The shutdown, and kindness

This past weekend brought us DC’s most substantial snowfall in years. We got nearly a foot, and it was so beautiful and such fun. I made it to the Open Discussion Project meeting but on my way home, things were getting dicey. Monday was a snow day and the boys delighted in hours of sledding and snowball fights and hot chocolate.

Meanwhile, the Trump shutdown continues; it’s now, on day 26, the longest in history. Federal workers received paychecks for $0.00 last week. Can you imagine the gall of pulling the rug from people suddenly, not paying them, and then reminding them of that by paying to send zero balance check stubs? Furloughed people are pawning jewelry and other belongs, selling their kids’ toys and household items, and being sent notices of pending eviction. They are responsible for nothing and everything while McConnell is hiding, Graham sounds rabid, and Trump is feeding young athletic champions lukewarm fast food.

I am so deeply ashamed and furious beyond compare.

Although I’m not a believer, I adhere completely to the tenet that we are each other’s keepers. One of Quakerism’s main pillars is that of community stewardship. Actually, community and stewardship are distinct Quaker values but if you tend and nurture community, you are a steward of it, so I’m going with the compound right now. For the past eight-and-a-half years, I have been a part of a Quaker community because my sons attend a Friends school. I feel gratitude pretty much daily for this gift, imperfect as it sometimes is. Communal stewardship seems especially crucial right now, and what’s keeping me heartened right now is just how much of it I’m seeing around here.

José Andrés, the chef and restaurateur and World Central Kitchen head who has been feeding Puerto Rico since Maria slammed it, has just opened a WCK in downtown DC. #ChefsForFeds gave out 4,400 gorgeous, free meals today -double what they anticipated- and will be open from 11a-6p until the shutdown ends. I am volunteering in their kitchen on Friday and cannot wait to serve. If you’re local and would like to try and snag a shift, you can do that here. If you aren’t in the area, but would like to support Chef Andrés’ work, please donate to WCK.

The veterinary group that saved Nutmeg after he was hit last year, Friendship Hospital for Animals, is waiving emergency exam fees and offering deferred/extended payment options for furloughed Federal employees. Local bookstores, salons, wellness centers, and restaurants are offering discounts to furloughed workers, and folks in need of diabetic supplies can message @Alt US Press Secty on Twitter.

A dear friend in Minnesota’s twin cities area works for a homeless youth organization. Many of the people it serves need access to WIC -the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children- to help feed their families. Due to the shutdown however, WIC is closed, and neither taking new clients nor able to provide benefits to those on their rolls. My friend set up an amazon wishlist for baby formula to meet her organization’s interim needs, spread the word on social media, and by this evening, she had what she needed.

Earlier today, a friend was near the National Zoo waiting for her daughter to finish an appointment. The Zoo is closed because of the shutdown, but my friend saw caretakers heading in to feed animals and clean their habitats. They aren’t getting paid. It was really cold today, so my friend walked into a tiny shop, Baked by Yael, to get a coffee. I’d like to share this exchange she overheard between Yael and a man who seemed to be a higher-up at the zoo.

He said, “I heard about how generous you have been with our employees and I came to thank you. Some of our younger employees can’t afford to feed their families and you have saved them.” The owner replied, “of course, I can’t imagine not helping them; we were lucky to get donations so now we are able to give them not only free pastries but free soups and sandwiches too.”

Amidst a temper tantrum of epic proportion by people elected to serve us, regular folks are stepping up to ease hardship and keep the wheels on the bus. It is so moving but also so worrisome and sad. Please, in any way you can, be and do good. This isn’t just a DC issue. 800,000 federal works didn’t get paychecks last week. They live all across this country and come from all backgrounds. They are members of the coast guard and the TSA, they are caretakers of our national parks and the wildlife and safety features within, they work for the IRS, they run shelters for victims of domestic violence. This shutdown hurts all of us, especially those who aren’t being paid.

This coming Monday is the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday. If your area is anything like mine, service opportunities will be aplenty. Find a place to get involved- the boys and I are going to the service day at school; one friend is hosting a sandwich-making party at her house for an area shelter.

Be kind, give in all ways you can, hold your representatives accountable, and please, for the love of everything, vote the bad people out.

On the Basis of Sex and the Open Discussion Project

The boys returned to school on Monday, and today Oliver stayed home sick. He is the easiest, most darling sick kid ever, and as today was frigid, we enjoyed a roaring fire while reading for book club, doing homework, and so forth. I got a bit of work done, though not as much as I’d hoped or planned. I am lucky that that’s OK, but it can be hard to not feel disappointed at times- at the loss of time, of the quiet hours counted on but taken. Tom and I showed the kids The Pursuit of Happyness last weekend, in part because it’s such a good movie but also for perspective; how on the line so many people are constantly, and the stress in that. It’s excruciating.

I didn’t think about it all too much until we picked up Jack and a friend and, as everyone had finished homework, went to see On the Basis of Sex. I felt this intense determination to see it. Today. I bribed my children with candy; Jack’s pal said, “Oh, that sounds wonderful. I’d love to see that.” I swear to god sometimes being with other people’s kids makes you believe that while you may not always see your lessons coming to fruition in your own spawn, you can have some faith that they are and will. Interacting with other kids with good parents lets you see that they can and do apply their skills and loveliness when the time is right. I see this all the time in my students too. Ah, parenting.

Anyway, after plying the children with all manner of “food,” we settled in to our seats, and I exhaled deeply. I’ve felt fitsy all week- tired, and an unsavory blend of worried and furious. The shutdown continues, hurting and stressing so many Americans. It continues because of an ignorant, mean man and the craven, pitiful people who enable him. It continues because of a greedy desire for power, nothing more. This shutdown has nothing to do with protection, nothing to do with security. It is wasteful and rude and the wall is stupid and ineffective.

I mention that because on Sunday I begin participating in the Open Discussion Project. I am both thrilled and honored to have been selected to do so, and yet, as the time approaches, I find myself nervous. The ODP, a joint project of six American bookstores, including my beloved Politics & Prose here in DC, is an effort to talk over the chasm of polarization dividing our country. You can learn more about it here, but in short, it brings together groups of people from across the political spectrum to talk and read books about current events and discuss them. “The goal of this effort is not conversion but conversation and understanding.”

I applied as soon as I read about the opportunity. I exclaimed aloud when I was accepted. I have studiously read our assigned book, highlighting and making mental notes all the while. And yet, I am nervous. I’m nervous because I’m furious. I’m nervous because although I value emotion and fully believe it comes from places of feeling and love I also recognize that it can counter reason, inhibit objectivism, and cloud and fuck things up. Emotion has always been part Achilles heel for me, part gift. We have a skeptical relationship, I think it’s fair to say.

In any case, I admit to feeling extremely correct in my belief that our country is in seriously bad straits, and I am sick to death of racism, sexism, bigotry, religion, and exclusivist conservatism cornering the fucking market on “real” and “salt of the earth” Americans.

No.

I, too, am a real American. A patriot. I am an atheist, an active anti-racist who recognizes that I will always have work to do, a feminist, and a proud progressive. I do not want walls built, on our borders or in our society. And so I worry that I will be unable to hear arguments for the wall. I worry that I will react badly to support for this “president.” I will try to listen, try to understand, but I’m nervous.

Back to the movie. We all loved it, the 7th graders and me especially. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a boss. Incredible human. I cried at the end and found myself struggling not to cheer or retch aloud several times throughout.

“Please introduce yourselves and tell us why you deserve a spot that would otherwise have gone to a man.”
”You used to be pretty and so smart. Now you sound shrill and bitter.”
”You’re just not a fit. I mean, our firm is a family. The wives get jealous.”
”The natural order of things…Caretakers are women.”

Jesus christ. It’s enough to make me insane. Talk about rousing emotions. I was nearly apoplectic at times. And yet still, women carry the bulk of the familial load, the mental load, the emotional load, and so on. We manage the expectations of how to look, how to act, how to be. But most women can never actually win. Not really. Can never strive without seeming strident. Can never assert without seeming shrill. I mean, just look at “grab them by the pussy and take what you want” having zero consequence versus “I want to impeach that motherfucker” being talked about ad nauseum for days. (Trump, Tlaib, respectively.) Really?

I think I carry all this with me into the ODP. I am mad. And driven. And worried. And strong. But that leash of propriety is still around my neck, yanking me back at times. Into expectation or submission or appropriateness or whatever.

It’s infuriating and in instills fear, often simultaneously. And I’m white.

The midterms are coming: what's at stake

I don’t even know what to say, y’all. It hasn’t even been a month since Christine Blasey Ford was summarily ignored by a mean, enraged, entitled group of white men, and a few white women, just because who can ever understand them?! It hasn’t even been a month since a belligerent, enraged, entitled beer guzzler of a high-school-was-my-glory-days dude got a lifetime appointment to the highest judicial court in the land. Despite so many things.

Not even a month. But during?

Yesterday, a 10th grader in North Carolina was shot to death by another student who was angry.

This past Saturday, eleven Jews were murdered in their synagogue as they gathered to celebrate a bris.

Last week, an angry man, mid-50s, sent pipe bombs to 14 prominent Democrats and Democratic supporters and to CNN.

Earlier last week, evidence was released showing that Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, was found to have violated, in criminal fashion, conflict of interest regulations.
Megyn Kelly expressed sadness that she and fellow white people could no longer wear “blackface” for kicks.
White nationalist Richard Spencer, one of those “very fine people on both sides” according to our “president” was accused by his wife of domestic abuse.
And Brian Kemp, the Georgia Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate, was found to be actively suppressing the vote of thousands upon thousands of his state’s black citizens.

Nine days ago, Trump screamed to any immigrants watching, “This country doesn’t want” you. People cheered.

Ten days ago we found out that in Dodge City, KS, a majority-Hispanic city of 27,000, NOT ONE  polling place exists. The only place to vote is outside of town, a mile walk from the nearest bus stop.

Y’all, ten days ago does not even take us halfway back to the Kavanaugh debacle.

Returning to the present, Pittsburgh’s Jewish leaders have written a letter to Trump saying that until he denounces white nationalism and the other heinous shit he seems far too fond of, he is not welcome in their city. Naturally, and not least after crassly holding a rally the day after Pittsburgh Jews were murdered by a man who feels Trump isn’t nationalistic enough (justifying the rally by LYING that the NYSE opened the morning after 9/11 [fact: it was closed for 6 days after 9/11]), he has big plans to go there, DISinvited, this week.

I have followed politics since I idealistically, naively, and somewhat brazenly, applied a Ross Perot sticker to my orange blow dryer in early middle school, hit the “high heat” lever, and went to town for four years. If you haven’t witnessed a south Louisiana middle school girl in the early ‘90s attempting to manage bangs, you haven’t the slightest idea what a hair dryer really can do or how any adhesive in close proximity to it will behave. That shit’s there for eternity. I have never seen anything like this.

The past ten days, the past month, the past two years…how can this level of violent degradation go on? How can anyone come out OK?

Have you read The Power by Naomi Alderman? Just after I first read (re: tore through) it, I spent several days thinking about how fascinating the premise and structure were. Women discover a secret power and, besieged by and pissed off after years of mistreatment and subjugation by men, use it; at first with restraint, and then without. As you might imagine, cataclysm approaches, and one by one, every character, regardless of position, of stake, of power, votes to burn it all down.

The further I get from this work of fiction, the closer I circle back to the ways in which it seems all but true. Any power taken to the extreme is fatal, or nearly so, yes? Religious extremism is but one example, nationalism another.

Can we burn things down next month? I doubt it, but I hope we can light a powerful fuse. I am tired of the hate, the fear-mongering, the othering, the demonizing. I am sick of sending troops to the border because hungry, terrified people are marching a thousand miles simply for the hope of a slightly better life.

I am sick to death of pro-lifers carrying on about the rights of cells but crapping all over the rights of toddlers and children to eat daily and learn and get to see the pediatrician. And I’m sick of all that being contingent on their being white. Brown toddlers? Forget it.

I am sick of guns and bullets, purposeful and stray, killing children and adults out for an evening jog or driving home from working at a food pantry (this happened to a friend’s cousin last week here in DC; shot dead at a stoplight by a stray bullet not aimed at him at all).

I am sick of my children detailing the various lockdown drills they do for weather, intruders, or active gunmen. I am sick of my children getting an exceptional education because I can afford it, but others getting lousy or no education because their parents can’t.

I am sick of propaganda TV passing for “news,” and I’m sick of the people who believe it’s news and then kill people because “the Jews are funding the migrant caravan” and other such complete lies.

I am sick to the point of being ill by having a “president” who only slightly cares about being president to a few and who cares not at all about being president to the rest of us. I am sick of a bullshit electoral system that asserts that 3 people in Wyoming are more important than 60,000 in California. They aren’t. Each person is worth one vote. No more, no less.

I am desperate for the pendulum to swing back to any sense of stasis. We are so far gone from that that I can’t see the inflection point toward normal. And I’m focusing just on America. Have you looked round the world? Have you seen what’s happening in Yemen? Who just got elected in Brazil?

Literally, and as a writer and human who is really sick of word overuse and misuse I use this one carefully, I see NO hope for the United States if the Democrats don’t take back at least the House next month. Trump Republicans have the presidency, the Supreme Court, many of the lower courts, the Senate, and the House. There is not one check or balance on anything anymore except the protesters who continue to march, call, petition, show up, plead, poster, phone bank, and beg. Literally, there is nothing else.

Please be a part of the Resistance, the protests, democracy, whatever you want to call it. Please. If not for you or for me, for our children. Our children have done nothing but be born into this world that is falling apart.

PLEASE vote on November 6th, if you haven’t already. Please vote your conscience. Please vote for your children and grandchildren and our Earth and all who inhabit it. Your guns, your money, your faith- there’s room for it all when we don’t try to refuse room to all but what I or you or she believes.

Please.