A Lifelong Journey Meets Today

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Different people have asked me when I became passionate about social justice issues.  Pondering this question, I realized this fire has always been in me, but when I was growing up, it looked more “normal” because I was still developing my own views while largely parroting what I heard and filtering it through my own thoughts.  Today, many people in my sphere of influence do not agree with my views and perspective, but I am trying to learn how to interact and communicate in a non-alienating way (not something I’ve always done) while not compromising my stance.

It dawned on me that these facets of my personality and self are a combination of a fire in the core of my being and my mom conscientiously educating me about politics and processes, even placing me in observational situations, at a very young age.  Below, I attempt to articulate: when it all began, why I am passionate about social justice issues, and why politics energize me.

When I was young (maybe 4 or 5) my mom took me to a nearby city where former President George H. W. Bush was speaking.  It turned out the date was wrong, so we got breakfast instead, but she wanted me to have exposure to a recent former president speaking.

At age 5-6, flipping through a child’s book of different countries and cultures, I saw children sleeping/living in cardboard boxes.  It was the first time I knew that not all kids had safe and warm homes to live in.  I cried.

During the voting process of whether or not to impeach/remove (can’t remember which) former President Clinton from office, where was I?  You guessed it: sitting in front of the television watching a rare government process take place.  I was 7/8 years old—and, if I recall, I really wanted to play outside instead.  Now, I’m grateful.

When I was nine, my school handed us weekly copies of one of Scholastic Magazine’s student editions.  It was during the final months of the 2000 election campaign–the first one of which I have vivid memories.  We read and discussed it in school, the lady I carpooled with talked about it driving home, and my opinions were forming–obviously, at the time, in support of former President George W. Bush.  That year my mom made scones and tea and we watched the inauguration together.

Since then, I’ve aspired to be the first woman president, debated issues with teachers, scoured candidate’s websites to read their views on important topics, watched presidential debates, attended Virginia’s Model General Assembly statewide gathering for high school students, written for my university’s student newspaper, watched (with pride) the USA’s first black president take the oath of office, served on my university’s student government, studied journalism, worked as a journalist, opened my eyes to look for the deeper issues than what the news reports on the 24-hour cycle, and planned and attended activism and political events.

Social justice has always been a passion of mine—but I didn’t know to call it that.  However, it wasn’t until three years ago that I began to realize there were whole realms I didn’t know existed as problems.  I didn’t know people of color were still targeted by police.  Hate crimes against LGBTQIA seemed almost outside my comprehension—unless the action was specifically done as such.  And the “conspiracies” about the motivation behind politicians was still a little much for this young woman who wanted to believe that people were mostly good.

I started dating a guy.  He pushed me to see what I hadn’t yet seen.  It’s one of the things I love about him—that he wanted my awareness and consciousness to grow.  Since then, we’ve shared a passion for many areas: some are more his and others mine.  We’ve each supported the other one attending a massive social justice/political event.

I am passionate about social justice issues because all humans are not treated equally.  The earth is our home, our life source, and we treat it like the parent who never says no, but who one day decides enough is enough and no longer enables his/her children.  Governments of the world are controlled by greedy people, very few of whom genuinely care about the well being of their people, their country, and individuals around the globe.  We wage war on strangers in distant lands and justify it in the name of “national security”, while making other borders anything but secure.  We kill innocent bystanders and label them “collateral damage” so that we don’t have to dwell on the thousands, perhaps millions, who have died living their lives, hoping to survive.

Politics energize me because it is one way that people (supposedly) have the power to make a difference.  However, at this point, powerful families and corporations have control over much of the world’s governments, resources, and other systems.  It is important that we conscientiously put people in leadership who will fight for what is best, will critique and make changes, and take down what is not working.  The people have a responsibility to make known what they want for their region, country, and world.  More than anything, we have to engage in whatever ways possible: in person, by email/phone, social media, writing, speaking, etc.  We must make it known what we want and not step down, even when it happens, to ensure it continues.  Also, protests are not bad.

Finally, I firmly believe the biblical Proverb that says:
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a sharp word stirs up anger.”

I firmly believe all humans are deserving of dignity.

If we all, government officials from the bottom to the top and citizens, applied these principles to our thoughts, words, and actions, our world would look drastically different—and war with N. Korea might not feel so imminent.

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We Must Choose Unity

IMG_3551Photo taken at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, ME

A few weeks ago I received the exciting news that I am one of the recipients of the Heather Heyer Scholarship to attend the Women’s Convention in Detroit, MI next weekend!  It is such an honor to be awarded this opportunity—especially as it is in the name of a woman who died tragically while fighting against the hatred and terrorism of white supremacy and nationalism.

However, over the past week I’ve experienced great frustration with many women who have spoken out in anger and pulled their support for this movement because they did not like the decision to invite Senator Sanders to the Women’s Convention.  (It seemed) Most outrage came from Hillary Clinton supporters (who, the Women’s March has stated, was invited but cannot attend) who simply do not consider Senator Sanders an ally.  Others thought it was a poor decision to invite an older, white man to speak at an event for female equality.

The first complaint makes me angry because they are choosing to stonewall an ally, who also started a progressive movement among people who are looking for more than the establishment has to offer, on the basis that their female candidate of choice lost the race (I was never a Clinton supporter).  This is ignoring the fact that the DNC (in my opinion, supported by the evidence of how the mainstream media chose to cover Clinton versus Sanders) never intended to allow anyone else a shot at the party nomination, and that Senator Sanders surprised many within the Democratic Party with the mass support he garnered.

The second complaint holds more clout: was it wise to advertise Senator Sanders, a white, older man, as a key speaker for the Women’s Convention?  Probably not.  Initially, there was not a lot of specificity in what his role would be, and if I recall, it originally appeared that he was opening the event.  However, the feminist movement is not about excluding male supporters and team members.  For many of us, Senator Sanders was our candidate of choice.  He represented the changes that we wanted to see take place in this country.  Truthfully, I was thrilled when I saw that he was going to be at the event.

The bottom line: we do not have the luxury to divide over such a small issue.  Feminism is a broad term that encompasses many people (I wrote about this in March) with many views, united by the fact that we believe women deserve equality.  However, this movement goes beyond simple equality of women, it focuses on equality for ALL people, regardless of gender, religion, race, culture, etc.

I am attending this event to learn and connect with other people who are in this fight to raise awareness about equality.  I am attending as a journalist who wants to learn how to do a better job of reporting and writing about issues that matter.  I am attending as a white woman who wants to better understand women of color and the additional challenges they face and who wants to better understand my own privilege as a white woman and how I can use it positively.  I am attending as a relational person seeking a community of people who “get it.”  Lastly, I am attending for all the women who can’t or won’t—for all the women, young and old, I know who don’t think they need feminism.

I am political—it’s in my blood.  I am a passionate person, and I am learning how to channel that into issues of truth and justice, advocating for change.  I am excited and ready for this, my first large-scale social justice event, and all it encompasses.

Are you going to be there?

The Religion of Nationalism Poses As Christianity And Trump Runs With It

Nationalism is a type of religion.  How do I know?  Because growing up, during my Wednesday night kids class at church (and, I think at my Christian school), we would pledge to the American flag, the Christian flag, and, I think, the Bible.  This tells me that the adults in charge put each of these items on the same level of importance.

Fast-forward to today, and what do we see?  (Many) Christian and/or Conservative Americans becoming upset when people of other religions come into their country and ask for equal and respectful treatment.  These same (Christian and/or Conservative) people are choosing political positions and supporting candidates on the sole basis that they have claimed to share the same faith and ideologies, despite many examples indicating the opposite.  Conservative Americans are upset when anyone questions something ingrained in America’s way of life.

I paid attention in school.  I know that the Constitution of the United States of America protects certain rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The right to freedom of religion means all religions are welcome and should experience no infringement of rights for when, where, and how they worship.  The right to free speech/expression means people can speak out about issues they face without fear of repercussions from the “powers that be” who may disagree.  The “right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievance” means people can protest when there is oppression and other unethical practices occurring that harm any part of the population.  However, with each day that passes, the more people (especially the president) forget that these rights are protected.  We do not live in a (recognized) dictatorship, therefore, anyone who has an issue can act in such a way, as protected by law, to bring attention to it.

Regarding the recent issue of football players not responding as expected to the national anthem and pledge of allegiance by taking a knee, raising a fist, or simply not putting one’s hand over one’s heart as a peaceful protest to communicate to those watching that there are major equality and racial issues in the United States, and that the country does not protect all of its people equally, is a justified and constitutionally protected action.  To condemn or attack those who exercise their constitutional rights with the ferocity that many are showing is to say these individuals’ perspectives, opinions, and beliefs are invalid simply because others disagree.

This brings me to the issue of Donald Trump’s speech yesterday, during which he said, regarding NFL players who “disrespect” the flag, that team owners should respond with, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!”  One, that is an unethical response from the President of the United States of America, who has sworn to uphold the Constitution—therefore, he has broken his oath.  Furthermore, what he is suggesting is illegal.  You cannot constitutionally fire somebody because they choose, as an independent human being, to not say or do something voluntary regarding their place of citizenship.

Therefore, to everyone who is up in arms if they feel their country is disrespected, consider the many ways the country (from the top down) is disrespecting millions of its residents and citizens.  It is profiting from the fear, pain, and death of minority people.  You may not, personally, feel the oppression, inequality, and injustice, but if you step outside of your bubble of comfort, you will see things that you can’t unsee.  Once that happens, you have a decision to make: knowingly stand by while people are abused and oppressed by the system you blindly support, or knowingly step up to advocate for change to make this place truly a safe country for all who are born here, immigrate here, or visit here.

P.S. Join thousands (maybe millions) and boycott the NFL.

The Importance of Engaging Even When You Don’t Agree

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When I am in the car, I love listening to NPR.  Sometimes, like during one business trip, I listen to the news for so long I start to go a little crazy with all the awful and frustrating things happening (that I want to change) and have to turn it off in order to process.  Other times, there are interviews and stories that keep me flipping the radio to keep up with the changing NPR station as I travel through different regions.  The latter was me on Monday.

As you’ve probably heard, Hillary Clinton’s book “What Happened” released last week.  I’ll be honest: I wasn’t planning on reading it.  I’m not interested in reading 512 pages of blaming and explaining…how, what, where, when, and why (especially when she and the DNC made it impossible for Bernie to get the nomination).  However, after seeing this post on Grok Nation, I’m more open.  Maybe not for all of the reasons listed, but because, despite all the reasons Hillary Clinton did not deserve the White House (issues for another post I may or may not write), she made history becoming the first woman nominated for president in a major party, has pushed through stereotypes and gender inequality during her career, and has inspired women to do more than they otherwise might have believed possible.  I can at least skim it to see where she is coming from (and try and figure out what’s genuine versus political bullsh*t).

**Before you all freak out on me, I am a feminist, I can’t wait for a woman to sit in the White House, but HRC did not deserve to make that particular piece of history.  Jill Stein on the other hand…she’s good.  But, in America we don’t believe in Green Parties.

Anyway, NPR released the interview they did with her (full transcript here) and it was amazing, because it covered many topics in a conversation style of speaking, rather than a speech.  My two favorite topics were (1) when she addressed Donald Trumps patriarchal misogyny towards her bathroom break during a debate and the implications that has for women everywhere and (2) the corporation allegedly pulling-the-strings behind several huge votes and elections in the world.

Hillary Clinton first addressed the time that Donald Trump ridiculed that she was late returning to stage during a debate for using the restroom.  She called out his misogynistic and objectifying view of women and that he did not hold back using degrading language, and implications, when speaking of her in similar terms that he spoke of Megyn Kelly.

We have to keep talking about and bringing attention to the issues of gender inequality and the harassment and abuse that women face.  As we all know, the powerful are often the ones who get away with the most (shall we talk about Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly, not to mention Bill Clinton), but it happens everywhere, and we need to start  making changes (shout out to The Bold Type for using their platform with intention last week).

Clinton had this to say about Trump’s reactionary statement: “He sexualizes women. He objectifies women. He’s more than happy to comment on what women look like and whether they’re too thin or too fat or whatever his particular obsession might be.

But what about women who use restrooms? (Which is all of us.) What about women who give birth? (Which is many of us?) What about women who have all kinds of physical parts of their life? It said to me, ‘No, I can’t be bothered. I can’t even think about that. I want to see you in a low-cut dress. I want to see you in a bathing suit. I want to see whether you fit my standards.’ And I thought it was incredibly weird.”

Another issue that Clinton discussed was corporate backing by Cambridge Analytica and the Mercer family (who are directly connected with Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway), including possible interference into various elections and votes around the globe (Kenya, Brexit, and even the USA). Now, granted, there are some statements in the following quote that make different red flags go off (like, how long have you really thought we needed to get rid of the electoral college?), but she draws attention to some situations that, I believe, require attention.  (Also, I love the French commentator’s remark, because I’ve had issues with the Electoral College since it was explained to me when I was nine years old.)

“You know, the Kenya election was just overturned and really what’s interesting about that — and I hope somebody writes about it, Terry — the Kenyan election was also a project of Cambridge Analytica, the data company owned by the Mercer family that was instrumental in the Brexit vote.

There’s now an investigation going on in the U.K., because of the use of data and the weaponization of information. They were involved in the Trump campaign after he got the nomination, and I think that part of what happened is Mercer said to Trump, ‘We’ll help you, but you have to take Bannon as your campaign chief. You’ve got to take Kellyanne Conway and these other people who are basically Mercer protégés.’

And so we know that there was this connection. So what happened in Kenya, which I’m only beginning to delve into, is that the Supreme Court there said there are so many really unanswered and problematic questions, we’re going to throw the election out and redo it. We have no such provision in our country. And usually we don’t need it.

Now, I do believe we should abolish the Electoral College, because I was sitting listening to a report on the French election and the French political analyst said, ‘You know in our country the person with the most votes wins, unlike in yours.’ And I think that’s an anachronism. I’ve said that since 2000.”

A simple Google search reveals many details that should cause concern about these allegations.  As a journalist, the interview gave me names to research to find out who is benefiting from whom, and what negative impacts will happen as a result. These are important issues, because, as we all know, money talks.  The rich are the ones who make things happen by donating to people and groups who they want favor from at a later date.  It is unethical, and we must raise a voice.

As citizens of a country and the world, it is our responsibility to investigate, educate ourselves, and critically think so that we can tell the “shit from the shinola.”  Yes, there are many people in places of leadership that are not qualified or have done things to disqualify themselves.  However, we have a responsibility to provide qualified candidates so that people don’t find themselves faced with the (fallacy) of choosing between “the better of two evils.”  We also have to open ourselves to the idea of radical change…and choosing to not be afraid of words that we’ve been taught are scary (i.e. socialized/socialism).  If we allow fear to control us and keep us from new ideas in an ever-evolving world, we won’t get very far.

Have you ever wanted to make a change?  Here are a few ways to get involved:

  • Start attending your local council meetings;
  • Find out who the leaders are, what the issues are, and educate yourself;
  • If you think, “I could do that,” run for office;
  • If you have a passion for leadership in government and want to help people, start looking bigger;
  • Consider parties that are not Republican and Democrat;
  • Get out there and volunteer (I’m hoping to find a way to register people to vote);
  • Oh, and make sure you register to vote—and don’t just wait for national elections.

The Stone of American Ethnocentrism

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Currently, there are hurricanes wreaking havoc, potential changes to DACA striking fear in young Dreamers, a president who uses far too many adjectives, and the ongoing battles for social justice in areas of race, gender, and religion.

I told you—it’s a lot.

Today, I am pledging my support and action to those with DACA status.  I say this not out of obligation to sound socially aware, but because I worked with DACA students applying for college, saw their hard work and outstanding records, and witnessed the great disadvantages they have, even with legal and vetted status.

Don’t allow the fear-mongering message of Jeff Sessions be what you think about when you envision Dreamers.  Instead, think about young people, twelve years or older, who were brought to this country by their parents and made the United States home.  If deported, they will be sent back to a place that is their country of birth and (probably) little more.

The Department of Homeland Security and The Department of Justice should consider renaming themselves if they feel threatened by less than 800,000 young people who contribute to the infrastructure of this nation.  They work, they file taxes, and have clean records (read this report from factcheck.org).

In the words of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman: “We understand what’s going on in Washington. And we know that when bullies step up, you have to step to them and step to them quickly. And that’s what we’re here to do today. … By definition, DREAMers play by the rules. DREAMers work hard. DREAMers pay taxes. For most, America is the only home they’ve ever known. They deserve to stay here.”

The United States was created by the invasion of illegal immigrants who terrorized the people living here upon their arrival.  These invaders are many of our ancestors.  How, then, can we do anything other than work to find ways to welcome and empower others fleeing oppressive and dangerous situations—especially when our government is likely one of the reasons they had to leave?  Unlike our forefathers, they are not coming to take over and terrorize.  They are coming to find safety and freedom.

After all, let he/she/they without out sin cast the first stone.

Being Community and Environmentally Friendly: How Do You Do It?

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Today was kind of a big deal.  I got a recycling container from town hall (no more long, stinky trips to the county recycling facility), I went into our local arts center and museum and introduced myself (so many ideas!), and now I’m sitting at my favorite local coffee shop drinking my first ever London Fog (I may be a convert)!

Something I learned while working as a newspaper journalist is the value of connecting with the people in a community—on all sides.  Whether you live in a cute, small area or are navigating your way through an amazing and huge city (I’ve done both), building a community is important—we all want to belong and have those spaces where we can enter and be known.

A few ways I’m doing this is attending monthly town meetings, going into places and intentionally meeting people, and doing my work in a public area instead of in my bedroom.  Also, I’m trying to make environmentally conscious decisions while I’m out and about (a real coffee cup!).  Here is to taking steps for an environmentally and community friendly lifestyle.  Here is to getting involved, meeting people, and becoming known.

What techniques do you use to get to know people in your area?  Do book clubs work?

How Did You Choose Your Name?

I was one of those little girls who pretended to get married starting at age three or four.  I’d wear my lace slip with the pink bow, stick a piece of lace fabric on my head as a veil, and carry a giant coloring book as a bouquet (yes, you read that correctly).

Over the years, my life and views changed, and I’m very thankful I didn’t get married in university or immediately afterwards.  Instead, I had time to work, continue figuring out myself and life, make some questionable decisions, and get published(!).  However, once I started dating A, I began to ponder my last name.

Historically, I couldn’t wait to take my husband’s last name, but, like I said, I changed.  I liked my last name, it was my identity, and I valued the connection I felt to my family (granted, my father’s side).  Thus began my ongoing internal (and external—ask my colleagues) argument for keeping, changing, or hyphenating my name (I’ll save the subject of women changing their name for another post).

*Spoiler* I decided to hyphenate.

It allows me to stay connected to who I am and embrace my new family.  But, now I’m facing the conundrum of deciding what my “writer’s name” will be from this point—and I have to decided ASAP (I have a new article coming out next week!!!).  Do I continue with my published name for continuity and to honor the career I started and the work I did before marriage?  Should I hyphenate, to stay current with who I am and recognize my husband (after all, he is my biggest fan and pushes me and celebrates my victories)?  I’ll let you know what I decide (actually…through this process, I think I’ve decided)!

Have you experienced this situation?  What did you do?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!