As school starts anew in Seattle, we think of the families still forced apart

As school starts anew in Seattle, we think of the families still forced apart

Suddenly it's September. Somehow it's already the end of the first week of school.

Every summer goes by a bit too fast, but this was a special year for our family, so the past few months went by in a blink.

I began a summer-long break from writing at the beginning of June, and soon after that we welcomed a perfect new baby girl into this world. So, less than two weeks into my little hiatus, mom and baby Sojourner were home full-time along with me. In a matter of a few more days, the school year had ended for our two boys, and we were all home together in a little time-space cocoon spun of family ties. It's a rare gift to have such free and uninterrupted time as an entire family, and we made the most of it -- on the road, in the woods, and especially at home together.

But then, on the first day of school, the bubble popped.

Read More

Seattle needs a superintendent in the Bob Ferguson mold — someone who knows right from wrong and won't take any shit

Seattle needs a superintendent in the Bob Ferguson mold — someone who knows right from wrong and won't take any shit

By the time we reached the first floor and the elevator doors slid open, I was pretty sure I was standing next to Bob Ferguson, Washington State's attorney general. So, I asked him.

"Excuse me," I said. "Are you Bob Ferguson?"

"Yes, I am," he said.

Okay. Mystery solved. I told him my name and shook his hand.

What now?

"Thanks for doing what you're doing," I said. "You've made me feel proud to live in Seattle."

Read More

Guest Post: As the single parent of a Black child, I don't get to take a day off from racism

By Jefflin Breuer

I have two children.

My first-born is a girl and white like me. We had so many conversations about rape culture, misogyny and feminism, and I tried to share every piece of advice I knew about how to protect herself, what to watch out for, and how to be strong and hold her ground. I could give her this advice because I lived in the same shoes.

My second-born is a boy, and he is Black. Actually, he's white, too, but no one will see that. I have raised him nearly exclusively on my own, and even though he’s only six, I have already had to navigate difficult and frightening situations with him.

holding hands black and white.jpg

He knows, for instance, as a six-year-old, that the police are not there to protect him and that he isn't allowed to play with toy guns — ever. He asks anyone who will listen if they believe Black Lives Matter and why.

My son started public school this year. I have read so many things about the preschool-to-prison pipeline. I dropped him off and couldn't help but think I had just given him to the system that wants to harm him. A system that will view him, because of his skin, as more violent, angry, loud and dangerous than his white classmates.

Of course, the beliefs embedded in the system are filtered out as the beliefs of individuals. I have already had to defend my small son at public parks when white parents have asked me how old he is, and then asked me why he seems so “aggressive.” Like he’s a dog.

He has been called the “N-word” more than once on public transportation by older white people. I have been told by older white folks that he will need "more direction and discipline" than other children. I have been told that he is a statistic and that if I don't raise him “right” he will be another Black man lost to the judicial system.

I am a white woman raising a Black child. I cannot relate directly to the discrimination he will face. I can't tell him how to fight something I haven't ever had to fight. I can’t help him understand something I don't fully understand myself.

I can’t even fully teach him the beauty of the way he looks because when he thinks of beauty, he thinks of me or the other white members of my family. He has asked me when he will turn white because he's afraid to grow up to be a Black man. Why? Because, he told me, he knows that Black men get killed by the police.

When Trump got elected, I cried, and my son again asked me when he would turn white. He cried too. Shaking, he asked me why people let Trump win when they knew he was not a nice man.

What could I say?

I try my best to shield him from the news and from my concerned conversations. I try to protect him so he can have the privilege of being a little boy who isn’t burdened by worry, but the world keeps reminding him of reality.

We used to commute every day, taking the light rail to northeast Seattle. One day, a Black teenage boy happened to board the train alongside us. We rode for a while, and then the transit police got on. They made a beeline for the kid who was now sitting near me and asked him if he had paid his fare. He hadn’t. The transit cops called the police.

The young man was clearly afraid. I offered to pay the missing fare, but the transit police refused, more interested in punishment than justice. A man on the train joined me in standing up for the young man and called the transit police out on their obvious racism. They hadn't targeted or confronted anyone else, just that one Black kid.

My son knew what was happening and why. I didn't have to tell him. He understands that men in uniform, without warning, came for that kid because he is Black. He understands, as I do, that this is the world we live in and right now, and that it's only getting worse.

I understand the struggle through my child, understandably nervous every time a uniform appears. Every time the doors open on the light rail. I see the people I love fighting for their right just to be here, struggling for every breath.

And I understand that being the parent of a Black child means that I am torn in two. The part of me that wants so desperately to protect his innocence and nurture his optimism has to take a sad backseat to the part of me that needs desperately to keep him as safe as I can.

The reality is that no matter how overwhelming, no matter how terrifying, we don’t get to take a day off from racism. Even on the days when I am just an exhausted single mother. Even on all the days when my son is just a six-year-old little boy. His skin is never going to turn white, no matter how many times he breaks my heart wondering if it will.

I take comfort knowing he isn’t alone. I can’t go through his struggle for him, but I can stand with him.

So can you. Please do.

 

Jefflin Breuer is a parent, activist and possible space-alien living in Seattle. Her interests include witchcraft, feminism, antifa and civil rights activism, among whatever other things she has time for.

The Indian Removal Act was signed on this date in 1830. What does it mean today?

A sign hung on the side of a tent at Rosebud Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in November 2016.

A sign hung on the side of a tent at Rosebud Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in November 2016.

Today is an important anniversary to remember. It’s not one to by any means celebrate, but neither is it one we can forget.

On May 28, 1830, U.S. President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law.

According to the Library of Congress, this “allowed the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. A few tribes went peacefully, but many resisted the relocation policy. During the fall and winter of 1838 and 1839, the Cherokees were forcibly moved west by the United States government. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died on this forced march, which became known as the ‘Trail of Tears.’”

From the U.S. Office of the Historian:

In his 1831 ruling on Cherokee Nation v. the State of Georgia, Chief Justice John Marshall declared that “the Indian territory is admitted to compose a part of the United States,” and affirmed that the tribes were “domestic dependent nations” and “their relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian.” However, the following year the Supreme Court reversed itself and ruled that Indian tribes were indeed sovereign and immune from Georgia laws. President Jackson nonetheless refused to heed the Court’s decision. He obtained the signature of a Cherokee chief agreeing to relocation in the Treaty of New Echota, which Congress ratified against the protests of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay in 1835. The Cherokee signing party represented only a faction of the Cherokee, and the majority followed Principal Chief John Ross in a desperate attempt to hold onto their land. This attempt faltered in 1838, when, under the guns of federal troops and Georgia state militia, the Cherokee tribe were forced to the dry plains across the Mississippi. The best evidence indicates that between three and four thousand out of the fifteen to sixteen thousand Cherokees died en route from the brutal conditions of the “Trail of Tears.”
 

When our government was established, it operated on a system of slavery and a burgeoning belief in “manifest destiny” as justification for genocide of indigenous people.

By 1830, our president was still a slaveowner, and he signed a bill that allowed him to sign treaties never intended to be kept even more freely than before.

Fast forward 183 years, and I can't help but ask what the government has done in that time to earn our trust. More than finding reason to believe in the possibility of tomorrow, I find I'm starting to lose hope.

An article published yesterday by The Intercept, for instance, reveals through public records requests and leaked emails that Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation building the Dakota Access Pipeline, hired a private mercenary firm to work directly with the FBI, BIA and various levels of federal, state and local law enforcement to conduct illegal surveillance and to treat peaceful #NoDAPL demonstrators in Standing Rock last year as “terrorists” and “rioters” on a “battlefield.”

I might be crazy. I’m aware of that. But in a conflict of interest between a for-profit corporation and an organically formed group of people (mostly U.S. citizens), the United States government acted with military force on behalf of the corporation. It's just one of many examples of this phenomenon. What does that mean?

It happened while Obama was in office, and it’s continued with Trump. It's neither a partisan issue nor a new one. What does that mean?

And what does it mean for our kids that we’re sending them to schools made mandatory by this same government? I know that’s a crazy-sounding question in the “normal” world, but it’s one I again can’t keep from asking.

And apparently I'm not the first to ask it, because it’s also one that Malcolm X may have already answered: “Only a fool would let his enemy educate his children.”

Our government has shown throughout history a perfect willingness to treat its own citizens like the enemy. Does that mean we’re fools for thinking we’ll ever find what we’re looking for in their schools?

What do we do about federal budget cuts that target our most vulnerable kids?

By Jacq Williams

I'm struggling, listening to NPR lately. No, not the spring pledge drive. Just the daily horrors flowing out of Washington D.C.

Last week, I was driving to drop my cranky toddler off at her grandmother's house when the local NPR affiliate aired a piece on the new budget proposal, which slashes to ribbons so many social and environmental programs that it's actually difficult to figure out which one to get the most upset about. Then I heard this quote from Mick Mulvaney, White House budget chief:

"So, let’s talk about after-school programs generally. They’re supposed to be educational programs, right? And that’s what they’re supposed to do, they’re supposed to help kids who can’t — who don't get fed at home, get fed so that they do better at school. Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better at school."

I am not going to say that I pulled my car over and began to weep, because I didn't ... quite. I breathed deeply, gripped the steering wheel, and asked myself: Is this really it? Have we crossed over into this place? Not just the place where we have to defend feeding a child for no other reason than the fact that she is chronically hungry, but a place where a White House top official is going to claim (falsely, by every single account) that we have no demonstrable evidence that feeding children increases their test scores? As if it's not a given fact of life that when your basic survival needs are met you can focus on other things? As if that's the reason most of us would sign on to such a program in the first place?

It was unbelievable, the way those words rolled of his tongue: "Get fed so they do better at school."

I looked up the quote as soon as I parked, realizing there are only two revisions to this sentence which would make it palatable. One: A period after the words "Get fed."  Two: A complete re-phrasing: These are programs who are supposed to help children who don't get fed at home, get fed so that they do not starve. Maybe it's because I'm a mom, but I'm fairly certain it's because I'm not a sociopath, that I believe this simple fact is in-and-of-itself enough to merit the programs' funding, and that the majority of tax-paying Americans believe that a fed, thriving child is better than one who is starving to death in one of the most prosperous countries on Earth, a country that wastes nearly 40 percent of its food.

Completely unmerited claims about academic performance aside, the programs Trump is proposing to cut feed tens of millions of children every day. The School Lunch and The 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program are directed toward low-performance, high-poverty schools, and feed children living in the most dire economic conditions in the country, who are often affected by multiple social factors which can further impede future successes.

So, says The White House, let's take the students facing the difficulties of single-income households, incarcerated parents, transitional and subsidized housing, and neighborhood violence, in addition to (in most cases) all the economic and social inequities that come with being a person of color, and let's tell these same kids that now they have to starve through the school day as well. Or through the whole day, as often these programs provide the single meal the child eats in 24 hours.

And where is the money going, the money we are taking out of the bellies of America's most vulnerable populations?  To "defense." To the bombs we're dropping with impunity on other children across the world. To a wall built to protect the mirage of Great America, a country that's planning to become "greater" by completely eliminating, among so many other things, programs which fund the arts, public radio, the Clean Power Act, climate research, the Great Lakes Restoration Act, affordable housing, and public transportation -- essentially placing on the chopping block the funds for our culture, humanitarian services, and environment, all in one fell swoop.

Are we watching Trump playing Let's Make a Deal? Giving us this Modest Proposal so everything else -- things that would constitute as egregious cuts but wouldn't be entering the looking glass of a full-on cultureless, militarized state -- seem more palatable later in the process?

Regardless of his reasoning, I can't help but take this as a reaffirmation that we need to stop relying on DC to do the right, or decent, or human thing. The government has long been acting as a war-mongering, for-profit corporation, and I should probably stop feel shocked about it, and start taking more localized action. Now, even before we're offered the diet version of some of these cuts.

So what can we do about this, specifically? I am not going to pretend I have the full-fledge, mass-scale answers, but I've often been accused of speaking in grand theoretical terms and providing no pragmatic solutions, so I've compiled a list of actions we can take as singular, busy, modestly-living human beings, to attempt to mitigate some of the effects of this atrocious budget.

  1.  Identify the schools in the area which will be most affected by these cuts, and contact their outreach personnel to ask what the cuts are going to look like in practicality.
    This will provide an idea of the personalized needs of every school, where they foresee the most radical decreases in funds, and which of their programs could face closure.
  2. Start an email list which gets this information on the radar of NGO's, community members, and advocates surrounding them.
    It's easy to find the contacts for local chapters of food banks, Boy/Girl Scouts, singular philanthropists, and conscious business owners to raise awareness about what the loss of funds will look like for schools in the area. People can't help if they don't know about the problem, and it is going to take many levels of grass-roots and community activism to offset some of these deficits.
  3. Contact local branches of national corporations in the area and ask for regular donations.
    After two phone calls to the local Panera, the women's shelter for which I volunteer now gets a weekly delivery of bread and bagels. Contact local corporate restaurants, especially ones which serve short-shelf-life food like Panera or Dunkin' Donuts, and ask them to pledge to a weekly or bi-weekly delivery of their excess to ease the burden on the school. And our landfills.
  4. Hold a fund-drive.
    A simple dinner, bake sale or community bowling event in which people are given the information and opportunity to donate is a way to at least raise awareness and offer communal support for a struggling school. Of course, it won't offset the school lunch budget for an entire year, but any type of funding that can help provide more substantive meals is of huge benefit.
  5. Volunteer for after-school programs.
    After-school programs feed children snacks and meals, as well as offset the economic stress of hired care, and provide much-needed tutoring and mentoring.  Volunteering or donating to these programs is a great way to relieve some of their payroll burden, and to build community and relationships with kids from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

I truly believe these next four years are going to be dangerous and painful for the most marginalized communities in America, and that the only option with which we are left is to become the crusaders of community-based advocacy. We do have, in each of us, the power to ease even the smallest fraction of the collective suffering, and with that power comes the responsibility to show up, and to do all we can, together.

 

Jacq Williams is a freelance writer, homesteader, and activist from Southeast Michigan. She is currently working on an advocacy project for pregnant women in prison and transitional housing, called the Inmate Birth and Infancy Project.

Standing Rock descends on the White House with sage and ceremony

By Jacq Williams

It's true, what they say: You get used to being cold. It doesn't take all that long, either. One month on the prairie and I barely noticed I was shivering all the time in the constant sodden chill; I was used to the dull ache in my throat and eyes as my sinuses clogged and unclogged, used to never getting fully undressed, to changing one bit of clothing at a time, hiding under blankets. 

It was only fitting that the Native Nations Rise March took place on a freezing, blustery wet day in Washington DC, when just the day before the temperature had neared the seventies. It was as if the tribes who had flooded the capital en masse, arriving by bus and carpooled ride, by plane and train and truck, had dragged the wind-whipped prairie to the Capital with them, perhaps to accentuate the profundity and raw elemental nature of the struggle they faced at Standing Rock. The cold has never deterred the resilience of the First Nations people to fight for the Earth, and it did not this day in Washington, either.

Over 5,000 Native Americans and their allies showed up to walk down the road to the white house, beating drums and dancing and burning bundles of sage. The air was filled with smoke, and with song, prayer, and chants:

"You can't drink oil; keep it in the soil!" 

"We exist! We resist! We rise!" 

And of course, always, "Mni Wiconi!" Water is life.

As we made our way to the National Mall, I glanced up at the suited men and women peering out the windows of the high rises, small groups of them gathered to watch the long train of people march by with our banners and drums and the puppet of the black snake, which weaved through the crowd held aloft on several sticks. I wondered what the people up in those windows were thinking, and if they always stared like that when there was a demonstration taking place, or if there was something special about this one. Something exotic and otherized in the bright colors and burning bundles of herbs.

The way they stood, gawking, made me think about how this country has always treated Native Americans: fetishizing their clothing, culture and looks, bestowing the pigeon-holing archetypes of the "Noble Savage," and at the same time stripping their basic human dignities and long-written land treaties, subjecting them to literally hundreds of years of systematic environmental racism. 

Photo by Jacq Williams.

I thought about how this march, the people who braved the prairie winter, this whole long and harrowing fight, was about violently forcing Native Americans to accept something that was deemed too dangerous for white people. I can't stop coming back to that, through all of this.

We marched. 

We marched to Trump Tower, where on the front lawn the Sioux erected a teepee, and small groups of women danced, while the men drummed and prayed as they symbolically reclaimed the stolen land of their people. I stood on a bench to see protectors snaking around blocks in either directions, dozens of tribes represented, thousands of flushed and sniffling faces who came streaming into the streets from the warm comfort of their lives to stand up for the sacred. Just as they had done at Standing Rock.

I was starting to run into more and more people I knew from camp, people we fed in the kitchen, people who taught me songs and told me secrets, and who came into our yurt at night looking to swap histories. I hugged and laughed with people I was desperate to see again, children and the women who herded them down the slippery hills at camp, the head of security, and the people who built the school among them. I knew half of them had ridden buses for days to be here. Their faces made me ache to be back on the prairie, where we interacted in such an unadulterated and archaic way, never buried in our phones or dogged down by the necessity of exchanging dollars with one another. We learned more about each other than best friends know, having to be present and integral in one another's lives from the very beginning. Having no other choice but to work together. 

We marched on, to the front gates of the White House, where I doubted the President cared enough to glance out of the window, had he been there at all.

It's a strange feeling, resisting in such a forthright and visual way, fighting for what you know is your life and the lives of your children's children, and knowing the lawmakers and lobbyists of this country have the option to just look away. The people in power, and the people at home, who don't visit news sources which would even cover something like this march, can still doze in comfort while we scream in the face of willful ignorance. 

Photo by Jacq Williams.

The Water Protectors gathered at the White House fence, chanted and held banners, and were told to get off of the sidewalk by the police and secret service, over and over again. We took pictures and burned more sage, and some people called out to the police: "Join us! Your grandchildren need clean water, too!" They were met with the blank stares of unabashed indifference. To them we were merely a possible security threat, to be assessed, addressed, dismissed.

My small group broke off and made it to the rally on the lawn. We hung around the outskirts, and were glad we did, as Dave Archambault's voice was the one we soon heard over the surrounding speakers. DAPL Dave, as he is called, is the Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and it is widely believed that he made a deal with Energy Transfer Partners and the BIA to dismantle the camps—even those on the private property of Ladonna Allard—and essentially smooth the way for the pipeline's completion. 

Those who didn't know about this cheered him as his spoke his message of unity. Those who did, like Ladonna's daughter, Prairie, stood in the back and shouted their discontent. I felt the splintering, just like I had at camp, of the reality of the situation versus the perception. 

The reality, I have come to understand, is that we were never going to stop a 3 billion dollar pipeline from being completed. Not in a capitalist society which places the monetary value of commodity over life in all its forms. We were there operating under the perception, the hopeful belief, that the will of millions of Americans and the thousands of people who showed up to represent them, were enough to convince the world that the sanctity of our Native Tribes— their sacred land and their drinking water—are of more value than another faulty pipeline meant to carry oil which wouldn't even be used for American consumption. Essentially, that water/life was more important than oil/money. 

We were wrong. Despite the best of our efforts, the black snake has been built and will carry highly volatile fracked oil as early as next week.

But that doesn't mean that it was futile to gather on the prairie or flood the streets of Washington. All else aside, I don't know one person who returned home from the protest in North Dakota without a profound sense of purpose and empowerment, and a deeper understanding of the intersectionality of our resistance. Knowing, down to our marrow, that while we shout for the water we are also shouting for racial equality, environmental justice, and the reconfiguring of an economic system which keeps defense contractors buying islands while children starve on our own soil. 

Gathering like this, making camp and forming community in the face of capitalist greed, flooding the streets of Washington in winter, are in themselves acts of profound defiance. Going back to our own lives with the seeds we took from these gatherings, and planting, cultivating, and redistributing the crop amongst ourselves— that is an act of revolution. To reconfigure a pyramid-shaped system which has forever only benefitted the top, we need people on the ground who have already chosen to live a different way, who are willing to drop everything to come together in rejection of this wildly inequitable structure, to break down the pyramid and use the stones to build well-trodden paths from house to house. 

Standing Rock, and the Native Nations Rise March on DC, have proven that we have those people. That we are willing to brave the elements and our own self-doubt in order to return to a more harmonious, communal, sacred way of life, and that our numbers are growing. The truth is this: among the sleeping souls of complacency, there is an awakening of warriors for a new world who are ready to resist, and to re-imagine. At a moment's notice, ready to rise.

 

Jacq Williams is a freelance writer, homesteader, and activist from Southeast Michigan who spent several weeks at Sacred Stone Camp in Standing Rock in the fall and winter of 2016. She is currently working on an advocacy project for pregnant women in prison and transitional housing, called the Inmate Birth and Infancy Project.

Yesterday Trump honored the racist Bryan Adams lookalike Obama tried to leave behind

Donald Trump laid a wreath on the grave of former President Andrew Jackson yesterday on what would have been Jackson's 250th birthday.

It turns out Trump is the latest in a long line of presidents who have paid homage to Jackson. Reagan, Lyndon Johnson and Teddy Roosevelt, among others, all visited Jackson's home and adorned their predecessor's grave while in office.

But why the persistent interest in Old Hickory? (Evidently that was Jackson's nickname, by the way -- Old Hickory. As a one-time ballplayer, I'm jealous. Anybody called Old Hickory could probably hit like the dickens.)

Well, for one thing, he was a white man in America, which means that his thoughts, words and deeds were and continue to be considered inherently more important and more valuable than those of most people around him.

Further, like many of his similarly heralded colleagues, Jackson was a sanctimonious slaveowner who was directly responsible for the murder of many, many indigenous people, and for the forced relocation of many more. He rests on the same prickly laurels as Washington and Jefferson and our other most star-spangled heroes.

Even Barack Obama paid Jackson some (un)love. Barry made an effort during his time in the Oval Office to have Jackson's likeness removed from the $20 bill, paying his subtle respect to Jackson through the "any publicity is good publicity" avenue. I'm told that effort fell short, but I haven't seen a bill the size of Jackson's in years now.

It should probably be no surprise that Jackson -- and his views on race -- remain relevant. Our country has shown time and again that oppression and violence against people who aren't white men is enough to keep you celebrated for centuries. But in Jackson's case, there may be more to the story -- a conspiracy worthy of Doc Brown's DeLorean.

I don't believe any of these presidents are visiting the grave of Andrew Jackson. They are visiting Andrew Jackson himself.

Don't believe me?

Then how did Andrew Jackson release a piano-pop album as "Bryan Adams" more than 200 years after his "death?"

I don't know.

What I do know is that Wikipedia credits "Bryan Adams" with the following on Reckless

Bryan Adams – lead vocals, guitars, piano, harmonica, hand claps, foot stomping

"Hand claps, foot stomping." That's very weird... just like everything I've written here. Coincidence? Bryan Adams thinks so.

Anyway, you know what else is weird? It's hard to look at who our country chooses to honor and who it chooses to forget (for instance, honoring Jackson on the $20 bill and forgetting every person of color and most women) without thinking we are intentionally working to maintain the racial hierarchy Trump is being so honest about.

We can't forget that Andrew Jackson is the founding legacy of the Democratic Party, but we can stop treasuring his memory.

We shouldn't forget the legacy of oppression and destruction left by Old Hickory and his white-power brethren, but until we stop considering them emblems of patriotic morality, I fear we are doomed to perpetuate the shadows of our past.

It's time to be brave enough to build a future that doesn't build on the oppressive values of its founders. It's time to recognize new standard-bearers and hold them to a higher moral standard, as Reckless as that might seem.

And it's time to take Bryan Adams off the $20 bill.

Tips from a Senator's office: How concerned citizens can best influence their legislators

Some great tips from a high-level staffer for a Senator:

There are two things that all concerned citizens should be doing all the time right now, and they're by far the most important things.

First off: You should NOT be bothering with online petitions or emailing. Those don't typically accomplish anything except to help us feel like we've "done" something when we haven't.

1. The best thing you can do to be heard and get your congressperson to pay attention is to have face-to-face time. If they have town halls, go to them. Go to their local offices. This is how the religious right, as the Tea Party, began to establish influence.

If you're in DC, try to find a way to go to an event of theirs. Go to the "mobile offices" that their staff hold periodically (all these times are located on each congressperson's website). When you go, ask questions. A lot of them. And push for answers. The louder and more vocal and present you can be at those the better.

2. But, those in-person events don't happen every day. So, the absolute most important thing that people should be doing every day is calling. You should make six calls a day: two calls each to your two Senators and your one Representative -- one call to their DC office and another to your local office.

The staffer was very clear that any sort of online contact basically gets immediately ignored, and letters pretty much get thrown in the trash (unless you have a particularly strong, emotional story -- but even then it's not worth the time it took you to craft that letter).

Calls are what all the congresspeople pay attention to. Every single day, the Senior Staff and the Senator get a report of the three most-called-about topics for that day at each of their offices (in DC and local offices), and exactly how many people said what about each of those topics. They're also sorted by zip code and area code.

She said that Republican callers generally outnumber Democrat callers 4-1, and when it's a particular issue that single-issue-voters pay attention to (like gun control, or Planned Parenthood funding, etc...), it's often closer to 11-1, and that's recently pushed Republican congressmen on the fence to vote with the Republicans. In the last eight years, Republicans have called, and Democrats haven't.

So, when you call:

A) When calling the DC office, ask for the staff member in charge of whatever you're calling about ("Hi, I'd like to speak with the staffer in charge of healthcare, please"). Local offices won't always have specific people assigned to each issue, but they might. If you get transferred to that person, awesome. If you don't, that's okay - ask for their name, and then just keep talking to whoever answered the phone. Don't leave a message (unless the office doesn't pick up at all -- then you can, but it's better to talk to the staffer who first answered than leave a message for the specific staffer in charge of your topic).

B) Give them your zip code. They won't always ask for it, but make sure you give it to them, so they can mark it down. Extra points if you live in a zip code that traditionally votes for them, since they'll want to make sure they get/keep your vote.

C) If you can make it personal, make it personal. "I voted for you in the last election and I'm worried/happy/whatever;" or "I'm a teacher, and I am appalled by Betsy DeVos;" or "as a single mother," or "as a white, middle class woman," or whatever applies to the issue.

D) Pick one or two specific things per day to focus on. Don't go down a whole list -- they're only figuring out which one or two topics to mark you down for on their lists, so focus on one or two per day. Ideally it's something that will be voted on or taken up in the next few days, but it doesn't really matter -- even if there's not a vote coming up in the next week, call anyway. It's important that they just keep getting calls.

E) Be clear on what you want. "I'm disappointed that the Senator..." or "I want to thank the Senator for their vote on..." or "I want the Senator to know that voting in _____ way is the wrong decision for our state because..." Don't leave any ambiguity.

F) They may get to know your voice and start to get sick of you. It doesn't matter. Press on. The people answering the phones generally turn over every six weeks anyway, so even if they're really sick of you, they'll be gone in six weeks.

From experience since the election: If you hate being on the phone and feel awkward (which is a lot of people) don't worry about it. There are a bunch of scripts (Indivisible has some, and there are lots of others floating around these days). After a few days of calling, it starts to feel a lot more natural. Put the six numbers in your phone (all under "P" for Politician. An example is Politician McCaskill MO, Politician McCaskill DC, Politician Blunt MO, etc., which makes it really easy to click down the list each day), make your first call, and go from there.

If, like me, you've been meaning to add elected officials' contacts to your cell phone but haven't gotten around to doing it yet, you can text your zip code to 520.200.2223. It will respond with your federal and state legislators' names and phone numbers. Then you can easily save those contacts in your phone.

 

A version of this post originally appeared as a Facebook post. Reposted with permission.

As Trump tries to get DAPL finished, Standing Rock responds: "We are just now beginning this fight"

E608CCE9-1A67-4D0B-A1DF-7F68A063C93B.JPG

Donald Trump has signed executive memoranda to authorize the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines.

I spent a month at Standing Rock near the end of last year. The violence visited by militarized police on peaceful everyday people was shocking to see up close.

IMG_1021.JPG

As intense and vivid as the encounters were with armored police, the more surreal aspects have been even more jarring to me in the long run. What does it mean that they were there, enforcing a corporation’s desire for profit against a peaceful assembly of real-life citizens? What does it mean that the government never fully intervened, even under Obama?

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and she owns the land on the reservation that borders the much-discussed land controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. The original camp of water protectors, Sacred Stone, from which the entire #NoDAPL resistance grew, continues to sit on LaDonna’s private land. She has essentially been hosting everyone who has come to Standing Rock and stayed at the camps.

She posted a video on Facebook today addressing the many conflicting reports and the unrest that has grown out of Trump’s DAPL memo. Here is the full transcript:

Good evening, everybody.
I wanted to tell you, it has been a long day. A lot of things have happened.
We started this day with the United Nations listening to testimony on the water protectors and all of the events that happened to our water protectors. Today was hard, listening to the people who were hurt, the damage they received from Morton County Sheriffs and Army National Guard as they stood up for the water. 
But while we were hearing the testimony, we heard the decision from president trump on signing the executive memoranda — they are not executive orders yet, they are executive memoranda — for Dakota Access and XL Pipeline. 
We knew this day was coming.
We are asking everybody to say prayers today to give the people who are standing strength — wherever you are, to pray.
We have started something that we must complete, and that is the healing of our nations. That is the healing of our people.
And how do we do that? We stand up for the water. We continue to stand up for the water. And so I’m asking you to continue to stand with me. Continue to stand for the beautiful rivers, for the beautiful lakes, for the beautiful creeks. Everywhere our water flows, please stand.
We are just now beginning this fight.
My heart hurts for all those that are hurt, all those that have suffered. But I see something in each one of them. I see this strength and this pride. I see a building of a new nation, and so even as we start this new journey, this new fight — because that’s what it is — we must all stand together.
And we will continue to stand, because I will continue to stand.
I will not back down.
I will not back down. We must stand for the water. We have no other choice. When we stand for the water, we stand for the people. We stand for the people, we stand for healing of our nations. It is time for all the nations to be healed.
So, I wanted to let you know that we continue to stand. I know there’s a lot of confusion out there with the proposed closing of the camps — or not closing of the camps — who has jurisdiction? — all of these things.
Sacred Stone is not closing. We’ll be standing. And we ask you to continue to stand with us. All of you are welcome in my home and on my land. You are welcome to come back and you are welcome to stand with us, because we will continue to stand.
Be safe, everyone. Pray hard, because the journey has just begun.

 

Donald Trump is doing so many dangerous, awful things so quickly that we can't afford to spend any time wondering what to do.

However bad things have been, however unfair, however inequitable, however racist, however sexist, however dangerous Amurrica already was… it’s worse. Trump has his foot on the accelerator of the DeLorean and we are screaming at 88 mph toward the alternate timeline where Biff has the almanac and everything is disgusting and awful. (In fact, Trump might be Biff with the Almanac. I’ll look into that more soon.)

This is what it's like to use a port-a-potty during a blizzard in North Dakota. Photo by Lindsay Hill. 

This is what it's like to use a port-a-potty during a blizzard in North Dakota. Photo by Lindsay Hill. 

My friend Nic Cochran has been in Standing Rock throughout this brutal winter. He would love to go home and be warm indoors back home in West Virginia. He's tired. He acknowledges this. And he called Trump's memorandum "an executive order to stay."

The time is now for all of us everywhere. It’s like every movie. Goodness is under assault, truly. Find a way to stand up against it. Be brave. Be safe if you can, but be brave no matter what. Safety isn’t an option for everyone.

Here's an easy place to start. Join Seattle's visionary leader, Kshama Sawant, who has helped organize an action on Feb. 11 to demand that the Seattle City Council boycott Wells Fargo until it withdraws its DAPL funding: Stop Trump! Boycott Wells Fargo, NoDAPL!

Trump’s inauguration is ours too: Be a watchdog for kids under the new regime

IMG_1538.JPG

Today we are inaugurating Donald Trump, a president promising to “make America great again.”

Again?

It's almost a joke at this point. We all know America has never really been great — not for everybody at the same time anyway. Any of its strengths have always existed at the expense of an oppressed group of people.

In a way, because he has made so much truth so hard to ignore, Trump’s inauguration is ours as well. Now is our time. We know things are not right in this country.

And in knowing, we are now choosing: Will I stand up and resist? Or will I be an oppressor, even if only in my silence?

By knowing, we have been called to stay vigilant. It is up to us to take action, to decide whether or not we heed that call. Every little thing is at stake. We are, like it or not, watchdogs.

There’s no better example of this than in the world of education. Maybe you remember that last year our government came together for a rare moment of bipartisanship and passed a new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Like the No Child Left Behind law that preceded it, ESSA still asks states to measure how well their public schools are doing with vulnerable populations like low-income, minority and children with special needs. But now it’s up to the states to monitor themselves on this behavior.

And if you know anything about the history of civil rights in this country, you know that states haven’t done such a good job of policing themselves on this sort of thing: Think Brown vs. Board or the Civil Rights Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These battles won in the courtroom or on the legislative floor aren’t acted out on the ground without a fight.

Now each state is submitting new plans for accountability under ESSA to the federal government. Think about it: States will be asking Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos for approval on how to make sure they’re closing the opportunity gap and improving student outcomes for kids who’ve traditionally been ignored. You’ll have to excuse me if I’m not optimistic.

Even once those plans are in place, the feds then have very few levers to impact anything if the states do fail to meet accountability standards. For all its faults, No Child Left Behind at least had teeth that the new setup does not.

Most of this is going to happen without a vote and without significant public input. It’s up to us to keep tabs, speak up and create change, to let go of our defensiveness. It’s time to move forward together in resistance to Trump, the new symbol of the all-American oppression we have been living with all along: racial discrimination, “justified” violence, economic disparity, intentional segregation, destructive environmental policy, profound inequity in school funding, and more and more everywhere we turn.

We have always been forcing someone to fight tooth and nail for their rights in the United States, and it takes a toll on all of us. If we aspire to some old “greatness,” as Trump would have us do now, we are only reaching backward to expand on our oppressive past.

It will be hard. It is hard.

The decision is ours to make each minute, but there is really no decision to make. Fortunately, the wisest among us have already thought this through:

You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.

 

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
—Desmond Tutu


Catching up after a busy month

I'm home.

A lot, it turns out, happened while I was gone. And having spent most of the past month with little cell service and lots of things demanding my attention, I'm still getting caught up.

For starters, Donald Trump was elected president. That seems bad.

Trump has also nominated Betsy DeVos to be our new Secretary of Education. She supports charter schools, which seems good at first, until you find out she's obsessed with them in a bizarre, fairly extreme way. She also wants to "Make Education Great Again," which requires no dissection to be rendered obviously ridiculous (though I do look forward to dissecting it soon anyway).

But the point is, Trump and DeVos will be making decisions very soon that have very real implications for our kids. What will we do?

In Washington State, meanwhile, we showed our own backwater stripes and failed to elect Erin Jones to be our new state superintendent of public instruction. Instead, we shout hooray for Chris Reykdal, a white male career politician! He's the change we've been looking for, no doubt.

The frivolous challenge to Washington State's charter school law was dismissed, and the same law has since been called the strongest in the nation, so our locale hasn't been completely bereft of positive developments. Our budget crisis remains, however, and the broken systems that created the inequity are still the ones trying to fix it. We are still scales on a snake trying to eat its own tail.

Luckily, there's reason for hope. Our kids are beautiful geniuses, and we (their parents and their community) recognize this and love them all the more for it. They will not be denied the education they deserve. We won't stand for it.