Though the alleged culprit has been captured, details are still being uncovered. The death toll has yet to be tallied.
Unconfirmed reports state that he shouted “All Jews must die,” before opening fire.
But I don’t believe that the Jewish community was his only target.
Or more precisely – it wasn’t just the Jewish part – it was the community that had grown up around it.
I know Squirrel Hill well.
I live close by. I grew up on those streets. I’ve been to services at that synagogue. I have family who are members.
Thankfully it seems that no one related to me was there this morning. But when victims names are released, I probably will know who they are.
I know this community.
I am an extended part of it.
And that’s something of which I am proud.
Just walk along Murray Avenue and you’ll see Indian, Italian, Jewish, African, Chinese – every nationality imaginable – offering the fruits of their culture for friendly commerce.
You’ll see Hasidic Jews in dark hats and flowing tzitzit walking next to women in colorful saris next to trans and lesbians, kids with every color skin playing together in harmony.
Whenever I want a good corned beef sandwich or a quality lox and bagel, I go there. Whenever I want a spicy curry or the freshest sushi or an authentic macaroon, that’s the place. If I want to hear a string quartet or a lecture from a visiting dignitary or even if I want to swim in a public pool, membership to the Jewish Community Center is open to all.
It’s like a few blocks of cosmopolitan life tucked away in a city more known for segregation. We have many ethnic neighborhoods but few where one culture flows so easily into another.
Heck. Even the Tree of Life Synagogue, itself, doesn’t serve one congregation. It serves three who all had services going on at different parts of the building this morning.
There’s just something very special about this place.
It’s where you can go to be yourself – in fact, you’re encouraged to be who you are and not conform to any particular norm. Yet in doing so, you’re somehow demonstrating unity.
Paradoxically, being you makes you one of us.
I think it may have been that sense of community that made Squirrel Hill, in general, and the Tree of Life Synagogue, in particular, a target.
The hate-filled person who attacked us today was terrified of that unity.
He was so frightened of disillusion, of losing his sense of self, that he had to end the lives of those who could do what he couldn’t.
It’s pathetic, really.
If your sense of self is only a negative, only opposition to someone else’s otherness, you really don’t have much self to lose.
If you define yourself by your hate, what are you?
Do you even really exist?
Most of us are very different.
We are complex assortments of personality – a family identity, a cultural heritage, a work persona, a spirituality, a sense of justice.
Communities like Squirrel Hill nurture this multifarious nature.
They welcome and celebrate difference.
I wish America was more like Squirrel Hill and not the other way around.
If this community’s normal was our national ideal, think of the country we would be living in!
Being different wouldn’t be an obstacle, it would be cherished.
When meeting someone with an unfamiliar name, a heritage of which you were ignorant, a sexuality or gender identity of which you had little knowledge – your response wouldn’t be fear or discomfort. It would be a thrill of excitement that you are lucky enough to broaden your understanding of the many ways there are to be human.
It would be a country where no one grew up so stunted and afraid that the only solution they could imagine would be the death of others.
That’s the America I want to live in.
Squirrel Hill is stronger than this synagogue shooters hate.
He is an incurious liar who constantly trolls the media and the public.
He is an admirer of dictators and fascists across the globe with no qualms about enriching himself and those like him at the expense of you and me.
Everyday he provides aide and comfort to anti-American regimes from Moscow to Riyadh by diminishing our international stature, withdrawing us from treaties and contracts, leaking sensitive information and otherwise pursuing foreign interests over those of American citizens.
A democratic republic is like any other machine – it only functions properly if all of its parts are working.
You can’t have majority rule when 40% of voters shirk their duty.
A study by the Pew Research Center found that not only were non-voters likely to be younger, less educated, less affluent, and nonwhite, but 55% of them were Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
“The most significant civil rights problem is voting. Each citizen’s right to vote is fundamental to all the other rights of citizenship and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960 make it the responsibility of the Department of Justice to protect that right.”
In Arkansas, thousands of voters were erroneously flagged in 2016 under the guise of removing people who had been convicted of felonies. In Virginia, voters were wrongly deleted from the rolls in 2013 under the excuse of removing people who allegedly had moved.
To make matters worse, the purge was overseen by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican candidate for governor. Since most of the people being removed from the polls are people of color, the poor and other Democrats or leaning Democrat voters, the move makes it harder for Democrat Stacey Abrams to challenge him.
Kemp and his Republican buddies wouldn’t be going through all this trouble if voting made no difference.
Heck, many districts will probably “voluntarily” decide to make passing the test a graduation requirement just to force their students to take them seriously.
So anyone who’s out celebrating that the Keystone Exams are dead is premature.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman, at least, understands this.
“Remember, the Keystones have been delayed and the graduation requirement associated with them has been stopped, but they will still be required in Pennsylvania schools for federal accountability,” he said in statement.
“Meanwhile, we know they are expensive, redundant and unnecessary and I will continue to work to end them once and for all.”
Dinniman, a Democrat, is minority chair of the Senate Education Committee.
It’s a problem all too typical in the state.
Most lawmakers are too timid to take any type of real stand. They’d rather support some half-measure so they can claim to be in favor of either or both sides of an argument.
For instance, consider the time it takes to finish the tests.
If schools follow the state’s instructions and give students this exam in reading, math and science 3 to 5 times a year, that’s an additional 50-90 minutes per test. That comes to 22.5 hours of additional testing!
However, County Council and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald would have to do the work of actually creating all this stuff. They’d have to pass an ordinance establishing how this all works, what powers the advisory commission has, etc. They would have to determine whether the money goes to existing programs or new ones. They’d have to set up audits of the money every five years, conduct a study to recommend goals and a focus for how the funding is spent.
That’s an awful lot left undecided.
It makes no sense for voters to hand over the money BEFOREwe figure all this other stuff out.
It’s not at all how good government works.
You’re supposed to define a problem or need and then come up with a plan to meet that need. You prepare a budget that justifies raising taxes and then you vote on it.
This is exactly the opposite. We’re getting the money before the plan of how to spend it.
That’s a recipe for fraud and financial mismanagement.
2) It’s Unclear Who Would Be In Charge of the Money
Who would be accountable for this money?
We know who gets to decide this – County Council and the Chief Executive. But we don’t know who they will pick or what powers they’ll delegate to these people. Nor do we know what kind of oversight there will be or what kind of regulations will exist for how it can be spent.
This is a blind statement of trust.
It’s like saying – “Here’s $18 million. Go buy us something nice.”
What if they mismanage the money? And what would that even mean for money with so few strings attached? And how would we know? How transparent would this process be?
It’s kind of hard to approve such a plan with so many variables up in the air.
Financial documents show that the whole initiative has been funded by various nonprofit organizations that could, themselves, become beneficiaries of this same fund.
According to the Children’s Fund’s own campaign finance report, as of June there were three nonprofit corporations who donated $427,000 to the campaign: the Human Services Center of Turtle Creek gave $160,000, Pressley Ridge Foundation gave $150,000, and Allies for Children gave a donation of $45,000 and another for $72,000.
That’s like McDonalds spending a hundred thousand dollars to fix up the school cafeterias so it could land a multi-million dollar annual contract!
It’s a huge conflict of interest.
At very least, it’s purposefully misleading.
Many of those “volunteers” gathering signatures weren’t working for free. They were part of the $100,000 spent by the campaign to hire Vote Goal Organizing for paid signature collectors.
That doesn’t look like charity. It looks like philanthrocapitalism – when corporations try to disguise grabs for power and profit as philanthropy.
“First and foremost, we have not had any conversations with the organizers of the referendum,” board president Regina Holley said. “There are lots of ifs and whats that have not been answered.”
Kevin Carter, another city school director added, “In my role as a school board member, they didn’t talk to us about this at all.”
“When you leave your largest school district in the region out of this conversation, are you doing this around children?” he asked, citing that the district serves 25,000 students daily.
This has been a common thread among officials. No one wants to say they’re against collecting money that’s ostensibly for the benefit of children, but it’s hard to manage the money if you’re not part of the process.
And it’s not just protocol. Many are worried that this lack of communication may be emblematic of how the fund will be run. If organizers aren’t willing to work with local governments to get the job done, how will they know what each community needs? How will they meet those needs? Is that even what the fund will really be about?
Richard Livingston, Clairton school board president, noted concern that the money collected might not be spent evenly throughout the county. For all he knows, it could just be spent in the city or in select areas.
Indeed, this is not the best way to start any endeavor funded by all, for the benefit of all children.
5) It’s Redundant
While it’s true that the county could use more funding to meet the needs of students, numerous organizations already exist that attempt to provide these services.
There are a plethora of Pre-K, after school tutoring and meal services in the Mon Valley. In fact, much of this is done at the county’s various neighborhood schools.
If organizers were only concerned with meeting these needs, why form an office within county government that would have an appointed advisory commission? Why not just increase the funding at the local schools and/or organizations already doing this work?
“At PIIN, we believe that the faith community is a sacred partner with our public schools, and we have long been supportive of both the community schools model and increasing state funding to provide an excellent, high-quality education to every child in our region. We believe in funding for early childhood learning, after school programs, and nutritious meals. However, we cannot support a ballot initiative that creates an unnecessary entity, with an unknown advisory board, and an unclear process for directing our tax dollars.
This is why we are urging our membership to reject the Allegheny County Children’s Fund Initiative at the polls this November.”
Pam tried to bring up a few other topics – about how Republicans in our state of Pennsylvania are actively working to cut this man’s healthcare, calling this man’s generation “the greediest generation” and other topics.
But it did no good. Fox News had gotten there first.
So we handed him our campaign literature, thanked him and went on our way.
Sometimes that’s the best you can do.
And it’s not nothing.
If you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you’re a lot like me.
It will take all of us, doing incremental good, every day we can.
So my suggestion is to make a commitment to voting this Nov. 6.
I know our electoral system is a mess. I know many people are being purged from the rolls and our districts are gerrymandered and the entire system is set up against us.
But if all of us try to vote, we can still win.
Find a candidate you can support and go out there and campaign for him or her.
I know there are a lot of phonies running for office. There are an awful lot of fake progressives who will talk nicely to your face and then sell you out to corporations and the wealthy at their first opportunity.
Just know that they’re not all like that.
Find yourself someone you can trust – probably someone new to the game coming on the scene to change things.
She’s an amazing lady with real conviction running for State Senate in the 38th District – that’s most of Northern Allegheny County from Franklin Park eastward, as well as Highland Park and sections of East Liberty in Pittsburgh.
When her campaign literature says she “won’t back down” fighting for working families. That’s what it means.
And her priorities – education, healthcare and labor – aren’t pie in the sky promises. She has a fiscally responsible plan to support them by creating a severance tax on natural-gas drilling and closing a loophole that allows businesses headquartered in other states to avoid state taxes. She wants to keep taxes low for homeowners while making sure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share.
Perhaps that’s why a conservative dark money organization aligned with her Republican challenger, Jeremy Shaffer, has created knockoff campaign signs that look just like Williams with the word “Socialist” emblazoned on them.
It’s a desperation tactic.
Shaffer is down in the polls. The district – once a Republican stronghold – went to Hillary Clinton in the last election.
Even Shaffer, a Ross Township supervisor, is a throwback – he’s a far right extremist who primaried incumbent state Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Shaler) in May.
So not only is Williams a candidate I can believe in, her race really matters to the overall state picture. If the Democrats only pick up her seat in November and don’t lose any others, we’ll crush the GOP’s veto-proof majority!
But I didn’t come out this weekend just for Williams.
I also was there to canvass for Betsy Monroe, a Fox Chapel medical professional at Highmark running for State House in the same North Hills area.
She noticed that state Rep. Hal English (R-Hampton) had run unopposed in the last two elections, so she decided to run against him, herself.
Monroe was particularly angered by English’s vote to criminalize abortions after 20 weeks for all women in the Commonwealth. (The bill was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf back before the GOP had a veto proof majority.) She thought it was unfair for lawmakers to decide what adult women can do with their own bodies.
However, there was one other woman I was there to support – my own daughter.
For someone in elementary school, she is incredibly interested in politics. I caught her on Saturday literally writing political stump speeches for her stuffed animals. Let me tell you, Eeyore the donkey from the Hundred Acre Wood has some mighty progressive views on women’s rights!
I wanted my little one to see real women in politics, fighting to make a difference.
The news is always so grim. I wanted her to see that there are people out there fighting for the good.
And you know what? It helped me, too.
At this point I need to pause and give a huge “Thank You” to two people – Pamela Harbin and Jodi Hirsch.
Jodi is an amazing organizer who put together the event in the first place.
I wanted to get more involved in the election and Jodi knew exactly how I could do that and which candidates I’d be most interested in.
Deciding what students should learn used to be the job of educators, students and the community. Teachers used their extensive training and experience, students appeal to their own curiosity, and the community tailored its expectations based on its needs. However, we’ve given up on our own judgment and delegated the job to publishing companies, technology firms and corporations. We’ve let them decide what students should learn based on which pre-packed products they can most profitably sell us. The problem is when you force all academic programs to follow canned academic standards written by functionaries, not educators, you put teachers in a straight jacket constraining them from meeting their students’ individual needs.
Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of this whole process has been the attempted erasure of the teacher – as a thinking human being – from the classroom, itself. Instead of letting us be people who observe and adapt to the realities in front of us, many of us have been forced to read from a script. It should go without saying that when you constrain educators to abide by scripted curriculum – what we used to call “teacher proof curriculum” – or pacing guides, you remove their ability to be teachers, at all.
You can’t freeze someone’s salary, stifle their rights to fair treatment while choking back their autonomy and still expect them to show up to work everyday eager and willing to do the job.
TheNational Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted a representative sample of more than 37,000 American public school elementary and secondary teachers showing widespread dissatisfaction with the job in general and a lack of autonomy in particular.
If you’re just following orders, your accomplishments aren’t really yours. It’s the difference between composing a melody and simply recreating the sounds of an amateur musician with perfect fidelity.
Today’s teachers rarely get to pick the textbooks they use, which content or skills to focus on, which techniques will be most effective in their classrooms, how to discipline students, how much homework to give – and they have next to zero say about how they will be evaluated.
And to make matters worse, sometimes it isn’t that educators are forbidden from exercising autonomy, but that they are given such a huge laundry list of things they’re responsible for that they don’t have the time to actually be creative or original. Once teachers meet the demands of all the things they have to cram into a single day, there is little room for reflection, revision or renewal.
We imagine that policy is above their pay grade. They are menial labor. It’s up to us, important people, to make the big decisions – even though most of us have little to no knowledge of how to teach!
Finnish educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg says that this is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing if we really cared about improving both the teaching profession and the quality of education we provide students.
In the United States, autonomy usually stops at the district or administrative level and results in decision-making that ignores the voices of educators and the community, he says.
“School autonomy has often led to lessening teacher professionalism and autonomy for the benefit of greater profits for those who manage or own private schools, charter schools or other independent schools. This is perhaps the most powerful lesson the US can learn from better-performing education systems: teachers need greater collective professional autonomy and more support to work with one another. In other words, more freedom from bureaucracy, but less from one another.”
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to increased autonomy is political.
And despite multiple women making credible allegations of sexual misconduct against him…
Despite an FBI investigation so grossly limited in scope that investigators couldn’t even interview either the accusers or the accused…
Despite the withdrawal of support from some of the most conservative organizations including the National Council of Churches representing more than 100,000 congregations, the magazine of the Jesuit religious order, and even former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens…
Despite all that, the Republican majority gave their wholehearted approval.
Only Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski bucked her party and voted against him – while Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the only Democrat to vote for him.
The result was a forgone conclusion – a Republican majority who blatantly ignored any evidence and made a decision based purely on party politics.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of these people only a week earlier about a drunk Kavanaugh’s attempted rape when they were both in school.
She put her life, her security and her family’s happiness on the line to come forward. She still can’t return to her home after multiple death threats.
Yet those in power chose to ignore her.
They looked at the facts presented to them and chose to interpret them in a way that allowed them to do what they wanted to do in the first place.
Many said that they believed Ford was accosted but not by Kavanaugh.
Yet they refused to allow the kind of investigation that might have gotten at the truth.
These are not the actions of lawmakers interested in what happened all those years ago between Kavanaugh and Ford – or between Kavanaugh and multiple other women who they didn’t even give a hearing.
These are not the actions of lawmakers concerned about picking the best person for the job.
Instead, they are the actions of partisans who put power over objective reality.
They’d rather craft a story that fits their desires than the other way around.
It is craven, cowardly and disrespectful to their office and their charge.
“Totalitarianism, however, does not so much promise an age of faith as an age of schizophrenia. A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud. Such a society, no matter how long it persists, can never afford to become tolerant or intellectually stable.”
That is what happened here. A ruling class resorting to force and fraud to broaden its power.
Republicans already have control of two branches of government. Now they have stolen a third – a power grab that will echo down the halls of history for decades to come.
This is a senate majority representing fewer people than the so-called minority, lead by a President who lost the popular vote.
It is not democracy or a just republic. It is a coup.
As Orwell warns, when we ignore an inconvenient reality, we are on the road to totalitarianism.
It didn’t matter to those senators whether Kavanaugh was a blackout drunk, whether he still drinks to excess, whether he engaged in sexual harassment or attempted rape.
Heck. He could have attacked Ford on the floor of the Senate, itself, on live TV.
None of it would have mattered.
He was simply a means to an end – the increased power of the Republican Party and the donor class it represents.
GOP senators (and even Kavanaugh, himself) complained about dark money influencing the nomination process, yet the overwhelming majority of that money came from conservative backers!
They raved and foamed at Democrats for stalling the nomination yet refused to take responsibility for sabotaging Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland.