Friday, June 16, 2017

Meeting my Muslim Neighbors

Islamic Society of West Valley/ Inter-faith dinner

Last week, my eleven-year old son Evan confided in me that he’s been having some fears about ISIS, because of all that he’s seen on the news, and heard from friends at school. He told me that a few days before, a delivery man wearing a turban came to our front door to deliver a package and he was afraid that it might be ISIS with a bomb.

I realized that this was a pivotal moment for him, so I stopped what I was doing and we had a long talk. I told him that the delivery man was most likely a Sikh, first of all, and Sikhs are not affiliated with ISIS. Second, I told him that Muslims make up 21% of the world’s population, and just as the KKK do not represent Christianity, the violent people of ISIS do not represent the religion of Islam, and are only a tiny fraction of a percentage of Muslims. I also told him that in 2015, toddlers handling their parents guns killed more people in America than terrorists did, so the probability of him running into a terrorist are, again, a fraction of a percentage. (He’s a math kid, so he likes this percentage stuff.)

But I realized that what might matter for him more than percentages would be to have a positive experience with the muslim community. So I reached out to my friend Virginia Classick, the inter-faith queen of the gun violence prevention movement, and asked for her help. She suggested that I attend an inter-faith Ramadan dinner at my local mosque.
Evan was so nervous on the way there. “How long will it be?” “What If I’m dressed wrong?” “What if I’m the only white kid, and everyone thinks I’m weird?” “What if I don’t like the food? Do I have to eat it?”

When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed, and within minutes, Evan ran off with a pack of kids to the children’s classrooms upstairs, where they played together for hours. It turns out, one of the kids, Raif, is a classmate of Evan’s. Now they are friends.
The highlight of the evening for me, aside from the amazing food (which Evan happily ate), was when we were all welcomed into the mosque for evening prayers. I sat on the floor in the mosque next to Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Sikhs. And as the plaintive song of prayer filled the room, and the worshippers bowed and knelt, we could hear the rumble of our children’s footsteps upstairs, and their laughter as they chased each other down the halls.

The Imam pointed out that though the Arabic is the language of their prayers, the congregation at their mosque were people who spoke many different languages and were from very different cultures. In the front row were congregants from India, Iran, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia and others. The overwhelming takeaway from the evening was community, unity, love and service.

Evan is not the only one who benefitted from this evening. I, too, made many new friends. Farha, Ashia, Namia, RevFelicia Parazaider from the Love Revolution in Berkeley, Stephanie from the Vineyard Christian Church, and I even ran into a few old friends there: my activist friend Spike Dolomite Ward, and long-time friend Cantor Mike Stein. Standing next to me in the photo (in the pretty pink jihab) is my new friend Farha. She is originally from India. We talked about mostly mom stuff: our kids schools, the best local programs, the winning academic decathlon program at the local high school that her son had participated in (he is now at UCLA), and the challenges of middle school. We also talked about the misperceptions being spread about “Sharia Law.” Farha reminded me that amongst the first of Sharia laws are prayer, charitable giving, and fasting as reminder of what we are grateful for (sound like any other religion you know?). Everyone I spoke to from the Mosque warmly embraced and welcomed us, and invited us to come back, anytime.

When I finally rounded Evan up to leave at about 10PM, he was happily lounging with his new pals playing Super Mario Brothers in one of the children’s classrooms. As we left, he said, “That was really fun. I’m so glad we came!”

So am I.
Mission accomplished.
Evan with his new pals.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Crossing the Political Divide: My Conversation with an Unlikely Trump Voter

This month I was in Washington DC to do a little rabble-rousing with Congress. My friend Sandy Phillips and I caught a cab back to Dulles airport, and that's when we met our cab driver, Yamir. Yamir asked what we were in town for, and I told him we work to prevent gun violence and lobby for stronger gun laws. He thought that was great, and was in full support of our mission. Assuming that Yamir was not born in America, due to his very thick accent, I made some offhand comment about Trump being a jerk.  That's when Yamir said, "Actually, I voted for Trump."

I was floored. I couldn't understand how a black, immigrant man could possibly have voted for a President who so clearly did not represent his best interests, so I asked Yamir why he voted for him. We had the most interesting 45-minute conversation on the way to the airport.

Yamir immigrated here legally from Ethiopia 20 years ago. He lives in Virginia, is married and has 4 kids. He and his wife are hard working and make a combined 100k. He has always voted Democrat, but he said that Obamacare in Virginia set his family back about $5k a year. This really upset him. Also, he is Orthodox Christian and even though he is not so much practicing, he says it's ingrained in him because it's how he was raised and it's his culture, so gay marriage was hard for him to accept. I listened to him with respect, and then I offered up my personal story of my Baptist preacher dad and my two gay brothers. I told him that it's easy for my Dad to accept my brothers for who they are because Jesus taught us to love and not judge each other. 

He really listened to what I had to say, and agreed that my argument had merit. He said that his wife and his son, who is a student at Boston University, tried to talk him into voting for Hillary,and that they had almost convinced him until the Comey letter. That's what pushed him over the edge. Now he totally regrets his vote. He told me how angry he is about the racists in the administration, the billions we're paying for Trump's golf trips, Trump's lack of intelligence, and the Russian collusion. He sees now that he was duped, and I told him I really respected him for having the courage to be honest about it. We had the most productive, respectful, intelligent conversation, and shook hands at the end. 

I truly believe that sharing our stories is what will save this country, whether it's about gun violence, healthcare, women's issues. I hope you will share your stories, and let others know why your personal politics have value to you. Let's keep the conversations going.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Letter to My Teenage Self

Dear Teen Self,

Remember that muggy, summer afternoon when you and your friends sat in a circle on your bedroom floor, your fingers raking through the tired, flattened shag carpet while you all pondered whether you’d still be alive in the year 2000?  (And then the silence that followed while you tried to do the math in your heads?) I’m here to tell you that you made it. As the clock struck midnight at the turn of the century, you were in Las Vegas with your husband and kids. You had just turned 37. Ancient, I know. No flying cars or teleporters, as you all had imagined. But then, you never imagined the internet. You also never imagined you’d be happy.

I guess I should introduce myself. I’m you, at 53. (Ancient, I know.) I traveled back through time to tell you a few things that just might have changed your life. The first and most important thing is this: although life looks bleak, everything really is going to be okay. It is. It’s not going to be easy, not by any stretch, but it’s going to be worth it. You’ll see.

In the meantime, here are a few other things I want you to know.

You are perfectly fine, just the way you are. Forget your Herbal Life diets and your Ayds appetite suppressants and your bust exercisers (and the chant that goes with it: we must, we must, we must develop our bust). One day, when the internet comes along, you’ll be able to do your own research about what’s healthy, and you will find out that (contrary to your mother’s opinion) 125 pounds at 5’5” is not overweight. So, that’s one thing. And being small breasted, though great fodder for boys to make jokes, will be a godsend as you get older and gravity takes its toll. Also, blow it off when the boys in high school call you “facehead” because of your round face. Sure, it makes you look younger now, but it will also make you look younger later, and that’s what counts. (A little insider info: those boys will drunkenly hit on you at your 20th high school reunion, anyway. But I digress.) Bottom line: You’re young. Enjoy your young, imperfect body. One day you’ll be deeply nostalgic for it. 

Wear sunscreen. Please. Your 53-year-old face bears five deep scars from skin cancer surgeries. Don’t bake in the sun trying to be someone you are not. Let the boys express horror and shock and pretend to be blinded by your pasty white legs. Let them call you Casper the Ghost as much as they like. In a few years, punk rock and Madonna are going to come along and make pasty white cool, anyway. And then you’re really going to regret those blistering sunburns that kept you laid up in bed. That tan that you worked so hard for will one day turn to wrinkles and age spots and leave you on a cozy, first-name basis with your dermatologist. Trust me on this one.
After the fifth skin cancer surgery. Not worth the teen tan.

Be you. The only true job you have in this life is to be your authentic self – exactly who you are, flaws and all. I know there’s no way you’re going to tell your cheerleading squad that your dad’s doing time in San Quentin and your single mom works nights in a bar. That’s okay for now. The “little miss perfect” thing will soon grow old, and those superficial friends who accepted you will eventually abandon you. One day in the future, you’ll have the courage to tell the world who you really are, and it’s only then, when you show your flaws and vulnerability, that your true friends will find you. These friends will stay forever. And the greatest friend you will ever have? That would be you. So take good care of yourself. Treat yourself well. Be kind to yourself -- never judgmental, critical or cruel -- because the world will reflect back the the way you treat yourself. I really wish you had known this a lot sooner.

Some bad things are going to happen, and that’s okay. Your parents might let you down, disappoint or even abandon you. Some friends will betray you. There will be times that you will be broke. A troubled, stupid boy, or maybe a parade of them, will break your heart, and you won’t even believe it’s possible to hurt that bad and still be alive (wait until childbirth). People you love will get sick. People you love will die. And there will be moments that your life feels so hopeless and pointless that you won’t want to live. But you will, and please do. There are things in store for you - miracles, things you never could have imagined - that will blow your mind. I promise you, you’re not going to want to miss it, so hang on.

And finally, don’t sleep with that guy. You know the one I’m talking about- the one you know isn’t right for you, but you’re trying to make it right because you are so desperate to be loved. I’m telling you, it’s not going to end well, and you’re going to suffer the fallout from it for decades. So please…don’t do that. You deserve better. And if you’ll just be patient, one day “better” will show up. That’s a guarantee.

Oh, and one more thing. SMILE in your senior picture. Who cares if you have braces. You look better when you’re happy. That will always be true.

With love (and I finally mean that),

Your Ancient 53-Year-Old Self

Wednesday, February 8, 2017



 "Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul." 
- Coretta Scott King

America ranks 101st globally in the percentage of women in legislature. 
Let me repeat this: ONE HUNDRED COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD SURPASS US in women representing our government. A man who brags that he can grab women by the pussy and can do “anything he wants” to them, is now our President, and the GOP Senate Majority leader feels emboldened to shut Elizabeth Warren down for reading the words of Coretta Scott King. 

Steve Bannon, the President’s chief strategist, was chief executive of the alt-right website (that calls itself a news organization) that consistently belittles and attempts to disempower women. 

Check out a few of the articles Breitbart has published in the last year or so:

Here’s a brief quote from that one: “Given that men built the internet, along with the rest of modern civilisation, I think it’s only fair that they get to keep it. And given what a miserable time women are having on the web, surely they would welcome an abrupt exit. They could go back to bridge tournaments, or wellness workshops, or swapping apple crumble recipes, or whatever it is women do in their spare time. I, Donald Trump and the rest of the alpha males will continue to dominate the internet without feminist whining. It will be fun! Like a big fraternity, with jokes and memes and no more worrying about whether an off-colour but harmless remark will suddenly torpedo your career.”

“HERE’S WHY THERE OUGHT TO BE A CAP ON WOMEN STUDYING SCIENCE AND MATH” This “article” says that women just can’t cut it in highly competitive fields, and can never make up their minds.

This piece says that the pill alters women’s bodies so that they don’t “jiggle” in the right way to attract men, gives women cottage cheese thighs, and makes women sluts.

Trump and Bannon are planning a complete takedown of our current government, and you can guess what that means for women. If you notice, WOMEN are the ones standing up to Trump and his regime. Attorney General Sally Yates. Ann M. Donnelly – the 1st New York judge to stand up against the Muslim ban. Elizabeth Warren. Nancy Pelosi. 

If the Senate and House were 51% women, we wouldn't be in this mess. We wouldn't be shut down on the Senate floor, our reproductive rights wouldn't be threatened, the ERA would have already been passed, we wouldn't allow Trump's regime to wipe out all federal programs for victims of domestic violence (they just eliminated all) and women would finally receive equal pay.

EMERGE is an organization that trains women how to run for office. There are over 500,000 elected positions in the US. Many of them are small and local, and that’s where you begin. Find the Emerge chapter in your state. Even if you think you could never run, just attend an event or join a free informational phone call and learn what’s involved. Think you’re not qualified to run for a local position like School Board or City Council? Donald Trump is the leader of the free world. If there’s anything he’s taught us, it’s that anyone, literally anyone, can be President. You can do this.
Here’s an article about newbies who ran for office and won, and how they did it;

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Put your broken heart aside and #RESIST

Have you ever heard of the term "MORAL INJURY"?  This happens when what you believed about the world turns out not to be true. I learned this term recently at the Women Against Gun Violence Firearms Suicide Summit. A military psychiatrist explained it to us, and told us it’s the number one reason Veterans commit suicide.

Moral injury is what many of us are experiencing right now. We lived through, or saw what our parents and grandparents lived through with World War II and Vietnam and the long hard struggle for civil rights. We were grateful those times were behind us, that we could learn from them and never repeat those mistakes again. We lived through 9/11 and Matthew Sheppard and the fight for marriage equality. We worked hard to elect the first African-American President, and were about ready to see another step toward equality in America with the first woman President. We thought there was no stopping the beautiful progress America had made. We were becoming a kinder and more inclusive society. We were evolving!

We slapped our “LOVE TRUMPS HATE” bumper stickers on our cars and planned our victory parties with friends because there was NO WAY a married man who had bragged about grabbing women by the pussy could EVER be elected President. I mean, look what happened to Bill Clinton, right? We laughed at Trump's campaign as we watched it unravel after he insulted Hispanics, blacks, Muslims, veterans. We never, ever believed that anyone, no matter what side of the aisle they were on, could elect such a hateful person – especially a hateful person with absolutely no experience in government, nor any understanding of how our government works. Americans are a good people. The majority will vote the right way. After all, we’ve evolved!

But Republicans voted party over morals. Trump received less votes than Romney, but still got the lion’s share of Republican votes. He won because Democrats – a LOT of them, just didn’t bother to show up. They were sulking. They didn’t like the choices so they decided to sit this one out. I warned, over and over again on social media, that bad politicians are elected by good people who don’t vote. And it happened. President Obama reflected what we aspired to be, but Trump reflects back to us what we’ve become.

So now we are faced with the consequences. We are shocked and in mourning. We didn’t unite against hate and misogyny, and now it is being visited upon us. The President of the most powerful nation in the world is a self-deluded narcissist who knows less than nothing about foreign policy and how the government works. A white supremacist has been chosen as the President’s top advisor. A climate change denier has been chosen to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. Ben Carson, who claimed that homosexuality is a choice and evolution is an idea encouraged by the devil, is in charge of HUD. The GOP has the steering wheel for all three branches of government, and the NRA was just thrown the keys to the car. You think you’re hurting? Our children are the ones who will suffer most for our mistakes.

Yes, we are suffering our moral injury, but there’s no time for hand-wringing. Rome is burning and we’ve got shit to do. We’ve got two years until midterm elections- you know, those elections that Democrats never show up for? These are the elections when Congress is elected. You better work like you never have to make sure every person you know gets to the polls. You better work harder than you knew you could to learn the issues and the candidates, and educate those around you. What ever you do, do NOT become lulled into a sense of complacency and delude yourself that everything will turn out okay if we just “give him a chance” and “think positive.” Never before in our nation’s history has a man with NO experience in governing been given the helm of the most powerful country in the world. STAY WOKE, people. Stay woke and get to work.

START LOCAL: Contact the Democratic party in your state, find out what local and statewide elections are coming up and when. Call the campaigns and ask how you can help.
STAY WOKE and wake the people around you.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Don't Let Them Take Our Healthcare!

I lived six years without health insurance, due to a pre-existing condition. What was my pre-existing condition? I had seen a therapist for depression and anxiety after my house burned down. Every insurance company denied me, even after I appealed annually and wrote numerous letters to all of the major providers. When I found out I was pregnant with Evan at 41- I had NO INSURANCE. I was incredibly lucky to find a California program that covered pregnant, uninsured women. They paid for my high-risk pregnancy and emergency cesarean delivery. Many other women, in other, less progressive states, will not be so lucky. 

I turned to Planned Parenthood for my annual checkups and breast exams during those six long years that no one would insure me. I would have had NO health care at all if it were not for Planned Parenthood. I watched a documentary on how many homeless women and mothers there are in the US. Many of them have become homeless after being bankrupted by medical bills. If, during these 6 years, I had been hit by a car, or gotten cancer, I would have lost everything. My job, my house, all my savings. I could have been homeless.

Last night, while we slept, the Republican Senate voted 51 - 48 to:
1. To end coverage for pre-existing conditions, veterans benefits, and aid to rural hospitals. (50 miles to an ER rural voters)
2. To remove discrimination protection for women in healthcare.
3. Against the provision allowing children to remain on their parent's insurance till the age of 26.
4. To cut off funding for the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
5. Against ACA contraceptive coverage and maternity care provision.
6. To direct committees to send budget legislation to defund and repeal the Affordable Care Act.

And by the way, they also voted to defund Planned Parenthood.
The house votes on Friday, January 13.

And for those of you who get health insurance through work, no pre-existing conditions,  and lifetime caps for coverage are back for everyone.

How can GOP representatives defend being the party of American values when they strip Americans of life-saving healthcare?  My Facebook feed today is filled with posts of friends who are cancer survivors, who have mental health struggles, who have sick children and spouses, all who will be denied healthcare for having a "pre-existing" condition. Some who will die if denied their expensive medications. CALL YOUR HOUSE REP NOW! They vote tomorrow to repeal the ACA. Tell them what this means for you!  (202)225-3121

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sifting Through the Rubble

Lately, I've been sifting through the rubble of what was my former optimistic self, trying to figure out what to make of what I'm filled with since the election, which is mostly this: pain and suffering and despair.

Pain is real, and should be acknowledged. Pain tells me to pull my hand out of the fire. Pain tells me to do something...NOW. Pain should be acted upon.

Suffering is self-created: a choice. Suffering happens when I resist what is. Suffering isn't noble. It doesn’t help me, and it doesn’t help anyone around me. Suffering keeps me trapped in pain.
Despair is when I search outside myself for hope and, finding none, I believe that hope doesn't exist. Despair isn't real.

So here's what I make of these messy emotions: We are entering a dark era. The only way I get through this is to ditch the suffering and despair, and act on the pain. I can't look for someone else to save me. I've got to find hope inside of myself first, and let it build. I have to connect to every other flicker of hope I find, and create networks of hope. I have to appreciate every tiny beautiful moment; a cat sleeping in my lap, a kind word from a stranger, an extraordinary sunset...and let those tiny moments carry me until the rest of the world reflects light again.

The light will return. Maybe not now, maybe not soon...but it will return. That much I know.
It returns, because we create it.