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Spotlight on ARTS Education: A DC Commission on the ARTS and Humanities Program

December 11, 2017

Kudos to Rhona Wolfe Friedman, a member of the DC ARTS and Humanities Commission, for organizing an amazing program at the Library of Congress. For those who don’t know her Rhona is a lawyer and real estate agent in DC who has spent many years fighting for better ARTS programs and curriculum in DC schools. She is passionate and works tirelessly to ensure the ARTS get their appropriate due in our city.

This program, with a standing room only audience, was held in the Montpellier room at the Madison building of the Library of Congress. We were welcomed by Susan Vita who is head of the music division at the library. She gave an overview of what is available to the public at the library across all their collections and it is stunning how broad and deep their collection is. 

Then Rhona welcomed everyone on behalf of the Commission and introduced Jane Chu who is the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts. She spoke eloquently about what the arts mean to the nation and how important they are to each individual throughout our lives. We can only hope her passion translates to an administration that clearly has no appreciation of the arts. 

Rhona Wolfe Friedman (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Rhona Wolfe Friedman

The first panel in the program titled Innovation, Access and Equity in ARTS Education was ably moderated by Mario Rossero who heads the arts education program at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Panelists included Dr. Alexander Panteyat, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He spoke about how research shows music is a language that can help everyone from children to adults do better in every facet of their lives. He gave a beautiful violin performance “Meditation from the Opera Thais”. Christopher Morgan from Dance Place spoke of how his organization works within the community to bring people together and continues to provide programming for hundreds of young people. Nathan Diamond, DC Public Schools, spoke about the new programs currently in the schools. He talked about how youngsters are encouraged to both learn about and also participate in the arts from a very young age. He agreed the arts are a language that needs to be introduced to children at a young age. He talked about a music program that is allowing every child to not only listen to music but to participate in composing music from the earliest grades. He then introduced an amazing young man, Jose Andre Montano who is a sixth grader at the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens. But much more he is a jazz pianist who has performed at the Kennedy Center and around the nation. His music bridges jazz, rock, blues, bossa nova, and more. He was born in Bolivia and taught himself to play at a young age. He is a prodigy and a totally charming young man. He played two pieces he composed and received a well-deserved standing ovation. The final panelist was Asha Gardner, a twenty-two year old young woman who is a rising lyricist/spoken word artist who is a third generation Washingtonian. She has performed with Alice Walker, Rachel Mckibbens and Grammy nominated Carolyn Malachi. She works with the Split the Rock program in DC schools and shared how she succeeded in school through the arts. She is a shining example of a DC school graduate who now comes back to work in the schools helping other students to succeed. 

At the conclusion of the first panel Library of Congress staff shared information on artifacts at the library and shared materials they have for teachers to use which led into the second panel Creativity and Inspiration Using Primary Source Materials in Arts Education Programs. This part of the program was moderated by Lee Ann Potter, Library of Congress and panelists included Erin Elman, University of the Arts; Johanna Siebert, National Association for Music Education; Katherine Tuchman, Library of Congress; Sasha Dowdy, Library of Congress; and Erin Durham. University of Maryland –musical story time performance.

Once again congratulations to Rhona Wolfe Friedman and the Arts and Humanities Commission for putting on such a great program. It was clear everyone who attended walked away with something that would help them as they worked with students and members of the community in every possible area of the ARTS. 

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Donna Brazile Sells Out, A Sad Way To End A Career

November 5, 2017

Her new book will only hurt the party she claims to love.


Only a few weeks ago I signed a petition to keep Donna Brazile on the Democratic National Committee (DNC). I defended her as a good Democrat who worked hard over the years to elect Democrats. What a difference a few weeks make.


Today I am sorry for signing that petition. She has not only bought into the Bernie Sanders campaign story for profit, selling her book, but has hurt the Democratic Party she claimed to love when she spent years as vice-chair of it.


Brazile is too smart not to know releasing her book now wasn’t going to be used by Republicans to block out everything wrong they are doing from tax cuts for the rich to covering up the disgusting behavior of Trump and his campaign. She knew she was going to set Democrat against Democrat once again and for that many will never forgive her.

What is amazing to me is in trying to trash Hillary Clinton for saving the Democratic National Committee she actually throws President Obama under the bus. He was president and controlled the party operations after 2012. He left it millions in debt and owing money to banks. He left Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) in charge knowing she was a disaster, just look at the mid-term elections. He could have changed the leadership of the Party at any time but didn’t want to bother. As early as 2008 he started Obama for America as the way to go around the Party. Now all that is known but did Brazile have to throw him under the bus for it now when he is finally working in tandem with Eric Holder his former Attorney General to raise money to rebuild state parties and win legislative seats for Democrats fighting gerrymandering.


Let’s start with facts. The DNC, which Brazile claims rigged the primary for Clinton, was the organization saying to states it was OK for Sanders to run in their primaries even though he was not a Democrat. Sanders himself said were he not allowed into the Democratic Primary he couldn’t have run. “He was deemed “extremely disgraceful” by Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, when he said “In terms of media coverage, you had to run within the Democratic Party,” he observed, adding that he couldn’t raise money outside the major two-party process. The DNC shared its voter lists with him and he knew that was the only way to get them he could afford. In the middle of the primary he fired some staff for stealing Hillary’s voter information from the DNC. Both campaigns signed agreements with the DNC to raise money. They both had the right to set conditions in those agreements with how the money they raised would be spent especially considering how the DNC was broke and had a record of squandering its money under Wasserman Schultz. Sanders really didn’t care about that as clearly he never had any intention of raising a nickel for the party. One fact that people need to remember is Clinton won the primary by nearly 4 million votes. There was no way to rig that. Sanders’s goal was always to tear down the party and that is obviously still his goal if you listen to the leadership of Our Revolution, the group he started after the campaign.


So what does Brazile accomplish by having Politico release a snippet from her book? Maybe she hopes Sanders supporters will run out to buy it? Maybe she hopes Republicans who hate Hillary and Obama will buy it? Maybe she hopes to get hired now that she has trashed the DNC, Obama and Clinton. Whatever it is she has effectively ended her career as a Democrat.


Over the years I have crossed paths with Donna Brazile many times at Democratic events. We were never friends but acquaintances and she would occasionally comment on columns I wrote or comments I made in the press. I don’t expect to hear from her after this column.


What she has done as we move toward the 2018 elections for Congress, governors and state legislatures is try to reignite the fire between the Clinton and Sanders wings of the Democrat Party and re-litigate the 2016 election hurting the Democratic Party which is just beginning to recover. I see that as a career-ending move, even if she makes a few shekels from her book.

Democrats have a real chance to move forward beginning with wins next Tuesday in New Jersey and Virginia. We have a slew of great candidates who announced they are running for Congress next year and great candidates running in the 36 state governor’s races, as well as for state legislature. While the DNC is still struggling to raise money, individual Democratic candidates are doing well, as are the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). The DNC has hired Jess O’Connell as CEO and she comes with a strong record of accomplishment from EMILY’s List. So despite Brazile’s nasty and from the excerpts I have seen half-truths, Democrats will prevail. The Democratic Party and our candidates will stand up to Trump, McConnell, Ryan and Steve Bannon and the hate they spew. Grassroots Democrats will be working hard to ensure decency, equality and telling the truth will once again prevail in the government of the United States.


This column first ran on HuffPost.

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Hillary Clinton Comes Out Fighting at HRC Dinner

October 29, 2017

Over the years it has become more difficult for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to top their previous national dinners with both entertainment and a keynote speaker. But Saturday evening they surely matched the best which happens when you have a roster of speakers headlined by Hillary Rodham Clinton along with Khizr Kahn, Billie Jean King and Senator Kamala Harris  (D-CA). Entertainment provided by DNCE.

Billie Jean King (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Billie Jean King


Over 3,600 people gathered at the Walter Washington Convention Center in the District of Columbia to reconfirm the LGBTQ community’s readiness to fight for our rights and not accept a President or Republican Party to drive us back into the closet and take away the hard earned rights we have won. This was not a year to celebrate gains but to say we are ready to ‘resist’.


The first speaker was Khizr Khan the American Muslim Gold Star parent we first heard at the Democratic National Convention when he and his wife challenged Donald Trump to live by the Constitution and offered him their copy. His compassion and empathy are amazing. He is one of those people who when he speaks you listen and respond. He said to the audience “you are my family and we stand together”. 


Then Billie Jean King, an icon within the community for her work over decades to fight for women’s equality. A Lesbian who has stood up for who she is and in 1973 when her famous tennis match with Bobby Riggs took place made a statement to the world women are equal to men. Sad to realize we are still fighting the battle to gain full equal rights and equal pay for women 44 years later. The Trump administration and the Republican Congress is working to set back the progress women have made taking away healthcare from families, making it harder for women to get basic healthcare like birth control, and still fighting choice. King is still fighting the good fight and took the podium to introduce her friend, the speaker the entire crowd was waiting for, Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

Travis James Painter and Robert Curis (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Travis James Painter and Robert Curis


Clinton appeared on stage to the first of four rousing standing ovations which lasted many minutes. Everyone knew this was the highlight of the night and Hillary didn’t disappoint. She came out fighting after a quiet start recounting as she has a number of times how she dealt with her election loss; from cleaning closets, to walking in the woods to drinking chardonnay, she electrified the room. It was clear without her having to state it, which she did anyway, she is not ready to be silenced. We as a community need to be thankful for that. Hillary spoke about a number of issues including healthcare and how repeal of the ACA would hurt our community.


She spoke eloquently and forcefully on transgender rights and slammed the Trump administration for not respecting transgender members of the military who for years have heroically defended our country and our democracy. She called out the Republican Party using an old Mexican proverb that says “Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.” referring to their endorsement of Roy Moore in the Alabama senate race among other members of their Party. One of the four rousing ovations she received was when she repeated her statement from Geneva in 2011 when as Secretary of State she declared, “Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights”, paraphrasing her statement on women’s rights in Beijing in 1995. She closed her speech saying, “I would have rather come here tonight from a closer address” and not one person in the room wasn’t thinking what could have been with only about 100,000 votes changed in three states. The nation and the world are the losers for that. 


Before the dinner break HRC’s President Chad Griffin spoke eloquently as he always does but this year it was more about how we fight back and ‘resist’ than it was in previous years when there was more of a self-congratulatory tone on what we have accomplished. He spoke about the new initiative HRC Rising. According to the website it is “a campaign to accelerate progress in states from coast-to-coast, resist the politics of hate, fight anti-LGBTQ legislation, and fuel pro-equality candidates and initiatives. In June, HRC partnered on dozens of nationwide marches -- from the Los Angeles #ResistMarch to the National Equality March in Washington, D.C. and cities in between. HRC is harnessing that momentum to begin organizing for the 2018 elections earlier than ever before, with its biggest strategic investment in the organization’s 37-year history.”


Rachel Gresson and Bruch Rohr, event chairs (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Rachel Gresson and Bruch Rohr, event chairs

Griffin has said “It’s not enough to resist the hateful policies and attacks coming from the Trump-Pence regime -- we’ve got to accelerate the pace of progress toward full equality and secure protections for LGBTQ people in states and communities across the country. That’s why we’re going on offense with the largest grassroots expansion in HRC’s 37-year history. Our grassroots army of over 3 million has proven that, even in the face of unprecedented challenges, we can make incredible progress and defeat the hateful politicians who've been emboldened by Donald Trump when we organize and mobilize. The power and determination of the 10 million LGBTQ voters and our allies across America will only continue to grow stronger in the face of discriminatory attacks on our rights and freedoms.”


After dinner Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), a rising star in the Democratic Party, spoke to what she sees as a better future for Democrats. Jeff Bezos was presented with the HRC National Equality Award, and my thought was I hope he continues to use his influence and his money to fight for our rights. Uzo Aduba received the Ally for Equality Award for her work in support of our community. All-in-all HRC can be satisfied with another successful dinner and even those in our community who may not always support everything HRC does must recognize it is crucial the organization remains vibrant and strong.

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