feudalism. Most importantly, peasants set their sights on astonishing new, if distant goals; freedom, equality, and democracy.


We face difficult days ahead. Our hard won democracy has deteriorated into an oligarchy—a nation ruled by a small elite group of the obscenely wealthy. Any power or constitutional rights we lose to Trump and the Republicans will be difficult to recover. In D.C., the House, the Senate, and the White House are controlled by Republicans. Trump hasn’t assumed office yet and they’re already ripping apart safeguards.

We can’t afford to surrender to despair or even resignation. We must resist. Since the Peasants’ Revolt, we’ve had shining examples of nonviolent civil disobedience from heroines and heroes like Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, Lech Walesa, and the Standing Rock Lakota. Nonviolent movements like the Underground Railroad, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, United Farm Workers, and the Dakota Access Pipeline Resistance have brought change that makes a difference in all our lives. Not without sacrifice, but with hope, courage, and determination.


Harriet Tubman, civil rights activist, abolitionist, humanitarian.

Solidarity in Communist Poland began with strikes to demand a free trade union, and resulted in freedom and democracy for the Polish people. There was the Velvet Revolution of Czechoslovakia. The Singing Revolution in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania began with people gathering to sing national songs forbidden by the Communists. Four years later they were independent nations, free of Soviet rule.


Every protest matters. It’s an act of faith, almost a prayer. Not the kind in which you petition for a miracle or  just a quick win.  The kind that lends you strength to endure however long it takes, but also transforms you from silent sufferer to person of action. You’ll be there for those who have no voice, or who need help finding their own voice. You’ll be there to inform the public and to lift each other up, to remind yourself that you are not alone.


Each act of resistance repays a debt to those who fought and sacrificed on a battlefield, in a courtroom, or on a picket line to make our lives better. And each act of resistance is a gift to our children and grandchildren.  One day this will all be history. When people look back, and they always do, I hope to be remembered for fighting for what’s right. It’s time to call out the lies, write our congress, gather those signatures, and save our nation from a shameful demise.  It’s time to put our boots on the ground.


Copyright 2017 Naomi Baltuck

The Grandmother I Didn’t See

Ellen Mulvihill Spearing
Ellen Mulvihill Spearing

I had a scary grandmother. She was my father’s mother,Ellen Mulvihill Spearing, an old woman, bent from arthritis and tucked into an easy chair in the living room. Worst of all, I couldn’t understand a thing she said in her thick Irish brogue, so she would yell at me. That sent me scurrying out of the room.

No wonder I was afraid of her, but now I wonder if I had truly seen her or could have seen her differently. I had never known her as a young woman, as a teenage immigrant, as a homemaker trying to feed a growing family or as the mother who lost a son in World War I. To be fair, I was a small child; I couldn’t have the vision or even the language, to understand her world. But last week that changed. The fog of time lifted and I began to see Ellen Spearing.

Georges Scott (1873-1943) illustration "American Marines in Belleau Wood (1918)" - originally published in the French Magazine "Illustrations" - retrieved from
Georges Scott (1873-1943) illustration “American Marines in Belleau Wood (1918)” – originally published in the French Magazine “Illustrations”

Ellen’s second son, Pvt. Walter Joseph Spearing, 23rd Co. 5th Reg. U.S. Marine Corp, was killed in action at the Battle of Belleau Wood in France, June 1918. By all reports, Walt, was a fun-loving but serious young man, a ginger-haired boy who excelled at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia and had gone on to the University of Pennsylvania. I didn’t see Ellen when she opened a letter of condolence from her son’s friend. In fact, I knew nothing about the letter until last week, when thanks to newspaper archivists, and modern technology, I received a copy of Ellen’s letter.

Spearing Head Stone
Spearing Head Stone

Walter Spearing and his best buddy, Pvt. Sol Segel had promised each other that if one of them died the survivor would try to “console the sorrowing mother” of the other.

So shortly after the battle, when the guns were quiet, Sol Segel sat down next to his friend’s grave, and wrote words that “fullfill a duty I am bound by oath and will to perform.” From the distance, almost 100 years later, we may not view the First World War through Segel’s lens as “martyrdom in the Holy Cause of Freedom and Liberty.” But I was touched by his nobility, sick his own losses, he wrote to comfort his buddy’s family.

“There is grief in my heart,” he wrote, “and in the hearts of all my comrades for the great sorrow that this war has brought to you and to us. We all unite to express our heartfelt sympathy and condolences….

“Beneath the green in Belleau Woods, forever connected with the ‘Honor of the Marines,’ lies Walt with two comrades, dead on the ‘Field of honor.’ Above their graves the stately pines sway in their grandeur, an imperishable monument….

Dear lady, the very thought of you in grief tears my heart…. In the name of the Twenty-third Company, in the name of the Marines, I salute you and all my comrades salute you.”

Unknown to me, a writer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chris Gibbons, was researching alumni of the Catholic High School who had died in the war and came across Ellen’s letter. He found my name in and contacted me hoping I might know some of Walter’s classmates.

Oddly enough, Gibbons recently used Ellen’s historic letter in a Mothers’ Day article for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He wrote, “The pledge between Segal and Spearing, as well as the letter sent to Spearing’s mother, Ellen, is certainly not unique in the long, tragic annals of warfare….

“What was unique about this war was how mothers organized….

“In September 1917…the ‘American War Mothers’ organization formed…and quickly spread across the country. These mothers, who had children serving in the military, displayed a flag in their home windows with a blue star denoting the service of a child. Many displayed more than one star. If a son [or daughter] was killed in action, a gold star was sewn over the blue. These women subsequently became known as the ‘Gold Star Mothers,’ a phrase coined by President Woodrow Wilson….

“After the war, the American War Mothers … assisted families who wished to have their sons’ bodies brought back for burial in the United States. …[they also helped organize]…the ‘Gold Star Mothers Pilgrimages,’ in which the government paid the travel expenses of families who wished to visit the European grave sites of their … [loved ones].

As for Ellen Spearing, she did not sit privately with her grief. Shortly after receiving the letter from Segal…she sent a copy to her congressman, J. Hampton Moore with a message “…to demonstrate the spirit of the boys in the district you represent”. She also requested he share it with his colleagues in Congress. The letter was subsequently published on the front page of the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger.

In 1921, my grandparents had the body of their son exhumed from its battlefield grave, shipped to the United States, and reburied in St. Denis cemetery [Philadelphia].”

Chris Gibbons wrote that he visited Walter Spearing’s grave earlier this year and was surprised to see that Ellen’s name is not on the grave stone although that of Walter’s father Cornelius is.

Chris concludes, “As I stared at the grave, I could only shake my head in sadness. It’s almost as if Ellen Spearing, the mother who wanted to ensure that her son and the boys in her district would not be forgotten, had never existed.”

I want to reassure Chris Gibbons on this Memorial Day that Ellen Spearing is remembered. And, if I could speak to her across the intervening century, I’d say, “I see you now as a person who lived her values. As a woman in 1918, you couldn’t vote, but you found your voice, and you used it to speak your truth on behalf of the voiceless soldiers and their families. I might not agree with you about the First World War; I might think it was a disaster; but I salute you, Ellen, I salute your steadfastness in the face of loss. You clearly valued loyalty – loyalty to your family, your neighbors, your country and your God.

– Connie Spearing

Editor’s note:  Connie Spearing may not have “seen” her grandmother, but she certainly walks in Ellen Spearing’s footsteps. Connie is a prominent activist in her San Francisco Bay Area community.

© 2016, words and photographs (portrait and gravestone), Connie Spearing, All rights reserved; “American Marines in Belleau Wood (1918)”  is in the public domain


Commentary: Love and loss on home front,, May 9, 2016

the land remembers

Near_TurinoWe were visiting cousin Toni and her family in a hilltop, walled village near Torino. Looking out across the landscape we saw castles, and their villages, atop each of the many surrounding hills. Between each village lay fertile fields and the occasional woodland. Vineyards and orchards appeared here and there across the countryside. The Alps rose craggy in the distance.

Northern_Italy_LandscapeI asked about the presence of so many castles, and was told that for many centuries there was conflict between villages. These conflicts were not simply local, but reflected larger forces at play in northern Italy. The fertile landscape spreading out before us was a much coveted resource, fiercely contested among local and international powers. Thus, life was difficult for the people of these beautiful hilltops and valleys.

In the village wall, just steps below our relative’s home, were the impact craters of bullets. During World War II, thirteen village men had been executed against that wall, killed by the Nazis in revenge for the death of one soldier. The men, including the village priest, had been taken as they left Sunday morning mass at the local church, lined up against the wall, and shot. The village still mourns.

Today, Italy is at peace. Her people, still face, of course, many challenges. There are few jobs for young people, so the young leave for other companies, an exodus reminiscent of other generations. People grumble that the government seems incapable of addressing the real problems faced by Italians; that, too, is familiar to Italians across generations. Yet, much works: education is essentially free, as is healthcare. The country’s infrastructure is excellent: the trains are inexpensive and run on time, the roads are well-kept, and the electrical grid generally dependable. Internet speeds are slow, an inconvenience that has no immediate solution.

Still, the history of conflict and warfare lives, often just below the surface of everyday life. That history, perhaps carried in the genes of each generation, permeates the landscape, culture, and local history. Stories arise in many contexts, even at Sunday afternoon brunches, or neighborly gatherings around the table beneath the fruit trees in the garden. Even in the immediacy of peace and relative prosperity, trauma sits nearby, never far away.

DSC00104As we enjoyed a classic, home-made Northern Italian lunch, complete with great local wine and desert, I thought about the way North Americans ignore the needs of the land, and the history it speaks to. I pondered our willingness to consume expensive, tasteless food, rather than nourish the land and those who farm it, and wondered what might lie beneath our collective obsession with covering the land with concrete, as if history would not, like Nature herself, force its way to the surface through every crack.

Listening to the flow of stories, I mused that I often hear that America has not experienced war on our soil, yet know our land has witnessed much warfare and bloodshed. I imagined that the soil of North America, like that of Northern Italy, remembers, even as we try desperately to forget.

Watering_CanLooking at the people gathered around the table, it occurred to me we North Americans could, as has much of Europe, choose to embrace the land and the history it holds, and build a society that honors the histories of the places we inhabit. Perhaps we would all be happier then.

© 2015, essay and photographs, Michael Watson, All rights reserved

The Roots of Institutionalized Poverty in the Compromise of 1877

skepticThe Reconstruction Era immediately following the surrender of the Confederacy and the end of the Civil War extends from 1865 until 1877. Reconstruction began with great promise but ended in tragedy. At the very beginning of the Reconstruction Era, three Constitutional Amendments were passed, still collectively known as the “Reconstruction Amendments”: the 13th, which ended slavery; the 14th, which made all people born on American soil immediately and unconditionally Americans with equal rights across the breadth of the entire Nation (and also effectively revoked the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision of 1857, in which the Taney Supreme Court had ruled that slaves were not, and never could be, citizens); and the 15th, which prohibits deprivation of voting rights “by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (in other words, all former slaves could vote). For all practical purposes, however, all three of the Reconstruction Amendments, even in a de facto sense the 13th, were rendered null and void by the collapse of Reconstruction, beginning with the Compromise of 1877. The year 1877 and the inception of the Compromise also mark the beginning of the process of the institutionalization of poverty in the United States.


The Compromise of 1877 is difficult to write about, because, unlike the other great Compromises in the first half of the 19th century, e.g., the Compromises of 1820 (Missouri Compromise) and 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, etc., there is almost no documentation recording who agreed to what and why…and I am very tempted to remove the “almost” qualifier. Furthermore, the Compromise is difficult to write about, not only because of the lack of unambiguous documentation, but also because the events that caused it, and that transpired because of it, are of such complexity that any thorough and accurate account would rapidly expand and displace the subject of institutionalized poverty. Based on what little we do know for certain, it is evident that the leadership of the Confederate States, having decisively lost the Civil War militarily and returned to the Union, elected to attempt to accomplish politically what they could not achieve through the violence of battle: the perpetuation of some form of slavery in the South. In this, Southern leaders were successful to a degree that perhaps even they, in their wildest imaginings, could never have conceived. Their victory began with the election of 1876.

In November of 1876, the presidential election to replace Ulysses S. Grant pitted Republican Rutherford B. Hayes against Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. The outcome of the election – of which the following is a Reader’s Digest-condensed account – precipitated an even greater Constitutional crisis than the election of 1800. I say “an even greater constitutional crisis” because the presidential election of 1800 involved a simple tie in electoral votes between candidates Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. (The incumbent President, John Adams, was a respectable but distinct second.) There is a very explicit, and very simple, Constitutional procedure to resolve such an impasse: voting by each State represented in the House, with each State having a single vote. The House of Representatives had to take 36 votes to elect Thomas Jefferson, but in the end the impasse, harrowing though it was, was resolved through “plain-vanilla” Constitutional procedure.


But in the election of 1876, a situation arose that none of the Framers could have foreseen: competing slates of presidential electors were elected from the States of South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, and Oregon. (Rival slates of electors were commissioned because South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana all had self-appointed rival State governments of the other party. In Oregon, there was a controversy about the eligibility of one elector from Oregon.) In each case, one group of electors was committed to Hayes and the other to Tilden, reflecting the rival parties vying for control of the State governments. With time running out and no president yet elected – just as in 1800, only more so – the Congress was forced to grapple with the extra-Constitutional issue of which electors to count and how to validate their votes.

Congress ended up passing a law creating an ad hoc Election Commission for this purpose. The only thing certain at this point was that Samuel J. Tilden had won the popular vote. At issue was which candidate – Hayes or Tilden – had prevailed in terms of electoral votes. (There was and is no Constitutional obligation for any elector to vote for the candidate that won the popular vote in the elector’s State.) Just as Jeffersonian States threatened military action in 1800 if a Federalist interim president were somehow appointed, pro-Tilden Democratic States in 1876 threatened military action if Republican Hayes ended up in office. The slogan of the day was “Tilden or blood.” Commission deliberations began on February 1, 1877 – about six weeks before the inauguration date. During the run-up to the Commission proceedings, it gradually became clear that, in a straight up-or-down vote, Hayes would win. So the Democrats began a desperate filibuster – actually, a series of such – in hopes of buying time and trying to turn the electoral-vote situation in Tilden’s favor. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking: all parties were driving down on the date for the inauguration. The general consensus – remember: there is almost no documentation of this, and no documentation of any kind that could serve as a “smoking gun” – is that Democrats conferred with Republicans and agreed to refrain from a final filibuster, provided that Rutherford B. Hayes, upon assuming the presidency, would end Reconstruction and withdraw Federal troops from the States of the former Confederacy, thus ending protection of the recently freed slaves and terminating enforcement of the Reconstruction Amendments, especially the 14th and 15th. This “corrupt bargain,” as it was called by Republicans at the time, set the stage for the institutionalization of poverty in the South … and eventually across the entire Union. The South lost the Civil War militarily, but won it socially.

 There were three broad categories of consequences that issued from the Compromise of 1877: the de jure triumph of the “black codes” and “Jim Crow”; the extinguishing of the nascent practice of electing African-Americans to public office; and the withdrawal of Federal occupying troops and the consequent unleashing of white-supremacist organizations.

o “Black codes” and “Jim Crow”

The black codes were enacted in the South a year or so following the end of the Civil War in order to regulate the behavior of black slaves that had been freed, first, by the Emancipation Proclamation of January, 1863, and then by passage of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1865. The codes did contain some “fig leaf” protections for former slaves, e.g., owners were de jure prohibited from murdering their former slaves, but the black codes – basically extensions and modifications of the “slave codes” of colonial times – prohibited former slaves from moving from one plantation to another, or even visiting another plantation without written permission from the owner. (Of course, in a formal sense, the former slaves were now ostensibly paid employees of the plantation.) The black codes continued to make it illegal for slaves to learn to read and write – and also for anyone to teach them these skills. Federal troops occupying former Confederate States were able to mitigate these laws somewhat under the terms of the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection” and “due process” clauses. But after the Compromise of 1877 and the subsequent withdrawal of occupying Union troops, the black codes were allowed to take full effect. Perhaps of greatest importance vis a vis the institutionalization of poverty is that under both the slave and black codes, slaves were explicitly prohibited from learning any other useful, marketable skill: slaves de facto remained slaves even after their de jure legal status changed.


Similar remarks apply to “Jim Crow,” except that “Jim Crow” laid even greater emphasis on racial segregation than had the “slave” and “black codes.” All public facilities—rest rooms, train stations, schools, etc., etc.—were explicitly segregated by race. Nor was the trend to racial segregation restricted to the South. Fearing an influx of freed slaves to Union territory, most Northern States instituted some cognate of “Jim Crow.” For example, the 39th Congress, which passed the 14th Amendment and sent it to the States for ratification in 1865, is the same Congress that mandated racial segregation in the District of Columbia public-school system. In fact, the passage of the 14th Amendment is one of the vanishingly few cases where it is possible to be virtually certain of “original intent”: the Congress that passed the 14th could not have had the racial integration of public schools in mind when it wrote the “equal protection” clause of Section 1. (One of the ironies of history is that the Warren Court cited the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment to support the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.) Again, this was yet another case in which the occupation of the former Confederacy by Federal troops ameliorated the effects of race laws, and gave some effect to the 14th and 15th Amendments.

o The extinguishing of the nascent practice of electing African-Americans to public office

Perhaps the most bitter disappointment associated with the Compromise of 1877, however, was the subsequent lack of enforcement of the voting rights promised under the 15th Amendment. This included the sudden and calamitous choking-off of the election of African-American office-holders. One of the most consistently overlooked effects of the early Reconstruction period—the late 1860s and early 1870s—was that, in large measure because of the extension of the franchise under the 15th Amendment, African-Americans began to be voted into elective office. In retrospect, this was a golden age for African-Americans in the post-Civil-War South. The most conspicuous example, though by no means the only one, was that the junior senator from the State of Mississippi, Albert G. Brown, was succeeded by a free African-American originally from Ohio, Hiram Rhodes Revels – who was also a distinguished African Methodist Episcopal minister. (Even more remarkable about Sen. Revels is that he was elected, as were all senators at this time and prior to the 17th Amendment, by the Mississippi State legislature by a vote of 81-15.) Sen. Revels was followed by Blanche Bruce, who was the first African-American senator to serve a full term. (Sen. Revels resigned his Senate seat after serving for about 18 months in order to become a college president.) Many scholars count over 1500 African-American officeholders at various levels of government during Reconstruction, among them, in addition to Sens. Revels and Bruce, are: Rep. Benjamin S. Turner (R-AL)Robert DeLarge (R-SC)Josiah Walls (R-FL)Jefferson Long (R-GA)Joseph Rainey (R-SC) and Robert B. Elliott (R-SC). Speaking of irony…Mississippi, the home State of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, the State he represented as a US Senator, and the location of his huge plantation, ended up being represented by the first African-American senator and the first African-American senator to serve a full term; Alabama, the location of the first Confederate capital of Birmingham, elected an African-American to the House; and South Carolina, the State with the greatest population of black slaves on the eve of the Civil War (by many counts greater than the white population!) , sent three African-Americans to the House of Representatives.  And the crowning irony: except for  Mr. Elliott, who was born in England, all the above-named Reconstruction Representatives were born slaves. All across the South, at various levels of government, other examples could be cited.  Their name was “Legion,” for they were many.

reconstruction_congresso The withdrawal of Federal occupying troops and the consequent unleashing of white-supremacist organizations

But the Compromise of 1877, the withdrawal of Federal troops, and the consequent rise of white-supremacist organizations like the Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, the Red Shirts, and the White League, all founded either following the Civil War or in the early days of the Reconstruction, all conspired to render the act of voting, let alone running for public office, lethal for African-Americans. The bright and shining moment was abruptly closed, during whose brief years men like the ones alluded to above—many former slaves, all born to modest, often poor, circumstances—could be elected to office and serve as living fulfillments of the initial promise of Reconstruction. Small wonder, then, that in the wake of the Compromise of 1877, African-American Republicans, many of whom had served in the Union army, felt betrayed by the very Nation whose integrity they had fought to preserve.

Finally, from the standpoint of economic justice and poverty, the Compromise of 1877, the withdrawal of the Federal occupation, and the consequent monopoly on politics subsequently enjoyed in the Southern State legislatures by die-hard segregationists, racists, and “Redeemer” Democrats, the results could hardly have been more severe or disastrous. With the “slave” / “black” codes and “Jim Crow” now in full effect, with no means of coercively enforcing the 14th and 15th Amendments, with former black slaves prohibited from learning a new trade or even how to read and write, and with overtly and militantly white-supremacist organizations now openly enforcing what only amounted to a new version of the old, antebellum social order, the inability to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments resulted in the “hollowing out” of the 13th. The poverty that slaves had known in the past became a present reality, rendered explicitly legal once more and – once more – subject to coercive enforcement.

Blacks remained poor, and were forced to remain poor, literally, on pain of death. Southern planters and capitalists now had access to a vast, vast pool of free, or almost-free, labor—again, in a manner and to an extent virtually indistinguishable from the slavery of the 1850s. Slavery had not been abolished, merely changed in form. Instead of a given slave belonging to or on a particular plantation as the chattel property of a particular, specific, individual slave-owner, the slaves of the 1870s and 1880s were now, as it were, “slaves at large,” in no way whatsoever essentially different from the vast pool of free labor into which the targeted populations of 1940s Europe were transformed at gun—and bayonet-point by the armies of National Socialist Germany. The form of slavery had changed. The substance had not. Nor would this state of affairs begin to change, even in tectonic-plate increments, until the Second Reconstruction, better known as the American Civil-Rights Movement, which began a century later.

– James R. Cowles

© 2015, essay, James R. Cowles, All rights reserved; illustration, public domain

Created To Be Included

pink hair, ponytails
outrageous make-up
silicone breasts popping
the buttons of a polyester shirt
rainbow scarf waving in the air
a neon-green mini-skirt
revealing muscled legs
in tattered fishnets
with size 11 feet
in 6 inch heels

brown hair, styled
like Clark Gable
lightly speckled face
from a long-ago shave
baggy Fitch shirt over a
naturally expanding chest
faded jeans worn at the hips
and a rainbow belt
with size 7 feet
in brown loafers

the bread of life
given for you
to live a life as you were
made and created
loving as you were made to love
the cup of a new covenant
given for you
to create a space
to meet the one
who loves you

In honor of Pride*

Terri Stewart

* Just a note about June and Pride.

June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York, police invaded this inn that was known to be inclusive and supportive of those in the LGBTQIA community – especially the poorest and most marginalized. The raid quickly turned into a riot with people being hurt.

“In 1969 Police raids on gay bars occurred regularly.  It was illegal to serve Gay people alcohol or for Gays to dance with one another.  During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, the customers were lined up and their identification checked. Those without identification or dressed in full drag were arrested.” (here)

For the first time, the LGBTQIA community fought back. And one year later, Pride was born as a remembrance of Stonewall and as a way of looking forward and imagining and fully inclusive world.

We still have a long way to go.

by yosoynuts CC (BY ND)
by yosoynuts

British Bulldogs, Great Speeches … and poetry …

It is not a new notion to say that great speeches are like great poetry [Look up Simon Armitage’s documentary on the subject “Speeches that Shook the World” shown on BBC TV on 6th November in 2013 *]. We know all too well how there are certain circumstances, certain events that cause negative emotions to be stirred in us, like the fear that we would ordinarily prefer to keep hidden; fear that has the capability to paralyse us, and deny us our inner strengths. But great speeches. like great poetry, can also stir in us those very positive emotions that bond us in our familial, local and national and even international communities and, in so doing, bind and galvanise us, as well as motivating cooperative action, repair and renewal. The like of this kind of behaviour may seem difficult to believe, these days, when our motives seem only to be characterised by an aspirational, but selfish pursuit of wealth and personal celebrity, often at the expence of those less fortunate; often at the expence of greater causes.

But one man encapsulated the essence of leadership for Great Britain, at a time when it was needed most. He was a man, who, despite his unpopularity amongst certain sections of society in peace time, galvanised a nation into girding its loins and taking action; who, above all else, was capable of stirring the most powerful of positive emotions in us, of breathing the oxygen of hope into a nation that was almost on its knees in the early years of World War II. He was a man, who was an articulate weaver of words, a speech-maker and, it could be argued, a poet. Above all else he was a true leader. That man was, of course, none other than the late Sir Winston Churchill. Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of his State funeral – an honour, apparently never before afforded to a ‘Commoner’.

His speech at the conclusion of the Battle of Britain was poetic:

“Never in the field of human conflict
was so much owed
by so many
to so few”

I have deliberately broken his prose into poem-like lines, to emphasise the pauses he made between them, to great dramatic effect; an effect that embeds a message deep into our psyche, it sears the soul such that you could feel it in your guts.

The way in which he delivered his rallying speech to Parliament on 4th June 1940 …

“We shall go on to the end.
We shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence
and growing strength in the air,
we shall defend our island,
whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;  …

… without doubt, embraces many facets of the poetic. It had such rhythm, even half rhymes and cadences, to say nothing of the way he used the repeated punchy phrase “we shall fight” and how the subtle stress on certain words, lingering on the vowels of certain key words and leaving short silences between lines built drama as the speech progressed to its conclusion.

… we shall never surrender.”

Whatever your detractors may have said against you, Sir Winston, for the huge role you played, between 1940 and 1945, in helping a nation believe in itself again and that it could, nay, would prevail, I salute you.


* Armitage revealed the key elements of a good speech (and also a good poem), which were defined by one of the many people he interviewed during his documentary, Vincent Franklin, who played the blue sky thinking guru, Stuart Pearson, in the BBC’s comic satire, “The Thick of It”. Franklin is a speech writer in his other life. The three elements he revealed were based on the ‘rhetoric strategies’ of the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, which are also referred to as the ‘modes of persuasion’ that defined a great speech as one which had Logos (an appeal to logic and factual argument), Ethos (an appeal to the authority or trustworthiness of the speaker) and Pathos (having secured your audience’s attention, this is the quality of the language, which drives the message home more powerfully than any other technique). The final speech presented by Armitage in the documentary is Martin Luther King Jnr’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered to quarter of a million people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963; a classic mood changing, history making speech if ever there was one.

– John Anstie

© 2015, essay and photograph, John Anstie, All rights reserved

Warrior In a Place of Ghosts


Plenty Horses

The fickle winds swirled me around, like I was
a snowflake dashing among the bullets
and over the frozen dead at Wounded Knee.
I, who could read the spirit of The People
and also read the books of the Wasi’chu.
I, who was shunned as neither Brulé nor white.
I, a ghost in the land of the Ghost Dance.

After I shot the yellow leg leader
of the Šahíyena scouts who hunted and
drove us to that place where the winter winds
tossed away our life and lives like dried leaves,
I once again became one of The People,
not a murderer as the Whites said.
I was a warrior, only now one in a place of ghosts.

On December 29, 1890, a detachment of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment entered a camp of about 350 Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota people at Wounded Knee Creek to disarm them before returning them to the Pine Ridge Reservation. But then a shot rang out, and some 300 Lakota men, women and children were gunned down. The Wounded Knee Massacre is viewed as the end point of the so-called “Indian Wars” between Native and European American people.

But a week later, a young Brulé man named Plenty Horses, recently returned to the Rosebud Reservation from the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, shunned by his people for being like a White and by the Whites for being Indian, shot and killed Lt. Edward W. Casey, commandant of the 8th Cavalry’s Cheyenne Scouts. By doing so, he hoped to regain standing among his people as a warrior.

Charged with murder, Plenty Horses was eventually acquitted based upon his need to be regarded as an enemy combatant in order to provide a validation of the Army’s massacre at Wounded Knee. It was indeed, a time and place buffeted by winds of hatred, confusion and tragedy. I hoped to somehow express that “world turned upside down” state of Plenty Horses’ unique situation on the anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre with this piece.

– Joseph Hesch

© 2015, poem, Joseph Hesch, All rights reserved; photograph of Plenty Horses (1890) by  John C.H. Grabill, from the Grabill Library of Congress, LC-DIG ppmsc 02524, public domain

Swann in the City

When I was a boy, probably long before you were born, I would deliver newspapers in the west end of Albany’s Arbor Hill.

Before I retired from tossing news to writing it, I suffered not much more than bruises and a knife scratch in conducting mobile commerce with the inhabitants of that eroding neighborhood. Needless to say, the tenor of business changed during and since my times there.

So many days now, I read or hear of another young guy, young like I was then, falling to a gunshot wound in my old streets. Some die. Most don’t. I sometimes worry that I don’t wonder much about it, though. I felt it coming.

I felt it in the steel of a razor on my chest. I could sense the momentum of it like I’d smell the miasma of cabbage and weed and spongy diapers in the hallways of Third Street and Livingston Avenue. Later in life, in my newspaper days, I’d recognize its cousin aroma in jails and prisons, the one with a soupçon or so of filthy bodies. It’s not an aroma you ever forget. Some of my old neighbors carry it on them like their tattoos to this day.

Every now and then, I’ll catch a whiff of it, and with a Proustian flash stronger than any almond cake, I’ll be whisked back to those times, a bag of newspapers over one shoulder and half my attention over the other. Today, the memories were dredged up by a request for a city poem. Maybe I’ll write another.

I’ve written plenty of them about my Albany, the city older than any of you live in across this vast land. It’s a small city, often with big city people moving through it on their way to even bigger ones. A lot of us came back here like salmon to spawn.

But there’s some things all cities have in common. We all have histories written in blood and sweat, which continue to drop on the concrete every day. We all know that young men catch bullets as easily in Albany as they do in New York, Detroit or Los Angeles.

I don’t know if that’s ever going to stop. But I understand where it comes from. I saw the snowball become an avalanche. I left only my bloody initials on the declaration of interdependence we call a street, a neighborhood, a city. I just hate to keep reading whole stories written that way.

– Joseph Hesch

© 2014, essay, Joseph Hesch, All rights reserved

Tiny Miracles

Forgive me, blogger, it has been a month since my last post.

My only excuse is that I was out in the world.  All the stories I’ve seen and heard and lived have been patiently but eagerly contained, just waiting to be told.


In Poland and Lithuania, where we were traveling, World War II still casts a long shadow over the land.  That is a long, hard, sad story.

But little stories are everywhere, and more often than not, you will find stories within stories.  In fact, they will find you.

In Vilnius, even the walls contained stories.  We started to notice things, like faded Hebrew lettering on an old wall…

…Or a Star of David scratched in stone seventy years ago.

We learned that our apartment was in the Vilnius Ghetto, where more than 42,000 Vilnius Jews were imprisoned before they were murdered.

Near our place was a statue in memory of Dr. Tsemakh Shabad, a Jewish doctor in Vilnius.  A lovely young Lithuanian named Yrita gave us the inside story.

 The good doctor was loved by all, especially the children, and not only because he believed most childhood illnesses could be cured with a warm glass of milk and a bit of chocolate.

When a mother brought her little girl to him, that was what he prescribed.  They had no money for chocolate, so for a week he had the little girl come by every morning to take her medicine– a glass of warm milk and some chocolate.  Sure enough, she soon felt better.

When the little girl’s kitten fell ill, she knew just what to do.

She took her kitten to the doctor and asked him to cure it.

The doctor told her that in this case, they would forego the chocolate, and stick with the warm milk.  I’m glad to tell you the kitten recovered as well.

Though Dr. Shabad died in 1935, the children of Vilnius still visit him.  When they do, they rub the kitten’s nose and make a wish, certain it will come true.


 Yrita told us that for little wishes, you rub the kitten’s nose.  For very big wishes, you might need to rub the doctor’s nose.

 Sometimes wishes don’t come true, not even the little ones, and not all stories have a happy ending.

Sometimes the best we can do is to search for a little light in the darkness.  Sometimes you will find it in the most unexpected places.

Tiny miracles can be found everywhere– even in a bit of chocolate, especially when served with a cup of kindness.

 – Naomi Baltuck (Writing Between the Lines: Life from the Writer’s POV)

© 2014, words and images, Naomi Baltuck, All rights reserved