For the first 22 years of my life, I lived in Kentucky and attended a Methodist Church several times a week. I learned at a very early age about the social justice movement because, from its beginning, Methodism preached the importance of Christians actively promoting social justice that emphasized the sacredness of each human life. The church’s founder, John Wesley, was a leader in creating reforms in prison and active in the abolition movement. He was among the first to bravely speak out about the evils of slavery in spite of major objections to his views. In Sunday School, and later in Methodist Youth Fellowship, I was taught that anything that had a negative impact on the dignity of life of any person, from their birth to their death, needed to be addressed and eliminated. Above all, the life of each person had to be valued well above any material possessions because, on the Day of Judgement, God was going to personally ask me what I had done to help those mired in poverty and persecution. Today, I believe the question of what I have done to help save the environment of our planet Earth from being destroyed might be added.
After I married a Jewish man, I expanded my knowledge of social justice when I learned about Judaism’s ethics with an emphasis on the ideas of tikkum olan, which is repairing the ills of the world while still maintaining happiness and joy (simcha). This can be achieved through performing acts of kindness (chesed) from both the goodness of the heart and the religious obligation (tzedakah) to have a philanthropic spirit and do deeds of charity.
All of the work in this special Fall issue of Cold Mountain Review about a fair and just relationship between people and their society has great emotional impact. Many of the authors and artists featured in the issue, like Dustin Hoffman and Parthenia Hicks, focus on the complexities of humanity. Daniel Weinberg and Chico Feinstein’s collaborative visual art pieces “speak of the natural divisions between and among people of the world,” Matteo Bona’s collection Die Vernichtung visually represents the internal struggles humans face, and Shayma Idris’s photographs bring to life her “interest in humanitarian help” in order to give her photos “a humanistic value to be different.”
Some of the topics explored include the opioid crisis, transgender experience, and the multitude of experiences of women from different identities, races, and classes. Parthenia M. Hicks’s poem “Walking the Cherokee Trail” portrays the plight of Native Americans in our country. Es Foong touches on the lack of education for girls, writing, “us don’t go past / high school kind / us send money to send / our brothers to college kind” in her poem “Don’t Ask,” while Michael McGuire’s short story “Balzac y la Casa de las Abandonadas” tells the story of Xochi, a woman sold into sexual slavery as a young girl. Many of these pieces also deal with the racial tension consuming our country that is provoked by the steady stream of killings of young Black men by the police, including Josephine Blair Cipriano’s “Trigger Warning” and “For the Ferguson & SLMPDs” by Valéria M. Souza. Souza’s poem is a moving memorial poem for Michael Brown, Jr., who was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014 even after crying out, “I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.” And Dustin Hoffman’s short fiction, “Bruise Room,” paints a scene about the transitional experience of a convicted felon after he is released from prison.
Cassandra Passarelli’s short story “Level Junctions” probes the continued impact of oppression created by colonial occupation, specifically in Sri Lanka. The central character and narrator observes, “Once, we soared like eagles. Now, we scratch dirt like chickens … the only thing the Britishers left us was the train system and divide and rule,” and concludes with the question, “how can war correlate with Buddhist precepts?” In a similar vein, Emily Wortman-Wunder describes the negative impact of colonialism on indigenous people in her essay “The Photo Op” through the exploration of ecotourism which promises that biodiversity can be a part of the economy of poorer countries. However, she does not fail to note the brutally exploited Ngadjonji people, indigenous to Australia. Further commenting on the mutual oppression of both the natural Earth and marginalized peoples, Daisy Bassen writes in her poem “Players Must Stand” that shorelines are “eroded into shapes / the Abenaki wouldn’t recognize.” Alice Fogel, James Grabill, and Lloyd Milburn all also offer vivid experiences with, and images of, pollution that will not be forgotten.
The World Economic Forum has warned that, by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in weight in the oceans. The impact of humans on the environment is a central topic in several creative pieces. Alan Elyshevitz’s “Landfill” shows the way natural patterns of wildlife are interrupted: “With fungible metals we induce / towers skyward, cracking the wind shear of migrating birds.” Some, like Keli Osborn in “Teaching Myself,” address the problem with humor: “A friend asked what I was doing to save the world, and I / said organic bananas.” The vivid essay “Shoreline Cleanup” by Margie Patlak provides real ways that all people can help clean up pollution while providing sobering information about the impact of plastic that is thrown out without being properly recycled. This is visually represented in Gerard Sarnat’s art piece entitled Recycle Me, featuring an abandoned plastic grocery bag and an unused phone book.
Trees are another central subject in pieces that explore the ecological aspect of social justice. Tim Krcmarik offers a lively solution to their destruction in “Annals” when he imagines a tree taking revenge on a human. Elizabeth Diebold presents strong emotional arguments for “what the felling of one tree stands for.” In her essay “Shenandoah, Roethke, and Haunting Controversy,” Laurie Klein presents a moving and persuasive argument for preserving our national parks. To counter so much despair about the destruction of the earth, CM Downes offers an inspiring and hopeful quote from Jules Verne: “Nature’s creative power is far beyond man’s instinct of destruction.”
The impact of social media to fuel violence and hatred regarding today’s politics is explored in the personal essay “Unsent Letters,” where Margaret Bauer relates the tension in a family between liberal and conservative siblings. Julia Justo’s visual art collection entitled CROSSROADS uses vintage images of racial and sex-based oppression to comment on the prejudice that still exists today. The ability of the media to foster prejudice was recently dramatized when, posting on Gab, a social network that is a haven for Neo-Nazis, Robert Bowers announced his intention to slaughter eleven congregants at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, 2018. This massacre shows the importance of continuing to emphasize the impact of Hitler and the Holocaust on our society to remind us of the need for social justice. The widespread climate of hatred in our country fuels racism and anti-Semitism and prompted the massacre of the eleven Jewish men and women as they participated in a baby naming. Incidentally, one of the women murdered was Rose Mallinger, 97, who was alive during the Holocaust. Vic Sizemore shares personal experience of teaching high school English while living with people who openly expressed prejudice against Jews and people of color in his essay “White Supremacists in our Midst.” Meisha Rosenberg’s poem “What the Bookkeeper of Auschwitz Knew” dramatizes Oskar Groning at 94 as he addresses the court during his trial for crimes against humanity. Groning refused to look at photographs from Auschwitz, saying, “I know what corpses look like.”
This timely and very significant issue of Cold Mountain Review explores many ways to achieve social justice in our currently bitterly divided country. Ann Michael observes in “Sins of Omission” that, “if only there were justice, we might remember to be kind.” As an antidote to despair, Katherine Russell provides an example of how people can save the world or at least a part of it in her poem “One Nation, Under.” Providing final words of inspiration we can continue to carry with us, “Anne Frank’s America” by Mikaela Curry gives us a beacon of hope to follow in the words of Anne Frank herself: “It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”