Lift Every Voice and Sing

A celebration of Black History Month

Our third grade class filed under the concrete breezeways that loosely connected the classrooms of Coral Reef Elementary, past the Seagrape tree at the end of the open courtyard, and into the big cafeteria.  It was the only space large enough to hold all the energy of so many kids, cooled only by tall jalousie windows that caught the breezes off Biscayne Bay.  The air inside was heavy and anxious, and just like nearly everything in Florida it could be oppressive if you let it get to you.  But we kids just took it in and made it exciting.  This was our music class, the time when we could bubble our energy in a new song taught to us on the tired piano by Mr. Michaels.

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;

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Crying Wolf

This little piece on all the all the “scandals” attributed to Hillary Clinton got me thinking: What if Aesop was alive today? Certainly, he’d have to be a bit more sophisticated and wily, since no one likes simple stories with obvious morals. Then again, we need them more than ever given how simple-minded the constant stream of very sophisticated “news” renders all of us. So I wrote this piece, which I hope you enjoy.

A long time ago there was a village called Gullibalogna. It nestled up against the rolling hills in a valley where nothing terribly bad ever happened and life was good. Everyone was happy and generally through highly of everyone else because there was no reason to think any other way.

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Four Views, Two Candidates

The Democratic Party is locked in a titanic struggle for its soul – an existential battle over the true meaning of what it means to be a Democrat, to be a progressive, to be a liberal.

Clinton versus Sanders has, for many reasons, brought the old fight to the surface. It’s worth working through if only because the end result can and should be a united party that firmly stands for something. But what is that?

There are four views of change, four visions of progress, which separate Sanders and Cinton.

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Transit in the Twin Cities

Since I started serving on the Technical Advisory Committee for the Riverview Corridor transit project, I’ve had a front row seat from which to view the planning process here in St Paul. This isn’t the first time I’ve served on a group like this, but it is the most intensive and serious effort so far.

As a built urban environment, this is not an easy place to plan transit. Traversing the West Seventh neighborhood is only one problem – it has to cross the Mississippi eventually, which will be expensive.

I would like to tell you what I think is the ideal place for transit from Downtown St Paul to the airport and beyond, but it would be inappropriate. The process that we are moving through seems so deeply flawed that jumping to a “solution” is simply not what is needed. Whatever comes out of this is likely to be inadequate and jumbled.

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The Struggle Continues

Race is the one thing that has bedeviled America from the very beginning. The promise of a truly equitable and free people has always been an intellectual exercise, separated off in the mind of great thinkers like Thomas Jefferson from the obvious but emotionally difficult reality of slavery and separation by race. Equality under the law is somehow separate and not equal to equality in culture and the reality of everyday life.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday is as good a day as any to look back and see what progress we’ve made over the last year. It looks pretty bleak all around. Black America is still separate and in far too many ways not equal. Economic and social change has created a vocal backlash of whites, afraid and angry, who lash out at the very idea that progress towards a united and free society is even desirable.

But there is hope – because at least we are starting to talk about the problem.

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The Faith of Bach

The violinist was hired to play Christmas music in the atrium of Capella Tower in Minneapolis over lunch, but he clearly felt he could add a personal touch. He placed it up above the crowd where it echoed off the glass and marble, the light hand on a single violin piercing consciousness with the Prelude from Partita #3 by JS Bach.

I walked over slowly, bowed my head, closed my eyes, and allowed myself to be transformed. For a moment I wasn’t there or any place with earthly cares – there was this tremendous sound, the man whose craft propelled it into the air, and myself. When he was done I quietly, almost apologetically said what I could. “Thank you.” It wasn’t enough, but it was all I had. His response, equally respectful of the moment, said more. “My pleasure.”

This was a meeting not between any two people but between the two of us who, I am sure, share a religion. It is a sense of spirituality that comes from the gut strings of a fiddle and echoes not just through marble halls but through our hearts and minds every moment we can allow it. This is a sense of faith in the order of the universe given to both of us, skilled and unskilled, by JS Bach more than 260 years ago.

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People, not Guns

Guns. There is currently no more emotional issue in the US and nothing that polarizes more. You’re either in favor of guns or you aren’t, and if you’re in favor of them the ownership of a gun is probably viewed as a fundamental right. There isn’t much room for compromise.

Into this debate we have a nearly constant litany of shootings, sometimes with legal weapons and sometimes not. President Obama has decided to act where he can, more or less working on tightening up the existing background check laws and enforcing them more uniformly and rigorously.

There was a time when gun advocates called for us to “enforce existing laws” rather than write new ones, but even this action is controversial. But it shouldn’t be.

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