Yesterday I had the huge honor to participate in a Naturalization ceremony. The County Clerk, Maureen Reynolds, runs these ceremonies four times a year, and this month, 33 applicants from 20 different countries became American citizens. The packed courtroom was alive with color and children and smiles and so much hope.
I can't claim to know how people feel or why they decided to become American citizens, but it was so inspiring that these people have chosen to renounce their country of origin and claim allegiance to America. It's hard to imagine for those of us who grew up in a place that, at the core of its being, celebrates the freedom to speak your mind, freedom to make your own choices, freedom to pursue your own brand of happiness. We assume that the rest of the world is like ours, because we don't know any differently. But other governments do not necessarily holds the same views. And the reality is that we who were born here take it for granted.
I recently saw a sign that went something like this:
There are only four ways people arrived in America-
-You were Native American
-You were a slave
-You were a refugee
-You were an immigrant.
It's a huge risk when we forget that all our ancestors, except for the native peoples', came here from somewhere else. When it wasn't our parents, or our grandparents who immigrated to America, but ancestors farther back who we never knew, we lose sight of what this country is all about. When we forget that this country was built with diversity, hope, suffering, community, love, and hardship by people from elsewhere, we tend to forget what who we are and what we stand for.
We're in a period of history when I am constantly questioning America, worrying about our future, wondering how Democracy will survive the horrors I am seeing. The core of our country, the Constitution, is in crisis. And yet, today I saw 33 people of all colors and creeds raise their rights hands and pledge to honor and protect the Constitution of the United States. There is something that America stands for that people around the world still want. Maybe we haven't totally f'ed it up yet. And indeed, there's something that America stands for that I still want.
That's why I ran for office. To be a part of protecting that core freedom and justice. America is great already. But we need to reinvest in our ethics, in our community, in our respect for each and every person. Yesterday's ceremony reminded me that now more than ever we need to celebrate our differences, find ways to talk, and to listen, listen, listen to each other.
Here's what I said yesterday:
"Thank you for this asking me to be a part of this wonderful ceremony. And congratulations to our newest Americans!
America was built by immigrants. Our founding fathers and mothers were all immigrants. My own ancestors came from England, Poland, Germany, and only a few generations ago, my great grandfather came here to escape war in Austria. Except the native people who were here for many centuries before we were, all Americans came here from somewhere else. This history is now your history too.
You come from 20 different countries, from large cities and small villages, from different climates and landscapes, and you bring all your past experiences and stories with you. This is one thing I love about America- the variety of backgrounds, the differences in cultures and beliefs, the wide range of experiences we each have. When we come together and celebrate and respect our diversity we become stronger, more resilient, more powerful. When we honor each of our individual stories, we build a community that is vibrant and thriving.
Your path to becoming an American citizen has no doubt been a learning process. You’ve probably had some challenging experiences along the way. That is also the story of this country. America is certainly not perfect. We’ve faced many challenges, we’ve made mistakes, we’ve struggled again and again as we’ve tried to figure out Democracy through trial and error. But I think what keeps us moving forward, what keeps America united, is our belief in the same ideals: freedom to be who you are and speak your mind, opportunity to work hard and create happiness, love of community, commitment to supporting those who need help, and a desire to build a better world for our children.
Being a part of a Democracy is hard. It is not a form of government where people can just sit back and let things happen. Democracy only works when the people are engaged. This means that now, as citizens, you are responsible to be informed and to vote, to voice your opinions to your elected officials, and to teach your children to get involved. Maybe you’ll even run for office yourself.
Like all the immigrants who came before you, America needs your inspiration, your ideas, your energy to make her strong. Honor your past, but as you go forward into your new country I hope you will celebrate our diversity, protect our Democracy, and love and embrace America as your own. Welcome."
I'll never forget the day. A cold, snowy wind blasted through Ithaca that morning. Six-year-old Cedar and twelve-year-old Tahlya were at school and I sat in front of my computer and worked on editing some posts for my blog. In between that and cleaning the house, I listened to the Stephanie Miller Show on AM radio. As the morning went on, she began to speak of some breaking news coming out of Connecticut. It was unclear, but it seemed there had been another school shooting. My stomach clenched at the thought of it.
The details began to come clear and it only got worse. And worse. Students, five- and six-year-old children, practically babies, were murdered in their first-grade classrooms, by a man with a gun and a vendetta. My head reeled as I listened to the horrific details, one by one, dribbling out of the radio speakers. It was all I could do to prevent myself from jumping in the car and driving across town to my son's classroom and finding him and never letting go.
A few hours later, Cedar arrived home on his school bus. Little brown-head of innocence bobbing through the rows of seats, small voice thanking the driver, short legs climbing those big steps down to greet me once more. His face lit up when he saw me. I started to cry.
There was nothing fair about that day. My child was safe, my life would go on, but so many lives were shattered.
Since then, there have been dozens more school shootings, and countless incidents of gun violence in America. With one kid now in middle school, and another in college, it's hard to know how to handle this kind of thing. Will my life be irrevocably changed some day, when someone with access to a gun decides to enter one of their schools? I would be destroyed. I don't know how anyone could recover from that.
A few weeks ago, the Tompkins County Sheriff's Department hosted a gun buyback event. The purpose was to get unwanted guns out of people's homes and possession. People brought in guns that had been willed to them, guns that sat in their attics and basements unlocked, guns that they simple didn't want or know what to do with.
Legislator Anna Kelles was instrumental in working with Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing and the Sheriff's department in organizing the event. The Tompkins County DA offered funding to pay for their guns. And a few of us Legislators showed up on the day with coffee, snacks, and cheery attitudes. Eager to support the good work.
The day-long event brought in about 45 guns, all of which will be destroyed.
One small step.
The Monday after the buyback, I attended the Health and Human Services Committee meeting, of which I am a member. The topic for the meeting was suicide, and we heard from several organizations who are working on a Zero Suicide model of mental health care. One fact that was offered, though not central to the conversation, was that about 2/3 of suicides are by guns. That's about 58 people per day. A horrifying, sobering number.
School shootings. Suicide. This says nothing of the countless other ways that guns are used to harm, torture, and kill people. How many people have to die from this epidemic before we as a society reevaluate what we are doing and make a change? When will we push back hard enough on the NRA and the gun lobby in Washington? When will children be valued more than guns and money?
I'm ready for that change. Now. In my book, guns kill people. Period. There should be serious restrictions on gun ownership. And assault rifles and weapons should be banned.
A gun buyback isn't the only answer. It was one thing that we could do. It's 45 guns that will never kill a child, never be turned on a loved one or on the hand that holds it, never be used in a fit of rage. There are many more guns out there, being used right now to hurt someone.
We can talk about rights, about the Second Amendment, about America's long history. We should. But for now, I want to talk about those six-year-old children who were murdered in their Newtown school on that dark, cold day. I want to talk about the loss their parents have suffered. I want to talk about the fact that I live every day grateful that my family has not faced gun violence, and in fear that someday it might all come crashing down. I want to talk about the fact that those babies would be about twelve years old now and that I'll never forget it because my son will always be the age that those beautiful children never will.
I'm so honored to receive one of this year's 2017 People's Choice Signs of Sustainability Award for an individual. I was surprised to receive the email notifying me and grateful to have been recognized in this way. The award is for my work in organizing the Women's March on Ithaca in January. Though really, the award should have gone to my entire planning committee, who did so much of the work in making the march happen!
The ceremony was held Saturday during events at the People's Climate March. I was also delighted to share the award with Shawna Black, who organized the buses from Ithaca to DC for the Women's March there. Shawna is running for Tompkins County Legislature as well, for District 11.
Thank you to Sustainable Tompkins, Gay Nicholson, and everyone who made the Climate March a success. What a wonderful community Tompkins County is!
I had a great time joining the Ithaca College Women in Leadership Experience on Saturday, March 25. What an honor to be asked to join the discussion with great local leaders like Dr. Michele Williams of Cornell University, Tatiana Sy from Downtown Ithaca Alliance, and Devon Anderson from Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes.
We talked about facing sexism in our careers, how we deal with doubting ourselves, and where we turn for support. The young women attending the day's events were all engaged and interested, and asked excellent questions. I hope I had a few wise words to offer. But more than that, I hope those young women go out into their adult lives and don't have to face quite as much inequality and sexism that older generations have faced. There is a long way to go, but events like these help knit women together and build our confidence. I was grateful to be a part of it.
Amanda will join a panel discussion at the Women in Leadership Experience for Ithaca College students on Saturday, March 25. It's a wonderful retreat for young women leaders!
From the event website:
"The 14th annual Women in Leadership Experience (WILE) will occur on March 25, 2017 in Seneca Falls, New York. The retreat offers a tradition of networking and focusing on engaging dialogue among the participants, exploring the perceptions of progress for women, including a look at challenges that different generations have faced. The theme of WILE 2017 is trust (in yourself and in other women)."