Remembering Nelson Mandela in D.C.

I live about a 20 minute walk from the South African embassy, so I went this afternoon to pay my respects following the death of former SA president Nelson Mandela.

My feelings are hard to put into words; he belongs to the ages. The world is so much better for his life and labor. The proof? Those who once denounced now try to claim him as a friend in death.

Walking up Massachusetts Avenue, a.k.a. Embassy Row, I noted how many embassies had their national flags at half-staff. At least a quarter; perhaps a third. I was not alone; there were enough people in foot — there’s no place to park, even if you have a car — to justify crossing guards.

Irish embassy
Irish embassy
Kenyan embassy
Kenyan embassy

Ongoing construction at the South African embassy made for a tight shrine. I got there just in time to sign the condolance book (inside the lobby) and then joined the small crowd, many of whom took photos or left flowers at the newly-dedicated statue of Mandela out front.

You have to do something when you make what — let’s call it what it is — a pilgrimage. You leave your signature, your thoughts (in the book, or on cards or with gifts) and a tribute of flowers. I brought my prayerbook.

SA embassy lobby, from outside
SA embassy lobby, from outside
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes
Nelson Mandela statue and tributes

I’m left thinking of Mandela’s legacy, but also how churches observe something like the death of a great figure, or a great and lamentable disaster for that matter. And what do you do when there’s no obvious focus of the outpouring? The South African embassy is obvious in Washington, but “how does in play in Peoria?”

How strategic the action?

So the election is over, and I’m reasonably satisfied by the outcome, especially in the four state ballot measures about same-sex marriage.

On election night, the DC coverage included a quick flash of a Standing on the Side of Love banner. I’ve never been sure of what to make of that campaign. At first it was an issue of the campaign’s compass, design and smugness. Now I wonder if any such campaign (especially in an electoral year) will be swept up, discarded or coopted by more sophisticated efforts.

Or is the effort that, as Unitarian Universalists, we must feel that our particular efforts are successful, as evidence of our self-worth and social relevance? Or perhaps we have politicaly muted, in-house campaigns because of our own broader-than-recognized political landscape. (Or as I think of it, “the Libertarian problem.”)

As for me and my money, I’ll take a savvy c4.

Scout for state, federal legislation

While I don’t speak for my employer, the Sunlight Foundation, I am proud of many of its projects. There’s a new one I think many readers here might especially like. It’s called Scout; it searches through proposed state and federal legislation plus federal regulations and more.

Here’s it searching religious liberty. And if you make an account, you can be sent updates. (Do.)

I think it’s pretty clever, especially if you’re concerned about the a wave of similarly-themed legislation coordinated across state houses nationwide. (I can think of examples.)


Here’s an intro video where my colleague Eric Mill describes Scout’s features and how to use it more fully than I have described.

This Obama mishegoss

People of the Left, I’m home sick so I’ll make this brief. Show some self-respect.

The President said as little as possible about supporting same-sex marriage — and how much would he have said had the Vice President not spoken first? — and look how it’s gotten your juices going. Forget this not: everything is calculated for his election and not your good feelings. For all the talk of marriage, he seems more like an inconstant boyfriend. And, frankly, he’s not into us. Which is why we should treat him like an adult and ask what policies within his executive roll he hopes to make from these personal opinions. Given his “progress” on Guantanamo bay or personal privacy, I’m not betting he’ll do much. Which is why I’m holding my praise and my checkbook. Demand more than a fluttering interview.

Enough — back to bed.

Why so quiet? TransparencyCamp 2012

I’ve not been blogging lately because I work for the Sunlight Foundation — these words are my own — and we just hosted our big in-person event, TransparencyCamp 2012. (When I make comments about Unitarian Universalist events, I do so honestly.)

The camp has been getting some major press; indeed, I hear that several of wy readers know Sunlight independently from our various activities. Quite proud of these, and I hope — if government transparency interests you — that you sign up for more info. Developer? Be sure to get an API key. And then there’s TransparencyCamp 2013, details TBD.

Consider this blog blacked-out

Lots of sites — like the English-language Wikipedia — are getting blacked out tomorrow in protest of SOPA and PIPA, and encouraging readers to contact their lawmakers to oppose these — but since I have a small readership I thought it more practical to say why than to figure out how to do so.

It’s about the proposed SOPA and PIPA, which I think are terrible bits of legislation. I’ll rely on this page from Public Knowledge to make my point.

If you have voting members of Congress, please express your rejection. (Note: some Democrats have been bad on this one, and some Republicans good.)

The new national weight loss plan

Over the years, I’ve tried to lose weight and am fully aware of what works for me (eating high-fiber, low-fat vegetarian food; counting and recording calories) and what doesn’t (everything else).

My reasons for trying to lose weight, however, have changed. The vain reasons of youth have become the health-preservation demands of middle age. Why, to you the reader, might this matter?

Because it meshes well with one of two ideas I have about the Occupy movements. On the one hand, by pushing the political expectations of the country (I can’t speak to how it plays out overseas) to the left, and by encouraging activists, I think there is more possibility for an equitable political solution. (The main line of the Democratic party isn’t going to do it.) What does that have to do with weight loss? Nothing.

The other hand suggests that the fight is going to be generations-long and that the reliable help that comes will be softer, smaller-scale and sometimes insufficient. Encouragement over aid. Solidarity over programs. Pig-headedness, perhaps, over leadership. It means we’re going to have to take care of our own health, finances, social affairs and even religious needs even while others profit unfairly from our labor and government remains unresponsive to citizen demands. It means preparing ourselves bravely and creatively to have less. Sounds very tiring, but this situation has been decades in the making.

So I’m trying to lose weight to stave off diabetes and coronary disease, and rely on the support of a few good friends to make it happen. It may not be enough, but If that’s as much health care as some people have. Time, I think, to consider self-care — not in that sickly-sweet way ministers once talked about among themselves — and solidarity action. And if that works, then why not housing, food, tools, education and religion? I would rather starve the forces that try to control us than surrender.

Let’s start with the “too big to not be bailed out” banks. Then move to abusive multinationals and the producers of goods who finance the corrupt system we see. That I’m hungry for.

Today's visit to the Occupy DC encampment

After going to D.C.’s commercial market for discounted produce, I dropped by the Occupy DC (or is it OccupyDC?) to drop off some onions and check out the vibe. It’s much larger and matured than last Saturday, when I tried to attend a march and rally with friend, Unitarian Universalist minister and new blogger Peter Boullata. (I was late.) Today, I ran into friend, Quaker minister and established blogger Micah Bales. (Do you note a theme?)

To mark the day, I filmed a panorama of McPherson Square, the encampment. Nothing award winning, but to give you a sense of size.

In an unrelated note, I later picked up a D.C. Ward Two Shelter and Evacuation Guide, a D.C. Homeland Security publication at the Georgetown library. Good to think ahead, since I live and work in Ward Two. Here’s a PDF of the guide (3.4 Mb). Come to think of it, so is McPherson Square, so perhaps it may be useful to one and all….

The death of Gaddafi

I was a small baby when Muammar al-Gaddafi came to power, but since then — with a few poignant exceptions — the United States has been more conscious of how his name was tortuously spelled, rather than how he controlled and tortured his people. Certainly the Libyan people know.

Let me share a thought that I neglected when Osama bin-Laden was killed: I’m not sad that either man is dead, but it’s a shame that both were killed, especially in the case of Gaddafi. After all those decades, he owed the Libyan people a trial. Not an escape, not a violent death, but a trial with a full airing of his crimes. The Libyans lost a chance to accuse, expose and try their dead dictator, and mete out a sentence — and now never can.

That (thinking back to the bin-Laden killing) and not a military strike, is the cornerstone of justice because the same is true of the American (and other) people.

Oh, and I hope those photos of Western leaders cozying up to Gaddafi before the Arab Spring come back to haunt them.

Why preaching garb?

A sideways answer from the President of the German Constitutional Court, Andreas Vosskuhle, from the current episode (in English) of Deutsche Welle’s People and Politics

Speaking of the robes particular to the Constitutional Court, starting at 1:09:

It takes a while [to put it on] and you feel different when you’re wearing it.

You feel simply like an office holder sitting there, not like Andreas Vosskuhle but as the chairman of the panel and that makes it easier to establish a distance from your own preferences and expectations.

There’s something to be said about clergy, too, distinguishing their private lives and the official roles.

An interesting episode, with a review of the success of the Berlin Pirate Party and the fiftieth anniversary of the first Turkish “guest workers.”

September 23, 2011 episode of People and Politics

The particular clip can also be see here on YouTube.