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.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

  • The NY Times has a great documentary short about a girl whose life is affected by domestic violence, among many other issues.
  • “Telling a victim to go offline to be safe is not only unacceptable, it further isolates her from people who love her.” Facebook and NNEDV released a guide for domestic violence survivors.

Faith in humanity: restored

I don’t know about you, but the past couple of weeks have put me through the wringer. Bad news and disappointments just keep coming. ENOUGH, I say. I saw this set of pictures posted on a friend’s Facebook wall, and though it’s not the kind of thing I often click on, I did. And it did indeed, even if only momentarily, “restore my faith in humanity.” However silly it may seem, I needed that random collection of photos to remind me that there is still a lot of good in the world and there are good people out there working to make things better.

team-kateCase in point: last weekend WSCADV hosted our second annual Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field. It’s always a good time. Now, I know fun is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when people gather together for a cause as, well, depressing, as domestic violence. (Hey, I’m just saying what everyone else is thinking). However, FUN is exactly what we were having. The baseball fans who just wanted to experience running through Safeco Field, but maybe learned a little about healthy relationships along the way, had fun. The teams who turned out because they survived a personal tragedy involving domestic violence had smiles on their faces and brought joy to the event. More than a thousand people came together that summer evening to share time, space, stories, and hope. My coworker’s partner came begrudgingly , but left with a completely new perspective. He said that he thought he understood everything he needed to know about domestic violence, but seeing the huge crowd and so many everyday people who have been personally impacted by domestic violence was a light bulb moment for him.

You know what I saw in the faces of runners, spectators, and volunteers? Hope. I saw the incredible potential we have when we come together to create peaceful, loving communities. We’ve still got plenty of work to do, (which is painfully apparent as I write this at my desk). But it’s events like these that refuel us.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

  • Activism works! See what it took to shame Facebook into revising their policy on ‘humorous’ images of beaten women.

Out of the binder and into the fire

Photo courtesy of bindersfullofwomen.tumblr.com

I do not think of myself as a competitive person. I mean, I don’t play games where I might win or lose.  Board games and sports are not my thing.

Yet, I’m obsessed with polls, the world-series, and Binders Full of Women.

This year, for the first time, I find myself watching the presidential debates simulcast with social media.  I wonder what my imaginary friends are thinking as we watch from our separate couches. I have two screens going.

Thus, the eruption of sites sporting Binders Full of Women DURING the debate—and the growth of one Facebook site from 32K likes in the middle of the debate to 348K at the time of this writing—leaves me scratching my head.

Clearly, the comments of (mostly) women on these sites express humor—I presume fueled by outrage. I experience the thrill, as a feminist, as I read these comments and get full belly laughs from the creativity and wonderful writing. The reviews of 3-ring binders on Amazon are even funnier than the reviews of Bic for Her.

But.

But! Is all this outpouring of creativity only serving to quell the outrage? Do women and men close up their computers and go out for a beer—slapping their hands together slap-slap “There! I told them.”?

Because if that is true, then putting all this creativity into humor alone is only as politically effective as say, putting butter on the third degree burns of women’s lived experiences.

We cannot simply feel all self-satisfied making snarky comments on social media about the things candidates say about women and thinking we are done. This does not get us women candidates and women in office. Does not get us allies pulling for our liberation. Does not get us reproductive justice. And my personal favorite (this being breast cancer awareness month) does not get us an environment where a whole bunch of us aren’t walking around traumatized by cancer. It does not.

BUT (and this is the last one) I am not calling for the end of snark. By all means, snark away. And then close up your computer and get out there!! Vote and mail your ballot, study the economy so you can tell the truth from a lie, volunteer for a women’s program. Do.

Misrepresentation

Have you heard about the documentary Miss Representation? It’s a film about how women are portrayed in the media and the effect it has on every last one of us. This is not news to me. Probably not news to any woman out there. But I watched the film anyway, because I was wondering how it might inform my work on behalf of battered women.

I was not prepared for its emotional impact. Like I said, this is OLD NEWS. I thought I had moved beyond the hurt and into a place of toughness, channeling my feelings into productive work for women! WRONG. The way the film so clearly illuminates the media’s systematic degrading of strong, intelligent, powerful women in our society hit me like a freight train. This is hurting all of us. Women and men. Girls and boys.

I also just saw Tony Porter’s TED talk about the “Man Box,” his term for the collective socialization of men. Take a few minutes to watch this video. It’s 12 minutes very well spent. He explains that forcing boys to fit in to the “Man Box” (boys don’t cry, boys are in charge, boys don’t act like girls) creates the conditions that make violence against women acceptable. The media’s incessant barrage of negative images and remarks about women do the same. So the bad news is—this stuff still makes me sad and angry. The good news is—it still makes me sad and angry!

And here’s what I want you to do about it. What makes Tony Porter so powerful is that he tells stories. Relatable stories. And it really challenges the way people think about things. So go on Facebook and tell a story about how the media’s take on women or the “Man Box” has affected your life in a concrete way. We’re not going to start any revolutions talking about things in the abstract.

Silenced

Silenced. A word often associated with domestic violence and how victims feel. So while scanning my Facebook wall the other day, the title of a link caught my eye: Silenced: Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage. It’s an infographic (which is apparently a schmancy graph) showing a glaring gap in major media outlets’ use of quotes from women—including on issues that by and large affect women!  I sound surprised, I know. Some of you might say, Traci, really this shouldn’t be so shocking. It’s still a man’s world. Blah blah blah. I know.

Even on “women’s issues”—historically regarded as less important and thrown aside only to surface when politically hot—women don’t rise to the level of legitimate sources of information. So what makes the media go to men for expertise on Planned Parenthood, birth control, abortion, and women’s rights? I think sexism is the obvious answer. Our voices are perceived as invalid, even on issues that affect us more.

Why is this such a big deal? Because the media shapes what we think about and how we think about it. It is an extremely powerful tool, and if you, your mom, and that weird cousin of yours, are not hearing from women as well as men, you are not really getting the whole picture. None of us are. Decisions are being made, opinions are being formed, and without the voices of women.

But we can’t let this get us down. We have to continue to speak up. About domestic violence and all the other issues in this infographic. And also about the economy, workers’ rights, and everything else not considered a “women’s issue” because really, all issues are women’s issues, and what women have to say about them matters.

Are my daughters safe online?

As a parent of teenage daughters, I worry that being on the internet itself, and especially Facebook, is leading them to make unwise decisions. Like other parents I know, I said “If you want Facebook, I need the password.” But I often wonder―am I understanding what I read? Do I know what is really going on? And when do I talk to them about what I see? I know my daughters crave their privacy even on Facebook, and don’t want any reminders that I am hovering. I want them to have safe, respectful and positive relationships―everywhere they go―is that too much to ask for?

Dr. Danah Boyd studies how youth use social media. I found her recent article “Cracking Teenagers Online Codes” to be both troubling and reassuring. Using social media in and of itself does not put kids at risk — “Teenagers at risk offline are the same ones who are at risk online.” There is a strong fear of sexual predators online, but the reality is that most sexual abuse involves someone our children know, trust, or love. Issues of bullying, homophobia, teen dating violence, suicide, and substance abuse are around, and we need to talk to our children when we see it on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else.

Here is what I found to be most reassuring in the article: “Teenagers absolutely care about privacy . . . like adults, they share things to feel loved, connected and supported . . . teenagers are the same as they always were.” They are using the internet to check out new ideas, see what other kids are thinking about, find someone to relate to. They are trying to relieve the alien teenager feeling. Okay, so even if my daughters’ online lives sometimes feel like a barrier to our connection, I just have to be brave and ask about what concerns me―and keep asking. If I listen with a lot of patience and silence, maybe one or two questions or concerns will slip out, and I will be there ready with love.

What ever happened to human compassion?

I got a bit political in a status update on Facebook the other day. A comment about taxes caused a ruckus with my more conservative friends back home in the South.  Comments started flying about the role of government and how much we should be expected to give to our communities versus what we deserve to keep for ourselves. Looking back at the conversation I wonder: What has happened to basic human compassion?

I think we would do things very differently in this country if we could all tap into real, nonjudgmental compassion for others. To me, compassion means admitting to ourselves that other people’s experiences are not the same as ours, and that they still matter. This is actually quite difficult, and I struggle with it myself.

What if we all worked a bit harder to understand how big social problems like poverty, racism or domestic violence impact people’s lives? What would it be like if we took a walk in their shoes? For those of us who’ve faced some of these hard situations, we’re still not off the hook. Our task is to realize that our way of dealing isn’t the only way.

There is actually research that suggests that compassion causes a chemical reaction in our bodies which makes our desire to be compassionate grow stronger. All we need to do is exercise it! Imagine if everyone in your community was just a little more compassionate. Albert Einstein had it right when he said:

“A human being…experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest…. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures.”

I’m busting out of that prison. Will you come with me?