Week 18: Perspective from the National Civil Rights Museum … and my kids

IMG_6860Your kids will always call your bullshit.

We’re in Memphis this spring break, mostly to see how much barbecue we can consume — a challenge that takes on new meaning with a 19-year-old college swimmer. Between Memphis-style pulled-pork sandwiches (cole slaw on top) and racks of ribs, we went to the National Civil Rights Museum.

My 16-year-old son had been here before on a Civil Rights bus trip he took with our church. So he was making a gentle play to get out of it. I told him he was older now and times were different — that since November 8, we were having to fight for things we never thought we’d have to fight for before.

With the disdain only a 16-year-old can muster, he argued he was pretty sure we’d never have to fight against slavery or Jim Crow laws again. I reminded him I never thought we’d be fighting for legal abortion either.

But still, his point was a good one. We are not selling human beings in 2017 (at least not in public).

Little in the museum was new to me, but — as photos and video and stories tend to do — it baffled and riled me. “In. What. World,” I said as we got back in the car, “was any of that OK?” This is an incredibly shameful part of our U.S. history. I don’t need to draw the parallels of our current situation to this crowd.

Yet my kids pointed out that our outrage must be proportional to the injustice. Agreed.

I left the museum and discussion with my kids with three words we must always keep in mind:

  1. Perspective. No, this is not 1840 or 1960. We have come a long way toward human rights in our country. We should not belittle those battles with our current one.
  2. Perseverance. But we also have our own battles to fight. I was surprised — and shared with my children — that many on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement were their age. Some were younger. Those students sitting at the counter? Teenagers. I had no idea.
  3. Progress. We must always push forward. Just because our past is a bigger shitshow than our present doesn’t mean we need to stay here. Keep fighting, friends. Keep talking about the fight to your kids. Because the conditions that lead us to march are not going away without this fight.

And if my kids think these changes can be made without their help, I will have to call their bullshit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 17: Why I’m struggling with “A Day Without a Woman” this March 8

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 11.37.02 PMOn this “A Day Without a Woman,” I’m wearing red, doing my best to work as little as possible and spend money only at the appropriately directed small businesses. The day feels somehow shallow, though — nothing like the Women’s March of January.

Today is, more importantly in my opinion, International Women’s Day. I think part of my struggle is that I’ve seen how women are treated in other parts of the world. And while I am channeling my inner feminist in ways I didn’t before November 8, it’s difficult for me to maintain the same level of outrage for the plight of American women as I do for, say, women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I leave for my second trip to Eastern Congo in a little more than three weeks. I will visit my friend Gorethy, who founded the Congo Restoration Sewing School. I will attend the graduation of 40 women who had little future before they learned to sew at Gorethy’s school. I will see other women, who did not have the chance to go to our school, used as beasts of burden.

Here’s something I wrote on International Women’s Day seven years ago:

I grew up in a middle-class family in small-town Texas. My dad called me Princess and Blue Eyes. I wanted to be the Dallas Cowboys’ first female quarterback, so my dad tossed the football with me for hours in the yard to practice.

I was never stoned or had acid thrown in my face because my dad heard rumors that I kissed a boy. I was never sold into sexual slavery because my parents needed money and were too uneducated to ask questions. I have never had my genitals cut out because my parents felt I couldn’t be married otherwise.

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My first International Women’s Day bridge gathering, March 8, 2010. (Photo by Vonda Klimaszewski)

I graduated from college and traveled around Europe in my mid-20s, never afraid to try anything, because my mother taught me to speak up for myself. I married the man I love, gave birth to two healthy boys with excellent medical care, and make a living working out of a home that has running water and electricity.

I have never been raped while gathering water for my family. If I were raped, my husband would not abandon me. I’ve never suffered a fistula — from rape or a dangerous childbirth — leaving my body uncontrollably leaking urine and feces. I’ve never been put on the outskirts of my town by my family for the wild animals to kill because of a fistula.

I am lucky. All those things that have never happened to me — or to you or to any woman or girl you love — happen every day in other parts of the world, most often in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, as reported by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

Kristof and WuDunn’s book and organizations such as Women for Women International are bringing attention to International Women’s Day on its 100th anniversary Monday. Women for Women, which connects women in the Western world with women in war-torn countries, is bringing together women from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on a bridge that connects their two countries.

This peaceful joining of hands is a symbol of bridging the countries’ differences and ending the war that has plagued the region since the Rwandan genocide in 1994 that killed almost 1 million people spilled over into Congo, killing 5.5 million more.

Women (and men) will gather on bridges elsewhere in the world, too. For example, North Texas women planned to gather Sunday on Mockingbird Bridge over White Rock Lake.

bridge 2011
Our second bridge gathering, March 8, 2011.

International Women’s Day was first celebrated in Europe in 1910 and is now an official holiday in 15 countries. Yet in the United States, where we buy greeting cards for pet birthdays and kindergarten graduations, it goes by without notice.

Gorethy Nabushosi, a Congolese attorney who fought for women’s rights in her home country and now lives in McKinney, has a theory about why American women haven’t historically celebrated this day — because they have a voice and freedom.

Gorethy is the founder of Congo Restoration, which pairs orphans with brutalized women, giving the children a stable home, the women an income and — most importantly — a respectable place within a society that considers them among its lowest members.

“We [Congolese] try hard to break the silence about all the rape, the sexual slavery, but the entire world remains in silence. Congolese blood is in the street, and no one says anything. It is so painful. You have no idea.”

Gorethy and I both planned to be on the Mockingbird Bridge on Sunday. I am lucky. I do have a voice. And I intend to use it.

bridge 2015
Crossing the actual bridge where Rwandan and Congolese women celebrated International Women’s Day.

That was 2010. I crossed over the original bridge connecting Rwanda and the DRC in April of 2015. (You aren’t supposed to take photos there, but I couldn’t resist snapping a quick one.)

What I would see and experience in Congo would forever change the way I saw women’s place in the world. I have traveled to many developing countries. I knew women were marginalized, which is an aesthetic way to describe the way women are viewed and treated in much of the world. But I have never seen women in such circumstances as I did in Eastern Congo. Literally beasts of burden.

My well-traveled, feminist friend and I left with one perhaps simplified but overriding thought about the state of the DRC: Birth control could change everything. 

Women in Eastern Congo, and much of Africa, simply don’t have much of a chance. They do not have control over whether they have children (from a lack of education and a lack of access to birth control). They do not have control over whether they attend school (everything from poverty to a lack of tampons/pads during their periods to pregnancy at a young age keeps them from going to school). Consider these statistics from the Democratic Republic of Congo Demographic and Health Survey, 2013-14):

  • 64% of women are illiterate.
  • Women have an average of 6.6 children (women with a secondary education have an average of 2.9 children; women with no education, 7.4).
  • 27% of women between the ages of 15-19 are pregnant or already have a child. The average age of a woman giving birth to her first child is 19.9. 
  • 35% of the women in the region I visited (along the border of Congo and Rwanda) have experienced sexual violence. Congo is still referred to as the rape capital of the world.
woman carrying
Women are the beasts of burden in Eastern Congo.

I saw this woman as we drove through the rural areas around Bukavu one day. And then, I saw the women who graduated from our sewing school. Educated in many ways — Mama Gorethy makes no secret of her thoughts on young women having babies — they leave this school empowered and hopeful. I am guessing these are not words or emotions they are used to.

graduated
The 2015 graduates of the Congo Restoration Sewing School.

Which takes me back to today’s “A Day Without a Woman.” At 49 years old, I am used to being hopeful and empowered. I am used to using my freedom and my voice. As an American women, I can in no way compare my plight with the women of Eastern Congo. I have privilege the women in this picture may never know in their lifetimes. 

Yet my home state of Texas, which is run by conservatives, has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. We marched on January 21 for many reasons. “Women’s rights are human rights” as HRC said. And on that day — after pussy-grabbing Trump’s first night in the White House — it felt perfectly right to fight for American women.

But today’s protest feels too America-centered, unlike the International Women’s Day it intentionally falls on. I believe that is the crux of my struggle today. While it is true that we must not go backward, it is equally true that we must pull women like those I met in Eastern Congo forward. We must not let Trump’s “America first” language seep into our movement.

In three weeks, I will once again cross that bridge in Eastern Congo. I will once again attend the graduation of another class of women who now know hope and empowerment. Today I wear red and honor the women of the world as we stand together against all that oppresses us. Every woman. Everywhere. As we should every March 8. As we should every single day.

 

Week 16: How a group text became my #1 resistance tool

I know, I know. More often than not, group texts are like a hostage situation. I usually just end up handing the phone to my teenager and asking him to get me the hell out of them.

But the group text I have going with three friends has been saving my sanity on a daily — sometimes hourly — basis since November 8. The four of us texted fairly regularly before, usually about our kids, upcoming college searches, the need for a ladies’ night out, and, increasingly, the upcoming election. But it has been a lifeline since then because of what it has turned into: support and a division of labor.

I named our group text (because I have two teenagers, so I have cool tech skills) “Love & Resistance.” It is equal parts both.

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Here’s how it works and helps:

We’re all pretty much constantly informed on all the issues, draining our very souls every damn day. But now, we can rely on each other to “own” specific key issues: One of us is on guns, one is digging in on refugees, one is highly focused on abortion, and one (me) on media and LGBT issues.

We all care about each of these issues, and we’re often fairly in the know about them — as well as the myriad of other issues slapping us in the face and rights on a daily basis. But we have each other’s backs on these issues so we don’t have to be vigilant on everything. Because we can’t be if we’re going to keep up this fervor. And we have no other choice, right?

Consider it a friend task force. Yes, our Pantsuit break-out groups create a similar structure. But we need a smaller, closer, action group than that. My group text is a microcosm of Pantsuit. And it’s necessary for two reasons:

  1. We are suffering from information overload. Let me remind you: I am a news junkie. I am to news what Friday night is to wine. But remember those first couple of post-election months? I was getting dizzying number of Facebook notifications from the Pantsuit Nation and its offshoots, not to mention constant What-Fresh-Hell-Is-This alerts from The New York Times and Twitter. I turned off all but the most important such notifications and alerts about a month ago to give my anxiety a slight break. But still, there’s only so much even a junkie like me can take in without a prescription pill addiction. We can’t sustain this for four years. Yet we must. So let’s work smarter and focus.
  2. We can’t do it all. When the #MuslimBan/travel ban blew up on that fateful Friday, the Refugee Text member spent hours at the airport that weekend in protest. The rest of us couldn’t go that Saturday because we had other commitments. She sent us video from the event and was our on-the-scene reporter. The next day, she went back. My guilt could barely be contained, but I’d been to my therapist that week and knew I had to have some balance. So I texted that I’d “take the baton” when she went back to work on Monday. And Monday evening, I attended a prayer vigil on the issue. We’ve got to tag team this resistance or we won’t win.

This may sound like a small thing, but it is the most effective sanity saver I’ve found since the world turned upside down on November 8. And it uses some of our best skills as women: communication, moral support, and getting shit done.

“Stronger Together” may not have been sexy but, as HRC knows, it’s how women have always moved forward. Text on, sistas!

 

Week 15: An argument against saying goodbye to Trump supporters

Today I’m going to bypass the shitshow (immigrant round-ups, CPAC, Sweden, the unhinged press conference, “enemy of the American people,” RUSSIA, Flynn, the Florida [campaign] rally, Republican senators and representatives back in their home states but not meeting with constituents).

Let’s put a pin in all that for the moment. Today, I’m thinking about goodbyes. Not Trump’s goodbye, although it is my favorite daydream of the moment. Not saying goodbye to the 2016 dream of the first woman president. That one is still a bit raw, so, again, pin. I’m thinking about the goodbyes — said or unsaid — being said because of politics.

I found this NYT video, “When Your Loved Ones Voted the Other Way,” fascinating. I appreciate the respect with which these parents and adult children tackle these conversations. Their phone calls end with goodbye, but clearly and lovingly leave the door open for the next hello.

I’ve had a few memorable goodbyes in my life. I got divorced when I was 23. One of my best friends from high school did some hurtful and unexplained things when we were in our 20s. My son left for college in August of 2015. My mom died in August. My dog — for whom the question “Who’s a good boy?” was created — died on Monday (which is why this blog is five days late).

I was reminded of another goodbye when I had lunch with a friend (who happens to also be an ex-boyfriend) last weekend. It wasn’t an unusual scene. Thanks to email becoming a thing about the time we parted ways, we were able to stay in touch through the rawest part of our break-up, allowing the 90% of our relationship that was great — our friendship — to survive. I’ve been happily married for almost 21 years. I went to his wedding more than a decade ago. When we get together for lunch, as it seems we’re able to do annually or so, or shoot each other a quick and funny text, that friendship picks up right where it left off.

We usually talk about our kids, journalism, old shared friends, politics — lots of politics this weekend, of course.

Yet our goodbye is a permanent memory. I was in the passenger seat of a U-Haul, turning left out of the entrance to our condo complex. He was sitting in a chair in the screened-in porch of the place we’d called home for two years — petting his aggressive but adorable black cat with his right hand, a lingering full-arm goodbye with his left.

Important goodbyes stay with us, regardless whether we ever say hello again.

I’ve written here about how my mom’s passing away in August affected the usual election-year dance between my father and me. While I’ve read stories of families and friends who couldn’t bridge the Trump/Clinton chasm, I know that won’t happen in my case. We will have no wave from the porch moment.

But I’m starting to feel like we’re having an unspoken goodbye. In my best daughter moments, I know I should check on him more often. He lives 30 minutes away. Seeing him weekly shouldn’t be impossible. But I haven’t seen him since I took him to a doctor’s appointment a few weeks ago. When the news came on in the waiting room, we had a brief exchange about Trump’s travel ban, which ended with this:

Me: “So you don’t believe facts unless you agree with them?”

Dad: “Yes.”

Not too long after, he referred to a “snowflake” on my Facebook page. He didn’t call me one, but he may as well have. At that moment, my husband asked why I don’t simply defriend or hide posts from my dad (I do the latter now and should’ve done it long ago, as a friend suggested). The answer is that I want him to read facts. But, back to my dad’s statement above, what’s the use in telling him facts if he doesn’t want to hear them?

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I didn’t call him on Monday when Malcolm The Best Dog died. He found out on Facebook, along with 400+ other people, a few of whom I’ve never even met.

All of this makes me wonder what this recent election and current political climate is doing to relationships all over the country. I read a story on Pantsuit Nation today about a woman who returned from the Women’s March in DC prepared to share her stories … but then opened Facebook to a barrage of #NotMyMarch posts from friends and family members, mocking and shaming those of us who marched. This young woman was considering a mass Facebook unfriending. Another posted that an old friend had sparred with her on Facebook, then defriended her, now isn’t returning her calls.

This makes me ponder the grand goodbyes (I’ve read countless stories of those and near-misses from Thanksgiving) and the slow goodbyes. I wonder if we’re paying attention to the latter, because they can sneak up on you — as I feel it sneaking up on me with my dad. And I wonder if they’re really worth it.

Now I’m not talking about social media or even real life acquaintances. A Facebook acquaintance with whom I politically agree lost her shit with me a couple of weeks ago and I thought for about 10 seconds before unfriending her. Had never met her, had no reason to have her cause me stress. But we all have people we are truly connected to who are on the other side. And many of us are still grappling, almost four months later, with how to move forward with these relationships.

I know the argument: If these people can look Donald J. Trump in the eye and in the lie and support him, there has to be something wrong with their core. And maybe there is. But think about what we’ve overlooked in others (from our crazy aunts who made us feel special when we were kids to Bill Clinton).

I also wonder: Why does it seem to only be our side who frets about this? I might need to put a pin in that thought, too.

I’m trying this week to remember the pain of goodbyes. I don’t want to make them casually with the people I’m close to. And I don’t want to let them sneak up on me. Some goodbyes are inevitable and beyond our control. Most are not.

Now, back to the daydream of Trump’s resignation speech …

 

 

 

 

Week 14: Maybe an opiate addiction is the answer?

This spot on video and brief dispatch is all I can muster this week.

I spent 9 1/2 hours in the ER a few days ago with what turned out to be a kidney stone. How a tiny little thing like that can mimic the labor pains of bringing an almost 10-pound baby into this world astounds me.

The upside: For those 9 1/2 hours (roughly 1 am to 9:30 am), I spent only 30 minutes or so worrying about Trump and the shitshow he’s laying out on what seems an hourly basis. And for the next day and a half, I was so hopped up on codeine, I blissfully didn’t care.

My 16-year-old son was asking about it at dinner last night and said it was good that was all over. “I guess,” I responded, to baffled looks from my son and husband.

Um, what? Did I say that out loud? My bad. Although I’d been thinking how I hadn’t felt this relaxed since November 8 and that maybe the time is ripe to dabble in prescription drug addiction, I didn’t mean to say it out loud. To my teenage son.

This is #NotNormal, people. But this is, indeed, what it’s felt like. Shout out to Michael Feldman, the friend of a Facebook acquaintance and a NYC actor, who created this awesome video now seen by millions. This is also what a kidney stone feels like. Trump is like a four-year kidney stone. Without drugs.

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Week 13: Time to pick 2 issues or we lose

Focus on two asks. If you have 900 asks, you have none. — Former George W. speechwriter David Frum

And just like that, the snowflakes start forming an organized pattern. Or, at least, we’re thinking about it.

The frenzy that started on November 9 feels like it’s calming a bit this week, doesn’t it? I’ve read many articles from conservatives, many of whom were Tea Party activists, giving us advice on what to do now. While I’m skeptical — why are they doing this? — it all sounds spot on. So let’s consider how we go from freaking-the-hell-out to a crystalized badass movement.

I’m going to refer to several articles/radio interviews here and will link to them. These are well worth your time to read/listen to. But because I know you have Congress members to call and protest signs to make and cussing and praying to do, I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version: FOCUS. We need to stop looking like an ADD Twitter feed and make our way toward a singular, unifying Instagram meme.

Since the U.S. “vomited up Trump” — as someone said somewhere in something I read, listened to, or watched today — my head has been spinning. And when I didn’t think it could go any faster, Inauguration Day happened. Then the shitshow began. We’re all spinning, feeling inadequate in our personal and professional lives because our political wakening consumes our every waking thought. And we’re awake a lot these days, am I right? Because one can’t simply pee in peace at 3 a.m. anymore without some Trump thought intruding.

The advice I’m hearing is that we must do the opposite of what liberals like to do. We want to save every kitten in the litter because kitten lives matter. The gay kitten, the black kitten, the atheist kitten. Then we want to provide birth control for Mama cat and explain her reproductive options for the future.

What do conservatives do? They shove five kittens out on the back porch and hope they make it. And that one kitten? Man oh man oh man do they lift it up — like a never-ending hora. Every damn one of them. And from that moment on, that black-and-white kitten (because there is no gray in Republicanville) is THE kitten. Perfect in every way. They will take a bullet for that kitten. And at some point, that kitten becomes the governor. Or a senator. Or president.

Now, I love the five kittens. But we’ve got to find a way to get shit done. So can we put the other five kittens in a safe environment (maybe the spare bathroom) until THE kitten rises up? Then we’ll bring out all the kittens and they will rule the world, wearing pink pussy hats, of course.

OK, now back to the advice. Here’s a smattering of it from recent days:

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-9-29-49-pm• We must come together.

Raoul Peck, director of I Am Not Your Negro, talked on The Takeaway over the weekend about living in Berlin as a college student, protesting when big issues arose. During those protests, his professors joined the students. And they talked about the issues when they got back to school.

“Now I don’t see that mix of energy. I don’t see the elders with those young people in Black Lives Matter. When I watch the Civil Rights movement, it was a large coalition of people — women, men, religious organizations, unions, Jewish organizations, Latinos… Now I see all those organizations are in their own bubble. We need to again learn to talk to each other.”

• We must be Xanax calm, Adderall focused, and bald-eagle-flying-over-the-Grand-Canyon-to-a-Bruce-Springsteen-playlist patriotic.

“What Effective Protest Could Look Like” in The Atlantic by David Frum (a senior editor at the publication, chairman of The Policy Exchange, and a former speechwriter for George W.) is making the rounds right now. Frum discusses recent protests on the left, giving serious kudos to the Women’s March on January 21. But he has this warning: “Protesters may be up against something never before seen in American life: a president and an administration determined to seize on unrest to legitimate repression. Those protesters are not ready for it. Few Americans are.”

“You want to scare Trump?” he says. “Be orderly, polite, and visibly patriotic.” For example: Carry the U.S. flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance.

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-9-09-27-pm• We need a unifying message and goal.

Frum continues with a message on focus: “Successful movements are built upon concrete single demands that can readily be translated into practical action: ‘Votes for women.’ ‘End the draft.’ ‘Overturn Roe v. Wade.’ ‘Tougher punishments for drunk driving.’”

“What Progressives Can Learn from Right Wing Organization,” a fascinating 8-minute interview on The Takeaway this weekend with Matt Kibbe (who helped found the grassroots advocacy group FreedomWorks in 2004), had the same message. Kibbe, president of Free The People, shares the similarities between Trump resistors and the 2009 Tea Party movement, for which Kibbe was a leader.

“There was a time at the early Tea Parties, and I would say all through 2009 and 2010, you could wade into any Tea Party crowd, and they’d say that the purpose of their Tea Party was individual freedom, fiscal responsibility, and constitutionally limited government. They started in protest to the stimulus — some of them even started in protest to George W. Bush’s Wall Street bailout — but it was more issue based.

“I think that might be a way that you reach people outside of your movement — you galvanize people around an issue, around a common set of values, as opposed to just having a common enemy. I would point to something like Occupy Wall Street as a movement that had lots of energy early on but sort of unraveled because the specific purpose, it just wasn’t there. And there wasn’t that common set of values the way that I saw in the Tea Party movement.”

So, which kitten? My instinct says human rights. So much falls into that category, right? Others I’ve talked to say it’s too broad, and maybe the advice above confirms that. Other big ticket items in the running:

  • Equal education.
  • Healthcare for all.
  • Campaign finance reform.
  • Climate change.
  • Strengthening the social safety net.
  • Income inequality (isn’t that why we lost Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin?).
  • LGBT (et al.) rights.
  • Religious freedom.
  • Immigration/refugee reform.
  • Women’s reproductive rights.

Or maybe we center around a specific action item:

  • End gerrymandering.
  • Dismantle the Electoral College.
  • Boot Bannon.
  • Force Trumps to release his tax returns.
  • Demand a bi-partisan investigation of Russia’s interference in the election.

When David Frum said on MSNBC tonight that progressives must make two asks, not 900, he suggested Trump’s tax returns (with a law making such transparency mandatory for the future) and an independent investigation of the 2016. “Don’t be distracted by anything else,” he said.

So, immediately, stop fighting with strangers on Facebook. Stop bitching about Tomi Lahren. Stop plotting to donate your Ivanka Trump shoes.

Now, keep feeding and nurturing the kittens in the bathroom. Keep calling, lobbying, reading, spreading the word via protesting and on social media. But as a movement, what are our two asks? It’s time to rally around them because 2018 will be here in a hot minute.

Week 12: How to survive PTSD (Post-Trump Stress Disorder)

First, a disclaimer: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is serious shit. I have a friend who has panic attacks and a soul of hurt because she was raped as a young person. This is not that. This is a clever way to draw you into today’s blog post to try to explain the therapy-inducing political situation we find ourselves in — where our “flight or fight” responses are a daily (hourly?) occurrence. 

A couple of weeks ago, I read this interesting blog in Medium, “How to #StayOutraged without losing your mind.” All good stuff, but this paragraph really jumped out at me:

Go to therapy. Yes, really. Even if you don’t think you need it. Even if your mental health is generally good. We get checkups to maintain our physical health, so why not mental health? It’s not cheap and it’s not always covered by insurance, but if you can afford it, get yourself a therapist right now. You’ll thank yourself when the resistance is in full swing and you have someone to talk to.

The next day, I called a therapist we’d seen a couple of years ago when my older son needed help with ADHD and ADHD meds. I left her a message, saying I was in need of a little help dealing with and compartmentalizing the Trump presidency. She called back shortly thereafter and said I wasn’t the first such call she’d received. Who knew?

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-9-11-42-amSo I spent 45 minutes with said therapist a few days ago, explaining that the combination of my journalist background/news junkie tendencies, my own ADD, my love affair with social media (recently rekindled by an exciting fling with Twitter), and the fact that I work part-time from my house did not equal a healthy life balance at the moment. The scales were tipping wildly on the side of political obsession vs. work/family/Friends reruns.

Yes, it started on November 9. But since then — especially since the inauguration — I’ve been greeted almost every morning by a NYT alert on my phone, informing me of the freshest hell Trump has handed down by executive order or tweet. Just the number of Facebook alerts is dizzying. Before Election Day, I don’t remember having any. Now, I have 10 or more pages that notify me when someone posts something — all political. And this is a post-loving lot, right? I probably should turn that off, but I worry I’ll miss something.

Because here’s the other problem: This stress and obsession are absolutely justified. RUSSIA. Betsy DeVos. Planned Parenthood. The Supreme Court nominee. Refugees! Park Rangers for god’s sake. We must stay informed and active or, seriously, human rights and democracy are at risk. This isn’t just a boogie man under the bed.

My therapist gave me good advice to help me use my PTrumpSD for good instead of insanity:

  • Make a list every evening or morning, detailing what needs to be done that day (broken down into time frames if that’s helpful). And include little real or social media reward breaks after at least some form of real life is done.
  • Do non-political things. Walk the dogs. Go to a movie with my husband. Plan a college visit with my high school junior. Twitter will wait. (But will it? No, really. It will. I think. But will it?)
  • Plan intentional actions to make the changes I want to see. OK, I was already going that. This blog for one. I did the Women’s March in Austin. I’m on the leadership committee of my local Pantsuit Nation group. I’m calling all my elected leaders. There is no shortage of intentional actions going on around here.
  • Be quiet/meditate (she recommended an app called HeadSpace).

It’s time to start getting pedicures again. Take it down a notch without going cold turkey by watching SNL or getting a Facebook notification when Andy Borowitz posts his latest brilliance. Remember the feel of the sun on your skin? Remember belly laughs that made you pee your pants just a little? Remember sex? Remember when you thought the world would be OK for longer stretches than a viral kitten video? Good lord, when is the last time I saw a viral kitten video!?

We all have to fight PTrumpSD together. So turn off NPR and sing out loud to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” Seriously. Right now.

I started practicing my PTrumpSD sanity plan right away. Over the weekend, a friend texted Saturday and Sunday, asking if I wanted to join her at the protest at DFW Airport. We had plans both times. On Sunday, the plans were more flexible, so I ran it by my husband to see if he wanted to join in the protest fun. He didn’t, so we saw a movie instead. Yes, I did read about the protests and the #MuslimBan off and on during our drive to the movie, but for two-plus hours, I was transported to a different land and set of problems.

blog-photo-listLast night, before I went to bed, I made my to-do list. I’ve run 30 to 60 minutes behind schedule all day, but it stopped me from starting my day in the endless loop of Pantsuit posts, must-read NYT and WashPo articles, Twitter, yada yada yada.

My creative/activist brain feels better already. We must be at our best right now. And we aren’t when our brain, soul, and body are fried.

It felt OK when I told my airport protesting friend that I was sitting this protest out, that I’d jump back in on Monday when she and many of my friends went back to work. And tonight, I plan to go to a multi-faith “Solidarity” candlelight vigil in downtown Dallas with my hubby (redefining #datenight) while, I hope, my friend has lovely dinner with her family.

I know, I know. Everything feels — IS — so urgent. OMG how I feel it. Trust. But we will burn out if we don’t honor the PTrumpSD and take care of ourselves. Fight or flight is exhausting. So give your cortisol a rest so it’ll be at the ready when you need it. (Seriously, this level of stress is dangerous, says science.)

Pick your battles. There are many, yes. But there are also many of us — more than half of America, remember? Fight on, friends … for America and your sanity.

 

 

 

Week 11: This is what democracy looks like, but it’s not normal

As an old friend and I marched down South Congress on Saturday, taking it all in with the Texas state capital at our backs, she summarized all that had happened since November 9.

“This is not normal,” she said, walking by my side with 40,000-50,000 others who clearly felt the same. Along the way, we chanted: “This is what democracy looks like” and “My body my choice” while men answered “Her body her choice.” It was a beautiful and energetic distraction from the events in D.C. the day before.

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#WomensMarch #Austin

I’m sure numbers are still coming in, but according to this story from The Telegraph UK this morning, the 673 Women’s Marches worldwide broke down like this:

  • 4,184,000 participants.
  • 1 in every 100 Americans participated.
  • Washington, D.C., the original Women’s March upon which the entire global movement centered, saw three times as many marchers as attendees at Trump’s inauguration, “alternative facts” aside.
  • In my very red state of Texas, Women’s March organizers in Austin expected 20,000-25,000 people. Instead 40,000-50,000 showed up. We almost didn’t make it because the buses going downtown were full!

This is not normal.

A White House press secretary, holding his first official press conference of a new president’s term, bold-face lying to the press about easily verifiable facts. Not normal.

A close advisor to the president doubling down on these lies and talking about “alternative facts.” Not normal.

No tax returns. No business divestment. RUSSIA. A soon-to-be-approved secretary of state who is the former CEO of Exxon-Mobile and has deep business ties to RUSSIA. Not normal. Not normal. Not normal. Not normal.

Of course, sometimes things just aren’t normal. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, my mom passed away in August. Nothing really seems normal these days. But that, I assume, will lesson with time. Life without Mom is the new normal. It is gut-wrenching sometimes, but it is what it is.

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My #WomensMarch sign.

This isn’t that. This is your boyfriend punching you in the face not normal.

It’s not normal for presidents or president elects to tweet petty thoughts without an editor. It’s not normal for presidential candidates to be caught on tape saying they can grab a woman’s pussy because they’re famous. It’s not normal for a foreign entity to interfere in our election. It’s not normal for the other side to understand that happened and not care. It’s not normal for the president of the United States and his people to call legitimate journalists liars. It’s not normal — in these times — to take away people’s Constitutional (and SCOTUS-given) rights.

So if we are in for not normal times for the next four years, we can’t behave normally.

It’s not normal for my first social media check of the day to be the president of the United States’ tweets. But it is. It’s not normal for 3.2 million people in our country — plus hundreds of thousands of others internationally — to protest the stances taken by the president of the United States. But I did. It’s not normal for me to spend a Wednesday morning at my U.S. senator’s office. But last Wednesday, I did. It’s not normal for me to have a list of all my senators and representatives at my desk. Maybe it should be. And now I do.

Do you find yourself not acting normally lately? Good. Because not normal times require not normal behavior.

And with that, I leave you with my moment of zen from Saturday’s #WomensMarch in Austin, when the kids I was with started singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Let’s remember one verse nobody ever sings:

Beneath Heaven’s gracious will
The stars of progress still
Our course do sway;
In unity sublime
To broader heights we climb,
Triumphant over Time,
God speeds our way!

Until next week, friends, remember: Not normal times call for not normal actions. Now get busy out there.

 

 

Week 10: Yes, we can?

I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours. I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes, we can. — President Barack Obama, ending his farewell speech from Chicago last week.

Obama. Blackish. Trump’s mockery of a press conference. John Lewis. RUSSIA. The last week has been rough. Hope and disillusionment are running neck and neck in my heart and brain right now. I must also confess I started the Whole30 diet 11 days ago. Why the hell I thought I could/should go through this transition stone-cold sober is beyond me. I’d tongue-kiss Putin right now for a decent Cabernet.

I can’t be this beaten down in Week 10. Barring anything crazy (RUSSIA), we have 198 weeks to go before the 2020 election. One hundred and ninety eight.

Five days out from the awfulness that will occur at noon in Washington, D.C., on Friday, I’m currently just trying to fake it until we make it. Because feteling at this point is simply not an option. But I’m having a serious crisis of faith.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-12-06-40-pmSo I went to a meeting with my hyper-local Pantsuit Nation group last week. I have a stack of feminist books on my nightstand I’m about to start reading. I plan to discuss these books with other women as obsessed as I am in my Fourth Wave Book Club, inspired by a conversation I had with a first-year Harvard law student recently. I’m making plans for next weekend’s Women’s March in Austin. In fact, I’ll be driving there when Trump takes the oath of office. I won’t have to see the Obamas leave. I won’t have to see Trump walk through those hallowed doors. My friend and I should be singing embarrassingly loudly to Prince through the entire heart-wrenching scene.

I hope the feeling of being one with thousands of others in Austin will carry me through the next month or two. But Austin is a shitshow of its own. Among the bills floated for our current legislative session:

  • Making abortion a felony. (That’s HB 948 if you want to call your representative and oppose it.)
  • A “constitutional carry” that gets rid of any licensing or education needed to carry a loaded handgun (removing the criminal background check, four-hour training requirement that includes non-violent dispute resolution and a gun proficiency test, and fingerprint submission). Oh, and lowers the carry age from 21 to 18. (That’s HB 375.)
  • A “guns everywhere” approach, meaning guns will be allowed in any public place (schools, hospitals, parks). Add these last two together and you will get 18-year-olds in their senior year of high school, legally carrying guns to school. (That’s HB 560.)
  • The blasted “bathroom bill,” requiring transgenders to use the bathroom dictated by their birth sex, condescendingly called the “Women’s Privacy Act” as if I’m the victim. (That’s SB 6.)

I just saw an Arizona representative is trying to make it illegal to teach social justice in school. Is this real?

I went to church yesterday, hoping I’d find comfort somewhere there. As usual, I did. From the pulpit. From the lack of Twitter or CNN. From the music. From my people. Toward the end of the service, we said in unison the following affirmation from Abigail Reichard, inspired by the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

I refuse to believe that we are unable to influence the events around us.

I refuse to believe we are bound by racism, war, and injustice.

I believe those around me are my brother and my sister.

I believe in dignity every day and that our brokenness can be healed.

I believe we can overcome oppression and violence, without resorting to it.

This means I seek to reject revenge and retaliation.

I remember, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can.”

I’ve never been an affirmations kinda gal. And being asked to say stuff in unison brings out my inner toddler. But this felt restorative. Maybe I need to start every day for the next 198 weeks by saying this affirmation. Because I am tired. Already. But tired isn’t an option. Sometimes during the campaign I thought of how tired Hillary Clinton must’ve been. I still wonder if she’s caught up on her sleep.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-12-04-46-pmIf she did that, we can do this. Yes, we can. Today, I’m not feelin’ it. I want to turn on I Love Lucy reruns and ignore the challenges ahead of us. I want to get back to my pre-November 8 life and let the responsibility fall to someone else. But I can’t.

Because Obama asked. Because only love can drive out hate. Because these people are my brothers and my sisters. And this is my country.

So yes, I can. We can. We will. We have no choice.

Week 9: Tacos and feminism with a side of kick-ass Harvard hope

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! — Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?”

In an attempt to get out of bed in the morning and take off (read: launder) my HRC t-shirt every now and then, I’ve been spending some time in search of hope. Hope I can believe in. Truly. Because seriously, the shit show is about to begin. There are only NINE DAYS left of President Obama living in the White House. Heavy sigh. While hope often can be found in a bottle of red wine with my husband while watching “Modern Family” and “Black-ish” at the end of the day, desperate times call for out-of-the-box solutions.

So I went and had tacos with a friend’s 22-year-old daughter, Megan. And yes, friends, the hope was palpable.

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Megan graduating from Rhodes College last May.

During the holidays, I attended a gathering with Megan’s parents, whom I know through my oldest son. Megan is in her first year at Harvard Law School. As I thought about catching up with them at said gathering, it occurred to me: Megan was one of the people who was going to turn this country around. Not just in a “youth are our future” bumpersticker sorta way, but this woman in particular. She made a near perfect  score (99.8th percentile) on her LSAT before graduating from Rhodes College last May. And she’s at Harvard. She is one of those people who will get shit done (our shit, to be specific).

Megan kindly shared breakfast with me at Taco Joint during her two week holiday break. At 22, she is one of the 20% or so of Harvard law students who went straight from undergrad to law school. After majoring in finance/economics at Rhodes College, she is on the public interest law route at Harvard.

I asked what had changed for her and her Harvard peers since November 8. Before the 2016 election, she shared, her path was likely headed toward public defender work. Actually, it probably still is. But what she sees beyond that is different post-election (she didn’t call it a shit show, but I feel we were on the same page).

While Megan will no doubt be a powerful PD post-Harvard, she will not be your average attorney. She will be an attorney with a Harvard law degree. A white, beautiful, straight, upper-middle-class, Southern woman with a Harvard law degree. She has certain privileges she is keenly aware of … and plans to use those privileges to access certain power structures. Maybe she’ll be a civil rights attorney or a feminist lobbyist down the road. Post-election, she and many of her classmates feel a tug to go big picture at some point in the future. And thank you baby Jesus she feels that way. Because, shit show.

Feminist lobbyist. I could feel the hope rising at the idea that the future of American women will be, in some way, in Megan’s hands. Megan has a passion for feminism, so I asked her about that. She sweetly schooled me in American feminism, which apparently I didn’t learn in the Waxahachie school system or Baylor University. You just don’t know what you don’t know, right? In an attempt to educate myself, I asked Megan for some reading suggestions on the subject. Here are a few of the books she recommended. I ordered three of them today.

So here are the basics of the first, second, and third wave of feminism in the United States, described in about the time it takes to eat one breakfast taco:

• First Wave (1830s-early 1900s): During this phase, women basically were not considered property anymore (#relationshipgoals), fighting for contract and property rights before finally getting the right to vote in 1920 (50 years after black men got that right, and we know how low they were on the totem pole). It was during this time that Sojourner Truth gave her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at Seneca Falls. I’m not sure I’ve ever read that until today. If you haven’t, it’s a quick and beautiful read.

• Second Wave (1960s-1980s): Women worked hard during WWII, and this wave made sense, timing-wise, with their quest for more rights: reproductive, workplace, sexuality (birth control pills came on the market in the 1960; birth control became legal for all women in 1972 (WHAT??); and abortion became legal in 1973. Black feminism became more of a deal during this Second Wave (remember: they were fighting for civil rights at the same time). Megan recommends reading The Feminine Mystique and The Second Sex (actually she recommends only reading the intro on the latter as it’s hard to get through), as well as In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens and the essay The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House by black feminist writers Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, respectively, to get a feel for this era.

• Third Wave (1990 to, perhaps, November 8, 2016): Interestingly, Megan explains, the backlash to this third wave happened simultaneous to the wave itself: While campus rape was front and center, women were told not to go out, not to go to parties, to get back in the house where they belong. We’re still working on equal pay and still tweaking (although it often is more of a battle than a tweak) reproductive rights. Books like The Beauty Myth and Backlash tell the story.

“If Clinton had won, it definitely would’ve ended the Third Wave with the crowning achievement of the first woman president,” Megan said. But perhaps her NOT winning ended it, too, kicking us into the fourth wave on November 9? That’s Megan’s theory. This is not at all my area of expertise and even my mad Google skills can’t fake it here.

But it’s interesting to see where I fit in (born and growing up in the Second Wave, becoming an adult in the Third, pissed as hell and excited for the Fourth). It’s also interesting to look up the word feminism: “The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Who wouldn’t want to be that? And why in the hell is/was this a political grenade?

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-2-48-47-pmSo Megan believes the Third Wave of feminism ended on November 8 and the Fourth Wave began. Issues involving immigrant women (specifically with domestic violence), women in prison, reproductive rights, fair wages (for all races of women), maternity leave, LGBT rights (regarding discrimination and a transgender’s right to use the appropriate bathroom), health care,  and campus rape will be the subjects of this battle — with Trump as a “daily reminder of what we’re up against.” And this time, we have a true shot at intersectionality.

“I’m hopeful,” Megan said, as we wrapped things up. “Now, if Trump blows up the world …” She trailed off, both of us hopeful, but not forgetting the shit show.

Megan’s advice to me — a 49-year-old woman with, at this moment, more money and power and time than she has? Support progressive candidates, fund progressive causes, volunteer, and show up for local politics — especially in my state of Texas. A suggestion for the less activist minded: Get together and talk. During the Second Wave, “consciousness raising groups” did just that. They changed the narrative. So can we.

We all have our place in this fight. We all have our gifts. We all have our experiences. We all have our passions. So while I blog, call my legislators, post action items on social media, and organize friends to go to the Women’s March in Austin, Megan is hitting the books in Boston.

Study hard, Megan. You are the hope we can — we have to — believe in.