A memorable evening for a great cause + mourning Mr. Cummings

“When we’re dancing with the angels,
the question will be asked,
in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?
Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”
-Elijah Cummings, February 27, 2019

This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of hosting a fundraiser on behalf of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. MPGV is a great organization about which I’ve told you before, if memory serves. It is helping lead the charge to confront gun violence, keep us safer, tend communities ravaged by guns, inspire other states to follow Maryland’s lead in sensible gun regulation, and stand up to the NRA and lobbyists who attempt to block all legislation concerning firearms. It does all that with a small, unpaid staff, dedicated volunteers, and funding from donations and grants, and it does it effectively.

One of MPGV’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session is to get passed a Child Access Prevention bill so that gun owners must responsibly store their firearms and are responsible for injuries, deaths, or thefts if they don’t. This seems infinitely fair, not least to the many children who are harmed and killed every month by improperly stored guns.

I am a regular volunteer, primarily by aggregating gun injury and death data in Maryland on a weekly basis, but wanted to do more. And since I have kids and know lots of people with kids, an evening focused on child access seemed just right. MPGV’s Executive Director, Liz, and I started planning, and I challenged myself to go beyond my comfort zone by asking pretty much everyone I know to attend and/or donate. By Wednesday night, nearly 60 people were registered. I made extra cupcakes, upped the catering, put out more chairs, and got excited. Perhaps most exciting was our roster of speakers:

  • Senator Chris Van Hollen

  • former Secretary of Education (under Obama) John King

  • Congressman Jamie Raskin

  • Drs. Monika Goyal and Kavita Parikh, pediatric emergency room physicians, prominent researchers in the field of firearm safety, and most lovely, my friends

Thursday morning dawned and the heartbreaking news of Elijah Cummings’ death spread rapidly. This piece is such a lovely tribute to the incredible human he was. A palpable sorrow spread outwards from both Maryland and Capitol Hill, and we soon learned that even in his last few hours, he was signing subpoenas to USCIS and ICE in his continued march toward justice.

I suspected that Senator Van Hollen and/or Congressman Raskin might not come to our event, and I certainly wouldn’t have blamed their absence, for both were longtime friends, colleagues, and admirers of Congressman Cummings. But come everyone did, and memories and appreciations of Mr. Cummings pervaded the night.

IMG_6959.jpg

Liz told everyone about MPGV and its accomplishments and goals before introducing Secretary King who had flown in from Atlanta and come straight to my house from the airport. He is MPGV’s newest board member, and he is a seriously wonderful human. He talked about the impacts of gun violence in terms of the legal loopholes that must be closed in order to keep people safe. In early 2018, Great Mills, a high school in Maryland suffered a mass shooting by a boy who’d stolen his father’s Glock, killing one and injuring several before killing himself. You can read more here, but that event, like so many others, wouldn’t have happened if the gun had been safely stored. Secretary King pointed out that the impacts of gun violence spread far beyond the victims: their families, friends, and fellow citizens reel from the trauma and loss, but the same is also true of the perpetrator’s family and peers.

Secretary King

Secretary King

Liz and Senator Van Hollen have worked together for years on gun-safety legislation

Liz and Senator Van Hollen have worked together for years on gun-safety legislation

Senator Van Hollen then arrived and discussed the many (!) years he’s attempted to enact and enforce sensible gun rules in Maryland and what a vociferous foe the NRA is. He helped pass the gun licensing bill— which has been enormously effective in reducing violence because guns are kept out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them—and the Maryland assault weapons ban.

Drs. Goyal and Parikh then described what they see in the aftermath of shootings: dead and injured children, increased school safety drills which often result in worrying children beyond their years (one mother, who they talked to in the course of research, shared that she gave her child a glow-in-the-dark shirt that he’d wanted only to find that he wouldn’t wear it to school because in the case of an active shooter, the glowing T-rex might get him found and killed), forever changed families and communities.

And then Congressman Raskin arrived. Y’all might know that I am an enormous fan of his and immensely grateful to live in his district. He is a constitutional law scholar, progressive and kind, unafraid, and in the thick of things impeachment right now as he sits on the House Committees of Rules, Judiciary, AND Oversight and Reform; the latter committee was that which Elijah Cummings chaired.

Almost immediately, he choked up. He and Mr. Cummings were close and I am certain he was struggling mightily with the loss of friend and mentor. But I also found myself wondering if this upset was also expressive of all the rest of the upset he and so many of us are holding: worry, fear, disgust, rage, shock. Everyone is so tired, so exhausted by the lies, ugliness, staggering corruption, and desecration of our democracy. And people like Rep Raskin are especially without recess from all that, as they seek to keep our nation intact. I offered him a tissue and thanked him profusely for his leadership and moral compass, and he told us about the importance of gun regulation, and about the importance of the rule of law, and about Mr. Cummings who once told him, “You always have time to do what you are supposed to be doing.”

It was such a moving, inspiring, memorable evening, and I am thankful. Stand up, my friends! Fight!

Tom, me, Congressman Raskin

Tom, me, Congressman Raskin

Ol loved meeting Rep Raskin too!

Ol loved meeting Rep Raskin too!

Women, violence, anger, silence, enough

Have y’all read No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder? It’s not particularly uplifting, but it’s a powerful, meticulously-researched read and, in my opinion, a really important one. In the era of #MeToo, rampant abusers like Harvey Weinstein, trump, and so many more, Christine Blasey Ford’s powerful, truthful testimony (to no avail), draconian infringements on reproductive rights, and desperate vies for power and control, No Visible Bruises is crucial reminder that toxic masculinity, ignoring women, and the silence that comes from shame, stigma, and fear are an often lethal combination.

The longer I live and the more I read and listen, the greater my shock and gratitude that I have never been sexually assaulted. Harassed, yes, but even those experiences seem rather minimal in the grand scheme of things. My luck feels like some sort of massive break in the universal struggle of women. How sickening that I feel so rare in this way, for what does that say about what so many others endure?

In this year since one of my closest friends and I sat speechless and teary though the Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh hearings, I have thought about the ways women persist. How we pacify and quiet down and overcompensate and protect. How we too often sacrifice and diminish ourselves for the benefit and comfort of others, including other women and weighty social norms.

Enough.

This afternoon, I went to Politics & Prose for an author event: Jeannie Vanasco (new to me) would be in conversation about her new book, Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl, with none other than Rachel Louise Snyder. I brought Snyder’s book, bought Vanasco’s and a London Fog to sip on during the talk, and settled in in the second row.

IMG_6880.jpg

I am so glad I went. Both women were so utterly real. So human and multidimensional and honest. They weren’t there to show off or curate their public personas or even, it seemed, to sell books. Both were there to think and reflect and educate and connect. Jeannie expressed mixed feelings and even a bittersweet confusion over why her friend, by all accounts a dear friend, did one exceedingly bad thing and to her. Rachel expressed anger and frustration, that which so many of us rightfully feel.

An older woman stood up to note that Kavanaugh’s behavior during his hearing was excused as righteous anger over being accused. I thought of Brock Turner being let off because he “has a bright future ahead of him” despite the fact that he raped an unconscious girl behind a dumpster. Another woman, younger than I, stood up to wonder if her anger at her horrifically-abusive father-in-law was ok even though he’s dying of prostate cancer. “It seems karmically right,” she said.

After meeting and thanking both Snyder and Vanasco, I clasped my now-signed books to my chest and shyly approached the woman with the sick father-in-law. “Excuse me, I said,” and she turned to me with kind eyes. “I think you have every right to be angry. I hope no one is shaming you for what you feel.” We talked for a few minutes, and her pain was so palpable. Her marriage is in dire straights in large part because of all the trauma perpetrated on her husband by his father. I squeezed her arm several times and wish I’d offered a hug. I saw her waiting by the bus stop as I drove out of the P&P lot and I hope she will be ok.

On my way home, I thought again, back to last year. I found this piece that I wrote just after the Blasey Ford-Kavanaugh hearings and thought I’d share some of it with you.

The powerful shrug of white male entitlement and anger that blew over Washington yesterday still hangs in the air, elbowing out the likelihood that Dr. Ford might truly be heard.

After dropping my children at school, I return home, slip my favorite women’s empowerment tee over my tense shoulders, and hastily draw my umpteenth protest sign—always crafted from foam core with different but equally fiery messages scrawled in black Sharpie Magnum marker on each side. This one turns out to be a favorite, with one side depicting three tearful female faces with blood red duct tape over their mouths and, below them, STOP written in thick letters. I grab the see-through mesh protest backpack that has accompanied me to every rally I’ve attended since the Women’s March in 2017: like the suitcase a near-term pregnant woman keeps close at hand, it is always at the ready. Since the election, there have been so many opportunities to use it.  

I call a cab and head to an 11:00 am gynecologist appointment made months before I knew who Christine Blasey Ford was, certain that I’ll have plenty of time to make the protest at the Capitol to fight Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. It begins at 1:00.

On the way downtown, I call my mother. We are both weepy.

“Mom, how can they ignore this? How can they want to appoint this man? I have to do try and do something.”

“I know. It is awful. Thank you for going, honey.”

As we hang up, the cab arrives at my destination. 19th Street. The driver, a man, kindly says, “I have sisters, a mother, daughters. In my country we respect women. I am so sorry for you feel. I am on your side.”

“Thank you, sir. Thank you so much.”

I’ve  known my gynecologist for more than a decade. If she reaches five feet tall, it’s only just, but her presence is formidable. She delivered my second son, helped get me the medication I needed during a difficult postpartum period, and is a magical combination of mother, sister, friend, and role model. We have a history of connection and mutual respect, and in her I have long seen manifested the strength and sturdiness I admire and actively work toward.  

As eager as I am to see her, I’m worried: She’s always running behind and I’m desperate to get to the Capitol. When I sign in at 10:50, I notice that the 10:00 patient still hasn’t been seen. A quiet jolt of dread stirs my stomach. The receptionist assures me it’ll be just a half hour wait. I take my seat, start charging my phone, and try to breathe deeply. 

Thirty, forty, fifty minutes pass, and I’m furious and frantic. I feel my blood pumping, my armpits sweating, tears burning hot in my eyes as I try to swallow them back. I hear myself demanding to know when my turn will come.  

I have to be somewhere. It’s important. Please.

I’m encouraged to give a urine sample.

 An assault victim bravely stood up yesterday, strong and sincere, scared and quivering, on behalf of millions. I want to stand beside her, literally, figuratively, but instead I’m being asked to pee by a nurse buying time for an unconscionably late doctor.

I wipe and pee and wash and breathe. I am taken back to the doctor’s office to wait some more. The tears aren’t threats anymore; they are actively marking my face and my shirt, and I think of my sign, forced to wait patiently by my mesh bag. Silenced women turned on their sides and shoved between chair and wall to wait. To wait until it’s their turn. They don’t know when that will be. If it will be.  

At well past noon, the doctor walks in.  My irritated posture and blotchy, damp face greet her. Because of our history, I stand up to hug her, and then am crying hard, as if I needed comfort and she was the first available. I haven’t seen her for two years. She doesn’t understand why I’m crying. Do I?

She asks if I am ok. I try to explain. I NEED to get to this protest. The need is primal, intense. I can’t articulate it clearly. I am angry that you’re making me late for something that feels so important, I want to scream.

 She surmises that I have been a victim of assault and that my history is bubbling up in the wake of Ford’s coming out.

 Her words anger me. I have never been assaulted. Even this feminist who raised a daughter who is now one of the only women in her engineering firm’s medical group seems unable to understand.

I am not crying for myself. I’m crying on behalf of women: those who have been assaulted, and those who haven’t. Those who have been ignored, demeaned, belittled, shrugged aside, seen but not heard, considered only in terms of their breast size or skirt length. Those who have been stolen from, whether their virtue, their ideas, their goodwill, the very things that we’re told make womanhood such a vaunted status. I am crying because I’m coming to think all that may have been a suppressive crock.

I am crying because a woman to whom something terrifying and intrusive happened decades ago now has two front doors in her home in case one is blocked and she needs to escape. I am crying because instead of applauding and honoring her courage, a cadre of white men actively seek to undermine and discredit her. These men want to give one of the biggest possible prizes to one of their tribe. I am angry. These tears are of anger. And I want, need to be giving voice.

“Does protesting make you feel better?,” my gynecologist says. “I admire that you’re involved, but is it healthy? I tend to put on classical music and bury my head in the sand.” 

I get that. But it’s not the way I operate.

…I’m finally outside and immediately see my friend, who’s meeting me.

In her I see a mirror image. She is floored when I tell her that I felt judged by my doctor.

 “What? We ARE angry,” she snorts, and I am grateful.

I tell her about a book I have been reading about women’s anger and how it often manifests in ways that aren’t “masculine.” We cry so that our anger is palatable. We cry so that men will see us as in need of protection, which safely perpetuates gender stereotypes, rather than as mad, hysterical women, which might make us look as if we think our anger is as valid as theirs. Anger crying is, I think, both a learned behavior and a way of subverting the system.

Enough.

Youth Climate Strike & We the People March & Margaret Atwood & Nancy P

My goodness.

Last Friday, after watching early Twitter returns of Global Climate Strike marches around the world, I hastily made a sign, pulled Jack from school early, and took him to the start of DC’s march downtown near the Capitol. The turnouts in Berlin, London, Dublin, Australia, New York, Uganda, and elsewhere across the globe were unbelievably moving. Greta Thunberg, the teen climate activist from Sweden, is such a heroine of mine. Did y’all see her speech at the UN? HOLY SH*T! Greta, I salute and support you!

The DC turnout wasn’t as large as I’d hoped but the energy was appropriately enraged and energized, and Jack and I saw some great signs. On the walk back to the Metro, he admitted to being extremely scared about the future he’s growing into. “Really buddy?” “Well, yeah, of course. The science is terrifying.”

While his worry makes absolute sense to me, it’s not something he’s articulated before, and my heart pinched even more than it already was.

That afternoon, two of my best girlfriends arrived from out of town in anticipation of the We the People March Saturday morning and afternoon and Margaret Atwood’s discussion of her new book and sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, that evening. While Saturday’s March was again not as large as I’d hoped (though the organizers said there were 10,000 people there), there were a number of satellite marches, and at ours the energy was fabulous. Signs too! And I met in real life an online friend of many years. Such a cathartic treat all around. I believe it is crucial that we keep up the pressure in support of American democracy as it seems imperiled in so many ways, and honestly, it really feels good to use your feet and voice to literally push your way forward sometimes.

After a huge lunch and much-deserved drinks, we rested, showered, and headed back downtown to The Lincoln Theater.

IMG_6743.jpg

Y’all, Margaret Atwood is 80 and she is a boss. Sharp as a tack, funny, extremely intelligent and well-read (as you’d expect). Rebecca Traister, who I love, was interviewing her, but Margaret was all anyone could watch. A couple weeks back, I’d started rereading The Handmaid’s Tale to be prepped to read The Testaments. As the new intro reminds readers, nothing in the book is fictional except the characters and the way MA has woven together horrible truths from the world’s past. Reading it is.not.easy. It doesn’t seem outlandish or remote, just a bit removed.

Margaret cuts to the chase. She has zero time for bullshit and neither should we. Her words and wit are calls to action, they are funny at times, lacerating at others. She is thought-provoking, frightening, and utterly real. We were all enthralled.

And today, another strong woman, Nancy P, announced a move towards a real impeachment inquiry. I think all of us who marched on Friday and Saturday, all who applauded Margaret and who read her words with eerie trepidation and consideration, all who speak truth to power, and all who are sick and tired of America’s toxic, grifting, ignorant, bigoted, cheating, lying, nepotistic, assaulter-in-chief have a bit of hope right now.

Hope. It’s a powerful thing.