One Wrong Step

25 03 2010

Walk down your street. Cross the road. Step onto a sidewalk. Now step off the sidewalk. Oops – you’re paralyzed from the waist down.

Too extreme? Get into your car. Drive down a 40 mph road. Oops – you got a flat front tire, swirved into a ditch, and now you’re a quadriplegic.

This is how fast, and how randomly, it happens to people every day. A physical disability is just one step off a curb away from anybody. When it happens, you’re going to need help. Just don’t ask these guys.

“If you’re looking for a handout, you’re in the wrong part of town. Nothing for free. You have to work for everything you get,” one teabagger chided, bending over to get in the face of the seated older man. The next Tea Partier dropped a dollar in his face, saying, “Start a pot, I’ll pay for you. I’ll decide when to give you money,” in a mocking tone of voice. After some grumbling about “Communism,” an offscreen teabagger yelled, “No more handouts!”

Really? This is the best we can do in this country? Now I’m not saying you should never yell at someone with a disability. People are people and all people piss off some people sometimes – I think that’s a variation on an old saying – but yelling these remarks at someone who is peacefully rallying for health care reform that will help his situation is unreasonable at best.

First of all, you want to talk about handouts? AIG is now like Dick Cheney in that the name is a punchline in itself, no set up required. And you might not want to call it a hand out to someone who was a nuclear engineer and may have done more for our economy than a lot of us will ever be able to claim – that is until a degenerative disease started attacking his body through no fault of his own. Maybe he’d be your daughters’ physics professor right now had his life not taken a path that was totally outside his control. There is nothing humanly possible that anyone with Parkinson’s disease could have done to prevent it. Nothing.

The randomness with which disabilites occur is a terrifying idea to many people, which could explain why some try to control as much of their world as possible, sometimes rigidly. With that in mind, let’s address the “I’ll decide when to give you money” thing. We all pay taxes. No, wait – let’s start simpler. We all buy groceries. You go to the store and pick up your cage free, organic, vegetarian fed eggs. Someone else buys some toilet paper and paper towels. Yet another person buys some ground beef chuck for dinner tonight, maybe a nice stew. All of you are giving money to the same store, and the store gives you all that you need even though each of you needs different things. If you are a vegetarian you cannot stop someone from buying meat, even though you yourself are against it and would never buy it. Despite being a paying customer, you cannot stop the store from providing meat to other customers who want meat. Likewise, other customers cannot stop you from buying your brand of eggs, or butter, or milk, or veggieburgers. All customers pay money to the same store, and that store provides different things for different people. The store takes revenue from individual sales and pools it together to buy proportionately more of everything sold. There is a lot of overlap (chips, vegetables, juice, bread, gift cards?) for many people’s grocery lists, and the store puts its resources into those areas more than any other, but it’s the little items that make such a big difference to so many of us. I don’t need to buy pull-ups, but what would happen if my grocery store stopped carrying them? I bet my brand of such-and-such would eventually go away, because there wouldn’t be enough general revenue – pooled together – to provide for the idiosyncratic items that so many of us need. Same. With. Taxes.

You may never buy wheat-free soy sauce. I hope you never have to. However, if your daughter is diagnosed as allergic (not just intolerant) to wheat – watch how fast you start reading every single food label.

Shock aside, attacks like those at the Tea Party rally are dangerous not because anyone can develop – at any time – a physical disability, but because it sanctions the infantilizing of those who do need assistance from those who don’t (yet).

Ability is a funny thing. No one can predict, let alone control, their own needs in the future when it comes to disabilities, whether it’s at the grocery store or the doctor’s office. Not even a rocket scientist. What we can predict is that we will all be on the receiving end eventually – if we’re lucky.


Prop 8 Decision Stirs National Outrage

27 05 2009

Prop 8 Protest 036

So here we are, half way through 2009. We have a newly elected president, a newly elected/reelected congress, and as we speak there is a new Supreme Court Judge frying under our collective political microscope. What’s that you say? What ever happened to that thing last year with gay marriage in California? First they could get married, then there was something during the election about rejecting marriage licenses of gay couples who already got married… what ever happened with that? 

Well, once upon a time there was a referendum. In order to qualify to get onto the ballot in the first place, Proposition 8 needed 694,354 valid petition signatures, equal to 8% of the total votes cast for governor in the November 2006 General Election. The initiative proponents submitted 1,120,801 signatures (160% of what was required). On June 2, 2008 the initiative qualified for the November 4, 2008 election ballot through the random sample signature check (’cause, you  know, nothing can go wrong there).

Please note that the initiative needed 8% of the number of people who voted in the most recent election for governor. So, for those of you in California who choose not to vote, if you had voted in the 2006 election for Governor then the authors of this initiative would have needed many more signatures. This is partially your fault – you’re making it easy for them.

Anyway,originally they called it the “California Marriage Protection Act”, but some opponents claimed that was a misleading title, so they settled on “Proposition 8”. So, with some paperwork and a $200 submission fee, the initiative was on its way.

Now it’s May 2009 – the election has come and gone, with Obama on top along with Prop 8. Opponents and supporters of Prop 8 have been playing tug of war with every legislative body they’ve been able to wrap their arms around. Lawsuits abound. What would be the fate of those 18,000 gay marriages that have taken place in California already? Finally May 26 rolls around, the day the California Supreme Court announces its ruling on whether or not Proposition 8 is valid. That morning the justices announce that Prop 8 is indeed valid as voted. 

In a written statement, Alan Van Capelle, the Pride Agenda’s executive director, said, “Today’s ruling from the California Supreme Court missed an opportunity to do what courts are supposed to do and that is to make sure that all people are treated equally under the law.” He noted, however, that dozens of New York gay and lesbian couples who traveled to California to marry last year will continue to have valid marriages that are recognized by New York State, as are all legal out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.

Rallies and celebrations across the U.S. that were planned in anticipation of an overturning of Prop 8 instead turn into outraged protests. In San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Providence and other cities, thousands of gay marriage supporters poured onto the streets, homemade signs in hand.

Another protest organizer, Ashley Simmons, said, “We chose to have a nonviolent civil disobedience because civil rights struggles come from the bottom up.” Fowler added. “There is a place for legislative action, but it’s more than appropriate to use civil disobedience to stand up for our rights when the system fails us.”

Some gay marriage supporters look at this decision as a good thing, saying that gay marriage “will stand on sounder footing when it is popularly enacted rather than judicially imposed”. Perhaps. Thankfully the protests and anti-Prop 8 rallies yesterday were generally peaceful demonstrations. If gay marriage supporters get desperate enough, if the elected officials that they helped get into office turn a deaf ear to their plight, that may not always be the case. 

Palin Protest Power, part 2

15 09 2008

Part of what I like about this election year is that the issues we face as a country and the candidates we’ve chosen to lead us are generating a lot of enthusiasm. As someone who grew up during a time when grunge was all the rage we could muster for a world resembling a heart shaped box, the outpouring of political support I’ve witnessed this year is not just remarkable, it’s revolutionary. Anyone paying attention over the last eighteen months expected that so much enthusiasm would create a tumultous political environment. What we did not expect was the huge democratic swell of support, not just for the national election but for local events as well. Opportunities to voice our concerns are important because they allow for a constructive, lawful way to speak truth to power. It’s the difference between a rally and a riot. This weekend’s rally in Anchorage, Alaska was the latest installment in a series of concientious individuals hellbent on being heard about how they want their country to be led for the next four years.

“When I got there, about 20 minutes early, the line of sign wavers stretched the full length of the library grounds, along the edge of the road, 6 or 7 people deep!”

All this isn’t just about Sarah Palin, conservative pitbull. Reports that Palin was involved in attempted book-banning while a councilwoman, prior to being mayor of Wasilla, has created quite a stir in the library community. And if there’s one thing you don’t want to do it’s piss off the librarians. Add to this that book-banning is just about the most grievous offense possible in the mind of a librarian, and McCain has a bit of a problem. He picked a runningmate who has pissed of librarians across the country, but especially in his vice president’s home state. These are people who are skilled in the arts of research, fact finding, organizing, and sharing information. These are people who work for lower wages at local libraries because they are so passionate about maintaining a path for an educated public. These are people who have endured budget cuts and reduced staffing for years under the failed policies of the Bush adminstration. These are people who, as a group, overwhelmingly vote for Democrats – and now you’ve pissed them off.

It doesn’t matter that Sarah Palin didn’t successfully ban the book, My Daddy’s Roommate, from local library shelves. It doesn’t matter how many books she tried to ban. It doesn’t matter whether or not there was an anti-gay theme for the books she tried to ban. It doesn’t doesn’t matter how direct Sarah Palin was about whether or not to ban any books. The future vice president, and likely the future president soon after, should not be anywhere near a book-banning scandal. Especially not someone who was a Journalism major with a Policial Science minor. It’s just not one of those issues that leaves much to the imagination – there’s no “other side” to banning books. Librarians use judgement and discretion when purchasing and cataloging items for their library. You will not find The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amazing Sex in the Children’s Room or Young Adult section at your local library. However, you may find it in the non-fiction section. It probably is just a few aisles down from The Vindication of the Rights of Woman and The Bible.

Palin Power Protest, part 1

15 09 2008

Merrill Lynch Rally grrrls at Anchorage

Rally grrrls at Anchorage

There are so few times in life when a feeling of helplessness transforms into focused power, especially for a national cause. Too often people are left throwing their hands up in the air and shaking their heads in frustration, not sure who to call or contact to voice their concerns.

Voting is an important right, but the drawback is that most choices in politics are not voted into existance by the general public. Writing letters and making phonecalls are constructive but it is debatable whether or not they are productive. Who do we call? Who do we write to? I know I wasn’t one of the people who called up the FCC or CBS to complain about Janet Jackson’s superbowl halftime wardrobe malfunction. Hell, if I knew then what the consequences would be for the ridiculous exercise in anti-woman censorship that followed, and has led to so much radio and TV censorship since, then I would have called up in support of Janet Jackson’s nipple.

But that’s just it – who to call? Most people don’t have the phone number or email address of people who can actually have an effect on our world in that way. Having a voice is almost useless if you’re talking to yourself.

Which is why I was so pleased to read about the ‘Alaska Women Reject Palin’ rally this weekend:

Around 1500 people gathered to protest against Sarah Palin. 1500 people showing up to a rally in Alaska is the equivalent of 18,000 people in New Jersey. So, imagine filling the entire PNC Bank Arts Center (including lawn seats) to full capacity in protest of a single politician and you’d have the equivalent of the protest on the lawn of the Loussac Library in Anchorage, Alaska this weekend.

I first saw the article on Huffington Post. This is one of my favorite parts, because it’s just too deliciously bitter and Limbaugh-like:

“One of those media outlets was KBYR radio, home of Eddie Burke, a long-time uber-conservative Anchorage talk show host. “Turns out that Eddie Burke not only announced the rally, but called the people who planned to attend the rally ‘a bunch of socialist baby-killing maggots,’ and read the home phone numbers of the organizers aloud over the air, urging listeners to call and tell them what they thought. The women, of course, received many nasty, harassing and threatening messages.”

Eddie Burke with brilliant(?) sign

Eddie Burke with brilliant(?) sign

“Socialist, baby-killing maggots.” Wow, that’s great. The thing is, maggots are necrotic – they only feed on things that are dead. So, “baby-killing maggot” is a bit of a contradiction, and an ironic one at that.

As for maggots being socialists: they don’t have division of labor, communication between individuals, and an ability to solve complex problems like ants do – in that way they are arguably more capitalistic in nature. “Capitalist, Enron-feeding maggots“, now that would be an insult.

CNN’s Cafferty Paints PUMAs With Broad Brush

26 08 2008
DNC protesters outside the RBC meeting in May, 2008

DNC protesters outside the RBC meeting in May, 2008

The description of PUMA isn’t entirely accurate – PUMA grew out of the response to the DNC RBC meeting in May 2008. Their main point is boycotting Obama, not necessarily out of pure loyalty to Hillary or because they are closet republicans, but because of the mess with Florida and Michigan’s reduced delegates.

Because the decision to hold early primaries in those two states as well as the decision to punish those two states in that way (reducing delegates to half status, thereby effecitively eliminating half the voters in each state) was 100% out of the voters hands, a lot of them joined together to form PUMA.

They do not endorse any candidate, though most people were Hillary voters (and of course they would be – if you were a McCain voter then you weren’t affected by the RBC ruling, and if you were an Obama supporter then it worked in your favor).

I think other Hillary supporters, who don’t give a rat’s ass about Michigan or Florida, also joined because, well, they felt betrayed and needed an outlet. Kinda like Gore supporters in 2000, only this time (sadly and ironically) the role of Bush is being played by Obama.

Pandemonium Unleashed, Most Attractive

25 07 2008

It is important to have an oasis where one can gather their thoughts, lick their wounds, and regroup. We must respect the needs of those voters who have flocked to such places, because we know what they have endured not just these past few months, but these past few years. We all deserve to have a forum, a sounding board, where our voices feel necessary and welcome.

One thing we agree on is that the divisiveness – amplified by the willing enablers in the media – that threatens to tear the Democratic party apart is doing just that.

Many of us have been motivated to action by shared beliefs: that the current leadership of the Democratic National Committee has abrogated its responsibility to represent the interests of all Democrats in all 50 states; that they were misleading our party by selecting, not electing, a candidate for president in 2008; that we were being forced to choose between our communities and ourselves; that our voices, while audible, were not heard.

The challenge of our past remains the challenge of our future: Will we be one force, one people, with one common destiny — or not? Will we all come together, or come apart?

Prejudice and contempt, cloaked in the pretense of political conviction, are no different. They have nearly destroyed us in the past. They plague us still. These obsessions cripple both those who are hated, and of course those who hate, robbing both of what they might become. We cannot – we will not – succumb to the dark impulses that lurk in the far regions of the soul everywhere. We shall overcome them, and we shall replace them with the generous spirit of a people who feel at home with one another. Our rich texture of racial, gender and political diversity will be a godsend in the coming years. Great rewards will come to those who can live together, learn together, work together, and forge new ties that bind together.