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The American dream

By Michael V. Rodriguez. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

At 6 am as coffee attempts to dominate sleepiness I find a fitting state of mind to recall last night’s Living Room Conversation about the status of the American Dream in the Bay Area.

In recent months Berkeley has become the center of a free speech debate characterized by hate speech enticing violent protests. Unfortunately, the prevalent spirit of the San Francisco Bay Area has been misrepresented. The identities of violent and hateful extremists in Berkeley and invasive techies wandering up from Silicon Valley overshadow the faces and thoughts of long time residents. In my experience, most residents of the Bay Area live moderate lives in an attempt to remain rooted in one of the most competitive housing markets in the world. The homeless population is large and people do their best to be compassionate to those less fortunate. Skin colors, dialects, and cultural customs are perhaps more diverse in the Bay Area than anywhere else in the world.


What safety looks like

By Serena Witherspoon. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

I ride my bike to school. When you enter Sproul Plaza (the entrance point at the South Side of the UC Berkeley campus) there is clear marking that says to get off your bike, it is a walking zone. If campus is crowded I walk so I’m not disrupting the flow of traffic by weaving around people, but if campus is relatively empty I cut down on time and ride my bike through.

I arrived pretty early in the morning on the first day of school this Fall (2017) at the same time as one other biker. Campus was empty so we both rode through Sproul until three UC Berkeley police officers yelled at us to get off our bikes. We came to a stop and walked to lock up. That was the end of the interaction for us— myself a light skinned Black woman and the other biker a white woman. I proceeded to watch the police officers yell at five other students to abandon their bikes, all of white or Asian descent, all verbally harangued. One student was on a scooter and wearing headphones so he could not hear the police yelling at him to walk, he scootered through and the officers laughed it off. I sat down to do some work and looked up to see them issuing some kind of a slip to a young dark skinned Black man with bike in hand. Only one out of seven students that I saw were physically stopped, the dark skinned Black man. I ran after him as I saw him turn around to leave the campus. I asked him what they had said. They had issued him a slip that said he could not return to campus for seven days. I then went to talk to the police officers and asked why they had only stopped him, only told him to leave campus, and only told him he could not come back to campus for a week. They replied that he was the only one who didn’t get off his bike when asked. I replied that they had laughed it off when the other student hadn’t heard them and just scootered by. They told me that when that student came back they would issue him a ticket as well. I walked away. They will not issue that student a ticket, he is on the Northside of campus by this point and they have no intention of finding him.


It really is all about me

By Rev. Linda Taylor. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

I just discovered that the thing I love best about Living Room Conversations is purely selfish.

Living Room Conversations ring a lot of my bells. I am dedicated to peacemaking and conflict resolution. I am crazy about building relationships with and between people who disagree. I am zealous about practicing the civil discourse that can heal our divisions. I am passionate about seeking and discovering the common ground that enables people to work together to bring about positive change in our world. I experience Living Room Conversations as contributing to all these things, and I am in love with the process.


Growing up in school for democracy

By John Kesler. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

Maturity is one important lens for assessing progress in developing a healthier American democracy both in terms of competent citizenship and effective leadership. This post will comment on the importance of educating students through high school with this perspective in mind. I reference stages of maturity which reflect well established developmental science(1). The next post will address the implications of these perspective for higher education. In future posts I will explore implications of maturity related to other societal issues in America.

People who have a developmental center of gravity at what I will call Stage One maturity tend to be oriented primarily to personal power, self-aggrandizement and self-gratification. Such behavior is developmentally appropriate for a two year old. A school yard bully is an example of a child who has not yet grown out of those qualities. Electing leaders who reflect such regressive and narcissistic tendencies (a Stage One shadow) should be avoided because they tend to manipulate truth as needed and are first and foremost self serving.


At long last people under 40 care about nuclear weapons

By Joan Blades. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

Nuclear weapons are the other mega issue we are failing to address.  These weapons can end the world as we know it in a day- for all humanity.  Mutually assured destruction worked when we had 2 super powers and weapons were tightly controlled.   But things have changed.  More countries have nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons have gone missing.  Terrorists have become key players on the world stage.  And now we have two world leaders that control nuclear weapons playing chicken.

Nuclear weapons must never be used again.  We successfully reduced our worldwide nuclear weapons stockpile from over 60,000 to about 15,000 in the later part of last century.  Of the remaining ~15,000 weapons a large number are stockpiled or even slated for demolition.  Unfortunately this still leaves us with enough nuclear weapons on hand to obliterate “intelligent” life on earth many times over, still let’s appreciate movement in the right direction. 


The really big issue is not free speech, It’s survival of the planet and its people.

By Joan Blades. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

I don’t know anyone that is pro Nazi or pro White Supremacist.  I also don’t know anyone that is against freedom of speech. There are indeed gray areas around public safety and when speech can be restricted - yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater is illegal.  That said, in general people in this country can criticize the government without fear of reprisal and we like it that way.  I care about free speech but I also have priorities and so should the media and our leaders.

There are two issues that are important beyond all others, because if we do not address them the world as we know it ceases to exist.

This week my hometown was described as a “hellscape” by someone near and dear to me.   Never in my life has it been so hot at 7 PM in Berkeley.   Smoke obscured the bay -  fires to the south, east and north created an atmosphere that made our eyes water and lungs hurt for days.  I hate to think what people close to the fires were experiencing.  The west coast was hellish.  So while Houston has been experiencing catastrophic destruction the west has been smoked.


Warming up to global warming: A case for climate dialogue

By Jacob Hess. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

The floods in Houston last week were described by the Washington post as “rainfall of Biblical proportions.” If not Biblical, they were certainly momentous, as the “most extreme rain event in U.S. history.”

After a similar catastrophe years ago, I asked a friend who had recently left our faith community: “Do you ever see this kind of thing as reflecting Biblical signs of the times anymore?”

“Oh no,” he responded: “it’s just climate change.”

“Interesting!” I thought at the time - mostly intrigued at how effectively climate change could explain away something all Christian believers have watched for since Jesus spoke of “distress...perplexity, sea and the waves roaring” as signs of his second coming (Luke 21:25).

Others, of course, would be equally intrigued at how these kinds of religious “fairy tales” could so effectively explain away the reality of climate change.


Free Speech, Humus and a Koi Pond

By Rodney Ferguson. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

I’m going to let you guys in on a secret: Oakland, Ca, despite its reputation, has many nice neighborhoods and beautiful homes. My last Living Room Conversation (LRC) took place in a home with a large wrought iron fence a beautiful dog and an outdoor table festooned with beautiful fruit, cheese, and bright yellow, orange humus under a large canopy. I didn’t notice the koi pond behind me with its radioactive-sized gold fish swimming about contentedly, because somehow I never expected to see a front lawn pond in Oakland.

Although I showed up late, I was cool. You see, this conversation follows on the heels of one where I, one from the bleeding-heart liberal team, actually had the audacity to say that crazy, misdirected violence was okay and that I actually cheered the Antifa and anarchists ‘crazies’ who vandalized University property, banks and other corporate business establishments in downtown Berkeley after the cancellation Milo Yiannopolous’ speech. At that conversation, even my progressive friends were aghast that I would offer a full-throated defense of violence against free-speech. The conservative side of the panel told heartfelt and heart moving stories about how their lives had been threatened and one had been assaulted and where the police were useless when it came to protecting their safety as protestors.


Inclusive not exclusive…

By Rev. Erik Swanson. Reprinted from Huffington Post.

One of the intriguing conversations that underlies some of the political unrest over the last several weeks and months is the question of who should be included or excluded in what.  Who should be included or excluded from having health insurance?  Who should be included or excluded in the power structure of our country?  Who should be included or excluded from this country?  Should your skin color or religious background or part of the country that you live in exclude you or include you as a valued voice and participant in this country?  Part of the pain caused last weekend in Charlottesville was because of the hate speech that included messages that the US should only belong to white folks, and when people shouted anti-Jewish sentiments some people thought that meant only Christians. 


A UVA alum weighs in on Charlottesville: casting out hate with civility

By Billy Binion. Reprinted from Huffington Post5994832522000038001a64be.jpg

It’s rare that people across the political aisle find common ground on much of anything these days. Health care, tax law, abortion, gun rights, and a litany of other issues will almost certainly continue to divide us for years to come. But the repugnant white nationalist march at the University of Virginia seems to be an area that transcends partisanship — something we can all uniformly oppose.

I graduated from UVA in 2013. While the university wasn’t perfect, I appreciated it for what it was — a place that values intellectual curiosity, rigor, and diversity of background, experience, and thought. Its history is certainly complex and flawed, but at the risk of sounding trite, the present-day community has a particular strength of spirit that pushed me to be better. It’s a life force that drastically contradicts the protests — and the ideology — perpetuated by white supremacists this past weekend.

Which is one of the many reasons I was relieved to see people of all persuasions denouncing the acts of terror.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, unambiguously condemned the alt-right demonstrations, stating, “White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated.” The Democratic Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, expressed a similar viewpoint, saying that, “The acts and rhetoric in #Charlottesville over past 24 hours are unacceptable & must stop. A right to speech is not a right to violence.” Republican Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John McCain joined with Democratic Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer in issuing unapologetic condemnations of the nationalist rally.

But while the vast majority agree that the neo-Nazi display was obscene, tragically ending in the death of Heather Heyer, we’re still quarreling along partisan lines. Not about the nature of the events, but about who’s to blame.

Case and point: network news in the proceeding days has been, to be candid, a hot mess — even muggier than usual. I’ve grown accustomed to the arguing on prime time, but recent interviews constitute a sea of shouting matches so loud that the anchors are left desperately trying to regain a semblance of civility.