Andrew Young on peace, justice, and assorted other issues

andrew young

Andrew Young wants you not to worry. Despite humankind’s failure to solve the problems of poverty, racism and inequality, and the smaller issues that cause us to despair, Young tells his listeners that a benevolent creator has everything under control. He offers this assurance in the biblical words of his grandmother …. “Don’t be anxious about tomorrow… Consider the lilies of the field; they toil not…” and after a few more verses that roll easily off his tongue he adds with a beatific smile, “You don’t have to be a believer to know that sounds good.”

Young was in San Francisco recently, drumming up support for world peace, justice, compassion and his Andrew Young Foundation. In an informal – “You don’t mind if I just sit in this comfortable chair instead of standing at the podium?” – talk at the Commonwealth Club, his remarks ranged from theories on how to make the world work to why prisons don’t.

Just a few of those random thoughts include the following:

Re dealing with the bad and the angry: “Don’t get mad, get smart.”

Re getting smart – one of the first things Young did after being elected Mayor of Atlanta in 1981 was to increase the percentages of blacks and women in the police department, in order to insure that it reflected the population of the city. A story about how well that worked in one instance delighted his 2014 audience:

Anticipating two or three thousand people for a Ray Charles concert in Piedmont Park, the city sent a contingent of a dozen police officers to look after the crowd – but the crowd turned out to be over 100,000. “Ray Charles said he wasn’t going out there,” Young recalled. “He said, ‘I’m blind, but I can see there’s people pushing against the stage and I ain’t going out there.’ And we had a dozen police officers to handle 100,000 people.” Enter one of the police contingent, “a tiny little woman named Sadie.” Sadie mounted the stage, blew her whistle, got the crowd’s attention and told them they were going to play a game. “You all know about Simon Says? Well, this is Sadie Says.” When she blew her whistle, she explained, everybody on the front row was to turn around and face the opposite direction. When she blew it again, everybody on the next row was to turn around… and so on. By the time Sadie finished blowing her whistle, the entire crowd was facing away from the stage. “Now,” she said, “everybody take ten steps forward.” The crowd surge was ended, the concert went on as planned.

FullSizeRender (2)Re prisons: “You go to prison for taking money from an ATM; you come out knowing how to take the ATM.”

Re global peace and prosperity: There are “ways to make the world work,” Young believes. Because food and jobs are two of the keys, his foundation is pushing programs to make protein from duckweed in the south. Small farmers could be back in business, the hungry could be fed.

Young is almost as enthusiastically pro-duckweed as he is anti-Halliburton. “We don’t need to be fighting ISIS,” he says; “that’s Halliburton’s war. You want to go after people for not paying taxes? Go after Halliburton.” And as to those wars, “One of the things we should know by now is that there is no military solution.”

How can we find lasting solutions to issues like poverty and war? Young says, “I don’t know how to do it – but our kids will know how to do it. I was in a restaurant where a two-year-old had his iPad out and said, ‘Mom! They don’t have wi-fi here!’ — but a few minutes later he said, ‘That’s okay Mom, I fixed it.’” Young urges audiences of all ages to work for peace and justice, acknowledging both the enormity of the tasks and the potential for success. And in the end, he says, “We just have to believe we’ve done the best we could.” You don’t have to be an Andrew Young believer to know that sounds good.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, host of the recent event, asked Young which of his titles he preferred: Mayor, Congressman, husband, father, CEO, Ambassador…? The reply came with another quick smile.

“Andy.”

Mark Ruffalo’s mother and me

Mark Ruffalo at the 2007 Toronto International...

Mark Ruffalo at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never met Mark Ruffalo‘s mother. But I am a new, big fan of her son.

Mark’s mom and I are of the same generation. We each experienced an unintended, unwanted pregnancy which we were forced to end illegally — because there was no safe, legal abortion in the U.S. before 1973. I don’t know the details of Mark’s mom’s abortion but I can tell you about mine. The result of a workplace rape, my 8 or 9-week pregnancy was ended by a back-alley abortionist in a dreary house on a dreary February day in Atlanta, GA. I told no one, not my closest friends or family members, no one. Until three years ago when the realization that those grim days are returning prompted me to speak out, and to begin work on a book. Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade was published in June. Three years ago I could not have imagined how perilous these times would have become.

And now, Mark Ruffalo is also concerned about a return to the days of illegal abortions that his mother and I survived — though countless other women did not. His statement was read at a rally outside of Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is threatened by new laws that would force it to close.

Here’s what Mark had to say:

“I am a man. I could say this has nothing to do with me. Except I have two daughters and I have a mother who was forced to illegally have an abortion in her state where abortion was illegal when she was a very young woman. It cost $600 cash. It was a traumatizing thing for her. It was shameful and sleazy and demeaning. When I heard the story I was aghast by the lowliness of a society that would make a woman do that. I could not understand its lack of humanity; today is no different.

“What happened to my mother was a relic of an America that was not free nor equal nor very kind. My mother’s illegal abortion marked a time in America that we have worked long and hard to leave behind. It was a time when women were seen as second rate citizens who were not smart enough, nor responsible enough, nor capable enough to make decisions about their lives. It was a time that deserved to be left behind, and leave it behind we did, or so it seemed. We made abortion and a woman’s ability to be her own master a right. That right was codified into law. That law was the law of the land for decades.

“My own mother fought to make herself more than a possession; she lived her life as a mother who chose when she would have children, and a wife who could earn a living if she so chose. I want my daughters to enjoy that same choice. I don’t want to turn back the hands of time to when women shuttled across state lines in the thick of night to resolve an unwanted pregnancy, in a cheap hotel room just south of the state line. Where a transaction of $600 cash becomes the worth of a young woman’s life.

“So that is why I am lending my voice to you and your movement today. Because I actually trust the women I know. I trust them with their choices, I trust them with their bodies and I trust them with their children. I trust that they are decent enough and wise enough and worthy enough to carry the right of Abortion and not be forced to criminally exercise that Right at the risk of death or jail time.

“There was no mistake in us making abortion legal and available on demand. That was what we call progress. Just like it was no mistake that we abolished institutional racism in this country around the same time. The easy thing to do is lay low, but then are we who we say we are? Do we actually stand for anything, if what we do stand for is under attack and we say nothing? There is nothing to be ashamed of here except to allow a radical and recessive group of people to bully and intimidate our mothers and sisters and daughters for exercising their right of choice. Or use terrorism and fanaticism to block their legal rights or take the lives of their caregivers. Or design legislation that would chip away at those rights disguised as reinforcing a woman’s health.

“I invite you to find your voice and let it be known that you stand for abortion rights and the dignity of a woman to be the master of her own life and body. I invite you to search your soul and ask yourself if you actually stand for what you say you stand for. Thank you for being here today and thank you for standing up for the women in my life.”

I imagine Mark Ruffalo’s mom is extremely proud of her son. I am proud to be his newest fan.

Things that matter

My daughter, having survived intact when her truck was totaled on Christmas Eve, mourned the absence of her pit/Great Pyrenees puppy, who took off when the truck flipped. Apple the dog apparently decided things might be calmer in the wilds of suburban Atlanta. (Flo the very old part-Lab, opted to stay put; a two-dog loss might have been too much for Mom.)

Apple’s disappearance was the bad news. Here’s the good news: the outpouring of support, in the form of e-mails, Facebook postings and offers from childhood friends who hadn’t been seen in years to go search local pounds was overwhelming. It gets REALLY hard to stay forlorn in the face of love and support from friends, family and people you never heard of who are offering comfort and help.

At Nancy Pelosi‘s annual January gathering there was another kind of support in evidence — and for me another reminder of the value of lasting friendship. I got a quick hug from my favorite star Democrat, California senator Mark Leno, who is often talked about as a potential successor to Pelosi. He gets my vote: Mark Leno is smart, level-headed, perceptive and impeccably ethical. (We could do with more politicians who’ve had rabbinical training.) He is also still graciously loyal to his life partner Doug Jackson, who died of AIDS decades ago in the early years of that grim time. Doug was the son of old friends of mine in Decatur, Georgia, so my affection for the good senator goes far beyond politics.

The bad news is that wars and sadness are everywhere. (Though Pelosi listed her priorities: jobs, safety — read: gun control, immigration reform and overturn Citizens United; that would spread joy.) The good news is that friendships are more powerful than all of the above. And if you hang onto them you can nearly always get a hug when you need one.

Roses, wrecks and New Year’s blessings

Rose et amour....rosa y amor ....rose d'amour ...

Rose et amour….rosa y amor ….rose d’amour ..rosa de amor.. // Explore (Photo credit: photosylvia / silabox.)

It was the first day of Anna’s fifth week in intensive care. When the car flipped over and down the embankment she had emerged with a broken sternum, broken ribs on either side, a cracked femur and internal injuries; internal bleeding has been a problem since. I got this report from her husband Ned, in a phone conversation linking our homes on opposite coasts. Ned had been driving when he suffered a sneezing fit and blacked out; Anna had tried to grab the steering wheel and possibly prevented something worse from happening. The accident left him without a scratch — other than a broken heart.

Ned and I go wayy back: to the time he brought me a corsage of roses from his family farm on the occasion of my second grade piano recital. So I am sad for Anna, but in some ways sadder for Ned. He is a retired corporate executive, a take-charge type, and an incurable optimist; this may be putting a strain on his famous ebullience.

“I’m there every day,” he told me. “I give her my three rules of life: Never give up. Don’t you dare give up. And, Don’t even think about giving up.” Anna, I’m willing to bet, thinks a lot about giving up. I didn’t suggest that to Ned.

I was writing a note to Ned, following up on that conversation, when the phone rang. My youngest daughter, reporting on her holidays on the east coast, said — as a sort of throw-away aside — that there had been “an incident” the night before at the end of her 3-hour trip from North Carolina to Atlanta to visit with family. At the Claremont Avenue off-ramp from I-85 in Atlanta (a familiar piece of real estate now etched into my brain) her Toyota truck had flipped, coming to rest on its side just before crashing into the pylons below. Airbags inflated, emergency helpers immediately appeared to get her out the window and she sustained only a bruised shin. Flo, the elderly part-labrador retriever, was also lifted out unscathed, but Apple the more recent rescue dog took off for parts unknown.

“They kept wanting to take me to the ER. I said, ‘Thanks, but I’m an ER nurse, and I’m calling my brother.'” Later in the holidays she planned to visit the totaled Toyota to see if an explanation — front tire issues are suspected — for the accident might be found.

There’s no particular connection between these two accidents, and no particular reason for such a Christmastime story. Unless it would be an excuse for quoting these words from my friend Anne Lamott’s new book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential prayers:

“We are saved by memories of love and beauty — maybe there’s more of that to come, if we keep on keeping on…”

Happy New Year!  And if you see Apple the dog, let us know.

Running for fun & medals: it's been (and still is) a long, good race

Sunset Runner

Image by joshjanssen via Flickr

We’ve come a long way since Chariots of Fire, as Denver runners, coaches and serious peak-performance guys Jon Sinclair and Kent Oglesby point out in a report for Coloradoan.com.
Their column was inspired, in part, by the FireKracker 5K which was part of the weekend festivities in Ft. Collins. As commonplace as it now is to see joggers and runners on the trails, in the parks and (sometimes noisily, I regret to say) on the urban sidewalks just below your bedroom window at 6 AM, it was not always thus.

Everyone stand up. All of you that began running after 1976 can sit down. Those that still are standing can smirk proudly at those sitting.

I’m (Jon) sure there aren’t many of you standing. For us “pre-boomers,” or pbers, the current state of running is amazing and we should all feel happy about it.

Pbers, remember when there wasn’t such a thing as a running store? We bought our running shoes at the sporting goods store, which usually was manned by some guy named Al or Bill and the selection consisted of two to three different shoes. The guy selling those shoes was (absolutely, definitely) not a runner and knew nothing about the sport but made some money off of the local high school kids who ran track.

Not only were the shoes different (and under $50), Sinclair and Oglesby point out, but the timers and timing devices were different, the attitudes (sneers from onlookers, not runners) were different and the races were few.

In the early 70s, the entire yearly road racing schedule for the Denver area could be easily printed on an 8.5-by-11 piece of paper. Really, all of it. In summer, there might be two or three races per month. That’s why to a pber, any race older than 30 years, should be treated with great respect. Pre-boomer races weren’t certified and most were measured with some guy’s old pickup … accurate to within 400m. Oh, and no meters or kilometers back then either; we used good old miles. Races in Denver might attract more than 100 runners, but a field like that was out of control big.

But about this “pre-boomer” business. This runner/writer was delighted to discover the designation. There is even a pber who blogs regularly on pbers. And all this time I thought we were just Children of the Depression, or, in a word, Geezers.

By whatever term, some of us who were running before 1976 had experiences that are a little hard to imagine today. Especially the distaff side of the aisle — we were few and far between for some time there.  Once, following a neighborhood 10k in Atlanta, I hung out watching the awards ceremonies. I was still in the high school PTA mode, feeling myself both fit and acceptably chic. “Oldest Male Finisher” was called to the front for his plaque, a balding, gray-haired gent on rather wobbly, spindly legs. We clapped loudly. Then they called out the “Oldest Female Finisher” plaque and — you guessed it — my name. Last year I paired it with my lady geezer award from the Rabun Ramble 5k, about the same time I decided a brisk walk beats running these days. The Rabun Ramble people (OK, my daughter Sandy started this nifty Lake Rabun, Georgia charity event) wised up after a few years of too many medals, too little time. My award is a generic medal on a blue ribbon proclaiming Best in Class. I’ll take it. Some things never change: runners are pushovers for prizes.

Sport of running has traveled a long distance since the ’70s | coloradoan.com | The Coloradoan.