I heard the news today that Pete Seeger died at the ripe old age of 94. Pete Seeger was a legend in the folk music scene. A writer and performer who won Grammy awards and the American Music award, Pete was also an activist who fought for equal rights and environmental action. He founded the group Clearwater,Inc. that was established to educate the public about pollution in our waterways. Clearwater’s lobbying efforts helped win a court decision ordering GE to remove years of toxic PCB contamination from New York State’s Hudson River. Pete was also a friend who I met in the late 80′s through my late partner Ken Yeso who worked for Clearwater as an environmental educator. I became a Clearwater volunteer and freelance photographer, contributing photos for the Clearwater Navigator as well as the annual catalog. Pete and Toshi Seeger made you feel like you were part of an extended family. Their generosity had no limits. When Ken died in 1993, we held his service aboard the sloop Clearwater on the Hudson River near the Bear Mountain Bridge. Pete and other Clearwater members attended. Pete wrote and performed a short song in honor of my partner Ken. Pete Seeger will be missed by his huge extended family.
Last week my Dad, Frank Skrocki turned eighty-three years old. I drove down to Hudson, NY to visit with him yesterday. We talked about our lives, gardening and cooking. We identified a flowering vine that spread to his yard. He told me about the curious praying mantis that clung to his siding for a couple of days and the different garlic varieties he grew this year. We didn’t talk much about Hudson except for the rooster he heard crowing the day before. The city he knew is gone, replaced by one that is now foreign to him. We took a walk around the block and we were both surprised by changes. We discovered a farmer’s market just a couple hundred feet from his house, the new Democratic headquarters he never knew was just half a block away.
The changes to Hudson are not the kind that most people lament. They are positive changes that brought commerce, people and life back to this once dead river town; but my Dad misses the old days when he still knew all the stores on Warren Street and a lot of the residents by name. Today he barely knows the name of his next door neighbor and I know this is not an isolated situation. It is our changing culture that put most of us in the same situation. I like the changes in Hudson and still have hope that Amsterdam can see the same kind of positive change.
Here are a few sights from Hudson, New York.
Just when did the Republican Party become a religious organization? I am disgusted by anti-gay statements made by Republican candidates for the top elected office in the United States. These candidates are using religious-based bigotry to play on the public’s fears in an effort to garner votes from the religious right. Since when is it OK to demonize a class of people in the United States, vowing to strip away civil rights?
Barry Goldwater – Republican Senator from Arizona tried to warn us about this public threat in a speech to the US Senate in 1981.
On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”
Goldwater issued another warning in 1994 , as quoted in John W. Dean’s book Conservatives Without Conscience:
Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.
That time has come. Republicans using the name of God have declared war on gay Americans, vowing to repeal all marriage equality laws stating that gay Americans can be cured despite the fact that being gay is not an illness. We have Republican Presidential candidates like Rick Santorum wanting to reinstate the military’s failed DADT policy. Santorum who never served his country in the military, stated the repeal of the policy was “detrimental to soldiers”. The Republican pseudo-religious group calling themselves the Family Research Council stated that repealing DADT would cause 30% of the military forces to leave the military.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The repeal of the policy has had absolutely no effect, other than to finally end the discrimination against gays and lesbians who serve.
The Family Research Council is listed as a HATE GROUP by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of their anti-gay rhetoric that uses false information to persuade political opinion such as linking gay men to pedophilia and pushing to criminalize gay behavior. The actions of this group are not unlike those exhibited in Nazi Germany who criminalized, warehoused and executed gays and Jews in World War II.
The Family Research Council isn’t really pro-family as much as it is anti-gay. The FRC awarded Republican Representative Joe Walsh with a pro-family award despite the fact that the deadbeat dad owed $117,000 in unpaid child support to his ex-wife.
With each day that passes, more Americans are beginning to understand how the Bible was misused in the past to bolster personal prejudices and fears in trying to control the masses. It was used to enforce slavery, to prevent interracial marriage and to treat women as second class citizens. Today the minority target is gay Americans. It is NOT OK to bring these beliefs into the political arena. The Separation Clause of the 1st Amendment was interpreted by the US Supreme Court as prohibiting the same.
Attempting to legitimize this type of bigotry against gay Americans in the name of religious teachings also has a detrimental affect on children in today’s society, giving them a reason to bully others who are gay.
New York State legalized same-sex marriage last year and previously instituted legislation to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in the form of the Hate Crimes Act of 2000. In 2003 the term sexual orientation was added to the NYS Human Rights Act which among other things, prohibits discrimination in job hiring, public accommodation and housing.
Under NYS Education Law, the Dignity for all Students Act becomes effective July 1, 2012. This anti-bullying law states in part:
§ 12. Discrimination and harassment prohibited. 1. No student shall be subjected to harassment by employees or students on school property or at a school function; nor shall any student be subjected to discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex by school employees or students on school property or at a school function.
Gay Americans have faced discrimination and adversity for far to long to have these civil rights (yes they are civil rights protected by the 14th Amendment) stripped away by Republican wannabes wearing religion on their sleeves.
Change is inevitable, we can’t control it. Change does affect how we view, interpret and react to our environment. Whether it occurs rapidly in minutes or slowly over years, we learn to accept it or reject it.
A Tuesday night snowstorm turns to Friday morning fog over a period of days as temperatures gradually rise. When the sun quickly rises the fog burns off in a matter of minutes.
The Thanksgiving holiday marks another year in our ever-changing lives. We reflect on our families and notice how we have aged and how changing family dynamics affect our relationships. Changes occur within ourselves as we respond to the progression of time. Some people age gracefully and like a fine wine become more refined. Others tend to fear the changes that come with age and cling to any remnants of youth with a death grip.
I celebrated the holiday with my Dad this year in Hudson, NY. Change was the major topic of discussion. What was once a large gathering has morphed into just the two of us (and his dog Casey). We discussed changes in the political climate, our homes, our pets and our relationships with others. We took Casey for a walk after dinner and talked about changes in the neighborhood.
Some things never seem to change, yet undergo changes that are so subtle they are barely noticeable. Other changes are so all-encompassing that they affect every aspect of our being.
My father has lived all of his 82 years in Hudson with a brief stint in the US Army during the Korean War. He was born during the depression, the first generation of Polish immigrants. He worked in the cement factories that were once the fabric of this industrial river town. He learned to adapt to the changing industrial climate as the factories shut and Hudson began a downward spiral resulting in blight and poverty. He watched Hudson’s rebirth as an Antique Center for the Northeast. Although resistant to that change, he again learned to adapt to a huge increase in the economy and property values. With a downtown train station and close proximity to New York City, Hudson transformed into a weekend getaway. Many blighted Victorian homes are now thriving bed and breakfast locations. The City’s main street (Warren) is now full of restaurants and shops. The arts and culture are now celebrated with pride.
The house my father bought in 1969 and remodeled over the years is hopelessly stuck in the 70′s, but that’s the way he likes it. The City he grew up in has changed all around him. I used to think my Dad would never change but over the years, found that was not the case. The truth is, we have both changed and somehow found a middle ground that is surprisingly familiar and for that I am very thankful.