You can take the girl out of the protest, but you can’t take the protest out of the girl

I grew up on the Pawcatuck River. It’s a short little thing as rivers go, dividing Rhode Island from Connecticut and flowing into the Atlantic. As children in the 60s, all of us kids were strictly forbidden from swimming in the river because our moms said it was polluted.

This prohibition, however, only prompted us to “accidentally fall in” as often as we could get away with it. For decades now, we have worked together to clean up our messes. Today, kids can swim in the Pawcatuck River. It seems a shame to go backwards on this now.

I was snorkeling over a reef with amazing fishes a few weeks ago. Hearing news of the gutting of the EPA and thinking back about my childhood water and air quality prompted a half-assed protest. When I was packing for vacation, I didn’t include waterproof protest sign materials. Still, I did my best to make a splash. SAVE the EPA.

Save the EPA

This is so basic. The broad conversation on violence and relationships includes the violence we heap on our beloved mother earth. Our survival depends on resisting.

What ways are you finding to resist violence of all sorts and advance your values around peace and justice? Let’s see your best protest signs!

I SAID I was SORRY

There are not many things that are awkward per se about being a gardener. But there is one. Sometimes I overhear things happening in my neighbor’s yard that I maybe should not.

Like one fine spring day when my neighbor’s front door SLAMMED and their really quite adorable teenager turned round on the front stoop and screamed back at the closed door “I SAID I was SORRY!” Car tires squealed. Calm settled back.

I know it’s not funny, but I said I was sorry – big emphasis on SAID and SORRY – has since become part of the vernacular in our house. When we do something stupid and apologize but the other won’t let it go I SAID I was SORRY can sometimes break the spell of an argument that is going nowhere.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I’ve been thinking about apologizing and making amends more than usual lately. I mean, I’ve thought about it a lot over the years related to my work. How batterers and sex offenders can apologize and make amends for the terrible things they have done to their loved ones and others.

And is that even possible?

And yes it is.

But now, every day, I’m watching the much bigger picture of our nation coming to terms. Watching as the scabs and scars covering our many national shames split open and bleed.

For instance, this New York Times article: A public apology for the inconceivably wicked crime of the lynching of 16-year-old Austin Callaway, taken from a jail cell and murdered on September 4, 1940 in LaGrange, Georgia.

Ernest Ward, right, the N.A.A.C.P. president in Troup County, Ga., said he had “a newfound respect” for Louis M. Dekmar, the police chief in LaGrange. I am in awe of the people in LaGrange. Those with the courage to stand up. To face the past and to face the present. To be together. To struggle even as it gets messier and messier.

It is incumbent on me, on all of us to be together. In person. To lean in toward one another and whisper in each others ears “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” To bust wide open and tell one another our stories and see where that takes us.

A path to your door

When I was a little kid, my friend Jan and I beat a path through the tangle of brush in the vacant lot that separated our two homes. We were always so desperate to be with one another that we did this to cut 23 seconds off the time it took to get to each other’s door.

Our bedroom windows were facing and we would flick our lights to signal our mysterious childhood doings. Once we even tried stringing a tin can “telephone” between our windows. “Can you hear me!?” we screamed into the cans. And we could.

Path to a house

Today, I am looking out my window and noticing that my neighbors and I have beaten similar paths. At times like these, we are desperate to be together. Knowing that there will be some form of comfort, of reassurance.

In this solstice season, with all the fear and strife in our country and in the world, find the paths to your loved ones. Linger in your hugs. Share your savories and sweets. Care for one another more deeply than you ever could have imagined.

Fire Drill

I am going to interrupt the first paragraph of this blog to tell you the aftermath of writing it. This is simple too ironically delicious to pass up.

Go to Google images and search “Fire Drill 1960s.” I mean, really.

I went looking for a good picture idea to illustrate a story of growing up in the 1960s and doing fire drills at my little rural school. A story I don’t need to tell you now.

What I found was NOT a fire drill 1960s style, but rather an atomic bomb drill 1960s style.

duck-and-coverWhat tickled me so much about these pictures of children huddling under their desks (which, by the way I did not experience as funny at the time) is that how we prepare our children these days for the actual threats they face is very much like this google-search-gone-sideways result: we are leaving our children huddled under their desks when the real problem is that the building is on fire.

I thought of a couple stories to illustrate how we can use the notion of the fire drill to practice things with our beloved kids before it is an actual emergency. And to show how weirdly odd we grownups behave in the face of actual emergencies.

Fire drill: unintended pregnancy

I once asked a young woman friend of mine who was headed off to college what kind of birth control she was using or thinking about using. She’d had a serious boyfriend in recent months and I was thinking they were likely sexually active so I was just curious. She looked at me with a stricken look on her face and didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then she blurted out, “I’m not opposed to abortion.”

“Um, sweetie” I replied “you know there are ways to avoid getting pregnant if you don’t want to be right?”  And the conversation unfolded from there.

We grownups waste unimaginable quantities of energy and money arguing about whether abortion should be illegal or legal. Available or unavailable. In the meantime this is the stupidity our children are saddled with. By losing our focus on what is actually happening with our kids, we outright deprive them of meaningful access to the information they need. Metaphorically, we leave our teens huddled under their desks. Come on. We can do better than this.

Another time, some friends and I were talking about Plan B (the emergency contraceptive) when their teenaged son walked in. It struck me suddenly that teenagers may not even have any idea what the concept of a plan B is. I mean, do you? Plan A is we meet at the corner to walk together to lunch. Plan B, we meet at the restaurant and I’ll save us a table. Right?

No surprise, the young man didn’t have any idea what plan A and plan B meant. But then, poor thing, I subjected him to some questions about the contraceptive Plan B. What followed was a wildly entertaining conversation which I will leave for another time.

Back to Plan B which is, after all, the fallback. It is not the first line of action for young heterosexual sexually-active people. And yet we adults leave our children huddled under their desks while we argue about regulating the actual drug of Plan B–in fact, all the way to the Supreme Court. The building is on fire people. Grownups get your act together and help kids with Plan A for sexual health and wellbeing, contraceptive and otherwise!

Fire drill: gun violence

I don’t own a gun, but I got a free gun lock at a recent event and gave it to a friend of mine who has school-aged kids. She doesn’t have guns either, but we gabbed about if and how she asks about guns when her kids go to play in their friends’ homes. She said she has struggled with this in a mighty way but has not yet figured out how to ask. It is just so hard to talk about it.

And this is completely understandable. We have locked down the conversation around guns rather than the guns themselves. Even the most basic common sense actions are taboo because any mention of guns leads straight to the second amendment. Even when all we’re talking about is keeping our children from accidentally shooting themselves or someone else. Children have a natural curiosity around guns, secured or not. Again, we leave them huddled under their desks while we argue about politics.

Fire drill: rape and domestic violence

Let’s face it. Even approaching thoughts about a beloved child raping or being raped—being battered or battering is more than most of us can endure.

And yet, no victim or rapist, no victim or batterer comes into this world as such. We unintentionally put our children on a path the moment they are born with our ideas about what it means to be a boy or a girl. And we follow that up with a million actions, individually and culturally.

But we do not need to fix all of our million transgressions against our children at once. One at a time works. Each one of us doing one at a time.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Action Month. And I’m here to tell you that in the same way that we don’t have to wait until our daughter or son is accidentally pregnant or our child shot to do something, there are simple ways to help kids learn about and navigate healthy and unhealthy relationships. You may never know if something very simple that you say or do plants a seed for a child or young person and helps them avoid a small problem or a large catastrophe.

Grownups. We can do this. It is not hard. It is actually really fun and, I have found, often hilarious. Try these ideas and let us know what happens. Write about your stories in the comment section below, or on our Twitter or Facebook page. We can help each other learn how to safely usher our kids out to the playground!

Special delivery

I’ll admit it. It’s a work day, and I am goofing off. It’s one of those days where every task looks either insurmountably difficult or just too eye-rollingly boring. I pick things up and put them down again and again. Do you ever have days like that, or is it just me?

Super frustrated, I wander down the street for some caffeine. Maybe a reset will help.

Coffee in hand, and still not convinced I have it in me to get a single useful thing done, I follow a delivery guy back into my building. He holds the elevator door for me.

I study the four boxes on his handcart. They’re for us! Inside squeal. I know what these are. Things are definitely looking up now.

I start talking with the guy. I talk to everyone. This works exceptionally well for me because I have no children to embarrass.

So while I’m yammering with the delivery dude, I unlock and hold open the door. He hands me the electronic thingie to sign and he says, “So what do you guys do here anyway?”

Me: (blah blah blah my brief and generic answer about what one would do at a domestic violence coalition if one were not goofing off.)

Him: “I ask ‘cause I’m the victim.”

Me: (nonverbal tell me more signals)

Him: “Well, I’m really kind of on both sides.”

Me: (more nonverbal now-we’re-on-the-right-track signals)

Him: “Do you have places to send people? Like counselors? I mean I’m willing to be accountable for what happened. She’s not, but I am.”

Me: (Wow, he actually said the word accountable. I wonder where he learned that word and what he means by it?) “Well, you can only be responsible for yourself. You can’t control other people.”

Him: (Surprisingly knowing nod.)

Me: “SafePlace knows a lot more than me about who the good counselor folks are in town. Give them a call.”

Him: “It was my drinking.”

Me: (more sympathetic signals) “Yup, all those things get tangled up with each other.”

Him: “Yeah, I got 90 days.” (From the context, I assume he means sober, not jail time.)

Me: “That’s great! You have kids?”

Him: “Four. They’re proud of me. 90 days.” (I’m right, sober.)

Me: “Yeah, grownups need to get their acts together for their kids.”

Him: “Yeah.” (Gathering up his stuff.)

Me: “Really, call SafePlace. They’ll be able to help you. Good luck and hang in there.”

Him: (Friendly departure.)

Still wondering what was in the boxes that I was so excited about? Irony of ironies, and honest for real. Here’s what he was delivering: How’s Your Relationship? Conversations with someone about their abusive behavior.

cards in box

This weekend, we gave 1,500 sets of these cards out to the crowd of people who showed up to run or walk or volunteer at the Goodwill Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field.

My fondest wish is that you hear my story of the delivery dude and imagine that you can have a conversation this casual and kind. Support your friends, brothers, or delivery guys to take tiny steps. Help them because you can. Talk so they’ll figure out what they are doing that hurts themselves and others and how to turn it around. You can do it!

P.S. Feeling inspired to donate some money to this prevention campaign? Here’s a link to the fundraising page I set up for the Goodwill Refuse To Abuse® 5K. Donate today!

Digging in

I wrote last time about anxiety and I’m writing about it again. Because it’s just not going away.

This presidential race is deadly to my mental health. Let me be crystal clear so nobody gets in trouble, I don’t care which party you belong to, or which revolution you are firing up your torch for. This post is an equal opportunity slam on the whole shebang.

Anyone else out there losing sleep? The anxiety is spreading out like an oil slick. I am not kidding you, I was lying in bed at 3am last night boiling over with hate about the protesters outside of Planned Parenthood in Olympia and fantasizing about revenge. My friends, this is bad. Very bad. In point of fact, it’s very, very, very bad.

old rusty shovelI always wish I was wiser. Like so many people around me, my response to watching people dig into extreme positions is to dig into my own. It’s like I’m standing in a graveyard digging deeper and deeper. And next to me is someone doing the same. Maybe they’re digging because they agree with me (which is reassuring―like maybe this is a winning strategy) or maybe they’re digging because they hold the opposite view.

Friends. It seems like, as reasoning animals, we could behave differently. I mean, we can stop.

For the love of god, could we just stop?

Imagine, I lean up against the side of my hole I’m chest high in, look at you. Wonder out loud, what the hell are we doing? You stop and wonder the same thing. We climb out and go for coffee.

The other day, a sliver of light cut through the haze. My friends at the local SURJ group were schooling us in the practice of calling in rather than calling out. On my good days, I think I’m kind of hard wired to ‘call in’―to be curious, kind and patient and find out what is motivating other folks to think and act the way they do―particularly those with whom I disagree. One of the worst things about the anxiety I feel so deeply these days is that it makes me impulsive. More likely to overreact and call people out rather than in.

So many people are doing positive and affirming things to counter the hate and fear. I just need to get out of the hole I’ve dug and hang out with them. Care to join me?

What to do with the weight of this world

statue-with-globeOne of my most normal friends confided in me the other day. She said she’s feeling deeply anxious in a way she’s never experienced. She’s worried about being so worried.

My less normal friends and I have been feeling this way for a looooong time.

It’s not surprising that we’re freaked out. The world is shouting at us.

Wrong. Doom. Racist. Threat. Get out. Women-hating. War. Guns, guns and more guns.  This election year will undoubtedly kick all this up a notch, if there is even a notch left to be kicked.

There is a growing mountain of evidence that our brains are hardwired for negativity. Think about it. We were able to survive through multimillions of years by remembering which berries made us puke and which of the other animals are inclined to attack or eat us. Whereas, remembering whether blueberries taste better than raspberries was of very little survival value. Positive experiences just don’t have the impact or the staying power in our brains.

Learning this helped me overcome the natural inclination toward the negative. I learned that I had to work harder to help the positive messages and experiences stick.

I’ve been paying attention to my amped up anxiety of late. And watching to see if doing stuff actually makes me feel better.

Last week, I went to a meeting of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. It’s ironic, but talking about guns made me feel better. Connecting with 25 like-minded women and men, walking away with two free gun locks to give away, and signing up for their lobby day felt good.

I’m donating $3/day to the gohomemalheur.org campaign. Where previously I was filled with rage at the overentitled white supremacist militant jerks holding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge hostage, once I donated and saw that I’m in the company of so many others (all giving to organizations that the militants would loathe, including the Paiute Tribe and the Southern Poverty Law Center) I’m fine with what’s going on. They can stay as long as they want.

And finally, deep breath. I walked around Capitol Lake. Silently, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. At the conclusion of the walk, our leader suggested something he calls one finger Zen. Holding up his index finger, he mimed pressing down as he urged us to tap the off button.

Indeed. Walk away from your screen. Get off your couch. Go see for yourself if working for social justice helps.

 

 

Five greetings of holiday cheer

‘Tis the season. I close out my blog writing for 2015 with a string of holiday-themed confessions and advice. Please, grab an eggnog and pull up a chair.

Peace on Earth

Make peace with the earth.

I grew up outside. The outdoors is where I go when I need to experience renewal, re-creation. My first political activism involved working as a student intern in the 1970’s under the guidance of chain-smoking, tough-as-nails environmental bulldogs Flo Brodie and Jack Davis. Sadly, they are both long gone, but all of us owe a huge debt of gratitude to them for stopping an industrial logging export facility from being built right next to the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.

Blessings to Flo and Jack and to those young and very much alive activists who point out that earth and climate justice are the same thing as racial and social justice.

Home for the Holidays

Re-friend your people on Facebook. Make peace with your uncles, cousins, and former classmates who have posted hateful things that resulted in you tossing them off your friend list.

My cousin Bill posts pictures of guns and voices wildly different perspectives from my own. I once came close to unfriending him—but I resisted because I love him so much. I’ve discovered that arguing back in a clear, kind way actually results in him moderating his position a bit. I should ask him if he ever stops himself from posting something because he thinks of me. Probably not. But I know I think about what he’s going to say when I post certain things—and part of me can hardly wait.

I know you don’t want to re-friend your “cousin Bill.” Do it anyway because if you don’t argue back then we will all end up living in thicker bubbles among the dwindling pool of people who agree with us on everything. This trend toward isolation and intolerance of any view different from our own cannot end well.

Merry Christmas

Dig a little deeper into the story of Christmas and reflect on refugees past and present. Find ways to make it clear refugees are welcome here. Capitol_protest_Tyra

A small crowd gathered at the capitol the other day to express the opposite. They howled “Refugees are NOT welcome here.” I went to the counter-protest to see if I could persuade the people holding “Vets Before Refugees” signs to reconsider this us vs. them thing. I told them that I agreed that we have done a terrible job caring for returning vets. In the above photo captured by the Tacoma News Tribune, I was pointing to a vet’s Union Gospel Mission patch. He said he worked there. “Then you have experience working with folks who are caught in the crossfire of life circumstances. That’s gotta give you some sympathy for the Syrian war refugees, right?” We might have continued that conversation, but the rally organizer came over to hiss “Terrorists are embedded with those refugees.” She was not budging on that point. There was nothing more I could say.

The Syrian refugees are not terrorists. They need a home. I was taught that Mary and Joseph were refugees too. If we cannot learn some lessons from 2,015 years ago, what’s the point of celebrating the birth of that famous baby?

Joy to the World

Be happy for the liberation of yourself and others.

As difficult as these times are, I find joy in movements organizing for justice. Black Lives Matter to me as a white person because I want to live in a world where African Americans and have equal access to the same things that have brought me comfort, happiness, and peace. It is not asking too much because it can be done.

I recently joined Olympia SURJ and follow the leadership of Full Circle United as they direct me to take action. Find the group that is organizing in your town. Bring joy to your life and to the lives of everyone around you.

Silent Night

Rest and be well.

At times, I am shaken awake long past midnight by fear and worry. When that happens, I take a deep breath. And listen to the silence. Some nights I get up and creep outside to be in the stillness—the quiet darkness. We are all loved by the silent night. Be at peace. All is well.

Stand down

The prosecutor has spoken. And the court of public opinion is in session.

Thurston County’s Jon Tunheim announced that he has declined to press charges against the Olympia Police Department officer who shot and injured two unarmed black men last May.

He will, however be pursuing assault charges against the two young men.

The prosecutor claims that race was not a factor. We have to agree to stop saying that. Race has been a dominant factor in this country for hundreds of years, which means of course it was a factor in the shooting, it was a factor when the prosecutor made his decision, and it’s a factor in everyone’s reaction, including my own.

What to do? Fortunately big brains and big hearts have been working on this for a very long time and are working on it now.

Bursting on the scene, Campaign Zero has a plan. They recently put forward a vision statement and platform around ending police violence: “We can live in a world where the police don’t kill people…by limiting police interventions, improving community interactions, and ensuring accountability.”

Here are their solutions.

Solutions from Campaign Zero

Take for example Campaign Zero’s Strategy 1: End “Broken Windows” Policing. The theory behind “broken windows” policing is that when police respond to minor crimes, they nip crime in the bud and major crime can’t develop. Theory disproven. Add racism to the “broken windows” philosophy and you have shoplifting turning into shooting.

I listened to a few of my white middle class friends respond to the shooting by saying “Yeah, I shoplifted when I was a kid and I never got shot.” They get that race played a part in them, a) getting away with it and b) knowing that even if they were caught, the penalty would be minimal. What I find disturbing is an underlying attitude of so many liberal white people―a focus on “those stupid/racist cops.” I fear that we white people use our contempt of police to try to absolve ourselves of our guilt, our culpability. White folks can try to distance ourselves from the institution we created, support, and benefit from, but we can’t put down the ease with which we move in the world as white people, even if we don’t want that extra privilege, even if we want to give it away. Being pulled over by the police will never mean the same thing to us. It just doesn’t.

If we adopt this Campaign Zero strategy  in Olympia, we will have to figure out the non-police response to shoplifting, loitering, littering and such. How we are all going to respond as people who share the sidewalk with homeless people who have nowhere to live? What are we going to do when people steal food because they are hungry?

There is so much more to say about the Campaign Zero proposals from a domestic violence perspective. Even the idea of ending “broken window” policing gets complicated for domestic violence advocates. “Death by a thousand cuts”, which is how some batterers accomplish their dehumanizing control over victims, is often achieved with just the kind of minor crimes referenced in this strategy. If we call the police off from responding, how do we organize ourselves to help/support/force perpetrators to stop their wrong-doing and be accountable?

It’s time to follow the lead of the black people in Campaign Zero and black leaders in our communities and work to dismantle, demilitarize, de-escalate our police state. It’s time to think critically about how police are positioned now, at the top of the list of people we are urged to call. How do we move them to the bottom―the backstop, the call of last resort? It’s time to call ourselves, our media, our schools, our religions, our neighborhoods, and our democracy to task for failing to create a world where all people thrive. And it’s time for the police to stand down. The time is now.

I’d help but I can’t get around the road block

I don’t usually, but I went to church for the last three Sundays in a row. Not to a sermon. But to a facilitated conversation designed to bring community members together to talk about race.

Seriously, it was great. At each meeting we watched an episode of the PBS series Race – The Power of an Illusion, had an hour for small group discussion, and then a closing with the full group. There were 60-80 people there each night. I thought it was an impressive turnout for such a fraught topic.

My favorite discussion question went something like this: Why is it that so many well-intentioned white people—folks who would say they aren’t racist—find it so hard to organize and create real change around race?

roadblockThat is such a good question.

When the organizers passed around a sheet for future involvement, I noticed a lot of people signed up for a book group, but hardly anyone put their name under the “action” column.

What is that about?

I decided to try a little personal experiment; take a simple action and pay attention to what I went through to achieve it.

I picked the news item that had most recently outraged me. It was the federal land grab from the San Carlos Apache Tribe where a sacred site was stolen from the tribe and “traded” to a mining company.

Okay, take action. Go!

The first thing I did was read about it. And there is a ton of stuff out there to read.

My first roadblock to action: Wow there is so much to read and study. I almost got stuck thinking I had to know all about it before I could determine if action was warranted. Move on, move on.

Second roadblock to action: Feeling  completely overwhelmed. My mind traveled to the enormity of the land grab that occurred over the centuries as non-Natives displaced and killed unknowable numbers of indigenous people. The genocide of Native Americans was not my fault, but the legacy of it is my responsibility. So, what can I do now? Keep moving.

Third roadblock to action: Finding out what to do. I’m leery of actions directed by people who are not directly impacted. But then I fear that people who are being crushed by something are often not in a position to be directive. But wait, here’s a take action link on a San Carlos Apache site. Perfect! Click.

Fourth roadblock to action: Well, I signed all the petitions and felt like I was giving my identity away to unknown people. I did it anyway but the whole time I was thinking: Who are these people and what are they going to do with my information? This has stopped me in the past.

Fifth roadblock to action: I posted links to the petitions I signed on my Facebook page and donated money. But I have that feeling of it’s not enough, it’s never enough.

Okay, now I get it. Taking action is not self-gratifying. There is no certainty, no immediate result. It’s overwhelming, confusing, and scary.

But here’s what I want to say to myself and to white people reading this: Do it anyway. Follow the lead of the people who are being wronged. Move, do, sign, donate, march, testify, risk, Risk, RISK, work hard, link arms, fall down, get up. Go!