Heather L. Barmore
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    Change In Action at Babble Voices


    Between Israel and Gaza


    On Friday, I had this to say about the current situation in the Middle East:

    “The unfortunate reality is that everywhere you turn there is not only bias but half-truths and unhelpful and inaccurate reporting coming out of the Middle East. I do know that the United States remains an ally to Israel and its peace and prosperity remain crucial. The current round of violence comes after a failed attempt at Middle East peace talks and the subsequent kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens.”


    One of my oldest and dearest friends happens to be Palestinian. A fact I remained completely ignorant to until we were in our early-20’s and in college. Actually, it truly came to glaring attention after the September 11th attacks when one thing led to another and soon our conversations moved away from gossip about classmates and to the very real and mistreatment towards Arab Americans. My relationship with Jumana - that’s my friend - has never changed or wavered over the past 25 years except that we continue to cross this path of my necessity to move from a place of blissful ignorance when it comes to matters of the Middle East and she, thankfully, has no problem with education. We are both approach our respective roles with respect. There is no force to choose a side but simply facts because my struggle to understand issues of international concern is very real.

    I have Jewish friends as well and once again their religion and place of birth have no bearing on our relationship. Just as with any relationship forged between two people from very different cultures, as long as there is a sense of understanding and, most importantly, respect even through the most difficult of conversations.

    Having friends who lie on both sides of a decades old conflict does not mean that I know anything it just means that when I have questions - and lately, I have had many - I know who to go to and who will point me in the right direction of what is what. Which brings me to a realization that when it comes to this particular violence I find myself wavering when it comes to ‘sides’. My usual line of thinking when it comes to current events is that there is a more progressive side and then a conservative side. When it comes to deep rooted issues of race, religion and culture, I find myself stepping back because I am empathetic to the hurt from both sides but I also must acknowledge that as an American there is nothing remotely comparable.

    For the last two weeks or so, I’ve been searching for information on what is going on. You know, news? That thing that is supposed to inform you of what is happening around the country and globe? Instead I have come across what I think people on both sides can agree is absolutely abysmal when it comes to anything on the Middle East coming from US media outlets. I mean absolute crap. On Sunday, only one show - CNN’s State of the Union - even mentioned the conflict via an appearance by Senator McCain who referred to Israel’s restraint as ‘admirable’. Then today when a ceasefire brokered by Egypt on Monday was rejected by Hamas to which Israel responded by saying that it would use more force against Gaza. I would feel worse about my inability to understand what is happening between Israel and Gaza if it weren’t for a lack of helpful coverage coming from mainstream media.

    I spent an hour yesterday discussing my conflict over this conflict and pestering Jumana with questions because I am a person who enjoys knowing what is occurring in the world around me. Today I spoke with a friend who lives in Israel and asked her similar questions and made the same request for links because what was being shown here is not indicative of what is happening there. The only conclusion I have been able to come up with for myself is more education which has always been the crux of my quest to learn more more about the Middle East. In both conversations it is painfully clear that at a cease fire is needed, both sides want for the other to stop bombing. On both sides there is anger, deep heartbreak and a need for lasting human rights.

    Much of curiosity and questioning is to where United States responsibility lies. Do we play a role in any cease fire? And why the lack of coverage on the fate of a country and area of the world where we have always said that peace is paramount?

    Below are links to articles I have found most helpful in understanding the current situation in the Middle East. My hope is to pass along what I have learned from others and hopefully you pass it along as well and so on:

    Ten Questions About the War in Israel

    The Gaza Rules

    What it Feels Like to Live in Gaza Under Israel Strikes

    Is this Hamas’ Last War?

    Netanyahu Finally Speaks His Mind

    Numbers Don’t Tell the Mideast Story

    Bomb Shelters and Conference Calls: A Workday for Israel’s Tech Firms



    In The News: Middle East Violence 

    A friend passed along a weekly newsletter she receives that skims and and reports on current events. The idea being that people are busy and cannot handle the amount of news generated content that comes at them each day. It’s far easier to have a digest of what happened during the week rather than a deep dive of every issue that comes across Twitter. My friend’s exact words were that I would do such a thing ‘so much better’. At first I was skeptical. I am always skeptical. Then I read what this so-called newsletter had to say about the current crisis between Israel and Hamas which was essentially reported as a squabble between two teenage girls as opposed to another round of serious conflict in an area that has been plagued by violence for hundreds of years. Conflict that has potential ramifications for the United States.

    So, yeah, I think would be better at summarizing a few news stories of the week. At least better than a site that reacts to news out of the Middle East with nothing more than a shrug. Here goes:

    1. The Middle East

    I made a concerted effort to find the most unbiased reporting on the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. In my search I did reach out to friends that might have a bias towards one side or the other in hopes of finding something in the middle. The unfortunate reality is that everywhere you turn there is not only bias but half-truths and unhelpful and inaccurate reporting coming out of the Middle East. I do know that the United States remains an ally to Israel and its peace and prosperity remain crucial. The current round of violence comes after a failed attempt at Middle East peace talks and the subsequent kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens.

    Gaza, Again

    "Here we are again, for the we-lost-count time, dealing with a painfully familiar round of violence. As you read this article, Palestinians are bombing Israel with rockets and Israel is retaliating from air and sea. Israelis are running for cover in their shelters as sirens wail, and Palestinians in Gaza are dying in growing numbers. Israel is threatening to add a ground operation, and Hamas is vowing to open “the gates of hell” on Israel."

    President Obama’s Op-Ed in Haaretz

    "From Harry Truman through today, the United States has always been Israel’s greatest friend. As I’ve said time and again, neither I nor the United States will ever waver in our commitment to the security of Israel and the Israeli people, and our support for peace will always remain a bedrock foundation of that commitment."

    BBC’s Q&A on Israel-Gaza Violence

    2. POTUS goes to Texas

    Immigration has been a hot topic during this, the most unproductive session of Congress ever. It’s importance, however, seems to ebb and flow. Right now we are in a flow period as Congress prepares for recess and the upcoming midterm elections. We face a crisis on our own borders with hundreds of immigrant children - unaccompanied minors - from Central America overflowing already crowded holding facilities while awaiting legal status. The President has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding for more border patrol officers and judges to hasten the processing of the increased influx of children. Earlier this week President Obama paid a visit to Texas to discuss immigration in hopes of strengthening his appeal to Congress. During his speech in Austin, POTUS chided House leadership for not doing their jobs in trying to pass comprehensive immigration reform but making time to discuss potential impeachment.

    Barack Obama on impeachment: Really?

    "“I don’t have to run for office anymore, so I can just let it rip,” he said.
    And rip he did, after days of Republicans beating him up for not doing anything on the border but refusing to pass the money to pay for what he wants to do on the border."

    POTUS' full remarks

    3. Educational Equity

    No Child Left Behind (NCLB) continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. It’s not news that it’s a failure but what continues to make headlines are the number of deadlines imposed on states and the federal government thanks to legislation passed in 2001. Given the lack of interest in reauthorization, the administration has turned to executive action over the years as a stop-gap measure to fix public education in this country. This week the US Department of Education launched a 50 State Education Strategy that would address on an oft forgotten section of NCLB that would require teacher equity.

    Arne Duncan Unveils 50-State Teacher-Equity Strategy

    "Under NCLB, which was signed into law in 2002, states were required to ensure that poor and minority students were not being taught by unqualified teachers at a higher rate than other students. But fewer than half of states have separate teacher-equity plans on file with the department. Most of those plans are at least several years old, and the Education Trust, a Washington-based organization that advocates for poor and minority kids, found them to be seriously lacking in this 2006 report."

    4. Housing and Urban Development

    San Antonio Mayor, Julian Castro became the newest Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Secretary Castro is one half of the famed Castro brothers. His twin brother Joaquin is a member of the House of Representatives. via The Washington Post

    5. The National Education Association makes history

    The National Education Association made history last week during it’s annual Representative Assembly when it elected three women of color to lead the largest labor organization in the country. via BlogHer


    The Domino Effect

    After a big day full of political news, I often find myself too overwhelmed to speak on the details or provide an intelligent post-mortem response. This is why I gave up on my dream as a talking head. I’d much prefer to let it all marinate and find myself in a place of understanding of potential policy implications. I like to do so in my own way and in my own time - CNN, please don’t call me. I am a  perpetual over thinker and I have to process every event no matter how big or small. This is far better than my reactionary days; positions were taken and opinions were given with as much thought as deciding if I want fries with that.

    That isn’t to say that I didn’t recoil at decisions handed down from the Supreme Court yesterday morning. In fact I did all of the favoriting and retweeting as quickly as possible. There were the requisite witty quips given in 140 characters or less just so i could point to my participation and that yes, I am paying attention. In the age of the 24 hour news cycle I often find it hard to believe that real insight is being provided from all sides rather than going with the gut. But that is beside the point. As I went to bed, head reeling, I realized the simple way that so much of our collective outrage (and I am, of course, speaking as a progressive in this instance) could be curbed. The easiest thing in the world. Fought for, encouraged and yet when the time comes oh, the foot dragging because why? So boring. And that one thing is this: Vote.

    Did you think I was going to suggest storming the castle? Perhaps forming a coup? Yeah…no.

    I watch C-SPAN with the same enthusiasm I have for the Real Housewives of Atlanta (read: A LOT). WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?! Can be heard from my living room as votes are cast and committee hearings go on which lead me to also question if this is a joke. Please say this is a joke. Before I was able to vote, I had all of these ideas of my first time. There would be a sticker and perhaps homemade cookies. i stopped short of wondering about fireworks after pulling the lever. In reality my first time voting was done via absentee ballot. The envelope was dropped off, casually, in the middle of running other errands. The first booth experience was less ‘booth’ and the celebration of democracy (I am a black woman! I can vote! Hear me roar!) was little more than making a mental note to actually get to the polling place (where is it again?) and then making the time to get there before closing. I filled out a few bubbles and was sent on my way with the slightest hint of joy from those watching to make sure I didn’t completely eff the whole thing up. Yes, an African American president was finally elected but there was no sticker to prove my participation in the democratic process.

    Thankfully we live in such a place where elections aren’t blood sport. There are no bombings or military intervention and we are fortunate to live in a country that makes it so easy. And yet I find more and more people have become cynical about politics therefore voting? Pointless. I cannot blame them but I do gently suggest that perhaps voting and being a part of the electorate might change the outcome. I try to refrain from criticism and only use my WTF face behind a screen as I make an overture for voting. Like, maybe if you started to do so then the so-called “crazy fringe” wouldn’t wield so much power? Just a thought.

    Last week during New York’s congressional primary Election Day, I was on Facebook professing my usual “It’s Election Day! I love Election Day” love and a follower was confused. Didn’t that already happen? In your state, maybe but today is the day in New York.

    “Oh, we already voted in our local elections!”

    “Yes, but this is for the midterms…”

    “The what?”

    And then I did it, I had to, I smacked my head on my desk because really? It’s a conversation that I have had a lot lately that there is a lack of enthusiasm and general awareness for the upcoming midterm elections. But hey, y’all. They are coming and will happen with or without your voice. The response was along the lines of “Oh, well, we don’t vote in those anymore. What is the point? Nothing changes.” To which I responded by dying. I am writing this post from the after-life.

    Basically, there is a major national election coming up and no one gives a shit and it is killing me. Actually it’s more of a sadness that leads to plotting - so much plotting as of late - on how to engage a jaded electorate. Or at least as much of the electorate I can touch from my little corner of the Internet. Which leads me to yesterday’s events. In the evening I found myself in a brief Twitter conversation with a friend of a friend. The friend’s friend implied that it was pointless to mention voting when it comes to the Supreme Court as the justices are appointed. To which I replied that yes, they are appointed but they are confirmed by the Senate. The same Senate that we elect (1/3 of the body is up for election this coming November). You can read the full conversation below which basically ended in me being like ELECTIONS MATTER and friend’s friend saying OK. I GET IT. BACK OFF. But, you know, in a far more polite fashion.

    I wholeheartedly believe in my ‘domino effect’ assessment. The midterms? The ones happening in just four months? They matter. Oh God, do they matter. What if there had been more moderate Republicans to participate in the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2009? Would we be having the same number of cases questioning the validity of the law? What would happen if a current Justice retires and leaves a vacancy?  Depending on the make up of the Senate there could be a constitutional conservative sitting on the bench. One thing affects the next and I cannot stress enough how important is to realize that elections, from local to state to federal, all matter. There would be no Samuel Alito - the justice who wrote the opinions for both Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Quinn v. Harris - if there hadn’t been a George W. Bush. There wouldn’t have been a George W. Bush as president if the people of Florida had voted for a different candidate in their statewide race for Secretary of State. Do you see now? How one thing leads to another?

    This stresses me out - trying to figure out how to get people to feel engaged and to participate in this representative democracy of ours. Does your side win all of the time? Of course not. How boring would it be if one party ruled forever? But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate. The question that remains is this: How?*


    *You know that there is more later. There is always more later...**

    **More later...