Tag Archives: freedom

Give. Thanks.

Black Friday is almost upon us, holiday shopping is set to begin in earnest and many of us are wondering how best to spend our dollars.

I have more than a few folk in my circles who have stated they are simply donating to organizations doing the work that needs to be done, and I applaud them. I can’t think of a better gift to give or receive than knowing a few more dollars went to the organizations standing up for people’s rights, providing needed services to underserved communities and helping more people gain access to all of the rights, responsibilities and privileges that should come standard with US citizenship.

So, I decided that this year for Thanksgiving I would ask you all to give. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about teaching kids fiscal responsibility by having them divide any money they get into three even jars – “spend,” “save,” and “charity” so why not do a similar thing with our gift giving. Sure, buy the kids in your life books and music and art supplies and science kits but balance that with gifts to charities in their name – that models the kind of thing we’re asking them to do and shows them that you care about leaving them with a better world. And as for adults, unless you have an adult in your life who really needs a thing – donating in their name might be the best gift you can give. I know I wish I could afford to give more to charities, so having someone give in my name feels great!!

And, since I’ve been talking non-stop about taking positive action in the face of a Trump election, what better way to do something good for the world than to donate to a righteous cause!?! Last, there is a national movement called #GivingTuesday, and many organizations can double your gift if you make your donation on that day!

givelove

Since I love you all so much, I decided to make it easy for you! Below you’ll find a list of verified, top-notch groups and organizations to donate to, as well as ideas for local places to look into to make sure your dollars have the biggest effect possible.

First: let me ask you to donate to the people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. What is happening to them is NOT OKAY and they need all the help they can get!

Once you’ve done that, here are my recommendations for getting the most bang for your bucks.

givemoney

 

  1. Donate to your local public school. Seriously, just write them a check. Almost all of them have a registered non-profit parent organization so you can get your tax write-off and get your employer to make a matching donation, if they do that sort of thing. (And if they don’t – ask why not. They should if they have more than a hundred employees.) If I can make a further recommendation – request that your donation go to arts, music or the library those are consistently under-funded programs and grants are hard to come by for those areas. Also, donating your money there reminds schools that the public still values art, music and literacy regardless of the educational fad of the moment.
  2. Donate to reproductive/sexual health organizations including: Planned Parenthood, Lilith Fund, The National Abortion Fund – or use this to locate your local/state abortion fund, Draw the Line, NARAL, or your local women’s health clinic. (If you don’t have a friend or family member to gift this donation to, I nominate Mike Pence to be the recipient of this receipt. Let him know you stand for reproductive justice! Information on how to do this follows.)
  3. Donate to organizations working to secure full civil rights and human dignity for LGBTQ* folk. I recommend GLBT, the Lambda legal defense and education fund, The Transgender Law Center, and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network or GLSEN. Also check your local communities, see who is doing this work in your backyard and give them money. Also, look into the GSA at your local schools, I’m sure they could use a donation in order to help organize! And again, if you want to donate in someone’s name, but don’t have a specific someone in mind, I nominate Mike Pence to be the recipient of this piece of your mind!
  4. Donate to groups working to ensure civil rights for ALL people: The ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, The NAACP, The Native American Rights Fund, The National Congress of American Indians, The Innocence Project, The Justice Policy Institute, Black Lives Matter… There are more. If I didn’t find your personal brand of activism, check out this handy list of cool orgs… I highly recommend making your donation to these organizations in Donald Trump’s name. Info to take this step is below.
  5. Donate to your local food bank and/or homeless shelter.
  6. Donate to your local domestic violence shelter or organization working to end intimate partner violence and/or sexual violence.
  7. Donate to Flint, MI – those folk STILL need water and help mitigating the effects of drinking poisoned water for too long.
  8. Donate to an environmental group or organization. I am not linking to any specific groups because, I admit to being jaded here – the environment has been in dire danger my entire life, and I have given to many of these organizations over the years and I’m not sure what they are doing that is of tangible benefit to the environment. I feel like this issue is bigger than NGOs. I feel like this is an action we have to take to own smaller cars, drive less, consume less, and put pressure on our governments to invest in greener energy sources while also consuming less… BUT, if you have to spend money, I’d rather it went to an environmental organization than cheap plastic crap, so… (Also, if anyone wants to comment with a shout out to an environmental org they think is doing great work – do that! Post a link. Spread the word!)

givelight

To donate in the name of Donald Trump or Mike Pence, use the info below:

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

moregiving

I’m sure there are organizations and causes that I have missed or accidentally overlooked – please, if you know of an important and worthy org, post a link in the comments, I will do my very best to screen them in a timely fashion.

In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of the holiday season and I hope that you are all able to spend time with people you love.

thankyou

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Naive idealism, 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.

 

2 Comments

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.)

 

3 Comments

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

The Dream Is Dead. Long Live the Dream.

THE DREAM IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE DREAM.
by Bree Ervin

Follow the rules.
Stay in school.
Color inside the lines.
Do your homework.
Get good grades.
Graduate.
Keep going.
Go to college.
Get a degree.

GET A JOB!

Work hard.
Make a good impression.
Pay your dues.
Climb the ladder.
Keep working.
And working.
Don’t take vacation.
Don’t get sick.
Just work.

GET THE DREAM!

But…
the secret they never told us…
is that the dream
they said to dream
the dream about
following the rules
and getting our just
rewards
was never a dream
for the workers.
Just a carrot they dangled
an illusion
a lie
to keep us
moving,
working,
in line.

The dream…
The American Dream
where we all
work hard
and get rich
or at least
get middle class
isn’t for us
it’s against us.

Follow the rules.
Don’t think for yourself.
Stay in school.
Learn what we want you to learn.
Color inside the lines.
Stay inside the lines.
Do your homework.
Practice your busy work.
Get good grades.
Prove you can fit in.
Graduate.
Show us your stamina.
Keep going.
Give us more.
Go to college.
Pay us for your work papers.
Get a degree.
Get some debt. A lot of debt.

GET A JOB!

Get a job!
Start at the bottom.
Work hard.
Give us 200%, we’ll pay you our minimum.
Make a good impression.
Play by our rules.
Pay your dues.
Give us extra hours for free.
Climb the ladder.
Do more for less than your co-workers.
Keep working.
Show us your stamina.
And working.
Give us more.
Don’t take vacation.
Show us you want it.
Don’t get sick.
Don’t show weakness.
Just work.
Live to work… That’s how you

GET THE DREAM!

What they forget
to say is
hardly anyone
got to the top
by climbing
the ladder.
Most of them
got handed the keys.
Or invented their own.
So if the dream
isn’t earned
by punching in
and
working hard
why don’t they
teach us
to create
instead?

Because
it’s hard
to pull yourself up
by your bootstraps
when you
don’t have any
boots.

Because
if you know
how to make
your own
you won’t
need to work
to earn them.

Because
they need you.

Because
those bootstraps
they used
to pull themselves up
were always
yours,
were always
you.

2 Comments

Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, poetry

Action/ReAction

Action/ReAction
By Bree Ervin

have you ever noticed
the way
our actions
reflect our fears
reflect our actions
create their fears…

like the way that
people
who are afraid
of gay marriage
being imposed
on them
seem to think
they have the
right
to impose
straight marriage
on the world.

like the way that
men
who are afraid
of women
taking over
seem to think
they have the
right
to exert
dominance
over women.

like the way that
white people
who cross the road
because they are
afraid
of black people
walking toward them
seem to think
they have the
right
to make
black people
feel afraid
for being black
in public.

most of the time
most of the people
who act
in charge
who are
afraid
to let go
of the whip
don’t seem to
realize
what they are
most afraid of
is themselves.

perhaps instead of
imposing
our fear
on others
we should
consider
the Golden Rule
and not
act
in ways that
make us afraid
that others will
treat us
as we treat them.

perhaps
if you are
afraid that
your power
will be turned
against you
by the people
you are
holding down
consider
what would happen
if you used
your power to
lift them up
instead.

3 Comments

Filed under Naive idealism, poetry

Who Am I – Or, The Words That Woke Me Up.

Yesterday Don Gonyea delivered a piece on NPR about Bob Dylan. He talked about these previously unreleased songs and bites from the cutting room floor of the recording studio. He’d given them a listen and was struck by one in particular.

“Like a Rolling Stone” was, it turns out, originally recorded as a waltz. It didn’t work. Clearly.

The next day, back in the studio, they gave it another go. This time Al Kooper, a guitarist, slid over to the Hammond Organ and started noodling around on it.

The first full take of the song with the organ it became The Take, the hit that we’ve all heard and love.

But… Dylan didn’t realize it then. They kept trying, take after take – never quite getting it perfect.

Finally, at the end of another long day of recording, they realized they had it all along.

That first full cut with Al Kooper on organ, in the words of Don Gonyea, “Wasn’t perfect, but it was right.”

Those words sat with me all day. They filled me up. I tweeted them, sharing them with my artist and writer friends as a loving reminder to know when to put the editing pen, the eraser, the perfectionist away.

Perfection is not the goal.

I finished reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking in the wee hours last night.

There was so much awesome in that book, I cannot recommend it enough.

I ran out of sticky tabs.

Twice.

The art of asking

Ask… Accept… Receive… Give Back. Keep the gift moving.

It’s funny because I bought the book right when it came out – it still has the signing ticket for the Amanda Palmer night at Tattered Cover that I missed.

I bought it because I thought I needed the book then, but I was busy and in the middle of a million things and so the book sat on my shelf unread until this week when I realized – I really did need to read it. I needed to learn.

How to ask.

How to accept.

How to receive.

I’m glad I did, because aside from all the stated reasons to read it, it also reminded me to be brave, to make art, to do the work and “make the things.”

This morning I was woken at 5am by words. Words that would not quit. Words that swirled and poked and demanded to be written down.

I snuck, naked and shivering, to my desk and turned on a flashlight, afraid that too much light would scare the words away.

I jotted. I shivered. I noodled.

Eventually I got a sweater.

I got the words down.

They aren’t perfect, but I think I got them right.

Who am I?
Or, The Words That Woke Me.

by Bree Ervin
(With thanks to Don Gonyea and Amanda F’ing Palmer.)

I’ve been told that I can’t sing.
This rhythm thing is not for me.
Can’t hit the note
Can’t hold the tone
The harmony strings me up and strands me.
I whisper softly, under breath,
afraid to make myself be heard,
afraid that I will be too clear.

For a decade,
even more,
I’ve been tangled
in trepidation.
Because, who am I
who am I
to sing
to shout
to raise up my voice?

My teacher said I couldn’t paint.
This artistry is not for me.
Can’t keep my lines straight
Can’t color in place
I scratch and scribble out my doodles,
afraid to let myself be seen,
afraid that I am too explicit.

For a lifetime,
more or less,
I’ve been caught up
in this mess.
Because, who am I
who am I
to illustrate
to delineate
to let myself become unveiled?

I have heard that I can’t act.
This stage craft thing is not for me.
Can’t emote from yonder stage
Can’t fake laughter or squeeze out tears
I shy away from hot spotlights,
afraid to be caught in a scene,
afraid that I will be revealed.

For a decade,
give or take,
I’ve been boxed in
lost in
doubt.
Because who am I
who am I
to speak
to play
to perform my stories openly?

I am not so good at carving.
The sculpting trade is not for me.
Can’t whittle wood
Can’t chip at stone
I peel back my secrets in isolation,
afraid to see myself reflected,
afraid that I am too transparent.

For too long now,
just about,
I’ve been cornered
in despair.
Because who am I
who am I
to shape
to polish
to show my inner world stripped bare?

I have never been a dancer.
This moving art is not for me.
Can’t keep the beat
Can’t bend and sway
I twirl my feelings deep inside,
afraid to let myself go free,
afraid that I am just too disclosed.

For years now,
on and on,
I’ve been tied up
in this panic.
Because who am I
who am I
to move,
to lead,
to strut my powers unescorted?

I’ve tried my hand at poetry
stringing words
and
melody
jumbling the storyline
burying
the
plot
underneath devices.
Using
tricks
and traps
to catch The Muse
and make her
make me
do the work.

For a year now,
more or less,
I’ve been stuck here,
in my seat.
Because who am I
who am I
to tell
to share
to claim this truth?

But I’ve been told I have a way with words.
This writing thing might be for me.
A natural bard
A wordsmith sure
And yet the stories grab me in the dark,
afraid to be too understood,
afraid that I can’t make real art.

So I’ve been silent,
in this chair,
sitting here,
year after year,
wondering just how I could,
reach out to you,
and be heard.
Because who am I
who am I
to touch you
to tell you,
who am I
who am I
to ask you
to need you,
who am I
who am I
to turn on the light?

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Filed under poetry

Another day, another shooting – can we talk about it YET?

I’ve been avoiding clicking on articles about shootings lately because the last one in Oregon hit me so hard.

I don’t even know why.

Maybe it was because my family had just been out there, and it was close to the town we lived in and had our children in – or maybe it was because it happened while I was starting to take active steps toward becoming a teacher and it happened on a college campus – making me face the fact that not only is no where safe from gun violence in this country, we’ve all accepted that, but that keeping students safe from gun violence is now part of every teacher’s job.

gun safety in america

What to do when you find a gun at your school.

And yet… As I look through my course catalog and plan my next couple of school years… There is no class on student safety, or gun safety, or violence in and around schools. We just have to follow district policy and hope that our school isn’t the next school. And there will be a next school because we still aren’t really allowed to talk about it, or take steps to make this madness stop.

When I start thinking about it, I fall into a wee puddle of despair. The intractable nature of this issue depresses me. The fact that we can’t even seem to start a conversation about it – not when kids are shot and killed in their classrooms, not when kids get a hold of guns and accidentally (or not accidentally – but, I believe, without fully realizing the permanence of the consequences) shoot a parent, sibling, friend or neighbor, not when open carry becomes open season

The closest we’ve been able to come to a conversation about this is being led by #BlackLivesMatter about our nation’s latent (and sometimes overt) racism and the militarization of our police forces.

hands up don't shoot

But in order for that conversation to be truly productive, we need it to join a larger conversation about gun violence, gun ownership, the 2nd amendment, FREEDOM and responsibility.

It is that last piece that I want to seize on – responsibility, because in all the shouting and finger-pointing and “from my cold dead hands” rhetoric… one of the things I keep hearing is that we can’t trample on the rights of “responsible gun owners” and that 30,000+ senseless deaths per year and the associated daily mayhem is simply the price we have to pay for those people’s rights, and I disagree.

I think that if you are a responsible gun owner, you should want to ensure that other people who own and use guns are also responsible. I feel like you should have a vested interest in making sure that irresponsible gun owners, along with violent people who wish to cause harm, destruction and mayhem are prevented from owning, acquiring and using guns. Or at least greatly hindered in their attempts.

I don’t want to take all the guns. (Well… That’s not strictly true. In my perfect world – sure, fuck guns. In my perfect world we wouldn’t need them, no one would need them – not the military, not the cops, not the criminals. Give all the hunters the new high powered, awesome compound bows. But, we don’t live in that world. That world is long gone. So… Working within the realms of reality – I’m not coming for your guns. No one is.)

That said… I do think we can talk about regulation.

I think we can talk about responsibility.

I think we can talk about safety and making it harder for a toddler to accidentally shoot their mom dead at the store.

I think we can talk about making it harder for people with known violent tendencies and violent intent to purchase/acquire guns. (One of the things that has been making me laugh that cold, dry, dusty laugh of despair lately is how often when there is another mass shooting, the Guns Everywhere crowd – which is distinct from the “responsible gun rights” crowd – will crow, “But he bought his guns legally!” as if this is an argument AGAINST having a conversation about gun regulation. I’m always like, “Exactly! And he shouldn’t have been able to! Thank you for pointing out that our current laws and regulations are inadequate!”)

I think we can talk about what a responsible response to a 911 call about a person brandishing a weapon should be. To my mind it is not automatically shoot to kill (See Tamir Rice and John Crawford III – both black males with toy guns in an open carry state), nor is it “Can’t help you. But call back if he opens fire.” (Response to calls about numerous white males with ACTUAL GUNS in numerous open carry states.)

I feel like we can talk about a reasonable response, perhaps one that focuses on “keeping the peace,” that starts by assessing a situation with the primary goal of de-escalation, that focuses on everyone’s rights – a responsible gun owner’s legal right to own a gun as well as everyone else’s legal right to life.

I think we can talk about requiring gun owners to be licensed, and for those licenses to require that gun owners take a gun safety class and pass a test to show their knowledge and proficiency. In my perfect world, those licenses would need to be renewed periodically – just like a driver’s license. And in my perfect world, an officer responding to a call about a person brandishing a weapon would have the legal obligation to request that license and verify it, just like an officer responding to a call of reckless driving is required to run the driver’s license and check their insurance and registration.

Further, just as a motorcycle license dos not qualify you to drive a car, and a car license does not qualify you to drive a large truck – a rifle license should be different from a handgun license should be different from an assault rifle license. Being competent with one type of gun does not make you competent with all guns. I believe there are levels that could be distinguished and delineated.

if guns were regulated

Just a thought.

I think we can talk about liability.

If gun owners were liable for damage caused by their unsecured guns, like the woman who left her assault rifle leaning against her house to take a call and returned to find that her gun had “wandered off” without her… Or the many, many, many people who have left loaded guns unsecured in spaces where children could access them… Perhaps we would see an increase in actual responsible gun ownership. The kind that keeps guns locked up and out of reach of underage, or untrained, unqualified, dare I hope, unlicensed people – not to mention people who the law has determined should not have access to firearms.

And what about gun manufacturers? Where is their liability? Not for every death caused by their guns, but for making guns with safety features so loose that a toddler is able to disable them and shoot someone on accident. For not using and incorporating the latest safety technology to ensure less accidental deaths occur as a result of their product’s use.

Cars are not designed specifically to kill. But sometimes they do. Not all cars kill people, not all drivers kill people – but car manufacturers are still required to include certain safety features in all cars – just in case.

Why aren’t gun manufacturers required to do the same?

I think we can talk about reasonable regulation. A friend of mine once asked what that meant. He claims it is just a liberal buzz phrase trotted out to make ourselves feel better. I have to say, it doesn’t make me feel better at all, because as much as I think these things make sense without infringing on FREEDOM!, and survey after survey has shown that a majority of Americans, including gun owners, also think these things are reasonable and make sense without infringing on FREEDOM! – nothing is being done to actually enact these things. So no, I don’t feel better talking about this, I feel depressed and hopeless and powerless.

I feel like Jon Stewart toward the end of his run.

So what are these “reasonable, common sense” regulations and reforms that the majority of people agree we should enact?

Universal background checks – enacting laws that make it so everyone who purchases a gun must pass a background check – and making sure that the data included in those background checks is kept up to date.

Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of semi-automatic, high-capacity assault rifles.

Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of high-capacity magazines for all styles of guns.

Laws allowing the CDC to research gun violence as a public health issue.

Laws requiring gun registration and/or licensing. (As stated above, I believe this should also require gun safety classes and both a written and a practical test to prove competency.)

I think we can, and should, have a conversation about what kind of nation we would like to live in in regards to guns and violence. I think we should be able to have a conversation about the costs of a mostly unfettered individual right to bear arms vs the costs of a more regulated individual right to bear arms. After all, we already limit people’s right to bear arms. Private citizens don’t get to own tanks, make bombs, etc. which leads me to…

I think we need to simultaneously have a conversation about the use of weapons by law enforcement. Because this is all connected. We declared a war on drugs and began to militarize our police forces to fight this war, which led to people arming themselves against the police, which led to… Well, it’s a giant snake eating its own tail isn’t it?

More guns lead to more guns lead to more guns.

But wait! Statistics show that less people own guns now than in past decades – so why all the violence? Why regulate? Clearly less gun owners doesn’t equal less gun violence. (And yet… homicide, including gun homicide is declining, so maybe there is some correlation…? And no, it isn’t declining so fast that we can skip the conversation. 30,000+ gun deaths per year is not something we should be ignoring.)

So, let’s look at who owns guns AND who is using them inappropriately and have a conversation about what that data could mean for policy.

Oh wait, we kind of can’t.

The CDC isn’t allowed to conduct that kind of research, and the government isn’t allowed to keep track of guns in our country – no registry, no licensing, nothing because they might maybe someday use that information to take all the guns because Hitler (or something. I’ve never really understood this argument and I admit, at this point I’m done trying to pretend to be nice to conspiracy theorists. No one wants to take your guns unless you are a violent a-hole who shouldn’t have them in the first place – so stop waving your arms in my face and acting like a violent a-hole who should be disarmed!!)

What we do know is that less people own guns. BUT the people who do own guns tend to own more of them. So we have less gun owners, but more owned guns.

We also know a thing or two about the people using guns for violence against others.

Mass shooters, with exactly one exception, are male. They tend to be white. They tend to feel slighted by society, many post their grievances – as well as their violent intentions – before they act. Those are often ignored until after the bullets have flown and the blood has pooled.

Based on this, if we want to stop mass shootings, perhaps we should pay attention to angry men who say they the world has slighted them and want to hurt others as a result – and not let them purchase guns or ammo. Perhaps we should be allowed to take their pre-existing owned guns from them. Perhaps we should be allowed to put them on a “No guns, no bullets” list, like the no fly lists we’ve been allowed to create even though most passengers don’t crash planes into buildings full of people…

Since mental health is clearly a factor in these mass shootings, perhaps we should also be able to get them some mental health services! Wouldn’t that be nice!

But mass shootings, while dramatic and headline grabbing, are a small percentage of all the shootings in America. What about all the rest of them – the many, many, many handgun deaths that don’t involve high-capacity guns? The many, many shootings that the new laws outlined above wouldn’t touch? What do we do about all the day to day casual gun violence that doesn’t make the news?

If we knew who owned guns, or at least who was licensed to own a gun and what types they were licensed to own, we would also know who shouldn’t/wasn’t allowed/licensed to own guns. That might make it easier for police to confiscate illegal guns. Once confiscated, illegally owned guns should be melted down into some sort of non-weapon. This has the effect of eventually reducing the total number of guns in circulation.

Likewise any gun used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed once the case is settled (including appeals) and it is no longer needed as evidence.

Voluntary gun buyback programs should be available in more municipalities and those guns too should be permanently removed from circulation.

I keep hearing that the gun problem in America is intractable because we already have too many guns and there’s no way to get them off the street short of mass confiscation. But then I hear about gun buyback programs being shut down, or being forced to sell the guns back into the community they were just removed from and I realize that the real problem is that we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Once guns are removed from circulation, let’s keep them out.

Now, I can already hear the panicked chorus of, “But what’s to keep The Government from taking everyone’s guns and, and, HITLER!”

Breathe.

We the people, and our representatives are smart enough to solve this.

First, we are already largely protected from this by the 4th Amendment, you know, the one that protects against illegal search and seizure. Now, I know this right has been eroded significantly by the war on drugs and asset forfeiture laws, not to mention the war on terror and Homeland security so – let’s use our power and strengthen it back up. (And maybe stop declaring war on everything?)

We can write the laws in such a way that if police confiscate weapons, the person they were taken from has the right, and the time, to challenge that and to prove that they were legally allowed to own and possess those weapons. If the weapons were wrongfully confiscated, the person who was wronged gets them back and is reimbursed for any legal/court fees. (See the marijuana industry as an example of this – police who raid a Colorado marijuana business are required to keep alive any plants they find until the case is closed or reimburse the owner for their loss when they are found to be operating within the law.) It would be great if we re-wrote asset forfeiture laws at the same time to reflect this as well, but hey, one dream at a time.

Perhaps you also noticed that I said weapons used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed only after all appeals have been made and the case is closed – so that if that person is found innocent they can have their gun back.

But yes, we should absolutely be taking steps to get more guns off the streets.

Yes, we should absolutely be limiting the number of people who can purchase and own guns.

Yes, we should absolutely be limiting what types of guns and magazines and ammunition citizens (and police and the military) can possess, own, carry and use.

Yes, we should absolutely require background checks, gun safety classes, gun licensing.

Yes, we should be talking about what responsible gun ownership actually means – and if we have to legislate what that looks like (guns kept in locked spaces, out of reach of minors, not in homes with people who are banned from owning guns, etc.) because common sense is not actually common, then so be it.

And, if we’re really not allowed to regulate guns or talk about guns, maybe we can take some advice from Chris Rock and try to control the bullets.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Rant