Why Women March

By now we all know that history was made on January 21, 2017. What an awe-inspiring sight to see millions of women in this country and around the world, marching in unity. Epic in Proportion. Powerful.

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Wilmington’s Women’s March        Photos courtesy of Sandra C.

To my amazement, I read comments on-line and on social media from people who could not understand what the Women’s March on Washington was about. One guy on my Facebook page  pejoratively referred to it as “your so-called” march. When I read that I thought, “there, that is it exactly. That is why women march.” “So-called” is such a put down, such an attempt to belittle and invalidate. Women are sick and tired of having their accomplishments demeaned. Too often our voices, concerns, and issues are ignored or bullied into silence.

To not understand why women marched in solidarity on January 21st is to not understand why Alcoholics Anonymous exists, or other support groups like cancer survivors, veterans, or MADD. There is hope and healing when you discover that you are not alone. Now imagine how it feels when you discover that millions of people around the world feel the same way. The Women’s March on Washington, in all its forms and in all its places, was the tangible reality of that fact. It’s like never having seen the ocean but being told how expansive, powerful, and majestic it is. And then one day you see the ocean for yourself, you witness its grandeur with your own eyes.

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Wilmington March

To be sure, women marched with many agendas and for a wide range of issues that day. Each woman came with a personal life experience or story that motivated them. You cannot have a gathering of that magnitude and not expect that to be the case. After all, each woman is still an individual! The point is that in our current political environment, and around the world, groups of every kind, under the larger umbrella of women’s rights, are being marginalized, ignored, abused, and discriminated against. Thus the mantra, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and “Human Rights are Women’s Rights.” 

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Great Question!

Finally, we acknowledge all of the men and boys; fathers, partners, brothers, sons and male friends, who marched alongside the women.

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Not just about women

Their presence affirmed that the march was in fact bigger than just about a bunch of bitchy women with an axe to grind. The multitude of voices who used the March for their platform were speaking for the (here-to-fore) silent majority of humanity, not the minority as detractors would like us to believe. It is imperative that we keep raising our voices and remembering that while there are those with money to buy political power, there is another form of political power, Power in Numbers.

Dear Readers, did any of you participate in a March on January 21st, or have a story about someone who did?

 

 

Steinbach Smoking Men From Germany

For me, the Christmas Season begins with the re-emergence of my Steinbach Smoking Men. Out comes “The Real Bavarian,” “The Mushroom Man,” “The Bunny Rancher,” and all the rest. Each adorable folk character is an incense burner. Some are also music boxes playing German folk tunes. img_0225Their bodies come apart in the middle where you place a cone of incense, light it, put them back together, and then watch the smoke spiral up out of their open mouths.img_0243

For thousands of years the burning of incense has been used in religious rituals. The rising smoke is symbolic of offerings and prayers rising up to Heaven. At Christmas time we are reminded of the “three wise men” or Magi, img_0242who brought precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh from the Far East. Frankincense and myrrh are both aromatic resins used to make incense and perfumes. They were costly exotic commodities that flowed along trade routes for centuries out of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

But for as many years, incense has been an important part of pagan rituals. It was burned in sacrifices, and used to purify the home and drive out evil spirits, as well as to draw in good luck and good fortune. Long before Christmas, ancient Peoples celebrated the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year. rlm4wq96h_0-chuttersnap

Because the Solstice marks the meteorological turning point of that trend, numerous rituals of fire and light became associated with what must have seemed a magical time of the year to ancient agrarian cultures. As most of us know, these pagan rituals eventually merged with many Christian Christmas traditions.candle-light

Christian and Germanic customs together with superstition made people believe that the evil spirits of the “Raunaechte” (longest nights of the year) could be driven away by noise and light. Once the devils and evil spirits had left the house fine incense was burnt to bless hearth and home. Written in chalk over the front door would be the letters C+M+B believed to be a magic spell that would keep evil away throughout the coming year. The letters stood for: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, traditionally the three names given to the Magi.

As medieval piety grew in Germany in the 1600’s, folk artists created new forms to burn incense that were religiously acceptable. In particular, toy makers in the Erzgebirge region, (the Ore Mountains), began to carve wooden folk characters that were also incense burners and thus the “smoking men” were born.

The Steinbach family has been making German folk art for 5 generations. They proudly manufacture these “smokers” in charming detail. Few stores in the U.S. import them but if you visit one of the many European Christmas markets this time of year, you will have many to choose from!

Dear readers, do you have an event or ritual that marks the beginning of the Christmas season for you? Would you care to share it with us?

Poem: Election Day by Walt Whitman

ELECTION DAY, NOVEMBER, 1884.

07550_150pxIf I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest
scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-
loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—
nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the
still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland
—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia,
California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and con-
flict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:)
the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the
heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails. 

                                                                                                                    

My Nazi Legacy Trailer | Video | Independent Lens | PBS

On Monday night I watched a video on my local PBS station that was both fascinating and depressing. You know the kind. The images replay through your mind as you drift off to sleep and linger the next morning like a kind of cloudy malaise.  I don’t mean to suggest that the film is full of gruesome death camp photos, but that the subject matter’s stark and disturbing reality weighs heavily on the human psyche.

For me, there is even a personal connection. Although my family is not even a little bit Jewish, my paternal grandfather’s brother died in Dachau concentration camp. He was a Czech border guard who refused a Nazi officer’s command to shoot people escaping across the border. He was sent to Dachau as punishment and he never came out.

From the PBS Website: “My Nazi Legacy explores the relationship between two men, each the sons of high-ranking Nazi officials, and internationally renowned British human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, whose family perished in the Holocaust. Sands met Niklas Frank and Horst van Wachter while researching his book East West Street, and as the three travel together on an emotional journey through Europe and the past, the film explores how each of them cope with their own devastating family history.”

www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/my-nazi-legacy/

 

How It All Started

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One day while rummaging through a box of my mother’s old photographs and documents I found her parent’s Certificate of Marriage. My maternal grandparents were Czech immigrants to America in the early 1900’s. Both were from small villages in the region of Bohemia. They met in Chicago and were married there on September 15, 1923. Stamped on the bottom corner of the certificate was the seal of the “CoIMG_2244ngregation of Bohemian Freethinkers.” Curious about who this congregation was and what they believed, I began a search to learn about them and in so doing to learn clues about the stock from which I had sprung.

I never knew either of my grandparents. My grandfather died before I was born and is buried in Chicago. My grandmother remarried and moved to California but she died when I was only a year old. My mother told me little about her parents except that they owned and operated a “cigar and candy store” along with my great aunt. It was located on the south side of Chicago, a part of the city with a high concentration of ethnic Czech neighborhoods. They liveIMG_2535 (1)d behind the store as was common in those days.

My mother rarely referred to her family or herself as Czech. Instead, they were “Bohemians” and they spoke “Bohemian.” Like many Europeans who had officially been citizens of large empires through the centuries, my ancestors had always identified themselves by their ethnicity and language.

When she did speak of her father, it was with pride in his active involvement within the Czech community. She remembered him organizing all sorts of musical programs and parade marches in which she participated. He helped to found a Czech school which my mother and her sister attended. Grandfather believed that it was important for Bohemian children to learn Czech history, culture and language. I now know that his efforts were in orchestration with the efforts of a larger community institution, the Congregation of Bohemian Freethinkers.

Founded in 1870 in Chicago, the Congregation of Bohemian Freethinkers was formed by the large number of Czech immigrants in the city who abandoned the organized church when they reached America. As an alternative, they formed a secular institution that functioned in many ways like a church. The Bohemian Freethinkers built an extensive social network of schools, benevolent socieIMG_2245ties, and fraternal groups that provided a sense of community, belonging, and support.

Besides creating educational and cultural programs, they also provided public forums for political debates and avenues for social action. Freethinkers stayed connected through the publishing of Svornost, their own Czech language newspaper. The Congregation performed civil wedding ceremonies, as in the case of my grandparents, and secular baptisms for their children. They even founded the Bohemian National Cemetery in 1877 as no church would allow Freethinkers to be buried on church grounds.

At some point in their history together, my grandmother found her way to a Protestant church but my grandfather did not follow her. And sometime after that they divorced, though my mother never spoke of it. Perhaps this explained, at least in part, why she told me so little about her parents.

Learning the history of the Bohemian Freethinkers has indeed brought me a greater understanding of my grandparents. But it is my grandfather to whom I feel most connected. He was a poet who promoted the aIMG_2532rts. He was proud of his heritage and loved its history and culture. He was open-minded and brave enough to be independent in thought. I am a writer and a musician. I am dedicated to life-long learning and cultural enrichment. The older I get, the more individuated I become and the more willing I am to embrace change. The more of a Freethinker I become.

I regret that I never knew my grandfather. But even the little bit that I do know explains some of who I am, how I think, and what I love. We are much alike he and I and it is comforting to think that a little bit of him lives on in me. So it is to him that I dedicate this blog’s journey.