In my latest column for Hearst Connecticut Media I explain why parents across the country have Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro to thank for their Child Tax Credit (CTC) checks. Hopefully, Congress will go one further and make the expanded CTC permanent. It would lift 50 percent of America’s poorest children out of poverty and cost less over the next 10 years — by a lot! — than the Trump tax cuts that only benefited the middle class temporarily while extending benefits for corporations and the country’s wealthiest citizens indefinitely.
Many of those corporations pay $0 in taxes, providing their CEOs with gobs of money to blow on demonstrating who is the biggest badass, or who has the coolest (ahem) rocket, or whatever.
Thanks to my former colleague Heather O’Neill, I was recently lucky enough to complete a series offer article’s for LiveCareer’s new Women at Work subside. Women at Work focuses on the unique challenges faced by women employees and entrepreneurs in all aspects of employment and business.
Like its brilliant founding editor, the subsite is audience-focused and doesn’t pull punches, with an inaugural content lineup that ranges from helpful how-tos (saving for retirement, re-entering the workforce, becoming a mentor) to more serious obstacles working women still find ourselves navigating all too often, such as workplace harassment, the gender wage gap, and how to navigate the burden of being the “only” in the room (woman, woman of color, trans woman, etc.).
From the design to the story mix to the service-focused voice that runs through every article I’ve read on the “Women at Work” so far, Heather has done an amazing job spearheading a digital channel that should serve as an extremely useful tool to women who are serious about their work life.
Last weekend I led a workshop on Op-Ed writing. As I researched the topic in preparation for the class I stumbled upon data that stunned me: that 85 percent of Op-Eds submitted to prestige publications are from men, at least according to the best estimations of the dieters who receive the submissions. The OpEd Project is trying to change that, with some extremely useful pointers, and a mentoring project that pairs novice writers with high-calibre mentors.
It took me years to believe I had anything worthwhile to say or that I had the right to claim my right to be the one to say it. It helps when I’m able to peg my thoughts on some aspect of a debate that no one else seems to have noticed, a small fact overlooked, a connection otherwise obscured.
In one of my more recent columns for Hearst CT Media I noted that Connecticut has the highest concentration of residents of Puerto Rican descent of any state, and yet its Congressional delegates have seemingly taken a wait-and-see approach on the question of Puerto Rican statehood. There are two bills addressing the matter, and yet not one member of our delegation has signed on to either bill, in clear contrast to the number of Congressional members from other states with a large number of Puerto Rican voters who have tended to sign on as co-sponsors of one bill or the other. It’s unclear to me why our senators and representatives haven’t made much effort to reach out to members of the community to learn how they want to be represented in this important debate.
Op-Eds and guest columns present an effective way to make your voice heard on issues you care about. If you are a paid or volunteer marketing coordinator for an agency or institution, Op-Eds are great (free!) way to increase your organization’s reach to potential donors, volunteers, and clients.
This Saturday, May 1, I’ll be leading a one-day remote workshop from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Westport Writers Workshop on Op-Eds. I’ll be going over how to get the word out about your favorite causes, or write a reflective column about something you care about. I’ll also teach you how to work with editors, write well-crafted, convincing arguments that adhere to publications’ guidelines and word counts, and how to leverage information about your favorite agency’s mission to increase your chances of gaining publication and expanding your audience.
In February, when the Senate was in the midst of voting to confirm now U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, I wrote this column about an initiative that some were crediting him for and some blaming him for: the development of a mandated course on what critics call “race theory,” what I used to publish and write about under the heading “multiculturalism,” but what I would now call “non white supremacist propagandized history” or “corrective history.”
Three months ago, when this article was published by Hearst Connecticut Media, our country’s Secretary of Education was merely Connecticut Commissioner of Education Cardona. The article focuses on how the newly minted African American/Latino studies course was, and currently still is, being piloted at a few high schools in the state, including Henry Abbott Technical High School in Danbury. Piloting will continue next year before the final version the curriculum is made available online and teachers are offered training for the elective year-long course, which must be offered as an elective at every Connecticut public high school starting in Fall 2022.
Writing this column took me back to the early 2000s when I was working to create a suite of educational web sites for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on African American, Latino, and American Indian studies that included primary-document focused lesson plans, very similar to the modules and resources currently being developed by Connecticut’s State Education Resource Center (SERC).
As I wrote my column we were all only a few weeks removed from the release of former President Trump’s 1776 Commission Report, a bizarrely ahistorical document that attributes the birth of “identity politics” to John C. Calhoun, a pro-slavery politician so villainous that … just a few years ago some of the very same far-right thought leaders who wrote the commission report were vehemently arguing that Calhoun’s name should retain its honored perch atop educational buildings and such. Sometimes I marvel at the mental flexibility and audacity of the far right> Their maneuvering capability calls to mind the kind of car ads aimed at a late night Fox News viewer.
There are still many who recount to the meta narrative of America as a story of victimless conquest. Great valor, bravery, innovation, and industry to tame a wilderness devoid of any violence against previous occupants, nations or civilizations who might represent a valid claim of sovereignty. An economy somehow built on strenuous white pioneer labor and not centuries of slavery and abusive immigrant labor practices. A land devoid of pogroms and race-based massacre, treaty violations and so on. It is a myth central to the identity of a significant portion of our fellow citizens, and like all mythologies conceived to perpetuate violence and obscure injustice, it is a corrosive, destructive vine that kills the very host it clings to.
Many of the Connecticut educators and students who testified on behalf of Public Act 19-12, during the lead up to the bill’s passing, argued that merely adding an elective would not be enough to counteract the false narrative of America. Black history and Latino history should not be viewed as additional subplots, tagged onto the same old story of American history. Instead these narratives should be seen as necessary revisions, needed to complete the story. American history stripped of the teaching of events and accomplishments, injustices and triumphs of whole communities, races and genders that have always been present and part of the story, is simply an incomplete outline of a fairy tale, a dangerous one that perpetuates a biased, ahistorical understanding of our current reality. And in case you think that the remarkable student who traveled to Hartford to speak to legislators did not make such eloquent and powerful claims, take a look at the first half of “Making History: The Creation of a Statewide Black and Latino Course of Studies.”
I learned about so much well hidden U.S. history back when as I was working on those educational web sites. We called it the product line the American Mosaic, but the longer I worked on each of its components – African American, Latino, American Indian, we were poised to begin development on an Asian American site when I left in 2008 – the more convinced I became that “mosaic” was not the proper metaphor at all. If an elaborate mosaic is missing a tile or two, the viewer can still make out the overall form and intent of the artist. I think a tapestry may be a better metaphor to describe American history.
Drop one thread and the whole thing begins to lose its shape; you can try to hold it together for a time with just a few dominant stitches – history from a perspective that glorifies European conquest and colonialism, that ignores the injustices faced by women, immigrants, workers, religious and racial minorities, the damaging legacy of slavery, genocide and colonialism, for example – but the garment will eventually fail to maintain its shape, it will begin to fragment as its flaws, its dropped stitches, its missing segments become more gaping and obvious. The whole will not hold together, and eventually it will come to pieces in your hands.
It’s the work of scholars, educators, journalists, to restore the missing fragments, to weave the ragged edges back into a strong and useful whole.
I have to confess that I knew I wanted to say something about the violent Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol, but I wasn’t sure what it was. And that, even though I wasn’t quite sure what it was I wanted to say, and I had no confidence I would figure it out in time to reach my deadline, I still made the choice to ditch my extremely, probably overly researched topic for my monthly column, and instead quickly write about the insurgency (which seems too dignified a word for the monstrous crimes that took place) even as it was still unfolding.
The result is my column for Hearst Connecticut Media examining the invasion of the Capitol, the murder of at least one police officer and the attempted assassination of our leaders, through the lens of a peaceful protest I accidentally took part in during my 1989 internship at El Nuevo Pais, a right-leaning tabloid in Caracas, Venezuela. You can see me “sitting in” in the photo attached: I am sitting on the front row to the right.
As the chaotic images flashed across my TV screen on Jan. 6, 2021, my mind seemed to be circling around a loop of related thoughts and memories that had something to do with the fragility of democracy and the illusion of safety afforded by the parallel illusion of American exceptionalism, and how that related to my experience as a young novice reporter during the summer I spent in a pre-Chavez, pre-authoritarian Venezuela.
At the time, Venezuela was the most stable democracy with the wealthiest economy in Latin America. The country’s elites enjoyed life in a culturally rich cosmopolitan world capital, and that summer I caught a small glimpse of it. The young people I met through my family and my job could not have imagined having to flee their homeland. They were glamorous, worldly, confident about their future and their country’s. Elites in America would do well to consider their fate. Venezuela has experienced authoritarian rule, economic collapse, environmental catastrophe, and famine in the decades since I worked there, and nearly everyone I met that summer has been forced to flee, in some cases literally for their lives.
There is a mythology of the Trump-supporting yahoo, the duped bumpkin, who bears no resemblance to the creative and academic classes that have most consistently criticized Trumpism and the alt-Right. They, we, need to think again about who the perpetuators of the Big Lie really are. Not a few protestors traveled to the Jan. 6 event by private jet to take down our government. “They” are not so different from “us,” especially among whoever the “they” and the “us” are who identify as white.
And where do Latinos align ourselves? With traitors like Ted Cruz? With domestic terrorist apologists like Marco Rubio? That is a move as foolish as Jewish Stephen Miller aligning with a horde of folks wearing pro-Nazi T-shirts. And yet my own family includes believers in Trump’s Big Lie.
So many writers have said that when we write, rather than start out with a big, fully formed idea we want to get down on paper and convey to the world, we instead learn what we think through the writing itself – we write our way to understanding.
Daily newspaper writers, and these days, minute-by-minute digital reporters, write the first drafts of history. If they are any good at their jobs, they try to be as transparent with the corrections and clarifications that inevitably come later as possible. On the Op-Ed side of things daily deadlines mean that you are thinking aloud as that history unfolds around you in real time.
I know I have not yet arrived at my final understanding of even how my own idiosyncratic perspective and life experience connects to this moment. I only know that it does. For now, I offer these first-draft attempts at something like making sense of the chaos and danger that surrounds us in this present moment.
Yesterday, on the anniversary of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, I published a column based on a conversation with fellow Newtown mom Carol Ann Davis about creative writing workshops and their power to address trauma. Davis is a poet and essayist, and a colleague of mine at Fairfield University, where I am an adjunct and she is currently director of the school’s MFA in Writing Program.
My column, along with an excerpt from Davis’s 2020 book of essays reflecting on the Sandy Hook tragedy and the effect it has had on her family and community, can be found at Hearst Connecticut Media web sites, including this link.
As I crafted the column, there was so much to wrap my words around and inevitably I could feel some of what I had intended to say slipping away. It’s perhaps the nature of a day as overwhelming as Dec. 14 always is for people in the wider community here. A pervasive sense of loss haunts all of Fairfield County in relation to the day. Its public spaces are dotted with many of the playgrounds built in remembrance of the 20 children of Sandy Hoo who were lost that day, a string of colorful and safe play areas that extend past the one my family used to frequent, set on a sandy beach in Stamford, into play spaces in neighboring New York and New Jersey, each with featuring a motif or element designed to honor the children the spaces are named for – a butterfly, a firemen’s bell.
View of Lake Lillinonah, Newtown, Conn.
When I walk my dog to the lake down the street from my house, I often rest on a bench dedicated to Jessica Rekos, who, like my son, enjoyed horseback riding, and who also loved whales and water, and who never reached her 10th birthday, the age her parents had promised to buy her a longed-for horse of her own. Last night as my family returned in the evening dusk from the grocery store, on the lookout for light displays, appreciative as we always are, of both the understated and the outrageous, we also drove past the 26 lanterns lit each of the past several years on the town green in remembrance of the 20 children and six educators who lost their lives that awful day in Sandy Hook.
This is just to say that the whispers of loss are everywhere in Newtown, as they were throughout the county of Fairfield the year of the tragedy. We lived in Stamford then, but I remember driving to Jones Family Farm in Shelton to cut down our tree that year and wondering for only a moment what important personage was being conveyed in the funeral procession driving slowly along the highway with heavy police escort. Then I realized it was almost certainly for Jesse Lewis, 6, who earned his hero status by shouting for his peers to run, by being so brave in the presence of horror.
It’s too much for the heart to bear some days, and I am so peripheral to the core tragedy. Davis, whose children attended Hawley Elementary School in 2012 – the school nearest Sandy Hook and the school my son would attend if her were not transported to a special needs school each day – has written about her own family’s grief and efforts to shoulder it in her new essay collection The Nail in the Tree. Davis notes that her family’s story, heavy with pain as it is, is the “not-suffering, happy-ending story.” What the level of pain inside the center of the story is, we can imagine, if we are empathetic and try. Certainly, it seems to me, that our most rudimentary ethical bonds as fellow members of the human family call on us to try. But we can never know.
How can creative writing help? How does poetry and writing workshop help? Davis says it brings us back to the original poetry circle, the sharing of personal and collective history around the fire.
“Poetry is supposed to be builder of community, a way to convey history,” she says. “When we share it, we remember.” And in remembering, in the unison of our voices, even when those voices are speaking our pain, we draw strength.
Starting this week I will be a regular monthly columnist for my local daily, the Danbury News-Times, a Connecticut Hearst Media property. My first column is about Puerto Rico’s Nov. 3 referendum on statehood, and examines how the likelihood of a 51st star on the flag might be affected by the Georgia Senate runoff, Mitch McConnell maintaining his role as Senate Majority Leader, and a bill introduced by AOC that would sponsor a “status summit.”
As I work on the revisions necessary for the upcoming second edition of The History of Puerto Rico, I’ve been delving into the research that has come out on the early years of Encounter between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico over the past 10 years, since the first edition came out. At the same time, communities across the country have been questioning the appropriateness of honoring Columbus, with many opting to pull down statues.
In the suburbs of NYC, where I live, this has been especially contentious because alongside the high concentration of Latinos, African Americans and white progressives calling for Columbus statues to be taken down live many folks of Italian descent, including members of some very active Knights of Columbus chapters, who have vehemently defended Columbus legacy, illustrating the stake many older Catholics and Italian Americans still have in his image.
So I decided to write an OpEd for Hearst newspapers revealing just a sliver of some of the research I’m doing on the era of early European exploration in the Caribbean. I can’t wait to dig in further, as plenty of new documentary evidence and valuable scholarship has come out in this area since I wrote the first edition.