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Remarks at the ACLU Lunch

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

March 23 the Illinois ACLU held a fundraising lunch, where we were reminded how close to the edge of losing our Constitutional protections the current occupant is pushing us. We get caught in the daily battles for reproductive health care or protecting immigrants and forget that Congress is abrogating its right and its duty to uphold the separation of powers.

Illinois ACLU director Colleen Connell spelled out our challenges in a moving speech. As soon as I have a copy I will post it here. In the meantime, for those who are interested, I’m putting my own remarks here — I was asked to speak briefly about reproductive health care access.

Thank you all for coming today and for turning out in such large numbers. The March 4 Wall Street Journal questioned the patriotism of progressives like me: if we aren’t for America First, what claim can we lay to our country?

My claim is the to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Without these then I do feel frightened and stateless. It is thanks to the ACLU that all of us, progressives, conservatives, libtards and even the two Stevens, Miller and Bannon, have a country.

A view of the Jumbotron

After the 2016 election, as we scrambled for ways to protect our country, Jonathan Santlofer, who runs the Center for Fiction in New York, got a contract with Simon & Schuster to create an anthology of resistance called, It Occurs to Me that I am America. All profits go to the ACLU.

My contribution imagines a dystopian future, complete with special courts to protect the so-called unborn – a word which for me conjures the undead. In it, Lotty Herschel and V.I. Warshawski are arrested for supporting abortion rights.

My story rose out of my own anxiety over the thousands of restrictions that have been placed on access to abortion, contraception and women’s reproductive health across the fifty states. It is thanks to the ACLU’s legal actions around the country, along with our grassroots resistance, that we can still claim access to contraception and abortion in many jurisdictions.

 

In 1970, three years before Roe, my roommate had a back-alley abortion. We weren’t friends: we’d known each other for about a week and she didn’t want me to go with her. That night, when she hadn’t come home, I started calling hospitals and police stations near our Harlem apartment. She had been found unconscious, hemorrhaging, on a sidewalk near Columbia University’s big teaching hospital. The intern on call saved her life but gave her a scathing lecture on her loose morals.

When I returned to Chicago that fall, I began actively working for reproductive rights. It’s been almost fifty years now of struggling against parental notification laws, mandatory ultrasounds, terrorist attacks on doctors and clinics, punitive building codes and so on. I am angry, I am tired, but I am heartened by the legion of young women and men who are taking up the fight, especially those of you who are here today.

 

#MeToo has raised awareness of the way in which sexual harassment and assault permeate American institutions. The failure –until very recently — for anyone to respond to women’s reports of assaults, stems from the same social norm that seeks to deny our access to reproductive health care. We operate in a culture that does not see women as fully human, as having the same ability as men to make moral decisions. Just as Harvey Weinstein’s and Donald Trump’s victims couldn’t get law enforcement or industry power players to take their experiences seriously, so, too, are women unable to establish our right to make our own health care decisions.

Women’s speech is unheard and undervalued. Studies of women’s speech shows that whether at the dinner table or the boardroom, women can speak about a third of the time. When we take up more time – more room – we are tuned out. American movies reflect that: even with a female lead, women get about a quarter of the dialogue, men three-quarters.

So it’s an unsurprising, but a grim, life-threatening reality, that women are not attended to when we report predatory behavior of presidents or demand access to health care.

Thanks to #MeToo, thanks to the energy of thousands of young women and men, and thanks to the tireless work of the ACLU, we are changing that reality.

When I look at this room, I feel more hope than I have for many years, despite the despicable situation in our nation’s capitol. I know that everyone here is passionately committed to “promoting justice and providing for the general welfare,” as our country’s founders put it.

If you can work at a clinic under siege, or volunteer in a campaign for this fall’s election, so that we have a pro-choice governor and a pro-choice Congress, do so. If you can write the most generous check you can afford to the ACLU — the life you save could be your own. Or your mother’s, your lover’s, your daughter’s. Certainly it will be the life of one of our sisters.

 

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Head trip

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

You ever have conversations in your head with important people where you get to change the course of events? Here’s one of mine:

 

So I’m on the phone with my girl Angie and I say, girlfriend, we gotta send one back to you. The Drumpf family from Kallstadt, you know? They are majorly destroying the United States.

And Angie, she says, Get a grip, girl. This is 2018, not 1938. You can’t emigrate here if you, like, hang out with Neo-nazis and support all that racist rhetoric. We got laws here, and those laws say you cannot go around calling other people’s countries “shitholes” and stuff. And you can’t be posting ani-Jewish images on your social media, and you can’t surround yourself with that kind of trash, neither.

But, Angie, I say, think of the Marshal plan. Didn’t we save anyone in your family from starving? Your mom, maybe or your grandpa. This Drumpf guy wants to get rid of all public institutions and only his friends get to have jobs, and, like, you know. We’re sending him back to Kallstadt.

And Angie is all, he can visit but it’s a five-day visa. He overstays, we arrest him in front of his little boy.

And I’m like, I’m down with that Angie. Totally.

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It Occurs to Me that I am America

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

Lotty Herschel is in prison in my short story, “Safety First.” This story is one of many original stories and pieces of art created for the anthology It Occurs to Me that I am America. All royalties from the sale of this book will go to the ACLU as they fight for our Constitutional rights. Simon & Schuster, the publishers are making an additional donation of 10 % of the hardcover price on all copies sold before midnight, January 15. It’s a great anthology, with contributions from Mary Higgins Clark, Louise Erdrich, and Alice Walker, among many others.

Here’s an excerpt from my story. Will Lotty make it out of prison? Where’s VI Warshawski? Buy It Occurs to Me that I am America and learn the whole story. Or look at Art Spiegelman’s graphic short story, or Stephen Carter’s work, or any of the dozens of other fascinating contributions.

Safety First, by Sara Paretsky

She guessed that cameras, or at least microphones, were hidden in the cell. Possibly in the showers, the cafeteria, even the attorneys’ meeting rooms. From the moment of her arrest until the day of the trial, she said nothing inside the prison, except immediately after her arrest, and that was only to repeat a demand for a phone call. Finally on the fifth day, when she’d been kept sleepless and could no longer be sure of time, a guard handed her a cell phone and told her she had thirty seconds, and if she didn’t know the number, they weren’t a phone directory, so tough luck.

Once she’d made the call, she became mute. She didn’t speak to the assistant attorneys for the Northern District of Illinois sent to interrogate her, nor to the guards who summoned her for roll-call four times a day, or tried to chat with her during the exercise period. Because she was a high-risk prisoner, she was kept segregated from the general population. A guard was always with her, and always tried to get her to speak.

The other women yelled at her across the wire fence that separated her from them during recreation, not rude, just curious: “Why are you here, Grandma? You kill your old man? You hold up a bank?”

One day the guards brought a woman into her cell, a prisoner with an advanced pregnancy. “You’re a baby doctor, right? This woman is bleeding, she says she’s in pain, says she needs to go to the hospital. You can examine her, see if she’s telling the truth or casting shade.”

A pregnant woman, bleeding, that wasn’t so rare, could mean anything, but brought to her cell, not to the infirmary? That could mean an invitation to a charge of abuse, malpractice. She stared at the pregnant woman’s face, saw fear in her face and something less appetizing, something like greed, or maybe unwholesome anticipation. She sat cross-legged on her bunk, closed her eyes, hands clasped in her lap.

The guard smacked her face, hard enough to knock her backward. “You think you’re better than her, you’re too good to touch her? Didn’t you swear an oath to take care of sick people when they gave you your telescope?”

In the beginning, she had corrected such ludicrous mistakes in her head. Now, she carefully withdrew herself from even a mental engagement: arguing a point in your head meant you were tempted to argue you it out loud.

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Chiara’s Third Anniversary

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

It was three years ago today that Chiara came into our lives, courtesy of Christina Yohe in Missouri. In May, we had lost our beautiful girl, Callie, to a bone tumor that pressed into her brain, and I was not ready for another dog. However, my husband, who was 91 at the time, was  overwhelmed with grief for Callie. He would spend hours every day weeping over her photographs and finally, after months of this, with no amelioration, I realized the only cure was a new dog. I wanted a Golden, as all my dogs have been Goldens, and I wanted a house-trained adult. And so we got Chiara. I resisted her at first, and I wasn’t the best mom I could have been, but for all of that, we began to bond and became close friends. These days, my happiest times are walking the lakefront or through the woods with Chiara; I couldn’t live without her. Courtenay took to her instantly:

Courtenay and Chiara on the road home from Missouri

Chiara doesn’t play with toys or retrieve, but she does like to swim. Her first encounter with the Big Lake freaked her — it took about 9 months for her to realize that water and Goldens go together, kind of like Goldens and liver treats.

Chiara at Oak St Beach, March 2015

She’s a very mellow girl, very laid back, and isn’t afraid of anything. She’s nervous around the new, but she keeps approaching it until she’s mastered it. The Westy next door tries to tease her into playing but Chiara prefers to sleep.

Chiara is enchanted by candles at her first Chanukah

She was awarded her Doctor of Furosophy degree in May 2015

Chiara gets her Doctor of Furosophy degree

After Sara’s final swim for 2017 – 49 degrees is too cold for me

Doug Shaeffer, who’s a dog whisperer, took this picture of his boy Copper with me and Chiara after we’d been swimming one hot August morning.

With our buddy Copper at Lake Michigan

With her two buddies, Giga, the Westy, and Dante, the giant Schnauz

We’re in my kitchen here, everyone trying to make sure she or he doesn’t get left out of snack-time

Chiara in bed with Courtenay

Chiara feels responsible for Courtenay and stays close to him when she’s in the house. The two are late risers. I’m up by six or seven but they sleep until 9 or 10, which makes it hard to get that first walk in and get to work and and and. After our walks, she races instantly to his side. On the rare occasions when he’s out (these days he doesn’t like to leave the house unless he has to), she lies by the front door until he comes home.

This next picture is my favorite: twice a week Rogan Birnie comes to help Courtenay exercise. I figure this is guy time and leave them alone, but one Monday I was in the basement and looked over to see this sight. Rogan told me Chiara so needs to be next to Courtenay, she even tries to get on the treadmill with him.

Chiara doing hamstring stretches with Courtenay

She and I are taking agility lessons together and one of these days I will figure out how to upload a video of her going through a tunnel and other amazing feats.

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Watch VI in Action. See her with Sal. See — VI the Video!

Monday, March 13th, 2017

If you’ve read  the VI Warshawski books or stories, you know she travels the city up and down. She started when she was a child, performing hair-raising escapades with her cousin Boom-Boom, and she’s still racing around Chicago today. Now, with this video, created for Sara by three young cineastes at the University of Chicago, you can follow her from Wrigley Field to the Golden Glow. Catch a Hitchcock view of Sara in the last frame.

VI Warshawski Book Trailer from Sara Paretsky on Vimeo. Created by Alison Titus, Anna Gregg and Grace McLeod

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Fallout – Chapter 1

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

(Fallout goes on sale April 18; you can pre-order it now)

1

Playing the Sap – Again

 

“The police say it was drug related, ma’am. They think August was stealing to deal.” Angela Creedy spoke so softly I had to lean forward to hear her.

“That is a bêtise—a—a lie, a stupidity.” Bernie Fouchard stomped her foot for emphasis.

“Bernie, my little volcano, you could be right, but I have no idea what, or even who, you’re talking about. Can you start at the beginning?”

Angela had been looking at her clasped hands, her face tight with worry, but that made her give a brief smile. “You are a little volcano, Bernie. Maybe that’s what we’ll start calling you at the training table. The thing is, August is missing, and when this break-in happened—“

“They had to pick on someone,” Bernie interrupted. “And because he is black—“

Angela put a hand over Bernie’s mouth. “August is my cousin, ma’am. I don’t really know him—I’m from Shreveport, and he grew up in Chicago. We don’t have the kind of family that stages big reunions; I haven’t seen him since he was about eight or nine and came down with his mama to visit. Anyway, when I connected with him, after I moved up here, it turned out he’s trying to be a filmmaker, but he works as a personal trainer to support himself and videos parties – weddings, kids’ birthdays, things like that. It just seemed like the perfect combo.”

The southern lilt in her soft voice made it hard for me to understand her. “Perfect for what?” I asked.

Bernie flung up her hands. “But to help us train and video us when we play, naturellement, so we can see where we must improve!”

Bernadine Fouchard was a rising hockey player. Her father had been my cousin Boom-Boom’s closest friend on the Blackhawks, and he’d asked Boom-Boom to be Bernie’s godfather. Now that she was a first year student and athletic star at Northwestern, I had sort of inherited her.

“Angela is also an athlete?” I asked.

“Can’t you tell? She is like a—a giraffe; she is a basketball star.”

Angela looked at her in annoyance, but went back to her narrative. “Anyway, Bernie and I, we’re both freshmen, we have a lot to prove before we can be starters, so we started going to the Six-Points Gym, because that’s where my cousin works, and it’s not far from campus.”

“When this gym was broken into two nights ago, the police, at first they thought it was a prank, because of Halloween, but then today they said it must have been August, which is a scandale,” Bernie cut in. “So I told Angela about you, and we agreed, you are the exact person for proving he never did this thing.”

Bernie favored me with a brilliant smile, as if she were the Queen bestowing an important medal on me. I felt more as though the Queen’s horse was kicking me in the stomach.

“What does August say about it?”

“He’s disappeared,” Bernie said. “I think he’s hiding—“

“Bernie, I’m going to call you a volcanic kangaroo, not a volcano, you jump around so much.” Angela’s voice finally rose in exasperation. “The gym manager says August told him he was going away for a week, but he didn’t say where, just that it was a confidential project. He’s a contract employee, so he doesn’t get vacation time—he takes unpaid leave if he wants to go.”

“He didn’t tell you?” I asked.

Angela shook her head. “We’re not that close, ma’am. I mean, I like him, but—you know how it is when you play college ball—Bernie told me you played basketball for the University of Chicago—you’re training, you’re practicing, you’re fitting in your classes. Girls ball isn’t like boys: we have to graduate, we have to take our courses seriously. Not that I don’t want to, I love everything I’m studying, but there isn’t time left over for family. And August is pretty private, anyway. He’s never even invited me to his home.”

“You have his phone number?” I said.

Angela nodded. “He’s not answering it, or texts, or anything. No updates on his Facebook page or Twitter feed.”

“The police must have something to go on,” I objected. “Other than saying that nobody knows where your cousin is.”

Angela picked at her cuticles. “It wasn’t really a break-in.” Her voice had become even lower. “Someone with a key opened all the doors, and August is the only person with a key who they can’t find.”

“How long has he been out of touch?” I asked, cutting short another harangue by Bernie.

Angela hunched a shoulder. “I can’t even tell you that, ma’am. It wasn’t until today that I knew he was missing, and that’s because the police came to talk to me, to see if I knew where he was.”

I got up to turn on more lights. The only windows in the warehouse where I lease office space are at the top of the fourteen-foot walls. I’ve filled the place with floor and ceiling lamps, and at five on a November day, I needed all of them to break the gloom.

Neither of my visitors seemed able to tell her story in a straight-forward way, but what it boiled down to was that Six-Points Gym’s medical supply closet had been ransacked some time last night.

The gym worked with a lot of athletes, from weekend warriors to some of the city’s pro teams, along with a number of university athletes. They had a doctor on call who could – and did – hand out drugs. Neither Angela nor Bernie knew what had been in the ransacked closet.

“We don’t take drugs,” Bernie snapped when I asked. “Why would we know?”

I sighed, loudly. “It’s the kind of question you might have asked the police when they talked to you. Or they might have asked you. Six-Points must have controlled substances, or the cops wouldn’t care.”

“They didn’t say.” Angela was talking to her hands again. “They asked me how well I know August, and did I know if he took drugs, sold drugs, all those things. I told them no, of course.”

“Even though you don’t know him well?” I prodded.

Angela looked up at that, her eyes hot. “I know when someone is on drugs. Ma’am. It’s true I don’t know him well—I was only two the one time he came to see us—but my mother told me he brought a toy farm with him that I kept messing with. She says August was so cute, how he put the animals to bed for the night, all the little lambs together, all the cows, the dog got to sleep on the farmer’s bed. A boy like that wouldn’t be stealing drugs.”

I didn’t suggest that every drug dealer had once been a little child who played with toys.

Bernie nodded vigorously. “Exactement! So we need you to find August. Find him before the police do, or they will just arrest him and never listen to the truth.”

“Which is?”

“That someone else did this break-in, this sabotage,” Bernie flung up her arms, exasperated with my thickness.

“This is potentially a huge inquiry, Bernie. You need to fingerprint the premises, talk to everyone on the gym’s staff, talk to customers. The police have the manpower and the technical resources for an investigation like this. I don’t have the equipment or the staff to work a crime scene, even if the Evanston cops would let me look at it.”

“But, Vic! You can at least talk to people. When you start asking questions, they will be squirming and saying things they thought they could keep secret. I know you can do this, because I have seen you making it happen. Maybe even the manager of the gym, maybe he is doing this crime and trying to blame August.”

I opened and shut my mouth a few times. Whether it was the flattery, or the supplication in both their faces, I wrote down the address of Six-Points, the name of the manager, August’s home address. When I asked Angela for August’s mother’s name, though, she said that “Auntie Jacquelyn” had died six years ago.

“I honestly don’t think he has any other family in Chicago. Not on my side, anyway. His daddy was killed in Iraq, years ago. If he has other relatives here, I don’t know about them.”

Of course she didn’t know his friends, either, or lovers, or whether he had debts he needed to pay off. At least she could provide his last name—Veriden. Even though I knew neither woman could afford my fees, I still found myself saying that I would call up to the gym tomorrow and ask some questions.

Bernie leapt up to hug me. “Vic, I knew you would say yes, I knew we could count on you.”

I thought of Sam Spade, telling Brigid O’Shaughnessy he wouldn’t play the sap for her. Why wasn’t I as tough as Sam?

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Weeping

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

My grandmother was a young teenager  in 1911 when she sailed, alone, past the Statue of Liberty into New York harbor. She was fleeing her homeland at her mother’s insistence: her father had been murdered in his bed, in front of his family, by an angry mob — murdering Jews was a frequent public sport in eastern Europe, as lynching African-Americans was in the southern U.S. My grandmother’s mother feared for my grandmother’s safety: she was the oldest child, she was in the public eye because she was a Jew attending the local Christian girls school.

My granny made her long slow way from Vilna in Lithuania to Hamburg, where she found passage, steerage, in a ship bound for New York. And when she sailed past the Statue, she knew she was safe, that whatever trials lay ahead, no one would try to murder her for her religion.

The obscenity perpetrated on January 28 by the current U.S. regime puts the lie to my granny’s sense of security. This sense had already been challenged in the 1930’s, when the U.S. denied entry to her mother and sisters: they were murdered, down to the smallest infant. On January 28, her refuge was completely dismantled.

The current White House incumbent, having no sense either of law or history, has separated families of people whose lives were in danger in their home countries. He has made a travesty of American ideals of justice and liberty. I spent a good part of this morning weeping for the murder of my country’s ideals, but it is afternoon and I am trying to act.

It is a hard and lengthy process to get a green card – from 18 months to decades – and once obtained, it must be renewed on a regular basis. Throughout the process the applicant does not know the status of the application until completion. Although you need not have been here for any specific number of years to apply for a green card, the card is “conditional” for 2 years. (You must be here for at least 5 years before applying for citizenship.) To apply, you must:

  • Be in the U.S. legally, either on a student visa or a work visa;
  • Have a sponsor;
  • Be vetted by Immigration and Customs in a thorough security check;
  • Undergo blood and medical exams, interviews and language proficiency tests (even when English is the applicant’s first language);

If you are here illegally, either because you outstayed your tourist visa, or because you came in undocumented, obtaining a green card may prove difficult unless:

  • You are the immediate relative of a US citizen (parent, spouse or minor);
  • You married a US citizen, having come on a tourist visa or visa waiver and (although specifically intending to get married and stay on such a visa would be considered fraudulent and make you ineligible);
  • As an overstay, you may qualify if “grandfathered” under a provision of the law known as INA section 245(i), which allows individuals “out of status” to pay a penalty fee and proceed with the application.

For refugee status, the bar is even higher.

Yet the regime is turning away green cardholders and refugees, causing pain, chaos and great fear.

The upshot is likely to be an increase in terrorism, not a reduction, and this is quite likely what the regime wants — the more fear they can sow in the U.S., the more the citizens will acquiesce in their extreme actions.

In the meantime, while the Statue and I and millions like me weep, Canada is welcoming all U.S. green cardholders. I am grateful to the Canadians, but I am deeply ashamed.

Here at home, the ACLU and the American Immigration Lawyers Association stepped up to provide pro bono legal support to people who had been detained by Homeland Security at airports around the country. If  you have any money to give, please provide support to these organizations as they try to keep us a country of laws and justice.

 

(With thanks for their input and clarifications on the green card process to:  Judy Resnick, Erin Mitchell, Pamela Potter, Cajsa C. Baldini, Sylvia Titgemeyer, Aimee Hix, DavidLori Flemming and Karyn Rotker. )

 

Important note: The information contained on this post does not constitute legal advice or legal opinion. It is based on the best information I have but I am not a lawyer; please contact an attorney if you require legal advice on immigration, green card, refugee, asylum or any other immigration problem.

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Grant Park, Chicago, January 21, 2017

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

Grant Park, Looking West Jan 21 2017

21 January 2017
Sara Paretsky – Grant Park

I am almost 70. I have been an activist for Civil Rights and Reproductive Rights since I was 19, and there are days when I am weary with the struggle, but not today, not here, with 250,000 other Americans ready to work together to protect our rights.

I was twenty-five when the Supreme Court decided Roe v Wade. I can still remember the exhilaration of seeing that headline in the old Chicago Daily News.
For a brief, glorious moment, we had forced open a window, allowing us to breathe in freedom: we were no longer children, or chattel animals. Our sexuality was no longer controlled by husbands, fathers, churches, governments: we could decide whether and when to get pregnant. We could decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term.

Sara Paretsky speaking Jan 21 2017

Almost instantly furious hands began pushing that window shut. As had happened nine years earlier with the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, those who feared what free African-Americans looked like, those who feared free women, fought back.
The culmination of the war against human rights was celebrated yesterday in our nation’s capital.

I stand here today with wildly mixed feelings. It’s energizing to see so many people, especially so many young people, gathering to take up the fight for freedom.

One of 250000 strong January 21 2017

At the same time, I am filled with a rage so large that ordinary words don’t express it. Not because of the incoming groper-in-chief –although I fear and despise him, he doesn’t rouse my fury.
My rage comes from standing here as part of a minority. 58 percent of European-Americans – 53 percent of women, 62 percent of men — voted to put this new government in place. I am with the 42 percent who voted for human rights.
Yes, there was Comey, and Putin,and Pizzagate, but they didn’t fool African-American (92 percent of voters( or Hispanic (66) or Jewish (77) voters.
58 percent of European Americans voted to defund Planned Parenthood and to privatize Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. 58 percent want everyone to drink the water that has flowed from Flint, Michigan’s taps. 58 percent want to deport Mexicans and to bar Muslims from entering our country. 58 percent voted to destabilize the Atlantic alliance, and to re-accelerate the arms race.
58 percent want all women and African-American men to retreat from personhood, back to the status of children or chattel animals.

For over four decades, those of us passionate about our freedoms have been trying to waken our friends and neighbors to the way state, local and national politicians were threatening our rights. Our words and pleas went unheeded. And the result is a Congress, a president, and many state governments bent on destroying the planet and reversing voting rights, civil rights, reproductive rights.

Sara with women’s bookstore creators Ann Christophersen and Barb Wieser

Now it is up to us, those of us gathered here in Chicago, those gathered in cities all over the planet, to go once more into battle for our freedoms.
We here are passionate about our Constitution. Our Constitution exists “to promote the general welfare.” Not the welfare of the one percent, but every person’s welfare. Our Constitution exists “to secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
So let us go forth from this park, and from parks all across the nation, to fight again for this country and Constitution that we love. Let us secure the blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity. In the words of the two people who will always be my presidents: We are Stronger Together, and YES, WE CAN!!

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This Constitution Stays Alive

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Trump “is going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews,” reads the handwritten letters delivered to California mosques. “You Muslims would be wise to pack your bags and get out of Dodge.”

I grew up under the weight of the Holocaust. I was born in 1947 and given the names of the two great-grandmothers who had been murdered, one in Vilna, the other in Slonim, in today’s Belarus. While a handful of relatives had left Eastern Europe before the war, my entire family, down to the smallest infant, was slaughtered by the efficient killing machines of the Germans and their eager supporters in the conquered lands. I grew up in fear, knowing that my small life was a glass bauble that could be whimsically shattered by a government or a thug while the surrounding population shrugged and went about their business.

Today’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant threats, and the barbaric rhetoric of the incoming president’s campaign, make me physically ill. I have stopped sleeping since the election as I watch our most sacred institutions under assault. Once the inauguration is complete, the bigger hounds of hatred will be unloosed.

In Germany in the 1920’s, roving bands of thugs — veterans of WWI, other men dispossessed from land and jobs — assaulted people in their homes, without much reprisal, since many systems of justice had broken down. These roving bands became Hitler’s original Brown Shirts.

When I see the murder of black musician Will Sims by a roving band of white supremacists, or the white man in Charleston, W. Virginia, who murdered a black teen and said, “I took another piece of trash off the streets,” I see the seeds of Brown Shirts. The Southern Poverty Law Center documented 701 acts of hate against people of color, women, Muslims and LGBTQ’s in the first week after the election. (In contrast they found about 24 acts of hatred against supporters of the incoming regime.)

I will not shrug my shoulders and look the other way while our Constitution and our values are undermined by mobs and hatred.  I’ve written my senators and the director of the FBI, demanding that white supremacists be treated as terrorists and tracked and arrested before they terrorize the entire country. I am upping my support for the ACLU and for Planned Parenthood, whose work in caring for the poorest women in our country is under direct threat. With a number of friends, I’ve started a Facebook page, Sara Paretsky and Friends Act for Justice. It will serve as one of the growing number of resources that detail suggested acts for justice, along with resources for how to combat the rising tide of hate and violence.

Planned Parenthood’s slogan is, “These doors stay open.” Mine is, “This Constitution stays alive.”bill_of_rights_pg1of1_ac

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SubGroups

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

I’m a member of subgroup, one that has been vilified by the standard bearers of western civilization for almost 2000 years. Growing up under the shadow of World War II and the destruction of almost half of my subgroup I was hyper-sensitive to the stereotypes with which the larger community wanted to define us: we controlled the world’s finances, we destroyed world economies on a whim, our women had  unusual and hypnotic sexual powers, we had murdered Christ and deserved calumny if not murder in return. In our Sunday School class, we learned about the many contributions to medicine, science, philosophy and the the arts which members of our subgroup had made; we cheered Sandy Koufax, for refusing to pitch in the World Series on one of our important holidays.

On July 19, I was out with an African-American friend when Rep. Steve King of Iowa made his vile and ill-judged remarks claiming that only caucasian Christians had made significant contributions to civilization. I was ashamed, to be in my white skin while she heard yet one more insult directed at her subgroup. My first impulse was to go back to my Sunday school practice, and detail the many contributions that African-Americans and Arabs, and Asians had made (I even wanted to sneer at Mr. King: without Arab contributions to civilization he wouldn’t know he’s a zero) but that is not only crude and childish, it’s irrelevant.

No adding up of contributions by others will ever persuade people like Mr. King that we all have played a role in keeping our great planet rolling on its axis. And it’s beside the point. The point is, we need to treat each other with respect. There are 7 billion of us living cheek by jowl, with access to weapons of mass destruction, with the ability to enrich each other’s lives or destroy them.

Dr. King said,

Instead of diminishing evil, [violence] multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

These aren’t platitudes, hugs, or prayers. These are world-changing ideas. I want to live in that world, not the one of hatred and sneers. So I retract my sneer about the zero. I will try to treat Rep. King with the respect that I expect him to use toward every American, indeed, toward every person on this planet. Not an easy task. Working on it.

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