Tribute to Yevtushenko


Today at ICUJP I want to talk a Russian poet who hated borders and walls and loved to build bridges of understanding and connection through his poetry. His name is Evgeny Yevtushenko and he died recently at age 84, on April 1st of this year. He was in many ways the Bob Dylan of the Soviet Union—a quirky, passionate defender of human rights and freedom. He became world famous by writing a poem called Babi Yar that denounced anti-semitism. He also denounced Stalinism, war, and everything else that stifled the human spirit. While I was helping to edit a Quaker-inspired collection of poetry and fiction in the Reagan era, I got to travel to the Soviet Union and visit Yevtushenko in his summer home, his dacha, in Peredelkino. I’d like to share with you a poem he wrote in 1984, during the period known as Glasnost or Openness. The poem is called “On Borders.”

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Reflection: The Evolving Conscience of a Conservative

Burlingame_Jan2015_JKeefe_7D-1855r.jpgRita Lowenthal’s reflection of a couple or so weeks ago gave me the courage to make my reflection autobiographical.  I’ll deal with one aspect of my life, having to do with my political journey. I’m entitling this The Evolving Conscience of a Conservative. 

I came of age in Burlingame California, a fairly affluent suburb of San Francisco. Burlingame in the 1950’s had a population of about 20,000 and was all white with the exception of a minuscule number of Latinos and Asians.  It was commonly known that this city was intended for whites only. When an African American drove through the city to get from San Mateo to Millbrae, he or she looked straight ahead. There was no slowing, no looking around. Just get to the other side.

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Reflection: These are Not Normal Times, Nevertheless they Persisted

John_Forney.jpg“There are so many dangerous, destabilizing policies coming out of this administration that I had to buy a reusable protest sign,” read the message of one marcher.  We now have the “Chaos President” in full bloom, and we’re only four weeks into his term.

Across the country, immigration and border agents are defying court orders.  Our airports are clogged with hundreds and thousands of protesters.  Democratic office holders are scrambling to catch up with their followers.  This is certainly a season that is giving birth to a whole new generation of political leadership on the left.  To the political elites, as my wife is want to say, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”

My message to you is make your voices heard.  It may be in the Daily Bulletin, at the Ontario Airport, or in conversations at the checkout stand:  speak up, speak out, speak loud.  This, my friends, is not a season of normality, and we should do nothing to pretend that it is.  This man in the White House has lost any shred of legitimacy his presidency might have had, and we should not abet those who would paper over this national disaster.

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Reflection: I'm 25, Scared for Our Future

sanchez.jpgBefore I start I ask you all to think back to when you were 25.

Think about how you looked like, how you smelled... the last person you kissed, the last person who broke your heart, who you called your friends, and what was important to you.]

I am turning 25 on Jan. 5, 2017.

As I look ahead to this particular milestone with anxiety and uncertainty, I reflect on my post-graduation experience with critical distance as I prepare to step into 2017.

I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a Liberal Arts degree (a concentration in screenwriting), $45k in debt and apolitical -- two years ago.

As the daughter of Salvadoran (Im)migrants/activists and youngest sibling to a vibrant family I learned and absorbed the morsels history and lived experiences that created my family's identity through storytelling.

I aspired to have a career in the film industry as an entertainment writer, focusing on centering the narrative of the Latinx experience in the United States through ensemble comedies. I thought that it was my duty to provide folks with escapist media for them to indulge in. I thought it was my duty to make folks laugh, to help folks forget the heaviness and hurt of their own lives, if even momentarily.

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Struggle for Equality, Justice and Peace Continues

rtx2snyh.jpgToday (Wednesday, Nov. 9), we are shocked, disappointed, and deeply worried about our future. But we cannot give in to all that. All kidding aside, we're not moving to Canada. We are staying right here so we can continue the struggle for equality, justice and peace, in the spirit of hope.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said "We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope." A man who knows a lot about the struggle for political freedom and social justice, Vaclav Havel, had two very important things to say about Hope.

He wrote: "Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good."

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Reflection: My Best Friend

PS_y_CFL_1.jpgI am going to reflect this morning on 29-and-a-half years of friendship. I remember. It was a moment of joyous laughter at something that had just happened, and Paula exclaimed, “I love my life!” This was among the reasons I first started introducing her around as my best friend.

But let me go back to how we met for our first times – all three of those first times. A crowd of us strangers were walking back from MacArthur Park to our cars after a march and rally when a woman among us told us that she was a stripper. After taking delight in our reaction, she explained that she worked in a print shop, where her job was to cut sheets of colored film with an X-ACTO knife, a process called “stripping.” But when Paula told another group of us that same story years later, it was Zing! I realized I had met this woman before, walking back from the park that day.

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Reflection: This Exponential Age

image001.jpgWe live in interesting times.

I was curious to recently discover that this period in which we are now living is no longer described as the Information Age, or the Technological Age, but rather the Exponential Age. Everything, it seems, is going exponential; and one can well wonder how the world will hold together, if it even will hold together; or if it will literally spiral out of control under the weight of its own unprecedented rate of change in literally all aspects of our culture and civilization.

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Every Day Is a New Day


la-he-elders2_jp5d08nc.jpgI’ve never been 89 before,
I’ve never been in a long physical recuperation before.
I’ve never been so self- involved.
Who do I really want to be with?
What do I really want to contribute to.
I can’t fill a bucket list.
Do I really believe in all those medicines I’m supposed to take?
Is it OK that I’m not always grateful and
just want to cvetch.
I hate myself for sitting too long at this computer
I’m killing my back -so what?
I ‘ll eat a boring dinner.
Listen to all the bad news
And go to bed. 

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Teaching for Justice


People always want to know why I chose to teach in Compton and Watts. The short answer is that I volunteered full-time with the United Farm Workers, and after a year trying to organize conservative Torrance, I was sent to organize for a couple weeks in Compton - and loved it.

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How Can We Make the Madness STOP!

At least 84 people, including 2 Americans, were killed in a suspected terror attack on France as the country celebrated Bastille Day. A lorry loaded with weapons and hand grenades drove on to a pavement in Nice more than a mile before police shot dead the driver. The killer was a 31-year-old French citizen born in Tunisia. He was said to be known to police but not on a terror watch list. This is just another attack in what has been a shocking month of attacks, terrorism, shootings, awfulness,

Yesterday, I took part in a satire interview pinning Muslims against the LGBTQ community, and one of the questions asked of me is "What can we do to stop this madness?"

I gave my canned response of partnership and getting to know one another, but a part me can’t help thinking – I really don’t know!

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