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Human Kindness

 

“Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness.”

~ Vasily Grossman

 

“10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.”

~ Susan Sontag

 

Last week the sheer cruelty and venality of #45 and his Horsemen of the Apocalypse were revealed to be deeper and wider than I had possibly imagined. Representative Paul Ryan, who is doing his best to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, boasted that his dream since college was to do away with “entitlements,” for example low-income people having their health needs covered by Medicaid. Trump’s 2018 budget proposal included a $54 billion increase in military spending that would be underwritten by stripping funds from other agencies. The arts, science, and the poor would bear the brunt of the cuts. On the chopping block are programs for the most vulnerable, such as Meals on Wheels, which provides meals to homebound seniors; subsidies to poor families for home heating; and legal aid for low-income people. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney claimed that cutting funding for Meals on Wheels was compassionate because the program “was just not showing any results.” An article in The Independent asserted that Trump could reverse his proposed cuts to the arts, the poor and the elderly if he stopped staying at Mar-A-Lago. His visits to his private Florida resort will cost taxpayers an estimated $600 million in security services over four years. But Team Trump has no intention of cutting back on any expenses associated with their luxuries and comfort. The pain of Bannon’s “deconstruction of the administrative state” is to be felt primarily by those they deem the unworthy masses.

 

In Jane Mayer’s long and devastating piece in The New Yorker about Robert (Bob) Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire behind the Trump presidency, the cruelty of the Team Trump’s ideology was further elucidated. Mayer cites a former colleague of Mercer’s:

 

“Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.”

 

The neo-liberalism of the mainstream Democratic Party is also harsh, but the current gloves off attack by the Republicans on the poor, the undocumented, the elderly, the arts, public education, the public commons, and our environment is truly ruthless. Our country is being run by Susan Sontag’s cruel 10 percent.

 

Thankfully, the resistance to this viciousness is growing. Many people who voted for Trump are pushing back on the attempt to strip millions of people of their health insurance coverage. Some moderate Republicans, feeling the heat from their constituents, are wavering on the proposed repeal of Obamacare. Already established organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Make the Road New York, to name just two, are fighting back on other fronts. There are a number of new national outfits, such as Action Network Group, The Women’s March, and Indivisible that are pulling together effective organizing teams. And we all need to work where we are how best we can to derail as much of this hideousness as possible. We must resist and reject cruelty.

 

But, at the risk of sounding saccharine, I’d also like to propose that we fiercely protect Grossman’s “small kernel of human kindness.” If we are among Sontag’s merciful 10%, we may be able to move some of the other 80% in our direction by showing thoughtfulness and compassion in our daily interactions with those around us. One of my mottos is “Amplify the humane.” Or as Henry James put it, “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


How to Support Academics Targeted in Turkey’s Purge

Istanbul University

I received the message below from a friend in Turkey who is helping to organize support for academics who have been targeted by Erdogan’s ongoing purge and witch hunt. The situation seems to be growing ever more dire, with purged civil servants, including university professors, being subjected to a kind of social death, where their benefits are stripped and they are turned into unemployable pariahs. Students have also been detained. (The situation reminds me of what happened to blacklisted writers, actors, and directors during the McCarthy Era here in the United States. Lives were ruined.) Another Turkish friend explained to me last week that what makes the current situation worse than what happened during the coup in the 80’s is that passports are being annulled so those with means are unable to leave the country. 

Dear friends and colleagues,

For some time now, we have been wondering about how colleagues abroad can develop solidarity academics and Ph.D. students expelled from their positions, either for having signed a Peace Petition against military operations in Turkey’s Kurdish-populated Southeast provinces, or for being critical of the government and conducting research on “sensitive” issues.

As of now, more than 400 critical academics and Ph.D. students have lost their jobs, income, access to universities, and their chances of teaching or carrying out research in Turkey. Most of them cannot leave the country since their passports have been annulled.

Here are two very simple ways you can help:

1) Fill out this online form to help assess individual cooperation possibilities as a first step to building a network of solidarity among academics from around the world and the Academics for Peace in Turkey:

2) Financial resources to help expelled academics survive are now being pooled through the Brussels-based Education International, the world’s largest federation of unions for teachers and education employees. You can choose to make a lump-sum contribution or regular money transfers – every penny will make a difference! Details may be found here, and routing information is below.

ING Bank, Avenue Marnix 24,1000 Brussels, Belgium
IBAN: BE05 3101 0061 7075
SWIFT/BIC: BBRUBEBB
Please indicate “UAA Egitim Sen” in communication.

Even if you yourself cannot help, we would greatly appreciate that you circulate this e-mail among colleagues who would be interested and/or publicize on websites that you deem fit.

All best and in solidarity,
Z

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


How to Keep Your News Feed From Driving You Bonkers

I really hate the expression “self care,” but I have been developing strategies for keeping my news feed from overwhelming me with anxiety, despair and anger. At the risk of appearing anodyne, I will share my five-point plan.

 

1. Practice harm reduction with intake of news. Try to keep social media to specific times of the day and limit the length of exposure. I will admit that I’m struggling with this one, but making some headway.

2. Keep devices out of the bedroom. Read a book before going to sleep—preferably something unrelated to current events. Right now I’m reading The Bedside Book of Birds and Barbara Ransby’s biography of Ella Baker.

3. Find time each day—even fifteen minutes—for something you enjoy. I love to bake, to doodle, to knit, to listen to music, to study Armenian, to walk in Central Park, or to watch an old film. Do something creative. Go to a museum. To this end, look at this beautiful slideshow of photos by Gordon Parks.

4. Spend time with people you like or love. Go out for a meal with friends or family. Have friends over to watch a movie. Call someone you haven’t talk to in a long time. Start a reading group (also read about the radical history of reading groups).

5. Practice daily resistance. Send a post card, make a phone call, or go to a meeting or a protest. Organize. Resist. Even five minutes a day can help ward off despair.

 

Annals of Resistance

 

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is this week’s hero of the resistance. She attempted to read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter opposing Jeff Sessions’ appointment as a judge on the Senate Floor. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used an arcane rule to vote her into silence, saying, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” She was banned from speaking during the rest of the debate so she left the chamber and continued reading the letter, streaming it over Facebook live. And thus was an Internet meme (and a call to resistance) born: “She persisted.” May we all persist and resist.

 

A mysterious benefactor has been giving away copies of Orwell and Atwood at a bookstore in San Francisco. The goal? “Read up, fight back!”

 

The Nation has provided a guide to groups organizing resistance to the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This is primarily focused on electoral organizing and citizen lobbying.

 

Action items

 

#PostcardsToBannon: Send a post card to “President Steve Bannon,” which is sure to annoy the hell out of #45. (And let’s avoid the name and just refer to him as #45.)

 

Read and join the call from Nancy Fraser, Barbara Ransby, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Angela Davis and others for a Women’s Strike on March 8, International Women’s Day 2017: “The ‘lean-in’ variety of feminism won’t defeat this administration, but a mobilization of the 99% will.”

 

The Ides of Trump: send a post card to the White House on March 15.

 

Sign up for the excellent Daily News Roundup from Jewish Voice for Peace.

 

Know Your Enemy

 

This scary yet essential piece The Data That Turned the World Upside Down is an exposé about the shadowy big data firm Cambridge Analytica, backed by the shadier Mercer family who brought Bannon and Conway to the Trump campaign.

 

This long read piece by Mike Davis is a brilliant and incisive analysis of Trump’s election victory: The Great God Trump and the White Working Class. He has a strong indictment of the Democratic Party. The crux move for us going forward is going to be wresting control of the party away from the neoliberals who foisted Hillary Clinton on us as a candidate. Davis sees it as a struggle between Obama and Sanders. He says,

 

The real opportunity for transformational political change (“critical realignment” in a now-archaic vocabulary) belongs to the Sanderistas but only to the extent that they remain rebels against the neoliberal Democratic establishment and support the resistance in the streets.

Trump’s election has unleashed a legitimation crisis of the first order and the majority of Americans who opposed him have only two credible political rally points: the Sanders movement and the ex-president and his coterie. While our hopes and energies should be invested in the first, it would be foolish to underestimate the second.

We have work to do!

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Women’s March and the Long Struggle Ahead

 

To be part of a crowd of over half-a-million people is an experience both intimate and abstractly large. Three moments during the speeches at the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. particularly held that balance for me. Sophie Cruz, a six-year-old girl whose parents are undocumented immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, moved us all to tears with her beautiful and elegant words, spoken in English and then in Spanish, saying, “Let us fight with love, faith, and courage, so that our families will not be destroyed.” African-American civil rights activist and revolutionary Angela Davis told the assembled, “We dedicate ourselves to collective resistance.” Linda Sarsour, an organizer from New York City and one of the national co-chairs of the march, declared herself “unapologetically Muslim-American, unapologetically Palestinian-American, unapologetically from Brooklyn, New York.” She went on to tell us, “If you want to know if you are going the right way, follow women of color, sisters and brothers. We know where to go, because when we fight for justice, we fight for it for all people, for all our communities.”

 

It was an exhilarating, exhausting, and empowering experience to take to the streets with hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children who are determined to fight against the Trump Administration and its assaults on women, the disabled, immigrants, the indigenous, LGBTQ people, our public educational system, our environment, and our civil and human rights. I couldn’t help but remember other mass mobilizations I have joined. In 2003 millions of people took to the streets around the globe in attempt to prevent the Iraq War. George W. Bush dismissed us then, saying he didn’t pay much attention to “focus groups.” We were unable to stop the Iraq War, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, destabilized the entire region, and led eventually to the horrible carnage and destruction we have been witnessing in Syria. Marches and rallies are important sources of strength and inspiration—but that strength must be used for the long struggles that follow.

 

I was pleased to learn from newspaper reports that the huge defiant crowds only steps from his seat of power enraged Donald Trump, and I have to believe that if we are able to harness the passion and determination of so many people taking political action for the first time, that we will be able to protect our most vulnerable individuals and organizations. If we succeed, our cities will become sanctuaries for the undocumented, our states will enact legislation mitigating the harms coming from Washington, and our mass civil disobedience against gas pipelines and other projects that threaten our air and water will engulf and stop corporate pillage. We will wrest control of the Democratic Party from the neoliberal establishment that backed the disastrous candidacy of Hillary Clinton, and put accountable elected officials into office. But I have to be honest. I’m afraid, and I’m unsure of exactly where best to focus my energies when the attacks on the values and institutions I care about are coming not daily, but hourly.

 

For now I join the ranks of my friends in Palestine, where Trump’s collaboration with the Israeli right wing will cause untold suffering. I join my friends in Armenia, who struggle every day against the kind of kleptocracy Trump now installs here in the U.S. I join my friends in Turkey, where harshly repressive measures are targeting journalists and academics, and in its Kurdish region, where violence has destroyed much of the architectural heritage of Diyarbakir’s Sur and where many communities have been subject to state terror.

 

I join a global community that struggles against tyranny and amplifies the humane in the human. As American writer and activist Grace Paley put it: “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” I hope, because I act.

 

Nancy Kricorian

January 2017

New York City

 

Written for Agos Turkish-Armenian weekly
https://web.archive.org/web/20170126065707/http://www.agos.com.tr/tr/yazi/17561/trumptan-sonra-umut-ve-eylem

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


How to Survive Dark Times

Greenpeace activists unfurl “Resist” banner near the White House, 25 January 2017

 

Marching in Washington, D.C. this past weekend with over half a million women and our allies was exhilarating, exhausting, and inspiring. My particular favorites among the many rally speeches were by six-year-old Sophie Cruz, the child of undocumented immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico; revolutionary and civil rights activist Angela Davis; and Brooklyn’s Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour, who was one of the national co-chairs of the march. I was happy to learn that the massive crowds of protesters who far outnumbered those who had attended the inauguration the day before had enraged Donald Trump. But even as we marched, I recalled the mass mobilization of millions of people in 2003 hitting the streets around the globe in an attempt to prevent the Iraq War. George W. Bush dismissed us, saying he didn’t pay much attention to “focus groups.” Street demonstrations, marches, and rallies are important sources of strength and solidarity, but the energy must further be harnessed to long-term organizing and campaigns if we are to protect our most vulnerable neighbors, organizations, and institutions.

 

On Monday morning the grim reality of life under the Horsemen of the Apocalypse hit like a two-ton bomb when the “global gag rule” was reinstated, and hours later the attack on Medicaid was launched. How are we going to survive four years of this shit? I will be honest, I’m scared, and I’m not sure where to focus my efforts when the blows against the values, groups, and individuals that I care about are landing on an hourly basis. I’m still trying to identify the best vehicles for local organizing—because I think we will have more leverage on the local level.

 

This morning I came up with a prescription for myself. How to survive in dark times? Celebrate one moment of beauty and participate in one act of resistance each day. For myself, I take solace in the spectacular sunrises on Morningside Drive, and the sunsets in Columbia County. Other beautiful things include flowers, birds, trees, and the faces of my silly dogs, my beloved family, and cherished friends. Before bed, I’ve also been reading a book called What the Robin Knows, which has been filling my dreams with robins, chickadees, cardinals, jays, and blackbirds.

 

In terms of resistance, right now we all need to be contacting our elected officials on a weekly basis to let them know that we want them to oppose the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Take a half hour to make a list of your elected officials with their contact information: senators, congressional representative, governor, mayor, and city council member, or the equivalent depending on where you live. (If you don’t have the half hour, you can use this handy and simple to use 5 calls tool.) You can start by contacting your senators and telling them to vote NO on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. The best option is to call their offices—if you have trouble getting through in D.C. or the state capital because the lines are jammed, try the regional offices. (The other day I was able to speak with a human in Chuck Schumer’s Binghamton office.) Here are some helpful tips from a Congressional staffer about making phone calls that a friend of mine posted publicly on FB. Send post cards rather than emails (electronic communications have become a kind of white noise). Post cards are quicker than letters because envelopes must go through a security check.

 

Want to do more? You can sign up with for the Women’s March 10 Actions/100 Days Campaign. Pledge to join the People’s Climate Movement in D.C. on April 29. Find a local group organizing around an issue you care about through the Action Group Network. Get connected with Stand with Standing Rock. Join Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rapid Response Network in organizing against attacks on Muslims and immigrants. Read this terrific interview with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, or her equally inspiring piece on how to build a mass movement. Frances Fox Piven tells us to Throw Sand in the Gears of Everything, Naomi Klein instructs us in how to prepare for the first shocks of Trumpian disaster capitalism. Grace Paley said, “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” I act, therefore I hope.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian