Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Testament to Trust

I will admit to watching very little of Senator Wendy Davis' single-handed filibuster of SB5, a bill that would have seriously restricted access to abortion in the state of Texas. I started to watch it, fascinated by the courage and conviction of a person who would consent to standing without leaning, eating, taking bathroom breaks, or sitting for 13 hours to prove a point.  I felt a certain kinship with someone who is so passionate about women's reproductive rights that she would endure that much discomfort to represent other women in her state and protect their rights.

I had to turn away when she began debating a Republican Senator who also happens to be a doctor on the specifics of the legislation.  While I didn't disagree with her responses to him, my idealist response rose up like so much bile in my throat with each exchange.  Each time he asked a question I heard my own words in my head:

Come up with all of the provisions you want. Call them what you want - safety measures, viability concerns, procedural details. I don't care. My position remains the same: medical decisions belong in the clinic. They ought to be made between a patient and his/her caregiver(s). We don't tell young men who haven't fathered children that they can't have a vasectomy. We don't tell obese people that they ought (or ought not) to have bariatric surgery. We trust those decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis between the patient and his or her doctor. We trust that the medical professional has the patient's best interest at heart and that they have been trained properly and that the circumstances are outside of our knowledge. I will not debate ANY abortion legislation with you under ANY circumstances. There is no condition under which I believe health care decisions ought to be made for an entire group of people at once by a legislative body. Period. Full stop. 

It came down to the wire and, at times seemed as though Ms. Davis' filibuster was all for naught, but the eruption in the gallery prevented the lawmakers from taking a vote and, for today at least, SB5 was defeated.

I woke up relieved and then saw the news on my Facebook page that the Supreme Court had done away with the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. While neither of these decisions is as sweeping as many marriage equality proponents would like, I feel as though today is a triumph of trust.

The defeat of SB5 means that, at least for now, the majority of women in Texas will be trusted to make their own health care decisions about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.

The defeat of DOMA and Prop. 8 means that same-sex couples will be trusted to enter in to committed relationships that will be recognized in 13 states.

While I am certain that there is a lot of frantic activity today to mount offensive attacks on women's rights to choose and marriage equality, for today I will revel in this news.

Hooray for those who would trust individuals to make their own decisions about their own private lives.

Hooray.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Sky Isn't Falling

And I am, frankly, getting pretty tired of Chicken Little. I have what I am calling "donor fatigue," and I worry that it has much bigger implications than we might think.

Two days ago, the US House of Representatives passed an ban on abortions nationwide after 20 weeks of pregnancy.  While the measure didn't pass with flying colors (228-196), and while it afforded very minor exceptions, it had seismic ripple effects that resulted in a cascade of frantic emails begging me to donate money to every pro-choice organization I've ever (and some I've never) heard of.

Enough!

Starting with the last Presidential election, I have been inundated with communications from the Democratic National Committee, Emily's List, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, etc., etc. They all have one thing in common: FEAR-MONGERING.  I am sick of it.  These emails tout our loss of freedoms, an ever-restrictive, woman-hating opposition coming to power, and aim to drain the color from my face and set my heart to pounding.  Other organizations such as Women's Rights News post fantastical, sensational headlines on their Facebook pages designed to incite anger and raise my blood pressure.  Many of these posts are downright man-bashing, stereotypical nastiness that embody everything these organizations hate about the way women are treated and I am left wondering where our momentum has taken us.

The fact is, we live in a pretty damn good time.  While I most definitely do not agree with President Obama on every point, he has proven to be supportive of women's rights for the most part (good thing he backed down on the Plan B availability to all women and girls) and had the most recent abortion ban passed in the Senate (which is a big What-if, because it seems highly unlikely), he would most definitely have vetoed the bill.  Women and girls are making strides in elected office, education, and our fight for equality in the United States and around the world. We are by no means enjoying absolute equality and justice, but our voices are being heard more than they ever have, thanks in major part to organizations like Moms Rising and Miss Representation who direct their efforts toward educating others and amplifying the voices and stories of individual women and girls who are suffering injustices due to the way our system is designed. I am not constantly flooded with pleas to DONATE NOW by either of these groups and yet they seem to be effective in getting their message across.

I worry that groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood and Emily's List risk nickel-and-diming (and annoying) their constituent base by making weekly requests for money every single time a Republican lawmaker (or group of them) does something stupid. The truth is, these occurrences are all too frequent and we need to be able to distinguish between the times when a response is required and the times when these politicians are better left to twist in the wind.  Simply reiterating that House Republicans would rather spend their energy voting on legislation that is entirely useless (repealing Obamacare, restricting abortion) than addressing the fundamental challenges most Americans face right now is probably more powerful a message than asking for money. In these cases, I am less and less sure of where my donation dollars are actually going and I am more and more likely to hit "delete" when I see any email from the offending organizations because I can't stand one more screeching cry that "The sky is falling!"  By the time it actually is, I won't have any money left to give.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Chain Letters and Concrete Thinking

Lola got her first chain letter (email) yesterday.

They were so much more work when I was her age.  I remember getting the intricately folded sheet of notebook paper slipped into my palm or underneath my textbook on my desk during class, excusing myself to the restroom to open it up, and feeling my heart sink.

I distinctly recall sitting in the bathroom stall contemplating my next steps. Once entrusted with the note, smeary with pencil lead and softened in the creases, I now had to choose 10 or 15 others to pass the message on to...OR ELSE.

Sometimes I was promised magical outcomes upon successfully forwarding the note - the boy I had a crush on would walk me home from school or my most fervent wish would come true - but more often there were dire threats should I fail to identify enough friends to pass it to.

The difficulty was embedded in the intricate social structure that existed for a girl in the fourth or fifth grade.  There were a multitude of 'best friends,' many of whom the note had already passed through. Choosing the wrong girls meant that I would either hurt someone's feelings or look like an unsophisticated fool.  Not passing it along was not an option.  Boys didn't count, even if they were my friends, because they would never keep the chain going. You had to pick people that would perpetuate the note, and you couldn't give it to anyone who wasn't cool or skip over girls in the established hierarchy.  I was somewhere near the middle of the pack, which made it hard because I was never the one to start the chain.

Inevitably, on the evening that I received the note, I would settle down on my Hollie Hobby bedspread with ten fresh sheets of notebook paper to hand-copy the message. By the time I was done, the callous on my middle finger would be throbbing and red, complete with pencil-imprint in the center, and my heart would beat along in desperation that I had chosen the "right ten."  Finding a clandestine way to pass the notes at school the next day posed nowhere near the danger that not passing it did.  I didn't want to die in my sleep, for goodness' sake!

For all of that, though, I never faced the fear that Lola experienced when she opened the email from a trusted friend last night before bed.  Lola's unique perspective on the world is often quite literal. She has difficulty sussing out nuances when it comes to threats or promises and discerning whether or not they are real, and while I am fairly certain that she didn't truly believe some horrible fate would befall her before morning if she didn't quickly choose five friends to forward the email to, she definitely felt some sense of foreboding.  It made for a very difficult bedtime routine.  Following a candid discussion of what chain mail is (complete with the admonition that it's more of a scam to get people to pass on viruses or phish their email inbox than anything social like it was in my childhood), we went through two rounds of cheesecloth and a meditation before she would even consider laying down.  It was another hour and a lot of cuddling before she was able to get out of her own head enough to feel safe and fall asleep.  This morning, we're crafting an email to her friends to ask them to please not pass those emails on to her and I am struck by how much more work it was for my generation to hand-write each and every note we were passing on. We had to put in a lot more sweat for our terror!

Monday, June 10, 2013

No Negativity

I had a lunch and dog-walking date with a new friend last week on a gloriously sunny (unseasonable) June day.  We hurtled ourselves down the block through conversations about parenting and feminism, justice and writing, laughing and marveling at shared sentiments.  We sat down to a lovely lunch of salads with another friend under the shade on a tree-lined sidewalk and the discussion was as satiating as the food, filling us up and nourishing us with the camaraderie of friends who share passions.

As it came time to meander back, the conversation turned to a more challenging subject with a history of hurt feelings and misunderstanding and while the two of us took care to tread lightly and with solid intent, the tone was certainly different.  At one point, T stopped and cocked her head to listen.

"Is that? Yes, it is!" she crowed as two children popped out onto the sidewalk from their front yard.  These kids, a young boy and his younger sister, were T's neighbors and had just closed up their lemonade stand.  They were headed to buy a slice of pizza and some ice cream with the cash they had made and stopped to introduce themselves to me, all sunshine and smiles and enthusiasm.  We spent a few minutes chatting with them and when they had moved on, T turned to me and said,

"No negativity! See? I told myself that whenever something starts to get negative, something positive will show up to take its place.  We were talking about something hard and then, boom, the kids showed up to interrupt it. The world is a marvelous place!"

I loved her perspective and joy at having run into her neighbors and thought about what she said for several days afterward.  What a fabulous idea - that we can choose no negativity.  What if I tell myself that every time something starts to turn negative, something positive will show up?  It speaks to my belief in balance (I am a Libra, after all), and the tendency of energy to come back to equilibrium.  What if that is what always happens and I simply have to tune myself in to it?

It's worth a shot.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

"...And We Broke Him"

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales pled guilty last week to killing 16 innocent Afghan villagers in March of last year in order to avoid the death penalty.  He is a young man with two small children of his own who now faces the rest of his life behind bars.

May he one day find peace.

This is a young man who went to Iraq three times for the military and was on his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan, likely spending his waking hours plagued with fears of IEDs and surprise attacks.  I don't know the details of his service and I certainly cannot justify the targeting of innocent people or their brutal murders.

What I do wonder is how many other angry, frightened soldiers are out there held together with spit and baling wire (as my grandfather used to say), barely holding on to some semblance of sanity? How many others are there who have both witnessed and committed atrocities on the orders of their superior officers whose dreams are haunted? How many others are self-medicating with alcohol and valium, simply clinging to those muted moments until they can try to figure out what a peaceful life is again?  And how can we continue to send these young people into harm's way, revere them as heroes and then discard them on the streets of our cities after denying them the health care they need? How can we continue to be horrified at their acts of desperation and then send them away, sentenced to mental hospitals or jail cells simply because they couldn't handle the burdens we placed on their shoulders?

If this isn't a case for restorative justice (and pacifism), I don't know what is.  So many lives lost and shattered in this instance, and even today, it is old news, as the headlines move on to conflict in other parts of the world. Ahh, Syria. Is that where our soldiers go next? To kill and be killed? To go slowly mad at the violence and pain of it all?

I don't claim to have diplomatic answers to any of these conflicts. I certainly don't condone the targeting of innocents by the Syrian government or the Turkish government or any other entity, for that matter. But I think we have seen time and again that war doesn't do much but create victims on both sides for generations to come.

May he one day find peace.
May we all.
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