I Couldn't Have Done It Without You! A Tribute to Mentors and Second Moms

When I was growing up my mother was chronically ill and my father, a severe asthmatic with a heart condition, went bankrupt. It was a lonely and frightening time during which I was a loner at school and a caretaker at home. But I was blessed to have a teacher who understood, and a neighbor - a second mom really - whose home became my refuge. I think it’s fair to say they both saved my life.

Mrs. Myers, my seventh grade English teacher, was a gentle woman whom I visited every day before leaving school. She knew that I had difficulty speaking up in class because I felt ostracized by my classmates so she seldom asked me to talk. She also knew something about what was happening at home.  I don’t remember talking about any of that but I do recall feeling better by the time I left her classroom after we’d chatted. She made me feel good and strong and capable and that meant so much when I was an anxious thirteen-year old.

Once home I crossed the street to my neighbor’s house to play with her kids, whom I babysat every weekend. I’d sit at Helen’s kitchen table, talking as she prepared dinner, which made me feel warm and welcome. In time, her family became mine. I slept over at weekends, joined them for Christmas and went on their beach holidays each summer. Helen, who is gone now, became my second mom and to this day I think of her that way with enormous love and gratitude. She taught me so much about hearth and home, about kindness to strangers and about how healing it is to laugh at yourself. My family and I still spend Christmas with her kids most years.

As a teacher and a professional I too became a mentor and to this day nothing gives me more pleasure than helping young people (and sometimes peers) as they navigate their way through careers, relationships and life’s other myriad challenges.  When a student says, “You changed my life!” or a colleague thanks me with, “I couldn’t have done this without you!” I feel blessed to have been part of their journey in a helpful way.

But what makes me feel even better than that is being a second mom, or a second grandma, to some very special people.

My first “adopted daughter” was a woman I’d met at a women’s writing conference back in the 80s. She is black and her mother had just died. When she shared her grief with me I said, “I’ll be your white mama.” She smiled through her tears. “And I’ll be your dark daughter!” I still get emails from her addressed to WM and signed DD, and a Mother’s Day card arrives each year full of love.

I met my Chinese “adopted daughter” in Beijing during the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women. She was the assistant manager of my hotel and we connected immediately. One night she brought moon cakes to my room and as our conversation grew deeper she told me about her fiancé who had emigrated to Toronto. She feared that he would never manage to bring her there.  When he did, I spent long hours on the phone with her as she adjusted to life in a foreign country.Today, they and my Chinese “grandson” live in Canada and we talk frequently.

Then there is my Romanian “daughter.”  We met when my husband and I stayed in her mother’s newly opened guest house in the north of Romania. She had come home from college to be our guide for a few days since she spoke English.  Again, the connection was immediate. When she came to the States to study, I was here for her and I know how much that eased her transition.  Like with my Chinese daughter, we are still in touch, even though each of them has adjusted to a foreign country, marriage, a child, and a successful career.

My “Caribbean daughter” and “granddaughter” came into my life eight years ago. They live nearby so I get to see them often, which is delicious. Initially a mentor, I am now a second mom for sure and that fills me with great joy. I think I can say I am her Helen and that is one huge mutual gift.

Two years ago I was at the birth of my newest “granddaughter” who now lives in Boston.  Mom was my student and now, in my heart, she is one of my adopted kids too.

I have loved watching my family grow over the years thanks to our adopted kids and grandkids, each of whom brings something so special into our lives. When I reflected on the deep feelings I have for them this past Christmas, which they reciprocate in words and deeds, I was reminded of the love and nurturing I received from my second mom all those years ago. If I bring them half as much comfort as I received in the years of my growing up, my life will have had true meaning. For that gift, I thank them all from the   bottom of my very full heart.

 

Is America Up to Its Newest Challenge?

We’ve been through a lot for a country with a relatively short history.  Starting with the American revolution against the British, we’ve faced many challenges that could have broken us. There was the Civil War, which cost us more American lives than any other, World War I, World War II, the 1929 stock market crash, the Dust Bowl era and various economic crises, the Vietnam War, political assassinations in the 60s and the 1970 Kent State massacre, race riots that could have divided the country again, the terrorist attack on 9-11, and more.

But what we face now is alarming in unprecedented ways. There have been bad presidents before and governments rife with corruption as well as administrations that lacked skill, compassion, and ethics. In those times, as David Kaiser wrote in TIME Magazine in 2016 after the presidential election, we overcame threats because of “the nation’s ability to come together and embark upon a great enterprise to solve a critical problem.” In the face of our current crisis, we seem unable to muster the spirit of compromise, cohesion, good judgment, and sound governance, not to mention moral compasses.  

As Kaiser wrote in TIME, “Americans are entitled to hope that the new crisis will not end with hostile armies marching through our territory and fighting battles.” He had yet to envision that cyber warfare would eliminate the need for marching troops, nor could he imagine just how disastrous a Trump presidency would be.

In a recent New York Times editorial, Sen. Orrin Hatch is quoted. “This great nation can tolerate a president who makes mistakes, but it cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up.” He was talking about President Clinton in 1999. The senator’s hypocrisy is stunning, and extremely dangerous at a time when the Republican opposition cannot own – and reverse – its behavior, even when our country is faced with monumental threats.

The Times editorial addresses the “growing possibility” that Mr. Trump might attempt to end the ongoing investigation into his campaign, his administration, and his possible obstruction of justice if not overt collusion with the Russians. Should such a moment come, The Times said, we will “suddenly find [ourselves] on the edge of an abyss, with the Constitution in [our] hands.”

If Mr. Trump succeeds in his attempts to shut down the ongoing investigations, he will have destroyed the very foundation of American democracy and rule of law, already fragile by nature because it relies upon tradition, good sense, and strong motivation for the greater good. He will, most awfully, have set himself above the law and effectively become a dictator. 

Should that terrifying scenario come to pass, it will be up to Congress to uphold our laws, maintain the separation of powers established by our founders, and keep intact the constitutional framework that has kept us a government, “of the people, for the people, and by the people” for over 200 years. There will be no time for continuing polarization in the Capital or the public square, no room for vitriol and partisanship, no benefit in clinging to harmful ideologies and hateful rhetoric. We will all be on the sinking ship together, and none of us will be singing to the end.

Everyone paying attention now acknowledges the fact that our democracy is truly threatened. We admit to feeling terrified by what could happen. We openly use the word “fascism,” so long danced around. We talk with a façade of levity about leaving if it gets much worse. We see Facebook posts of what Hitler and Goebbels said and we shudder before sharing. We learn about protesters being arrested, and the Sinclair broadcasting syndicate scripting pro-Trump messages for their many stations.

We join hashtag discussions about police brutality, racial injustice, ICE roundups, anti-Semitic and Muslim hate crimes, pro-natalist positions, abuses in education, the environment, and the interior by functionaries like Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, and Ryan Zinke. We bemoan the fact that the new Secretary of Health and Human Services is a former senior vice president for corporate affairs at Eli Lilly and Co. who served as president of Lilly USA LLC.  We worry about how the State Department can operate without a Secretary or a full staff of seasoned diplomats in a world on the brink of disaster in various parts of the world. 

We stress over the lack of access to safe and effective healthcare, none moreso than women in need of reproductive healthcare. We worry about shrinking consumer protections, reduced regulations that keep our water and air clean, and who will be seated next in our federal and Supreme courts. We fret about voter registration being tampered with, and innocent immigrant children being shipped to countries they’ve never known, and we wonder how long it will take to correct the problems created by this administration if and when we finally elect sane legislators.

But most of all, what we worry about is this:  Will politicians finally put America and its people above any consideration of personal power or benefit, and will they, at long last, have the decency and moral courage to stop the travesties of a Trump administration before it is too late?

In short, can we, together, meet America’s greatest challenge ever, and can we come back again?

 

The Legacy of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and the Kids Who Would Make Her Proud

They are gay, straight and transgender. They are Jewish, Christian and Muslim. They are black, white and Latino. They are middle-class, affluent, and poor. And together they are doing something we’ve never seen before.  They are connecting the dots – recognizing something we now call “intersectionality,” defined by Merriam Webster as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.”

They are the teens of Parkland, Florida, the kids in DC and Chicago schools, the 11-year old children who spoke so eloquently to the crowds in Washington at the March for Our Lives on March 24th.  Their words were heard around the country and the world by multitudes of people who flowed into the streets of their hometowns to plead in unison that, “Enough is enough.” Together, the voices of millions formed a chorus speaking truth to power as they awakened to the connections being made in the name of universal human rights.

Now, I’m not one for quoting the Bible but I can’t refrain from paraphrasing the Book of Isiah: “And [the children] shall lead them.”

  And not just away from gun violence in schools, movie theaters, malls, clubs, or the horrific violence of police shooting innocent black people and getting away with it.  These future leaders were speaking about the much larger issues that America has failed to address, like poverty, class, race, gender, disability and institutionalized discrimination. They were pleading for the survival of all of us, and for a future defined by unity and not division, love and not hate, compassion and not greed, dignity and not death, whether by commission or omission.  They were demanding that we place values above violence, and they did it with such respect, force, energy, and eloquence that there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.

They taught us a life lesson and they gave us a reason to hope.

They went beyond “Mi casa es su casa,” because they know that what happens in their casa, their community, their houses of worship, their schools could happen in any one of our houses, neighborhoods, or common spaces, no matter what color we are, how much wealth we have, or how mainstream we may have become.

The root of the youth movement today, so tragically launched by the events of February 14, 2018 in a school in Florida, is what empowers students of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and the others now joining them. Its foundation is what they understand about the “realpolitik.” They are defining and now representing a new generation that is not only unique but vital, because these “kids” truly get it that together we stand, divided we fall. 

Additionally, they know how to bring their vision and their message to voters, to so-called leaders, and to those whose political futures are at stake. Strategically, these emerging adults are nothing short of brilliant. They understand how to use social media and they have a natural proclivity for using the methods of media advocacy, which means they put a human face on their issue, they tell stories to humanize statistics, they include action steps in their message – Register, Educate, Vote! – and they repeat tag lines that are pithy, powerful, and easily repeated.

The woman for whom the now well-known school was named, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, would be so proud of these students. A journalist and author, women's suffrage advocate, and conservation activist, she was every bit as feisty and politically astute as the students who attend the school that bears her name.  Her influential book The Everglades: River of Grass, published in 1947, redefined the popular conception that the Everglades were nothing more than a worthless swamp. It has been compared to Rachel Carson's important book Silent Spring.

According to her Wikipedia profile, Douglas was “outspoken and politically conscious, defending the women's suffrage and civil rights movements.” She undertook her work to protect the Everglades when she was nearly 80 years old and she lived nearly 30 years beyond that, working to the end.

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’s spirit and legacy are now being felt not only by students who went to school one day as youngsters and came out (if they were lucky) as young adults creating a new kind of leadership. It is being realized by Americans and others who may never have thought of themselves as “political” but who will be forever changed by what happened that fateful day, and the movement it spawned.

For that, we can all be grateful.

Redefining News: What We Don't Read Under the Radar

Have you had enough of Donald Trump’s narcissistic rallies featured regularly on mainstream media?  Tired of the debate about guns in schools? Seen enough of Sunday morning talking heads rehashing the week’s old headlines?  Maybe it’s time for editors and producers to remember what constitutes news and to realize that there’s a world out there about which we know far too little.

There are plenty of scandals, ethical breaches, sensational stories and other travesties swirling around Donald Trump and his minions for his cabinet heads and staff to keep us mired in swamp news for the rest of his hopefully limited term. But there is so much happening beyond that about which we ought to be concerned. I’m not talking politics. I’m talking humanity, and the human faces of tragedies we ought to know about. Here are some examples.

In America, the cruelty of ICE makes social media occasionally, but what does it look like when children are ripped from their parents as they leave school or the supermarket? What happens when your mom is thrown in a Border Police van and you have no idea where she’s going or when you will see her again?

That happened recently in San Diego when an Africa woman who came to the U.S. seeking asylum was suddenly separated from her daughter who was shipped to a facility in Chicago. The woman listened to her daughter’s screams as agents dragged her away without explanation or any idea when she would see her child again.  The ACLU has filed suit in that case, but many are not so lucky. The Florence Project in Arizona documented 155 such cases last year as the Trump administration strongarms families into accepting deportation in order to get their kids back.

And what about offshore?  In East Ghouta, Syria medical facilities supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) report receiving nearly 5,000 wounded and more than 1,000 dead over a two-week period in February, and that doesn’t cover all medical facilities. Fifteen of 20 MSF facilities were bombed during recent escalations with no end in sight and no relief supplies getting through. What must it be like for mothers and fathers to watch their children die under those circumstances? What courage does it take to hide in cellars day after day, night after night, without food or water? What must it be like to feel the world has forgotten you?

In Yemen, where increasing violence and unrelenting airstrikes have left millions of families in desperate need of help, what is to be done in the poorest country in the Arab world? What is to be done for the women and children who have no health services, poor water and sanitation, and a child malnutrition rate among the highest in the world? What is to be done when nearly 19 million people have no idea where their next meal will come from and where 5,000 new cases of cholera are reported daily? What is to be done when the U.S. and Saudi Arabia tighten blockades in a proxy war that has no end in sight?

And what is to be done about the genocide of the Rohingya people of Burma when even that country’s once revered symbol of peace, Aung San Suu Kyi, has denied not just their suffering but their existence?  The Rohingya people have lived in Burma for centuries, but they are considered outsiders whose rights were removed in 1982. Last year the military intensified their campaign against them, burning villages, massacring adults and babies with extraordinary cruelty, and forcing almost a million people to flee to Bangladesh in what has been called “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”

In Nigeria, precious little was done in 2014 when nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from their school by Boko Haram. There was almost no media follow up. When 110 girls were taken from their school in February this year, hardly a word was written or spoken about it. Now the president of Nigeria, who claimed that Boko Haram was defeated while they continued deadly suicide attacks, has said he will “negotiate” for the girls release instead of using military force because troops are needed elsewhere.

And then there is Israel, where one of the more shocking pieces of news to barely emerge in recent weeks is that African refugee women are being temporarily sterilized with injections of DepoProvera without their consent. There are also numerous cases of violence against Palestinian children, including acts of violence that are not physical.

Take, for example, the case of Ahed Tamimi, a teenager who protested the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem. She was jailed after being arrested in the middle of the night at home.  Israeli officials and politicians want to make an example of Ahed, calling for “severe punishment to serve as a deterrent.” Her family is prohibited from visiting her in Israeli detention, where she was unlawfully transferred from her home in occupied territory, and she remains alone and scared. At this writing, her trial is set for mid-March but many worry it will not take place.

These stories reflect the world in which we live. It extends far beyond Washington, DC or America.  It’s a world that we should all know and care more about. It is the responsibility of media to be sure we do. So are, they are failing miserably.

 

"Water, Water Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink!"

Those are the words of “the Ancient Mariner,” in a 19th century poem written by Samuel Coleridge. They seem eerily, and creepily, relevant today. While we aren’t floating on a sea of undrinkable salt water, we are facing the threat of not having water to drink.

Flint, Michigan became the canary in the coalmine regarding the crisis in clean drinking water in this country when the nation learned that the drinking water there was full of lead. Looking to cut water costs, the governor had hired an outside firm that came up with the idea of getting Flint’s drinking water from the Flint River, known to be heavily polluted, instead of the Detroit River system. Contamination from the Flint River interacted with the aging lead pipes in Flint’s water delivery system causing dangerous levels of lead contamination for people without water filters.

But the issue of water standards is not just taking place in cities like Flint. It’s also occurring in rural places like Kentucky, Texas, Kansas and elsewhere. And then there’s the very real problem of water shortages occurring in many corners of the world due to climate change and other factors.

Many water problems in this country come from mining, waste from burning coal, and large-scale agriculture, along with aging pipes. In Marin County, Kentucky, for example, people often get their water from wells sunk into flooded, abandoned mines with water loaded with heavy metals. Other communities from West Virginia to North Carolina trace their water problems to waste produced from burning coal stored in liquid ponds that can leak or spill, according to a recent article in the New Republic. Further, in large-scale rural farming areas, nitrogen-based fertilizer slides off farmlands and makes its way into freshwater systems.

In 2016, Reuters released a report about America’s drinking water. It concluded that nearly 3,000 locations in the U.S. have drinking water where the lead contamination is at least double of that found in Flint’s drinking water.  And according to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 2.5 percent of children in this country have elevated levels of lead in their blood, the effects of which may not show up until adolescence.

According to a Michigan State University report referenced on www.desmogblog.com,  the U.S. could see large portions of the population unable to afford water in the near future. This is due to “a variety of pressures ranging from climate change, to sanitation and water quality, to infrastructure upgrades, placing increasing strain on water prices.” It would take an estimated $1 trillion dollars to replace aging water infrastructure in the U.S. alone in the next 25 years. That could triple the cost of water bills to households.

The water crisis is global. Cape Town, South Africa has been in the news recently because it could be the first major city in the world to run out of water. June 4th is designated as Day Zero. That’s when the city’s taps will be turned off, causing residents to have to line up at collection points to get 25 litres of water per day, per person. Climate change-induced drought and a growing population are said to have caused the current crisis.

So far, most of the people facing water shortages live in so-called “developing countries.” In many places women and girls walk miles to find water, sometimes several times a day. But even China regularly sees moderate to severe water shortages, and every year the vast country uses more water than rain replaces. An estimated 25 – 33 percent of Chinese people lack access to safe drinking water.

There is something even more frightening to contemplate about the world’s future, and that is the real possibility of water wars. Conflicts over water could easily break out in the Middle East, especially in Israel, Jordan and Syria. But water conflicts are also possible here. Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California all share water from the Colorado River. Those states have already begun negotiating how to manage the river’s limited water supply.

Statistics about water are telling. According to www.seametrics.com, by 2025 an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagues by water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed regions.  780 million people in the world now live without clean drinking water. Extreme drought is expected to render vast expanses of land useless by 2050 while over the past forty years, as the world’s population has doubled, use of agricultural water has quadrupled.

According to the U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment of Global Water Security, by 2030 “humanities ‘annual global water requirements’ will exceed ‘current sustainable water supplies’ by 40 percent. By the year 2040 there will not be enough water in the world to quench the thirst of the world population and keep the current energy and power solutions going if we continue doing what we are doing today.”

The unquenchable thirst described in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is enough to make any mouth dry.  The thought that we may experience such thirst in our lifetimes is unfathomable, but it is real.

                                   

Beware the Growing Demise of Democracy Globally

With each passing day, a question rises to the top of my troubled thoughts: Why don’t more people seem to get it? Why don’t they sound concerned about what pundits dub the death of our experiment with democracy? Why can’t they grasp that autocracies are rapidly flourishing?  Why doesn’t that scare us into greater vigilance, and more sensible votes?

Democracy becomes threatened in many ways. While violent power grabs are increasingly rare, the number of elected officials subverting the very processes that led them to power – a global phenomenon - is alarming.

In most cases, plutocracy, or oligarchy, means governments ruled by the rich for personal gain. As analysts have noted, with the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, which allowed unlimited amounts of money to flow to politicians, “the wealthy are getting the democracy they pay for” in America.

In order for autocrats to hold onto power, voting rights are threatened or removed. Recent examples in the U.S. are the purging of voter registration rolls in Republican controlled states, and restrictions that make it harder for Blacks and Latinos to vote. At the same time, the media is positioned as an “enemy of the state,” not to be trusted with information, and facts, they share.

Another threat to democracy exists when voters are apathetic and take the rights they enjoy for granted. We have notoriously low voter turnout rates, although this year that may change. But when people feel they can’t do anything that will make a difference, they stop paying attention, and don’t go to the polls.

Carol Anderson, a history professor at Emory University, sounded this alarm recently. “Bringing an independent judiciary and investigative branch under the domination of the executive is one of the first moves of regimes that do not respect the rule of law.” She cites Pinochet’s Chile, Nazi Germany, and Putin’s Russia as examples. “The rationale is simple,” she says. “Besides the military, the judiciary and law enforcements branches are the most powerful in a state. Control and politicization of that wing allows rulers to criminalize opponents … when in fact they are really defenders of a more viable, democratic nation.”

It’s not just what’s happening in America because of the Trump administration.  Examples of threats to democracy around the world are frightening, and they matter. Civilization is once again threatened by regimes that quickly, effectively, and surreptitiously bring down democracy. As a collective movement, those regimes are again creating the resurgence of totalitarianism, with unimaginable results because nations of the world no longer live isolated from each other, politically, socially, or economically. 

Here are examples of what is happening elsewhere. In July, people in Poland marched to protest “the impending death of democracy” under the Law and Justice Party. Parliament had passed a bill giving the government the power to remove all Supreme Court judges through forced retirement. The president also announced he would sign a bill making it illegal to discuss Poland’s role in the Holocaust. (There were good Poles who resisted, but Poland also committed atrocities; denying them is denying historical fact.)

In Hungary, the right-wing party won sweeping political power in its national elections. Under Viktor Orban, the political climate is one of “a political greenhouse for an odd kind of soft autocracy, combining crony capitalism and far-right rhetoric with a single-party culture,” as Patrick Kingley put it in The New York Times. Orhan has instituted financial penalties for groups that help migrants, changed the electoral system, assaulted the country’s Constitution, curbed the media along with the country’s checks and balances, made homelessness a crime, and diverted huge sums of money to his loyalists. He is now influencing other Central and Eastern European countries like Romania.

In Egypt and Turkey, things are not going well either. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi pushed his most serious opponents out of scheduled elections. Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy says the country is “caught between an American-style Sisi and an Egyptian-style Putin.” Yet Sisi enjoys the support of Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Rex Tillerson.

Meanwhile, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, is dismantling democracy in his country and turning it into an autocracy divided by ethnic and religious factors. In the name of “stability,” Erdogan has concentrated power in his office. As of next year, he can appoint the cabinet and a number of vice-presidents without parliamentary approval, and he can select or remove senior civil servants at will.  Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, must be turning in his grave.

The problem of dissolving democracies doesn’t stop in Europe or the Middle East. Latin America has had its destructive experiences and so have African countries. In Kenya, people are worried that their democracy is disappearing. Television stations have been shut down by the government, opposition politicians are under arrest and journalists have been threated with jail under President Kenyatta.

The rise of authoritarianism is real, dangerous, and on our doorstep. Nationalism, polarization and tribalism are being used to centralize power, destroy institutions of democracy, and lay the groundwork for re-writing rules that have been the foundation of democracy.

The question is, will we allow enemies of freedom to kill the democratic safety nets we have come to take for granted, or will we resist mightily at the ballot box and beyond?

 

A Deeper Look at What the ME TOO Movement Can Teach Us

 

It’s been some time since the Harvey Weinstein revelations opened the floodgates of personal stories about sexual harassment and assault. Still, women’s stories keep coming, and so they should. We must bear witness if things are going to change, not only in the halls of Hollywood studios and Capitol Hill offices, but everywhere that people live, work and carry on their lives.

We’ve learned good lessons in the telling of those stories, and in the copious commentary that followed. We’ve recognized that Zero Tolerance policies must be implemented and enforced, that non-disclosure agreements, buyouts and retaliation must end, that the real issues behind acts of aggression against women and girls - culture, misogyny, male privilege and power, for example – are big, complex, and urgently need to be the center of exploration, discourse, and social change. We know that we have to educate our children, both male and female, about what is acceptable and what is not in human behavior. We need, as one columnist put it, “to move away from the narratives of victimization and sympathy.”

But there is a deeper analysis occurring now and it is beginning to help us understand the dynamics involved when one person hurts, attacks, terrifies and traumatizes another, based on gender.

In her important book Women and Power, English scholar Mary Beard reminds us that the silencing of women was ever thus. Aristotle thought women’s voices proved their wickedness and that virtue lay in masculine tones. Mythology shares stories of women who’ve had their tongues cut out to silence them while other tales have women turned into inanimate objects.

Such attempts at silencing females have long trailed women, from Odysseus’s wife Penelope to Hillary Clinton and other women in the world’s public spaces. Stories of silencing women, whether mythological or modern, are part of our personal stories too – “mansplaining,” not recognizing the value of our ideas until they think they were theirs first, ignoring our leadership skills. As Beard says, “When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice.”  So have Eastern cultures. A recent NPR story exposed schools in China to which girls are sent to learn that their purpose in life is to serve their husbands silently, even those who rape and beat them.

Beard urges us to “interrogate our notions of power,” and to examine why they exclude women. Why are our ideas about authority, mastery, and knowledge perceived as gender-based, she asks. And how, when institutional structures are “coded as male,” can you ask women to fit into them? Clearly, the structures themselves must change.

Greg Weiner, writing in The New York Times, reminds us that character matters when it comes to moral behavior, which “calls for a deep capacity for judgment.” True morality, he argues, must be cultivated and must exceed private, coded actions.  

Adding to the #ME TOO tsunami, Paul Bloom’s recent discussion of new books in The New Yorker includes Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others, an exploration of humans’ capacity for cruelty, by philosopher David Livingston, who quotes Claude Levi-Strauss: “Humankind ceases at the border of the tribe,” the noted anthropologist said. Here, the tribe consists of men bound together by deep-seated misogynistic feelings that render them incapable of seeing, and treating, women as equally human.   That’s why it’s easy to “slut-shame” and to say you can grab women by their genitals; after all, they are not “like I am.”

In Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, Kate Manne, assistant professor of philosophy at Cornell University, makes this observation about sexual violence: “The idea of rapists as monsters exonerates by caricature.” She argues that we must recognize “the banality of misogyny,” much as Hannah Arendt argued that the world had to acknowledge “the banality of evil” after the Holocaust.  Manne raises “the disturbing possibility that people may know full well that those they treat in brutally degrading and inhuman ways are fellow beings, underneath a more or less thin veneer of false consciousness.” Like others, Manne argues that that there is a larger truth in this tendency. “Misogyny, she says, is “often not a sense of women’s inhumanity as lacking. Her humanity is precisely the problem.”  Men, she explains, have come to expect things of women, including attention, admiration, and sex. “Misogyny,” adds Bloom, “is a mindset that polices and enforces these goals, it’s the ‘law enforcement branch’ of the patriarchy.”  Bad women must be punished.

This is heady, important, and sometimes difficult stuff.  But it offers the possibility of deeper examination that could lead to necessary exploration of factors that explain why so many men do what they do to women, especially in the workplace where females may be highly threatening.

Such analysis leads to other important considerations: How does this psychological and sociological reality within cultures influence media coverage of stories about women? Who gets to frame issues and how?  What language do we use in interpreting women’s experience? Who tells their stories? What impact can this deeper grasp of human psychology have on decision-making in the halls of governance?

That’s just for starters.  Still, we must begin somewhere. As Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) has said, “This is our moment.” Oprah Winfrey sounded a clarion call to action in her Golden Globe speech. Now, poised for the moment when we do move forward, women’s voices, experiences, and insights are leading the way. Surely, that is how it should be. Their time has come.

Think It Can't Happen Here? Think Again

 

They were kids at summer camp, passing hot days in routine activity and comradery. They were also learning to speak German, singing German songs, practicing military drills and greeting superiors with Hitler salutes. Wearing Nazi-style uniforms, the children marched, took rifle practice, and raised Hitler Youth banners. There were 16 locally organized camps like this one in the 1930s.

The campers’ parents belonged to the German American Bund, people of German ancestry who formed citizens groups in many countries extolling “German virtues” and lobbying for causes helpful to Nazi Party goals. The German American Bund formed in 1936 as “an organization of patriotic Americans of German stock,” according to Alan Taylor writing in The Atlantic in June, 2017. The U.S. Bund soon boasted tens of thousands of members across 70 regional divisions.

In 1939, the Bund held an “Americanization” rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden to denounce Jewish conspiracies, FDR and others. Attended by 20,000 supporters, the 27 photos of the rally, and the children’s camps, included in Taylor’s Atlantic piece, are chilling.

As WWII began the Bund was disbanded, its leader arrested for embezzlement and deported to Germany.  But the American Bund happened.  Right here in the U.S. we had a large, active, hate-filled Nazi group training its youth to be brown-shirts. It was our own Third Reich.

Arne Bernstein, author of Swastika Nation, learned about American Nazis first-hand as a young man when a neo-fascist group threatened his Jewish neighborhood. “In the 1930s, 1940s and beyond,” he wrote on The History Reader blog in 2013, “fascism and Nazi loyalty was as American as a proverbial apple pie.”

Bernstein says the German-American Bund eventually boasted a following of 200,000 nationwide. The FBI put the number at somewhere between 6,000 to 8,000 while an American Legion study found over 25,000 members. Whatever the actual number of American Nazis, there were enough of them to develop “a nationwide system of family retreats, businesses, publications” and Americanized versions of Hitler Youth and SS squadrons. Among those who didn’t seem to have a problem with the Bund were Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, along with the 15,000 members of The Silver Legion of America.

In 1935 Sinclair Lewis published a novel called It Can’t Happen Here.  Like The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s making a comeback now. Lewis’s novel is a cautionary, alarming and seemingly prescient tale, about the fragility of democracy. It tells the story of an elected authoritarian president who becomes a dictator in the time of the Great Depression. The country’s new president wants to save America from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press, as the jacket cover says. Sound familiar?

Upon publication, the book originally resonated for Americans worried about the possibility of a fascist regime in this country, and the growth of such regimes abroad – think Hitler, Mussolini, and now right-wing factions rising in Europe, again in times of political upheaval and economic turmoil.

Lewis wasn’t the only one writing about the threat of fascism as American angst grew. Articles proliferated, one by Walter Lippman, who noted that the country had “come to a period of discouragement,” as Michael Meyer noted in his introduction to the novel’s new edition. Myer points out that America had its fair share of right-wing polemicists then as now. William Randolph Hearst proclaimed, for example, that “whenever you hear a prominent American called a ‘Fascist,’ you can usually make up your mind that the man is simply a loyal citizen who stands for Americanism.”

By page two of Lewis’s novel, readers know what’s coming, foreshadowing a chilling sense of our own time, when a general rhapsodizes on the idea of nationalism. “Our highest ambition is to be let alone … We must be prepared to defend our shores against all the alien gangs of international racketeers that call themselves ‘governments.’ …A great nation must go on arming itself more and more…for peace….” And on goes the diatribe about isolationism, military strength, alien gangs and other perceived threats to thunderously affirming applause.

Lewis’s novel is full of fiery speeches, proselytizing pastors and politicians, simplistic rhetorical proclamations, and bizarre claims that grow more fervent as the noose tightens on a nation. While the story moves all the way to executions and concentration camps – scenarios we are not ready to imagine possible – it is still a cautionary tale, one that ends with the liberal journalist and leader of the resistance fleeing to Canada “where quiet men awaited news of freedom.”

The leader has realized too late that “the tyranny of this dictatorship isn’t primarily the fault of Big Business, nor of the demagogues who do their dirty work. It’s the fault of … all the conscientious, respectable, lazy-minded [liberals] who have let the demagogues wriggle in, without fierce enough protest.”

That’s an analysis worthy of our attention, as Lewis’s novel is a book worth reading in these troubling times. Because it really can happen here. It already has.

ME TOO: Who Among Us Doesn't Have a Story to Tell?

She was an exceptional legal secretary, a regal beauty, and an independent woman who repeatedly tried to ignore her boss’s advances.  One day, upon his return from a foreign business trip, he presented her with a string of French pearls and a litany of love. It was the 1930s so the secretary saw no way out but to quit her job. That woman was my mother.

She was a motivated professional who took her work seriously.  The first time it happened she worked for a medical board that certified physicians. At a formal dinner one evening, a doctor rubbed his hand up her leg under the tablecloth. She pushed it away. Later the doctor invited her on a trip to the Caribbean. She rebuffed him.

The next time, she was working in a different city when, standing next to her seated boss as he reviewed a document she’d handed him, he put his hand up her skirt. She slapped it away.

The time after that, she was on assignment in another country. Her work finished, she approached the local director to say goodbye. He grabbed her, kissing her on the lips.  Repulsed, she pulled away. But once again she told no one, because it was a time when women didn’t speak of sexual harassment or sexual assault, there being no words for it She was silent because she didn’t want to lose her job or be accused of “asking for it,” and she knew nothing would be done about it anyway.   That woman was me.

It isn’t necessary to cite other times it happened to me because by now everyone sort of gets the picture.  And I was one of the lucky ones: I was never raped.

Now, thanks to a growing number of brave, bold, truth-telling women, we are finally talking about the rampant sexual assault and harassment taking place in just about every workplace you can name. We are naming names. We are outing a pervasive culture of sexual abuse that exists in this, and most other cultures. We are refusing to be complicit via silence, choosing now to raise our collective voices in order to press charges so that we can put an end to the madness of male power and its concomitant sense of entitlement.

We thought Anita Hill’s dignity and truth-telling all those years ago might have been the beginning we see now, but it didn’t happen then.  Thankfully it’s happening now, because of a growing cadre of women who will no longer submit to second-class status, silence, or male prerogative.

Many of those women now hold public office. But they no longer hold their tongues. By telling their stories in the halls of power, they are starting to bring down men who insult them, trivialize them, accuse them of being liars and sluts, physically assault them, and once made them feel small and afraid.

There are men standing with us now too, taking up the fight against sexual harassment and abuse. Perhaps they heard playwright Eve Ensler when she said, “I am over the passivity of good men. Where the hell are you? You live with us, make love with us, father us, befriend us, get nurtured and mothered and eternally supported by us, so why aren’t you standing with us?” To those men, we say, it’s about time, and if they really kick in, thank you.

Rob Okun is one of them. He is a writer and psychotherapist who edited a collection called Voice Male: The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement.  In a recent blog on www.counterpunch.org he wrote, “For decades, men who have never battered or raped would offer excuses for not standing up for women who faced harassment – and worse – offering this lame rationale: ‘I don’t engage in these behaviors, I’m a good guy, these are women’s issues, not mine.’ Those days are over. Sexual assault is not a women’s issue; it’s a community issue, and men, ready or not, we have to break our silence.”

In his piece, Okun credits women with “dragging domestic and sexual violence from society’s shadows” as they created rape crisis centers and shelter for domestic violence survivors. He credits the few men who stood with them initially as allies while coming to grips with their own passivity in the face of violence against women. He calls upon more men to act. He also calls out Donald Trump, who “has yet to pay a price for his sexual assaults.”

The work of Okun and other men working independently and alongside women is encouraging. But like gun violence, the problem of sexual harassment and assault will not simply disappear. It will take concerted group effort, and individual brazen acts. It will require telling our stories. It will take laws and enforced regulations in various workplaces. It will call for zero tolerance.

Can we get there in the age of Weinstein, Spacey and Trump?  As one good man said not long ago, “Yes, we can!” But only, it seems, if we raise our voices, tell our stories, press charges, and vehemently declare Enough!

Why is Disaster Relief So Disastrous?

On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans with a vengeance. In the aftermath, criticism of the government’s response was swift and decisive: America had learned nothing from prior failures in relief efforts. The Bush administration had not paid ample attention to the threat in Louisiana and had neglected to put emergency plans in place or to share information that might have saved lives, according to a Congressional report that revealed 90 findings of failure at all levels of government.

Much of the criticism about failures to respond quickly and appropriately to Katrina fell on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as the lead federal agency for disaster preparedness, response and relief.

FEMA’s main job is to distribute aid to individuals, state, and local governments after natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. But FEMA’s response to many major disasters has often been slow, disorganized or “profligate,” as one critic put it. The agency’s actions have sometimes been harmful, such as when they blocked relief efforts of other organizations because of bureaucracy and dysfunction.

“The mistakes made by FEMA during its response to Hurricane Katrina ‘are the stuff of legend’” one analyst said in a 2012 US News and Report article, including “fail[ing] to get to the worse hit areas for days and [being] unprepared for the scope of the disaster.” FEMA’s failures, the article claimed, “are largely due to the inability of the federal government to acquire the local knowledge needed for effective disaster response and relief.”

The Red Cross, often the go-to organization for people who want to help, also fails to be effective in its response. For example, in the aftermath of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac, the organization “botched key elements of its mission, leaving behind a trail of unmet needs,” according to a 2014 report by ProPublica and NPR. “Red Cross officials at national headquarters in Washington, D.C. compounded the charity’s inability to provide relief by ‘diverting assets for public relations purposes,’” the report claimed.

International bodies, like the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), continue to offer rhetorical responses in the aftermath of natural disasters. In a September 2017 response to this year’s horrific hurricanes, PAHO’s director told ministers of affected countries attending a conference that she extended “heartfelt condolences on the occasion of the deaths and injuries, the utter devastation and destruction, the extensive dislocation and the psychological trauma resulting from [the four hurricanes].” But have we seen any reports of PAHO attempting to alleviate dire health-related problems in Puerto Rico or elsewhere in the region?

Meanwhile, we are repeatedly reminded of the failures of governmental and non-governmental organizations, here and elsewhere, to learn from past experience – whether a devastating earthquake in Haiti, or a similar disaster in Nepal.

The most recent example is, of course, Puerto Rico, where lawmaker Jose Enrique Melendez called the federal response “a disaster,” and the mayor of San Juan begged the  U.S. President  for help, saying that if it failed to come, the little island of American inhabitants would “see something close to a genocide.”

“We are dying here,” Carmen Yulin Cruz told the president. “Mayday! We are in trouble!” She could not fathom, she said, “the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles.”

Donald Trump’s response? He called the mayor “nasty” and blamed Puerto Ricans for not doing enough to help themselves. Blind to the reality of the disaster – no water, no food, no communication, no electricity, no health care for emergencies or chronic illnesses – he simply tossed paper towels at people and then threatened to cut off relief funds and pull out first responders.

A Congressional bill for $36.5 billion in emergency funding for hurricane relief in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, as well as for wildfire relief, was subsequently requested by the Trump administration. The House measure included $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund.

Anyone want to guess how much of that $36.5 billion will go to Puerto Rico? Or how FEMA will use the proposed $18.7 billion?

The legislation also proposed that Puerto Rico receive a $4.9 billion low-interest Treasury loan so it doesn’t run out of cash as the island recovers. That’s right: a loan to an island already in desperate straits financially and in need of debt forgiveness if it has any hope of recovering from the two hurricanes that slammed the island in rapid succession.

The continuing failures of timely and effective disaster relief boggle the mind and beg this question, based on lessons learned: What specific steps need to be taken and what key elements must be in place for relief efforts to best serve those affected by catastrophic natural disasters?

Now, in light of the unprecedented travesty of Mr. Trump’s behavior and inaction in Puerto Rico, we must also ask, how do we ensure a compassionate response? In the face of nature’s fury, how do we contain the fury of a president who fails to grasp essential humanity? 

In these troubling times, perhaps that’s the first question we should be addressing.

Back to Barefoot and Pregnant Politics

 

In the late 1970s as I was beginning my career in women’s health, one of the first feminist icons I met of was a flamboyant, passionate, and deeply committed woman named Perdita Huston.  She had made her mark internationally working as a journalist and a Peace Corp professional, but what put her on the feminist map was her 1979 book Third World Women Speak Out

 

Huston’s book was remarkable because she was the first person to give women in the developing world a chance to tell their own stories. She gave them voice, and with that voice what they proclaimed most loudly was that they wanted fewer children, and they wanted those children to be educated.

 

It was a radical moment with far-reaching ramifications because it coincided with the early days of family planning becoming a goal of international funding agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). With the help of the Women in Development movement, spawned in large part by the Women’s Movement at large, donor organizations had begun to realize that family planning was key to a country’s economic and social development and that women’s reproductive health was an issue that mattered.

Subsequent years revealed that family planning was, indeed, a wise investment. Countries like Egypt and Bangladesh showed that once women controlled their fertility, families, communities, and countries benefited, whether by increasing educational opportunities for girls, widening agricultural opportunities for women, or bringing women into decision-making at some levels of society.

None of this happened quickly or easily; there are always naysayers and development “specialists” willing to argue against innovation (and empowering women), no matter how simple and effective an intervention may be. But gradually the world saw how important family planning was to the healthy development of nations, let alone women and their families.

Now fast forward to Trumpian times, in which the president has reinstated Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City Policy of 1984 – revoked by Bill Clinton, restored by George W. Bush, and revoked by Barack Obama - in which nongovernmental organizations are forbidden to receive U.S. federal funding if they perform or promote abortion in other countries. 

Trump goes even further. His administration, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor, wants to make it easier for employers to deny contraceptive coverage to their employees if the employer has “a religious or moral objection” to doing so. The administration also wants to make it harder for women denied birth control coverage to get no-cost contraception directly from insurance companies, as they have been doing.

In an attempt to rush this through, the administration made the absurd claim that taking time to seek public comment would be “contrary to the public interest,” and went so far as to say that coverage of contraception could lead to “risky sexual behavior,” a nod to those who believe women’s sexuality is evil.  Not only is that one huge misogynistic insult to women; what is riskier than setting women up for unwanted pregnancies while trying to eliminate safe abortion and shut down Planned Parenthood?

 These actions are a setback of huge proportion. They affect not just American women, but women around the world.  In Madagascar, for example, the change in policy is forcing dramatic cutbacks by the largest provider of long term contraception in the country, Marie Stopes International (MSI), which receives millions of dollars from USAID for its work there. Ironically, abortion is illegal in that country, but MSI cannot receive American aid because it will not renounce abortion as part of reproductive health services in other parts of the world.

Hundreds of women and girls flock to remote MSI clinics where they receive everything from malaria prevention to HIV treatment to contraceptives. It’s a scene repeated all over the developing world no matter who is providing services. What is to become of all those women?

The policy, already making its way to the courts, is clearly aimed at mollifying organizations like March for Life and Real Alternatives, anti-abortion groups that don’t qualify for religious exemptions but claim to hold strong moral convictions unrelated to a particular religion.

In his long string of lies, Trump and his administration have claimed, absent of any evidence, that its new rules won’t have an effect on “over 99.9 percent of the 165 million women in the United States,” while simultaneously arguing that low-income women will still be able to get subsidized or free contraception through community and government health programs. All this while the administration plans to substantially cut government spending on such programs.

The President’s attack on birth control, safe and accessible abortion, and the Affordable Care Act is low on intelligence and high on lies. It is spiteful, vindictive, woman-hating, and downright mean. It will hurt millions of women and their families. There are only two ways to describe it: utterly inhumane and grossly misogynistic. Everyone should be resisting mightily.

Sizing Up the World: Growing Smaller While Supersizing

When I was a kid, our hero was Superman, the mild-mannered guy who brought petty criminals to justice while flying around in a cape.  Today’s heroes are animated, mechanized, robotic super heroes who battle inter-galactically for control of the universe.

Remember when movies simply had stars we loved to watch? (In my day, it was Bogie and Bacall, Cary Grant and Sophia Loren). Now, it seems all actors are super stars, giant novae on screen or stage regardless of talent.

We used to call nations countries. Now we talk about super powers.  We shop super saver sales, eat oversized meals, drive ever larger vehicles, and live in McMansions if we can afford them.

Once, when we got sick, it was just a bug. Today we live in fear of superbugs that challenge science to find stronger antibiotics before an expected pandemic takes hold. We’re talking about manipulating what might be called super genes that offer some health benefits while raising serious ethical questions.

Even with matters out of our control in what we refer to as “the natural world,” there was a time when a storm was just a storm that it shut down schools and workplaces for a few days. Today we have superstorms that are massive, frighteningly powerful, and proliferating, along with huge, uncontrolled fires, and monstrous earthquakes.

Somehow, perhaps aside from natural disasters, it seems the smaller our world becomes externally, by virtue of the speed of the Internet and travel, the larger we want quantitative, measurable elements in our lives to be, as though having large things will bring us comfort or safety in a world that feels oddly squeezed and vaguely ominous.  We seek bigness like babies want their blankies.

There is a certain irony in our weird appreciation of largeness as we simultaneously hug our metaphorical stuffed animals while watching our world both shrink and enlarge, because the more threatening our outer world becomes, the more reduced and inconsequential we feel in our essential interiority - that quiet, private place wherein we reflect, ruminate, remember, feel afraid, and make meaning. It’s that piece of us that informs what we call personality. It defines our identity, our sense of purpose, our place in the world.

Once, when I was in Africa’s Serengeti, I was seized by an almost panicky feeling of claustrophobia. Surrounded by endless open plain, I felt trapped by the very vastness around me. How would I get out, I wondered, if I became ill? Where would I retreat to for help?  Where was the exit ramp?

I felt that same kind of near-panic briefly during the recent hurricane Irma while fires were burning in the west and Mexico was being rocked by an 8.1 earthquake.  North Korea was saber rattling and terrorism was ever on the horizon. To where could one escape for safety on the whole of the earth, which suddenly seemed insufficient, tiny, crowded? I imagine what I felt was similar to what refugees experience as they flee famine and violence, lost in the vastness of new and mysterious terrain while simultaneously trapped in a small and shrinking unknown environment.

At the same time that I felt claustrophobic in Africa, the landscape and the magnificent animals who live there made me aware of how small a place I hold in the cosmos. What was I in the vastness of time, of place, of history?  What difference did my being make? In a hundred years, hopefully the animals would still roam the Serengeti. But who would know that I had lived? What did I really matter in the entire realm of being?

I think many of us feel that way, although we may not be attuned to it. We sense that we are part of a vast, virtual, oversized, impersonal computer-screened community that dupes us into thinking that we are engaging with a world full of big things and grand ideas, even as that world becomes ever more entrapping.

Still, something gnaws at us, at our essential interiority, our ruminating, fearful, lonely and sometimes joyful selves. A sense of aloneness, of smallness and irrelevance, casts a shadow and we wonder where we really fit in the scheme of things. How do we know that we exist in a meaningful way? To whom shall we confess our fear of being lost in an unrecognizable crowd? How shall we proceed, divested from the largess of modern life, to find our place in a hopefully more sanguine world?

We dream big, and so we should; dreams are not meant to be diminished. But we also stand alone in the wilderness, amid a vacant bigness, seeking to find in our larger-than-life dreams the pleasures and rewards of life’s small satisfactions. Achieving that, perhaps we could let go of angst and safely live in a world devoid of super-sized distractions. That would be a welcome reality.

 

Privatizing the FAA Makes Fear of Flying Rational

When Erica Jong wrote about her fear of flying some years ago, she described perfectly my own anxiety the minute I leave the ground in a missile that’s about to hurl across the sky faster than a speeding, well, missile.

 “My fingers (and toes) turn to ice, my stomach leaps upward into my rib cage, the temperature in the tip of my nose drops to the same level as the temperature in my fingers…and for one screaming minute my heart and the engines correspond as we attempt to prove again that the laws of aerodynamics are not the flimsy superstitions which, in my heart of hearts, I know they are,” Jong wrote.

I know from observing other passengers and talking to air crew that I’m not the only one who finds flying unnatural and unnerving. I’ve seen women in airports working worry beads, their lips moving in silent prayer. Once, on a shaky island hopper in which the pilot sat puffing away on a cigarette under the sign that said “No Smoking,” a guy sang a capello all the way across the Aegean Sea as the ride became rougher and rougher. Even frequent flyers get tense on take-off, relaxing visibly when the seat belt sign blinks off and the drinks cart makes its way down the aisle. 

Every time someone says to me, “Have a safe trip!” I’m forced to acknowledge that I have no control over what could happen in the next few hours. And now that the Trump Administration wants to privatize the FAA, I have even more reason to worry about flying.

Congress first established FAA’s Airport Privatization Pilot Program in 1997 to look at privatization as a way to access sources of private capital for airport improvement and development, according to FAA’s website. It allowed private companies to own, manage, lease and develop public airports. The 2012 Reauthorization Act doubled the number of airports that could participate, increasing the number from five to ten. That meant that ten public airport sponsors could sell or lease an airport with certain restrictions and could be exempt from some federal requirements. It was somewhat reassuring that only one large hub airport could participate in the program. As of this year, there are four airports in the program, ranging in size from the Westchester (NY) County Airport to the St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

This has caused the general aviation community to express grave concern about where they stand in an air traffic control system dominated by big airlines like American, United, and Southwest. (So far Delta Airlines doesn’t support the privatization plan because of its expected increase in costs to travelers).

Another serious concern is safety and no one takes that more seriously than Capt. Sully Sullenberger who famously landed an airplane in the Hudson River without a single loss of life. “Sully” argues that air traffic control privatization is a power play for America that compromises public safety and punishes the wider aviation community.

“The FAA is not broken,” Sully says. “What this proposal does is take an extreme solution to a non-problem.” The famous pilot says that privatization would allow for a corporate monopoly heavily influenced by major airlines that would be managing the nation’s skies. “It gives the keys to the kingdom to the largest airlines,” he says.

Now, who would you trust more: Capt. Sully Sullenberger, or the country’s largest profit-making airlines and US policymakers?

Even though I’m considering launching a new FAA – Flyers Anxiety Anonymous – I can admit that, at least for the time being, flying is statistically safer than getting into our cars. I also know that it is a necessary part of modern, fast-paced, global life.

Still, there’s something about flying every time that aircraft door is sealed from the outside and those engines rev as I’m racing down a runway that makes my throat dry up and my stomach flip.  Imagine in what a state I, and others like me, would be if we knew air traffic controllers were working for the airlines and not the FAA.

Erica Jong would understand. “Constant vigilance,” she wrote. “I keep concentrating very hard, helping the pilot fly that 300-passenger *!#+@!”

For now, I keep hoping really hard that Capt. Sully, and other pilots like him, will keep speaking out about privatizing the FAA. As the good captain said, “I can guarantee you the largest airlines don’t always have the interests of the traveling public in mind.”

What huge, for-profit businesses do consider the public interest and safety a priority, especially in the present political climate? Perhaps it’s time to check out your closest Canadian airport.

Is the Democratic Party Disappearing?

 

Ever worry about this? “What if we gave a party and no one came?”  Right now, I’m worried that many of us are invited to support a party that we don’t really want to be part of and don’t feel good about voting for, and the disturbing thing is the problem is of their own making.

 

When Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and others blathered about “A Better Deal” recently I, and I’m sure others, despaired. It’s not just about the economy, Stupid! I wanted to tell them. It’s not just about the middle class and working (white) people! It’s not about more of the same blah, blah, blah we’ve heard since the 1990s. And I’m not sure who’s writing their copy, but what were they doing using a Trump-loaded word like “Deal”?

 

At a time when the Democrats should be about to launch a vigorous, inspired campaign designed for a major takeover of Congress, why are they poised for self-defeat yet again?

When will the leadership realize who their constituents are and understand how they are failing them?  Where is the vision for a better future, not a better deal? To put it another way, where is our next “Yes We Can” moment? Without a bit of inspiration, how can the majority of us come together as a nation that can feel proud of itself again as we regain our stature in the world?

 

To illustrate just how pathetic the Democratic party is right now, consider this. An extensive online search for “Democratic Party platform” yielded the campaign rhetoric and plan for 2016! It’s 2017 and we’re heading into a crucial election year. Where are you, Mr. Perez, Mr. Ellison, Nancy, Chuck, et al? Enough with the continuous calls for contributions. It’s time to tell people of color, people explained in the book Hillbilly Elegy, people terrified of losing their health care, the LBGT community, women and others who once trusted you what you stand for and what you’re going to do to insure that their futures are healthy, safe, and yes, economically sound while also ensuring that their Constitutionally protected rights are not going to be snatched from them behind closed doors by a creeping and creepy autocracy.

 

Speaking of creepy, how could any Democrat in leadership possibly dare to violate women’s right to control their own bodies by endorsing anti-abortion candidates?  Are they really ready to throw women under the bus for a few votes?  And what’s next – embracing racist candidates? Homophobic candidates? Islamophobic candidates? I doubt it, which underscores the point that betraying a major constituency is, in this case, tantamount to political pimping.

 

“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” according to Rep. Ben Lujan (D-N.M.) who declared that “we need to have Democrats that can win in districts across America.”  Yes, Mr. Lujan, there is a litmus test – or there once was. It was meant to ensure that all Democrats would stand for the principles and values for which they were once known and trusted.  

 

So, sorry, Nancy Pelosi, the fact that you grew up in a “very devout Catholic family” whom you loved should have absolutely nothing to do with your political position on women’s health, reproductive rights and choices.

 

Bernie Sanders?  Sorry, but backing Heath Mello to serve as a mayor is not okay given his anti-choice legislative background.  Such endorsements represent political prostitution and showcase misogyny writ large, which the Democratic party and its frontrunners may realize as contributions dip dramatically and polls become troubling because many former supporters understand what a huge betrayal the leadership just handed us.

 

Yes, “raising wages and incomes of American workers and creating millions of good-paying jobs” is important. So is lowering the cost of living “for families,” but let’s not forget the multitudes of young and single people out there, or women heads of household, or disenfranchised, appropriately angry and afraid minorities.  Yes, “lower prescription drug prices, crack down on monopolies and the concentration of economic power.” But where is campaign finance reform?  Where is climate change, environmental integrity vs. oil drilling in treasured national parks and polluted waters, the urgency of infrastructure, support for science and research, a viable, well-articulated health policy that fixes the flaws in the ACA? Where is the commitment to ensure safety nets like social security and Medicare/Medicaid? Where are women in your plans?  In other words, where is your 2017-18 policy platform?

 

Writing in The Guardian recently, columnist Jamie Peck said, “the Democrats seem more determined than ever to bungle their comeback from 2016’s humiliating defeat. From small-thinking policy proposals…and slogans that read like satire…to their quixotic obsession with wooing ‘moderate’ Republicans and the rich to the detriment of progressives and the poor, their strategy is, at best a wet fart. At worst, it’s a plan to sell out everything they once stood for.”

 

I’m with Jamie Peck and other thinking Dems who’ve simply had enough. At this point, who among us can say we’re still coming to the party? The question now is, what are Democrats going to do about it?

Banning Grandparents is Inhumane

Kudos to Hawaii’s US District Judge Derrick Watson who ordered the government not to enforce the ban on grandparents, grandchildren, and other close relatives of people in the United States. "Grandparents are the epitome of close family members," the judge declared. In my book, he’s absolutely right.

The book I refer to here is my first essay collection, Telling It Like It Is, in which I included a piece called “Under the Willow Tree.”  It went like this: When I was small, the childhood classic The Wind in the Willows was my favorite. That was because of my willow tree, the weeping giant by Belle Tract Lake under which my maternal grandfather used to tell me and my siblings a bubbachka when he came to visit us on weekends.

“The ritual began with my Zayde walking slowly up the street toward our house having disembarked from the bus which had brought him from Philadelphia to our New Jersey home. He smelled of cigarette smoke, old newspapers, and the scents of the bus that had brought him and he always carried a small bag that included some chachkas for us kids.

“Yayde’s here! We shouted to our mother who was already making him a glass of tea. The two of them would settle at the kitchen table and before long one would say something to outrage the other and a Yiddish shouting match would ensue until both contestants repented. Then Zayde would go to his room until dinnertime when all was forgiven and conversation turned to the updated trials and tribulations of my mother’s two brothers and their families.

“On Sundays one of us kids would suggest, as though it were an original idea, that we should “make a picnic” and go to the lake, all as pretense to hearing a bubbachka, a story, under the willow tree. Bubbachkas always lost their magic, their credibility and romance when they were told anywhere else but under that mournful, majestic weeping willow. It was also an unspoken truth that bubbachkas only wove their spell if no grown-ups went along.

“And so our entourage would assemble, my older sister carrying the brown grocery bag of food (wicker baskets being for goyim) me following with a cloth to sit on, and my baby brother, nubby knees sticking out of short pants, holding Zayde’s hand as both of them struggled to keep up. At the corner of Delaware Street, I became the Safety Patrol, nodding solemnly with the all-clear. We appeared, no doubt, to have stepped straight out of a Normal Rockwell painting.

“Our picnic lunches were always the same: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, carrot and celery sticks, graham crackers, and fruit juice in a red plastic container. We’d settled under our weeping willow, which miraculously no pigeon or person ever sat under when we wanted it, and wait for feast and fable to begin.

“The bubbechka Zayde told was also always the same. ‘Once upon a time in a shtetl in Vilna, there was a boy called Jacob (or a girl called Sasha)…’  Just as it was coming to an end, my sister or I would jump up to announce that if we didn’t get back, Zayde would miss his bus back to Philly. While we groaned and cleaned up, Zayde promised to tell us the happily-ever-after part, and another story, next time he came to see us. And so it was until my beloved Zayde died when I was seven years old.”

My two grandmothers had passed away before I had a chance to know them, and my paternal grandfather, who we only saw once a year, lived in Canada and spoke not a word of English.  And so all my childhood love for a grandparent was lavished on my Zayde, even though in later years I learned he had been a difficult and not always kind man.

The memory I wrote about happened more than sixty years ago, and yet it is as clear a remembrance as if it had happened only a few weeks ago. Such is the depth of such connection, the place of ritual in our lives, the unconditional love between an elder and a child. 

No grandparent should ever be denied the right to that love, and no child should ever have to wonder why the stories they tell have disappeared. None of us should be made to grieve the absence of a beloved relative and no willow should weep for our absence.

Judge Watson did the right thing. So did the Supreme Court when it let stand for now the court order from Hawaii that grandparents and other relatives who want to visit family members in the U.S. can be admitted while the case is pending appeal. Let’s hope that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco reaches a sensible decision when it decides the larger case regarding enforced restrictions on refugees still under a travel ban.

From Shophouses to Strip Malls: America's Changing Economy

I grew up in a shophouse. I realized this after living in Thailand when I was teaching and traveling throughout Asia, where business-cum-home arrangements are ubiquitous.

My father, a haberdasher, owned a small, narrow store on Broad Street in the New Jersey town where I spent my childhood. It was called Tip Top Men’s Shop and it catered to the town’s gentry. My mother, father, two siblings and I lived in a railroad apartment above the store. The rooms lined up one in front of another along a claustrophobic corridor. There were two bedrooms so when my brother came along, he slept in the living room.  It was a convenient if cramped setup for my parents until they could afford to build a house, and it was fun for us kids, even though living in such small quarters drove my mother mad.  Also, we could have done without the Arrow Shirt boxes lining the living room.

My dad held all the franchises that upscale companies like Arrow Shirts offered to only one vendor in a town, so he had no competition to speak of, and having overstocked his store during the war years, he did well into the 50s.

But then things began to change. Franchises were extended to other stores and more importantly, box stores and discount merchandisers began to appear. Customer loyalty waned as a burgeoning bargain mentality developed. My father, driven out of business by these factors, ended up working as a floor salesman in one of those box stores, selling inferior off-the-rack suits and cheap shirts and ties. It was devastating for a man whose self-esteem derived from being his own boss.

By then we had moved to a three-bedroom house a mile from the center of town. And we, too, began bargain hunting and shopping in the stores that were rapidly displacing local merchants and changing the face of our familiar and beloved Broad Street.

It didn’t take long for those box stores to join forces as large and then larger shopping malls proliferated, becoming a developer’s dream. The first one in our area was the Cherry Hill Mall in south Jersey. Everyone flocked there on weekends, to window shop, meet friends and occasionally partake of sales.

Later, when I was living just outside Washington, DC, malls sprung up in Virginia and Maryland. Gradually, they became more upscale. Some of them were huge. Shaped like an elongated letter H, Macy’s might be at one end, Bloomingdales at the other, displacing the original Sears and Penney’s. In between these two giants, a plethora of small boutique shops offered a ridiculous amount of stuff that prospering suburbanites thought they couldn’t live without.

About this time, outlet malls began to dot the landscape, some becoming so popular that chain motels and restaurants built facilities nearby. Some of them were so big they actually had artificial ski slopes or water slides in them. In a booming economy, everyone and every business seemed to thrive.

But then things changed again.

Enter the Internet and the world of Amazon.com.  Soon, every store, big or small, was selling online. Customers loved it. UPS and FedEx loved it. Online businesses of all kinds proliferated, and profited.

What didn’t “profit” from this particular economic change was a semi-urban landscape increasingly dotted with deserted strip malls, empty box stores, and desolate super shopping venues. Who didn’t profit were all the people who lost their jobs.

Ironically, as I was contemplating writing this column, economist Paul Krugman wrote a piece in The New York Times on the topic of our changing economy. He noted that a magazine article had just appeared in which a photographic essay addressed “the decline of traditional retailers in the face of internet competition.  The pictures,” he wrote, “contrasting ‘zombie malls’ largely emptied of tenants with giant warehouses holding inventory for online sellers were striking.”  Krugman also highlighted Macy’s plans to close almost 70 stores and lay off 10,000 workers, while Sears, was doubtful that it could stay in business.

All of this brought my shophouse childhood back to me, with its pleasures of being a Broad Street kid watched over by the merchants between Curtis and Cooper Streets and the excitement of Christmas and Father’s Day shopping. But I also remembered what it was like when my father lost his business, his identity, and a good bit of his income. And I recalled what Broad Street looked like the last time I drove through my hometown – a shattering scene of tatoo parlors, bars, and vacant, decrepit buildings where once commerce and friendship flourished.

“Change is the only reality,” a Greek philosopher once said. I’ve lived long enough to realize the wisdom of those words. We live in an ever-changing world in so many ways, a world with new and often troubling landscapes in which the future is full of uncertainty. 

Witnessing those emerging landscapes, I’m very glad for my shophouse days.

 

                                   

America's Assault on Its Antiquities

Anyone who has seen pictures of the Taliban-battered giant Buddhas in Afghanistan, or the destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra by Isis, will understand why environmentalists and naturalists are devastated by Donald Trump’s Executive Order calling for the identification of American national monuments that could be rescinded or resized.  The destructive nature of that Executive Order is on a scale no less traumatic than the travesties committed by the world’s two most uncivilized bodies, and the fact that the present administration doesn’t get that is extraordinarily troubling.

 

With the stroke of his pen, the president opened the way to drilling, mining and other development on federal lands, lands like Utah’s Bear Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which together comprise more than three million acres that Trump’s Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke claims to be of no concern to “people in D.C. who have never been to the area” and who have “zero accountability to the impacted communities.”

Mr. Zinke plans to advise President Trump to shrink Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument to a scatter of isolated sites. The Utah monument is sacred to Native Americans seeking protection for Bears Ears because of its deep cultural and ecological significance. Tribal leaders have worked for nearly a decade to document the significance of this national monument.

These and other national treasures have been protected since 1906 when the Antiquities Act was passed. The Act gives U.S. presidents the power to keep vulnerable lands and waters safe. Virtually every president since Teddy Roosevelt has used it to protect archaeological, historic and natural sites from commercial exploitation.

 

Adam Markham, Deputy Director of Climate and Energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), is one of the people speaking out about the president’s action. He points out that many sites originally designated as national monuments were later upgraded by Congress to become national parks, including Bryce Canyon and Death Valley. Designating such places as monuments kept them safe when congressional leaders with ties to special interest groups and industries involving coal, oil, timber and mining threatened their future.

 

Donald Trump’s April Executive Order “puts this important regulatory protection for conservation and historic preservation at risk,” Markham noted in a UCS blog. “The clear intention of the Order is to lay the groundwork for shrinking national monuments or rescinding their designation entirely, in order to open currently protected public lands for growth in coal, oil and minerals extraction.”

 

Mr. Trump has ordered a review of all presidentially-designated national monuments since 1996 if they are over 100,000 acres in size. And incredibly, the Department of Interior signaled in a press release that it has no intention of undertaking a fair, independent review by describing Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante as “bookends of modern Antiquities overreach.”

 

The administration appears to be woefully out of touch with the impact of its threat to federally protected land and water. The National Park Service(NPS) oversees 59 national parks and many other natural and historic sites.  They host millions of visitors every year, generating millions of dollars in tourism-related revenue. The NPS also employs over 315,000 people. Research shows that local economies expanded with monument designation. They will surely collapse when their beloved monuments are gone.

 

That’s in part why five sovereign Native American Tribes with ancestral ties to Bears Ears, including the Hopi and the Navajo Nation, have formed the Bears Ear Inter-Tribal Coalition, as if they didn’t have enough work to do trying to protect their sacred lands. Bears Ears is home to thousands of sacred and culturally important sites. Ceremonies are performed there and medicinal plants are gathered. Among its archaeological treasures are the Lime Ridge Clovis site which was inhabited over 11,000 years ago.

 

Amazingly, at the same time the president was signing the Executive Order and budgeting for a 12 percent decrease in the Interior Department’s funding, he declared that one of his administration’s priorities was “to protect these magnificent lands, and to ensure all Americans have access to our national parks, as well as to other National Park Service sites, throughout the next century.”

 

Thankfully Sen. Dick Durban (D-IL) has introduced the America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act to protect over 9 million acres of land in Utah threatened by oil and gas development.

Seventeen other senators support the legislation. 

 

But much more will need to be done to protect America’s beloved and diverse landscape, as well as magnificent sites like Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and numerous other venues rich with Native American history, cliff houses, pictographs, ancestral remains and vistas of extraordinary range and beauty.

 

Preserving these vistas and their historical significance is a gift to future generations. They tell us who we are as a people and a country. To attack or abuse them is to bring down our Buddhas and our Palmyras. It cannot be allowed to happen.

 

America's Rural Health Care Crisis Grows

Not long ago I received a call from my doctor’s receptionist. My long-time primary care physician and partner in healthcare decision-making was retiring her practice, she said, along with two other doctors in our small town. Together they would be leaving 4,000 patients to find care in a community where most physicians are not taking new patients because they are already overwhelmed by their caseload.

I felt especially troubled by the news since I don’t go to just any doctor, even if one is available. As a proactive health consumer, I research providers carefully because I want to work with someone with proven competence, a compassionate heart, and a philosophy of primary health care that supports my own. Finding a doc like that is not easy. It’s especially challenging when there are too few physicians available.

I also realized that I had become part of the troubling landscape of rural health care. I was suddenly caught up in a picture represented by facts and statistics like these: Disparities in access to healthcare for people who live in rural areas of America continue to widen. Recruiting physicians willing to work in isolated areas has also become more difficult, and is not helped by Donald Trump’s plans with respect to work visas and travel bans. Rural hospitals are closing at an alarming rate. In the past six years, 80 of them have closed and if the rate of closures holds, 25 percent of rural hospitals are predicted to close in less than a decade.

The number of doctors per 100,000 residents is 40 in rural areas compared to 53 in urban environments. That’s not counting specialists, where the comparison is 30 to 263. More than half of our counties have no practicing psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker while opioid-related addictions and overdoses are disproportionately higher in rural areas.

In addition, America’s rural population is older, makes less money, smokes more, is generally less healthy, and uses Medicaid more frequently.  Diabetes and coronary heart disease are more prevalent in rural areas and the death rates for rural white women have increased as much as 30 percent in recent years, reversing previous trends.

Studies published in the British Medical Journal recently revealed a severe lack of resources at rural hospitals, sparse staffing and limited access to specialist consultations and diagnostic tools. An attempt to reduce emergency department admissions for cost-cutting is also putting patients at risk.

The situation is complex and challenging due to economic factors, social differences, educational shortcomings, lack of understanding and political will among legislators, and the isolation of living in remote areas, according to the National Rural Health Association.

Some health care analysts and managers advocate for increased use of technology to help solve the growing problems in rural health care delivery, arguing that while technology won’t solve all the problems, it can make a discernable difference. For example, the Institute of Medicine believes that telemedicine can allow rural hospitals to “cut down on the time it takes rural patients to receive care, particularly specialty care.”

That’s all well and good, perhaps, when it comes to hospitals reducing costs and meeting their other needs. But where does it leave me, and other rural patients, when we’re sitting in our johnnies waiting to (literally) see our doctors?  Where is the comforting face-to-face communication and the physical observation so vital to a clinician’s assessment of a patient’s condition and emotional state? Where is the Q&A necessary for shared decision-making? I once left a practice because my doctor, who had previously looked me in the eye when we talked, listened carefully to what I said, and talked to me like a peer, suddenly couldn’t get his face out of his computer screen long enough to greet me when I entered the room.

As I search for a new doctor – the right doctor – in the coming days, I recognize that like many others, I have a big challenge ahead. For me that challenge goes beyond numbers - something the profession includes in discussions of “accessibility.” It involves trust, proven skills, two-way communication - often around intimate issues or possible critical life decisions - and mutual respect.

Such a partnership for health is not easy to find no matter where one lives. In rural America, it is becoming even more difficult. Patience and perseverance in selecting, hopefully, from a crop of good new physicians, may be just what the doctor – and this community -need to order.

 

Immigrants, Refugees, Asylum Seekers and the Myths of Migration

When I was a child, I thought everyone was a first generation American like me. I couldn’t believe it when friends said their parents and grandparents were born here. All of my maternal and paternal family – parents, aunts, uncles and their parents – emigrated to the United States and Canada to flee persecution as Jews in Russia. That history is, in part, why stories of refugees and immigrants move me mightily, as they did in the recent book, The New Odyssey: The Story of the 21st Century Refugee Crisis, by Patrick Kingsley.

It’s been widely said that unless we are Native American, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants here in the U.S. What isn’t emphasized enough perhaps is the crucial role immigration has played in the story of America.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), immigrants account for 47 percent of the increase in the workforce in this country over the past ten years. They fill important places in both fast-growing and declining sectors of the economy and contribute more in taxes and social contributions than they receive in benefits. Further, they boost the working age population and contribute notably to technological progress as well as to filling jobs regarded by domestic workers as unappealing or lacking career prospects. It should be clear from such research that most immigrants don’t come here seeking social benefits; they come to find work so they can improve the lives of their families.

A recent study using 2014 data conducted by the New American Economy, revealed that immigrant workers earned nearly $655 million and contributed one in every 29 tax dollars to the state. They paid almost $86 million in social security and Medicare taxes (even though they don’t receive Medicare benefits), and then contributed to the U.S. economy for housing, food, and other basic needs. Clearly, it is a “myth that immigrants simply drain public coffers,” as Michelle Chen put it in The Nation last year.

Asylum seekers, on the other hand, are displaced persons who are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, as my grandparents and parents did. They are requesting sanctuary individually, unlike refugees who are invited and resettled by the U.S. Department of State after a prolonged process of vetting and judicial review.

A myth about refugees is that once they are resettled, crime rates go up. Not true. For example, Decatur, Georgia took in 6600 refugees from countries like Burma and Iraq between 2006 and 2015. During that period, violent crime rates went down by over 62 percent and property crime went down by nine percent. These FBI statistics are similar to those of most other large and small cities.  Further, according to a CNN report, “no person accepted into the United States as a refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has been implicated in a major fatal terrorist attack since the Refugee Act of 1980 set up systematic procedures for accepting refugees into the United States.”

Given the data, and the reality of life for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, it is deeply sad that U.S. immigration policy is being driven by fear, stereotyping and falsehoods. The stigma of ‘criminality’ ascribed to people who have suffered in unimaginable ways is not only unfortunate and unfair, it is wrong. Recent ICE actions, and the threat of more border patrols, national guard units and police being coopted into roundup and arrests is irrational, alarming and counterproductive.

About 44 million foreign-born people now live in the U.S. Something like 33 million of them are lawful immigrants, including naturalized citizens, green card holders, students and workers, like the doctors from abroad who came to practice in underserved areas but were recently turned away during the Muslim Ban. Of the other 11 million, three-fifths entered the country without proper documents; the other two-fifths simply overstayed their visas.

Among the people who came to this country one way or another and live here are Nobel Prize winners, MacArthur “Genius” Awardees, and founders of large companies. Many of them now say they feel discriminated against because of their religion or country of origin.  Some are fearful. As a New York Times editorial put it, “They await the fists pounding on the door, the agents in black, the cuffs, the van ride, the cell.”

That’s no way for anyone to live, especially in a country that considers itself “exceptional” for its principles of religious and political freedom. A recent Senate resolution stated that “the United States should remain a global leader in welcoming and providing refuge to refugees and asylum seekers and that no person should be banned from entering the United States because of their nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender.”

Is that really so hard for the so-called leaders of the free world to agree upon?

The Power of Women's Truthtelling

                                                        

“What would happen if just one woman told the truth about her life?” poet Muriel Rukeyser asked as Second Wave feminism was finding its feet. Her answer? “The world would split apart.”

Rekeyeser understood how powerful women’s life stories were. She knew that wrapped in those stories lay a reality that represented the underpinnings of male-dominated institutional cultures, whether from the marketplace, the academy, or the Church. She also knew that if women could give voice to that reality they would help to expose those patriarchal cultures and perhaps even change them.

The history of women’s courageous truthtelling is long and instructive. From their diaries, journals, letters, autobiographies, poetry, books and a collection of writings dating as far back as Egyptian tomb inscriptions circa 2300 B.C., women have been writing in ways that Plato later called “passionately direct.”

Sixteenth century St. Teresa wrote a brutally honest book called “Life” and 17th century Alice Thornton described her everyday life with notable emotion. The 20th century saw an explosion of uninhibited, political writing from women like Ida B. Wells, Emma Goldman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and others who asserted themselves effectively through expressions of their personal power.

Fast forward now to 21st century social media and other platforms, and to 2017, and think about what happened to Bill O’Reilly. And make no mistake about it. It wasn’t just the withdrawal of sponsorship by major companies from The O’Reilly Factor on the Fox network that brought Mr. O’Reilly down. It was women telling their stories, women supporting them, women advocating for them, and feminist legal experts like Lisa Bloom.

Without truth-telling women exposing the institutional culture of sexual harassment at Fox, the sponsors never would have ended their sponsorship. Sure, the power of the purse was a driving force, and it’s fine to acknowledge that. But let’s also acknowledge that women consumers exerted pressure on Fox’s sponsors, and most importantly that the impact of women telling their stories was hugely important and deeply powerful in effecting O’Reilly’s disgraced departure.

The media either overlooked or downplayed this point. For example, the iconic conservative lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, told CNN with absolute certainty that women coming forward didn’t account for the network’s decision. It was O’Reilly breathing hard into a taped phone call that did it. Another male guest agreed with him as he repeated the claim that it was the advertisers who finally got to the network.

Attorney Lisa Bloom, to her credit, was quick to point out that it was “the effort by a group of women who day after day after day were calling in complaints, who were going on TV despite their fear, who were putting the public pressure on, who were going to the advertisers,” she fumed. “Maybe that’s what happened! I want these women to get credit.”

Wendy Walsh, the woman who brought her case to Bloom and agreed to go public with it – not for any financial compensation but so that “other women and [her] daughters wouldn’t have to go through similar experiences,” added that while advertisers pulled their support from O’Reilly’ show, they did it “because they care about their women employees and they care about their women consumers. It was girl power.”

What happened at Fox clearly doesn’t suddenly end the anti-woman culture at the network that paid $13 million to five women to settle their cases of sexual harassment and gave O’Reilly a golden handshake of $25 million. This should tell you all you need to know about how rampant the problem is at Fox News: 21st Century Fox has made payouts related to sexual harassment allegations at Fox News totaling over $85 million, the majority of which was paid to men ousted from the network because of harassment allegations.

Clearly, sexual harassment cultures still prevail and ending them will not be easy, as we know from our recent election and current political landscape. But because of the legacy of women truthtellers, and the courage of the growing number of women coming forward to speak truth to power, at least now when we ask, “What would happen if women told the truth about their lives?” the answer can include the fact that at least some sexual predators will get busted.

I think we owe the women who have begun, hopefully, to change the landscape in which we live, at least a little recognition for that, and a very big thank you.