The Day it’s OK to Be Sad


I thought I’d re-post this four-year old September 11th blog, since it still seems relevant. Little did I know four years ago when I wrote about the divisions and anger in our nation and at the 2012 political conventions how much worst it could get! Be kind to yourself and to others today, please.

Re-post from 9/11/12

I’m terribly sad, which I suppose makes sense, since it’s September 11th. Everyone is allowed to be sad on this one day. You’re not told to “buck up” or “move on,” you just get to be sad.

The odd thing is, I had forgotten the date. I don’t watch television or get a newspaper, and I usually spend my mornings “unplugged” and in silence. And yet I felt myself sinking from the moment I dragged out of bed, late. I turned on the car radio on my way to the doctor’s office and heard some guy talking about how pain is often a shell around understanding or something like that, and how we have to go through the pain to get to meaning, which is very important in trauma. I turned it off. I was already down and didn’t want to hear about trauma.

Then I saw about a dozen people waving huge American flags from an overpass. Something to do with the election, I guessed. Perhaps they wanted us to honk, but nobody did. It still didn’t register.

It wasn’t until late this afternoon that I was writing a check to my doctor and asked for the date. She looked at me like I must’ve just returned from the Mars expedition. “Oh,” I said, and wrote September 11th.

I feel kind of bad about not remembering, like it’s dishonoring to the people who died and their families. I guess my psyche knew, though I was not aware of it. I had plugged into the cosmic stream of grief and loss that is part of the human journey without even knowing I was supposed to be mourning with the rest of my nation.

Thing is, I no longer feel the sense of oneness and spiritual attachment that was so beautiful during the 9/11 aftermath. (I am *not* saying that 9/11 was beautiful, I am saying there was beauty in our response.) It’s long gone. One of the things I mourn on this day is the fact that we can’t have that unity more often. Even the chants of “USA, USA!” at both the political conventions were accompanied by clenched fists and mostly angry or righteous expressions.

Today my response is not to reach out for community or conversation. It’s to isolate and allow myself to be sad. I’m sure there’s a load of talking going on out there in TV/radio/internet land. Nothing more needs to be said, and I don’t want to hear it.

I’m just doing simple, nurturing things. Writing in my journal, watering plants, filling the birdfeeders and birdbaths, making a healthy salad for tomorrow’s picnic with someone I love.

But here I find myself reaching out, after all. Somehow I just wanted to tell you, whoever you are out there in the blogosphere…I am sad today.


The Republican Debate


CNN guy: Mr. Trump, Jeb Bush called you a poop-head. Are you, in fact, a poop-head?

Mr. Trump: I am not a poop-head, he’s a poop-head. I’m a billionaire. I have a lot of casinos.

CNN guy: Mr Trump, Senator Rubio says that you don’t know your posterior from a hole in the ground when it comes to foreign leaders and global policy. What do you have to say to that?

Mr. Trump: Do so, do so! Anyway, I’m gonna hire people to learn all those dude’s names when I’m president.  Smart people. And I already know all the hedge fund managers. I’m rich.

CNN guy: Mr. Trump, Senator Paul says you’re irrational and he wouldn’t feel safe if your finger was on the nuclear trigger.

Mr. Trump: He’s just a scaredy cat, plus he’s fat. Oh wait, that’s the other guy. And Carly’s ugly. Nobody would ever vote for a fat guy or an ugly girl or a sissy-pants whose scared of a little nuclear trigger.

Ms. Fiorina: Can I respond to that?

CNN guy: No, only Mr. Trump is allowed to talk for the first hour and a half, while I paraphrase what everyone else has said about him and ask for his response.

Ms. Fiorina: But he called me ugly, I should be allowed to respond. Besides, I’m rich, too, and I also drove several big companies into the ground.

Mr. Trump: Not as big as the companies I drove into the ground! My casinos . . .

Ms. Fiorina: If I was president, I’d buy lots of tanks and guns and planes and then everyone would know who was the boss. Me. Me. Leadership, that’s me. Throughout my leadership career as an important and influential leadership CEO . . .

Governor Christie: Shut up, you guys. Nobody cares about your stupid companies and careers. George Bush let me be a prosecutor once, so there. September 11th. September 11th. And I have casinos in New Jersey, too. September 11th.

Mr. Trump: Shut up, Fatso.

Governor Huckabee: Wait, did somebody say something about guns? I like guns. I like guns more than all the other guys up here. Hey, how did that girl get up here? Is she a gay or what?

Senator Rubio: I can speak Spanish.

Jeb Bush: My wife is Mexican.

Senator Cruz: I’m a Cuban!

Governor Christie: September 11th.

Senator Paul: Can I say something about Iran?

CNN guy: No. Stop it everyone, we were talking about Mr. Trump. Now Mr Trump, please give us your expert opinion on autism and vaccines . . .


Photo credit: Reuters

In What Do We Trust?


On this day in 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law making the statement “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto. A few years before, he’d added “under God” to the pledge of allegiance.

President Eisenhower, courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library

President Eisenhower, courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library

Over the ensuing decades as the U.S. has become more secular, Eisenhower’s religious language has been the subject of an ongoing debate.  America’s founding fathers were fairly clear about the separation of church and state — on the other hand, they talked about God all the time, and “In God We Trust” has been on our coinage since the Civil War; Eisenhower simply added it to the paper currency.

I don’t have a strong opinion on the language. As a mature adult, I no longer have to have an opinion on everything, and that’s a relief. I’ll let others argue about it. Besides, what would our motto be if we re-wrote it today?

“We Trust Nothing and Nobody?”

“We’re Better Than Everyone Else?”

“Bombs R Us?”

“We Can’t Agree on a Damn Thing?”

“Shop Till Ya Drop?”

“We Want More Stuff, Screw The Planet?”

Transcending Our iPhones

So I’m not weighing in on President Eisenhower’s action on July 30, 1956. I do, however, have a strong opinion on his apparent motivations. In a Flag Day Speech in 1954, he explained that by putting “under God” in the pledge, “. . . we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”

I have to agree with Ike that our nation could do with some transcendence, now more than ever. I wish that my fellow citizens had a transcendent belief in something beyond themselves, their cemented opinions, their rights, their money, their electronics, their sacred iThings.

I believe that if we spent significant time in prayer and meditation, opening our personal and collective hearts to the universal source of goodness and love, then we might learn to listen to — and even care about — our neighbors and maybe even non-Americans, and our country would not be so screwed up. Probably wouldn’t hurt to get outside and contemplate the beauty and power and order of nature, either. People are just so angry and vitriolic these days, and I think that’s a spiritual illness.

But that kind of transcendence doesn’t seem to be what Ike is getting at. No, he’s looking to “constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons” to be a “powerful resource” for our nation. Sigh. Those bombs bursting in air and that bald eagle’s sharp beak and talons.

Spirituality is Not a Weapon

Here’s the thing: spirituality is not a weapon. The Bible tells us that the fruit of true spirituality is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, all that good stuff.

Connecting with the Spirit is not about winning, it’s not about fighting. I know a lot of Christians who talk about “victory” and “battles” and “putting on armor,” but that’s a mindset and language taken from a warlike culture thousands of years ago. Of course, Christians aren’t the only religious folks who have this mindset. We’ve all had our fill of “holy wars” and beheadings.

But Christians like Eisenhower — people “under God” — ought to be able to get beyond this dualistic, divisive worldview. Jesus transcended all that self-absorption and came with a different message: Spirituality is about surrendering, relinquishing our warlike competitive egos, and relying on the strength of Love (for God is Love) to be peacemakers in the world. Jesus surrendered his very life without a fight, showing us what God is like. How very un-American of him.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Jesus. “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,” says Jesus. “Send in the drones,” says one nation under God.

flowers and Dayspring 026

A Place of Peace

Dwight Eisenhower was raised Mennonite, a peace-loving sect that he rejected when he joined the military. (He later became a Presbyterian.) It’s possible that his warlike spirituality mellowed later in life: the chapel on the grounds of the presidential library where he and his wife Mamie are buried is called an interfaith “Place of Meditation.”

Maybe America will mellow later in its life, too. Just imagine if our peacemaking budget were even the teensiest fraction of our defense budget. That’s the kind of “force” I want us to be in the world.

Maybe someday our motto will be “In Peace We Trust.” Maybe I’m delusional. But — maybe I’m not. In God I trust.

flowers and Dayspring 051

I’m a blogger for peace. Check us out:



The Time I Stole Swisher Sweets and Didn’t Get Shot

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I’ve been thinking about the time I stole a package of Swisher Sweet cigarillos. Despite the encouragement of my friends who liked to stick it to “the system” as often as possible, I did not shoplift much as a kid — just a yo-yo, a lipstick, and the Swisher Sweets. That’s why I remember the event clearly.


It was a small package, maybe four or five cigarillos, and I stole them from Packett’s Pharmacy in Chevy Chase, Maryland. I was with Frank D., who stole a smoking pipe and a Mars Bar.

It was Autumn, and the leaves rustled under our feet as we walked up the street with our loot to hang out on the benches outside the public library. Every Friday night, a dozen or more long-haired high school kids would congregate there to act cool. Our parents told themselves that we were studying. Sometimes we were, mostly we weren’t. Nobody questioned us or told us to move along. Incidentally, we were all white.

I was fifteen. I did not get caught stealing from Packett’s. There were no security cameras back in those days.

Odds are good that there was marijuana in my blood — there often was back then. The odds were also good that I was not going to be shot for stealing those Swisher Sweets, even if I had gotten caught, walked down the middle of the street, and been aggressive with “the pigs,” as we respectfully called officers of the law in the early seventies.

What Matters

I’m not saying that the cop who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 9th did so because he thought Michael had stolen Swisher Sweets. I’m not wading into that controversy — it doesn’t matter from where I stand, except that I think the police ought to be honest about it.

I’m not saying Michael was smoking pot, either. That doesn’t matter to me. Yes, it matters that “anonymous officials” are flinging around “facts” about the case and the autopsy in an unprofessional manner, which — surprise! — makes some people suspect an intentional smear campaign against Michael Brown.

But in the end what does matter, and matters very much, is that there’s another African American boy dead in our streets, shot by bullets from a police officer’s gun. I suppose that somebody somewhere might think that stealing cigarillos and smoking pot is punishable by gunshots to the head, but I don’t know them.

Maybe Michael did get aggressive, maybe he didn’t. No doubt both he and the officer were scared out of their wits. Who knows what happened on that street?

Nobody’s perfect, not cops, not teenagers. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made a lot worse ones than stealing Swisher Sweets.

But people who make the mistake of pulling a trigger six times and shooting a kid dead should not be police officers.

I’m not judge and jury, but perhaps if at least some of these trigger happy cops went to jail, our streets would be safer for everyone.

Native American Wisdom


When I was an environmental lobbyist, much of my work involved social justice activities like equipping and empowering low income communities and people of color to protect their families from pollution and irresponsible development.

As the Sierra Club’s Public Lands Director, I often traveled to the western United States to work with Native Americans who wanted to protect their land and water. Whether it was a proposed ski slope on a sacred mountain, water diverted from tribal lands for urban use, or lakes poisoned by uranium mines, there were plenty of challenges.

One of my first trips to tribal lands involved presenting a training on Persuasion Techniques to help the Navajo people influence administrative decision-making that affected their communities. I brought organizational charts and factsheets and how-to tips and talking points.

I knew what to do and all I had to do was teach them, right?

Well, halfway through the first day, my colleagues and I feared we weren’t getting anywhere. We had a schedule and an agenda to get through. We had goals to meet for our funders. But it turns out that the Navajo people run on a somewhat different timetable than do A-type D.C. lobbyists.

Our first clue that we weren’t in the nation’s capitol anymore was when the Navajo opening prayer lasted twenty minutes . . . we had scheduled two. We moved from prayer into introductions, which took forty-five minutes instead of the ten we had scheduled because each person talked about the land they were from and about their ancestors. Every commonality that was discovered necessitated a leisurely comparing of notes, “Do you know Grandfather So and So?” and “To the west of the river or to the east?”

Our training was in trouble and I didn’t have a clue how to proceed. I wanted to be respectful, but I wasn’t sure they even understood the concept of affecting decisions, let alone lobbying. “You know, like when you’re trying to persuade your parents to let you do something?” I suggested, which always connected with our mostly white student groups.

Blank stares.

Finally, a local Sierra Club guy who frequently worked with the Navajos asked the group, “What is the Navajo word for persuasion?”

Mumbled conversations and shaking of heads.

Then a young man spoke up. “We have no such word in Diné Bizaad (the Navajo language). We do not do that. We just ask our elders what is best. We would never argue with them or try to change their minds.”

In all my wisdom, I had designed a training around a concept that did not even exist in their culture. I looked at the local activist who had asked the insightful question and he started to laugh and then I laughed and pretty soon we were all hugging and laughing.

“Respect! What a beautiful thing!” I said. “So different from the way I grew up.”

Two elders sat at the side of the room. When the mirth died down, everyone looked at them. One of the men nodded and said, “This persuasion must be a job for our young people. It is new to learn and they must lead us.”

Humility is not a word often associated with lobbyists – or environmentalists, if I may poke fun at my fellow green-hearts. I got a massive dose of it that day as I watched the wisdom of the ages continue to guide this ancient people through the complexities of the modern day.


This post is in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge called Student, Teacher: Sometimes teachers learn the most from their students. Have you ever had the tables turned on you when you thought you were teaching, but underwent the largest change yourself?




Unfriending a Facebook OOPS


Although I doubt I’m going to my upcoming high school reunion, perusing the Facebook page has been a blast. Lots of old familiar faces, with an emphasis on the “old.”

One guy, who will remain nameless because I’m about to cast aspersions, especially caught my attention. We were in school together all the way through, twelve years. I had a crush on him in fifth grade. Course, I had a crush on a lot of guys in the fifth grade.

Anyway, there was his smiling face and without thinking, I clicked the Friend button. A few minutes later, I was confirmed and decided to visit his page.

You can tell a lot from the places someone visits. He lives in Florida now. Let’s see – Sand Trap Bar, Roo’s Pub, Party Central, Sail Inn Bar, Heads and Tails Lounge . . . all over a twenty hour period. Hmmm. Either this guy is a busy peanut salesman or we may have an issue here. It’s not even a weekend.

Lots of baseball and beer posts. Yawn.


Strike one: Posting a photo of a typical traffic tie-up on the D.C. Beltway (which is actually from 2008) and claiming that the Truckers for the Constitution have shut down the city and the liberal media is hushing it up. Well, I don’t know, I guess there are worse things than conservative conspiracy theorists. I have a few other Facebook Friends like that.

Traffic in 2008 that has nothing to do with the fact that only a couple of truckers showed up to “shut down D.C.” last weekend.

Strike two: A photo of a red and white Obama urinal-target poster with an additional comment, “Let’s impeach the Kenyan!” Don’t tell me he’s one of these guys who thinks Obama isn’t an American . . . oh, it gets even better: “Get the Taliban out of the White House!” Oh wow – here’s a photo of a dog taking a crap and the President of the United States is coming out of its rear end. Thanks for that. Seriously, this guy has retained his scatological fifth grade humor.

I’m kind of fascinated by people like this. I consider staying “friends” with him just to keep an eye on the breeding grounds for future Tea Party nut cases. But then:

A big strike three: He posts a photo of two young black guys in the VFW where he had gone to have a few quiet drinks with “people like him.” He leaves the VFW after protesting that they aren’t enforcing the veterans-only rule and should not welcome “self-entitled persons” like those pictured. He muses that the reason these guys don’t have a job is because they couldn’t pass drug tests. It apparently doesn’t occur to my ex-friend that the guys might be military. Or even employed.

African-American Soldier

I’m sorry to share this unpleasant story. Maybe you see a lot of this; I don’t, thank God. I just wanted  to remind my white friends that racism is far from dead. People of color already know this. I won’t even go into the comments from this guy’s other “friends.” Suffice to say, the N Word is alive and unashamed in Florida.


African-American President: Get Over It

African-American President: Get Over It

Official White House Obama photo by Pete Souza

Colin Powell photo in public domain


A Bit of Fluff in Obama’s Ear


“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”  Wise words from Winnie-the-Pooh.

Thank God the bit of fluff that’s been lodged in President Obama’s ear when it comes to Syria seems to have been dislodged, at least for the time being.

Original Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys. Clockwi...

A cabinet meeting of Winnie-the-Pooh’s top advisors . . . might they bring some wisdom to the conundrum in Syria? (Photo:Wikipedia)

Miracles Happen

It was with a great sense of anxiety that my book group crowded onto the sofa to watch Obama’s speech on Tuesday night. Earlier, when we had been discussing an O’Henry short story, the chips and cheese had been rapidly disappearing from the bowls on the coffee table, but once Obama reached the podium, the snacking stopped and the silence fell.

Several of us had prayed and fasted through lunch the day before, along with hundreds from our church, on behalf of a peaceful solution in Syria. And it did feel like a miracle when half-way through his speech, Obama began to back away from the cliff.

My friend Shobha looked incredulous, her brown eyes wide and teary. “An answer to our prayers,” she said.

Trying to Trust

I never did trust George W. and all his war justifications. With all due respect (due being the operative word here), I think he was an idiot who was just the puppet of a bunch of neo-con war-mongers.

But I want to at least try to trust Obama; I voted for the guy. I like him personally, although I’ve been disappointed by him in many ways. I almost wanted him to persuade me of the wisdom of bombing Syria because I was so certain he was going to do it, and I didn’t want to lose all faith in his wisdom.

But I have not been persuaded; not in the least.

“Think it Over, Think it Under” (Pooh)

One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, wrote on her Facebook page September 8th:

“But isn’t this one reality–that the most fastidiously trained and learned people in the government, military, humanitarian and diplomatic fields, can’t figure out the right move — reason enough to hold off bomb strikes for the time being?”

Even my very conservative neighbor Pat, with whom I rarely agree about anything except the weather, agrees on Syria. Don’t bomb. Not now. What is the hurry? Her grandson is in the Army, somewhere in the Middle East, but he can’t tell her where.

I have only one friend who supports the bombing, and he’s one of those one-issue kind of guys. Israel is his issue, and peace is not his strategy. He might feel differently when his little boy reaches military age.

Otherwise, ambivalence is the strongest support for Obama’s position that I’ve heard.


I plan to do some volunteering this weekend. I want to serve out of the abundance of gratitude I am feeling.

I like to think it was the people who postponed this folly. That now and then, regular folks can still make a difference. Was it the yelling of Americans who are weary of their kids being killed? Was it the yelling of citizens in our allied nations (whatever *that* means these days — someone we’re not bombing?) tired of being dragged into conflict by the U.S.? Whatever it was, it shifted Obama’s ear-fluff.

I’m sure it was a complicated bit of fluff, probably comprised of ego, politics, patriotism, compassion, anger, fear — desperation might be a better word. I’ll bet he felt trapped by his own line in the sand.

I used to have a boss who said that when he could see no solution to an office politics problem, he would “just throw a grenade and let everyone run around for a while to see what happens.” I never agreed with this approach, and I never saw it turn out well. Stupid office politics; even stupider international politics. Apologies to my male readers, but I think it had something to do with testosterone.

“I don’t see much sense in that,” said Rabbit.
“No,” said Pooh humbly, “there isn’t. But there was going to be when I began it. It’s just that something happened to it along the way.”

And so, my fellow citizens, God bless America.

God bless Syria.

And God help us all.


A related post that conveys my thoughts in a much more intelligent way:  http://woodgatesview.com/2013/09/11/on-the-anniversary-of-911-a-victory-for-clear-headed-thinking/

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Our Democracy is a Hot Mess. Hope Anyway.

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This weekend, I marched in a parade with the woman I hope will be Maryland’s next governor. Heather Mizeur would be the first female to hold that office and the first openly gay governor in American history. I think she’s so inspiring that I drove eight hours from New Hampshire just so I could be home to walk with her in our Labor Day parade.

Maryland's Next Governor?

Maryland’s Next Governor?

I confess: although I call myself a recovering lobbyist, I am still addicted to politics if it gets anywhere near me, especially if it marches past in a parade or a protest. Placards and chants are way more compelling than factsheets and lobby meetings.

I can’t help myself. There is something about the idea of making a difference – “being a change agent,” as they say – that is irresistible to me.

After all I’ve witnessed in my career on Capitol Hill, I don’t know why I still believe that one person can make a difference. It’s irrational.  Our democratic system is a hot mess, and corporate power and political corruption are even more out of control than they were when I was a baby lobbyist thirty years ago.

Yet I still hope.

Political Sickness

Most politicians care only about getting re-elected, which usually translates into money. I’ve seen more than one idealistic candidate win an election and then slowly — or rapidly — lose the very values and principles that drove them to run for office in the first place. There seems to be a contagion in the air vents of the U.S. Capitol and in statehouses around the country, and nobody is immune.

The virus is not new; it’s just more widespread these days. Historian Lord Acton’s famous quote from the 1800s is timeless:  “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The first proper English dictionary, published in 1755 by Samuel Johnson, defined a politician as “A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.”

True Stories

  • A congressman from West Virginia told me about his colleague on the Appropriations Committee who said, It was a good day – I got me a bridge. Now all I have to do is build a river to go under it. Voters like bridges – it was probably named after the congressman.
  • A drunken congresswoman told me in a sloppy tearfest that she didn’t have time for environmental issues anymore because a House Leader had threatened to take away her committee chairmanship if she didn’t raise more money for her political party.
  • Once, a normally pro-oil senator unexpectedly voted to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling. We were still congratulating ourselves on the power of grassroots activism when we found out that the guy’s vote had been the result of a tennis bet between senators. He never voted with us again.
  • Even my biggest hero, the late Senator Paul Wellstone from Minnesota, voted against environmental protection when it came to agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland. I think ADM owns half of the Midwest, and they spent $864,000 on political contributions last year (that’s in addition to the one and a half million they spent lobbying).
  • Another congressman chased a female colleague of mine around his desk trying to kiss her. That’s just gross. She had come in to talk to him about toxic pollution that was being passed to babies through their mothers’ milk.

Don’t you think I could be forgiven for being cynical? I have every reason to tune out and every reason to give up.

Maybe This One’s Different

Still, as I watched Heather Mizeur running from one side of the street to the other shaking hands and gathering energy from the cheers and thumbs up, I couldn’t help hoping. She’s young, she’s energetic, she cares passionately about justice and fairness and protecting the environment. She’s smart as all get-out and strategically savvy. She has what it takesshe could really make a difference.

And I could make a difference in getting her elected.

I caught myself thinking, maybe this one’s different; maybe she won’t be infected by the cash contributions and the tennis bets and the sticky egoic matter that pollute the cold marble halls of power.

Those “in the know” say she’s a long shot. She’s a woman. She’s gay. Her opponents include the Attorney General and the Lieutenant Governor, a couple of guys with strong political and financial connections. Heather’s a state rep.

Whatever happens with Heather, it seems inevitable  that when hope calls, I’ll pull out the poster board and magic markers and start making signs…

Photos from Friends of Heather Mizeur’s Website — I’m the one w/ the homemade sign. She’s the one in the stripes.

After all, what good is living in a democracy if we can’t hope to make a difference?

A Shout Out to America’s Labor Unions!


Labor Day always makes me sad, even though it’s the biggest party of the year in my little town. We have a parade, a carnival, a weekend-long concert, and a beauty pageant. High points for me are the funnel cake and the PTA book sale.

Still, the day signifies getting back to work, “buckling down,” as my father used to say. Even though I do not officially “work” these days, I have to go back to school. My endless summer road trips and extended stays in New Hampshire are coming to an end. Back to schedules and lists of things to do and packed calendars.

Today, though, I want to look beyond my own self-absorbed little nose and remember what Labor Day is all about.

The Sad Truth

A Risky Parade

The first Labor Day on September 5, 1882 was a risky proposition. Organized by the Central Labor Union, ten thousand men left their jobs without permission and staged a parade up Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.  Peter McGuire of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, one of the early proponents of an eight-hour workday, gave a rabble-rousing speech and called on America to honor the industrial spirit with a special holiday – to give workers a day of recognition on par with religious, military, and civic holidays.

Peter J. McGuire (July 6, 1852 - February 18, ...

Peter J. McGuire (July 6, 1852 – February 18, 1906)  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

McGuire said that early September was a pleasant time of year, a perfect time to “observe a festive day during which a parade through the streets of the city would permit public tribute to American industry.”

The marchers had a picnic and then an evening dance and fireworks. They didn’t lose their jobs, and they had so much fun that they continued the tradition for years. Finally in 1887, Oregon became the first state to establish Labor Day, and thirty other states and D.C. soon followed.

The U.S. Congress declared Labor Day a national holiday in 1894, celebrating “the joint partnership of capital and labor.” It remains a uniquely American holiday.

Thanks to Our Union Friends!

These aren’t very good days for labor unions – only about 11% of American workers are union members, down from more than 20% in 1983.

I could go off, here, ranting about the way Wal-Mart treats its workers or about the attempts to bust unions in certain states (Ohio comes to mind) or about how trade agreements can really screw American workers. But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll just point out that union members have median weekly earnings of $943 — $49,036 a year –while nonunion workers make just $742 a week, or $38,584 a year.

So here’s a shout out to union members and organizers – thanks for the weekend, thanks for the eight-hour workday, thanks for overtime, thanks for vacations and paid sick leave; and thanks for parades!

A special thanks to my friend Jane Perkins who was an early pioneer in Blue-Green alliance efforts to bring environmental concerns and labor concerns together. Keep marching, girl!

Jane Perkins

Jane Perkins

And because no holiday is complete without Anne Lamott, here’s a piece she wrote about Labor Day a few years ago.

Happy Labor Day!

A Slice of Americana: Parades, Onions, Quilts, and Bibles

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We heard the musket fire first, and then around the corner came a troop of somber Yankee soldiers marching up Main Street to the sound of cheering crowds, patriotic band music, and American flags flapping in the wind.

The Yankees are Coming!

The Yankees are Coming!

The tiny town of Gilsum, New Hampshire (pop. 777) hasn’t changed much over the years, and you could almost believe these Yankees were for real. Until a guy in a tri-cornered hat wandered by, and then Uncle Sam showed up on stilts and further confused the centuries. When the Monadnock High School band marched by, we were firmly back in 2013, celebrating my adopted town’s 250th birthday with a parade.

Wobbling Sam
Wobbling Sam

One of Gilsum’s claims to fame is that President Calvin Coolidge once stopped at the local inn when his entourage was lost in these hills. The burning question has always been, “Is it legend, or did the proprietors really serve the president a plain onion sandwich?” Turns out a descendant of the innkeeper was here for the festivities; he confirmed that yes, that’s what they gave Coolidge. That’s what was in the garden. Then, to put the matter thoroughly to rest, Coolidge himself showed up at the old inn and expressed his gratitude for the sustenance.

Calvin Coolidge holding forth

Calvin Coolidge holding forth

I spent a good part of the afternoon at the Historical Society, sifting through old pictures and news reports. I’m told that there is only one Gilsum in the world; its name is a mix of the last names of the two guys who founded it: Sumner and Gilbert.

Gilsum has always been a place of import, as you can see from these newclips:

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My house was properly honored throughout the day — at 231 years old, it’s the oldest house in town. Quiet Hills is featured on a commemorative calendar, on greeting cards, and on the “town quilt” made by the local quilting club, which I most unfairly did not win in the raffle.

Not My Quilt

Not My Quilt

The most exciting moment came when I happened upon an old Bible that had belonged to “the widow Mary Baker” who died in the front room of my house in the 1800s. She is one of several ghosts that keep me company here.

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I make the 500-mile trek to visit my Gilsum ghosts six or seven times each year. Next time  I’m stuck in New York traffic or driving through a downpour in deer country at dusk wondering why I keep this rickety old house, with its mice and mildew and cracked, drafty windows, I’ll rememberwith all the pomposity and punditry that comes with living in the D.C. area, it’s nice to be in the real America once in a while.

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Happy Birthday, Gilsum!

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