What is Congress doing to our wilderness areas?

(a guest blog by Jean Franklin)

On Congress’ first day in session, the House approved rules setting a zero-dollar value on federally protected lands that are transferred to states. By devaluing federal lands, including the Pisgah and Nantahala Forests, Congress is paving the way for such a transfer. States will likely raise funds by selling our lands to developers or to mining, fracking, and logging interests. All Western North Carolina (WNC) Representatives voted yes on this bill.

Our wilderness areas are priceless, not worthless. WNC benefits economically from the human longing to visit wild, pristine nature. Many citizens protect additional land by donating it to conservancies, thus benefiting living nature immeasurably.

Famed biologist E.O. Wilson, in Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, presents an elegant proposal to combat species extinction: “Only by committing half of the planet’s surface to nature can we hope to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it.” Nations have already set aside about 15 percent of Earth’s land area, but millions more square miles must be saved — not contiguous, but arranged to preserve flyways and habitats.

Tragically, Representatives McHenry, Meadows and Foxx, by voting for House Resolution 5, moved to dismantle generations of good stewardship. We must tell them they’ve made a gigantic mistake.

(This essay appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Feb. 24, 2017.)

Why this old lady blogs

“Blog about a day in the life of an author,” a site on marketing books suggests. Okay. I get up, do a Sudoku, read the newspaper, go sit at my computer for several hours.

“Blog about the writing process,” another site recommends. Okay. I compose a sentence, go get a snack, return to my computer, delete the sentence, go to the bathroom, return to my computer, write another sentence.

“Avoid blogging about politics.” Oh-oh.

My new book, Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987), is due out soon. It’s time to promote it through blogging and tweeting, leave politics to the real pundits.

I doubt that I’ll be able to.

In 2007 I started blogging for the fun of it. I wrote about finding an old photo at a garage sale and having my Sunday afternoon nap interrupted by evangelizing teenagers.

Then came the 2008 election primary. Herman Cain, the pizza guy, promoted his 9-9-9-Plan. Michele Bachmann owned a Christian counseling center claiming to transform gay clients into heterosexuals. Rick Santorum, Senator-in-a-Sweater-Vest, promoted teaching intelligent design along with evolution in schools. I felt compelled to bring an older woman’s wisdom to the political discussion. A dose of common sense, I’d like to think.

In the current political climate, which is even more frightening than the 2008 Republican primary, I probably won’t write much that is unrelated to what our government is doing.

I am a grandmother. I am a woman who pays attention to what is happening beyond my home. I feel an urgency to be in conversation about the potential erosion of our democracy, the reality of global warming, the danger of a blustering, confrontational foreign policy, and the marginalization of groups because of race, religion, sexual orientation, or developmental difference.

I can’t be superficial. Neither, I guess, do I want readers who are.

If you don’t have time to…

I remember what it was like to have a full-time job and two kids, with no extra time to keep up with the news. I was then and continue to be cynical about government and the integrity of politicians. Yet over the years I’ve discovered that nearly every aspect of my life is decided by elected officials besides the President.

That’s why, even though this coming election doesn’t have the excitement of a presidential year, it’s as important. Here are issues I consider most important as we approach the 2014 election:

1) Clean air to breath and clear water to drink. Yet many legislators oppose efforts to prevent oil-fired power plants from emitting dangerous toxins into the air. Regulations, they say, cost jobs.

2) A safe food supply and access to basic medical care. Yet many legislators keep calling for the repeal of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and try to weaken the power of the FDA and the Department of Agriculture.

3) A fair wage for the work people do, including equal pay for women. Many people work two or three jobs to provide their family with basics. Yet some candidates continue to oppose a higher minimum wage. (Beware of those who in the past week announced they are for a minimum wage increase—after learning much of the public favors it.)

4) A solid education that will allow children to become leaders in ingenuity and production. Yet pledges not to increase taxes are forcing teacher layoffs, denying schools the resources they need for effective teaching, and increasing class size.

I urge you to vote. If you haven’t had time to keep up, google to learn the endorsements of organizations who share your values. Examples include Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, local chapters of the American Bar Association

2014 voting made easy (well, at least easier)

The future of our environment, educational systems, gay marriage, and women’s health is decided by people we elect. The list of offices to be filled is long, overwhelming when it comes to deciding who to vote for.

The internet has made it easier to cast an informed ballot. Here are a few suggestions.

1)  First, be sure what district you live in and the voting location. This can usually be done by Googling “voter guide” for your state. Remember, it may be easier to cast an absentee ballot. The League of Women Voters also lists rules. For example, in North Carolina you do NOT need a photo ID this time, but you will the next.

2)  Find the website of an organization that shares your primary concerns. Many organizations, such as the Missouri NEA (National Educational Association) endorse candidates.

environment: http://content.sierraclub.org/voterguide/endorsements. Most endorsements are listed by states.

women’s reproductive rights endorsements: google that or “Planned Parenthood Endorsements” and locate your state or region.

education endorsements 2014: state teachers unions or organizations often keep track of who is education friendly.

workers’ rights , workplace safety, consumer protection: google “aflcio endorsements,” then find your state.

3)  I find it especially hard to decide what judges to vote for. They make a lot of      important decisions, though. State Bar associations, while not endorsing judges, do evaluate their professionalism. Again, some special interest groups, such as LGBT lawyers or Hispanic lawyers, make endorsements.

4)  The following sites are for North Carolina, but each state has similar resources that are easy to find.
If you are concerned about equal rights for gays and lesbians, go to:   http://equalitync.org/pac/voterguide2014/index.html

If you are concerned about jobs, workplace safety, workers’ rights: aflcionc.org

Voting isn’t just a privilege. It’s one of the few tools you have for deciding the country’s future.

For those thinking it’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot

In 1986 I was a young working mother too overwhelmed by responsibility to keep up with politics. But I felt an obligation to vote. In the Illinois primary election I entered the booth knowing nothing about the candidates. Afterward, I discovered that out of ignorance I had cast my ballot for a man running for lieutenant governor whose extremist views were abhorrent to me. Fortunately, though he won in the primary, he lost in the general election.

Since the 2014 election doesn’t include a candidate for President, a lot of people haven’t been paying much attention to politics. They’re thinking, like one young woman I recently spoke with, “It’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot.”

Instead of choosing between not voting or casting an ignorant ballot, consider a third possibility: Take some shortcuts to getting the information you need for making an informed vote.

  1. Check the website of an organization whose opinion you trust. During election time many special interest groups post endorsements. If the environment is the issue that most concerns you, seek out the guidance of an organization such as the Sierra Club (http://content.sierraclub.org/voterguide/endorsements) or a local environmental group. If you’re particularly concerned about equal pay for equal work, check the National Women’s Political Caucus (http://www.nwpc.org/2014endorsements) or see if your area has a Women’s Chamber of Commerce. State Bar associations often evaluate candidates for judicial positions.
  2. Get a sample ballot ahead of time and fill it out. One is usually available online, at a party precinct office, or at the poll. Have your choices recorded on that ballot, so that all you have to do is transfer them. And yes, it is better to leave some blanks than make an uninformed guess.
  3. When you get to the voting booth, take along the sample ballot.

Whoever wins the 2014 elections will make laws related to the environment, the workplace, reproductive rights (accessibility to contraception as well as abortion), education, college loans, and immigration.

It’s your life—your future, your children’s future—that’s being determined. Vote.

Putting our tax refund to good use

I’d like a second TV. My husband wants a more up-to-date cell phone. We’ve talked about using our tax refund for new porch furniture. I wouldn’t mind a day at the mall. No matter how we resolve this dilemma, one thing for certain: we’re likely to spend our refund on STUFF we don’t need.

Googling “quality of life,” I found nothing affirming the importance of STUFF. Instead, sites mention health, safety, education, political freedom, employment that pays a living wage. I’ve added beauty to the list. But for all of these things there is a cost, in most cases made possible through taxes administered by local, state, and national governments.

Medicare, created and overseen by the government, contributes to keeping many of my generation healthy. The Affordable Care Act has the potential to do the same. The safety of our community depends on police and fire personnel. Governmental agencies monitor toxins in the air and water, bacteria in our food. (I don’t trust Duke Energy, Chevron Corporation, or Armour Meats to monitor themselves.) Of course, someone has to enforce laws related to air, water, and food. Our community’s quality of life depends on schools providing a competent workforce that can read directions, make accurate calculations, apply critical reasoning. Our political freedom is guarded by people we elect to office and in worse-scene scenarios, by the military.

Beauty connects us to the Holy. I added it to the list because we need places undisturbed by urbanization or corporations that exploit the land. Through parks and environmental monitoring government protects mountain vistas, clean waterways, ancient trees, and threatened species. Beauty is also found in museums and concert halls. When not subsidized by taxes, access is available only to the wealthy.

All of these quality-of-life issues cost money.

North Carolina has a $445 million shortfall this fiscal year. Yet legislators keep promising not to raise taxes. Yes, taxes are a burden on those who struggle to pay for basic needs. For those of us, though, who aren’t wealthy but keep accumulating STUFF—paying a few extra dollars in taxes would not create hardship. And surely millionaires can contribute more to guarantee a quality of life all can enjoy. How many houses does a person need? How many cars? How many designer dresses?

What is good citizenship, if not doing what we can to support the common good?

When tragedy has a name

The Milky Way stretched across the clear night sky. Over the vast expanse thousands of individual stars were discernible. To my right, Polaris. Vega, almost straight overhead. From the multitude above me I could identify only a few. Astronomers, though, know many others by name. Knowing a star by its name makes a difference in how you look at the night sky, I’ve decided.

Recently I had the privilege to lead a concurrent session at the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society Conference. About 250 (I’m estimating) amateur genealogists gathered to learn more about how to trace their ancestry. By “amateur” I’m not implying these are beginners. No, they’re quite sophisticated in searching data-bases, locating cemeteries, and combing all kinds of records. Over and over I witnessed the satisfaction, delight too, of attendees who have identified slave ancestors. In many cases family oral histories have led genealogists to search manumission papers, ownership records of slaveholders whose surnames slaves took upon emancipation, military records of the United States Colored Troops, and Social Security Applications.

A name. Sally, female slave on XTZ Plantation, mother of Mr. G.’s grandfather. Willy, male slave on UVW Plantation, father of Mrs. L.’s great grandmother. Not simply a slave, but a real person, a woman or man who breathed and labored and loved. That, I think, must be the reward of searching for ancestors, finding a name. So that slavery becomes not just a historical event, where millions suffered and died, but central to a personal narrative.

A name. Malala Yousafzai. We Americans have shaken our heads in sympathy for Muslim girls denied an education by the Taliban. Along comes the story of a sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl shot because she spoke out on behalf of girls wanting to attend school. Not a faceless girl but a real one.

The photos of children in Sudan and Ethiopia, in Sao Paulo and Port-au-Prince—like the stars overhead their names are unknown to us. Polar bears and Bengal tigers are disappearing. We know no polar bears or Bengal tigers by name.

When stars or people or animals have names, they matter more. A people captured and enslaved, girls denied an education, children starving, animals facing extinction.

Many in our community lack good medical care. Children go to school hungry. Veterans suffer from PTSD. Women are battered by husbands or boyfriends. The mentally ill sleep under bridges.

What would happen if we learned their names?