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!

You may be trying to comfort yourself

I told a friend recently that I was going to tour the Whitney Plantation near New Orleans. She replied, “Brace yourself.”

Photo by anthonyturducken
Photo by anthonyturducken

The Whitney is the first museum ever to focus solely on the facts and experience of slavery in the United States.  It is a fascinatingly idiosyncratic institution that is so unlikely to have evolved and to be succeeding.

My experience was that it managed to deliver a punch without knocking me out. Unlike most museums, you are not left to wander around on your own. You have to go on a tour with a guide who tells you the unvarnished truth of what happened here. It’s tough going and our mostly white tour group was shaken by the experience. The guide firmly dissuaded one white woman when she asked questions designed to point out that maybe being enslaved in the south wasn’t always the kidnapping and torture that it surely was. “You may be trying to comfort yourself,” the guide said.

But there is no reasonable way to comfort oneself as a white person. There is only to feel the national shame.

To the best of my ability, I let myself feel the white heat of that shame. Slavery was not my fault, but it is 2015 and I’m alive now so the legacy of slavery is my responsibility. I see only a slice of how the consequences of slavery still linger, but when I pay attention, I see more and more.

I started writing this blog three weeks ago, after the shooting in Olympia of two black youth by a white policeman. But I wrote myself into tiny knots and couldn’t finish.

What struck me at the time was the immediate pronouncement of the police chief that race was not a factor. Impossible. Race is always a factor. Me, you, the cop, the kids, the police chief—everyone is swimming in the same mighty river of our national story of racism and privilege.

And now we have South Carolina. Where even today the Confederate flag still flies high over many a public building.

It would be very easy to point to the south, to point to others, to point to shooters and haters and say “Them! They are the problem.” Black people throw their hands up “don’t shoot.” White people throw their hands up “not me.”

I’m white. I’m not throwing my hands up. I know it’s me.

I’ll confess to just a few of the ways that it’s me.

I lobbied for years to pass laws creating more and more domestic violence and sexual assault felonies and these laws created a lot of criminals and a lot of prisons. I failed to recognize the huge impact this was going to have on people of color. This is institutionalized racism.

I pay taxes in a system that funds my school better than yours. Institutionalized racism.

I elect people who continue to support (by doing nothing) tax codes that keep black people poor and white people rich. Institutionalized racism.

It is difficult to understand the enormity of all that I have contributed to. And it would be the easiest thing for me to crawl back into bed because I feel so ashamed. Ashamed of Olympia and Charleston. Overwhelmed at the enormity of what lies ahead to undo the harm.

But the words of our Whitney Plantation guide echo in my mind: “You may be trying to comfort yourself.” These words remind and inspire me. To comfort oneself is human. To act, human too. So I’m going to drag my sorry ass to work. Today I’ll post this blog and call my legislator to ask why she isn’t passing a budget that fully funds all schools. And think about what else I am going to do. I encourage all you white people to get your sorry asses out of bed and get moving too.

Painless

It’s some kind of sin in fundraising to say that asking for money is a pain in the ass. But, let’s face it, it is. As much as I adore PBS and NPR, whenever they have their fundraising weeks, I stop watching and listening.

But one year, I thought to myself there must be some way to make this fun. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I organized a party to make the NPR fund drive fun. I invited a bunch of friends to my house for a poker party. People “gambled” (in quotes because we all required a cheat sheet of what beats what). At the end of the night every dime that people brought went into the pot to send to KPLU. I can’t remember exactly how much we raised, but it was a couple hundred dollars.

I know I must support smart TV and smart radio—so I do.

I hope that you feel the same way about smart blogs.

We’re asking you, right now, GiveBIG to support Can You Relate.

Give-Big-champion-graphic

 

Tell me a story

Don’t be jealous.

I got an invitation to go to a Moth storytelling workshop the other day. If a blog could squeal, you’d hear it right about now.

If you don’t know what the Moth is, and you love storytelling, you are in for a treat. I almost never listen to the Moth without choking up or laughing out loud.themoth

The pre-workshop instructions from the Moth organizers said to not overthink a story before the workshop. They assured us they’d teach us the techniques of creating a Moth-worthy story.

I have so many stories. If you know me, you know this. All the time. But don’t you know, when I got the email about the workshop, my mind went completely blank. Story? Do I know any stories?

In truth, I’ve had a long dramatic life with many story-worthy moments. My problem? Most of them are not things I would be wild about telling in front of an audience of strangers.

I finally picked a nice safe story about something that happened to me in high school. When I told the story to my partner (step one in story development) I put both of us to sleep. No good. I had to pick one of the risky stories, or flunk out of storytelling school.

So I took the plunge. I told the story of my childhood friend—and the deep relationship I had with his entire family. And something bad that happened.

I loved them all. They were my second family and I wished they were my first. Every night, they ate dinner together around a big table with a white tablecloth, real silver, nice plates and cloth napkins. They had an electric warming gadget to put the main dish on in case someone wanted seconds. And the conversation—oh, they read New Yorker magazine and newspapers and discussed important stuff in a civilized way. I was in heaven. They also had a summer “camp” in Maine—a creaky old house with a large screened-in porch—where the big dining table lived. The house was on a lake with the purest water where we swam and sailed. I loved all these people so much.

Time passed and all the kids grew up. I went away to college—3000 miles away. This was in the olden days, when people wrote letters—so I had a booming correspondence with several members of my adopted family. We all stayed tightly connected.

One year, when I was home for Thanksgiving, my friend and I got together and, as always, we talked and talked. I told him about my recent volunteer work at a Rape Relief in my new town, and about my particular interest in child victims. He asked me, bemused, if I didn’t think that the real problem with adults having sex with kids was the social taboo—that barring that, it really would be no big deal. Right? I remember thinking he was just yanking my chain, putting a theoretical thing out there to argue about. But the more we talked, the clearer it became that he was serious.

I knew he was close with a teenager whose mother was a tenant in an apartment he owned. So I remember insisting that he assure me that he was not having sex with this kid. The conversation went nowhere and I returned to college deeply troubled.

I wrote my friend a letter asking him once again to assure me that he would not have sex with kids, and he wrote back a 3 page, double-sided reiteration of what he already had told me about his rationale for why it’s okay for adults to have sex with kids.

I used to think that life was right and wrong, black and white. There was no time when I wouldn’t be dead sure about the right thing to do. But having my beloved friend wander down this terrible road left me stunned. And flat footed. Should I report? Or maintain my relationship so I could keep tabs and try to persuade or deter him?

It killed me to do it, but I turned him in. He was investigated and I guess the child he was in contact with didn’t disclose any abuse because my friend wasn’t arrested and I wasn’t called upon at that time to do anything more.

He and his entire family stopped talking to me. I felt phantom pains from that loss for years.

Fast forward a decade plus, and my phone rings one morning. I enter into a surreal conversation with a state patrol officer who is asking questions about my friend and what I know about him. Victims finally had come forward and the police were looking into prosecution. She knew something about a letter, and they’d tried to get this letter from the child protection agency, but they’d shredded their old files. Could I help?

Yes, I kept a copy from all those years ago because I knew this was not going to go away. The letter was entered into evidence and I was subpoenaed to testify at a trial. No trial took place because my friend came to a plea agreement. He went to prison.

People are always surprised by this, but I went to visit him there. Yes, I did. A couple of times. For those of you with friends or family in prison, you know about this. How you visit people even though they are not overjoyed to see you, and even though you are not overjoyed to see them. But because you are connected, and staying in touch is the only thing you can do.

My friend served his time. But when the date arrived for his release, it didn’t happen. He was civilly committed—the fate of many pedophiles. Civil commitment lives outside of most of our view and happens to people we are afraid of—and honestly, afraid for good reason. I completely understand why we want to lock up the bad guys. Forever. Period.

But I know this bad guy. For a whole bunch of reasons I don’t think he’s someone who should be in civil commitment. My friend was losing his freedom. All my hard edges defining right and wrong continued to crumble.

Years passed and my friend won a trial to secure his release. Every strand of my being, all my decades of work on behalf of victims strained as I went to testify on his behalf, for his release. There are many reasons I believed he was safe to be at large, and to the best of my knowledge he has not reoffended since he won that release.

I know this is hard for most people to understand but this is my world, where love and justice collide.

And this is the story I told at the Moth workshop.

The miracle of story-telling brought me others after the workshop who told me their own stories.

There are so many victims, which means there are so many perpetrators. And these rapists and batterers are people we know and in some cases people we love—in all the messy ways that happens. Even when we try to lock them up or throw them away, our loved ones return.

What IS wrong with this picture?

I showed my friend a picture of this billboard and asked her “What do you think about this?”

PLU-billboard

I had actually passed the billboard on my way to do an errand and it just nagged at me. On my way home, I pulled over and took the picture. I kept wondering, why is this black woman responsible for ending hate speech?

My friend struggled to put into words why she thought the message was off kilter. Another friend walked by and commented, “But look, what do you expect? This is the Lutherans.”

Hey, hey, hey. I was born into a Lutheran household. And probably would have been raised Lutheran except the (married) pastor came onto my (married) mom, and she wasn’t having it.

No. I was raised Unitarian which instilled a world view that nobody, not even the Lutherans, but  especially not the Unitarians, are off the hook in the daily grind to end racism.

And clearly, Pacific Lutheran University does not want to be off the hook. Good on them for getting out there and splashing a message on a billboard. This takes a lot of courage, because you have to know that (a) you are going to draw out the haters; (b) the chances that you are going to get the solution to racism right on a billboard hover somewhere around zero; and (c) since you can’t get it right, you are going to hear about it.

In a nutshell (which is almost as bad as a billboard) here’s what I think about it. Individual black women can stop saying hateful things to one another, but they do not (as just one example) set the salary scale. White people do. So it’s really a matter of figuring out how to get white people to stop saying hateful things to people of color—and then get white people to stop thinking hateful things about people of color—and then get white people to stop paying black women a lower wage than white men for doing the exact same job.

PLU is educating a lot of white people who are going to graduate into a whole lot of power to actually DO something if they understand what the real solutions are. It would be amazing to give every student a sophisticated, multi-year, down and dirty academic challenge to understand the roots, trunk, and branches of racism.

I set out to critique the critique—meaning the overabundance and corrosive nature of the criticism that flies through the internet when any individual or institution tries to say something to oppose racism, sexism, and homophobia.

And look what I did. I criticized.

I’m left wondering what the role of honest and kind criticism is. How do we fan the flames of understanding and creativity? How do we say “Hey, PLU, excellent effort. Keep going.”

Fear not, think this

what-are-you-afraid-of-in-2015

I am not typically drawn to sensationalist articles titled “What Are You Afraid Of?” Mostly, because I already know.

But when Parade Magazine fell out of the Sunday paper last week, there was a cool cartoon on the cover so I flipped to the article.

Here are a few of the things you should and should not fear in 2015:

Flu not Ebola

Domestic violence not serial killers, pedophiles

Heart disease not Mercury in fish

Not getting enough dietary fiber not gluten

The re-appearance of measles, whooping cough, and other preventable diseases not vaccine side effects

Texting while driving not air travel…”

Note that domestic violence is number two on what we should actually fear.

Long before we feared flying in airplanes, long before airplanes, it served us to be afraid—of other animals that might eat us, things that go bump in the night, impending hunger or thirst. All this surviving through the millennia has landed us here—as beings with hyper-reactive fear centers in our brains that override rational thought.

But we humans are fortunate to also have lots of brain architecture dedicated to rational thought. This gives us access to things like ideas about what is right and wrong. About the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. And about how to survive domestic violence or stop perpetrating it.

I’d like to suggest an alternative to the fear framework that recognizes the wide open spaces of the fully evolved human brain. How about…

Use your gigantic pre-frontal cortex to:

Outsmart sexism instead of fearing that violence against women is inevitable

Outthink racism instead of fearing that racial stereotypes are real and/or irreversible

Promote peace and prosperity instead of fearing that there simply is not enough to go around

Think, plan, and act instead of fearing that nothing can be done.

No more. Do more.

Living near Seattle is an absolute trial for someone as indifferent to football as I am. Before this past summer, I had never heard of Ray Rice and I didn’t know Baltimore had a football team. But suddenly I know these things. I would not ordinarily consider commenting on football, but knowing absolutely nothing about domestic violence has not stopped sports commentators from weighing in.

Contrary to what you might expect, I am not a fan of player suspensions for the same reason that I am not a big fan of the criminal justice system. Ejecting people from sports or from our communities and throwing them away in prisons doesn’t actually work that well. Ask a bunch of survivors if you don’t believe me.

How about turning these non-consequential consequences on their heads? Rather than throwing people away, how about we try the opposite: pulling them closer?

Instead of suspending players, put them into “suspended animation” that looks something like this:

  1. Take away their salaries and send the money to organizations that work to counter the wrong they’ve committed.
  2. Have the player sit on the bench at each game during their suspended animation wearing a T-shirt that reads “I’m sitting here thinking about why I’m not in the game.”
  3. When the player has a clear idea about what they did wrong, allow them to call their entire team to hear them out. The team’s job, to a man, is to fire up and fine tune their bullsh*t meter and judge what the player has to say.
  4. No matter how long it takes, the team keeps the player on the team (and among them) and only when the entire team’s meters fall into the “I believe you really get the wrong you did” zone, can the player be reinstated.

I floated this idea to some people who responded, essentially: “Yeah, right. Teams will just close ranks, slap a lot of backs, and let the dude off because it could be them tomorrow. Even if all the bullsh*t meters are smoking from being so far into the crap zone, the guy will be playing the very next week.”

I was disappointed by how little faith my friends had in men’s ability to step up. That is, men’s willingness to hold one another accountable with real integrity. The bar for men’s involvement in ending  violence against women has been so low for so long that we’ve practically given up on the idea.

But that has got to change. I felt vindicated by the ads that the NFL aired on Thanksgiving. They actually showed some men (who I assume are well-known football players) in full screen looking not just uncomfortable, but positively vulnerable.

So okay then. Men have raised the bar a half inch. After the football season’s over, will more men step up and help build and maintain momentum here?

Men, thanks for supporting No More. Now do more.

Sung and unsung

Mrs. Ericson used to stand solid as a rock between the rows of high school desks and compel us through the sheer force of her love of literature to love it too. I never read willingly before she was my teacher, and I never stopped devouring books after.

She popped into my head the other day, as random memories do, though accompanied by an unusually strong feeling of appreciation and love. It took me by surprise.

What followed was a meandering of memories—the people, famous and unknown, for whom I hold the deepest appreciation. In this season of thanksgiving, it seems fitting to call a few of them out.

Thank you Joseph Campbell, who with Bill Moyers shined a brilliant light on myth and the hero’s journey. I think their messages are more relevant than ever as men struggle with the purpose of violence. Though Joseph Campbell did not speak of the heroine’s journey and was decidedly a man of his time in his use of gender pronouns, I remember feeling remarkable resonance with his ideas—compelled to listen as though he were speaking directly to me.

Thank you Thich Nhat Hanh and Jack Kornfield for putting me solidly on the road to exploring what mindfulness, as the Buddha taught it, has to do with violence and the end of violence.

Thank you Norma Wong and Ellen Pence for your deep and wide understanding of domestic violence. Today I am especially aware that what the two of you have in common is, yes, brilliant minds, but also an enduring curiosity and loving engagement that helps all of us think more critically and act more courageously.

And finally thank you Mary Oliver and Rumi for poetry. A long time ago, I was driving down the road listening to a poet reading his work. It was a beautiful autumn-roadday and I was transported by the magic of the words, even as I became vaguely aware of a funny burning smell. I’d like to tell you that self-preservation trumped the ethereal moment, but it didn’t. I ended up with an expensive tow. But that experience was a reminder about the power of beauty, art, and words; as important to our humanity as food and shelter.

So hurray for the teachers, the authors, and the poets—for the bloggers and the readers. May you find joy in remembering your people. Gratitude abounds.

Call of the wild

Survive, reproduce. Survive, reproduce. For 3.5 billion years.

I love science. I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson from Cosmos has become a superstar, and how he has lead people to gasp at galaxies. I like astrophysics okay, but mostly because it serves to put my true love—biology—into that bigger context.

Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife
Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife

Yesterday, I hung out with 100 people who work in schools, health care, and social services on projects that support pregnant and parenting teenagers. We’ve been getting together with folks in this field because domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are all too common experiences for teens who are pregnant or have recently had a baby. We were all there to learn about the impact of trauma on the brain (more science) and what we can do to promote healing and resilience.

I eavesdropped on the conversations around me and heard people discussing the teens and babies they help, and the circumstances of their own pregnancies and the pregnancies of people they know. It made me wonder: How it is that we have birth control but still don’t use it all that intentionally? Regardless of our big brains, many of us are relying on the same biological laws that dictate the offspring of the mosquito, otter, and orca.

Sexual reproduction evolved 1.2 billion years ago. Contraceptive technologies were invented in the 20th century. Let’s be generous, round up, and say we have been able to have sex without reproducing for 100 years. Put in this perspective, I’m surprised that I’m surprised. I mean, we haven’t really been at this deciding to have babies for very long, so how could we expect to have a smoothly running social machine around it?

One reason we aren’t being as smart as we can be about reproductive decisions is that sexism is still a thing. Men still control and attempt to control women’s reproductive rights. This goes on politically and in intimate relationships.

Ageism is also still a thing. What other than ageism—and let’s be honest, fear—has us withholding information about reproduction and all forms of birth control from teens?  Some teens struggle (mostly alone) with their deeply held desires to have a child.  While other teens, once pregnant, reject adults shaming them—and rightly so.  Teens in general are suffering as a result of our not trusting them with information about sexuality and reproduction. Ageism and fear are both terrible excuses for our behavior.

Is there any way to speed up our social evolution so that we can all have control over our decisions? Or are we destined to remain . . . wild?