Category Archives: Of Course I’m a Feminist

Stand Against Hate – A handy action guide

If you’re on facebook, or twitter, or you have access to any online news, you know that there is a lot going on right now in the work to prevent president-elect Trump from enacting the hate he campaigned on. Even as that work takes place, you also know that he is appointing known, active neo-nazis to his staff and to positions of leadership that do not require congressional approval. He is also nominating those same kinds of people to positions that will require congressional approval. This is a test. Will we, the people, allow our elected representatives to sanction these choices, or will we demand that they refuse and reject hate?

If you have access to news, you also know that the list of conflicts of interest in a Trump presidency are piling up because he has not divested himself from his businesses, nor has he separated his family and heirs from his political transition team.

If you have access to news, you further know that the evidence of voting irregularities, illegal voter discrimination and disenfranchisement is growing. If this was happening in any other democracy in the world, we would be pointing to a fraudulent, stolen election. We would be backing the people on the ground asking for recounts and vote audits. It is happening here. And we need to take these same steps to advocate not just for ourselves, but for the ideal of a free and fair democracy.

So – Here are some tangible actions that we can, and should, all be taking.

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First: Call AND email the Department of Justice and demand an audit of the votes. This is less work than a full recount but can help determine if there were voting irregularities that should trigger a full recount. This is a time sensitive action item. Do it first, do it now.

Call the DOJ at 202-353-1555 and tell them you want the votes audited. Even if it’s busy, keep calling. It takes a few times to get through because of all the calls being made.

Email, if you don’t feel comfortable calling:  voting.section@usdoj.gov

Also, sign this petition for good measure.

Second: Ask the Electors in the Electoral college to  refuse to cast their vote for Trump. This feels like a desperate act, but the more I’ve read, the more I’ve learned that this situation is exactly why our founding fathers put the electoral college in place. Perhaps reminding them of that isn’t such a bad idea… Here’s how:

You can join the 4+ million people and sign the petition.

There are also ways to locate and contact your state’s electors. I am not linking to them here because as much as I believe in the possibility of this, I refuse to do anything that even remotely looks like Doxxing and every list I’ve seen is just names, which means I could accidentally unleash people into petitioning (aka harassing) the wrong people. Nope.  That feels wrong.

Third: Contact your representatives. Every. Single. Week. Calling works best. Emails are skimmed by bots for keywords that are responded to with an auto-reply. Phone calls work because you will be able to talk to congressional aides who have to listen to and record your concerns. This is necessary regardless of your representative‘s political affiliation, they all need to hear from us.

Not sure where to begin? An amazing person set up this great tool just for us! Use it! Set a reminder in your phone and get to work.

Fourth: Call to demand a bipartisan investigation of Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest. Seriously. This is important. Everyday there is a new report of another conflict of interest that involves Trump lining his pockets at public expense. This needs to be investigated and stopped. Call 202-225-5074 and say: “I am ________ and I am a vote. I am calling to request a bipartisan review of Donald Trump’s financials and conflicts of interest. Thank you.”

Also call some of the members serving on that committee: Mark Meadows (NC) – Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations (202) 225-6401 and Jason Chaffetz (UT) – (202) 225-7751 and tell them you are a voter calling in support of a bipartisan review of Trump’s financials and conflicts of interest. You are gravely concerned about these conflicts of interest and believe they are of the utmost importance, as do many of your fellow citizens.

Fifth: Report Hate Crimes It is important to report hate crimes both to local law enforcement AND to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at: (202) 514-4609. It is important for these incidents to be recorded and investigated, especially as we continue to see a surge in such crimes across the nation in response to Trump’s “win.”

Sixth: Call Paul Ryan and register your support for the ACA. Speaker Ryan has set up a poll to hear what American’s think about the Affordable Care Act. Yes, you have to listen to some propaganda before you’re allowed to record your opinion, but it’s worth it to tell them that we like having insurance. Here’s the number: 202-225-0600. Press 2 to give your opinion, then press 1 if you are in favor of the ACA.

Seventh – Don’t forget – with the holidays just around the corner, it is time to make donations to the organizations working to support the people threatened by Trump. You can make your donations in the name of your loved ones and send them a card to let them know. You can also make these donations in Mike Pence or Donald Trump’s name and have the receipts sent to them at:

Office of Governor Mike Pence/State House Room 206/Indianapolis, IN 46204-2797

and

Donald Trump/ The Trump Organization/ 725 Fifth Avenue/ New York, NY 10022

(I recommend Mike Pence’s name for Planned Parenthood, Lilith Fund, AbortionFunds.org and any LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS organizations. I recommend Donald Trump’s name for the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, and any organizations helping immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, Jewish people, organizations working to end sexual assault, etc.)

I’ll be posting a follow up with a list of worthy organizations, but you can start with the above min-list.

Immediate Action needed – Stand with Standing Rock!! Don’t forget, Trump isn’t president yet – and while we’re all spinning out about what a Trump presidency might mean, the Standing Rock Water Protectors are being abused and tortured. They are being sprayed with water canons in below freezing temperatures, shot at with rubber bullets and tear gas, all because they are trying to refuse an oil pipeline that white residents already rejected. So, while you’re fired up and taking action – call the White House and demand an end to this militarized response to peaceful protesters trying to protect their land and water. Here’s the number to the Situation Room: 202-456-9431. You will get transferred to the main comment line and placed on hold. Stay on the line and leave your comment. It is important.

You can also donate to the people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

AND here’s more concrete action you can take to Stand with Standing Rock.

Last – Hold the media accountable. When the media refuses to call Steven Bannon a neo-nazi, or when they glamorize the “white nationalists” riding the Trump Train, we must push back. We must also hold them accountable for using their investigative skills to determine the truth, before reporting rather than after. We must be diligent and determined in our demand for truthful, unbiased reporting. (And note – unbiased does NOT mean giving equal time to lies. That’s part of what got us into this mess.)

So – write letters to the editors, call the media out on social media, refuse to re-share fake news. If we want a free press, we have to participate. In fact, this election is one big reminder that if we want a democracy, we have to participate, we have to work for it – not just by voting once every 4 years if the lines aren’t too long and our dream candidate is running, but every day, all year long.

If this feels overwhelming – just pick one action to do today. Pick another one tomorrow. Bookmark this page and anytime you have a minute, come back to it and pick another action. Commit yourself to one action a day for as long as it takes.

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Democracy requires action. It’s time to take some.

Note: You can find additional petitions online at Change.org, the Southern Poverty Law Center, The White House, etc.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Uncategorized

Mandate This – Progress Marches On

There are a couple of things that I want to talk about – things I am tired of hearing already, and I want to explain why.

“It’s time to get over it. Trump won. We need to come together. After all, you didn’t see people lining up to protest when Obama won.”

First – It’s amazing how fast national amnesia works, isn’t it?!? And granted, that link won’t take you to large-scale street marches – for a couple of reasons. Namely that Obama won both the popular vote and the electoral college vote by decent margins. Also, his election inspired the Republicans in congress to protest his every move in unprecedented ways. We faced eight years of a do-nothing congress intent on blocking his every move, including shutting down the government. The people who were unhappy didn’t have to march, because their representatives protested for them. (And I have recently seen more than one acquaintance say that those representatives were performing the duties of their job faithfully by shutting down the government to block the majority party from writing or enacting legislation, so…)

Second – Obama did not fuel his campaign on open hate speech and anti-POC, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ*, anti-woman, anti-Muslim (or anti-any other religion) rhetoric. Trump did. Telling someone to “get in line” to support a president who ran a fear and hate filled campaign is… just no. You don’t get to tell people that they need to support their abuser. Ever. Nope.

Third – Obama was not endorsed by any hate groups.

Fourth – Have we all already forgotten that Trump, his supporters AND the GOP establishment ALL vowed in various ways to directly oppose a Clinton presidency if she won the election? From Trump telling his followers that the election was rigged and that her presidency would be illegitimate and hinting that he would not accept the outcome if she won, to his followers vowing to load their guns and march in the streets if she won (answering his call for second amendment solutions to a Clinton presidency), to the GOP establishment in the Senate openly vowing to block ANY nominee she put up for Supreme Court positions… But we’re supposed to get in line!?! Really?

“Give him a chance. He’s not really going to do the things he said he would.”

Give him a chance? Okay – Chance #1, VP pick: Mike Pence, a governor who actively helped legislate a reign of terror against LGBTQ* folk, women and public education in his home state.

“That’s not fair, that was before the election. That was just pandering to the base.”

Okay, so you admit that the GOP base is misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic. Let’s dive into the rest.

Chance #2 – Cabinet positions: Steve Bannon for Chief Strategist and Lead Council. That’d be a known, active leader in the alt-right/white nationalist movement. Super not okay ever. Extra super not okay when there is a wave of hate crimes sweeping the nation post-Trump “victory.”

Stop telling me to give him a chance. He’s had several and he has squandered them all. See above note regarding running a hate fueled campaign.

“Trump and the GOP received a mandate on their platform this election.”

No. Nope. Not even a little bit.

First – approximately 42% of eligible voters did not even cast a ballot.

Second – Hillary won the popular vote by around a million votes. Despite hearing from various people that CNN, TIME magazine, Snopes, politifact, etc. are all liberal patsies, you can click on their names to see how they are reporting this data because I’m pretty sure they’re actually the closest to neutral that we have.

Third – If you look at how close this election really was, and if you look at how people voted on issues down ballot, you’ll see a couple of things: First, we’re living in a fairly divided nation – BUT! It’s not as divided as we’ve been led to believe.

Americans actually agree on a ton of stuff. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans believe we are a stronger, better nation because of immigrants. We believe that LGBTQ* people should have the same rights as cis-gender, heterosexual folk, including the right to marry, to form families, to adopt, to receive services from public officials and private businesses open to the public, to use a restroom, etc. We believe that women should have access to safe, legal abortions, and birth control. We believe in universal access to free, quality education. We want universal access to affordable,quality health care. We want universal background checks on firearm purchases…

There are more issues that Americans agree on, like reinstating the Voting Rights Act, undoing Citizens United to try to get money further away from politics, or at least make it more transparent when someone is trying to buy an election, closing tax loopholes, penalizing folk who stash money in offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes, etc. We agree that we need to invest in infrastructure. We agree that we need to help people transition from obsolete jobs and industries into new fields. And that all Americans who are able and willing to work should have access to jobs that pay a living wage.

Those are the mandates that the government should take seriously. A functioning democracy should be looking at these issues, the issues that the vast majority of Americans agree on, and we should be moving forward on them. We should be making progress, not rolling it back. That’s our mandate.

And so, to the folk still upset about this election – stay angry, stay frustrated – BUT DON’T GIVE IN TO DESPAIR. We need you. All of you, to fight. To hold the line. To hold our elected officials accountable. To reach out to the white folk who keep voting against not only their own best interests, but also their stated goals. We need to reach the people who claim to be “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative” and ask them to join us in holding their elected officials accountable to the values that the majority of Americans agree on. That’s the common ground we need to work on, and it has nothing to do with hate.

*I’ve been asked if I’ll be posting an action list. Yes – but not tonight, I have a pile of other work I have to do. ALSO, I am working on compiling a list of resources for folk who have been directly threatened by a Trump presidency. I’m not entirely sure what form this directory will take, but I feel like that is also an important piece of action that I can and should take. I am hoping to have both posts up before Thanksgiving. If you have suggestions for either – please drop them in the comments! Thank you!

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Do Not Go Softly Into This Alt Right

Yesterday I wrote about what I told my children regarding the results of this election. It focused on being upstanders, being active, vigilant allies for the people who Trump has vowed to harm. Then I talked a little about my extra role as an adult, that along with being a more active ally, I also needed to listen to the people who had voted for Trump and try to understand their fears, try to understand exactly what it is they voted for, what exactly do they mean when they say they want to Make America Great *AGAIN* – Because I think it’s that word again (along with all of the rhetoric that was hateful to everyone who is not an able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual, upper-middle class, white male) that has a lot of us worried. I talked about wanting to try to move past this “us vs them” rift that has grown so wide in our country.

One of my readers, James, took issue with that last bit, and while I haven’t gone back this morning to read exactly what I wrote – his specific issue resonated strongly, especially after the day I had yesterday in school listening to the very real fears of my classmates, my instructors, my friends and my family. I fear that my words may have actually sounded too reconciliatory, so I wanted to clarify.

First, the complaint – That I made too strong an equivalence between Clinton supporters and Trump supporters, because Clinton supporters by and large have genuine things to fear from a Trump presidency (because we all have genuine things to fear from this next four years), while Trump supporters by and large did not have genuine things to fear from a Clinton presidency – most of their fears were based on lies. He also took issue with my claim that the Democrats were as much to blame for the “us/them” rift in our country as the Republicans, and cited the overwhelming and unprecedented Republican obstructionism throughout Obama’s term.

He is right on both counts.

Here is a brief list of real, substantiated fears that I heard yesterday – a list that made me realize that despite my attempts to reassure my children that we, personally, would be okay, has made me realize that no, we are also fighting for our lives.

  1. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the insurance coverage it provided to millions of people who could not previously have insurance due to pre-existing conditions.
  2. Reversal of Roe v Wade and further attacks on women’s reproductive rights at the same time that we elected the poster child for rape culture to the highest office in the land.
  3. Marriage equality and LGBTQ* rights.
  4. The safety and rights of Muslim people, middle eastern people, Latinx and Hispanic people, Black people, immigrants, refugees.
  5. Climate Change
  6. Further privatization of education, including additional public money going to private religious education, and the further encroachment of Christianity into public schools.
  7. Expansion of our current wars, erosion of diplomatic efforts in favor of military “solutions” in other conflicts.
  8. Erosion of the social safety net
  9. Reduction or elimination of the minimum wage

There is so much else that we were making progress on as a country – was it frustratingly slow, absolutely, but the arc of history was bending toward justice. And now, it feels like we have just slammed the brakes on all of that.

By comparison, what did people have to fear from a Clinton presidency? What did they have to lose?

White privilege. At least that’s what our liberal knee-jerk reaction seems to be. But the truth is, the majority of people who voted for trump are blue collar workers, they are rural farmers, they make their living from energy industries threatened by the progress I want to see our world make. And this is where the listening comes in – because we have to be willing to see and understand that for a lot of Trump supporters, their livelihoods really are being threatened. We have to hear that. THEN, we can maybe help them understand that it is not some shady, nefarious, liberal elite cabal that is doing them harm, but the actual policies of people like Donald Trump who lobby to re-write tax laws to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor, who lobby to re-write trade deals and labor laws to benefit corporate CEOs at the expense of American workers, people who fight against unions and labor protection, and undercut the social safety net, even while they fight for the right to keep paying below poverty wages… We cannot help them see the benefits of our idea of progress, if we do not acknowledge the reasons they fear it.

As to the claim that Democrats are not as responsible for the rift as Republicans… Personally, I agree. I’ve watched Obama try to reach across the aisle, try to find compromise, try to moderate himself, moving from the center to ever more right (though this last year of “give no fucks” Obama has been a welcome tack back to the leftish). I’ve heard both Hillary Clinton and President Obama call for us to come together, to heal, to find common ground and ways to work together to move the nation forward – despite the divisive rhetoric spouted by Trump. I’ve watched the Republicans in office engage in unprecedented levels of obstructionism, culminating in them leaving a supreme court seat vacant for the better part of a year rather than even consider a well-regarded centrist judge proposed by Obama and vow to continue to block literally any nominee proposed by Clinton should she win. I have seen Democrats get elected because they tout their ability to reach across the aisle at the same time I have seen Republicans be denied office for the same thing, while their opponent takes the nomination, and the seat, by promising to refuse compromise.

Our democracy is broken. And that, I think was the message we heard in this election. Whether you see it in the popularity of Bernie Sanders, an actual leftist, or the win of Donald Trump – a non-Republican who won on a promise of #HulkSmash.

I think this is what I was struggling with yesterday – because I’ve been so incredibly frustrated the systematic breaking down of our government during Obama’s tenure – the way that Republicans have refused to do their jobs, like two-year-olds having a tantrum. I’ve seen the government shutdowns over things like women’s rights, gay rights, etc. I’ve seen the refusal to engage on issues not only of deep importance to the American people, but also issues of popular consensus – things like universal background checks for gun purchases. I’ve seen it – and it grossed me out.

But now… Now we have Trump, who campaigned on a platform of hate and fear. Who campaigned on a platform of us and them. Who made fascist style threats against his political opponent, threatening to lock her up. Who campaigned on promises of removing first amendment rights from journalists who dared to point out his flaws or challenge him in any way. The electoral college has elected a man who was endorsed by only two living world leaders – Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Il.

Meanwhile, the popular vote actually asked for Clinton. Meanwhile, no one seems to be talking about investigating the many reported irregularities that occurred this election, including Hillary Clinton’s name being misspelled on ballots to read “Hilliary” creating a near subliminal reinforcement of Trump’s “She’s a liar” rhetoric. No one seems to want to figure out how many voters were swayed by the strange last-minute shout of “there are more emails!” followed only after a few million votes were cast by, “never mind, nothing to see here.” No one seems to want to examine how many voters were disenfranchised by the rush to re-write voter ID laws after the Voting Rights Act was gutted, or how many were illegally turned away from the polls by poll workers who either didn’t understand their state’s new laws, or acted from actual malice.

The race has been conceded – but we cannot surrender!

I’m grappling with what that means – what that looks like.

Here in Colorado, it means continuing our state’s march toward progress. Continuing to work for a greener future. Continuing to be more inclusive of more people, while defending their basic human rights, including the right to bodily autonomy and the right to make their own decisions about their health care.

As a nation, we have to require that our elected representatives do what I told my children to do – defend those who cannot defend themselves, stand up for those people are at risk of harm from a Trump presidency, uphold and defend the civil liberties of the people Trump has threatened, hold the line on health care, refuse to allow the ACA to be repealed unless a true alternative is proposed that will ensure health care coverage for all the Americans who are currently insured – and hopefully expand that access to even more people. Hold the line on women’s reproductive rights, refuse to back down. Hold the line on LGBTQ rights. Hold the line on climate policy and green energy. But it’s not enough – when I say we have to expand rights and access, we have to remember why people voted for Trump – and we have to include those people in our plans too. We have to expand access to training programs to help people move from dying industries to thriving industries. We have to invest in infrastructure to assist businesses – and create jobs, but we have to do it consciously.

We cannot go backwards. We might be able to survive a halt in progress, but we cannot allow a reversal of all that we have worked for and created. We cannot turn our backs on our children’s futures.

And even as I type this, I can hear the voices of my Republican readers, of my middle of the road readers, saying, “So, basically you’re asking Democrats to engage in the same tactics that made you so mad at the Republican party?” And that is what I’ve been struggling with – because I want a working government. I want us to make progress as a nation. I want the USA to become a leader in the world again for something beyond most “boots on the ground,” most people imprisoned and most gun deaths per capita. I’d love to see my nation become a leader in human rights, in environmental policy and progress, in education, in health care, in the eradication of poverty.

But that’s not what Trump has promised. That’s not what is on the table. And we cannot be complicit to hate, to intolerance, to the destruction of democratic values and systems.

What keeps ringing through my head as I type this is, “Democracy is dead, long live Democracy.”

The system is broken, in some way, for just about everyone. For the last eight years we have watched the Republican party deliberately and intentionally break it more, all the while shouting, “look, see, it doesn’t work, we should tear it down.” So is it really any surprise that the candidate their base nominated won on an outsider promise to smash the system and rebuild it in his image? But have you seen his image?

So no, I will not go quietly into this Alt Right. I will work with whatever means I have, whatever tools I can use to keep us from going backwards. I will work to elect public officials who will vow to hold the line on the progress we have made and to do what they can to push for more where and when they can. If that looks like obstructionism, if that looks like divisiveness, if that looks like the death of democracy… I would rather that than to have historians look back at this election and say, “See there, children, that is how fascism begins, that is how it starts – with fear and hate, and with people who knew better giving in to it in the name of healing and reconciliation.” Because we do know better. We have seen this play out before – and we know we cannot give in.

We are the rebellion.

irebel

Love trumps hate.

 

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What I told my children

A few folk have asked me what I told my children this morning, so I thought I’d repeat it here, because it seems like something perhaps we all need to hear, and say, and do.

This morning when I woke up, my Youngin was already awake. She was listening to the radio and making angry signs in her room. I walked in and sat down next to her and she leaned into me and we cried together for a minute.

I told her I was sorry, so very, very sorry.

Then I wiped her tears, and mine, and took a deep breath and told her that it was okay to be angry, it was okay to be upset and scared and frustrated and disappointed. It was okay to have all of those feelings.

BUT.

Then I told her that we, personally, were going to be okay. The world was not going to change that much for us. We are not the people Trump has targeted in his speeches and at his rallies.

BUT.

That does not mean we can exhale and relax. The fact that we do not have targets on our backs does not make this any less of a disaster for our nation. And this is a disaster.

I reminded her of the Mr. Rogers Meme that tells people in disasters to look for helpers, and I told her that we HAD TO be the helpers this time. Because we are “safe,” because we are going to be “okay” we have to stand up, we have to use our voices and our power to help the people who have been targeted, who are not safe, who Trump promised will not be okay.

I told her that today was going to be a really hard, really scary day for a lot of her friends, and that they were going to need her. More than ever. I reminded her what it means to be an ally, that it is not an identity, it is action – and that today, and the next four years, that was our job. To be there, to hold the lines, to interrupt hate speech, to disrupt violence. I reminded her of Michelle Obama’s words – when someone goes low, our job is to go high. We cannot give in to fear, or let it turn into hate.

an-ally-is

I told her that her job was to be there for her friends. To hug them, to reassure them, and to work for their safety and well being. She’s already such a strong “upstander,” but she’s been seeing and living the Trump Effect. I told her it would likely get worse and that we would need to be ever more vigilant, and ever more ready to support and defend people, to keep them safe. I reminded her of her adult allies in her school, the people she could turn to if she saw or heard violence directed at another student – or at herself, because after all we just elected a sexual predator for president.

Trump held up a mirror for me and showed me the truth of what my LGBTQ friends, my Latinx friends, my Black friends, my Muslim friends, my immigrant friends, my poor friends, my sick friends – have all been saying for YEARS. Yes – it is this bad. We, allies, cannot bury our heads in the sand anymore. Not for one more second. We need to take a long, hard look in this mirror and recognize our part in this, and then we need to get to work.

upstander

I reminded her of her classmate who, after their school’s mock election, said, “I voted for Trump.” and then looked around the room at all of his Latinx classmates and said with sincere feeling, “But don’t worry. I also asked God not to let him deport anyone.” Because kids are not born hating, or fearing. They are taught that. Our job is to teach them love. Our job is to reach out to those people who voted for Trump, but prayed that he wouldn’t be allowed to do the things he said he would do, and talk to them. Compassionately. We need to figure out what they were voting for – or against – if it wasn’t the hate we all heard.

And then I told her that my job, as an adult, as someone who is safe, is to do that work – the work of reaching out, of listening to people who voted for Trump, of hearing them. Because last night I fell asleep thinking about what I needed to do to protect the people he promised to harm, I fell asleep in a pit of “what the actual fuck?” But when I woke up, I realized that if this election had gone the other way, half of America would have felt the same existential dread that I feel right now. Half of America was more scared of Hillary Clinton than of an openly misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, narcissistic bully. No matter which way you slice it, half of America believes that America is going down the drain, and taking them with it. Half of America feels left out, shut out, torn down.

We truly are a nation divided.

As an adult, it is my job to break down THAT WALL. That wall that the media has helped to build, that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have helped build, that all of this us and them rhetoric has helped build. There is no us and them – we’re all in this boat together, so we’ve got to stop shouting and start listening.

We have got to appeal to our better angels.

We have got to rise above.

As Katie Goodman would say, we have got to unfuck this up.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Things that work

A case for better justice

I just want to leave a couple of things here and let you all connect some dots and invite you all to leave your thoughts in the comments.

I want to encourage everyone to read and listen and discuss with a mind open to the possibility of solutions, the possibility of things getting better.

I hear so much, too much, defeatism lately. Too much grumbling that it’s all for show, there’s nothing we can do, everything is broken and we’re all going down.

And then, I see things like I’m about to share and I think… Maybe there is hope. And then I see something else and I think, nope, we should all just jump now.

Tonight I want to push for hope. But first, I rant. Hard.

So, to begin:

And then, the news that one of Colorado’s for-profit prisons is facing a budget shortfall because of lower incarceration rates! (On the one hand, yay! On the other hand – Hell no, voters should not be asked to plug that ugly for-profit hole, not with our tax dollars, and not with incarcerated bodies.) You want to know who could really, really use an extra $3 million in taxpayer dollars right now, Colorado’s rural schools!

Then this article crops up about how the Netherlands has to close more prisons because they just don’t have enough criminals, they can’t even import other nation’s prisoners fast enough to keep their prisons open. (The original article I read today, which I can’t find now, also talked about their restorative/rehabilitative/less punitive style of justice.)

And amidst it all, this story about a woman who was appointed to the Denver school board during an unusual emergency meeting that broke a few rules, and who was then outed as having a criminal record, and therefore being unfit to serve.

But – here’s the thing about that criminal record – first, these are not felony convictions – so she is not barred from serving on those grounds. Did she lie to the public about the full extent of her record – yes, BUT… I can understand her fear. It sounds like the people on the board who appointed her had access to her full records and still felt she was qualified. Was it a bad PR move to appoint her using shady methods, and not disclose this/get out in front of it – absolutely, but does any of this make her unfit to serve?

I have to say, when I look at my district, this is almost exactly the kind of woman I would actively want on my school board – a woman who understands that parenting in this system is NOT EASY. That poor parents are trapped under a rock, on top of a hard place and in our current bootstrapping times, there are no helping hands coming to anyone’s rescue. A person who understand the challenges facing so many of our students and their parents as they try to navigate the many disparate systems working to keep them in their place.

I don’t know any more than the articles I linked to say, I haven’t dug deeper, I don’t feel like I need to. I can picture it. There you are, single mom, three kids, working to try to keep them fed and clothed and sheltered, doing everything you can to scrape by. Your childcare provider calls in sick, or you can’t afford the bill just yet because the car broke down, or a kid got sick, or your refrigerator broke, or a million other possible things that mean the difference between surviving and sinking… You have to go to work or you’ll lose your job, because – America! If you lose your job, you really will sink. So, even though it kills you, even though you know it’s a bad idea, even though you are terrified that you are making the biggest mistake of your life, you give your oldest child, a 7 year old, “The Talk” – The do not answer the door, do not answer the phone, call me only if there is an absolute emergency, stay inside, keep your siblings inside, I’ll be home in a few hours… And you leave, and you lock the door, and you pray to every god you believe in, because you have a better chance of getting help from above than you do from your own community or country.

And then, for whatever reason, one of your kids dials 911, and the cops come, and you are found out. And it’s game over. Now you’re a criminal. And you have to take parenting classes – but you know how to parent, you know what those kids need, you just can’t access it because you are poor in America and instead of offering you some help all you hear is a chorus of voices shouting at you that, “you should have…” but it’s too late for should haves, you’re here now, and you’re drowning and the state just added one more weight to your already sinking ship.

But you carry it. You don’t know how, but you do. And your kids survive, and you survive, and you work even harder, harder than any sanctimonious, middle class, silver spoon sucking, judgmental, finger-pointing, competitive parenting trophy winner could ever imagine. You not only pull yourself up by your bootstraps – first you grow the fucking cotton, harvest the cotton, process the cotton, spin the goddamn thread from the cotton, dye the thread and weave your very own bootstraps. THEN, you start to pull yourself up. Little by little. Until one day, you are hailed as a model community member, an active parent who “feels like she’s been on the board forever” even though you haven’t, you’ve just been volunteering, supporting, fundraising, trying to participate.

You’ve “made it.” The American Fucking Dream.

Except, of course, once upon a time, you were poor, and you were trapped between a bad choice and a worse choice, and you did the math and you thought you chose the better of the terrible choices, but you were wrong and now… Now everything you’ve worked for is taken away and you are called unfit.

You know what’s unfit – this fucking society.

This society that calls itself prolife and then abandons poor families at the first opportunity. This society that threatens children with starvation if they can’t keep their grades up. This society that criminalizes poverty in a million ways, but does nothing to alleviate it. This society that tells mothers they must be there for their children 24-7, but refuses to offer free childcare, guaranteed parental leave, living wages, or material support for single or working poor parents. This society that criminalizes and punishes women, mothers, for failing to live up to impossibly high standards without so much as a balancing pole to help them as they walk the tightrope of ever changing rules and regulations. This society that thinks the real problem is that poor people just don’t know how to parent, because calling poor people lazy and unfit is easier than looking in the mirror and seeing our own complicity staring back at us.

So yes, I’m glad incarceration rates are down in Colorado. I hope they stay that way, and I hope all the money we used to spend on prisons starts going to schools where it can be used to make lives better rather than harder. And I’m glad there are prosecutors out there like Adam Foss, and I hope he inspires more prosecutors to do better and to work harder at creating positive outcomes, for boys – AND for women and girls. And I hope that in the future we can look at a woman who was stuck between a bad choice and a terrible choice and have compassion rather than judgement. I hope we can listen to her speak and try to understand her story before we call her unfit for duty and shackle her to past mistakes made in dark and desperate moments that most of us will never have to grapple with.

I hope that in the future we can accept that we have all made mistakes, we’ve all taken risks, we’ve all done things we knew we shouldn’t do – and many of us, most of us, got away with it. Should we really hold the ones who got caught to a different standard than we hold ourselves? Should we really say people who got caught are incapable of learning, growing and doing better? Should we really brand them with their worst moment and never let them move past it?

Or should we look for a better way? Should we applaud growth and change and value those tough experiences and the lessons they taught?

I’ve been grappling with the vision of justice that I want to see in the world for a while now. Trying to find the words to express it, to explain it. It doesn’t involve bars or razor wire or guards with guns. It involves learning and healing and letting go and growing and supporting – for all parties involved. I thought it was just a dream, an impossible dream, for so long. Then I read a short story in this book, The Feminist Utopia, that laid it all out and made me cry and wish and nod my head yes, yes, please yes. And I stopped just following Lauren Chief Elk on twitter and started actually listening, really listening to what she was saying, and found myself nodding and crying and wishing, yes, yes, please yes.

There is a way, there are many ways, to achieve a place where instead of locking bodies up and criminalizing human frailty, we work to restore and heal and support each other.

Incarceration is not the only answer, it’s not even the best answer. It’s time for change. Let the prisons close, give the jobs and the money to services that need it more. We already know school is more cost effective than jail, so let’s start divesting. Let’s just… step away and reprioritize. We can do it. But we have to show up – to the polls, to the protests, to the rallies and the petition drives.

We must be present to win.

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Dear Good Men

My dear Good Men,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but, there is more to being good than simply not being bad. As the priest in my favorite movie, Boondock Saints, reminds his congregation, “We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of Good Men.” It is this indifference that I want to address. This indifference toward the lived experiences of women, their lived terror at the hands of men.

Worse, we need to discuss the fact that even as I wrote that last sentence, I felt compelled to add, “not all men, not you, of course, not you” to pre-emptively assuage your defensive anger at being lumped in with those other “bad” men you work so hard to not be like. It is this combination of casual indifference about the actual plight of women, combined with your knee-jerk defensiveness when we try to discuss it that makes it hard for me to accept you at your word, to accept you as Good Men, or allies, or safe.

I understand that you would like to be Good Men. I want to help you. I want to tell you what I, a woman, need from you in order to bestow that designation. In order to understand what is needed, you’ll have to take off your Good Man badge, let your guard down, listen, allow yourself to become uncomfortable. You are not under attack, the women you know are. All of the women you know. This is about what we experience, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly. You need to let yourself feel that discomfort, it is the only way you’ll be able to grasp the solutions.

The story starts like this: I’m 15 years old. I tell my sister about being sexually assaulted by a married man. She hugs me and says, “I’m so sorry. Welcome to the club.” And then it’s her turn to talk. Her turn to tell a story. The first time she was assaulted…

The first time. Not the only time. Not the last time.

The first time.

Because once it starts, there isn’t an end. At least not while we still have breath. And we hope, each time it happens, that we will retain our breath, regain our breath, reclaim our breath.

Breath to keep going.

Breath to whisper our story.

Breath to change the story.

Some of us run out of breath. Some of us can’t hold it anymore, our breath, and we let it go rather than have it stolen from us one more time. Some of us lose it all to our attacker, have it pulled, choked, torn from us, never to return. Our breathless, broken body becomes our story, told for us on the 9 o’clock news.

But those of us who hold our breath long enough, who keep it, tight in our chest, guarding it against the next attack, and the next, we go on.

Our story continues.

When I reported my first sexual assault at the age of 15, nothing happened to the man who assaulted me. No reports were filed, no charges levied, no warnings given. Instead, I was sent home from my year abroad because my presence became too uncomfortable for him. His comfort was more important than my safety.

Welcome to the club. The guys all like it here.

When a man followed me home, pushed his way into my apartment and assaulted me, a Good Man asked why I hadn’t stopped him. The women I told hugged me and shared their stories.

Welcome to the club. What did you do wrong to gain membership?

When I told my boss, a Good Man, that I could not help a customer because he had been stalking me, I was told to do my job or go home. It was not safe to be polite to my stalker. I quit and hid in a bathroom until my co-worker came and told me my stalker had left the building. But first she told me her story…

Welcome to the club. This is a terrible club.

When I told my first corporate boss, another Good Man, that I wouldn’t feel safe if he hired someone who listed “pick up artist,” “ladies man,” and “playa” on his resume, he told me to relax and get a sense of humor. After all, this candidate had hard skills. I was replaceable. When I asked women about filing a complaint they all shook their heads and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. How do you think this club got built?

By the time my rapist showed up, I knew better than to report him. There was too much at stake. I had already seen how the system worked against women who spoke up. The “choices” we were given by Good Men looking out for their bottom line. I had too much to lose. The women I told held me tight and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. None of us asked to join.

A Good Man asked me recently why he’d never heard these stories, if every woman I know has one, and they all have one, most have many, why hasn’t he heard them?

Welcome to the club. The first rule of survivor club is, don’t talk about what you’ve survived. It makes the Good Men uncomfortable.

When I went to college, I was forced to attend an orientation that told me how to keep myself safe. They never said, “from men” because there were men in the room and no one wanted to imply that we would need to stay safe from them. After all, they were our dorm mates, our class mates, they were Good Men.

I was given a set of rules to abide by to keep myself safe:

Never walk alone at night, don’t let a man walk you home at night…

Don’t wear tight clothes, don’t wear loose clothes, don’t wear flirty clothes, modify your fashion if you don’t want to be raped

Always carry your keys in your hand, always be ready to defend yourself…

Always keep an eye, and a hand, on your drink, better yet, don’t drink

Make eye contact, but not suggestive eye contact

Be alert at all times – no listening to headphones, no talking on your cell phone, the attack could come at any time…

Vary your routine, you never know who’s watching…

Mark out “safe-houses” along your routes in case you need to run to one, make sure you run to a house with women in it

The men at this orientation were not taught similar precautions. They were not taught to protect themselves. Nor were they asked to consider their role in the precautions women were being told to take. They were not asked to look at themselves as anything other than Good Men, because clearly, only Very Bad Men hurt women. Monsters.

But none of the rules that women are supposed to follow in order to keep ourselves safe from Bad Men work. None of them kept me safe. None of them kept my friends safe. None of them will keep my daughters safe, or your daughters safe…

Because Bad Men are not the problem.

No, the Monster we must battle is not Bad Men, but the indifference, the blindness, of Good Men.

The indifference that makes it possible for Good Men to ignore the catcalls, the jokes, the threats, the violence of other Good Men.

The blindness that makes it possible for Good Men to ask me what I’ve done wrong to deserve the violence I experienced, what rule I broke. As if violence is like mud puddles – an inevitable inconvenience that women simply have to look out for and step around – and if we forget or get distracted and step into a puddle, well, that’s our own fault, isn’t it?

Welcome to the club. Stop playing the victim card.

You see, there is no message in The Rules about Good Men standing up to Bad Men. There is no message that sometimes the Bad Man in the room is your friend, your peer, your professor, your boss, your brother, you.

There is no message that being neutral in the presence of violence makes you complicit in that violence and revokes your Good Man status.

The Good Men in that room were not asked to see, and so they did not.

Good Men, I am asking you to see.

It is not fair that men feel entitled to wear their Good Man badge every time they don’t actively, physically hurt a woman, while women feel grateful every time they simply survive another day in a world populated with men.

Good Men, do you feel that difference? Do you begin to see why we are tired of rewarding you for simply not killing us?

It is not enough.

So, Good Men, I will give you the message you’ve been missing. The message no one wants to give you lest it upset your fragile self-image as a white knight who is good simply by not being bad.

That is not enough.

It is not enough to not be a rapist, an attacker, a harasser.

That’s standard. That’s the default.

Good is something altogether more.

If you want to be Good Men, you must be good enough to say, “We should not hire someone who lists “pick up artist” on their resume, that creates an unsafe culture at our company.”

You must be good enough to say, “If an employee is threatened by a customer, we should ask that customer to leave rather than lose a good employee.”

You must be good enough to say, “It’s not okay to joke about other people in ways that dehumanize them. It’s not okay to talk about women as if they are meat.”

You must be good enough to say, “Leave. What you’re doing and saying is inappropriate and is making others feel unsafe.”

You must be good enough to say, “Back off, she said no.”

You must be good enough to hear “no” in the silent absence of a “yes” and act accordingly.

You must be good enough to hear, “I have been hurt before. I need you to approach with caution and kindness.” and not take it as an attack on your Goodness.

In order to be Good Men, you must open your eyes and ears and hearts. You must learn what violence looks like and sounds like so that you can call it out and tell the perpetrators to stop before it erupts.

You must be good enough to listen when women speak of the violence done to them, to believe them, and to not get angry at them for making you uncomfortable. If you respond with defensive anger, you are telling them that your comfort is more important than their safety, than their very life.

As Margaret Atwood so famously said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

If you want to earn your Good Man badge, you must be good enough to put women’s safety above your comfort. You must go beyond “not bad” and behave in ways that actively promote equality and justice.

“Not bad” is the default.

“Not bad” is neutral.

And neutral is the playground of the oppressor.

Welcome to the club.

 

(Note – this piece was written for one of my classes. A few of my fellow students wrote that they hoped I would publish it, so here it is. My regular readers will read/hear echoes of previous pieces, but I do believe this one ties many threads together into an approachable package. As always, feel free to share. Thank you.)

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Teaching dating skills to elementary students

Dear elementary school teachers,

My daughter is dating. I know she’s dating because she told me. We talked about it.

I asked her what dating meant to her and what it meant to her dating partner. I asked if they had talked about it before they agreed to date, if they’d discussed what that word, that concept meant to them, what they wanted from their relationship, why they wanted to add this label to it. I asked if they had discussed boundaries and expectations. I asked if they had talked about what this label would change about their relationship with each other – and what it might change about their relationships with other people.

I made sure that my daughter understood that dating someone should not mean that you have to give up other friendships, and that if the person she is dating asked her to stop being friends with others or got jealous of other friendships, it was time to have The Talk – to remind her partner about mutual respect and trust, and boundaries and expectations, and the fact that we don’t own each other, not even when we’re dating.

I know this is unusual, for a parent to have this kind of conversation with their elementary school student about this topic. I wish that wasn’t the case.

Because, you see, this is the exact same conversation I have with my daughter every time she tells me she has a best friend.

Kids in love1

At this age, in this setting, there is very little difference between having a bestie and dating someone. Both need to be grounded firmly in open, honest, respectful communication. Both need to start with conversations about what this label means and why each person entering into it wants to take their relationship to “the next level.” They need to talk about what they want from this next level relationship, what it means for them, what it looks like and how it will affect things like recess activities, lunch time, class activities, etc. Often I even ask if they’ve considered what will happen if/when they “break up” because best friendships rarely last forever. (I always assumed that was the reason all the “best friend” necklaces came with the hearts pre-broken…)

My best friend broke it first.

Today my daughter came home and told me that dating had been banned at school. That the teachers had gotten everyone together and announced that there would be no more dating, that school was for learning and that they were all too young to date anyway. “Maybe when you’re in high school, or college…” As if human beings are ever too young to form and negotiate relationships.

I asked her if “best friending” had also been banned. Her eyes got wide as she made the connection I’m making here. No, they hadn’t. And wasn’t that odd? Why was she being taught that one kind of relationship forming was something she was too young for, too immature to handle? Why was she being taught that romantic love was too complex for her to navigate, while still being allowed, encouraged even to create “best friend” relationships that often devolved into battles for control, bullying and trauma. Why was one form of relationship being legislated away while another with equal potential for harm was being lauded and upheld? Why was she being taught that this one way of identifying with and relating to other students was “bad” or “inappropriate?”

She wanted to know why her teachers seemed so hung up on this word, this concept: dating.

I could only assume that it was because somehow we’ve equated dating to sexual intimacy, and that might scare teachers who are unprepared to see their elementary school students as physical beings who crave physical affection (not sexual attention, just physical touches like hand holding and hugs and heads resting on shoulders – and yes, even kissing because those things feel good…) Or perhaps it was because teachers thought about what dating meant to them as adults, or even high school students when hormones and a lack of real information pushed it toward the sexual and they couldn’t bear to think about their sweet elementary students in that way. That’s fair, but… elementary students by and large aren’t there yet either.

girlfriends

I told her I could only imagine it was because they had forgotten the sweet innocent puppy love of elementary school, the tender hand holding, the doe eyed looks, the silly gifts, the little ways of learning to say I love you, the little ways of learning how to hear I love you, the little ways that felt and what it meant.

I told her I thought maybe her teachers had forgotten this age of exploring, dabbling, trying on new words, new identities… What does it mean to date? What does it mean to be a best friend, to have a best friend? What does it mean to be a girlfriend, a boyfriend? Is it okay to have more than one dating partner? Is it okay to have more than one best friend? What do these words mean? How can be negotiated so that everyone gets what they want from the relationship in a respectful and mutually affirming way?

boyshugging

What does rejection feel like? How can they handle it? What can they do if someone they like doesn’t like them back, or doesn’t like them as much, or not in the same way? What are appropriate responses?

These are all really valid and important questions and skills that students need to practice and learn before they become adults, before they become tweens and teens even, before the hormones kick in and flood their brains and make them forget that before they get sexual, they need to get real. They need to check in and make sure that they are operating under the same set of assumptions, expectations, desires, goals and boundaries as their partner. Whether that partner is purely platonic, romantic or physical is irrelevant IF students have learned to start their relationships from a place of open, honest, respectful conversation and IF they’ve learned how to handle rejection when it comes, because it will come.

I know you all have a lot on your plates already and I’m sure that the idea of having this kind of conversation about dating with your students is terrifying. I imagine you are already hyperventilating over imaginary phone calls from outraged parents.

But what if we simply backed it up. What if we went back to that moment when you heard that students were dating. What if, instead of banning it, you asked the students what it meant to them? What if you led them with questions like the ones I led my daughter with, the same ones we should be asking of students who are forming best friendships, and listened to what they had to say? What if you helped students to think critically about it themselves?

What if you used this moment to remind your students that all relationships – friendships, work partnerships, relationships, marriages, benign acquaintanceships, all of them are founded on the same basic principles, the same foundation of mutual respect, trust and vulnerability. If those are in place, the rest can build from there, but without those it all crumbles.

What if you used this moment to remind students that if they aren’t comfortable having those challenging conversations and being honest with each other about what they want, what they need, what their boundaries are and listening to and being respectful when someone else tells them the same – they aren’t ready to take that next step – whatever it is.

Respect

It’s not their age that limits them, it’s their skills.

So let’s help them practice, now while it’s safe, now while the stakes are low, now while we’re not actually worried about the sexual aspect or the physical aspect. Let’s help them build their emotional relationship skills so that when they start dating “for real” and those hormones have kicked in, communication is a habit, respect is a habit, honesty is a habit, listening is a habit, setting and respecting boundaries is a habit, coping with rejection in healthy ways is a habit…

Why not use this time to make sure that all the elements of forming healthy relationships are there, ready to be utilized before things get messy.

We talk about “teaching to the test” so often, but we forget, life has bigger tests with higher stakes than any politician could dream up. When I look at the statistics on teen dating abuse, on teen sexual abuse, on teen pregnancy and STI rates – what I see is that we are failing our students. I know there is all kinds of weird baggage around the idea of teaching elementary students sexual health education – I get that. (I hate it, but I get it.) But this isn’t that. This isn’t about sex education. It isn’t about sex. It’s about relationships.

How to negotiate them. How to form them. How to maintain them. How to renegotiate them as they grow and change. How to end them if they become toxic. How to spot if they are becoming toxic.

Toxic

This is about the health of our students.

Banning them from interacting with each other in ways that feel natural to them, ways that they see modeled all around them is a failing strategy. But teaching them how to interact in healthy ways, that is something we can all pitch in and do. Helping them slow down and think about the words they are using and the meanings they are creating, that is a life long skill, and its one they desperately need. We all do.

Friendship

Imagine how much pain you would have been spared if someone had only taught you this lesson instead of making you piece it together on your own.

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Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work