Sunday, September 03, 2017

Thank you, Billie Joe

It's been a tough year.

In the past year, I've watched some ugly truths about my country, my friends, my state, and my university come crawling out from whatever rock they were living under. And, unfortunately, they didn't then wither in the sun, but found strength and apparently thrived.

The election of Donald Trump last fall is, in my opinion, an abomination. He is a bitter, egotistical, angry, racist, entitled, arrogant, person. He thrives on hatred. He promotes violence. He seeks to divide, because he would rather be the sole leader of a group, regardless of how small, than share power with many among a larger group. His presidency has been worse than many of us imagined, and the impact of it will be felt for years, possibly generations.

Since the election, hate crimes have gone up. The group of people who agreed with him, who believe that whites are superior, and that powerful women are bitches and cunts, and that LBGTQ are abominations, are feeling empowered. Those who want an authoritarian state (as long as they get to pick the authority) are ecstatic; they think they've got their authority figure, who's going to stick it to the rest of us. You can argue whether Trump actually feels the same or was just using their rhetoric to get elected, but you cannot argue that those groups see themselves in him, and view his election as a sign that their ideas are right. And that the rest of us are wrong.

Now, I'm not an idiot. I may be naive at times, and I am certainly sheltered from the bulk of racism, and authoritarianism, in this country by the color of my skin and the upperness of my SES, but I'm not an idiot. I knew it was out there.

But I admit I didn't know exactly how bad it was.

And then came the vitriol. And the hatred. Then came Charlottesville. Then came videos of police who think they have a right to arrest a nurse who's doing her job. Then came the images, over and over, of people just not caring.

And, yes, then came the people who are still saying, "Well, we have to support our cops" Our troops. Our flag. And not realizing that blind support of someone who wears a uniform, or carries a flag, is a large part of the problem.

Now, I know that the cop in Utah was likely just a bad cop. But he is far from the only cop this year who has obviously felt that being in uniform gave him a pass on following the law. And I know that our military is over worked and the ones on the front lines are being stretched beyond what we should expect. But that doesn't mean I have to love all that they do, simply because their wearing Army greens while they do it. And I love this country, and it's flag, and it's anthem, but I am so sick and tired of folks telling me that I have to love it in one particular way that I'm about to just scream.

I would far rather kneel quietly right now than sing with gusto. I just find that fits my mood. We are in a bad place, and I think some quiet thought, or meditation, or prayer if that's your style might be more productive than mob-induced cheering.

But try that in a stadium, and see where it gets you. At best (again, sheltered by my skin) I get looked at askance. If I were younger and darker, I'd get a different reaction.

I don't know where I belong anymore. My country seems to be falling apart. My region is sliding back into a quagmire of racism and hatred. My university is closing it's administrative eyes to such racism, and hiding behind "differing interpretations" of lawyers.

Until Friday.

Way back in January, long before I hit this existential ennui, I embarked on what I like to call my year of turning 50 concert quest. I've spent more on concert tickets this year than I have in a long time, and have checked a couple of bucket-list shows off. Including, on Friday, Green Day.

Now, I've loved Green Day for decades. Maybe not quite as much as I love REM, but it's pretty damn close. But I'd never seen them. So, I was super-looking forward to the show, but then there were storms, and tornado watches, and lack of information from the venue, and by the time we realized that yes, we were going to be able to make the show, I was in a state of angst. Oh, and wet, because it was pouring. Not conducive to fun.

But, there was beer, and the opening band was good. And I was with one of my oldest and dearest friends (we've been going to concerts together longer than many of the audience have been alive!), and my girl, and it was going to be OK.

And then Billie Joe Armstrong, anti-establisment, take no shit, speak his mind, punk rocker extraordinaire, came on stage.

With an American flag guitar.

And, damn, if my heart didn't lift a bit. I'm sure Ted Nugent would despise both me and Billie Joe for that, but, sorry, Ted, you don't get to decide what lifts me up.

That entire show, for over two rocking hours, the message from the stage was that, we did matter. Those of us at the show mattered. That the people who are moving our country and our state and our world in a direction of hatred and exclusion do not have a monopoly on our flag, or our country, or on patriotism. That we can be who we are, and know that there are others who see us. Who, as the cool kids say, feel us.

Over and over, the message from Billie Joe was that we are this country, too. The freaks, the ones who don't fit in. The ones who won't go along just to get along. The ones who will question authority, even when it's wearing a uniform or waving a flag. Or a MAGA hat. The brave nurses, and clergy, and students, who won't shut their eyes. We are all part of America. And, yes, particularly when they played Youngblood, and Billie Joe himself told us to change the lyric to "Fuck you, I'm from North Carolina."

Now, again, I'm not stupid. I know part of what was going on was standard showmanship. And I know that one concert will not change the world overnight. But let's be honest: I'm not really at much risk in this world. I may not be happy with the direction that the country is going, but I'm a white, middle-aged, straight, upper SES, protestant. About the one demographic that might vaguely put me at risk is being female. I'm not Muslim. I'm not an immigrant. I'm not gay. I don't, really, push peoples buttons. Not without opening my mouth, anyway.

There are those out there who are at much more risk. The ones who can't hid behind their skin. The ones who must choose whether to wear their hijab and risk their safety, or give up a meaningful religious practice. Those who have to hide their sexuality. Those who know that they'll be feared simply because of their skin. The ones who are told their hair is inappropriate. Or their clothes are distracting. Or that if they just followed the rules a little better, the same rules that keep them scared and powerless and hidden, they'd be OK.

So, yes, if Billie Joe made me feel better, imagine what he did to others in the crowd. Who have way more reason to be sad, and angry, and feel left out than I do.

We still have a long way to go. My university is still being stupid. Good people are still refusing to acknowledge racism. Women still get shut out of leadership roles. And LGBTQ teens (and adults) are still afraid to openly express who they are.

But for the first time in weeks, I feel better about the world, and my place in it. I don't feel quite so broken. I don't feel quite so stranded. I don't think I'm going to have to watch the world fall to pieces.

Thank you, Billie Joe.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Omega and Alpha

It's that time of year again, when parents all over are posting those bright and shiny first-day photos. And I'll do the same. This year, as I've done before, I'll post two pictures, and the caption will be "First-first to last-first".

But this is my last last-first. And the hardest one to write about.

My girl has not always been well-served by school. School has not always been a safe place for her. And the people who were supposed to make it safe, the teachers, and counselors, and, yes, parents, have frequently been at best, clueless. And at worst, willfully blind.

Grace has been forced into round holes since the day she started school. She's been told that she has to adapt. She's been told that she needs to change. She's been told that it's just the way things are.

Now, I am the child of teachers. I am a strong supporter of public education. I have had wonderful teachers, and so have my children, including Grace.

But as I begin to send her out the door this last-first morning, I also know that we, collectively, have failed her. We did not make school a safe place. We did not embrace her personality. We did not ask her "why?" enough before telling her "no." She's been told that she needs to ignore people making fun of her. Just walk away from people picking on her. She's been told that the school can do nothing about bullying because she didn't speak up early enough, but then has also seen them do nothing when she did speak up, because they didn't think it was an ongoing problem.

There's a catch-22 for you. If you wait till the problem is huge and you're at the breaking point, well, you should've told earlier. If you tell early, well, it's just an isolated incident.

So, when I look at the two pictures I'll post on Facebook this morning, there's a strong sense of regret. Of opportunities lost. Of what-ifs, and why-nots, and how-comes. There's a sense of held breath as I send my girl out the door this morning. A bit of wondering, not necessarily with excitement, what will happen this year? What will we have to deal with? What shoe is going to drop this year? I see that bright and shiny kindergartner, and think about what could have been.

But there is also celebration. There is also looking at my bright and shiny senior and thinking about what she's accomplished.

Three years ago, when Grace started high school, I was honestly not sure she would make it this far. And it has been a bumpy road to get here. She has had to battle her own demons, whether they be emotional or academic. She has had to, in the three years of high school, not only figure out time management and study skills and driving and the social life of high-schoolers, but she's done it while also delving into some very dark and hidden areas of her past. She's done it while taking on emotional work and therapy that most would run from. And she's done it, honestly, beginning from a deficit. In retrospect, her middle school years were not spent learning how to manage high school, they were spent hiding from demons, both internal and external.

She has grown. Freshman year, she needed an unlimited hall pass in case of panic attacks. She would frequently come home with a story of having to leave class, she never went to assemblies or pep rallies because of the crowds. And she suffered accordingly. She struggled to keep up in class. She wasn't having the same high-school experience that some of her peers were. She's still not a huge fan of pep rallies, but that's more from a lack of interest in sports than because of a fear of crowds. She works sound for assemblies. She's never going to be the kid in the middle of the mosh pit or the spirit section, but she is no longer as bound by her panic as she once was.

She has found her people. She's has learned that she has a voice, and that it can be a powerful one. Whether it's speaking out for "arts kids", or presenting on the importance of using correct pronouns with trans, gender fluid, or gender non-binary kids, she is learning that she can help. She has learned that she has a passion, and a talent for working with exceptional children, and may wind up making that her life's work. She's found a group in theatre who love, respect, and depend on her, and may make that her life's work.

"Last-first" sounds funny to us, it's an oxymoron, and they can be humorous. But in this case, it's apt. Because there's a polarity to my girl's experience, too. The lows and the highs have combined to make this incredible human being that stands before me this morning, barely containing her impatience as I finish blogging and insist upon a picture.

So, as my last Senior, last high-schooler, last baby heads out the door, I will think about both parts. I will acknowledge the pain, and the hurt, and the difficulties. I will be honest about the failures.

But I will also watch her head out, and I will take a moment to tell her how proud I am of her. Of how proud she should be of herself. Of how important she is, to me, to her friends, and to the world.

And to remember this last-first, and how all sides of her world, and her experience, and her soul, are important.

Love you, Gracie-belle.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

No Silence, No Acceptance.

There's a statue on Carolina's campus called Silent Sam. It's no more than 50 feet from the historical marker commemorating UNC's role in removing the 1963 Speaker Ban.

Those two mark, in my opinion, the best and the worst of my alma mater.

Silent Sam is, according to the nice, white-washed history that we're meant to believe, a "good" Confederate state. He's a monument to those who lost their lives. Because the soldier has no cartridge box, he's "silent". Because he's facing North, he's meant to indicate a notion of reconciliation that was, honestly, utterly missing in the time he was erected. We're meant to believe the statue was not erected until 1913 because the South was destitute, and it took them that long to raise the money.

Baloney, I say.

First of all, there is a perfectly good memorial to the Confederate soldiers a few hundred yards away from Silent Sam, which bears the names of the men who were killed in the war. It's called Memorial Hall, and I would venture a guess that any of you reading who attended Carolina, or live locally, have been there before. The memorial is actually outside, on the west side of the plaza, between Memorial and Phillips. True, it also lists those killed in other wars, but that leads me back to a complaint I've made before - if you believe that the Civil war needs its own memorial, but the other wars don't, that's an issue.

No, Silent Sam, like many Confederate statues, is not there for the men who were killed. It's there to remind African-Americans to keep their place. We've all seen the graphics about when Confederate "memorials" across the nation were erected; there were far more put up during the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights era than immediately after the war. I do not believe that lack of funds was the primary reason. They were put up to remind black what their proper place was. To glorify a war that was about slavery. And to stroke the egos of those who could not let go.

If you doubt me, here's a link to Julian Carr's speech on the dedication of Silent Sam. Read it. It's not pleasant, but read it. He speaks about the Confederate soldiers role in "saving" the Anglo Saxon race after the war. He revels in his own horse-whipping of a "negro wench". And throughout is the not particularly subtle notion of, we were right, we are better, and you must never forget it. True, towards the end he briefly remarks that, as a unified country, we now believe that the war had to end as it did. But this is one paragraph after hundreds glorifying and sanctifying the war, and Southern "rights" and the nobility of the cause.

That is the worst of my alma mater. It always has been. It always will be.

But for years I consoled myself with what I considered to be the best of my alma mater; the way it worked with the town of Chapel Hill through the Speaker Ban of 1963. Not surprisingly, UNC has frequently been at odds with the North Carolina General Assembly; usually when there's a more conservative majority in the legislature. In the 60s, there were those who thought that UNC (and other universities in the system) were clouding student's minds with liberal speakers, and (gasp) maybe even Communists. UNC invoked the hatred of the legislature by protesting against segregation, and by inviting Communists to speak. The legislature made it illegal for a known Communist, or someone who had invoked the 5th Amendment when questioned about "subversive" actions, to speak on any UNC campus.

Many among the University community opposed the ban, and in 1965 the Student Body President invited two speakers who were banned. University police, as they had to, refused to let them speak on campus, so they promptly stood on the sidewalk on Franklin Street, just over the rock walls that line McCorkle place. The speakers were in Chapel Hill, the town, and students stood in the quad to listen. It highlighted the stupidity of the rule; banning a speaker from a place doesn't necessarily lessen their impact; whether through writings, or word of mouth, or simply stepping over a low stone wall, they can still reach an audience. Eventually, the law was overturned (by judges, not the NCGA).

Well, UNC has a chance again to work with the Town of Chapel Hill to do what's right. Unfortuneately, I'm not so sure that they will.

It is past time for Silent Sam to come down. People have been asking for the statue to come down since I was and undergraduate in the 1980s, and longer. To some extent, though, the University's hands are tied; our previous Governor made it virtually impossible to remove Confederate monuments on public land, even if the public entity in question wants the monument gone.

Pam Hemminger, the mayor of Chapel Hill, though, has written a letter to Chancellor Carol Folt calling for the removal of Silent Sam because of the danger it presents to the community. In her opinion, it is within the letter of the law to remove a monument to "protect" it. More importantly, she sees the truth; that if we pretend to protect Silent Sam, we're actually taking an important first step, and protecting our communities. All of our communities. Governor Roy Cooper, too, has expressed the opinion that the statue can come down if there's an "imminent threat".

There is a rally planned today, August 22, at Silent Sam. After what happened in Durham, I think it's safe to say that the wretched statue is under threat. After what happened in Charlottesville, I think it's safe to say that University students, or Chapel Hill residents are under threat. And yes, I am most worried because my son is a student at Chapel Hill, and plans on going to the rally. He's not happy that it has to occur, he's worried that it will get out of hand, but he's going. And I'm scared out of my mind, and will not rest easy today until it's all over and I hear from him. But I won't tell him not to go.

I will, however, tell Chancellor Folt what I think of her. She knows this is coming. She's had a request from the mayor of Chapel Hill to remove the statue before we have our own riot. She's had word from the Governor that she CAN remove the statue to prevent a threat.

But what she has done is sent students an email encouraging them to stay away. To not get involved. To look away, and stay as silent as that damned and damning statue.

We've all seen the phrase "Silence equals acceptance", whether in a work email, or on a t shirt. Gay activists in the 80s modified it somewhat to "Silence = death". But silence isn't always about being, literally, silent. Silence can also be diverting conversations, and ignoring them. Or deliberately talking about other things.

I hope that this is not another Charlottesville. The University has been rather vague on what sort of protest they're expecting, so I don't know if they think racists will be gathering to praise Sam, or liberal activists gathering to bury him. Either way, the existence of that statue is not only a stain on the University, it is now a danger to my boy. And Chancellor Folt has been given a road map on how to avoid that danger. Rather than use it, she's ignoring it.

And in her silence, she's endangering all of us.



Saturday, August 19, 2017

Gently, my darlings, gently...

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
That, of course, is the opening stanza of Dylan Thomas's famous poem, "Do Not Go Gently into That Good Night". Whether viewed metaphorically, or as a literal reaction to his father's illness, the sense of the poem is fairly clear; live fully, to the very last. Do not let Death "win" without a fight. And, for what it's worth, Thomas apparently lived his own advice.

I've been thinking about life transitions a lot, lately. Partially because of my kids. My two step-daughters have moved out "for realizies," as they say, and one of them will be giving us our first grand-child a bit before the holidays. And, of course, it's back-to-school time, except this time my baby will be a senior in high school, and the two boys have, I suspect, spent the last of their extended time with us.

As my kids are entering their lives, though, I've been thinking a lot about the end of life, too. A friend's mother has been, very gradually, heading towards the end of her life for a couple of years now. My friend has documented all of this, from her mother's decision to leave her house, through the increasing health decline, to now, when hospice has been called in. My friend is also one of my former English teachers, and one of the people who made me the writer I am, so to watch her write is delightful. She has documented this stage of her mother's life beautifully, with such tenderness and care, and she has allowed all of us who've followed her writings to come along on what is an incredibly poignant journey.

My friend's writings have, of course, reminded me of my own father's passing a few years ago. Mourning, sometimes, needs to be done from a distance. Grief and mourning can sometimes co-exist, but in my experience, grief is immediate, and sometimes overpowering. Mourning, on the other hand, can take months, or years. Or a lifetime.

Being allowed vicariously into my friend's experience has allowed me to continue to mourn my father. His passing, while tremendously sad, was also in many ways a very tender time. It was a time where my siblings and I were together again. It was a time when we were forced into a role of patient watchfulness. It was a time where all we could do was care for our Dad, and for each other. We could not change the end; it would come when it did, and in the manner it would, and there was nothing we could do but wait, and watch, and love. And it's only in retrospect, through this somewhat voyeuristic remembrance, that I've fully realized what a special time that was. Not happy, necessarily, but special.

And one thing it has made me realize is that Thomas had it all wrong. We should go gently into that good night. Sometimes life's transitions need to be eased into.

When my kids were little, we had cats. As my kids began to toddle and wanted to pet the kitties, we would guide their little hands, and say, "Gently, gently." Most parents do this, even if they're not also pet-parents; it's often enough that our kids encounter cats, or dogs, or babies, or petting zoos, or whatever. And we want to teach them to go carefully, and be gentle. Going too quickly, or forcefully, would scare the animal, and might make it bite, or scratch, or just run away.

I think life-transitions are a lot like those cats. Many of us say that we want to live fully, and then die in our sleep. I realize now that I'm glad that my father did not just die in his sleep one day, with no warning. I'm eternally thankful for the time that my siblings and I had to process my Dad's passing, and that we were able to share that time together. I wish the same for my friend in her mother's time, not necessarily in the details, but in the world enough and time for her and her family to process, and watch, and care, and love.

And as my kids are moving off into the world, I don't want their leaving to be the sharp, quick, pain of a bandage being ripped off. I want them to leave me gently, and slowly. Yes, every year of packing them up and moving them out brings a slightly different level of mourning, but I need that time to process the fact that, one day soon, they'll no longer call my house, home.

So, with apologies to Mr. Thomas, I would like to suggest that we should go gentle. Go gently, and softly, towards whatever comes next. Those who are watching, and waiting, and caring, will stay to the end, and will be eased by the gentleness.






Friday, August 18, 2017

Not so fine, thanks

"I'm fine, but I'm just thinking of the right words to say. I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be." -- from The Promise, by When In Rome
Words are hard. It's hard to get them to say exactly what we mean, and frequently when we think we've got it just right, and we try them out on someone, they don't sound the way we planned them.

Sometimes that's because we're not paying attention. Sometimes it's because we're typing too fast. Increasingly, for me at least, it's because the emotions we're trying to express are best represented by a scream. And sometimes it's because we're not thinking about another's point of view, or we're in a rush to point out OUR point of view.

After the events in Charlottesville, many people who are like me (that is, white, liberal, and, sometimes, southern) are rushing to find our words right now. Many of us have been avoiding our words for months or years, and Charlottesville has broken a dam in us. And, I'm not entirely sure what to make of that.

Soon after the protest in Charlottesville, a Confederate statue in Durham, NC (near where I live) was toppled by a crowd of protesters. There was much online discussion about whether this was appropriate or inappropriate, and in one post someone made the comment that this was (paraphrasing) just a bunch of white kids trying to make themselves look better. It wasn't true - many of the protesters were black, but it brings up a point that I'd like to address really quickly, and get it out of the way.

Yeah, some white people say all the things they think their supposed to, just to be saying them. Yeah, sometimes white people say all the things they think they're supposed to because they believe them deeply, and someone rails on them for providing lip service. And, yes, there are whites who don't speak out because of this, or because they "don't know what to say," "don't have the same experience/knowledge/perspective" as people of color, or whatever.

Fine. But it's time to stop that nonsense.

Partially because we need to speak out. All of us. I don't care what your color, if we believe that the events in Charlottesville are heinous, we need to speak out.

But more than that, whites need to speak out. We own this.

I spent the first few days after Charlottesville responding to all sorts of Facebook posts, and tweets, and writing my own. By Monday afternoon, I was exhausted, both emotionally and physically.

I could, possibly, have taken a break. Others can't.

I am white. If I decide not to confront racism, I don't have to deal with it. It's not going to look at me askance in the elevator, or crack jokes about me, or judge my music or my clothes or my church. I am never going to understand racism on the visceral level of a person of color. I can't. And no one is expecting me to, but I am expecting myself to understand that, as exhausted as I was, I was only dealing with the topic because I chose to. Not because I had to.

But we own this on a deeper level, too. Whites need to acknowledge that those monuments were put up for us. Particularly white women, but all whites. There's an explanation going around that the monuments are memorials, and should be treated like gravestones. That most of the people who fought in the Confederacy were actually poor, non-landowners, who didn't benefit from slavery.

Bullshit. Pardon my language, but bullshit. First of all, ALL whites benefited from slavery. They benefited from free labor. They benefited from having someone to look down upon, and boost their own ego. Even after slavery ended, whites benefited from cheap labor. Yes, the grunts who fought may have been sold lies by politicians. But that doesn't mean that they didn't benefit from it.

But we also own this because we created these monuments. We own this because we started that war. We own this because no woman ever lied and got our sons lynched. We own this because the worst white school in the 60s was better than any black school. We own this because we don't have to teach our kids how to behave around cops. We own this because our children are watching us. And our neighbors. And our colleagues.

I'm not saying that my words are particularly brilliant. I write what I feel. And right now, my feelings are sad, and angry, and confused. I don't want to speak for others, but I'm tired of being quiet.

And I know that my words may not sound the way I planned, but silence sounds even worse. So, for better or worse, I will think of words to say, and I will say them.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Lifting my Voice

I am Southern.

I am ashamed.

I used to be able to hide behind various qualifications when I said "I am Southern." I hid behind my parents, who grew up in a time when racism was the norm, but managed to rise above that. I hid behind my own liberalism; I try to see the world from other's view points, and I thought that was enough. I hid behind the likes of Frank Porter Graham, Terry Sanford, and Bill Friday, saying, "No, see, THAT'S what North Carolina really is." I hid in my own little blue town, where I didn't have to confront my neighbors about racism, because even the conservatives are pretty liberal in Chapel Hill. And I hid on Facebook, by ignoring or actively blocking people whose posts I found upsetting.

I cannot hide any more.

I have struggled this weekend. I know I need to speak out, and I'm not sure how to. Partially, to be sure, because frequently my best words come in the form of snark and humor, and nothing is funny right now. Partially because when I start to write, I've become enraged. And partially because when I start to write, I begin to cry.

And, honestly, because I keep starting to write something on the theme of, "We are not this".  That's not enough anymore, and it's not true. If anyone still believes that, I have to ask where have you been the past 72 hours?

We are this. It's terrible, and it's sad, and it's scary, but we, collectively, as Americans, ARE godawful horrible, racist, ignorant, angry people. We have allowed the alt-right and the white supremacists and the neo-Nazis to plunder our democratic principles for their own purposes. We have allowed them room and board in our newspapers, in our living rooms, on our websites. We have encouraged them by our silence. We have enabled them by our fear.

We all own this.

Charles Clymer is one of my favorite Twitter personalities. His thread here is spot on. We need to stop the white supremacist, neo-nazi takeover of this country. And it will be hard.

We need to stop the nonsense that the Civil War was about anything other than slavery. Economics? Nope. If the economy is dependent on slave labor, then it's about slavery. States' Rights? Sorry. If the right that is being fought for is enslaving a human being, then it's about slavery. The Civil War was about slavery, first, last, and always.

We need to take down the monuments to that world, and to that war. I have no idea whose brilliant idea it was to put a statue of Robert E Lee in a park named "Emancipation Park" but that's not irony, it's cruelty. Take the damn statue down. Take Silent Sam down. Yeah, I giggled and twittered when I was a Freshman and they told me he fired his gun every time a virgin walked by. I don't care. Take him down. Rename the buildings, take down the monuments, stop the glorification of that godawful time.

"Oh, but history!" I hear some of you cry. Fine. Make a selection of monuments and statues and building lintels, put them in a museum (hell put them in MANY museums), with a placard that reads something along the lines of, "The Civil War, which was only about slavery, was fought in the middle of the 19th century. For more than a hundred and fifty years after the end of the war, the Southern United States continued to glorify and memorialize the Confederacy, to the degradation of the human race."

"Oh, but lots of the people who fought didn't profit from slavery/did it because their land was invaded/fought to protect their families/whatever!" I hear others of you cry. Possibly true; most wars are fought by young men who are not going to directly profit from the war, or who have been sold a package of lies from their politicians. But you know what? Those young men are dead now, and have been for generations. And their motives, whatever they may have been are irrelevant. The war was about slavery. Make a memorial of their names if you wish, but put on that these were young men killed in the Civil War, which was about slavery.

"Oh, but the North is just as bad!" I hear everyone cry. True. Absolutely true. And many of the white supremacists in Virginia last weekend were from non-Southern states. The terrorist who killed a young woman by using his car as a weapon was from Ohio. Another who was surprised that his face wound up plastered all over social media was from Nevada.

But the North didn't fight to enslave other human beings. The North didn't try to secede from a nation that outlawed slavery. The North does not have the talismans of flag and monument that draw the white supremacists to them. I'm sorry. It just doesn't.

We do. We have a current of racism and hatred that needs to be spoken of openly. When we fly a confederate flag, we invite the hatred in. When we put a "Forget, Hell" bumper sticker on our cars, we invite the hatred in. When we don't speak out, we invite the hatred in. When we pretend that we're better than this, but we don't scream with outrage when we see the hurt and hatred that are STILL being perpetuated on an entire segment of our nation, we invite the hatred in.

And that's wrong. And we must do better. We must do better now, and Southerners need to step up and accept our role. It is not enough to simply not be a racist. We need to accept that our heritage is being used against our country, and speak out, shout out, cry out, and we need to do it now. And tomorrow. And the next day, and the next, and the next.

And maybe, possibly, if enough of us are humble enough to lift up our voices to say, "Yes. The Civil War was fought by the South to allow slavery. That was wrong. It was horrible. And we must stop glorifying it." without qualifying the statement with a "but....." then someday we will rise to James Weldon Johnnson's words, and, "Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of Liberty."


Thursday, May 04, 2017

So many questions

So, here's the thing. The AHCA bill that was passed today is not actually going to become law; it has to go through the Senate and will, at worst, be tempered. Probably.

But, this whole fiasco has opened up some really ugly questions that I feel we as a nation need to, at a minimum, recognize. Ideally, talk about and solve.

First, the House voted on a bill before it could be analyzed and scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO, the non-partisan organization that provides analysis to Congress). Basically, they voted on and passed this without any idea about the effect of the bill, without doing any sort of cost-benefit analysis.

Now, "cost-benefit analysis" sounds a lot like intellectual-elite business-school jargon, but it's really not. Funny story: when my son was about 10 years old, he asked me when he could curse in front of me. My answer was, "When you're ready for my reaction." What I meant, of course, was that the older he got the less I would react, and the less he would care; when those two slopes crossed, he could curse! But what I was actually teaching him was how to do a cost-benefit analysis: when does the benefit (the release of cursing) outweigh the cost (Mom's reaction). And we all do these every single day, when we decide to have the Snickers bar, or to keep our mouths shut about our spouses hair, or whatever. It's not only a fairly simple concept, it's also an important one, particularly if we want to stay happily married. But the House didn't feel it was necessary.

So, first question: have we really elected a body of Representatives who are so insistent on doing, or in this case undoing, something that they simply don't care what the cost is? And if so, what does that say about us as a country? Will we hold them accountable? Or do we not care about the cost either?

Next, the House created and passed a bill that allows for the dismantling of the 10 essential health benefits guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare); protections for women, for those with disabilities, for those with pre-existing conditions, wellness visits, chronic condition management, and so on.Poll after poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans actually like these benefits. So, why on earth would the House pass this bill? My own cynical view is that they did because they knew the Senate would not, and this allows them the best of both worlds; they can claim to have dismantled Obamacare, without having to actually deal with their constituents' resulting loss of coverage. But, if they, and by extension America, are not actually opposed to the provisions in Obamacare, then what is it they are opposed to? Well, again, there are a number of polls, both before and after the 2016 election, that indicate that when called the Affordable Care Act, people reacted positively towards the provisions. When called Obamacare, they reacted negatively.

It seems that what those who opposed it don't like is the fact that Obama created it.

Now, we can argue and discuss all day about whether this was because he's a Democrat, or because he's black. I certainly have my opinion, I'm sure you have yours. Honestly, they're probably both true, to an extent and in certain circumstances. But is either any better than the other?

So, second group of questions: have we become a country that is so partisan that if the other side has a good idea, we'll attack it simply because someone else came up with it? Are we still so racist, consciously or unconsciously, that we can't allow a black man to be successful, even if sabotaging him hurts us? Or are we so determined to pretend that racism is only in the past that we won't call out those who are racist?

Finally, the actual effect that this bill, were it to be passed by the Senate as is, would have. There are a couple of ways to look at this. Some people would simply die. Not because they have incurable diseases, not because they live somewhere without adequate health care. They would die because they couldn't afford to pay for treatment. Others would struggle with conditions that could be easily managed...if they had the insurance to cover it. But they don't, so they wind up going to Emergency Rooms when they're in acute distress. In the latter situation, we all wind up bearing the cost, because of increased overall healthcare costs; in the former...well, someone dies who doesn't need to.

So, my final set of questions. Are we really that crass? Are we really that uncaring? Are we really willing to see costs rise overall because we won't ensure that all can be insured? Are we really OK with people dying? Could you really look a parent in the eye and tell them that their child can't be treated? Could you tell a child that their parent has to die?

These are not easy questions. They'll make us squirm. They'll make us confront and think about some very ugly possibilities. This is not storming the beaches at Normandy, or racing to the moon. This is petty, and crass, and ugly. This is every mean-spirited thought we've ever had, taken to the Nth degree.

But, just to go all Dumbledore on you, while it may take courage to stand up to our enemies, it takes even more to stand up to our friends. And, I would hold, it takes the most courage to stand up and admit our own failings.

I believe are better than this. I believe than many of us in this country do have the courage to think about these questions, and to wrestle with them. Even when it's hard. Even when it makes us guilty, or uncomfortable. Even when it's scary.

I hope I'm right. Because if I'm wrong, I fear that this country will not survive.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wait, it's not October?

Every year, since 1988, October 11th is National Coming Out Day. It's also my niece's birthday, so a shoutout to her (and, I suppose, my sister), to being progressive and prescient enough to be born on that day in 1982.

Of course, coming out, whether to one's family, employer, friends, or self, does not have to be done on a particular day. But, having a National Coming Out Day does draw attention to the LGBTQ+ community, their allies, and the notion that visibility does, indeed, matter. To quote the Human Rights Commision website:
"Coming out - whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or allied - STILL MATTERS. When people know someone who is LGBTQ+, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other."
Coming out, though, is still, for too many people, fraught with danger. Danger of being fired. Danger of being rejected by family or friends. Danger of being kicked out of your home.

It occurs to me that awhile back, I came out as an ally, and as a family member of someone in the LGBTQ+ community. It was in this blog post that I came out, not just as an ally, but as the mom of a lesbian child. 

Now, for anyone who follows my Facebook feed with any sort of regularity, this cannot come as a surprise. Certainly not the ally part, and probably not the family member part. A confirmation, perhaps, but not a surprise. But, I know that there are people who can't, or won't, see what's in front of them, so sometimes one needs to be blunt.

My daughter is a cis-gendered, homosexual, homo-romantic young woman. 

For those of you who may not be up on the various terms, that means she both has two X chromosomes and identifies as female, is sexually attracted to females, and is romantically attracted to females.

She is also a junior in high school, loves theatre, is a little scared about college, is sometimes unsure of herself, at other times thinks she is invincible, and frequently thinks her mother is a goober. Typical 16 year old stuff.

I am incredibly proud of my girl. And I am also incredibly protective of her. And the inherent conflict between those two, of course, leads me to the bulk of this post.

Visibility matters. Knowledge matters. Understanding matters. 

I grew up in a very rural, small town. I had a friend who used the N-word repeatedly, and claimed to hate "N-words". Except....she was good friends with an African-American who was in the class behind us. When I asked (OK, confronted) her about this once, her response was, "Oh, but he's different, I know him!"

What she was actually scared of was the unknown. So, yes, I get it. By being open, by being herself, my daughter may make any number of people rethink their biases. They may have that, "Oh, but I know her!" moment that makes them think long enough to realize that, if she's not so scary, then maybe other members of the LGBTQ+ community aren't, either.

But then I think of Orlando. Or of Matthew Shepard. Or of the day, towards the end of last December, when my brave, strong, daughter came home in tears because someone told her she didn't matter, and was going to burn in hell anyway, and while she had heard that before from strangers at Pride marches, this was in class, from someone she's known since elementary school.

So, yes, if you pay attention to my words, and my posts, and my girl, and you wind up opening your mind and your heart a little, yay. As the Mirandized George III would say, "Awesome! Wow!!" I'm happy, really.

But, damn, folks, you are asking one hell of a price for me and my family to pay for your enlightenment. You are asking me to let my daughter go out into the world and declare herself among the nations of the hated. The reviled. To put herself at risk of emotional and physical harm.

And here's the thing: you don't need to. You're using my kid as the easy out, so that you don't have to recognize the LGBTQ+ person in your office. Or on the Board of Directors with you. Or in your Sunday School class. Or on your kid's soccer team, or in their band, or choir, or Scout Troop, or study group, or youth group.

Or sitting across the dinner table from you, telling you about their day, and the math test they took.

You don't need my daughter. Trust me on this one, she is NOT the only LGBTQ+ person you've encountered in your world. And this matters, a lot.

According to a chart on the CDC website, in 2014 suicide was the second leading cause of death for the age ranges 10-14, 15-24, and 25-34. According to the Trevor Project, the rate of suicide attempts for LGB and questioning youths are between 2 and 4 times the attempts of straight youth. These attempts are also more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment by a clinician than the attempts by straight kids.

So, yeah, in short, simple, words, our kids are killing themselves, and most of the ones who do, or who try to, are LGBTQ+ or questioning. One of the things that is most likely to keep an LGBTQ+ teen from attempting suicide? Knowing that they have an accepting support system. Hopefully family, but teachers, coaches, mentors, and so on will do in a pinch.

Here's one of the other things you need to know about my girl. At the end of her 8th grade year, she was hospitalized for about 3 weeks for depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. Thankfully, this was not related to her sexuality; I say thankfully because sexuality can't be changed, so at least we weren't working against that. But still. My not-yet-14 year old was so depressed that she thought of taking her own life.

Here's what happens when your child is suicidal. First, you go spend a lot of time (like, 36+ hours, if you're lucky) in the behavioral section of the local emergency room, because there are never enough beds. While your child is there, you can stay with them. Eventually, though, a bed opens up in the psych ward, and your child is admitted, and at that point, you're limited to a maximum of three visits a day, for no more than an hour. Only family. Can't go out of the ward.

Eventually, hopefully, your child improves, and you start talking about going home, and then the real fun starts. You see, before your child can come home, you need to be able to convince the hospital that they'll be safe once they do. Which means getting rid of anything they might use to harm themselves. Anything.

What that means, if you're me, anyway, is you go buy a cabinet that locks, and into it you put:
  • Knives/razors/X-actoes
  • Any medication anyone in your family takes, whether OTC or prescription.
  • Matches
  • Scissors
  • Needles
  • Anything else you can possibly think of that might be used to hurt oneself.
And then you clean your kid's room. You go under the bed, in the drawers, between mattress and box-springs, through the closets. You take down the posters and pictures to look behind them.  If you're like me, and don't let your kids use poster putty because it puts grease spots on the walls, you don't put the posters back up, because the only other way to hang them are push pins, which are sharp, and could be used to cut. You wonder how worried you should be about bed sheets. You wonder if you should put something on the windows. And, at the end, you make the room as safe as it can possibly be. But in doing so, you've erased your child's personality from it.

And then, for the next few months, this is how you live. You unlock the cabinet every night when you need a knife to cook. Or before bed when your kid needs her meds. Or when you need to take your allergy medicine. Or when someone has a headache. You monitor your child's psych meds, because she has to take them, but you've got to make sure she doesn't take too many. You unlock the cabinet if someone has a birthday so you can light the candles.

At some point, you have to go back to work. And you spend an inordinate time worrying about what your child is up to when you're not there. But you text them. And if they don't reply in what you think is a reasonable time (for me, about 3 minutes), you panic. Because, you see, you've heard you child say that they just didn't care if they lived or died. So you text her brothers. And you freak out until one of them answers you and says, "yeah, she's in her room, she's just napping".  And sometimes, God help you, when they do answer, you scream at them because they took all of 90 seconds to get back to you, and don't they realize that you're picturing your baby lying dead and cold in her room because you didn't check on her?

Yeah. Fun times.

But you know what? I'm lucky. In a godawful, twisted, horrible way, I'm lucky. Because I got to buy that cabinet, and lock everything up, and make those texts, and yell at those boys (God, boys, I'm so sorry, but bless y'all for sticking with me). 

I didn't have to bury my child.

So, yes, if reading my Facebook posts, and my blog, makes any of you out there realize that you DO know someone in the LGBTQ+ community, great.

But what about those kids you already know? What about the ones in the Scout troop, or the choir, or the band, or the team, or the class? What about the ones who are too damn scared to tell their parents who they really are? What about the ones who are looking for someone, anyone, who they can depend on to love them, and support them, and accept them, no matter what? 

What about those kids? They need you. They need you right now. They need you before they wind up in the hospital. They need you so that their parents get one last chance to make it right and accept their child.

My kid is OK. Way before she came out, she knew it would be a non-issue for me, her Dad, her step-dad, her siblings, and her extended family. She lives in a town that is accepting and caring. She has teachers who support her, and who watch out for homophobic slurs.

Can you say the same for the LGBTQ+ kids in your life? And if not, what the hell are you waiting for? They're out there. They need you. Are you going to hide behind my daughter as your token LGBTQ+? Or are you going to step out of your comfort zone to make sure you help the other ones in your life?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The imaginary conversation

“Pardon me, are you Richard Burr, sir?”

“That depends, who’s asking?”

“Oh, sure, sir. I’m a constituent, a voter.
I need your service, sir, I have been waiting for it.”

“I’m getting nervous...”

“Sir, I’ve seen your name in roll calls,
I’ve been seeking out your record, how you voted, bsir.
But  I got sort of out of sorts with a buddy of yours,
I don’t support her. She’s a scourge, sir.
She’s in charge of Education?”

“Betsy DeVos? Her?”

“Yes. I cannot believe what she says,
Decimate the schools, then bring the privat’zation?
She thinks that we need guns 'cause bears, what? We’re not stupid.
So why’d you do it? Why’d you confirm her cray ass?”

“It was my donors’ latest wish, they gave me cash!”

“She’s got money! Of course! 
I’m a voter. God, I wish there was a way
That we could show that votes are worth more

Than anyone’s piece of gold.”

You are the worst, Burr. Also, lie less, care more.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Bumpity-bump-bump-bump

Tomorrow is the anniversary of my Dad's death. It's a tough day for me. I loved my Dad dearly and I miss him desperately, but by the same token, I am, in a twisted sort of way, eternally glad that my siblings and I were there at the end of his life (ish, anyway). I will, however, drink my symbolically dirty martini tomorrow, and remember my Dad, and the sweet will outweigh the bitter.

I hope, anyway.

My Dad was a fantastic father and grandfather. He raised his three kids at a time when it was assumed that a single dad just....wasn't. His patience and time with his grandchildren was astounding, whether it was telling my niece stories about "The good Adrianne and the bad Adrianne," watching Dora brave the "foooooooky [spooky] forest" with Grace, or letting Peter kick his... well, you know, in putt-putt.

He taught us to cook eggs over medium, make eggnog, drink gin, and that love was forever. He loved to tell stories, to his kids and his grandkids, and about his kids and grandkids. One of the best things about having him close by is that, whenever he kept one of his grandbabies, the parents got a day's (or weekend's) worth of stories when they got the kids back.

Hence, bumpity-bump-bump-bump.

When Peter was a little boy, he was riding in the car with my Dad and my sister. They were either in a neighborhood or a parking lot; regardless, there was a speed bump, and as my sister drove over it, my Dad, in his Dad-way, said, "Bumpity-bump-bump-bump!" To which Peter (who was a very somber and serious little boy, and also had trouble with hard G sounds, so Granddaddy became Dranddaddy) said, "Bumpity-bump-bump-bump? Drandaddy, I don't know THAT word!"

Needless to say, my Dad LOVED this. I think Peter was probably about 3 or 4 at this point; my Dad told this story every chance he got (going over speed bumps, someone saying "bump", someone talking about Peter as a young boy, etc.) for YEARS. And, yes, I say "bumpity-bump-bump-bump" to this day going over speed bumps, and I think about my little boy and my dad.

Until today.

Today, sadly, when I think of my Dad and the sound of bumpity-bump-bump-bump, it's the sound of him turning in his....well, box, since we've not dealt with his ashes yet (which is utterly my fault, don't blame my sibs!).

I can't stand to think of what my Dad would think of Betsy DeVos.

Now, he was not a fan of over-testing (ironic, since I spent a lot of my childhood letting Ed. majors learn to test on me). But I will guarantee you that he could spend a solid half-hour, at a minimum, talking about the difference between growth and proficiency, and when either might be important. And I am certain that he never, even the semester that he taught in Wyoming (when he had to deal with skunks and rattlesnakes and any number of critters), felt that he needed to be armed in case of grizzly bear attack. And while he was, at times, both spiritual and religious, he would never, ever, have consented to have state-supported religion as part of a public school.

He would be appalled.

He would be horrified.

He would, in fact, be going bumpity-bump-bump-bump.

I don't know what's going to happen in the next four years. I was terrified on November 9th, and then I convinced myself it wouldn't be that bad.

I was wrong. It's worse.

We are attacking the only things that can keep this country strong - our brains, our schools, and our children.

May God have mercy on our souls.


Monday, February 06, 2017

Compassionate Leave, or Leave your Compassion

I got into a Facebook discussion the other day with a friend, and a friend of a friend. I think, and hope, it was civil on all sides; I know that they raised points that have made me think a lot the past couple of days.

The basic premise of the discussion is that the Democratic Party needs to get off its collective ass and fight to get back the vote of blue-collar, rural, (possibly) lower SES voters. The two sides were: a. that the Dems have taken too much for granted, and have given the impression of an elitist power-cell that doesn't care about the little guy; and b. that the Dems are the only party that speaks the "truth", and how are they to fight against the liars who say that coal/mining/steel/ jobs are going to come back, or that gays are evil, or that women need to subvert their will.

It's a tough call.

I will admit, I was on the, "OMG, are you kidding me? Trump doesn't actually give a DAMN about the little guy" side of the argument. But, I also know that Clinton, and the Democratic party, took an awful lot for granted this election. They assumed that they would carry certain states and demographics, didn't campaign the way they should've, and then lost those states and demographics. And I don't know what to do, because I do, truly, feel that much of what cost Clinton the election was a smear campaign in those areas...But she didn't fight against it.

Regardless, at some point in the discussion, the word "compassion" came up.

To me, as a woman, that word is fraught with double meanings. Hidden meanings. It is, in fact, one of those nasty back-handed, code word "compliments".

I hope that I am compassionate. I was raised in an area where many of my friends' parents worked whatever jobs they could to make ends meet. Where high schoolers occasionally suffered debilitating, and sometimes fatal, accidents because they were working to help their families. I've known high schoolers who logged to make ends meet, and who were injured while they were working. I've known young men who worked construction to pay for college, and were killed on the job. I've known people whose parents had to start thinking of Christmas in June or July or August, so they could put the presents on layaway. I hope that knowing these folks, who are good and kind and honest and who struggle in a way that I have never had to, has, in fact, increased my compassion.

But compassion can be an epithet, as well. Or a weapon.

On more than one occasion in my career I've been treated as if "compassion" is a negative. A downside. A trait that one has to work against. And, honestly, Clinton, and many other female politicians, have worked against this as well. When she was Secretary of State, there were those that wondered if she would be "tough" enough, or if she would be too "soft". Too "compassionate". If she would be strong enough. If she would, in fact, have the "cajones" to do what needed to be done. As if the only prerequisite to being strong, or tough, is a Y chromosome, and as if compassion is inherently soft or weak.

And she's not alone. I don't think it's just me who has felt at times that we have to fight against the notion of females as the "weaker" gender, or against some archaic notion of what actually constitutes weakness.

"Oh, you want to lead this project? It'll take late nights, are you sure your kids will be OK?" Yeah, I've been asked that, sometimes in so many words, sometimes a little more subtly. And, yes, thankyouverymuch, I know it's illegal, at least in the spirit of the law. Would you run to HR if it happened to you? Or would you just assure your boss that, yes, you know it'll take late nights, and it's OK, you'll deal with it.

I've seen bosses not give me assignments or projects out of a misguided sense of "compassion". Because they know that "I want to be there for my kids". Or whatever. So, yeah, I learned to not talk about the times I had to leave work to go to the doctor's appointments. Or made sure that the times I volunteered in the Science Lab coincided with my lunch hour (even though I'm an exempt employee, and don't, technically, have a lunch hour). Or made sure to mention how many times my spouse might've stayed home recently, making THIS time "my" turn.

And I did all of this regardless of the fact that, when I had a doctor's appointment I needed to take a kid to, or had signed up for Science Day, I either took time off, or worked early and late to make up the time.

And then the flip side is when I hear a boss praise a male colleague because he "does such a great job with his kids". Or because he's "helping his wife out."

Now, I was raised by my Dad. I have no illusions that women have the monopoly on nurturing, compassion, parenting, or anything else. From the age of 8, my Dad was the one who comforted me, raised me, taught me. He saw me through sickness, he saw me through puberty, he saw me through high school and off to college, and after I was a parent myself, he was there to keep my kids when daycare wasn't open, or when they were sick. He could make soup, and tea, and milk-toast, and cuddle, and sing, and watch Barney and Dora (God help him), and, honestly, love, with the best of them.

I have no illusions that compassion is a "female" trait.

But I do know that there are times when compassion is a double-edged sword for women. If we're compassionate, we're soft. If we're tough, we're not womanly. And either way, males are (frequently) praised for doing things that we are dinged for doing.

So, yes, I'm all for compassion. I frequently wish I had more of it. I know that there are times when I fall back on logic, or analysis, and rely too much on facts. And facts are, frequently, unkind and implacable things.

But, dammit, you can't turn compassion against me. You can't tell me to be tough, and then ding me because I'm tough. You can't tell me that soft is bad, and then ding me because I'm not womanly. You can't ding Clinton, saying she wasn't compassionate enough, without acknowledging all the times that she had to fight against that same adjective.

Sure, the Democratic Party misjudged a lot. They were possibly arrogant, certainly unaware.

But I don't think that a lack of compassion was the complete story.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

My little island

Nah, I haven't won the lottery, allowing me to start looking for my own private island. Or even Idaho.

But I do live in Chapel Hill, an area that could be described as an island, or a bubble. Actually, I'm pretty much in bubbles within bubbles within bubbles. I actually live in Carrboro, which is kind of a bubble of liberalism even within the Chapel Hill area. Then there's Chapel Hill, which Jesse Helms famously wanted to build a wall around (though, he didn't threaten to make us pay for it!). And, the greater Triangle are is pretty bubble like itself, with its museums, arts, universities, jobs, and so on.

But today my little bubble is more like an island. A desert island, actually. Surrounded by water, with not a drop to drink.

Thursday evening, our city water system had an accidental overdose of fluoride. Not a huge deal, they discovered it quickly, arranged to borrow water from Durham, and asked people to conserve water. Okeydoke.

But then Friday, a water main broke. It, too, was fixed quickly, but it dropped the water levels to the point that they're afraid of contamination in the system. So, since about noon yesterday we've been on a do not use order. No water use, for any purpose (yes, that includes flushing).

It's just the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, which is why I feel a little island like. Everybody around us is getting up, showering, flushing, etc. and we're looking at the various sources of water we were able to scrounge yesterday and prioritizing. Eating breakfast foods that aren't going to require a plate to be rinsed, using the "if it's yellow let it mellow" rule for flushing, etc. Hopefully we'll be able to use city water again before Monday, and this weekend will wind up making the list of funny family stories.

But that brings up the other island-like quality about my life. We have all, at times, said we want to just go live on our own little island where we are insulated from the world (or maybe that's just me!).

Well, I am insulated from the worlds that many have to deal with.

When UNC's dining halls closed, my son called me and I picked him (and his girlfriend) up and fed her lunch. Once my husband got home, we went on Open Table, made reservations at a restaurant in Durham, and had some lovely tapas, rather than trying to cook at home. This morning, when our coffee and breakfasts have settled, my husband and I are going to go to the Cary branch of the gym we belong to, where we'll work out and then shower. Between the two of us, we brought home about $100 worth of water in various forms (fun fact, ice is water, so when they're out of gallon jugs....), without having to worry about what using that money for water does to our monthly budget.

That, my friends, is privilege. I know some people don't like the word privilege; for many people, myself included, growing up the word "privilege" was associated with "wealth". So, I understand the semantic discussion around the current use of that word.

But I don't care what you call it. Call it fortune, privilege, whatever. What I described above is what it IS, regardless of what word you use.

We're not going to miss a utility payment because of this. We're not going to miss a rent payment. We can crack jokes about it. We're annoyed because we, OMG, will have to balance doing laundry with our work schedules next week! We're worried about how we're going to cook our wings and nachos for the super bowl!

A friend posted on Facebook this morning a list of places where we can get free water (incidentally, free water is nice and all, but in a town where the median income is over $64,000, also an example of privilege) and showers, and also reminded us that this is not suffering at the level of Syria, or Iraq, or many of the other places that our banned refugees are trying to get out of.

And it's not. But it's also not suffering at the level of Flint, Michigan, or any of the many communities in this country that have water issues. There are communities where sewage from houses still is dumped in the creek, because when the water treatment plant was built, those houses were grandfathered. There are communities where a spill upstream keeps them from using their water for weeks.

"Oh," some will say, "But this isn't privilege! You've worked hard to get to the place where you can live in this kind of city! " Well, yes, I have and do work hard. And my parents worked hard before me, and you only have to go back to my grandparents to get to a blue-collar, paycheck to paycheck existence. But I've also had, literally, thousands of dollars in my savings accounts since my parents opened the first one for me. My entire life I have had a safety net.

Yeah, I've had to make choices. And there have been times when I was significantly less well-off than I am today. And, yes, I've worked hard. But I have not had to decide whether to pay rent or buy water. I have not had to walk home carrying that water (and therefore buying less) because I can't afford a car. Or can't afford to fix the car I have. I haven't had to look at my sick kid, wondering if they look well enough to go to school so I can get at least a few hours of work in, because I'm hourly, and if I don't work, I don't get paid.

So, yes, this little water crisis is a pain. But the fact that it's going to become a family story is privilege. The fact that I can afford to buy the water, and have a car to carry the water, and can go eat out, and have a gym membership... all of that is privilege.

And, just maybe, we should keep that in mind as we're incessantly checking to see when we can turn the taps on again.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

You break it, you buy it

With Trump's nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill Antonin Scalia's Garland Merrick's Supreme Court seat, lots of questions are coming out.

Yes, some of them are on his academic credentials (quite good, imo), and his political views (not as good, imo). 

But there are also the questions about how Democrats should react to this nomination. Should they filibuster the way Republicans did Obama's nominees? Should they take the high road and move forward? Should they use the same logic Republicans did? Trump has already taken the first step to file as a candidate for the 2020 election, so, technically, we are in the midst of an election cycle....

I will admit to being conflicted. I hated what the Republicans did, not just with the nomination of Garland Merrick, but with other Obama nominees, with the Affordable Care Act, with the shutdown(s), threatened or real, of our government. These were not the sort of actions that I think are viable in a democracy. I don't want to see my party stoop to that level. 

However, I am human, and there are times when I feel vindictive. My president was not allowed to fill a seat that he should have been able to. Why should "their" president get to? Whether you think of it as "do unto others as they've done unto you," "turn about is fair play," or "an eye for an eye," these notions and emotions are, in fact, human.

Further, I worry about the political slant the court will take. I've gone over these before, but to sum up, I am pro-choice, and support LGBTQ rights, am opposed to Citizens United, I support funding for the arts and a single payer health system. I am, in short, a liberal and a progressive. Gorsuch will set many of the rulings I care most about back decades.

But, as a good friend said, social issues will ebb and flow, and humanity does move forward. Most Americans support gay marriage. By a very small margin, to be sure, but they do. Most Americans support keeping abortion legal. Even if a more conservative court rolls back some of these rulings, I don't believe that they will stay rolled back.

But there is, to me, a larger issue.

The main "rational" I've heard out of the Republicans for why Democrats should not try to block Gorsuch's nomination is, essentially, "you said it was wrong when we did it to you, so you can't do it to us!"

Really? Are we six? 

Just imagine this scenario. You've got two kids. Suddenly you hear a shriek from the playroom, and you run in. One child is crying - you ask what's wrong, and he says that his sister punched him. You look at Child 2 and say "Is that true? Child 2 admits that she punched her brother, but says he punched HER first. You look back at Child 1 and say, "Is that true?" Child 1 says, "Well, yes, I did punch her first, but she didn't like it, so she shouldn't have punched me." At this point, after screaming, you'd probably tell both kids to quit punching each other, but (if you're like me), you'd also tell Child 1 to stop being a little brat. Possibly with nicer words, but still.

Here's the problem with the Republican notion. They know that what they did was wrong. They do not, in fact, want the Democrats to do it to them.

But they're damned if they're going to admit it.

They would have gone a long way towards reconciliation if they had confirmed Merrick. They have another chance, now.  Here's how it could go: 

Senator McConnell: "You know, guys, we screwed up the past year. We let our fears of Hillary Clinton get in the way of our democracy. We should've at least held hearings on Garland Merrick. We were wrong, Democrats; we were unfair and undemocratic. We sincerely hope that you will take the high road, and not continue this downward spiral."
Senator Schumer: "Mitch, thank you for that apology. You're right, this has been a difficult year. I can't promise that we can be best buddies immediately, but I appreciate your honesty, and hopefully we can move forward together."
Rep. Ryan: "Wow, Mitch, that didn't sound that hard. Maybe I'll try it!"
Rep. Pelosi: "Hey, Paul, let's go for drinks after work, and we can work on it together! I'll buy the first round of jello shots!"

Yeah, OK, so I got a little crazy there.

But my point is, if Republicans now want to say that filibustering, blocking, stalling, etc are wrong, and evidence of a broken system...well, they're going to have to take ownership of breaking it. Doesn't meant that I expect them to fix it over night, but if they want to have the luxury of being the bull in the china shop without the responsibility of helping to pay for the ensuing destruction, sorry, I'm not going to work with, get behind, come together, or reconcile with that.

Because unifying and reconciling requires work on both party's part. In a marriage, if there's a breach of trust, whether through gambling, adultery, or whatever, you don't just get to ask for forgiveness without making changes. Admitting the behavior, acknowledging the damage it caused, and pledging to move forward. And, yes, the aggrieved partner also has to work - they need to do the work of forgiveness, of relinquishing some control, etc. But if one party says, simply, "OK, my behavior is in the past, just forgive me and we'll move on," likely the relationship won't survive.

And this is not a marriage. This is not a friendship.

This is our country.

So, please, Republicans, consider accepting your responsibilities. Please consider not just telling Democrats that they can't now do what they complained about you doing. Please consider taking the next step, and say that Democrats shouldn't do what you did, because it's wrong. It was wrong when you did it, and it would be wrong now.

And then after you talk the talk, please walk the walk.

And then, we might all have a chance.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Letter to Rep. Michael Speciale

A friend posted this article today on Facebook. As a result, I wrote the following email to Rep. Speciale:

Representative Speciale, good afternoon.

I read an article in the Raleigh News and Observer today ( http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article129591629.html) that you felt that the various Women's Marches last weekend were jokes, and that the marches did not represent any women you know.  
That may very well be, but let me introduce myself to you.  
I'm 49 years old; I'll be turning 50 in April, and am having a little bit of trouble accepting that I'm that old! I have lived in North Carolina virtually all of my life; I was born in Durham, but my family moved to Delaware soon after I was born. We moved back to North Carolina when I was four, and except for 6 months in Orlando from 1989-90 and 18 months in New York from 1990-1991, I've lived here every since. While my time in other states was small, it has made me more aware of what a privilege it is to live in this state, where we have long had a strong economy, first class University system, and a breath-taking landscape. 
I was raised, predominately, by a single parent; in my case, though, it was my father who raised me. He taught me to value education, to be honest (oh, boy, do I regret the few times I lied to him!), and to do my best. He also taught me, through his example, that when there's a job to do, someone has to do it. Growing up, it didn't matter our gender; we were expected to chip in and help. We all washed clothes and cleaned bathrooms and cut grass and raked leaves and cooked and washed dishes. I will admit that I was usually the one who cleaned the gutters, but that's because I was the only one in the family who wasn't afraid of heights. 
I am a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, but did not take a direct route through college; after a few years, I was not taking it seriously, and dropped out. I returned in 1993 and finished my degree in History. At the time I finished my degree I was working as a database administrator at a company in Research Triangle Park. I understand how difficult it is to balance work and college, and how lucky I am to have had an employer who worked with me so I could finish my degree. 
I am currently married, but also separated and divorced from my first husband. We have an amicable relationship, and have co-parented our children well, in my opinion. I have two children from my first marriage, and also have three step-children. All five kids, when they were still living at home, lived primarily with my current husband and me. They all went through either the Wake County or Chapel Hill-Carrboro school systems. The four oldest ones also either went to or are currently enrolled in UNC System colleges: one each at Western Carolina University, UNC-Asheville, NCSU, and UNC-Chapel Hill. The youngest is looking at UNC-A, App State, UNC-Greensboro, and the School of the Arts, so it's likely that by the time all is said and done, I will have had 5 children attend 5 different UNC System schools. I love this. 
I hope at this point that you feel you know me a little. I suppose I could add a few more details: I bleed Carolina Blue, though I'll cheer for NCSU as well. I believe that Eastern North Carolina barbecue is the best barbecue, though I love to try other region's specialties. I, of course, have favorite barbecue restaurants - growing up it was Cooper's in Raleigh; later Bullocks or Backyard Barbecue in Durham. When I travel, I love King's in Kinston; Doug Saul's in Rocky Mount, and Bill's Barbecue in Wilson (I actually found a NC Barbecue restaurant in Orlando when I lived there; the owner had trained under Bill!). I have two cats and two dogs, think that tea is, by default, sweetened and iced, and I make collards, black eyed peas, and ham every New Years Day.  I was taught to stand, cover my heart, and sing when our National Anthem is played, and to stand respectfully when another country's is. I'm Methodist, I sing alto, I love to ring handbells, I've just taught myself to knit, and have rediscovered a talent for sewing baby clothes. I used to run, and finished a 10 mile race last April, but have arthritis in my knees, so now I bike and swim. 
I also marched in Raleigh last Saturday. 

I marched because my son has a chronic illness that could cost more than $150,000 per year if he were denied insurance, or if he had a waiting period because of a pre-existing condition. Without the Affordable Care Act, he will be faced with having to cover that money immediately after college, in his first job. My first job (receptionist at the headquarters of a small regional coffee shop chain) certainly didn't allow me $150,000 in disposable income; for that matter my current job doesn't allow me that, and I don't expect his will be any different. President Trump has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and while he promises there will be coverage; he's talked more about repeal than he has about his plan. Without details, I'm scared for my son. 
I marched because I have a daughter who is bisexual. The protections that went into effect under President Obama would protect her from being fired, would allow her to be at the side of a spouse, regardless of gender, should they be hospitalized, would allow her to, essentially, live her life without fear. President Trump ran on a campaign of hatred that included the LGBTQ community. I'm scared for my daughter. 
I marched because I have had men grope me. Not often, and I have never been raped, but from the time I was 10 years old I have had men or boys think that they could touch my breasts on the playground, pinch my rear at a concert, or rub up against me in the subway. President Trump has joked about sexual assault, and used it as a talking point to brag about how manly he is. I'm scared for all women. 
I marched because I hope to have grandchildren someday, and I hope to be able to take them to national parks, or to the beach, or to hike in the mountains. Climate change is real, and threatens our coast. Drilling for oil and logging threaten our national parks. President Trump makes fun of the experts, the scientists, who know this. He thinks that the direction our planet is going is funny, and that terrifies me. I'm scared for our planet and all who live on it. 
Representative Speciale, I suspect that there are more like me in your life than you realize. I know that there are Oriental residents who would be devastated by rising ocean levels. I suspect that there are residents of your district who have been sexually assaulted, and I feel certain that somewhere in your district there are people who identify as LGBTQ. Maybe they're scared to speak out, or maybe the conversation has just never happened. But I am certain that there are people who are similar to me in your district. 
I hope that your Facebook posts and the comments you gave to the News and Observer are an anomaly, or were made without thinking the matter through. God knows, I've made stupid comments before that I regret. However, I would also like to recommend a book to you: Becoming Nicole, by Amy Ellis Nutt. It's the story of a family's life as their transgendered daughter comes out and transitions. I'd love for you to read it before you make disparaging comments again about "trannies". The transgendered are human, and they are people's sons and daughters. I know that it's an issue that is not always talked about, and in fact is difficult for many to talk about, but poking fun at other humans, whether it's a transgendered person or someone who disagrees with you, is not particularly nice. 
But most of all, I hope that you now cannot say, in good conscience, that none of the women you know were represented by the Women's Marches. I hope that, in some small way, you do feel that you know me, and understand both why I marched, and why I am frightened right now. 
Respectfully,
Meg Cohen
Chapel Hill, NC 
Wonder what sort of response I'll get? I'll post and let you know!