Category Archives: Social Issues

Social causes, activism, and projects

Faces of the Future: Generation Z

 What does the future of the US look like? The next generation is the focus of an NBC News special which features stories of their lives and expectations. The American Diversity Report is eager to share excerpts from that special on TODAY.COM
 
TO COME OF AGE IN 2017 in America is to enter adulthood in a time of often overwhelming turbulence. The country is deeply divided, technology is reshaping the world at a breakneck pace, and the future seems filled with uncertainty. As each day appears to bring with it another crisis, from unprecedented natural disasters to horrific mass killings to violent and vehement ideological clashes, questions lurk in the background: Who will inherit this world? And what will they do with it?

Enter Generation Z

 
Loosely defined as those born after 1995, this new wave of soon-to-be grown-ups—also dubbed the iGeneration, Centennials, Post-Millennials, Founders, Plurals and the Homeland Generation, depending on whom you ask—picks up where millennials left off. True digital and social media natives, they’re ever-connected, multitasking on many screens and more comfortable sharing on Snapchat than IRL. “They are the first generation to spend their entire adolescence with smartphones,” says Jean Twenge, author of “iGen,” who has studied the group extensively. “That really rapid adoption of smartphones has had ripple effects across many areas of their lives.”

Generation Z and the 2016 Election

The 2016 election marked the first time many Gen Zers were able to vote, in an event that has served to spotlight and magnify the fractures and fissures in the nation. Decisions made by this administration will have ramifications for years to come, and many of the top issues that drove voters to the polls can be interpreted as de facto battle lines along which the country is dividing itself: Health care. Guns. Immigration. Abortion. The treatment of gay, lesbian and transgender people. Climate change.
 
So how do young people growing up in today’s chaotic environment feel about their country, their cities and their lives? We’ve spent the last few months following a handful of teenagers on the frontlines of Generation Z: five students who graduated from high school in 2017 and are full of big dreams. For these individuals, the issues facing the country aren’t just hypotheticals to see on the news or be debated by politicians onstage, but their daily realities.

A Generation Z story: Destiny Robertson

Destiny grew up in one of the poorest communities in the country, McDowell County, West Virginia. “We have some of the best people in the whole world,” says the 18-year-old, who grew up in the county in the town of Northfork. “I wouldn’t be who I am without where I am.”

West Virginia got a lot of attention on the presidential campaign trail from candidate Trump, who promised to bring mining jobs back to a state struggling with unemployment. People have been leaving McDowell County, once the top coal producer in the state, ever since coal production started to decline decades ago. Since its peak in 1950, the region’s population has dropped by over 80 percent. The unemployment rate is now more than double the national average, and more than 1 in 3 people live in poverty.

Destiny, whose grandfather was a coal miner, believes in her community, but doesn’t think the future lies in trying to chase the past. “A lot of my friends—my male friends—that’s their dream, to become a coal miner. That’s where you can make the most money here, when you can get a job,” she says. “I’m definitely in the minority. My views are that we have to move on from coal.”

Meanwhile, the county, like the rest of West Virginia, is in the throes of the opioid crisis. The overdose rate here is nearly five times the national average. “You have a big problem in West Virginia and we are going to solve that problem,” President Trump said on a visit to the state in August. In October, he declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

The president is popular in McDowell County. Seventy-five percent of the votes here went to him in the 2016 election, but Destiny’s wasn’t among them – at 17, she was still too young to vote at the time. She doesn’t like to get too public with her political beliefs, but she’s passionate about voter registration and encouraging people to make their voices heard. “Being a black woman in this town, it’s important to me to exercise my right to vote,” she says.

And she hopes President Trump will come through for the people of her county, who desperately need help. “This place has an epidemic going on…I’d hope that this new administration will bring awareness to that and help us figure out a way to get rid of the addiction.”

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For more stories of Generation Z, click on
  Faces of the Future

Appalachia Burning: White Supremacists in Tennessee – by Rev. Jeannie Alexander

I’ve been wrestling with how to write about  white supremacists and modern day self-proclaimed Nazis descending upon my beloved home in Middle Tennessee where I stood with a small band of inter-faith women clergy, determined to push back hard – literally – against hate.  It was exhausting, heartbreaking, took weeks in planning, and ultimately was successful. But what the hell does success mean when you’re talking about shutting down white supremacists and Nazis?

It began as a plan, an absurd “dangerous” plan. A small collective of women clergy, and women of faith, came together and decided that we simply were not going to allow a torch march in Middle Tennessee. Some of our collective had been part of the counter demonstration in Charlottesville and bore witness to what was a very calculated, pointed message in an action seen far too many times in the history of this country. A mob of angry white men, with torches, marching through the countryside, with the end result of death, accentuated these days by the echoing chant of “blood and soil!”

And so the decision was made that we would track their movements through the weekend, and should the Nazis and white supremacists assemble for their terror march, this band of women was going to block them with our bodies, in clergy garb. The angry mob was going to be forced to show the world that they were willing to assault female clergy in their frenzy of hate.

In the early planning stage there were men involved with our little collective. When a decision was reached that the direct action was going to be to stop the torch march, they pulled out, called us crazy, and insisted that people were going to get killed.

But you see, that’s just it; people have already been killed. A torch march historically has a specific purpose, and that is to strike fear and terror into the hearts of the targeted population/individuals, with the end result being death; typically the torture and deaths of black bodies by lynching, or Jewish bodies, queer bodies, Communist, Anarchist, or the bodies of race traitors and sympathizers. Really, anyone who the “master race” identifies as “inferior.”

As anyone else knows who was tracking the racist chatter, a torch march was off and on again throughout the planning of the White Lives Matter event, and certainly throughout last Friday.
We spent Friday in small collective worship and preparation to basically have the shit kicked out of us. Some folks will say this is pointless, and what good does it serve? But our thinking was this – someone has got to say “No!” and for too many centuries it’s been black and brown bodies paying the price of fear and hate.

It was cold and windy as we walked through the historic neighborhood of Murfreesboro’s downtown toward the square. It was almost Halloween, and all I could think was that the scariest thing was actually happening, that we were walking through the night in this beautiful quiet neighborhood, toward an interfaith service, because we had credible information that there was a plan to disrupt the service with a torch march. It is 2017, and we had literally spent our day planning and preparing to disrupt self-identified Nazis. What world are we living in? The 1850’s, 1930’s? Have we become so numb, deaf, and blind to history?

Businesses on the square appeared ready for a disaster with boarded up windows and doors. A local pastor who had joined us explained that the windows were boarded up out of fear of counter demonstrators, not the white supremacists and Nazis.
Let that sink in and tell me please, why in the hell aren’t we all Antifa? Given the hard bloody lessons of history, why are we not all anti-fascist? What the hell have we sold our souls for when politicians can flippantly assert that people stridently opposed to Nazis and fascists are the same as Nazis and fascists?

And so, we spent Friday night on the move, and there was no torch march.

We proceeded Saturday to Shelbyville with not enough sleep. As everyone knows, the overwhelming counter demonstration drown out the hate rally pretty effectively.  Amidst all of the chanting, screaming, and playing of La Bamba from our side, I listened carefully to the speeches from the other side of the bridge.

I listened to the horrific sick screams of “Black Lives don’t matter!” and “I am a fascist! I am a Nazi!” and taunts of “Hey guys, where’s Heather Heyer, I don’t see Heather Heyer over there, do you?” And I also heard fear: a fear of the other, an anger expressed in asserting that other people flee from their countries to “avoid their problems,” and a corollary fear asserted in the statement “We don’t have anywhere to run!”

They don’t even know that they don’t have to run. Run from what? From hope? From our oldest richest tradition of offering sanctuary to the tired, sick, hungry and oppressed? In additional speeches some white supremacists claimed not to be Nazis, others proudly claimed to be Nazis; and still, others spoke of low wages, an inability to make ends meet, an abhorrence of private prisons, and a lack of healthcare. This was followed by an extolling of Trump and his promise to drain the swamp.

What we were faced with in low numbers on the other side of the bridge was this: poor whites being led and whipped into a frenzy by out of town urbane racists, a narrative that was utterly contradictory and disjointed resulting in an allegiance to fear and hate, supported by a false cultural and historic narrative that Jewish Communists run the world and integration is impossible, that the rich narcissistic pig in the White House actually identifies with them, and some pissed off little god is on their side.

When white supremacists were bemoaning the abuse of workers and low wages, and a lack of healthcare, while in the same breath castigating communists and spewing capitalists rhetoric, I was quite frankly left speechless, a rarity. Why the hell aren’t they communist, I wondered; and have they ever read Grapes of Wrath, because there sure were a lot of upside down twisted Tom Joads across the bridge from us.

I looked across the lines of militarized police, and deputized militia, into the faces of my enemy, and I saw Appalachia burning in their eyes. Standing behind the metal fence barricade with my feet rooted in the earth, I felt Appalachia running through my own veins. Some of those people across the line were my blood people too; and I cannot deny that the same God who created them created me, and what is holy and divine in me has still got to be able to see what is holy and divine in them if there is any hope for resurrection and restoration for any of us. I could feel their fear along with their misplaced anger and rage, but I could feel no sympathy. I can feel no sympathy when the final solution is genocide. I can feel no sympathy when the final solution is black bodies swinging from trees. I can feel no sympathy when the final solution is brown bodies trapped behind a wall – caged in CCA camps – or dying of heat exhaustion trying to cross a desert to find a better home for their children. I have seen the enemy, and if I do nothing then the enemy is me. There is no neutrality in this oldest of wars.

After the showing in Shelbyville, the Murfreesboro Saturday afternoon White Lives event never even occurred; although later in the night a roving band of angry cowardly white supremacists beat a woman in Brentwood.

This weekend we could not have functioned and operated without enormous support behind the scenes from legal observers, medics, and movement chaplains. They were with us Friday night before any crowds appeared, and they gave us the courage to do what we all felt deeply convicted was the right action, but nonetheless was a frightening action.

And after this weekend, what? I am sad. angry, and determined. I am grateful for this beautiful small collective of humans, who have just begun our journey together. I am full of hope, and moreover, I hope that you will join us in future resistance. And because I am an unruly ill-behaved woman, I really love our battle cry of “Shabbat Shalom motherf***ers!”

History, Monuments, and Culture Clash – by Deborah Levine

Any discussion of monuments and cultural symbols tends to be highly emotional, regardless of which side of the controversy you’re on. Here in Chattanooga, the controversy features the statue of General A.P. Stewart at the county court house. For some, Stewart represents post-Civil War bridge building and the creation of the Chickamauga Chattanooga National Military Park. For others, his Confederate uniform and the monument’s funding by the Daughters of the Confederacy symbolizes slavery followed by Jim Crow laws.
My experience with historical monuments began thirty years ago when I was hired as the junior of three assistant directors in the American Jewish Committee’s Chicago office. It was August and when a reporter from The Chicago Tribune called, I was the only staff person not on vacation.

Continue reading History, Monuments, and Culture Clash – by Deborah Levine

Addressing Social Isolation among Men – by Elwood Watson

Despite his material and enviable career success, Don, like many of his mid-20th-century contemporaries and many men today, more than a half a century later, was hampered by a common theme that is prevalent in the lives of many men — a lack of genuine friendships. The old saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” rings true in regards to this particular issue.

Men have chosen to become totally consumed with one’s career to the detriment of having any healthy relationships. There have been a number of theories and reasons from experts as to why so many  men have difficulty establishing and maintaining valuable, close relationships with other men. The social awkwardness and a rejection of intimacy with other men are present in fear of being viewed or labeled as gay. Societal mores have historically frowned upon it. Instead, men have chosen to become totally consumed with one’s career to the detriment of having any healthy relationships. Reasons aside, many individuals with the X/Y chromosome have a real deficit in their level of camaraderie with other men.

The undeniable conclusion from many psychologists, psychotherapists, mental health experts as well as testimony from a number of men themselves is that too many men have too few, if any, real male friends.
There has been a plethora of studies providing evidence that men who are largely friendless are living in an unhealthy situation, often resort to alcohol, engage in drug use, suffer from depression, and should reexamine their current predicament. Some things to consider:
Continue reading Addressing Social Isolation among Men – by Elwood Watson

Refugees: Are We Eating our Young? – by Deborah Levine

Islands at Risk

Refugee International reported a few years ago that a Kiribatian man tried to convince a New Zealand court to make him the world’s first climate change refugee. Kiribati is an impoverished group of Pacific islands vulnerable to rising sea levels.  He didn’t succeed, but many experts predict a growing number of displaced people seeking asylum because of global warming. The planet has limited drinkable water, fertile land, clean air, and food. The planet’s current supplies are steadily shrinking.

Continue reading Refugees: Are We Eating our Young? – by Deborah Levine

Missing my little buddy David – by Terry Howard

“The biggest problem with having a disability is that far too often
people see it before they see you!”

I met little David at a local Starbucks a few years ago.

You see, I was hunched over my laptop searching the internet for a new twist for a piece on people with disabilities given that October is National Disability Employment Month. Over a third cup of coffee, I was focused, oblivious to the comings and goings of folks entering and leaving. But in truth, I was in my zone and preferred to keep it that way.

But little David – his Downs Syndrome and all – had other plans for me. And others.

At the top of his lungs, David called out “Hey brother” as he approached a surprised me at my table in the corner. A high five and a hug later, David was off greeting and hugging others in the place. And like me, all were startled and clearly smitten by little David. It was written all over their faces, our faces. Their silence spoke volumes.

“David, David, get back over here. Leave these people alone!” demanded his mom; words she’d no doubt uttered many times before – words obviously to no avail. But that was before she realized how deeply David touched all of us that day.

Three minutes later, and with little David in tow, mom headed to the door and, David being David, waved and bellowed to us, “good bye my friends.” And we all, in unison, in different words, with moisten eyes – patrons and Starbucks employees alike – stood up and returned, “See ya David!”

And for a few seconds we all stood there, in complete silence, absolute strangers no longer, knowing somehow and full well that we’d just been touched – and connected in our humanity – by an angel.

Now I’ve returned to that Starbucks a number of times since then, feeling cheated by the brevity of that meeting with David, wishing and hoping my little buddy would be there.

But no such luck so far. But I’ll keep going back.

Yes, I’ll keep going back…. wishing and hoping!

Our Domestic Terrorism – by Deborah Levine

What happens in Vegas does NOT stay in Vegas. Domestic terrorism is a national issue. I often write about how  the byproduct of economic dislocation is an increase in violent attacks. When people feel they have little to lose, they lose their socialization and their humanity.  The result is a rise in domestic abuse and acts of violence on strangers, whether individually or in crowds. The anger and divisiveness that now permeate our culture take the phenomenon beyond the disenfranchised. Incidences like this attack on a concert in Las Vegas parallel the rise of  traditional terrorism and are symbolic of the desire to deconstruct society.

I cannot accept the explanation of mental illness which implies that this massacre is just a single individual with no takeaway that impacts the country. Nor can I accept that Las Vegas was punishment for criticizing Trump and not standing for the national anthem, as one religious figure is saying.  Neither denial nor incitement should be acceptable if we are to confront domestic terrorism in our midst.

Continue reading Our Domestic Terrorism – by Deborah Levine

Unplugged, Under Water, or Buried – by Yvor Stoakley

How Should We Think About the Residents of Barbuda, Florida, Mexico, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Texas? How should we feel about them?

I live in Wheaton, Illinois, United States of America. The series of natural disasters that have impacted Texas, Mexico, Florida and the Leeward Caribbean islands over the past six weeks have raised some interesting questions about how we think and feel about other human beings.

Continue reading Unplugged, Under Water, or Buried – by Yvor Stoakley

The Liberator’s Daughter Writes Post-Charlottesville – by Deborah Levine

 After my father’s eightieth birthday, he told me that he was transcribing his World War II letters for me. My father, the son of an immigrant traveling shoe salesman, went to Harvard, and was trained at a secret US military intelligence camp. He wrote to my mother when he was a military intelligence officer deployed to France, Belgium, and Germany. Assigned to interrogate Nazi prisoners of war, he saw more than one death camp in the process. His letters are now more relevant than ever.

Continue reading The Liberator’s Daughter Writes Post-Charlottesville – by Deborah Levine

US Holocaust Museum on Violence against Burma’s Rohingya

UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM STATEMENT ON THE VIOLENCE AGAINST BURMA’S ROHINGYA POPULATION

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is horrified by the ongoing attacks on Rohingya civilians in Rakhine State, western Burma, and calls on the Burmese government to immediately cease its military operations in the region. According to reports, this campaign includes the widespread and systematic targeting of Rohingya with killing, rape, torture, and forced displacement. The Museum reiterates its deep concern about these ongoing mass atrocities, including the risk of genocide.

Continue reading US Holocaust Museum on Violence against Burma’s Rohingya