Category Archives: activism

hitting the snooze button (a letter back to myself from 10 months ago)

IMG_2704 - Version 4Dear Me of January 2017,

Thanks for your letter. I did get it as planned on July 26th,  and the alarm went off, as planned. I couldn’t motivate myself to write right away, though. I didn’t exactly go back to sleep. But I did hit the snooze button, so to speak. For four months.

Anyhow, I’m doing okay, thanks. At least, me personally and my family. We’re all in good health, and not in any immediate danger.

As for the country as a whole, and the whole world? Well, things aren’t looking so great.

It’s not exactly that my worst fears were realized, because, let’s face it, my worst fears are a touch dramatic. I can safely say that, at the very least, we haven’t yet devolved into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and I haven’t been jailed as a political dissident. Other than that, though, the outlook isn’t great.

You’d hoped that impeachment processes would be underway,  but in spite of some petitions and the occasional vocal politician, we haven’t had much progress. There have, though, been ongoing investigations into collusion with Russia from the Trump campaign. So maybe there’s still hope there.

One recent bright ray of hope came in the form of state and local election results earlier this month. Around the country, we saw that progressives are ready to fight back. If we can keep up the momentum, the 2018 and 2020 elections look promising as well. But there’s a lot of work ahead.

You wondered if I’d still be resisting, and I generally am. I did attend the March for Science in Boston, but I haven’t managed to attend any other marches. I know it sounds like excuse-making, but I have had reasons. Schedule conflicts or insufficient time to plan. I haven’t yet found a Black Lives Matter event to attend. I guess I need to try a little harder.

I did finish reading the New Jim Crow, but the online discussion group that prompted me to read it largely fizzled out. I did attend the talk in February on dialect discrimination. I also helped to organize a workshop addressing systems of oppression through the social justice group at a friend’s UU church. I am also happy to say that I did start volunteering with immigrant populations, and have started working as a volunteer ESL tutor through the public library of a neighboring town. It feels productive and personally enriching in ways that many of my other efforts don’t.

IMG_2704 - Version 3 As for my work with my Democratic Town Committee, there I can honestly say that I have not let that ball drop. I have invested many hours on outreach projects, including design and a mailing, contributing to our social media presence, publicizing and attending events, and even spearheading the design and construction of a float in our small town’s arade. I have been following state and local races, and supporting progressive candidates. I’ve attended meetings and trainings and fundraisers.

I have channeled much of my angst and worry and anger about the national scene into my efforts on the local scene. More than ever, we need to keep progressive voices in the House and Senate, because they are fighting the fight every day. We need to have progressives in our state legislatures, because this is our best chance to preserve what progressive  policies we have, at least close to home.
IMG_2704 - Version 2

Yes, I am tired, as you imagined. As you and I both know, I tend burn the candle from both ends preparing for an event. Then my health tends to suffer afterwards. But then I recover, rally, and dig back in. I am still very aware that what is going on in our government and our society is not okay, and not normal. I have been horrified by the numbers of people who feel able now to openly embrace and display their views of white supremacy, and disgusted that this administration fuels that display of hate. All the institutions and groups of people we were worried about in January are still just as threatened. There are good people who are fighting back, though, and this gives me some hope. The press is still free, and and far as I know, people can still protest and freely assemble. But it does give me a nagging sense of worry that the frequency and visibility of protests has decreased. I am not the only one who is tired.

Your big question for me, which I really can’t ignore was: Are you paying enough attention?

I’m afraid that the answer is probably “no.” The constant alarm bells, such as about attacks on healthcare, net neutrality, horrifying judicial appointments, threats of war, and so much more, are causing so much noise, that I am surely missing a lot.

While I am worn out and deeply worried, I am also bolstered every day by my friendship and connection with friends and family members who share my values and worldview. I know that there are many of us, and we are not going to back down.

I also do not doubt for a moment that we are on the right side of history.

In solidarity,

The Current Present Day Me, Who is now 10 Months Older than the Me who wrote that Last Letter

p.s. I realize that you can’t write back this time, because you are in the past, and I don’t believe we have access to time travel. But perhaps another Future Me will write back to us both.

p.p.s. Not sure I can blame it on the crumbling democracy, but I’m still not finished with my work for the NSF grant. I’m still giving at least part of my time and attention to my work as a researcher, though.

p.p.p.s. I totally forgot about that puzzle. Did not even try to finish it, and probably never will.

This post is a follow-up to one I wrote 10 months ago, setting an alarm (a letter to myself 6 months from now),  the motivations for which I described thusly¹:

This post was inspired by a quote shared by a friend on Facebook, excerpted from a column in the New Yorker:

At a writers’ protest organized by the PEN America Center, on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum last Sunday, Andrew Solomon, the organization’s president, decrying Trump’s apparent disregard for free speech, quoted a South African friend who had lived through apartheid: “ ‘What is most shocking is not how shocked you are right now, what is most shocking is how unshocked you will be in six months time.’ ” Solomon went on, “When I heard him, I took it as an occasion to declare that I will remain shocked. That we will remain shocked.” –Emily Eakin, The New Yorker, January 20, 2017

I commented that the quote made me feel like I should set an alarm. I have effectively just done so. I put an event on my calendar for 6 months from today: RESIST. I wrote in my new paper planner, and put it in my computer with it set to alert me a day before. I very much hope that I remember what this means.

This post ended up being super long, in spite of my efforts to trim it down. If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I’d love to hear more ideas about how to keep the resistance going. What have you been up to? What do you hope to do next?²

¹ I also wrote that post as my third entry in #52essays2017, a project to write and post an essay each week this year. Clearly, I have not kept up that weekly challenge.  If I had, this would only be my 4th essay. (To read more about the 52 essays project, visit Vanessa Martir’s Blog.)

² In case you wondered about the images in the post, they are some buttons I made. I couldn’t wrangle up swag for an event, so I decided to design and make some of my own.

Speaking out for Science

speaking-waveform
Coming up this Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people around the world will join voices for the March for Science. (The main March will be in Washington, DC, and there are 512 satellite marches planned. I’ll be going to the Boston one.)

Soon after I heard about the march, I not only planned to go, but started working on a design for a t-shirt and sign. As I am a linguist, I wanted to represent speech and language sciences. I made a recording of myself saying my slogan, “speaking out for science,” and put together a graphic with the (orthographic) text, a waveform, and a phonetic transcription in IPA. I put up a draft of my design on Facebook, and got some feedback from other linguists on my transcription. I made a new recording with some clearer articulation, and put up a new image and transcription. I finalized a couple versions of my design (one with a spectrogram), and set up a storefront on TeePublic (an online t-shirt store), and lo and behold, several people ordered shirts!

speaking-spectrogram

A couple of weeks or so later, a (linguist) friend of mine shared a photo of herself in her new shirt. There was lots of gratifying positive feedback, but also a few other (linguist) friends of hers said things like “that’s not how I’d say that,” as well as “that’s not how I’d transcribe that!” There was much back and forth about both articulation and use of diacritics. (Mostly centered around the release of stop consonants, if you want to know the nitty gritty.)

While I admittedly at first felt a bit deflated to have the design I’d made for fun get feedback that felt harsher than what I’ve seen from anonymous reviewers on a conference abstract, I realized that there was an opening for a new variation on the design. Because this is what scientists do. We discuss our methods and our data with our peers, and we revise accordingly.

speaking-multispeaker

So I made some revisions. Whereas the possible variation in saying a simple 4-word phrase at first seemed like an obstacle to get around in choosing a representative production to use for my design, I realized that it was an opportunity for a new design to reflect the variation itself. And so I asked my friends and those friends of friends who’d been part of the discussion to submit recordings of themselves saying the phrase, with the option of sending their own transcription. My new design has 7 different productions of the phrase “speaking out for science,” along with a new sub-slogan: “No matter how you say it, science matters.”
speaking-multilingual

And I had another idea for a design to include more languages. I especially wanted to include a non-spoken language. I consulted with a Deaf friend on how best to represent the word science in ASL (American Sign Language). With her guidance, I consulted a few references (including video), and drew and adjusted a diagram to represent the word. I also included 26 other languages, in addition to English. (And I had to consult others again for help with a few of the languages with non-Roman script, including one friend in Abu Dhabi, and another in Bangladesh.)

And so it is that I have 4 different design variations. I have put together some files that are available for downloading and printing, free for personal use, should anyone else want to use them. (I’m planning on making a couple of two-sided signs, each with 2 of the different designs.) Variations of the designs are also available on t-shirts and on some other stuff on TeePublic.

Below are the files, formatted for printing on 18″x 24″ (but scaleable). The png files have a transparent background. Images were created using Praat and Illustrator.

  • Speaking out for Science: Single speaker waveform [pdf png]
  • Speaking out for Science: Single speaker with spectrogram [pdf png ]
  • Speaking out for Science: multi-speaker [pdf png]
  • Speaking out for Science: multilingual [pdf png ]

Let me know if you decide to use one of my signs. And let me know if you have any suggestions for future versions! (Help me get more voices and more languages. For science!) You can always email me at alejna99 “at” gmail.com.

Edited 4/18/2017: I have updated the pdf and png files to hopefully fix font issues that may come up on different computers. Please do let me know if you run into problems with any of the files!

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

—-
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.