IMAGINE if it MATTERED…

By: Zoë Muntaner 

In February of 2008,  Karen Armstrong asked the TED community to help build a Charter for Compassion — to restore the Golden Rule as the central global religious doctrine. The golden rule is a basic principle that should be followed to ensure success in general or in a particular activity.  To treat others the way we wish to be treated. 

In September of 2013, I brought to Santa Monica City Council the idea of the Charter for Compassion to be adopted as a means of affirming the values of our city.  To my amazement they voted unanimously to sign the Charter, making me the Founder of Compassionate Santa Monica and its Chief Compassion Officer.  It was a moment in time where diversity mattered.  That was the easy part.  Since 2013, I’ve gone to numerous Council meetings to speak on behalf of animal and worker rights, affordable housing, development, police reform, anti-corruption act (campaign reform)  and human trafficking.  I use my voice to bring compassion to policy at Santa Monica City Hall and once to Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.  I’m part of a growing category of Citizen Lobbyists. Perhaps they didn’t see that coming (I’m sure they didn’t), perhaps it was divine intervention that worked its magic.  It will remain a mystery, but here we are: the first city in LA County to affirm the Charter for Compassion and 4th in the state of California, brought by an animated speaker with a mission, who wants to engage change-agents in authentic social entrepreneurship.

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The work ahead was cut for me: How do we move from signing a document to practicing its doctrine in public life, day in and day out across every department, commission, and policy?   My personal belief is that government should be the servant of the people, NOT the ruler of the people.  There should be no room for entitlement or privilege if you are indeed a public servant.  Everyone should have access to government and its diversity makes it matter most.  Who is in the room matters. 

If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”  ~Shirley Chisholm

Like many of you, I’ve witnessed the traffic of misinformation, false narratives and spinning stories that support not so innocent agendas.  Compassion and diversity decoys have been deployed to distract us from what we are craving: truth, peace, purpose, understanding and personal power. Yes,  I’m also part of the growing category of media that matters.

Does DIVERSITY MATTERS?  IMAGINE.

I want to challenge you to stretch and grow because diversity & inclusion as of today are increasingly becoming buzz words for campaign strategies.  I  don’t ever want to move from the idea that the world can be a better place.  How we make it better together?  No matter how similar we seem, we’re all very different.  No matter how different we feel, we’re all very similar.  

Is baffling to me to hear an activist advocating equity in education for black kids only. When asked if Latino/Hispanics were included, the answer was a resounding no: “this is for black kids only”.  The wife of Mayor Antonio Vasquez (first Latino Mayor of Santa Monica) was in the room as a speaker that night.  Ms. Vasquez is one of the key advocates to bring Dr. Pedro Noguera Equity in Education to Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District along another Latino school Board member, activist, and City Council candidate Oscar de la Torre. 

It’s chilling to read Committee for Racial Justice activist Trudy Goodwin social media answer to a comment of solidarity and inclusion with “That statement is like attending a 5-k run for breast cancer and shouting “but lung cancer kills too”.  Seriously?  It’s cancer, it spreads.  Is not uncommon for cancer to show up in several parts of the body at the same time.  We’re all outraged and traumatized by police images killing innocent suspects.  Since when Racial Justice is exclusive Black justice?  

Apparently, it has become popular to exclude people that suffer the trauma of police violence because they don’t have the “right” skin color.   If you are Hispanic and black you are good… but if not, is limbo time…don’t dare to speak, is an exclusive matter.  All I have to say is:  

 I might not have the color but I have the struggle. 

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Perhaps because I was born and raised with a black uncle, gay cousin/friends/neighbors, alcoholic relatives/friends, Jewish grandfather, Cuban & British neighbors, “white” parents and educated in a school that looked like a Benetton ad,  I was unconsciously groomed to tackle this issue.  

I surround myself with people of diverse perspectives, ethnicities, gender, political affiliations, disabilities and social status, it was the way I was raised.  Our perspectives might be different but at the end of the day, we share the same planet.  I’ve curated an exquisite group of friends that influence robust debate.  When we build with people that think the same and are the same, there is no perspective or change.  The excitement for me is to work with people that THINK DIFFERENTLY, the coming together of diverse people, while still affirming their differences.  To build a sense of community in the context of the obstacles we face, is to make Los Angeles a sustainable society for future generations. 

Right now we are endangering many voices and perspectives, that do not subscribe to the status quo.  Voices that sell their souls in the hopes of access, leverage, advancement, and survival.  This is not a time to distance ourselves from what is truly going on.  We don’t have to wait for an event to bring us together, we can build a community without a tragedy.  That’s why diversity matters to me.  It matters to me because we are better people by our ability to feel with the other, which is the meaning of compassion.  

TED creates action through ideas as evidenced by the Charter for Compassion.  We can develop the kind of identity that calibrates the gentle courage needed to speak our voice. Reason to join the City of Speakers  pre TedxLA experiment, a unique mosaic of the voices of Los Angeles.  We are working to capture the voice of LA in its rich diversity, spirit and authenticity.  The experiment is scheduled to be showcased at TedxLA in December. 

EDUCATION

Despite the efforts of education activists, we are facing compassion illiteracy.  My goal is to have our school district make the revolutionary decision to teach the science of compassion and meditation at our schools.  That is a step to make a difference for future generations, innovation in education.

Disruption is either going to happen to you or BECAUSE of you. 

The algorithm for compassion lies in the hearts and minds of each of us, we are built with it, is encoded in our DNA.  I learned from a Bhagavad Gita scholar, that the classic does not contain a single line on morality, it’s all focused on CONSCIOUSNESS.  As we build cities of the future WE MUST LEARN TO DO SO WITH COMPASSION, balance the needs of those who have done very well in our society with those who have nothing to sustain themselves except the kindness of strangers. 

The general atmosphere in politics where discourse is managed as spiteful currency by purveyors of hate increases the danger of compassionate cities.   Compassion is the arbiter of fairness. The kind of law that we want, is in our conscience.  DIVERSITY MATTERS is hosting a CONSCIOUS DEBATE for local City Council and College Board candidates in Santa Monica.  Why?  Vedic thought brings undoubted integrity to political discourse and conversation.  It occupies a significant place in the intellectual and ethical life of modern times.  It invites voters and candidates to evaluate with fresh meaning the role of politicians and their responsibilities to our community and humanity at large.

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This is an experiment I hope to expand to the rest of LA County in elections to come.  We must engage in the future of our cities, participate through the civic engagement available to us or make our own way to it.  Last September Michelle Alexander sobering Social Media announcement served an invitation to activists around the world.

Solving the crises we face isn’t simply a matter of having the right facts, graphs, policy analyses, or funding.  And I no longer believe we can “win” justice simply by filing lawsuits, flexing our political muscles or boosting voter turnout. Yes, we absolutely must do that work, but none of it — not even working for some form of political revolution — will ever be enough on its own.  Without a moral or spiritual awakening, we will forever remain trapped in political games fueled by fear, greed, and the hunger for power

Sobering indeed… aligned with the thoughts of fellow activist Cesar Chavez:

We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.’

IMAGINE if DIVERSITY MATTERED like that.

ISLAM IN AMERICA

By: Amir Hussain

One often hears talk of “Islam and the West” or “Islam and America”. This brings up an image of two mutually exclusive realities. If we change one simple word, we get instead “Islam in the West” or “Islam in America”. That simple change makes all the difference. Instead of posing two warring factions, “Islam” and “America”, we see the reality of their interconnectedness. Islam is, of course, a “Western” religion, sharing deep roots with Judaism and Christianity. Muslims are much closer religiously to Jews and to Christians than we are to “Eastern” religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Muslims are also a strong presence in “the West”. Islam is the second-largest religion in Canada, Britain, and France, and may well be the second-largest religion in the United States. “Islam in the West” recognizes the entwined heritage of Islam and the West. The West as we know it would not be what it is without the contribution of Muslims. Think quickly of our number system, for example, and ask yourself if it is easier to do multiplication and division with Arabic numbers or with Roman numerals. To be sure, the number system came from India, but it was the Arabs who named it. Yet we often don’t see our connections, and people here in America often have a fear or hatred of Muslims.

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My new book, Muslims and the Making of America, describes the realities of Muslim life in America, and highlights the contributions made to America by its Muslim population. To take only one example, American Muslims have served in the United States military since the Revolutionary War. There were some 300 Muslim soldiers who served during the American Civil War. That’s not a large number, certainly, but it also gives the lie to the oft-repeated claim that Muslims are newcomers to the United States. At the end of 2015, ABC News reported figures from the US Department of Defence that some 5,896 Muslims were serving in the military. That number may be higher, since some 400,000 service members did not self-identify their faith. So almost 6,000 American Muslims serve in the armed forces, helping to defend the country.

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In America, we still think of violence as something unique to Muslims, and don’t seem to realize the violence around us. Charles Kurzman is a sociologist at the University of North Carolina who studies home grown Muslim terrorism. The numbers are, unfortunately, greater than zero, where they should be. But they are much lower than many people think. So for example in 2015, 19 Americans were killed in mass shootings by Muslims in America, 14 by the San Bernardino shooters (I will not glorify murderers by naming them), 5 by the shooter in Chattanooga. That’s less than the number of American Veterans who commit suicide each day (approximately 22), and about the equivalent of the number of Americans shot in any 8 hour period each day. Unfortunately, that changed this year.

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On June 12, 2106, less than 2 days after the funeral of Muhammad Ali, an American Muslim killed 49 people and injured over 50 more in the worst mass shooting in the United States. The shooter was known to law enforcement, and had been questioned multiple times about ties to terrorism. His ex-wife told the Washington Post that he “wasn’t a stable person” and that he had beaten her. A former co-worker described him to the Los Angeles Times as “angry at the world”, as well as being “unhinged and unstable”. However, he was still able to legally purchase guns in the week before the shooting.

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In a horrific way, the shooter also represented America, taking on our worst characteristics as a society. He was homophobic, and chose to attack an LGBTQ nightclub during Pride Month. Sadly, LGBTQ Americans are the most likely to be violently attacked in a hate crime. There were reports that the shooter had frequented the nightclub, as well as having a presence on gay dating sites. His ex-wife as well as a classmate thought he might have been gay. So his homophobia may have emerged out of his own sexual identity, which he may have had to suppress.

He also attacked the nightclub on Latin night, and the majority of those killed or injured were LGBTQ Latinx. So there was a deeper tragedy, of those marginalized for both their ethnicity and their sexuality being the targets that the shooter chose.

He also, as noted above, used guns that he had purchased legally to commit his murders. America’s gun deaths are a national disgrace and a national shame. In the ensuing debate over the murders, very few people mentioned that he used the guns that he had purchased for their intended purposes. Assault weapons, by definition, are designed to kill large numbers of people. You can use a rifle to hunt with, or a shotgun or handgun to protect yourself. But the only reason to have an assault weapon is to kill large numbers of people. And yet assault weapons are easily obtainable in the United States, even by a person who had been under the scrutiny of the FBI since 2013.

On a 9-1-1 call during the shooting, he pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State. He also posted extremist Islamic statements on Facebook. Clearly, his interpretation of Islam is important here, and this part of his background needs to be investigated. But people belonging to other religious traditions have also committed mass shootings, and homophobia is sadly not unique to Islam. Matthew Shepard, to take only one tragic example, was not tortured and killed by Al-Qaeda.

American Muslim groups were quick to condemn the shootings (as they always do), and remind people that their sympathies were with the murdered, not with the shooter. The shootings also caused many Muslims to think about homophobia in their communities, and perhaps to rethink their views on homosexuality. There is so much work ahead that we need to do, both in Muslim and non-Muslim communities, to make the connections between misogyny, homophobia, and other hate crimes.

SPIRITUAL DIVERSITY

By: Zoë Muntaner 

WOW,  Pentecost was a diversity fest.  This day became especially significant for Christians because, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of Shavuot/Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.

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“Pentecost”by Jean Restaut II, 1732 Public Domain

 

“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome  (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” ~Acts 2:5-13

That’s how I feel at times when I go to City Council meetings. As if everyone is speaking a different language, but hearing the discussion in their native tongue. Their interests are at stake.  If land use is in the agenda, for sure I’m perplexed and amazed.  Maybe they had some drinks beforehand (I’m not talking about the councilmembers).  It has not crossed my mind until now.  Some people are drunk with power, that’s why I support term limits for City Council.  Is time we bring reform to that area or our government.

Last Sunday was the church birthday.  The night before, I walked to St. Anne’s for a quiet moment of silent reflection and noticed red programs stacked in a stand.  They read:

Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. ~John 20:22-23  

Sin is  particularly interesting to me because, like most humans,  I’ve sinned.  Through confession, I own it in order to move on and change direction.  I show up at life imperfectly.  In the spirit of keeping it real:

“Perfection is shallow, unreal and fatally uninteresting” ~Anne Lamott

Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” ~John 8:7  

The concept of sin is heavy for most people that lack a broader concept of the word or its meaning.  It was tough for me until I studied other traditions with meanings that allowed me to accept myself the way I am: imperfectly perfect.  Lack of love or missing the mark are two of my favorites.  Catholic guilt is a terrible thing.

“Our virtues are made by love, and our sins caused by the lack of it.”~Hazrat Inayat Khan

On Sunday, I went to yoga class early.  I placed my mat at the back of the room and stretched on my own. My teacher had a substitute.  Fifteen minutes into it, I started to cry.  “What’s going on?  I don’t have time for this, it’s Sunday, I want to have some Zen, not a breakdown.”  Then I remembered going to an Evangelical church in Malibu years ago.  The moment I walked into the classroom where they met and listened to music, I started to cry.  The friend who brought me to the service told me, “Don’t worry, that’s the Holy Spirit, is a normal reaction, just let it go”  Was this the Holy Spirit at work in the yoga studio?  Hmm. Here we go.

By the time I arrived to St. Anne’s my body was feeling ready to receive whatever message was there for me to get. After the service, I approached  the deacon and priest to ask if it would be possible to bless my laptop.  I’ve been  working on some stories for a while now, way before I launched the blog, without knowing their destination.  I want to make sure I’m writing them for the right reasons.  I would like to feel there is purpose behind their publication.  It would be nice to feel I’m transcribing them instead of writing them, to have any sense of ego out of the picture.  I’d like to feel I’m doing some service to the community.  I’d like them to come from a pure heart because, well….the issues are not particularly pure.

Both Deacon Raul Molino and Father Anthony Mbaegbu prayed, it was quite beautiful, poetry, a holy moment.  I cried again, a lot!  The deacon looked into my eyes and said:

“That is the work of the prophet, this is your calling”.

– Oh, no,no,no,no.no!  Father, you don’t understand, I’m just writing a blog, there is no prophetic business in that, I’m a sinner, that’s why I come to church, to heal, not to be scared like that sir!

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He shared some spiritual wisdom. I was scared and stayed for another service.  I sobbed for hours.  If the Holy Spirit manifests itself through tears like my friend told me in Malibu years before, I definitely received it.  No doubt about it.

Father Jorge Guillen is a theology scholar, he gave a memorable sermon with historical background, current church politics, weaved with spiritual insight and guidance.  It was a first for me, it felt like professors you still remember from college because they were real, really good.  I was lucky, he prayed for me after the service and with that, there was some confidence and peace to go about the rest of my day. I stopped by their cafeteria to eat some of the Mexican food the Guadalupanas cook every Sunday and learned more about their community.

I normally attend St. Monica’s at 5:30 PM service with Monsignor Torgeson.   Both of them are Catholic communities but their demographic composition is distinctively different.  St. Anne’s has an element of social justice that is not as evident in St. Monica’s.  St. Anne’s is a little piece of East LA in Santa Monica, most of their services are in Spanish and the one in English is given by a Nigerian priest who is here for his PhD at LMU.  You see where I’m going?  We live in a segregated city.  Is alarming to me that the land use we discussed last week at City Council promotes further segregation by having affordable housing off site.  It could be easily controlled by the City Council.   Wellbeing? Compassion? Diversity?  Seriously?   We can’t call our city any of that if we plant the seeds of further segregation.

Some years ago Jodi Low, Coordinator of the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market told me that perhaps the Virginia Park Farmer’s Market was more attractive to me than the downtown Saturday market because it was in the Pico neighborhood, where the poor community of Latinos and blacks traditionally shop. And …I’m the politically incorrect?  Thank God I know who I am, and recognize the ill-managed social training of some city employees.  However, at this day and age is still shocking someone makes a comment like that in a city like Los Angeles is beyong my comprehension.   Santa Monica is a special pocket in LA.  Since I have to pace myself,  I will leave Laura Avery for next post. I would like to draw from the words of Jesus in his crucifixion:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” ~Luke 23;34

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I have a good radar to evaluate intentionality.  Some people know exactly what they are doing, they just don’t care.  Two years ago while in campaign for City Council, I got in the elevator at City Hall to find an employee from the City Clerk’s office who told me: “keep doing what you are doing, they are scared” . My intention is not to scare anyone, my intention is to have an honest conversation about  some issues that don’t align with the so-called City Wellbeing and do not affirm the Charter for Compassion.  After the conversation we can go about the business of making change.  Shall we?  If we keep ignoring the white elephant in the room, you know what happens: “If you don’t pay attention, God will turn up the volume”.  On another instance Rebecca Adams, Administrative Staff Assistant who used to to be in the City Clerk’s office told me -as if she was incharge of the office- “come another time because everyone was busy and they can’t help you”.  Esterlina Lugo was ready to help me, but Adams was set on using her entitlement to make herself feel superior.  It does not stop there.  Last week, I sat on the same table she was sitting with other staff, waiting for the COSW meeting to start, she stood and left with someone I was striking a conversation to wait in front of the door.  This juvenile behavior belongs to a scene in Mean Girls not a city that claims Wellbeing, Compassion, Empathy, Diversity & Inclusion.  This stuff is relegated to films and fiction circa 1950 in the South. Do you agree?

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Am I the problem?  That is debatable.  If you want to keep Santa Monica a city of of racial tension and discrimination, perhaps I am.  On the other hand, if you want Santa Monica to be a real city of Wellbeing, Compassion, Diversity & Inclusion, I believe I’m part of the solution.  I tweeted yesterday a new mantra: “Zoë, just keep writing” , I t came to me in a moment of quiet reflection.  That is my job, to report from the frontlines, shine a light to issues that seem to get no attention but influence a fundamental part of our identity as citizens and our community.

BETRAYAL

I was betrayed on Friday.  Perhaps I had a delayed reaction and was vulnerable and fragile by Sunday, therefore all the crying.  Church was a place to find solace.  One thing is when someone let you down, betrayal is a whole different business.  Is a horrible feeling.

In Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, the ninth Circle of Hell is ringed by Biblical and Classical Giants. Nimrod , Ephialtes, and Antaeus are found here. THIS IS ONE TOUGH CROWD!

“The lowest, blackest, and farthest from Heaven. Well do I know the way.” — Virgil

 

Treachery is the ninth Circle of Hell. This last circle is dedicated to those people who betrayed their loved ones, friends, best friends, countries, cities, guests, and even to their masters.  YES PEOPLE, CITIES!  Are you betraying yours?  According to Dante, the end game is not pretty.  For me the best strategy in Public Relations crisis management is: own it, apologize, change directions.

That is my prayer for you.