Monday, January 11, 2021

Insurrection 2021

By Jan Barry

An insurrection in Washington
In January set off
An horrific new year—
Aiming to nullify the results
Of November’s election for president,
It gained added fury when a black man
And a Jewish man won a special election
For US Senate seats in Georgia—
The mob rampaged through the Capitol building
With nooses, Confederate flags,
Neo-Nazi slogans—
“Camp Auschwitz” read one—
And broke into the House and Senate chambers
Seeking scurrying lawmakers—
“Hang Pence!”
Hate-contorted men and women shouted,
Hot on the trail of the vice president—
Breaking into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office
With guns and plastic police handcuffs

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

World Sustainability and COVID

"Fog at Overpeck County Park" December 2020 (photo/Jan Barry)

The fall 2020 semester at Ramapo College opened in the midst of global crisis due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Only a few students and faculty were allowed on campus, primarily for lab courses. Most classes were held online. Despite precautions, COVID-19 swept through my World Sustainability class of 31 students and their families. Suddenly the concept of studying global environmental and social crisis was no longer theoretical.

The possibility of impending catastrophic climate change took on a new perspective, as within a few months the United States of America staggered from a once-in-a-century public health crisis that triggered economic collapse in much of the world’s trend setting economy. In many ways, our society seemed to be wandering in a fog.

An international cast of undergraduate students dug into what was happening around the world—researching and writing case studies set in India, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Russia, Poland, Greece, Syria, Africa, Australia, Latin America, Canada, New Jersey, New York City and elsewhere.

Probing discussions were stirred up and guided by fellow World Sustainability professors Harriet Shugarman and Amanda Nesheiwat and environmental activists Paula Rogovin and Sam Difalco, who joined the class via Zoom. The entire class attended an online conference on youth climate activism and the presidential election hosted by Ramapo Green, a campus environmental group. Students were also encouraged to write about what they learned from their experiences.

Here’s a selection of their work in the midst of the COVID crisis:

Monday, October 19, 2020

Biden and World Sustainability


By Jan Barry

“Vote as if the Climate Depends on It”

That’s the headline of a call to action by Bill McKibben in The Nation recently. This clarion call by the founder of to counter Donald Trump’s disastrous environmental policies in November’s presidential election also appeared in Rolling Stone and other publications.

Endorsing the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, McKibben stated “their climate plan is the farthest-reaching of any presidential ticket in history. More to the point, we can pressure them to go farther and faster. Already, seeing the polling on the wall, they’ve adopted many of the proposals of climate stalwarts like Washington Governor Jay Inslee. A team of Biden and Bernie Sanders representatives worked out a pragmatic but powerful compromise in talks before the Democratic National Convention; the Biden-Harris ticket seems primed to use a transition to green energy as a crucial part of a push to rebuild the pandemic-devastated economy.”

Furthmore, he added, “they’ve pledged to try to lead the rest of the world in the climate fight. The United States has never really done this. Our role as the single biggest producer of hydrocarbons has meant that our response to global warming has always been crippled by the political power of Big Oil. But that power has begun to slip.…”

Despite Biden’s reluctance to rein in the hydro fracking industry in his home state of Pennsylvania, his campaign platform endorses the goals of many states to phase out fossil fuels by 2050, with a major milepost “to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.”

Other steps in Biden’s proposed transition includes hiring former coal miners and other workers to cap old, leaking oil and gas wells, and safely close and remediate abandoned coal and uranium mining sites that are polluting local waterways and communities. “Biden will also hold companies accountable for the environmental damage of their operations, including by clawing back golden parachutes and executive bonuses for companies that shift the environmental burdens of their actions onto taxpayers,” his website added.

Another transition step, long sought by many environmental activists, would create a Civilian Climate Corps that would hire diverse people “to work conserving our public lands, bolstering community resilience, and addressing the changing climate, while putting good-paying union jobs within reach for more Americans, including women and people of color...” This plan would build on the pioneering work of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression that marshalled an army of young men and military veterans to replant logged out forests and create campsites, trails and other infrastructure in state and national parks.

Addressing a major problem that many communities in cities and rural areas have faced for decades, Biden pledges to “ensure that frontline and fenceline communities are at the table when enforcement, remediation, and investment decisions affecting those communities are made. Biden will ensure working groups on these issues report directly into the White House, so that communities facing the dual threat of environmental and economic burdens have access to the highest levels of the Biden Administration.”

Bill McKibben’s call to vote for Biden and continue pressing him to deepen his environmental plan should be widely shared.  



Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Raising Butterflies


Holding hands (photo/Paula Rogovin)

Raising Butterflies

By Jan Barry


Raising butterflies takes work,

Fine motor skills and patience—

Start with finding a fly speck of an egg

On a milkweed leaf,

Put the leaf in a jar,

Cover it with mesh—

Wait a couple-three days

Until a tiny caterpillar appears

On the leaf—

Clean the tiny poop out of the bottom

Of the jar every day—

Drop in a fresh leaf

For the growing cat to munch on—

Repeat a few times—

One day a very large caterpillar

Climbs up the side of the jar

And creates a chrysalis

Hanging on the mesh cover—

Now you’re hooked—


Look it up—

This process of becoming

A butterfly takes a week or two—

Check it out every morning—

Lunch time—supper time—

Before bed—

See the chrysalis develop a gold ring—

And one day turn translucent,

Become a sack of water—


Oh my god—the next morning

A monarch butterfly pops out—

Flaps its wings—

Wants to go out into the world—

So—cell phone camera ready—

You release it

Into the stormy, dangerous world


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Peace in Korea

Peace in Korea demonstration, Teaneck, NJ 7/23/20

The Korean War broke out in 1950 amid simmering hostilities after World War II, killing three million people including more than 34,000 American troops. It ended in July 1953 in a stand-off truce with armies still deployed on each side of the Demilitarized Zone poised to resume fighting. Military maneuvers over the years have periodically created havoc on both sides. A demonstration was held at the NJ National Guard Armory in Teaneck, NJ on July 23 calling for a peace treaty to finally be signed by the warring parties. This is a poem I read as poet laureate of Veterans For Peace. Thanks to VFP member Soobok Kim, a news story in The Korean New York Daily on July 25 included the poem in Korean and English.

Peace in Korea

By Jan Barry

One day, there’ll be peace in Korea,
Cherry blossoms will bloom all over the DMZ,
Hibiscus will twine with magnolias
Across the war-wary land.
Goshawks will fly with magpies,
Gunfire transformed into bird songs.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Summer of Death

Self-portrait  (photo/Jan Barry)

By Jan Barry

Summer of Death 

Summer of my 77th year
The gear for us ancients to wear
Is face masks—
I live surrounded by death
From invisible corona virus spittle,
Which has decimated nursing homes
In spring-lush suburbs—
The veterans home in Paramus
Was particularly hard hit,
But also the town where I live—

Is it safe to go for a walk?
To the food store?
The post office?
To visit my son
Who works in a supermarket?
Dare I go to the VA
For a doctor’s appointment?

What a life—
To have to consider virus risks
Just going out of the house—
Remember to take a face mask
On a walk around the block—
And what should I do if classes
Resume on campus in the fall?

I hear that nurses have PTSD
From trying to cope with so many COVID cases—
Now I’m getting more PTSD on top of old PTSD
Just thinking about all the virus risks

Memorial Day 2020

Bury ‘em six feet deep
Or stand six feet apart—
Clutch your heart,
Adjust your face mask—

Memorial Day is very
Different this year—
COVID deaths surpassed
War dead in weeks—
Body bags stacked
In corridors, backs of trucks,
Hastily bulldozed graves—

Never such a death storm
Since World War Two—
Casualties in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq,
Afghanistan topped in three months—

Shouldn’t we fly
The flags at half-mast—
Display gold stars in the windows
Of those so suddenly lost?

Obits jammed into newspapers—
So many lives snuffed out
Like candles at a nursing home
Birthday party—
Can you count them all--
Blazing in their 20s, 30s, 40s,
50s, 60s, 70s—
Virus sweeping through
Veterans’ homes
Like silent machinegun fire—

May Day, May Day!
The high flying life is crashing—
Fly overs by war planes
Won’t raise the dead, the dying—

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Southern Heritage

"War's End" by Jan Barry 

Southern Heritage

By Jan Barry

After Lee surrendered
The South smugly won the Civil War—
Blacks lost voting rights, civil rights, every rights
In a reign of terror by hooded Confederates,
US Army posts were commandeered
And named for Confederate generals—

A hundred years after the War Between the States
Yankees were still the enemy in Southern parts—
A Michigan mother assisting voting rights activists
Was shot dead by the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama:
Viola Liuzzo was targeted as a white woman aiding Blacks—
New Yorkers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner
Were murdered with Black civil rights worker James Chaney
By the KKK assisted by police in Mississippi—

Half a century and more to this day, the Confederate legacy
Still leads the charge in Black-disdaining hearts—
In the hip 21st century, after a Black president was elected twice,
Black people are shot dead, choked to death
By police across America—
Women and men are assaulted by police in city after city
For marching in inter-racial Black Lives Matter protests—

Lee and other Confederate leaders were West Point grads,
Welcomed back into the fold after the hostilities—
Not so with Black folks emancipated by Lincoln
And the Union forces—

The first “colored” graduate of West Point
Was “silenced” by classmates for four years—
The Southern heritage is a long tradition
At the US Military Academy and in the Army—
Ten US Army posts are named for Confederate generals:
Benning, Bragg, Beauregard, Gordon, Hill, Hood, Lee,
Pickett, Polk and Rucker—

Nothing was named for Henry O. Flipper,
Class of 1877, born into slavery,
Court-martialed for corresponding with a white woman
After serving as a Buffalo soldier—

But times are changing:
African-American men and women are mayors in
Montgomery Alabama, Atlanta Georgia, Washington DC
And cities across America—
Across the South, Confederate statues are being torn down
After all this time—