Thanksgiving 2015

Laurie and Debbie say:

If you’re reading the newspapers, or news blogs, the last couple of weeks have been an  easy time to be discouraged, and thus a hard time to be thankful. And that’s why sitting down to write this post has been restorative for both of us. Without forgetting Beirut, and Nigeria, and Paris, still having heart for millions of refugees seeking shelter, we can still hold up a long list of things that have gone well (sometimes surprisingly well) this year.


The Black Lives Matter movement is a brilliant positive response to an ongoing American criminal practice, the murder of Black people and other people of color by U.S. police without prosecution, or even investigation. While there’s nothing new about these murders, the national spotlight that was turned on them after Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014 has been new. We’ve seen widespread, sustained protests, a completely new level of attention to documenting and publicizing these crimes, and even the occasional indictment and prosecution of a policeman (including the indictment of Jason McDonald this week after the death of LaQuan McDonald). Without the activists of Black Lives Matter, these murders would still be the dirty little secrets of urban police departments, and the private griefs of the victims’ families.

Thirty-six years after the Iranian hostage crisis, the nuclear weapons treaty with Iran was approved by six major world powers, including the United States (despite the best efforts of the American right). This historic agreement, which went into effect on October 18, has been in negotiation for ten years, and will stand as a major success of the Obama administration. Sanctions on Iran have been lifted, and Iran’s nuclear program has been terminated.

The Keystone XL pipeline tar sands pipeline, darling of oil companies and hated by environmentalists in Canada and the U.S. was finally rejected by President Obama this month. Much credit to the First Nations activists of Idle No More, who not only fought tirelessly against the pipeline, but have also contributed to changing the conversation and making sure indigenous voices are heard in environmental disputes. (In related news, Royal Dutch Shell “voluntarily” pulled out of its plans for Arctic drilling for the foreseeable future, citing lack of profitability — in large part due to the roadblocks environmentalists have successfully put in their way for the last several years.)

A consortium of African and American doctors have found a permanent cure for sickle cell anemia, a disease which seemed intractable until recently.

Progressive election results around the world include:

  • Jeremy Corbyn, a genuine progressive taking over the Labour Party in Britain,
  • Justin Trudeau ousting the Conservatives in Canada (and immediately appointing a cabinet that is 50% female and reflects the geographic breadth of the country);
  • John Bel Edwards becoming governor of the very Republican state of Louisiana, where he intends to accept the Medicaid expansion for Louisiana, which will effectively bring the Affordable Care Act benefits to his constituents; and
  • Antonio Costa, Socialist, emerging as prime minister after a constitutional crisis in Portugal when the conservative austerity pro-Euro party refused to give up power.

In keeping with these victories, Bernie Sanders is making a more than respectable showing in the race for the U.S. Democratic Party nomination, and by doing so, is making sure that (at least when the Democrats talk), the conversation is about income inequality and genuine solutions. Nationwide street protests have led to minimum wage increases around the country (in 14 states and the District of Columbia so far this year, not to mention various city ordinances), and other workers’ rights issues, such as regular schedules, are in the news.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court stunned the country by making three fantastic decisions in quick succession:

  • In King vs. Burwell, the court rejected a crucial challenge to Obamacare;
  • In Texas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities, they declared that housing discrimination can be upheld without proof of intent, and can be decided on statistical grounds. Since intent is almost impossible to prove, this is an extremely important distinction; and
  • In Obergefell v. Hodges, they legalized same-sex marriage on a national basis.

While American prisons and the rights of prisoners and ex-prisoners remain an enormous national disgrace, just today the Governor of Kentucky restored voting rights to almost 150,000 felons who have served their time. And the Federal Communications Commission finally made a clear, fair ruling preventing predatory charges on phone calls made by or to prisoners.

Speaking of improvements in areas of national shame, transgender immigrants now have the right to be housed based on their own gender identification.

Sports and politics often intersect, and a remarkable example was the football team at Mizzou, where not only the Black players, but many of their team-mates and the coaching staff, joined the protesters calling for the ouster of the University president. The protest was successful, and the new interim president is making profound changes.

And finally, the miracle of 3D printing is changing lives around the world. In one terrific example, the technology is bringing water purification to the third world; as a bonus, the raw materials are the plastic soda bottles we throw away. Other 3-D printing innovations this year include cheap building materials and aids for patients with hemiplegia (one-sided paralysis).

So, things to celebrate in hard times.

Thanks to Richard Dutcher for helping us remember the year’s good news.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Debbie says:


I wrote another whole post this afternoon, and I’ll put it up in a day or two. But then I noticed that it’s the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, and I wanted to take a moment to value the  people whose names are on the miserably long 2015 list at the link.  Here’s one, chosen at random while scrolling through:

Vandressa Vinnitt
Cause of death: gunshot
Location of death: Realengo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Date of death: May 18th, 2015

Violence against transgendered people (like so many other things) disproportionately affects people of color and people who identify as or present as women.

When I think about the transgender people in my life, that list is also long, and extremely impressive. Partly because of my ethnic identity and social status, and partly because of luck, they are all alive and well, and I appreciate every one of them. I’ve learned so much about gender, about identity, about happiness, about joy, about friendship, about challenge, and about human individuality; it’s no one’s job to be my teacher, but it’s my job to learn.

I mourn the deaths, and I live my life in opposition to the bigotry that causes them.  In the context of trans rights, and the context of refugee rights, and so many other contexts, we are here to appreciate the rich, vast variety of human life, not to pick and choose who has the right to be human.