Thursday, March 18, 2021

I am Georgia. A living example and embodiment of its history and hope, the pain and the promise, the brutality and the possibility

 On Wednesday, the Rev Raphael Warnock, elected in January as Georgia’s first African American US senator, gave his first speech in Congress. He used the opportunity to condemn voter suppression and urge his colleagues to support legislation to make it easier for Americans to vote. Here are his remarks:

Before I begin my formal remarks today, I want to pause to condemn the hatred and violence that took eight precious lives last night in metropolitan Atlanta. I grieve with Georgians, with Americans, with people of love all across the world. This unspeakable violence, visited largely upon the Asian community, is one that causes all of us to recommit ourselves to [preventing] these kinds of tragedies from happening in the first place. We pray for these families.

I rise here today as a proud American and as one of the newest members of the Senate – in awe of the journey that has brought me to these hallowed halls and with an abiding sense of reverence and gratitude for the faith and sacrifices of ancestors who paved the way.

I am a proud son of the great state of Georgia, born and raised in Savannah, a coastal city known for its cobble-stone streets and verdant town squares. Towering oak trees, centuries old and covered in gray Spanish moss, stretched from one side of the street to the other, bend and beckon the lover of history and horticulture to this city by the sea. I was educated at Morehouse College and I serve still in the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist church; both in Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement. Like those oak trees, my roots go down deep and stretch wide in the soil of Waycross, Burke county and Screven county. In a word, I am Georgia. A living example and embodiment of its history and hope, the pain and the promise, the brutality and the possibility.

At the time of my birth, Georgia’s two senators were Richard B Russell and Herman E Talmadge, both arch-segregationists and unabashed adversaries of the civil rights movement. After the supreme court’s landmark Brown v Board ruling outlawing school segregation, Talmadge warned that “blood will run in the streets of Atlanta.”

Senator Talmadge’s father, Eugene Talmadge, former governor of our state, had famously declared: “The South loves the Negro in his place, but his place is at the back door.” When once asked how he and his supporters might keep Black people away from the polls, he picked up a scrap of paper and wrote a single word on it: “Pistols.”

Yet, there is something in the American covenant – in its charter documents and its Jeffersonian ideals – that bends toward freedom. Led by a preacher and a patriot named King, Americans of all races stood up. History vindicated the movement that sought to push us closer to our ideals, to lengthen and strengthen the cords of our democracy, and I now hold the seat – the Senate seat – where Herman E Talmadge sat.

And that’s why I love America. I love America because we always have a path to make it better, to build a more perfect union. It is the place where a kid like me who grew up in public housing, the first college graduate in my family, can now serve as a United States senator. I had an older father, he was born in 1917; serving in the army during World War II, he was once asked to give up his seat to a young teenager while wearing his soldier’s uniform, they said, “making the world safe for democracy”. But he was never bitter. By the time I came along, he had already seen the arc of change in our country. He maintained his faith in God, in his family and in the American promise, and he passed that faith on to his children.

My mother grew up in Waycross, Georgia. You know where that is? It’s way ‘cross Georgia. Like a lot of Black teenagers in the 1950s she spent her summers picking somebody else’s tobacco and somebody else’s cotton. But because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls in January and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator. Ours is a land where possibility is born of democracy. A vote, a voice, a chance to help determine the direction of the country and one’s own destiny within it. Possibility born of democracy.

That’s why this past November and January, my mom and other citizens of Georgia grabbed hold of that possibility and turned out in record numbers, 5 million in November, 4.4 million in January. Far more than ever in our state’s history. Turnout for a typical runoff doubled. And the people of Georgia sent the state’s first African American senator and first Jewish senator, my brother Jon Ossoff, to these hallowed halls.

But then, what happened? Some politicians did not approve of the choice made by the majority of voters in a hard-fought election in which each side got the chance to make its case to the voters. And, rather than adjusting their agenda, rather than changing their message, they are busy trying to change the rules. We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we have seen since the Jim Crow era. This is Jim Crow in new clothes.

Since the January election, some 250 voter suppression bills have been introduced by state legislatures all across the country – from Georgia to Arizona, from New Hampshire to Florida – [all] using the Big Lie of voter fraud as a pretext for voter suppression. The same Big Lie that led to a violent insurrection on this very Capitol – the day after my election. Within 24 hours, we elected Georgia’s first African American and Jewish senators, hours later the Capitol was assaulted. We see in just a few precious hours the tension very much alive in the soul of America. And the question before all of us at every moment is what will we do to push us in the right direction.

So politicians driven by that big lie aim to severely limit, and in some cases eliminate, automatic and same-day voter registration, mail-in and absentee voting, and early voting and weekend voting. They want to make it easier to purge voters from the voting roll altogether. As a voting rights activist, I’ve seen up close just how draconian these measures can be. I hail from a state that purged 200,000 voters one Saturday night – in the middle of the night. We know what’s happening – some people don’t want some people to vote.

I was honored on a few occasions to stand with our hero and my parishioner, John Lewis. I was his pastor but I’m clear he was my mentor. On more than one occasion we boarded buses together after Sunday church services as part of our Souls to the Polls program, encouraging the Ebenezer church family and communities of faith to participate in the democratic process. Now just a few months after Congressman Lewis’s death, there are those in the Georgia legislature, some who even dared to praise his name, that are now trying to get rid of Sunday Souls to the Polls, making it a crime for people who pray together to get on a bus together and vote together. I think that’s wrong. In fact, I think a vote is a kind of prayer about the world we desire for ourselves and our children. And our prayers are stronger when we pray together.

To be sure, we have seen these kinds of voter suppression tactics before. They are a part of a long and shameful history in Georgia and throughout our nation. But refusing to be denied, Georgia citizens and citizens across our country braved the heat and the cold and the rain, some standing in line for five hours, six hours, 10 hours just to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Young people, old people, sick people, working people, already underpaid, forced to lose wages, to pay a kind of poll tax while standing in line to vote.

And how did some politicians respond? Well, they are trying to make it a crime to give people water and a snack, as they wait in lines that are obviously being made longer by their draconian actions. Think about that. Think about that. They are the ones making the lines longer – through these draconian actions. Then, they want to make it a crime to bring grandma some water as she is waiting in the line they are making longer! Make no mistake. This is democracy in reverse. Rather than voters being able to pick the politicians, the politicians are trying to cherry pick their voters. I say this cannot stand.

And so I rise because that sacred and noble idea – one person, one vote – is being threatened right now. Politicians in my home state and all across America, in their craven lust for power, have launched a full-fledged assault on voting rights. They are focused on winning at any cost, even the cost of the democracy itself. I submit that it is the job of each citizen to stand up for the voting rights of every citizen. And it is the job of this body to do all that it can to defend the viability of our democracy.

That’s why I am a proud co-sponsor of the For The People Act, which we introduced today. The For The People Act is a major step forward in the march toward our democratic ideals, making it easier, not harder, for eligible Americans to vote by instituting common-sense, pro-democracy reforms like:

  • Establishing national automatic voter registration for every eligible citizen, and allowing all Americans to register to vote online and on election day;

  • Requiring states to offer at least two weeks of early voting, including weekends, in federal elections – keeping Souls to the Polls programs alive;

  • Prohibiting states from restricting a person’s ability to vote absentee or by mail;

  • And preventing states from purging the voter rolls based solely on unreliable evidence like someone’s voting history, something we’ve seen in Georgia and other states in recent years.

And it would end the dominance of big money in our politics, and ensure our public servants are there serving the public.

Amidst these voter suppression laws and tactics, including partisan and racial gerrymandering, and in a system awash in dark money and the dominance of corporatist interests and politicians who do their bidding, the voices of the American people have been increasingly drowned out and crowded out and squeezed out of their own democracy. We must pass “For The People” so that people might have a voice. Your vote is your voice and your voice is your human dignity.

But not only that, we must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Voting rights used to be a bipartisan issue. The last time the voting rights bill was re-authorized was 2006. George W Bush was president and it passed its chamber 98-0. But then in 2013, the supreme court rejected the successful formula for supervision and pre-clearance, contained in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. They asked Congress to fix it. That was nearly eight years ago, and the American people are still waiting. Stripped of protections, voters in states with a long history of voting discrimination and voters in many other states have been thrown to the winds.

We Americans have noisy and spirited debates about many things. And we should. That’s what it means to live in a free country. But access to the ballot ought to be nonpartisan. I submit that there should be 100 votes in this chamber for policies that will make it easier for Americans to make their voices heard in our democracy. Surely, there ought to be at least 60 people in this chamber who believe, as I do, that the four most powerful words uttered in a democracy are “the people have spoken”, and that therefore we must ensure that all the people can speak.

But if not, we must still pass voting rights. The right to vote is preservative of all other rights. It is not just another issue alongside other issues. It is foundational. It is the reason why any of us has the privilege of standing here in the first place. It is about the covenant we have with one another as an American people. E pluribus unum: out of many, one. It above all else must be protected.

So let’s be clear, I’m not here today to spiral into the procedural argument regarding whether the filibuster in general has merits or has outlived its usefulness. I’m here to say that this issue is bigger than the filibuster. I stand before you saying that this issue – access to voting and preempting politicians’ efforts to restrict voting – is so fundamental to our democracy that it is too important to be held hostage by a Senate rule, especially one historically used to restrict the expansion of voting rights. It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in the society. Colleagues, no Senate rule should overrule the integrity of the democracy and we must find a way to pass voting rights whether we get rid of the filibuster or not.

As a man of faith, I believe that democracy is a political enactment of a spiritual idea – the sacred worth of all human beings, the notion that we all have within us a spark of the divine, to participate in the shaping of our own destiny. Reinhold Niebuhr was right: “[Humanity’s] capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but [humanity’s] inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

John Lewis understood that and was beaten on a bridge defending it. Amelia Boynton, like so many women not mentioned nearly enough, was gassed on that same bridge. A white woman named Viola Liuzzo was killed. Medgar Evers was murdered in his own driveway. Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, two Jews and an African American standing up for the sacred idea of democracy, also paid the ultimate price. And we in this body would be stopped and stymied by partisan politics? Short-term political gain? Senate procedure? I say let’s get this done no matter what. I urge my colleagues to pass these two bills. Strengthen and lengthen the cords of our democracy, secure our credibility as the premier voice for freedom-loving people and democratic movements all over the world, and win the future for all of our children.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman—at 22, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history—delivered her poem at the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 2021.

When day comes we ask ourselves,
Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice.
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny black girl
Descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
Can dream of becoming president
Only to find herself reciting for one.
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
But that doesn’t mean that we are
striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colours, characters and
conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know to put our future first
We must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
So we can reach out our arms
To one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat
But because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision
That everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promise to glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare.
Because being American is more than a pride we inherit
It’s the past we step into
And how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
Rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth,
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter.
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while we once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?,
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be.
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free.
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain;
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with.
Every breath from my bronze pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
We will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge
battered and beautiful.
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.


Amanda Gorman made history in 2017 by being named the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate in the United States. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she is a graduate of Harvard with a B.A. in Sociology. Since publishing a poetry collection at 16, her writing has won her invitations to the Obama White House and to perform for Lin-Manuel Miranda, Al Gore, Secretary Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, and others. Amanda has performed 4th of July and Thanksgiving poems for CBS and she has spoken to large audiences at venues across the country, from the Library of Congress to Lincoln Center. She has received a Genius Grant from OZY Media, as well as recognition from Scholastic Inc., YoungArts, the Glamour magazine College Women of the Year Awards, and the Webby Awards. She currently writes for the New York Times newsletter The Edit and recently signed a two-book deal with Viking (a division of PenguinRandom House) after a bidding war involving eight publishers. She recently traveled to Slovenia with Prada as a reporter on the company's latest sustainability project.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Nature's Bait

 The hawk was there
On the fence
There were no birds among the branches in the dogwood
No birds flitting among the branches of the dogwood
Feasting on the fall berries
The bright red berries dusted with the first snow

The hawk was there
On the fence

The bright red berries
Nature’s bait


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Full Moon


Full Moon

Isolate and full, the moon floats over the house by the river
Into the night the cold water rushes away below the gate
The bright gold spilled on the river is never still
The brilliance of my quilt is greater than precious silk
The circle without blemish
The empty mountains without sound
The moon hangs in the vacant, wide constellations
Pine cones drop in the old garden
The senna trees bloom
The same clear glory extends for ten thousand miles

Tu Fu, One Hundred Poems from the Chinese.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Invisible Man

He found in himself
    a vast
    untapped source of
    an immense capacity for
    and a vacuum of

    deep in thought
    by the weight of burdens
    he had never assumed

    His flesh
    and stretched taught
    across his
    A smile formed upon his face
    and turned into a

     he turned to
    until he


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

National Poetry Month: Gene Editing

I Cloned a Woolly Mammoth

I cloned a Woolly Mammoth
Using tissue from a fossil
Fully formed and found
Frozen in the Lappish tundra

I merged a cell from the mammoth’s tongue
With the de-nucleated egg from a pigeon
And fused the two in a Petri dish
Hand-painted by a monk

The monk paints dinner plates
As well as laboratory dishes
And lives a frugal life
On the arid plains of the Mahabharata

In that the tongue had been frozen
For some fifteen thousand years
I was reluctant to insert the growing embryo
In the surrogate mammoth mother

I’d chosen an African Elephant by the name of Molly
To carry the embryonically infused egg
And had become so attached to Molly
That I was loath to see her chilled

And so rather than implant the egg
I separated stem cells for the embryo
Then fused these embryonic stem cells
To an enucleated mouse egg

Then I implanted the enucleated mouse egg
In Molly my surrogate mammoth mother
And waited while she meandered about my farm
Eating tons and tons of bamboo

The monk doesn’t have a name
Names inhibit separation from the ego
And so the Petri dish was simply signed

Six hundred and forty-four days later
Molly stopped eating and simply stood
Staring off towards the mountains
When she started to slowly sway

I knew then that she was about to give birth
I watched as Molly swayed and squatted
Then exclaimed in awe as
Forty pigeons flew off looking for cheese

But doesn’t signing the Petri dish signify attachment to the ego?
This is something I’ve wondered about

According to James Clapper, former U.S. director of national intelligence, gene editing is a  “weapon of mass destruction and proliferation.” Clapper was reporting on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Worldwide Threat Assessment of 2016. Genome Editing, under the section on Weapons of Mass Destruction and Proliferation, states that,

Research in genome editing conducted by countries with different regulatory or ethical standards than those of Western countries probably increases the risk of the creation of potentially harmful biological agents or products. Given the broad distribution, low cost, and accelerated pace of development of this dual-use technology, its deliberate or unintentional misuse might lead to far-reaching economic and national security implications. Advances in genome editing in 2015 have compelled groups of high-profile US and European biologists to question unregulated editing of the human germline(cells that are relevant for reproduction), which might create inheritable genetic changes. Nevertheless, researchers will probably continue to encounter challenges to achieve the desired outcome of their genome modifications, in part because of the technical limitations that are inherent in available genome editing systems.

The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States was carried out in 2017 by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, and involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR. Until the Portland study, scientists elsewhere were first to explore the controversial practice. Up until then, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China.

According to Stephen Buranyi, in NYR Daily,

"If CRISPR has an agreed-upon red line, it is human germline editing (which, in effect, entails editing human embryos to create babies that will carry the edits in all of their cells, and will pass the changes on to any offspring they have). That line was crossed in November at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, when a relatively unknown Chinese scientist named He Jiankui announced that he had introduced genetic changes in at least two human embryos that were carried to term, meaning that the first two gene-edited humans in history—twins, as it happens—exist somewhere in China."

Buranyi wrote that, "When the journal Science chose the radical gene-editing technology CRISPR as its 2015 breakthrough of the year, the editorial team closed its description on a dire note. 'For better or worse, we all now live in CRISPR’s world.'”

Thursday, April 18, 2019

National Poetry Month: Water Pollution

 Petie Macaroni

Giampetro Maroni, aka Petie Macaroni
put his plate in the sink and walked out of the kitchen
His mother shouted from the living room
"Put'a you plate in'a dishwash
Like I toll you tousand time

Maroni took the plate
smeared with pasta sauce
from the sink and put it in the dishwasher
Then he went to the hall closet
reached up to the shelf
and took down his Glock 17
with its customized grip

He checked to see that it was loaded
and then slipped it into the waistband at the back of his pants
He took a black leather jacket from a hanger
and shrugged his considerable bulk into it
He patted his front pocket for his keys
his back pocket for his wallet
and walked out the front door
His mother shouted
"Doan slam'a da door!"

Weeks later
after Petie hadn't been heard from
Mama Maroni would wonder if she'd driven her oldest son away
with all of her haranguing

That wasn't the case
Petie would've come back home
had he been able to swim up from forty feet under the Passaic River
with two concrete blocks tied to his ankles
and having inhaled a toxic soup of muddy water
mixed with
and cancer-causing
Maxus, Tierra Solutions, owned by the Diamond Alkali plant in Newark, NJ, dumped cancer-causing dioxin in the Passaic a half century ago while manufacturing the infamous Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange.

Documentation indicates that the Argentine Company YPF SA hatched a scheme to siphon assets away from its subsidiary, Maxus, so it could declare bankruptcy and avoid paying out possibly hundreds of millions of dollars toward cleaning up the Passaic, which is so polluted that the lower portion of the river is a Superfund site.

According to the EPA’s latest National Rivers and Streams Assessment, 46% of our Nation’s rivers and streams are in poor biological condition, with only 28% in good condition. Human health screening values for mercury in fish tissue are exceeded in 13,144 miles of U.S. river length. In 23% of river and stream length, samples exceed an enterococci threshold level for protecting human health. Waters with high levels of bacteria may be unsafe for swimming and other types of contact recreation, let alone drinking.