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I dressed in black for work today. It matched my mood and I felt emotionally the way I did after 9/11. The flags should be lowered as after any national tragedy. The people around me were unnaturally subdued.

I did wear red and black socks, with flames. I put them on as part of my intentional choices in wardrobe: my prayer bracelets, so I’d have Julian of Norwich and Saint Francis’ prayers and my family with me; the flame socks symbolizing the burning rage I felt.

flamesock

I wore a blue pantsuit to work yesterday. When we passed a line of people at a polling place on the Muni, the stranger next to me and I chatted about looking forward to the results and how we’d both already voted. He was a Hispanic man.

After work, I gathered with good friends to watch the returns and celebrate with sparkling wine in Hillary glasses. We had hotel rooms so we could celebrate and not have to drive.

As results came in, I was saddened but not surprised to see Indiana go so heavily for bigotry and hatred. I was still optimistic until about 8:45 Pacific time. Worry won out and I lost my appetite for food and drink, and was very quickly completely sober.

The level of stress in the room was climbing, and Whisky felt it, and always more nervous around men, barked more, and I became more tense. My anger grew at the margins by which Hillary was trailing in key races – margins less than the number of votes given to 3rd party candidates in key states. I wanted to yell at the TV commentators, at something. Every time Whisky barked I was ready to snap and when I snapped at her, that just made me angrier at myself. A vicious cycle.

I was – and still am – horrified that so many people in the US could support a candidate who exemplifies the worst in us: misogyny, bigotry, racism and xenophobia. I grieve for the damage the President-elect has said he’ll do to the climate that the entire world relies on, and what that means to my nephews and their families. If that happens, it won’t be recoverable. I am heartbroken.

The damage done to the lives of those persecuted, scapegoated and demonized may be irreparable. The damage done to the Presidency and our collective reputation and the values espoused in our Constitution pale in comparison.

Finally, we could not continue to watch. I needed to be alone, so Whisky and I went home. Whisky was anxious and somewhat fearful of me, adding to my distress. I tried to sleep, and woke up multiple times, only to remember what was wrong.

I cried. When two women I know asked how to explain to their young girls that we could elect a person who thinks it’s OK to sexually assault women, and who vilifies people who aren’t white, there are no acceptable answers. A man raising twin four-year-olds with his husband, said he’d read the first thing is to tell your children you’ll keep them safe, and then reinforce the values we teach our children. I work with many people who are first and second-generation immigrants. I was emotionally fragile all day – near tears multiple times.

So, I dressed all in black for work today, except for those red flame socks. My rage has no outlet that I will allow myself to express, without sinking to the level of the President-elect, and that I will not do.

I have read what far more eloquent people have written to process the election results. I read and later watched, the leadership and caring exhibited by Hillary Clinton in her remarks today. Once again, she put service to the country above self. Once again, President Obama showed his grace and ability as a leader, exhorting us to support the President-elect.

I’m not there. Right now, I’m not sure I will ever be able to support the Executive branch while the new President-elect is in office. He’s despicable. I’m closer to The Audacity of Hopelessness from Roxane Gay, and No, Let’s Not Congratulate Him from Connie Schultz than to the speeches either Hillary or Barack made. Especially – and maybe always – what Connie wrote.

My rage still burns, but I’m working to be able to channel it productively. I won’t need to wear the flame socks to remember that. I will use the rage to forge an even more steely resolve to work on what must change.

A variety of ideas have been swirling in my brain of late. It’s taken a few days for me to synthesize enough to sort out why they are connected, and important enough to write about. I’m not entirely sure I’m ready, but I want to get at least the sketch of the pieces I’m seeing down: #HeForShe, Outlander, Google, MissRepresentation, and even a bit of church thrown in.

Late last week, Emma Watson gave a heartfelt speech to the United Nations on the need for gender equity, launching the #HeForShe campaign, encouraging men as well as women to embrace feminism – equality of opportunities for all. I was happy to see a young woman taking on equal rights for women & girls, and to see efforts to enlist all people to the cause. (You can refer to older posts on how I feel on the subject.) If you’re uncomfortable with the being a “feminist,” watch the speech.

I’ve also spent quite a bit of time the past few weeks using Outlander as a break, and recalling the many reasons I enjoy the books: the historical detail, the evocative characters and more by author Diana Gabaldon, and the strong female characters of Claire and Bree, among others. I have read and re-read the Outlander books over the past 20 years, as escape, primarily. I love the characters and the history, and these are tried and true friends I return to when I want to immerse myself in another world. Re-reading Outlander and seeing it come to the screen has been a welcome respite as I wrapped up months of really intense and emotionally challenging work earlier this month. As my work schedule finally relaxed, I also began following some of the press around the show, including several mentions that Claire is not the usual female character portrayed on television (including comparisons to Game of Thrones.)

As someone familiar with the Outlander books, I hadn’t thought of Claire as such a uniquely strong female on screen, but it is part of what I so enjoy about her – both on the show and in the books. A favorite line is when Claire, very early on, is admonished (by a man) with the line “St. Paul says ‘Let a woman be silent and–‘ …” and replies “You can mind your own bloody business, and so can St. Paul.” Anyone who’s spent any time with me in a church setting knows that I fully endorse that sentiment. (Despite the fact that Paul was instrumental in spreading Christianity beyond the Jewish community, my studies of early church history and recent reading of Reza Aslam’s The Zealot have not improved Paul’s standing in my book. Then again, St. Paul is not likely to have thought highly of me, either. I’d figure we’re even, but no one reads from my writings in church.) Speaking of both conscious and unconscious bias, I think I’ll leave the church bit to another post.

And this week the NY Times story about how Google is starting to look at unconscious bias in the organization, as a part of its efforts to become more diverse. First step is to make oneself aware of the biases. With awareness, you can start to take yourself off of autopilot and potentially make different decisions. I’ve made multiple career moves where I had different experiences of cultures, diversity and gender bias, and I’m about to make another move, so all that is also on my mind, but that’s another post, as well.

Back to Outlander and feminism. Claire is an unusual character in the story, and in television. If you’ve not seen it, I recommend watching MissRepresentation to get a flavor of the importance to society in general – both men and women – of how women are portrayed in our media. When she’s objectified, she fights back, and as a woman in the 18th century, she’s in a tough spot with lots of opportunities to choose to accept her situation, or not. Jamie would be a great feminist, too, I think. Of course, surrounded by Claire and Brianna, he might not have a choice. (Thank you, again, Diana Gabaldon, for writing such rich characters!)

The intersection of the #HeForShe campaign, talk of feminism and Outlander, corporate diversity and biases all do come together. In some ways, I’m seeing others become more conscious of biases in society, and being reminded of my own. There is much work still to be done.

All people are equally worthy of respect, and entitled to opportunity to live with dignity and be fully alive throughout their lives.

This passage from President Barack Obama’s speech illustrates the blend of individual and collective rights and responsibilities on which our nation was founded. I personally believe that We are more important than I am, but understand that I play a critical role in the success of We.

“As Americans, we believe we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, rights that no man or government can take away. We insist on personal responsibility, and we celebrate individual initiative. We’re not entitled to success. We have to earn it. We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk- takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity that the world’s ever known.

But we also believe in something called citizenship — citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.

We believe that when a CEO pays his autoworkers enough to buy the cars that they build, the whole company does better.

We believe that when a family can no longer be tricked into signing a mortgage they can’t afford, that family’s protected, but so is the value of other people’s homes — and so is the entire economy.

We believe the little girl who’s offered an escape from poverty by a great teacher or a grant for college could become the next Steve Jobs or the scientist who cures cancer or the president of the United States — and it is in our power to give her that chance.

We know that churches and charities can often make more of a difference than a poverty program alone. We don’t want handouts for people who refuse to help themselves, and we certainly don’t want bailouts for banks that break the rules.

We don’t think the government can solve all of our problems, but we don’t think the government is the source of all of our problems — any more than our welfare recipients or corporations or unions or immigrants or gays or any other group we’re told to blame for our troubles — because America, we understand that this democracy is ours.

We, the people — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together — through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That’s what we believe.”

You can find the text and audio of the entire speech here: http://www.npr.org/2012/09/06/160713941/transcript-president-obamas-convention-speech

This post is dedicated to my nephews, and their generation.

Michelle Obama delivered a speech last night that reminded me of why I am so passionate about the issues in this election, and of the values that I got from my parents and grandparents, and hope to pass on to the next generation.

We get there because of folks like my Dad…folks like Barack’s grandmother…men and women who said to themselves, “I may not have a chance to fulfill my dreams, but maybe my children will…maybe my grandchildren will.”

So many of us stand here tonight because of their sacrifice, and longing, and steadfast love…because time and again, they swallowed their fears and doubts and did what was hard.

So today, when the challenges we face start to seem overwhelming – or even impossible – let us never forget that doing the impossible is the history of this nation…it’s who we are as Americans…it’s how this country was built.

And if our parents and grandparents could toil and struggle for us…if they could raise beams of steel to the sky, send a man to the moon, and connect the world with the touch of a button…then surely we can keep on sacrificing and building for our own kids and grandkids.

Mom, who started working while in high school, and put herself through Indiana University while working full time and maintaining scholarship-worthy grades. Her sister, my Aunt Barb, who spent her career working in a bank, and – like President Obama’s grandmother – saw the men she trained be promoted above her. My mom and dad, who were public school teachers, and put in long hours, both in the classroom and outside, but were committed to helping their students learn, as well as raising me and my brother, and ensuring both of us got good college educations.

I care deeply about future generations, and want them to benefit from opportunities as I did. I don’t have children, but I have three nephews, two now in college. Their grandmother and I are helping to pay for their educations, so that they won’t have debt when they graduate, as I did. Mom and I are holding open the door of opportunity that we went through, not letting it slam shut.

I also care about the world we are leaving to the next generation, and their children. How we have damaged – likely irrevocably – the environment, will be left for future generations to deal with the devastation that climate change is bringing to the US and the world. I am passionate about doing my part to bend the arc of history towards the social, economic and environmental justice needed for a sustainable future, so that I can take satisfaction that I’ve done my best for my nephews’ generation, and seven generations beyond. Michelle Obama continued:

And if so many brave men and women could wear our country’s uniform and sacrifice their lives for our most fundamental rights…then surely we can do our part as citizens of this great democracy to exercise those rights…surely, we can get to the polls and make our voices heard on Election Day.
If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire…if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores…if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote…if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time…if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream…and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love…then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.
Because in the end, more than anything else, that is the story of this country – the story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle.
That is what has made my story, and Barack’s story, [and Elizabeth’s and Stephen’s, Eric’s, Gavin’s and Garrett’s stories] and so many other American stories possible.

Michelle Obama’s speech served for me as a reminder of what hard work and commitment look like, how they shape us, and why we need to rededicate ourselves to our commitment for justice and future generations. I am rededicated to my work. I hope you are, too.

A recent PBS Need to Know episode paints a vivid portrait of what it means to be “Living on the Financial Edge.” Watching it was wrenching. I was seeing how a working-but-poor family makes difficult tradeoffs every day and month, living on $35,000 a year – well above the federal poverty line of less than $20,000 a year for a family of 3. The mother spreads out her medication rather than taking it as prescribed, the older son works all day without lunch, with a paycheck spoken for before it’s even earned. He went to college to be a teacher, but dropped out because he couldn’t afford it. They have no savings and can’t look to the future, needing to devote all their energies to daily juggling.

This summer, I’ve been a Fellow at Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment. Women’s Initiative seeks to help low-income women achieve financial “self-sufficiency,” but what exactly does that mean? Here’s a definition from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development:

“To be truly economically secure, and leave poverty behind for good, people need enough money to be able to pay for the basics like rent, food, child care, health care, transportation, and taxes, and enough money to develop savings and assets.”

In considering the situation portrayed on Need to Know, the family income wasn’t enough to cover all its food or health care costs, much less the ability to save – and that’s at an income level nearly double that of the federal poverty guidelines. As the Insight Center describes, the federal poverty guidelines don’t reflect a meaningful measure of what it actually costs to live. The calculations don’t consider the costs of rent, child care, transportation or health care. The calculation is based only on the cost of food, which is assumed to be 1/3 of a family’s total cost of living, with no variation by region. Do you think milk, bread and eggs cost the same at a grocery store in San Francisco and Indianapolis? Neither do I.

The Insight Center has an online Self Sufficiency Calculator for California on its website, which paints a better picture of what income would be required for economic self-sufficiency. For San Francisco County, the annual income is around $48,000 for a family of 3 adults – more than $13,000 more than the family in Newark, NJ. And food costs are estimated at less than 1/5 of monthly income, unlike in the federal guidelines.

According to the US Census Bureau there were 46.2 million Americans living below the federal poverty line in 2010. Imagine how many people live below the much higher standard of true economic self-sufficiency. The Insight Center is working with other states and policy makers to expand the calculator, and to use this more robust view of economic need in planning, particularly for the needs of our aging population.

I recently took a hard look at my personal financial situation, in considering what I need to earn as I complete my MBA and look for work. I hope that I won’t be required to do the sorts of juggling I saw on Need to Know – I want to continue to be able to live in the present and keep my aspirations for the future.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve separated myself from my Holy Innocents Episcopal church community. This year, I started to come back, knowing that I need community support on my life journey.

A few years ago, I was very much into the whole Lent-Holy Week-Easter “do”, taking on a Lenten discipline, being a member of the altar party in most Holy Weeks services, and swinging 360’s with the thurible at Easter services. I hung out with friends who were very much into church, and I immersed myself in the experience with them.

Then I ran into some challenges as my friends split up for reasons both good and bad. I was disillusioned and angry, and my connection to the liturgy was largely lost. I paid attention again to what was being said in the liturgy and sermons, and how I felt about it. I’d never believed in the fact of resurrection and of Jesus as a sacrifice for sins. Central to my faith about Easter was the experience of Jesus’ life and teachings continuing on in the experiences of his disciples – both female and male – and I increasingly felt the sting of the male-dominated church history. Our altar at church and liturgical language became less inclusive, and that gave me another reason to separate myself.

Jesus’ teachings about social justice and his radical opposition to the religious authorities of his time got him killed. He spoke truth to power and was unwilling to be silent, ultimately paying the price with his life. That was the sacrifice – non-violent protest, refusing to fight fire with fire (except in theological debates with religious authorities.) The fact that his message was powerful enough to be felt after his death is the resurrection experience that is true for me.

The Easter Vigil service has a special place in my heart, from the storytelling of faith perspectives to the drama of the light arriving and the first “Alleluias.” At one of my favorite Vigil services, our response to each reading was “And God isn’t finished with us yet.” I had missed the Vigil service for at least two years, but I went this year. I received an important message and insight from the service: a way to become an Easter person again, even though I don’t believe in “awaiting Christ’s coming in glory”. Our preacher at the Vigil, The Rev. J. Cameron Ayers, gave me the key that night that unlocked the door in my spirit the next morning.

The Easter story is one of redemption and the triumph of love. There are many examples of redemption and the triumph of love in today’s world if we look for them. They just tend to be drowned out by injustice, violence and greed. Jesus the man is dead, but his example lives on. As Christians, we are required to be Christ in the world today – seeking out injustice and trying to right the wrongs, returning violence with powerful but non-violent responses, and calling out the powerful to take action.

It’s our job to eradicate injustice, violence and greed, so that love really does triumph, throughout the world. I can be that kind of Easter person – or at least try to be.

A friend who is sharing “fun facts” for Women’s History Month reminded me of how recently women gained some basic control over their lives. It was only in the 1970’s that women were allowed to obtain mortgages and buy homes in their own names. (She’s reading When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins. I’ve just added it to my own reading list.) It made me recall that my mother had to explicitly apply for a credit card in her own name in the 1980’s, as previously, she’d only been listed under my dad’s credit. This was despite her having a job and bank account since she’d started working in her teens in the 1940’s.

I also heard a great deal over the past weeks from politicians and Catholic bishops and their supporters who believe that contraception used to prevent pregnancy is wrong and should not be available as preventative care without insurance deductibles, or at all. A law student who testified to the need for such coverage before Congress was vilified as a “slut” and “prostitute”, among other things. I was also reminded yesterday that there are people who think that women should not be able to choose to abort a fetus under any circumstance, and would take that control away from women.

All this adds up to increasing vicious attacks on women’s rights to equal opportunity and benefits in this country. When reminded of just how recently some of these benefits were won, it makes me angry – and I am not going to remain silent, on this or other social justice issues. I was a student at Wellesley College in the 1980’s, when we took these gains for women as won, and expected that society would continue to move forward. It makes me angry to see people take politicians seriously who would walk us backwards.

A few weeks ago, I was inspired by Gloria Steinem, who helped lead the effort to gain some of the rights women have today, and she isn’t resting on her laurels. She knows there is more to be done, and I now see more dramatically the need to fight with her. As she said, all social justice issues are connected, so I won’t be fighting only for women or feminism.
When an acquaintance posts on Facebook a one-sided statement, I am going to present my opposing viewpoint. I will attempt to do so in a way that is respectful but that makes it clear that I disagree, and why. I may not be able to take on all such views, but I will do what I can. The extremes in public dialogue continue to get worse as people listen more and more only to what they want to hear. I am going to try to do my part, so I cannot be silent.

So, if you’re someone who sees me wading in to a dialogue with someone in what appears to be a losing battle, now you know why I’m doing it.