Heather L. Barmore
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    Change In Action at Babble Voices


    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...


    In the Wake of Violence

    The writer in me spends  a lot of time observing the behavior of others and my surroundings. This often manifests in stringing together - or attempting to-  the perfect words in order to share my often pedestrian thoughts. I look for substance and a story in most every situation. For the most part, nothing comes from my observations though I tuck them away for an anecdote for later. I have spent days trying to find the words, that substance, in the aftermath of the shooting at UCSB but al I am left with is numbness. Instead of being able to use my words to convey a sense of absolute sadness. All I have is exhaustion. I have read and re-read the words below only to come to the same conclusion: weariness. Numbness. An inability to be profound because this is our normal and how we Americans live. How we have learned to accept this as status quo.


    I have the sense that I have told these stories before and listed the statistics but it bears repeating.

    I was 16 and a junior in high school when the Columbine shooting happened. By the time I graduated in 2001 no less than five other school shootings happened.

    I was 18 and living in Washington, DC when two snipers terrorized the DC, Maryland and Virginia area.

    I have a number of these memories that have grown fuzzy and run together over the years. Once upon a time I could remember what I wore, what I was doing and the way that fear made its way through my body and brain as I questioned the severity of each of these incidents. The rarity of each act of violence has been long forgotten and in place is not ambivalence but exhaustion. How many times can we have this conversation? How many times can we - the collective we as residents of what is supposed to be the greatest country in the world - dissect shootings and the anatomy of each? Mental illness is offered. He’s a psycho is uttered by a talking head. Hashtag activism is born. The emergence of Twitter in addition to the 24 hour news cycle, as we learned long ago, has propelled each shooter into celebratory status as we research their genetic and mental make up. Each time we ask, “what drove him to do it?”

    This heaviness. This perpetual feeling of waiting for the next shooting to happen. Aren’t you tired too? This collective anger should drive us to move mountains to ensure that this does not happen again. Why do we live in a country where the second amendment trumps the rights of all citizens to live in a place of relative peace? Where each month we shake our heads while watching the news of another shooting go by? And then we go back to our lives. I want to cry because I am so angry though my tears will do little to make a difference.

    I have watched and re-watched the anguish of Richard Martinez the father of victim, Christopher Martinez. This is how we should all respond; to push through the noise and rehashing the background of the perpetrator but to call on congress to do something. People always tell me that they are afraid to call or reach out to their member of congress or any elected official. They are nervous. Not doing anything gives tacit consent for them to continue to do nothing and to perpetuate the violence. By not speaking out we are allowing for the likes of the NRA to continue saying that the second amendment trumps our safety.

    Speak up and speak out.

    I am so bad and unable to tie this up neatly except to tell you to act and to read this from Michael Moore who is far more adequate at expressing our new normal.

    “With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night's tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA -- I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago: We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) "interests." The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol. While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do -- and yet we don't seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: "Why us? What is it about US?" Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses -- and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us. We won't pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won't consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, "Guns don't kill people -- people kill people," they've got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: "Guns don't kill people -- Americans kill people." Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.” - Michael Moore


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