Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Moral Crisis


These three statements adorned signs at the end of my street as I drove past today.
I do not know who placed them, they were not identified.
I suppose anonymity is their right.
I cannot be sure of their meaning, although I believe they refer to the situation of the children coming from Central America.

I was unsure what to do.
My first thought was to tear them down.
That would go against my believe in free speech.
My next thought was to make my own signs, but I felt my signs might not stand there long.

So I write.

I agree we should take back our country, protect our borders, and enforce our laws.
I believe we should protect our borders from terrorists and enemies, not children risking their lives to flee hunger, poverty, and prosecution.
I believe we should enforce our laws, fairly, regardless of color, language, or country of origin.
I believe we should take back our country, from those who would steal FROM it, the very fundamentals it was founded on.

There is a moral crisis in this country, and the time is well past to sit quietly and allow it to continue.  Much as William Lloyd Garrison stated in 1831, "I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. . . . I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD."
Garrison spoke of the great moral crisis of his time, slavery.
Today the moral crisis is one that says, "I have mine, get your own, I will not share."
It has lead to an unconscionable inequality in the distribution of wealth, that threatens to destroy our society.
It is contrary to the fundamentals of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and most religions.
It is contrary to the thinking of people without faith who share the belief that mankind should live in peace.
It is contrary to the fundamentals on which this nation is founded, that all men are created equal, that we are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, that we are a light on the hill to which others should look for an example of fairness, equality, and kindness.

It is what so many have died to protect since 1775.

If we fail to speak out in this crisis, then we are complicit in it.
We cannot afford to be.

We can disagree about individual political philosophies, but we should never tolerate a doctrine of hatred, of discrimination, or selfishness.
For someday we will all be asked:
When I was hungry, did you feed me?
When I was thirsty, did you gave me drink?
When I was a stranger, did you welcomed me?
When I was naked, did you clothed me?
When I was sick, did you care for me?
When I was in prison, did you visit me?

How will we answer? 
How will we be heard?

Friday, July 25, 2014


"Maybe it should be called the american federation of people" said host Nicole Sandler.
"You could argue that, I'm not going to argue that, but you could argue that, " I responded.
Then I went on to explain that the AFT is a union of people who care for others, as educators, health care providers, and public employees such as public defenders and social workers.
Along with Lisa D'Abrosca, I was being interviewed for a podcast, Lisa to tell the L+M story and I to speak about the diversity in AFT.
I  both see the diversity and at the same time, see us as one.  United in our belief that our professions are vocations.
In the same way, we are united with others in organized labor, faith groups and community groups.
All believing that our role, be it as member, local leader, or state or national leader, is to be part of a movement to bring equality and fairness and respect to all people.
Funny, sounds a lot like what this country is supposed to stand for, doesn't it?
Of the many highlights of the national convention, and there were many, the speech by Reverend William Barber is one of the brightest.
I'll include the link, it's 40 minutes long, but well worth it.
The words of this southern pastor could have come from my lips, although certainly not with the same effect.  He is a remarkable speaker and leader.
He has reclaimed the moral high ground, and for the life of me, I don't know why we ever gave it up in the first place.
What he spoke of was what I grew up learning, that we should feed the poor, clothe the naked, care for the sick.
It's what we in the AFT have dedicated our lives to. 
It's what organized labor, faith, and community groups, working together, can reclaim.
Each of us has a role, and we may not know what that role is or how it may change over time, but to be sure, we have a role.
A role in making this a more just society.
Let us be open to the role that we may each play. Let us not turn away from that role when it presents itself. Together, we will reclaim the promise and we will make a more just society.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Deep Breaths

They say that to relax you must take deep breaths in.... then let them out..
Yesterday, I feel like I finally exhaled.
OK, it took a trip to a Japanese Tea Garden and an Irish pub to make it happen.
It also took being with my best friend, my wife Michelle.

The last several years have been nothing but easy.
We've lost three parents and two brother in laws,  and at the same time, I helped form a union against strong opposition from my employer, and became it's first president.

So it's been a taxing several years, and I continue try to learn balance. Balance between time for Michelle and I, time to relax, and time to accomplish what I am called to do.

I see such great potential in the movement, potential for working families, for patients, for students, for the disadvantaged, and for this country as a whole.
It's impossible for me not to give it my all.
So yes, I may struggle to find balance, but the larger struggle has been going on for ages, a struggle for respect, dignity, and fairness for all people.

Michelle and I spoke about the future, for us, for our lives together as we near or sixth decade, for the movement, and for our role in the movement.

She is my best friend, and has been so since we met 42 years ago in that high school hall, and for that, I am blessed.

As my best friend, she is willing to put my feelings before hers.
As someone who believes that we should care for one another, I am willing to put the movement before myself.

I do not know what the future holds, I know only what I believe in.

So, if that means being part of a struggle, then let it be so.
Just give me my best friend to be beside me, and a chance to relax once in a while.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Good night, mom, God bless

My mom has gone to her eternal reward.
I don't know what Heaven is like, but I do believe it exists, and this gives me great comfort.
She raised 6 children, which I find incredible, and I think she has reason to be proud of how we are each doing.
Not so much as our status or station in life, but in how we each try to live our lives.

We owe that in large part to the lessons our parents taught us, through word and action.
She was a devout Catholic, hence the 6 children :) , and her Catholic beliefs were in line with the teachings of the Gospel, which sometimes does and sometimes doesn't conform to what church leaders preach at a particular point in time.
Love one another, who is my brother, if a man has two coats he should share with he who has none, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, blessed are the peacemakers, the poor, the meek, those who hunger or are persecuted for righteousness, the merciful, those who mourn.
She always said never hate another person, hate what they say or do, but never hate them.

At a time when some Catholics still did not accept some Jews, we were taught that the only difference between us and our neighbors, Mr and Mrs Siegel, where the church (synagogue) we attended.
At a time of the civil rights movements, and later, race riots, she taught us the "n word" was never to be spoken, and though we knew no people of color people growing up, we were taught that black, brown, native american, and others, were no different than us.
We were reminded that Irish Catholics have been persecuted at times as well.

This translated into her actions.
She volunteered at the hospital and the church.
She boycotted grapes for the farm workers.
She treated and spoke to all with respect.
She devoted her life to her family.

But boy, did she love to play devil's advocate.
If I would say that if I said the sky was very blue today, she would counter with, Yes, but there seems to be clouds on the horizon.
Even in this, I was taught a lesson. There are always two side to a story, always two opinions, and rarely is one completely right and one completely wrong.

We almost lost her a few weeks ago, and I realized that one day, when I said goodbye at the end of a visit, it would be for the last time, but I would not know which visit that would be.
I think that helped me begin to prepare for what was to come.

At the end of one of these visits, when I told her I was going but would check in with her and her doctors, she responded, OK John, good night, God bless.
That is how she put us to bed as children.
Say your prayers, good night, God Bless.
It brought me back to my youth and the lessons I learned from her, and I started whispering it in her ear as I ended visits from that day on.

She has finished the work she was supposed to do on this earth, she has finished the race, she has kept the faith.
Good night mom, God bless.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Stephanie, Lisa, and Harry

This morning I watched my brother and 2 sisters, Harry, Lisa, and Stephanie, named AFT Everyday Heroes by our union, AFT.
They were recognized because they led their Locals through a 4 day strike, that was followed by an illegal 19 day illegal lockout in the dead of winter, just before Christmas. Their hospital counted on the Locals imploding under the pressure, instead, they became stronger with each passing day.
There were many factors that lead to this increasing of strength; the executive boards of the locals, the support from other locals, other unions, the community, the politicians, the state federation and the national federation, but let us be clear, without the leadership of Lisa, Stephanie, and Harry, the hospital would have won, and the patients would have lost.
They are a remarkable trio, each with their own strengths, and together, they are a force to be reconned with.
More than that, to me they are truly brother and sisters, mentors, and friends.
I started this role as union president without training. I had never been involved in a union, never worked my way through the ranks, never watched someone else to see how it was done.
Stephanie, Harry, anf Lisa, have been my guides, my mentors.
I am extremely proud of their recognition, proud of the AFT, and proud of my Local and the support role we played.
More than anything, I am thankful to have these three friends come into my life, at this time, and to have an opportunity to work side by side with them, and make a difference.