Wear My Values

Wear My Values Founder

Wear My Values Founder

For many of us the current issues in the White House raise concerns based not on partisanship but on patriotism. I currently identify as a progressive and have voted for Democratic candidates in the major elections for over a decade. However, I started out as a conservative and voted for Republican candidates in major elections for close to a decade. And I didn't leave behind my values when I transitioned to a new political identity, I brought them with me. I understand those values in a new way, the values themselves haven't changed. 

I think we as a nation are bigger than one party, one ideology, and we are failing to show that. And I mean we, as in all of us, not a veiled reference to the group of which I am not a part.. A friend of mine recently commented that politics are not sports-- choosing your team and then unquestioningly rooting for them is at best a lack of sense. At worst, it is a sign of not paying attention. 

In response to this climate of polarization, my friend founded social justice apparel company- Wear My Values. After one successful Kickstarter, he is preparing to launch another. His vision is one in which there are visual images of solidarity, positive messages to suggest the better world we all believe in. 

 

Not Another Laugh Track

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I grew up in the age of the family sitcom. Canned laughter accompanied the antics of kids on screen in 2 parent households with resources at their disposal that were magical. Mixed into the entertainment were usually some attempts at life lessons. One of these popped into my head the other day. Kirk Cameron played the entitled and self-focused Mike Seaver on Growing Pains. In the Fortunate Son he took a job at a local convenience store and as the newest employee was assigned the night shift. His mom, concerned about his safety working nights, requests he ask for a different schedule. He is nervous, being new he doesn't expect that to go over well, but he asks out of respect for his mom. Surprisingly. his boss agrees. His not-white coworker, who was very excited about not working nights anymore, resignedly accepts the change and Mike notes his reaction. Mike starts to wonder if he is being treated differently because of his race. He asks his boss about it and his boss says, we have to look out for each other. Still uncertain about how he feels about the situation, he intentionally spills some soda on the floor. When the boss comes out and sees it, he gets angry and threatens to let the other worker go. When Mike confesses that he was the one who spilled it, the boss's attitudes shifts to being understanding. Mistakes happen, right? Mike realizes that he is getting special treatment, better shifts, easier consequences, because he is white. 

I recently shared this opinion article on my Facebook page: Dear 'Persecuted' College Conservative: You are Not Oppressed.  It was in response to another opinion article you can read here. The author identifies, for me, an important part of this conversation. 

"The problem is that you seem to think that sometimes feeling uncomfortable voicing your political views is the same as being a member of a group that is forced to deal with legacies of violence, intimidation, and hatred."

For many of us, the difference between personal bias and institutional bias is difficult to grasp. What can make it even more challenging is that someone can be personally accepting while still supporting institutional bias. At this point most people have heard the terms "white privilege" or "institutional privilege" and their reactions are somewhat automatic. The white business owner who has built a company through years of dedicated hard work has an awareness of every obstacle they have overcome. Each of us has a story to tell that has its own list of hurdles we have overcome; tragedies we have endured; triumphs that felt like miracles. Acknowledging that the ways in which my life is easier because I am a white, college-educated, native english speaking, citizen doesn't negate the hurdles and challenges I face. It does put it into a context that also respects that the people who don't have those same advantages have to work harder to achieve the similar outcomes. 

On the show, Mike quit his job when he realized his boss was bigoted. He was in a position where he didn't have to work for someone with whom he disagreed so deeply. And, not surprisingly, the sitcom solution doesn't account for other life realities. Like when you have to pay your rent yourself or feed your family or don't have any reason to believe the situation will be better somewhere else. 

 

Thank you Manu Bennett

Actors and politicians can speak and touch hundreds, thousands of strangers. But the power of what Manu did for me is rooted in his humanness. And we can, each of us, choose to be that human with one another at any moment. And while it may not change the masses, it will affect those with whom we interact. 

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I Will Never Be An Activist

 It was amazing how differently people behaved when my dinner companion was female rather than male. I realized that my desires for a more traditional feminine expression, along with my young children, meant that I was perceived and treated differently than my girlfriend and many of my friends.  Daily intimacy with these differences moved me to become involved. I knew that there were people who identified as gay who didn't have my experiences, who didn't know that being tolerated wasn't enough, who accepted less because they were grateful it wasn't nothing. I knew because I knew them and saw their wonder when I assumed my relationship counted. 

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Remembering

Me and my grandfather in 1978 at their home. 

Me and my grandfather in 1978 at their home. 

I miss my grandparents, they were home to me in ways very few things can be. When my grandmother passed away, it ended something for our larger family. We have never really come together again the way we were when my grandparents were alive. They drew us home to them, like geese in winter, to gather and celebrate and disagree and love. 

Family stories suggest my grandfather could be a harsh and demanding father at times. Towering over 6 feet tall, with a military background, he was as able to inspire fear as he was love in his children. I don't relate to the stories of the disciplinarian as much. He died when I was 9 and the safest place in the world I can remember or imagine is with my grandfather. I was his youngest grandchild, the proverbial apple of his eye. 10 years younger than my next oldest cousin -- well next oldest acknowledged cousin-- he doted on me.  What are the things I remember about him? He smelled of old spice and pipe tobacco. He cooked the most interesting things and always had fresh applesauce for me when I was visiting. He called my cousin Matthew and I the applesauce twins because we both loved it so much. 

When I was 17 my grandmother started dying. It was a long process. She had always been very independent in nature and our family honored that by taking shifts for months to care for her, so she could avoid the “old ladies home” as she called it.  My mother would come home from work on Friday evenings and we would drive for 2 hours from our home in Connecticut to northern Rhode Island where grandma lived. My memories of those trips exist mostly as still photography in my brain. We had made this journey for years to celebrate annual holiday traditions with the extended family. This weekly journey affixed these roadside staples into the context of my grandmother's death. The cemetery with its New England style headstones covered in moss and snow and fallen leaves. The trees that lined the road and made for breathtaking landscapes as we rose and fell with the mini-mountains of the east. I saw them, stop animation style, change by the week from lushly green to brilliantly colored, to barren and then snow covered. 

My grandparents lived on Naragansett Bay in Rhode Island when I was growing up. My earliest memories are of playing in their garden, swimming in their pool, and large family dinners with laughter and games. The days of my grandmother’s death were socially subdued gatherings uncomfortably similar to those happy times. Mom and I would get there late on a Friday night to find my cousin or aunt with grandma. Most of the time they would be reading by the woodstove or quietly sitting with grandma. It was a strange experience to enter the house that was filled with laughter and joy in my heart and feel the heavy anticipation of death.

As one of the more solidly religious people in my family, it was often left to me, at 17, to explain the concept of heaven and god to my dying grandmother. I would go to my grandmother’s bed in a strangely confessional style. and take her spotted, wrinkled hand between mine while she sought reassurance in my conviction. When she begged me to tell her that god could forgive her for her sins. I told her god was love and could forgive anything. I didn’t know then how cruel people could be. How hard it was to believe in a loving god when our daily lives are so frequently filled with random acts of cruelty or, even worse, indifference. My belief was rooted in my innocence and hope. And she held it tightly to her. This became my weekly routine, when the older family members couldn’t bear to watch this strong matriarchal figure doubt and fear for her soul, uncertain in their own faith.

She left us in the spring, close to her birthday, while my mother was recovering from surgery. I asked my best friend to come with me to the funeral, making the drive without my mother for the first and only time in my life. I left for college and have returned only a handful of times since then.

This weekend we went to visit my mom in Rhode Island and drove her over to the old house. I look at the exterior and I paint the interior with a collage of memories from my childhood. I want to go inside and I know that I won't find what I am looking for behind the now yellow exterior. 

 

Firesale Voting

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I used to have a bumper sticker: Get involved, the world is run by those who show up. In the madness of the election cycle, this phrase has come to mind often.

I hear people suggest they are disgusted by the available candidates and somewhat righteously declare their support for x or y third party candidate. Or they proudly announce they are opting out of the election process. My friends that I have engaged around this clearly want to be regarded as pure patriots or above the dirty political fray in which we are currently mired as a country. It comes across as an investment in being able to say "I didn't vote for this, don't blame me". 

I do really respect and admire the people who are truly committed to a third party option. The people who labor year round, in local elections and government, to create an option that is truly viable for their community and better reflects their values and vision for our country. These people vote more frequently than every 4 years. They campaign for 3rd party candidates and they are working to build the necessary infrastructure, from the bottom up, to potentially launch a third party candidate into the national arena. They are too few in number for that to happen anytime soon. And they are committed to creating a new opportunity for us all. 

I used to run the LGBT community center in Tacoma, WA and regularly people would call me in July or August to complain about Seattle Pride. It was so disorganized, it didn't have enough volunteers, they lacked certain vendors- the complaints were varied. I would usually ask the caller two questions, how much money did you donate to the Pride committee for the event? And how much time did you volunteer to help with the event? The answer to these two questions was always none. I then suggested they get involved if they wanted to see an improvement. I hope some of them did. 

The election ends tonight and we will move forward with a new President. I hope the people who have been so vocally unhappy with our choices will take the step to get involved, maybe even tomorrow. If we all pitch in, we will be able to make the world a better place. 

Catching up to Myself

London from the air. Oct 22, 2015.  

London from the air. Oct 22, 2015.  

In 1637 my ancestors emigrated from England. The average crossing was about 7 weeks. On Oct 22, 2015, I flew for 18 hours to get to India. When I landed, I felt like I still hadn't completely arrived. I play a game called Ingress and sometimes when you move too quickly your actions will fail. We call it being "speedlocked". I think this whole travelling half-way around the world in less than a day is a type of speedlock. My cells were still catching up to each other. 

I am the opposite of a Luddite. If I had unlimited funds, I would have unlimited gadgets. And yet ... I think sometimes the modern life is speedlocked. There are so many distractions and shiny things, it is easy to spend our time going from one activity to another without pausing to be sure this activity is worthy of our time and attention. My days can easily be filled with likes and clicks and chats and texts without my life being more fulfilled or enriched by these activities. 

I don't yearn for the days of still births and 7 week voyages. I do think that we as a nation need to slow down. And find ways to build our communities and support one another. And since it is much easier to want to change the world than to work to myself, I am starting with me. I have begun a practice of spending my mornings engaged in meaningful (to me) activities. Writing, reading, exercise, family activities. No phone games, facebook, email, or long chats. So far, I feel happier, more productive, and less anxious. I invite you to do your version of this and see what you discover.  

Trayvon Martin Did Not Deserve to Die

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Trayvon Martin did not deserve to die. It really is that simple. He did not deserve to die for wearing a hoodie, for reaching for skittles, for walking in a wealthy neighborhood. George Zimmerman was found not guilty of 2nd degree murder this weekend. His was the hand that held the gun. The finger that pulled the trigger. His was the judgment that deemed Trayvon a threat. Zimmerman took the actions that lead to Trayvon’s death but it was a joint effort. We helped.

When I was young, my uncle would always lock the car doors when he saw a black person walking on the street. He would say, “I’m not prejudice, I’m just being honest. Those people are more likely to commit a crime.” Those people. So, was Trayvon “those people”? Was he “those teenagers“? 16% of violent crimes are committed by juveniles. Was he “those men? 86% of violent crimes are committed by men. Was he “those black people“? 18.5% of violent crimes are committed by black people. He certainly wasn’t “those white people” who commit  46.5% of violent crimes. So, if my uncle were really being honest, he’d lock the doors whenever he saw men or white people. Whenever he saw white men. Whenever he saw himself.

Trayvon is dead and George Zimmerman pulled the trigger. Just last year, a black woman in Florida was given 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot. And yet, according to one juror in the Martin case, race did not even enter the discussion. We don’t like to talk about race as a factor in our justice system. We don’t like to talk about it in our educational system. We don’t like to think about race as an issue at all. And when I say “we”, I mean white people. And I mean people with power and privilege. And I mean middle class and educated people. I mean people that have the luxury of believing that race is not a factor. I mean those of us that helped Zimmerman kill a teenage boy last year.

Trayvon Martin did not deserve to die. But just knowing that is true isn’t going to make a difference. Join me instead in taking responsibility and taking action. This is a list of over 25 suggested actions. Let’s talk about race and class and privilege and then, let’s do something together to make a difference.