Monthly Archives: January 2017

This week.

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I have no one word that can accurately express exactly what the last week has been to me.

First there was… whatever happened Monday and Tuesday. I don’t even remember. Writing a ton, I guess, and reposting something on cervical cancer and how women of color are disproportionately affected, and coming out on Facebook to defend Planned Parenthood as somebody who uses their services and has gotten cancer screenings from them. I joined my local state park’s association and got in touch with people doing cleanups, and donated to my cousin’s March of Dimes fund for her adorable son. Then I found a news article buried somewhere on the internet rumoring that Trump was going to sign an executive order to ban refugees for 120 days. I spent the night furiously looking up my representatives’ contact information so I could ask them what they would do to protect and welcome refugees in my town, and what they would do about Connecticut’s sanctuary cities. And about what IRIS needed.

Wednesday I could barely function at work, between hounding my representatives and checking the news every 2 minutes to see if the executive orders went through, and posting entreaties to my Facebook friends. I despaired. I got angry with people who didn’t seem to care that people’s lives might be at risk, or the parallels between the terrible refugee situation we had during World War II and the current rhetoric. Some people online were still talking about alternative facts, and I was worried that the dozen or so refugees I knew… scratch that, it’s more like 20 refugees… would be deported and sent back to a place that wasn’t their home. I learned that the currently settled refugees were safe (for now), but realized that students and friends in academia would be barred from leaving, or at least coming back into, the country that was their workplace and home. And I started wondering what the next step in extreme vetting would be, seeing that refugees already undergo extreme vetting.

This is not justice.

My anger has not abated through the last few days. Through seeing the National Parks Service’s alt-Twitter account materialize, and protests that spontaneously formed at JFK Airport and other airports throughout the country yesterday, where attorneys showed up with handmade signs scrawled “immigration lawyer” in English and Arabic. Through hateful posts on Facebook from people who themselves have been radicalized. Through realizing how illegal, unconstitutional, and un-American it is. And how un-Christian the ban is, and then realizing how many religious conservatives were remaining silent through it all (all of them, it seemed). I did my RCIA readings on the topic of Christian morality and found them timely. I bought a megaphone on Amazon and I played sad songs on guitar until 2 in the morning.

Today was a day of action, though, as I feel so many future days will be, and I let my anger propel me to good actions. I did the church thing and again found the readings resonated with everything going on – the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 that steer one’s moral life, the first letter to the Corinthians that states ‘God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.’ Initially I read that as a reflection of our political climate wherein populists revolted against the “elite” in the Democratic party, and then as a call for me to humble myself before those who don’t feel the same outrage. Maybe it speaks to how our whole democratic system has been pulled upside-down in a matter of days. There are a few ways to read that.

In the afternoon my husband and I went with another student up to Bradley Airport outside Hartford and joined a protest that we found out about the night before, organized by CAIR. Hundreds were in the arrivals section chanting louder than I’ve ever heard before.

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No hate, no fear, refugees / Muslims / immigrants are welcome here.

This is what democracy looks like.

Build a wall, we’ll tear it down.

No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.

There were a couple “We the People” posters with the star-spangled hijabi, and a girl who was wearing her own.

After the protest wound down and I talked to a librarian from western Mass for a few seconds, it was back home to fuel up, then back to New Haven for a benefit concert featuring a bunch of Yale musical groups. We couldn’t make the vigil beforehand, but we heard the turnout was massive. As for the concert turnout, Battell Chapel was at capacity with more than 1100 attendees and standing room only by the time we arrived.

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The talent in this room was amazing. There was a quartet who performed video game music (!) and I had to explain to my husband, who has probably never played an RPG, the greatness of composers like Nobuo Uematsu. I smiled straight through their performance. There were combined choirs who performed peace song medleys, a capella groups, a solo guitarist who used distortion and sampler pedals to perform original works, choirs that performed moving pieces that reminded me of my favorite songs during my choir days, a fun song with a clarinet and electric violin, and an accompanied choir that did “No One Is Alone” and may have involuntarily caused me to cry, because, Sondheim. Didn’t help that I was singing along, though…

The money they raised was astounding too, roughly $14,000 that will benefit IRIS. After the performance, I read from IRIS’ Facebook page that their 5k Run for Refugees a week from now is at capacity, and they’re trying to have a second heat in the afternoon to meet demand.

Maybe we’ll survive the next four years. But only if we keep caring, keep fighting, keep giving, and keep loving.

Indoctrination

Reading people’s Facebook posts amidst the shitstorm that was today’s action against refugees, I came across somebody arguing that colleges indoctrinate America’s youth. Then another argument that it’s liberal teachers in our public schools who are doing the indoctrinating.

They’re right. Memorizing a pledge to recite every morning at school and before every scout meeting before we know the meaning of the word”pledge,” learning to remove our hats and place our hands on our heart the way we get taught to work a zipper or to borrow the 1 and carry it over, learning a tidy history that moves from one era to another, ignoring countries outside of the Americas and Europe, and that claims peaceful reverends who had a beautiful dream were solely responsible for the civil rights movement and everything’s been happiness and candy ever since – that’s indoctrination. Being a young child whose mind is still forming definitions and maps of your world, and overhearing adults say offhand comments followed by “you know how those people are” or jokes about “those people” when you have no actual experience of “those people”and so you color in your map with information from those comments and jokes because you know no other way. That’s indoctrination.

The university is not what made me liberal, and they did not indoctrinate me. I went in slightly right of center in politics and identity, and I was antagonistic to the super-liberals there to the point where I drew a caricature that they published in the newspaper. I left the university still center-right, still suspicious of liberal politics, just with more ammunition to defend the right-leaning parts of my perspective. And I was in the humanities, not science or business or nursing or another major where you’re not dissecting political and social systems at some point in most, if not all of your classes.

What turned me liberal was actually living in and working in and engaging with a city and learning how to recognize the messy history and the injustices from which I was insulated in rural Pennsylvania, and in many cases, from which I am immune. Finally interacting with “those people.” What I saw and heard in a working class Black neighborhood. The books I read about gang economy and code switching. The library patrons who came in every day to look for jobs or get help navigating assistance programs. I’ll get into that in my next post. But for now, I needed to set the record straight on exactly what indoctrination is in this country. It’s not what they say it is.

Raised Rural: Part 3

I established what it was like growing up rural, white, lower-middle class / working class, and conservative as a result. Here I’ll try to lay out how that changed. I imagine it’s going to be just as navel-gazing as the other posts.

While at La Salle, I felt like an outsider. Most other students were urban or suburban, well-off, and Catholic, a denomination that I had grown up knowing very little about, and certainly nothing positive. I was rural, overweight at a time when Pink was blowing up as a brand, and making some of my own clothing out of necessity since I couldn’t afford trendy brands or shop at many regular stores, and I was years past the point of asking my mom for money that I knew she didn’t have, while living among a sea of slim girls with credit cards whose balances were paid by their parents. I didn’t have the money for regular Starbucks runs, impractical Ugg boots, or Apple products, and I didn’t want to identify with that group of people anyway.

In classes, I explored American and British literature and took religion courses, and I learned a little Russian and improved my Spanish. I performed in the jazz and pep bands, and I sang in choir and was an officer at one point until some other students and I pushed our choir director, an older man whose day job was teaching at an all-boys Catholic school, to perform not just for nuns in a nursing home an hour away but to bring our music to children in the local public schools, and the ensuing arguments got so nasty I had to leave choir. I tutored kids in Camden and south Philly once a week, until constant motion sickness from the long van rides forced me to stop. I got work-study in the university archives and every other weekend, I went back home to work a few hours at Kmart. During the summer, I would go back to the Lehigh Valley and take jobs with temp agencies, doing data entry for a beer distributor one summer, then warehouse work alongside women and men mostly in their thirties and forties, and a few stints in factories making boxes or assembling lotion containers. My husband and I both worked in the same warehouse one summer, and we heard over and over that we needed to finish our degrees so we wouldn’t have to come back and work there permanently.

I chafed against the very vocal far left students, who came off to me as smug, shallow caricatures, taking great pains to conform to a stereotype of ultra-liberal college student and who seemed condescending towards those whose political opinions differed from theirs and who had no desire for open discussion. It was easy to poke fun at the socially awkward, intense anarchist, and the artsy atheist vegan who listened to British punk and who wanted everyone to know she was an artsy atheist vegan who was into British punk. I wrote an article criticizing the slant of the college newspaper and bemoaning the lack of balanced viewpoints. I considered myself a moderate, socially fairly liberal but economically conservative and concerned about national security and government spending much more than social issues, a position shared by several college friends who also came from modest backgrounds and went back to work during school breaks. When we openly criticized Obama’s foreign policy during the 2008 election and took his cheer of “yes we can” as a hollow message lacking any substance, I remember a liberal Democrat friend remarking something like “well, they hate Democrats.” The language of this remark placed us into a box, created an artificial binary where one didn’t exist, and shut down any sort of discussions we could have had. My moderate friends and I supported McCain, the moderate Republican, therefore in my Democrat friend’s eyes we were against Democrats, despite our Independent status on our voter registrations.

In truth, this creation of binaries, this idea that I encountered from many Democrats that they were somehow superior, and the automatic assumption by many of my Democrat peers that I shared their viewpoints and political affiliation (and the consequent underlying assumption that if I were Republican, I had differing viewpoints that were also inferior), played a large role in why I stayed away from the left as long as I did.

 


 

This broke down when I moved to Chicago with my now-husband and I truly became an adult.

Graduating in 2009 with more debt than we’d expected and with a terrible economy, we both went directly into graduate school. He fled turmoil in his family, and I followed him. We weren’t insulated by a college campus as we were in Philly, but actually living among real people now, first in Kenwood and then Hyde Park, both on the south side. Our neighbors were mostly working-class Black folk.

Our apartment was robbed within a week of us moving in, and our landlord, a tall Irish man who never seemed to make much eye contact with me and reserved it for my husband, assumed it was a mentally ill tenant on a floor above us and he tried to enter his apartment to look for our items and take my husband along with him, who refused to help. Over the next several months, though, we would have to confront our landlord’s practices for the racism that it was. We overheard him treat the Black tenants – who were trying to raise families – dismissively and listen to us, the two stupid college students who would be gone in a short time. We befriended the spunky, talkative 12-year-old girl upstairs, who was one of the only people our new dog tolerated, and we heard about how the landlord treated her and her mother. We grew so uncomfortable with this favoritism and his general terrible practices as a landlord that we moved when our lease was up, despite the reasonable monthly cost.

During the two years we lived in Kenwood and Hyde Park, I made small talk with men and women who were waiting at the same bus stop or who wanted to greet our dog or who waited on me in stores or who wanted to tell me they were extras in the Blues Brothers.

We got dirty looks when we climbed aboard packed buses, full bags hanging from us from a grocery shopping trip, two white kids taking up aisle space among tired women who appeared to be on their way home from work.

We loaded up a gigantic suitcase every two weeks with our dirty laundry and wheeled it eight blocks to the laundromat and watched People’s Court while women folded white t-shirts.

We came across a man laying on the sidewalk, soaked to the bone and unmoving, and I reached out and shook him to wake him from what we guessed was an overdose, and after he rose, bewildered, the ambulance we called refused to come out and make sure he was okay, because he was able to walk.

I was spat upon by a disturbed, angry man who also spat upon an older white lady working in the laundromat – I knew it was ridiculous when the enraged woman said she wanted him to be charged with a “hate crime,” and I stood in court next to her and the white student who witnessed it and the white cop who wrote up the incident, while the white judge talked to the man as if he were a child and made him apologize to the laundromat lady, and outside the courtroom the cop told us the man would be back out in the streets in a matter of months because the jails were overcrowded and it was warm outside.

We saw how the neighborhoods became dusty and litter-strewn and boarded up immediately south of the University of Chicago, package stores the only thing open for blocks and blocks.

We heard how the college kids raved about Harold’s, the chicken joint in Hyde Park at 53rd and Kimbark, but were too afraid to venture out beyond the bubble of the university, though we knew you could get vastly superior chicken at Golden Fish and Chicken at 45th and Cottage Grove, near our first apartment.

We were approached one cold night close to Thanksgiving by a man who asked us if we could get him something in the supermarket, and we bought him sandwich supplies to feed himself and his family for a couple days.

We were asked by a suspicious bus driver one night, after a long day downtown, if we knew where we were going and we replied “home,” though the driver didn’t seem to believe us.

We took a bus transfer on our way to a nice dinner and found ourselves waiting on a trash-strewn intersection, deserted except for several men and women, high and stumbling around as if they were the walking dead.

We saw the devastation from the earthquake in Haiti and learned that an immigrant we knew, a former coworker of my husband, lost his entire family in Port-au-Prince.

I waited 40 minutes for a late bus one day before I decided to walk to my green line stop on 47th, and as I got closer to the station, I saw dozens of people standing utterly silent on the sidewalk as a woman screamed, full of grief, in a vacant lot across the street, a news camera trained impassively on her, and I later found a news article containing a photo of a bloodstained White Sox hat lying on the macadam.

When I finally found a job at a research library, my boss told me that the workplace barely ever closed for bad weather, because it only closed when the schools closed, and the schools stayed open because they were the only place that many kids in the city would get a meal for the day.

I waited for a train one day and heard two young men threatening each other across the platforms, and an older gentleman quietly turned to me and said, “excuse me, do you think there’s a lot of hate in this world?”

I overheard a woman with scarred, scabbed, picked-over skin and a clear, angelic voice talk to somebody only she could see.

I read about how a girl who had sung at Obama’s 2009 inauguration and who lived in our first neighborhood had been shot and killed on a nearby playground.

I stood as one of the only white folk at the Easter Vigil at the church in which my husband was being received, and without any hesitation, the parishioners grasped my hand during the Lord’s Prayer and shook it, smiling, during the Sharing of the Peace.

I was told to kill with kindness at my retail job on the Magnificent Mile.

I was told that the old lady who made an extended fuss and exasperated my patience was probably lonely and looking for somebody to talk to.

I felt guilty that, in the middle of summer, I could only point the Muslim woman and her daughters to the clearance floor and hope they could find something modestly cut from the early spring leftovers.

I realized that no matter how little money I had, there were always those in much worse shape than I.

I saw men and women relieve themselves on State Street, a boy throw up on himself at 8 am on a Saturday morning, and a man with pink stubs where his fingers should be.

I touched eugenics journals from 1930s Germany, and washing my hands didn’t remove the deep feeling of unease I had or the image of the swastikas on the cover, and I cried when I stumbled upon an article from an 1880’s medical journal where a doctor wrote luridly and in great, gratuitous, tabloid-like detail about a severely deformed infant girl.

 

 

 

This is how I became an adult.

Marching on Washington

The night of the election, and the day after the election, when my husband and I despaired about what a Trump presidency would mean for our country and were obsessively checking our Facebook feeds and asking ourselves and our friends what we should do, we found a movement to march on Washington D.C. We called the dogsitter and purchased bus tickets, busted out the acrylics and painted a slogan based on a phrase that emerged from one of the dozens of frustrated, outraged, despairing conversations we’d shared over the last two months, and boarded at 1 in the morning this past Saturday. And we marched on Washington.

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Slogan is our response to a narrow definition of “real America” that excluded most Americans.

You can’t really see my purple #refugeeswelcome button in support of IRIS in Connecticut, but it’s there. As well as my “get shit done” pink bandanna that makes appearances when I tackle major cleaning projects or holiday dinners. Or the possibility of tear gas.

As we walked the two miles from where dozens of buses parked in RFK stadium – I heard estimates of 1200 buses later – to the rallying point for the CT group, we passed smiling National Guardsmen and women and D.C. officers wishing us good morning. Some men in an armored car waved to us and gave us a thumbs up. Residents chatted with us from their windows. Lawn signs that had been put up for Martin Luther King Jr. Day with quotes from him, and it was an amazing experience to pass them in the quiet of Saturday morning and read them as I went to march for human rights.

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“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I’d like to say the level of camaraderie was surprising, but it really wasn’t. Women came with garbage bags full of extra pink hats that they were passing out to strangers. Volunteers, cops, and other rally attendees pointed each other in the right directions. We passed an older couple who said “don’t mind us, we’re a little slow,” and all I could think to say was, “I’m glad you’re here.”

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Women of all backgrounds and abilities were here. On the other side of the museum, American Indian women in full traditional dress and Standing Rock t-shirts were talking with passersby. People involved with Black Lives Matter were there. Men were there joining in the chants, like echoing the women’s “My body, my choice” with “Their body, their choice.” We did a few “this is what a feminist looks like” chants, once at the very moment a college bro walked by with a sign reading “this is what a feminist looks like,” to much cheering. I saw more rollators and more wheelchairs than ever before, and tons of “We the People” posters portraying women in star-spangled hijab and proud Latina women. Some participants snapped photos of our sign or gave us nods of agreement.

Even though by 11 am the crowds were impossible, and we couldn’t hear the speakers or even see the giant screen, and though we were squished so close that we could barely lift our arms and it took us half an hour just to cross to the opposite corner of the street in a vain attempt to meet up with friends two blocks away, and though the march portion itself didn’t start until 2:30 though it was scheduled for 1:00, and even though my energy and my back both gave out around 3:30 and we didn’t make it to the White House or to see any of our friends, we were part of this, and we showed up for a massive peaceful protest that we felt was our duty as Americans to attend.

I am 30 years old, and I just attended my first big political demonstration.

Other things that happened:

  • “We don’t want your little hands anywhere near our underpants!”
  • “Build a fence around Mike Pence!”
  • Gloria Steinem and BLM activists and other women of color were among the speakers
  • Way less garbage than I would have expected considering march organizers planned for 200,000 attendees and there were more than 500,000
  • “Tree people” hanging out and letting us know when there was movement
  • Talking to women who bused there overnight from Missouri
  • Lots of signs held by older women along the lines of “I can’t believe I’m still marching for this”
  • Coffee shop workers who kept their places warm, their bathrooms open, and their patience intact
  • Pro-life women were apparently at the march, and I am so happy that they came despite the controversy over listing them as partners
  • A truly lovely older woman from my church, who went to Nicaragua with me and helps with the refugee family we sponsor, appeared at our bus pickup and I realized I had expected to run into her all along.
  • Two other people in my RCIA class marched in Washington
  • A huge number of friends and acquaintances attended marches in L.A., Philadelphia, Manhattan

I am so glad that I was part of this.