A new line-up at the gate each morning, the Bedlam Posse reporting for work, eager to go. I love the changing landscape of my life, no two years seem to be the same, and I see every day as a door, and not a gate, so also am eager to open it and experience the new day and our complex and messy lives. I am glad to be here, and to have dogs who are so enthusiastic about life.
When I get to be President, I will ask my 32 million Twitter followers to help someone every single day. To build a new home for a family whose home was destroyed by fire. To pay for college for a brilliant young kid whose family had no money and who deserved and desperately needed help. To pay the medical bills of a child cancer patient who needed expensive care her parents couldn't afford.
I've decided to begin preparing for being President of the United States. I feel I have a lot of the necessary qualifications. I just turned 70, I am sometimes described as a blowhard with a significant following online, I spout my idiosyncratic opinion every day, to the interest of some, and the outrage of others. Russian ambassadors would never waste a lunch on me. I am not well-educated. I have been online for more than 30 years and go online every day. I like telling nasty people to mind their own business or get lost.
I had something of a daydream about this morning, and I thought I could share it. It was about the Twitter feed I would have.
As President, with 32 million Twitter followers, I would have a remarkable opportunity to unleash the Army Of Good, heretofore a secret to most of the country – the earth would tremble at an Army Of Good that big.
As President, I would do a number of things, but I have this radical idea about using my Twitter account.
I was stunned this year to learn this simple truth about my humble blog: when I urge people to help other people online, and do good, they do.
There is little argument or fuss, no Congress to fight with, no legislation required, no media, no cults, debates, cliques, resignations, palace intrigues, bureaucrats or thickets of regulations. Think of the possibilities. I could ask tens of millions of people to do good every morning, and it seems that many of them would. Really?
It blows the mind and alters reality.
I know what I'm talking about. I ask to buy air conditioners for elderly assisted care residents in the summer, and people send me money. And there are air conditioners.
I want to send the refugee kids to the Great Escape or pay for their school tuition, and it happens. Right away.
I ask for for help helping a brave mother who walked across Africa in brutal heat and great danger to save her daughter, she is helped.
I ask for help sending the Mansion residents to a boat ride in September, and it is done. Every time.
This has not failed yet. It feels good from beginning to end. We help people, it lifts all of us up, those who do it, those who receive the help, those who send money, those who just read about it. And it is all done online, with our Twitter account and many followers.
What an a waste it would be to have a following like – millions and millions of attentive people – and to never use it for more argument or harm or self-interest (except for once in awhile) or to hurt people. I hope I would be struck down if I ever used it poorly.
I do not have 32 million followers yet, I am not President yet, but I think of the tens of thousands of dollars we have raised here in just a few months, the hundreds of people we (you) have helped. Think of what we might do if we were working with 32 million followers. And what it would mean if those followers were called on to do good. To help one person, one family, every day.
And as President, this would be my pledge to you. I would never use my account to attack a person. I would never use my account to promote an argument or divide a community or a country. I would never use it to promote myself or my politics. It could only be used to help a person or persons who were vulnerable, and worthy and in need. To help the poor and offer them hope.
To help immigrants and refugees settle here, find work, furnish their apartments, get the schooling they need it, health care if they seek it.To help the elderly and the poor.
If even a fraction of those 32 million people participated, whole communities could be transformed, many thousands of lives would be uplifted, even saved, think of the mood swells doing so much good without argument every day or hate or cruelty would create, tens of millions of people would get to see some good news every day, would get to help their brothers and sisters every day, would come to love their country for its open heart and generous impulses.
Imagine waking up every morning to lives being saved, children's lives being transformed, the vulnerable lifted up. Imagine the difference it would make to wake up to that daily miracle, rather than the parade of horrors we see every morning of every day.
It turned out be a beautiful daydream, at times it brought tears to my eyes. I thought of what these 32 million people – it would soon grow rapidly all over the world – would do to help heal the earth and save the animals. I thought of my Twitter feed answering the call of Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si, to recognize that all human beings are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness and endowed with unique dignity.
When media and the digital world, he wrote, become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. My Twitter feed would embrace Francis's call to the caring: "We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between faith and the poor. May we never abandon them."
And on our Twitter feed, we never would. Just think about living with a Twitter feed like that?
What to do with such a pipe dream? What does it mean?
I think what struck me the most intensely, and drew me up short, is that this dreaming made me want to be President for just a millisecond, and for the first time in my life. Blessedly, it passed as quickly as it came.
What a horrible President I would be, but what a great Twitter feed we would have.
Because I know this is not really just a fantasy or a daydream, and how do I know it?
Because I know this can be done, we are living this dream right here every day.
More good news, Francis Sengabo, the Operations Director of RISSE, the refugee and immigrant center based in Albany, messaged me to say that a reader of the blog send RISSE a significant contribution to help pay for Jorsein Mayor's tuition for special tutoring and education at RISSE for the coming school year.
Jorsein is 13 years old now, and is no longer eligible for the federal subsidy that paid for him to work on English and other schools urgently needed if he is to continue his public school education here. His parents speak no English and his teachers say he is in danger of falling far behind.
RISSE is the only agency for hundreds of miles that offers this special tutoring and education for newly arrived refugees and immigrants. It costs RISSE $4,888 a year and a number of their students are turning 13 this year.
The contribution was for $1,000, and I received additional donations for Jorsein, a sweet and eager young man from Thailand, he is also a member of the RISSE soccer team. His family came her to escape persecution in their country.
I'll keep at it, but I think we can take care of Jorsein. RISSE is introducing me to the young students in the most urgent need of help. I'll write about them one at a time.
RISSE does not refuse to accept students who can't pay, no one will be turned away.
But this will cost this very underfunded refugee agency $73,320 in the coming year, much more if proposed federal budget cuts for refugee programs take effect. I am not even suggesting we can raise that kind of money, but I think we can make sure the neediest of these young students get their tuition paid, so RISSE can continue this work.
I know Jorsein, he has a great spirit about him. If he turns away from school or falls too far behind, the alternatives for him are dangerous and disturbing. RISSE can help him, as they have helped many others.
You can send donations for tuition directly to RISSE – make sure to say its for Jorsein or the students in need of tuition – or if you prefer, you can send contributions to me, c/o Jon Katz, Children's Refugee Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816., or via Paypal, [email protected] I work with the personal and cultural needs of the refugee children and adults, RISSE and I work closely together. My scholarship program has awarded small grants to three people so they can pursue their special interests, more on the way.
Thanks, whoever sent that donation to RISSE.
One kid at a time. We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.
Fifteen years ago, Maria bought a squeaky rubber toy for her dog Frieda, a Shepherd/Rottweiler mix (Second Chance Dog). Frieda eventually ate the squeaker, but we often saw her out in the yard tossing the battered thing into the air, catching it and racing around the yard. It was her favorite toy.
After she died, Lenore carried it around, and then Fate. Now, Gus has taken it over. How curious to have one battered old toy connect us to the spirits of the wonderful dogs, we were so lucky to have all of them. Gus is very serious about this ball, although he can barely get his mouth around it.
He picks it up, marches back and forth in the yard, teases Fate with it, and then grows and barks at it. I often think of Frieda, I called her the Dog Who Kept Men Away, and she was determined to keep me a way from Maria. I spent a year training her and we bonded, but she was always Maria's dog, and always protected her. I am happy her old ball (it has feet) has survived all these years of dog history, and is still just as beloved as ever. No other dog toy of ours has survived nearly as long.
Perhaps it is is her spirit that continues to watch over Maria.
I am happy to share some major news with you, the real news of our lives, not their soul-crushing news. I think we will be able to pay off Devota Nyiraneza's $10,000.
Also this morning, I ordered 250 copies of "Tales Of The Mansion," they are on the way and will be here shortly. Another dream come true.
I am very close to having another $6,000 to give to Devota, a new United States citizen, in order to help her pay off the $10,000 loan she mistakenly signed thinking it was for financial aid for her son to go to college, a sadly common experience both for refugees and young American students.
She just did not understand the language. She applied for financial aid, but never for a loan, and got loan papers instead. She insists on repaying the loan, she s spending $125 a month on her payments.
She is raising four children, all of them the results of rapes incurred during her year-long walk on bare feet and with no food to a United Nations refugee camp.
All along the way, she saw the bodies of dead children abandoned by their families, she would not let her daughter out of her sight and carried her on her back for a year. She lives with those children now and works two jobs to care for them. She has had to move into a much smaller apartment because of these loan payments, taken out to help her oldest son go to Buffalo State University.
In the past two weeks I've given her $4,000, all from your contributions, which came from every state in the Union, red and blue, left and right. People are, after all, just people. Helping and caring for others is built into our souls and spirits.
This Saturday, when I visit her in her new apartment in Albany, I will have another $5,000 to bring her, all of it raised online and through the blog by the Army of Good. We don't really need to give seven percent to crowdsourcing websites any longer.
I am just $1,000 short, and I will either make up the difference myself or collect the remaining funds this week in the donations and contributions that are still coming in to my post office box – P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816 and via Paypal, [email protected] I feel so hopeful about this, we will change the trajectory of this worthy and brave woman's life.
This was a grass-roots campaign for sure, the vast bulk of the donations were for $5, $10, $20 and $50, these small donations for so many people – I call them the Army of Good – have added up steadily, a remarkable thing, a remarkable story. It will never make their news, but it is one of the biggest and most important stories of my life. There have been some larger donations as well, one for $1,000 two for $500, and thank you.
Maria and I have a new and unexpected chore each evening, sorting through dozens of envelopes with checks and even small cash donations, from $5 to $2. The most poignant messages from people stuffing crumpled old bills into these envelopes with a simple message: "for Devota." It take hours to sort them, count them and then get them into the bank. They are happy hours.
I tell the refugees that the America they see on the news is not the real America, the real America lives in these messages and donations I receive every day.
RISSE, the refugee and immigrant support center in Albany, the very wonderful organization that brought Devota and her plight to my attention and arranged for me to meet with her, has agreed to accept the money on her behalf.
I will give it directly to them on condition that they administer and manage the loan payments and help Devota handle them in the best way for her. Devota's experience has prompted RISSE to plan a new program to help new refugees and immigrants navigate financial and loan agreements.
She very much wants their help.
Devota, for those of you new to this project, walked across Central Africa for 2,485 miles from Rwanda to Cameroon to escape the Rwandan genocide in 1994. She carried her three month-old daughter on her back, I will be seeing both of them together when I visit her this coming Saturday. She works two jobs, one at Catholic Charities helping the disabled, the other mopping floors at the Albany Medical Center.
She is gracious and generous, without any hatred or vengeance in her heart. That smile is very genuine. I wasn't completely certain we would raise all of this money in just a week or two, but now I am certain – and very humbled and gratified – that we will. That is the biggest story of the day.
The second big story is that today I went on CreateSpace, a self-publishing website this morning and ordered 350 copies of "Tales Of The Mansion," a collection of short stories written by the Mansion residents over the course of a short story workshop I taught with Julie Smith, the Activities Director there. We finished proofing the books this week. The books cost $653 to print, and they will sell for $10 apiece, plus shipping, if appropriate. I will be happy to sign the books if people request it.
I told the residents at the workshops that their stories are important, and they responded by writing 15 of them. I've added a dozen or so of my own photos. The book looks sharp, the stories are touching and surprising and very honest.
I am giving 100 copies to the Mansion residents and their families for free, and Connie Brooks of Battenkill Books, has already sold more than 120 copies, so she will get the rest. If there are more orders – you can pre-order here – I can order more books quickly.
Connie Books of Battenkill takes paypal and major credit cards, and you can also order them by phone, 518 677-2515. As I mentioned, I will be happy to sign the books if requested, and I'm sure the Mansion residents will be happy to sign books as well, if requested. (I can't speak for them, but I will certainly ask.)
There will be a public reading at the Mansion, date to be announced. It will be for the residents and their families, and will be open to the public.
All proceeds – every penny – will go to support the Mansion outings programs, they take the residents out every week to visit parks, historic sites and cultural events, thanks to the Army of Good, next month they will go on a two-hour lunch and ride on a Lake George steamboat.
To me, this is the real news of real people. The news the corporations present us is profit-making, not civic-minded, it is narrow and skewed towards hatred and division presently mostly be people arguing in TV studios in major cities.
The more hatred and evil and argument, the more good we do. That is our non-violent and very human response to their news.