Category Archives: Politics

bring to a boil

Worries go down better with soup.
~ Jewish proverb

Since the election, I’ve been attending our nearby UU church more regularly. (It’s helping.) The Girl also has been getting more involved with the teen youth group. For both of us, being among people who believe in the principles of acceptance, love, justice, equality, dignity and peace is providing some much needed sustenance during this tumultuous time.

On Sunday, The Girl and I helped out with a soup sale to raise money to support the youth group’s activities. That’s a picture of their efforts above: nearly a dozen slow cookers and stock pots simmering with Moroccan Chickpea Spinach soup, Potato Corn Chowder, a lentil soup and (our contribution) a gluten-free vegetarian Pasta e Fagioli.

The symbolism of many single ingredients commingled together to make this selection of delicious soups–ones based on ethnic flavors that are centuries old and that have been consumed by people throughout history and generations and under tyrants and dictators of their own–resonated with me on a weekend when the Celebrity President extinguished the lamp and slammed our country’s once-golden but now tarnished door on innocent people who had gone through the arduous legal process to come to America. Not to mention people living here legally and who happened to have the misfortune to be traveling home from visiting family or burying loved ones when they learned they were no longer welcome in the place they call home.

As I ate a nourishing bowl of vegetable soup and watched the teens serving the congregants steaming bowls of pasta, broth, chicken and beans, I thought of the analogy of the United States being a melting pot.  The teens are a composite of different life experiences and personal histories, of genders and of ethnic backgrounds. They themselves are a collective melting pot.

Barbara Mikulski, the former Senator from Maryland, once said that America isn’t a melting pot but a sizzling cauldron. She said those words in a speech about immigration in 1970. Almost half a century later, her words seem especially apt.

The funds the teens raised from their soup sale will support their participation in several activities–events for them to understand others’ stories and perspectives and to participate in social justice volunteer efforts to make our community stronger. Ingredients for a sizzling cauldron of a society at its boiling point and one where these kids are among our best hope and sustenance for the years ahead.

 

 

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roar

That’s the cover of today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with a photo of thousands of people taking to the streets for the Women’s March on Pittsburgh. We actually had two marches yesterday in our fine city: the one above and the Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional Rally/March.  (Virginia Alvino Young explains why Pittsburgh had two marches.)  Seeing the photos and posts from more than 600 marches across the globe–including Antarctica! — was so powerful and moving.

I didn’t attend either gathering because large crowds and me don’t always get along.  (Also, The Girl had Sibshop yesterday at the same time. It’s a support group for kids who have a brother or sister with a disability and we try not to miss these workshops.)

At first I felt a bit guilty about not going to the march, and while scrolling down my Facebook feed, I noticed several other friends voicing similar sentiments. It struck me how ironic this was; that on a day that was all about love, respect, power, value and dignity, we were so quick to diminish and invalidate ourselves. It’s so easy to feel like we’re not doing enough or participating in the right things.

But the reality of these times is that we will need all kinds of advocacy in all forms.  This resistance is only just beginning, and there are a lot of different ways to contribute and try to make a difference.  It’s impossible to do everything, but we can all do something.  My activism might take the form of a blog post protesting a woefully unqualified and dangerous nominee as secretary of education while yours might be to participate in a march. We all do what we can, in whatever ways we can.

And we will be called upon to do so, again and again and again. This revolution and resistance requires all of us and many individual actions that make a collective roar.

 

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Hell, No, to Betsy DeVos (Said the Angry Mama Bear)


If one values sleep, it’s probably not a good idea to watch Senate confirmation hearings before going to bed. Certainly not ones like that which occurred Tuesday evening when Betsy DeVos, filthy obscenely rich nominee for secretary of education, told Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut (where Sandy Hook Elementary School happens to be located) that guns are a good idea in schools because, you know, bears.

It was laughable, the stuff of insta-memes, indistinguishable from The Onion fodder or an Andy Borowitz post. And part of me even wonders if there was some impetus from the power brokers-that-be, some nudge to say something kind of goofy that would prompt the Internet to lose its collective shit — all the better to distract from the real issues. Because that’s how this new regime operates.

Make no mistake: plenty more than bears are at stake here.

For me, the most egregious comment (and it is hard to choose just one) had to do with the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act, known as IDEA.  Clearly, Ms. DeVos didn’t have any idea what she was talking about when she told Senator Tim Kaine (a.k.a. The Man Who Should Be Vice President) that she would allow the states (or, in her high-falutin’ parlance, “locales”) to decide whether to implement the federal law mandating that children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. Later, in an exchange with Senator Maggie Hassan, whose son has a disability, Ms. DeVos admitted she might have been “confused” about said law.

Confused, my ass. When it comes to this particular nominee, there’s no confusion. Through her prior actions and financial support of school choice, she represents a clear threat to the laws, standards, and policies that comprise public education in the United States of America. She puts us on a path to potentially dismantling the provisions that have guaranteed for four decades the same educational rights to every single child in this country.

Ever wonder what $200 million bucks can buy?  A hell of a trip back in time to when children with disabilities were forgotten and treated as less than by our government. We can’t afford to go back to those days. Our children deserve better than that. Now more than ever, they need us to be their advocates and their voice.

For weeks, my friends have been lighting up the phones–some every day–calling their elected representatives and others across the country. My Facebook feed has been full of daily actions, of phone numbers and sample scripts, of suggestions to put our representatives on speed dial.

And aside from banging out political social media and blog posts, I’ve stayed silent.  I’ve never, not once, called my elected officials despite being urged to do so. Mine were the usual bullshit reasons: I hate talking on the phone, my call won’t make a difference, blahdeblahdefuckingblah.

After watching Ms. DeVos’ utter ineptitude and lack of understanding, that changed.

By 7:15 a.m. this morning, I had left messages for my Senators, one of whom is Bob Casey, a member of the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee faced with Ms. DeVos’ nomination. I didn’t have a script and I was less articulate than I would have liked. But you know what? I didn’t care.

I realized that by staying silent I am giving way too much power to the Betsy DeVos of the world. The people who think that their money and their privilege can buy them access and power and the ability to trample on the rights of those less fortunate. I know people like Betsy DeVos. I know Betsy DeVos doesn’t care about my child with autism or Maggie Hassan’s child with cerebral palsy or your child or any other child in this country who currently receives an education.  She doesn’t care about your daughter who was sexually assaulted on her college campus. She doesn’t care about making that college affordable. She doesn’t care about existing policies that help to protect kids from harassment and bullying and threats much more serious than one of Goldilocks’ three bears coming to life and walking into a classroom.

This angry mama bear is pissed as hell and speaking up for her cub and every other cub because it’s my responsibility as a parent and as a human being who cares about what’s right and what’s just to do so with every fiber of my being.  And while there are days when it is too much and too overwhelming and everything feels futile, that’s when I will try to speak up even louder.

Because the alternative is simply far too much to bear.

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The Emperor’s New Ethics

This post will likely cost me a few more Facebook friends and/or blog readers, but that’s what happens, I’ve learned, when one decides not to remain silent about the egregiousness that has quickly become business as usual in this new political regime of ours.

I speak of the top news story of the day, that of the House Republicans’ collective “uh, sorry, didn’t mean it, nothing to see here” reverse-course announcement earlier this afternoon regarding their original plan to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics.  This comes less than 24 hours after they announced their intent to get rid of it. After all, we certainly can’t have an Office of Congressional Ethics initiating investigations and speaking to the press, can we? Certainly not.

Appropriately so, people were angry enough about the possible disappearance of the Office of Congressional Ethics that they called their representatives en masse to demand action. Which — let me be perfectly clear here — was the right thing to do.  If there’s anything positive that this godforsaken election has produced, it’s this increased interaction with our elected officials. We should have our representatives on speed dial. We should know their names and they should know ours. And in this brave new world, when there will be countless opportunities for outrage, their phones will likely be ringing off the hook as more people than ever decide to give their friendly Congressperson or Senator a buzz.

This is good. This is what we need to be doing in these unprecedented times and we will be called to do so again and again.

Unfortunately, all the calls had nothing to do with the House Republicans changing their mind about keeping the Office of Congressional Ethics.

As much as we’d like to think otherwise, the people didn’t make this happen.

The country’s Tweeter-in-Chief did, with a two-part missive tweeted at 10:03 a.m.

“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it……..may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS”

For the record — and I’d imagine this will be one of the few times you’ll hear me say this — but I actually agree with the King.  I’m probably not alone; most of us probably read that and, to our amazement, found ourselves nodding and thinking that the guy makes a good point.

And that was exactly the intent.  It’s actually quite masterful, if you think about it.  By embarrassing the servants and letting them know that the King wasn’t happy, what other choice did they have? They created this monster; now they have no recourse other than to obey his every whim by kissing his ring every single day regardless of every destructive, nefarious, malicious, stupid, bigly-assed edict he declares from his throne of tweets. There’s no other choice. He owns them, they know it, and that’s what today was all about — with the added reality show of the King masquerading as a reasonable, rational ruler with a fully-functioning set of ethics and sense of priorities.

It wasn’t about the people suddenly having the power to change, within 24 hours, the minds of the powers-that-be. When have they ever acted so fast in response to the people’s wishes?

We didn’t make this happen.

The King did.

And because he has them in his corner and knows it, we’ll get to watch him do it again and again and again, for as long as he may reign.

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … The Year Spins on Unheeding

Sunday Salon banner

“Time, always almost ready 
to happen, leans over our shoulders reading 
the headlines for something not there. “Republicans 
Control Congress” — the year spins on unheeding.”

Those lines from William Stafford’s “Reading the Big Weather” certainly seem apt for this particular moment in time, as this dreadful year of unprecedented (or, rather, unpresidented) moments spins unheeding down to its near conclusion. A glimpse at the news shows that there certainly has been no shortage of unheeded things.

Of course my first interpretation of this correlates to the election and tomorrow’s convening of the Electoral College.  Save for a Christmas miracle and the ghost of Hamilton,  they’ll likely vote to put the most unqualified, thin-skinned, egotistical, racist, sexist, narcissistic, hateful liar and abuser ever imaginable in charge of our country. It doesn’t need to be said that I fervently hope that Santa and Alexander are in cahoots, because nothing else can save us from our apparent doom, it seems. It is all so discouraging and depressing.

As I write this, though, what to my wondering eyes did appear but word via Facebook of a true Christmas miracle here in Pittsburgh. I’ve been following for some time now Caitlin O’Hara’s need for new lungs. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis on her 2nd birthday, Caitlin’s mom (novelist Maryanne O’Hara) has been chronicling their wait for a double-lung transplant after Caitlin, now 33, was officially listed as a candidate in April 2014.  Because she wasn’t eligible to receive a lung transplant at a hospital near her Boston home, Caitlin and her mother moved here to Pittsburgh to be closer to UPMC, which thankfully agreed to accept Caitlin as a transplant candidate, despite her high-risk status.

Last week, as Caitlin remained on life support, one of her surgeons declared her “the sickest person in the United States” awaiting a lung transplant. The situation was truly tenuous and fragile — and today, word comes of a donor and that the surgery has been completed

(A sad update:  I’m heartbroken to share that Caitlin passed away on Wednesday, December 21, three days after receiving her new lungs. She fought tremendously to live but was so very sick. I never met her but I feel as if I know her so well from her mother’s posts and Caitlin’s own writings. My deepest condolences to her family and friends who loved her so much.) 

Arctic temperatures have frozen Pittsburgh all this week and this weekend’s weather was just downright bizarre with snow and ice storms in the morning, then nearly 50 degrees. Late last night, there were rumbles of thunder. But, of course, Mr. Tweeter-in-Chief doesn’t believe in the likes of big weather (to bring this back to Stafford’s poetry) so, you know, nothing to see here.

a-scripture-of-leavesThis week in books I only managed to finish A Scripture of Leaves, William Stafford’s collection of poetry that was first published in 1990.  In the immediate shock post-election, I remember someone or someplace mentioning Stafford’s work and when I saw this slim, unassuming volume in the library, I picked it up, not knowing much about him but later learning that he was a pacifist and conscientious objector. Those themes show in his work with these poems set in nature and exploring themes of religion, social justice and the environment.

As the year winds down, I have an abundance of use-it-or-lose-it vacation time. Tomorrow at noon begins my official 13 days of Christmas vacation from work—save for one project that will need some paying attention to during this break. I have a pile of books at the ready, several blog posts waiting to be written along with some blog maintenance, a smattering of decluttering around the house, and a handful of appointments to keep both the cars and psyches in working order. Some (okay, all) the Christmas shopping still awaits along with some time with friends and family in Philly.

Mercury goes retrograde tomorrow. And so we spin on.

Mornings we see our breath, Weeds
sturdy for winter are waiting down
by the tracks. Birds, high and silent
pass almost invisible over town.

Time, always almost ready
to happen, leans over our shoulders reading
the headlines for something not there. “Republicans
Control Congress”—the year spins on unheeding.

The moon drops back toward the sun, a sickle
gone faint in the dawn: there is a weather
of things that happen too faint for headlines,
but tremendous, like willows touching the river.

This earth we are riding keeps trying to tell us
something with its continuous scripture of leaves.  

“Reading the Big Weather” by William Stafford

 

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Second Helpings

Before this tumultuous year, Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas were already emotionally-charged holidays for me and The Husband.  A lifetime ago, we got engaged during Thanksgiving week. After years of infertility, our twins were born on Thanksgiving Day in a scenario straight out of a Hallmark movie:  twins, Thanksgiving Day, the most incredible gift you could ever imagine.

And then, exactly one year ago today on Thanksgiving Day 2015, The Husband collapsed in the middle of dinner. We hadn’t even brought out the pie. I found him barely conscious in the bathroom and performed CPR right there on the floor. Dessert was replaced by a rush of paramedics, police, tears and two hospitals before 10 p.m.

Thankfully, he survived this unexpected (and somewhat still unexplained) event; it goes without saying that this year — not to mention the rest of our lives — would have been extremely different if he hadn’t.  Grateful is an understatement. In the face of some significant losses and challenges, we still have each other. That counts for something (a lot, actually).

Nonetheless, there was a push-pull effect to this particular Thanksgiving.  Stay home or spend the holiday with family in Philly?  Part of me felt like sheltering in place after the past 17 days since the election. The appeal and comfort of home far outweighed the prospect of politically-charged dinnertime conversations awaiting us on the opposite side of the state.

At the same time, I didn’t want to be home with the ghosts of last Thanksgiving sitting at the table.

We decided to do a quick trip to Philly — less than 48 hours in duration, with 12 of those spent driving. Some close relatives have had medical scares in the past month, and this would be an opportunity to spend some time with them. As if we needed any reminding, life doesn’t come with guarantees. Take nothing and no one for granted.

At a rest stop in the middle of Tr*mpland, we instructed the children that there were only two acceptable topics of conversation for this visit (and probably every other visit thereafter):  The Weather and How Is School Going?.

“What if [insert name of relative who likely voted differently than us] asks us about the election?” The Girl asked, a bit worriedly.

“You say, ‘on the advice of counsel, I decline to answer the question,'” The Husband replied, prompting a discussion of the Fifth Amendment, because that’s how we roll.

As it turned out, everyone behaved themselves as best as possible. No politics were discussed. Instead, we celebrated the kids’ birthdays (and a nephew’s) with both sets of grandparents. My sister-in-law made a delicious dinner. The cousins had a chance to hang out and laugh and reconnect with each other, reminiscent of the kind of holidays The Husband and I remember as children with our own cousins. It was the first Thanksgiving our extended family spent together in six years.

And best of all?

Everyone had more than enough pie.

thanksgiving-dessert-table-2016

 

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Seeing Red

hillary-pittsburgh-rally-11-7-2016-2

There we were, in the middle of a Pittsburgh street, when Hillary Clinton approached.

She looked stunning, confident, resplendent in her red pantsuit.  We cheered wildly, equally confident that we were meeting our next President of the United States.

We were so close.

It was the second to last rally of a unending, unprecedented campaign. Monday afternoon, November 7.  A bright and brisk day, a deep blue sky — not unlike that on 9/11, as horribly ironic as that seems now. She had just spoken and as we were leaving, a small crowd gathered in the blockaded intersection hoping just to wave as her motorcade departed.

And then suddenly, there she was. Crossing the street toward us as we erupted into a cacophony of shouts, cell phones capturing what felt like a historical moment. After all, how often do you have an opportunity to meet the next President of the United States on the eve of her election?

Less than 36 hours after I took this picture and after I proudly let my almost 15-year-old daughter push the VOTE button for the most qualified person to ever run for President, my girl and I were sobbing uncontrollably as we watched the election returns. As state after state turned red, we held each other as the realization set in that our country and our lives were now changed forever.


Like many of us in the aftermath of this election, I am a maelstrom of emotions. For three days, I’ve been a cauldron of feelings: anger, sadness, fear and despair, just for starters. Quite simply, I am devastated and shaken to my core, unable to rationalize the juxtaposition of events this week — the exhilaration of seeing Hillary Clinton in person and the pride of voting for the first female President of the United States …. to the empty jack o’lanterned feeling like my insides had been hollowed out and turned to orange pulp.

I will be honest with you, as I’ve always tried to do here on this blog and elsewhere. I have been struggling mightily since the wee hours of Wednesday morning when it became abundantly clear that this country is now bathed in a sea of red.

And yes, I’ve read enough in these past several days, thank you, to recognize that we have been living in a red country for quite some time and this is a wake-up call for some.  I get that, and I’ve seen and I understand enough about the culture wars that have been raging to know that the pot has been dangerously close to boiling over for some time.

And now, that pot has been doused with kerosene and is exploding with students being threatened in vandalized schools, women harassed by men yelling about grabbing their pussies, and a President-elect tweeting about how unfair all this is, rather than leading the nation in being a voice of reason.


Somehow, in all of this, we still need to get through our daily lives. On Wednesday morning, after less than two hours of something barely resembling sleep, I somehow got my ass out of bed and went to work.  I had to; I’m the sole breadwinner in a family of four that is on a fucking financial precipice. My husband has been out of work for 16 months. He’s a cancer survivor and is someone who spent Thanksgiving Day last year being resuscitated by me on our bathroom floor after he collapsed from a seizure, which he now has long term effects from.  Our medical bills are ridiculous and our income is 1/3 of what it was this time last year. (Not less than one third; it is one-third.)

So, yes, I absolutely, completely understand the feeling of being left behind in a world with a changing economy that shits on your 25 years of professional experience in your field where you can’t get an entry level job. I know about skyrocketing health insurance premiums and paychecks that don’t cover your basic needs and savings that have been depleted because you lost everything in the housing crisis and the Great Recession and how you can’t send your kids to college and what it is like to be angry about this.

But here’s the thing. I don’t simply understand this mentality because I’ve read about it from some think-piece in the New Yorker.  I understand this because I am living this, too.

It’s just that my story probably looks a little different from someone else’s story because I am a white female living in a middle-class suburban neighborhood.

Maybe that’s one of the takeaways here, that we’re not really all that different after all. If so, then that’s one of the things I am struggling hard to understand.

Because I simply can’t fathom how people in these circumstances could willingly vote for someone with a non-existent track record of delivering on anything that would improve our lives AND who happens to be the kind of racist, sexist, xenophobic, narcissist that the President-elect is.  And no — I do not buy for one minute that the outrageous things and the abhorrent behavior and conduct in the campaign waged by the winner was simple campaign rhetoric. I do not.  Maya Angelou was right: when someone shows you who they are, believe them. The first time and every single goddamn time after that. The reality is that our President-Elect has been showing us who he is for much longer than this campaign.


I know not everyone reading this will understand and I don’t expect everyone to. Nor do I really care. This post is just where I am right now as I try to capture and relegate my emotions and regain some sort of equilibrium in what is a very difficult, fragile, scary time. Wednesday morning felt eerily similar to 9/11, when my coworkers and I huddled together in tears, sharing news and trying to find solace in music and poetry. Just as 9/11 was a difficult day, so was its numerical fraternal twin of 11/9.

I’ll remember the tearful embraces and shaky words with my coworker and the cook in the cafeteria who makes my breakfast bowl each morning — both people of color, both people who I have developed a friendship with over time. I’ll remember needing to go back to church, just as I did on 9/11. Then, as now, I went to a service at my Unitarian Universalist church.  The Girl came with me and we listened to Carrie Newcomer’s “Sanctuary”  and the words of Terry Tempest Williams and the poetry of Ellen Bass. We shared our feelings with others and held hands and cried together.

At times, I feel a little stronger, even empowered. I’m trying to find ways to use my anger as a force for good and how I can fill this deep chasm in my heart.  I’ll be using my voice and this blog to speak louder, to call foul, to raise awareness of injustices and the issues and the people who — make no doubt about it — will truly be forgotten in this new political administration that isn’t going to do jack shit to improve anyone’s life. We have a con man as the leader of our country now and I fear that dark days are on the horizon and I am preparing for them.

In spite of that,  I’m cultivating a new circle of friends while holding closer those who share my belief that it isn’t just our own life that matters, it’s that all people have value and worth and dignity — those with disabilities, those who are members of the LGBTQ community, those who are newcomers to this country, those who are minorities, those who haven’t even been born. Those are the people I will be championing and those are the people and the causes who will get my time and my talents.

I will remember until the day I die Hillary Clinton’s bright red pantsuit as she crossed the street to greet us.  I will remember the gorgeous day we shared and the gray, rainy gloomy day in every sense of the word on 11/9/2016. I will remember the red hot anger I feel in the aftermath of this election. And in this red country, one that will see more red blood spilled on our streets in violence, I will remember the people that need championing with every beat of my heart and with a red-hot passion fueled by love.

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