Current Affairs

The Hidden People

I've been thinking recently about how many people there are in the world who seem to be 'hidden from view'.

In a culture that appears to be a bit obsessed by people who are able to make a big 'noise' about what they do - including 'celebrities' who seem to dominate our media and social media and whom many people believe are the role models we should be following  - it is easy to forget that actually it is not THESE people who often make the difference to our lives.

During the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and especially during the first  'lockdown' it seemed, for a while, we got away from all this. There was a real emphasis on and people really began to recognise the contribution to our lives of people who we may be inclined to take for granted. People in the 'background' who not only keep the wheels of our communities turning, but at the time were even putting their own lives at risk so that we could be safe.

You know who I'm talking about? The nurses and doctors and medics who looked after us when we were ill and dying. That band of brave hearts, and masses of volunteers who are now making sure we all get vaccinated against this dreadful virus! Then there were those who kept the shops open so we could still get essential supplies and those who kept transport going. Teachers who kept the schools open especially for the children of those 'essential workers', those who ran foodbanks and delivered provisions to people who couldn't get out. Neighbours who checked on the people around them, people who drew rainbows and painted on pebbles, just to make us smile and feel happy.

Every Thursday evening we clapped for those who cared for us. People really showed their appreciation for those who had gone the extra mile and had shown so much kindness.

It was so refreshing!

One of the things I hope will be a legacy of the pandemic is that some of that kindness continues, along with our appreciation of people who in the past may have been 'invisible' to us.

Time will tell if that actually happens or whether we'll go back to our old ways of just taking people for granted.

In the meantime, as a reminder to me, I share this thought which I have found helpful.

And I just want to say ... to all those who make MY life better, more comfortable and easier to live, even if I don't know who you are and what you do ...  THANKS! THANKS! THANKS!

Bless the hidden people


No News Today!

Many of you who regularly read this blog may know that for most of my working life I've been involved in the media business.

And for most of my adult life, news has been something I've been involved in - listened to, watched, written, read out for listeners and viewers, reported on in studios and on locations, investigated news stories and chatted to people making the news for whatever reason. I'm one of those people who when I awake in the morning I automatically reach for the radio and switch on, to catch the latest headlines and commentary.

The news recently, of course, has been dominated by the coronavirus - news of numbers, deaths, hospitalisations, vaccines - it's been relentless. And I have to say, even though I am by my own admission a bit of a 'news junkie', it has all become a bit overwhelming.

Prior to this pandemic, of course, here in the UK our news programmes and headlines were dominated for many many many months by ... yes ... BREXIT!  THAT also felt like a never-ending story! 

With our current rolling TV news channels, it does sometimes feel like it's just a constant barrage of relentless facts, figures, analysis, comment. Often things appear to happen really really slowly, so hour on hour it's the same thing over and over and over again, with obvious clutching at proverbial straws to try to 'freshen up' the newslines being delivered.

I know that for a lot of people this past year, especially, has been quite depressing. A lot have simply stopped watching and listening to the news and have just 'switched off'. I've read comments from so many people who've said that they are just 'fed up' of hearing the same news lines and the same people talking about the same things. And I sort of get it. 

The challenge to current news providers is always to try to keep people engaged, but there is something in the argument that some of the methods of modern news delivery are rather jaded.

You know what I'm talking about. 'Experts' and so-called 'correspondents' unpicking issues endlessly and telling us what they think about it all is one of my personal bug bears, I have to say. Having worked in the news for so long, I'm aware that to be an 'expert' in any particular area is something that often comes with much time and great effort. And I'm not sure these days that everyone who stands outside an important building spouting what they've probably just actually been told to say by their colleagues back in the newsroom are real 'experts'. It sort of diminishes the trust in 'specialists'.

One big challenge is how also to keep people engaged with the news without just delivering scary statistics and frighteners? That doesn't always work either. One way of making news come to 'life' is to turn to 'examples' of people who are living through it. But even that can get a bit jaded because often the stories are framed in the same way - sad looking person filmed doing something that doesn't really relate to what the story is about (making a cup of tea/pottering in the garden, walking in a field), a rather sad little interview with a serious looking reporter, followed by the sad person doing something also unrelated to the story (leafing through a book/looking pensively out of a window).

Part of the problem is that the person's story is always framed through the news story and by the 'line' that the reporter is aiming for, and in the time allotted to them ... usually a TV news story is all done and dusted and shoe-horned into under two minutes. Radio can allow more TIME to really explore a subject, but the truth is much of the news delivery these days feels rather rushed. SO many stories, all covered rather superficially and only really for the purpose of illustrating the top 'news line'.

The other thing that people have often asked me is why the 'news' is so often 'bad.' I've tried to explain in the past that actually it's because 'bad' stuff happens really quite infrequently, so that's why it's unusual and makes the news. But these days I'm not so convinced by my argument. Years ago there was a bit of a debate as to why 'good' news couldn't be more prominent in a bulletin. Especially on a 'slow' news day, why can't our news be full of 'good' news? People doing great things, people making a difference in their communities. And not just covered as your typical 'And Finally ...' story.

On BBC local radio at the moment there IS a move towards more 'good' community news stories. Some bulletins are featuring 'Make a Difference' stories which celebrates the brilliant people in our communities. It was part of what I did towards the end of my time at BBC Radio Jersey and it's a great development.

But sadly, I think I may have actually to create my own 'good news channel' if I want to hear more positive news stories. The mainstream news media DOES have challenges ahead, although how one fixes a broken model is another issue and one that will take more than my ramblings to sort out.

But why am I talking about this today?

Well it's because on this day - April 18th - in 1930, the BBC did have a very slow news day and something rather unusual happened.

It was before television, so this was radio news. 

BBC microphoneIt was 8.45pm and all over Great Britain people tuned it for the radio news but instead heard the announcer simply say these words...

“Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” 

That was it. Then the rest of the 15-minute news segment was filled with some piano music.

Of course this was before the days of world media. And the BBC wasn't endowed with all the reporters and 'correspondents' we have today. In fact the BBC didn't create it's own news operation until 1934. It's really interesting to read about the early days of the BBC,  when their news gathering was rather constrained by the demands of the newspaper publishers who feared that broadcast bulletins would damage sales.

In those early days of the BBC - after the first news bulletin in November 1922 - they weren't allow to broadcast news before 7pm and the British government didn't allow the BBC to have its own reporters. They relied on stories and copy from the wire services like Reuters, the Press Association, the Central News, and the Exchange Telegraph Company, whose ‘tape’ machines spewed out their stories into the BBC News Room. The BBC news teams then chose what stories to run and by all accounts, they were determined only to choose the best stories. 

Obviously on April 18th 1930 there weren't enough good stories to make a bulletin!

I didn't grow up on this story ... it's something I learned about down the line. And I'm not sure that everyone who works for the BBC knows about it.  Some are aware and think it's just rather quirky. Click here to listen to a more modern take on what happened that day.

Even on a 'slow' news day, this would never happen today. Imagine if we switched on the BBC news channels to hear 'Good morning, everyone, today there is no real news for us to talk about, at least not sensibly. So we're just going to enjoy a film or some cartoons, or listen to some great music'.

Now ... THAT would be an interesting News Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Grapes of Wrath

There are some books that define a generation and I'm thinking about one of those today.

If you've not read 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck, then may I recommend it?

The grapes of wrath book coverI think I first read it when I was a teenager and it made a huge impression on me.

It is a glorious piece of writing which is not a surprise. After all, after it was published on this day - April 14th - in 1939, the book won the National Book Award  and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.

But it's also a narrative of a period of history in the USA which I was learning about at school at the time and it really helped me to understand the era and, more importantly, the people who lived through it. And so the study of history became more than just facts and figures. It helped me to understand that history is about the people who live through it. People just like you and me. People with feelings and fears, people with emotions and dreams.

'The Grapes of Wrath' is set in the Great Depression - a severe worldwide economic depression which began in the United States of America and which blighted the 1930s. It all began with the Wall Street Crash in autumn 1929 when stock markets collapsed, people's livelihoods and lives were destroyed. It was the depression that defined the pre-World War II years.

As I said before, when one is studying history, it's easy just to study the facts and to forget the impact of world events on the ordinary lives of individuals. Not just the rich, influential  and famous whose stories might hit the headlines or ultimately be included in the history books, but the lives of ordinary people who make up the great majority of our world.

The family at the centre of 'The Grapes of Wrath'  are the Joads, poor tenant farmers in the state of Oklahoma who are driven out of their home by a series of events. First, drought - the economic crisis coincided with some climatic challenges not all natural ... some of the problems were caused by over use of the land. But, in addition,  the Joads also faced economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures which forced tenant farmers out of work. 

The family epitomises the problems of their generation. They are in a desperate situation, trapped in what was known as the 'Dust Bowl', they decide to become part of an exodus to the 'Promised Land' of California, where they believe they will find work and land and a future.

So the Joads join thousands of other "Okies" heading west. 

However, once they reach California, they find the state oversupplied with men, women and children all seeking employment, workers are exploited and wages are low. The poor face a future where the big corporate farmers collude, smaller farmers suffer from collapsing prices and the future is not much better than that which the family faced at home in Oklahoma. 

Although the Great Depression, and any depression or economic downturn actually, often affects everyone at the start, there's no doubt that it is the poor who ultimately suffer the most. The rich and powerful often find ways of escaping and sadly that's often at the expense of others.

As I was researching this blog, I discovered that Steinbeck not only was aware of this, but actually wrote the book to highlight the issue, and in fact 'The Grapes of Wrath', with it's brilliant writing and his sympathy for migrants and workers, won a huge following among the working class. 

He's reported to have said "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this (the Great Depression) and its effects."

And Steinbeck also famously said, "I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags." 

And THAT is indeed what happened to me when I first read the book - it taught me so much not just about that particular period of history, but also a good deal about how greed and power can corrupt, and how it is the poorest and weakest in our society who invariably suffer the most.

Even though 'The Grapes of Wrath' was written almost a century ago, it certainly feels to me that it has a few messages for this current generation, and this current period of human history.

I haven't read it for a while, but I think I need to read it again.


A Long Walk

Memory is a strange thing. 

It is rather choosy in what it chooses to remember.

I know that, as a person who was born at the very end of the 1950s, SO many things have happened in my lifetime but most of my memories aren't of the BIG events, but lots of little, personal things. Making a snowman with my brothers when I was probably about 5, hanging upside down on the 'monkey bars' at school at about the same age. My first memories of moving to Africa with my family ... more on that another time.

As a person who has worked most of my life in the news business, I strangely find that I don't remember even many of the big life-changing events. Although I DO know where I was on September 11th 2001, when the planes hit the World Trade Centre in New York.

And I remember the events of February 11th 1990 because I clearly recall watching them on the television.

It was the day the world watched Nelson Mandela walk free from prison on Robben Island, in Table Bay off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa, after 27 years in captivity.

The crowds were incredible and then we saw him, holding hands with his then wife Winnie, walking through the crowds. Walking into Freedom.

It was incredible. It really felt like I was watching history in the making.

For my whole life I was aware of South Africa - I had relatives living there and had visited my brother and seen apartheid in action, even the reaction of some black people against members of their own community during these very turbulent times as they worked their way towards independence. I had witnessed terrible scenes on a television screen, an horrific 'necklace killing' which was shown on TV. If you don't know what this is, please click on the link... I can't bear to repeat it here. I still have the images in my mind.

One of the iconic songs of the era, 'Free Nelson Mandela', was a cry for freedom not just for the man, but also for the black population, the nation of South Africa. With the real threat of a racial civil war and pressure at home and internationally, including economic and sporting boycotts, eventually the government of President F. W. de Klerk saw what needed to be done.

And here Mandela was ... walking free. The man who had been imprisoned for sedition and conspiring to overthrow the state of South Africa was a free man. At last!

It was incredible.

But what came next was even more astounding.

It would have been easy for Mr Mandela to insist on power for the black population, immediately, and to rouse them to action.

But instead, he worked with President de Klerk to negotiate an end to apartheid, that system of institutionalised racial segregation that had been formalised in 1948. Eventually there was a multiracial general election in 1994 which resulted in victory for Mandela and his party, the ANC - the African National Congress. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of his nation.

After assuming power, and especially after suffering 27 years in incarceration, one might have assumed that Mandela might then have wanted his revenge on the white politicians and civilians who had made life so unbearable for the black and 'coloured' population for so long. But no.

Instead he emphasised reconciliation between the country's racial groups and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. 

It was barely a year after that 1994 multi-racial election, which my own family members were pleased to be part of, that I visited South Africa again. Life in the country seemed familiar and it didn't feel like much had changed really, but there was hope in the air.

And although it is still a troubled country, with much poverty and even inequality of all kinds, today I remember the man who guided his country through such a momentous era, which could have turned out so differently. Long walk to freedom

In his autobiography 'Long Walk to Freedom' (Little Brown & Co 1994) Nelson Mandela shared not just his life's story but also his wisdom.

He wrote ...

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

And he left us with thoughts which can inspire us all ...

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

 

 


Don't Like Mondays?

If you're as old as I am,  you might remember the 1979 Boomtown Rats hit 'I Don't Like Mondays'.

If not - maybe look it up?

It was the band's second hit and it was Number One in the UK charts for four weeks during that summer.

For me it was an iconic sound of my youth. But it was a song born of tragedy, because it was written by  Bob Geldof and Johnnie Fingers following a dreadful event on January 29th of  that year - the Cleveland Elementary School shooting in San Diego, USA. 

Geldof is quoted as saying he wrote the ballad after he heard that the shooter who fired at children in a playground, killing two adults and injuring eight children and a police officer, explained herself by saying "I don't like Mondays...."

Appalling!

Now, I have to say, many of us might admit that Monday is not our favourite day of the week ... back to work/school after the weekend and all that. 

But I read something recently that helped me put a new spin on Mondays. It's a quote attributed to David Dweck, entrepreneur, investor and speaker ... and I love it.

Just by thinking of Mondays in a different way, putting a more positive spin on the day ... well this says it all really.

SO - Happy Monday!

2016-02-15 16.07.20 - Copy

Oh, and by the way, if you're wondering ... the photograph is one of mine.  It's St Ouen's Bay in Jersey in the Channel Islands.


Take the first step

I'm starting today's thought with a picture and quote from an awesome woman

Quotation-Rosa-Parks-To-bring-about-change-you-must-not-be-afraid-to-84-42-21

The fantastic woman who is featured above is Rosa Parks and if you haven't heard of her before ... where have you been?

Rosa was an American activist and she was born on this day - February 4th - in 1913.

But it was around 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 1, 1955, that she did something that changed the course of history and human and civil rights in the USA.

She refused to move from her seat in a bus!

Rosa lived in the south of the USA in the state of Alabama where racial segregation was part of the system and the culture.

Since the turn of the 20th century, the former southern Confederate states, including Alabama, had adopted new electoral laws and constitutions that disenfranchised black voters, and even many poor white voters. The were called the 'Jim Crow laws', and they imposed racial segregation in shops, public facilities and public transportation. Under the law, bus and train companies introduced and enforced strict seating policies with separate sections for black people and whites. In fact, there was no school bus transportation available in any form for black schoolchildren in the South, and Rosa Parks herself remembered going to elementary school where school buses took white students to school, but black kids had to walk.

In December 1955 those rules were still in place in the city of Montgomery, where Rosa lived and worked. On the buses, individual conductors were allowed to assign seats to ensure the races stayed apart. The first four rows of seats on buses in Montgomery were reserved for whites. There were 'coloured' sections for black passengers, even though around three quarters of passengers on any bus were black people. The sections could be changed if the bus conductor saw fit, they had movable signs which meant that if a white person needed a seat, a row was re-assigned and black passengers had to move. People of different colours were not even allowed to sit in the same row of seats on the bus!

If the vehicle filled up with white people, basically black passengers were forced to move further and further to the back so that the whites could have their seats. If the bus got overcrowded, it was the black passengers who had to leave  - by a rear door. Black people could only enter and leave by the back door.

On that evening of December 1 1955 Rosa Parks was on her way home from work. She paid her bus fare, and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the "coloured" section. She was sitting near the middle of the bus, and her row was directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers.

As the journey progressed, more and more white people got on the bus and soon all the 'whites only' rows were taken. The bus driver ordered Rosa and three other passengers to leave the row they were sitting in, to make way for white passengers.

The three other passengers in her row moved to seats behind. Rosa refused.

She argued with the bus driver but stayed in her seat. The police were called and Rosa was arrested.

Now just to explain, Rosa was already involved in the civil rights movement. She was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was a secretary in the local NAACP branch and had been involved in civil rights and other political activity for a couple of decades.  But her main job was as a seamstress at a local department store.

And, as she explained in an interview with National Public Radio  in 1992, Rosa remembered that she hadn't set out that day to cause a ruckus. Here's what she told NPR's Lynn Neary  

'I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time ... there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.

The actions and orders of the bus driver James F. Blake that day was the straw that broke the camel's back for Rosa. Although hers was not the first arrest on a bus of a black passenger who refused to give up their seat for a white person, Rosa Parks' defiance was to be a turning point in the civil rights movement.

After her arrest for civil disobedience, with the backing of the NAACP, Rosa began a prolonged court battle. Other court cases were also underway and nearly a year after her arrest, the federal Montgomery bus lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, which was a court case separate to Rosa's, led to a ruling in the US Supreme Court that bus segregation is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

But what followed Rosa's arrest was the clincher in the whole saga, because it was the catalyst that sparked a boycott of the Montgomery public bus system for almost a year.

Remember, although they were treated badly, black passengers made up around 75% of the bus company's business. Black residents just refused to take the bus and eventually the bus company's finances were rock bottom, but it was only the repeal of the law following that Supreme Court ruling that forced the transit company to change its rule. On December 21, 1956, Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated and black people could ride the bus again, without segregation.

So Rosa has gone down in history as an icon of the American civil rights movement. She would became internationally famous and work alongside, among others, Martin Luther King Jr. In later life, the US Congress would call Rosa Parks "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement".

But life wasn't always kind to her. She was fired from her job and struggled to find work and she received death threat for years afterwards.

From 1965 to 1988 she also continued to be involved in civil rights and in politics, including the Black Power movement. This former seamstress who took a stand for right would go on to receive national and international honours including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

When she died on October 24, 2005 aged 92 she became the first woman to lie in state in the Rotunda at the Capitol building in Washington DC and a statue was posthumously erected in her honour in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall.

Today the States of  California and Missouri commemorate Rosa Parks Day on her birthday, February 4, while other states - Ohio and Oregon  - commemorate the anniversary of her arrest, December 1.

The quote from Rosa Parks which I've used at the top of this thought says it all I think.

'To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try'

I'm inspired by that idea.

So often when we know there are things that need changing, in our life, in our communities, in our world, we are scared by the prospect of getting involved. It'll be too hard, it'll take up too much time, it'll be beyond my ability.

Maybe I just need to take Rosa Parks' advice and take the first step. 

Who knows where that might take me?


Memories of a Great Man

What childhood memories do you have?

Perhaps visits to the seaside? Maybe your first day at school? The loss of a pet?

Some of us have memories which are tied to big national events.

In recent decades some children may remember visiting London after Diana, Princess of Wales passed away. They will remember the aroma of the millions of flowers around the palaces.  Some children may remember the death of a grandparent, or sadly, a parent. Others may remember television programmes which made an impact on their lives – cartoons and shows for kids.

I have a memory from my past which was not personal to me but did involve television. In those days the message was delivered from a small black and white screen in the corner of the sitting room. I remember seeing a coffin being loaded onto what I think was a train. It was all very solemn and I do recall feeling sad, although not really knowing why.

On this day in 1965 St Paul’s Cathedral witnessed the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister who had taken Britain through the Second World War.

State funerals are usually only bestowed on members of the Royal Family but years before Churchill died on the 24th of January planning had been in place for his funeral with full state honours. In addition, by decree of the reigning monarch,  Queen Elizabeth II, Churchill's body lay in state in Parliament, in the ancient  Westminster Hall for three days from 26 January, until the funeral in St Paul's.

It was an historic moment, the end of an era, especially for the generation, like my parents, who had fought in and lived through the Second World War.

The esteem in which Churchill was held was reflected in the fact that his funeral was attended by leaders from across the globe. Representatives from 112 countries and many organisations attended, including 5 kings and 2 queens, other members of royalty,  15 presidents, 14 prime ministers and 10 former leaders. 

In researching today's 'One Day @ a Time' thought, I also discovered that the funeral took place on the anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's birth - that great American president who had seen his country through not just the Second World War but also many turbulent years prior to that conflict. He and Churchill worked closely as allies but also as friends in the cause against global tyranny, and I read that people in the United States marked the day by paying tribute to Churchill's friendship with Roosevelt.

The events of January 30th 1965 were covered extensively by the world's media, including British television  - the BBC and other broadcasters who followed the funeral step by step, including after the service, the procession of his coffin on a Royal Navy vessel on the River Thames before the ceremonies moved to Waterloo Station on the south bank of the river.

It is those images, of his coffin being slowly marched to the train which would take him to his final resting place in Oxfordshire and a private burial, which are my memories of the day.

For me, it’s just a vague memory - I wasn't sure really what I watching, but I knew it was a serious time -  along with others delivered from the television.

What other childhood memories do I have?  I remember holidays, days on the beach and my dad teaching me to swim. Squabbles with my brothers, getting stung by a bee, and playing out in the snow – rolling a chunk  of the white stuff down an incline to make a snowball big enough for a snowman’s head. I have other TV memories - at the other end of the telly serious scale, thinking about my favourite TV characters like ‘Andy Pandy’ and ‘The Wooden Tops’ still makes me smile.

Most of all I know I am one of the fortunate ones, to have memories of loving parents, and a caring close family. Not everyone has that privilege. And although I have had sadness, including bereavement, the good for me is balanced by the not-so-fine.

So today, let’s remember those who are not as fortunate as we may be. Those who struggle with their memories and are still living with the consequences of damaged lives.  Those who are bereaved and sad and struggling to adapt to new circumstances.

Let’s pray that, if the opportunity arises, we help to build happy memories for those whose lives we touch today.

 


Be the Light in the Darkness

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day.

It's a day when we remember those who suffered in the Holocaust - members of the Jewish race and culture, and others who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime in the Second World War.

It's reckoned that between 1941 and 1945, across German-occupied Europe, the Nazis and their collaborators killed an estimated six million Jews. That was about two-thirds of the Jewish population who were living in Europe at the time. They were persecuted, held in ghettos, and then eventually, rounded up and taken to work/slave and concentration camps, as well as extermination camps where they were murdered, including being gassed to death in gas chambers in places like Auschwitz, Bełżec, Majdanek, SobibórChełmno, and Treblinka in Poland,  which was under German occupation.

It was on January 27th 1945 that the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by forces from the Soviet Union, and so this is the day that was chosen for the commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and some other national Holocaust Memorial Days.

Since January 2001, this day has been an opportunity to remember all those who perished in this genocide and the millions who survived against the odds, but whose lives would always be lived in the shadow of those who were lost. It's estimated that the total number of people murdered during the Holocaust was 17million ... 6 million Jews and 11 million others who Nazi Germany discriminated against because of their religion, ethnicity, disability, political beliefs and sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, despite the appalling facts of the Holocaust, man's inhumanity to their fellow human beings has not halted, and so today is also a time  for us to remember those many millions of people who have perished in genocides since the mid 20th century, including in CambodiaRwanda, and Bosnia.

Here in Jersey there is always a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony, which includes the laying of wreaths at a memorial, and commemorations of those who died at the hands of the Nazis. The Channel Islands, of which Jersey is a part, were the only places in the British Isles that were occupied by the Germans during the Second World War, and some of our residents were deported and died in those work and concentration camps, and some members of our community today, including my friends in the Jewish community, had family members who died in the Holocaust.

Today, Holocaust Memorial Day is supported in the UK by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, a charity set up and funded by the UK Government.

Every year they choose a theme for the day and in 2021 that theme is 'Be the Light in the Darkness'

Candle (2)At 7pm today there will be an event organised by the Holocaust Memorial Trust, which will focus on that theme  - 'Be the Light in the Darkness'.

The theme, we are told on their page, encourages us all to reflect on not only the terrible depths to which humanity can sink, but also the incredible ways that communities and individuals resisted the darkness, and became 'lights' during and after the Holocaust.

Please click on the link above to read more about that theme and how we are being called to be 'lights' in the 'darkness', and how we can stand in solidarity with those who were and still are affected by persecution.

We are encouraged, among other things, to help shine a light on situations where people are persecuted, to fight prejudice, intolerance and discrimination when we see it,  and to stand firm to confront misinformation, distortion of history and the denial of the Holocaust which is still unfortunately prevalent.

So I'm encouraged today to be a Light in the Darkness and am inspired by those who have gone before.

I leave you today with a quote from the theme page of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust which I find truly inspiring

We will continue to do our bit for as long as we can, secure in the knowledge that others will continue to light a candle long after us

Gena Turgel MBE, survivor of the Holocaust (1923-2018)

 

 


Inauguration Day

American  flagToday is Inauguration Day for the the new President of the United States of America.

Now I'm not going to get into the whys and wherefores of the last four years under the 45th President, or all the controversy that has followed the early November election, or recent events and developments in the place that has prided itself on its democratic history, processes and systems. Too many others have done that already.

But today, when Joseph Biden is sworn in as the 46th President at the Capitol Building  in Washington, D.C. he will follow in a long line of men (yes, only men so far) who have held an appointment which has given them immense power and authority. 

Sometimes it's controversial, and often exciting as the new incumbent of the White House solemnly raises his right hand, places his left hand on a Bible and, before the nation and the world, recites the Oath of Office of the President of the United States of America :-

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

It's an important moment in the life of the nation, but sometimes it's more historic than others.

In January 2009, I awoke very early in a hotel room in Christchurch, New Zealand (where I was coming to the end of a fabulous five week Holiday Down Under), to watch the swearing in of President Barack Obama. - his first term of office.

It was 12noon on the 20th January in Washington DC.  For me sitting in my jimjams in New Zealand, it was already 6am on the 21st. But I was absolutely determined to be part of this historic moment  - the swearing in of the first ever African American president. What a day!

So, to mark this next much anticipated inauguration, and as I am a bit of a history nerd, I've been digging further into the history of the Inauguration and I've discovered that it hasn't always been on January 20th or even at the Capitol building in the USA capital.

The first inauguration, of George Washington, took place on April 30, 1789 at Federal Hall in New York city. When he was sworn in, the city that now bears his name wasn't even built and Washington lived in New York and Philadelphia - both cities served as the American capital prior to the one we know today. In fact, it was while Washington was in office that he signed a bill which established a new, future, permanent capital city built along the Potomac River ... the place now named Washington, D.C. in his honour.


Blessed are the Peacemakers



We live in a tumultuous world, don’t we?

Even as we’ve entered this new year, and so lately have been wishing each other ‘Peace and Goodwill’, we only have to switch on the news to see so much that is not peaceful. PEACE

In homes, it stands to reason and human nature, that there are bound to be arguments even today over trivialities, siblings bickering, relationships disintegrating. Between friends there are quarrels over meaningless nothings, petty jealousies.

Nationally, politics is often an excuse for perceived contrary views on just about every issue. Media's job is to tell us what is happening in the world but some outlets do unfortunately feed on divisions, like vultures over a decaying corpse on the savannah, making what might have been inconsequential disagreements into bigger disputes. 

Riots, insurgency, unruly behaviour - that's just the start of it. On an international scale we face some of the least peaceful times in the history of the world, with terror and fear being fed by megalomania and warped interpretation of religion.

We're living through a global pandemic, and that's certainly not peaceful. It's a source not just for community effort, but also for division as people have varying opinions on where the virus came from, how bad it is, and the efforts being taken to keep the world as safe as it can be. I do believe the majority of people do understand the seriousness of what the world is facing and are working hard to keep ourselves and loved ones and others healthy. Staying isolated, wearing masks and keeping our distance. There are some, I'm sorry to say, who have contrary views resulting in behaviour which others feel put us all at risk. It's a source of discontent, there's no doubt about that. 

And let's not forget social media, which in my experience can be such a power for good, but invariably is also an opportunity for people to express hateful ideas, and a chance for people to vehemently express their opinion in the strongest possible language. And often being the source of further division where they might not have been disagreement before.

Yet in the midst of all this there will be those who strive for peace, however hopeless it may seem. These are the people who dream of a world where people, although different, coming from different perspectives and even with different beliefs and opinions, can learn to live in harmony.

On this day, in 1920, a group of men sat down in Paris as part of the first ever Council Assembly of the League of Nations, an organization born out of the horror of the Great War of 1914 to 1918, a congregation of people, and countries, who wished to ensure that the world would never again be embroiled in global conflict. The League had been officially founded just the week before on January 10 1920, but this was the culmination of years of negotiations, primarily between the allies who had won what is now known as the First World War. The first full meeting of The Assembly of the League of Nations wouldn't happen until November 1920 but today in that year was a significant moment in the march towards anticipated peace.

Of course, in hindsight, we know that aim was thwarted. There would be another world war in 1939 and plenty more wars and conflicts to follows.

And today, although it's certainly not perfect, the United Nations, which grew out of that League of Nations after the Second World War, still works to find ways of bringing peoples together and trying to ensure that peace which I think, I hope, we all crave. Among other things, UN agencies exist to help people out of poverty and ensure good health and education, often some of the causes of conflict. 

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke to his world, and to ours.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ (Matthew 5:9) he said.

Not all of us can be part of an international summit on peace. We can’t all sit in a parliament or be part of an advocacy group encouraging people to see the things on which they can agree rather than always to be looking for the negative in others’ policies.

But we can be ‘peacemakers’ where we are. In our families, in our communities, in our churches, at work and in the world where we might have some influence. In our relationships, in our behaviour and in our conversations in person and even virtually via social media. 

So, today, I don't know about you, but I want to be one of those ‘peacemakers’ which Jesus so highly regards.

It might start small, but who knows where it could lead, if we all give it a go.

http://www.onthisday.com/day/january/16