School Shootings and Our Culture of Death

Time to admit we are not a civilized society

By Michael M. Barrick

Ho hum.

More children and a teacher have been killed in a school shooting in Texas. We will express our collective outrage for a news cycle or two then go on about our business of letting it happen.

It is time, then, to admit that the school shootings – averaging at least once a week now in the USA – reveal that we are not a civilized society; what we have become, rather, are bystanders and even enablers to a Culture of Death.

culure of death yomex-owo-642587-unsplashThis is no longer a debate about gun rights or school safety. Rather, it is a debate about what has gone wrong in America. How have we come to accept a culture of death?

Here are just some of the examples of how we have come to accept and even embrace our culture of death.

  • Our granddaughter, who will have her 9th birthday this week, has lived in a nation at war her whole life.
  • Our wars have caused death and great emotional and physical injuries to tens of thousands of young Americans; and, hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and throughout the Middle East have died or been made refugees since we have launched our undeclared wars in the region.
  • Capital punishment.
  • Abortion.
  • A health systems industry instead of a healthcare system designed to care for every American
  • Environmental degradation, public health disasters and sacrificial zones for the fossil fuel industry.
  • Funding cuts to mental health services.
  • Poor and vulnerable populations shut out from basic government services.
  • Food deserts.
  • Storing our elders in warehouses to die when they become inconvenient.
  • Weekly shootings in our schools, along with mass murders elsewhere, as in Colorado, Florida, South Carolina and many other places.

We have truly reached the end of our rope on this issue. We need leaders who will help us come together. It can no longer be a binary choice. Children or guns is not the question before us. We have many questions that we have, up to this point, ignored. Can we sit at the same table? Do we have the courage to say we are a culture of death? Are we courageous enough to explore why? Are we willing to make the tough choices that show we value life?

Gun sebastian-pociecha-631796-unsplashRight now, those leaders are not found in legislative bodies, governor mansions or the White House. Those leaders are the friends of the very children being shot down. Let’s follow the examples of our children. They have proven to be far wiser than the elected adults. The students get what the “honorables” don’t – if we don’t stop school shootings, we will have demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that we value profit over life. Our children will grow up knowing their lives just aren’t important.

We must do better. Adults are screaming at each other, when we should be talking. We are setting terrible examples for our children. No wonder they have concluded the only option is violence. We must put every potential solution on the table, regardless of how unpopular.

culture of death FTR hugues-de-buyer-mimeure-325681-unsplashWhen Active Shooter Drills become routine exercises for school children – as they have – then we have clearly become a culture that does not value life. We are a culture of death. We needn’t look around anymore for leaders. They already exist. They are the students. We must lock elbows with them so strongly that the alliance can’t be defeated. We must all work to identify and address the root causes of our culture of death. Only then can we help turn our society into one that again values life – at all stages, in all circumstances.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Cemetery Photo by Hugues de BUYER-MIME; Grim Reaper Photo by Yomex Owo;  Gun Photo by Sebastian Pociecha on Unsplash

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Message Delivered: Public Schools Matter!

Rallying with teachers, students and friends exhilarating and humbling

By Art Sherwood

RALEIGH – I stood in awe with teachers, students and friends this past Wednesday when tens of thousands of us delivered a very clear message to the North Carolina General Assembly – Public Schools Matter!

That is why I am seeking to serve the citizens of Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties in the State Senate. The teachers are right! The legislature must properly fund our public schools.

Under Democratic governors such as Terry Sandford and Jim Hunt, North Carolina earned a reputation as a leader in public education. I want to help Governor Cooper restore us to that status. Participating in the rally Wednesday was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so. However, if given the chance to serve in the State Senate, I will have many opportunities to stand proudly in support of public schools for our region and all of North Carolina’s children – through votes that restore our schools to their once proud standing.

That is why I stood with:

Teachers, students and allies from Burke County.

Teachers, students and allies from Caldwell County.

A friend from church.

In short, a mass of humanity moving forward in support of public education.

I look forward to the opportunity to stand with them again, in the North Carolina State Senate.

Courtesy Submission

 

I am Going to Raleigh in Support of our Teachers

Concern for students, not self, motivates teachers daily and will in Raleigh

By Art Sherwood

child learning pan-xiaozhen-423533-unsplash (1)LENOIR, N.C. – I am standing in solidarity with the thousands of teachers expected to descend upon Raleigh on Wednesday. Here is why: When we need an expert medical opinion, we seek the best professional help we can. In short, we seek out a subject matter expert. Well, there is nobody more expert about the conditions faced by students in North Carolina’s public school classrooms than the teachers staffing those classrooms.

So, when they say it is time to march on the state capitol to be heard by the North Carolina General Assembly, they have my attention!

Do not let their detractors fool you. This isn’t about demanding money for themselves nearly as much as it is demanding appropriate funding for the students they teach.

The legislature has cut more than 7,000 instructional assistant positions. Imagine teaching a class of early grade students who need shoes tied, noses wiped, have bathroom accidents, crying episodes, come to school hungry, have varying learning styles and learn at different paces. Now imagine trying to keep these same children calm and on task to learn while tending to all those needs. That is just one example of what we expect of our teachers. They have the right to expect support in return.

The legislature lacks understanding about classroom management because few have set foot in a classroom since graduating from high school. People who attended school when the teacher stood in front of the class to teach while the students listened need to step into a classroom where every student’s needs are being met on an individual basis through centers and differentiation. In doing so, they will understand the need for proper class sizes and legislation that truly returns local control to the person most qualified to exercise it – the classroom teacher.

Art Sherwood primary

Art Sherwood

Those teachers need proper funding though. That isn’t the case, as North Carolina ranks 43rd in per-pupil spending nationally. Improving that ranking is a priority for teachers, as it should be. Underfunding our public education system is cheating our children.

Standardized testing is out of control. Teachers are beholden to legislators who have absolutely no experience in education and have hence created classroom environments where administrators, teachers and students are more concerned about teaching to a test than teaching critical thinking.

Meanwhile, Charter Schools divert funds intended for the public schools to entities not nearly as accountable as local school boards. They are often run by for-profit organizations that look at children as a commodity, not a student. So, money that should be reinvested in the public schools instead go into the pockets of the Charter School investors. In short, Charter Schools are essentially private schools funded with public dollars.

Finally, teachers are correct to ask for pay raises. As Kris Nordstrom with NC Policy Watch noted, “To truly determine the salary required to attract and retain talented candidates to the teaching field, the important measurement is how compensation compares in relation to alternative careers with similar educational requirements. That is, the salaries of North Carolina teachers are best compared against the salaries of other professionals in North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree or higher. This metric avoids the weaknesses of traditional state rankings and is more aligned with the data a talented university student considers when deciding which profession to pursue.”

It is no wonder teachers are marching in Raleigh. The people they care most about – the children they teach – are being short-changed. And they’ve had enough of it. That is why I will be in Raleigh standing with teachers this Wednesday. And, it is the single-most important reason I am seeking to represent Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties in the N.C. State Senate. I want to stand with them and the children they serve in Raleigh every day.

Art Sherwood is the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 46, which includes the Appalachian counties of Avery, Burke and Caldwell in Western North Carorlina. Learn more here.

Courtesy submission. Photo by HT Chong on Unsplash

While ICE Celebrates, Immigrants and Allies Grieve

CIMA calls for gathering to send message of disapproval

Matthew 25:31-46 – “…I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” 

Zechariah 7:8-10 – Do not oppress the alien.

Editor’s note: This is published so close to the event because the news release was just received this morning.

FLAT ROCK, N.C. – Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción (CIMA) is calling on residents of Western North Carolina to peacefully gather at an outdoor celebration today at 11 a.m. that is being hosted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at The Park at Flat Rock at 55 Highland Golf Drive.

CIMA poster

Credit: CIMA

According to a news release from CIMA, “The community plans to gather to express their deep disapproval of this celebration after a week of devastating detentions and deportations led by the federal agency. Since this past Saturday morning, ICE agents stormed Latinx communities across Western North Carolina, leaving people traumatized and an estimated 25 people taken into custody.”

The statement added, “We are appalled that anyone would celebrate this recent ICE raid and the hundreds of people left reeling from this week,” said local organizer, Jay. “They have taken our community members, devastated families, and caused hundreds of people to stay locked inside their houses for days on end out of fear. We are grieving and they are celebrating.

Bruno Hinojosa, CIMA Coordinator said, “This is such an insensitive and inhumane expression of celebration in the face of such deep community trauma. Witnessing this event is not meant to be a confrontation or direct action, but an opportunity to peacefully gather and demonstrate WNC’s collective pain and organized resistance. We will not confront or attack these people but merely show them there are real people on the other side of their actions. We do not find this horrific week worth celebrating.”

CIMA’s statement continued, “ICE agents have been detaining people driving through their neighborhoods; while visiting community health centers; and simply leaving for work in the morning. Organizers throughout the area have been working since the launch of this week’s ICE operation to ensure that people are aware of their rights; to connect families with legal representation; to provide support for their basic needs; and to quell reports and rumors of ICE activity. Still, the terror instilled by this latest wave of immigration detentions has left many families in hiding and classrooms full of empty seats.”

Sanctuary poster FTR

Credit: CIMA

Want to know more?

According to the statement, “CIMA connects, strengthens and organizes communities to take action for immigrants’ rights in Western North Carolina. CIMA strives for inclusive communities with justice, freedom, and equality for all.” Additional information about today’s event can be found here .

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Cheers to Our Right to Vote!

Don’t bitch; vote instead, then toast to your freedom

Vote ftr

LENOIR, N.C. — Early (One-stop) voting started today in North Carolina. When I voted at about 2 in the afternoon in Lenoir at one of our county’s two early voting locations, about 75 people had voted. Two hours later when I went back to check the count, is was only about 85. While I await official numbers from the local Board of Elections office, it was reported to me that only about two dozen people had voted at the other early voting location in Granite Falls, in the densely populated southern end of the county.

These numbers are pathetic!

I have heard every excuse from people — still, after 2016 — in the last weeks as why they are not going to vote in the primary. I have yet to hear a good excuse. It’s simply a cop out. A lack of followership. Yes, that’s my new word. Not only do we suffer from a horrendous lack of political leadership, we have a lack of followership. Far too many people are still apathetic about a human right few have enjoyed throughout history.

But they don’t mind bitching. Allow me a quick digression to address that.

Cheers to Dad

In the photo above where I am cheering my right to vote, I am also saluting my father, who would have been 92 today. He would have been the first in line to vote today. That’s only one of a million reasons I miss him. The other is what a friend had to say when I texted the photo to her: “He always told things as he saw them.”

So, true to his legacy, I have three words for the non-voters: Don’t bitch, vote! That’s what Dad would have said. So, cheers to him, and cheers to our right to vote!

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. “We the People” photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash

 

Art Sherwood Sees First Sign of Support

Singer-songwriter Andrew Massey plants first yard sign for State Senate candidate

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – My favorite part of being the campaign director for Art Sherwood is getting to talk with people. (Those who know me won’t be surprised by that confession). One of my favorite people to hang with is Andrew Massey of Lenoir. Andrew is a singer-songwriter, a very close friend (as is his whole family), and the general age of our adult children.

Andrew Massey

And, he’s kind to me. I’m tone deaf. Couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But I gravitate to musicians like I’m a groupie. I love music. Want to learn everything I can. So Andrew tolerates me as he writes and records music in his home studio while we drink tea, talk about things I don’t understand about music, and enjoy his toddler son keeping us both on our toes.

Indeed, we often don’t talk politics. In that way, our conversations and time together is a good distraction from my work. But other times we do. He is a barometer for me. He lets me know what people his age think. He lets me know what musicians think. He lets me know what free thinkers think. And he is simply fun to be around.

And he is talented as he can be. He writes his own music for adults and children. He performs alone and with other, in particular with Sycamore Bones (and more here), which also includes Cory Kinal and Abigail Taylor.

Two years ago, he was an avid supporter of Art when he ran for the North Carolina State Senate in the old district that included Caldwell County. He lent his artistic talent in support of Art.

He’s doing it again in 2018, as Art seeks to represent the residents of Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties in the redrawn State Senate District 46 as the Democratic nominee. He has no primary.

Andrew’s most visible sign of that support was his decision to plant the first Art Sherwood campaign yard sign of the season in his front yard in downtown Lenoir. There’s a good reason for that. Art has been a vigorous supporter of the arts community his whole life and has embraced artisans and musician in the region.

The arts community is indispensable to all three counties. Not only does art play a vital role in speaking truth to power, but it also provides many jobs in the region. So, Andrew supports Art because Art is committed to ensure that the state of North Carolina provides proper funding to the arts.

Andrew and Art both represent the best of North Carolina values – independence, integrity and excellence. I hope you’ll join us and help send Art to Raleigh. Not only would the arts benefit. So would civility and common decency. And, if you’d like, call me and I’ll be happy to bring a yard sign to your house.

© Citizens for Art, 2018. “Art” Photo by Ian Williams on Unsplash

Privatization of the VA Would Make Mockery of its Mission

Party of Lincoln forgets that the VA was inspired by the 16th president

By Art Sherwood

LENOIR, N.C. – David Shulkin, who was fired by President Trump last week as head of the Veterans Administration (VA), told several national news outlets that he was fired because he stood in the way of efforts by Trump and the GOP to privatize the VA (read more at NPR and CBS).

While the VA was not established until 1930, it seems that the GOP has forgotten that the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, provided the foundational spirit of the VA as noted in the Mission Statement on the VA’s website: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”

While Trump’s removal of Shulkin is not surprising from the “You’re Fired!” president, privatization would be disastrous for the men and women served by the VA. Yet, it is consistent with the goals of the Republican Party. This is not a new agenda item. It’s been going on a long time. It is the “Starve the Beast” mentality. To ensure its failure, the GOP-led Congress intentionally underfunds the VA so performance is not where it should be. Then the agency and those running it – rather than Congress – are blamed for failures due to inadequate funding.

While the GOP may have forgotten Lincoln’s intentions, I have not. I worked with and for the VA for more than a decade. It was an honor to serve those who gave all for our country.

We have a sacred obligation to honor the mission of the VA and should not farm it out to profiteers who will put making money ahead of caring for our veterans. There are nearly one million veterans in North Carolina, making up over nine percent of our population. They deserve better than having their treatment transferred to a private provider looking to cut corners to increase profits.

The VA system is clearly better equipped and more knowledgeable about the needs and care of veterans than private providers scattered across the nation that have little or no experience dealing with the specialized care veterans need – and deserve. My experience in the largest VA hospital in the system in Houston showed me that the variety of comprehensive services that veterans get through the system could in no way be provided by private providers. The VA provides mental care and physical, comprehensive treatment of complex injuries such as those to the spinal cord. The VA’s knowledge and treatment of these injuries is among the best in the world.

To ensure its failure, the GOP-led Congress intentionally underfunds the VA so performance is not where it should be. Then the agency and those running it – rather than Congress – are blamed for failures due to inadequate funding.

Is the VA perfect? Of course not. But it does provide quality care. When the VA has appropriate stable leadership at the top that is committed to the mission of the VA, it succeeds. The employees are loyal civil servants who will follow leadership dedicated to the mission of the VA as articulated by President Lincoln following the Civil War. My personal experience is that when civil servants are given a fair chance to compete against the private sector, they win. They provide better, more efficient care. Still, we must remain vigilant. We should fix any problems that occur. It’s a large system, so of course it has potential for problems.

Additionally, let us not forget that the VA’s case load has increased dramatically in the last few decades because of the wars we are fighting around the world. It is now commonly agreed that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was precipitated on lies. We would have far less veterans to care for if we quit fighting unnecessary wars.

Also, the military deserves credit for improving its trauma care in battle zones. There are many more soldiers coming home alive than in previous wars. In addition, many veterans return home with the invisible wound of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This puts additional stress on already underfunded social and mental health services for our veterans. The VA is uniquely qualified to provide the required care – again, assuming it is properly funded.

Only the VA can provide the specialized, seamless care that these veterans deserve. In the rare cases where a veteran may live far away from the nearest VA hospital, a referral to a local provider might be necessary, but those are rare instances.

It is noteworthy, that as I talk to veterans in Caldwell County, that they’ve told me of the excellent care they have received at VA hospitals in the area, whether in Asheville, Salisbury or over the mountain in Tennessee. Their testimonies are encouraging. (There are also VA hospitals in Durham and Fayetteville, as well as Outpatient Clinics scattered across the state).

So, as a North Carolina State Senator, I will vigorously defend the VA and work closely with our congressional delegation to protect it and challenge them to properly fund the system. I will also challenge the GOP to quit the saber-rattling than can lead to only more young Americans dying and being maimed on foreign soil.

It is clear, that when it comes to waging wars and caring for those who do the actual fighting, the GOP’s hypocrisy knows no bounds.

We can do better. I will do better, given the opportunity. So, I would appreciate your vote in November. There are nearly a million veterans in North Carolina counting on the VA. Let’s not let them down.

© Citizens for Art, 2018. American flags photo by Cal Engel and dog tags photo by Holly Mindrup on Unsplash

Note: Art Sherwood is the Democratic candidate for North Carolina Senate District 46, which includes 3 Appalachian counties – Avery, Burke and Caldwell.  I am serving as Campaign / Communications Director for him. Impartiality is no longer an option for me. While it’s not news, 2016 reminded us that elections matter. How we care for the poor and vulnerable, how we protect the sacred earth which sustains us, how we protect human rights, how we care for the alien among us, how we defend voting rights, and how we treat each other in the body politic and the “public square” of social media, requires that I choose a side. – MB

 

Wrestling with Pilate’s Question

‘What is Truth?’

By Michael M. Barrick

As I read scripture this morning, this passage from the Gospel of John led me to conclude that my primary daily challenge is answering this question asked by Pilate of Jesus: “What is truth?”

Crucifix christoph-schmid-258813-unsplash

This is a question that I am forced to consider every day, not just on Good Friday. Whether reading scripture, writings from other faith traditions, a book, or simply trying to live by the Golden Rule, I find this question is one that is consistently spinning around in my head.

I do not intend to claim that, because I am a Christian, I hold all truths simply because I own a Bible. What I do mean is that we must learn from this question. We must acknowledge that this is the question at the root of most of our debates in our nation and world today.

It is good, I think, to acknowledge that my faith confuses and challenges me. It is necessary because I know I am not alone.

As for the conundrum Pilate faced – what to do with Jesus – I come across people daily who are asking that question. Heck, I ask it every day and I was immersed in religious instruction as a child attending Catholic school. I continue to learn all that I can about every Christian denomination and all other non-Christian faith traditions. Regardless of the tradition, answering the question, “What is truth,” is always the fundamental quest.

I’ve forgotten most of what the nuns taught me in the 1960s. But I have learned through experience that it is my actions, not my words, which will help others understand how I struggle with the challenge Pilate faced. It is good, I think, to acknowledge that my faith confuses and challenges me. It is necessary because I know I am not alone.

Indeed, how we answer that question just might decide the fate of all of humanity. People have been known to blow each other up quite regularly because they have come up with different answers to the question, “What is truth?”

I can speak only for myself, but it seems that killing one another over that question is exactly what Jesus was opposed to.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photo by Christoph Schmid on Unsplash 

March For Our Lives is the Tipping Point on Gun Violence

Our youth have put the gun lobby on its heels

LENOIR, N.C. – Saturday’s March For Our Lives in Lenoir – and beyond – was inspiring to the point of tears. And I wasn’t even there.

March For Our Lives Lenoir NC

People gather in Lenoir, N.C. for the March For Our Lives on March 24, 2018

I was bummed about that, but I had a good reason – I was with Art Sherwood in Morganton at the Burke County Democratic Party County Convention. Art is running for the North Carolina State Senate and I’m honored to guide his campaign.

So, while I would have been thrilled to join our county’s youth yesterday, I know the best thing I can do to help them achieve their objective of putting an end to mass murder in our public schools (and elsewhere) is work to elect the type of people who will pass legislation banning assault weapons, putting much greater restrictions on gun shows and other measures. Art is such a man.

Still, it is not lost on me who the true leaders in our nation are now. Most of them look to be under 19-years-old. They have done something that no politician has had the courage to do. They have declared war on the gun lobby and put it on the defensive.

Their movement must become our movement. The pictures, the speeches and the raw number of people at the March For Our Lives events on Saturday should move us all to action.

We must heed their pleas.

Schools were not designed with urban combat in mind; they were designed for teaching and learning.

I know they are right. I have the experience to make that claim.

I am a retired classroom teacher who also holds a post-graduate certificate in Community Preparedness and Disaster Management from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. I have written, led and participated in more than one Active Shooter Exercise (for schools and hospitals). There is one thing I can tell you for certain: Our children are vulnerable as hell.

The open classroom design that some schools have make children sitting ducks. There is no place to shelter-in-place. Even schools with traditional classrooms, no matter how well secured, are easy targets for a determined individual.

Schools were not designed with urban combat in mind; they were designed for teaching and learning.

The students know this. Therefore, they are in the streets. They know that school systems cannot – and should not – be expected to provide them the level of safety required. Those in the public schools, after all, are trained to teach children. They are not trained in urban warfare.

In short, the shootings can’t really be mitigated on the school end. Yes, having a police officer on campus is common now, and as we’ve seen recently, a potentially effective way to reduce the number of deaths.

But it isn’t enough. We must eliminate them.

March for our Lives ftr

We must address the root cause before it enters the schoolhouse doorway. That’s what the students are demanding. They just want what all of us want – to live as long as possible, and certainly not to be cut down in their youth.

While they’ve got the gun lobby on its heels, let’s join them and help finish the job. It is time for a reckoning. The gun lobby has blood on its hands and it knows it. Unlike Pontius Pilate though, they cannot wash their hands clean.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Sherwood Launches Website, Issues Position Papers

Takes stands on Public Education, Healthcare and Employment

Art Sherwood primary

Art Sherwood

LENOIR, N.C.  – Art Sherwood, the Democratic candidate for the N.C. State Senate in Avery, Burke and Caldwell Counties today launched his website and issued position papers. “The people of Western North Carolina are industrious and caring. They want what is best for their families. That means we must address the challenges facing public education, we must provide universal, single-payer healthcare, and we must focus on 21st Century strategies for providing local and full employment.”

The website can be accessed here.

Position papers include:

On Public Education

On Healthcare

On Employment

Sherwood commented, “That we continue to have to deal with these issues demonstrates clearly that we lack leadership in Raleigh. That is why providing leadership that is principled and reasonable is my primary focus. By doing that, I can help be part of the solution. Indeed, these position papers provide detailed insight into exactly how I plan to deal with these issues. I hope folks will take a few minutes to read them. This is the year we must turn the tide of incivility, negativity and inaction.”