Marcia G. Yerman

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“After Fire” — The Challenges Facing Female Veterans

“After Fire” — The Challenges Facing Female Veterans

Women vets are encouraged to suppress their feelings and not appear “weak.” This leads to isolation and an absence of support.

December 6, 2016 | 1 comment | Read More »

Chinese Dissident Wei JingSheng Featured at International Human Rights Art Festival in NYC

Chinese Dissident Wei JingSheng Featured at International Human Rights Art Festival in NYC

A top highlight of the festival was the presence of Chinese dissident Wei JingSheng. He is a renowned human rights activist, a key player in the movement for democracy in China. The testament to his time in prison, “The Courage to Stand Alone: Letters from Prison and Other Writings,” was released in 1997.

March 20, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Post-Election: New Women in Congress Inspire Hope

Post-Election: New Women in Congress Inspire Hope

On Election Day, I cast my vote full of hope.

On Wednesday morning, I went to bed at 3 a.m. — after watching eight hours of election returns. When I woke up, I had a severe case of dread. Not an existential dread. Rather, a version that I could feel in every fiber of my body.

I have been writing about the environment for six years.

As I looked over all the articles I have produced,

November 17, 2016 | No comment | Read More »

Scott Pruitt’s Denial of Climate Change is Out of Touch

Scott Pruitt’s Denial of Climate Change is Out of Touch

The New York Times made it a front-page story: “EPA Chief Doubts Consensus View of Climate Change.”

Trump’s appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, stated (again) that carbon dioxide was not “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” He added, “We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

For those who follow clean air and water issues to …

March 19, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Spotlight

Chinese Dissident Wei JingSheng Featured at International Human Rights Art Festival in NYC

On the weekend of March 3, The International Human Rights Art Festival was held in New York City. Presented by The Institute of Prophetic Activist Art, it was co-sponsored and housed at Dixon Place.

Tom Block, who wears a number of hats including activist, writer, and artist, was the producer of the event. His goal was to bring together various art forms in the service of activism.

I reached out to him, to learn more about the objectives of the event.

What is the mission of the International Human Rights Art Festival?

“The International Human Rights Art Festival was conceived to offer a salving balm to our raw and injured society, using art as the impetus.  As Lao Tzu said: ‘Nothing is as soft and yielding as water, but for dissolving the inflexible, nothing is more powerful.’  We looked for art that would use its gentle power to dissolve the inflexible hatred, divisions and anger that is currently so prevalent in our land.”

How did you choose the participants?

“The artists were chosen for the quality of their artwork, their heart and soul, their passion and sincerity, and their honest assessment of the issues they were dealing with. In all cases, they were driven by the ‘I should’ instead of the ‘you should.’ We were very careful to keep a positive and gentle atmosphere, even more so in light of the tremendous divisiveness in our society at this time.”

The Festival covers topics ranging from the death penalty to the environment to disability identity. What is the connective thread?

“All of the work is sincere, beautiful and often very raw. It takes art to its highest level: At that knife’s edge between pain and beauty. Here, resides truth. Here can be found the answer to the anger and divisions in our society.”

With the Trump administration on the cusp of disenfranchising the human rights of many groups in our country, how does this event speak to that concern.

“By softening hatred, opening conversation, expanding ideas of ‘us’ as opposed to ‘them,’ and using soft power to heal wounds rather than exacerbate them.”

Are you concerned about the fate of the arts and creative expression during this administration?

“Many dictatorships have tried to kill artists and control creative output, putting it in service to the state. All have failed. I have no doubt that Donald Trump will fail, as well. Art will still be here when he goes.”

A top highlight of the festival was the presence of Chinese dissident Wei JingSheng, who served as an Honorary Co-Sponsor for the event. He is a renowned human rights activist, a key  player in the movement for democracy in China. In 1978, Wei Jingsheng wrote the essay, Fifth Modernization. He posted it in Beijing on what became called the “Democracy Wall. As a result, Wei JingSheng was arrested and found guilty of “counter-revolution propaganda and agitation.” He remained in jail from 1979–1993. Upon release, Wei Jingsheng resumed being proactive. Speaking to foreign journalists led to his reincarceration the following year (1994), which lasted until 1997. After eighteen years in various prisons, Wei JingSheng was exiled due to “medical parole.” He came to America in November of 1997.

The testament to his time in prison, The Courage to Stand Alone: Letters from Prison and Other Writings, was released in 1997.

Mr. Wei gave this speech at the opening festivities of the event:

“What is the relationship between art and human rights?  As if it were two completely different areas, but it is not so. In countries where human rights are not guaranteed such as in China, where all the spiritual activities are controlled by autocratic government, human rights and art definitely have a very close relationship. In Beijing in 1978, my friends and I launched a Democratic Wall movement. The reason the democratic wall caused a stir in the Chinese society then, was because I and many of my friends published political essays to oppose the one-party dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party.

Interestingly, meanwhile this political movement also gave birth to an artists’ movement. A large number of painters who were repressed in the past and had no place to publish their works, exhibited them on the wall of democracy. They soon formed a new school of painting, called the Star Exhibition. There appeared a large number of famous artists, such as painters Ai Weiwei, Huang Rui, Qu LeiLei, Ma DeSheng; sculptor Wang Keping, and so on. Thus was created a new look of Chinese art since then.

In the many publications on the Democratic Wall, there were two famous literary journals.  One was by the famous poet Bei Dao (North Island) who hosted the “Today,” and another called the “Fertile Soil” which gathered a large number of famous writers. They were the pioneers of the new literature of the 1980’s in China, which broke the monotonous style of propaganda by the Communist Party. It created a flourishing situation of various styles, like hundreds of different flowers blooming at the same time. It produced a large number of famous poets and writers, such as Huang Xiang, Shi Zhi, Mang Ke, Gu Cheng, Lao Gui, and so on, as well as a lot of novelists who wrote anonymously. They were all participants of the Democratic Wall movement.

Why is the movement of literature and art needed to be combined with the political movement that rebel against an autocratic system? This is because we are all rebels of the Communist system that suppresses human rights. The protection of human rights, freedom of speech, publication, assembly and association are the common need of all. It is like people are indispensable to the air and water — everyone is indispensable to the air and water.

Chinese people and Chinese artists are still under the oppression of the Communist autocracy. It is the responsibility of all of us to appeal and strive for their human rights.

Human rights are the common ideals of all of us, and the necessities of those who are still struggling under oppression. Let us fight for the legitimate rights of all the people.”

 

Photo: Elisa Gutiérrez

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Mar 20, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Scott Pruitt’s Denial of Climate Change is Out of Touch

The New York Times made it a front-page story: “EPA Chief Doubts Consensus View of Climate Change.”

Trump’s appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, stated (again) that carbon dioxide was not “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” He added, “We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

For those who follow clean air and water issues to protect the health of our families, Pruitt’s statement was no surprise. (It was insane that someone with his track record of suing the EPA and unreleased emails to fossil fuel powers, got confirmed in the first place.)

So where does that leave us?

Ever vigilant.

The Trump environmental team may think that it’s okay to continually relitigate science. However, most Americans don’t.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication updated their Opinion Map this month (incorporating findings from 2014-2016). This interactive mapping of the country is remarkable. America can be broken down by states, Congressional Districts, metro areas, and hyperlocal counties.

Currently, 70 percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening. (Good thing that this research isn’t on a federal website. It would have been disappeared by now!) Looking at the breakdown, the bar in gray represents those who either “refused to answer the question or said ‘I don’t know.’”

The data can be cross-indexed with four categories of questions posed to respondents. They were: Beliefs, Risk Perceptions, Policy Support, and Behaviors. This allows for comparisons and drill downs on disparities between locations.

For example, two different reactions to the statement: “Global warming will harm me personally.”

In Florida, where rising sea level is a viable concern, 41 percent agreed. In Wyoming, an inland state, only 29 percent concurred.

As a nation:

  • 53 percent believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities
  • 71 percent somewhat trust /strongly trust climate scientists about global warming
  • 70 percent believe global warming will harm future generations

When it comes to policy, Americans do not want roll-backs of regulations.

  • 82 percent support funding research into renewable energy sources
  • 75 percent want to see regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant
  • 69 percent want strict carbon dioxide limits on existing coal-fired power plants

Looking at individual states, it was not surprising to see that in New York, 79 percent of those polled wanted tough limits on coal-fired plants, while in Kentucky, 58 percent didn’t.

As I changed criteria and combinations, I saw that in the Washington, D.C., Arlington, Alexandria areas, numbers were consistently high in conjunction with climate concerns. For example, on the question about funding research into renewable energy sources, the answer came in at 86 percent. I wondered if there was any overlap with people working in the military and defense sectors, as they have been pointing to climate change as a cause for international instability and terrorism.

I have written previously about the disconnect between elected representatives and the viewpoints of their constituents on environmental issues and fossil fuels. Once again, the big takeaway is, “Follow the money!”

Check out the “Climate Denier 2016” Google doc that documents House and Senate members who don’t accept the science behind climate change. Then compare it to the contribution totals they have received from the coal, oil, and gas industries throughout their terms.

The scientist Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Tsk-tsking at the outrageousness of those who don’t want to deal with the climate crisis is getting the public nowhere.

Scott Pruitt is not going to change his mind anytime soon. But Senators and legislators who want to keep their jobs, may. And if they don’t, let’s remind them that if we ignore climate change, even their kids won’t get a second chance at developing a new brain, a functioning reproductive system, or a new set of lungs.

The Climate March is in April. Help put an end to this insanity.

 

This article originally appeared on the Moms Clean Air Force website.

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Mar 19, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

Photo: November 3, 1971                  Credit: © WF/AP/Corbis

As Americans struggle to deal with the divisiveness and polarity within our country, the presentation of the documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise on PBS American Masters was a welcome respite. Through the use of archival footage and interviews with Angelou — and commentary from those who knew her — a portrait of her fierce courage and individuality is drawn. Angelou’s dedication to speaking her truth stands as an example of her personal integrity.

In a life spanning eighty-six years (1928-2014), Angelo witnessed and was impacted by the Jim Crow mindset of the 20th century South.

Angelou’s parents, a World War I veteran and a “bright and courageous woman,” sent her and her brother Bailey to live with their paternal grandmother after the breakup of their marriage. The separation left Angelou with tremendous loss and feelings of rejection. However, a protective Bailey and Grandmother Henderson (a child of former slaves), were solid presences in her life. Her grandmother owned both a local store and property in Stamps, Arkansas. The extended family household included a disabled uncle.

Angelou relates stories of life in Stamps that are hair-raising. “I was terribly hurt in this town,” she recounts. Angelou describes the “loathing” with which white people would look at her. She also vividly depicts the imagery of horse-mounted Klu Klux Klansmen, as they appeared over the hill, riding toward her house. They would hide her uncle in the potato bin — covered with wood slats, spuds, and onions.

The “pain of growing up as a black girl in the South” would give form to much of Angelou’s narratives. “When I reached for the pen to write, I have to scrape it against those scars,” she said.  It was her vivid use of language to express intense personal anguish that resonated so deeply with others.

The pivotal experience that shaped Angelou’s life occurred when she and her brother went back to live with their mother in St. Louis. At the age of seven, her mother’s boyfriend raped her. She told her brother about the incident, and the boyfriend went briefly to jail. Soon after, he was found kicked to death. Angelou recalls, “I had to stop talking. I knew my voice could kill people.”

Her mother returned the children to Stamps. Angelou began to heal under the watchful eye and nurturing care of the grandmother who always believed in her.

During the next five years, Angelou went mute. She also read everything she could get her hands on, memorizing texts, including Shakespeare. Angelou notes, “When I decided to speak, I had a lot to say.”

At sixteen, while living in San Francisco, Angelou had a sexual encounter. She became pregnant with her son, Gary Johnson. Featured in the movie, Johnson attests to the strong bond between himself and his mother. He tells a riveting story about his mother’s fearlessness during a frightening civil rights demonstration.

“My mother taught me a love of justice,” says Johnson. “A love of doing what’s right. If you really have something to protest, you should be on the streets.”

Supporting herself and her child through her artistic abilities, Angelou worked in nightclubs as a dancer and then as a singer. A striking figure at six feet tall, Angelou developed a repertoire of Afro-Caribbean music and became known as “Miss Calypso.” Performing with a dance company in Las Vegas in the 1950s, Angelou describes how top black talent, like Lena Horne and Sammy Davis, were unable to leave their rooms or use the hotel facilities where they headlined.

When Angelou auditioned to be a dancer in the San Francisco production of Porgy and Bess, it led to a worldwide touring opportunity. It enabled her to travel extensively. While in Paris, she met James Baldwin, who became a close friend. The richness of these experiences was always in conflict with the guilt she felt about leaving her son.

Returning to America, Angelou became acquainted with Langston Hughes. He encouraged her to become part of the Harlem Writers Guild. She immersed herself in the fertile environment of the arts and culture. In 1961, Angelou performed in The Blacks, the groundbreaking play by Jean Genet. The cast included actors James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson.

Angelou’s life revolved not only around her creative endeavors. She maintained a strong political and activist sensibility. After hearing Dr. Martin Luther King speak at the Riverside Church on non-violence, Angelou became a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), in the New York office. She met leaders in the African liberation movement. A relationship with Vusumzi Make, a South African lawyer and activist, took her to Cairo. She then went on, alone, to Ghana.

When Malcolm X made a pilgrimage to Africa, Angelou connected with him when he visited Ghana. She joined him in his efforts to have the United Nations condemn America for racism. When speaking of how she was “shattered” by his assassination, Angelou states, “I loved him so much.” That same year, King was murdered — on the day of her birthday. The grief was overwhelming.

As Angelou came out of her mourning, she began to share her personal stories with others. She was recommended to a publisher, after recounting personal tales at a party she attended with Baldwin.

Challenged to put her oral histories to paper, she created I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1969, it was a new type of writing. Open and frank about the experience of being black — as well as about her childhood rape — it was a primary example of ‘personal identity” prose. Angelou spoke of putting the tradition of the “slave narrative” out to the public, writing “I…but meaning we.” It became a touchstone for readers of all backgrounds. Oprah Winfrey, in her interview, defines her revelation: “Somebody knows who I am.”

Angelou had many relationships and several marriages. One of her husbands, Paul du Feu pointed out, “There wasn’t room beyond the written word.”

A dancer, singer, actress, poet, writer, and lecturer — Angelou was larger than life. There were no boundaries to her talents. She worked with musicians, including B.B. King. She played the grandmother of Kunta Kinte in the 1977 version of Roots. She directed the film Down in the Delta, about a mother sending her daughter away from Chicago and back to Mississippi, the home of previous generations.

Angelou frequently spoke to the female African American experience. “Black women are the last on the totem pole,” she said.

However, her message was universal. It was the directive to believe in your own voice, and to know that you are enough.

“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated,” Angelou pronounced.

One of the high points of Angelou’s career was the delivery of her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration. One of its stanzas is now poignantly relevant:

Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

Her voice remains indelible.

This article originally appeared on the website Ravishly.com

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Mar 16, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Bill de Blasio Holds Town Hall in Northwest Bronx

A diverse group of constituents from the Northwest Bronx met with Mayor Bill de Blasio...

Feb 23, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Local Activism Pays Off

Individuals from all walks of life, who are concerned about the future of their children...

Dec 18, 2014 | No comment | Read More »

The Military Battles Climate Change

Ret. Adm. David Titley said,"The ocean, atmosphere and ice do not caucus, do not vote,...

Jul 27, 2014 | 1 comment | Read More »

EPA Adminstrator McCarthy Makes A “Moral Obligation To The Next Generation”

McCarthy, who doesn’t pull any punches, stated, “Climate change caused by carbon pollution is one...

Oct 11, 2013 | No comment | Read More »

IPCC Report: Man-Made Climate Change Is A Scientific Certainty

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its new report on September...

Oct 2, 2013 | No comment | Read More »

Small Businesses Support President Obama’s Climate Plan

After extreme weather incidents like Hurricane Sandy, 40 percent of small businesses do not reopen....

Jul 23, 2013 | No comment | Read More »