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A Progressive Mom’s Guide to “The Resistance”

 

“Vive la resistance!”

Isn’t that what they shouted during the French Revolution while storming the Bastille?  Or maybe that’s an alternative fact.  Anyway, fast forward to 2017 America: Trump is president even though Hillary won by close to 3 million votes; millions of women (and men and kids) across the country marched the day after his sparsely attended inauguration–raising our voices in one collective roar of “NOT!”  What I hear a lot these days is, “Where do we go from here?”  Fortunately, there is one simple answer to this burning question.  It’s called (she says, mysteriously) “The Resistance.”

What Is “The Resistance”?

While I can’t say for sure who initially coined the term, generally speaking “The Resistance” is a direct response to Trump’s election.  For many of us, Donald Trump is not just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Republican who somehow snatched victory from the jaws of a likely defeat but, rather, is an existential threat to the very fiber of our republic and its core values and principles.  Our genuine concern for our friends and neighbors, not to mention ourselves and our families, has suddenly made political activism seem necessary even if many of us had never thought so before.  Indeed, many who marched on January 21st have said that it was the first time in their lives they had ever participated in a political demonstration.  This passion and dedication to a cause is what ultimately drives The Resistance and, with continued perseverance and tenacity, is what will help us and our democracy survive the next two to four years of a conservative Republican-led government with a fascist leaning president at the helm.

What to Resist (or What Not to Resist)?

Implicit in the idea of resisting is defining what to resist.  The Women’s March had a simple unifying message that could be embraced by anyone (other than a sexist, misogynistic bigot):  justice and equality for all women.  However, the specific reasons driving each individual who marched could be very different.  Also, it’s one thing to travel to a march site and spend a day in protest.  Continuing to resist the Trump Administration, however, with all of progressivism seemingly under assault can’t help but feel overwhelming.  There are so many issues–from appointments and nominations to the fate of the Affordable Care Act to the Muslim Ban–and the list continues to grow with each passing day.  It is only natural to wonder what to spend our valuable time focusing on now that we’ve returned home to our lives with all of our daily duties and obligations, such as work and raising children and running a household.  Perhaps you didn’t march, but you wish you could have.  You may now be wondering how to proceed, when there are so many options and avenues.

In my view, each one of us needs to decide what issues are most pressing.  What was most heartbreaking to you when you realized that Trump and not Clinton was going to be our President?  What concerns you most as a woman, and a mother, and an American?  For example, after a few weeks of grappling with this question and making a lot of contributions to and joining various organizations, I realized that I gravitated to a few issues in particular, such as gun violence prevention and women’s rights, as well as Trump’s horrid nominations, like Betsy DeVos.  I also realized that I had strengths and skills that I could bring to The Resistance that could be helpful, and that a priority of mine was electing more and more Democrats in Congress and state governments after learning of the alarming eight years of losses during the Obama Administration.  Finally, I considered how much time I could devote on a regular basis.  Like exercise or relaxation, fighting in The Resistance is an investment in yourself and your family, as well as your country.  You should be thinking along these lines if you feel you don’t have any time or energy or resources to participate in The Resistance.  We don’t all have to do all the work all of the time; but we all should do what we can, when we can, and that will be plenty.  Think about how you were just one person in a pussy hat in a mass of people, but that mass of people had power that day, and still does!   In sum, pick issues that matter the most to you and that you are passionate about, and fight like hell whenever, wherever, and however you can.

Does Resistance Work?

The short answer is YES, but the new administration will inevitably do things we don’t like and will get away with it.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to stop it from happening nor that we shouldn’t be pleased with small but significant victories.  Believe it or not, the risk of doing nothing is letting the administration get away with murder (figuratively if not literally).  Conservative republicans and the white supremacists who helped Trump to victory are hungry to decimate the gains of progressivism over the past eight plus years.  It’s our job to minimize the damage and stop the bleeding as quickly as possible.  How so?

The Resisters’ Arsenal

No, not that kind of arsenal!  We progressives are a peace-loving group, yet the analogy is apt.  Here are the various means we have to carry out The Resistance.

21st Century Tools

This is not your mother’s revolution.  We are fortunate to have some cutting-edge tools that have been relatively underutilized by progressives.  Until now.

Facebook:

What?

A social media platform generally used by women for socializing–sharing pictures of our kids and vacations amongst a list of “friends”–has been transformed over time for use in The Resistance.  Unfortunately the dark forces figured out before we did that the tool–used by an astonishingly high percentage of American women as a news source (65%)–could be used for political purposes.  Fake news became an insidious and very real problem in the run up to the last election as conspiracy theories and wholly fake anti-Clinton propaganda began making the rounds in segments of the population that ended up breaking for Trump.

Several moms, however, have been able to parlay the power of Facebook into creating an enormously powerful tool to effect social, political, and cultural change.  Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America–a mother of five who posted publicly to Facebook shortly after the Sandy Hook Massacre–started a gun violence prevention movement that now has active chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and goes toe-to-toe regularly with the Goliath-eque gun manufacturers’ lobby known as the NRA.

In the case of Moms Demand Action, the private, social element of Facebook was jettisoned in favor of a decidedly public and political role.  During the campaign, however, a mom (Libby Chamberlain) started Pantsuit Nation, attracting millions of followers, predominantly women, to a “secret” Facebook page where they could share their stories of unabashed admiration for Hillary Clinton, as well as pictures of women wearing pantsuits as they cast their ballot for the person we thought would be our first female president.  While the group transformed into a charitable organization post-election, the power of this group ultimately lies in having created an environment where many feel safe from Internet trolls and can bond together.  Given the deafening silence and animosity that I personally have received from my personal Facebook “friends” when daring to broach politics, this is an invaluable and empowering thing, particularly for those women and moms who live in red district or states and feel isolated and alone in their progressive views.

Most recent, the Women’s March on Washington sprang up first as a Facebook event page where women and the men who support us could go to the page and express that “yes” we planned to go or that we were at least “interested.”  The media began reporting about a group of 200,000 expressing on Facebook they intended to participate, which gave the Women’s March a legitimacy and built momentum that otherwise may never taken hold, resulting in hundreds of thousands more people attending in Washington, D.C. alone.  Moreover, smaller satellite groups by state formed their own Facebook pages to facilitate getting us all to the March or setting up their own sister marches closer to home.

Bottom line:  Facebook is a dynamite tool for planning and organizing a political event or even a movement, and spurring folks on to engage and activate regardless of the views of their personal networks.

How?

All progressive moms ought to be on Facebook, especially since so many of us are already using the platform.  The more politically active you are, the more important it is to consider having a separate Facebook page you can make public.  That way, if Facebook is already an established feature in your life for socializing, you can maintain both uses if you choose.  Once you decide to “go political” you can readily share on your page events action items and legitimate news items that you have come across.  You can also determine what you want to share with your Facebook “friends” vs. strangers.  I find that there is still a way for me to nudge my personal network of “friends” on Facebook, but in a slightly different way than when I post as The FeMOMist.

Indeed, a recent Washington Post article points out that so-called “slacktivism” (a pejorative term for voicing one’s political opinions on social media) for The Resistance does in fact serve a useful purpose.  It helps close a perceived enthusiasm gap, something that Clinton never ultimately accomplished, while Trump supporters were able to parlay social media postings into real life cheerleading, and ultimately pulled out the win in the electoral college.

Currently, my blogger page “The FeMOMist” has over 1000 followers and I generally post to it at least once a day.  Check it out here.

Twitter:

What?

Twitter is another social media platform, one that until after the election I didn’t understand nor used regularly.  Let me be blunt:  I got with the program quickly and all progressive moms should too, pronto.  Like it or not, we are in the age of a Twitter presidency.  Trump didn’t just start tweeting recently–he’s been tweeting for years, building up a massive, loyal fan base.  While women were dominating the Facebook scene, men flocked to Twitter and became an ongoing source of instant gratification for Trump, as he heard positive reinforcement every time he posted about, for instance, his false birther theory regarding Barack Obama.  For years, many women not only shied away from Twitter because they didn’t get its value (why say something publicly in 140 characters or less when you could be much more private and wordy on Facebook?), but also Twitter became known as anti-women in the sense that stating a feminist viewpoint could result in taunting, bullying,  harassment, and even personal threats of the worst kind.  Fortunately, I think we are now observing a cultural shift on Twitter.  First of all, there are many more women who are using pseudonyms or other devices to protect their privacy while speaking their mind.  There is then in turn safety in numbers so the Twitter trolls and bullies are less apt to get a toehold (not to mention that they now can easily be blocked if they become a nuisance or worse).  Secondly, those of us who are on Twitter see that there is a certain art to being clever and witty and simultaneously making a strong and valid point succinctly, in 140 characters or less.

How?

If you aren’t already on Twitter, but you fancy Facebook either for socializing or political grandstanding, you need to sign up for Twitter right away.  Twitter is just as easy to use as Facebook and the learning curve is low for those already Facebook literate.  The true power of Twitter comes in our ability to create buzz and enthusiasm (or widespread outrage) around an issue in a relatively short period of time due to the use of hashtags.  To be a real voice on Twitter is to harness the power of the hashtag. I speak with some authority because I went from having less than 100 followers on my “The FeMOMist” Twitter page in mid December to over 2,300 followers as of this writing, and counting.  Despite that rapid growth, I managed to avoid attracting only the very occasional troll.

So how did I do it?  Hashtags. Hashtags. Hashtags.  And repeat after me:  do not rely on self-made hashtags but rather seek out the hashtags that are already in use and the followers will come.  I began using #TheResistance and #DemForce and #ResistTrump regularly in my tweets.  My profile bio is filled with hashtags like #womensrights and #feminist and #indivisible and #WomensMarch.  By using and searching for these Twitter terms of art, I now have thousands of followers–either because they found me through similar means or I found them through my own targeted searching, followed them, and they followed back.

Whenever I happen to be on Twitter (and truth be told, Twitter does become addictive–more so than Facebook),  I look at whatever hashtags are trending in the short term.  Then I think if there is something I can say using that already popular hashtag that advances the ball politically, even if the hashtag itself isn’t especially political in nature.  This is where creativity and wit is important–something the average Trump supporter lacks (#sorrynotsorry if I offended anyone just then).

For example, last week the hashtag “PaulRyanin4Words” was trending for hours.  I jumped right on that bandwagon, tweeting “Somehow standing without spine,” and got hundreds of likes, retweets (the equivalent of shares on Facebook), and replies.  All told, 46,000 people somehow saw or interacted with that tweet. (Yes, these stats are readily available for Twitter users who want to monitor such things).  Now that’s an impressive number to someone like me who is used to being ignored on her personal Facebook page when posting something political!

Another very popular tweet of mine posted the morning after the March.  When women were still very revved up from the day before, the hashtag #FeministToDoList began trending.  A natural fit, I posted with that hashtag, defiantly tweeting “World domination, but first” and listed a few things I think are critical to success post-march, such as calling our members of Congress, attending town halls, and voting for Democrats (more on this later).

Bonus to all of this tweeting by progressives is that Donald Trump himself has been obsessed with Twitter for years, uses it in a blatant attempt to circumvent the media, and is very easily rattled.  It is not a delusion of grandeur to think that one of your postings (or a posting you help stay alive through retweets or what you say in your reply to one of his tweets) could have an impact on our POTUS who is known to become temporarily distracted from his undesirable goals.

Incidentally, if you want to follow my Twitter feed, click here.  I am a regular, daily tweeter.  If you’re not already a member, then by all means, sign up today!

Listservs & Google Groups:

Finally, another highly effective tool for organizing via the Internet is a listserv, such as a Google Group.  Join a community group these days that is committed to political action and more likely than not the means for keeping everyone informed in between meetings will be a listserv.  The challenge to these groups is making sure they aren’t infiltrated so that the free sharing of information isn’t put into the wrong hands.  Moderators can be as vigilant as necessary.

Traditional Tools of the Resistance

All of these means have one thing in common: historically, these actions have been effective because, when individuals are powerless in the face of the powerful, pooling individual action into mass action is empowering.

Boycotts

The hashtag #GrabYourWallet is all over Twitter, thanks to a woman who started the spreadsheet by the same name, designed to boycott businesses that funnel monetary gains to Trump and family members such as Ivanka.  A fairly comprehensive, often updated list is now available that enables us to hit businesses where it hurts and helps to minimize the conflicts of interest inherent in these business dealings that Trump stubbornly refuses to end or relinquish.  Does it work?  To some extent, yes:  multiple businesses have stopped selling Trump products, citing reduced sales and most recently, Nordstrom.

Letter Writing

The first action item of the Women’s March’s “10 actions in 100 days” initiative involved writing scores of postcards to dump on Congress and Donald Trump.  Are these snail mail entreaties effective?  Well, numbers do matter.  If for example a representative in Congress suddenly receives hundreds of letters on a given issue, that is something that is difficult to ignore (especially if they come from constituents).  During the DeVos confirmation process, Democrats read aloud on the senate floor from letters they said they had received from constituents.  (Also, two Republican senators decided to defect from their party and vote against DeVos for Secretary of Education, after receiving thousands of calls from constituents.)

Letters to the Editor

Although so many get their news online now, if enough constituents write to a newspaper about a certain issue, the paper is more likely to take a stand on that issue in an editorial or investigate and report on the subject.  At a minimum, letters to the editor may appear in the newspaper itself and sway a reader who is on the fence about a certain matter or even officials who monitor such letters.  Local and state issues that might otherwise get brushed aside can also be handled effectively in this manner.

For guidelines on writing a Letter to the Editor, click here

Protests & Rallies

We all saw the power of marching and protesting on Inauguration Day, January 21st, and virtually every day since then.  Peaceful protests are as American as apple pie, which is why it is extremely disconcerting that some states are even considering bills to penalize protesters for exercising their constitutional right to freedom of assembly.  Protests and rallies generate enthusiasm (an example on the other side is the power of Trump’s rallies during the campaign season) and enthusiasm leads to ongoing pressure.  There can be no question but that this form of political action can be highly effective, both in the short and long term.

Some major upcoming protests that appear to be picking up steam include a Science March on Washington, scheduled for April 22nd (which is Earth Day) and marches and demonstrations to demand that Trump finally turn over his taxes, scheduled for April 15th .

Strikes

While we normally think of strikes as something an organized union does, there is nothing to stop us from organizing and striking on a given day to get across a point.  For example, although a women’s strike did not achieve tons of traction when it was out-organized by the Women’s March scheduled for the same time, the organizers of the March just revealed plans of their own for a nationwide women’s strike on a date still to be determined.  Imagine for a moment what would happen if women and moms stop doing what we normally do for a day.  The point will be that we are undervalued and unappreciated for what we do and contribute to society and our leaders need to address why that is and work towards a viable solution.

Lobby Days

Various organizations have begun relying heavily on its members to become effective unprofessional (and thus unpaid) lobbyists for their issues.  This is nothing new for a monolith, such as the NRA, who regularly whips its most ardent gun nuts into a frenzy over a proposed piece of legislation and then unleashes them, but progressive groups are getting more and more ordinary citizens to participate in advocacy.  Essentially a lobby day is announced by an organization via the tools mentioned above and members sign up.  The organization does the heavy lifting, setting up face-to-face meetings where you can sit down and converse with your state legislators or member of Congress (or often his or her staffer).  The volunteers receive a briefing beforehand of how to conduct the meeting and make the “ask.”  Lobbying can be extremely empowering for us individually and also extremely effective.  Think about it: how else do our lawmakers learn directly about why the passage of a bill is so critical to our own personal lives?  A constituent sitting in her legislator’s office talking about how the Affordable Care Act literally saved the life of her mother who had been diagnosed with cancer is a priceless tool indeed.  Generally you won’t be alone in such a meeting (small groups with fellow constituents is the norm) so it feels less intimidating than you might imagine.

The author attends a local rally and lobby day for gun violence prevention.

Contributions

Don’t have any time to spare, but contribute money regularly to various organizations and charities?  Consider earmarking some of that money to go to causes known to be working for The Resistance.  For example, if the Muslim Ban enrages you, give to the American Civil Liberties Union, which will use your contribution to file lawsuits against the administration and otherwise protect our constitutional rights.  Other worthy causes and organizations are listed on my webpage with links to their website.  If you know of others who are likeminded, and can afford to do so, encourage them directly or indirectly. (For example, I brag about my contributions on Facebook in the hope that others will take the hint and make their own contributions!)  Incidentally, once you make a donation, you will then hear from the organization regularly on what it is up to or receive action items or invitations to events–and that can be valuable too.

Political Satire/Parody/Humor

Never underestimate the power of a cartoon or comedy sketch to slyly make a point to those otherwise unmoved.  Political satire has been an integral part of our democracy since its inception.  Michael Moore has said it is critical that we use this tool in The Resistance, particularly because of the thin skin of our new president.  Indeed, Trump has tweeted about his disdain for Alec Baldwin’s impressions of him on Saturday Night Live.  Far from stopping, SNL has doubled down like never before on its political satire of a sitting president and his staff (like Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and, most recently, Sean Spicer).

How can you use this tool?  Share easily obtained video of the skits (such as the one below that aired on February 4th) with your Facebook and Twitter followers.  Samantha Bee on TBS’s Full Frontal, Stephen Colbert on CBS’s Late Show, John Oliver on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, and Trevor Noah on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show also have readily available clips of their hilarious yet blistering takedowns of Trump and his administration.  Add your own barbed and witty opinions and comments.

If creative yourself, you can create your own memes, gifs, or come up with your own humorous observations about the Trump administration, and share them.  There is much material to be mined and while the issues themselves are deadly serious, the use of satire and humor can be another very useful tool in fighting for The Resistance (and also for stress management in these uncertain times).

“Huddling” & Organizing

Huddling is a new term in political activism that has emerged now that the Women’s March organizers have listed it as one of its “10 actions in 100 days.”  It is defined as a small group of people holding an informal conversation, although a huddle also conjures up images of a football team secretly strategizing in the middle of a game how to outwit the opposition.  In practice, huddling is whatever we make of it in our own communities.  Locally-led resistance groups are forming and meeting almost daily since the Women’s March.  The same synergy and collective creativity that allowed us to organize sister marches quickly can now be harnessed in our hometowns to take on the challenges of the Trump administration.

Handbook of the Resistance

Indivisible

If you haven’t heard about Indivisible now is the time to read it–it’s a downloadable PDF of only 26 pages or read it on the Indivisible website.

The value of this guide, which has become the unofficial handbook of The Resistance, spawning pockets of organized resistance all across the U.S., is that it succinctly describes, from the perspective of staffers of progressive members of Congress, how the Tea Party became as powerful as it did in such a short period of time.  Spoiler alert:  They did it by making countless phone calls to their members of Congress and regularly showing up to local offices and town halls for face to face interaction.  These two simple things are highly effective means for getting your lawmaker to either vote one way or the other on a pending bill, or prioritizing a policy with which they may agree, but aren’t planning to champion.  The underlying philosophy of Indivisible is that we as constituents literally hold the key to our members’ of Congress keeping their job and this (in addition to huge campaign contributions) is what motivates them to act or not act for any given matter.  More constituents participating in concerted actions thus makes more of an impact.

To search for an Indivisible group in your area (or register your own), click here.

Phone Calls

Michael Moore made a show out of getting the enormous mass of people at the Women’s March on Washington to recite back to him the phone number to reach the Congressional Switchboard and promise we will call our legislators not just once but pretty much every day.  202-224-3121 is that number (and yes, I have it memorized and on my phone).  However, sometimes that switchboard is jammed (which is a good thing) and you should also know all the direct dial and home office numbers for your senators (each of us has two senators), and member of Congress (each of us has one representative in the House).  Then, when an issue comes up, you have those numbers at the ready and can quickly and easily make phone calls, even while standing in line at the grocery store or on a coffee break at work.

For a list of phone numbers go to these websites, find your members of Congress, and click on their names to go to their websites (with further contact information):

For U.S. Senators, click here and then click on their names.  Once on their website you can generally click on the tab “contact” and then select “offices” for locations of home offices as well as local phone numbers.

For a list of all U.S. Senators, as well as their direct line and office number, click here.

To find out who your representative in the House is, click here and enter your zip code.  Then click on your representative’s name to be sent to their website.    You should be able to click on the tab “contact” and then select “offices.”

For a list of all members of the House, as well as their direct line and office number, click here.

Town Halls

Here is a super-helpful spreadsheet with a list of upcoming Town Halls and local office hours and location.

Also, the website RiseStronger.org has a handy searchable database of events, including town halls, as well as protest and rallies, throughout the U.S.

Get your friends together (or your local huddle or organization of resisters), and pack the room, prepared to ask questions designed to put your legislator on the spot.  Essentially make known that you are their constituent, this is an issue of utmost import to you, and you will not vote for them in the next election unless they do what you want.  If you don’t want to ask the question yourself, make sure you wear homemade buttons or t-shirts and sit with those who do to show you are a collective, cohesive group.

Trends in The Resistance:

Bursting Out of Your “Bubble”

One thing we all have heard post-election, usually but not always in a negative light, is this notion of living in a “bubble” in this country.  Really this is the idea that we all have a tendency to surround ourselves with people who think like we do, but I also believe that we can pick up our political views by osmosis.   In other words, by living in or moving to a part of the country where seemingly everyone thinks a certain way, some “impressionable” (or perhaps more positively stated “open”) minds will ultimately become more like the majority, both culturally and politically.  This is why breaking outside of your bubble (in addition to being a cheerleader to motivate your likeminded friends and relatives to act on their views) is very important if we hope to turn the tide in 2018 and beyond in favor of progressivism.  If you are reading this and live in a red state or district as a progressive or Democrat or have friends or relatives who do (who are not dyed in the wool conservative Republicans or Trumpkins), you have a very special role indeed to play in The Resistance.  Read on…

Running for Public Office

More and more women are seeking to run for public office following Trump’s election.  Organizations such as She Should Run, Run Women Run, and Emerge America, in addition to Emily’s List, have sprung up to help support progressive women, including women of color, in their quests–whether it be to local, state, or national offices.  This can be a logical next step for those of us who are already immersing ourselves in policy, advocacy, and activism.  Also, the more women elected to public office, the more we can look forward to seeing a day when a white male president, signing an executive order taking rights away from women while surrounded by white men (which happened very recently in case you missed it), is a thing of the past.

Voter Registration & Canvassing

I think it’s fair to say that we progressives learned our lesson the hard way that campaign tools such as voter registration and face-to-face engagement is a full-time pursuit and not just for a few months before an election.  Sign up with your local Democratic organization to go to neighboring red states and district starting now and laying the groundwork for 2018 and beyond.  Midterm elections cannot be viewed as optional (and neither can presidential elections for that matter), and we must engage in outreach over the long term.  (Obviously, don’t even think of not going to vote in every election going forward.  Every. Single. Election.  And vote for the Democrat in every contest.  Every one!)  Likewise, state elections are extremely important given that state governments are very powerful in this country.  Many, many Democratic state legislative seats and governorships were lost (a staggering 900 seats according to Politifact) during the Obama years while, taking a four-year long victory lap to celebrate a great victory in the executive branch of federal government in 2008, and again four years later, we became complacent (and lazy.  There, I said it.)

Red District/State “Buddies”

So, this is a term coined by and the brainchild of my friend and a state Women’s March lead organizer, Stacy Small.  Each of us progressives must commit to locate a select group of friends or family in specific red districts and states and personally provide them on an ongoing basis the information and support they need to become effective members of The Resistance themselves.  I cannot overstate how invaluable this tool can be in terms of winning elections and legislative battles on the state and federal levels of government.  It requires us to start communicating with each other about politics, however, something that doesn’t always feel good or easy.

Even if you don’t have red state buddies yourself, you can still help neighboring swing districts vote blue in 2018 and beyond, by signing up with groups like SwingLeft.

Computerized Phone Banks

Finally, one promising tool of The Resistance to help us break out of our bubbles and make a real difference is utilizing phone banks that put us in touch with folks (albeit strangers) likely to be of the same mind as ours but in other states.  We can then call them regarding a specific issue, educate them, and even patch them through to their legislator in a single phone call so that it is a constituent making the ask or comment.  This exciting tool I believe is the wave of the future when it comes to The Resistance and may be one of the keys to turning the tide back in progressives’ favor in a more durable way than ever before.

Sign left on White House lawn after the Women’s March on Washington. Photo Credit: Jennifer Rand/The FeMOMist

Why I March: Looking Ahead to the Women’s March on Washington

It’s the morning after the election and I can’t open my eyes and face the truth:  Donald Trump won the electoral college and will be our new president.  So I continue to sleep.  For the next week, I walk around bleary eyed, still not quite believing that, not only did we not elect our first female president, but also we elected a man with a complete lack of respect for women, an admitted serial sexual assaulter.  I feel powerless, and hopeless, and helpless.  I can’t bear to watch Clinton’s concession speech.  It’s too painful. (Just between you and me, I only just watched Clinton’s concession speech today.  And yes, I still became emotional.)

Then, about ten days after the election, something occurs to me:  I simply cannot allow myself to accept President-Elect Trump as the new normal.  I realize I cannot avoid news for the next four years.  I cannot check out and bury myself in a bubble-like cocoon.  Instead, I know that I must do what we women have had to do periodically since the beginning of the United States of America:  acknowledge a setback of monumental proportions, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and forge ahead for the fight of a lifetime.  In other words, I forced my eyes to open wide, kind of like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, and willed them to gaze purposefully into the future.

But now what?  Die-hard Clinton supporters like myself were not only experiencing raw emotions–fear, anxiety, anger, profound sadness–in the days following the political upset to end all upsets, but also the loss of an underpinning.  For we had all known deep down that victory would mean an easier path forward for so many progressive goals.  So, we put our collective energy into electing Hillary.  Now that we had lost that critical battle, what could be done to make the best of a disastrous situation?  Well, it turns out that there have been and will be so many things to be done–even before Trump is sworn in and certainly afterwards.

I personally donated money to an array of newly vulnerable progressive organizations, like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, Emily’s List and the National Organization of Women, Trevor Project and Human Rights Campaign, the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America/Everytown and more.

I subscribed to publications that advance honest-to-goodness journalism and investigative reporting, like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

I signed many petitions:  to stop Steve Bannon, to audit the vote, to protest Trump’s appointments, to investigate Russia’s hacking of our election.

I am boycotting NBC for its decision to air another season of The Celebrity Apprentice, and businesses that sell Trump products.

I wrote to all of the electors, imploring them to vote their conscience, and not for Donald Trump, on December 19th.

I didn’t participate in any of the protests against hatred, but cheered on my friends and those who did.

I continued writing my progressive feminist blog and shared noteworthy action items on my Facebook page.

I joined local organizations that promise to band together to fight against Trump’s threatened policies.

Women’s March: The Nuts & Bolts

Somehow, the one thing that has made me feel the best in the face of a seemingly insurmountable setback, was registering for the Women’s March on Washington and helping organize volunteers for what is shaping up to be a massive undertaking.  After some hiccoughs early on, we now know some basic truths about this prospectively historic march:

  • The march has been endorsed by a wide range of organizations, including 1199 SEIU, American Indian Movement, Amnesty International, Black Girls Rock, Black Women’s Roundtable, Brown Boi Project, Center for Popular Democracy, CHIRLA, Define American, ERA Coalition,Everything Girls Love, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Feminist Majority Foundation, Life Camp Inc., MADFree, MomsRising, Mothers of The Movement, MPower Change, Muslim Women’s Alliance, NAACP New York State Conference, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Newspaper Publishers Associations,National Organization for Women (NOW), One Billion Rising, Trayvon Martin Foundation, The Gathering for Justice, The National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, United We Dream.  (Martin Luther King, Jr.’s youngest child, Bernice King, who was only five years old when her father was assassinated, has been supportive as well, according to organizers.)
  • The mission of the March is to advance the cause of justice and equality for all American women, regardless of race, religion, sexual identity, gender expression, socioeconomic status, immigration status, age, or disability.
  • Principles of Kingian non-violence pervade the spirit of the march, which is a peaceful testament to our collective concern for our future, and each other, under the Trump administration.

In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us. –Women’s March “Mission & Vision”

#WhyIMarch

#WhyIMarch is an ongoing hashtag on Twitter and I have enjoyed reading the reasons my fellow marchers give for choosing to participate.  At the center of the reason why I am not only marching, but pouring my heart and soul into this march, is that it advances women’s interests as its primary goal and purpose.  It is this march that is dedicated to the cause of justice and equality for all women.  It is this march that I have high hopes will go down in history with some of the greatest political rallies in American history.  It is this march that makes me feel like so many voices will come together and shout loud and clear that while we now know that many Americans were fine with electing a known misogynist to the highest office in the land, the rest of us most certainly are not fine with it.  At all.

So why do I more specifically plan to march on January 21st?  Here are some of the most powerful reasons #WhyIMarch:

  • To honor those female warriors before me–the suffragettes, women’s libbers like my now-deceased aunts, trailblazers like Hillary Clinton–and give voice to their concerns in a new era.
  • To join with likeminded, kindred spirits, and feel the power and sense of community when we merge together for a single purpose.
  • To use my voice to make an impact beyond sitting at my computer keyboard.
  • To forcefully and publicly declare that it is wrong and un-American to be sexist or misogynistic, regardless of one’s station in life, wealth, or fame.
  • To speak on behalf of those who are silenced and marginalized, or are too ill or elderly or poor to travel and attend the march themselves.
  • To acknowledge publicly that we live in a highly paternalistic, inherently sexist, and often misogynistic society, even in 2017.
  • To fight for the rights of my daughter (and her daughters) to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and to not be a second class citizen in the country I hold dear.
  • To make clear that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights, once and for all.
  • To fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, which failed to be ratified in the 1970s due to anti-woman sentiment, and continues to fail to be ratified by the necessary number of states.
  • To show my understanding that there is (to quote Hillary Clinton’s concession speech) “still work to do” and passionately assert that we will not rest until we ensure that women have the right to control our own bodies, that with hard work and diligence we can break the glass ceilings of our choosing, that we will not tolerate sexual harassment, bullying, and assault by strangers and acquaintances alike, either in person or online, and that working women deserve the same opportunities and pay as our male counterparts.
  • Because I agree wholeheartedly with Hillary when she said on November 9, 2016, “Never stop believing that fighting for what is right is worth” the effort.  I never will.  And neither should you.  Let’s March, Ladies!

For more information on the Women’s March, including how to register (not required but helpful for planning purposes) or to make a donation, click here.  The Women’s March is what we make it.  Let’s make it an epic turning point for women’s rights in this country.

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Women/Moms: It’s High Time to Dump Trump & Just Say No to Misogynists

 

For women/moms, the choice is clear. Donald Trump can't be our next President.

For women/moms, the choice is clear. Donald Trump simply cannot be our next President.

By now everyone who isn’t in a coma knows that Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee for President of the United States, has confessed to being a serial sex offender.

We’ve listened to the 2005 tape of him bragging to Billy Bush that his wealth and fame enable him to do whatever he wants with women, including sexually assaulting them.

We’ve heard him declare proudly how he made the moves on a woman, who also happened to be married, despite being married to Melania (who at the time was pregnant with their son).

All the spin in the world is not going to change those two facts.

Trump and his surrogates have called this “Locker room talk.  Locker room talk??  If that’s the case then there are far more rapists and sexual predators hanging out in locker rooms than I had even imagined was possible.

The reaction to the so-called Trump Tape was swift and certain. Democrats and many Republicans condemned the statements he had made on the tape. On Twitter and Facebook, Trump’s supporters continued to hold on and dig their heels in deeper, if anything, because as it turns out, Trump really can do absolutely anything and they will stand by their man. (See the comments to my Facebook post below for some prime example of this).

While it may come as a surprise to many of us that female Trump supporters are just as strident as male Trump supporters in the wake of this most recent bombshell, they really and truly are.  I have heard from women who are blindly loyal, almost to the point of religiosity.  (Incidentally, I would argue that sticking up for and defending an admitted sex offender is misogynistic and therefore deplorable, and the overwhelming majority of Trump supporters are sticking with him, so it would seem to logically follow that, if anything, Hillary Clinton underestimated the number of “deplorables” in that basket of hers.)

Anyway, I digress (which is what Trump supporters, led by Trump himself, are so good at doing to try to distract us from the truth).

Here is my point:

Since the Trumpettes are not abandoning him despite his lying, cheating, raping ways, it is up to the rest of us women to pick up the slack and show the rest of the world that we will not tolerate a man like this as our leader, and the leader of our daughters and sons.

See, here’s the deal with the American public and our most pressing socioeconomic problems. Something beyond horrific happens. It can be almost anything:  young children are gunned down in their classroom (Sandy Hook massacre), a woman is raped on a college campus and her convicted rapist gets off with a slap on the wrist (Stanford swimmer rape), an unarmed African American man is shot dead by a police officer (Eric Garner, et al.), or even a natural disaster of epic proportions like a flood that devastates disproportionately the poorest members of the community (Hurricane Katrina).

What happens next is that the vast, vast majority of American people are saddened, even outraged. Then, there are the people who immediately try to explain it away. They say to the rest of us: there really isn’t a problem; these things happen; it was an accident; you are misinterpreting the situation; boys will be boys; the victim is a sleaze or has a criminal record, etc.; something else has happened before that is worse.

It’s always for these people: “Yes, but . . . ”

The sympathetic people do what they can to help in the immediacy of the event: they contribute money for displaced and devastated flood victims to rebuild their lives; they write letters or make phone calls to Congress calling for stronger gun laws; they post on Facebook articles and comments reflecting their beliefs and condemning sexual assault. It really and truly bothers and disturbs them—and this is the important part—at the time. Then, real life (for the sympathetic people) takes over. We have to raise our families, go to work, run a household, etc. Maybe part of this is human nature. Maybe we are so deeply wired to be resilient that it is the norm to reset to normality.

What remains, however, in the wake of these watershed events are two groups of people:

  1. The direct victims of the tragedy who probably will never get over what has happened to them or their loved one(s), and
  1. A group (of varying size, depending on the tragedy) of determined citizens who can’t let it go. They are saying to themselves, “Wait a second—not so fast—this is really important.   This is crucial for the well being of Americans as a whole. We need to do something about this. There is an injustice and inequity here.”  Those people may never stop feeling that way. They join groups and engage in peaceful demonstrations, circulate petitions, and continue to pressure Congress. They know that maybe they won’t be able ultimately to make a change but are hopeful enough to think that maybe change really is possible and it’s worth it to at least try. They are often up against great odds—a recalcitrant Congress, powerful lobbyists, big business—who resist change.  Thus, change is most likely to happen when there is a groundswell of support that is intense and prolonged.

With that backdrop, we need to look at Donald Trump’s tape and the reaction to it.   I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post that ran a couple days prior to the release of the Billy Bush tape. My piece provided a litany of examples of Trump’s sexism and misogyny, all gleaned by looking to readily available sources, including episodes of the Howard Stern show (which CNN began running over the weekend as a “breaking” story— but it was BuzzFeed that actually broke this story, way back in February by pouring through years and years of tapes).

In the meantime, the Howard Stern syndicated radio show began way back in 1980s as part of the so-called Shock Jock genre—emphasis on the shock. Stern’s show took off with its particularly lewd approach to the talk show format. The FCC finally chased Stern from regular radio airwaves in 2006, however, Stern continued to have a voice on satellite radio, where he was completely uncensored and a huge hit for SiriusXM. His show had an even broader reach once he negotiated  a deal with E! to have his show videotaped for viewing on the cable network.

Donald Trump was apparently a natural fit for Howard Stern, calling into or appearing on his show about two dozen times over the years. Each time, Trump proceeded to engage in sexist, misogynistic banter with the host, saying outrageously lewd things about famous women, his wives, and even his daughter (Sure, he said to Stern, you can call Ivanka a “piece of ass”). Publicly. There was clearly a market for his particular brand of unbridled misogyny and Stern and Trump catered to it. As for the rest of us?  We either changed the channel and didn’t listen, or at least we certainly didn’t stand up and say it was wrong, sexist, hateful, misogynistic.

All of this is to say just this: If you are offended and outraged by Trump’s tape and the things set forth in my article: Don’t. Let. It. Go. Instead of being one of the people who returns to your day-to-day life, que sera sera, say enough and let’s fight for the rights of women in this country and our daughters and granddaughters, including the right to be free of men who think they can treat us like objects.

In 2016, we have laws against sexual harassment, but successful politicians like Donald Trump, who has basically said (about the Fox News sexual harassment case) that rather than enforcing those laws against perpetrators, we should quit our jobs or be grateful for all that harasser has done for us.  Perhaps this outmoded view of an appropriate employer/employee relationship explains why, on the set of The Apprentice, Trump himself engaged in sexual harassment, according to many cast and crew members.

In 2016, we have laws against rape, but when people are caught bragging that they sexually assault women and get away with it, Trump and his supporters call it “locker room talk.”

In 2016, we still blame victims of rape because of the way they dress or their backgrounds rather than keep the focus on the perpetrator. We say things like Donald Trump did when his friend, Mike Tyson, was convicted of rape.  Well, you know, Donald said at the time, she was dancing with him and went to his hotel room.  When victims of sexual assault do come forward, we either don’t believe the accuser or we identify with the perpetrator. We worry about a convicted rapist’s future more than the often shattered life of his victim.

With all that said, my fellow women and moms, you have a choice, and you have the right to vote your conscience when you cast your ballot:

Do you vote for Hillary Clinton, who has been fighting for women’s rights her entire life and really and truly “gets” what it’s like going through life as female in the United States, or do you vote for the man who is a known sexist, misogynistic bully, that brags about sexually assaulting women, and who has absolutely no respect for women.

Together we have the power to make this decision and send a message to the rest of the country and the world that we respect ourselves and our daughters and love our country too much to allow a Trump presidency.  We can stop Trump and set ourselves on a path forward to an America where misogyny is no longer tolerated and accepted.

Moms4HRC volunteers travel to PA to canvass for the Clinton campaign

Moms4HRC volunteers travel to PA to canvass for the Clinton campaign

Talking About Racism Matters: A White Mom’s Perspective

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Cover of book written by an African American attorney for African American men.

At Monday’s debate, the issue of systemic racism and race relations came up and how the candidates handled it is telling.  While Donald Trump hammered away at the concept of “law and order,” bringing up stop and frisk as a desirable way to reduce crime on the streets, Hillary Clinton’s response was much more nuanced.  She acknowledged the breadth and depth of the problem of systemic racism in our criminal justice system, something that is unusual in a candidate running for the presidency.

Stopping and frisking every person as suggested by Trump is not a viable solution to crime in this country.  Aside from the way it tends to be carried out by the police (disproportionately targeting African Americans in a manner known as a racial profiling), it only furthers the legitimate view by many African Americans that our system is unfairly set up to discriminate against people based on the color of their skin.  Indeed, a federal judge determined New York City’s own stop and frisk law was unconstitutional because it violated African Americans’ civil rights.

In the meantime, Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, recently said that we talk too much about institutional racism in our justice system.

Too much, Mike Pence?  I couldn’t disagree with you more.

Maybe my own personal history of race relations is not the norm.  I grew up in the 1970s in suburban Philadelphia, and went to a K-12 Quaker school where equality and justice were part of the curriculum.  Although a private school, it was a completely desegregated one in the sense that we all grew up together–black and white boys and girls–and were genuinely friends.  We ate lunch together, played and hung out at each other’s houses, went to parties together, etc.  It all seemed very normal and natural and that’s the environment in which I grew up.  It certainly helped that my own parents never once used a racial slur or made racist comments in my presence.  Indeed, my mother, very progressive in her own right, joined the NAACP.  In 2008, I cheered President Obama’s election in part because I viewed it as progress in our country–a sign that we had taken another step towards equality.  Yet, I am not naive and know that I am, like all Americans, a product of a culture that over hundreds of years has taught us lessons, stereotypes, and prejudices that are deeply engrained in our fabric and are stubbornly difficult to shake.

In any event, I believe that the problem with denying there are issues with systemic racism in this country (and make no mistake, there are still serious problems with racism in this country) is that like with every difficult dilemma, the first step towards solving racism is to admit it exists.  In my mind, it all starts with understanding.  Understanding and empathy.  Not only hearing a black person who says, “Black Lives Matter,” but really attempting to empathize and understand what that means–and not what it means to myself as a white woman, but to that black person.

During the aftermath of the killing of Keith Scott by police in Charlotte, North Carolina, I became deeply aware of this.  On Facebook, reading the stream of articles in my news feed, and opinions posted by my (mostly liberal) Facebook friends, I came upon this comment:

My girls said, “mom, I’m scared for daddy. What if he has car problems? He can’t even call the police for help!” My heart is just breaking, I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m hopeless! People will look at my husband, and just think he’s a bad dude because his skin is brown and he’s six feet tall! And what of my brothers, cousins, uncles! What are these cops thinking?! But yet look at how black men are portrayed on tv and everywhere and so we are subliminally taught that black is bad and black men are the ultimate level of bad!! 😢😢😢

The poster of this comment, Claudia (not her real name), is a married African American woman and mother of four kids, who are now 16, 15, 8, and 5.  I know her because she was in a social group I joined shortly after the birth of my first baby, my son.  Ten first-time moms and our babies met, first in a church, and then at each other’s houses, every week for well over a year.   Knowing that these other women were going through the same sort of issues as I was as a first time mother gave me comfort.  We talked about all sorts of things and became friends, going to each others’  birthday parties for our kids and holiday parties.  Then, many of us drifted apart.  We had our second babies, and even our third or fourth, and we didn’t live around the corner from each other.  Some of us returned to work full-time or moved out of the area.  In retrospect, it’s noteworthy we met for as long as we did as a complete group.

Facebook brought a lot of us back together through throwback postings of pictures we had taken of all ten of the babies when they were only a few months old.  And then Claudia and I became Facebook friends.  We discovered that our daughters both were dancers and watched each other’s dance videos.  I learned that Claudia had moved to Charlotte, North Carolina–with her husband of 20 years, and kids–but it sounded like all was well.  Claudia and her family are, quite frankly, no different from the rest of my mom friends and their families.

Then came the Scott shooting and that post on Facebook.  Soon after, I watched on cable news the video taken by Scott’s wife, Rakeyia, of the shooting (apparently because she had the wherewithal and courage to obtain her own evidence of what transpired as her husband was shot to death by a police officer).

My heart broke into pieces.  Why?  Because I really and truly empathized with Claudia, whom I had known well, and with Mrs. Scott, who was a total stranger but is also a wife and a mother.  I imagined the concern that Claudia had not only for her husband, but also her daughter who is the same exact age as my son.  Unlike Claudia’s daughter, my son doesn’t have the worry that he or his father–my husband–will be shot and killed because of assumptions and snap judgments made based on the color of their skin.   I don’t have to worry that I will ever have to watch my husband being shot and killed before my eyes while I capture it on my phone as proof.

I know that there remain questions to be answered about the particulars of the Scott case.  Nevertheless, there will always be another case like it just around the corner with different facts, but with the common denominator of police using lethal force against a black man unnecessarily.  The bottom line:

That a wife had to beg and plead for police not to shoot her husband dead and have it fall on deaf ears;

That she had to be a witness to the deadly shooting when the police ignored her even after she said he had a traumatic brain injury;

That a 16 year old girl who I knew as a beautiful baby has to be scared for her father’s life;

That her mom, Claudia, has to comfort her kids knowing full well they are right to be concerned;

That the book depicted above, entitled “A Survival Guide: How Not to Get Killed by the Police,” must exist in 2016 America;

These things do matter to me, and should matter to all women and moms, regardless of their skin color.

Sorry Mike Pence:  President Obama was right about what he said at the White House reception just prior to the opening of the National Museum of African American History and History.  We have come so far with race relations and institutional racism in this country, and yet we have so very far to go.  And the only way we’re going to get there is by truly seeing each other, listening, trying to understand and empathize and, finally, by working together to find a solution.

7 Life Lessons Our Children Can Learn from Hillary Clinton’s Historic Nomination

You have probably seen the Clinton campaign ad.  You know, the one where Donald Trump disparages women, encourages violence against protesters, claims he could shoot up Times Square and his supporters would still vote for him, makes racist comments about Mexicans, and mocks a disabled reporter.  (If not, click here or see below.)   We have all heard Trump say these things, almost to the point of becoming desensitized to them.

But what about our children?  The ad is particularly devastating in that it shows the faces of children watching Trump on TV.  It shows that they are listening and taking in the words and the message.  Trump, in essence, says and does things that we as parents try to teach our children not to do.  The ad (entitled “Role Models”)  next displays this message “Our children are watching.  What example will we set for them?”

And then, the ad concludes with the words of Hillary Clinton herself, who is saying during a speech (again, as children watch on TV), “Our children and grandchildren will look back at this time, at the choices we are about to make, the goals we will strive for, the principles we will live by.  And we need to make sure that they can be proud of us.”

We have heard a lot about the horrifying things that Donald Trump has said and done–both during his campaign and over the course of a lifetime.  It almost goes without saying that these things–bullying, incitement to violence, racism, misogyny, xenophobia–are lessons we do not want our children to learn.  But what about Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and the things that she has said and done over the course of her lifetime?  What does her historic nomination teach our children (and us) about life and the principles we want them to learn?  The media has done little to distill these for us (except to note the self-evident, highly significant truth that at least one woman has been able to achieve the previously unattainable).  So, here are seven other life lessons (the first being that kids should dream big, that even a girl from a middle class upbringing can grow up to be president) that our kids can take away from Hillary Clinton’s extraordinary life and nomination.  It wouldn’t hurt to point these out to our sons and daughters and show them how Clinton’s story is, in many ways, a model well worth following

1. Perseverance Pays Off

Clinton is the poster child for the motto, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”   Her perseverance has been one of her most important character traits over the course of her adult life.  When she took on as First Lady, the thankless, impossible job of tackling universal health care and failed, she could have given up and retreated into a more traditional role.  Instead, she worked with members of Congress to find common ground and enact the Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing health care insurance to millions of children.   When she lost the nomination in 2008 to Barack Obama, she could have thrown up her arms in despair and lived out the rest of her life in comfort.  Al Gore did just that in 2000 when he narrowly lost the election to George W. Bush.  Instead, Clinton picked herself up, dusted herself off, and returned to public service, working directly for the man who had defeated her.  And then, put herself through the same grueling schedule and withering criticisms by running for the nomination again four years later.  Lesson taught?  If you give up, there is no chance at success, so why not persevere and try again.

2. Nobody Is Perfect But That’s OK/Own Up to Your Mistakes

Clinton has been around the block–many times.  She has been in the public spotlight since the early 1990s and, as a woman ahead of her time, has endured a particularly harsh, brightly lit, and cynical spotlight at that.   Could anyone come out of that without making some mistakes?  Of course not.  Do we expect our kids to be perfect and never make mistakes?  Do we never make mistakes ourselves?  Of course not.  Clinton has made her fair share of mistakes and her political enemies have always tried to make hay of those mistakes.  However, Clinton has also been unusual on the political scene by keeping an open mind and when she sees she was indeed wrong about something, she will admit it.  She will grow and learn from her mistakes and change either her way of thinking or try to make things right.  Male politicians on the whole seem to struggle with admitting to mistakes and instead dig in deeper and double down.  Changing one’s mind in the face of reason or admitting you made a mistake and sincerely apologizing for it is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and it’s a great lesson for our children.

3. Ignore Naysayers

How is it possible that Clinton holds her head up every day and forges ahead despite people yelling “Lock her up!” (and that’s just the Bernie-or-Busters)?  How can she work towards making a change to a deeply entrenched idea (like, disabled children can’t be educated in the public school system, or a woman’s place is in the home with her husband) when people all around her are saying it’s impossible, it’s not worth the effort, it’s just plain wrong?  Somehow she can block it out because she is secure in her values and in her heart knows she is doing the right thing.

4. Stand Up to Bullies

Clinton spoke during her acceptance speech at the DNC about how her mother–herself a tough cookie who had to fend for herself at a very young age–taught Clinton always to stand up to a bully.  When you’re relatively small, or weak, or female, it’s easy to be intimidated by those who seek to shut you down through force–physical or emotional.  Clinton’s defiance in the face of men–most recently, Donald Trump–who seek to bully her is another great life lesson for all of us.

5. Listen to & Learn from Others

While Clinton can block out a lot of unfair, politically motivated noise, she somehow maintains her ability to let in voices of reason and constructive criticism.  She also has never become so powerful that she forgets to listen, or has stopped listening, to those people who are weak and powerless and downtrodden.  Those who are closest to her and her advisors marvel at how she can truly listen to the plight of individual men, women, and children while on the campaign trail and immediately try to help solve their problem.  She does this by listening and not just hearing what they have to say.

6. Have Confidence in Your Abilities/Dare to Be Different

To be a college woman in the 1970s, the first student commencement speaker at your school, a student at an old boy’s club like Yale Law School, a political activist that poses as a housewife and mother to uncover school segregation in the South, and a First Lady that pushes the envelope like no one before her, etc., etc., etc., you have to be both very confident in your own abilities and also willing to go out on a limb and try another pathway.  Girls and women have always struggled with these things.  We allow ourselves to be talked over at meetings, needlessly apologize for our words and actions, doubt ourselves at every turn.  Clinton’s life history teaches all of us that we shouldn’t psych ourselves out and rather to trust our instincts and values to make change when we feel something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

7.  Empathize with Others

Clinton gave a speech when she was First Lady saying that what the world needed was more “love and kindness.”  She was crucified in the press for it.  This was yet another of her ideas that was ahead of its time.  She was right, of course.  What an antidote for the hatred and divisiveness peddled by her opponent than some love and kindness for our fellow humans.  When Clinton talks about “love and kindness” what she really means is that we need more empathy.  We need to be able to step into the shoes of a single pregnant mom living in poverty or the child of an illegal immigrant who is terrified he will be deported.  We need to see that saying racist things leads children who are African-American or of Mexican descent to feel devalued and ashamed of themselves and their ancestors.  We need to understand that “Black Lives Matter” because all lives should matter but do not, even in 2016.  We need to empathize more and judge less.  What a great life lesson for all of us.

 

The Case Against “Bernie or Bust”: 7 Reasons to Vote for Hillary Clinton

OK, full disclosure:  I am a Hillary Clinton supporter.  I like Hillary Clinton and have since she was our First Lady.   I voted for her in the primaries in 2008 and was disappointed when she didn’t get the nomination (though I did end up voting for Obama–twice).  I trust that Hillary will continue fighting for progressive causes in a way that will actually get things accomplished, just as she has her entire adult life.  She’s a pragmatist, but she’s also an idealist who has always had lofty goals for what can be accomplished in America if we don’t give up.  In case it needs to be expressly stated: she is the Democratic party’s nominee.

That is to say, I am in total agreement with Sarah Silverman when she said last night at the DNC that “the Bernie-or-Bust people are being ridiculous.”   Why?  Well, let’s first define the “Bernie-or-Bust” movement as I see it:

These are supporters of Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primary season who believe so ardently that Sanders should be our next President that last night they went to the Democratic National Convention (or sat home in front of their TV) and booed almost every speaker in protest.

These are people who claim that they will either sit out the general election in November, write in Bernie Sanders name, vote for a third party candidate such as Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, or even vote for Donald Trump.

These are people who say they will never vote for the Democratic nominee even if a readily available assault-style weapon is held to their heads.

Bernie Sanders stood for some very basic progressive principles and I’m going to make the assumption that this is why Bernie-or-Busters wanted to support him in the first place (and not because, let’s say, he reminded them of their adorable great-uncle Marvin).  Last night at the DNC, he reiterated these principles as if giving a stump speech.  Generally speaking, Sanders wants to overturn Citizens United, and make absolutely certain that people who aren’t at the top 1% of wealth distribution in this country earn and keep enough of their money to support themselves and their families.  He wants to restore fairness to our political system (assuming it was ever fair) and to our capitalist society.

With all that having been said, here are 7 great reasons for the Bernie-or-Busters (you know who you are) to put down your pitchforks, stop booing at your TV, and start supporting Hillary Clinton for the presidency.

1. Clinton’s History on Progressive Issues

Many of the Bernie-or-Busters are too young to remember or have never learned the honest-to-goodness truth about Hillary Clinton’s background.   The truth?  Clinton has been a champion for progressive causes her entire adult life.  She was a trailblazer on issues like universal health care and worked tirelessly to help get the Children’s Health Insurance Program enacted.  While First Lady in the 1990s, and against conventional wisdom, she dared to march in a gay rights parade and went to China to announce to the world that “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”

2. The Fate of the Supreme Court

Whoever is the next President will get to determine who will be the all-important, tie-breaking ninth justice on the Supreme Court.  Clinton will choose someone who will be most likely to overturn Citizens United, support women’s and minorities’ rights, support LGBTQ rights, and interpret the Second Amendment consistently with its plain language.

3. Clinton and the Democrats’ Platform

Sanders delegates claimed victory after victory during meetings held to determine the Democratic platform.  If elected, Clinton will seek to carry out that platform.  Bernie himself enthusiastically stated last night that this platform is the most progressive in the history of the Democratic party.

4. OK, She’s Not Donald Trump

Well, I had to throw this in there.  For every single issue that Bernie Sanders cares about, for every progressive concept there is, Donald Trump is the anti-Bernie.  Trump would love for the Bernie-or-Busters to vote for him in a frenzied rage of “I’ll show those Democrats!”  Don’t. Fall. For. It.  If you for one second think that Donald Trump will even attempt to tackle, much less achieve any of Bernie’s goals, then you really haven’t been paying attention.  I’ll admit that I made similar threats when my candidate lost to Obama in 2008.  Then I woke up the day after she conceded and came to my senses.

5. Be On the Right (Correct) Side of History

There is a political cartoon making the rounds on Facebook that depicts a man in a tattered suit sitting around a campfire with three children, who are presumably his children, and he says to them:  “Yes, a homophobic, Latino-hating, racist, sexist pig won the US presidency, but for a beautiful moment in time I got to stamp my feet and refuse to vote for Hillary. . . .”   In other words, if the Bernie-or-Busters do not vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump will win and the Bernie-or-Busters will be to blame for this.  Just imagine what America would be like then.

6. Vote Democrat Now, and Buy More Time for the “Revolution”

I get it:  Bernie-or-Busters do not want to be “sellouts.”  They hate the idea of selling out and want a perfect end to a perfect “political revolution.”  This all-or-nothing approach, however, could not be more self-defeating.  If Donald Trump wins in November and Congress does not change overnight to a strong majority of Democrats, there is no hope–none–that the Political Revolution championed by Bernie will succeed.  On the other hand, if the Bernie-or-Busters go to the polls in November and vote Democrat up and down the ballot (federal, state, local), then they hopefully will have four years to try to make some real changes to a system that is either “rigged” or not.  Even assuming Jill Stein or Gary Johnson would support every single proposal of Bernie Sanders, these two are so far behind in the polls, a protest vote for them will help result in a Trump presidency (see Reason #5).

7. Listen to Bernie (and Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama, President Obama, etc…)

Bernie-or-Busters listened intently to Bernie Sanders during the primary campaign and not surprisingly heard a message that was very positive about Bernie Sanders and neutral to negative about Hillary Clinton.  That’s called “politics.”  But did Bernie go to the DNC and give a lukewarm or non-endorsement of Hillary Clinton?  He could have been the Ted Cruz of the DNC but chose instead to throw his support behind the Democratic nominee (who had accepted much if not all of his agenda as part of the platform).

Last night, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, NJ Sen. Cory Booker, NY Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, immigrants, disabled people, and others, all spoke passionately about Clinton and her devotion to progressive causes.  President Obama couldn’t wait to get on the campaign trail to champion Hillary Clinton.  Both he and the First Lady were impressed with how she handled losing to Obama in 2008.  She could have faded away and cashed in.  It would have been so easy for her do that, the First Lady pointed out.  But instead she has risen to the occasion and will be our first woman president, a real champion of progressive causes in the White House.

If only progressives like the Bernie-or-Busters vote for her in November.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rape Culture & How It Impacts Our Children

 

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In 2007, my husband and I went to the first parent-teacher conference for our daughter, Beatrice (not her real name), who had started Kindergarten a couple months before.  I was eager to hear about my smart little girl.  Because of Beatrice’s advanced language skills, we had decided to send her to a private international school with a Spanish immersion program.  Although we are native speakers of English, this meant she would be learning in Spanish subjects like reading and math.  Naturally, I wanted to know how she was adapting to her new school–the immersion part, the academics, and to some extent the social life.

We sat down at one of the tiny tables that dotted the classroom and the teacher said to us, “Beatrice is doing great!”  I heaved a sigh of relief and looked at my husband and smiled.  Clearly, we had made the correct decision sending our daughter to this school.

The teacher then continued (somewhat exuberantly):  “The boys love Beatrice.  They always want to sit or stand right next to her.  They hold her hand. . . .”

By now, my feminist mom mind had switched on a very bright lightbulb over my head.  When the teacher finished with her description I asked (somewhat diplomatically), “Is Beatrice ok with that?”

The teacher didn’t hesitate:  “Oh yes, she loves it!”

Hmmm…I thought.  But does she?  Does she really?

We did at that point go on to discuss how Beatrice was adapting to foreign language immersion and academics, but the question hung in the balance.  Beatrice had always been a joy–a natural entertainer to whom people, adults and children alike, were drawn.  If someone was down, she would comfort or try to cheer him or her up.  I wondered if perhaps the teacher’s assessment of her interactions with her male classmates did not reflect how Beatrice genuinely felt about all that attention, including the touching part of it.

So I went home and asked her.  Beatrice was only five years old and had little self-awareness but I knew my daughter well enough to see that she found the routine invasion of her personal space by the boys–at the very least– annoying.  In any event, it clearly wasn’t something that she loved or wanted as the teacher seemed to infer (and enthusiastically at that).

Consent.  It is actually so simple (Yes means Yes; No means No; unconscious people are incapable of consent–see this video about tea to drive home the point):

Yet, young children are so innocent we don’t tend to think that sexual consent is an issue at that point.  The problem is that teachers like my daughter’s, when they put a positive spin on a boy’s impulse to touch a nice, pretty little girl, send a potentially dangerous message that both the boy and the girl may bring with them into adulthood.  The message that the boy gets is that he has carte blanche to touch girls.  The message that the girl gets is that she has to suck it up and pretend it doesn’t bother her.

These messages are dangerous, particularly when coupled with a culture that is–face it–absolutely saturated with messages that women are not in control of their own bodies; that unwanted touching is something to be endured without complaint; and that if a woman does dare to complain about unwanted sexual contact (e.g. rape)  she will be the one who is blamed, shamed, dismissed, and worst of all, even when believed, her rapist will get off with little more than a wink and a nod.

Growing up in this culture–the so-called “rape culture”–in this country makes for future men who may see “no” as just an inconvenient roadblock to move out of the way through verbal or physical coercion or brute force, or that believe if a woman is sexually assaulted on a college campus she is not a rape victim but merely an inconvenient roadblock to a college man’s bright future.  It makes for little girls who think it’s ok for little boys to invade their personal space because the teacher (who is, after all, a product of rape culture herself) thinks it’s cute, even if it is actually annoying to the little girl, who just wants to be left alone.

The problem is that teachers like my daughter’s, when they put a positive spin on a boy’s impulse to touch a nice, pretty little girl, send a potentially dangerous message that both the boy and the girl may bring with them into adulthood.  The message that the boy gets is that he has carte blanche to touch girls.  The message that the girl gets is that she has to suck it up and pretend it doesn’t bother her.

Therein lies the rub:

When schools have stringent dress codes that specifically target girls, this sends the message that girls are responsible for making sure that boys are not attracted to them, thereby serving as a distraction, and further implies that boys do not have the responsibility to learn and practice self control when around girls.

When matters of women’s bodies and health are routinely decided by male lawmakers rather than the woman herself and her doctor, this sends the message that women are not in charge of their own bodies.

When campus sexual assault is routinely “dealt with” outside the confines of the criminal justice system, that sends the message that a man’s future and the reputation of colleges and universities are more important than a woman’s health, safety, and physical and psychological well-being.

When the “song of the summer” (Robin Thicke’s hit song “Blurred Lines”) is all about “no” maybe not really meaning “no” and claiming that really there are “blurred lines” in the context of sexual consent, that sends the message that it’s ok to coerce or force a woman into sexual activity or ignore a woman’s state of consciousness; and further, that women don’t even know what they want sexually so men should just go ahead and decide for them.

When the hottest bestseller and movie (Fifty Shades of Grey) romanticizes the story of an older man who refuses to take no for an answer from a college woman and enters into what is an essentially physically and emotionally abusive relationship with her, this sends the message that relationships such as that one are normal, healthy, and desirable.

When a woman is brutally raped and assaulted by a college student (Stanford swimmer Brock Turner) who is convicted, yet receives a three-month jail sentence because the (male) judge is concerned about his future (and–“Hey-he is an amazing swimmer”!), that sends the message that even if a woman goes forward with a criminal rape case and is believed, her life and self-worth as a victim of rape is not worth as much as the convicted rapist’s future.

On the other hand, slut shaming puts society in the position of judging a woman’s exercise of certain freedoms by invariably identifying with the male perspective.   American women should be as free as men, however, to make their own choices in life.  Thus, when an adult woman consents to sexual activity with an adult man, that is her business.  She can make these decisions for herself, and it isn’t the place of a man or anyone else to make them for her.

Incidentally, having consensual sex doesn’t make a woman a “slut” or a “whore,” any more than it makes a man who decides to have consensual sex with a woman a “_______” (fill in the blank, because there is no male version of the term “slut” in our rape culture lexicon).  It doesn’t mean a woman is asking to be raped when she dresses in a way that some men might happened to find alluring.  Women should not be responsible for men’s lack of impulse control, however.  Boys and girls need to learn this from an early age before it becomes “normal” and accepted adult behavior.

One more time everyone:  “no” means “no” and “yes” means “yes.”  There is no secret language that exists–at least outside of our culture, which at every turn glorifies male sexual domination and control, equates masculinity with sexual conquest, and excuses men from wrongdoing because, well, a man has a powerful desire to do something wrong to a woman.  Put differently, sexual consent is no different than consenting to drink tea–the only difference between these two scenarios is that men (boys) have really strong urges at times to have sex with women (touch girls) but care a lot less about tea drinking.

It’s high time that we see our rape culture for what it is and make meaningful changes to it.  Our young children–both and boys and girls–are watching, and listening, and learning.

 

 

What I Found When I Lost My Ability to Eat

The following essay is a bit off-topic for my blog, but I wrote it a while ago and wanted to share this story with my readers for whatever it’s worth.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Some people eat to live; others live to eat”? I had always thought of myself as an “eat to live” kind of person, which is to say, someone who didn’t care all that much about what I consumed, but ate mostly for sustenance. That changed forever, though, in the winter of 2010, when I was 43 years old.

After a harrowing stage III colorectal cancer diagnosis, two major abdominal surgeries, 31 radiation treatments, and more than seven months of chemotherapy, I realized slowly but surely that I couldn’t eat. Now, everyone knows cancer patients struggle with nausea and poor appetite and, at first, I thought this was my problem. My oncologist expressed concerns, however, about my rapid weight loss from 102 to 76 pounds, as well as the seriously low blood pressure and extreme weakness that came with it, and put me on total parenteral nutrition (TPN). This meant that on a daily basis I prepared a large bag of milky white fluid and hooked it up to a needle accessing a medi-port that had been surgically installed in my chest. For 12 hours a day, a pump I carried around in a backpack transported the liquid into my veins, giving me all the calories, electrolytes, and nourishment I needed to stay alive while, ironically, a team of doctors worked to save me from death by cancer.

At first, I felt grateful and relieved to start the TPN, which could be viewed, quite legitimately, as a form of life support. But after cancer treatment ended and I was, to everyone’s great relief, in remission, I still couldn’t eat. Anything. If I dared to try, within hours I would inevitably feel nauseated. The nausea, mixed with abdominal cramping, would continue unabated for up to 24 hours until finally I would vomit so violently and profusely that one would think there was no fluid left in my body. Anti-nausea medication did nothing but make me drowsy. Without the TPN I would have literally wasted away.

My battle with cancer was hellish, but this latest development made me feel, somehow, less than human.   I mean, what is more basic in life than the ability to consume food through one’s mouth?

To say I “missed” eating is an extreme understatement. As the days of going food-free turned into months, I grieved my inability to eat like an amputee grieves the loss of her leg. My feelings swung wildly between scolding myself for not simply being thankful to be alive, to wondering if anyone would ever be able to understand what I was going through. Finally, my emotions plunged into sheer self-pity and despair, complete with crying jags, as I lay in bed wondering how I could go on if I could never again eat my mother’s chicken soup, much less a soft chicken taco, or a lobster dinner on my birthday. I also worried that, like some freak of nature, I would be dependent on TPN for the rest of my life.

I daydreamed about my favorite foods going back as far as my childhood, including things I hadn’t eaten or thought about in years, such as fried chicken, Philly cheesesteaks, and Italian hoagies. I began to watch the Food Network’s cooking shows, like “Barefoot Contessa,” for hours on end because I was too sick to do much else besides watch TV. Of course, I would fantasize about eating what Ina Garten was cooking, but ultimately the techniques started sinking in and I became tempted to try to make the dish myself. Now this might seem peculiar, given that I actually dreaded cooking prior to TPN. And I have no great psychological explanation for what happened next.

To try to bring myself out of my food-deprivation funk, I began researching recipes on the Internet, and cooking and baking for my family. I especially liked allrecipes.com and scoured that website looking for dishes my entire family, including my picky 8-year-old, would enjoy. Besides reading the recipes, I would pore over the many comments that followed and tinker with the recipe based on the advice of home cooks who had already tried it.  Inexplicably, something I began as a desperate, almost pathetic, way of reconnecting with food and my family became a hobby and a major source of pride and relaxation in my life. Even if I couldn’t eat with my family, at least I could be present while they ate food that I prepared for them with love and care and I could dine (albeit vicariously) with them. My cooking skills had improved by leaps and bounds and they were the direct beneficiaries.

Fast forward to Spring 2011, 14 months after I started TPN. My doctors finally determined the cause of my inability to eat. Bands of scar tissue (adhesions) had formed on my intestines due to multiple abdominal surgeries. The adhesions had led to chronic intestinal obstructions that had, in turn, physically prevented the food from making its way through my digestive system. As a last resort, I underwent a nine-hour, highly intricate operation with no guarantees and the goal of removing scar tissue while protecting the integrity of my remaining bowel. It took a lot longer to recover than expected and I’ll admit I started to think that this last-ditch attempt to regain my ability to eat had failed. My intestines had completely shut down and I wondered if the surgery had actually made things worse. Then, months later, the sun came up and my intestines suddenly and miraculously decided to start working again, the way they should.

Slowly, over many months, I added more and more to my diet, progressing from clear liquids to creamy soups and puddings, to low-fiber foods such as chicken, white rice, and potatoes, and all the way to raw fruit, salads, and the occasional box of popcorn at the movies. I celebrated each rediscovered food with the excitement of a toddler having cake for the first time. Friends and family took me out for special dinners to my favorite restaurants. Feeling better in every way, I started entertaining again—hosting homemade holiday dinners and a fabulous “wine and dine” party where every course was paired with a different wine. I made the entire four-course meal, including a refreshing yellow tomato gazpacho with cilantro and my hero Ina Garten’s delicious mustard-roasted red snapper.

Without question, I enjoy food more now than ever before and have become a more adventurous eater. I used to be content to eat and serve my family bland, uninteresting meals, but now I regularly cook with a variety of fresh, healthy ingredients, herbs, and spices, and continue to try new recipes. It is fair to say I am no longer an “eat to live” kind of person. Rather, I am a cancer survivor who is so very grateful—both to be alive and able to eat.

 

 

What Women/Moms Need to Know Now: Gun Violence Prevention 101

This is the first part in an ongoing series of posts that focus on educating about various hot button issues and how they impact women and moms.

Two recent shootings in Orlando. The first one–last Friday after a concert–resulted in the death of a former The Voice contestant, Christina Grimmie.  This horrifying shooting, that occurred as she was signing autographs, could have resulted in much greater carnage had her brother not tackled the shooter.  In retrospect, however, the Grimmie shooting seemed like foreshadowing for last night’s unfathomable massacre at an Orlando LGBT nightclub, in which a single assailant killed 50 and wounded another 53 with an assault-style weapon, making it the worst mass murder in US history. Gun violence continues to wreak havoc on and terrorize our country like none other in the developed world.  It’s thus well worth taking a look back to see how we reached this point in time where frequent mass shootings have become the new norm and how women and moms can help.

Following the 1994 midterm election, when progressives and Democrats everywhere woke up to a Congress that had changed hands overnight, there was a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, a lot of hand wringing, and a lot of finger pointing.  Many believed–right or wrong–that what made the difference was that Congress had passed and then-President Bill Clinton signed into law the assault weapons ban earlier in the year, as well as the Brady Bill the year before. At that time, this legislation was a major coup, and the powerful gun lobby known as the National Rifle Association (“NRA”) sprung into action, spending big bucks to ensure that members of Congress who had voted in favor of the law (primarily if not solely Democrats) lost in the midterm elections.

When the dust had settled, the NRA had accomplished two important things: (1) the most progressive members of Congress up for reelection, and who believed that reforms were necessary to reduce gun violence in our country, lost to more conservative Republicans, resulting in a new GOP majority in Congress, and (2) at that point forward, incumbents or politicians running for public office would think long and hard about going against the will of the NRA.  The NRA had won a major victory and common sense gun regulation would not be raised again for many years. When the time came for the assault weapons ban to be renewed in 2004, Congress and GOP President George W. Bush let it die, an unfortunate outcome given the current statistics showing that mass shooters have possessed these weapons over half of the time and when used they tend to result in higher casualties.

After the 1994 bloodbath, politicians considered backing, or even mentioning, the concept of gun violence prevention to be nothing short of “political suicide.”  In the meantime, the state legislatures that had previously attempted to make strides in gun law reform, particularly in areas with high crime rates such as the District of Columbia, faced certain push back by the NRA.  In the District of Columbia v. Heller case, D.C’s stringent handgun ban faced staunch opposition by NRA-hired attorneys, who challenged the law all the way up to Supreme Court.

The NRA’s lawyers argued that the Second Amendment, which provides, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” somehow meant that individuals have a constitutionally mandated right to own guns.   In 2008, Antonin Scalia and a Supreme Court made up of a majority of justices appointed by Republican presidents, sided with the NRA and, by a 5-4 decision, struck down the D.C. handgun ban as unconstitutional. The damage ultimately extended well beyond this limited circumstance, however, as the NRA and more conservative state legislatures around the country used this decision to justify a variety of laws aimed at making it even easier for individuals–even terrorists, convicted felons, mentally ill, and domestic abusers– to obtain, carry, and use guns.  The Supreme Court in 2010 did indeed determine that Heller applied also to state and local laws, thus extending the reach of the original decision.

Consequently, during the reign of terror by the NRA, not only were politicians afraid to support common sense gun legislation designed to reduce gun violence, but also GOP politicians in the pocket of the NRA worked to loosen the ties even further. Incredibly lax gun regulation, coupled with giddy gun manufacturers, led to a dramatic proliferation of guns in this country.  Even the NRA had at one time said that there should be common sense measures put in place, such as universal background checks.  The original NRA, however, was intended to be an association that represented gun owners in this country. Over time, that changed, as increasingly greedy and wealthy gun manufacturers turned the NRA into a massive lobbying machine that cared first and foremost about maximizing income to gun manufacturers with little to no thought or care given to what was done with those guns after they were purchased.

The story of the gun industry is not a new one. Other major U.S. industries have similarly become so greedy and so rich and so powerful that they could dominate politicians with their agenda and thus get away with murder (both literally and figuratively).   A couple prime examples include the American auto and tobacco industries.  People within those industries knew that they were manufacturing and selling to consumers very dangerous goods, yet failed to make changes to protect consumers. Why? All they cared about was their profits and, moreover, they were not adequately regulated by the government.

Take the Ford Pinto case.  Ford knew that the Pinto was unreasonably dangerous and could have recalled the cars sold and made modifications but discovery in a case brought against the company revealed that they had engaged in a callous cost-benefit analysis showing they came out ahead financially by just paying off those injured or killed by their defective product. The auto industry also fought hard against putting available but somewhat costly safety features in their cars–features that we now take for granted, and are mandated by law, such as three point seat belts and air bags.  Likewise, prior to a seminal suit brought against cigarette companies that uncovered what the companies knew about the dangers and addictive nature of cigarette smoking, the industry marketed cigarettes to minors–remember Joe Camel?– in the hope that they would get hooked at a young age and become lifelong smokers, thus spending millions of dollars on cigarettes (and much more likely to develop deadly lung cancer as a result).

Unlike these other industries, gun manufacturers with the help of the NRA shield themselves from such glaring scrutiny by wrapping themselves in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as now defined by the Supreme Court. In fact, there is now on the books a terrible federal law that provides immunity to gun manufacturers against suit for damages caused by their product.   This law is virtually unheard of in the arena of consumer goods and, essentially, since the gun manufacturers have the deepest pockets, leaves individuals with no recourse when their lives are destroyed as the result of gun violence.

In the meantime, common sense and viable safety measures, such as a biometric gun lock with a fingerprint sensor also known as a smart gun (think the iPhone and it’s use of similar technology to unlock the phone), have been dismissed by the gun lobby (a parallel with the auto industry’s aversion to mandated safety features), nor utilized by the vast majority of gun manufacturers (an exception:  the intelligun)  though it could save countless lives.  Another parallel, this one with the tobacco industry, is the gun manufacturer’s attempt to market firearms to children by making them look more like toys, with colors like hot pink and designs, and utilizing cute cartoon creatures in advertisements (see images)images)
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Rather than make us safer as touted by the gun lobby, the proliferation of guns led to an alarming uptick in the rate of deaths due to guns in this country.  Politicians looked away or swept under the rug the shocking statistics for fear of retaliation by the NRA. In 1999, after a major mass shooting that resulted in 15 deaths and 20 more wounded took place at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, gun control advocates had the ear and sympathy of the greater public for a time. Up against the NRA, however, they ultimately did not have a chance. The NRA was an extraordinarily wealthy and powerful lobbying organization by now, and regular citizens who were shocked and dismayed by this shooting in a public high school were neither organized, nor nearly as wealthy.

After Columbine, however, it became abundantly clear to anyone paying attention (and not a gun manufacturer) that something had to be done. High school students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been able to scheme and plan a mass murder they carried out at their school, and develop their own arsenal of multiple weapons with relative ease, without their parents even knowing anything about it. Political activist and screenwriter Michael Moore filmed a documentary about the massacre entitled “Bowling for Columbine” that was released in 2002. As interest in the case faded over time, the NRA continued, largely unabated, their quest for loosened gun restrictions, advocating for state and local laws like concealed and open carry in public places, such as college campuses, bars and restaurants, and movie theaters.

The carnage continued. Between Columbine and Sandy Hook—the horrific massacre of 20 young children and six of their teachers in their own elementary school—there were five more mass shootings in public schools and on college campuses, including the deadliest mass shooting of all time (until yesterday’s nightclub shooting) at Virginia Tech in 2007, when 32 were killed and 24 more were injured by a student.  Other public places where people gathered became increasingly dangerous. In 2011, Gabrielle Gifford, a congresswoman from Arizona and gun owner, was shot and seriously injured at an outdoor public forum, that killed 6 people and wounded 13 others. Just as the shooting of James Brady, Ronald Reagan’s press secretary in 1981, led to a long, drawn out battle for common sense gun law reform such as background checks (the “Brady Bill”), so too did a shooting of one of Congress’ own, in a state with one of the least restrictive gun laws in the country.

Then came the 2012 shooting at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  A mentally ill man, who managed to amass many firearms and 6,000 rounds of ammunition, walked in to the theater, and opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 56.  A similar incident happened in Lafayette, Louisiana at a screening of the movie, “Trainwreck,” in 2015.  Also recently, a white supremacist gunned down 9 African-American men and women in their church in Charleston, South Carolina, a blatant hate crime by a young white man who loved guns almost as much as he loved the Confederate flag.   All told, there are on average 289 people shot by a gun every single day in this country, and 86 of those Americans die. 

Statistics or even high school and college shootings are one thing, but no one mass murder galvanized the American public more than the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  The shock of so many young children (20 kindergarteners and first graders, and another 6 adults) gunned down in their own classrooms shook many to their very core. Moms led the foray, immediately organizing a grassroots group on Facebook under the leadership of Shannon Watts, an Indianapolis mother of five.  Many moms and other concerned citizens, including grieving families from Sandy Hook traveled to DC a month later on a freezing cold day to march on the National Mall demanding improved gun safety laws.

The power of grassroots organization via social media became clear, as Watts’ group, Moms Demand Action Against Gun Sense in America, not only grew in number of members, but also evoked memory of an earlier group formed by concerned mothers: Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).    MADD had led to reforms of the criminal justice system by holding drunk drivers more accountable for their actions behind the wheel. The hope was that Moms Demand Action could effect similar change regarding gun laws in this country. Other groups also formed in the wake of Sandy Hook, including a group of concerned mayors such as the mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg, known as “Everytown for Gun Safety.”  Gabby Giffords’ group, “Americans for Responsible Solutions,” also led the fight for gun law reforms. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gained a powerful new voice in Colin Goddard, one of the students injured in the Virginia Tech mass shooting.

Well-organized, motivated, and increasingly wealthy, these groups together pushed hard to enact common sense gun laws, such as universal background checks.   The NRA would not be defeated, however, and the push back was decisive. Split almost entirely along party lines, the GOP in the Senate killed a bill introduced at the urging of gun violence prevention groups.  In the past, this might have been enough to knock the wind out of the sails of gun law reformers.  But the new movement had some key differences in that it had many more members with a newly found determination, more money, and more influential leaders, as well as a simple, coherent message and mission that they shared—the enactment of “common sense gun legislation,” such as universal background checks without loopholes,  and increased gun safety measures, such as keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them–convicted felons, mentally ill, domestic abusers, and terrorists.

The battle went well beyond Congress, and included boycotts of businesses that allowed guns on their property, etc. as well as fighting for stronger gun laws at the state level.   Hollywood actors and actresses, and other entertainers, weighed in as well in favor of improved gun laws.

Where the NRA had previously had free rein in these areas, now there was finally an organized lobby to fight for the opposite position. Recently, President Obama made progress on these issues, by using his power of executive order to put as many measures in place as possible to combat gun violence in this country.  Congress continues to, in this area as in so many others, fail to act, despite polls showing that 92% of Americans, and 86% of gun owners, are in favor of common sense gun law reforms, like universal background checks.  Nonetheless, gun violence prevention groups have begun forming at the state level to push for the best possible laws to protect citizens against gun violence and strides continue to be made, particularly in states with Democratic-led governments.

Now that you have the history of the gun violence prevention movement, you may be asking, how does gun violence and the movement specifically impact women, and your daughters and sons, and also what can be done to help?

Domestic Violence: Although the NRA likes to insist that guns keep women safe, the truth is that a gun is far more likely to be used against its woman owner by a domestic abuser than as a means of self-defense.   In fact, women are less safe living in a house with a gun, period, according to the research. 

Negligence/Accidental Shootings: An appalling number of children die every year because a parent has failed to lock up a gun.  The child—often a very young child—accesses the gun, which is loaded and somehow discharges. In some jurisdictions, this is considered to be an accidental shooting, but really it is negligence or even recklessness on the part of the parent.  Any parent knows that just because you explain dangers to your toddler or young child, doesn’t mean he or she will listen to you and avoid the dangers 100% of the time. It only takes that one time for a child either to injure or kill himself, a playmate, a sibling, or any member of the family. The child is a victim either way, having to live her life knowing that she killed a friend or loved one.

Teen Suicide: Suicide is on the rise and is the third leading cause of teen and young adult death in this country. Lacking impulse control, and if severely depressed, a teen who can easily gain access a gun is a recipe for disaster.  While a person can attempt to kill themselves in a variety of ways, one who has easy access to a gun is much more likely to succeed before getting treatment for the underlying mental disorder.

School Shootings:  Since Sandy Hook, there have been an unacceptable 186 shootings in schools and universities.   That breaks down to be about a shooting per week.  Even when a school has a concern about a possible threat, it often will go into “lockdown” mode, thus terrifying our kids, who wonder if their lives are in danger.

There are so many things that you can do as a woman and mom to help reduce gun violence in this country—both on the micro and macro level. Here are some of the most important:

  • Join your local chapter of Moms Demand Action (http://momsdemandaction.org ) and respond to their calls to action. This grassroots group, formed in the wake of Sandy Hook, continues to exert influence through simple yet effective means of advocacy and lobbying. Moms are encouraged to bring their children to events so you don’t even have to get a babysitter.  In fact, I recall meeting with a Senator, and another mom brought her toddler into the conference room.  No one batted an eye.
  • Write and call your members of Congress. For a list of your senators and representatives, as well as contact information, go to this website: http://www.contactingthecongress.org. Tell them you’re a constituent and a voter who is concerned about gun violence in this country and ask them to take measures such as voting for common sense gun law reforms, holding gun manufacturers accountable.  If your members of Congress are already on board, thank them for their leadership and implore them to continue to make gun violence prevention a legislative priority.
  • Vote for candidates at the state and federal level who are in favor of enacting common sense gun laws and who have a history to back it up. This includes voting for Hillary Clinton for President. Clinton has been endorsed by all major gun violence prevention groups in this country,  because she has made gun violence prevention a major part of her platform, the first presidential candidate ever to do so. The NRA has endorsed Donald Trump, who believes that the Second Amendment takes priority over public health and safety, and who wants to eliminate gun-free zones.  Clinton has also expressed a disdain for the Heller decision, which adopted a nearly unfettered constitutional right for individual gun ownership, including domestic abusers, terrorists, felons, and the mentally ill. If elected, it stands to reason that she would want to appoint to the Supreme Court a judge who interprets the Second Amendment more consistent with her views than Justice Scalia’s. 
  • If you are a gun owner, lock up your guns and do not risk that your child will be able to access a gun. Take responsibility for your guns.   Even if it is legal to open or conceal carry a gun in public, seriously consider leaving yours at home. Too many guns have fired “accidentally” in public places, such as  public bathrooms, Wal-Mart, restaurants, and hotel lobbies.
  • Before your child goes to a playdate or to a friend’s house, ask the parent if there are guns in the household.  Consider restricting visits to that home (especially if the parents do not keep their guns locked up at all times) and plan more playdates in your home, which is hopefully a gun-free zone.  If not, and you must have a gun for self-defense, consider buying a smart gun that can only fire if the owner is holding it.
  • Still skeptical about the role that our lax gun laws play in mass shootings, such as the Orlando nightclub massacre?  Read the “Definitive Guide to the Gun Safety Debate.”

With Love & Kindness,

The FeMOMist

 

 

 

We Are Living in a Post-Feminist Era and It’s Bad for Women & Our Girls

I remember them clearly. There were these books in my elementary school classroom about the earliest feminists: the ones who fought for the right to vote, or flew a plane, or pursued undercover reporting, or freed slaves through an underground railroad. These books were, in retrospect, highly inspirational to me; they sent the message that, even as an 11 or 12-year-old girl living in the U.S. in the late 1970s, I really could grow up to do anything I wanted. They also taught me that women had struggled with the pervasive sexism that had been deeply entrenched in our society from the earliest days, and that these things didn’t happen easily. So, these early feminists were also heroes to me. Besides reading, I also watched my fair share of TV, and loved programs like That Girl, and Mary Tyler Moore, and Maude. These shows made me see how a woman could be smart, strong, and feminine, all at the same time.

Then there was the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA),  which provided, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” (If it were written anew today, I suspect that the word “sex” would be changed to “gender.”) To me, the ERA made perfect sense because I learned at my Quaker school that, as a matter of morality, everyone is equal. I understood that the ERA was an important addition to our Constitution and that a certain number of states needed to ratify it for it to become law.   Congress had already approved it and only 38 of the states needed to ratify for it to become the law of the land. I also remembered how disappointed I was when I learned that there were not enough states and it looked like there might never be enough states. I’ve since learned that the ERA would have passed—we only needed 3 more states—but for the counter-movement of Phyllis Schlafly, an antifeminist political activist who basically told married women/housewives across America (and at the time about 65% of American women did get married) that they had it cushy already, but the ERA would send us off to war and have other negative effects.   Phyllis Schlafly’s movement killed the ERA. We lost our chance, and it was because of a woman. If I had realized this at the time, I am certain I would have seen this as the worst betrayal.

Even younger, when I was in kindergarten, I remember going into school and proudly telling the teacher that my mom voted for McGovern while my dad voted for Nixon.   This taught me that not only would I eventually have the right to vote, but just as importantly, that I didn’t have to exercise it the same way my husband did—that my right to vote was valuable and real and belonged to me.

My aunts were self-professed feminists—ahead of their time—and some of my earliest memories are of family gatherings where they would debate politics (often but not always involving women’s issues) with my father and uncles. I thought that was normal family gathering conversation, and that women should discuss and debate these things with men. I discussed U.S. history with my dad all the time at the dinner table. He had views about girls that were pretty much par for the course in that era: girls are good at English; boys are good at math and science. I certainly fit that mold, though I will never know if my father’s views encouraged me to think that I did, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the other hand, my dad did introduce me to one of the earliest PC’s, made in the late 70s by Radio Shack, which he bought for his law practice—sparking an interest in computers, somewhat unusual in girls and women, that exists to this day—and had me doing data entry for him at the age of 10 or 11. Either way, my father never questioned that I was going to college and when I graduated cum laude from an Ivy League school he couldn’t have been prouder that I was going on to pursue the same career he did, as an attorney, with one of the largest law firms in the country.

After the fantasy world that was college in the 1980s, I carried my feminist sensibilities with me to law school, and beyond.   I took for granted, with a vague awareness of Roe v. Wade, that I could control whether or not I became pregnant through readily available contraception and could even have a safe abortion if I ever needed or wanted one. In the 1990’s, it was more common to be a professional woman (thanks to the trailblazers before us) and sexual harassment lawsuits could now be pursued in court due to the Civil Rights Act of 1991, resulting in more professional and civilized environments where men and women worked together.   I didn’t feel at all out of place at my law school where the male to female ratio was about 1:1, and I made the prestigious law review along with a lot of other women.

Then I graduated, and was suddenly thrust into the real world. In the early 90’s, the biggest issue facing us women (and a double-edged sword) was how to “have it all.”  Our parents raised us to be confident and think maybe we really could be “superwomen.”  (Another sign of feminism: Many of the younger women in my firm, though married, had decided to keep their “maiden name” or at least used their maiden name as a middle name.) I saw though the lifestyle of the female attorneys at my firm, even those who had somehow negotiated part-time status, and that almost all of the lawyers who became moms left over time. They had burnt out—we women lawyers worked as hard as the men—and they not only were working, but also taking care of a baby and running a household.

Moreover, I saw situations where part-time female attorneys ended up working for longer hours than they had negotiated—for the same salary they negotiated—so essentially they were underpaid. Also, the firm did not provide on-site day care, which made things even more difficult for these women who had to rush home to nannies or au pairs, or to a day care center. Fortunately, we big firm lawyers made enough money (alone or with one’s spouse) to cover the cost of the child care and still earn a living, but it quickly became apparent to me that in essence the cost of childcare ate up a sizeable portion of one’s income as a female lawyer and could be a barrier to resuming work for many women generally.

As a child, I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a mother some day, and gave it little thought, until I hit my mid-20s when my biological clock and maternal urges kicked into gear. The days of most of our parents—getting married young and having babies—were over. How could I possibly manage a career as a litigator at a large firm and a family? It didn’t help that I had a chronic illness—Crohn’s disease—that flared off and on, and even on my best days I never felt like I had the energy of the so-called “superwomen” I saw all around me. When I did get married—several months before I turned 30—I started noticing articles and hearing buzz about another phenomenon: By delaying having babies into their 30s or even early 40s, professional women like me who put career first risked infertility.  Sure enough, when the time came to try, I couldn’t get pregnant. I waited until my mid-30s and that was too long. Eventually, I did become pregnant and gave birth—twice—but at the time two years seemed like an eternity and I wondered if I would ever be a mother.

It was when I was very, very pregnant with my second child that I sat at a table with law school friends and realized what a deep chasm that had formed between us. We were all smart women, who practiced law in our chosen specialties. One woman had decided that she was going to have a child, but only one. The other woman was divorced after a short, disastrous marriage, and had no children.   The two mothers (me being one of them) at the table exchanged some ugly words that ended the friendship. I had decided to stay home with my two children. (To be completely honest, I’ll never know if I would have made that decision if I did not also have a serious chronic illness, but it was my decision and I owned it wholeheartedly.) The other mom went right back to work after a maternity leave from her job as a lobbyist, which had always been the plan. I believe she still works at the same job 14 years later.   That night, though, it was all about the judging, which was couched in angry words and harsh tones. Who made the right decision? What was the more feminist choice?

With all these years of hindsight I can look back and say—we both did. Feminism is, to me, the ability to choose one’s own path in life, without government interference for sure, but also without judgment from other women, or anybody else.   It is, put another way, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rights which, by the way, are only provided in the Declaration of Independence to extend to men.  So now I must ask the question: How far have we come, since I went into a kindergarten classroom and proudly announced my mother voted for the other guy, or even since I went to law school?   Young women and not surprisingly many men today seem to think we are living in a post-feminist society and perhaps, by dint of views like theirs, we are. But is that a positive or a negative development for women and girls?

Well, we have certainly evolved in our views towards women to some extent. There are currently 3 women on the Supreme Court, more than ever before. There are 20 women out of the total 100 currently in the Senate, and another 84 women out of the total 435 currently in House. There are many women in state legislatures around the country and a handful of governors (currently 6 out of 50).   This is a huge improvement over the makeup of our government in the early 90’s.  There are also more women working in a wider range of fields than ever before.

Still, we know that women remain a distinct minority in our government, sorely underrepresented in the upper echelons of the business world, in engineering and science fields, and in other careers thought by my father’s generation to be more for men than women. We know that, while there are sexual harassment laws, far too many women endure the sexual abuse and date rape that occurs on college campuses and elsewhere, and the victim shaming or sweeping under the rug that happens if a woman dares to complain about it.  We know that there continue to be disparities in salary for the same job  (even for Hollywood superstars like Jennifer Lawrence), no federally mandated paid maternity leave, and other obstacles that keep women from being able to work and have a family at the same time, thus making many of us lose traction or even fail in our careers.

We know that there are 15 states that still refuse to ratify the ERA despite it being introduced in various states every year since the 1970s. We know that we are but one Supreme Court justice away from further eroding or even overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.  We know that Planned Parenthood is under attack and many conservative men in our government (and even some Republican female lawmakers) seek to defund it.  Finally, we stand on the brink of determining if we will elect our first woman President after hundreds of years of men. Despite this woman being eminently qualified for the job, we hear all the time the sexist views that persist when discussing her character traits and demeanor.   Misogynistic views towards Hillary Clinton extend to the popularity of highly offensive merchandise sold over the Internet that have Monica Lewinsky’s image with taglines like “I Got the ‘Job’ Done When Hillary Couldn’t” or “clever” retorts like “Hillary will go down faster than Bill’s pants,” and even “Trump that Bitch.”  Seriously.

Sexism is the persistent idea that somehow and, in some way, men are superior to women, or that we are objects put on this earth for their pleasure and service, and we should therefore be treated differently as a result.   It pervades our popular culture (for a woman, appearance is more important than anything else), our politics (nicknames like “Shrillary”), our business world (in the Fortune 500, there are only 22 companies with female CEOs), and our social interactions with one another. Instead of shows like Mary Tyler Moore or books about strong, positive female role models in the 1970s, we have instead The Real Housewives of Potomac and books and movies like Fifty Shades of Grey. To pretend sexism doesn’t exist and say things like, for example, “Don’t vote for Hillary Clinton just because she’s a woman,” particularly a woman like Clinton, whose goal is to further and even prioritize women’s rights, is to be like Phyllis Schafly, dismissing the ERA as bad for women, all those years ago.

It is so very apparent that while young women and most men believe we are in a post-feminist era, we are not in a post-sexist era any more than we are in a post-racial era. Moreover, if Barack Obama’s historic presidency is any indication, even if Hillary Clinton becomes our first women president, that will not mean the end of sexism in this country, and it surely will rear its ugly head in how others treat her or talk about her. Many conservative white men in particular will be unhappy and frustrated over the loss of their grip on executive power for yet another four years, and talk of “taking back their country” will continue.

Women of every ilk live in our great country: single, married, divorced; employed, unemployed, self-employed; straight and gay; religious and secular. Indeed, women fall into various combinations of these “categories.” It is not anymore the norm that a woman goes from her father’s home to her husband’s and is protected by him until the day she dies. Thus, when we advance the rights of all women, we advance the rights of everyone. As Hillary Clinton put it so eloquently (see below) when she went to Beijing 20 years ago at the Fourth World Conference on Women, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”

Girls and young women may not completely understand the history of women’s rights, may take for granted certain advances that required a lot of hard work and dogged determination by relatively few heroic women, and will certainly continue to be pummeled (brainwashed?) by messages born of an inherently sexist and paternalistic society.  Nevertheless, I propose we try our best to teach them before they leave home, for college, and certainly for the real world, that women’s rights are their rights, and the prospective rights of their daughters and granddaughters.

With love and kindness,

The FeMOMist