Keep Storming

Protests Continue In Pittsburgh In Wake Of Last Week's Police Shooting Of Antwon Rose
(photo credit: Time Magazine; Antwon Rose protest

As a social work student one of the concepts we explored was group dynamics, with a handy rhyming scheme to help us remember: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. This described, respectively, the process of a group of people coming together for some purpose, testing and establishing boundaries, roles and processes, settling into a status quo and pursuing the function and goals of the group, and finally, terminating their association.

Perhaps most important to remember was that the process was not rigid, and groups could revert to the storming and norming stages at any point. I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot recently because it describes where we are as a nation right now– for what is a nation but a large group of people who exist as a collective? From indigenous peoples defending their lands and natural resources, to black and brown communities rising up against police brutality, the prison-industrial complex and white supremacy at large, to immigrants and refugees fighting our perverse immigration policies, to women claiming their power in the political arena and injecting accountability into our patriarchal societal order, it is clear that America is “storming.”

This is reassuring to me when I get depressed/ obsessed/ enraged at any one of the multitudes of wrongs being wrought upon these and other communities, because it is very easy to miss the forest (the rejection of the status quo and gradual reordering of society) for the trees (individual indignities, injustices, and policy setbacks). Storming is hard for sure, with egos, perspectives and agendas bound to come into conflict, but what is clear is that norming is our inevitable next stage– the recognition and acceptance that people of color and women are carving out an increasing role in deciding how our country will operate.

What is not inevitable however is for these gains to be consolidated and maintained. An increase in representation and power by these communities necessarily means a decrease in others– and the behavior we’ve seen in the country this week and the last few years– is but a small testament to how hard they will fight to retain it. Still, in what I recognize as a very hard time for victims of sexual assault, for Muslims, refugees and immigrants, and people of color at large, I am finding hope in our continued storming.

-kd-

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Declaring Resistance

This originally was something I posted to facebook on Nov 11, 2016, shortly after the election of Donald Trump

~

Hands at political protest march

Picture © aleutie Fotolia

When we said there was a rape culture on our college campuses that needed to change, you said boys will be boys.

When we said black lives matter and we were tired of being killed by police without repercussion, you said all lives matter and that we ought to stop race baiting.

When we said our family members and friends were human beings, not illegal aliens, you said you were tired of political correctness.

When we said a woman’s right to choose was sacred, you said they ought to be punished.

When we said ours was a country of religious tolerance, you said Muslims should register with the government and no more should come.

When we said our country’s strength was in its diversity, you said we would build a wall with our neighbors.

When we said paying taxes was the price of living in a society organized for the collective good, you said it was smarter to find a way around them.

When we said the campaign was fomenting hate and intolerance that needed to be turned down, you turned up the volume on the TV.

When we said we were scared for our loved ones and our communities, you voted to put them at risk.

And now.

When “white” and “colored” signs appear above high school water fountains, you say let’s come together.

When women are attacked and have their hijabs pulled off, you say we ought to let bygones be bygones.

When swastikas are spray painted on ballfields along with “make America white again,” you say we just need to keep an open mind.

When children taunt their classmates with chants of “build that wall,” you say we need to try listening harder.

When LGBTQ pride flags are burned while hanging outside people’s homes, you say we just need to give him a chance.

No.

We will not cover our ears because it is easier to pretend not to hear.

We will not close our eyes because it is easier to pretend not to see.

We will not be silent because it is easier to pretend our voices don’t matter.

We will not sit by idly because it is easier to not take a stand.

We will not go quietly into the night because it is easier not to fight.

 

-kd-

Why I’m Voting Bernie; A Conversation

BernieSandersAlthough I’ve been a fan for nearly a decade, donated to the campaign, and have shared any number of articles, I haven’t yet offered here, in my own words, why I am supporting Bernie Sanders for President. Sure, I’ve teased my friends and colleagues (sorry guys!) about their Hillary support (and have gotten it back too!), but for the most part we haven’t really engaged in a substantive conversation. In the age of the 24/7 news cycle, 140 character limits, memes and gifs, it is too easy to let the media &/or those to whom we attribute status, to serve as surrogates for our own thoughts and values.
So here are some of the things going on in my brain. I welcome your concurrence or your critique. In any case, make sure you don’t let all of the political theater discourage you from voting, regardless of who you support!
1) I’m pro-Bernie; not Anti-Hillary. I struggled mightily during the 2008 primary over whether to support Obama or Clinton. I literally decided the day I walked into the polling booth, and pulled the lever for Obama– and I think it was the right decision. I share that to say my support for Bernie is just that– my support for Bernie. I am not reflexively anti-Hillary, and if she does win the party nomination, I will support her as she will be incalculably better for the country than Trump or Cruz. I reject the notion of “Bernie or Bust” and encourage Sanders supporters to vote Hillary if he is to lose the primary.
2) I don’t “feel the Bern”. Although it has been adopted by supporters and opponents alike, I’ve never been a fan of the phrase since it feels to me like the reduction of well-reasoned support for a candidate down to a slogan that implies blind excitement. My support for Bernie is not based on being emotionally swept up in his gruff appeal.
3) There is nothing wrong with being a “single-issue” voter. One of the regular critiques of Bernie and his supporters is that they represent a “single-issue” campaign. We can debate whether that is true or not (I don’t believe it is), but even supposing that it is– so what? The fundamental idea of voting is that it offers the opportunity for individuals to elect the candidate they feel best speaks to their ideas about what the problems, challenges and opportunities are before themselves, their family and their community. Each of our lived experiences will influence that assessment, and given the economic conditions of our country– high levels of poverty, wage stagnation, staggering household debt levels, and increasing concentration of wealth among the few– it should come as no surprise that many people see the issue of wealth disparity of paramount importance– and who is anyone to disagree?
My “single-issue” happens to be the health and transparency of our democracy because our ability to achieve any of the changes we want, domestic or foreign, is predicated on government responsiveness to those goals. I don’t believe our current system of governance reflects the true collective will of the people. Vote dilution and suppression, gerrymandering, voter frustration/apathy, and and the outsize role of money in elections collude to give us a constellation of elected officials and policies at all levels of government that is not reflective of the racial, gender, economic and political composition of the electorate. I believe Bernie has/will do more to challenge the role of money in elections than any other candidate in the race. For that reason alone, I would vote for him.
4) I refuse to cast my ballot out of fear. So many people have admonished the Sanders candidacy as a fools errand/dangerous because his “unelectability” means we doom ourselves to an eventual Trump or Cruz presidency. We are told that he cannot win in a general election because he is a socialist, because he is a Jew, because his head-to-head poll numbers with Trump & Cruz (higher than Hillary’s) are artificially high because he has not been attacked with the full force of the Republican establishment, etc., etc. I strenuously disagree on all counts. Who would have thought that the nation would have elected a black man to office before Barack? I am not naive about the the strong bias, and indeed hate, against Jews in many parts of the country, but it is inconceivable to me that I would choose to not support a candidate because of others’ intolerance/ignorance.
Based on the tremendous turnout for his rallies and record-breaking number and pace of individual contributions to his campaign, it seems a fair conclusion that Bernie has inspired Democrats and many independents in a way that Hillary has not. Even among those that support her, the support is frequently grounded in “pragmatism” versus inspiration. This is absolutely fine, but I note that it is inspiration that draws people to the polls in an election, not pragmatism, as evidenced in the the Obama-Clinton primary, and as I suspect we would see in a Sanders-Trump/Cruz general.
5) Bernie’s overall policy positions better align with my values. Whether it was his no vote on the Iraq War (Hillary voted yes), his opposition to the Patriot Act (Hillary supported), his support of single payer health care (Hillary dismisses), his opposition to the Wall Street bailout (Hillary supported) etc., across the board I find his credentials to be much more progressive than Hillary’s. And its perfectly okay for Hillary to be a moderate Democrat– its just that as a proud progressive, I’m going to support progressive candidates in my party’s primary. This is not to say that his positions on guns and immigration couldn’t be better (they can), but on balance, his decades of positions and actual votes clearly identify him as the more progressive of the two.
6) I don’t believe Hillary can singularly lay claim to being able to “get things done”. There is a difference between campaigning and governing, and almost universally candidates become more moderate post-primary, and certainly post-election. Bernie is an intelligent adult and will chart a course that allows him to get done as much as possible in the context of Republican opposition in Congress, as would Hillary. However, no one can say Obama did not bend over backwards to work with the Republicans, and they have spent every waking moment for the past 8 years trying to thwart and undermine him. By what rationale do we believe that the GOP, in a scenario where they just lost the presidential election to Clinton– whom they have spent the last 30 years professionally hating on– will somehow decide to work with her because she is “pragmatic?” To be clear, I do not believe that this is a reason to not vote for Clinton, but it certainly challenges the notion that Hillary is someone who will be able to “get things done” relative to Bernie because of her moderate positions.
In any case, there is more I could say, but I’ll stop here. It bears repeating that I think there is, and needs to be room for legitimate differences of opinion and debate on such weighty issues. And I’m not an absolutist on my Bernie support; I respect the views of those that think Hillary is the best choice for the Democratic nomination- I just happen to disagree.
In any case, thanks for reading and don’t forget to vote! (in New York that will be Tuesday, April 19th)
-kd-
4.9.16

On Race and Speaking Up

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I was 12 when I first really felt the sting of racism, when I found myself identified by my teacher as a possible “suspect” for the profanity-laced question anonymously placed in the question box for the DARE officer, and I as looked around the group of six of us being lectured in the hallway by the officer, I realized, in or moment of recognition and shock that the only thing I had in common with the other kids was the color of my skin. The one white kid among us, a known “troublemaker”, later proudly confided in us that it was him. I was deeply hurt by this and confused- wasn’t this the same teacher who had sang my praises to my mother weeks earlier at the parent teacher conference as I shyly looked at my feet?

I was 13 when black classmates made fun of my sisters and I for having a white mother; 16 when a high school “friend” nicknamed me “blacky”, and I being far too timid to say anything, nervously laughed every time he said it.

17 when as a straight-A student at the top of my class, was told by my guidance counselor I could get into a good college because they were looking for “diversity”, without a second thought given to my credentials; 18 when on a summer afternoon walking down the street, a cop car pulled over, questioned me and demanded ID.

I was 20 when I was first called a “n—–“, a group of five white boys in the car next to mine as we both pulled up to rent movies from the local blockbuster. 21 when I was told by the manager of the restaurant I worked at that I was the “whitest black person” he knew.

I was all ages when my mixed race family drew stares from people that couldn’t figure out such a bizarre family arrangement. I was, and continue to be called “articulate”- please stop doing that. Being called articulate always feels like a backhanded compliment because it is unknowingly, and innocently offered as an observation in contrast to what should be expected of a black person- how often is the primary trait of talented whites identified as being “articulate?”

I was 22 when a state trooper insisted on inspecting my vehicle- including the trunk, and when queried why, responded without hesitation that “a black man in the {next town over} had beat someone up and threw them in their trunk”.

I was 23 when I had my first car accident- a minor one, where I hydroplaned on a wet s-curve and wound up with the hood of my car pinned under a guardwire. The police officer that showed up approached from the opposite direction, looked at me, drove by and parked 50 feet behind my vehicle. Then, without any question about my status- was I hurt? was I okay? demanded over the loudspeaker, that, in the rain, I get out of my vehicle and walk my license and registration back to him. I swallowed my anger and my fear- because every black person knows the absolute last thing you are supposed to do is leave your vehicle and approach a cop car- its far too easy for that wallet to turn into a menacing handgun.

I was 8 when Rodney King was beaten senseless by police officers and remember watching the subsequent riots on tv; 12 when the black community, without deeper analysis, could be perceived as to have blindly celebrated the “innocent” verdict of OJ Simpson; 15 when James Byrd was dragged to death in Texas (which left me fearful for a long time, especially the idea of venturing into “the south”), 16 when Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times by the NYPD; 28 when Troy Davis was executed and 29 when Trayvon Martin was gunned down. The truth is race always has, and always will be a part of my life, and the troubled ether of society.

I was 26 when I was first told it was okay to talk about race in a public setting, by a graduate school professor that validated the minority experience, and to whom I am still grateful. Because for most of my life, racism was the one social injustice I wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole. Child abuse, human rights violations, poverty- you name it, I’d research it, name it, fight it- but race is something different. Part of what it means to be the “black friend” in groups of whites is to not talk about race, lest you make them uncomfortable- or at least thats how I felt.

No one wants to talk about race- especially people like me- those that are perceived to have “made it”, and are “so white” as to be acceptable in mainstream society- if you don’t “dress black”, “talk black”, “act black”, and certainly don’t talk about the fact as someone considered “black”, that you are unhappy with how blacks are treated, then you just might become a “token black”- the one that makes it, that proves the system is not rigged, because after all, if Kevin can make it, if Obama can become president, then surely this black-white thing is overplayed and we can all just continue on in our merry “colorblind” lives.

The hardest part about all of this, is that race is such a difficult thing to discuss, such a painful wound to open, such an easy topic to dissolve into misunderstanding, fingerpointing and political manipulation. It is too easy for some blacks to point to the invisible hand of a racism as the reason for their shortcomings, just as it is too easy for some whites to dismiss racism on the simple grounds that they themselves are not racist. The reality we need to grapple with is not that “ugly racism”- the kind that makes us shudder at its vile and cruel violence, but racism built into our society that requires no obvious malice or intent to operate.

It is the racism that results in biased drug laws and enforcement patterns that leads to the incarceration of generations of young black men. It is in the systemic underfunding of public schools in minority-heavy areas, and in an overall attack and rejection of social services that are perceived to primarily benefit blacks, even when the majority of beneficiaries are non-black (welfare). It is all of these things and 100 little things that present confounding problems- it is in the accumulated wealth differential in the black and white communities, which while understandably not likely caused in recent years by “racism”, was set in motion decades ago by discriminatory education, housing and employment policies and practices.

But the biggest problem of all is our collective silence, our fear to broach the topic, to risk offending or to be crucified- regardless of our race. It is in our fleeting anger over the Trayvon Martin case, but unsustained outrage at the multitude of daily and systemic injustices wrought upon a whole class of people for no reason other than the pigmentation the gods dole out. It is my staying silent for so many years, and others being relieved by it for so many more. It is in the marginalizing of contemporary public figures that focus on race, and in the naked race baiting of politicians for personal gain.

And so here it is. An attempt at conversation on race, which while surely imperfect, incomplete and insufficient is a start.

~
RIP Trayvon and the countless other lives lost to violence and incarceration. And a prayer for all the youth today whose dreams are being muted by the proverbial good people standing idly by.

-kd-

Love, as an Answer

this is not about gun control or mental health care alone. this is about when we as a society will begin caring enough about each other that we don’t become so desensitized to the suffering of millions of Americans daily that it takes the blood of children to wake us up. this is about a country with untold wealth and resources that allows veterans to sleep on the streets at night. this is about  a country that allows children to go to bed cold, and hungry. this is about a country that is okay with failed social safety nets until we are forced to confront the ugly realities such an approach engenders.

this is about people upset about spending on welfare because those “shiftless bastards” should just pick themselves up with their bootstraps. this is about a country that locks up thousands of people living with mental illness or drug addiction in jails because it is easier than helping them. this is about being okay with failed public school systems condemning generations of minority youth to a futureless future.
i wonder how much of the outrage and sadness expressed in mainstream and social media today will be channeled into meaningful action- how many months will it take for this to become a memory that we ruefully shake our head about without changing anything. i’m not suggesting that evil can be forever banished from the landscape if we only spend more on the suffering masses, but it can go a hell of a long way. i’m also not suggesting that if we pass stricter gun control laws that mass shootings will be relegated to an unfortunate point in time of our history never to repeat itself, but i guess what i’m saying is we have to really love each other.
we need to have empathy, compassion for others. we have to care about the fates of people in ghettos far from the safety of our homes, care about the fates of everyone that is not part of our immediate social networks. as long as we primarily trouble ourselves only with ourselves and our wallets we will forever be subject to tragedies both as immediate, shocking and heartwrenching as today, but also the longer, slower and less dramatic extinguishing of dreams, communities and lives for want of simple love manifested in meaningful ways.
-kd-
wishes of comfort to those suffering so terribly from today’s tragedy

Election Day Undecideds

For the woman at the gym this morning that said she still didn’t know who she was voting for today- I want to poke fun at you, but really more than anything you make me sad. To be undecided about who to vote for shows a monumental lack of understanding of what the candidates stand for and the direction they would take this country or a level of apathy that should lead to the revocation of your right to live in this country.

I am voting for Barack Obama not because I am deluded into thinking he is perfect, or blindly put his racial background above all else, but because he has articulated a clear, consistent vision for this country for years that is premised on creating equal opportunity for all and respecting the dignity of all people.He has a track record that is unquestionable- from ending the war in Iraq, to passing health care reform (however perfect it represents progress), to thoughtful government intervention that benefited us all- auto industry rescue, American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, to repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to creating the Deferred Action program for immigrant youth.

Although some may fault him for it, he has shown a willingness to attempt to work with all sides in Washington and has chosen to remain civil and honest throughout his campaigning. To contrast what Obama stands for with the hypocrisy, pandering, lies and lack of substance that Mitt has offered to Americans presents such a stark contrast that it is shocking and embarrassing that anyone could not know which way they wanted to vote.

The reason that the outcome of the election is even in question is due to the willful ignorance of so many, the frightening gullibility of the masses, and the failure of our society to better promote, and make possible, the act of informed voting.

The president has earned my vote, and friends, I hope you will not only go out and support him today, but that you will remain engaged in the political process in the years to come because creating a country and future we want to live in does not begin and end with election day.

-kd-
(original post 11-6-12)

Adult Basic’s End

Unless Governor Corbett acts quickly, by March 1st of this year, 42,000 Pennsylvania residents will loose their health insurance and join the already one million-plus in the state without coverage. Adult Basic, a health insurance program designed for adults who don’t qualify for Medicaid, but earn too little for private-market insurance, is scheduled to be terminated in the state on February 28th.

The program, initially launched about a decade ago to deal with the still unresolved nationwide health insurance crisis, has largely been funded by Blue Cross/Blue Shield in an agreement related to their tax-exempt status. Now that their obligation to contribute to the program is coming to an end, the Blue’s, despite reaping record profits and continuing to add to its enormous reserves, are refusing to offer further support for the program. Governor Corbett’s staff have told me they “appealed to the federal government” for assistance, but that’s just not good enough.

I’m not sure whether its more shameful that our Governor, who was among the first Attorney Generals in line to challenge President Obama’s health reform package, is now turning to the federal government in a last ditch attempt to preserve insurance for Pennsylvanians, or that the Blue’s, a “charitable organization” that made their billions selling health care, are going to stand by and let thousands of hardworking adults loose their coverage.

Either way its clear that money, as it always has been, is being put before people when it comes to health care. Perhaps the greatest irony of all, is that when these 42,000 begin utilizing hospitals and other medical services without insurance, the costs of their uncompensated care will ultimately be passed on in the form of higher premiums to the rest of us- including those that voted to put the “fiscally responsible” Corbett in office, who is now gambling with the lives of thousands.

-kd-

Letter to the Editor submitted to Philadelphia Inquirer. For more info click here.