Nov 23

Guest Post: Some Thoughts on America

[This is an email from a former student of mine from my days as a teacher in New York City. She works as a lawyer in the non-profit world, working with court systems. She sent this to me as part of a longer conversation about how we’re feeling about the world these days, and I thought it made sense — with her permission – to post it here.]

Yesterday I drove over to the court so that I could get my client released to a drug program. I was scheduled to be in a different court that morning. I arrived at the second court around noon and my client was released around 12:45. For the third time this year, I drove her to treatment. Not under any illusion that she would stay in the program, but also not harboring any thoughts about her leaving the program. I’m driving her to another program simply because that’s what you do.

Earlier in the day, at my first court, a good friend, a private lawyer, introduced me to his client as the best lawyer you can’t hire. Feeling sort of melancholy from the post-election hangover, having just advised my undocumented client on the uncertain status of his personhood in the Trump America, I replied in passing that my work is my rent for being a member of the human-race. Being a decent human-being is the cost of admission.

Imagine having to footnote all your legal advice with “but that was under the Obama Administration, no one knows what Trump is going to do”. In six weeks, you, undocumented person standing in front of me, could be a priority for ICE.

I drive my client to the city hospital, a many-storied decrepit building that houses the shelter, Department of Corrections hospital unit, and several health and treatment programs for low-income/homeless populations. I show my bar card to the Haitian Department of Health security guard. We take the elevator up to the 11th floor and are buzzed through the locked doors. The African-American intake coordinator tells me my client’s bed was for tomorrow but I beg, and she relents.

My client is led to the nurse’s area by a woman in a headscarf. I wait at the front desk for my client to complete the admission process and am surrounded by the comings and goings of the thirty or so woman on the unit getting sober. They are from all different races and nationalities. Some are pregnant, others are mothers trying to regain custody, there are grandmothers, there are women getting clean for the first time and women who have spent decades in and out of programs. They’re on their way off the unit for “fresh-air” outside. They call out to one another, their ribbing filling the hall with shouts across rooms.

In all of this landscape I think to myself that this is what is beautiful about America — we are what makes America great. My America is filled with diversity and unified around a singular purpose of making society a better place for having each of us in it, and aside from any anger I feel, I am also sad that there are people who can’t see the beauty in this humanity.

Nov 12

To Educators Who Voted for Donald Trump

Hello from the other side of the aisle,

Thank you for clicking whatever link brought you here. There are some things I need to ask of you now. I’m going to lay out the assumption that I’m making in writing this blog post first, because I think, especially in this time of deep division, that may help us talk to one another.

I know that not every Trump voter is a bigot. I know that people had reasons to vote for Donald Trump that were grounded in belief about issues like the economy, foreign policy, change agency, trustworthiness, a deep belief in the Republican Party, and more. And I trust that if you were willing to click this link, you are one of those people. Thank you for reading with an open mind and an open heart.

What I need to say is that we need you right now. All over this country, we are seeing acts of hate speech, harassment and intimidation. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports over 80 such acts on college and K-12 campuses since Election Day. And that aligns with what I am hearing from friends and former students who are experiencing similar things. In case you haven’t heard of specific examples, here are a few:

And these are but a few. And again, this aligns with stories that I have been hearing from friends and former students from all over the country that aren’t getting reported.

You didn’t mean for this to happen. I know. This isn’t what you wanted when you went into the ballot booth. You care about all the kids you teach, regardless of race, sexuality, religion. You count black children, Muslim children, immigrant children, Jewish children, LGBTQ children among some of the favorites you’ve ever taught.

But this is happening. And it is terrifying. And we all need to come together to stop it.

So I’m asking you for a few things.

  • Make an affirmative statement that your class is a safe space for all children. Here are some examples:
    • This the note that the SLA educators wrote and hung so that every kid saw it as they walked in Wednesday morning. We also read it aloud in our classes and talked about what it meant with all our kids.
    • An English teacher had this note on her door this week for all her kids:
  • Speak out against this. The people who feel most fragile right now need the people who voted for President-Elect Trump to have their backs. Tweet @realDonaldTrump and ask him to speak out against the rise in hate speech in our schools this past week. Contact his transition office by telling your story here. Sign the petition started by a fellow educator asking President-Elect Trump to speak out.
  • And please, don’t minimize this or pretend it isn’t happening, or try to explain it away or say that there are bad things happening on both sides. Not now. The orderly transfer of power to a Trump administration has to mean that our all our children – especially the kids who have been made to feel unsafe this week – have to know that their teachers believe in them and want them to be safe. I have to be honest here. I have spoken to many Trump supporters in the last few days, and I am disheartened by the willingness to explain what is happening away. Please don’t do that.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for what I truly hope will be your action. Thank you for teaching all our children. We have a lot of healing to do as a nation. I hope it can start with all of us in our schools.

Best,

Chris Lehmann

Nov 11

Never Again

Today, the Superintendent of Council Rock School District – one district over from where I went to high school –  had to send out this letter:

Dear CRN School Community –

Please know that, sadly, we have experienced acts of vandalism and harassment at Council Rock North in the aftermath of Tuesday’s presidential election.

One incident occurred in a girls’ restroom, where on a hanging piece of paper someone wrote “I Love Trump,” a derogatory comment about people who are gay, and drew three swastikas. In a different girls’ restroom, someone wrote the following graffiti directly onto a toilet paper dispenser: “If Trump wins, watch out!” In a boys’ restroom, two swastikas were drawn directly onto a restroom stall. In addition, a Latina student found that a note had been placed in her backpack telling her to return to Mexico. There is a related report of inappropriate comments being made to Latino students as well.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough how inappropriate these actions are and that they simply will not be tolerated. These incidents have been reported to the Newtown Township Police Department and an investigation is being conducted by both the police department and the school district.

By writing this message to our parents, my hope is that we can collectively wrap our arms around this issue and stop any further incidents from occurring. We are better than this, and ours is a community that must be based upon a mutual respect for ALL people, and ALL of Council Rock. I regret needing to write this message, and I do want to emphasize that these actions are likely the responsibility of a very small number of individuals whose actions should not damage the reputation of the larger group.

And this is one of far too many acts of hatred that has happened in the last two days, since Donald Trump has won the election. There were a serious of acts of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti in S. Philly yesterday. This morning, someone had spray painted “KKK” on the steps of the School District. An #SLA graduate student of color was told, “Go back where you came from” in a store outside her college campus today by a white young woman. Someone painted “Black Lives Don’t Matter” on a wall in Durham, NC. Someone wrote “Trump!” on the door to a Muslim student prayer room at NYU. (cite: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/day-1-trumps-america_us_582497afe4b0cdd5e7e99e86)

The list goes on and on…

And there’s only one thing that makes me more sick about all these attacks than the attacks themselves. It’s that the President-elect – who wants us to believe, if one takes his Election Night speech on its merits, that he wants to heal the nation – has been silent. And no, I didn’t really have an expectation that he would speak up. And no, I don’t really believe that he has any understanding what it means to be the President of all Americans, nor any desire to be the President of all Americans. But that’s what he is now, and as such, he has the moral obligation to condemn these acts that people are committing in his name and under what they presume is the protection of his election.

His silence is noted. His silence must be met with our voices.

For we who refuse to allow these actions to define our country have an obligation to protect those who are attacked, have an obligation to call for the legal system to take action against those who perpetrate them, and have an obligation to call out all those in power who either do nothing to stop them or, through their words and actions, give cover to those who commit them.

We cannot be silent in the face of hate and bigotry. We cannot allow our silence to further embolden those who would seek to spread terror. We must guarantee – with our words and our actions – that the civil rights of all Americans must be protected and defended.

Anything less than that is simply un-American.

#NeverAgain