All posts by Estelene

Have you googled “gun control” today?

Washington Post analysis of Google Trends in the wake of mass shootings

Five days have passed since the school shootings in Parkland, Florida—five excruciating days for the families and friends of those killed and injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

As painful has it been for those of us who are touched by the danger only from the safe distance of the news, can you imagine their pain and grief?

According to a Washington Post analysis of Google data, if past attacks by deranged gunmen are any indication, public interest in their grief will have dropped today by about 75% of what it was the day after the tragedy. Politicians know that our memories for mass shootings are short, and they need only weather the first week until we’re no longer focused on gun control.

Of course, not everyone searches the Internet for news, but what we see in our newsfeeds on social media is also an indicator of how long such events stay on the radar screen of most Americans.

I have to admit that I sometimes have to stop watching and thinking about such horrific events, so I click on links less often as the days go on. If I don’t, my dreams are filled with the anxiety of worrying about my own loved ones. Although I retired over a year ago, this weekend I dreamed I tried to hide my students under a table, in a futile modern-day version of duck and cover, as a masked gunman with an assault rifle burst through the door, just as I awoke, my heart racing.

This time, though, watching those courageous young people at MSDHS, I can’t turn away as easily, even for my own peace of mind. In these first few days, their anger has largely silenced politicians who are usually quick to spout the NRA talking points demanded in return for the campaign money they’ve received. There’s something different about this, and we need to seize the day.

Stories speak to us, and I plan to follow those students because they are my hope for the future. I owe it to them to stay engaged.

I owe it to all our young people—to this entire generation of our nation’s children, who are learning a fear that was once limited to children in war-torn nations far away from America’s shores.

Consider this post that appeared in my newsfeed from a friend—a mom who is one of the strongest people I know, a survivor of a cancer that nearly killed her in her twenties before she could even think about having children. She believed in her future, and she worked far harder than most of us do to have a child. In a just world she should never have to worry about this:

So…I just did it. I just asked [my son] if he knew what a lock down drill was. Without much affect, he said, “It’s a drill that we have to hide in the back of the room and stay really quiet. Our teacher has to close all the blinds and lock the doors.” I responded, “Do you know why?” He then said, “Yes, in case a bad guy gets into the building and wants to kill us with a gun. He is more likely to come into our room if he can hear us and so we stay really quiet.” I bit my lip and did my best to not show my own fear. I told him that I’m glad he practices that drill, but I am so sorry that he even has to know that bad people like this exist. He then asked me if I knew if a bad guy was near his school now. I told him that there is no need to worry when there is no fact that anyone like this exists close to our home…but, the main thing is that he practices this drill and is prepared and that everyone in that school loves him and would do anything to protect him—-and that I truly believe.

Or consider this story, not someone I know but one that came to me through the friend of a friend of a friend, as social media posts often do:

My daughter came home from school one day crying that she needed new shoes. I thought that perhaps someone had made fun of her over her shoes, but no. She informed me that she realized during an active shooter drill, that if she’s hiding from the shooter, the lights on her Sketchers will give away her location. My baby is 8 years old and worrying about being shot because of her light up shoes.

Parents all over the country are having conversations they should never have to have—worrying about whether their children will be the next victims sacrificed to the idol of gun rights that demands our nation’s blood sacrifice on a regular basis.

Another friend—also a cancer survivor—had this to say about America’s voracious appetite for guns:

I don’t care about your weapon, and if it brings you joy, then enjoy it at the range or while you shoot animals. What I do care about is getting shot, and about my babies being allowed to live their lives. Military-style weapons should be reserved for the military and law enforcement. Armed societies are not safer societies. If that fact has ever been proven wrong, I’m listening. I’d like to be able to send my kids to school and see a movie with them in a crowded theater without thinking of how I would cover them. Can we start there?

Indeed. Sensible measures have been proposed, but those measures have not been allowed out of committee and have never made it to the floor of Congress for a vote. After the tragedy in Las Vegas, even the NRA came out in support of tightening restrictions on bump stocks, which the shooter used to give his weapon the high capacity of an automatic weapon.

How much have you heard about bump stocks this year?

We live in a world where the survival of a news outlet depends on how many clicks it gets from readers. Even the best news outlets must pay attention to the number of search engine hits they get, the number of times people share links to articles on social media.

In such a world, what can we do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Use the search feature on your favorite credible source at least once a day to find a new article on key words like “gun control,” “gun legislation,” or one of the sites of these tragedies, like “Sandy Hook Elementary” or “Las Vegas shootings.”
  • If you can’t bring yourself to hear another story, remember that you don’t even have to read the article. Clicking on it to open it will make it appear as part of the Google Trends.
  • Subscribe to the digital version of the national newspaper you find most credible, preferably one that has a long track record of being credible.
  • Do your best to encourage high school seniors who are disgusted by the inaction of adults to register to vote before the mid-term elections. Here’s a link to my recent blog post to help you with that.
  • If you’re on Twitter, tweet your encouragement to the young people at MSDHS who are marshaling support for this cause: @davidhogg111, @cameron_kasky, @Emma4Change, and @delaneytarr.
  • Think about attending an event in your city for the March for Our Lives, currently being organized by the survivors in Parkland and other students around the country.

We have two days to break the trend that has happened within a week of every mass shooting in recent years. If you’ve read this far, consider going back and clicking on every link in this blog post.

Remember the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Navy Yard, the Pulse nightclub, San Bernardino Inland Regional Center, Sutherlands First Baptist Church, Charleston Emanuel AME Church, and Columbine High School.

With only a few clicks from each of us, we can help ensure America won’t forget these senseless deaths. And perhaps we’ll even be protecting our own children and grandchildren from the next deranged person before he can get his hands on a high capacity gun.

Letter to High School Seniors on Gun Control

Dear High School Seniors:

Census.gov’s report on voting by age from 1980 to 2016

Do you want to see an end to school shootings?

If so, are you eligible to vote? If you are eligible, have you registered to vote?

If you’ve ever felt frightened or sad or angry in the wake of tragedies like the mass shooting yesterday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, please know that you have tremendous power right at your fingertips.

If every high school senior in America who feels as you do goes into a voting booth during the 2018 mid-term elections and pulls the lever for a candidate who advocates for sensible gun control laws, you can fight this insanity. Continue reading Letter to High School Seniors on Gun Control

Protections for Dreamers?

A January 2018 Pew Research survey shows that a majority of Americans support protections for Dreamers.

I’m a liberal Democrat and a progressive Christian. Predictably, I support gay marriage, gun control, government assistance for the poor, and the protection of the promise we made to Dreamers. I enjoy sharing a meal and discussing politics and religion with those who share my views.

I have a few friends and a number of relatives who are conservative Republicans and evangelical Christians. Predictably, they support traditional marriage, gun-owners’ rights, and a work requirement for the poor who receive government assistance. Many of them do, however, support protections for Dreamers. I occasionally share a meal with these friends and relatives, but we studiously avoid discussing politics and religion and focus on what connects us.

We are most comfortable with like-minded people, and that works for most of us in our social lives.

But political purism in the public arena endangers our democracy. Continue reading Protections for Dreamers?

Want Unbiased News?

NAMLE’s parent guide to media literacy offers great questions we should all ask.

Want unbiased news? If so, you’re in good company. According to a Pew Research survey released in January, 78% of Americans believe it is never acceptable for news media to favor a political party in reporting current events.

Why is it, then, that so many of us get our news from biased sites that align with our views?

In the same survey, when asked how much they trust media reports on political issues, only 47% of Americans responded that media’s coverage is fair and balanced. Given the current political climate, this should surprise no one.

What is surprising about this study, though, is this finding:

On the question of whether their news media cover political issues fairly, for example, partisan differences appear in 20 of the 38 countries surveyed. In five countries, the gap is at least 20 percentage points, with the largest by far in the U.S. at 34 percentage points….

The U.S. is also one of only a few countries where governing party supporters are less satisfied with their news media than are nonsupporters.

Interestingly, the survey also revealed that those who are less educated want unbiased news just as much as those who are more educated. [See this chart.] This may come as a surprise to my liberal friends who are quick to label those who support the Trump administration as ignorant and uneducated. But only 21% of Republican Party supporters—no matter their level of education—are satisfied with media coverage. And even among Democratic Party supporters, only slightly more than half are satisfied.

The results of this survey seem to suggest that, in the absence of an easy way to detect bias in our news coverage, we tend to assume that the biases that align with our own are more objective. As the political divide widens, the danger to our democracy if we continue down this path cannot be understated.

For objective journalism outlets to thrive, they must have readers and viewers. The more consumers flock to media outlets that cater to their views and confirm their biases, the greater the danger becomes that the most objective sources of our news will flail and fold. And the more we read only sources that confirm our views, the more insular and less informed we become.

What can we do about this? As I’ve said before in this blog, as teachers we must do a better job of helping our students recognize media bias. Those teachers who foist their own views on students do more harm than good. We must teach our students to question the arguments they like just as vigorously as those they dislike. We must teach them to seek out the original sources of their news rather than relying on sound-bites or click-bait. We must teach them to distinguish fact from opinion.

And what about those of us who have long since finished our educations? We don’t always do these things either. As individuals we must challenge ourselves to go to the most objective sites first, and we must reward those sites with our loyalty and support. Periodically, we should read or view a source that challenges our own thinking.

Digital and media literacy sites for teachers have some excellent suggestions for students that adults might also find valuable. Here are just two that I’ve found helpful:

  • ISTE’s Top 10 sites to help students check their facts. At the top of their list is AllSides, a site that offers views from the left, right, and center in three adjacent columns that allows readers to compare coverage.
  • The National Association for Media Literacy Education offers a guide in three languages for parents to help their children question what they see in media. We adults would do well to ask these questions ourselves.

We can’t afford to procrastinate or to dig in our heels and entrench ourselves any more deeply on opposite sides. I had conversations recently with two friends, one a liberal and one a conservative. Both admitted to me that they had almost no close friends who didn’t share their political views. That is just as dangerous as having no friends of other races. I have other friends who tell me they hate holiday dinners because they can’t have a civil conversation about politics even with family members they love.

We must find ways to bridge this divide, just as we want our lawmakers to do. And if we can’t do it face-to-face, we can at least start by changing our habits in the media we consume.

What can you commit to do?

Pastors in “Shithole” with Trump?

Is there anything worse than Trump’s latest atrocity, asking, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” and then seemingly denying that he said it.

It’s deplorable, but no worse, that Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-GA) say they don’t recall that specific comment, which no thinking person would find believable. At least, though, Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) did the right thing and confirmed that the media reports are accurate. And, of course, democratic senators also confirmed the reports.

What is appalling, though, and infinitely worse than Trump’s behavior, is that evangelicals serving on Trump’s advisory committee repeatedly refuse to condemn him and call him to account for words and actions that are wholly un-Christlike, if not downright evil. Continue reading Pastors in “Shithole” with Trump?

Dreams, Visions, and Politics

Somewhere near the end of our cross-country drive to visit some of the most beautiful sites in America, my husband and I picked up a strange passenger. We didn’t have room for him in the blue BMW. A sports car isn’t the most practical vehicle for a month-long cross-country trek, but my husband loves the vroom and the heated steering wheel.

Our children and our sheltie occupied what passes for a back seat in the car. But we couldn’t just leave the passenger behind, so we had him sit on the emergency brake between us.

It worked, though I worried what would happen to him if I crashed. He was small—a child-sized version of a former president. He climbed into the car when it was my turn to drive, and I was thrilled to be sitting next to him.

I was vaguely aware that it might be inappropriate for my right arm to be pressed up against his left, and I tried to make myself a little smaller to give him room.

I had no idea what to call him as we made conversation on the drive back to D.C. “Mr. President” didn’t seem fitting for a little man who had hitched a ride.

I started tentatively, trying and failing to achieve the coolness I hoped for. “Hey, Barack…hey, Barry…hey, Mr. B.”

He grinned widely at my discomfort, just as I awoke.

Yes, the political climate has officially made its way into my dreams. I rarely have a dream of such clarity, and I usually have only a vague notion of what led to the dream.

This one is easy, though. Feeling vaguely uncomfortable with a man who was not my husband? Believing that I had no choice but to take a chance on driving him back to Washington?

Taking my turn behind the wheel? My husband says that alone told him it was a dream, since I hate driving. But I was in control of the President of the United States.

I’m not alone in feeling helpless and having my psyche affected by the current political climate. Shortly after the January inauguration, therapists started to report an uptick in patients seeking help for anxiety. In the months since, experts have written numerous articles offering ways to deal with the stress of the current political climate.

Some positive things have come out of this ugliness, though. While it’s disheartening to know the magnitude of sexual harassment and assault in this country, it’s good to know that so many victims are seeing their attackers finally held to account.

Reputable researchers are also beginning to study ways to increase young people’s civic knowledge and involvement. The efforts are nonpartisan, and they seek to understand the beliefs of young people under the age of 30.

In addition, churches are reporting that progressives are reconnecting with their faith communities. Perhaps this will mean that we will finally stop ceding the conversation about Christ to fundamentalists who behave in distinctly un-Christlike ways.

Experts who offer advice about dealing with stress all emphasize the importance of holding on to hope. Psychology Today ends its advice column with this reminder:

Personal and national growth typically follow struggles with anxiety. Nervousness forces us to reevaluate what is most important and what we most want for ourselves, our loved ones, and our fellow citizens. From careful reevaluation emerges a course of meaningful behavior based on our deepest values.

Right now, I’m grateful for an occasional dream that offers me hope and reminds me of what is important.

Isn’t it interesting that I didn’t for a second in that dream consider kicking out my children, my husband, or even our beloved pet so that President Obama would have a place to sit?

I can’t control the current president, but I most assuredly can keep my family close and take hold of the wheel when an opportunity presents itself.

Balance of Power?

Three branches of government? Balance of power? Each branch with its own distinct role in preserving our democracy?

Every school child in America learns that the United States Constitution established three branches of government: “legislative Powers” in Article I, “executive Power” in Article II, and “judicial Power” in Article III. Continue reading Balance of Power?

The Emperor’s Parade on Gun Violence

Even when we see the carnage in Las Vegas of 58 victims dead and 527 injured—in yet another “deadliest shooting in U.S. history”—our leaders fail to believe their eyes when they see gun violence. In a prepared statement, Trump studiously avoided acknowledging the truth of the divisions in our country, insisting that, “In moments of tragedy and horror, America comes together as one—and it always has.”

Each time I hear him deny another reality of the division in our country, I wonder whether Donald Trump ever asks himself the age-old question the Emperor asks himself in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: “I can see nothing! This is indeed a terrible affair! Am I a simpleton, or am I unfit to be an Emperor? That would be the worst thing that could happen.”

Each time I hear voices suggest that Donald Trump is unfit for his office, I wonder if we’re becoming a modern day version of a very old story. Continue reading The Emperor’s Parade on Gun Violence

(Un)Christian Blame for the Poor

Quote on FDR’s Memorial: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Quoting the Bible out of context as the authoritative Word of God is a uniquely American phenomena—one that is, sadly, becoming the primary tool of Christians who want to ignore their responsibility to the nation’s poor. Continue reading (Un)Christian Blame for the Poor

Was Trump’s Prayer a Photo Op?

Johnnie Moore, @JohnnieM, runs a public relations firm.

Praying for Trump is good. Using that prayer as a photo op? Not so much.

Johnnie Moore, who once managed communications for Liberty University and who now runs a public relations firm, tweeted an image on Tuesday of evangelical pastors laying on hands and praying for Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

Trump is, as evangelicals like to say, “standing in the need of prayer.” He is having a difficult time on all fronts—with the lowest approval rating in history at this point in a presidency. His agenda has stalled in Congress. The Russia investigation is taking its toll. His son’s contacts with Russians are currently being scrutinized.

The prayer itself isn’t the problem, though some Americans do view it as a blurring of the line separating church and state. However, we have a long history of leaders seeking support from their faith community, and Congress and our military have chaplains to minister to their spiritual needs. And unless our country changes a great deal demographically, that isn’t likely to change soon.

Almost every president, like Trump, has had a spiritual adviser among his support network, and presidents regularly attend the National Prayer Breakfast, hosted annually by members of Congress.

The problem here is that Johnnie Moore isn’t a pastor. So why was he invited to attend? According to his website, he has been featured in the Washington Post and named by a P.R. news publication as “one of America’s top young P.R. executives.” The first sentence on his Who Are We page proclaims, “We are the go-to personal counselors for leaders and those interested in them who want to sharpen their public image.”

Johnnie Moore was in the room with a group of pastors, all of whom had their eyes closed as one of the pastors prayed. Johnnie, or whoever took this picture, was not praying. The photographer, eyes wide open, snapped pictures, ensuring that Johnnie had an image that could be posted on Twitter on Tuesday morning. As of this post, it has been retweeted over 7000 times.

This is yet another example of the type of hypocrisy Christ abhorred. Over and over again, he condemned religious leaders who put their piety on exhibit for the world to see while they ignored the plight of the elderly, the sick, the poor.

Every Christian alive believes that Jesus taught us how to pray, and the Lord’s Prayer has tumbled from Christians’ lips millions and millions of times in the past 2000 years. According to the Gospel of Matthew, here is how Christ introduces that prayer:

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven…And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way…” (Matthew 6: 1, 5-9, NRSV).

Yes, we Christians do pray in public. Yes, we Christians do pray behind closed doors with small groups of friends, believing that, as Christ said, whenever two or three are gathered in God’s name, the Spirit is in our midst.

But having a public relations firm record a prayer to show off piety seems to be exactly the kind of behavior Christ condemned. A thinking person has to wonder who invited Moore to be a part of the gathering and why.

Over and over again, Americans ask how 81% of evangelicals voted for this man who was recorded saying horrible things about many people but particularly about women. How it is, they ask, that the video destroyed the career of Billy Bush but had no effect on the man who actually said those things?

Not all evangelicals defend Trump or his policies, of course. Jim Wallis and his team at Sojourners spend their lives advocating for the least among us. Jonathan Merritt, at the Religious News Service, calls out hypocrisy in his writing and shows strength and courage when he is attacked for trying to bring about change in the Church. But for now they and those like them are a minority among evangelicals.

As a former evangelical, I am deeply troubled that these pastors would participate in a campaign to change Trump’s image instead of his heart.

But I’m not surprised. In my own experience, which led me to choose another faith tradition as a young adult, I saw many examples of men who used the Bible as a club to beat down those who dared question them.

It has taken me most of a lifetime to have the courage to challenge such thinking. But if I would call myself Christ-like—which these days I prefer to the label of Christian—then I must follow Christ’s example. He challenged authority, once even losing his temper in the temple over the hypocrisy of religious leaders.

I lose my temper. I rant sometimes. I find it hard, though, to call on the wisdom and courage of Christ in speaking truth to authority.

But if I would call myself Christian, I can do no less.