So, You Say You Want Freedom?

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This post started as a simple Facebook status that I planned to share on The Teapot Journalist Facebook page, but by the time I finished, I realized I might as well expand it and turn it into a proper blog because it is such an important issue.

The New York Times shared an article (as have many others) regarding Trump’s latest attack on the press—primarily the revocation of Jim Acosta’s White House press credentials after an terse interaction during a news conference (but also verbally attacking two black, female journalists—and yes, I do think it’s important to note both their race and gender).

The reason I am choosing to address this is because of the many Americans who regularly express concern and fear about losing their freedoms—usually in relation to guns, taxes, and other choices they want to make for themselves.  Often, they follow their arguments with the statement that if we lose one freedom, what’s to stop another freedom from being taken away?

I agree.  When it comes to freedoms and limitations, there are many angles to consider.  But, the one that is continually overlooked is the constant attack on the press—a Constitutionally protected entity intended to provide the people with the truth of what is happening at local, national, and global levels.

I, like many others, have grave concerns about the way money and power manipulates our news sources—particularly in the mainstream media.  Filtering headlines, sources, and mixed messages can feel like a full-time (and exhausting) job.  Personally, I am struggling to find sources, even “underground,” that I can trust at any level because the governments and chess board manipulators at all levels work so hard to make their propaganda the diet of “the people,” rather than truth.

However, especially as a journalist, I believe the Press has a place and purpose in society which ad hominem attacks and constant cries of “fake news!” do not help them fill.  If we genuinely desire change, a more productive approach is to think critically and hold journalists to a higher standard with the intention of seeing the Fourth Estate rise up with integrity.

For those concerned about losing freedoms, the revocation of Acosta’s press credentials and threats of similar action against other journalists should go on that list of things about which to worry—and speak up about.  Freedom of the Press is a Constitutional right that, regardless of your opinion of one news source or another, if curtailed has the potential to to open the door to many other valued freedoms disappearing.

Don’t make the Press the enemy.  Raise your expectations and productively challenge them to raise their standards.

(I will note the irony that the New York Times is sharing this story after they essentially pushed Chris Hedges out of his position with them when his journalism put the NYT in a bad light by challenging the American myth of nationalism and that war and violence are necessary for peace.)

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A Phone Call With A Medicaid Case Worker


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This particular post highlights a specific telephone encounter I had a few days ago with my Medicaid case worker.  Read on it’s own, it should frustrate you, but if you read it after my article, “I Had Not Idea How Much Medicaid Would Cost me,” published Monday by The Establishment, it will probably infuriate you even more—as it did me.

A few days ago I called my Social Services case worker because documents to renew my Medicaid, which were supposed to arrive last month, still had not arrived.  Surprisingly, she answered (normally I leave a message and have to wait for a call back).

I let her know, in a professional and in-charge manner, why I was phoning, because often the people who work at Social Services are accustomed to treating their clients as sub-human idiots who are almost certainly at fault for whatever issue they’re experiencing.

She listened to my question and then began checking to find out why my documents for my Medicaid review and renewal had not been sent out.  After a few moments, she informed me that the reason was due to the type of plan I was on.  She told me when I applied I did not check the box stating that I wanted to participate in the “Plan First” Medicaid program, which covers women’s health.  Therefore, I would have to entirely reapply for Medicaid—which meant jumping through all the hoops I jumped through less than a year ago.

Her response confused me for several reasons.  1. When we’d spoken the month before, she’d told me I would receive my renewal paperwork shortly and had made no mention of an entirely new application process; 2. at my last six month review, which included an expected, brief coverage lapse while they verified my spenddown, my policy was reinstated without any issues; 3. I couldn’t figure out why I would ever have checked “no” to Plan First, or, for that matter, how the capable Medicaid personnel who assisted me at my treatment facility would have missed that detail if that particular box was critical for me to continue qualifying for healthcare during my stem cell transplant treatment and recovery.

When I responded saying as much, she simply quipped, “That’s the best I can do,” that I needed to check “yes” for “Plan First” on my entirely new application when completing it, and was then about to hang up on me.  I quickly spoke up, “I am a stem cell transplant recovery patient, and I worked with the hospital’s Medicaid office last year to ensure I got all of this taken care of in order to save my life.”  I added that it made no sense why I would have failed to check “yes” to women’s healthcare, especially if it was key to my receiving Medicaid.

She reluctantly started digging further into the computer system when suddenly she commented that she could see where I had checked “yes” next to “Plan First” (ironically, a minute later I absentmindedly took out a letter from a pile of mail, and it contained my “Plan First” card).  After a little more research, she mused, confusedly trailing off, “I don’t understand why…”  She started to blame their new system overhaul for the reason the mistakes were made—after initially trying to blame me for not filling out something properly (since the client is always at fault, and the system is always right).  She added that she was “very glad” I had called in.

At the end of the conversation, after she’d informed me what to expect in the mail, I took another stand for myself letting her know that I was very aware that she’d tried to pin their/her mistakes on me, and, if I had not spoken up, Social Services would have put me through an entirely unnecessary and stressful process because their system failed and she, assuming it was my error, wasn’t going to investigate further.

The system is flawed, and the people who work in it are so cynical and jaded that, if you are going to makes heads or tails of it, you have to know what you are doing—or at the very least you have to stand up for yourself when they start to bulldoze over you and demand they do their part.  The worst element is, the system is so complex and confusing that even the people who work in it don’t always understand it, which results in people falling through the cracks and not receiving adequate (or any) assistance.  Also, it’s drastically underfunded for the needs of the people it has to meet.

I add this only because mid-terms are next week: please, please consider Medicaid and other welfare programs when you vote.  Don’t believe that cutting funding to these programs will solve the national debt.  By helping people live, access healthcare, and get back on their feet (I’d bet money most people don’t want to receive government assistance), we are doing so much more for the greater good of our country than by taking money away from these programs and the people who need them.  Plus, you never know, you might need one of these programs one day.

Do Your Research…Before You Vote!

 

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Everywhere I turn on social media, I am reminded to register to vote.  And every time I see the reminder I worry: am I going to be able to vote?  Then I remember, yes, you only have to register one time.  You registered when you were 18.  You voted recently.  You’re good to go!

Last year, I remember driving through town with my husband and commenting that I wished I could help people, regardless of political party, register to vote.  Many are unable to do so because of lack of transportation, work schedule, or other things that get in the way–especially when you’re not part of the middle or upper class.  These issues don’t even touch the fact that many feel it’s a waste of their time to vote because they believe it won’t do anything.

Can you blame them?  How challenging does it feel to try and connect with your representative for a particular office if you want to give your input on a policy or upcoming vote?  Doesn’t it feel like all those voicemails you leave are going to a ringing phone in an empty office never to be checked?

Look at the last presidential election.  Look at who won.  Look at the reasons people gave for voting for him.

A large population in the United States feels underrepresented, ignored, and that their urban counterparts are the only people about whom elected officials care.  Honestly?  They have a point.  I’ve spent a lot of time in rural Virginia as well as large cities.  What matters in each of these places differs drastically.  We need elected representation that understands that.

I’ve only heard one politician address the diversity of his constituents, and it was while discussing the gun control debate.  You may have guessed it—Bernie Sanders.  He acknowledged that he represents people who use their guns to hunt and provide for their families, as well as people who live in cities and feel more disinclined to carry a weapon.  In my opinion, that shows an individual who is connected to and understands that many issues are not as cut and dry as we’d prefer, and also that “we the people,” when we vote, should do our best to consider not just how someone will affect us, but also our fellow citizens and their needs, even if they are different than our own.

Therefore, as we approach midterms in just a few weeks, please take time to genuinely research the candidates.  Consider what difference they can actually make versus where they fall on issues that are likely unchanging (I’m talking about “one-issue” voting).  Look into people whose names you don’t recognize, because our elected offices are filled with career politicians who are far too comfortable and in too many corporate pockets.  Change will only occur when passionate people with fresh eyes and ideas enter the stage—or those who have been sidelined because they choose to run third-party.  And please, consider third party candidates!  It’s not a throwaway vote.  It’s you saying, “I’m tired of the red and blue; let’s have something new!”  (Did not intentionally rhyme that.)

Be an empowered voter.  Don’t allow the system to dictate your freedom…because that’s not freedom.

 

Change Your Thinking, Change Your World

Over the past few weeks I’ve had my tone and communication approach mentioned or alluded to on several occasions.  As a human, my defenses wanted to go up, and they did to an extent, but I tried my best to take notice and examine the way I speak and interact with people, whether in person or on social media.

A couple of years ago I was invited to contribute to a blog with the goal of sharing in a kind but firm manner about the issues surrounding racial issues, privilege, and the way these topics contribute to a lot of negative events and divides in the United States.  I remember one of my editor’s critiquing me on my tone in a particular piece, essentially reminding me that “you get more flies with honey than with lemons.”

Due to my health circumstances, my primary mode of communication over the past two years has been technological and through social media.  It can be easy to get into word battles, forgetting the person on the other end of the conversation is more than that one point you’re arguing and, more than that, they are also human with a soul and feelings.  Therefore, with all the synchronistic reminders about how I come across to people, I am making a deliberate effort to check my words, speak kindly (but firmly, when necessary), but to also remain true to what I believe, even on hard issues.

A few mornings ago I entered into a conversation with a family member about a political meme they shared.  I care about this person a lot, and I want to facilitate good conversation when we speak because our relationship goes far beyond a Facebook chat.  We were able to have a constructive, cordial, and engaged discussion that ended on a very positive note.  Additionally, it left me considering what I had said, how I had said it, and if there was more I could have added to improve on what I’d said.

Like most people, I think, I continued mulling over certain aspects of what we’d said, trying to think of what my next response would have been, had we continued the discussion—which ultimately began addressing freedoms that we have in the United States, whether real, perceived, or mythical, particularly regarding money and how we spend it.

For instance, how many people are actually able to campaign to become politicians compared to those who would like to based solely on financial ability?  And would campaign spending limits fix this?  I know in the United Kingdom there are spending limits for referendum votes, like for Brexit (I don’t know if they limit candidate campaign spending).  I took the perspective that spending limits would make a positive impact on our political system because it would take some of the power away from the 1% and large corporations and give it back to “the people.”  My family member took the position that if we start to limit freedom in one area there is the danger it will spread into other areas, too.

I understand that concern.  I appreciate and value the freedoms that I have because of my citizenship, race, gender (in Western culture, because even with the hurdles I may face as a woman, other parts of the world are significantly worse), socioeconomic status, etc.  But, what happens to people who don’t have those same privileges?  I am by no means a wealthy person, but all of my needs are met.  Could I go out, campaign for office, and get elected?  Maybe at a local level (which is where we really need to invest our energy, by the way!), but without the right connections to people with money and influence, I would be hard pressed to go to a higher level.

The conversation flowed from the political curtailing of spending to the personal ability to spend, and whether or not either one of us would like someone telling us how we could spend our money if we were one of the lucky few to be exorbitantly wealthy.  Shortly after, busyness of the day caused our conversation to close, but I continued pondering the question and different factors over the course of the next few days (hence this blog post).

I agree that there is a potential danger to limiting freedoms, because when one is sacrificed, it’s that much easier to continue removing others one at a time.  In fact, I would argue we are already at that place, but it’s been done in such a way that many people don’t see it—for instance, the Presidential Alert that most cell phones in the U.S. received last week.  Those alerts mean the government has accessed all of our cell phone numbers from our cell phone companies and can reach and/or surveil us that much more easily.

Remember Edward Snowden?  He’s in Russia because he called out the NSA for illegal collection of data on Americans.  If that doesn’t mean anything to you, watch this great episode from John Oliver as he explains why that should massively freak all of us out!

Moving on…

So, while I get the concern (fear) of the slippery-slope of losing freedom, I have to jump to a different perspective from which to see the concept of spending and money (the semi-original topic).  The “American Dream (myth)”, while perhaps originally rooted in the idea of leaving someplace for a better life, has historically set up the majority of Americans (even today) to believe that anyone can do anything if they work hard enough, and what I earn is mine to use as I please without concern for anyone else (I recognize it’s a very black and white statement for a complex issue, but I’m trying to not write a book.  Feel free to email if you want to discuss further.)

This (predominantly) American mentality has created a selfish society that values personal, monetary worth over the good of humanity.  Of course, many who read that sentence will think, “Not me!  I give _____ amount to such-and-such a charity or religious organization,” or “I gave that homeless person $5 last week,” and while those are good things, it misses the core problem: that while giving to those causes we consider “worthy”, in the very next breath we criticize those who are in need or policies that could help make the playing field more equal if we feel our personal income and accumulated possessions/finances are going to be threatened.

Before you start thinking, “She should move to Venezuela and see how she likes it” or “She’s such a socialist,” hear me out.  I am advocating for a change in how we view our freedom and how we view our fellow humans.

If, as my family member posed, I’d been born to a billionaire father, would I want someone telling me how I could spend my money?  My first reaction is, no.  I’d want to be able to spend and give as I saw fit.  However, when considered, we need to recognize that a better system could be structured if we separated the personal spending from the political.  The issue is that the 1% and the large corporations can use their money as personal investments in the political arena (buying products…or in this case politicians, policies, votes, etc.) to benefit themselves.  How does that help the 99% (who, incidentally, are often the biggest advocates for the absurdly wealthy to be given tax breaks and other benefits, rather than being expected to pay their due to our system, too)?

Ultimately, I see it boiling down to selfishness and greed brought on by the idea that no one deserves anything and should therefore have to work just as hard to get anywhere.  But that ideology ignores the cultural, economic, and systemic shifts that have taken place.  No longer can a college student work for a summer to pay for college.  No longer can someone walk into an office, drop off an application face-to-face, and practically be guaranteed the job.  No longer can (or could we ever?) receive quality healthcare without the risk of financial ruin.  No longer can you move out on your own and easily survive…or survive at all.  The list goes on…

How do we fix this?  We can start by reading, educating ourselves on what’s really happening behind the “curtain” of our political system, opening our hearts and minds to the plights of others, and viewing ourselves as a team.  I’m not advocating for “everyone gets one egg for their meal today.”  I’m advocating for a mentality shift that doesn’t equate “tuition free college” or “free healthcare” as an attack on our freedoms and bank accounts but as an investment into our society and future.  I’m pushing for the understanding that when we set up a system to succeed, even if it costs a little bit more from the people (tax dollars…that aren’t poured into the military industrial complex), that we will all be more successful and stable.

Let Us Choose Peace

fullsizeoutput_f64Grainy shot from my trip to China–an incredible experience!

Today is the International Day of Peace.  I was excited weeks ago when I read it in my calendar, especially because the healing writing group I am involved with meets today.

The concept of “international peace” is simultaneously a fantasy that seems attainable, while also being something we can never touch.  Over the past week, peace has been in my face—or rather, the lack of it.  My heart is filled with sorrow at the hardness of humans against other humans, for differences that should bring us together.  Instead our governments, many media sources, propaganda, and our own prejudices divide us.

Two days ago I listened to a podcast by The Corbett Report about the lies that started the war in Afghanistan.  Last night, my husband and I watched some more of a documentary we’ve been viewing about Israel and how the United States gives carte blanche loyalty to a country committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.  9/11 recently passed, and I was again reminded of the millions of people affected by the United States choosing (even possibly orchestrating the events) to go to war for geopolitical reasons (i.e. greed).

This week you may have seen a woman from CodePink interrupting a presentation on the Iran Missile Program.  She spoke clearly, even while they tried to deter her from speaking out in support of the citizens of Iran who are constantly being hurt by decisions made by the United States government.

Peace.  We all seek it.  We all desire it.  We want it…for ourselves.  However, how many of us want it for the people we perceive as our enemies?  I say perceive, because statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be stung by a bee and die than die from a terrorist attack.  I say perceive, because if you follow social media accounts of travelers in the Middle East (where so many westerners base their fear) you would see incredible hospitality, people having fun, the most delicious food you can imagine, and a culture that cares.

That is the difference between people and governments.

When will we, as humans, stand up to the partisan politics that continue to wreak havoc on our WORLD?  My citizenship does not make me blind to the beauty and the atrocities around the globe.  I consider myself a citizen of the world.  I cherish what I have learned from my travels abroad and my chance meetings with internationals in the countries where I have resided.

Peace requires a change in our mentalities.  It requires us to remember and acknowledge the humanity in each one of us.  It forces me to remember the love I have for the person who says hateful things about other people I love.  It teaches me that through education peace has a greater chance of attainability because when people know something it can change their perspective.

Today, and every day, let’s choose peace—a peace that comes with well reasoned ideologies and process to create something better than we have ever experienced.  Something that goes beyond what we can fathom.  Think outside the box.  Imagine what can happen if we fight for peace and stop creating war!

Let us choose peace.

How Do You Say “I Care And You’re Wrong”?

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You know the words you say when talking about dealing with people who disagree with you?  That you can still have a relationship with those people who post racist, bigoted, intolerant statuses, because you want to be open and facilitate and participate in constructive conversations?  You know what I’m talking about.

Well, today I found out that a man I’ve known most of my life, who is well known in a small, rural, Virginia community, posted something blatantly racist on a live broadcast of former President Obama speaking while in Africa (at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, no less).  The way I found out was that a black friend of mine posted a screenshot of it in an (understandable) outrage.  In my shock I did the only thing I could think of: I apologized to her for his words.

I looked up the individual’s Facebook page and saw that he’d posted a live apology for his statement.  He blamed it on his political stance, reiterating repeatedly that he was in no way, shape, or form racist, and that he has many friends who are people of color and of different nationalities—because we all know that means you aren’t racist, after you’ve said something very racist.

Here’s the question that this situation provoked: how should I plan to interact with this man in the future?  And even more than that, how should I plan to interact with people I care about more deeply who say or do something racist?

Closing myself off is not an option, because if I do that there is no chance for meaningful conversations and possible change.  If I let it slide and remain close, then I am choosing silence and allowing myself to become part of something I abhor.  Addressing it every.single.time runs the risk of the argument being tuned out, and thus “casting my pearls before swine.”

Typically, I try to point out when things are inappropriate—whether about race or anything else.  Usually, I’m ignored or laughed at (one time I was temporarily blocked…by a family member…and then left unfriended because the person never communicated they didn’t want me to keep commenting).  Sometimes there is a lot of feedback, and on the rare occasion, it’s actually a constructive conversation.  The BEST interactions, though, are the ones that occur over time and in person—like in the office.  Those people who get to see you juggle a million things, struggle with crappy bosses and absurd deadlines and workloads…they pause to consider what you say during that much needed coffee break.  And a year later?  You find out some of your soap-box-speeches made an impact.

So yes, in person is ALWAYS better.  And that’s what I’m really getting at—how do you choose to interact with people who not only disagree with you but who are morally wrong in their belief?  And deny it?  So far, the conversation is working with people with whom I have a relationship, but the people who are only acquaintances?  It brings out a whole different reaction.

I could always write a letter…to the editor.  (I really like writing letters when I don’t like something.  I’ve written to Miss America Organization, NBC, authors who didn’t answer the questions they created in their book, op-eds, letters to the editor…if nothing else, it feels good to get it out!)

What are your thoughts on these issues?

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.