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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.