BOS 04 08 2021 doublesize
"Where was your mother when....?" is the refrain that echoes through the Pete Seeger Song My Name is Lisa Kalvelage. The song recounts the haunting reflection of a German woman who was a child and a teenager during the years when Hitler ran Germany. The song is based on a newspaper report after she was arrested for blocking a shipment of napalm bombs from being loaded. It tells of her journey from refusing to take responsibility for the horrors of the war to refusing to ignore what was happening in her time.

Lisa Kalvelage was born in Nuremberg before the second world war. When the trials were held in her city, she thought it was ridiculous to hold a whole nation to blame. Later, she applied to go to the United States to marry an American soldier. The consular official who interviewed her refused her exit permit saying that she did not understand responsibility. With that experience, she began to think about what it meant to be accountable for the actions of your nation.

When she did move to the U.S., many people asked "Did you know what was happening? Why did you do nothing?" She would respond that she was a child and a teenager, and the questioners would ask, "What about your parents, your father, your mother?" She had no answer for them. The question "Where was your mother when...?" haunted her.

Her story hit the newspaper because during the Vietnam war, she and three other women put on their white gloves, their nylons, their high heels and best dresses and blocked the attempt to load napalm bombs. They were arrested. The reporter who asked why she did this heard and wrote her story.

Lisa explained that she could not sit back and do nothing a second time around. And her children and grandchildren were not going to be ashamed when someone asked them, "Where was your mother when" napalm was sent to Vietnam to destroy land, to burn innocent villagers.

Remember she was a "G.I. bride." Her husband was military. But she had absorbed the horror of napalm. She had come to understand that it was not enough to reject the wrong in private. A wrong that was seen must be addressed. She would not have the next generation wonder why she had done nothing. She would do her part to move her land toward peace.

The song ends with the declaration that her children and grandchildren need not be silent when asked, "Where was your mother when...?"

Like Lisa Kalvelage, we live our lives taking the steps that each day needs. We make space for what we like to do. Sometimes horror crosses our news feed, but usually it is far away, beyond our reach and responsibility. We lament it and keep going.

Sometimes, however, the actions that are wrong take place in our community, in our country. What do we do then?

Acts of racism surge in Bruce Grey from time to time. There is a current of racism present in our communities. We hear it in racial slurs, cultural criticisms, religious references. When someone makes a racist comment, what do we say? When someone describes indigenous people by a negative stereotype, what do we do? If we ignore the signs of racism, we enable the surge, the public actions, the damage. I want my family to know how I acted when racism surfaced.

We hear almost daily about climate change and the consequences for the world. The picture of what will happen if we do not change is given, but what do we do?

For some, there is disbelief. For others, there is a sense of helplessness. If we continue to hesitate to act, we run the risk that our children and grandchildren will ask, "Where were you when we could still shift the trajectory of climate change?"

Look up the song. There are several versions on the web, including Pete Seeger's own. I have it on a CD collection of his songs. Listen to the story of how she moved from disbelief that a nation could be held accountable to the understanding that each of us needs to stand up for the world we long for so that our children need not be silent when someone asks, "Where was your mother when...?"
Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway


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