America, Where Are You?

America is supposed to be better than this.

Where is the country, young, scrappy, and hungry, that stood up to a mad king and against all odds, won its independence? The country which has a statue at one of its busiest ports challenging the world to give us its tired and poor, its huddled masses yearning to be free? Where is the country of my great-grandparents, which took those immigrant lives and pushed them through a sieve of red white and blue until they bled apple pie? Where is the country which hails itself as a beacon of democracy and freedom, as bright as Liberty’s torch shining over New York harbor?

We are supposed to be better than this.

Where is the hunger to fix the problems pulling the country apart at the seams? Where is the drive to do better, to take care of our own whether they’re in Puerto Rico or Houston or Las Vegas? Or Iowa, Mississippi or Maine. Where is the innovative thinking we need to overcome problems like gun violence and systemic racism? Where is the scrappiness to face those challenges, the conviction to overcome them?

At what point will this great American experiment be deemed a failure? At what point will the absolute right of the individual citizen be responsible for the downfall of a nation?

I say this as an American who loves my country: I think we are very close to that point. I think we have championed the right of the individual over the rights of the whole for too long, and we are paying the price. Or rather the people in Las Vegas are paying the price, and the citizens of Puerto Rico, the families who bury their black sons and daughters are paying the price. Children who shoot themselves with unsecured guns, women who are killed by abusive partners, transgender citizens who are murdered by fellow citizens. People without healthcare. Citizens in the wealthiest nation in the world going hungry, going without.

We are all paying the price because we are all worse off.

Maybe some of us take nicer vacations or have more square footage. Maybe some have a nice chunk of retirement change. But this idea that our rights as individuals, to speech or guns or bigotry in the name of religious freedom comes before our unity as a whole, as a nation?

That idea is going to kill us as sure as a stake through the country’s heart.

We now accept mass shootings as a way of  life, especially those carried out by white male terrorists. We find neat little ways of compartmentalizing the actions of those men by giving them titles like ‘lone wolf’. By humanizing them in the narrative with occupations and family stories. And so it’s easier to think it’s yet again a one-off thing. There was nothing to stop it, it won’t happen again.

Until it does.

And does.

And does.

And does.

Mass shootings are now as American as baseball and McDonald’s. We expect them. We’re unsurprised by them. We pray and we send thoughts and push aside the fact that it is not going to go away right out of our minds.

Where is the problem solving? Where’s the courage to fix this? Where are the goddamn bootstraps I hear so much about? Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, but give me young, scrappy and hungry too.

In the aftermath which will follow Las Vegas, the same tired, old arguments will be trotted out. But the real tragedy, beyond the lives of the fifty-eight people lost is this:

Too many Americans have become immune. Inoculated against the bloodshed. Caring too much about the imagined individual restrictions than about the life of a nation. We’ve finally managed the neat, little trick of turning so far inward that we’ve ceased to see outward.

 

We have our own mad king now, who likes gold thrones just as much as George III. But Las Vegas did not happen because of the Trump administration. NFL protests are not happening because of it. I am not laying blame for any of this at the feet of the Trump administration.

Nor do I think the administration is capable of doing a damn thing about staunching the blood either.

So we will continue our descent. Our empathy will continue to atrophy. Our belief in the individual over all else, even the life of our neighbor, our lover, our child. Until there is nothing left but an island full of individuals who come up with ever new Hunger Games style ways of killing one another because ….somehow, someone somewhere will convince those remaining Americans it’s within their rights to do so.

Or we can channel those early founding fathers and stand up.

America, don’t throw away your shot.

 

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What’s the Point of Having Rights if You’re Not Going to Use Them?

“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”
-Donald Trump

Last year Colin Kaepernick, an American football player, refused to stand during the American national anthem. Several other high-profile athletes such as US soccer star Megan Rapinnoe followed suit. The backlash was quick.

A year later, it hasn’t abated.

Looking past the fact that blind allegiance to a nationalistic symbol is about the most Un-American thing I can think of, that forced standing, saluting, singing, and pledging are exactly the sort of things that Americans abhor in other places, because you know…freedom….the bigger point is this:

The whole point of having certain inalienable rights as defined in the Constitution is to USE them. If we’re not going to use them, why spend so much time, energy, blood, and lives defending them?

People are getting their Kaeper-knickers in a twist about utilizing rights. Are rights merely meant to sit on a shelf somewhere, kept shiny but never used? Because if so they will atrophy. They’ll wither until they are of no use to anyone. Until they die.

Service men and women have fought and died to protect the rights Americans hold dear. Those rights are whispered into the ears of American children at night. We grow up on them. We eat them at greasy spoon diners and wash them down with Bud Light. They are our bread and butter, our meat and potatoes, and apple pie for dessert.

Rights.

Not a flag. Not an anthem. Not a pledge.

Protests, such as that of Colin Kaepernick and fellow athletes do not dishonor those sacrifices. In fact, I can’t think of anything that honors them more. Citizens using the very things so many gave their life to protect.

Rights.

It may leave a bad taste in your mouth, but I guarantee that bitterness still tastes sweeter than what Kaepernick and his fellow athletes are protesting: daily witnessing the fact that your life doesn’t count for as much as it does if you’re white.

Of course this is not about utilizing rights. This is about certain groups using their rights. When tiki-torch carrying white supremacists march en masse we hotly debate ‘rights’. When toddlers are routinely shot dead by unsecured guns, we wring our hands over ‘rights’. When statues glorifying slavery-supporting generals are questioned, we hem and haw over ‘rights’.

But when black Americans protest? Suddenly it’s not about rights. It’s about dishonoring. It’s about disrespect. It’s about refusal to bend the knee (oh, the irony).

They may as well be calling black NFL players ‘boy’.

America! Land of the free and home of the brave! Yet the landscape of my country is very different depending on who you are. And who you are has a lot to do with the color of your skin, your biological sex, and who you love.

As a white educated woman, I lead a different life than a woman of color of the same educational background. My life is very different life from that of a white male, a hispanic homosexual, a transgender female, or a white woman living below the poverty line.

I know it’s hard to see that. It’s easy to assume that everyone else out there has the same experiences –not only the day-to-day ones, but the overreaching ones as well, the ones that link together to make up the concrete foundation of your experience. That we all have access to the same raw materials. That those bootstraps Americans love to fetishize are available in one size fits all.

But that is simply not true.

Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennet and other black NFL players protest because their America is not the same as mine. Megan Rapinoe knelt because her America is not the same as mine. Their opportunities are not the same. Their access, their power. Forget pulling yourselves up by the bootstraps. What happens when you’re not even given access to the materials to even fashion them?

Yet when they use non-violent means of protest to call attention to these very different experiences, they are criticized, told to be quiet, threatened, and called unpatriotic.

I ask you, what choice have we left for those whose experience of the United States is not the same as yours, or mine? What choice have we left for those who keep trying to pull up the damn bootstraps only to find the ones we gave them are shoddy, damaged, or non-existent?

What choice?

What are people supposed to do? If you find protests so unpalatable, so offensive, then what course do you recommend? Because nothing else has worked. Nothing.

Racism, sexism, homophobia–they are all documented issues. Yet we continue to shuffle them under the rug and stuff them in the closet. We deny, deny, deny. We shift the blame and blame the victim. And then–and then!–when people use their rights to call attention to these problems, we tell them to find another way to do it because it’s “offensive”.

For real?

260 years ago, the idea of taxation without representation was enough to go to war.

We celebrate that uprising each year with fireworks and backyard barbecues. We celebrate those protests, many of them violent, which led to the birth of a nation. But when a non-violent protest asks us to look at the messy afterbirth of that same nation?

We can’t handle the truth.

We hide behind a flag, an anthem, a pledge.

The United States of America is not post-racism. There is literally no legitimate recourse if you are a person of color.

You’re beat down, then told you’re not. You’re told to use the right channels, but those channels are blocked. You’re told it’s all in your head, it’s not as bad as you think, it doesn’t exist. And when you stand over the dead bodies as evidence, you’re told it must have been your own fault.

How are you supposed to affect change if there are people who won’t even admit change is necessary?

 

Somewhere out there there’s a child sitting and watching these athletes saying, ‘I’m not crazy, I’m not alone and here is someone willing to stand up for me.”

And that is how it begins. A teabag thrown into a harbor doesn’t make too much of an impact. A ship full of tea does.

But it all has to start somewhere.

What’s the point of having rights if we’re not going to use them?

What kind of message does it send when we value a symbol over a life?

And what does it say when we have a leader who refers to someone using their inalienable right as a son-of-a-bitch?

 

 

 

Hunting and Gathering in America

kalina_hunter_gatherer-2Over the past few days I’ve watched several Trump surrogates attempt to deflect questions from women, young girls, and reporters about the recent allegations against Donald Trump.

Mike Pence, when given a question asked by an eleven year-old girl who felt disheartened by Trump’s language, switched to a conversation about foreign policy.

Ben Carson, when pressed by a female reporter to answer whether or not he believed the allegations against Trump, started talking about the economy–and then asked if they could switch the reporter’s mic off so he could keep talking…about the economy.

There’s a reason why women keep ‘harping’ on about this stuff, you dimwits.

This is the stuff that matters to women.

This matters. Our needs and our bodies and the right to exist without stumpy fingers inserting themselves somewhere—-literally or metaphorically. That shit is important. This stuff matters.

That’s why we’re grabbing you by the (metaphorical) balls on this one and not letting it go. Despite the deflections and the denials and the redirection, it’s not going to go away. (Note: don’t try redirection on mothers who have survived multiple Target toy aisle meltdowns. We’re the masters of redirection.)

Look, obviously the economy is important. Foreign policy is important. And national security and a hundred other things. They are what I call ‘Big Game’ stuff. They are the Hunter Policies: How do we protect jobs? How do we secure our borders? Trade deals. Chest thump. Meat roasting over an open fire.

But in our insistence upon focusing solely on the Big Game stuff, we often ignore the policies which affect day-to-day  living, working, and raising kids, saying alive and unmolested: The Gatherer Policies.

How am I going to get to work when my kid is sick? Can I afford to take time off work because the American maternity leave hasn’t progressed past the stone age? What am I going to do if my birth control fails because we can’t afford another kid? How do I protect my child if he/she is gay or transgender? Do I feel safe going out for a run? How am I going to be caretaker to both my children and my parents? Is that guy at work who is brushing up against me and commenting about my breasts going to block my promotion?

Our ancestors knew that protein was critical to survival. But they also knew their newly formed tribes and communities would not survive without the day-to-day sustenance that gathering provided. Not to mention the small task of securing the survival of the species by caring for the next generation.

Yet those damn hunters. They get all the credit.

Grabbing women without consent? It’s important. But it is also a metaphor for this election. When it becomes clear that you can’t even understand WHY women are pissed about this, it becomes crystal clear that lots of men have NOT BEEN LISTENING AT ALL.

For many women, those ‘social issues’? It’s the shit that keeps us up at night. Because they seem less significant than things like foreign policy, they often get subsumed. They get buried under all the Big Game stuff. Men often don’t worry about things like bodily autonomy because it is not an issue for them. Reproductive rights are abstract rights for men. Family leave affects them, but in a financial sense. They are not the ones who are limping back to work with stitches from an episiotomy still in place.

This is the stuff that matters to many women. And for centuries our needs and wants and political desires have been largely ignored. The berries get overlooked in praise of the meat.

In recent times, sex and gender roles have blurred. More women are bringing home the big game bacon and more men are doing their share of metaphorical berry-gathering. But that doesn’t mean the Gathering policies are any less important. On the contrary.

hoodie-womens-rights-are-human-rights-d001006467062The fact that forcing yourself on someone is wrong and indicative of a larger issue should be pretty damn easy to understand. It really doesn’t get more basic than that. Thou shalt not grab pu**y. Most women just assume it is a basic guarantee, filed away under life, liberty and the pursuit of unmolested happiness.

But for a lot of people, it would seem that it is not so evident. They keep deflecting and changing the subject and trying to convince us that we’re stubbornly missing the ‘important stuff’.

Damn guys, if you can’t even understand that for women, the basic idea of existing as a human being means that no one is entitled to snatch the snatch is the important stuff?

We’ve got a long way to go.

 

Good Guys with Guns

Avoid-Raod-RageMy sister told a funny story over Christmas.

Our mother, waiting to pull into a parking space, was thwarted by a black-hearted parking space thief. Righteous and indignant, she got out of her own car, knocked on the window of the other and proceeded to tell the driver off. My mother didn’t swear or rant or beat on the hood of the car. She didn’t even give her the finger. Instead she simply said, “I hope you don’t have a nice day. And I hope you don’t find what you’re looking for in Marshall’s.”

We fell over ourselves laughing at my mother’s choice of fightin’ words. But the laughter was soon eclipsed by the dark truth of the matter; because I had to make my feisty seventy-year-old mother promise me she wouldn’t do anything like that again. Because you can never tell these days when you’re likely to get shot.

What an utterly ridiculous thing to have to think, let alone say.

Yet not a month later didn’t I see an article about a man who shot another man over a parking space dispute? In Boston no less, less than an hour from where my mother’s Marshall’s parking lot rage played out.

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Apparently this is what it’s come down to. A country hopped up on Guns n Ammo. A country gone from a landscape of majestic mountains and golden wheat fields to something out of a Quentin Tarantino film. A country with a surprising number of people who adamantly believe the answer is more guns, who won’t be happy until everyone is walking around with a poncho and a shoulder holster like a living, breathing adaptation of The Magnificent Seven.

It’s only a matter of time before they suggest handing out handgun permits when you have a baby. Like they do with car seats.

It’s ok though. Because all this murder and mayhem? That’s the bad guys with guns. Not the good guys with guns.

The funny thing about that is, well…criminals aren’t actually criminals until they commit a crime. So right up until the moment that guy with a gun starts shooting up a movie theatre or a or a school, he was just another good guy with a gun. I haven’t seen any statistics of the number of good guys with guns who have managed to prevent a mass shooting. Please feel free to link me up.

It’s possible I’m just missing those stories on my news feed because they’re getting lost in the articles about toddlers accidentally shooting parents, kids shooting other kids on purpose, and family members killing each other. Or the ones about pissed off people shooting up their workplace. Maybe it’s the ones I have to scroll through about men killing women who left them, men killing women they don’t know just because they’re women. Or the ones about people getting shot for texting too loudly, for not being a good enough waitress, for shining their lights it the parking lot too brightly, for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The problem is there is no right place anymore. There is nowhere safe. Not Maine, where two men convicted of domestic abuse are taking their fight to own a gun despite a federal ban all the way to The Supreme Court. (For the record, a woman is 500% more likely to be killed in a domestic dispute in a home that has a firearm). Or in Georgia, where you can be legally blind and still purchase, own, and carry a gun. It probably won’t be safe in Iowa either, where it’s likely a bill making it legal for a child under the age of 14 to possess a handgun will soon be on the books.

boy gunSome perspective: If you have a pool or a trampoline on your property, you’re required to have fences, safety measures and liability insurance. In fact, some insurers won’t even let you take out a policy at all if you have a trampoline. Yet you can have a house full of guns with no liability requirement, whatsoever. You can’t have a freaking trampoline, but you can have a gun. I’ll take my chances of my kid coming home with a broken arm rather than a fatal bullet to the chest on a playdate gone wrong, thanks.

If you are required to have fences and nets, you should be required to have a gun safe to lock your guns in. If you’re blind, you shouldn’t be able to buy or own a gun. If you’re a doctor, you should be able to ask your patients about whether or not they have guns in the house to discuss safety issues with them. Yet if you’re a physician in Florida, guess what? You can’t. It’s against the law.

It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn I have never fired a gun. I’ve never had any interest. It may surprise you, however, to learn I grew up with a gun in the house (a hunting rifle). It may also surprise you to know that I don’t necessarily believe in banning all guns.

What I do believe is that no ordinary citizen needs an automatic weapon or hollow point bullets or body armor. I believe every ordinary citizen with a gun needs a thorough background check, a waiting period, classes on gun safety and proof of meeting stricter guidelines and requirements. I believe gun owners should be required to have liability insurance. And I also believe gun owners need to be held accountable.

What I don’t believe is that owning a weapon is an absolute right which should be placed above all else.

children-guns-nra

A kid doesn’t need a handgun. No child needs a handgun. For the love of God, no child needs to possess a handgun. If you want them to hit targets, sign them up for archery lessons. The fourteen year old who gets shot by a friend because of a gun bought and not secured? How many times am I going to read a variation of that story? A man who is convicted of battery against a woman? Sorry. Nope. Her right to life trumps the right to own a gun. If you’re really that into guns, perhaps you should think about it before you beat the shit out of your girlfriend or wife.

This idea of the absolute right of the individual coming above all else is rapidly becoming the biggest danger faced in the US today. But it’s ok, right. Good guys with guns and all that. They’ll save us. Ponchos and all.

Just remember, all those shooters? All those people responsible for killing others? They were all good guys with guns. Before they weren’t.