Just Listening

This post is part of the blog “Pulling on Trouble’s Braids” by CCC officer Robin Berger. Robin explores issues of race, gender, class and privilege, seeking ways to bridge the many great divides of contemporary American life.

I met him by chance at a Starbucks a few towns over, a tall, thin 70 year old white man.

He loves poetry and sends Facebook friends poems “just because poems touch me, somehow.”

He runs a CAFO and says he’s been a farmer all his life.

He jokingly says now he’s “retired,” he only works 60 hours a week.

I ask him if he gets government subsidies. “Some,” he replies. He waffles a bit here … he’s against subsidies and believes President Johnson’s War On Poverty was a huge mistake. “We gave all those people all that money,” he says, “and there’s no incentive to work.”

But he believes farmers need a bit of help .“Life’s so uncertain, for a farmer,” he says, looking over my shoulder. Voice dropping he asks if I know what it’s like to watch my crops dry up and blow away … I admit I don’t know that one.

We talk of factory farming. He believes it’s unsustainable and adds, “RoundUp is going to kill us all … it’s in everything we eat.”

“Look,” he says, “Organic matter in the soil here used to be about 6%. Now it’s about 2%. Basically the dirt around here just keeps the plants from falling over – we add everything else.”

He doesn’t understand the Black Lives Matter movement or his own white priviledge.

He talks over me when I try to make a point.

He supports Donald Trump as president and believes Trump is a “true American,” who will do as he’s promised and make America great again, if only the Democrats weren’t “so contrary.”

He dismisses Trump’s treatment of women as “just locker room talk,” but then looks horrified when I ask if that’s how he talks about women … his wife or his two daughters.

“No!” he says and then adds that men in this country treat women better than anyplace else.

I share that when I was younger, every woman I knew had been sexually assaulted in some way. He looks disturbed by this, but then says, “How do you think you’d fare in a Muslim country?”

He proudly considers himself an Islama-phobe (his term) and adds, “They’re here to change us all.” I ask who “they” are. “Muslims,” he says.

I wonder where to go with this … how to find shared ground with someone who says Rush Limbaugh is “a reflection of guys like me.”

He jokingly asks if I’ve had my fill “from the far right.”

(“YES!” I want to shout.)

We’re both aware of the divide that separates us, the fracture that’s widening across our country.

I challenge him to watch a half hour of MSNBC or CNN and tell him I’ll watch a half-hour of Fox News.

He looks aghast and asks if he can drink a couple of beers first. “Whatever gets you through,” I respond.

Could be I’m wasting my time. Certainly neither of us walked away with changed minds or opened hearts.

Here’s the last thing he shared before leaving.

On his way home one night, he “pulled over and stopped my truck. Some guy had just cut a bunch of wild carrot with his brush hog.”

He stops and looks away before continuing.

“The smells … wild bergemont, clover, wild carrot. I just sat there with the windows down. Somewhere along the way I realized I didn’t have the radio on, I wasn’t on my cell phone, and the noise … the insects. A few birds but mostly insects and frogs; they were so loud. I just sat there till after 10:30 … just listening.”

Funny thing … turns out we know a lot of the same people. Probably I’ll see him again at a party or something.

Could be we’ll talk about our experience watching other news sources. Maybe we’ll talk about midwestern summer nights.

Will it change the direction our country is heading?

I have no idea.

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CCC event welcomes people with disabilities

“After a while,” the woman at the podium said, “You don’t see the disability. You see the person.” Disabilities event Kathy
It was a sentiment echoed by each of the speakers at the July 12 CCC Presents, a panel discussion on living with disabilities. The event, held at Carnegie Public Library, was organized and moderated by CCC member Kathy Rowe (pictured to the left). Presenters included Jan Wilson and Penny Burlew from the Steuben County Special Olympics, Tiffany Bater, the Activity Director at RISE, and CCC’s own Susan Catteral who is an advocate for people with autism.
There was also a presentation by a woman whose organization supports those living independently. She stressed the sense of dignity and personal accomplishment that comes from maintaining one’s own home. Her goal, she said, was to help residents blend in to their communities. If anyone noticed her clients at all, she hoped it was only to remark, “They are the best neighbors we ever had.”


Disabilities crowd

The other half of the evening included presentations by people with disabilities themselves. Nicole Scheiber, Steuben County Special Olympic Athlete Leader Representative, talked about the experience of training for and competing in the Special Olympics, showing off several of her medals and awards. A newly-married couple discussed their relationship and the importance of communication. “This is like a home to me here in Steuben,” said the husband, “my neighbors brought me closer to [my wife] and to the community.” Another man talked about the job he loved and how Steuben County had provided a much-needed change of pace from his hometown of Detroit. “I like Angola because it’s quiet,” he said. Another woman noted her frustration that handicap accessible entrances are not always marked, but added that she loved the work she did at RISE.
In other words, those who spoke shared that they were people with marriages, jobs, goals, frustrations, joys, and (only very incidentally) disabilities.
CCC thanks each of the presenters for their openness and those who attended. The evening was a positive step towards our mission both of “providing safe spaces for members of marginalized groups,” and “making discussions of social justice and tolerance” a regular part of community life.
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So, I’m Asking

This post is part of the blog “Pulling on Trouble’s Braids” by CCC officer Robin Berger. Robin explores issues of race, gender, class and privilege, seeking ways to bridge the many great divides of contemporary American life. 

He rolls through a couple of times a year, often with a bottle of pretty great scotch and a whole lot of stories. A white guy, circling somewhere around 60, he’s physically fit – he swims, climbs 150 flights of stairs when he’s home. He was a medic in the Navy. For years now he’s been a mercenary, working as a guard or a medic in various war spots around the world…Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa.

Of course his name is “Doc.”Afghan War

His conversations should more likely be called monologues. He rarely pauses for breath.

He was here last week, helping care for his dad who just had heart surgery. He brought burritos from town just because, “I figured you gotta eat.” Last time it was pizza. He’s wrapped pretty tight, all quick hand gestures and voice raised; often he’ll stand to make a point. His words fall faster and faster as he involves himself in telling a story.

Last time he came by was just after the election. Although he didn’t support Trump, he was thought Trump’s win was no big deal, “funny, really,” he said. His girlfriend of three years (a Clinton supporter), found this untenable. They are no longer together. I remember him laughing about it all at the time … the election, his break-up, all of it. Voice falsetto he says, “Doc! This election is horrible,” and flutters his eyes. To me, his mannerisms could be poster-children for PTSD; agitation, numbness, laughing when others would cry.

“They’re animals … savages … ignorant …” hesays, of those he’s fought against.

I try to break in, “Doc …” I start to say.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, I should meet some nice Afghanies,” he says sarcastically.

He then tells a story about how he and a buddy killed an Afghan elder. He says they were driving about 70 mph when the older man stepped out in front of their Humvee. There was no chance of stopping he says, and then laughs. “Man, at 70 miles per hour, he flew pretty far.”

“Inshallah,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.

I try again to express my outrage at what he’s saying. His eyes glaze over … he’s heard it all before. When he leaves I’m left wondering. How do you hold space with someone like Doc? Who calls an entire group of people horrible names, who brings burritos when he comes to visit and loves his dad? What do you say to someone who has spent much of his life in a war?

He’s leaving this week to go to a funeral for a military buddy. Those folks that fight in our names, and they don’t live long, most of them. But he’ll be back … in September, probably. So I’m asking again … what do you say to someone who has spent much of his life in a war?

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As Ithaca Falls

This post is part of the blog “Pulling on Trouble’s Braids” by CCC officer Robin Berger. Robin explores issues of race, gender, class and privilege, seeking ways to bridge the many great divides of contemporary American life. 

I sit at the bottom of Ithaca falls, the sun-warmed rock beneath me hard under my tailbone. At my feet is a gorgeous, half rotted barn-beam. As I write, I look at it and wonder how to bring  it home.

Ithaca Gunworks  used to sit on the bluff on my right. The area is fenced off now, with signs telling people not to handle the rocks or sit on them. Too many years of gunsmithing has left the area soaked in lead.

A thin, long-legged young girl – eight? nine? – dances around me. She looks over my shoulder to see what I’m writing. No doubt finding my handwriting impossible to decipher, she finally asks, “So are you writing about all the places you’re visiting, or what?”

“Kind of,” I say. “Do you do that too?”

“I couldn’t possibly,” she responds, shrugging her shoulders in a worldly, well-traveled kind of way. “I’ve been to too may places … I can’t remember them all.”

We exchange the wheres and some of the whys and wherefores of our lives. She tells me her name’s Kendra, and she’s the second oldest of four children; “the fourth in a family of six,” is how she likes to put it.

Her dad and Kendra’s two sisters come over. Dad is about 38, a New Jersey State Troopers hat on his head. He and his daughters sort rocks and look for fossils.

The girls are dirty in the glorious way of children on a camping trip, hair matted and knees dirty. I show him the sign about the lead poisoning. He shrugs and says they’ll wash their hands. Maybe it’ll be enough; I don’t know. Carrie, the mom, sits next to me and apologizes for invading my quiet space. “No worries,” I say and then bring up politics.

She’s a stay-at-home mom and life-long independent voter. Carrie nods towards her husband. “I have no idea how he voted – he’s by nature more conservative than me. But I can’t imagine he voted for Trump.” Her dad did though … they’ve barely spoken since the election. She gestures towards her daughters, purses her lips, and shakes her head.

Since the election, Carrie has friends she barely speaks to, and businesses she won’t visit. She says the election has torn her world apart. Her voice shakes as she talks about the national parks, and the climate-change deniers.

“We’re giving our souls away,” she says of the defunding of national parks. Her husband listens but says nothing. One of their daughters scoops handfuls of rocks into the pockets of her backpack. Both parents laugh.

“We have our kids for such a short moment,” she says. She’s not sure it’s enough, anymore, to prepare them for what lies ahead. She has almost no hope.

Throughout our conversation, the girls climb over and around both parents with the assurance of well-loved children. Ithaca Falls sheets and sparkles, flows and riffs. Other families come, take pictures and leave. The air is filled with roaring water, sunlight, and laughing tourists.

We say goodbye, finally, and wish each other good travels. I watch as they walk away. I hope those girls toss their rocks out and wash their hands.

I hope they have a better future than either their mom or me can imagine.



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CCC Presents: Living with Disabilities


Our monthly speaker series, CCC Presents, continues on Wednesday, July 12 at 6 pm at Carnegie Public Library of Steuben County. This month’s presentation explores what it’s like to live with a disability. It will also offer practical advice about supporting those with disabilities and making our community better for them.

Presenters will include disability advocates from agencies such as Rise, Inc. and the Special Olympics of Steuben County as well as people with disabilities themselves.

Special Olympics Angola


CCC officer Robin Berger says, “The presenters will put their heart and soul into this talk. It’s very important that the CCC community show its support for them.”

Please join us (and invite a friend!) to this very important event.

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CCC Donates Backpacks For Foster Children

On Friday, July 7, CCC officer Claudia Camargo dropped off proceeds from our June drive at the Department of Child Services. The drive, which netted two full boxes of backpacks, two bags of stuffed animals, and two bags of activity books, will be used to benefit children in foster care. Thanks to everyone who contributed this month. Stay tuned for news about next month’s drive, coming soon.


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CCC to Join Equality March

On June 11th, CCC will join Fort Wayne’s Equality March. The march will run from 2pm – 4pm, beginning at the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge and ending with a rally at the Allen County Courthouse. Angola CCC members who would like to carpool to Ft. Wayne should meet at the First Congregational United Church of Christ at 12:30 pm.


The Equality March for Unity and Pride is an international movement with marches planned in Washington D.C. as well as multiple other cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to their website, the march is “a grassroots movement which will mobilize the diverse LGBTQ+ communities to peacefully and clearly address concerns about the current political landscapes.”

Ft. Wayne’s event is co-sponsored by The Allen County Stonewall Democrats, the People for the Common Good and Liberation Movement Fort Wayne. Please join us to support equality!

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