Category Archives: activism

the little gray hoodie on the hook

We wear hoodies in our family, all 4 of us. I am the mother of 2 young children, one a little boy. He probably has more hoodies than the rest of us, in a range of colors. He even has a gray hoodie, one that we got during our visit to my husband’s high school for a reunion a few months ago. Each day when we send him to his pre-K class, we have to send him in with a sweater or sweatshirt. Even on hot summer days, since New England weather can turn quickly, or the air conditioning inside can be excessive. This past week, I have found myself consciously avoiding that gray hoodie. I see it hanging there on the hook on the back of a door, along with the yellow hoodie and the blue one with the prints of cars.

I look at that little gray hoodie, and my heart hurts. I can’t even bear the thought of posting a photo of my little boy in his gray hoodie, because of the association with the vulnerability of being a target. Because of the association with a boy who lost his life, and a mother who lost her child.

One day my little boy will be the same age as Trayvon Martin was that night last year. He will be a teenage boy, with the range of moods and sometimes unpredictable behavior that come with that stage. He may be an honor student, or a rebel, or a little of each. He may choose to behave exactly as Trayvon did, buy the same candy and sugary drink. Want to walk out in the rain to get away from adult company. He may be the same height and build as Trayvon. He may choose to dress exactly as Trayvon did. And yet I also know that he will never be a target in the same way that Trayvon Martin was. The privilege of white skin will give him license to wear that hoodie, to walk in an unfamiliar neighborhood, to shop in a store, without being profiled by default as a potential threat.

The discourse of the past 2 weeks reminds me of the privilege that I have and that my family has. The fact that I can be reminded of my privilege is itself a hallmark of privilege: I have the luxury to be able to regularly forget. Where I live, I can drive around my town, I can walk through my neighborhood, shop in any store, without once wondering if the color of my skin will attract negative attention. I know that I don’t entirely fit in where I live, and my hairstyle and clothes mark me as a bit different. But never in a threatening way. I can dress like a slob without worrying that it reflects badly on my heritage. I can drive a nice car without raising any eyebrows, or drive a beat-up car without people assuming that I am poor. As a white female, people make lots of assumptions about me, which may or may not in any way reflect who I am. But none of the assumptions put me at higher risk of being stopped by the police, or worse, someone like Zimmerman: highly armed but poorly trained, full of anger and self-righteousness and fear.

I have been feeling heartsick since Zimmerman’s acquittal. The messages I read from that verdict and some of the ensuing discourse just drive home to me how far our society has yet to go to achieve equality. I have the sense that this country is divided: those who see the systemic inequity and the harmful biases, and those who are unwilling or unable to see them. I know that I live in a society that continues to have systemic racism. I am ashamed to sometimes see evidence of that racism in my own thoughts, my own assumptions. Much as I sometimes find my thoughts reflecting sexism, ablism, agism, classism and so many of the other isms that are part of our society. But I call myself out. Sometimes I even have the courage to call out others when I see it.

I have had conversations with close friends and family members, and feel lucky that those closest to me see things much as I do. But I am realizing that these private conversations with like-minded people are not enough. I need to make a public stand, even if in my small way, by writing here. I know that people who are blind to what I see, to both systemic racism and the privilege that allows them that blindness, are not necessarily bad people. I know people, some of them even friends or family members, who fit into these categories. Even thinking about starting conversations with them about race and privilege exhausts me. But I am thinking about these things, and with this post, I am showing that I am willing to be part of this conversation.

I have been reading posts and articles every day since the news of Zimmerman’s acquittal. I have spent a lot of time reflecting. I have felt outrage and deep sadness, but also great hope that this conversation will continue, and will bring progress. I am busy and am protective of the time I need to spend on my work and family obligations. However, this conversation is too important to me. I need to be part of the conversation because I want my children to grow up in a world where no child’s life is cut short by others’ assumptions about race.

I want to live in a world where a mother’s worries about her son’s choice to wear a hoodie when he goes out on a walk will never be about anything more weighty than whether that hoodie will be warm enough.

I have recently read lots of post relating to the death of Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman’s acquittal, and privilege. Here are some of the ones that have stuck with me:

If you have written things about these topics yourself, or read things that moved you, please feel free to share links in the comments.

cold hands, warm hearts

We had a our first snowfall of the season last night. It didn’t amount to much accumulation, but it did make the roads treacherous, especially once darkness fell. This morning, though, it looked pretty.

Phoebe and Theo were eager to go out and play in the snow. Phoebe still had to catch school bus, but I told them that if they were really fast getting ready and eating breakfast, they could play outside. They were remarkably fast (even though Theo tried to convince me that he’d be faster finishing breakfast if he didn’t have to eat any food), and I got their warm weather gear sorted out with unexpected speed as well.

I still had to get their lunches packed up, so I sent them outside to the yard without me. When I came out a bit later, this is what I encountered:

They had worked together, they were still working together, to build a snowman. They were discussing what they would use to make the face and other details, and, here’s the part that gets me, they weren’t bickering. My heart just about melted right there.


Theo at work.


Phoebe and Theo with the finished product. (Theo picked a leaf for a nose that reminded him of a carrot.)

I had helped a bit with getting a few of the items to stick into the snowman, since I didn’t want them taking off their mittens. My hands got cold quickly. Even after I put my own gloves on, my hands stayed cold. Waiting around the few more minutes for the bus, I got colder in the wind and sleet, in spite of my warm coat, boots, hat and gloves.

Phoebe got on the bus, and I drove Theo to preschool and came back home. My hands were still icy. I made some hot tea and warmed my hands on the mug and enjoyed the warmth of our house.

And I just couldn’t stop thinking about the people who were hit so hard by Hurricane Sandy, such a short distance from me. All those people without electricity, many without heat or the ability to cook food in their homes. Many without homes.

I thought of them in the dark and the wind and the wet and thought how much some of them must really, at that moment, just want to be warm.

I checked out the Occupy Sandy gift registry again, and tracked down more information from the group. They have a website with daily updates of their actions and needs. Here is today’s list of of their current needs:

Current Needs – Blankets Candles Flashlights Lights Water Food Batteries Diapers and Wipes Gloves and Masks Rubber boots Shovels Cleaning supplies and bleach Trash bags Serving dishes and utensils Anything that produces heatWinter wear (jackets, hats, gloves, warm stuff)

So much need. The need for shovels and trashbags and cleaning supplies is a reminder of how much work there is to be done. The need for diapers highlights to me how there must be many families with small children, dealing with darkness and cold and wetness and inadequate food and water sources, and the uncertainty of how long this will go on.

I placed an order from the registry for batteries and diapers and handwarmers. It warmed me a bit to know I might be helping someone else get warmth, light and comfort. The delivery likely won’t get there until Monday, and at least the forecast for the weekend is warmer, but I fear the need will continue through next week. Maybe longer. (How much longer?)

I also checked out the Occupy Sandy Relief NYC Facebook page, where they have been posting frequent updates. It warmed my heart to see their activity, calling for volunteers to help with specific tasks, like delivering hot meals that someone had donated to homebound senior citizens in the Rockaways.

I am so moved by the work that they are doing. So many have seen the need, and stepped up. I love it that members of the Occupy movement have taken their organizational expertise and networking skills and applied it to this crisis. And they are working like crazy, demonstrating their remarkable resolve and generosity of spirit.¹

I’d like to say thank you to all of you who are helping in the storm relief. May your hands stay as warm as your hearts.


The jack-o-lanterns are in disguise. They have neither hands nor hearts, but they are cold.²

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¹ I think back to the angry right-wing types who characterized the Occupy protesters as lazy and greedy, and wonder if they will eat their words. I doubt it, though. They’re too busy demonizing someone else.

² The old saying, “cold hands, warm heart,” came up a lot in my family when I was growing up, as my mother, my sister and I have perennially cold hands. (What, do people with warm hands have cold hearts?) I’m a bit too lazy to track down the origins of the expression, but here’s what one website says:

COLD HANDS, WARM HEART – “A reserved, cool exterior may disguise a kind heart. The proverb has been traced back to ‘Collectanea by V.S. Lean. First cited in the United States in ‘Blue Murder’ by E. Snell.” From “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings” by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).

I also came across an interesting behavioral study showing that people are more likely to be generous and think positively of others when they have warm hands than when they have cold. Something to think about. So everybody go put on your mittens or hold a hot beverage, and make some donations.

signs of the times

I know that everyone and their mother and their dog and the fleas on their dog’s back is thoroughly and entirely tired of hearing about the stinkin’ US presidential election.¹ But this time, I’m going talk about a different race: the Massachusetts senatorial race. Not even really about the race. About the sign we have in our front yard. (But maybe your dog and its fleas should leave the room, anyhow.)

Early in 2010, Massachusetts held a special election to fill the seat that had long been held by Ted Kennedy, after his death. I was not happy about the results.² Happily, there is a new candidate for senate this time, and one I enthusiastically support: Elizabeth Warren

I have been marginally involved with the Elizabeth Warren campaign. I did a very small bit of phone banking, and an afternoon of door-to-door canvassing. And I signed up to put up a yard sign.

This may seem like no big deal, but it actually was a bit of a deal. Perhaps a medium-sized deal.

We’ve never had a yard sign up before. We support candidates in a variety of ways, but not typically with signs. One issue is that we are non-confrontational, and somewhat private. Anyone who knows me well knows how I lean politically. But it has generally not been the case that people who don’t know me well would necessarily know.

It should also be noted that while we live in a blue state, our town is far from blue. We live in Scott Brown territory. Back in August, when I put up our sign, I don’t remember seeing any other Elizabeth Warren signs. (Happily, there are some others scattered around town now.)

You may wonder whether having a sign up does any good at all, but I have to say that I think it matters. Especially in areas where signs for one candidate dominate. People driving by see that there is diversity of opinion. Closet supporters of a candidate feel heartened. Open supporters feel bolstered. (I know I am happy whenever I see other Elizabeth Warren signs in my area.)

But, it also publicly marks us. And in these rather ugly times, with so much open hostility surfacing with election, that’s not always a comfortable feeling. One afternoon, while I waited at the top of our driveway for Phoebe’s school bus, I noticed someone giving me a dirty look as he drove by. In the next day or so, our sign disappeared. Coincidence?

John’s response was to order 2 new signs. A few weeks later, we had a sign back up in the yard. The 2nd new sign was kept as a back-up, in case the new sign also disappearead.

I’m happy to say that our current sign has weathered both the ravages of weather and hostile neighbors. We have not needed to break out the emergency back-up sign.


Here is our first sign, in early September, shortly before the sign’s disappearance. Note the green leaves on the trees.


Here is the replacement sign, several weeks later.


Here’s the sign again, just this afternoon. Still there! And check out all the leaves, none of which remain on the trees.


Here is our back-up sign, at the top of the stairs, in front of a bookcase. Note the lack of leaves, but the presence of a Duplo robot and some light bulbs.

Phoebe and I also got to meet Elizabeth Warren at an event at her Worcester campaign office, which was enormously exciting for me. I was more than a little star-struck, but Ms. Warren was gracious and kind, and spent several minutes talking with Phoebe. Here they are doing a pinky promise.

¹ Especially you poor souls in swing states.

² I concede that Scott Brown has turned out to have been not as extreme as I feared, and has even occasionally broken with his party in his voting. However, he still by and large doesn’t represent me and my views. But I don’t want this post to be about him.

³ The reasons I support Elizabeth Warren are many and varied, but a good indication of them can be seen from my results from ISideWith, a website that shows how well you mesh with candidates based on answering policy-based questions. I scored a 96% overlap with Elizabeth Warren, and only 52% with Scott Brown. (For the record, for the presidential race, my highest score, 97%, is for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Second is Obama, with 90%. As for my overlap with Romney? 6%. I kid you not. That’s not a typo. Less than 10%. Of course, I don’t know how they determined Romney’s positions on policy, because they seem to be moving targets to me…)

The September 2010 Just Posts

Welcome to the September 2010 Just Posts, the latest edition of a monthly roundtable of posts on a range of topics relating to activism and social justice hosted here and at Cold Spaghetti. Please show your support and check out the great posts on the list below!

If you have a post in the list above, or would just like to support the Just Posts, we invite you to display a button on your blog with a link back here, or to the Just Posts at Cold Spaghetti. If you would like to have a post included next month, you can find out how to submit posts and all sorts of other stuff about the Just Posts at the information page.

The August 2010 Just Posts

Welcome to the latest Just Post roundtable, a collection of posts from the month of July on topics relating to social justice hosted here and at Cold Spaghetti.

The posts of this month’s roundtable were nominated by:

If you have a post in the list above, or would just like to support the Just Posts, we invite you to display a button on your blog with a link back here, or to the Just Posts at Cold Spaghetti. If you would like to have a post included next month, you can find out how to submit posts and all sorts of other stuff about the Just Posts at the information page.

stemming the flood of apathy

A couple of weekends ago I went to New York City for BlogHer, a big conference for bloggers.

That same weekend, in Pakistan, the disastrous flooding that had started a week before was getting steadily worse.

I’m embarrassed to say that over that weekend when I was in New York, the flooding in Pakistan was not even on my radar. While I can’t say for certain that it wasn’t mentioned, I just don’t remember anyone talking about it. Even at the very activism-oriented sessions that I attended. It could be that I was caught up in other things, or it could be that everyone else was, too.

During the 2 days that I was staying in comfortable hotels, and feasting on the elaborate buffets courtesy of corporate sponsors, hundreds of thousands of people in Pakistan were already left homeless, and millions more were affected. Over a thousand had already died.

In the following week, I know that I had seen an email come in from UNICEF about the floods, but I didn’t spend much time looking at it. I confess that it wasn’t until I was glancing at a newspaper left on a table at my in-laws’ house last weekend and read an article about US aid to Pakistan that I really became conscious of the magnitude of the flooding, and reflected on how little I had heard about it. I know that some of this is because I was travelling, and preoccupied with personal business. I was too busy with kids and family to spend more than a few minutes a day online, and I don’t generally watch TV. But somehow in those few minutes a day online I read about other things. I read far more, for example, about the controversy about the proposed Islamic community center in New York City. (You know, the one that’s not actually a mosque, nor actually at Ground Zero.) And I can’t help but feel that the lack of widespread concern over the one story and the furor over the other are related.

Now, more than two weeks after the flooding began, the crisis in Pakistan is still growing, with 8 million people urgently needing humanitarian aid.

I know that I am not alone in my concern, nor am I alone in being disturbed by the unimpressive trickle of response to these catastrophic floods. I think it’s important for those of us who do care to do what we can to express our concern, and show the people of Pakistan, and the world at large, than many of us care at least as much about the survival of their children as the fate of a building that once housed a Burlington Coat Factory.

So, you may be wondering why I’m bringing up a conference I attended. Well, for one thing, things that happened there have been on my mind a disproportionate amount of time compared to world events, and that does not make me proud of myself. For another thing, thanks to the kindness of a couple of generous friends, I didn’t need to get a hotel room of my own for the two nights I was in the city, as they let me use the extra beds in their rooms. Both turned down my offers of contributing to the hotel bills. So, I feel like I had a bit of a windfall. And I have decided to donate the equivalent of what I might have paid for 2 nights of hotel in New York City to organizations who are actively providing humanitarian aid to the survivors of the floods in Pakistan.

I donated to IRC and UNICEF, two organizations I have previously supported, and who are already on the ground in Pakistan. I know that there are other worthy organzations at work in Pakistan, such as Doctors Without Borders. If you would like to recommend any others, or any other ways of either helping the situation in Pakistan or voicing your concern, please share them in the comments.

The July 2010 Just Posts

Welcome to the latest Just Post roundtable, a collection of posts from the month of July on topics relating to social justice hosted here and at Cold Spaghetti.

Just Posts for a Just World, July 2010.

Readers:

If you have a post in the list above, or would just like to support the Just Posts, we invite you to display a button on your blog with a link back here, or to the Just Posts at Cold Spaghetti. If you would like to have a post included next month, you can find out how to submit posts and all sorts of other stuff about the Just Posts at the information page.

Holding myself accountable (Petroleum junkie, part 3)

A view from the train on one of my recent commutes.

The deal with resolutions is that we tend to start off full speed, full of enthusiasm and, well, resolve. Before long, however, both enthusiasm and resolve tend to wane.

Last month, in large part in reaction to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and my increasing awareness of abuses perpetuated by the petroleum industry, I resolved to decrease my own personal dependence on petroleum. I followed up with a list of specific actions, and specific goals. Among other things, I had committed to tracking much of our fuel consumption.

Part of why I am sharing these details here is to maintain my resolve. I will cut down on my fossil fuel consumption. But the will may need continued prodding.

Electricity

Tracking electricity usage was painless, thanks to my electric company listing kilowatt hour usage by month for the past 12 months. Tracking was painless, but the results were painful. I thought we were more moderate electricity users, but we are on the high end for our region. Our usage for the last 12 months averaged 921 kwh per month. While the average US household uses 920 per month, our state only averages between 500 and 618 kwh. (The second number is from a spreadsheet available from this site with usage by state.)

While I haven’t yet measured the electricity usage of specific items, I have rounded up the following suspects: lights and fans left on unnecessarily, and electronics. I think our past tendency to leave our stereo/home theater receiver on was a drain. We also have a lot of computers, including one large one that has been acting as a server, for a while for John’s work, but mostly as our electronic media repository. We have now gotten into the habit of turning off stereo and video equipment when not listening/watching, and John has set the server to power down at night. We have become more vigilant about turning off lights, fans and air conditioners when we leave rooms, as well.

The good news is that our usage is showing a downward trend. Our July statement showed 854 kwh compared to last July’s 946, a decrease of over 9%. June showed a 20% decrease over last year. (I have no idea why our usage was particularly high last June. 1063 kwh. It wasn’t air conditioning, as that was a cold and rainy month. What on earth were we doing? Giving each other electric shocks?)

I finally got around to signing up for one of my electric company’s renewable energy options. I have yet to get a bill showing the new rates. The cost by wattage will increase, but I’m hoping that our efforts to reduce usage will offset this. We shall see…

Heating oil

Tracking heating oil was more annoying, as I had to go through my bills month by month. (There’s no summary of deliveries.) Deliveries are also somewhat irregular, in both timing and amount, so when I found that I was missing a statement, I couldn’t really guess how much oil was delivered that month, or be certain that oil was even delivered that month. I finally came across the missing bill (helpfully mixed in with phoebe’s art papers), so have added that to my spreadsheet.

While I haven’t found great sources it looks like the average US household using heating oil uses 730 gallons per year, and in the Northeast US is 822 gallons. It looks like we have had 785 gallons delivered to our home in the past 12 months, which puts us slightly lower than the average for our region.

I can’t tell yet how much our usage is changing, but I think I have reduced my hot water usage. The real chance to improve, though, will come in the winter. With that in mind, I have contacted a company that makes storm windows that may work for us, which should significantly reduce the winter draftiness of our house.

Gasoline

Gasoline was the hardest of the three to track, since we don’t tend to file our receipts. I did go through our credit card statements for the last year, and logged all gas station transactions. I only have dollar amounts, not gallon amounts, but this at least gives me a general sense of frequency of filling the tanks. My sense is that we have filled them frequently. I haven’t really worked out the estimates of how frequently yet.

I’m happy to say that I have taken the train to work much more often. This is easy to track, as I bought a 12-ride pass on June 8th, and have used all 12. Each of those saved me about 35 miles of driving. I’ve even gotten a second 12-ride pass. In fact, due to slower summer schedules, I’ve only needed to drive into work maybe 3 times in the last couple months. (Plus there have been a few trips for recreational reasons.)

Other stuff

I have been doing pretty well with buying local food. I found a place to buy eggs that is only a couple of miles from us, and finally found a farm stand within 10 miles of our house. (I just don’t understand how local produce can be so hard to find in such a rural area. Gah!) We also managed to go blueberry picking a few times at the place down the road…before they abruptly closed for the season. (No!)

I have been doing a good job with reducing our use of new plastic containers. I have used my stainless steel water bottle regularly, and (aside from when I was travelling) have only resorted to buying bottled water a couple of times.

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There. That’s the skinny on my recent efforts to reduce my fossil fuel gluttony. If anyone has actually read this far, you deserve a prize. Like maybe a big, fat virtual hug from me.

The June 2010 Just Posts

Welcome to the Just Posts, a collection of posts on topics of social justice hosted here and at Cold Spaghetti.

The posts of this months roundtable were nominated by:

If you have a post in the list above, or would just like to support the Just Posts, we invite you to display a button on your blog with a link back here, or to the Just Posts at Cold Spaghetti. If you would like to have a post included next month, you can find out how to submit posts and all sorts of other stuff about the Just Posts at the information page.