Every month I write about a book on racial justice that has inspired me. In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I’ve chosen to write about Hands on the Freedom Plow, Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC. The book was recommended to me by Ruby Sales, a Civil Rights icon and former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. You can read more about Ruby in her interview with NPR’s Krista Tippett,  “Where Does it Hurt?” 


“Freedom and justice are the reasons for being and doing and the reasons for dying.”

Hands on the Freedom Plow is a collection of the stories of the women, both black and white, who participated in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s.

SNCC, the most radical and confrontational arm of the Civil Rights Movement, was organized two months after the first sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, in February 1960.

Ella Baker, who at the time was Executive Secretary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference headed by Dr. Martin Luther King, called for a conference at Shaw University, and in April 1960, SNCC was born.

Members organized sit-ins and participated in “Freedom Rides” that challenged unlawful segregation in public transportation. They started Freedom Schools for black children (many of whom were expelled from their schools for asking why they couldn’t vote) and worked for voting rights in the black belt of the South. SNCC’s theory was that if black people voted in those counties where they lived, they could control political power in those counties.

They could keep black people from being killed.

The stories in this book underscore that segregation was more than a set of laws designed to keep black people and white people apart. It was an unjust system that maintained white supremacy by demeaning and terrorizing black people.

As white activist Faith S. Holsaert writes in the book, “A white woman and a black man publicly walking together in Southwest Georgia could be accused of ‘fraternization,’ for which a black man could be lynched.”

The deaths of so many black men by lynching and other means explain, in part, the large numbers of black women in the movement. “White thinking has always been, if you controlled the men, you got the rest of them covered,” writes black activist Victoria Gray Adams. “They didn’t know the power of women, especially black women,” she said.

The women who went on the “Freedom Rides” were jailed and violated. The men and women who helped with voter registration were chased by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Churches that hosted SNCC organizing meetings were burned to the ground. People who housed the organizers who came to their counties to register black voters were shot at. Black and white members of SNCC were brutally murdered by white supremacists. One activist said that people in Mississippi were proud of their cruelty.

Martin Luther King and Ella Baker

Members of SNCC had to be prepared to die for the cause of freedom and equality. Mississippi-born activist Joyce Ladner remembers telling a jailer who threatened to kill her if she didn’t eat,  “I’m going to die one way or the other, so you might as well kill me.”

I learned from this book that, in the beginning, SNCC was integrated. Members were black, white, and Latino, young and old, and Northerners and Southerners. “We worked together in a culture of cooperation where loyalty and trust took precedence,” said white activist Dorothy M. Zellner. SNCC members lived and worked together in a radically egalitarian community, making real the vision of what Martin Luther King called “the beloved community.”

When problems arose in the Civil Rights Movement due to white money and white control, it was necessary to emphasize black power. SNCC had to be black-led. However, many of the women in this book wrote about the energy that came from the organization’s diversity. Black activist Peggy Trotter Dammond Preachily wrote that, in the beginning, “the camaraderie between white and black people was very, very strong.”

It was fascinating to read about the role that faith played in the lives of these women. Black activist Diane Nash said that when she was in jail, she was able to “tap into the power of an extraordinary force” through meditation.

“When oppressive jailers withheld basic necessities from me to frighten and control me,” she wrote, “it backfired. They were the ones who got scared. In the end, I was freer, more determined, and stronger than ever.”

Praying and singing strengthened the activists. Bernice Johnson Reagon, who went on to form the singing group “Sweet Honey in the Rock,” led the music that prepared the activists for the brutalities they had to endure.

The stories of the courage and determination of these women have stayed with me, but also their humor.

Black activist Mildred Forman Page told a story in the book about going to a demonstration dressed in a crisp, jean skirt and a new pair of thong sandals. She didn’t want the police to ruin her clothes, so she held out her wrists so that the policeman arresting her could handcuff her without first knocking her to the ground. When the policeman, a rookie who was determined to hurt her, tried to push her down, she gave up SNCC’s nonviolent approach, balled up her fists, and punched him in the face all the way to the jailhouse door.

Martin Luther King saw the whole thing. After she was released, she went to a breakfast the following day at the home of one of the community members. Martin Luther King was there. He said to her husband, “I think you are going to have to keep your wife in the office. Did you see the Atlanta news last night? She is going to ruin our nonviolent concept!” They laughed. “I totally agreed,” she said.

DeJuana Thompson, the organizer of the voter campaign in Alabama that, thanks to black voters, led to the defeat of white supremacist Roy Moore, said in an interview with The Atlantic Monthly that the successful campaign in Alabama drew on the political entities put in place in the days of Jim Crow. She stressed that the activists in those days did what they did to keep themselves, and other black people, from being killed.

As I think about the stories in this book, I wonder about the white women who continue to vote for white supremacists. These women often emphasize their faith, but I haven’t seen one of them putting their faith into action like these women did.


“Ella’s song” by Bernice Johnson Reagon, sung by “Sweet Honey in the Rock.”




Photo courtesy of Catherine Marenghi, 2017

Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

— Emily Dickinson 

On a recent trip to Mineral de Pozos, Mexico, I bought a flute at a museum of musical instruments. Luis Cruz, who owns the museum, El Venado Azul, makes and sells instruments like those once played by the indigenous people. The flute, called a tlapitzalli, sounded so beautiful when the museum guide played it, I had to take it home.

The other instruments at the museum were gorgeous, too: the long, wooden rainsticks filled with sand, called chicahuaztlis; the eucarinas that imitate the sounds of the birds; the ear-pleasing rattles, called ayacaxtli; and the small, hand-carved wooden drums, called huehuetl and teponaztli.

At the end of the tour, the guide played the large thunder drum for us. It sounded exactly like the loud, booming thunder of Mexico.The sound of the  drum, and the rhythms he played on it, made us all want to dance. It was a powerful and spiritual moment, a reminder of the music that’s in all of us, and the joy, and the power music has to move us, and connect us to each other in the dance.

Before we went to the musical instrument museum, our tour guide, Dali, took us to a museum where we learned about the once-thriving silver mine in Pozos. We saw the old, water-cooled jack hammers the silver miners used to break the rock, and the carbide lamps that allowed the miners to see in the deep, dangerous shafts.

The lamps were lit by the gas produced by mixing calcium carbide and water.

We gazed across a landscape of cactus, agave, and pepper trees. In the distance, we saw the ruins of the old, stone buildings where the women and children separated the minerals — silver, gold, copper, zinc, and mercury — from the rocks. We walked among the ruins of the old Catholic church, which is now open to the sky and wind.

Photo by Catherine Marenghi, 2017

As I looked inside the old sanctuary, I remembered the stories about how difficult it was to get the indigenous people inside of the buildings for worship. It made no sense to them. They always worshipped in nature, their feet connected to the earth, their eyes aware of sun, and sky, and the position of the bright stars. And they danced. That’s why the churches all have courtyards  — they helped the missionaries to woo the indigenous people inside.

It struck me as both ironic, and a form of poetic justice, that now, the sweet, yellow xotol flowers that grow everywhere in Pozos, and the long, bending grasses, have replaced the yellow gold of the altars, and the priests.

There were several reasons for the town’s demise: the Mexican Revolution in 1910; the anti-Catholic government that met with fierce resistance in the militantly Catholic town; and the water pollution caused by the flooding of the mines. One day, the miners dug too deep. The mines flooded, and it was impossible to correct the damage. The mines, born in 1576 by the Jesuits (the the first Europeans to visit), closed in 1928. The population of Pozos dwindled  from 70,000 to a few thousand.

Dali said there’s someone in Pozos who still mines his own silver and gold. Although the law prohibits people from digging under their property, he’s doing it, anyway. Apparently, he’s doing fairly well. For every ton of rock, he gets a gram of gold (isn’t that like life?).

Pozos was declared a “magical town” by the Mexican government in 1982 because of its rich history. Developers want it to be another San Miguel de Allende. It’s slow going, but there’s a promising arts school now with classes in painting, music, and ceramics that is attracting visitors.

There are a few art galleries in Pozos, and a few restaurants, like the Posada de las Minas (Inn of the Mines), where we had lunch (and amazing salsa). Mostly, though, Pozos is what the Mexicans call a pueblo fantasma — a ghost town.

I liked being there — hearing the instruments, looking into the deep shafts, walking through the ruins, and learning more about the history of Mexico.

As we were leaving, a 9-year-old boy who was riding his bike down the same deserted cobblestone street I was walking on, stopped to ask me, ¿Viniste a ver las minas? (Did you come to see the mines?)

His friendliness, and the pride he had in his town, reminded me of why I love Mexico — the kindness of the people, the spaciousness of both land and heart. The dance.


Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

A few weeks ago, a friend and I went on a tour of Guanajuato, Mexico.

Our tour guide, Dali (named after Salvador Dali), was born and raised in San Miguel de Allende, and educated at the University in Guanajuato. He was knowledgable about the state’s capital city and its rich history, and this made the tour fun.

The first place he showed us was Diego Rivera’s childhood home, and the museum that was built next to it in 1975.


At the museum, we learned about Diego Rivera’s family, and his upbringing, and saw some of his paintings (unfortunately, most of them were unavailable for viewing because they were being restored).


As we looked at the paintings in the museum, Dali told us a story about how Diego Rivera came to be an atheist.

He told us that when Diego Rivera was a five-year- old child, he wanted to know why his twin brother had died. His parents and teachers told him that his brother’s death was God’s will. “God wanted another angel,” they told him.

The young Diego Rivera rejected this explanation, and later, he told people that he became an atheist at age five.

This did not make him popular with the higher-ups in Catholic Guanajuato. Although as a young man he was a promising painter, and longed to go to Europe to study, the city officials refused to give him a scholarship.

Rivera found a way to go to Europe, anyway, and he became Mexico’s most famous painter. After his enormous success — in part, due to the murals he painted in Mexico and the United States — the Guanajuato town officials wanted to open a museum, but he refused to let them.

Later, after the town officials issued a public apology, Rivera consented, and the Museum of Diego Rivera was built adjacent to his childhood home.

Over lunch at the town’s beautiful Jardin, I told my friend that the story about Diego Rivera’s atheism bothered me. I said it reminded me of something William Sloan Coffin, a former pastor of The Riverside Church in New York City, said in the eulogy he delivered after his son, Alex, was killed in a car accident.

Rev. Coffin said, “when a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said — that the death was God’s will.”

“For some reason,” he said, “nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels.”

Was it God’s will, he asked later, that no one put up guard rails on the road where Alex was killed? Was it God’s will that Alex had one too many beers the night he attempted to drive home?

Was Diego Rivera wrong, I wondered, to refuse to believe in a God who would will the death of a child, and take him away from his mother?

How could such a God be called “good”?

Sometimes I think atheists are better theologians than believers. At least they are able to say what God is not. In refusing to believe in a “cosmic vivisector” who would rip a child away from his mother and brother, they invite a more serious and thoughtful inquiry into the nature and purposes of a God we say is love.

Before we left the museum, Dali took us to see a duplicate of one of Diego Rivera’s most famous murals (the original is in the Diego Rivera Museum in Mexico City).


We learned so much about Mexico’s history from this one mural, which is crammed full of historical figures, and people who were important in Diego Rivera’s life.

The biggest figure, the one in the mural that towers over the rest, is Benito Juarez, the Mexican President who, in 1859, guided the nation to the separation of church and state, and started public schools. Juarez is the only Mexican hero whose birthday, on March 21st,  is celebrated in Mexico.


Two blocks from where I live, there is a wonderful park that’s named after him.


Now I love it even more.

Guanajuato is a beautiful city, and after visiting the museums there, and the famous Juarez Theater, we were both left wanting to learn more.




“As my muscles weakened, my writing became stronger. As I slowly lost my speech, I gained my voice. As I diminished, I grew. As I lost so much, I finally started to find myself.”
          — Neil Selinger

On Sunday morning, the church bells in San Miguel de Allende are ringing wildly.

Carlito, my landlady’s skittish cat, is now happy to share the patio outside of the downstairs unit of the house where I’m living now in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.IMG_20170527_160828

In spite of the heat of our summer days, it stays cool here. Since I don’t have to work, I’ve been able to focus on a creative project for days.

I left the house only once this week — to pick up  a bag I’d ordered from a shop a friend recommended when I asked her where I could find a well-made, leather bag. I needed something big enough for a laptop, and with pockets on the outside for a cell phone, and a passport.

It was 9:30 in the morning when I got to the shop, and discovered that the store wouldn’t be open until 11. So I decided to walk down Pila Seca, away from the trendy shops on Zacateros, and find a place to have breakfast.

On Jesus Street, a few blocks away, I found a restaurant with a lush, indoor garden  where  hummingbirds come to drink the sweet nectar from the red hibiscus flowers, and the sugar water from the glass feeders that hang along the sides. IMG_20170612_153144

As I sat in the cool, green space of the garden, eating gingerbread pancakes with hot applesauce, and drinking fresh orange juice, and coffee — all for $5.00 —  I stopped to write in my journal:

Forget the afterlife. This is paradise enough for me.

The best thing I’ve found in San Miguel, though, is the vibrant artist and activist community that’s here.

I’ve met so many intelligent and creative women  — visual artists, photographers, political activists, and writers — who are passionate, growing, and curious.

They are proving to me that these years can be the happiest and most creative of our lives.

Jane Fonda is right, I think: the metaphor for ageing is no longer the arch: “you’re born, you peak at mid-life, and decline into decrepitude.”

The new metaphor for ageing, she says, “is a staircase that represents the human spirit as it continues to evolve upwards, bringing us into wholeness, authenticity, and wisdom.”

Even with physical challenges, we can still grow, and realise our potential. We can flourish.

Last week, I had coffee with my friend, Eli, the woman who introduced me to San Miguel Allende. She and her fiancé led the personal growth retreat I participated in last October, when I came to San Miguel de Allende for the first time.

When Eli and I were hiking along a trail in the amazing silence of El Charco, a botanical garden and ceremonial space about forty-five minutes away from San Miguel, Eli suggested that moving here might be the answer to my prayers.

As in the Paul Simon song, she “planted a seed in my brain that still remains, in the sound of silence.”

As we drank our cappuccinos last week, she told me I should be proud of myself for making this change.

I told her that moving here didn’t require too much courage, since I was so drawn to this city —  the music and art, and the friendliness and beauty of the Mexican people  — and I was ready for an adventure.

I  told her that I didn’t come here to escape Donald Trump, but neither was I sorry to be away from the noise in the United States.

We talked about the many opportunities that exist in San Miguel de Allende for political action.  And the alliances that have formed here as a result of shared concerns about what’s happening in the United States — the cuts to programs that benefit human beings, the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and the 20 percent rise in hate crimes against already vulnerable populations, since the election.

“I’d never wish Trump and his gang on anyone,” said San Miguel activist, Cate Poe, “but I have to appreciate the new ways this travesty has brought us together. After five months of house meetings and political actions, now we have each other.”

So, yes:  I’m proud of myself for letting go.

Letting go of stuff.

Letting go of certainty.

Letting go of the familiar.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a Slovak proverb I heard quoted by a Jungian psychologist a few years ago. The saying is, “The gates of hell are always open, even at midnight.”

The Proverb was shocking, at first, but the more I think about it, the truer it is.

The saying speaks to what I learned at the personal growth retreat last October. In a moment of clarity, I saw that the quality of my life was totally up to me.

Eight months ago, I didn’t even know this joyful place existed.

As Eli likes to remind me, I didn’t even have a passport.

Now I have a passport, and an outside pocket on a new bag to keep it in.

And a not-so-skittish cat, who is scratching at the screen door, wanting to come in.

Even the cat knows, as Joni Mitchell sings in Down to You,

“It’s down to you….
You can crawl, you can fly, too.
It’s down to you.
It all comes down to you.”




Kids, Trucks, and the Love of Life 

I met Francisco, a mixed-race, bilingual, three-year-old, at the Geek and Coffee in Guadalupe two weeks after arriving in San Miguel de Allende.

Adjacent to the coffeehouse, there’s an enormous yard with picnic tables set in the shade of gigantic palm trees, brightly-coloured lawn chairs that are perfect for reading, and a children’s playground where parents bring their kids to play while they relax with an iced latte or cappuccino.

Francisco’s mom was untying a large, golden retriever from a metal stool the dog was about to pull over, when I noticed her children, and said, “hola!”

Her son came over, and immediately began talking to me in that spontaneous, open-hearted way that kids sometimes do — as if he’d known me all of his life.

When his mom saw how happy I was talking to him, she gave me a warning:

“He’s going to want to talk about trucks,” she said.   

Right away, he showed me his yellow dumpster truck with the big scoop attached, explained how it  worked, and said he wondered what would happen if a persona got picked up in the scoop.

I told him that would probably be dangerous for the human being.

Next, he showed me his other truck, which had a recycling logo on the side.

When he’d shown me all the doors that opened and closed, he moved closer to me, and began to tell me what seemed like a serious story in Spanish until he yelled out the last part of the story, and howled with laughter.

He looked at me, waiting for my response; but, unfortunately, my Spanish was too limited then to get the joke.

I told him I noticed that one of his trucks was a recycling truck.

He wanted to know what recycling was.

I explained that recycling is when you use something, like plastic, over and over again. For example, instead of throwing your plastic bags away, you can give them to the people at St. Paul’s Church, and they will make mattresses out of them for children who don’t have mattresses to sleep on.

If you use things over and over again, instead of throwing them away, then there’s not so much garbage in the ground, and it’s better for the environment— the earth, the trees, and the animals  — and it’s better for human beings, too.

It was hard to know if that explanation made sense, but he stood still for a while, contemplating it, and thinking about it, before he ran off to play with his friends in the playground.

His mother and I talked for a while about our recent moves to San Miguel de Allende, and how much we loved the city, before she ran off to prevent her two-year-old daughter from chasing the golden retriever she’d untied out of the gate leading to parking lot.

I wanted to say goodbye to him before I left, so I yelled across the yard, “Adios, Francisco!”

He looked puzzled. Who was shouting his name?

When he saw me waving, he yelled back in a loud voice, “Don’t forget what I told you about trucks!”

Everyone in the yard was grinning.

I assured him I would not forget what he told me, and, in fact, I thought about trucks all the way home. Now, I can’t help but notice each one:

The yellow dumpsters with forklifts; the fanciful trucks in the windows of the art galleries; the small pick-up trucks that carry vegetables down the narrow cobblestone streets to the local markets and grocery stores; and the flatbed truck my friend and I saw the other day that was stacked high with coffins, all wrapped in black cloth — a sight you’d only see in Mexico, where death is so much more in the open than it is in the United States.

But, so is the love of life more in the open in Mexico than it is in the United States. Every  week there’s another festival, a new reason to celebrate in the town square, and another reason for fireworks at 5 a.m.

As I walked home from the Geek and Coffee after meeting Francisco, I thought about trucks; but I also thought about the beauty of children, their innocence and trust, the passion and excitement for life that exists in the youngest of children.

I thought about how eager they are to connect with us through stories, especially the ones that make them howl with laughter, and the sweet, patient way they look at us, waiting to see if we will get the joke.


Don’t forget what I told you about trucks!




At the hotel where the San Miguel Writers Conference took place in February of 2017, I sat by the pool, and enjoyed talking to a friendly  older woman who, I soon found out, was Naomi Klein’s Mom.

It was a cool moment.

Ever since the election of Donald Trump, I’ve paid more attention to Naomi Klein  — not only because of her writing on climate change (she’s the author of  “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate”), but because every time I heard her talk, I went away with a reason to hope.

I think she talked many of us back from the edge of despair during those difficult, post-election weeks.

I told her Mom, Bonnie Klein, that every time I listened to her daughter, I went away feeling better.

As we watched her four-year-old grandson playing in the water with his grandfather, I asked her about Naomi’s spiritual background, and enjoyed our dialogue about the left-leaning Judaism that  influenced her.

When her grandson came out of the pool, cranky, and needing a nap, we laughed about the joys of these golden years, which include sending kids back to the care of their nannies or parents when they get cranky.

I was happy that week, talking with the local people who were glad to help with the Spanish, dining with my friend who came with me to the conference, taking workshops, writing and sharing poetry, and listening to the addresses of the various writers (among them Mary Karr, Judy Collins, and the poet, Billy Collins) who encouraged us to put our stories into the world.

“There is a place in movements for people who know how to tell stories,” Naomi said.

20170216_103542“Your voice wants to make a sound in the world,” the poet, Judyth Hill, told us, “but remember to write about what you’re for, not only about what you’re against.”

Naomi agreed: “Make space for what you want, not only for what you’re resisting,” she said.

In the evenings, we listened to the music in the hotel lobby. There was a good piano player who played the Great American Songbook (Gershwin, and Cole Porter), and a guitar player who played and sang my favourite Mexican song, “Cucurrucucu Paloma.”

Music and art are well integrated into the culture of San Miguel de Allende, and this is part of what drew me to this beautiful, multi-cultural city.

One day my friend and I were shopping at a local organic market, and we were startled to see four men carrying a casket down the street, followed by several guitar and violin players, and about a hundred people.

It was a somber moment, and yet we could feel the sustaining power of the music that is so much a part of the culture, and the life of the Mexican people.

The colours are amazing, too: the green walls with white accents; the oranges and reds of the old buildings that line the narrow cobblestone streets; the roof top gardens where bright pink bougainvilleas topple down over the orange brick walls; and the indoor courtyards with white lilies and red hibiscus that surprise you inside of rustic doors.


It was for the music and the art that I decided to move to San Miguel — but also for the economics: I learned I could live there cheaply, without a car, and the horrendous traffic of L.A..

It was bittersweet saying goodbye to the music students I had for so many years; still, something else called to me.

It was hard to explain.

“What? Why Mexico?” so many people asked me.

(Subtext: “Is she crazy?”)

During the weeks before I moved to Guadalupe, the neighbourhood where I live now, as I sold or gave away most of what I had, a line from a Jack Gilbert poem, “Tear it Down,” kept coming to mind. He wrote:

“…Love is not enough.
  We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time.”

We only have so many years on this earth. Will we spend them merely surviving, or will we take the risk, and answer the call to flourish? Will we live for security, or adventure? Will we follow the guidance of the indwelling spirit within us, that sense of inner knowing, or will we get caught up in what other people think we should do or say? Will we accept the status quo, or will we be like Naomi Klein and Judyth Hill, writers who call humanity to a different way of living?

20170401_134342There are problems in San Miguel, as there are problems in every city.

However, as I sit this morning at my favourite new hang, looking out the window at the colourful mural across the cobblestone street, and listening to the sweet melodies of a spanish guitar, I’m glad that I didn’t listen to the naysayers (including the naysayers within myself).

I am grateful for the poet who told me I should insist — but, shouldn’t we all insist? —  while there is still time.




“When the sun came shining, then I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving, and the dust clouds rolling,
A voice was chanting as the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.”

— “This Land is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie

I marched in the Women’s March in Los Angeles on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration, because it was the most patriotic thing I could think of doing in response to the election of Donald Trump.

Flag-waving and excessive displays of nationalism are not my thing. I feel, like millions of other people in the world, that this is a time for global cooperation, and creative alliances. It’s a time for a change of consciousness. It’s a time to see ourselves as brothers and sisters, as Jesus called us to do (and every other sane and thoughtful person who ever lived on this planet).

Donald Trump’s America First campaign, which, notes Susan Dunn, “echoes the name of a 1940s anti-Semitic national organization that wanted to appease Hitler,” makes me cringe.

Still, I marched — for our democratic values; to protect our hard-won rights, including reproductive rights and voting rights; and to show my solidarity with the most vulnerable among us.

In the beginning, the Women’s March on Washington was criticized for being a white woman’s march. It was heartening, therefore, to hear the speeches by Tamara Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour that morning, three women of color who were brought in by the original organizers (as Mallory explained in a Breakfast Club interview), to lead the historic March, when the numbers reached 100,000.

Before leaving to catch the train going to downtown LA that morning, I wrote Carmen Perez’s words in my notebook:

“Injury to one is injury to all. We are not helpless. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are who we need.”

It was a sunny day. It was the only sunny day, in fact, we’d had for weeks. For one day, in the middle of weeks of rain, the sun came out, as if to wink at us, to let us know that Mother Nature was on our side.

The Metro Station at Universal City, where I went to catch the train, was jammed, with hundreds of people waiting in line to get tickets. However, moments after arriving, I heard a Metro employee shouting, “It’s free now! You can all ride the train for free!”

We took the unexpected gift, and moved together through the green turnstiles, and down the stairs, where we waited on the platform for the train going to Pershing Square.

We crowded as many of us as we could into the Metro, packing ourselves in like bits of styrofoam in a giant cardboard box, until not one more would fit, and we let the doors close.

A mother with an infant in a stroller, a six-year-old daughter, and an eleven -year-old son, stood next to me.

She told me she was taking all of her children to the March because she wanted them to know that during a dark time, she stood up for herself and her rights, and for them. “This is big,” I told the girl, “you’ll be able to say, ‘I was there!'” and she grinned.

It was touching to see how supportive the boy was of his mother. When she told him they should get off at the stop before Pershing Square because of the crowds there, he insisted, “No! Let’s go to Pershing Square. That’s what you wanted to do.”

“This is an adventure!” he shouted.

He was my new hero.

I opted to get off at the 7th Street Station, and walk to Pershing Square. Although I was too late to meet up with friends, I enjoyed talking to people there, marching, and taking pictures of the signs.

There were many men at the March, and I met several fathers who brought their daughters. “They feel empowered,” one of them told me.


It was a festive atmosphere. The signs were great fun.


It was an historic moment, “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history” reported The Washington Post.

In her article for the Nation, Joan Walsh noted that more bus tickets were sold for the Women’s March on Washington than for the inauguration.

According to recent estimates, as many as four-and-a-half million people marched in over 600 cities around the world. 700,00 to 1,000,000 marched in Washington.

People in Belgium, Ireland, and Antarctica made their presence known.


Large numbers of the disabled community participated virtually.

On the train going home, I couldn’t help but notice the smiles on the faces,  the upbeat conversations, and how everyone’s mood, including my own, had brightened from a day of being together.

“So, you marched. What’s next?” a friend asked me the following day.

“I’m writing thank you postcards to the congressmen and women who are resisting Trump’s policies —  people like Maxine Waters, and John Lewis,” I told her, and sent her the link to the Women’s March list of 100 actions.

I’m also being more conscious about supporting efforts to link movements so that we’re not divided between white and black, and gay and straight. As Tamiki Mallory said, “we need to respect each others’ justices. We can march for reproductive rights, and for racial justice.”

Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, wrote in a recent op-ed piece that, in spite of her initial cynicism, she decided to  participate in the March. “Cynicism will not build a movement,” she wrote,  “collaboration will.”

On the evening of the March in LA, I was inspired as I listened to the speeches from the March on Washington, including a speech by Gloria Steinem, who is as amazing at eighty-two as she was at twenty-two.

“This is a day that will change us forever,” she said, “because we are together. Each of us individually and collectively will never be the same again. When we elect a possible President, we too often go home.

We’ve elected an impossible President. We’re never going home. We’re staying together, and we’re taking over…and we’re never turning back.” .

Most definitely, we are never turning back.

I confess I had to laugh this week when Donald Trump told Fox News reporter, Bill O’Reilly, “California in many ways is out of control.”

As if that were a bad thing.

As if this were not a land that was made for you and me.






“The guilt remains, more deeply rooted, more securely lodged, than the oldest of old trees; and it can be unutterably exhausting to deal with people who, with a really dazzling ingenuity, a tireless agility, are perpetually defending themselves against charges which one has not made. One does not have to make them. The record is there for all to read. It resounds all over the world. It might as well be written in the sky.”

— James Baldwin
Unnameable Objects, Unspeakable Crimes 

Several months ago, I was asked to deliver the closing remarks at a Racial Justice Ministry event at All Saints Church in Pasadena.

Tim Wise, an anti-racist educator and author, had spoken at an event a few weeks earlier.

After his talk, the Racial Justice Ministry I work with decided to follow up with a screening of Tim Wise’s film, “White LIke Me,” and afterward, have a dialogue about white privilege.

White privilege, as Wise defines it, is as much a psychological matter as a material one.

In his essay, “explainingwhiteprivelege,” he writes:

“Whites have the luxury of not having to worry that our race is going to mark us negatively when looking for work, going to school, shopping, looking for a place to live, or driving for that matter: things that folks of color can’t take for granted.”

Privilege is obliviousness.

As I sat on my patio on a sunny day, thinking it would take no more than an hour to come up with some closing remarks, I saw that it was taking longer.

Was I stuck in “white guilt?”

I definitely felt ashamed of what my people, white people, did to black people in this country — not only in the days of slavery but in the days of Jim Crow.

There’s a book (and now a film), “Without Sanctuary,” that includes images of postcards white people sent to their friends after lynchings. The postcards showed them posing next to the corpse, along with body parts they’d taken for souvenirs.

It wasn’t that long ago.

I have a history and legacy of activism; still, I felt baffled, impaled, as James Baldwin put it,  like a butterfly pinned to a mat, unable to move forward.

I’d faced the history of systemic racism in this country and the ways I’d benefitted from it, but I didn’t know what to do about it.

Then I remembered Tim suggesting we study the history of the white allies who were active in the Civil Rights Movement.

He mentioned Anne Braden.

Anne Braden was a newspaper reporter who lived in the South, in Alabama, in the 50s and 60s.

She became involved in the Civil Rights Movement after covering the events at the Alabama Courthouse, which were horrific. Blacks were lynched on the Courthouse lawn.

Initially, she joined the movement not to help black people, but to help white people. She saw how racism and the lies of white supremacy were turning white people into monsters — her own father included.

Besides writing about the movement, she and her husband, Carl Braden, went to jail numerous times on behalf of the cause. ANNE-BRADEN-SOUTHERN-PATRIOT                                     Anne Braden with Rosa Parks

In his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King mentioned her as one of the few white people he could count on.

As I read Anne Braden’s story, I was struck by what she said about white guilt, and how unproductive it was:

“I never knew anybody who really got active because of guilt…I’ve never seen it move anybody. I think everybody white that I know who’s gotten involved in the struggle got into it because they glimpsed a different world to live in….Human beings have always been able to envision something better…All through history, there’ve been people who’ve envisioned something better in the most dire of situations, and that’s what you want to be a part of.”

Anne Braden’s story spoke to everyone, white and black.

From that day on, I took Sincere Kirabo’s advice, dropped the white guilt, and focused on imagining a better church, a better community, and a different world to live in.

Now I could hear what people of color were actually asking of white people in the movement — not to feel guilty or ashamed, but to educate ourselves, speak up, and use our privilege for the good.

After the event, I talked to a black friend who told me about a party she went to a few weeks earlier where she was the only person of color in attendance. When someone at the party said something derogatory against black people, she felt compelled to speak up.

“Why didn’t anyone else speak up?” she asked. “If you want to be an ally, you need to speak up.”

Nancy Fuosto, an Episcopalian priest, told a similar story at a Martin Luther King event I participated in in January. At a gathering where she was the only person of color, someone made a racist comment about Latinos.  “It hurt,” she said, “but I spoke up.”

We don’t have to go out and get all bloody to be allies in the movement for racial justice — we can speak up, and make a difference.

Anne Braden lost friends because of the work she did on behalf of racial justice. She and her husband, like many white allies at the time, became social pariahs in their own communities. However, she was mentioned in “Letters from the Birmingham Jail” as one of the few white people Martin Luther King could count on.

That’s something!

Whenever I feel uncomfortable speaking out against racism — or facing my own privilege —  it helps me to remember that it’s far more uncomfortable to have to live with racism on a daily basis. If I speak up, maybe next time someone else might do the same, and then another. We may reach the critical mass we need to rid our country of this horrific plague.

I believe the cause of racial equality is a noble one, therefore, I can let go of any temporary discomfort I may feel because of the righteousness of the cause.

I also feel, like Anne Braden, that the struggle for racial justice is related to my own humanity and integrity.

At Martin Luther King said, “All /human beings/ are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

As I move away from guilt and toward solidarity, I discover that the actions I take on behalf of the most vulnerable among us are liberatory for me, as well.

It’s a wonderful and joyous thing to work with people who, in spite of dark times, dire circumstances, and unspeakable crimes, have the ability to imagine a different world.

As Anne Braden reminded us, we may not see the fruits of our actions, but “that’s what you  want to be a part of.”



 “…Even a map cannot show you
 the way back to a place
 that no longer exists.”

Sandra M. Castillo,  “Christmas, 1970″

Last night, in LA, the rain came down hard.

I heard it for a long time, as I was having trouble sleeping, being worried about — well, everything.

It’s hard not to look back on the holidays, and remember happier times.

I feel the loss of my father, who died in July.

I was used to the routine: decorating a small tree for his room; and making my way up the coast with a plate of oatmeal cookies I’d made from my grandmother’s recipe for the aides and nurses who took care of him.

Now, there is emptiness.

Emptiness is not a bad thing, but there’s so much pressure this time of the year to fill it up — to react like the jazz musician who hasn’t learned that silence is part of the music, that it’s okay to let space go by, that listening is half of the art.

Lisa Marion, a writer friend, suggests getting rid of the Holiday shoulds. I don’t want to go to the parties, or decorate this year, but I need not feel guilty, if I read her correctly.

Possibly some of us need advent, the time of  waiting, before the baby bursts into the world. We could wait until Christmas actually starts, on December 25, and celebrate the 12 days afterwards, she suggests.

This makes sense; there is something comforting about living by the liturgical year, the rhythms of grief and joy.

The only thing I’m sure I want to do is attend the midnight service at All Saints Church to hear the music, be with friends, and hear our new Rector, Mike Kinman, preach. He has a gift, and always manages to be both comforting and motivating at the same time. He has a bit of the holy madness, the sense of urgency, that characterized the prophets of old.

I was trying to explain to someone this week why many of us, especially people of color, Muslims, and women, feel vulnerable right now, and why we need space to grieve.

“Then go and have a good cry. Go to the crying room. Here is your Wambulance. What a waste of a life,” he said.

“You don’t think segments of our population are vulnerable?” I asked. “And whose life are you saying is a waste? Mine? Are you saying my life is a waste?” I asked.

If my life is a waste, then what did he think about Jesus, who spent his life loving and caring for the poor, the marginalized, hated Samaritans, social outcasts, and vulnerable women?

As I listened to the downpour last night, I finally gave up worrying, and “had a talk with God,” as Stevie Wonder put it.

In the morning, equilibrium returned, and a sense of clarity.

As I watched the gray sky turning to blue again, and the evergreens standing tall and open to air and the morning light, I realized something:

Christmas isn’t about what we’ve done in the past, it’s about what God is leading us to do now, for the future.

It’s about standing with the marginalized.

After all, It was to the marginalized, the shepherds living in the fields, that the message of hope first came.

The shepherds, as Drew Hart reminds us, were marginalized, not only by  Rome (along with the rest of Israel), but, due to their low social status, they were marginalized by their own people.

And yet the good news of God’s revolution came to them.

The life-affirming message of “peace on earth and goodwill to all” came not to those with the most, but to those with the least.

As I ponder this, I notice that a red-throated hummingbird with tiny, flashing red wings has landed in the bare branches of a nearby tree. He looks like a shiny little Christmas ornament. He has filled up the emptiness with his dazzling beauty.

allans_hummingbird“We can feel sick at heart—we would be fools not to—but despair is not an option,” writes Robert Kuttner.

This – at least right now — is Christmas enough for me. 




ElieWiesel speaks at the dedication of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. (© Diana Walker/TIME Inc.)

Elie Wiesel speaks at the dedication of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. (© Diana Walker/TIME Inc.)

Michael Herr, journalist, photograph by Pierre-Olivier Deschampes 

“…it took the war to teach it, that you were as responsible for everything you saw as you were for everything you did.”

         — Michael Herr

We lost two great writers last year: Elie Wiesel, holocaust survivor and author of Night, and journalist Michael Herr, author of Dispatches, a critically-acclaimed book he wrote about the Vietnam War.

It was Michael Herr’s choice to cover the war in Vietnam. Elie Wiesel had no choice but to be in Auschwitz. However, both writers bore witness (to paraphrase Herr) to the death spaces and the life they found inside. Both addressed the mystery of evil, but they also wrote about the mystery of the good.

I had the pleasure of meeting Elie Wiesel In the 1980s, when I was involved with the Sanctuary Movement. For several years, my church in San Rafael, California worked with some activist Dominican nuns who lived at a nearby convent. Together, we housed and protected refugees from El Salvador who had come to the United States to escape right wing death squads in their country.

Elie Weisel spoke at a Sanctuary conference in Northern California where I was asked to lead a workshop. I remember how touched I felt when some Native American Indians who lived some distance from us found out about our work, and sent a shell, and some herbs to burn, to help us prepare the room for dialogue.

After the conference, I talked to Elie Wiesel about the work we were doing with refugees. I told him that we were recording refugee testimonies, and doing all we could to protect the refugees from deportation. I left him with a copy of a television program we produced, “Through the Needle’s Eye,” that included refugee testimonies.

Someone once said that Elie Wiesel looked like Lazarus, the Biblical character that Jesus brought back from the dead. It was easy to imagine it, with his thick, unruly hair, and all the death he’d seen, still in his eyes. He’d lived through the worst, and it changed him, but it did not defeat him. He was the most concerned and serious person I’d ever met.

What I remember most from Elie Wiesel’s talk that weekend were his warnings about indifference. He told us what he’d said so many times during his life:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is
 not  ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s  indifference.”     

In his talk, Wiesel said the worst thing about being in Auschwitz was having to live day after day with the feeling that nobody cared.

The title of Wiesel’s book, Night, the first book he wrote about the holocaust, was originally The Silence of the World.

HIs words make me think of what Martin Luther King said:

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Michael Herr died on June 23, 2016, at the age of 76. Wiesel died a few days later, on July 2, 2016. Coincidentally, Herr died on the day I began reading Dispatches. The book is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read, and definitely one of the most enlightening books I’ve read on war.

Wiesel wrote and spoke about the love he saw in Auschwitz. He talked about how deeply affected he was when he saw a father giving his bread to his son, and the son giving it back. Expressions of humanity such as this gave him hope — a kind of proof that evil did not win. “It was such a defeat of the enemy’s theories and aspirations,” he said.

Herr wrote about the love he found in the midst of war:

“…Well,  good luck… even Ocean Eyes, the third-tour Lurp, had remembered to at least say it to me that night before he went on the job…Usually it was only an uninhabited passage of dead language, sometimes it came out five times in a sentence, like punctuation, often it was spoken flat side up to telegraph the belief that there wasn’t any way out; tough shit, sin loi, smack it, good luck. Sometimes, though, it was said with such feeling and tenderness that it could crack your mask, that much love where there was so much war.”

Michael Herr spent his life, post-Dispatches, in London, where he avoided the spotlight. There he met Stanley Kubrick, and wrote the screenplay for Kubrick’s film about Vietnam,  Full Metal Jacket.”

He also co-wrote Francis Ford Copolla’s stunning film, “Apocalypse Now,” a film that Roger Ebert called “one of the key films of the century.”

As I consider the darkness of our own time, and the indifference of so many, I’m grateful for the witness of these two men, and for their life-affirming messages. I’m grateful for the warnings about keeping silent in the face of injustice. I’m most grateful that in writing about the mystery of evil, they did not fail to write about the mystery of the good.