#ThanksObama #ThanksTrump

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We’re almost through our third week without a president named Barack Obama.

I miss his calm demeanor, self-deprecating humor and general air of respect.
But if there’s one thing President Obama left behind for Americans as he vacated the Oval Office, it was hope.

That was a theme President Obama never strayed from.

He spoke of it in 2004, when he addressed the Democratic convention. He led with that theme in 2008, when he first ran for president. And during his last speech to the nation, just days before Donald Trump assumed the office of president, President Obama spoke of the optimism he still harbors that the United States will continue to be a beacon of welcome and refuge and innovation and leadership for the rest of the world.

Like others, I was distraught as Jan. 20, 2017, drew near and we faced the reality of a Trump presidency. Ugly things were happening. Reports of hate crimes against immigrants and minorities peppered the news. Meanness and vulgarity abounded on social media. It felt like the progress of the last 50 years was quickly slipping away, like water down a drain.

But since Jan. 21, I’ve got to say, the Trump presidency has stimulated hope.

What’s she talking about? you’re wondering. Is she hitting the scotch again?

My friends, I’m merely choosing to look at the last three weeks with a different perspective.

I believe the hate-filled tweets and executive orders have led many folks not to fall into lockstep with our authoritarian leaders or to cower in fear, but to become empowered. They’ve inspired hope.

Consider this. The executive order that restricts immigration and halts the resettlement of refugees was signed on a Friday. By Saturday, there were massive protests all over the country. Attorneys descended on airports to offer services to immigrants legally trying to gain access to our country, many of them green-card holders who were swept up in the confusion over the order.

That night, a judge ordered a temporary stay, followed later in the week by another ruling against the order.

That’s hope – a desire for a particular outcome to happen.

Last week, as I watched and read about the immigration executive order, I thought of all the immigrants and refugees I know. Surprisingly, for a white girl living the middle of the country in a heavily white town, I know quite a few.

And I wanted to do something to help. But I’m not an attorney. I couldn’t do anything tangible by going to the airport. I’m not an interpreter. I’m wasn’t sure what I could do.

But I’m not one for hand-wringing, so I decided to find a way to use whatever skills I have to help immigrants and refugees.

So I did that Wednesday night when I attended a volunteer orientation at Jewish Vocational Services in Kansas City. And so did more than 20 other Kansas Citians.

There were so many folks there to learn about how they could help refugees that the JVS employees had to bring in extra chairs and copy more volunteer applications.

Martin Okpareke, the outreach manager, gave an overview of how the agency helps refugees. JVS began in the late 1940s to help resettle Holocaust survivors and WWII vets returning home. Since 2004, in Kansas City, the agency has worked with one of nine national volunteer agencies charged by the United Nations with resettling refugees.

Refugees are people who can no longer live in their homelands because of persecution or real or perceived threats of bodily harm. They don’t leave their homes because they want to – they have no choice, said Okpareke, himself a former refugee from Nigeria.

Eighty percent of refugees are women and children – often the men in their families have been killed. Close to 70 percent of refugees have spent about 17 years in United Nations refugee camps, waiting either to return to their homes or to get lucky in the lottery that chooses who gets to the leave the camp for a home in a safer country.

JVS aims to engage refugees in becoming integrated into the United States, educate them about their new home and empower them to take control of their futures by finding jobs and becoming settled.

It’s difficult, Okpareke said. Many suffer post-traumatic stress from what they have been through. Others find the cultural differences between their countries and the United States difficult to overcome. Most worry about their families pulling apart as everyone works toward building a new life in a foreign land.

JVS uses volunteers to mentor newly arrived families and to help others who have been here longer study for the citizenship exam, for example. There were many more volunteer opportunities before the executive order halted everything.

Now the future is uncertain, Okpareke said. Last year, JVS resettled 518 refugees in the Kansas City area. Since January, they’ve welcomed two families.

Still, Okpareke said as he surveyed the potential volunteers, he has hope. Because the people gathered in that room had compassion.

And that gives me hope, too.

In my despair at the ugliness that has been a staple of American life for the last year, I had to do something to help. And so did all the others sitting in the room with me.

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Want to resist? Here’s how

The campaign officially ends Friday.

That’s when the vaunted peaceful transfer of power occurs in Washington, D.C., and Donald J. Trump assumes the mantle of president. POTUS.

(Personally, in my opinion, he won’t be able to pull off that acronym with the coolness of Barack Obama. But whatevs.)

Maybe you’re feeling down about this. Maybe you’re thinking this week will be the last good week of the next four years. Maybe you’re thinking all you’ve got to look forward to is Alec Baldwin on Saturday nights.

But wait. You can do something, and it’s as easy as making one phone call a day.

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Daily Action began a month ago, the brainchild of Laura Moser, a D.C.-based writer. She felt blindsided on Nov. 9, unsure of the world and anxious, for the first time ever, to really do something. But what?

Here’s how she explains it:

Then, while scrolling through yet another despairing Facebook thread, I had an idea: What if I could help curate the controversies and use technology to keep people engaged in holding the new administration accountable?

As The New York Times recently reported, phoning legislators is the most effective way to make our voices heard—but phone calls can take up time that many of us don’t have. What if a service made placing these calls so easy that we had no excuse not to do it? That’s where the Daily Action alerts come in. The idea is, with the help of the progressive digital media agency where my husband is a partner, to provide a sort of clearinghouse of actions we can collectively take to resist extremism.

It works this way: You text “DAILY” to 228466. You receive a response asking for your ZIP code. You give it, and you’re in.

You’ll get a daily text alerting you to the issue of the day, along with a telephone number. You dial that number, listen to talking points and get connected. Sometimes you’ll be connected to your senator or representative to share your concerns about a particular issue. At other times, you might be connected to other members of Congress who chair various committees or have sway over certain issues. You even could be connected to folks who influence Congress, such as businesses or policy groups.

The text alerts arrive in the morning. You can call and be done with it within 15 minutes. It’s so simple. And it’s effective.

As of last Friday, Daily Action counted more than 38,000 recruits. Along with other progressive groups, Daily Action’s calling campaign might be making a bit of a difference. Phones in Congressional offices are ringing off the hook. Some Congressmen, such as House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have stopped taking messages. Some phones go straight to voicemail. Other mailboxes are full.

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You have the right – nay, the responsibility – as citizens to let your lawmakers know your stance on these issues. They work for you, not each other and certainly not the president, whoever he or she is. Almost 40,000 is a lot of people making calls. But just think how effective we could be if that number were twice or three times that.

Today we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., definitely a man of action. How would he join the resistance if he were here today?

Tune in, tweet on, text much. This is not the time to be silent or immobilized by inability to take action.

And luckily for us, Daily Action makes it as easy to get involved as sending a text.

*Please, please consider joining Daily Action and raising your voice. For more information, click here.

Stop hating on the media, y’all

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Kids, today’s lesson focuses on the First Amendment.

You know, those pesky 45 words tacked on to the end of the U.S. Constitution that provide protection for citizens to worship whomever or whatever, as they see fit and to speak as they wish; and for the press to publish what it deems fit; and for folks to have public meetings and rallies; and for all of us to tell government officials what we think they’re doing wrong (if you remember your U.S. history, you’ll recall that last one was a big deal to the dudes who wrote the Declaration of Independence, which you can read here.)

The First Amendment separates the United States from other countries, makes us a little edgy, guarantees that we are a bunch of loudmouths who, occasionally, get shit done and change the world.

To quote Ron Burgundy, it’s kind of a big deal.

I’m no expert on the First Amendment, although I did study it extensively during my years at the University of Missouri School Of Journalism (the oldest and best.) Most of my 20 years as a journalist were spent attending public meetings, interviewing public officials, asking unpopular questions and, when needed, generally pissing off both sides of an issue as I strived for impartiality.

And here’s what I always knew, from my very first journalism classes with Jane Clark and Don Ranly, Ph.D.: The Founding Fathers gave us the First Amendment as a gift and a responsibility.

One particular part of that amendment, the part protecting freedom of speech and the press, was deemed so important that it earned the press the unofficial title of the Fourth Estate, or the fourth leg of our checks-and-balances system (the other three are the executive, judicial and legislative branches.)

Just consider this from the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and the Newseum:

     The First Amendment was written because at America’s inception, citizens demanded a guarantee of their basic freedoms. Our blueprint for personal freedom and the hallmark of an open society, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition.
Without the First Amendment, religious minorities could be persecuted, the government might well establish a national religion, protesters could be silenced, the press could not criticize government, and citizens could not mobilize for social change.

So I watch with horror as President-elect Donald J. Trump and his political organization continually trash and degrade practitioners of this profession, even as they use newspapers and broadcasters and digital publications for free advertising, saying outlandish things to get attention and then blasting as unfair anyone who reports on what they have said.

In my current profession as a licensed clinical social worker, I would suggest this behavior indicates possible borderline personality disorder, but I digress…

Today I happened to be in the car during the much-hyped Trump press conference, his first in 167 days. I turned on the car, and NPR came on, just in time for me to hear Trump deny a CNN reporter the right to ask a question. He made a snarky comment about the BBC.

first-amendment-rightsThe new president continually lobbed zingers at the reporters peppering him with questions about important issues, such as his policy priorities in the first days of his presidency and whether he was going to release his tax returns so that Americans can judge for themselves the extent of Donald J. Trump’s monetary obligations.

My jaw hung limply as I drove toward my office. Even now, more than 18 months after Trump announced his candidacy for U.S. President, I continue to be stunned when I hear how he treats journalists. And I’m frankly fearful when I hear and read regular, ordinary folks pile on the hatred.

I’m scared because I fear many people could be easily convinced that freedom of speech and press should be curtailed. There’s so much hatred.

OK, sure. Freedom of speech is messy. It’s not always pretty. Sometimes feelings get hurt. Sometimes there is cursing. Sometimes there are rumors and lies.

But as Don Ranly, Ph. D., always reminded his J300 students, a wise man (John Milton) once said (and I’m paraphrasing because I don’t want to plagiarize) that when all sorts of ideas and rhetoric compete freely on a level playing field, the truth will emerge every single time. That’s the “marketplace of ideas” concept, also mentioned in John Stuart Mill’s book, On Liberty.

And what that means – this is me talking here – is that our Founding Fathers thought the citizens of the United States were intelligent enough to call “bullshit” when they see a big, fat turd (which you cannot polish, as my esteemed father likes to point out.)

So, anywho. Here’s the thing. You can hate journalists all you want and compare them to that scourge of the Earth, lawyers (jk, all my lawyer friends…just making a point.) But you do not want to live in a country where their rights are curtailed. You don’t.

Here’s a test for you. Name some countries where journalists aren’t allow to question leaders, where their stories are censored, where they are jailed for speaking truth to power. Can you think of some?

Here are a few, courtesy of the Committee to Protect Journalists. This list is from 2015:

Eritrea. North Korea. Saudi Arabia. Ethiopia. Azerbaijan. Vietnam. Iran. China. Myanmar (formerly Burma.) Cuba. These are spots where journalists routinely are jailed for reporting news that government officials determine reflects unfavorably on the government.

Hmmm. I’m down to visit some of those spots, to be sure, but sure wouldn’t want to live there.

The press is the Fourth Estate. It’s the watchdog over our three branches of government. We might not like what we hear or see from journalists, but we need that information to make informed decisions.

That’s why those guys who wrote the U.S. Constitution put press freedom in the FIRST Amendment, not the Second or Third or Eighth. It’s first. It’s important.

People have died protecting that freedom again and again since the United States began. You know this. This, at least, should be old news.