A Life Committed to Peace, Fracking Poisons PA Kids, Óscar Romero Presente!, and More!
In my first column for Gannett’s Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer I wrote that I wanted my writing to “serve as a megaphone for local progressive voices, progressive concerns, and progressive solutions. It will be an antidote to the right-wing extremism and policies that have sickened our nation.” This week I feel like accomplished that, and I couldn’t have done it without the help of local progressives in the Pennridge School District. Thank you!
The article, “Is Turning Point USA a Trojan horse of right-wing extremism for Pennridge students?,” exposes how TPUSA has racism, bigotry, conspiracy theories, and other extremist beliefs embedded in its DNA. This group is a danger to local students at Pennridge High School, where a chapter was pushed through without any oversight or transparency. The article also highlights why local school board elections are so important. Continue reading at the Bucks County Courier Times.
Meet a Progressive
Barbara Simmons served as executive director for 30 years of The Peace Center, an educational peace and justice non-profit organization in Bucks County. Simmons assembled a talented team of peace educators, implementing programs focused to prevent and address conflict, violence, racism and bigotry, implementing them in schools, communities and helping families throughout the Delaware Valley region. Simmons is certified in Community and Family Mediation, Conflict Transformation, Advanced Compassionate Listening, Healing and Rebuilding our Communities, Crisis Management, Trauma Healing, Alternatives to Violence, and Racial Equity. She has won numerous awards for her work in peace and justice.
Simmons was founding director of PeaceTalks radio producing radio documentaries from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Rwanda, South Africa, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Canada and the United States, which aired on NPR, PRI and many other stations.
Ms. Simmons is adjunct professor at Arcadia University’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution Masters Program.
What inspired you to start working for progressive social change?
I had health issues in my very early childhood experiences that nurtured a deep compassion in me. I began to see injustices all around me and it made me want to be part of the solution and work towards the kind of world I wanted to see. My traditional schooling was centered around the history of white victors, so I was amazed to learn more about leaders who were creating a new story. I was inspired by John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy and especially Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They held the vision that resonated with me. I was brought up in a blue-collar family, so I was not exposed to college students who were in the streets working for social change. It was when I became a parent that I made a decision that I had to work to make a better world for my kids and ALL children.
What do you identify as the top issue progressives must confront a) locally in Bucks County, b) in PA, c) across the nation, and d) around the globe?
The top issues for me are: climate change, addressing systemic racism in education, housing, criminal justice and health care institutions, prolific gun violence, immigration, the rise of white nationality/supremacy, gerrymandering and voting rights as some of the critical issues we need to address.
What types of organizing and projects are you working on right now?
I retired from The Peace Center after 32 years of working for peace and justice and had the amazing opportunity to work with a movement called L.O.V.E. is the Answer, a project from WALKING WHILE BLACK, a film and dialogue created and directed by AJ Ali. The project addresses police brutality, racism, and the work we need to do together to create the Beloved Community. This is a project that began while I was working at The Peace Center and so we work together on the dialogues to bring them all over the country and internationally. I also help to nurture new leaders through Arcadia University’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution program, which trains our next generation of leaders in the field of peace and social justice.
How can folks get engaged and help?
Since there are so many issues that need to be addressed, I would suggest people either get involved with any one of these organizations, depending on their passion or ‘leading’: (local) The Peace Center, Rise Up Doylestown, the NAACP of Bucks County, The African American Museum, Arrows, (national) Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Sierra Club, A Growing Culture, Earth Justice.
Which journalists, writers, podcasts, and publications do you turn to for information and inspiration?
Journalists I turn to most often are: Nickolas Kristoff, Charles Blow, Naomi Klein, Tom Friedman, Scott Simon. Podcasts I love? There are so many, but here are a few: Living on Earth, Hidden Brain, On the Media, On Being, Ted Radio Hour, Reveal, In Our Time (BBC)
State of the Nation
Fracking is poisoning children in Pennsylvania. PA state lawmakers sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolfe asking him to essentially ban fracking. PA’s Constitution declares, “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.” Well, by allowing fracking Wolfe is not living up to his duty to uphold and protect the constitution, or us for that matter. Kristina Marusic’s investigative reporting series “Fractured: The body burden of living near fracking” revealed that fracking operations in Southwestern PA poisoned air and water, exposing residents living just miles away from local hydraulic fracturing wells to a toxic cocktail of chemicals. "Recent studies, such as the multifamily investigation published by the Environmental Health News, highlight the true risk so many Pennsylvania families face due to toxic and radioactive contamination caused by fracking," said Senator Katie Muth in a statement. According to Marusic’s investigation, “a nine-year-old participant showed levels of these harmful chemicals up to ninety-one times as high as the average American and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.”
Watch an interview with Marusic on the Raging Chicken Press Out d'Coup Podcast:
Beyond the U.S. Bubble
Óscar Romero Presente! March 24 marked 41 years since a U.S.-trained death squad assassinated Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero while he was serving mass. Romero practiced “liberation theology” and was a religious leader and activist who used his pulpit to advocate for the country’s poor and dispossessed. He was canonized a saint by Pope Francis. Read more about it at the Zinn Education Project.
March 24 was also the anniversary of the 1976 coup in Argentina. Like most coups in Latin America, Washington knew about it in advance, and aided and abetted the military junta which seized power in the years that followed. The regime disappeared more than 20,000 people and systematically stole babies from left-wing political prisoners and gave them to political allies in the country. Some of these babies were even born in “secret torture chambers.” The National Security Archive released declassified documents earlier this week revealing what Washington knew and did at the time. Read Esquire writer’s Charles Pierce’s article, “The Fact That Henry Kissinger Is Still Alive Convinces Me That There Is No God.” Finally, read a short essay I wrote years ago for context about the Reagan administration’s role in Argentina, and also with its “dirty wars” in Central America : “Elliott Abrams' Dark History in Latin America, and the Struggle for Justice.”
Thanks for reading! I look forward to your feedback and suggestions.