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Category — activism

Let’s do what’s hard

How do I stay (relatively) sane these days? Almost every night, I temper my temper, I calm my nerves, I lower my blood pressure, I (temporarily) blot out the previous 24 hours of egregious, sociopathic tweets that comprise US public policy these days by…watching The West Wing.

Yes, my days end with one episode of the political drama that ran for seven seasons, from 1999 through 2006, on NBC. And yes, I know no one except actors speaking crafted dialog are as clever and quick-witted as those West Wing characters. And yes I know Aaron Sorkin did not know how to write women. (Quelle surprise!) And yes I know the incessant walk-‘n’-talks can get old. And yes I know Jed Bartlet is an inveterate mansplainer.

But.

Just for a minute, join me in a world inhabited by a smart, compassionate, decent, literate president who sees himself as a public servant. Who surrounds himself with other smart people whom he treats with respect. Imagine a leader who listens carefully. Who agonizes over doing the right thing, the ethical thing, the good-for-the-people thing. Who knows he makes mistakes and takes responsibility for them.

Just for a minute imagine the staff this president has chosen to support—and challenge–him: talented, bold, hard-working, ethical people who respect each other, people who research every issue, who strive to understand the nuances, who strive to create policies that do good, who agonize over doing the right thing.

A tonic, my friends. A tonic.

Last night, I watched season 4, episode 2 which ended with a scene of three exhausted staffers walking back to the White House hours after midnight. They are talking about Jed Bartlet’s bid for a second term. This is Toby Ziegler, White House Communications Director:

“If we choose someone with vision, someone with guts, someone with gravitas who’s connected to other people’s lives and cares about making them better, if we choose someone to inspire us, then we’ll be able to face what comes our way and achieve things we can’t imagine yet. Instead of telling people who’s the most qualified, instead of telling people who’s got the better ideas, let’s make it obvious. It’s gonna be hard.”

Josh Lyman, White House Deputy Chief of Staff answers, not missing a beat: “Then we’ll do what’s hard.”

Let’s do what’s hard, my friends.

August 1, 2018   No Comments

Declaring independence

You say you want a revolution?

Yes, said the colonists when on July 4, 1776, they declared their independence from England. In that same document, which we celebrate today and very few of us have read, the colonists listed 27 complaints against King George III, whom they viewed as a tyrannical leader. To wit: “He has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our town and destroyed the lives of our people.”

Among the 27 complaints, this one that I thought was particularly relevant (and chilling):

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws of Naturalization for Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

Apparently, the King heard reports from his colonial agents about the great influx and rapid growth of German immigrants. The Germans had strong principles of political freedom and their military was very respected. The King tried to prevent them from gaining any positions of power in the colonies by placing barriers to prevent immigrants from owning land.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

Our current president declares us not the nation of immigrants we are –and so many of us are proud of — but rather a country of walls and fences (literal and otherwise), of deportations and separations, of quotas and bans. Of fear.

As King George cited anonymous reports from his agents, so our president cited “public reports” that “routinely state great amounts of crime are being committed by illegal immigrants.”

As King George passed laws targeted against German immigrants, creating barriers to their success in the colonies, so our president finally, with the aid of the Supreme Court muscled through a proclamation (shot down twice by lower courts) that restricts entry into the US from (now) 7 countries. Our president continuously calls for a wall to be constructed across our southern border (a border created when we fought a war with Mexico and took their land). Across that border come bad people, criminals and rapists, he says. Also, our new America under this president doesn’t want people from shithole (his words) countries like Haiti, El Salvador and certain African nations.

We cannot let the daily assaults to civility, factuality, common sense, compassion and sanity dull  us to the monstrous activities and hostile actions of this administration and particularly our “king.”

We need a Declaration of Independence. Now. Help write it by contributing in the comments section ONE (yes, only one) grievance. The colonists had a list of 27. How long will our list be?

N.B: King George was determined to “keep the rebels harassed, anxious, and poor, until the day when, by a natural and inevitable process, discontent and disappointment were converted into penitence and remorse.”

 

 

 

 

July 4, 2018   2 Comments

Stand your ground

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

No, I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down

I am discovering, in this stony-hearted, toxic, blatantly cruel and aggressively harmful country we find ourselves living in these days, that “standing my ground” means more than I thought. I thought the only way to stand your ground was to take action: Make those calls and write those letters and send in those donations. Keep telling those untold stories. Keep volunteering at Food for Lane County and the Oregon State Penitentiary. Stand up for what you believe and cherish by taking overt action.

But there’s an emotional/ psychological—dare I say it? spiritual—component to this standing your ground process that I wasn’t paying attention to, that I was, in fact, dismissing. I thought that anything other than activism harkened back to Me Decade horseshit. You know “visualize world peace” rather than, say, work in the trenches for world peace.

But, after a few days in the presence of a group of compassionate, tender, open-hearted and seriously (and playfully) spiritual people, I am reminded of how important it is to gather energy and act with grace, to nourish your own soul, especially in a time of darkness, to create positive forces within that can help you withstand the negative forces without, to surround yourself with those who care lest you forget that the world is actually full of those who care.

And so standing your ground for me now means more than just upholding and working for the egalitarian, democratic, communitarian beliefs I hold dear. It means keeping myself buoyant, finding a place of peace and energy and, well, groundedness within so that I do not lose hope in our essential goodness. So that I am able to act from a place of hope not rage.

June 27, 2018   7 Comments

(Still) staying sane

The way we begin each session of the writers’ group I have been running at the Oregon State Penitentiary for going on three years is with a five-minute writing prompt. Every two weeks I come up with another prompt, generally a single word – trust, hope, friendship, power, dreams – that invites the guys to write about what they know and how they feel. Sometimes we do lists: 10 pieces of advice I’d offer to a new inmate; 10 things I’d do if I were prison superintendent for a day (an all-time favorite).

A while back I had them write a list of 10 things that keep them sane, that allow them to wake up every morning, morning after morning, year after year – some of them for more than 30 years – and keep on keeping on. The answers ranged from finding a sense of purpose to listening to music, from spiritual practice to indulging in Skittles. Faith. Will power. The knowledge that others have it worse. Books. Visitors. And, of course: WRITING.

I write along with them. They want me to, and I want to. This isn’t a class. It’s a group of people trying to make sense of the world and themselves through writing.

So I wrote my list, in full realization that it is infinitely easier to stay sane if you are me, healthy and free. Still, there is enough out here in the “free world” to make you run out into the streets screaming, to bring you to your knees sobbing. I offer my list below in hopes that you, dear reader, will write in with yours. We all need to expand our keeping-sane repertoire.

1. Writing. Always, since those first leatherette diaries with locks that didn’t lock, I have used writing to make sense of my world, to capture experience so I can learn from it, to try to understand others, to talk sense to myself.

2. Reading. Since I read my first chapter book (My Friend Flicka) and disappeared into someone else’s world, reading has been for me both an intense exploration of and immersion in the other and the most glorious of escapes.

3. My stubborn belief that most people are kind.

4. The clear-eyed compassion, kindness, toughness and perseverance I see in those who work to make a difference, and who serve as a model for my own behavior.

5. Lists. I make them. They bring order to chaos. They calm me.

6. Sweaty, full-on, challenging physical activity: long-distance biking, running, hiking, ballet, barre, holding two-minute planks, mini-triathlons. Without exercise, my mood plummets. I can be awash in negativity.

7. Simon, the cat. Sonny, the cat. Tenderberry, the cat. Sally, the cat. For cat-lovers, I need say no more. For others, you wouldn’t understand.

8. Solitude.

9. The heart-stopping physical beauty of the place I call home. Plus clouds, from every angle, especially looking down from 30,000 feet.

10.My family. I put them last in recognition of the fact that they are also sometimes the cause of my temporary insanity.

Now your turn.

April 4, 2018   6 Comments

Why I am not a cynic

I am not a cynic…

because so many people before me have done powerful and important things, have fought for and won freedom, have discovered stars and cured diseases, built libraries and written books, grown food and fed the hungry, made art and created music, raised kind and loving children.

because underneath the ugliness there is such beauty, such astonishing beauty, and it is always there—the clouds making pictures in the sky, the soft hiss of rain, a ripe peach. And the ugliness is temporary, and the beauty is forever.

because awareness of the ugliness and evil, the cruelty, inequality and pain is not the road to despair. It is the road to action.

because I have seen that great change is possible, that the unloved can love, that the greedy can be generous, that people who do terrible things can remake themselves into good people.

because I believe not in pie-in-the-sky optimism, not in the glass-is-half-full optimism. I believe in self-efficacy. I believe that sometimes the glass is half-empty. And sometimes it is completely empty. But I believe I have the power to refill it. That we have the power to refill it.

That we are, at this moment, refilling it.

Wait! Stay around for this history lesson:
Cynicism was a school of thought in ancient Greece. For the Cynics, the purpose of life was to live virtuously by rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame. Instead, they were to lead simple lives free from all possessions. Cynicism gradually declined and finally disappeared in the late 5th century. By the 19th century, an emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy (that is, what was being rejected rather than what was being embraced) led to the modern understanding of cynicism to mean an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others. It is the attitude and mindset promoted and encouraged by the man who sits in the Oval Office. Distrust of everyone and everything, distrust of scientists and artists, educators and philanthropists, inventors and activists creates powerlessness and despair. It is easy to rule a powerless people.

March 28, 2018   2 Comments

Donald’s Death Penalty

Among the unending litany of deeply ignorant pronouncements uttered and/ or tweeted by the quasi-human who currently inhabits the White House is this:

Instituting the Death Penalty for drug traffickers.

Because this is a way to solve the opioid crisis.

Let’s put aside the moral argument against executing fellow citizens for wrongdoing. Let’s put aside the moral argument against the government of a twenty-first century “leader of the free world” country endorsing execution. Let’s ignore the fact that such exemplar countries as China, Myanmar as Iran have death penalties for drug traffickers—and none of our “comparator nations” do. Let’s pay no attention to the extensive research on drug use and addiction—why and how people get addicted, how and why the market is created for the manufacture and sale of drugs.

Obviously the person inhabiting the White House has ignored all this.

Apparently, he also doesn’t know that a recent study (University of Colorado) found that 88% of criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent.

Apparently, no one told him about the compelling research that says the swiftness and certainty of punishment (not the severity) are the best deterrents.

Apparently, he is unaware that, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average time spent on death row before execution is currently about 16 years and climbing – and that more than half of all death row sentences are eventually overturned.

Apparently he doesn’t know that cases seeking the death penalty cost an average of $1.26 million to prosecute, and that maintaining each death row prisoner costs taxpayers $90,000 more per year than a prisoner in general population.

This is a persistently, proudly, loudly ignorant man. Please don’t laugh at his antics. What he says, and what he can do, has the power to ruin lives. Is ruining lives.

(archival photo is of the 1936 execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, accused of the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby.)

March 21, 2018   1 Comment

We, the People

We are not the Resistance. We are not a small band of fighters, hunkered down, defeated, sending signals to the outer galaxy looking for help to arrive. We are, as my friend Shan Anderson wrote in a powerful New year’s Day “manifesto,” THE RESPONSIBLE MAJORITY.

Sit with that for a moment, folks: We are the majority.

Let us remind ourselves, as 2018 begins, that 74 percent of eligible voters did not vote for the man who currently inhabits the Oval Office. (This is not just to reiterate that the current president lost the popular vote but also to remind ourselves that in our much-vaunted democracy, half of those eligible to vote to do vote, even in a heated presidential election.) Also note that, although Democratic senators are in the minority right now, they represent the MAJORITY (53 percent) of American citizens.

And here is what we, THE MAJORITY, believe:

* 70 percent of Americans support women’s right to choose, the highest percent since Roe v wade was enacted. (Pew, January 2017)

* 64 percent of Americans approve of same sex marriage. This approval rating has been on the rise for years. (Gallop, May 2017)

* 73 percent of Americans aged 18-49, and 65 percent of all Americans favor alternative/ renewable energy over gas and oil. (Pew, January 2017).

* 68 percent of Americans believe humans are causing climate change. (Gallup, March 2017)

* 54 percent of Americans support the Affordable Care Act, this after a concerted and sustained onslaught of negative, mis- and dis-information. (Kaiser Family Foundation, August 2017)

* 60 percent of Americans are against building a border wall between the US and Mexico. (CNN poll, February 2017)

* 55 percent of Americans oppose restricting immigration on the basis of religion—three guesses which religion we’re talking about. (CNN poll, February 2017)

* 89 percent of Americans believe all races should be treated equally. (Ipsos poll, September 2017) Yes, that number should be 100 percent.

Let’s stop licking our wounds. Let’s embrace our MAJORITY standing. Let’s use the power of our numbers. We are the people.

January 3, 2018   2 Comments

The Power of Place

I am about to head off to my regular Wednesday shift at Food for Lane County’s Dining Room, a restaurant-style (as opposed to soup-kitchen style) facility that feeds up to 300 people a day. The people who come – many but not all are unhoused – sit at tables set with silverware and cloth napkins and are served hot meals by a volunteer wait staff who takes their order (meat or vegetarian? Full plate or—my least favorite request—no vegetables? Food allergies?), brings condiments, serves coffee and dessert. There is almost always live music.

I’ve been volunteering for close to four years now, and during that time I’ve thought a lot about the power of place. But until today I’ve thought only about the power of The Dining Room in the lives of the diners, the momentary oasis provided by this calm, warm, friendly, non-soup-kitchen place and the effect this has on those who sit and eat.

There is the blessed experience of sitting in a warm place on a cold day, sitting in a dry place on a wet day. There is the immeasurably enriching experience of being acknowledged not avoided, being looked at not looked away from. There is being asked what you would like. There is being told yes. There is being served. There is the comfort of a full stomach. There is the experience of being in a place suffused with politeness and respect.

Today I am thinking about the other side of this power of place: The power of The Dining Room in my life. This is a place where I get to work along side good people, not “do-gooders” who are oh-so-proud of themselves for their little volunteer gig, but upbeat, hard-working, good-humored people who care about other people, who care about their community, who transform compassion into action, who are in it for the long haul.

It raises my spirits, however low they may be — and they have been lower this year than ever before – to spend time in this place. It nurtures my belief in my fellow humans. Being surrounded by good people makes me a better person.

 

December 27, 2017   2 Comments

#NotMe

Well, yes, of course, my ass has been goosed by strangers on the IRT. (Whose hasn’t?) And I once worked with a guy (now a big-shot lawyer, then neither) who made eye contact only with my chest when we talked. (I countered by staring only at his crotch. This made him uncomfortable. Our conversations became infrequent.) But in all my years of working in mostly male-dominated workplaces with (except for three years) male bosses, I have never been sexually harassed. I have never been groped, pawed or touched anywhere questionable. It has never been suggested that I perform any acts other than the ones I was hired to perform.

As I read about all the women (and girls) out there who have experienced sexual harassment in its various awful and disturbing forms, I’ve had these reactions.

ONE: Jesusfuckingchristohmighty, isn’t life tough enough without going out of your way to be an asshole? Are there really these many men who lack basic decency, civility and respect? Are there really these many men who believe they are entitled to manipulate, belittle, demean, harass and violate women?

TWO: What would their mothers say? Or their sisters? (I’m not including “wives” because I don’t want to imagine that these men, after doing what they do, after saying what they say, actually come home and show their faces to a female human. Or a male human. Or their dog.

THREE: Wow am I ever lucky! I rejoice that I have had the great good fortune to have worked with non-harassers. As if this is “good fortune” rather than what should be normal, everyday life. As if simply not being a victim is a reason to rejoice. Yay! I went out into the world today, and no one masturbated in front of me or pressured me to carry their baby in my womb! Life is sweet.

And, I am so very sorry about this one, FOUR: The full weight of the sexist culture crashes down on me and I actually think, if only for a moment: What, I wasn’t pretty, sexy, alluring enough to attract this repulsive behavior? What’s wrong with me? Unbelievable, right? The flipside of I was raped because my skirt was too short.

So I guess, after all #metoo.

December 13, 2017   3 Comments

Becoming inVISIBLE

A few nights ago I suffered through one of those seemingly interminable, low-level stress dreams that sometimes afflict me. This one was about losing my purse. I was standing at a counter picking up tickets for a performance of (you guessed it!) The Nutcracker. I placed my purse on the counter and momentarily forgot about it while involved in the ticket transaction. When I looked over, it was gone. Thus ensued a long, boring, stressful search for purse. After watching me hunt high and low, an employee told me he removed the purse from the counter and put it under a desk. Great, I said. Thanks.

But the employee did not want to give me back my purse until I “proved” it was mine. I had to detail for him, quite precisely, various items in the purse. I would tell him one thing—my key chain—and he’d then ask for another. My Snap Fitness entry card. My packet of g.u.m soft-piks. My ear buds (What brand? he asked. I didn’t know. He frowned.) My Swiss Army knife. What else? What else? This went on for a long time. Finally he let me have my purse. End of dream.

I thought about the dream a lot during the day. It could be just a generic stress dream. But the more I thought about how it felt to have to prove that what was mine was mine, the less generic and more meaningful the dream became.

The meaning? Here goes:

It seems to me that I am now at a point in my life when I shouldn’t be required (or forced) to “prove” my identity, or prove my own worth to others (like the guy in the dream). I have grown into who I am. I have spent a number of decades growing and learning and doing what I do. When I was younger, a bright young penny who knew so little, who understood so little, I was noticed, and the light shone down upon me. Now, knowing so much more, having done and lived and learned so much more, I join the ranks of the Invisible and the Overlooked, the ones — we “older” women — who have to prove we still have it. About whom it is assumed that we have settled into complacency, that we do not burn with creativity and passion, that we are not ignited by new ideas, that we are no longer vital and vibrant and alive.

Guess what, you overlookers, you nay-sayers who put up barriers, you sexist ageist assholes (and especially those who pretend they aren’t)? You couldn’t be more wrong.

And also: FUCK YOU.

December 6, 2017   4 Comments