Want to resist? Here’s how

The campaign officially ends Friday.

That’s when the vaunted peaceful transfer of power occurs in Washington, D.C., and Donald J. Trump assumes the mantle of president. POTUS.

(Personally, in my opinion, he won’t be able to pull off that acronym with the coolness of Barack Obama. But whatevs.)

Maybe you’re feeling down about this. Maybe you’re thinking this week will be the last good week of the next four years. Maybe you’re thinking all you’ve got to look forward to is Alec Baldwin on Saturday nights.

But wait. You can do something, and it’s as easy as making one phone call a day.

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Daily Action began a month ago, the brainchild of Laura Moser, a D.C.-based writer. She felt blindsided on Nov. 9, unsure of the world and anxious, for the first time ever, to really do something. But what?

Here’s how she explains it:

Then, while scrolling through yet another despairing Facebook thread, I had an idea: What if I could help curate the controversies and use technology to keep people engaged in holding the new administration accountable?

As The New York Times recently reported, phoning legislators is the most effective way to make our voices heard—but phone calls can take up time that many of us don’t have. What if a service made placing these calls so easy that we had no excuse not to do it? That’s where the Daily Action alerts come in. The idea is, with the help of the progressive digital media agency where my husband is a partner, to provide a sort of clearinghouse of actions we can collectively take to resist extremism.

It works this way: You text “DAILY” to 228466. You receive a response asking for your ZIP code. You give it, and you’re in.

You’ll get a daily text alerting you to the issue of the day, along with a telephone number. You dial that number, listen to talking points and get connected. Sometimes you’ll be connected to your senator or representative to share your concerns about a particular issue. At other times, you might be connected to other members of Congress who chair various committees or have sway over certain issues. You even could be connected to folks who influence Congress, such as businesses or policy groups.

The text alerts arrive in the morning. You can call and be done with it within 15 minutes. It’s so simple. And it’s effective.

As of last Friday, Daily Action counted more than 38,000 recruits. Along with other progressive groups, Daily Action’s calling campaign might be making a bit of a difference. Phones in Congressional offices are ringing off the hook. Some Congressmen, such as House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have stopped taking messages. Some phones go straight to voicemail. Other mailboxes are full.

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You have the right – nay, the responsibility – as citizens to let your lawmakers know your stance on these issues. They work for you, not each other and certainly not the president, whoever he or she is. Almost 40,000 is a lot of people making calls. But just think how effective we could be if that number were twice or three times that.

Today we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., definitely a man of action. How would he join the resistance if he were here today?

Tune in, tweet on, text much. This is not the time to be silent or immobilized by inability to take action.

And luckily for us, Daily Action makes it as easy to get involved as sending a text.

*Please, please consider joining Daily Action and raising your voice. For more information, click here.

Stop hating on the media, y’all

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Kids, today’s lesson focuses on the First Amendment.

You know, those pesky 45 words tacked on to the end of the U.S. Constitution that provide protection for citizens to worship whomever or whatever, as they see fit and to speak as they wish; and for the press to publish what it deems fit; and for folks to have public meetings and rallies; and for all of us to tell government officials what we think they’re doing wrong (if you remember your U.S. history, you’ll recall that last one was a big deal to the dudes who wrote the Declaration of Independence, which you can read here.)

The First Amendment separates the United States from other countries, makes us a little edgy, guarantees that we are a bunch of loudmouths who, occasionally, get shit done and change the world.

To quote Ron Burgundy, it’s kind of a big deal.

I’m no expert on the First Amendment, although I did study it extensively during my years at the University of Missouri School Of Journalism (the oldest and best.) Most of my 20 years as a journalist were spent attending public meetings, interviewing public officials, asking unpopular questions and, when needed, generally pissing off both sides of an issue as I strived for impartiality.

And here’s what I always knew, from my very first journalism classes with Jane Clark and Don Ranly, Ph.D.: The Founding Fathers gave us the First Amendment as a gift and a responsibility.

One particular part of that amendment, the part protecting freedom of speech and the press, was deemed so important that it earned the press the unofficial title of the Fourth Estate, or the fourth leg of our checks-and-balances system (the other three are the executive, judicial and legislative branches.)

Just consider this from the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and the Newseum:

     The First Amendment was written because at America’s inception, citizens demanded a guarantee of their basic freedoms. Our blueprint for personal freedom and the hallmark of an open society, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition.
Without the First Amendment, religious minorities could be persecuted, the government might well establish a national religion, protesters could be silenced, the press could not criticize government, and citizens could not mobilize for social change.

So I watch with horror as President-elect Donald J. Trump and his political organization continually trash and degrade practitioners of this profession, even as they use newspapers and broadcasters and digital publications for free advertising, saying outlandish things to get attention and then blasting as unfair anyone who reports on what they have said.

In my current profession as a licensed clinical social worker, I would suggest this behavior indicates possible borderline personality disorder, but I digress…

Today I happened to be in the car during the much-hyped Trump press conference, his first in 167 days. I turned on the car, and NPR came on, just in time for me to hear Trump deny a CNN reporter the right to ask a question. He made a snarky comment about the BBC.

first-amendment-rightsThe new president continually lobbed zingers at the reporters peppering him with questions about important issues, such as his policy priorities in the first days of his presidency and whether he was going to release his tax returns so that Americans can judge for themselves the extent of Donald J. Trump’s monetary obligations.

My jaw hung limply as I drove toward my office. Even now, more than 18 months after Trump announced his candidacy for U.S. President, I continue to be stunned when I hear how he treats journalists. And I’m frankly fearful when I hear and read regular, ordinary folks pile on the hatred.

I’m scared because I fear many people could be easily convinced that freedom of speech and press should be curtailed. There’s so much hatred.

OK, sure. Freedom of speech is messy. It’s not always pretty. Sometimes feelings get hurt. Sometimes there is cursing. Sometimes there are rumors and lies.

But as Don Ranly, Ph. D., always reminded his J300 students, a wise man (John Milton) once said (and I’m paraphrasing because I don’t want to plagiarize) that when all sorts of ideas and rhetoric compete freely on a level playing field, the truth will emerge every single time. That’s the “marketplace of ideas” concept, also mentioned in John Stuart Mill’s book, On Liberty.

And what that means – this is me talking here – is that our Founding Fathers thought the citizens of the United States were intelligent enough to call “bullshit” when they see a big, fat turd (which you cannot polish, as my esteemed father likes to point out.)

So, anywho. Here’s the thing. You can hate journalists all you want and compare them to that scourge of the Earth, lawyers (jk, all my lawyer friends…just making a point.) But you do not want to live in a country where their rights are curtailed. You don’t.

Here’s a test for you. Name some countries where journalists aren’t allow to question leaders, where their stories are censored, where they are jailed for speaking truth to power. Can you think of some?

Here are a few, courtesy of the Committee to Protect Journalists. This list is from 2015:

Eritrea. North Korea. Saudi Arabia. Ethiopia. Azerbaijan. Vietnam. Iran. China. Myanmar (formerly Burma.) Cuba. These are spots where journalists routinely are jailed for reporting news that government officials determine reflects unfavorably on the government.

Hmmm. I’m down to visit some of those spots, to be sure, but sure wouldn’t want to live there.

The press is the Fourth Estate. It’s the watchdog over our three branches of government. We might not like what we hear or see from journalists, but we need that information to make informed decisions.

That’s why those guys who wrote the U.S. Constitution put press freedom in the FIRST Amendment, not the Second or Third or Eighth. It’s first. It’s important.

People have died protecting that freedom again and again since the United States began. You know this. This, at least, should be old news.

Changing for the better

silence-quote

Hey, there. It’s me.

It’s a new year, that time when we all make promises to ourselves to do things better, to make different choices, to improve ourselves. Some call them “resolutions.” I prefer to think of them as goals.

I generally make several goals as the year changes. Almost every year, for example, I set a goal to be more organized. Mixed results on that one. Sometimes I tell myself I’ll work out more. Again, mixed results.

This year, I’m pledging to speak out.

It’s been a while since I’ve written in this space. I can make up all sorts of excuses, but they don’t matter. I just didn’t write.

This year, I’m pledging to write about the things I’m speaking out about.

Here’s why:

I’m a Democrat. I’m a liberal. And I was – I am – an unabashed, unapologetic Hillary Clinton supporter. I like Hillary Clinton. I wanted her to win. I donated money to her campaign. I slapped a “Clinton-Kaine” sticker on my car and planted a “Clinton-Kaine” sign in our front yard.

And I was so convinced that Hillary Clinton would win that I ignored all the signs that pointed otherwise – the anger of those who supported Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the fear among many whites of immigrants and minorities, the hatred of a certain segment of the American population for the Obama family and liberals in general.

I lived in a bubble, as so many of my fellow liberals did. I felt like a country who could elect Barack Obama twice could never elect someone like Donald Trump. And I truly thought that people would not vote against their own best interests.

But I didn’t speak out. I let others lift their voices, but I didn’t speak out. I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of my friends and relatives who are more conservative than I. I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable around me, although I felt very uncomfortable when they spoke untruths about the Obamas and Clintons. I didn’t speak out.

So when Donald Trump won the Electoral College and it seemed like hatred suddenly oozed from every crevice in America, it felt like a punch in the gut. I never saw it coming.

And when people I know and like and maybe even love laughed at my visible discomfort and told me to “get over it,” it hurt. It hurt. How could someone find delight in others’ pain? And how could someone who did ever be or have been my friend or relative? It hurt like hell.

Had I treated my more conservative friends in this manner when my candidate won in 2008 and 2012? I didn’t think I had.

So I didn’t speak out before Nov. 8. I’m not deluding myself into thinking that had I engaged more I could have changed the election’s outcome. But I didn’t really do much to effect that outcome except vote.

But starting today, I’m making a change.

I will speak out against intolerance and racism and xenophobia and hatred and bullying and just all around meanness. I will speak out against these things when I witness them. I will speak out against these things so that I can stand in solidarity with those who are disenfranchised and mistreated and look differently than I do and come from different backgrounds and places. I will speak out so that my children know that bullies will not prevail in our neighborhood, in our town, in our state, in our country, in our world.

I will speak out so that I can sleep at night knowing that I tried to make a difference. And I will speak out in this space as often as I can because that’s one small thing that I know I can do to try to make the world a better place.

Some folks who read this blog might be offended. They might stop reading. I hope they don’t because I think we need to try to understand other points of view. You don’t have to agree, but you should be able to respectfully listen to someone’s ideas and viewpoints.

I invite civil discussion and want to hear what others have to say. If you’re one of those readers who disagrees with my views, I invite you to stay but understand if you can’t or won’t. If you leave, I’ll be sad.

But I won’t stop speaking out.

Please stick around.

 

Elf, Schmelf

It’s 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 22, and what am I doing? Making a list of everything I need to buy to pull off our annual family Christmas morning brunch (well, after I write this missive, of course.)

I know I’ll be scrambling to find everything I need at this late date, but screw it – I’m a linear thinker, and I can only handle one crisis at a time.

Every night since I don’t know when has found me baking something or photo shopping something or ordering something or going to a holiday performance of something. That’s why there are no wrapped presents under the Christmas tree but why it looks like Christmas got drunk and vomited all over my house – because when I’m stressed out, I overcompensate somewhere. And this year, it was with the decorations.

So anywho, I’m completely up to my ears in the holiday, which makes me just so thankful that my hubs and I completely and utterly missed the Elf on the Shelf trend.

Not that I’m judging those of you who embrace the whole Elf deal – because I don’t. I absolutely do not judge. No way.

I mean, sure. I’m jealous of your little carefully constructed tableaus of the Elf getting into mischief while he spies on the kiddos to report any of their mischief-making to Santa, the Elf godfather, who apparently will have a sit-down with any kids not toeing the line.

I wish – nay, I yearn – for the time to thoughtfully plan and carry out the whole story line AND to keep my kids’ attention while doing so. That would really be a feat for me. As it is, we cannot even successfully conquer the traditional Advent calendar. We generally quit the whole thing by about Dec. 15 – a little later if it’s one of those chocolate-filled calendars.

elf on shelf
An example of a Christmas failure — it’s Dec. 22, but I’m two days behind.

And who am I kidding? The hubs and I were half-assed Tooth Fairies at best. Sometimes, teeth would be under pillows for entire weeks before the Fairy got around to finding spare change to slip under the pillow.

If we were responsible for maintaining the Elf myth, our kids would have given up on Santa and what have you years ago.

This year, the youngest of our little darlings announced that he no longer believes in Santa. As is our custom, my hubs and I neither confirm nor deny such suppositions. Our mantra is that, “If you don’t believe, you don’t receive.” So to my knowledge, the 19-year-old has yet to declare himself Santa-free. And it might be that the youngest is testing us, as is his wont.

I generally take a “less is more” attitude with my children on these matters and others of a delicate nature. As adults, we want to delve deeper into their questions and give them well-constructed answers when most of the time, they just want something more superficial.

I might be in the minority, though, judging by conversations I’ve overhead among younger mommies lately, as they worry about what to say when their second-grader’s best friend stops believing in Santa, or whether perpetuating the Santa story constitutes lying to your children.

That last one sometimes comes from folks who are wearing themselves out setting up their blasted Elf on the Shelf in fantastical poses every night.

Seriously, people? You’re worried that going along with a centuries-old story about a dude that visits children around the world once a year on Christmas Eve, delivering presents, is lying, but you’re OK with moving a creepy elf around your house and pretending that he spies on your kids and narcs on them when they’re jerks, as kids often are at this time of year?

So, yeah. I’m stressed out and way behind on my baking and wrapping and only half-way through this bottle of wine. But I’m raising a glass to the hubs and me and giving us a fist pump for eschewing that elf.

 

Microaggressions, Missouri and what have you

Several times this week, I missed the UPS driver who was trying to deliver some wine to my house.

He or she tried three times, but never at the same time of day, to deliver the box. Someone 21 or older needed to be home to sign for the delivery, but the sticky note left on our door never gave me a sense of when the driver would return.

Three days in a row, I second-guessed wrongly. On Thursday, the note left behind warned there would be no more attempts.

So I called UPS and found out I had five days to hoof it to the customer center in Kansas City’s West Bottoms to pick up my parcel. Mama needs her wine, so I went on Friday.

Which is what brings me to my post today. I presented myself and my government-issued ID and asked for my box o’ wine, please. There were two middle-aged (and by that, I mean my age) white dudes working the counter. One pleasantly told me he’d go find my box.

The other gave me the once over and left the room, too. But I could hear him in the next room, talking to a third person whom I never saw.

These guys proceeded to make small talk, which revolved around a woman pulling a gun on a man in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Then one guy started talking about his own concealed-carry class, telling a story about a woman who was in the class with him.

He launched into a narrative about the “black lady” and mimicked her accent while the other guy laughed. I couldn’t quite get the point amid all the laughter.

I guess someone else walked by back there, because the first guy then said clearly, “I cannot stand her. Dragon lady. She really thinks she’s something.”

To which the other gent replied: “Well, she’s the chosen one. So you’d better watch out.”

And those, my friends, are examples of microaggressions.

Much has been said about microaggressions in light of the recent protests at the University of Missouri and elsewhere regarding how minorities are treated.

Mu protests

Sure, as a society we’ve come a long way since 1950, the year black students first gained entry at MU. By and large, we don’t have lunch counters that won’t serve minorities or separate drinking fountains. On paper, we have integration everywhere from schools to churches to neighborhoods.

But the reality is that it’s the everyday, casual racism that’s gnawing away at the progress our parents and grandparents made and that threatens to create massive unrest across our nation.

If you’re white and middle class (and male, especially,) you might not recognize a microaggression. It’s a term coined by Columbia University Professor Derald Wing Sue to describe “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

Like this one that I’ve encountered personally, aimed toward me, when I was a young journalist: “A female reporter? I don’t get it. What does a woman reporter do?”

I was so shocked at the question that I couldn’t come up with a snarky comeback.

Or how about this one, asked of me during a job interview at a major metropolitan newspaper by someone who now teaches journalism at my alma mater: “So you’re interviewing for the night cops reporting position. What does your husband think of that?”

Who the hell cares? And why would that ever be any of that guy’s business?

Those are egregious and pretty obvious. My friends of color encounter many more subtle microaggressions, such as being referred to as “articulate” when he or she is able to succinctly and intelligently express himself or herself. Or someone expressing surprise when he or she finds out a person of color’s parents went to college. Or are married.

In her excellent essay about her days at MU, Mashable.com political editor Juana Summers describes her attempt to gain entry into a white social sorority. She matriculated at Mizzou 20 years after I did, yet that bastion of college life still had not opened its doors to people who looked like her. She was made to feel that she was the wrong person in the wrong place.

If you’re a member of a marginalized group, you learn you can’t become angry at every slight. To do so would drive you completely nuts. You’d become paranoid. So you brush them off, you work harder, you tell yourself you don’t care what others think because you are better than they are.

But every little microaggression hurts, like a tiny drop of acid rain on the hood of a shiny new car. After years and years of rain, the finish gets worn. You get tired. And you don’t want your kids to have to go through the same things you have.

That’s what students are protesting about at the University of Missouri and Yale University and Claremont-McKenna College and Southeast Missouri State University and colleges everywhere.

Click here for a two-page guide to recognizing microaggressions.

Let’s use some critical thinking skills, folks

Let’s use some critical thinking skills, folks

PLAYING SOCCER

For two years, the once-vibrant St. Mary’s High School building and grounds have sat empty in the middle of my neighborhood – the oldest neighborhood in Independence. Poised to become one of the area’s greatest eyesores, the empty building and grounds can only deteriorate property values. Each day that it’s empty makes it less appealing to many potential buyers.

I’m a social worker, so for a while, I dreamed of turning the school into a shelter for homeless families and single adults, complete with programs like GED and budgeting classes; reliable, 24-hour daycare to encourage and enable homeless parents to work; a massive food pantry; and a large community garden.

I dreamed, but I knew that idea would go over like a ton of bricks in my neighborhood, where residents routinely call homeless folks “vagrants” and look for ways to discourage them from using things like public parks and sidewalks.

Then last winter, my 17-year-old daughter’s Blue Springs-based soccer club discovered the St. Mary’s gym. It was a perfect spot for the team’s winter practices. My daughter was ecstatic – no more driving to Blue Springs for indoor practices. She could walk the five or so blocks from our house near the Truman home to St. Mary’s if she had to.

The first night, though, she came home perplexed. Many of the girls on her team told her they were nervous coming to our part of Independence, just blocks from the Square. Maggie, my daughter, got the feeling they seriously thought they were slumming.

So when I heard that her soccer club, Alba FC, was considering purchasing part of the St. Mary’s complex, I crowed with delight.

Finally, I thought, a chance to bring suburbanites to this historic Independence neighborhood at a time other than Labor Day Weekend, when it’s difficult to really get a feel for what we’re all about here in the Queen City of the Trails.

I’ve been extremely disappointed to hear the negative take some of my neighbors have of this idea of soccer coach Chris Dean’s. Dean wants to repair bathrooms and locker rooms in the gym and possibly offer fitness classes for adults. Outside, he wants to replace the grass field with turf and install some lights, which would allow for outdoor practices and possibly tournaments.

Some of my friends and neighbors worry that allowing soccer practices and games on the grass field will cause a “ruckus,” and that streets will fills with cars and trash during soccer events.

I’m thinking maybe they don’t know much about the soccer crowd. We’re talking suburban (mostly) parents with children, some of whom routinely only think of Independence when they read about another high-speed chase or meth-house bust. Law enforcement here has been on top of the meth scourge for years now, but it’s hard to live down that reputation.

This is a chance to do that. It’s a chance for Independence to shine, to show those folks who abandoned their hometown for Blue Springs and Grain Valley and Oak Grove that we’ve got something special, from the historic homes in my neighborhood and others near the Square to the Square itself and its bustling businesses.

A few years ago, before Studio on Main opened, I had to drive miles and miles to find a quality yoga studio. A student at the studio I frequented in Midtown Kansas City turned up her nose when I mentioned I lived near the Independence Square.

“Oh, the Square,” she said dismissively. “It’s always so dead there. There’s nothing going on.”

Au contraire. There’s plenty going on. And we’ve got the perfect chance to show those who left for greener, newer pastures what they’re missing. If they drop off their kids for soccer practice, they can head to the Square to shop. They can drive around our neighborhood and admire the work we put into our historic homes. They can remember the myriad Square restaurants the next time they’re thinking of a cool spot for dinner.

I urge the Independence Planning Commission and my neighbors to challenge the status quo and take a chance on this soccer facility.

Progress doesn’t happen by standing still!

A tale of two sons

Display_with_Racist_Quote_from_Murderer_of_Emmett_Till_-_National_Civil_Rights_Museum_-_Downtown_Memphis_-_Tennessee_-_USA
Display with a racist quote at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. (Credit: Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons)

Today marked my oldest child’s first day of college classes.

I intended to blog about my ambivalent feelings, sending my firstborn into the world, how I’m happy for him that he’s chasing his dreams but sad for myself because his departure means that a certain phase of my life has passed.

Over the summer, my mind raced, trying to decide if my husband and I had imparted all the wisdom we needed to give him to make it on his own.

But today, as I ruminated on those themes, it seemed like so many first-world worries. Woe is me, the white suburban mom sending her privileged kid to college, while across the state the mother of another 18-year-old boy was planning a funeral.

A Ferguson, Mo., police officer shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9, a Saturday. That day, my husband and I were helping our 18-year-old son, Joe, pack for college. That night, while Michael Brown’s family grieved, my parents and inlaws joined us for a special send-off dinner for Joe.

On Monday, Aug. 11, we packed Joe and our other two kids into the car and headed for the small liberal-arts college a few hours away, where Joe now is a freshman. That was the day Michael Brown was to have started classes at Vatterott College, a technical school in Ferguson.

Two 18 year olds. Two young men on the cusp of adulthood. Two sets of parents.

Two very different stories.

At times like this, I am intensely aware of my whiteness.

My husband and I chose to raise our children in a neighborhood that’s less affluent than some in the Kansas City area, among families who are not all white and middle class. We’re smugly proud of that choice and quietly judge those who flee the urban core and inner-ring suburbs for the greener pastures of exurbia.

But are we really much different? We still enjoy certain privileges that come merely because our skin doesn’t have as much melanin as that of others.

The advice I gave my son as he left home was so pedestrian. It was along the lines of making sure he doesn’t mix reds with the whites when he does laundry and to ask for tutoring help as soon as he has questions about what’s going on in class.

I’ve never had to sit either of my sons down and tell them that people are going to be afraid to enter elevators if they’re the only ones in there. I doubt many people will cross to the other side of the street if either of my sons walks down it.

I don’t have to impart to my sons the lesson that if the police stop you for any reason, keep your hands visible at all times. And God forbid you’re wearing a hoodie.

As I watched coverage of the ongoing problems in Ferguson today, I realized that I didn’t send my son out into the world with those words of advice because it’s likely he’ll never encounter any situation in which he’ll have to use them.

I don’t know if Michael Brown robbed a convenience store early in the day on Aug. 9. If he did, was his killing justified? I don’t know. I don’t think so.

This is what I do know – he was 18. He was starting life, just as my 18 year old is. He had dreams and aspirations, just like my boy. He had a mother and father, just like my son. He had a life.

And now he doesn’t.