International Right to Know Day 2016

International Right to Know Day, September 28, has always been a time for me to reflect on how the detailed laws and regulations of states and nations interconnect and relate somehow to a common theme.  We are at times so focused on the local that we fail to see the global sphere in which access to information is a common lynchpin.  This year presents an extraordinary opportunity for all of us to give serious thought to right to know.

International Right to Know Day was organized in 2002 in Sofia, Bulgaria, at an international meeting of access advocates.  Since then, the RTK recognition  “celebrates the right of individuals to access information held by public instruments and reminds us of the need and the benefits of a transparent for government.”

As Americans we depend on Jefferson and Madison to articulate and thus assure that right in perpetuity. Still, technology has the extreme and conflicting power to expand or to curtail access.  International RTK Day is a time to think seriously about what’s happening not just in the political sphere but also in media, regulatory, transnational, archival, distribution, economic and other arenas in which the right to know is at a minimum questioned if not overtly challenged.

It is inspiring to realize in a tangible way that nations around the globe are exploring the right to know.  We can learn from others about barriers faced and the ways in which they have created regulatory, legal and educational solutions to enhance accessibility.

International RTK Day reminds us to examine those Jeffersonian and Madisonian principles.  A look at the experience of other nations may enlighten us about the challenges they face, the implications for this nation, and the reason that the recognition of International Right to Know Day brings to the fore a host of issues we ignore at our own peril.

Note: Much of today’s post was shared on this blog some years ago – The times suggest that it bears repeating.

 

 

 

Thinking about seeds, ideas and communities – and how they grow

This is my season for reflecting – mostly about how ideas and projects and movements evolve. The advantage of age is that we can remember when a seed was planted, we watched it grow, and now we rejoice in the harvest.

And so, while writing about the forthcoming Twin Cities Book Festival my thoughts drift back to The Minnesota Festival of the Book, the 1988 extravaganza when writers, publishers, booksellers, librarians and, most of all, readers gathered in Rice Park in downtown St. Paul!

Sponsored by The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, the Festival brought together the myriad voices of what later came to be known as Minnesota’s vibrant “community of the book.” The grand goal of the Friends was “to throw a party for books and reading that will entertain and enlighten all ages.

And so the 1988 celebration of the written word was alive with all things bookish – from author signings to Braille editions to government publications, dozens of Minnesota publishers, libraries’ special collections, Friends groups, a host of bookstores, storytellers – not to mention the Sherlock Holmes display hosted by the Norwegian Explorers Club.

One feature of the Minnesota Festival of the Book was the inauguration of the Minnesota Book Awards. Originally sponsored by the Minnesota Center for the Book the awards continue today as an elaborate event sponsored by the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library.

As I reflect on that beautiful September day “back in the day” I remember well the words of a colleague and metro regional economist, who viewed the Rice Park energy and observed – presciently – “now that’s how economic vitality begins.”

Though there is no direct organizational link between the 1988 Festival and this fall’s festival event at the Fairgrounds it is clear to me that the seed planted over a quarter century ago continues to bear fruit in countless ways. Over the years a host of institutions and communications channels have evolved to serve as common ground for the community of the book to thrive in a time of economic, social and technological change.

If you dig deep and keep peeling the onion, artists and freelance writers are the leaders in society – the people who start to get new ideas out ~~ Allan Savory

 

 

 

Rain Taxi hosts 16th annual Twin Cities Book Festival

Books, the children of the brain ~~ Jonathan Swift

Been there, done that! Not if you’re talking about the Twin Cities Book Festival set for Saturday, October 15, with an Open Night Party warm-up on Friday, October 14.  Though it may be an annual autumn ritual, know in advance that you have not seen or done everything that’s on tap for the 2016 Twin Cities Book Festival. (http://www.raintaxi.com/twin-cities-book-festival/)

The bibliophile bonanza blasts off at 5:00 Friday evening with an Opening Night Party. http://www.raintaxi.com/twin-cities-book-festival/2016-tcbf-opening-night-party-reading/ The evening begins with dinner ($20 – reservations required) to be followed by a free and open talk by British writer Kathryn Aalto who will celebrate the 90th birthday of the classic with a presentation on The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh. (http://www.raintaxi.com/New/media/Aalto-Flyer.pdf) Friday evening events are in the Fine Arts Center on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

The free and open Book Festival blasts off Saturday morning at 10:00. Be prepared — the robust schedule can be overwhelming and the exhibits are irresistible.

One of the best features of the TC’s Book Festival is the digital accessibility of it all — Before you head for the Fairgrounds, check the possibilities that range from the day-long Book Fair (http://www.raintaxi.com/twin-cities-book-festival/exhibitors-and-specials/) to scores of events – ranging from “From Hell to Bacchus and Back” to “PayHomage” to numerous pavilions featuring books, events and activities for children and young adults. Pay special note of the fact that many of the events are ASL accessible.

Musing on the National Museum of African American History

Experience tells me that I am not alone as fall creeps stealthily into our lives. Early evenings, falling leaves and an evitable autumnal languor herald a season when many of us find ourselves in a reflective mood. On the one hand, we yearn to hang on to the carefree days of summer. Still, we know it’s time to face the facts, which means re-visiting a jumble of memories. So I spent last evening absorbed with the memories conjured by the opening of the National Museum of African American History. (http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/24/495302034/national-museum-of-african-american-history-opens-its-doors)

My ritual morning click on The Writer’s Almanac reinforced the reflective mood.   Today’s show recalled the day six decades ago when the “Little Rock Nine” walked into Little Rock Central High School. Protected by federal troops they bravely “put a face” on the legendary decision by the Supreme Court to strike down the doctrine of “separate but equal.” (http://writersalmanac.org/episodes/20160925/)

My thoughts turn to the tragically slow trajectory of history. Thus, as I share in the celebration of the NMAAH I wonder about the world faced by the grandchildren of the Little Rock Nine.

It seems to me that there are times when we better understand seismic forces if we have a thread that ties us to the enormity of a movement or societal awakening. For me, the thread to the narrative preserved in the National Museum weaves through the story of the Brown vs Board of Education decision and the bravery of the Little Rock Nine and their families.

Some reflections:

For five years in the 60’s my days were spent as a fledgling librarian at the District of Columbia Teachers College. As an agency of the DC Public Schools, the College, like virtually all the of the nation’s capital, operated under the political thumb of the United States Congress. DCTC was a merger of two teacher education institutions — Wilson (historically White) and Miner (historically Black)* – a marriage forced by the same Brown vs Board of Education decision. Any observer of school integration or white flight in the 60’s would instantly know that, by the time I showed up at DCTC, the student body and the faculty were 99.9% African American.

Totally immersed in an environment that was far beyond my experience, I learned in a way that has shaped my life.   As a librarian I learned about brilliant Black writers, the Harlem Renaissance, about the paucity of research on the African American experience. I learned, too, about emerging authors who were turning their attention to young African American readers.

As a newbie on a professional team of outstanding Black librarians I heard the stories of powerful African American leaders – writers, educators, artists, athletes, politicians, leaders of the faith community, veterans of wars and labor movements. In time I grasped what my elders shared about the unique characteristics of African American academic institutions, their fraternities and sororities, about the Washington, DC Gold Coast, and, of course, I absorbed back-stories on the civil and human rights movements of the era. Above all, I learned about the pain – and about the unflinching hope — that inspired the Black community’s compulsion to speak out and stand up for the inalienable rights so long trampled by the diabolical myth of white supremacy.

My life has been forever enriched by this long ago experience – the daily brown bag lunch in the back room, the petty gripes and celebrated birthdays, the wisdom shared with patient generosity of spirit by my older and much wiser co-workers.

All of these memories flowed as I viewed the spectacular opening of National Museum of African American History. The impact of the Supreme Court decision, the turbulence of the 60’s struggle for human and civil rights, the history we share but too often prefer to ignore or deny.  All of this history I learned by listening to my elders – wisdom shared over long lunches in the “back room” of DCTC. My oral history learning was not so much about facts but about the power of a people to believe, to hope, and put their shoulder to the wheel of freedom – not for individual gain but for the good of the race and of society.

The National Museum of African American History makes a powerful statement – the stories behind the objects can “put a face” on those who lived their lives and helped to shape a history filled with pain and injustice could not break the spirit of my colleagues and their forebears.

________

* (In an earlier post I wrote about Myrtilla Miner, the white woman for whom the African American college was named – an interesting historical footnote —https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/myrtilla-miner/)

Disability Employment Awareness Month-Tips and Tools

A lot of different flowers make a bouquet — Muslim adage

Whether it’s a hefty day planner of yore or a digital device the size of a digit the calendar marks the inexorable march of time.   We are sometimes taken by surprise by what comes next! In this case, it may be the proximate arrival of National Disability Employment Awareness Month – a reminder and reason to pause, learn and reflect.

The theme for this year’s observance is “Inclusion Works.” Thinking about the definition of the term “inclusion” prompted me to google, as per usual,  the term “inclusion” as it applies specifically to workplace inclusion of individuals challenged by physical or mental disabilities. There I found – and was waylaid by – this thought-provoking collection of inclusion quotes that lured me on a meaningful mental meander. http://www.inclusion.com/inclusion.html

Back on task, I focused next on the issue at hand – ways for advocacy groups and employers to collaborate on celebration of the theme. What I discovered is that support resources are plentiful, accessible and really very good.   It is worthy of note that many materials produced by the Department of Labor are available in Spanish.

Promotion ideas range from the pro forma proclamation to social media activities, posters and press releases. A good starting point is the Department of Labor website: https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/ or tweet #InclusionWorks. Check out the Toolbox for a jump start. Promotional ideas are easily searchable by target audience – employers/employees, education/youth service professionals/associations and unions, disability-related and concerned advocacy groups.

One idea that caught my attention — It seems that some states have legislation in place that requires schools to incorporate disability history as part of the regular curriculum. https://www.dol.gov/odep/alliances/roadmap.pdf  Though I am fully aware of the inevitable objections it seems to me that  this may be an idea worthy of discussion. Sometimes time spent just talking about an idea can raise awareness, motivate change and prompt creative thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arab Film Festival showcases artists, fosters understanding

Each fall film fans and producers anticipate the annual Twin Cities Arab Film Festival. Some come as film buffs, some because of their interest in Arab culture, some just because they are committed to learning and building a robust Arab American community. Scheduled in the heat of campaign season, the 2016 Festival is described as “an antidote to hateful political rhetoric.” Whatever the motivation, the fact is that the 11th Twin Cities Arab Film Festival draws a crowd! (mizna.org/arabfilmfest — #arabfilmfest.)

 Sponsored by Mizna the curated Festival launches on Thursday, September 29 with a film showing at St. Anthony Main Theatre followed by an Opening Night Party at Pracna. The Festival continues through October 2. All Festival films will be shown at St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 SE Main Street in Minneapolis.

It seems that the films never stop rolling during the weeklong Festival. The full schedule, including extensive background information on each film, the narrative, stars, and awards for each night’s film, is posted here: http://miznablog.org/arabfilmfest16/

The Festival is crafted to address the interests of Arab Americans and of the larger community for whom the films offer a tool to better understand and connect with the culture and experience of colleagues and neighbors.   Informed audiences know well that film is a powerful medium for communicating “the diverse ways in which Arabs view themselves and the world they live in.” Because the films are otherwise unavailable to local audiences the Festival also provides a unique showcase for Arab and Arab-American film artists.

Sponsor of the Twin Cities Arab Festival is Mizna (www.mizna.org), a pillar of the area’s cultural community. The nonprofit cultural organizations serves as a forum for Arab American literature, film, and art. Mizna is best known, perhaps, as publisher of the nation’s only journal of Arab American literature (Mizna: Prose, Poetry, and Art Exploring Arab America). Mizna also presents a range of cultural activities including language and drumming classes, literary readings, community dialogues and collaborative initiatives that delve into the diverse experiences of Arab Americans.

Even as they launch the Film Festival Mizna staff and volunteers are preparing for a major gathering of leading writers, performers and scholars of the Arab American community. The sixth annual National Lit Gathering, RAWI+Mizna, will take place at Open Book from June 16 to 18, 2016. (https://rawiconference.wordpress.com)

 

Islamophobia in our midst – A symposium

 

In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. 

We will not give in to fear.  Barack Obama 

“Confronting Islamophobia: Promoting Human Rights in Public Policy” is the powerful theme of a symposium set for Thursday evening, September 29, 5:00-8:00 p.m. at Cowles Auditorium, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, 301 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis. (U of M West Bank)

Keynote speaker is John Bowen, Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. Participants will explore how we as a society can work to address and overcome prejudice and shape our public policy to ensure human rights for all people.

As one feature of the evening guests may join a guided tour of the Tracks in the Snow exhibit; the exhibit provides a glimpse into the lives of one of the least known and rapidly expanding populations in America and in Minnesota – the Muslim community in which Minnesotans share personal stories of their experiences. The goal of the exhibit is to offer visitors deeper insight into the true lives of Muslims who live, work, shop, worship and otherwise share the communities in which we live.

Joining the Advocates for Human Rights as co-sponsors are the Islamic Resource Group (http://irgmn.org) and the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. (https://www.hhh.umn.edu)

The symposium is free and open to the public.

Questions? Contact The Advocates, 612 341 3302, arights@advrights.org http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/islamophobia