Lisa Ann Gallagher

Don’t Dream It’s Over

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Those words have never felt more meaningful, more necessary than they do today. America has stood as the beacon of acceptance, of freedom and sanctuary throughout our history. We welcomed the Pilgrims, those fleeing religious persecution, those seeking safe passage during times of war, genocide, tyranny. Freedom has meant different things to different people at different times, though. For many of America’s citizens, freedom was about achieving equality. For others, it was about economic prosperity. For others still, it was about simply being able to be safe.
Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stood before the nation to announce that DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was being terminated. Fulfilling a campaign pledge, the President of the United States authorized the judicial department to rescind the executive order signed by President Barack Obama in June 2012. No new applications will be accepted after September 5th. To clarify: DACA created a pathway to citizenship for approximately 1.76 million young people who were brought illegally to this country as children by their parents.
Since the program began, approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants have been granted protection under DACA. DACA requirements include

• Came to the United States before their 16th birthday
• Have lived continuously in the United States since 15 June 2007
• Were under age 31 on 15 June 2012 (i.e., born on 16 June 1981 or after)
• Were physically present in the United States on 15 June 2012, and at the time of making their request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS
• Had no lawful status on 15 June 2012
• Have completed high school or a GED, have been honorably discharged from the armed forces, or are enrolled in school
• Have not been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanors, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety

 

Each applicant for DACA paid a $495 fee along with additional fees of up to $575 if they wished to travel outside the U.S. for educational, employment, medical or humanitarian purposes once approved.
91% of current DACA recipients were working, earning an income and contributing to state, local and federal taxes. 9% were in school. These young people had no control over how they came to this country, but they were steadfastly determined to stay, to work hard and to be a part of our democracy in every way possible. They were the very definition of what it meant to be American.
Part of the beauty of the American Dream was that anybody could achieve it. You could be poor, you could be black, you could be a woman, you could be disabled, you could be uneducated, but if you worked hard, you could make something of yourself, something that you could pass down to the next generation, something that you could share with your community. The American Dream extended beyond our borders, giving promise to those who yearned for freedom, opportunity, and equality. They, too, could come here and work hard and achieve their dreams. America was the Golden Door, offering entrance to anyone willing and able to participate in our unique and promising experiment at democracy.
Today, that dream ends for many people outside and inside our country. The door closes upon those whose only crime was being too young to know what was happening to them. The door closes on those were exemplary and notable Americans, like the young rescue Alonso Guillen, who was killed in Houston this week helping to rescue folks stranded from Hurricane Harvey.
Donald Trump seems determined to roll back every act of progress that was made during Obama’s tenure as President. He seems especially dogged to eradicate anything that bears the stamp of Obama’s name.
Take away DACA.
Take away Transgender service in the military.
Take away LGBTQ rights.
Take back the Paris Climate Accords.
Attempt to take back – of course – the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.
Take back the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Pardon Joe Arpaio.
Repeal laws that protect bears, in their dens and with their cubs, from being shot.
Repeal regulation that prevents coal companies from dumping debris and toxic waste into streams and rivers.
Repeal rules that prevent the “mentally incapable” from obtaining firearms.
Nullify a rule that restricts states from withholding funding from family-planning clinics that provide abortions.
Repeal privacy rules that prevent internet service providers from accessing consumer data.
Rollback workplace safety regulations.
The list goes on and on. The repeal of DACA is only the most recent in a long string of repeals and refutations that the Trump Administration is accomplishing, in an attempt to erase the legacy of Barack Obama.
Never mind that such notable business leaders as Tim Cook (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) urged the President not to go through with his plans to repeal DACA. Or that at least two states (New York and Washington) have threatened to sue if DACA is rescinded. Or that Republican leadership, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, publicly stated that repeal of DACA is a bad idea for the country.
Rarely does a new president come into office with the single-minded focus to sweep away everything that his predecessor accomplished? Usually, there are a few items to be “rebooted” with any new administration but only in the case of bitter political rivalries (like Clinton staff allegedly removing the W’s from White House keyboards when George W. Bush was elected) do we see the kind of vicious slashing and burning that this administration is undertaking. It begs the question: what the hell did Obama do to Trump?
There’s the obvious: that Trump never saw Obama as legitimate and kicked off the shameful birther movement with his tweets claiming that he had seen Obama’s real (aka Kenyan) birth certificate. Which never appeared because it didn’t exist. But this feels personal. Why?
Donald Trump is 71 years old. He doesn’t appear to be in great physical fitness, so it’s unlikely that he will live more than another 10-15 years. His reputation (such as it was) was well established, and he would likely have continued to be profitable in his many business ventures (if it isn’t just a house of cards). Even if he wasn’t running for office to boost his negotiating power with NBC over a new “Apprentice” contract, and he truly wanted to serve this nation as our 45th President – why does he seem to have such a personal vendetta against our last president?
I don’t have the answers to that question. I suspect that the President is a deeply racist individual (he is, after all, the son of a KKK member) and that it chafed him when the President taunted him during the Correspondents Dinner in 2011 about the birth certificate debacle. I understand that Trump’s belief system and political agenda differs from Obama’s, greatly. But why the personal animosity? What was Obama doing – or attempting to do – that would have so harmed Trump personally that he became a heat-seeking missile bent on the destruction of Obama’s legacy? Was he threatening his livelihood, his family, his honor? What? No other president has ever come to office with such a vitriolic agenda to undo what his predecessor had done.
For the past ten months, I have felt as though I were dreaming. I thought I was having a terrible nightmare. A nightmare in which a racist, sexist and xenophobic reality show star had somehow gotten elected president of the United States and systematically began dismantling the programs that had given us sweeping progressive success for the past eight years. I thought I might be dreaming that people with valid visas would be turned away at airports, prevented from coming to this country to see their families, visit our landmarks, attend our schools and participate in freaking robotics competitions. I figured I was having a flashback when the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists were marching in American streets with torches, chanting “Jew will not replace me.”
I still feel like I’m having a terrible nightmare and maybe I will wake up. But the truth is that I was dreaming, these past eight years, and that dream has ended.
This is the country we are currently living in. This is happening. And if Trump gets what he wants, we really will not remember our lives before he took office. We won’t remember those who stood with us, at the Women’s March, who worked side by side with us in demonstrating for social justice, who vowed with us to fight for the American Dream even if they came here under different circumstances. We won’t see people who don’t look like us – either they’ll be hiding in their communities or they will flee this great nation. We won’t remember that an African-American president once gave hope to the children of immigrants by offering them a path to citizenship and a chance to be a part of our democracy.

The Dream is over.

Hey now, hey now
Don’t dream it’s over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us

I no longer know for certain that they won’t win.

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Panic in Detroit: Part 2

Editors Note, this column is part two of ongoing series.  Click here for part one.

This week marks 50 years since the 1967 Riots in Detroit. With the upcoming film “Detroit,” I wanted to visit the Riots as an important historical event, specifically through the prism of my family.
I was born in Detroit five months after the Riots. My parents were also born and raised in Detroit. My father’s mother was a nurse who worked in city hospitals and nursing homes. My mother’s father owned a pawn shop on the east side, near the intersection of Gratiot and Chene.
On July 23, 1967, my father happened to be at the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount where the Riots began. I wanted to understand the context of the Detroit Riots through my father’s experience. I think I also wanted to know more about my dad, at that critical moment in time.
My father – David Edward Gallagher – was born in December 1949. The summer of 1967 he was just seventeen. My father didn’t talk about his eyewitness account while I was growing up. It was my mother who later told me that my dad saw the start of the Riot. I thought it was high time, these fifty years later, to hear what my dad saw and experienced that fateful night.
My parents met through their after-school jobs when they were fifteen or sixteen. They attended different schools but worked for the same door-to-door magazine sales company. My mother’s parents did not approve of their relationship and my mom, Shari, left home at seventeen.
The following spring David and Shari married and discovered that they were going to have a baby. At the time, both were working at the Big Boy restaurant at Grand River and Greenfield. Dad was a short-order cook and Mom was a carhop. Initially, they lived with my paternal grandmother in a house on Freeland Street. By June, they had moved in with friends Albert and Mary, another couple. My dad had known Albert most of his life and Mary was also expecting her first child.
Albert rented a tiny asbestos-sided two-bedroom, one-bath house on Nevada Street, on Detroit’s northwest side. There was no parking in front. The back yard was just dirt, and they would pull in from the alley to park in the backyard. Albert, the son of Sicilian immigrants, worked odd hours at a factory and drove a big Deuce Coupe.
Mom had stopped waitressing by mid-summer. She and Mary baked homemade chocolate chip cookies every three days and planned for their babies. The two couples were focused on their own lives. They were not involved in the civil rights movement, although my father was friends with black people and worked with them. He knew who Martin Luther King was and was not prejudiced, but had no real understanding of what black Detroiters were dealing with.
Dad explained, “I was nonpolitical. Vietnam would have been more on my mind. I was four months or so from turning 18, and I definitely knew I could get drafted at 18.”
Their neighborhood was working-class, poor and white. Many of their neighbors were, as my mother explained, “hillbillies.” A lot of Southern folks moved to Detroit during the ‘40s and ‘50s to work in the auto plants. But, a few black families had begun to move into the neighborhood, and my parents remember some friction, that summer.
On the night of Saturday, July 22nd, Dad was working. He didn’t have a car, so his boss gave him a ride to and from work. He worked from 5 pm to midnight and, after work, was one of the several people who rode home from Big Boy in the boss’s car.
A waitress who lived in the 12th and Clairmount neighborhood on Detroit’s near-west side was one of the first to be dropped off. This area was known as Corktown and, in 1967, this was an increasingly dangerous place. There was a lot of drug-dealing going on, and crime.
The United Community League for Civic Action, a civil rights group, had a clubhouse above the Economy Printing Company at the intersection of 12th and Clairmount. It was also an illegal drinking club, not uncommon for the day. Black Detroiters often were unwelcome in reputable drinking establishments and so created their system of “blind pigs.” This particular location had been on the radar of police for months. That Saturday night, a large number of men gathered to welcome home from Vietnam two servicemen. Two undercover policemen tried to enter the club but were turned away. Another, Charles Henry, managed to sneak inside. He ordered a beer, paid for it and sent a message to the Detroit Vice Squad. Police begin to arrive in the neighborhood, likely plain-clothes cops in unmarked cars.
The third week of July was the hottest week on record in the Motor City. Temperatures were stifling, rain was overdue, and tensions ran high. People were sleeping with their windows open, and folks in the neighborhood were up late, trying to beat the heat. Many in the neighborhood heard the police arrived and went to check it out.
The cops decided to arrest all 82 men from the club and requested paddy wagons. The men were herded downstairs and told to wait for transportation. But the wagons were slow to arrive.
It was at this moment that my father arrived on the scene. As he explained, “Big Boy had late night curbside service. We would have taken Grand River down into the city, to get to 12th and Clairmount. On the corner, there was a commotion. It wasn’t what I would call a riot, just some groups of people roaming around. I didn’t think too much about it. I don’t remember any police or police cars, but by the next morning, all hell had broken loose.”
As the crowd grew and the police began to corral the men waiting to be arrested, the son of the club owner angrily jumped on top of a squad car. The same young man then threw a bottle at the cops, and the crowd began to throw bricks and other debris. After the police departed with the arrested men, a mob mentality quickly spread. The crowd looted an adjacent clothing store, and then full-scale looting and rioting began throughout the neighborhood.
By midday Sunday, rioting was in full sway throughout the 12th and Clairmount neighborhood. No arrests were made until 7 am although the unrest had gone on through the night. The police swept through homes and businesses on 12th Street, hoping to bring the situation under control. The first major fire broke out mid-afternoon Sunday at a grocery store at the corner of 12th Street and Atkinson. The mob prevented firefighters from extinguishing the fire and soon, more smoke filled the skyline.
Many Detroiters were unaware of what was happening downtown. The local news initially withheld reporting, trying to avoid spreading the violence but the rioting still expanded to other parts of the city.
My father left for work that afternoon, unaware of what was happening or even what he had witnessed the night before.
Mom, Mary and Albert decided to go to the West Side Drive-In east of Coolidge, to see “To Sir With Love.” On the way, they stopped at Cunningham Drugs at 7 Mile and Woodward. They purchased candy, to go with the popcorn they would buy at the drive-in. But my mother overheard the cashier talking about a race riot. What is a race riot, my 18-year old mother wondered, as she listened to the cashier and another employee talking about a possible curfew. She had no idea what they meant.
At the drive-in, a couple of cartoons played ahead of the feature film. Suddenly, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker for someone at the drive-through to please call their mother. Five minutes later, another announcement was made for someone else to please head home. A few moments later, another announcement, and then another, and then another. One by one, worried parents across the city of Detroit were calling the drive-in theater asking for their son or daughter to please call or drive home.
This went on for twenty minutes until 9 pm, when a final announcement was made. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the City of Detroit, has imposed a mandatory curfew beginning at 10 o’clock. Everyone must leave immediately. Please take caution and head directly for home. Drop off your passengers and proceed home and remain there until further notice.”
Meanwhile, downtown at the Fox Theater, Martha and the Vandellas were playing a sold-out show. The Motown trio was in the middle of performing their hit “Jimmy Mack” when police came to the stage, spoke quietly to lead singer Martha Reeves and asked her to advise the audience that the show was over and they were to leave immediately and orderly.
Today, Martha Reeves remembers “Imagine going out there light-hearted, and ready to work. My heart was beating so fast after returning to the dressing room.”
Albert, Mary, and Mom drove home, through near-empty streets. The only other drivers on the roads were rushing, like them, to safely get home. But the screams of sirens penetrated the air.
When they pulled up through the back alley, into the yard, they found my father at the back door, holding a knife and a baseball bat, looking scared out of his mind. (Dad doesn’t remember this part – he doesn’t deny it but can’t recollect doing this)
When the curfew was announced, the restaurant closed and his boss drove Dad home. There, he likely turned on the news and saw his city in flames.
On Sunday the Tigers played the NY Yankees (winning, 7 to 3). There was smoke visible, from a few blocks north. But it wasn’t until the game emptied out that the skies turned dark from multiple structure fires. Left-fielder Willie Horton, who grew up near 12th and Clairmount, heard about the riots and decided to intervene.
“I don’t know why, instead of just going to the shower and putting my street clothes on, and going home, I just left my street clothes in my duffel bag and went to the riot to try and see what I can do,” Horton explained. He drove into the neighborhood, stood on a car in the middle of the crowd, wearing his Tiger’s uniform, and begged everyone to calm down. But they told him to go home. Nobody was going to dissuade the rioters. Later, they pelted the car of U.S. Representative John Conyers with rocks, when he drove down the street with a megaphone pleading with residents to return home.
Mom remembers Dad going to bed that night with a knife stuck between the mattress and box spring.
Because of the curfew, the four of them – Mom and Dad, Albert and Mary, were stuck at the house for the next day (Monday). Nobody went to work. Nobody could go to the store. And the heat crept higher.
The riot spread from the 12th and Clairmount neighborhood to several sections of southwestern Detroit. Some neighborhoods had only black rioters while others had mixed groups of people. But there was a decidedly racial tone to the conflict.
On Monday, the violence was spreading into the suburbs. Police made a number of arrests, many giving false names. 80% of those arrested were African-American. Only about 12% were women.
Michigan Governor George Romney called President Johnson about deploying the National Guard. Johnson said he could not send troops in unless Romney declared a “state of insurrection.” Partisan issues created a vacuum between the two parties. Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, a Democrat, was called into broker an agreement.
By Monday night there had been 483 fires and 1800 arrests. Black-owned businesses were not spared by looters or arsonists. Hundreds of calls to police poured in each hour. Citizens prayed for rain.
Firefighters were sniped at while attempting to put out fires. 2498 rifles and 38 handguns were stolen from local stores, mainly pawn shops.
Just before midnight, Johnson authorized the use of federal troops. The US Army’s 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were already positioned at nearby Selfridge Air Force Base. At 1:30 am, 8000 Michigan National Guardsmen were deployed along with 4700 paratroopers from the two Airborne divisions and 360 Michigan State Police officers.
With the military intervention, the violence increased, and acts of aggression against citizens were widely reported. Homes were randomly searched for weapons. Curfew violations were met with police brutality. Prisoners were abused and beaten. Women were stripped and fondled while officers took pictures. The Algiers Motel Incident occurred on Tuesday, where three black men in the company of two white women were assaulted and murdered by police.
By Tuesday morning, there were tanks and machine guns on the streets of Detroit. Mom and Dad went to my grandma’s house where they remained for the next week.
“The riots lasted several days,” Dad told me. “There were fires and rioting and looting – quite a bit of that. It wasn’t right in our neighborhood. But there was smoke and sirens. What was almost scary but kinda exciting at the same time – the commotion outside. I remember helicopters. It was haunting hearing those helicopters, at night, overhead. You could hear them, almost like a war zone, right over the house.”
By Thursday, July 27th sufficient order had returned to the city, and troop withdrawal began on Friday. The final fire of the riot was set that morning and, by Sunday, July 29th, the Army troops were gone.

Check out part three here.

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Divided We Fall: a New Civil War

We have just celebrated the 241st birthday of the United States of America. Over beer and brats, sparklers and skyrockets, we gathered in our neighborhoods and loudly cheered our nation’s Independence Day. (I was actually at home on the Fourth, trying to soothe two little dogs who were deeply disturbed by the pops and whistles around our home – the Fourth is never a happy day in my household. But I was thinking a lot, about America.)
We are united in our desire to be free and in our embrace of the principles of American life that set forth our self-determination. But, from our very inception, we have always been divided as well. Between those loyal to the Crown and those who sought Independence. Between those who lived and worked in cities and those who migrated westward in search of land and autonomy. Between the intellectuals and the working class, natural born citizens and immigrants, conservatives and liberals.
Of course, our greatest divide came over the issue of slavery and drove us into a bloody four-year Civil War between the North and the South. To some extent, we’re still fighting that war. Through Reconstruction, the Jim Crow years, the Civil Rights Era and even today with the Black Lives Matter Movement – every era, each phase of this conflict has required us to take a stand in one direction or another, for the soul of our nation. The abolitionist movement wasn’t just a question of whether we should kidnap and enslave people. It was whether the color of someone’s skin was the defining qualification of their entitlement to the full rights of citizenship in America.
We have often heard of the moral weight of that four-year conflict within our borders. Of brother against brother, neighbor fighting neighbor. It seems clear, in retrospect, that the mightiest of moral men (and women) in this country all took a stand against slavery – like Frederick Douglass, feminist and Quaker Lucretia Mott, President Abraham Lincoln (and prior presidents John and John Quincy Adams) and the Transcendentalists (Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott, etc.). History is to the victors, though, right? It’s easy to view the repugnance of slavery in the U.S. through the prism that is the moral trajectory forward from 1865 and the Emancipation Proclamation through today, 2017. It was wrong, it was immoral, and it was most definitely against the American tenet that each man had the inalienable right to be free.
We are still divided over race, over the national origin, over political beliefs and more. We certainly seem more divided and corrosive than any time in my own life. It makes me wonder: are we headed for a second Civil War?
If you ask the far left or the Far Right, the answer is likely “yes.” What worries me is that the Alt-Right (or their original name, White Supremacists) wants a Civil War. They’d like nothing more than to take up arms against the Antifa, the lefties, the “libtards” (as they like to call liberals or anyone they suspect as such) and go to actual battle. It doesn’t matter that they don’t truly think they’d win over the entire U.S. They’d be happy to carve out their little chunk of the nation to do with as they will. They believe it’s their moral right to defend to the death the way of life that they believe our Founding Fathers established for us. That way of life also included slavery, as a reminder.
There are some on the left who also believe they hold a moral right, but they’re much less inspired to take violent action against others, than some on the Far Right (or, at least they have been). When we are so split into factions that oppose one another, and each believes in their inherent “moral superiority” and legitimacy, can we ever find common ground?
The one thing that both Liberal/Progressives and pro-Trump Conservatives believe is that we are heading toward a collision. Conservatives that don’t support Trump (including a majority of traditional Republicans) are the only ones who seem to stand alone in their belief that this time is not that particularly consequential. Personally, I think it’s a blind ignorance to their culpability in electing Trump despite their deep reservations about his character and qualifications to lead our nation. (Plus, their megachurches told them that a 69-year old grandma was running a kiddie porn ring out of a pizza restaurant basement, so… well, yeah…)
With the current leadership in Washington and the deep distrust of media and bureaucracy that the vast number of Americans feel today, we find ourselves in a situation where communication has thoroughly broken down. Of most critical concern is the vacancy of dialogue occurring on the Far Right with law enforcement, a rare experience in our recent history. The FBI requires factions on the Far Right to cooperate with them to crack down on domestic terrorism. We needed the Michigan Militia to root out Timothy McVeigh and the Nichols brothers. We needed gun dealers to keep local agents apprised of suspiciously large purchases of weapons across the nation. Militia members informing on one another provided federal agencies with a host of investigations, and arrests, over the past thirty years. But the Far Right today isn’t the Far Right of the 1990s. They’re not even the Tea Party crackpots of a half-decade ago.
The Far Left has been a tame but growing minority for the past thirty-seven years, since the 1970’s. We tend to think of the 1960s as the era in which we were most revolutionary (particularly on the left) but the 1970s were far more explosive than the previous decade. There were thousands of bombings inside the U.S. each year, from the early to mid-1970s. These were committed by groups like the Weather Underground. I think the Far Left lost its traction and overall root ability following the 1974 kidnapping of Patricia Hearst. Hearst, of the famed publishing family, was taken in Berkley, California by a so-called revolutionary group (the Symbionese Liberation Army, or SLA). Their plans for Hearst were to use her as a pawn to leverage the release from prison of two of their members (found guilty of murdering Oakland School Superintendent Marcus Foster). The SLA shoved 19-year old Patty Hearst into a closet for 63 days while they rapped their anti-establishment, anti-bourgeois rhetoric at her. When she finally emerged from that closet, the SLA gave her a choice: Leave or Fight. Patty chose to stay and fight.
Whether she was brainwashed, had experienced an extreme case of Stockholm Syndrome or was revolutionized by the SLA is still a matter of debate. Patty and two of her SLA comrades were the only ones to escape a fiery confrontation with Los Angeles S.W.A.T. teams that killed the rest of the SLA members. Patty and the other two went on the run but were eventually captured in September of 1975. The SLA had been involved in some crimes including bank robbery and grand theft auto and, in the end, most were sentenced for their crimes. Including Patty, whose sentence was later commuted by President Jimmy Carter and pardoned by President Bill Clinton on his final 24 hours in office.
But the SLA left such a bad taste in everyone’s mouth that would otherwise have supported them. Led by a black prison escapee and formed by prisoner’s rights in the US, they degenerated into petty crimes, wanton taunting of authorities and show-offy stunts like the kidnapping of Hearst and the audio recordings they forced her to read and later sent to radio stations. Most especially, the murder of Foster (who was African-American) sent ripple effects throughout the revolutionary movement. Foster was one of the good guys, and the SLA found themselves on everyone’s proverbial shit list after they assassinated the superintendent. It also didn’t help that they called themselves a pro-black movement, but their only black member was their leader, Donald ‘Cinque’ DeFreeze. The other members of the SLA were all Caucasian but sometimes dressed in black face and afro wigs (icky even in the ‘Black is Beautiful’ Seventies).
The SLA proved an efficient death knell for the revolutionary movement. Killing a progressive black school official, kidnapping America’s sweetheart and the murder of a bank customer during one of their armed robberies (little Myrna Opsahl, who was literally at the bank to deposit church money) all showed the SLA in their true colors and anyone and everyone on the Far Left steered clear of them and their ilk. The revolution was halted. The bombmakers went underground.
But the revolution might not have been over. It might have just been put on hold, simmering while Reaganomics and the Moral Majority and the Central American wars and 9/11 and the war in Iraq and the resurgence in the repression of the lives of women and people of color trickled on. It is quite possible that on November 9, 2016, when most people woke to the news that Donald J. Trump had been elected the 45th President of the United States (despite losing the popular vote nationally), the simmering pot might have been turned up. It isn’t impossible to think that Days of Rage might lie ahead for this nation and that fiery rhetoric on the right might be met with something more explosive than debate, from the left.
We won’t know a Civil War is coming unless and until it does. Because communication has broken down. Because many Americans distrust traditional news outlets. Because the FBI has been cut out of the loop. And because we’re unsure of who each of us is, even inside of our neighborhoods. I’m a Progressive Democrat who knows lots of liberal Democrats as well as both moderate and conservative Republicans, but I don’t know who might be on the Far Right around me. I’ve been as blithely unaware as anyone else in this country is.
We began to shift, sometime in the 1980s, into factions or camps in which we could be insulated against our opposites in society. It’s how and why gerrymandering became an accepted norm. When you weed out the voices of dissent, you’re left in a lovely little echo chamber. That chamber might include country clubs and neighborhood Starbucks if you live in a wealthy neighborhood. It might revolve around Mom & Pop convenience stores and subway stations if you live in an urban metropolis.
We still live in a melting pot, but our communities do not reflect that. Many Americans can look around their neighborhood, and they will find only faces that mirror their own.
For me, that is true now but wasn’t always the case. I was born in Detroit, Michigan. I lived in a place where whites were the majority, but there was a fair and strong representation of blacks and Middle Easterners, not to mention a variety of ethnicities. My parents and I lived in the city itself when I was born, although we soon moved to the suburbs. The Riots of the late 60s created a mass of “white flight” which drove families like ours to what was perceived as safer ground, in the ‘burbs.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on a specific fact of my childhood: three of my first closest friends were black. Matima, Tracy, and Chimene were some of the closest girlfriends that I had during most of my life from ages 3 to 9. The latter two I met in my neighborhood, living in the nearby suburb of Oak Park, so it wasn’t that I knew them when I lived in the city and no longer met black folks once I moved out to the suburbs. I wasn’t color-blind; I understood that my skin color was different than my friends. I even recognized cultural differences, although to a young child they’re fairly innocuous. But we all loved the Jackson Five. Wasn’t that what counted?
I recognize now that, at some point, I rarely became close friends with people of color. I saw them, I knew them, I associated with them, but it’s only now – some forty years later – that I wonder how that changed, and why. Did I unconsciously decide that I only wanted to be friends with other Caucasians or was it simple luck/fate that for the better part of my life my friends would have white skin like me?
Obviously, a child of nine, ten years old isn’t responsible for the path she is on, and so it’s quite likely that my future friend choices were mostly left to chance. Except for one fact:
When I was twelve years old my family, and I moved from the Detroit area down to Nashville, Tennessee. We had relatives down South and thought it was time to spend more of our lives with this extension of our family. I attended public school the first two years in Nashville, a private Catholic school the third year. While attending public school, I began to hear comments that white students made about black students in a way that felt different, even a little hostile. My final summer, I distinctly remember going to a Nashville Sounds baseball game with my cousins and, upon encountering a group of black families in the parking lot, one of my cousins began shouting out “Support the BTAM!” as we walked through the crowd. Innocently, I asked her, “What’s the BTAM?”
“The Back to Africa Movement. I fully support it!” she cheered, enthusiastically, pumping her fist in the air.
This was approximately 35 years ago when both she and I were in our teens, and I don’t presume this cousin feels the same way today that she did back in the early ‘80s. But I can mark this moment in time as the first time that I saw what I understood as blatant racism by a member of my family. It was also while my family and I lived in Nashville that I learned that Jews only made up about 3% of the city population (my mother’s family were Jewish) and there were a couple of synagogues burned there during our time in that city.
Over the following years, when my family and I returned to Detroit, and I began to become swept up in the punk rock movement, I did not encounter a great deal of racial or religious diversity. There were anomalies – a few black folks in bands and the crowds. There was a local promoter who was a Lebanese Muslim. But I never felt that we were segregated. Isn’t punk rock, by its very nature, subversively accepting of everyone? My friends were Jewish and Greek, Italian and atheist, gay and even born outside of the US – weren’t we a diverse group of people? I certainly thought we were but, in looking back, I recognize that 99% of my inner circle was white and Christian. Just like I was, even if I felt like something left-of-center.
We gravitate toward those like ourselves, but America has long been forged in the debate halls of college campuses and public squares. In those environments, we at least heard ideas that ran counter to our own. Collegiate life, past the early 1970’s, has become its own little hotspot of shared values and notions and a conversation with your neighbor in 2017 about politics, religion, race or ethnicity might likely come to blows.
I have to acknowledge that, as much as I believe that we should be listening to voices of dissent, there’s a line that I cannot cross. I can’t listen to Milo Yiannapolous, Ann Coulter, Richard Spencer or Nathan Domigo. I find it physically repulsive to hear white-supremacists talk because of my Jewish ancestry but also because I don’t like to hear people marginalized because of their race, religion, gender or sexual identity and yes because I’m a liberal or progressive or whatever you want to call me.
It’s easy, though, to label their words as ‘hate speech’ and I believe it is, to the very core of my being. I think that’s the difference between my perception of hate speech and, perhaps, those in the Alt-Right. I view hate speech as anything that removes someone from our conversation and political rights. They view hate speech as anything that forces them to accept that which is unacceptable to them.
Are we both right?
I won’t listen to the Far Right (I won’t even permit Fox News on my television at home), but I will read their words. I do believe that it is part of my right and my responsibility as a U.S. citizen to understand those who hold views that I find hateful and terrifying, if only because those people are influencing some of my fellow citizens. Those ideas might very well lead us into another conflict within our own borders.
What would a Civil War look like in today’s America? With our first Civil War, it was a clear geographical division. The states up North abolished slavery. The states down south wanted to continue to permit slavery and the agricultural wealth it afforded them. They also wanted autonomy to decide if they wanted to keep slavery or do away with it and they didn’t much appreciate those hoity-toity Yankees telling them what to do.
But what does a Civil War look like when we cannot simply split ourselves into North/South or East/West territories? How do we fight when states do not secede, but people do? What does a Civil War look like in the technological age, when banks and utility companies and transportation lines cross multiple states and even time zones?
We wouldn’t just be fighting cousin to cousin in border areas, like Maryland and Missouri. We cannot have 25 of our states say “I’m out!” and the other 25 say “Oh, no you di’nt!”. Nor will our disputes be merely regional – Rust Belt versus Bible Belt, the Wild West versus the Old East.
What would it look like to fight for the future of our nation against some of the people in our own communities, our own families? We’re a big nation – physically big, to start with. We can’t just move to the Pacific Northwest or the Carolinas if we find ourselves more aligned with the values in those other areas. Moving across America is a huge task. We own houses. We have jobs. We owe money. We educate our children, in these communities. We cannot all just pick up and leave.
But how long will you stay in a place that no longer reflects your values? How long can you remain in a city, a county or a state that does not elect representatives that share your concerns? How much longer can you fight for a nation that doesn’t fight for the rights of each one of its citizens?
There has been something noble and glorious about being an American, but I am not the only one who thinks that something has shifted in recent months.
What scares me the most is that we wouldn’t face a true Civil War – a fifty-fifty split of the country into any particular factions. And we wouldn’t have states simply seceding from the others. We would simply fail, as a nation. Divided, we definitely do fall. The American Civil War redefined our nation, but the next one might end us.
I guess we could each picture a world without an America. But can we imagine Americans without the United States?

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Panic in Detroit: Part 1

Fifty years ago this month, I was in Detroit, Michigan. Well, my parents were in Detroit – I was actually in utero. I was born in December of 1967 and conceived likely sometime in March of that year.
As a Gen-Xer born during those turbulent days of the late Sixties, I’ve often thought of myself as being bred in a cauldron of the most heated issues that faced our nation at that time. Issues of civil justice, of the equality of women and minorities, of the disdain for war and the distrust of authority. I sometimes think I can’t help myself, for being such a rebel – I was birthed in the revolution. Power to the People, right on!
It’s easy to be nostalgic for the Sixties, to think of that era as being about Peace and Love – and it often was. But there were also great conflagrations during that era and significant violence. Perhaps no singular event better encapsulates the unrest of the Sixties than the Detroit Riots of ‘67.
Except, in many ways, they weren’t riots. It was an Uprising although most people today will just refer to that week of chaos in July of 1967 as “the Detroit Riots.”
This is the first of a four-part blog series that I’ll be writing for The Sioux Empire about the Detroit Riots. First, the facts and a bit of history. Second, my interview with my father who witnessed the start of the Riots. Third, a film review of the upcoming movie “Detroit,” and finally, fourth, an understanding of the history of Uprisings in America in context with current sociopolitical conditions.
I know that Detroit isn’t located in Sioux Country and might not be on the minds of most South Dakotan’s, but bear with me – there are reasons for each of us to examine what happened fifty years ago. “What’s past is prolog.”
As someone who was born in Detroit but who moved away from my hometown decades ago, I still have a fierce and defensive pride about the city of my birth. I often say “Detroit’s a great place to be from” and I don’t mean that if you’re born there, you should leave. I needed to leave Detroit and Michigan, but for my very own reasons that had little to do with the social or economic environment of Detroit. But I think some of the best people I’ve ever known hailed from Detroit and no, I don’t believe that it’s purely coincidental.
I also say that Detroit is a “hard-working city of Midwestern values” and that’s perhaps the truest thing you might need to know about the Motor City. If your impression of Detroit is that of a city filled with lazy black people and that all the factories have closed down, and the urban areas are completely blighted and unlivable, or the images that come to mind are of burned-out houses, vacant lots and the kind of “ruin porn” graffiti that covers the walls of places like the former Packard auto plant – then you need a new introduction to the city of Detroit.
Detroit was originally called “Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit” and was established exactly 316 years ago this month, by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French explorer, fur trader and commandant of Fort de Buade, a French outpost in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After Fort de Buade had been abandoned in 1697, Cadillac headed south toward the Detroit River. He arrived on July 23, 1701, and immediately claimed control of the area.
Cadillac established Fort Detroit to try to prevent the British from continuing their expansion west. Cadillac was also looking to monopolize the fur trade in the region.
During the 1800s, Detroit became an important maritime trading post and later, an important epicenter of America’s growing power as an industrial nation. In the late 19th century, inventors and industrialists created the first automobiles in the Detroit area including Henry Ford, creator of the Model-T (the first vehicle to go into assembly-line production).
The auto industry attracted people from all over the U.S. and around the world – by the 1940s, the car business was one of the leading manufacturers on the planet and heavily invested in the war effort. During World War II, auto plants were temporarily converted into munitions factories and women (“Rosie the Riveter”) earned jobs at these plants while their husbands were off fighting.
Following World War II, the auto industry took a brief decline. The late ‘40s and 1950s saw the demise of several car manufacturers (including Stutz, Packard, and Tucker) as the Big Three (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) dominated the industry. More and more Americans were able to afford cars and created demand for greater numbers of factories – most of which were based in Southeastern Michigan. By the 1960s, Detroit had established itself as a modern melting pot – with white and black Americans, along with many middle-easterners (largely from Syria and Lebanon) working together for the American dream – although primarily living in segregated neighborhoods.
These neighborhoods included Dearborn (where most middle-easterners or Arab-Americans flocked), Hamtramck (an old Polish enclave right in the heart of Detroit) and the Corktown neighborhood, just northwest of downtown, which had always been one of the poorer neighborhoods in Detroit. But, after it was decided that two freeways (the Lodge and Fisher Freeways) would slice through the area, the Corktown area began to lose many of the working-class white (German, Irish, etc.) citizens and more black families began to take residence there.
Civil Rights had played a role in Detroit’s modern personality since the 1920s when Jazz clubs began to spring up in the Paradise Valley / Black Bottom neighborhoods (northeast of downtown). It was in this area, in 1930, that the mysterious Wallace D. Fard Muhammad founded the Nation of Islam. Muhammad, a silk merchant who arrived in Detroit and initially claimed to be from the Deep South (he may have been either from Turkey or a New Zealander), began to rouse local African Americans with his tales of a righteous homeland for black folk. He later changed his story to say that he was born in Mecca and began to talk of the Qu’ran. Soon, Muhammad had as many as eight thousand black Detroiters following his preachings, and they began to butt heads with local law enforcement. Many chose to withdraw their children from public schools, and then later there were rumors of human sacrifice within the Nation of Islam community, causing further discord with their neighbors.
Wallace D. Fard Muhammad disappeared in 1933, and there remains a shroud of mystery to this day as to who he was and what his intentions were. The Nation of Islam continues to exist, of course, and remained a thorn in the side to law enforcement in Detroit for many years. Their most famous leader, Malcolm X, moved with his family as a child, to nearby Lansing, Michigan.
Racial strife in Detroit hit its first significant peak in June of 1943 when a race riot broke out at Belle Isle (a small island on the Detroit River). The KKK had established a significant foothold in the Detroit area since early in the 20th century. It was predominantly anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish in the northern cities but still advocated for white supremacy. The Black Legion, another white supremacist group, contributed significantly to the white-on-black violence of 1930s Detroit. Many of the region’s auto workers were transplants from the South – including poor whites who’d left the South so as not to compete with growing numbers of black workers only to find themselves confronted up North with what they were escaping.
But the War was supposedly the great equalizer. Black and white service members fought and died together in the trenches. Women were working in factories, but black workers were often shut out of the hiring process at the auto plants. However, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an anti-segregation executive order (to meet the defense industry demands), the Packard Motor Company promoted three black workers in June of 1943, to stand beside white workers in the assembly lines. In response, 25,000 white employees walked off the job. A confrontation occurred at a nearby park but was quickly quelled by cooler heads.
A day or so later, an altercation began between some white and black teenagers on Belle Isle. It is unclear what the connection was to the earlier brouhaha connected with the Packard Plant. It was a hot Sunday afternoon, and the brawl continued all day and all night, spilling onto the Belle Isle Bridge and colliding with groups of park-going residents trying to get back into the city from the island. The dust-up continued and spread into the city.
Sailors joined white rioters in fighting against the blacks. Someone spread a false rumor that a white man tossed a black woman and her baby into the Detroit River. With that came targeted, widespread destruction of white-owned property.
People were attacking one another on the street, beating innocent pedestrians (white and black), burning cars, looting businesses and the Riot lasted three days. It only ended when Detroit Mayor Jeffries and Michigan Governor Harry Kelly asked FDR to intervene. Six thousand federal troops were sent in, rapidly restoring the peace.
In the end, 34 people were killed – including 24 African Americans. Thirteen deaths from the ’43 Riots remain unsolved to this day.
A government commission set up to determine the cause of the riots attributed it to “teen” infractions. But, later, the NAACP identified more significant causes including lack of minority representation in the police and white police brutality.
These same issues would come back and bite Detroit in the ass twenty-four years later. And the ’43 riots were a harbinger of what was to face much of the nation in the Sixties. The issues of that first Detroit Race Riot – of racial inequality, of housing shortages, of economic and employment disparity, and of police brutality – would continue to bubble up and would consume the nation just two decades later. And it was the first time, but not the last, that my home city would be occupied by federal troops.
In my next installment (Panic in Detroit: Part 2) I will talk about what happened in June of 1967 and I’ll interview my father who, at seventeen years of age (newly married, expecting his first kid and clueless about the Civil Rights Movement), happened to be at the corner of 12th and Clairmount on the night the Detroit Riots began.

Editors Note, this column is part one of ongoing series.  Click here for part two.

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TEDxRapidCity 2017 Part 2

Earlier this week I posted a blog here at The Sioux Empire about TEDxRapidCity 2017. I served on the member committee during the first year (2015) and was a featured speaker at TEDx 2016 (“The Moral Imperative to Know, Live and Share Your Story”) and this year would be serving as a volunteer. I promised to update you on the day’s events and here I am!
It was a long day that started by my alarm failing to sound! I scrambled out of bed, let the dogs out, washed my face and put on makeup, dressed and sprinted out the door to arrive at the Performing Arts Center around 7:15am on Wednesday, June 28th. Megan Reder-Schopp, Director of Counseling and Student ADA issues at Black Hills School of Mines & Technology was the volunteer coordinator for the TEDx Committee and presented each of us with our schedule for the day. My first responsibility of the morning was to set up the coffee bar for the morning reception. Coffee (courtesy of Hazel & Oak) was brewing upstairs and we had dozens of boxes of fresh donuts from 8th Avenue Bakery in Spearfish. I quickly got to work pouring urns of coffee into a dispenser and setting out the donuts, napkins, sweeteners and creamers. Guests began arriving shortly and I was thrilled to see many friends in the crowd including photojournalist Kristina Barker, Laura Longville of Walking in Grace Counseling, and Sara Hornick who works part-time at Thrive Acupuncture and was serving with me as a volunteer for the day’s events.
The first Talks began at 9am and I was able to slip into the back of the hall to listen. Doctor Venkata Gadhamshetty was the first speaker. ‘Doctor G’ as he is famously known around town, teaches Environmental Engineering at the School of Mines. His Talk was about converting tomatoes into energy. Doctor G was followed by Cabot-Ann Christofferson. Cabot-Ann is also an engineering teacher at the School of Mines and works at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota. Her Talk was about curiosity.
I had to step out of the performance hall then, to set up for the second break. Over fresh fruit and mini brownies, the crowd soon emerged to share their enthusiasm and to engage in a Q&A session with the first few speakers.
After the mid-morning break I was able to join the audience in the hall to listen to one more Talk and to see a performance. I was especially enthused to hear Hugh Weber’s Talk on “Potluck Dinners”. Hugh, who spearheaded the OTA conferences of the past few years, talked about the importance of really getting to know our friends and neighbors and building connections through the old-time practice of potluck dinners. He commented that when we engage in conversations, most of us are so focused on sharing our own thoughts that we rarely listen to what others are being said. Later in the day I went over to introduce myself to Hugh, explaining that anyone who “identifies themselves as a storyteller, as I do” is someone I admire!
After Hugh’s Talk, the Lakota performance group BEAR came on stage. I was able to watch the first half of their performance before heading out to handle my pre-lunch volunteer activities. BEAR is a music and dance group, originally founded to help steer high school students away from the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Today, their mission has refocused toward suicide prevention and they work with kids as young as nine years old. The students who performed at TEDxRapidCity were all survivors of attempted suicide and each dramatized how BEAR has offered hope to them. Many people in the audience were moved to tears by their performance.
I grabbed a couple quick chicken tacos from Eddie’s Taco Truck, one of three food truck vendors that TEDx had arranged for the mid-day fare (Nosh and Beau’s Kickstand were the other two). Then, I quickly ducked back in to hear my dear friend Natalie LaFrance Slack lead the audience into lunch with a challenge to ask questions and share what inspired each of them, as they headed off to grab a bite to eat.
Some of the instructors from Sol Yoga Collective had set up impromptu stations on the lawn just outside the Performing Arts Center, for mini-yoga and stretching sessions. I spent part of my lunch break there, with Ashley Kieffer (who teaches Sol’s Intro to Yoga classes, along with their Gentle & Therapeutic and mid-level classes) who helped me sun-salutation and savasanah the day’s stresses away.
After lunch I was focused on setting up for the mid-day break. But I did manage to catch a few more Talks including Joseph McGill, history consultant for the Magnolia Project. Joseph spoke about gathering people to spend nights in slave quarters on former plantations throughout the Southeast, his work excavating such sites and the dangers of white-washing our history. He spoke, specifically, about the Confederate statues that cities like New Orleans have been removing from public spaces and asked whether we should be erasing history that we are now ashamed of. After all, as he explained, some of us (black and white) are descended from slave holders including U.S. Presidents. Can we really whitewash our own history? Later, I got Joseph’s business card as I have a sister in the D.C. are who loves to go to historical sites (especially places like Mount Vernon and Monticello) and would really appreciate meeting folks like him.
I also got to see part of Aiveen Martin’s Talk on “Laughter Yoga” (which is exactly what it sounds like) and Kathleen Christopher’s Talk on the power of labels.
The theme for this year’s TEDx event was “Connected” and you could really see that narrative winding its way, from Talk to Talk, as each speaker or performer shared their ideas on what connects us and what tears us apart.
Part of the agreement to host a TEDx event is the requirement to air a certain number of pre-recorded TED Talks from past events. There were three pre-recorded Talks shown during 2017 TEDxRapidCity. Many will remember the Talk “Our Story of Rape and Reconciliation” given by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger, given at TEDWomen in October 2016. We were fortunate to replay that Talk at TEDxRapidCity. Deadwood resident Dustin Floyd came onto the stage to introduce the final pre-recorded talk, by his friend Megan Phelps-Roper. Her Talk “Why I Left The Westboro Baptist Church” was given just this past spring at TEDxNewYorkCity and challenged each of us to break the divisiveness that threatens to destroy dialogue in our society.
While there were many Talks that I was not able to see due to my volunteer activities, I was thrilled to once again serve in any way possible for TEDxRapidCity. We ended our day with a social at Hay Camp Brewery, music by Low Riding Moths and Meriwether Raindelay (both from Sioux Falls), wine and cheese from the team at Prairie Berry Winery and food from the folks at Fork Real. I’ve been proud to support TEDx and ideas worth sharing in three different capacities for the past three years. I encourage each of you to check out past TED Talks from our local events by going to Youtube and typing “TEDxRapidCity” to see a list. The new Talks will be edited and then released to Youtube later this summer.
If you are interested in learning more about TEDxRapidCity or being involved for the 2018 TEDx event locally, please go to www.tedxrapidcity.com. Thanks to the amazing speakers, emcee Jason Salamun and the incredible planning committee who spend a full year preparing for one day of presenting ideas worth sharing. I know how much work they dedicate to making a one-day event happen and if you know those folks, please tell them yourselves just how appreciative you are that something this special comes to the Black Hills!

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Third Annual TEDx Rapid City Conference

TEDx Rapid City is back for its third year on Wednesday, June 28th. The theme for this year’s offering is ‘Connected, ’ and the all-day event will be held at the Performing Arts Center in downtown Rapid.

‘TED’ stands for Technology Entertainment and Design and the annual TED conferences began in 1984 as a nonprofit symposium, devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short but powerful talks. Each TED Talk runs 18 minutes or less and covers pretty much every topic you can think of, from global issues to business innovation to scientific hypotheses.

TED presents itself as a global community, which practices the power of ideas and how they can be understood and implemented. Every year the TED conference brings together the best and brightest and most interesting and thoughtful speakers from all over the word. Past TED speakers have included author Brene Brown, illusionist David Blaine, former President Bill Clinton, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, physicist Stephen Hawking and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The talks are intended to foster understanding and spark conversations.

In addition to the annual TED conference, there are also thousands of independently-produced TEDx events all over the world each year. A team of folks from Rapid City worked hard and successfully brought TEDx to our region first in June 2015.
The theme for that first event was ‘Re-Imagine Innovation, ” and this writer was honored to serve on the planning committee as the Co-Director of Media and Communications. In that capacity, I helped oversee all social media for the event, including the day of and also helped select the (nine) chosen speakers.

We hosted the first event at the Dahl Arts Center in downtown Rapid City with a kick-off reception for our speakers at the School of Mines and Technology. Each speaker was recorded, and their TEDx Talks were uploaded later that summer to Youtube.
Talks that the first year ranged from issues of Women in Business to the Federal Budget, from nuclear fission to the Thunder Valley Community Development Center at Pine Ridge. It was a great kick-off event, and very well received.

When TEDx Rapid City 2016 was announced, I submitted a proposal for a Talk and, a few weeks later, was accepted. It was a thrill of a lifetime, writing and preparing my Talk (about the power of stories). That year TEDx provided each speaker with a Dale Carnegie-trained coach, Michael Howard, to help us develop our presentations and hone our speaking skills.

Our theme last year was ‘Moments of Impact, ’ and through my coach, I was able to adjust my talk around the tipping point of my talk. Michael also helped me understand the power of the beginning of a story and I had completely reworked the introduction.

My biggest challenge was learning to memorize my talk! Even when you’ve written your own dialogue, and it’s something particularly meaningful to you, the human brain isn’t always meant to retain a script, word for word. I researched several ideas to help learn how to memorize, but I ultimately found that the best way was walking and talking.

Each evening I would go for a 45-minute walk around my neighborhood. It was late May, early June and temperatures were comfortable. As I walked down my street and up the next, I just talked. Out loud! I didn’t care if anyone around me could hear me (or what they might think). I just began at the beginning and continued my presentation as well as I could remember. The first few days, I forgot whole paragraphs, and when I returned from my walk, I would look back over my script and see what had been missed.
But after a week I only forgot sentences. And after another week, only one or two of them at best. By the end, I remembered everything.
And then the big day arrived. Needless to say, I had told every person I had ever met in my life that I was giving a TEDx Talk. I knew a few people who were going to be in the audience, including those I had served with on the TEDx Rapid City committee the previous year.

It turns out that I was the next-to-last speaker that day. I was able to sit and relax during the first half of the day, enjoying conversation with my fellow speakers and making new connections.

Last year’s speakers included talks on fetal alcohol syndrome, on the use of STEM in the Lakota community, on suicide prevention and on the dark sky movement to improve light pollution. There was also a fellow writer among the speakers, and our two Talks proved to be complimentary bookends to each other.

As it got close to my time to speak, I did develop a case of the jitters. It seems like the longer it took to make it onto the stage, the more those butterflies in my stomach began to expand! But all it took was stepping out onto the stage, looking into the audience and beginning my talk, to make those butterflies slow their roll.

I was proud and honored to speak about something that I am so passionate about – building connections through sharing our personal stories – and I especially enjoyed meeting and getting to know the other speakers who took the stage before and after me.
This year I’ll be attending the TEDx Rapid City conference again but as a volunteer. I’ll be helping navigate the experience for the attendees this year, on Wednesday, June 28th. This year we’re at the Performing Arts Center (a larger space than the Dahl) and will conclude with a reception at the new Hay Camp location just up the street.

I know one of the speakers at this year’s conference, which will include a few more Talks than last year. I know many TED Talkers go on to careers as public speakers, but for this gal, it just meant everything to give that one talk that wasn’t just what I know but what I believe. My Talk was exactly the topic that I was hoping would spark conversation. I’m looking forward to seeing what this year’s crop of great TED Talkers will be giving here in Rapid City and will post an update, after the event!

If you’re interested in attending TEDx Rapid City, tickets are still available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/tedxrapidcity-2017-tickets-33311651045

 

 

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Coming Full Circle with Naomi Even-Aberle

I have long been curious about a fellow Rapid City woman that I see making a real difference in our community. I first met Naomi Even-Aberle in 2015, through the Arts Legacy Project (she was an artist, and I was a featured storyteller, and then the following year she was a featured storyteller). Naomi is the founder of Full Circle Martial Arts Academy, and recently she and I sat down to chat about the future of her studio, martial arts programs here in the Black Hills and some exciting news that she wanted to share.
Master Naomi Even-Aberle is the Master Instructor/Examiner for Full Circle Martial Arts Academy in Rapid City. She is a Kukkiwon-certified 4th Dan Master Black Belt in Taekwondo, a Cchung Ryoung Hapkido Federation 4th Dan Master degree Black Belt, and a red belt in Kumdo/Kumpub. She began her martial arts career in 2006 under the direction of 5th Degree Master Instructor Nathan Schultz. Master Naomi Even-Aberle (along with her husband Nikolas Aberle) do all they can to build confident, well-rounded students. Master Naomi Even-Aberle has traveled to Seoul, South Korea in 2009, 2010 and 2012 for specialized training under the direction of Great Grand Master Moo Young Yun. Both Master Naomi Even-Aberle and Nikolas Aberle continue to regularly train and participate with the Greenquist Academy Taekwondo Association, under 5th Dan Master Nathan Schultz and within the United States Chang Moo Kwon Taekwondo Union.
We met at Pure Bean in the East of Fifth neighborhood in Rapid. Naomi told me about her big news first: she was recently awarded a National Art Strategies Community Creative Fellowship, which will provide a launching pad to expand her martial arts and community outreach program. The Bush Foundation is one of several partners in this Fellowship and, as Naomi explained, she will have a chance to learn and connect and develop her leadership skills thanks to this award.
Naomi explained, “Twenty-four individuals are selected. We’ll go to Vermont in August for ten days, and each be paired with a mentor – someone that maybe has an alignment with your project. Then you work on your marketing. They help groom you. You work peer to peer with lots of other people, and then you come back and do learning modules throughout the rest of the year. Then, in February 2018, we’ll go to Washington D.C., and the National Arts Strategies Board provides a panel of entrepreneurs, funders, donors, grant specialists that you present your pitch to.”
Naomi will be using her Full Circle Martial Arts Curriculum in this endeavor, which she created. This will provide a springboard to integrate her martial arts program with other organizations to provide martial arts training to more people here in the Black Hills, helping to build self-confidence, mutual respect and physical fitness awareness for children and others. This summer, they’ll be working with Atayape (a mentoring program for kids in 4th-12th grades, established by the Rural American Initiatives and taught by Lakota adults, designed to promote a drug- and alcohol-free life). “We’re having them come to our gym, and we’re doing a one-hour martial arts class for all four of their groups. At the end of the program, they’ll test for their white belt. We’ll have the students break the board, with all of their support system around. Our students will provide a potluck for their extended families, and even Atayape’s staff will be testing and learning with their students. So you have teacher-to-student relationships being built.”
The Fellowship will open up avenues for funding and support. Previously, Full Circle had a traveling program in Kyle, South Dakota, which had been paid for through Indian Health Services’ Suicide Prevention Program. Unfortunately, when their liaison to the program left, the classes stalled. As Naomi told me, “I can’t afford to go on my own, and those kids need a martial arts program. I want to help support additional growth (into that community) either through a grant, or supplies or potential networking and connections.”
As to how the fellowship will help grow her leadership skills Naomi explains that it will “help with branding and messaging.” She wants to be able to share the message of Full Circle in ways that will make sense to those not already versed in the terminology of martial arts. She also wants to create mixed programs throughout western South Dakota, with martial arts and music, martial arts and dance, etc. But Naomi is not just listening to her own heart – she’s paying attention to what we are asking for here in Rapid City and the Black Hills. “I really want to be a community-driven business. We’re providing community-centered programming that hopefully helps build a stronger foundation for the students. I’m open to lots of ideas. I want to make the martial arts accessible, not just financially, but also travel-wise. If there’s a way that we can eventually purchase a van, to go into communities or we can drive and pick kids up. Building a community through practice helps us feel connected.”
Her first steps, once she is completed with the training made available to her through the Fellowship, is to re-look at her structure and organization. She wants the messaging to be clear, engaging and authentic. She also will be looking at funding in new ways. “One of the challenges I face is that I can’t just hire teachers. They first have to be students and train under someone. It’s a huge mentorship program. It takes a year to three years for someone to reach black belt, and I don’t allow someone to teach until they’re black belt. It’s a quality issue, and I’m one of the only ones in the area who can offer that. I want to pay our artists what they’re worth. I’m constantly looking for organizations that can support our programming. There might be a grant that we can write together or separately, that pays for operations. There’s a lot of people who do funding.” One of the ways that Naomi sees that organizations can help support martial arts here is through scholarship programs. She also wants to create more outreach, from Full Circle, into the community. “We might volunteer at the Hope Center or at the Humane Society. It starts by building connections.”
The Fellowship will connect Naomi and Full Circle Martial Arts Academy with writers, actors, artists and entrepreneurs throughout the nation. That kind of feedback will help inform her branding and messaging of Full Circle and also her leadership abilities. “I’m hoping the messaging makes sense, it’s engaging and authentic and allows me to find ways to continue to morph but also to adjust that message to fit what our community needs. Like Atayape, which is a non-profit.”
Naomi will also be looking at expanding the qualifications at Full Circle, including partnering with the fire department for CPR certification classes. She hopes that citizens of our area will learn that martial arts are not just about fitness, but something more.
“There’s a limited perspective of what martial arts can do. Yes, we are a gym, but we also talk about life. We’re still a young organization. We’ve been running classes for just barely three years. We’re looking for feedback. I know that martial arts isn’t for everyone, but we’re looking to connect with other people in a way that drama or football or something else might not. This is a safe space to everybody. To connect to kids that aren’t very confident, shy or uncoordinated kids, or those that are bullied. Martial Arts is an amazing place to build confidence, build physical balance and coordination, and put those kids on the same level as other students. It helps them to believe in their own power and their own right to take up space.”
Needless to say, that includes the involvement of more girls and women in Martial Arts. “When we’re able to help women to feel strong enough in their body to do that, they help other women to do that. In South Dakota, that’s really important. Women are fifty percent of our population but highly underrepresented in many fields. Martial Arts has been a masculine field, so having women step in helps challenge that traditional status quo. If we don’t give women the opportunity to challenge and explore and think for themselves in roles that are traditionally male, it’s hard to ask them do so anywhere else. We’ve been working really hard to change our language in our classes, using pronouns appropriately and being more attentive to how we say things and what those things might mean. Now, we don’t go into classes and call out ‘feminist power’! It’s about ‘individual power.’ Every student has the right to stand up for themselves and to advocate for themselves. My students are two years old up to sixty-seven, and they tell me when something isn’t working for them. It’s asking them to be accountable for their own learning.”
Clearly, Naomi is an ambitious and enthusiastic advocate for Martial Arts and for the Black Hills community of artists, entrepreneurs, kids, and families. If you know someone interested in training in martial arts or you’d like to learn more about Naomi Even-Aberle and the Full Circle Martial Arts Academy, please check out their website at http://www.fullcirclemaa.com/. To check out information on the National Arts Strategies Creative Community Fellowship program, please go to http://www.artstrategies.org/

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Covfefe to Unite Us All

Sometimes the universe is magic. Sometimes, let’s say on a Tuesday night, you might be sitting in bed and checking your social feeds. It’s the end of a long business day. You had several meetings. You went to yoga. You walked the dogs. You ran errands. You came home, watched an hour of television and then retired to bed to get a little rest. But, before you turned out the light, you went to Twitter.
It was an ordinary day, a simple Tuesday at the end of May. After a long, bleak winter-spring was in full force and summer was looming. Days were warming and the fears that you’ve been battling for the past six, seven months seemed to be calming. You had dinner, watched some light comedy fare and were ready to settle in for a few minutes of light reading before you drifted into slumber. And then, suddenly…
Covfefe happened.
Covfefe. Covfefe? Yes, Covfefe.
You read the word. You read it again. Maybe you even started to google it.
Wait. Was it a verb, a noun? A secret language? A brand name? An ancient curse. A symptom of a stroke?
What the hell is he talking about?
Five minutes later, you realize it’s still there.
Ten minutes later, it hasn’t been deleted.
Thirty minutes later and you’re wondering if he’s at Walter Reed. But then, like a magical gift from the Universe, you look to see if anyone else has noticed this strange tweet from the 45th President, this confounding word.
And that’s when it happens. One Word to Unite Us All. Covfefe. Covfefe, indeed.
If you ever wondered whether genius still resided in America, look no further than the Tweet Storm (Tweet Tsunami, Tweet Haboob, Tweet Sharknado?) that occurred between the hours of 12:06 and 6:09 am Eastern Daylight Time. Just some of the social media gold that was posted last night:
@McKinnonFANS “New York’s hottest nightclub is #Covfefe. It has everything: Russian entanglements, spray tans, creepy handshakes, surprise trade wars.”
@ovenroastedvino “my phone keeps autocorrecting #covfefe to ‘please impeach me.’ ”
@elenaYAY “YOU GUYS. COVFEFE IS HIS CHILDHOOD SLED”
@RachaelLackner “Biden: I’m going to leave him a dictionary of fake words in your office.”
@MrGeorgeWallace “What’s so funny? I’ve got three nieces named Covfefe.”
@BeachPillows “This is great. This is your white Bronco.”
We were united. We all had the same thoughts. Is he tweeting from the toilet and something horrifying came out of him? Did he finally have that midnight meltdown, fueled by snorting Cheetoh dust and Aquanet? Does this have something to do with the flashing red lights spied earlier this week in the White House? My God, did the Russians slip him a Mickey? Were the next tweets going to come from (gulp) President Pence? And, of course, we all had the same exact thought: “Can I mine some freaking humor out of this situation?”
The answer was Yes. I mean, Covfefe. It’s like the new “Aloha.” It means yes. It means no. It means hello, goodbye and good, God Almighty!
There have been a few moments, during the past 130 days, when I’ve nearly chuckled. There were days that I thought the whole damn thing was pretty funny (in between panic attacks). There were even times when I wanted to just tune the whole Trump nightmare out and find something fun and pleasant to think about. I even wondered if, someday, somehow Trump himself would prove to be less horrible than I think he is.
That day was last night. May 30th, 2017. 130 days in. Trump himself delivered to me the single blessed jewel of his administration, in a single word.
You almost feel bad for the guy. Covfefe might not have been the secret code to the nuclear football or the password to automate Melania’s humanlike dance moves, but it was a trigger message nonetheless.
It was our message. It was our ring, our unifier, our Excalibur, our Orb. Poor little Donny doesn’t know that he unleashed the greatest power in the universe with his simple, stupid, single misspelled word. He brought us together, to unite in our shared purpose: to defeat him.
We shall be victorious. We shall overcovfefe.

Covfefe to Unite Us All

Covfefe to Unite Us All

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South Dakota Writers – Interview with BJ Sheldon

I was drawn to many aspects of the Black Hills, during the years that I vacationed here (1999-2005). The spectacular geography, the historical significance, the laidback attitudes of this region. But I chose to move here for one specific reason: I knew this was where I was going to find my tribe.
I knew, without any proof, that in these thar Hills I would find kindred souls: artists, writers, and other transplants as well. People who were well-read and open-minded. Individuals who felt inspired, even driven, to create. People who were also seeking connections.
I did find this group of people, this family of friends, but it took many years. There were lots of missteps, along the way.
How I found the right people, the real people that would become part of my inner circle, was based upon two significant factors: First, a business network that I joined nearly three years ago (The OWN, a network that supports women in business) and second, the other authors I have been privileged to meet. For me, as an author, this second factor is most critical. There are many people who can create in a vacuum. There are actors and playwrights and dancers and artists who don’t need anything from the outside world to get inspired. There are many who rely on their instincts to fuel their creative endeavors and passions. But I’m not one of those people. I need a tribe to not only come up with ideas but to motivate my writing goals.
Last year I was excited to join South Dakota Writes, a networking community for our state’s authors. Their Facebook page defines South Dakota Writes purpose as “to organize people with a passion for writing in South Dakota by creating a vibrant online and offline community. This group will share information and events that may be of interest to writers in South Dakota”.
Through South Dakota Writes, which was founded by Jason Kurtz (an author and English teacher based in Harrisburg) I have been able to network and celebrate with other artists throughout our region. I needed to know that these folks exist and that they were creating their milestones and opportunities. I need to know that there are writers in our area that are trying to accomplish what I have and those who have far exceeded my wildest literary ambitions. It is with this in mind that I wanted to sit down for some one-on-one interviews with some of the writers based in the Black Hills and pick their brains on what having a local writer’s community means for each of them.
For my first interview, I wanted to talk with an author who achieved her success through Independent publishing. BJ Sheldon is the author of two trilogies, The Dusty Chronicles and the Gibborim Series, both of which were released through Whiskey Creek Press of Nashville.  BJ and I met at Hazel & Oak café in downtown Rapid City. Over curry chicken salad and coffee, we talked about writing, publishing and what it meant to be a South Dakota writer. We spoke first about BJ’s history and what brought her to our area.

South Dakota Writers – Interview with BJ Sheldon - Photo from bjsheldon.webs.com

South Dakota Writers – Interview with BJ Sheldon – Photo from bjsheldon.webs.com

“I grew up in northwest Iowa. This was the mid-80s. When the rug came out from under farming, my dad decided to sell the family farm, and we moved to Phoenix. I lived there twenty-six years. I married my first husband, and we had two children together. Then I married my second husband and had another daughter — my third. When our youngest was eleven, my husband decided to join the military. That was in 2005. He joined the Army Reserves but spent more time in active duty than inactive. When he came back from his second deployment, he had some injuries and so was looking for something different to do. He had been awarded some medals and the military was very impressed with him, so they sent him to Fort Dix in New Jersey to do some training. We were at Fort Dix/Maguire for twenty months when his medical issues caught up with him. He had the chance to retire and we had to decide where to go. We either could go back to Phoenix, or to Michigan where my husband is from. Or we could go back to Iowa where I was raised and still had a family. But my brother lived here in Rapid and raised his kids here. We decided to give Rapid City a try. A lot of people ask me ‘Oh, you moved here on purpose?’. I like it here. We go back to Phoenix to see my parents and now, that’s where my new grandchild is. She’s four months old. I’m a grandma!”

BJ has written several books, many geared to a Young Adult audience but dealing in rather deep subject matters including the supernatural. I wanted to know what inspired her writing career. Like many authors, it began with a love for reading as a child.

“I was a frustration to my kindergarten teacher. I was already reading. I was that kid so far ahead of everyone else and when I was bored, I was trouble! I would read everything I would get my hands on. My mom would drop me off at the library so she could go grocery shopping. The librarian would see me hanging out in the children’s book section. She came over and said ‘follow me’ and took me to the older children’s section where there were chapter books. From there I quickly moved my way into the teen section. I ended up writing my first book in 4th grade. It was a really bad book! This was around the same time as Marylou Retton and the 1984 Olympics so my story was about a gymnast that found God. Then, I would write little short stories and in high school, I wrote poetry.”

After adolescence, BJ wanted to continue her writing ambitions but in a new direction.

“I wanted to be a journalist. My first choice in college was journalism but my dad told me ‘no daughter of mine would be a dirty lying journalist’ so I did what dad wanted! I couldn’t even finish the first semester at college. I went back a second time (as an English major) when my second daughter was a baby. We (she and her first husband) broke up a year later. I was let go in 2009 from a job I hated and I was out of work for about nine months. My daughter’s birthday was coming up and I decided to write her a story. It was a bad story – ‘Skyler and the Saga of the Sages’ — but this was when the cobwebs got cleared away and I remembered how much I used to love this in high school.”

She began writing her first series, by hand, after moving to Rapid.

 

“I wrote it during lunch breaks at the job and then my husband had this old laptop he used on his first deployment. It became an obsession. I like (writing) YA because I like the concept of teenagers. Having raised three of them, they have this uncanny way to see the world in a different way than we do and most think that they are going to live forever. They just can bounce back from things. I’m also drawn to the supernatural because life is complicated and heavy and dark. I like being able to take reality and twisting it and making it something else.”

 

Like many Black Hills-based writers, BJ takes inspiration from our environment.

“My ‘Gibborim’ series takes place in the Black Hills. There are fallen angels and demons and it’s twisted!” Writing in fantasy/supernatural gives her the liberty to create new worlds. “There’s no rigid rules that it has to be (a certain) way, whereas with contemporary fiction there is. I like being able to make things up. I’m not normal. My way of dealing with reality is making my own reality!”

BJ Sheldon’s works are published by an independent press based in Nashville Tennessee (with her most recent series on a new imprint by that same independent publisher). We spoke about the publishing experience:

“When I first started out I went down the traditional route and started researching agent queries and wasn’t really getting anywhere. Then I got on Twitter. That’s how I found my publisher. They liked the concept of my book. I had won an award (Readers Favorite, Silver Medal, 2011). Whiskey Creek Press signed me to a three-book deal. With the indie presses, you wind up paying for a lot of the up-front costs yourself. I’ve just started getting checks this year. But it helped me learn about to design, how to market.”

As a result of her relationship with Whiskey Creek, BJ has had the opportunity to network with many other authors including Utopia, an annual writer’s conference and convention. She says this has helped her get over her natural shyness. “There are people there of all aspects of publishing – self-published, indie and traditional.”

“There are people there of all aspects of publishing – self-published, indie and traditional.”

BJ had planned to self-publish her second series, The Gibborim Series, but Whiskey Press reached out to her and offered her a chance to publish on their new imprint, geared toward YA supernatural fiction. As luck would have it, they wanted another trilogy. But she does hope to try other publishing methods at some point, just for the experience.
And then we delved into the heart of the matter, the community of authors we find ourselves part of here in the Black Hills. As BJ explained,

“When I first came here I thought I was the only writer! Then I went to a meeting of Black Hills authors but I didn’t quite fit in. Most were publishing works of non-fiction. Even the South Dakota Festival of Books is mostly non-fiction works, so I still felt like an outsider. I made friends with this girl, Katie, who self-publishes. Apparently, the day before I met her some New York Times, bestselling author had been on a panel with her and literally walked off when she learned that Katie was self-published. But then I met Jonas Lee (the Black Hills-based author of the ‘Carter Gabel’ trilogy – a YA series about time-traveling – which was self-published) who’s become a good friend. So, I told Katie ‘you need to find your tribe, ’ and she’s already booked tickets to the next Utopia Convention.”

BJ has learned that strong marketing — no matter whether you’re self-published or publish through traditional or independent presses — is key to the success of any author. That, and good editing.

“It hurts the craft (poor editing). There are far too many people, especially in self-publishing, who don’t take the time to make sure that what they’re putting out there is the best representation of themselves. You can’t edit your own writing. With this South Dakota Writes group, we listen to each other and network and ask the questions. I’ve got all these new writer friends, doing great work. It’s nice to get together with them.”

She wants to see more community and connection between the South Dakota writing community.

“Listen to the people around you who have experience, who want to help and not just scoff at them. Otherwise, you’re just going to continue to be stuck where you are. I hope that with the South Dakota Writes group, that a lot of people are going to learn from each other. I hope those who are doing well, who have succeeded will have enough compassion to help other people learn how to improve.”

South Dakota Writers – Interview with BJ Sheldon - Photo from bjsheldon.webs.com

South Dakota Writers – Interview with BJ Sheldon – Photo from bjsheldon.webs.com

For more information on the BJ Sheldon and her published works, I encourage you to check out her website at http://bjsheldon.webs.com/. Please follow this ongoing series here at The Sioux Empire as I meet with other South Dakota authors in the near future!

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Film Review of The Circle

I’m going to confess that I’ve never seen Emma Watson in a movie before. I haven’t seen the new live-action “Beauty and The Beast.” Hadn’t seen Aronofsky’s “Noah” or the indie films “The Bling Ring” or “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” I have also never seen any of the “Harry Potter” films. I was already in my thirties when those books came out and had no children to motivate me to get interested in the topic of adolescent magicians. I just never got around to reading the books or seeing the films and probably never will.
Wait – I just realized upon inspecting Watson’s IMDb page I have seen her in one movie: 2012’s “My Week with Marilyn” and I literally can’t conjure up a single memory of her from that film.
So, I don’t know her as an actress, but I am certainly aware of who she is. I know that she’s known to be a very thoughtful and intelligent young woman who is inspiring others with her literary campaign “Our Shared Shelf.” I appreciate that Watson is an admitted feminist with a bright, creative future who wants to inspire other young women.
But I’m going to admit that I don’t think she’s a movie star.
That probably sounds cruel and petty as if I were bashing her, woman-to-woman. My criticism of her, however, isn’t about her looks or her intelligence. I’ll explain in a bit.
In “The Circle” Watson stars as Mae Holland, a mid-twenties gal living with her parents in the San Francisco Bay area. She works a meaningless temp job for the Water Department, likes to kayak alone and perhaps relies a little too much on her handy neighbor Mercer. Mercer and Mae have grown up together, and when her car breaks down, she gives trusty old Mercer a call despite the fact that she kinda knows that he cares for her and she’s using him. Except this exchange which happens in the first scene of the movie, we know nothing more about Mae or her interests or beliefs.

Film Review of The Circle

Film Review of The Circle

Mae’s parents, Bonnie and Vinnie (Glenne Headley and the late Bill Paxton in his final big-screen release) are clearly just getting by. You know this because their house is dirty. I don’t mean messy but dirty – you see dirt and grime and fingerprints on their walls and light switches which are something you never see in a typical Hollywood movie unless it’s intentional. Vinnie has Multiple Sclerosis, and Bonnie spends her life in a kind of servitude to her husband who clearly isn’t being proactive with his health since he likes to drink canned beer.
Suddenly Mae receives a phone call from a friend who works for a social media company called The Circle, and she’s just gotten her friend an interview. Mae is elated and eager because she’s clearly been hearing good things about The Circle for a long time. Even her parents are over the moon because they’re telling all their friends about her salary and amazing dental plan.
Mae takes a simple customer service position. She gets a tour of the campus from her friend Annie, played by Scottish actress Karen Gillan (a “Dr. Who” veteran) who quite literally bounces as she excitedly shows Annie the bocce court and coffee bar and play yards of The Circle’s campus. What Annie’s job is isn’t exactly known, but clearly, she has some real responsibility at this firm and shares access to some top-secret stuff with Mae.
Mae heads home one weekend to spend some quality time with family and friends, and her old buddy Mercer comes by. Mercer (Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood”) has that scruffy-but-sensitive look on his face like you just know that he has read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” while working on an actual motorcycle. Mae learns that Mercer is making antler chandeliers. They chat and spar, Mercer and Mae, but then she heads back to work on Monday morning. There, curiously, a duo never named come up to her to inquire about her weekend. They’re not just making idle chit-chat, mind you. They want to know why she went home for the weekend. (It isn’t explained to the audience at the inception of Mae’s career that she will live on campus). Why didn’t she tell anyone where she was going? Why didn’t she post all about the experience on social media and why, in fact, is she not in The Circle? The Circle is a social media site, clearly modeled on Facebook. It’s important, they tell Mae, that she become a part of this family. That she does not just work here but share her life with the rest of the team. Why Mae is the only human being on the planet who clearly isn’t already in The Circle is not explained, but of course, the two magpies hovering at her desk quickly sign her up for an account.
Now, Mae wanders the hallways of The Circle’s campus while text bubbles appear on the screen showing her likes and comments and communications. Once, feeling particularly effusive after a video chat with her mom, she uploads a photo of one of Mercer’s antler chandeliers so everyone online can enjoy it.
Except, they don’t. In fact, in this ooh-so-sensitive world that Mae inhabits, her social circle is in fact horrified. Does Mercer, like, kill the deer to get those antlers!? Understandably, Mercer cuts himself off from Mae.
Meanwhile, she also submits to a rigorous and invasive health screening. She discloses information about her family including her father’s health status and is elated to discover that The Circle would like to add her parents to her health plan. She doesn’t ask any questions about this. Does she think this is a good thing? Bad thing? She continues on her merry way, ingratiating herself into the group at The Circle. She meets a thoughtful young man, (John Boyega from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) who seems to know a lot about what happens behind the scenes at The Circle. And of course, Mae is just one of many hyper-enthused employees who is inspired by the work being done by Bailey, the CEO of the company. Tom Hanks plays Bailey as a nod to Steve Jobs, walking casually out on the stage with his ever-present cup of regular-guy coffee to introduce new ideas and technologies to the team. Like the idea of teeny, tiny cameras installed on the beaches to ensure the safety of swimmers. Or those same tiny cameras scattered throughout a city block somewhere in the Middle East, trained to watch for a high-level terrorist. Backing up Bailey is his trusty COO, Stenton (a sadly under-used Patton Oswalt who does little in the film beyond lurking).
Does Mae think installing cameras everywhere is a good idea? Maybe, although we don’t know her thoughts. But she’s smiling and happy and gives no outward appearance of her inner thoughts.
And that’s my complaint, or issue with Emma Watson as a leading actress. She is a fine thespian, a remarkable young woman, a talent and a mover and shaker in the world of conscientious youth but her inner workings never come across on the screen.
The greatest actors are not celebrated for their demeanor or their looks or their ability to emote. They are noted for their ability to bring us into their world, and that starts with their thoughts. The greatest actors of any generation are known for capturing the experience and making it universal. If they can’t, they’re usually relegated to supporting or character roles. Which is fine.
When Mae takes the kayak out at night, unprepared and for an unexplained reason, she sets off a chain of events that will put her front and center into the issues of personal and professional privacy. She is recorded for all waking hours, with the exception of some bathroom time, so that the world will see everything she does – an idea that The Circle and Bailey/Stenton are trying to get political support for. But despite the hyper-visibility, I know nothing of what is inside Mae’s brain.
The whole time I was watching this movie I kept wondering “What is she thinking?”
Does she truly believe that transparency is the answer?
Does she have any feelings for Mercer?
Why is she going kayaking at night?
What does she think is going on with Annie’s behavior? Etcetera.
I hadn’t read David Eggers’ novel “The Circle” upon which this film was based but while the film does pose some truly thought-provoking ideas about social media and the privacy line between work and personal lives and the issues of global manhunts and consumer transparency, “The Circle” not only didn’t tell us what we might think of these notions – it also didn’t really explain how the so-called protagonist felt.
All in all, a dud of a film. A rare miss for an actor like Tom Hanks. And personally, I think that Emma Watson should stick to rom-coms and the light, fanciful film work that she began her career with. Again, I know that sounds mean but acting is as much about the inner work as how it appears on screen, and both this film and its leading lady never take us beyond the surface.

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