Springtime in January

I’m in the midst of some purging at my house. (No, I haven’t read or watched Marie Kondo, but the fervor she has created inspired me.) I was in the basement going through old stuff and came across a blank journal I purchased while pregnant with my now 10-year-old son. (Oh how optimistic was I?) My first grade daughter is into journaling right now, so she was happy to inherit it. I’ve had short periods where I consistently journaled, including as a teen/young adult writing about the pain of yet another Kansas City Chiefs playoff loss. (Still guarding my heart but GO CHIEFS!) Generally, though, I’ve not made time for that kind of reflection as an adult. It’s been two years since my last post, so I don’t think this can truly qualify as a blog. However, this morning, the house was quiet, I had my coffee, and presto–here we are.

Reading through my words in January 2017, focused mostly on the results of the 2016 presidential election and what it meant for our country, I feel the anger in the words as they come off the page. I also see in them the catalyst for a transformation. I noted in January 2017 that our family was considering significant changes as a result of the election. What actually happened was a turn I would never have imagined as a younger me. In October 2017, after 13 years of stellar work with the same Kansas City company, Doug got an incredible opportunity to put his leadership and vision to the test with a new company, also in the KC metro area. And that meant I had the opportunity to take a risk. And so I did.

Even before the 2016 election, I was unhappy professionally and looking for the next move, but was unclear as to what that would be. I wanted to leave the legal profession, but was unwilling to give up the flexibility I had with my job at the time, something I feared I would lose if I switched professions to something that required more of an in-office presence and full-time status to “prove myself.” Although I tried it, I’ve never enjoyed direct sales, and disliked how so many of the opportunities in that area were so focused on primarily female interests like jewelry or makeup. (I like those things, but not my passion.)

November 2016 intensified my need to make a change. The mission of my federal agency was “to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools.” For years, we had struggled to fulfill that mission due to a lack of adequate funding for investigative staff, and a general lack of support from Congress for any effort to clarify to schools and colleges their legal obligations under the civil rights laws. And that was under the Obama Administration. Now, we had an incoming Administration that was completely hostile to civil rights, and really, the very idea of public education. We were all questioning how we could fulfill our mission in that environment. Thankfully, some decided to stay and continue the work as best as they could. In January 2017, I felt that a year of wait and see would be appropriate.

Meanwhile, I searched for outlets for exercising what I considered my civic duty to minimize the damage this new president could do to our country. Yes, I attended the Women’s March, and it was incredibly powerful. But I know from experience that real change comes not only from a microphone or bullhorn, but days and months and years of ordinary people doing small things to engage citizens, change the hearts and minds of leaders (or just change who the leaders are), change policies and laws, and ultimately, improve lives.

As part of my search for what was next, in February 2017, I attended my first meeting of the Kansas City local group of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the grassroots gun violence prevention group started in 2011 in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting. I had supported the organization from afar since it’s formation, but with a demanding job and two young children, I just hadn’t made it to a meeting. And then I went to a second meeting in April 2017, which changed my trajectory. The group’s local leadership had turned over significantly, and they needed new people who could help re-energize their efforts. It was a call to action, and I was eager to be a part of it, if nothing else, to change their meeting times so it was actually convenient for more people to go. (Seriously, 5pm meetings on weeknights are the worst.)

The next step was a smaller meeting with a few others who were also interested in leadership. And then, as part of the local leadership team, I got to meet (virtually and in person) other leaders from the movement across the state. I walked with the Columbia Moms Demand Action group in the 2017 Mizzou Homecoming Parade, and got to meet our state chapter leader, Becky Morgan, and the founder of Moms Demand Action, Shannon Watts, who is also a Mizzou alum (MIZ). I met people who are survivors of gun violence (homicide, suicide, and unintentional shootings), moved to tears by their courage and determination in the face of unspeakable loss. After every interaction with this group of amazing volunteers across the state, I came away impressed with their organization and focus. These women and men were horrified by the tragedy of gun violence in all its forms, but they used facts and data as well as their pain to help gun owners and elected leaders understand it wasn’t about taking away their guns. Moreover, I was convinced that I could significantly contribute to the cause, and I just jumped right in.

By the time Doug got his new job that fall, I knew it was time to devote significantly more time to gun violence prevention work in Missouri. His job meant we had the financial flexibility for me to make a radical change. At the time, I was the Kansas City local group legislative lead for Moms Demand Action, and I wanted to spend more time getting ready for the upcoming Missouri legislative session kicking off in January 2018. All of this is volunteer, mind you. Contrary to what the NRA says, we are not paid for our hours of work. But this was exactly what I needed to make the jump away from the legal profession and into something I had experience with and loved doing–inspiring and organizing people to make change. And so in December 2017, I left my job and poured myself into Moms Demand Action, not knowing that on February 14, 2018, yet another horrific school shooting, this time at a Florida high school, would again change the trajectory of the gun violence prevention movement.

I feel like I am only now coming up for air after that awful day when we learned 17 students and staff lost their lives. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will go down in American history as heroes for how they energized this movement, and I am so grateful to have been ready and able to help Missouri meet the outpouring of interest in joining this movement. Moms Demand Action participated in and helped support March For Our Lives rallies in Washington, DC and all over the country, including in Kansas City. Moms Demand Action launched tools to empower young people, who started their own Students Demand Action local groups across the country (over 200 of them). In Missouri, Moms Demand Action went from seven local groups in January 2018 to EIGHTEEN local groups in January 2019. Many of these are in outstate Missouri, places like Maryville and Joplin and very rural north central Missouri. And we still have such a challenging environment in Missouri, but we are making progress. We beat back terrible “guns everywhere” legislation in 2018, and we are preparing like hell to do it again this year. (Come join us in Jefferson City on February 19! Sign up here: https://www.facebook.com/events/129413447978976/ ) We continue to grow and organize around the fact that you can support the Second Amendment and still back responsible gun laws that research shows will save lives.

More broadly, I look back on the two years since my last blog post and see a transformation. I see my anger transformed into actionable love, channeled through donations to human rights and religious organizations and nonprofits and service through my church to people in my community. I see it transformed into the energy of citizenship, through regular contact with my elected representatives, knocking on thousands of doors for candidates who will be change agents, and voting. I am transformed by my new Moms Demand Action “framily” (in the words of my friend, Kara) who vary in their life experiences that brought them to this movement, but forged in us all a determination to save lives.

I am humbled to see the beautiful things made out of the dust, the lovely bones of a new life that fits so much better than the one I was leading. It doesn’t mean I am glad for the results of November 2016. In my faith, we talk a lot about how God does not send disasters or tragedies or evil to hurt people, but God does work through these things to bring good. In my Star Wars fandom, when darkness rises, the light rises to meet it. We are living through some pretty awful times in this country. Our government is willfully separating young children from their parents at our southern border in what will surely be a national shame and stain forever. Right now, 800,000 federal employees are either on unpaid furlough or being forced to work without pay because our president, who had agreed to a budget fix that had passed the Senate and had the votes to pass in the House, got scared when Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh criticized him and backed out. The folly of that shutdown is rippling throughout the economy in negative ways. There is increasing evidence that our president committed criminal activity in the pursuit of the presidency and may even be a Russian asset. But there is also a new engagement on the part of our citizens, particularly women, that is sunlight through the darkness. It is going to take the everyday acts of citizenship by all of us to push through this time and demand better. I fully realize not everyone has the flexibility to leave the job I did and jump in full time. I didn’t have that flexibility until recently (THANK YOU THANK YOU DOUG) and I may not always have it. But I believe that if we each do all the good that we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, to all the people we can, as long as we ever can, we will be the carriers of the light in the darkness, and better times will be ahead.

Hope for 2017


2016 was the third worst year of my (admittedly very good) life.  I am more fearful for my country’s future than I have ever been.  My husband and I are seriously considering dramatic life changes as a result.  This time in our country is not normal, and I refuse to normalize it.  We are about to have an idiot as President of the United States and I fear at best he is an unwitting puppet of the Russians who bankrolled his ridiculous financial dealings after other banks wised up.

2016 was awful for personal reasons beyond the celebrity deaths half-jokingly attributed to the year itself.   I won’t discuss the personal.  But the fears I have for my country are real.   We elected a Mussolini in waiting, an egotistical and ignorant man with nowhere near the temperament to be our leader.  A majority of us knew better, but an Electoral College developed to protect slave owners allowed Trump to prevail.  It is our current system.  I question whether we have enough people who are willing to work to change it.  Now more than ever, we need people who are willing to speak truth to power.  Are people too cynical? Too focused on their personal lives?  Too afraid?  Too lulled into believing it cannot happen here?  Because it absolutely can.  I am appalled that people I know who have studied World War II cannot see this coming storm.  I will not “get over” the bastardization of this country by someone who may very well be a real-life Manchurian Candidate who would push us even further down the road of oligarchy, government by the wealthy for the wealthy.  Knowing that many of the people who will be harmed by the changes coming from this incoming Administration, including people I love very much, voted for this catastrophe, is not comforting in the least.  

I am not optimistic about 2017.  But I have hope.  Hope is different, as was pointed out so beautifully by a dear friend.  I believe in Jesus Christ, and I have hope that the worst thing is not the last thing.  I am a Star Wars fan, and hope is a central theme in that universe.  I voted twice for Barack Obama, who campaigned on a message of hope, reminding us how we as Americans are so much more alike than different.  I am clinging to the hope that wise advisers will steer Trump, that he will heed their advice, that good people will stand up and resist efforts to undermine freedom of the press and destroy the social safety net, the public education system, the relationships with longtime allies, and the common decency that is very much at risk.  I am hopeful that our country will live up to its ideals as stated so beautifully by Emma Lazarus and welcome and love the immigrant, the poor, the huddled masses.  I pray that we recognize we cannot wall ourselves off from globalization and automation and climate change, no matter how hard we stick our fingers in our ears and shout out for the “glory days.”  I pray that the hard-working blue collar white people who are so resentful that they are not doing as well as their parents realize that the people of color in this country are not to blame, but have started with even less than they have and band together with them, not against them.  

I hope that we can do this.  I believe we can do this.  I believe we must do this.  I am putting my time, talent, and treasure in 2017 toward political leaders and organizations that will work for this.  Please do this.  I am so heartened by those of you who have reached out to me in the months after the election to say that you are listening, that you want to join the fight, that you want better for your kids, that you want me to keep talking.  Thank you.   My hope for 2017 is that it is the year we realize what we are about to lose in this greatest country on earth, and fight hard for it.  

I will raise my glass tonight to a 2017 that is filled with faith, hope, and love.  The greatest of these is love, and my hope is that we will act on hope rather than fear this year, collectively and individually.  

Where Do We Go From Here?

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Like many, I am still processing the results of the presidential election.  I have experienced  a variety of emotions this week and have had a few days to consider how best to move forward as a diverse and vibrant country.

  • Elections have consequences, but your obligations as a citizen continue beyond voting in an election. 

Donald Trump is the winner of the 2016 presidential election.  Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and perhaps significantly, as the ballots continue to be counted, but the popular vote is not how we elect our president.  If you don’t like it, work to change it. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing my concerns about many systemic changes I believe are needed to ensure that democracy survives.  We particularly need people willing to work on moving the drawing of Congressional districts out of the political process to avoid gerrymandering, and to counter voter suppression efforts, and address via legislation or court rulings the damaging impact of money in politics.  These are not sexy issues but for voters on both sides who believe “the system” is not representative and corrupt, these are important reform efforts.

In addition, I think President Obama and the First Lady have set a tremendous example in their grace toward Mr. and Mrs. Trump.  He pointed out that he does not want to see the President-Elect fail.  None of us should really want that, although we can certainly  disagree with how and what he wants to accomplish.  We all want America to be a safe, prosperous place.  We can extend that grace to him.  I am willing to give him the chance to be a different President than he was a presidential candidate.  I realize that many in Congress did not accord that same grace to President Obama, but President George W. Bush did.  I think that grace shown by President Bush significantly influenced President Obama in return to do the same for Mr. Trump.  We do not have to respect the person in the office, but we should respect the office itself.

  • Invalidating or belittling others’ feelings accomplishes nothing.  

I have seen many posts from people who feel offended by  media outlets referring to “uneducated” citizens.  (I have actually heard the media use the term “people without college degrees” which is a simple statement of fact and does not necessarily imply that one is not educated).  There is a strong temptation to condemn people who voted for Trump as ignorant and uneducated, but I don’t think it is true or helpful to make that claim.  Likewise, I have seen many Trump supporters condemn the people who are protesting across the country as crybabies who need to get a job, which is equally presumptuous regarding the status of these people.  In a classic “mean girls” move, I have also seen women who complain about bullying at their kids’ schools openly ridicule people who have cried or missed work in response to Trump being elected.  This week I had someone openly laugh in my face when I acknowledged my own tears about the election.  I called the person on it for the cruelty involved, only to have the person justify it by saying others cried when Obama was elected, then shake it off as a “nervous tick.”  (To the contrary, I remember how upset some people were about Obama’s election, and I would never laugh at their pain.  I’m just glad when people care enough to have that depth of feeling!)  To move forward, we need to recognize the humanity in each one of us.  Your social media post making fun of the other side does ZERO to move the country forward.  Your desire to have everyone come together and “just be Americans” so you can be comfortable does nothing to help heal the nation.  Let the feelings subside, because they will, eventually, even if the loyal opposition does not (and should not).

  • Look hate square in the eye and meet it with radical love.

This next part is the most important to me.  I have read and shared widely on social media the concerns of many people of color, LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, Jews, and others who feel very afraid right now in this country.  They have seen a person who has behaved as a bully, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women, who has called for Muslims to register, who has called for a ban on immigration for non-Christians, and who has called Mexicans rapists and criminals.  He also has stated that an American-born judge of Mexican descent should not be allowed to adjudicate the FRAUD trial he is facing (for scamming regular people, I might add, out of thousands of dollars for lousy degrees from Trump University).  Many people from his own party, including Paul Ryan, have condemned Trump’s statements as racist.

You may not consider yourself a racist or a sexist, and you may believe in the religious pluralism that is at the heart of the American idea.  As others have pointed out (especially good take here), you need to consider that your vote enabled and empowered someone who has made statements that strongly contradict those ideals, and whose election has emboldened some of the ugliest, most reprehensible bigots in our society.  The KKK endorsed him and is celebrating; others, too.  You have the power as one of Trump’s supporters to reject that behavior and policies that undermine equality in this country.  You may believe that Trump is really not a bigot and that your support for him is more about “respect” for the little guy (from him? really?) or his policies.  Just keep in mind that from the perspective of the many groups he has insulted and ridiculed, you found their very humanity to be an acceptable sacrifice for you to get your respect.  One man’s heartfelt Facebook post:

“Trump’s appeals to racism, sexism, Islamophobia, etc. made it about personhood.  Sure, all of my moderate or conservative friends try to reassure me that Trump voters were really voting ‘pocketbook issues’ – not for the racism and sexism.  That doesn’t make it better.  Because it means they voted for their pocketbooks over my personhood – over the personhood of everyone who isn’t a straight, white, Judeo-Christian male.  They sold me out for money – and that makes me no better than a slave.  I would never have done that to them.”

As one person said on Twitter, “Not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a deal-breaker.”  And while you may point to the fact that more African American and Hispanic voters supported Trump than they did Mitt Romney in the last presidential election, there is no disputing that Trump won the presidency because a vast majority of white men and a majority of white women put him in office.  Had only people of color voted, Clinton would be our president-elect, and by a wide margin.

I would also challenge you to reconsider what you believe to be racism.  Trump has certainly undermined the more recent social norm that overt racism is taboo in polite company.  But generally, people are smart enough now to express racist opinions or sentiments around people they consider “safe.”  Too many white people are afraid to speak out when their uncle or grandmother makes a racist statement, out of some ill-advised “respect” that they grew up in a different time.  You are enabling racism, and are complicit.  This must stop.  You don’t have to be angry with them, but you do need to say that such statements are offensive.  While we are certainly seeing a rise in overt racist acts and statements these days, systemic racism is equally if not more damaging to our society.  Do you realize that in many school districts across the country, African American students are disciplined more harshly than white students for similar offenses, and that the discrepancy exists even when we control for socioeconomic status?   Do you know that this tendency to discipline African American students more harshly starts as early as preschool, and results in loss of critical time outside the classroom in early years, contributing to educational deficits?  Have you heard of the “school to prison pipeline?”  If not, please learn more as this is one of many examples of systemic racism we need to address to move forward as a country.

For me, what is most compelling is sharing the stories of friends who are disabled, LGBTQ, people of color, Muslims, and/or Jews who are so afraid right now.  You may think such fears are unfounded, but we have Japanese-American citizens who lived through domestic internment camps during World War II.  I’ve heard from friends whose family members survived the Holocaust and say this time is eerily reminiscent of pre-World War II Germany.  Even if you support Trump, you can and should call out bigotry where it manifests, and reject not only his supporters who behave badly, but reject policies based on unfair and racist stereotypes.

  • Re-focus your time, talent, and treasure to be the change you wish to see in the world.

My husband and I were already in the process of recalibrating our family priorities in terms of time, talent, and treasure.  This election only further motivates us to continue our charitable giving to our church and for organizations that protect and defend our civil liberties and refugee relief and resettlement groups.  Consider how you can shift your normal holiday spending from consumerism to support of things you and your loved ones love.  Instead of going out for drinks, go serve at a local soup kitchen.  One of my friends started a “Goodness Group” of busy moms who take turns selecting a different charitable activity each month for us to support.   The group prepares and serves meals at a soup kitchen, collects clothing and furniture for refugee families, donates school supplies to an area charter school, and many other activities.  At times like this it feels exhausting to get back out there, but we have to do it.  Find your causes, and then be the change you wish to see.

  • Be bold in caring for the hurt and broken, and resolute in standing up to bullies.

This goes along with the time, talent, and treasure above.  We are seeing an outbreak of racist incidents around the country, including in our schools.  We have to set the standard for our own children that bullying and bigotry are unacceptable, and we must demand that our schools, places of employment, and public accommodations take prompt and effective action to address it.  Moreover, we should not wait for such things to happen and respond, but instead take a proactive approach to make crystal clear that such harassment is illegal and unacceptable in a pluralistic, civil society.  We also have to check in with our friends and family members who are hurting in light of this election and reassure them we have their backs.

  • Listen.  Read widely.  Seek understanding.  Be a connector.

This week I sat down for coffee (soft drinks, actually) with a friend who is a solid Trump supporter to get an understanding of why he voted for him.  He had offered the idea of getting together in response to a social media post I made before the election, in which I stated that many principled and respected conservative thinkers reject Trump profoundly and I could not understand Trump’s appeal to a conventional ideological conservative.   During our time together, we laughed and admitted we both thought that we’d be discussing a Hillary victory.  Our conversation was pointed at times.  However, I did learn from him about his personal motivations and world view that helped me understand, if not agree with, his decision to support Trump.  I also had a great discussion via Facebook with another conservative friend who was not supporting Trump or Hillary to get a sense of why.  I have sought out these conversations with friends and family not to simply push my opinions on them, but to understand why someone I frankly found to be so reprehensible and eminently unqualified for the office to be an acceptable choice.  Some preferred not to discuss and closed me off; others were more receptive.

I am trying to connect because I am generally a connector.  I believe in the goodness of my friends and family and I hope that when I share the stories of my friends who are so afraid right now, there will be a human reaction of kindness and understanding and love.  I realize that as a white, straight, non-disabled person, this is my work to do.  I may withdraw at times because it is hard work, but it is still my work.  It is our work.

 

 

 

 

 

For Her


Election Day is tomorrow (*finally*).  In the morning, I will take my son and daughter with me to my polling place.  As always, I’ll enjoy seeing them get unnaturally excited to get an “I Voted”sticker that I hope I remember to remove from their shirts before washing.  I will mark my very long ballot, put it in the machine, and note how many ballots have been cast with that machine thus far.  (Always assessing turnout).  It will be the seventh time I have voted in a presidential election.  

As I make my choice for President, I will be thinking of many family members and friends, but especially my paternal grandmother, Lillie Ruth Joplin Randolph, pictured above with a 10-year-old me and my adorable baby cousin.  More than anyone else in my childhood, Grandma Ruth influenced my thoughts on politics.  We spent a lot of time at her house because we lived in the same town.  I would often sit and watch the news with her.  (She also let me watch “The Golden Girls” and “Solid Gold”).  She was a proud Democrat and did not hide her disdain for Ronald Reagan.  She read the newspaper every morning.  If we grandkids had stayed the night, I’d  find her in the morning in her kitchen, hair full of curlers, coffee cup in one hand, the paper in the other, standing over the floor furnace vent to stay warm.  I don’t really remember a lot of what we talked about regarding politics, but what stuck with me was an interest in current events and the opportunity to participate in our political process.  She also described the Reagan Republicans as only being interested in protecting the wealthy from paying taxes.       

I think many of us will be thinking of mothers and grandmothers tomorrow.  My senator, Claire McCaskill, said at a rally I attended on Saturday that she would be remembering her mom.   The stories of women who were born before women gained the right to vote move me to tears.  Like 2008, this is an incredible moment in the life of our country.  

I realized a couple of weeks ago that regardless of the outcome tomorrow night, I will be “ugly crying” on my couch.  That my daughter may grow up seeing a woman as President is a tremendous opportunity to show her a woman as a leader who has worked hard, made mistakes, and overcome significant obstacles to achieve the highest elected leadership post in the world.  I want my son and other little boys to see it as well.  If we’re going to change how the world sees women as potential leaders, we have to teach young boys to see them that way. 

Grandma Ruth worked in a factory in World War II, taught school, and helped my Grandpa Max with bookkeeping for the family farm equipment business.  She was a proud wife, mother, grandmother, and community volunteer. She died in 2005, and I cannot know for certain how she would have voted in this election.  I do feel very confident that she would have absolutely loved seeing a woman on the ballot for a major party for President of the United States.  And when I cast my vote, I most certainly will do it with tears in my eyes and Grandma Ruth in my heart.  Who will you be remembering on Election Day?  

It’s Not Rigged; You’re Doing It Wrong

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I spent a lot of time this weekend exercising my right to participate in the political process.  Our family attended a rally to get out the vote for Missouri statewide Democratic candidates, and I also made volunteer GOTV calls on behalf of Hillary for America to likely voters in North Carolina, Colorado, Michigan, and Florida.  I made contributions to some of our Democratic statewide candidates as well.  Missouri used to be a battleground state, but as the population has trended older, it has become a red state (BOO!).  So it has been a busy last weekend before the election and I suspect I will take some time off of work on Tuesday for some final volunteer efforts before planting myself in front of the TV at home to watch the results roll in.

We talk a lot with our eight-year-old son about politics and government, and are careful to model good citizenship and the need to critically evaluate candidates.  Like many parents, we are repulsed by the vulgarity of the presidential campaign, although we have allowed him to watch the debates and talk with him about the allegations.  He loved the rally on Saturday and soaked up the speakers’ referencing him and his friends as one of the reasons it is so important for us to be involved and active citizens.  He is most excited about getting to color in his Electoral College map of the United States on Tuesday night, a little tradition in our household for Election Night.

Anyway, I dropped off my son and some neighborhood kids at a birthday party this afternoon, and was returning home along a local highway when I noticed a large display on the overpass.  Specifically, I saw about five huge Gadsen flags and several large American flags, and a *yuge* Trump banner hanging over the side of the overpass.  The display certainly grabbed my attention, but on further inspection I noticed there were only three or four actual people up there monitoring it.  My knee jerk reaction was to cringe.  Ugh.

Upon further reflection, I thought, “What a waste.”  Think about it.  This is the last weekend before the election.  I doubt these well-intentioned activists were connected officially with the Trump campaign.  While the display may help bolster enthusiasm among Trump supporters passing below, it is not a good use of their time if they really want to help Trump win.  Elections are all about turnout, and the side that can get more people out wins.  To do that, GOTV efforts are critical, and while banners are nice, they don’t raise campaign funds or tell people when and where to vote.  Many critics of the Trump campaign operation have talked of the lack thereof, i.e., that there is no real statewide organized effort to get out the voters who will support him.  That is a critical error, and I wonder if his supporters understand that.  He complains about a rigged system, and many of his supporters talk about feeling like they have no meaningful voice with our political leaders.  It’s nice and all to hang a banner on a highway, but it doesn’t really move your preferred candidate closer to the presidency.  Do they not get it?  Or is it just easier to be angry and protest the system?

Perhaps these individuals are also doing other good work.   I don’t know.  And banners are fine, but the weekend before the election is go time for GOTV.  Missouri is going to vote Trump, so it won’t matter, but if Hillary Clinton wins, and Trump supporters wonder why, one of many reasons will be because the campaign’s organization was miserable, including GOTV, and they should blame their candidate, not a rigged system.

All that to say, make a plan, and GO VOTE TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8!  www.iwillvote.com.

The Luxury of Withdrawal

I have never been shy about my opinions, or about advocating why they are the right ones.  I am an attorney, after all.  I don’t particularly enjoy conflict or fighting for the sake of the fight.  I am also not afraid to seek out thoughtful conversation and disagreement about issues or people of great importance to me, even on social media.  That has not been the case lately. I’m in the midst of a semi-withdrawal.

One of the things I care most about, and one of the biggest reasons I went to law school, is protecting the civil rights of people who are discriminated against because of their race, color, or national origin.  I don’t really remember when or why this first became so important to me, but it happened early on in my life.  It started well before middle school and before I read “To Kill A Mockingbird,” the Harper Lee novel that has inspired so many civil rights lawyers.  It was before I watched Mississippi Burning, the 1989 movie starring Gene Hackman and Willem Defoe, dramatizing the investigation of the 1964 murder of three young civil rights workers in the deep South.  I definitely recall bringing up the Civil War with my grandpa while riding in his blue Ford pick-up.  I remember telling him how awful slavery was and how wrong the South was to fight that war to defend it.  He died when I was nine so I had to be pretty young at the time.  I also recall being stunned when he responded that the South was really not fighting over slavery, but states’ rights.  It was the first time, but not the last, that I would hear a family member or friend attempt to justify racism in neutral terms.  (I also recall positive examples like my mother’s friendship and laughter with her softball teammate, a black woman whom my mom so clearly embraced.)

As part of my work, I regularly encounter allegations of racism, both individual and systemic.  Racism in the United States has been front and center as an issue since August 2014, when police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Americans are talking more about it than at any time in my lifetime, and social media amplifies the reach of all who use it.  I certainly have written and shared thoughts about racism, white privilege, and Black Lives Matter on various social media platforms, including this blog.

I speak up because it is at the core of who I am.  Why would we not focus our time and energy and voices on the things that really matter?  

I speak up because as I have expanded my circle in the world beyond the tiny, mostly white town I grew up in, I met and became friends with more and more people of color who, in big and small ways, offered perspective on how their lives are personally affected by racism.  They are my friends, and many of them are hurting, and my gut inclination is to speak up for my friends.

I speak up because I feel I have the opportunity to serve as a bridge between people in my life who have limited experience with people of color and the people of color who are my friends now.  It is hard for me to understand how people I ordinarily experience to be kind and loving can be so defensive when it comes to admitting their privilege as white people, no matter their socioeconomic circumstance.  I speak up because I hope that if someone hears my friends’ perspectives, albeit secondhand, their hearts will be moved to greater compassion and understanding, even as I continue to seek it myself.

I speak up because it should not just fall on people of color to speak up.  As a white person, I have a moral obligation to criticize the systemic advantages I enjoy.  I want to be an ally, and while I am sure I fail at this regularly, I try to listen and learn from these failures.

One of these failures is that in the past month or so, I have withdrawn somewhat from the social media platforms in terms of commenting and sharing regarding race, privilege, and other political issues.  I have done so for several reasons.  First, there are people I love very much who do not like that I have raised these issues directly with them, and have cut ties with me as a result.  Second, there are times when I simply feel too overwhelmed by the backlash and resentment, the denial and the defensiveness.  It is scary and I want to run away and disconnect.  And so I have, at least via social media.  And this is the failure:  because I am white, I do not experience this backlash and resentment in any way near the way people of color do.  I operate in a mostly white society in which my face marks me as part of the dominant culture.  I can choose to be silent and retreat into my comfort zone and focus on my kids’ soccer games and birthday parties.  I have the luxury of withdrawal.

I think it is important to take care of one’s emotional self, and sometimes it is probably necessary to do that.  I write this to hold myself accountable, that I cannot and should not walk away from this fight because others may reject me.  I will continue to engage with people of all perspectives, and to be unafraid to learn from them.  I am seeking these conversations.  So yes, while I love posting pictures of food and my kids as much as anyone, I am not willing to edit out my thoughts and arguments on racism, or other significant issues in America to make you more comfortable as you scroll through your feed.  I will strive to offer my thoughts in a considerate and thoughtful way that invites you to respond in kind.

I realize words are not enough.  Actions are also needed.  Voting is critical.  Engagement, with a sincere desire to understand and listen, is necessary.  (My church is hosting one such event on October 2.  Read more and sign up here:  http://rez.wufoo.com/forms/rez-dt-holding-up-your-corner/). Civil disobedience is important and forces us to wake up from our comfortable bubbles of everyday life.  (Yes, even at sporting events, concerts, and especially interstate highways due to their historical significance.)  If we truly want to move forward, together, as one nation, we have to give up the luxury of isolating ourselves from considering the experiences of people of color here in America. We have to engage, thoughtfully, deliberately, and (I would suggest) prayerfully with people who do not look like us or share our own backgrounds.  We need to listen and seek understanding and risk exposing our own vulnerability.  That is hard for me sometimes when I am in the midst of “making my case” for addressing America’s original sin.   It is also hard when I want to crawl into my shell and ignore it all.  But it is necessary. 

 

 

On the Edge

Black

If you were able to wake up today, get ready for work or do chores around the house, drink your coffee, get your kids out of bed and to whatever summer activities they had planned, all without knowing or seriously considering what happened yesterday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, consider that your privilege allows you that luxury.  Because for far too many in America, what happened last night and what continues to happen is causing fear that I have never, not once, had to face for myself or for my family.  No one in this country should have to.

If you are completely fine with a white guy openly carrying an AR-15 through your local neighborhood, but you attempt to justify police murders of black men when video evidence indicates that lethal force is not warranted, consider why you perceive one to be a threat and the other simply expressing a constitutional right.  Why does one make you feel safe and the other warrant state-sponsored violence?  (Also, if you are a member of the National Rifle Association, ask why no outrage from their very active political and media machine.)

If you are a white person and have zero friends of color, and I mean real friends, not just someone you say hi to at the coffee shop, can you understand that you might not be able to truly grasp how many people who don’t look like you are hurting and scared, and yes, angry?  Can you see how your day-to-day going about your business without doing something communicates ignorance and indifference to their suffering?  What are you doing to seek out these different voices to listen and understand?

If you are wild about your college’s sports teams until the black student-athletes on those teams withhold the use of their bodies to take a stand against injustice that directly affects them, their family, and/or friends, and then you decry them because “it makes your school look bad,” does it bother you that you value the reputation of an institution more than the well-being of the students who are currently attending it?

If you respond to the #BlackLivesMatter movement with “All Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter,” you demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the movement.  We do not believe that our police, our justice system, and our schools value black lives the way they do mine, or yours, if you are white.  They are crying out for what you assume as a given.  Also, if you dismiss the fact that police officers in 2015 killed five times as many young black men as young white men of the same age, despite the fact that black males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprise only 2% of the total U. S. population, what does that say about whether you really believe that “All Lives Matter?”

Philando Castille.  Alton Sterling.  Dontre Hamilton.  Eric Garner.  John Crawford III.  Michael Brown.  Ezell Ford.  Dante Parker.  Tanisha Anderson.  Tamir Rice.  Eric Harris.  Walter Scott.  Freddie Gray.  Trayvon Martin.  Sons. Brothers. Husbands. Fathers.  All lost, human tragedy of our own making.  OUR making, because the system we so blithely accept as protecting us fails to protect all of us, and in the face of evidence that demonstrates again and again that it does not, we do nothing.  We are convicted.  Lord, hear our prayer.

In the past month, I watched a pickup truck parade a huge Confederate flag around Liberty, Missouri (irony, yes?).  In a country where every institution is a “white culture center,” why on earth do people need to defend this bloody flag as a symbol of “white pride” or “Southern heritage?”

In the past month, I have had a colleague and friend ask me sincerely why I think so many working class white people are blind or dismissive of the systemic and painfully individual injustices that are so plain to her, and to me.  It breaks my heart that she needs to ask this question.  She shared her concern that, as an African American, she and other persons of color are seen as less than human, even as she expressed compassion for the fact that so many white working class individuals are losing economic ground and have their own fears.  Her ability to be compassionate toward such people is astounding to me.

In the days after the Orlando shooting, my husband was at an area golf course/country club and overheard a group of older white males joke that the only thing that would have been better about the incident was if the victims were black.  My husband was shocked and visibly shaken when he told me what happened.

At an Independence Day party, a friend, who is white, confided in me that as she reads the coverage of Donald Trump’s not-so-subtle racism and the continued support he receives, she cannot help but be filled with rage.  Trump himself continues to spur anger at persons of color with his cries to “build that wall,” and his assertion that a United States District Court judge, born and raised in Indiana, cannot be impartial due to his Mexican heritage.

Tonight, I head to a class on Theology, Race, and Literature co-sponsored by two Kansas City-area churches.  One church congregation is primarily white; the other, primarily black.  Only by being with each other and listening and sharing can we begin the hard work of true reconciliation, as a church and as a nation.  And if there is any hope I can draw from my sick feeling that this country is about to ignite in ways not seen in 150 or so years, it is that opening up this festering wound of our original sin is the only way for us to heal.